Premiere Salute: “The Desert Music” by Steve Reich

by Abby @ Quaver on January 9, 2012

in In the Quaver Classroom!,This Month in Music

Quaver here!

As a new feature for this New Year, I thought it would be interesting to learn more about a notable musical premiere each month.

A premiere is the first performance of a musical or theatrical work, and is usually accompanied by fanfare and excitement. It’s especially fun to look back on the premiere of a piece years later, to see what impact the work and artist have had on music since that day!

Our premiere of interest this month is . . . cue the confetti and drumroll . . . the January 1986 premiere of “The Desert Music” by Steve Reich.

Steve Reich: American Composer of Minimal Music

The WHAT? Yes, “The Desert Music.” The first time I heard this music, I was really captivated by its unique and different sound! Let me try to describe it to you, then we’ll have a listen.

My kids each have a kaleidoscope toy with mirrors; when you look into it and turn the wheel at the bottom the beads rearrange themselves and the mirrors reflect a different image with every turn.

Reich’s “Desert Music” is a like a musical kaleidoscope.

It’s created by using, among other things, ostinatos, which are melodic or rhythmic patterns that repeat over and over in a piece of music, they have a kind of hypnotic effect when layered on top of each other.

Reich uses dynamics in a really cool way as well by having chords and patterns swell up and down a bit like turning the volume up and down on a radio – as you listen, you become compelled to keep listening to it. This style of music is called Minimal Music and Steve Reich was a pioneer and master of it.

Steve Reich created “The Desert Music” for a very unusual group of instruments, 27 singers and full orchestra, which he chose to have seated in unusual combinations. Marimbas also feature very heavily in this piece.

Now that you’ve heard my take, have a listen to it for yourself in this video set to a performance by the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Singers. I love it – it is so unique! Let me know what you think of it.

Remember, you don’t have to like every piece of music you hear. Maybe – like me and Brussels sprouts – some music will grow on you over time. You’ll never know unless you give it a chance!

If you like this piece, check out his “Clapping Music.” It’s really cool!

Congrats Steve Reich for the 25th anniversary of “The Desert Music.”

Can you think of a style or piece of music that seemed strange to you at first?
How do you feel about it now?


If you’re reading this via Feed, click here to see the video of “The Desert Music.”

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