American Mirror (2018)

Los Angeles-based composer Derrick Spiva Jr. could not have chosen a better name for his malleable ensemble, Bridge to Everywhere. The name embodies his compositional and cultural ethos clearly and succinctly. At a time when our society needs bridges more than ever, Spiva’s music connects music from all over the world with his own American identity. His second album, American Mirror, places rhythmic and melodic foundations from West and North Africa, India, Eastern Europe, and Appalachia seamlessly within the realm of modern American classical music. American Mirror proposes that diverse musical cultures can become even more beautiful when they exist and collaborate together. It is a musical metaphor for how disparate segments of American society, which has roots all over the world, can be truly harmonious.

Like his first album, Prisms, Cycles, Leaps, the American Mirror release coincides with the world premiere of one of the featured compositions. The renowned Los Angeles Chamber orchestra chose to premiere “From Here A Path” as the closing concert for their 50th anniversary season. “From Here A Path” draws inspiration from “Husago” (a piece that includes drumming, dancing, and singing) from the Ewe people of Ghana, kaval flute playing from Eastern Europe, and elements of Hindustani classical music. The piece’s shifting meters are grounded with a “tihai” (a thrice-repeated rhythmic phrase in an overlapping meter that is used to end a section or conclude a piece in Hindustani classical music). The title “From Here A Path” references the momentum and resistance one gathers to reach a point.

The two-part composition “American Mirror” reflects on the coming together of cultures in our society, which consists of many generations and descendants of refugees, slaves, and immigrants, and how intercultural collaborations are essential to the wellbeing of American society. Melodically, the piece draws from West African, North African, and Eastern European vocal techniques and ornamentations, in addition to modal scales. Underneath these melodies, American Mirror uses open harmonies commonly found in Appalachian folk music, and also includes drones, an accompaniment practice found in many musical cultures. American Mirror is written in two parts. Part I asks for the audience and/or Quartet members to sing drones together, symbolizing the support we could give to one another, and encouraging every individual to reach their full potential. A hymn-like tune grounds the piece, returning several times. Part II uses clapping as an accompaniment, continuing a tradition practiced in many cultures around the world. Part II also uses rhythmic structures found in Hindustani (North Indian) classical music, such as tihais and dumdhar chakradhar tihais, and uses an eight beat cycle called adi tala, found in Carnatic (South Indian) classical music. Towards the end of the piece, a portion of the audience is invited to mark the shape of adi tala using their hands (clapping and counting with fingers), a practice found in both Hindustani and Carnatic classical music.

With American Mirror, Derrick Spiva Jr. expands the potential for modern American classical music. By reaching across continents with an open creative mind, he leads the way toward both broader appeal for classical music, and broader cultural understanding and celebration. At a time when American culture truly needs it, Derrick Spiva Jr. indeed builds a bridge to everywhere.

– Daniel Rosenboom, Orenda Records

Prisms, Cycles, Leaps (2015)

This album is a sonic illustration of the body’s perception of rhythm and the ancient relationship between cycles in nature and the energy created by tempo. The album bridges several musical cultures and the genres of classical, world, and jazz.

“Music, for me, has always been a doorway into understanding other cultures and different ways of living. Through learning music of other cultures, I believe that the opportunity for dialogue rather than conflict between strangers is opened, and we can become a society with less conflict due to cultural misunderstanding.

“PRISMS, CYCLES, LEAPS, is an orchestral piece that bridges the space between the music of the Balkans, the Volta Region of Ghana and North Indian Hindustani classical music. The time signature of the piece is in a foundational 3/2, but shifts its emphasis to 6/4, 12/8, and 7/8 +5/8 in different sections by using polyrhythmic ostinatos that are found in traditional Ghanaian drumming and dance. The melodic lines of the piece combine elements of Balkan music and Hindustani classical music. While the melodic lines use an ornamentation specific to Bulgarian women’s choir music (similar to accaciaturas and mordents found in Baroque music), the larger form of the melodic lines resembles the tihai rhythmic cadence and the long phrases found in improvised Hindustani classical music. Tihai is a thrice-repeated rhythmic phrase in an overlapping meter that is used to end a section or conclude a piece in Hindustani classical music. The title PRISMS, CYCLES, LEAPS references a search for beauty in life and nature through multiple and varied yet cyclical experiences.

“ALL AND NONE explores rhythmic hemiolas over the time signature 5/4. The piece explores the complexity in nature between small particular patterns that are easily recognized and larger cyclical patterns that are barely recognizable due to their scale.

“DANCE IN 3, MOVE IN 2 focuses on polyrhythms that emerge from a fast tempo in 3/4 & 2/4, inspired by rhythmic cycles found in traditional folk music of the Ewe people of southeastern Ghana and the Dagomba people of northern Ghana.

“SUNLIGHT SPREAD focuses on repeated rhythmic phrases that leap in and out of conventional time signatures, creating layered, overlapping patterns. The piece draws from elements of son huasteco folk music from Mexico.

“ELASTIC RHYMES explores how complex rhythms can appear to expand and contract in different musical surroundings, using asymmetrical elements of traditional Bulgarian folk music and melodic call and response techniques found in West African music. This elastic rhythm concept is found in the music of many cultures and is often used to induce trance as it distorts the predictability of a rhythmic foundation.”

—Derrick Spiva, Jr., 2015