When in the spring of 2022 cellist D. Scot Williams commissioned a new work for unaccompanied cello, he gave me much creative freedom, and I began composing without stylistic or thematic constraints. I was open to all ideas that emerged and didn’t tell the music what it should portray or represent. But the music, not surprisingly, ended up depicting and celebrating Scot’s recent significant life transition. In May of 2022, a long-time musician of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, Scot performed his last concert with the KSO before his retirement. While the composition draws from that landmark, I cannot help but think that the music and its sentiments are universal, as we all experience significant shifts between the stages of our lives and the varied emotions accompanying them. Therefore, I entitled the piece Life Shifts.
The first movement, Countdown, illustrates the relentless and inevitable passing of time toward a pivotal change, depicted by the recurring staccato notes in the low register. Throughout the movement, several melodic lines attempt to emerge but each time the focus shifts back to the short, evenly spaced countdown notes. The mood of the music is restless and anxious.
The second movement, Aria, represents talent and life’s accomplishments. Each one of us sings a unique aria by creating a life we choose, hopefully one of edification, growth, and contribution. In Scot’s case, I was inspired by his life-long devotion to playing the cello and his great skill in woodworking, furniture, and cabinetry making. The main theme of Aria is a long, arching phrase with wide leaps spanning through all registers, requiring the cellist to frequently shift the position of the left hand on the fingerboard.
The third movement, Ad-Lib, is lively and spirited but treacherous with its shifting meters. Its improvisatory feel illustrates life’s unpredictability and our need to quickly adjust to changing circumstances. It expresses the idea that we can never be fully in control of our lives and that often we, similarly to jazz musicians, find ourselves ad-libbing, improvising, and making music with the materials we are given at the moment.