commissioned by the Iowa High School Music Association for the 75th Iowa All-State Music Festival 2021

LAst dance at the Surf

Michael Daugherty

Hear More about Michael Daugherty's Commissioned work: Last Dance at the Surf

“One of my favorite road trips in Iowa is a drive to the majestic Surf Ballroom, located in the small resort town of Clear Lake, around 140 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids, my boyhood hometown. Opening in 1934, many of America’s most famous swing, jazz and rock 'n' roll bands have performed at ‘The Surf’ for generations of music lovers, dancing the night away on the immense hardwood floor.  

The Surf is also remembered as the place where young rock 'n' roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper gave their last performances of the Winter Dance Party tour on the evening of February 2, 1959. They died hours later in a charter plane crash caused by severe winter weather. This tragedy is often referred to as ‘the day the music died.’ But did it really?

In memory of the three rock 'n' roll legends who perished in February 1959, and in celebration of the Surf Ballroom being declared a National Historic Landmark in January 2021, I have composed a one-movement dance symphony entitled Last Dance at the Surf.  

My dance symphony starts with woodblocks and pizzicato strings, playing a five-note rhythmic groove reminiscent of a Buddy Holly guitar riff. This groove is repeated in various transformations throughout the composition and provides counterpoint to the main theme, a syncopated ascending melody played in unison by the woodwinds. The main theme goes through elaborate rhythmic and timbral developments, followed by a rousing ‘rockabilly’ section.  

A second lyrical theme is introduced as a slow dance, with cantabile muted trumpets, woodwinds and violins swooning over hushed lower strings and trombones. The opening theme abruptly returns in a high-energy fugue ‘goin’ faster than a roller coaster’ and then dramatically transforms into a majestic chorale in slow motion. A solo horn cadenza transitions into a final slow dance, kaleidoscopically unraveling the main theme through elaborate counterpoint, punctuated by the sound of sleigh bells.

The first coda is a recapitulation of all the previous themes, unfolding with great fanfare but interrupted by foreboding minor chords, a premonition that destiny is just around the corner. A slow, wistful second coda announces that the last dance has begun. Three final chords resonate: although the dance is over, the music and memories of the Surf Ballroom live on.”

– Michael Daugherty

PROGRAM NOTE
LAST DANCE AT THE SURF (2021)

Last Dance at the Surf (2021) commissioned by the Iowa High School Music Association for the 75th Iowa All-State Music Festival 2021. 
World premiere by the Iowa All-State Orchestra, conducted by Rebecca Burkhardt, at the All-State Music Festival in Ames, Iowa on November 20, 2021.  

The Surf is also remembered as the place where young rock 'n' roll stars Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper gave their last performances of the Winter Dance Party tour on the evening of February 2, 1959. They died hours later in a charter plane crash caused by severe winter weather. This tragedy is often referred to as ‘the day the music died.’ 

In celebration of the Surf Ballroom being declared a National Historic Landmark in January 2021, I have composed a one-movement dance symphony entitled Last Dance at the Surf 

Opening in 1934, many of America’s most famous swing, jazz and rock 'n' roll bands have performed at ‘The Surf’ for generations of music lovers, dancing the night away on the immense hardwood floor 

Learn More about the Surf Ballroom

ROCK ’N’ ROLL LEGEND BUDDY HOLLY (1936-1959) 

"THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED"

SURF BALLROOM, CLEAR LAKE, IOWA 

How do you go about the composition process?

One of my favorite road trips in Iowa is a drive to the majestic Surf Ballroom, located in the small resort town of Clear Lake, around 140 miles northwest of Cedar Rapids, my boyhood hometown. I spent all day at “The Surf” there taking photos and walking around every inch of the immense ballroom. I listened to all the music of Buddy Holly for around month. Then I came up the title LAST DANCE AT THE SURF. I spent around 6 months in my studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan composing the work.


Did you encounter any challenges during the composition process and if so, how did you overcome them?

My main challenge was to draw the double bar.
I had so fun and so many ideas and memories of my home state of Iowa and the Surf Ballroom that I could have written an hour long work!


What do you want your music to say to the performer and/or listener?

While destiny is just around the corner, the music and memories that are important to us live on.”

More about the composition: