I’m always eager to teach a modern or contemporary dance class… until I realize that I’m going to have to come up with my own music. And then I spend hours lamenting at my lack of options in my music library, swearing at iTunes, wondering why no one writes a good polonaise any more, and settling on a mix of tracks from my ballet class CDs with some pop music interspersed (pro tip: Billy Joel’s “She’s Always a Woman” is a lovely 6/8 should you ever need a modern example of one).
So I was excited to learn that a friend of FurtherDance, John F. Hopkins, released his own CD of material originally created for TCU Professor of Dance, Susan Douglas Roberts (an advisor to FurtherDance Fort Worth’s board of directors). In Susan’s own words (from the album’s foreword), “In summer 2011, I was awarded a Fulbright Specialist grant to teach and to choreograph in the Centro de Danza e Investigación del Movimiento at the Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala. Since I could not take John to Guatemala with me, I petitioned him for the next best option, a cd of his music that I could use when teaching technique class during this residency. The result is this compilation of tracks, designed to dovetail with the structure I follow in designing contemporary dance technique classes.”
If you’ve ever taken a class with John as an accompanist you know what a talent he has for supporting the class movement through music and sound, and now we can all take John into the classes we teach!
I asked John to write a bit about his experience creating the album. Below are some excerpts from his very thorough thoughts:
“This album was produced in a huge burst of creativity at the beginning of summer 2011. Susan Douglas Roberts and I spent an afternoon in the old Grand Marc studio where TCU held classes while Erma Lowe Hall was being remodeled. She danced the pieces in silence that she wanted included in her lessons for her Fulbright scholar trip to Guatemala, and I watched her dance and counted the beats into the voice recorder on my iPhone. I also made some notes about how long the phrases were and how many repetitions should be in each. I went home, listened to all the recordings double checked the counts and started working on the music to go with them. Some of it was pencil and paper composition, especially for the piano pieces that I wanted to have a polished feel… Others, I wanted to sound like a real jam session, so I only fashioned a melody and some chords before I started playing. I did a pretty good job of getting the structure correct the first time, but a memorable exception was “Shifty Blues,” which supposed to be in 6, and I did it in 4 by mistake. I did a different piece “Sneaky Blues,” that satisfied the proper requirement, but I liked the shifty one so much though, that I stuck it at the end of the collection anyway as a “bonus” track. “Hashi Hosho” and “Pocket Hocket” are from my delving into Zimbabwean marimba music at Trinity Lutheran Church Fort Worth, where I inspire people to play African music with me.”
“I was able to churn out 1 or 2 songs, from conception to finished recording, every 24 hours. I used a Mac Mini, a Casio Previa keyboard, Garage Band and Kontakt 5’s sound libraries. No microphones were used by me in the making of this album, although many acoustic sound samples were recorded into the amazing Kontakt sound collection.”
“Some homemade copies have escaped from my computer into the world since 2011, so the current commercially replicated CD is not technically a new release. For one of the American College Dance Festival events, I brought some copies to distribute, but under the alternate title “Tunes for Modern Dance.” I am hoping that by telling everyone the title of this work is now “Tunes for Guatemala Aka Tunes for Modern Dance,” I won’t be plagued with returns from people who have the latter title, and think that the former title is a new album! I am also proud that it all of this happened in my birth place, Fort Worth, Texas, yet has had an impact thousands of miles away. Many thanks to Susan Douglas Roberts for giving me the opportunity to work with her and create something so intellectually challenging and artistically satisfying.”
“Another feature of the album I think useful is some meter information in the title of each piece. For example “Paolino’s Prayer (3x16x12) [128 Bpm]” indicates the piece can be thought of as in 3/4 time, 16 measure phrases, and 12 phrases total, played at a tempo of 120 beats per minute. This should make it easier to design choreography or class combinations without the teacher having to listen, count and do the math herself. I did not, as some dance class music albums do, duplicate every piece so that a “left” and “right” versions are played without stopping the music in between.”
Have you ever taken a class with John as an accompanist? Any other modern dance class album recommendations?