5 pensées (pour le caoutchouc dur)

Jean Derome

5 pensées (pour le caoutchouc dur)

In memory of Ken Pickering

I have long been fascinated by the number 5, epitomized by my compositions in quintuple time, groups of five measures, or five movements. Maybe I counted on my fingers a bit too long during childhood?

Along with being a composer, I have often felt like a hunter or fisher waiting patiently to capture an idea, often in vain. The main difficulty is to accept what has been caught and to be confident that it will lead somewhere.

The piece presents five movements (Pensées, Reflections) in various moods and tenors.

The First Pensée, with the performance instruction “Dark, dramatic mysterious,” is a study in texture that introduces, as in a dream, the principal elements of a canon to be developed in greater depth in the Fourth movement.

The Second Pensée, with the instruction “Relaxed and witty,” is in fact the first one that came to me as I was walking along the street. How happy I was to return home with a place to start, finally! One can perceive a reference (or a reverence) to Thelonious Monk’s Friday the 13th. The piece is dedicated to him, with the working title, “La toune relax” (“The Relaxed Tune”).

The Third Pensée, with the instruction “Processional, noble and expressive,” is a five-voice chorale that twice expands and contracts like the bellows of a giant accordion. It is a prayer of sorts, “Something about Believing,” as Duke Ellington would say. Belief is not the most fashionable subject these days, such that even belief in oneself can be a challenge.

The melody, you may have guessed, is based on a pentatonic scale, which proceeds to unfold on four levels. (I know what you are thinking — yes, it is probably missing one level here!)

Perhaps the answer arrives with the Fourth Pensée, with the instruction, “Energetic and focused,” and the working title, “The Vancouver Vamp.” Here we reinvestigate rhythmic phasing and off-kilter cycles. The various elements cycle around a four-bar riff like planets orbiting the sun.

The Fifth Pensée has the indication, “Crazy, festive and almost frantic.” It evokes rogue characters like Till l’Espiègle or Wolverine, the cunning mythological ancestor of the Crees and Innu — clowns as fonts of wisdom. The working title was “Le Coquin d’Amsterdam” (“The Amsterdam Trickster”) in honour of the great Dutch drummer, Han Bennink.


Premiered in 2001 at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre.


  • February 12, 2001, Concert, The Cultch — Vancouver East Cultural Centre, Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada)