By Shawn W. Davern
For Wind Ensemble
*Finalist in The 2019 & 2020 National Band Association William D. Revelli Composition Competition
*National finalist in The 2021 American Prize in Composition Band/Wind Ensemble Professional Division
James Madison University Wind Symphony, 2019
Dedicated to my mother, Patricia Briggs Davern.
Premiered on the Final Wind Symphony & Symphonic
by the JMU Wind Symphony conducted
by Shawn W. Davern on
April 25th, 2019.
An Elegant Sufficiency derives its namesake from an old fashioned line that my grandfather, Clark Edward Briggs, was famous for quoting. At any given family gathering or meal, whenever my grandfather was finished eating, he would state aloud “I have had an elegant sufficiency, any more would be a vulgar superfluity.” There was something about the quote that has always resonated with me, whether it was the eloquent syntax of the line or just the sheer finesse of how he spoke. I have always thought that this quote best encapsulated the grace, sophistication, and ingenuity of my grandfather, his generation, and the time of which he grew up in. From a life well lived of 91 years, An Elegant Sufficiency focuses on a specific moment in my grandfather’s life that he shared with his greatest love, my grandmother Betty Mahaffy Briggs.
In 1945, World War II was well under way when Clark received his deployment orders to ship out from Boston, Massachusetts to France as an Army Engineer. During this time in history, the date and location of deployment of American troops was highly classified; not even loved ones were privy to this information. Having been married for only a few months Clark was determined to say goodbye to his new bride, not knowing what the future would hold. In a long distance phone call to Betty he was able to convey that he would be attending church, The Mother Church, with his friend on Sunday. Betty, knowing in her heart that is was somehow code, realized that his friend was a Christian Scientist and that The Mother Church was in Boston. With the help of her parents, Betty got on the first train to Boston to reunite and say goodbye to Clark.
In its essence, An Elegant Sufficiency serves as a musical narration of my grandparent’s journey through Boston to reunite with each other at the First Church of Christian Science. I have often envisioned their subsequent journeys through the dark streets of 1940’s Boston through the lens of a noir film, and in my composition I attempted to emulate the most popular musical idiom at this time in history, American Jazz. Within the piece, the flugelhorn and flute family act as musical representations of my grandparents, embodying their separate experiences as they eventually come together on the steps of the church. The piece centers around the pitches C, Eb and Bb, a collection of both of Betty and Clark’s initials. The crystal glasses make many appearances as well, as my cousins, brother and I traditionally would annoy our elders at family gatherings with the high pitched hums. Whether it’s saying goodbye to a loved one before a long journey or eating a delicious meal until reaching satisfaction, An Elegant Sufficiency celebrates those tender moments that we all share with the people we care for most. With time ever fleeting, these brief instances in life are truly enough; to remember who we fight so hard for and who makes the briefest of moments so special. I hope you find some form of contentment with An Elegant Sufficiency.