The Five Movements
Part 1: Welcome. Enter.
Part 2: The Mediator
Part 3: Communion and Renewal
Part 4: The Channeling Libra
Part 5: The Mentor’s Benediction
The first movement, “Welcome. Enter.” portrays the emotional and creative intensity that people felt when first hearing Von improvise. I based this movement in Zodiac 2 (which is in essence the key of D), the dream world that is the source of Von’s imagination, since that would be what a listener would have heard for the first time. Indeed, many musicians discovered through Von a portal through which new musical and human possibilities were revealed. Through his sound and his charismatic banter, Von welcomed you into his world. Crucial for Von was the voice, the instrument that he felt portrayed most fully what Von called “emotional sounds,” the emotional depth possible in music when a musician reaches beyond pitches and harmonies. Thus, vocalists are featured in this movement to evoke the vast musical and emotional effect Von had on first timers. I asked the soloists—Geof Bradfield, Kendall Moore, and Michael Raynor—to play freely as a means to express their original musical voices.
The second movement, “The Mediator,” portrays Libra’s characteristic of the intermediary. The bass line is drawn from all four Zodiac modes, a technique I use throughout the second, fourth, and fifth movements. I present the four modes in order and in retrograde in both melodies and harmonies for this movement to render the complex characteristics that all humans evoke, always in combination, not as solitary expressions and to emulate the directions of the zodiac which flow counterclockwise and clockwise. This flow depicts the Libra who mediates lower and higher forces through creativity and knowledge sharing. The rhythmic structure of twenty-five beats comes from assigning cells of two and three beats to alternating Zodiac signs, mimicking positive and negative polarities of the Zodiac, and corresponding those durational values with Zodiac modes 2 and 3. The cello melody draws from Zodiac 3, symbolizing the generous mentor of transcendent creativity. The soloists, Greg Ward and Victor Garcia, use the melodies and Zodiac modes as jumping off points for their improvisations.
The third movement, “Communion and Renewal” is a ballad I composed for Von that draws solely from my musical intuition to portray the “emotional sounds” Von presented at every ballad performance. Von once told me that he judges musicians not on their technical prowess, but whether a musician can perform a ballad convincingly with emotion. From Von I learned to think of each ballad performance as a form of communion with musicians and audience, where musicians put their vulnerability into the world as a means for spiritual renewal for oneself and others.
The fourth movement, “The Channeling Libra,” is also based in Zodiac tonality with a rebuilt twenty-five beat structure that acts as a chant. The bass line comes from Zodiac 4, Von’s emotional intuition, with the other figures and lines drawn from Zodiacs 1, 2, and 3. Each layer comes in one by one, first with a tenor sax solo, then building layers of lines, and then the return of the cello melody from the second movement, representing how Von channeled higher consciousness while trying to escape the tension and anguish of lower forces. Tomeka Reid’s solo portrays the release to imagination and creativity and the final guitar represents a return to tension as a transition to the final blessing offered in the next movement.
The fifth and final movement, “The Mentor’s Benediction,” is comprised of two sections. The first section combines harmonies and melodies based in the Zodiac tonality. The text, read by Bill Brickey and written by Brian Allemana, expresses the four main characteristics in Von’s natal horoscope. The melody sung by Lindsay Weinberg in combination with my guitar portrays the human and divine forces that travel together in tension, searching for the perfect expression of beauty through artistic perfection that is never fully realized. Von’s cosmological being is thus portrayed by sound and text, where Von tells of his pains and yearnings, discloses his joy to play music, and offers musical and life advice. The second section is based on a groove in G minor, that is the result of the first movement’s melody presented in inversion, mimicking the black and forth flows between lower and higher planes. Several themes from the second and fourth movement are revisited and the first movement returns, referring back to the feeling of first meeting Von. The final chord, an unresolved A7 acts as a symbol of Von’s enduring blessings of musical and life knowledge that continue to nurture those who knew him.
In all, the five movements that comprise Vonology portray in sound the musical, cosmological, and spiritual forces that Von brought into the world, forces that forged musical fellowship and community and transformed innumerable people’s lives.