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Ten Pieces - 'Short Ride In A Fast Machine'
Would you like a short ride in a fast machine?

Ten Pieces - 'Short Ride In A Fast Machine'

If you are familiar with the BBC Ten Pieces, you will enjoy this KS2 Music quiz about Adams' Short Ride In A Fast Machine. This piece might fairly be described as a 'shot of musical adrenalin'.

"You know how it is when someone asks you to ride in a terrific sports car, and then you wish you hadn't?" This quote is by John Adams about the title. Have you ever been in a fast sports car? Would you like to?

Short Ride In A Fast Machine was performed at the BBC Proms in 2004 and again in 2014.

Let's look a bit more closely under this piece of music's 'bonnet'!

What do musicians call the technique by which one part, voice, note or rhythm keeps repeating the same pattern over and over?
Ground Bass
... From the Italian term for 'stubborn', or as we'd say, 'obstinate'.
The piece is known as a 'fanfare': in which case, which family of orchestral instruments would you expect to hear dominating it?
This has obviously moved on since the ceremonial use of trumpets etc. to alert people to the arrival of someone important (e.g. the King in a Shakespeare play). The urgency of the trumpets and others in this Adams piece probably puts you more in mind of a car-chase in a film! (Not such a surprise once the title has planted such ideas in your head.) He came up with the piece after having regretted accepting a friend's offer of a ride in a high-performance sports car.
For what occasion was this particular (and perhaps, even rather 'overblown') Fanfare originally written?
The opening of a new music school
The launch of a new television 'rolling news' channel
The inauguration of a new US President
The reunification of Germany (and Europe in general) after the fall of the Iron Curtain and Berlin Wall
This was at Great Woods. Imagine the excitement!
Besides a large modern symphony orchestra, what forces are required for a performance of this piece?
Two synthesisers
A pair of harps
A large pipe organ
Tape-recorded sounds
They mix well into the overall sound mostly, but if you follow the score you can try listening out for them. Officially their parts are optional but for a more authentic performance they are usually included.
What happens to the type of notes the trumpets play as the end of the piece approaches?
They grow softer, as though they have flown away
They grow quicker with the mounting excitement
They scatter into a wider range of pitches than at the start
They are longer-lasting notes, somehow suggesting a new fresh level of speed compared with the basic beat
The great 'machine' of the piece begins to soar towards the closing seconds. We hope you enjoyed the ride!
What is the name of the small machine that musicians use in practice, to set a steady beat? (Maybe you have one at home?)
A beater
A metronome
A metre beater
A clicker-ticker
... invented by Maelzel 200 years ago, in 1815.
Which instrument sets the beat from the outset?
Side drum
It is among the 'tightest' sounds in the percussion section; versions at three different pitches are called for in this piece.
Which instruments come in very soon in the piece, in a group of 4 and playing very short sharp notes? (They break away from the main rhythm to play 'between' it before very long.)
The sound of the trumpet is classically ear-catching and may be taken powerfully to suggest the idea of car-horns (especially when playing discords!).
A vibraphone also features amidst all the other sounds. Which family of instruments does it belong to?
Its distinctive tone quality might be described as starting with the purity of a bell or chime-bar, but with a fairly gentle 'wobble' during the resonance that follows. Its 'home context' might more generally be regarded as in jazz bands or nightclubs.
In what year was the piece written and premiered?
It has only been 'out' just under 30 years (at time of writing) but is clearly regarded as a classic.
You can find more about this topic by visiting BBC - KS2: John Adams - Short Ride in a Fast Machine

Author:  Ian Miles

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