There is a paradox in music, and indeed all art - the fact that life-enriching art has been produced, even inspired by conditions of tragedy, brutality and oppression, a famous example being Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, written while he was in a prisoner of war camp. Gumboot Dancing bears this trait - it was born out of the brutal labour conditions in South Africa under Apartheid, in which black miners where chained together and wore Gumboots (wellington boots) while they worked in the flooded gold mines, because it was cheaper for the owners to supply the boots than to drain the floodwater from the mine. Apparently slapping the boots and chains was used by the workers as a form of communication which was otherwise banned in the mine, and this later developed into a form of dance. If the examples of Gumboot Dancing available online are anything to go by, it is characterised by a
huge vitality and zest for life. So this for me is a striking example of how something beautiful and life-enhancing can come out of something far more negative. Of course this paradox has a far simpler explanation - the resilience of the human spirit.
My 'Gumboots' is in two parts of roughly equal length, the first is tender and slow moving, at times 'yearning'; at times seemingly expressing a kind of tranquility and inner peace. The second is a complete contrast, consisting of five, ever-more-lively 'gumboot dances', often joyful and always vital.
However, although there are some African music influences in the music, I don't see the piece as being specifically 'about' the Gumboot dancers, if anything it could be seen as an abstract celebration of the rejuvinating power of dance, moving as it does from introspection through to celebration. I would like to think however, that the emotional journey of the piece, and specifically the complete contrast between the two halves will force the listener to conjecture some kind of external 'meaning' to the music - the tenderness of the first half should 'haunt' us as we enjoy the bustle of the second; that bustle itself should force us to question or revaluate the tranquility of the first half. But to impose a meaning beyond that would be stepping on dangerous ground - the fact is you will choose your own meaning, and hear your own story, whether I want you to or not.
David Bruce, St Albans, Sept 2008
Press / Latest Reviews
MySanAntonio.com / Mar 2012
On the second half of the program, the quartet was joined by clarinetist Ilya Shterenberg in David Bruce’s Gumboots. This wonderful new piece was the highlight of the concert. It is in two sections — a slow, meditative recitative in a melodic style that shared a little bit of a Renaissance quality from the first work on the program. This is the kind of melody, when played with the care and tenderness that Camerata produced, that makes you hold your breath while listening. Again, like the first piece on the program — stunningly beautiful. The second section was five very rhythmic high-energy dances that featured dazzling fast and high clarinet playing by Ilya Shterenberg. Ilya also played a few notes on bass clarinet on the first movement. I wish the composer had utilized the bass clarinet a bit more, as he created some beautiful sonorities with the low notes coupled with the string quartet. Gumboots is both fun and moving. I’m looking forward to hearing more David Bruce in the future.
The second it ended, their listeners leaped to their feet, screaming and shouting, like they'd been blown out of aircraft ejection seats. So much for the misguided notion that you can't please a crowd with modern music. This one should be required listening for anybody who's afraid of the music of today.
The highlight of the night turned out to be the new piece, Gumboots. Written in 2008 by David Bruce as a commission for Carnegie Hall, it includes many elements of African dance music in string quartet format with clarinet. Part I of the piece built tension between the string quartet that carried through the hall with growing force, but never fully exploded, reaching a peak tension and then slowly fading out behind a repeating arpeggio figure from the viola.
However, during Part II, a group of five dances, took the lingering tension and released it cathartically in a string of buoyant and breezy movements. The highlight of these was the fifth dance, which showcased clarinetist Sarah Beaty's immense talent. Her trills and shrill tone wove in and out, leading each piece. In the fifth dance, these trills came in waves, each one reaffirming the last and giving it a sense of unity, recalling its triumphs in the final moments with just the right sense of nostalgia and without sounding like a retread. The piece received a standing ovation and again at the end of the concert, when all the performers walked back out, it received jubilant applause.
Daily Gazette / Feb 2010
"David Bruce's “Gumboots” (2008) was next. Bruce writes with intelligence, inspiration and a knack for creating sound pictures that are almost cinematic. The first part was plaintive and yearning with desolate landscapes and horizons that seemed to stretch forever. The second dance-y part moved with vigor, loud and snappy rhythms, some of which had Caribbean flavors or the high energy of carnival. Beaty was fabulous in a brilliantly virtuosic part that required a lot of flair and style. "
Overflow Arts Journal Blog / Nov 2008
"..the St. Lawrence's dazzling, rumbustious world premiere performance of David Bruce's Gumboots"
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Latest CD release
THE MYRIAD TRIO: THE EYE OF NIGHT
The Myriad Trio launches their debut disc, featuring classic work for flute, viola, and harp. The last piece on the CD is
the source of inspiration for the disc and the work that anchors the album: The Eye of Night. Commissioned and premiered by The Myriad Trio in 2010, The Eye of Night, written by the British-American composer David Bruce, highlights the very special qualities that make this instrumental combination distinctive and this unique ensemble extraordinary.