Three Sams is a multi-percussion solo that was written by David Little in 2007. It was premiered by Sam Solomon at the Boston Conservatory on May 6, 2007. Little wrote this piece for a variety of instruments including: vibraphone, crotales, bass drum, wood blocks, brake drums, cymbals, and more. This diversity in instrumentation allows Little to explore combinations of different timbres throughout his work. The piece is written in three movements with each taking on different aspects of performing musically and facilitating technicality.
Movement one, (-)-I-Am begins with the vibraphone performing an intricate melodic pattern that gradually begins to incorporate other instruments to replace notes in the melody. As the piece develops, Little creates a second melody in the crotales based on the material introduced by the vibraphone. Little also gradually replaces notes that would be played on the crotales with a different instrument to create another accompaniment. By the end of this movement, there are two different melodic lines occurring that create a combination of melodic and harmonic content. This compositional technique gives the piece a driving character that always leaves the listener wondering where the piece will go next. This movement does not have a clear tonality, but Little is able to give moments of release through the use of ritardandos, sustained notes, and the use of higher ranges of the crotales.
The second movement, Son of (-), is a completely different character compared to the first movement. According to Little, “this movement is about rhythm.” This is evident in the way he wrote this movement to essentially by a pseudo-drumset solo orchestrated for kick drum, snare drum, cymbals, bongos, tom-toms, bass drum, and brake drums. The piece begins with kick drum and hi-hat providing a groove with some fills on other instruments. This idea is developed with the introduction of the bongos to provide a countermelody to what has been previously introduced. As the piece develops, Little gradually shifts the piece away from strict through-composed musical ideas to seemingly improvised moments with moments of frustration to drive this concept home. Towards the end, the performer must use a whistle while playing phrases that sound entirely improvised. The movement ends after the release of frustration with a quiet sustain from the whistle while playing on cymbals and the gong.
The final movement, Wicked Uncle (-), focuses on the independence between all four mallets and feet. Little says, “It is as if the performer now has more active limbs than most mere mortals, spread almost too thin.”. Little pushes the performer to their limit by having them play several instruments while keeping the melodic ideas intact. Given the slow tempo of this movement, it is deceptively easy. However, the technical prowess that a performer must have to navigate this movement is evident. The movement starts out relatively simply, only using vibraphone and crotales. The independence begins to come into focus as Little introduces the bass drum along with other instruments. The gradual development throughout this movement and use of the kick drum provide a solid groove for this movement. This movement begins rather quietly, and gradually builds up to a climax where every voice is working together to create an interesting figure. As the piece concludes, the woodblock and kick drum are used to reach a cadential point through the use of a crescendo and ritardando. The piece ends on a single crotale note at a low dynamic, similar to the beginning of this movement.
Little has composed a piece that is very demanding of a performer yet is not too “out-there” for a listener to enjoy. This piece is reminiscent of Western musical traditions as there are melodies, harmonies, counterpoint, rhythmic developments, and several “cadence” points. While there is no clear tonality to this piece, Little is able to give a sense of arrival through the use of different musical techniques such as ritardandos, ranges, and dynamics. Little also used orchestration to create different moods throughout the piece such as using the wood blocks for darker, earthy sounds in contrast to the bright colors of the vibraphone and crotales. David Little composed a piece that is unique in the way of instrumentation, orchestration, and the ideas behind the creation of the piece.
“Sam Solomon| “Three Sams” by David T. Little.” Youtube Video, 12:58. Posted by “Vic Firth Concert,” May 31, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAGyiR5jGlM