Pedal Tones

organ and orchestra

Pedal Tones is a 30-minute work for pipe organ and large orchestra. Actually I think the fine percussionists of the San Francisco Symphony deserve special mention because the piece has turned out to be something of a concerto for organ, percussion section and orchestra. As the title suggests, the piece explores the effects of long sustained notes, especially low ones. The organ notes played on the pedals are crucial but the lowest notes of the trombone, contrabass clarinet, and contrabassoon also figure prominently. Other attributes of the organ that I found compelling to work with are the instruments range from fragile delicacy through unmitigated power (a range matched only by the percussion section), and the pipe organs inherent conflicts between just intonation and equal temperament. The organ has various musical/cultural associations. My relation to the organ, in broad strokes, is informed by sacred and secular baroque pipe organ music (I used to do yoga to E. Power Biggs’s recordings of Bach), R&B organ music indigenous to the Hammond B-3 organ (from my days of playing in rock bands), and an hallucinatory take on carnival/calliope/carousel music (too many sci-fi and horror flicks I suppose). Somehow, the fact that the last time I was in San Francisco I met Lawrence Ferlingetti whose “A Coney Island of the Mind” I loved at age 14 also seemed to influence the character of the work.

Steven Mackey