Standard Candles by John Herndon is a programmatic ensemble work inspired by a unique type of star. Cepheid variables are stars that illuminate and dim at a regular, known interval. This means they can be used as a standard candle – a means of calculating distances to and between celestial objects. Herndon writes, “they are a star with a heartbeat.”
The piece follows a ternary form, starting with a slow, mysterious introduction on pitched instruments. Suddenly, the tempo doubles, leading into a driving middle section characterized by tutti rhythms and brief solo moments. All players switch between their original instruments and their own drums. Finally, the piece closes with a recap of the calm opening section.
This work features audio accompaniment for a cinematic feel, but may optionally be performed without the audio following simple tweaks in the score. All parts are written with developing players in mind, featuring quarter/eighth note rhythms throughout, with basic sixteenth note passages for feature moments. Dramatic and well-rounded, this piece is a must-learn for beginner percussion ensembles or methods courses!