Sean William Calhoun | Composer and pianist

Psychopomp, for percussion ensemble (2020) – 60'

I. Introit
II. Gjöll
III. Etching
IV. Iudicare saeculum per ignem
V. Phlegethon
VI. Encaustic
VII. Eleison
VIII. Lethe
IX: Palimpsest
Psychopomps — those who guide the dead to the afterlife — have appeared in stories throughout history. They are not the bringers of death, but rather those who take the souls of the deceased and walk, fly, or ferry them on their journey beyond the mortal realm. Psychopomp is tied to no particular mythology of death, but makes reference to a few. It is divided in three triptychs: Metal, Fire, and Memory, each focusing on one particular subunit of the ensemble. Metal is hard and clangorous, with interlocking rhythms. Fire is volatile, with rhythms moving to greater speed and complexity, sometimes escalating until they come around the other side, becoming clouds of sound. Memory is the most abstract — fluid rhythms and shifting clouds predominate, but as an anchor amidst that, the figures from before coalesce into a new melody. The first movement of each triptych is an introduction, and takes its title from the traditional requiem — Introit; Iudicare saeculum per ignem, to judge the world by fire; and Eleison, mercy. The second and longest movement of each triptych is named after a mythological underworld river — Gjöll, the river of blades; Phlegethon, the river of fire; and Lethe, the river of forgetting. The final movement of each triptych focuses on the featured subunit of that triptych and is titled after a method of writing or making art — Etching, chemically burning metal to create designs, is a trio for brake drums; Encaustic, painting with pigmented hot wax, is a quartet for drums; Palimpsest, a text written over a previous, mostly-erased one, features the duo of the Memory subunit. Psychopomp was composed for Hannah Weaver and the University of Nebraska Omaha Percussion Ensemble.