Happy New Year's Eve! As 2015 comes to a close, I'm spending a little time looking back on the past 12 months and remembering everything that happened this year. I don't often share behind-the-scenes posts, but today, I thought it might be fun to share a few of my favorite things from 2015.
2015 was a big year for me, personally and professionally. My wife and I bought our first home in Rochester, NY this summer (a 1920 Colonial) and we're slowly learning how to be homeowners (and how to fix things!).
On a professional note, it was an honor to have my music performed at a number of all-state conferences and honor band festivals in New York, South Carolina, Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Hawaii, and Kentucky. In addition, I was thrilled to have my music performed at the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles (WASBE) conference in July and by the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) All-National Honor Band at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville in October.
I attended the Chamber Music America (CMA) conference in NYC in January and helped organize the pre-conference day, "How to Succeed in a Changing Musical World," hosted by Eastman's Paul R. Judy Center for Applied Research. We had a great time at the conference and enjoyed exploring Times Square for a few days!
I had the pleasure of working with several great high school and college bands this year (and a church choir, or two!), with residencies, guest rehearsals, and Skype sessions at Nazareth College, Augustana University, Liverpool High School, Trinity Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Arkansas Tech Summer Band Festival, and Canandaigua Academy, among others.
As a composer, the best part of my job is when people play (or sing) my music. This year, I counted over 65 performances in 18 states (and I know I'm missing some! Side note: I'd love to include your performance on my events calendar! Just fill out this form).
As most of you know, I self-publish the majority of my work, but over the past few years, I've started working with a few publishers for some of my choral and chamber music. This year, I had five pieces accepted for publication with Colla Voce, Augsburg Fortress, and Keyboard Percussion Publications:
It was a busy writing year for me, with two new pieces for band (Vermont State Fair and River Town Jubilee), two pieces for orchestra (Winter Song and Vermont State Fair), a new chamber version of "A Country Boy in Winter" (from Alcott Songs), and my second song cycle (New England Folk Songs).
P.S. Thinking about a commission for the 2016-2017 year? Let's talk!
As always, thanks for your continued encouragement and support of my music. Cheers to 2016!
Have you ever heard people say things like, “You're really lucky you met that person – they really helped open doors for you!” Or, “You got so lucky! What are the chances that this perfect job would open up at the exact time when you were looking? It's the perfect fit!” Here’s the thing: I don’t think luck exists.
Luck implies something random, something unexpected or unplanned, a fortunate occurrence that you had no control over. In music (and in life), is that really the case? Are we all waiting to catch a lucky break? In my experience, things that look like “lucky breaks” are more than just being in the right place at the right time. There’s more to it than that.
Let me explain.
Let’s say you're a trumpet player. You happen to find yourself in a jazz club one night after a gig. You’re sitting there listening to some famous jazz musicians when you find out they need a trumpet player for a few tunes, as their normal guy is sick. When your friends hear this, they tell these big shot jazz cats that you play the trumpet (aren’t friends great?). They ask if you want to sit in with them. So, you play a few tunes with them, they really like you, and the next week they call you to join them on their world tour. Lucky, right? No – you were prepared for that situation and you made the choice to get up on stage and take that risk. If you weren’t a strong enough player, or willing to play on the spot, you would have just sat in the audience and life would have continued on just fine. The “lucky” situation was not about you being the right place at the right time, it was about being prepared.
Here’s another example: Let's say you are at a coffee shop and you sit down at a table and pull out some music that you need to study. A woman sitting at the table next to you notices you are looking at music and asks, "Excuse me, I noticed you are looking at the Mozart Clarinet Concerto - are you a clarinetist?" You reply, "Yes, I am studying for my masters in clarinet performance at the college here." You strike up a conversation with this woman about music, Mozart, other composers, and coffee.
It turns out she is a conductor for a regional orchestra about thirty minutes down the road. You've been thinking about auditioning to get on sub lists for local orchestras and have been researching orchestras in the area. You've actually read some about her orchestra and know a bit about their recent concerts and educational programs. The conductor is clearly impressed with your professionalism, your knowledge, and your interest in the orchestra. When you mention you were thinking of auditioning for the sub list she immediately pulls out a business card. "Here's my card - call me when you come to audition and we can get together for another coffee - my treat! I will put in a good word for you with the audition coordinator and let them know that we talked. Do you have a card?" You pull out your nice, simple business card that you paid almost nothing for, hand one to the conductor, and thank her for a wonderful conversation.
This chance encounter was lucky right? I don't think so - you were prepared and professional. If the conductor wasn't impressed with you, she wouldn't offer to help you. You had done your research and were able to speak professionally with this conductor, creating an opportunity for yourself.
In my opinion, there’s no such thing as luck. But, there is such a thing as being prepared. Prepare yourself for success. Be at the top of your game all the time, be a professional, do your research, and know your stuff. If you’re prepared, you may find yourself coming out on the fortunate side of situations that might, at first, seem just lucky.
I am in the midst of composing a new work for band (and probably an orchestral version, as well) called Vermont State Fair. I wrote about the inspiration behind the piece back in April here. This picture shows a few of my "sketches" (that's a fancy way of saying "my notes and ideas"). At this stage, I am trying to come up with a several different motives that I can use and develop throughout the piece. Because the setting is a noisy and exciting fair (think people, rides, games, and horse racing), I anticipate moving between different melodies, motives, and sections frequently to give the piece a bombastic and fun feeling and give a sense of the exciting atmosphere. I have about ten motives/ideas/melodies so far and I hope to develop several more. I have also started planning out the progression of music - what order these things will happen in - and working on some orchestration in Finale.
This is a fun piece to write - a range of different kinds of music, but all fun and exciting. Stay tuned!
Mahler will always be one of my favorite composers. Very few composers have created music with as much beauty, depth, and power as Mahler. I remember sitting in my college dorm room, listening over and over to the Adagietto movement from his 5th Symphony, which is still one of my favorite pieces of music of all time. Another favorite has to be the finale of his Symphony No. 2 – perhaps the most glorious music I know! I love Mahler’s lyricism, his power, and his directness. His music has always inspired me and I know it will always be a huge influence on me and my own compositions. Here is the great Leonard Bernstein conducting the Adagietto from Symphony No. 5:
Here is Bernstein conducting the last few minutes of Symphony No. 2:
My dad introduced me to the music of film music composer James Horner when I was a kid and I always loved the emotional power and lyricism of his music. To this day, my favorite movie is Field of Dreams, in large part due to the soundtrack. There is so much beauty and depth in this music, and I will always look back on it as some of the inspiration that made me want to create my own music.
When I need to get out of the city (okay, Rochester isn’t a huge metropolis, but it is a city nevertheless) I head to one of the most peaceful and beautiful small towns I know – Aurora, NY. Nestled on the eastern shore of Cayuga Lake, the town is steeped in history, with a picturesque main street running along the lakeside. It’s a perfect place to get inspired and feel refreshed. As a composer (and I suspect this is true for other artists, as well), I have come to realize that it is important to get away and separate myself from my work occasionally. Often times, the best artistic ideas, seeds that can grow into a good idea, happen away from my desk. That's not to say that one should just hang out at the beach every day waiting for inspiration to strike; I am a big believer in creating regularly (every day, when possible) - exercising that creative muscle. I find that many times, when I put limitations on myself (such as deadlines), the creative work actually flows better. I have to be self-motivated, but that pressure can help fuel productivity.
So, it's a balance.
Most artists tend to feel like they can never stop working - there is always room for improvement, always a higher level of excellence to pursue. Working hard is very important, but I have also found that getting away from work for periods of time can provide the spark needed to really come up with creative ideas.
What are your favorite places to get away?
It is always exciting to attend performances of my music in person, and occasionally this happens in the Rochester area, where I live. This past weekend, Dr. Jared Chase led a performance of “Filled With His Voice” with a mass choir consisting of several Rochester-area church choirs. It was wonderful to hear the rich sound of 60 or so voices singing this piece, along with beautiful saxophone playing by Dr. Chisato Eda Marling and piano playing by Alex Kuczynski. Thanks so much to all who were involved!
This past weekend, Gary Green led his final concert as the conductor of the University of Miami Wind Ensemble and Director of Instrumental Performance at the University of Miami's Frost School of Music. When I arrived as a freshman at the University of Miami, I was assigned to Symphonic Winds, the "2nd band," in which I played bari sax. Even though it was not the “top band,” I remember thinking that the sound was amazingly rich. All those tubas, euphoniums, and trombones! Our high school band was good, but we only had one tuba – so yeah, the sound was pretty different. The Symphonic Winds rehearsed in the cavernous Fillmore hall, and though our conductor wasn't Gary Green, he occasionally visited rehearsals and guest conducted. Whenever a DMA applicant for wind conducting visited the school, he or she would conduct the band and Mr. Green would sit in the back, watching and observing how they used their time on the podium.
I still remember the first time I heard the Wind Ensemble under Mr. Green's direction – in fact, I remember the first chord. It was my first band concert at Miami — a split concert where the Symphonic Winds played the first half and the Wind Ensemble played the second half. I remember sitting in Gusman Hall as Mr. Green walked out onto the stage. The Wind Ensemble looked small to me — it wasn't a large band like I was used to playing in. It was one player per part — small and nimble. But, when he gave the downbeat for William Schuman’s “George Washington Bridge,” I remember that first chord being the best chord I had ever heard from a "band." It was so loud that I couldn't believe it was coming from the relatively few players on stage. Everyone was in sync and in tune, and it was at that moment that I realized that loudness is not only a reflection of numbers, but also intonation and articulation. Mind blown.
It was the first of many experiences playing in the bands at Miami where my ears and views of music were totally transformed.
For a freshman, the Wind Ensemble seemed a distant and elite group led by a renowned conductor. They were professional, polished. They rehearsed in Nancy Green Hall — a smaller, more intimate space (even the lighting was cooler, I swear). Although I was admittedly a little intimidated by the thought of playing alongside upperclassmen and graduate students, I wanted so badly to be a part of that group. Everyone did.
My second year, I got a chance. It felt surreal walking into that rehearsal in the Fall of my sophomore year, carrying my bari sax. I felt young and not entirely ready to play in the "top band." Nevertheless, I was excited and wanted to learn from Mr. Green, whose name carried a special weight and aura around the hallways.
Over the next three years, I encountered a wide range of music, from traditional repertoire to brand new commissions. We played some really beautiful pieces, and some that fell on the other side of the spectrum – dense, atonal, thrilling. At a time when my young ears were hearing contemporary music in classes and concerts (which I didn’t encounter much before college), having the opportunity to actually play some of this “new” music really opened my eyes and ears.
Here are 4 things that I remember most from my time playing under Mr. Green:
1. He treated everyone like a professional. From the way he conducted rehearsal to the way he spoke to students, I always felt like Mr. Green treated everyone like a professional. He gave everyone the benefit of the doubt — he never embarrassed anyone for making a mistake or not being prepared. He let you know there was an issue he wasn’t happy about, but he assumed that you would come back next time, like a professional, with the issue solved.
2. He inspired people around him. Mr. Green is one of those leaders who just makes you want to be better. You wanted to play better as an individual and as a group. You wanted him to take a moment, put down the baton, take off his glasses, and tell you a story about why that was so good and why it means something in our crazy world.
3. His depth of musicality was astonishing. Hearing Mr. Green talk about the music was just as thrilling as playing it. He thought deeply about what the music was doing, and what the composer was saying through each piece. He brought a level of humanity, gratitude, and joy to the podium — it was thrilling to be part of that.
4. He had the respect of every player in the group. When I think back to rehearsals with the Wind Ensemble, I don’t really remember players talking to each other. You know those moments — when we stop to rehearse something in the clarinets and everyone else in the group starts their own side conversations? People didn’t talk in these rehearsals – they didn’t mess around. They listened and paid attention. Mr. Green treated players like professionals, and they acted like it, with deep respect.
Finally, I want to mention the considerable bond Mr. Green formed with each of his conducting students. As a player, I watched Mr. Green coach his conducting students, interact with them, guide them. When a conductor finished their degree, Mr. Green took time at the end of a rehearsal to talk about that person’s journey and accomplishments and how much they meant to him. Each time, he had tears in his eyes. It was always apparent to me that he cared deeply about his students and those of us who played under his direction.
Thank you, Mr. Green, for caring so deeply about people. Thank you for inspiring students to want to become better musicians. And, thank you for sharing your music with us.
Image Credit: Frost School of Music, University of Miami
Yes, it is Spring, and yes I am working on a piece called “Winter Song.” But, I live in Rochester, NY, so it is basically Winter all year long here – cut me some slack. This new piece is for my good friend Chung Park, Director of Orchestral Studies at Appalachian State University. It is written for flute and string orchestra that uses material from a piece I wrote a few years ago for flute and marimba. I liked much of the material I originally wrote, but recently, I felt like strings would be a better fit, and decided to take the opportunity to revise and improve the ideas.
An important harmonic element in the piece is a sonority that I really enjoy – major 7th chords in various voicings. The main chord structure that helps inform the harmonic progression of the work is a series of two fifths, stacked on top of each other, separated in the middle by a half step (i.e. C, G and Ab, Eb). I use this sonority throughout and move the chord by fifths, sequentially, through all twelve keys.
Here is a rough MIDI export of the first 3 ½ minutes: