The Dragon King's daughter: Sinfonietta for jazz nonet, strings, and soprano



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The Dragon King’s Daughter: Sinfonietta for Jazz Nonet, String Orchestra and Soprano is an original musical composition in four movements combining the textural, harmonic, melodic and rhythmic vocabulary of both jazz and contemporary classical music. The blending of genres creates several problems in terms of notation and performance that the score and this accompanying document attempt to explore and address. These include the concept of “swing” and issues of improvisation versus interpretation. As a score written for a specific group of performers, certain inconsistencies are present based on the knowledge base of the given musicians. This concept is also explained in more detail within the body of the paper. The piece was created in conjunction with artist Christian Conrad, writer Kathleen Blackburn, and choreographer Rachel Spaugh and collaboration deeply informs the work. This document investigates how the collaborative process influenced the composition of the musical score but also seeks to demonstrate how it stands on its own, to be evaluated and analyzed based on the elements of orchestration, form, harmony, melody and rhythm. The form of the piece is drawn loosely from the structure of a classical symphony with an opening fast movement and a slower second. It departs from the typical format because of the programmatic nature of the piece. The third movement in particular, rather than being a stylized dance, like the traditional symphonic minuet and trio, is an actual piece of music for dance written to accompany choreography by Rachel Spaugh. As a result, it is much more complex and indepth than a standard third movement. The final movement also does not follow the typical symphonic model of an allegro or rondo to conclude the piece. Instead, it is slow, broad, and introspective, providing resolution to the conflict presented in the third movement and embodying the internal nature of wisdom and enlightenment. The text for The Dragon King’s Daughter is based on the story of the Dragon Girl from the Lotus Sutra, a seminal work in the Mahayana Buddhist cannon. It comes from the “Devadatta” chapter of this sutra and tells the tale of the daughter of the Dragon King, Sagara, who attained enlightenment at the tender age of eight. The Dragon Girl’s manifestation of her innate Buddhahood represents the great internal potential that all living beings possess, as is taught by Buddhism. The music of The Dragon King’s Daughter is intentionally programmatic in nature and focuses on telling her story through sound. The first movement helps us to imagine her fantastic undersea world; the second reveals her seeking mind that leads her to pursue the wisdom of the Buddha. In the third movement, we experience aurally (as well as visually and physically when performed with the accompanying choreography) her confrontation of those internal and external obstacles which would deter her efforts. The final movement concludes with the Dragon Girl’s own dramatic demonstration of her enlightenment before the assembly of Buddhas, bodhisattvas, and magical beings that make up the crowd assembled to hear Shakyamuni Buddha preach the Lotus Sutra at Eagle Peak.