Dances of Hill Tribe for Two Violin and Invisible Drums


“Dances of a Hill Tribe” for two violins and invisible drums. Through out the writing, the composer demonstrates how he applies inspiration and raw material into the work.  Non-Western elements such as Maew dance’s rhythmic pattern, invisible hand drums and the first three letters of the composer’s daughter and his name are the inspiration and the raw material, which are manipulated via compositional techniques.  The result is a piece that represents two dancers dance together in three sections and accompanied by invisible drums.

The composition was inspired by a rhythmic pattern of a Maew dance, which is a dance of a hill tribe called Mong.  It is a dance that Mekara first saw when he was a young boy at a local temple’s fair.  There was a parade let by a group of Mong tribe dancers.  They were dancing synchronized and opposite each other in two rows.  The dance was accompanied by a group of drummers who played a very exciting drum pattern.  It was his first impression of the dance and its music, especially the rhythmic pattern.  In this article, the writer will explain how the composer uses this rhythmic pattern in this composition. 

The drums have an easy ostinato pattern in common time.  It is in a faster tempo than those of other tribes in Thailand.  After listening to the drum pattern, Mekara took the first bar of the ostinato part as his raw material. Then, he rewrote it for his own imaginary hill tribe-like pattern by taking away an eighth note and set it into a new time signature -7/8 time, 

This rhythmic pattern plays an important role throughout the work.  It starts out with the extended quasi ostinato, where the pattern repeats itself in various ways.  For example, the pattern was played alternating arco and pizzicato and later with harmonic, strum, and glissando.

Although, the main material of the piece is the rhythmic pattern, the piece has the main melodic line that uses limited pitches.  To select the pitches for my main melodic line, the composer was looking into his personal life and he found his inspiration from his daughter, Angela.  “Dances of a Hill Tribe” is a Western piece with a Thai rhythmic pattern playing the main role in the piece. Mekara thought the piece was perfect for his daughter, whose mother is Swiss and her father, himself, is Thai.  The composer has embedded the first letter of her name and his name as the main two notes in the work.  Even though, there are five pitches which dominant the whole work (ACBG and Bb – from the first three letters = A-a, N-bb, G-g, C-c, H-b see the explanation below) the note A and C being the most important pitches because they are the initial letters of his daughter and the composer’s name. 

First, he assigned the letter (capital letters) to pitches (small letters) as follow A-a, G-g, C-c.  For the letter H, I use b as in German, letter H=b. 

And since there is no pitch named “n” the composer set up the following to find a way to assign a pitch for the letter N, which is the pitch “b”

Letters: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v u x y z

Note names:    c d e f g a b c d e f g a b c d e f g a b c d e f g

And since we already have the note “b” the composer then changed this “b”  (from letter N) to “b flat” beside in German system H is b and the note b German call b flat. (from

Selected letters: ANGCHA (“A” as a common letter- NGACH), therefore we have A C B G Bb

The overall structure of the piece is in a simple three-section format.  The first and third sections are faster and fun, while the second section is slower in open time, representing free and improvisational dances.  The 1st section consists of three smaller sections (A, B, and C) with a short bridge to connect to the next section.  In section A, the piece starts with the second violin playing the pizzicato on an ostinato like pattern in 7/8 meter to represent the drum pattern.  The percussive pattern continues by alternating arco, portamento, harmonic and strum techniques.  Notice that I have the second violin (the drums) play the open strings and its octaves to represent the authentic sound and the openness of the drum’s sound.  At the same time, the first violin (playing arco) starts to introduce the five main pitches of the piece (ACBG and Bb) in different ways.  The section comes to a close at bar 41.  From bars 42-69 (section B), both violins play mostly pizzicato alternating arco, harmonic, and strum.  This section is presenting the imitated dance (conversation-like passages) between the two dancers who are accompanied by the drum section.  The grouping 3+2+2 alternating with 2+2+3 gives the sense of irregular pulse of the dance.  The C section (bars 70-97) shows the synchronization between the two dancers.  The two violins play the same note and rhythm, but in different octaves and note values.  The shift between octaves and the exchange passages give the feeling of leading and following dance positions.

This section leads to the bridge section, where the two violins play the long notes with the invisible drums accented on the same beats, achieved by left hand pizzicato.  The next section (the 2nd section) is an open time section where the 1st violin plays behind the bride.  This effect gives a distinct sound color of the violin in the background while the 2nd violin plays the five-note melodic line in the foreground.  After they switch roles, the 2nd violin plays the open strings in the background representing a drum solo pattern in a different tone color.  The first violin plays the five-note motive again, however, this time in an octave displacement notation to lead into the next section.  In the following section, Mekara splits the melodic line, which range covers four different octaves, for both violins. 

The motif is divided for both players in a passage that increases in intensity and loudness only to reach a very soft and light climax of a high A portamento to a high C – representing his daughter (Angela) running to the composer (Chaipruck) at a high point of the dance. 

The music then returns to the faster and more rhythmical pattern section (the 3rd section). The piece ends by the two violins playing the fading out pizzicato of the irregular iso-rhythmic pattern until the end.

Violin duet, Viola duet, Cello duet, Chamber music, Sheet music, Violin sheet music, Viola sheet music, Cello sheet music. Dances of a hill tribe, String quartet.
Contemporary sheet music, Contemporary music, New Music, Two violins and invisible drums

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