Updated: Jun 21, 2019
It is finally finished! My orchestra piece Vitrales is done and ready to be put out in the world. This is my largest work and my longest work so far running fifteen minutes. It is scored for full winds including doubling for Piccolo and English horn, full brass (4 Horns, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones and Tuba), Timpani + 3 percussion, Cellesta, Organ, and strings (There is a non-organ version for those interested). I had been wanting to write a large orchestral piece for a long time now but never actually had the time nor really a reason to do it. Every time I took to my sketch pad to write out some ideas for a large work, I found myself writing a new piece for a specific performer or a group (or a required piece for academic reasons) instead. Don't get me wrong, I loved working on all those other pieces and many of the them had premieres which I am grateful for! It just meant that whatever large work I wanted to write kept being pushed off to the side. When it came time to decide what I was going to write for my graduate thesis, I knew this was my chance. I had to seize this opportunity to finally write this large work.
This piece was inspired in part by my love for large churches and cathedrals and their beautiful display of stained glass windows. It was also inspired by my personal experience with the church and religion, and with my own journey. I went through a time in my life where I questioned my faith and the fate of my eternal soul. This was quite a long period, actually and I was unsure of what to do. I had made very poor decisions and some of my actions were mischievous and immoral. I have since then learned from the repercussions of said decisions and decided it was time to make a change. I have never shared this with anyone and it is not a part of my history I like to revisit but this history is what drives this piece as well as me. Instead of sharing it with words, I am sharing this experience through music.
In total, Vitrales took about eight weeks to complete. I began the sketches for it in September of 2018. The first sketches were not music at all. I like to first workout some of the details of the piece like concept, instrumentation, duration, direction, and so on. I also like to come up with words that would describe the mood and musical aspects of the piece and what I could do musically to represent those. After those initial steps, the music begins.
The early musical sketches consisted of basic ideas for the three large sections and some orchestration ideas I wanted to test out. I was able to test these ideas thanks to Dr. Glenn Block who is the Illinois State University orchestra director and my conducting professor/mentor. He was very generous and let me, along with some of my colleagues, to try out a few things with the orchestra. The feed back was extremely helpful. After that point, Vitrales was put on the back burner for a while because I had finals and end-of-year projects to finish. During the Christmas break I did the orchestrating and completed 90% the work. I took some of my studio set-up with me to Texas when I went to visit my friends and family. This way I had what I needed and was able to set it up at my sister's apartment where I spent long hours of the night working with the company of my sister's Christmas tree and pet fish.
This piece was very overwhelming at first because, as I mentioned before, I had never written a large work, so I did not have a routine or I did not know how I had to pace myself for this project. During my undergraduate career and my current graduate career, most of the pieces I wrote were for small ensembles and do not exceed about eight minutes. This was mostly due to the fact that I was writing for a recital at the end of the semester. Because other composers also had their music on the same program, we were limited on time. Additionally, the ensembles I was writing for had to be small and were made up of friends who would kindly agree to play for me. Don't get me wrong, I loved all the music I wrote for those recitals and it was a very fun and applicable experience. I am grateful for those opportunities and to my professors. A couple of those pieces have even won competitions and awards! Vitrales was just a new experience for me and I no idea how I was going to handle it. I knew I had to come up with a schedule so that I was working on Vitrales at least three to four hours every day. If I did not write for a minimum of three hours, I would add that time to the next day. I also worked on each section individually until I had enough material to start working on transitions and making each section relevant to one another.
Vitrales (Spanish for stained glass) is organized into three sections: Questioning; Emptiness; and Awakening. The main themes of these sections are: Questioning of one’s faith and the fate of one’s eternal soul, Emptiness of not having something to believe in, and Awakening of one’s faith and a re-discovery of spirituality.
I used two sets of stained glass as inspiration for the colors and mood of the piece. The set of windows housed in Sainte Chapelle in Paris, France, and the windows housed at La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. The Sainte Chapelle windows tell the story of the world from the beginning of time until the time when Saint Louis acquired Christ’s crown of thorns. La Sagrada Familia displays bright and spectacular colors from the entire spectrum as the light emanating through it bounces off of the white interior of the cathedral. La Sagrada Familia was my palete, if you will, for Vitarles' s finale.
I wanted to tell the narrative as if it were in a dream, so I used hazy textures to set up this dream-like state. I also evoke sounds of a Catholic Mass to represent the church aspect of the piece. This includes chimes and bells, spoken text, chants, and chorals.
Many have asked me to explain the narrative behind the Vitrales. I will do my best to describe what I had in mind.
Imagine that you have fallen asleep and you begin to hear church bells tolling in the distance. You soon open your eyes and find yourself surrounded by a fog or mist of some sort. In the haze, you can make out shapes and hear sounds. You soon come to realize that you are in a cathedral. You can see pillars and the arches. You can see the alter and the cross over the fog. You cannot, however, see anything below eye level. You also can hear people praying, taking part in the rituals of a Catholic Mass. You can hear the alter bells and the congregation saying the Trinitarian formula. You then realize that you are not in the physical world, but in the spiritual.
You make your way around the cathedral looking at the stained glass windows, in awe of what they represent. Before you know it, you have come to the alter where the large crucifix hanging over. Petrified from staring at the body beautifully crafted and placed, you are stricken with fear and guilt. You fear that when judgment day comes, you may be cast into the inferno doomed for eternity (dramatic, I know, but stay with me). What do you do? You run. You run in the opposite direction. As you run, the ghosts of your past are manifesting around you reminding you of your wicked past. Fatigued, you come to an immediate stop and find yourself surrounded by absolute darkness. With nowhere to go and nothing in sight, you wonder in the darkness, alone, hoping you come upon something that may help. You think yourself forever lost and alone.
Unknowingly, you wonder into a miasma. It seems familiar but after being in the dark so long, you think you are hallucinating. You wander deeper into the miasma when suddenly a ray of light cuts right through the darkness. Slowly, more and more rays of colorful light penetrate the fog. Before you know it, you are surrounded by beautiful light of all colors. A warm and peaceful feeling overcomes you. You see the light for what it is; salvation. You recognize the feeling and the meaning. You feel at home, safe, and at peace. This is the awakening.
I hope this was helpful! If you would like to listen to the piece, please feel free to contact me. An actually recording of this piece is in the works for now I have a very good rendition that might help better understand the narrative above. If you would like some more technical notes about Vitrales, my dissertation is available upon request.
What Happens Next?
In case you have forgotten after all of that reading, I must remind you that this piece is my graduate thesis and, although the music is done and ready, the process is far from over! On April 10, I will be having my defense. This is a presentation I have to give to my committee as well as invited guests. The presentation is basically is this blog but in a much more formal format. There will be a powerpoint presentation including audio examples as well as visual examples. I basically have to convince my committee that my piece is great and they should give me my degree. After this presentation comes the formatting meetings and revisions. Along with the score, I have to submit technical program notes then it all gets reviewed. This is when the graduate school pull out their rulers and magnifying glasses and check every aspect of both the score and the thesis and preliminary pages. They will send back a list of revisions I have to make, after which I will submit the revisions and this cycle will continue until I get the email saying "yay, you did it!" Then it will get published and archived in the university's library.
I have submitted this piece to two Call-for-Scores! I have not yet received any notifications on whether Vitrales has been selected or not but I have my fingers crossed. Most call for scores do not allow for an organ part so I had to create a version of the score with no organ and re-orchestrate the organ part into other instruments. It was a little sad to have to do this but I will survive.
This over all has been a fun experience and I have learned a lot from writing Vitrales. I am hoping that one day this it has its 15 minutes if fame and is brought to life. If you want to know more about Vitrales or see a sample of the score, feel free to contact me! I would love to share it with you! There are whispers of a version for Wind Ensemble. The original version will be on my website after my defense on April 10. Tell your conductor friends! To find out when it's online (or just to know more about my doings) follow me on intsagram - aarongomezmusic. I will make sure to make a big deal about it!
Thanks for reading! I appreciate your support and am grateful for your time. Please support your local artists! We all want to share what we love to do. You never know what you might find or who you might meet at a local art gallery or a concert.