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Scat (2007)

For flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano

First performance by the Walden Chamber Players, Northampton, MA, 9 November 2007

(Flute, Clarinet, Violin, Cello, Piano is Augusta’s preferred version.)

Alternate version is available for flute (or oboe), violin, viola, cello, piano (or harpsichord)
The version for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano was premiered by Picosa on April 20, 2015 at PianoForte Chicago.
NOTE: The two instrumentations of SCAT are NOT mix-and-match. The versions are different in many ways (dynamics, octaves, and orchestrations, and so forth) and thus you need to order from G. Schirmer either the clarinet version or the viola version.
Duration: 6 minutes

CD Available
Chamber & Piano Works

This work is available on
Chamber & Piano Works.

 

This work is available on
AUGUSTA READ THOMAS - SUN THREADS.

 

Scat runs from 0:00-1:17

Online Perusal Score

https://issuu.com/scoresondemand/docs/scat_54620

Program Note

Commissioned and premiered in 2007 by the Walden Chamber Players in Western Massachusetts at a men's Jail and House of Correction, SCAT, scored for flute (or oboe), violin, viola, cello, piano (or harpsichord,) has a duration of 6 minutes.

The title refers to a style of singing where the voice is used in imitation of an instrument, vocalizing either wordlessly or with nonsense words and syllables (e.g. "bippity-bippity-doo-wop-razzamatazz-skoobie-doobie-bee-bop-a-lula-shabazz") often employed by jazz singers who then create the equivalent of an instrumental solo using only their voice.  Scat singers do not use the sounds to exactly reproduce the instrumental melody, instead, they improvise with the melody and rhythm and tempo.

In this very short chamber work, the instruments at times are imitating scat singers — who originally would have been imitating instruments — thus alluding to the turnaround, full-circle, ever spiraling and historically long standing exchange between instrumental and singing traditions' fields-of-influence on one another.

— Augusta Read Thomas

Program Note

Program Note from the Nimbus CD (Nimbus Alliance NI 6258)

Scat (which has the unusual distinction of having been premiered in a prison) is yet another manifestation of Thomas' long-term study of jazz music. As its title implies, the five players involved are treated like instrumental counterparts of scat singers as they wrap themselves around their highly mobile, often angular melodic lines. Once past the bold, ceremonial opening, the mood grows more jovial, even mischievous, as the capricious music strides, bounces and gambols through its taut 6-minute frame.

— Paul Pellay

 

SEATING ARRANGEMENT:

Selected Reviews

John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, 13 January 2013 "Augusta Read Thomas, the 16th luminary to hold the title University Professor at the U. of C., [was] represented by two works.  Thomas' Passion Prayers (1999) and her more recent Scat (2007) were good foils for each other, in several respects.

"Passion Prayers set the intense, lyrical musings of Pacifica cellist Brandon Vamos within an instrumental fabric for six strings, woodwinds, piano, harp and percussion that was by turns restless, spiky, agitated and shimmering. The cellist dispatched his part with impassioned dedication.

"Per its title, Scat (for flute, violin, viola, cello and piano) inverts the technique whereby jazz singers imitate instruments either wordlessly or with random or nonsense syllables. The reverse role-play has the instrumentalists bouncing quirky rhythmic riffs off one another, an effect the composer likens to that of a stone skipping across a watery surface. Its six tightly-coiled minutes distill the percolating energy of jazz without actually being jazz. The performance was electric."

David Weininger, Boston Globe, 9 November 2007 An A-list composer, an off-the-beaten-track premiere

"The Chicago-based composer Augusta Read Thomas writes precisely calibrated music of refined beauty. Her works are in the repertory of several A-list players and ensembles, including the cellist Matt Haimovitz, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the chorus Chanticleer. The Boston Symphony Orchestra is scheduled to premiere a new piece of hers next season.

"Her latest work is the chamber piece Scat, composed for the Walden Chamber Players. And it's having its official world premiere Sunday morning at a pretty non-A-list site: the Hampshire Jail and House of Correction in Northampton. By now it's become common to hear classical music in lounges and bars, but even by those standards, having a premiere in a prison is a distinctly atypical gambit.

"Strictly speaking, the first performance is tonight at Smith College, but Christof Huebner, the Chamber Players' artistic director, notes that concert came together after the premiere had been planned. Scat will also be played Sunday afternoon at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown.

"Speaking by phone from her home, Thomas says she and the Walden group had originally discussed premiering the piece at Smith. "We started talking about the fact that there was this prison right there in Northampton," about a mile from the campus, she says. It seemed like a chance to expand the idea of musical outreach. "Instead of just going to nursing homes or hospitals or into kindergarten classes and things of that kind," she says, why not work with a different segment of society?

"It's an undertaking with which Thomas was already familiar. Years ago, while teaching at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., she made several visits to the nearby Albion Correctional Facility, a women's prison. "I was talking about contemporary women composers," she says. "This is not a subject people would know a lot about. But I remember the incredible eagerness — they wanted to talk and listen and learn. Here they are sitting in a prison, but you play them some music and it ignites that same spark we all have."

"Scat was written for harpsichord, oboe, and three strings. It performs a curious inversion on the idea of scat singing, in which the singer's voice mimics an instrumental improvisation. "I got the idea, why not reverse that?" Thomas says. "Why not just have straight instruments, in a sense, trying to sound like scat?" The resulting piece is light on its feet, with the strings and oboe twirling around the brittle, tick-tack sound of the harpsichord. "It sounds like it's bouncing along the surface of the water, like a stone skipping."

"Thomas thought that the jazz element might make the piece accessible to a broad audience. At the prison, she and the musicians intend to talk about the piece, demonstrate how it's put together, and answer questions. "I'd love to hear what they want to know — what interests them about the instruments or the orchestration or the jazz history or what it's like to be a woman composer," she says.  Some who think prisons should have a punitive role, rather than a rehabilitative one, might question whether inmates should have the benefit of music performances. Huebner strongly believes they should. "I think we all know how quickly a wrong decision in each of our lives can result in circumstances such as some of these inmates have found themselves in and now pay the price for," he writes in an e-mail. He notes that attending the concert is a privilege inmates have to earn. "We believe that music, and art in general, has a positive message to convey."

"He also quotes something said to him by Patrick Cahillane, the prison's deputy superintendent: "Some day these prisoners might be our neighbors again. So it makes sense to educate, enlighten, and expose them to interesting and thought-provoking — maybe even attitude-changing? — ideas."

"Cahillane amplifies the point by phone, noting that most people incarcerated in the United States go back into society. "The goal of people who run correctional facilities should be to help people do so in a positive way. And this project is of a piece with that aim."

"Thomas hopes the encounter benefits all the participants: "It's all of us together sharing a couple of hours over a new piece," she says. "I'm hoping it'll be more like a seminar and less like a concert."

"Tonight at Sweeney Hall, Smith College, Northampton; Sunday at the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown. 866-393-2927, waldenchamberplayers.org"

Andrew L. Pincus, Special to The Eagle (Williamstown), 9 November 2007 'Scat': A premiere behind bars

"WILLIAMSTOWN - The performance of Augusta Read Thomas' jazz-inspired quintet, Scat, on Sunday would be a world premiere — if the world premiere weren't being given that morning in jail.

"It'll happen in Northampton. At 11 a.m., five members of the Walden Chamber Players, accompanied by Thomas, will play and talk about her nine-minute piece in the Hampshire County Jail. At 3 p.m., they'll repeat Scat here, along with four other pieces, at the Clark Art Institute.

"How do about 40 prisoners — about 15 percent of the jail's population — get to hear a new work by one of the country's most-in-demand composers before a paying audience gets its chance in one of the most prestigious museums?

"It's called outreach. Or maybe it should be called inreach. Or education and rehabilitation.

""Historically, across this country, 98 percent of the individuals who are incarcerated come back to the community," says deputy superintendent Patrick J. Cahillane of the Hampshire sheriff's office, who arranged the visit. "So if this gives them some connection to the community at large, it helps."

"In the jail, they'll perform the Bach/Mozart and Thomas pieces, leaving time for discussion with the inmates.

"The jail performance is a "privilege" for selected inmates, according to Cahillane. They are participants in a pre-release program "to increase the possibility of them doing OK on the outside."

"Participants are not required to attend the concert or other activities. But, Cahillane says, 30 to 50 usually do. The message is: There are better ways than crime.

"As the title suggests, Scat takes off from the jazz style of vocalization.

"Composer-in-residence at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1997 to 2006, recipient of a new Boston Symphony Orchestra commission, teacher at leading conservatories, and part-time resident of Becket: Thomas is not someone you would pick out of a crowd as an aficionado of jazz. Her work is serious in tone and sometimes complex in orientation. But, she says, jazz has been an interest of hers for most of her 43 years.

"Writing a prison piece

"The idea of writing a prison piece came to her about 12 years ago, when she did a program on living women composers in the women's prison in Albion, NY."

"It was really, really beautiful and rewarding to do that," she says. The program met with "enthusiasm and passion."

"A member of the Walden advisory board, she and artistic director Christof Huebner began discussing a new piece to be composed by her about two years ago. She knew what she wanted to write, "even before I set notes."

"Cahillane accepted the offer, believing "what a great addition it is, just sending a positive message to people that are incarcerated." Last Sunday, a Walden trio headed by Huebner, the group's violist, did a lecture-demonstration in the jail as a trial run."

"For the Walden group, the move into a jail is an extension of an outreach program that is currently taking it into schools from Nantucket to Texas. For the jail administration, the visit continues a program that brings in volunteers from the community in theater, music and other arts activities."

"Other jails have similar programs. But Hampshire, Cahillane says, is fortunate in being able to draw on teachers and students from Smith and other campuses in the five-college area. The jail, for example, is regularly visited by two art teachers."

"Visiting room, music hall

"Last Sunday's program was held in the art room. For the bigger audience expected this Sunday, the visiting room will be turned into a chamber music hall.

"Thomas, whose new piece for the BSO, Helios Choros II, is a co-commission with the London Symphony Orchestra, hopes her listeners will hear echoes of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong in her transformation of scat singing into instrumental dress. She'll lead a discussion with musical examples, explaining such things as why she wrote the way she did and how challenging or easy it is to play certain sections.

"There are other lessons to be learned.

"Cahillane says there's no way to measure the effect of such activities on inmates returned to society, but he has seen a change among some. They'll think, "Wow, I can get out and I can do something with my life."

"Not a musician himself, but tempted to take up an instrument when he retires, the superintendent recalls how one inmate last Sunday asked Huebner how long the players have to practice. Three or more hours a day, plus two or more hours in rehearsal - and all this after a lifetime of study, Huebner replied.

"The inmates saw that "it is their job, it is work," Cahillane says. And "to get anywhere in this life, you have to put in your hard work and pay your dues.""

Clarence Fanto, Special to the Eagle, 14 November 2007 An adventurous musical grab-bag

"Thomas, a longtime admirer of jazz, wrote Scat as an inversion of the stylistic technique in which jazz singers (Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan and Bobby McFerrin, among many others) imitate instruments either wordlessly or with random syllables and nonsense words. Her combination of oboe (or flute), violin, viola, cello and piano (or harpsichord) employs some gestures and elements typical of jazz, but comes across as a free-form, propulsive chamber work infused with tightly-coiled energy.  The Walden performers successfully captured the improvisational spirit of the eight-minute work. Thomas has created a fascinating piece that honors the jazz tradition while avoiding imitative "crossover" techniques. Scat is well worth additional hearings."

 

The Walden Chamber Players
Photo by Liz Linder

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