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DUSK
steve
PostPosted: Sun Sep 17, 2006 6:08 pm  Reply with quote
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Joined: 29 Jan 2003
Posts: 384
Location: Austin, TX

Since this is the first in our Symposia series, and a 'format' hasn't been established yet, I'm going to start things off by providing basic background info and a link to the study score and recording.

I'd specifically like to invite any conductors out there who have performed this work to weigh in with your experiences or views of the piece - what's made it effective (or ineffective) for your ensemble, what types of group(s) does it work best for (I've had a number of people tell me it's great for honor band settings, for example), any tips you have for others who are considering the work, programming ideas (does it pair well with other particular works?), errata, etc.

And, of course, please post any questions you have for me about the piece!

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SCORE AND ONLINE RECORDING:

• DUSK score and streaming mp3 can be found here (stevenbryant.com)

• Direct link to the DUSK study score (PDF)

• Alternate listening option: My MySpace profile

Sets (score and parts) for Dusk are distributed by Hal Leonard. The piece is available from JW Pepper, Shattinger Music, and many other online music retailers, as well as your local music store.

A recording is commercially available on the BCM Men of Industry CD, available from CDBaby.com.

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Excerpted from the upcoming article in the GIA series Teaching Music through Performance in Band, Vol. 6:

BACKGROUND:
Dusk was commissioned by Andrew Gekoskie and the Langley High School Wind Ensemble, and premiered by this ensemble at the 2004 MENC National Conference in Minneapolis, MN. The work is a single movement, approximately six minutes in duration, and follows a straightforward arch form.

From the program note to the work:
“This simple, chorale-like work captures the reflective calm of dusk, paradoxically illuminated by the fiery hues of sunset. I'm always struck by the dual nature of this experience, as if witnessing an event of epic proportions silently occurring in slow motion. Dusk is intended as a short, passionate evocation of this moment of dramatic stillness.”

The primary challenges presented by Dusk are intonation, blend, and the exposed orchestration in the opening of the work. Mature musicianship and tonal control are the keys to a successful performance.

TECHNICAL CONSIDERATIONS:

The instrumental ranges required are generally not extreme. At the climax, Flute 1 reaches Ab3, and Trumpet 1 has a written Bb2. Aside from these moments, all instruments are well within their comfortable ranges.

The rhythmic requirements are minimal, with no note values shorter than an eighth.

Though the technical requirements are not extraordinary, mature musicianship is required from every member of the ensemble to maintain the requisite intensity and focus for effective performance of the work.

STYLISTIC CONSIDERATIONS:

Effective performance of Dusk is dependent on a proper tempo. The tempo marking of quarter=44 is accurate, though a range of 44-52 is acceptable. The conductor should trust his or her musical instincts, and challenge the ensemble to perform at this tempo, rather than ease the difficulty by taking it at a faster tempo.

Some specific stylistic concerns are as follows:

In measures 35-37, take your time with the breath marks – they contain significant space, and help the low brass to enter at piano.

In mm. 36-38, the brass chords form the fundamental body of sound, while the saxophone trills function as added color and energy, marking the beginning of the final push to the climax of the work in m. 42.

There is no accelerando in mm. 36-42, despite the introduction of rising eighth notes that may tend to push forward. Hold the tempo back throughout this section. The rising eighth-note figures should be smooth and continuous – the second of each pair is as significant as the first, and should be played tenuto. The crescendo is continuous from m. 38 to 41. There is an implicit molto ritard. toward the end of m. 41 - it may help to subdivide the bar to achieve this, especially beats two and three.

HARMONY, METER, TIMBRE, etc.

The main thematic material is diatonic, freely moving in a Bb major / G minor tonality. The entire harmonic language of the work derives from the opening Horn solo (m. 2), and the subsequent descending motion by thirds in Clarinet 1 and Bass Clarinet in mm. 6-7. Also prominent are harmonies built from perfect fifths, moving in both parallel and contrary motion. The contrast of these quintal constructs with major and minor chords, such as the arrival of the tutti Eb Major triad in m. 33, functions as a demarcating technique.

Tightly-spaced diatonic clusters unfold in several moments in the piece, usually in pyramid fashion, where instruments sustaining each subsequent pitch of the melodic motion. A prime example of this is found in the Horns in mm. 34-35.

Meter changes are common, and are primarily for the purpose of following the contours of the melodic phrases.

Timbral contrast follows the dynamic contrast, so that both work in concert to achieve the climax. The quiet sections consist of simpler instrumental combinations (e.g. m. 13, scored for 2 trumpets and 2 horns).

Warm, legato tone, with minimal vibrato, should inform the sound of the entire ensemble.

-------------------

Ok, I think that's enough material to start things off. Please don't be afraid to jump in - even if we've discussed some aspect of the work in the past (e-mail, in person, on the phone, etc.), I'd encourage you to post that exchange or question here, as well.

Alright, enough yakkin' - let's see if this dog'll hunt...
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DFarrell
PostPosted: Sun Sep 17, 2006 9:05 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 09 Oct 2003
Posts: 832
Location: Atlanta

I have some questions off the bat, and I think that they follow the guidelines of this section.

1. I noticed that you (Steve) tend to write your scores sans key signiture, even if there is a tonal center (as in the case of Dusk, which you even said has a Bb/Gm centrality). Two questions spawn from this:
-Do you write transposed like this or in C?
-Why do you choose to have transposed accidental based scores? I have seen this a little lately, but not alot, and certainly from most if not all of your scores that I have seen.

2. What was your process for choosing the metering/tempo for this piece? Basically this stems from a greater example: Why did you choose 44 and quarter/eigth notes over 88 and half/quarter notes. The reason I ask is because I have seen this situation many times, and it is my presumtion that a composer would choose a 44 situation to keep the piece lax and would choose an 88 situation to keep the piece moving (both from a conductor's standpoint). I hope this question was clear. If need be, I will reword it.

I'll stop there to keep your answering output down Wink.

Thanks for providing us with this nice in-depth Q/A!

--
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steve
PostPosted: Mon Sep 18, 2006 11:43 am  Reply with quote
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Joined: 29 Jan 2003
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Doug,

Thanks for jumping in!

DFarrell wrote:
1. I noticed that you (Steve) tend to write your scores sans key signiture, even if there is a tonal center (as in the case of Dusk, which you even said has a Bb/Gm centrality). Two questions spawn from this:
-Do you write transposed like this or in C?
-Why do you choose to have transposed accidental based scores? I have seen this a little lately, but not alot, and certainly from most if not all of your scores that I have seen.


I definitely compose in concert pitch (in 'C') - the transposition doesn't happen until I've finished the piece and switch Finale to display the score transposed (that's when I put the dynamics and such in - a trick I figured out back when the dynamic expressions moved around when you transposed the parts. If I put them in after the parts were transposed, they were all in the correct place when it came time to do the parts). Anyway, whether I'm composing directly into Finale, or in Digital Performer, or by pencil and paper, it all happens in concert pitch.

1(b): I learned this approach (non-use of key signatures) from Francis McBeth. He does this, and taught us to do the same. The reasoning, which so perfectly fit my compositional approach that I never even considered questioning it, is that while we're definitely 'tonal' composers (meaning we make use of tonal centers, leading tones, etc.), we don't necessarily stay in certain keys, or 'modulate' from one to another in any clearly demarcated fashion. I know I often tend to wander through many different tonal areas, sometimes very rapidly or abruptly.

From a practical perspective, it's a matter of simplicity and economy: if I used key signatures, I would have to spend a lot of time deciding which key I'm 'in' in a particular bar, and for what reason - just to save on a few accidentals? On the other hand, if I didn't change key signatures, then many of my pieces would end up with a slew of accidentals to cancel out the existing key signature, anyway. So why not just do away with that whole 'processing load' on both my and the performers' minds?

From a compositional, 'flow' perspective, it means that when I compose, I never have to think about the 'key' I'm in. I would find it quite limiting to 'decide' beforehand that I'm 'in' a particular key (which implies I need to stay there, or have a clear reason for leaving it). This also means I'd have to 'decide' that it's time to change the key signature at some point in the piece - all of this goes against the way I work, which is very improvisatory in nature).

Now, I'm aware of the tonal tendencies of my motivic material, obviously. For example, in Dusk, I was perfectly aware of the Bb major tonality established by the opening Horn solo, and what that was going to imply about harmonic content in the rest of the piece. But I didn't know where else I would end up harmonically, and didn't want to 'limit' myself to staying with two flats, even though the piece mostly stayed within that tonal realm.

Ultimately, it's a habit formed early on in my development, and it works very well for me - even with less-harmonically-adventurous pieces such as Dusk.


DFarrell wrote:
2. What was your process for choosing the metering/tempo for this piece? Basically this stems from a greater example: Why did you choose 44 and quarter/eigth notes over 88 and half/quarter notes. The reason I ask is because I have seen this situation many times, and it is my presumtion that a composer would choose a 44 situation to keep the piece lax and would choose an 88 situation to keep the piece moving (both from a conductor's standpoint). I hope this question was clear. If need be, I will reword it.


I love extreme tempi - either very slow, or very fast. I love the feeling of a slow, slow pulse, and the meditative quality that brings. However, I would be lying if I said I actually thought through beforehand whether I should notate Dusk as q=44 vs q=88, as you described above. It was just my natural inclination to feel the pulse at that tempo, so off I went.

From your question, you seem to be saying that if a piece is notated with longer note values at a faster tempo (half-notes at q=88 vs. quarter-notes at q=44), that implies the piece should actually have more motion? I actually wonder, counter to that idea, if it might actually make it easier to take the piece more slowly? I know that when I've conducted Dusk, I've found it tempting to take it faster than q=44 (and in fact did, to my later chagrin, on the BCM recording). I feel there's an odd dichotomy in this piece between the conductor's tempo and listener's tempo - when conducting, it seems to feel as if it wants to 'push' ahead, especially leading to the climax. As a listener, however, I always want it to stretch out and take its time getting there. Perhaps it would've been easier to conduct it more slowly with the alternate notation? I'm not sure.

I'd love to hear about the tempo issue in Dusk from conductors who've done the piece.
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DFarrell
PostPosted: Mon Sep 18, 2006 7:03 pm  Reply with quote



Joined: 09 Oct 2003
Posts: 832
Location: Atlanta

Thanks for your replies, Steve, and for letting us take part in this opportunity!

One more quick question real fast, if you don't mind what was your motivation to make the vibraphone a lead factor in the final orchestration? It adds a very distinct voice to the group. I have noticed that you have done this before, though. Is this just a natural affinity? In fact, what I have found further is that through your notion to use medium mallets, as opposed to soft mallets that most composers generically choose for slow lyrically pieces, is actually quite effective. The percussiveness to it, rather than the "synth pad" feeling of soft mallets, really adds a certian motion and a very distinct voice to the piece. I am quite curious as to your thought process for the choosing of the Vibraphone and medium mallets.

Thanks!

I hope I am not crowding the question table! I hope more people put out questions, as this is a great opportunity.
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steve
PostPosted: Tue Sep 19, 2006 10:25 pm  Reply with quote
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Joined: 29 Jan 2003
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DFarrell wrote:
One more quick question real fast, if you don't mind what was your motivation to make the vibraphone a lead factor in the final orchestration? It adds a very distinct voice to the group. I have noticed that you have done this before, though. Is this just a natural affinity? In fact, what I have found further is that through your notion to use medium mallets, as opposed to soft mallets that most composers generically choose for slow lyrically pieces, is actually quite effective. The percussiveness to it, rather than the "synth pad" feeling of soft mallets, really adds a certian motion and a very distinct voice to the piece. I am quite curious as to your thought process for the choosing of the Vibraphone and medium mallets.


You're right - I do gravitate toward the Vibraphone fairly often in my orchestrational choices. It's definitely a natural affinity - I like reverberant sounds, and few instruments in wind band instrumentation have this sort of natural, wet sound. So, I suppose whenever I 'need' that kind of sound, Vibes are the first to come to mind.

In fact, Radiant Joy, which I just finished, features the opening and closing motive played on, you guessed it, solo Vibraphone. Vibes and Piano are critical to this piece, again for the same reasons of resonance and reverberation.

As for medium mallets? I guess I just want each pitch to be heard clearly. I also love that silky, indistinct soft-mallet sound, but whenever I call for Vibes, I always seem to need whatever pitches I call for to be distinctly heard.

I didn't realize that I was bucking some sort of slow-piece vibe-mallet-usage convention there - if so, cool! It's just what I like to hear.

No worries on the questions - that's what this is here for!
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KTBandman
PostPosted: Thu Sep 21, 2006 10:18 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 11 Aug 2003
Posts: 7

Not much to add to the comments already listed here. Steve did a great job of outlining the work, and I especially like the comments about the vibraphone.

I find that many composers writing school music for bands (I hate using that term) can deal with sections in a competent manner. However, moving from point A to point B is problematic for many. It is precisely these transitions where the real music can be found. The best teaching moments are based in how ideas develop and evolve...and this takes place in the form of transistion. When you look at a score for Dusk (or Jon's 1861 or Moon by Night, Jim's Courage and Compassion or even Reflections...Pool - a very simple and elegant work, or any of Eric's choral music, etc. ad nauseum) you will immediately see and hear seamless transitions that evolve in a meaningful, logical, and well-constructed manner. But most importantly, the design does not in any way impeede the beauty...and that is also key.

What we have in this work, and the others listed above, is best described as follows (and I told Steve I was going to coin this phrase I hope):

THESE ARE QUALITY PIECES OF MUSIC THAT HAPPEN TO BE LIMITED IN THEIR TECHNICAL DEMANDS. IN SHORT, IT IS GREAT MUSIC THAT HAPPENS TO BE EASY. THIS IS A SUPREME, GIGANTIC, ENORMOUS (YOU GET THE PICTURE) DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WORKS THAT ARE A SPECIFIC DIFFICULTY FIRST, WITH MUSIC OCCURRING AS A RESULT OF THE TECHNICAL LIMITATIONS.

I hope that these works become what I refer to as "shin-kickers." This means that 10 years from now, students leaving a high-school band program have the right to kick their director in the shins if they did not get to play some of these works. Very Happy

Best to all-

Ken

Dr. Kenneth Thompson
Assistant Professor, Band & Music Education
Director, New Music Ensemble
1005 Moore Musical Arts Center
College of Musical Arts
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, OH 43403
419-372-8104
thomken@bgsu.edu
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Todd
PostPosted: Wed Sep 27, 2006 1:16 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 02 Oct 2005
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Location: Palomar College, San Marcos, Ca.

Any significance in the fact that the climax is at measure 42?
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William.Berz
PostPosted: Wed Sep 27, 2006 6:48 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 26 Sep 2006
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I have conducted and recorded a number of Steve's works over the past few years. I feel a special connection with DUSK as it was commissioned by my good friend Andy Gekoskie for his terrific band in Fairfax County, Virginia. DUSK is an especially fine contribution to the repertoire since it conveys great emotional impact in a work that does not require great technical demands.

The Rutgers Wind Ensemble recorded DUSK last spring to be included in its Distinguished Music Series for Mark Custom Recording. Obviously, any "slow" work presents great interpretative challenges. I found that the selection of tempo to be especially difficult in conducting DUSK. I have heard a number of different performances of the piece (including one conducted by Steve on the BCM recordings), and the tempos vary considerably. I gave considerable thought over this part of the interpretation. Hopefully, it works.

As I wrote earlier, DUSK is a fine addition to the repertoire as it has great potential for students (and conductors) to make wonderful music. Unlike so much band music, it has wonderful quiet moments. Peace is something that needs to be considered in our noisy world. I wish all conductors success in finding their tempo.

Bill Berz
Rutgers University
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Newman
PostPosted: Wed Sep 27, 2006 11:56 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 29 Jan 2003
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Location: New York City

Dr. Berz touched on something I've been meaning to ask about relating to this work, that is, the importance of silence. In fact, I believe silent pauses, cesuras, silent time in general, can be found in quite a lot of Bryant (ALCHEMY..., RISE, DUSK, probably some others) and I'm hoping Steve can expound a little. I would go so far as to say that In DUSK, silence/space is one of the main musical features of the piece.

How do you approach the pacing of such silences? How do they figure into your overal structure -- do you plan them out as such in your formal architecture while writing the piece? And like Dr. Berz mentioned, how does the ideal of these musical breaths get translated in performance? Have you come across any problems yourself while conducting the piece? Have you found technical solutions to the pauses you can pass along to others performing the work? I ask, 'cause someday I hope to conduct the the piece myself!

It's true for me at least that music is sound AND silence controlled through time. We often forget about the silence. Dr. Berz referred to it as "peace", which I think is very apt for Bryant's music. It sounds a little out of left-field, but since I've known Steve's music, whenever I'm struck with the breath and space in the musical "linear" in his works, I think of Toru Takemitsu. I'm sure he's not a direct influence, but I've found the same mastery of "the horizontal" over "the vertical" in Takemitsu. It might be just me. Wink
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KTBandman
PostPosted: Fri Sep 29, 2006 9:34 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 11 Aug 2003
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One of the primary considerations I always have about silence, and how we approach silence and exit silence is fairly simple. I decide if the silence is part of the previous phrase, or part of the coming phrase. If it is part of the previous phrase, I tend to hang out a bit longer, but when part of the next phrase, I tend to truncate the moment.

I hope this makes sense...my two cents.

Ken
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steve
PostPosted: Fri Sep 29, 2006 11:49 am  Reply with quote
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Newman wrote:
Dr. Berz touched on something I've been meaning to ask about relating to this work, that is, the importance of silence.

......

How do you approach the pacing of such silences? How do they figure into your overal structure -- do you plan them out as such in your formal architecture while writing the piece? And like Dr. Berz mentioned, how does the ideal of these musical breaths get translated in performance? Have you come across any problems yourself while conducting the piece? Have you found technical solutions to the pauses you can pass along to others performing the work? I ask, 'cause someday I hope to conduct the the piece myself!


Interesting! I must confess I wasn't sure quite how to answer this at first.

My first reaction is that I don't deliberately, consciously, consider the silences themselves as separate entities. Every time, they simply feel like a natural continuation/denoument of the phrase (exit silence, as Ken put it). It's all a part of the larger process of pacing/timing of a piece. This is one of those things I don't know how to quantify or describe in any formalistic language. It involves closing my eyes, and listening to the line. The shape becomes apparent, including the amount of silence. This is where having computer playback is helpful to me in determining the timing of gestures. It allows me to be a listener only, instead of simultaneously generating the sound and listening to it. Since I began using sequencers in composing, I've found I get much closer to the 'right' pacing of a piece before its first performance. Prior to this (in college), the premiere would always reveal some egregious pacing errors - things that lasted WAY too long, or needed to repeat and develop further. Those sorts of errors are much less pronounced now (well, I hope they are).

Silence is simply a part of the fabric of musical time.

It's funny you point out several pieces of mine with silence. From a live performance standpoint silence makes me more nervous than anything else. That's why the first movement of "Alchemy" is something of a nail-biter for me - the rustle of a candy wrapper (much less a cough, or cell-phone) can easily destroy the perceived progression and pacing. Whereas something like "Loose Id' puts me at ease, even though it's very difficult for the ensemble. You can scream out loud during that piece, and the audience won't notice. Silence is a delicate thing.

Another reason I use silence is to heighten the perceived dynamic range of the music. Dusk builds to a very large climax, and in order to increase it's preceived 'hugeness' i precede it with a lot of space, both in linear (horizontal) and orchestrational (vertical) terms. Same thing with Alchemy. This is something that bothers me about a lot of music I hear - too many climaxes, too many dramatic 'ups' and 'downs' which ultimately detract from their power. I prefer very simple, focused dramatic shapes. Silence is a powerful tool in creating those shapes.

Now, to answer your question about particular spots that have given me problems: mm 35-38.

Every time I've conducted it, I've had the thought that I should've written it differently. Here's what I do when conducting, and how I prefer it to go:

m. 35: should be a 4/4 - essentially add a beat of silence at the end of the bar (a large breath) - otherwise it feels hurried in 36. Savor the progression in m. 34 and 35 - and let the final chord sink in before continuing on to 36.

mm. 36-38: I have the low brass and woodwinds (everyone with whole notes and a break mark in each bar) to actually cut off ON beat 4, so that the breath is actually all of beat 4. Sometimes I change my mind about this, though - I think if I had more time with an ensemble to make the releases at the end of each bar (the breaths) more precise, I might keep it as it is.

Regardless, every moment should feel natural, with no 'hiccups' or hurried moments. The notation is just my attempt to capture what I felt was the proper timing, but it's still obviously imprecise (as all notation is).

Bill - many thanks for your thoughts - I'm looking forward to hearing your recording of Dusk!

And Todd - yes, of course.
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andrewgekoskie
PostPosted: Sat Sep 30, 2006 8:03 am  Reply with quote



Joined: 07 Oct 2003
Posts: 3
Location: Virginia

Wow...this all has been very interesting. Actually, Dusk was the first piece our ensemble commissioned. I am thrilled at the response Dusk is getting and really feel quite a bit "proud" to think we had a little to do with it! I personally love the piece. When Steve came down to Langley to work with us he was able to describe sitting near a pond watching the sunset, clouds, trees on a perfect day. I really feel that Dusk is like a very large canvas with clouds, shapes...then some really beautiful colors interjected. Something you'd see while sipping some brandy, or hot cocoa Smile, and enjoying the environment around you.

I'm so happy that Steve decided to do it. I hope I"ll not telling secrets Steve, but around the time of my phone call Steve was ready to take a break from composing for wind band. It had been an intense time for him...luckily I convinced him that we really wanted to commission a piece and premiere it at the MENC National Convention in Minneapolis. Well, I must have said the right things.

The collaboration was wonderful. Talking back and forth, telling stories, talking about the students in the ensemble about their lives...it was a wonderful time. I do think that having something to do with musical art really makes one see, appreciate, and value the efforts of composers. And at the same time, being able to bring another wonderful slow piece to the wind repertoire is quite exciting. Many composers can write a lot of notes, rhythms, splashes of color....but to really pull off a slow piece for winds is quite an accomplishment.

My thanks to Bill Berz for his kind words! Bill also helped me while discussing doing a commission, who I should choose, how to go about things...etc. A wonderful conductor and musician....if you're near Rutgers you need to go watch him work!

Thank you again Steve...for saying YES! and for allowing us to be a part of Dusk. It really is exciting that people are hearing the piece as well as not being pubshied in the GIA series. All very exciting.

best wishes to everyone!
-andy gekoskie
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