John Willmarth took inspiration from the complex nature of the ocean’s waves in writing the namesake piece, Waves. In his words, waves can be “gentle yet powerful, peaceful yet treacherous, [both] beautiful and formidable.”
Although relatively accessible thanks to a groove- and ostinato-based nature, this work provides a number of musical challenges. A quick tempo of 200 bpm is paired with complex time signatures; this most often means 7/8, but it frequently shifts into 10/8, 12/8, and more straightforward meters like 3/4 and 4/4. Harmonically, Willmarth explores a fresh palette of jazzy ideas, including frequent chord extensions, quartal/quintal harmony, chordal planing, and tasteful dissonance.
Individual parts present a fun technical challenge, too! All keyboard players use four mallets throughout, shifting between techniques including block chords, broken arpeggios, and permutations. The drum set writing is reminiscent of a big band tune, and an optional “chart-style” part is included in case the player more naturally understands that genre of music.
In writing this work, Willmarth has created an experience that’s as invigorating to listen to as it is to play. It would be an excellent intermediate-advanced ensemble piece for concerts, contests, or arrangement into a pageantry setting!