A retrospective celebrates the work of Chico State music composer Dr. Alfred Loeffler
I’m sitting in the band practice room, PAC 132, a large, windowless, high-ceilinged room with one long wall curving out into the room as if a large airplane had chosen to settle down above the half-dozen walk-in cabinets standing against it.
In the middle of the room is a circle of instruments: a xylophone, a marimba, a vibraphone and a set of timpani. Behind each stands a man surrounded by yet other instruments. Two of the men are young; two are thickening into middle age. Another larger, almost bear-like man with a full white beard and whitening blond hair and wearing a plaid shirt with a pair of suspenders completes the circle.
This man is sitting in his chair, leaning forward and listening, while behind him stands a sixth man, a thin, middle-aged man keeping watch over a computer, which he adjusts from time to time.
The atmosphere is friendly and warm. “I like it. I’m losing respect for you,” jokes the man behind the timpani. “I’m a drummer, so it’ll take me a while to figure that out,” says the man behind the marimba.
These, the two older percussionists, are long-time area drummer and teacher Dan Kinkle and composer/former Chico Symphony Director David Colson. The younger percussionists are Paul Herrick and David Lim, Colson’s students. The thin man at the computer is Chico State’s senior electronic music specialist, Ray Barker.
The white-bearded man directing from the chair is Dr. Al Loeffler, the 70-year-old former Chico Symphony conductor, long-time Chico State University music professor and composer of the computer/percussion piece the group is currently polishing—a delicious smorgasbord of sounds and textures involving 30-plus different instruments, the most intriguing of which is a piece of spring steel that Colson plays with a violin bow, as if it were a musical saw. It is a scene filled with affection.
I was first taken with Loeffler’s work when I watched Chico State perform his wonderful Love’s Labors Lost opera almost 20 years ago. His work is modern but touching and human. The program for which they are rehearsing Loeffler’s brand-new piece, Toccata for Percussion Ensemble and Electronic Sound, will be a retrospective of the composer’s work from his days as a Yale undergraduate to the present.
It is a retrospective concert that will be accompanied by rich program notes, which Loeffler sat down and typed in a rush a few weeks ago. These notes not only summarize his career from his birth in Brooklyn through his education at Yale and the University of Minnesota (and the teachers he encountered en route) to the present, they also describe the various pieces in detail. These latter descriptions are worth the reading—despite their occasional complexities.
The concert will begin with a series of song settings of poems by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost sung by Soprano Carol Menke and accompanied by long-time Chico pianist Joyce Groshong. Like many songs, these support their words’ meanings with sounds—a chattering squirrel set against a slightly pompous mountain, for one; nature’s beauty set against its capriciousness for another; a piano part that suggests the movements of a poet’s thinking for a third; and an imitation of tumbling down an icy hill and plodding back up it for a fourth.
These will be followed by Groshong and Chico State pianist Robert Bowman playing a four-hand sonata that intermixes three themes and ends in a life-affirming rondo. Then will come a dance and a couple of “sonnets” from Love’s Labors Lost and, after an intermission, a playfully intriguing work for three cellos called Toccata Toburra Canonica, which title is based on the first names of the three cellists playing it, Tom Stauffer, Burke Schuchmann and Ira Lehn.
The concert will conclude with the computer-and-percussion Toccata I describe above—an affecting finale for an interesting and engaging collection of music from a master.