Sweet Dreams and Time Machines is dedicated to the memory of my friend, colleague and former Dean of the Eastman School of Music, Doug Lowry. There isn’t a week that goes by at Eastman when I don’t think of Doug. From the time I interviewed with him for the position at Eastman to Doug introducing me as “Buzz Saw” Burritt after a memorable performance with the Eastman Wind Ensemble in Chicago. (One of my most cherished memories with him.). Doug was a person who always allowed you feel yourself in his presence through his warm demeanor and casual sense of humor. Being Dean seemed to resonate with him and he just seemed to enjoy being part of the special community at Eastman.
There are no real Time Machines, outside of science fiction novels and movies. True time machines are the memories we carry with us of people and moments shared. I found some memories so poignant that you can almost step into them as though you are living that moment again. Sweet Dreams to those who have passed, touched us forever, and live eternally in our Time Machines.
In this tour-de-force, Michael Burritt offers a piece that justifies the subtle ambiguity of its title. While paying homage to a memorable colleague, Burritt manages to offer a work that is both highly virtuosic and musically moving.
Throughout this ten-minute work, there are many virtuosic moments, but as the piece evolves, this virtuosity gives way to simplicity in a way that is both inviting and worthy of revisiting. As it begins, the second marimba part requires rapid thirty-second-note permutations that lay well on the instrument, but due to their speed require a mature player with a strong facility in order to make musical sense of this barrage of notes. Subsequently, this rapid texture leads to the introduction of the crotales in the first marimba part that requires quick, but manageable, shifting back and forth between marimba and crotales.
Additionally, despite the technical challenges initially appearing in the second marimba part, both parts consistently are written with technically challenging music for four mallets that range from fast permutations to quick syncopated chord progressions. Throughout the work, both marimbists share prominent features, making for a balanced piece in which both performers are allowed a spotlight.
It would be a mistake to brand “Sweet Dreams and Time Machines” as simply a tour-de-force. This would dismiss the noticeable moments of simplicity, such as the textural change in measure 88, when Burritt reveals a simple hocket, reminiscent of Frederik Andersson’s “The Lonelinenss of Santa Claus,” without entirely sacrificing its virtuosic character. Another such moment can be found in the codetta in measure 208, where a simple arpeggiated bass line is embellished just enough to reveal a subtle groove perfectly chosen to bring the piece to a close.
“Sweet Dreams and Time Machines” would be a great piece for any advanced marimba duo that is looking for a show-stopping piece that will provide the audience with moments of repose with which to make sense of hte previous music. It would certainly be at home amongst performers looking to add a chamber piece that will showcase both virtuosity and musicianship.
-Quintin Mallette, Percussive Notes, July 2019