SMALL CHAMBER ENSEMBLE - Language Instruction (2003) Program Notes
I began working on "Language Instruction" while studying Brazilian Portuguese language tapes. During the piece the players assume quasi-theatrical roles. The clarinet attempts to "teach" various phrases to the string players, with particular emphasis on the inflections. The players respond with uncertainty at first, and at different speeds. The cellist parrots the phrases faster and more eagerly, the violinist more timidly. As with the language-tape process, the learning progresses slowly, with the "teacher" often breaking down the phrases into constituent parts and combining them with other phrases. Because of the slow speed of retention, the piece at times takes on a "minimalist" form.
It soon becomes clear that one student in the "class" poses a particular difficulty. The pianist cannot imitate the inflections correctly, being unable to gliss along a single note. This proves frustrating for the pianist, who is eager to participate in the lessons. After various tantrums, he/she discovers a solution--adapt the phrases to fit the instrument's particular limits (or "accent"). This moment proves to be a significant event in the drama, and the string players, intrigued, begin to switch allegiance to their new "teacher".
Throughout the piece the players should attempt to muster an actor's conviction in conveying the quirks of their own character and developing their relationships to the other players.