Copyright © 2018 by Jeremy Bell

The Ocean of Fire

Jeremy Bell

An advanced piece for concert band, The Ocean of Fire makes extensive use of the double harmonic scale, also known as the Arabic or Byzantine scale, to give it its distinctive sound that we associate with middle-eastern music, which you can learn more about in video to the right. The scale is symmetrical and contains 2 augmented 2nds that create the characteristic sound that Westerners have come to relate with the vast desert regions. Composers for movies like The Mummy, Aladdin, Syriana and Hidalgo all use elements of this scale, giving the scores a unique, ethnic sound that we relate to Arabic music. 

Their music is far more complex, however, making use of quarter tones, which aren't a part of Western music, and most of it being monophonic in texture.   Arabic music often uses stringed instrument like the oud or kamancheh or the human voice.  Often the music is accompanied by a drone that tends to keep a "tonal center" while the voice improvises over a set of pitches and using different patterns, much like Jazz music.  This musical system known as the Arabic maqam creates the beautiful music heard in the video below.

The title for the piece actually comes from the name of the horse race in the movie Hidalgo, which takes places in the Najd desert region located in Saudi Arabia. The Ocean of Fire tries to portray the vast desert landscape in both is its beauty and unrelenting hostility, a region with very little annual rainfall and sandstorms. Yet despite this, oasis settlements have thrived in this region, and Bedouins have wandered the desert, making this land their home.  And from this culture, a truly outstanding and wonderful musical style came to be.

The Ocean of Fire is an exciting advanced work that focuses on providing every instrument with something fun and challenging to play by interweaving motives and melodies to create a unique soundscape that resembles the music of the desert.  The Ocean of Fire has been chosen as one of J.W. Pepper's Editor's Choice selections and is published by C.L. Barnhouse

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