June 2019 – Drew University Professor of Music Trevor Weston created a composition for New York City’s Bang on a Can All-Stars.
Bang on a Can, which was co-founded by Julia Wolfe, a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who served as Drew’s artist in residence in 2017, commissioned the piece for its dance-themed People’s Commissioning Fund concert in Manhattan. Weston, chair of the music department, reflects on the experience.
What inspired your piece?
Growing up in Plainfield, New Jersey, I immediately thought of the most important dance music of my youth: funk music. The famous group, Parliament Funkadelic is from Plainfield, and I remember dancing to their music and Kool and the Gang, also from New Jersey and the Jimmy Castor Bunch. My piece, Dig It, is a contemporary concert piece created with the sensibilities of funk music.
How did you incorporate the concert’s dance theme into your composition?
I had to research funk music’s construction. I teach funk music in African American Music History every spring, but creating a piece that encourages listeners to dance required more analysis than a general overview of the music. In essence, I had to figure out what makes something “funky.” After listening to many pieces and experimenting with rhythms, I created a piece that encourages listeners to move with the beat—the object of dance music.
How did your previous experience with Bang on a Can influence your piece?
The honor for writing for such a famous ensemble was intensified by the fact that I had played with them—briefly as a sub in a rehearsal. So, the band knew me. Secondly, I approached the piece more from the player’s viewpoint due to my experience in the group. I realized that I had to write for the band I had played with and not the instrumentation of the band. During the rehearsal, I experienced how the ensemble works together. As a result, while writing Dig It, I thought more about creating music that would celebrate the communication inherit in ensemble performance of the band.