Unusual Behavior in Ceremonies Involving Drums

Title: Unusual Behavior in Ceremonies Involving Drums
Date of Composition: Copyright © 1999 Daniel Bukvich
Level of Difficulty: Advanced High School or University
(need good percussionists and solo trumpet player; has an exposed saxophone section and extended baritone saxophone solo in the style of “Tower of Power”)
Instrumentation: Wind Ensemble
Ensemble Set-up: Bukvich Symphonic Band Diagram
Performance Time: 16 minutes
Publisher: Wingert-Jones Music
11225 Colorado
Kansas City, MO 64137-2502
or toll-free 800-258-WJMO
Program Notes:

“We have a duty toward music, namely, to invent it.”

Igor Stravinsky
Poetics of Music (1939)

“Music has developed into a search for a greater variety of instrumental tones and coloring, the most complex succession of dissonant chords, thus preparing the ground for musical noise.”

Luigi Russolo
The Art of Noises (1913)

“At one time, composers used pitch and intonation as well as melody, rhythm, harmony and orchestration as a structural component in their music.”

Ernest Bloch (1947)

Unususal Behavior in Ceremonies Involving Drums” is a single-movement symphony for band in five sections: Pulse, Prayers, Paradiddles, Parades, Pandemonium. The title is borrowed from an article written in 1962 by Andrew Neher of East Los Angeles College, “A Physiological Explanation of Unusual Behavior in Ceremonies Involving Drums”. Neher examines the trance-like psychological states produced by drums and drumming and the effects of rhythm on the central nervous system. Dan chose this framework to experiment with “unusual behavior” in music; micro-tonal scales and harmonies that result when traditional woodwind and brass instruments are played while partially assembled, for example, the flute without its lowest extension or the oboe minus its lower half. Quarter-tone and eighth tone intervals occur idiomatically when the performer reads traditional music notation and uses standard fingerings. The contrast between these “unusual” scales and the common diatonic (equal tempered) scale is the basis for the piece.

Unusual Behavior in Ceremonies Involving Drums”, premiered in August, 1999, is the culmination of five years of exploration of different sounds. According to Bukvich, the inspiration for this piece came from listening to the slight pitch deviations produced at junior high band rehearsals. Commissioned by Kappa Kappa Psi, the national honorary band fraternity, the work explores the use of resulting scales that occur when sections of instruments are removed, but traditional notation is used. The notated parts include only those fingerings possible using the sections of the instruments that remain intact. The traditional notation in these sections of the piece, while providing a uniform set of instructions for all performers to execute, does not lead to an accurate sounding of the pitches written. It results in quartertone alterations of certain scales, and a very unususal “tuning experience.” These effects would be extremely difficult to write using traditional musical notation.

There is a practical educational application of “Unusual Behavior in Ceremonies Involving Drums”. The challenge is to play the quartertone intervals with the best intonation possible. “If you can tune those intervals, wouldn't everything else be better?” he said. Beyond the educational purpose, there is a certain “childlike quality” to this composition. “I think it’s kind of fun to find out what half of a flute sounds like.”

Portions of the program notes extracted from “The Careers and Works of Emerging Composers of Music for the Wind-Band: Discussions with Jack Stamp, Thomas Duffy, Andrew Boysen, Jr. and Daniel Bukvich” by James P. McCrann; edited for content by Susan G. Weaver.


The first section, “Pulse”, begins with modulating bell-sounds that begin to sensitize the listener’s ear to minor variations in pitch. The first “drumming” comes from the flutes, saxophones, and bassoons, marimba like tones created by slapping keys and tone-holes. The rapidly pulsing brass and woodwind sounds that follow highlight the two half-step intervals contained in the diatonic major scale… traditionally the most dissonant “musical” sound. A repetitive bass drum rhythm serves as the only accompaniment to the main melodic theme, which is introduced by extended bass clarinet and bassoon solos.

A brief tuba and oboe duet introduces “Prayers”. This section is in rondo form: A-B-A-C-A-D-A-E different musical ideas (B,C,D,E) separated by a single theme (A). This “A” theme is a variation of the bass clarinet/bassoon melody heard in the first section, now played by euphoniums and horns and accompanied by a lushly orchestrated, sustained version of the diatonic half-steps first heard as rapid pulses near the beginning of the piece. In the background, muted trumpets play a rhythmic theme that will return as the motive for the final “Pandemonium” section. The B, C, D, and E sections introduce the “unusual behavior” of playing partially assembled instruments and stretch the listener’s ear to accommodate quarter- and eighth-tone variations in pitch.

The formal structure of “Prayers” is as follows:

A. Euphonium and horn melody; sustained background; flutes introduce elements of unease and strangeness as a prelude to…

B. Flutes (minus the lower section, or “foot”) and clarinets (also minus the lower section of their instruments) accompanied by metallic clangs and clicks from the percussionists

A. Brief fragment of euphonium melody

C. Disassembled oboes and bassoons

A. Brief fragment of horn melody

D. Trombones (minus their bells) playing the slides only, accompanied by piano

A. Brief fragment of the sustained accompaniment (no melody)

E. A “band” of disassembled flutes, trombone slides, and trumpets with tubing disconnected

After a moment of silence, the marimba signals a return to tonality and the beginning of the third section, “Paradiddles”. Four percussionists play the marimba in traditional African fashion, two on each side, while the audience is enveloped by melodies from the trumpet section. A solo trumpeter accompanied by marimba plays the bass clarinet/bassoon melody from “Pulse”. As horn and euphonium sections and solos join the trumpet, bubbles of quarter-tone discord from the disassembled clarinets modulate and fight with the marimba accompaniment. The “Paradiddle” section is brought to a close by bells, piccolos, and flutes (now without their middle section - just head joints and “B” foots), clashing in the upper register and producing multiple lower-pitched “resultant tones”.

“Parades” begins with a forearm cluster/crash from the piano and didgeridoo blasts from bassoon, euphoniums and tubas followed by a brief timpani solo. The four marimba players return as drummers to accompany a baritone saxophone solo and saxophone section soli. The same trumpeters that earlier played melodic and consonant fragments of the theme return playing a very unusual kind of music on very unusual trumpets. A french horn “hunting call” is answered by shoulder horns (trombone bells) and the horn section then leads a canonic re-assembling of the melody culmination in a full, traditional band version of the theme accompanied by African drumming and Afro Brazilian bass and harmonic concepts. A metric modulation set up by the timpani leads to…

“Pandemonium”. Cascading woodwinds accompany a brief, rhythmic theme first introduced in “Prayers”. Under this relentless, driving rush of sound the entire low-brass section re-states the melodic theme. Woodwind flourishes and rhythmic brass accents lead to a Gene Krupa-inspired drum soli and a return to the rapidly-pulsing half-step motive from the beginning of the composition.

FAQ: The recording I have seems longer than the written score for the piece. Why?
This piece exists in more than one version. Dan second-guessed himself on his first sketches of the piece and ended up making some sections of the piece much too long. Unfortunately, he did not have time to shorten the piece before it was premiered and recorded, so the recorded version that we have is of the longer version. The original version of the piece was written to be about 23 minutes long. Dan has since shortened the piece to fill about 16 minutes of playing time.

Recordings: Details about recording(s):
  • Performer(s): Northern Iowa Wind Symphony
  • Conductor: Ronald Johnson

File(s) available:

Recording(s) posted: [2002-09-28 00:00:00]

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