Social Harmony

for orchestra
premiered March 4, 2022
Pomona College Orchestra, Eric Lindholm, conductor
Bridges Hall of Music
Claremont, CA


Social Harmony was written for Eric Lindholm and the Pomona College Orchestra during a time of social isolation and political tension, when anxiety and longing for its resolution was a constant for most of us. While writing, I gradually came to see harmony as a stand in for human dynamics. Dissonant harmony often suggests resolution to consonance, whether immediate or delayed. Whatever its course, dissonance is a powerful motivating force in music, and a defining element. The interplay between consonance and dissonance seems to me to be analogous to the push and pull of everyday human interactions. Each movement of Social Harmony uses specific pitch collections to suggest dialogue about the current state of our collective.

I. “Conflict and Irresolution” reflects our emotional responses to daily life. Based on one 4-note chord, comprised of the most pure (4ths and 5ths) and the most grating (half-step) intervals, the movement exploits both sonic extremes. Busy commotion is interspersed with quiet song, only to be frequently and aggressively interrupted, reflecting much of life in the 21st century.

II. “Song of Prayer” may be whistling in the dark, but it seeks a path forward from current difficulties. It is based on the elusive 8-note octatonic scale – a chameleon-like collection that can seem “tonal,” with relatively consonant harmonies, or quite dissonant, depending on how it is used. The movement leans more towards consonance, and ends with all 8 notes in a chord meant to be more rich and sonorous than dissonant.

III. “Getting Along” reflects the hope that widely divergent personalities, cultures, and concepts can productively work together. By turns playful, energetic, and singing, the movement juxtaposes four simple and distinct triads (C major, Gb major, G# minor, and D minor.) Combined, they add up to the 12 pitches common to much music today, flirting with the possibility of the most extreme dissonance. The chords appear in various combinations, embracing their differences, sometimes conflicting, sometimes blending, but in all cases getting along. (And ending in an all-encompassing, exuberant 12-note chord.)