II. Shevarim (Broken)
III. Teruah (Alarm)
IV. Tekiah Gedolah (Big Blast)
When The Guidonian Hand asked me to write a piece for their quartet, it hit me that I had never written a big piece for the trombone, my own instrument. The thought of writing a large, theatrical trombone quartet that would rival a string quartet became a challenge I couldn’t refuse.
Then, on November 4th, 2008, Proposition 8 passed by a narrow majority in California, banning gay marriage in that state mere months after the California State Supreme Court struck down an earlier ban as unconstitutional. I was heartbroken. Protests sprang up all over the country, in hundreds of cities and drawing hundreds of thousands of people. I attended every one that I could, went to organizing meetings, made extra signs .All this was right around the Jewish High Holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Those days require a deeply reflective, critical evaluation of your actions over the previous year, and I could not bring myself to write a purely concert piece, the idea of which struck me as superficial and frivolous in the face of such urgency.
The High Holidays are marked by the playing of the shofar (a hollowed-out ram’s horn that’s among the world’s oldest and simplest instruments). The sound of the shofar is meant to take you outside yourself, to draw you toward something higher and greater. Wake up! it says; for now, your ordinary life is over. The connection with the sense of purpose, elation, and community that I felt at the Proposition 8 protests was unavoidable.
And so Awakening began to take shape. The four trombones act together as a kind of hyper-shofar, playing music that exists somewhere between protest chant and liturgical calls, an equal mix of joy and outrage, belonging and alienation. The word “awakening” means, to me, that we can never go back to the way things were—recent victories give me hope.
Each movement is based on one of the four basic shofar calls. They are played without pause:
I. Tekiah (Blast) : a single long tone.
II. Shevarim (Broken) : three separated tones
III. Teruah (Alarm) : nine rapid, staccato tones
IV. Tekiah Gedolah (Big Blast) : a single tone, held longer and louder than all the previous calls combined
— Jeremy Howard Beck