Magnolia Star

Magnolia Star at Midwest!

Magnolia Star at Midwest!

I'm thrilled to share that Magnolia Star will be performed by the Alabama Winds at this year's Midwest Clinic in Chicago on December 20th at 12:00pm. The ensemble is directed by Randall Coleman.  It's an honor to have my work included at the conference, and I look forward to working with the Alabama Winds and seeing many friends and colleagues there!

A Thrill to Work with the NYSSMA New York All-State Wind Ensemble on Magnolia Star


This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting a rehearsal of the NYSSMA New York All-State Wind Ensemble, conducted by Jared Chase.  The opener for their program was my Magnolia Star, and these young musicians sounded incredible! We spent about 45 minutes together, worked on some musical details, and I tried my best to answer all their great questions about music careers, improvisation, what inspired my work, and more. It was super fun, and the concert at Eastman Theater was equally thrilling.  These fantastic young musicians had the great honor of playing on Eastman Theater stage and looking out to a packed, beautiful hall.  It was a great honor for me as well, and I'm grateful!

From the Sydney Opera House to the Steps of the U.S. Capitol

Magnolia Star (for wind band) was recently performed at the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia by the Los Altos High School (CA) Festival Ensemble and by the U.S. Navy Band on the steps of the U.S. Capitol! It is a great honor to have my work included on these programs. Magnolia Star has been performed by a wide range of ensembles: high school, all-state, college, community, and professional. This past year it was performed by both the U.S. All-National High School Band and the Canadian National High School Honor Band.

New Video Recordings on YouTube!

Live concert recording of the University of North Texas Wind Symphony performing Magnolia Star:

Live concert recording of the Iowa State University Symphonic Band performing Goodnight, Goodnight:

Live concert recording of the Texas Tech Concert Band performing Adagietto:


Magnolia Star - Score & Full Recording

Magnolia Star, my newest work for wind ensemble which I discussed in my last post here, now has a page on my website.  On that page you will find the full midi recording, PDF score, program notes, and a link to purchase the score and parts.  Enjoy! Here is the full midi recording:


Magnolia Star - Inspiration and Audio

Here is a midi sample of the first 3 minutes of Magnolia Star for Wind Ensemble (the full work is a little over 6 minutes): [audio]

And here are the program notes for the piece:

When I was playing saxophone in my middle school jazz band, we started every rehearsal the same way – with an improvisation exercise that our director created. It was a simple yet brilliant exercise for teaching beginning improvisation and allowing everyone in the band a chance to “solo.” As a warm-up at the opening of each rehearsal, the whole band played the blues scale ascending, resting for one measure, descending, and resting for another measure.

During the measures of rest, each member of the band took turns improvising a solo. Looking back, this exercise not only got the band swinging together from the start of rehearsal, but it made improvisation, a daunting musical task to many, seem within everyone’s abilities. This experience was my introduction to the blues scale, and I have long wanted to write a piece inspired by this group of pitches. In Magnolia Star, I explore various ways to use these pitches in harmonies, melodies, and timbres, creating a diverse set of ideas that will go beyond sounds that we typically associate with the blues scale. I didn’t want to create a “blues” piece, but rather a piece in my own musical voice that uses and pays homage to the blues scale.

Nearly all of the pitches used in Magnolia Star fit into the concert C blues scale. It is interesting to note that embedded within the C blues scale are both a C minor triad, an Eb minor triad, and an Eb major triad. I explore the alternation of these tonal areas right from the start of the piece, and continue to employ them in different ways throughout the entire work.

When I first started improvising ideas for this piece based around the blues scale, I began to hear the influence of driving rhythms and sonorities which reminded me of trains. The railroad became a important second influence of this piece alongside the blues scale.

The American railroad not only provides some intriguing sonic ideas, but it also provides an intimate connection to the growth of jazz and blues in America. In the late 19th century, the Illinois Central Railroad constructed rail lines that stretched from New Orleans and the “Delta South” all the way north to Chicago. Many southern musicians traveled north via the railroad, bringing “delta blues” and other idioms to northern parts of the country. The railroad was also the inspiration for countless blues songs by a wide variety of artists. Simply put, the railroad was crucial to the dissemination of jazz and blues in the early 20th century.

Magnolia Star was an Illinois Central train that ran from New Orleans to Chicago with the famous Panama Limited in the mid 20th century.

Magnolia Star - Done! (Almost)

Today I'm putting the final edits on (all 38 pages! of) Magnolia Star, a new 6 minute work for wind ensemble. I will be posting more about the piece soon - what inspired it, an audio clip, etc.  For now I just wanted to share a bit about the editing process I have been doing this past week.  The bulk of the music was finished a couple of weeks ago, but there were still a few holes and spots I wasn't satisfied with.  So over the past couple of weeks I have been focusing on those spots and also looking at every element of the piece and asking myself, "Is this what I want here?"  And, "is this the best I can do, or is there anything else I can do to make this better?"

Now I have resolved most of those issues and have a fairly final score sitting in front of me on my desk.  I have also gone through each page zoomed in at 200% to make sure all the dynamics are aligned and no markings are colliding on the page.  I also made sure all the trumpet muting spots were marked, and that all the percussion instruments are marked appropriately.  Really, the piece is done.

But this is one of the points I always struggle with - as a composer, how do we really know when the work is done?  How do we know that we have created the work we intended, and that there is nothing left to improve upon? Or maybe that's not the point - surely there is something that can be improved upon.  But that's ok? We aren't striving for a "perfect" work, right?  That's probably a whole separate debate. I think of a painter - when they step back from a painting, put on a few more brush strokes, then a couple more, and then they are done.  Wait - how did they decide that they didn't need to add a few more strokes, or change something?

I think often times it is a mixture of things:

  • part letting go after obsessing in a detailed way over the work;
  • part "feeling" that the work is done, and;
  • part believing in the many decisions you have made throughout the course of creating the work.

Composers and other types of creators constantly question ourselves throughout the creative process - which is important and necessary.  But at some point, we have to lay down the pen and decide that the work is done.