by Gordon B. Peters
The SWORDS OF MODA-LING was an outgrowth of a project I completed for graduate music styles classes at the Eastman School of Music in 1957. I chose to study the writing style of Bernard Rogers, then chairman of Eastman's composition department. Rogers' "Dance of the Swords," the last movement of his JAPANESE DANCES, provided the inspiration for this assignment. Modal usage, pointillism, fabrics of sounds, syncopation, specific colors (instrument and mallet choices) and maximum keyboard use were the principle stylistic features that I utilized in the SWORDS OF MODA-LING. I emphasized keyboard percussions, as most works written at that time utilized membranic and accessory percussion almost exclusively.
In 1962 I became professor of percussion at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. Alan Stout, a faculty composer, suggested that I lengthen the work with the addition of a solo piano mid-section: this became the 1966 version of the piece. Subsequently, through 2003, I made further adjustments, i.e. instrument placement; addition of a short improvisatory section; extension of the final section; dynamic balances; and generally more detailed indications for both players and conductor.
The work commences with a slow Cantabile lontano melodic introductory theme in the piano punctuated by pointillistic interruptions. An Allegro follows displaying a dialogue between the timpani and the piano. This is followed by a piano Chorale (Andante con moto) and another "tutti" Allegro, this time featuring the keyboard percussion. A short improvisatory section comes next, with a short Andante transition to the final Allegro con brio featuring the timpani. The following instruments are used: timpani, xylophone, marimba, glockenspiel (bells), vibraphone, chimes, snare drum, bass drum, suspended cymbals, Chinese tam-tam, and piano. Nine players are required: a timpanist, seven percussionists, and a pianist. The duration of the work is seven minutes.
I am often asked to explain the title: "Moda-Ling" derives from "doodling" with modal scales (as opposed to major/minor), so characteristic of Bernard Rogers' compositional style.
During the 1970s this work was reported by the Percussive Arts Society to be the second most performed percussion ensemble in the United States, and it continues to be popular in today's programming.