@FrodoPiano is a 12-year-old composer who grew up listening to lots of Phish, thanks to parents who are fans. That exposure inspired an arrangement of 22 Phish songs (plus a reprise) in a mammoth 269-measure medley, his 45th posted score. You can hear and watch the arrangement here (or visit the host page to read his introduction), followed by a short Q&A with the prolific songsmith.
How many Phish shows have you seen, and what was the first?
I have seen Phish some six times, and I have seen Trey with an orchestra twice, at the Hollywood Bowl and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. My first concert was on November 1, 2009. When I was younger, I listened to Rift a lot, as my dad had a copy that he kept in the car, so you could almost say I “grew up with it,” which might be why I am a bit biased toward it. ;)
What’s your favorite Phish song, and why?
I don’t want to sound cliche, but my favorite has to be "Divided Sky". It has so many movements, with so many great themes, and I love all of them. (It was also apparently the song my mother wanted to hear instantly after I was born, so maybe that means something …) My favorite albums, though, are Junta and Rift.
How long have you been composing, and why do you enjoy it?
Well, first of all, I’d like to make clear that I certainly did not compose this, and all writing credits go to the members of Phish, respectively. However, I do compose regularly, and I have been for … say … 4-5 years now. I really like it because there are so many possibilities, and so many different concepts and ideas to explore. For example, I just learned about polyrhythms, so I just did an “experiment” to see how they worked within a piece, and that turned into my 6th prelude! I actually compose more than I arrange, and I’m now working on a piece called "Sinfonia Pangaea", one called "Song of Life", and the score for a friend’s game, of which the opening piece is called "Solitaire."
You’ve also written a seven-movement suite, somewhat inspired perhaps by Holst’s “The Planets.” Can you tell us about that?
Yeah, somewhat going off the idea of The Planets (which I love, and have seen in concert), and The Four Seasons, I decided to write a suite entitled The Days of the Week. At first, I realized that the seven days could correspond with the seven musical modes (Lydian, Ionian, Mixolydian, Dorian, Aiolian, Phrygian, and Locrian), but I decided against it, both to give myself more compositional freedom, and to prevent writing in Locrian, what with “resolving” to a diminished chord being … difficult. If you want to check that out, it’s here, and my favorite movements are "Wednesday" and "Friday."
What role has music education played in your life?
Music has, among other things, given me something to think about. There are so many different concepts in theory, and they’re so thought-provoking that you could spend ages just thinking about them. Also, if I’m ever stressed, I can just start snapping out a cool rhythm (or polyrhythm), or come up with a new theme or concept for a piece. It’s also just a lot of fun! Composing, for me, is a great outlet for creativity, because there are always new … possibilities, and new ideas that can be made reality through composing. I have also played piano for almost 6 years, and I just started playing the oboe.
Why did you arrange for this particular dectet, and for what other ensembles have you arranged or composed?
To be honest, I don’t completely know. I guess I just wanted woodwinds, and I chose some, and came out with this double wind quintet (with handclaps, because no performance of "Stash" is complete without handclaps). The bassoons are extremely versatile, and, in this case, work great as Mike’s part, throughout the medley. Other than that, different instruments get the melody throughout the medley, sometimes multiple kinds of instruments, sometimes just one. However, whenever an instrument gets a melody, both of the players of that instrument get the same part. In fact, only in certain harmonic cases do the two players of each instrument get a different part than their “counterpart.” Some instances of this are "Divided Sky," "Rift," "The Lizards," etc. Other ensembles I have arranged for include a piano with a violin and a cello, a piano with two violins, a piano duet, and solo piano. I have composed for many ensembles, including: solo piano; piano four hands (that’s four hands on one piano); violin and orchestra; oboe and bassoon; solo oboe; brass sextet; string quartet; guitars and an accordion; along with other small ensembles.
What songs did you not include, and why?
Well, that’s a long (and, in some cases, unfortunate) list, but there are good reasons behind most choices. The most common reason, of course, is that I can’t include every Phish song - that would take hours of music. Another reason is that some songs didn’t really … fit anywhere very well, and by the time I was wrapping the medley up, they just weren’t there. The third reason is something some of you may have noticed already - there’s no percussion! This was, frankly, an odd choice on my part, but I prefer, in general, composing with very little percussion, which typically doesn’t pose much of a problem. Now, for an arrangement of Phish songs, this gets a bit tricky, and on some songs, typically the “rock-ier” songs, this got a bit too tricky, so I left some out. Now for some reason, while I was arranging the medley, I completely forgot about "Fee," which would have worked, and now I’m really mad at myself.
What other adjustments did you have to make without a drummer?
Let’s face it - Fishman is amazing, and none of the songs sounded as good without him. But, both by choosing (mostly) more melodic songs and by laying down a clear rhythm with the bassoons, it wasn’t too hard to get a beat in there. As for the handclaps, you can’t do "Stash" without handclaps, and I decided to use them in "Mound" too. On the topic of "Mound," it provided a new problem in terms of rhythm, because of its polyrhythmic intro, which happened to be all I used. It’s just a simple 3:4 polyrhythm, but without a percussion section to lay down a beat, I had trouble keeping it sounding like a polyrhythm, and not just a time change. "First Tube" also has a polyrhythm, but that one wasn’t as hard to lay down.
You mention choosing more melodic songs. What can you say about what that excludes - songs you’d otherwise like to arrange, how you’d describe them, and where Phish’s arrangements lean, if anywhere?
This excludes, as I said, the “rock-ier” songs, meaning the songs that are more rock-and-roll(-ish), or more Fishman-heavy. This might include "Chalk Dust Torture," "Run Like an Antelope," "Weekapaug Groove," (dare I say) "Meatstick," etc., which unfortunately are some of Phish’s greatest songs, but would not be a good use of precious time in this arrangement, because they wouldn’t sound nearly as good with only woodwinds. Some of these might be fun to arrange if I added, maybe, some percussion/brass, and maybe strings or keyboards for fun.
Are there any Phish songs you would NOT want to arrange, or that you think are beyond re-arrangement, either by a woodwind dectet or otherwise?
Well, that’s a difficult question, but the one answer that comes to me is "Also Sprach Zarathustra." This is simply because it was arranged to be a Phish song, so to re-arrange it would be silly.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I know, this MIDI patch sounds awful, but hey, if one of you knows a woodwind dectet who’d like to play this, go ahead! (Just credit me.) :)
Shouldn’t you be playing with a ball or getting a job instead of poking a keyboard?
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