concert band (1998, rev. 2002) 7′

published by Sweet Child Music

  • commissioned by the St. Olaf College Band

recorded by the UNC-Greensboro Wind Ensemble, Comet the Wonderdog!, private issue

The Perilous Adventures of Comet, the Wonderdog is a humorous tone poem about my dog, Comet. He is a big, galumphy lab mix that jumped out of the bushes and followed me home from school one sunny afternoon when I was teaching in Kirksville, Missouri. He is the first dog I’ve ever cared for, and I’ve learned a lot about dogs (as well as about myself) since he adopted me.

The piece loosely describes some of the foibles and (mis-)adventures that we’ve shared. The piece is divided into nine short episodes, each with a descriptive title:

  • The Wilds of Missouri
  • Nice Day for a Walk
  • A New Friend
  • Learning to Bark
  • The Mysterious Journey
  • Chocolate Overdose
  • Obedience School
  • Chasing Squirrels
  • Joie de Vivre

Most of these episodes depict real events, albeit fancifully. For example, Comet didn’t seem to know how to bark when I first found him; instead, he would do a curious little shuffle-dance as he gathered the gumption to eke out a weak little burp. He also has an uncanny knack for being able to eat anything, and has summarily eaten his grooming brush, three pairs of shoes, wooden door moulding, and a four-foot ficus tree! He also once ate two bags of Halloween candy (wrappers and all), but was seemingly unfazed by the poisonous chocolate (nor by the two cups of peroxide which the vet told us to administer as an antidote)! These antics were soon followed by an abortive attempt at obedience training, which lead me to wonder: can a dog have too much personality?

My musical style is usually very serious, and my pieces are rarely programmatic. This piece is different: it depicts a humorous story in a quirky, almost cartoonish manner. To help tell the story and contribute to the humor, I incorporate a number of quotes from well-known pieces which act as signifiers for the various events of the story. These quotes are juxtaposed against Comet’s two-part theme, an angular brass fanfare built on augmented triads and the whole-tone scale.

The Perilous Adventures of Comet, the Wonderdog was commissioned by Dr. Timothy Mahr for the St. Olaf College Band, with funds provided by the Miles Johnson Endowment.

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