Really? An Orchestral Suite
For Orchestra
11 minutes

Last spring, as part of my residency with the Mount Vernon Orchestra, I undertook to write a short piece for the current season. My original idea was for a one-movement question-like piece, something akin to the "The Unanswered Question" of Charles Ives mixed with the searching, probing flavor of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings". As I started to sketch what was to become "Why?", I began to envision a suite of "question" pieces, but something did not feel right to me. With the aid of my undeniably wacky philosophy, I realized the problem- these "deep" questions don't have answers. So rather than just posing a series of questions, compounding the problem, I thought of answering them, not with a clear, rational (and unknowable) answer, but with a response that not only completely sidesteps the issue, but goes a step further and slaps it in the face- so what! Suddenly the piece took on a life of its own and an overall shape became clear.

In "Why?", the strings ask several questions which the woodwinds attempt to answer, punctuated by chord clusters in the brass. "So What!", with apologies to Miles Davis, is perfectly self-explanatory once one divines my twisted thinking outlined above. The pivotal point of the structure, and oddly the shortest movement of the suite, is "Are You Sure?". I had a second chance at this juncture, but the piece had its own momentum by now- and certainly, I was not sure. "How Did We Come to Be?" asks the most elemental, cosmic question. Marked "With an unearthly silence and stillness", it features a group of instruments offstage as part of my attempt to evoke an infinitely distant time and place. An oboe solo underlines our aloneness; then follows a huge orchestral explosion suggesting the big bang. As the debris settles, we find ourselves drifting in the ether of space, as puzzled as ever about our existence.

You've got to be kidding! You can't possibly be serious! This is the sentiment presented in "Oh, Really!", a final thumbed nose aimed not just at the previous movement, but at the entire suite. Highly peppered with percussion and fortuitously brief, "Oh, Really!" is asking- What is this all about? What is my intent? My answer, which I can state with surety is, I don't know.


  • 2 Flutes (2nd doubling Piccolo)
  • 2 Oboes
  • 2 Bb Clarinets (2nd doubling Bass Clarinet)
  • 2 Bassoons
  • Contra Bassoon (optional)
  • 4 F Horns
  • 3 Bb Trumpets
  • 3 Trombones
  • Tuba
  • Timpani
  • 2 Percussion Players
  • Harp
  • Violins I, II
  • Violas
  • Cellos
  • Basses

Percussion Instruments:

  • Xylophone
  • Glockenspiel
  • Triangle (suspended)
  • Wood Block
  • Cowbell (suspended)
  • Cymbals
  • Suspended cymbal
  • Sizzle cymbal (suspended)
  • Large gong
  • Snare drum
  • Bass drum
  • Tom toms (1 high, 1 low)
  • Wire brushes
  • Knitting Needles
  • Extra set metal triangle beaters for timpanist
The music so perfectly curls itself around these titles (Why?, So What?, Are You Sure?, How Did We Come to Be?, Oh, Really?), says its piece and then stops, that it left the audience chuckling
The Washington Post (Joan Reinthaler)

Sample Score Pages