The Misty Mall of Avalon was composed in the spring and summer of 1999 at the request of Grant Etchegary
for the Avalon East District Band, St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Commissioned as part of the Soirée 99 celebrations with the support of the Newfoundland and
Labrador Arts Council, I was asked to write a piece that had something to do with Newfoundland, but I was given great
latitude in how I could interpret this.
Although one might have thought that shopping malls have very little to do with traditional Newfoundland culture, they have become fairly ubiquitous here, and as a result, they are very much a part of contemporary life, and thus contemporary culture. With this irony in mind (I don't think most people think of shopping malls when asked to describe Newfoundland culture!), I decided to compose a whimsical fantasy based loosely on a visit to the Avalon Mall in St. John’s with the hope that the performers and audiences might also enjoy the wacky musical humour.
The fact is, however, that despite the fragmentary references to the A & W “Root Bear Theme” in the tuba that appear at several points in the work (including the very beginning), there are no other obvious allusions to malls. However, if you try really hard (as I did, after naming the work!), it might be possible to find other, more subtle, musical connections with the title.
For example, the bouncy and cheerful opening could possibly conjure up the image of a rather simple soul taking an absurdly-jovial, life-affirming stroll through the mall, as if in a television commercial. This first section ends with a dramatic fanfare in the brass that seems to be setting up something of importance to follow, but since this is about a visit to the mall, nothing significant actually ensues. Instead, we hear a series of quotations from some of the most famous themes in classical music, treated irreverently, much like fast food or the soundtrack to a Bugs Bunny cartoon.
Why? Well, the fast-food treatment is yet another far-fetched reference to the title, but mainly, it seemed like a fun thing to do at the time. This is by far the silliest music I have ever written. When this irreverent (and possibly abusive) treatment of famous tunes finally reaches yet another bombastic climax, the expected dramatic continuation does not, once again, occur. How could it? WE’RE AT A MALL, PEOPLE!!! Instead, the bumbling “Root Bear Theme” returns (only the first four notes, which I am hoping makes it legal) to begin the final section, a recapitulation of the opening, followed by a fairly long coda.
My thanks to Grant Etchegary for commissioning this, and to all the performers for doing such a fine job.
©Clark Winslow Ross
(One of the highlights for me in this performance occurs during the middle, quotation-based section, when a very young [possibly 15?] Sean Rice plays the heck out of the famous opening clarinet solo from "Rhapsody in Blue." Listen for this!)