Steppin’ Out (1996), commissioned by the CBC, is the result of a compositional crisis.
I spent about eight months generating reams of material, and then woke up one day and decided I didn't like any of it. I had the same reaction on subsequent days as well, so I chucked it all
into my compositional “blue box” (recycling bin; it’s still there). When I began, I was trying to write a rather
mysterious and experimental work, but I kept getting sidetracked by life, including going through a painful divorce.
All of this broke my concentration somewhat, and frankly, after a while, my heart just wasn’t in it any more.
One night, after listening repeatedly to a CD by “The Penguin Cafe Orchestra,” it occurred to me that it might be fun,
possibly even therapeutic, to write a short, happy piece, after which I could resume my original project in what
I hoped would be a more positive state of mind. What started as a diversion soon grew into a more extended composition,
eventually compelling me to permanently set aside my original plan.
Steppin’ Out is thus essentially lighthearted, sometimes soulful, and rather eclectic, with stylistic references to the blues, minimalism, Bach, and Jimi Hendrix (at the very end). It also features extensive use of ostinato (recurring pattern) figures, including the repetitive thirds played at the opening by the piano. The beginning of the piece is an attempt at musical humour; the repeated thirds in the piano go on for so long that one cannot help but wonder if the piece will ever go anywhere, and these are accompanied by sporadic and rhythmically displaced “so-do” figures (a kind of musical cliché used to finish virtually every tonal composition ever written). Eventually, however, the real musical journey begins, often maintaining the pulsing rhythm from the beginning, but undergoing a number of changes of mood along the way. I wasn’t really aware of this at the time, but, in spite of the humour and lightheartedness of the first part of the piece, there are later sections that seem somewhat melancholic. I wonder why…
It is dedicated to Julia, my daughter, and was premiered in St. John’s on March 22, 1996 by Nancy Dahn (vn.), Thomas Heinrich (vc.), and Liana Lam (pno.).
©Clark Winslow Ross