I was recently interviewed by Matt Brown from the Delta Collegiate Newspaper. We talk about my dream to work at a gas station, how school sucks, my life as a composer, and so much more. Take a listen and like their page.
2014 was such an exciting year! I think 2015 will be even more exciting.
I’ll be participating in three conferences in 2015. First, I will be sharing a bit of my research on composition pedagogy at Michigan Music Conference in January. That same weekend, I will be traveling to Northern Illinois University for the North American Saxophone Alliance Region V Conference where two of my pieces are being performed: A Dance Not To Be Danced To for sax quartet and Lament for alto sax and fixed media. Then, in March I and three of my comrades from Central Michigan University will be participating in the Society of Composers, Inc. Region VI Conference at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. There, my sax quartet will be performed and I will be doing a paper presentation on my composition pedagogy research titled, The Necessary Skills for Undergraduate Composition Students. I will make the paper available on this website soon.
One more fun thing I will be doing in the first half of 2015 is participating in the Grand Rapids Community College Alumni Composition Concert. I am so proud to have attended this school right out of high school. At the time of my attendance, it was one of only seventeen community colleges in the entire country with an accredited music program. They had incredible professors that truly helped me figure out my musical life.
In January I will begin teaching music at Delta College. My first two courses are Contemporary Guitar Techniques and History of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
In November, I curated the composition studio recital at Central Michigan University and I believe it was quite a success! We had a very eclectic group of pieces ranging from the avant-garde to the populist. For this concert I wanted to give the audience an intimate experience. Rather than having the audience in the hall and the performers on the stage, we set up chairs directly on the stage so they could be close to the performers and composers. If you aren’t afraid of having the sweat of the performers hit you then you’re sitting too far away! This also forced audience members to sit closer to one another and I’ve found this always makes for a more electric experience. Sitting close to performers gave the audience a chance to have a personal connection to the composers. The composers spoke directly to the audience about themselves and their work and being so close to someone who is sharing something so personal helps to make a close connection for what would otherwise be a distant relationship. Though we had set up close to eighty chairs on stage, we ran into a very fortunate problem when so many people showed up to the concert that the hall was over half full as well! But that was okay, we write music for people to hear it, so the more the merrier!
One of my pieces that was performed is called Junipers and is based on a poem written for me by Dr. Allegra Blake. The poem is about the conflict between Palestine and Israel. A recording of the performance will be posted soon. Here is a great picture taken of me and all of the performers after our final rehearsal:
Recently, my good friend and excellent audio engineer Ethan Fitzpatrick recorded my piece Exoplanet. Writing, rehearsing, performing, and recording this piece was such a good experience. It has definitely been one of my favorite pieces to work on. I think that is because it was written with the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. The piece is for drumset, electric guitar, tuba, and trombone. One of the things I miss most about playing rock ‘n’ roll is the collaborative experience, and with this piece I was lucky enough to enlist the help of good (and very talented) friends of mine who were patient enough to give this piece a lot of rehearsal time. The piece could’ve been performable after two or three rehearsals, but I really wanted to give this piece time to grow. I put notes on a page, but that was merely the seed from which the piece grew. I encouraged all the players to give me input and improvise throughout the rehearsals. Because the piece was not terribly difficult and because of the multitude of rehearsals, each time we got together was just fun. It was never a stressful situation in which we had performances coming up on us that we were not ready for, it was just a group of friends getting together to jam. Classical musicians and composers sometimes forget to have fun, so the whole process was quite refreshing. Take a listen to the final product:
For those of us lucky enough to remain in the world of academia, the slow turbulence that is the Fall Semester has been well under way for about a month.
I recently created a playlist of a few pieces I’ve written over the past seven months for those of you interested in what I have been up to musically. I hope you like the playlist I have curated!
In other news:
As I have mentioned in the past, Dr. Casey Robards commissioned me to write a piece for two pianos. As of today, the duet is complete! All that is left to do is edit, hand off the final copy and sit back and let the master work her magic on it. I am so honored that such a talented performer will be playing my music. The piece is called It’s Okay to Clap. It’s in three movements, and, as the name suggests, has an interesting theatrical element to it.
Lastly, I recently compiled a list of works. Email me at email@example.com if you are interested in performing any of these works. Of course these are not all the pieces I’ve ever written. Just the ones I’m willing to share with the world:
Wonder: an Ode to Carl Sagan (for SATB or TTBB choir)
The Children of Abraham (for orchestra)
It’s Okay to Clap (piano duet for 2 pianos)
Lamb of Light (for multiple 7 seven string guitars and backing track)
Exoplanet (for trombone, tuba, drum set, and electric guitar)
Lament (for Alto Sax and Fixed Media)
Songs of Informality #2 and #4 (open instrumentation, lead-sheet)
A Dance Not To Be Danced To (for saxophone quartet)
Unhinged (for tenor sax, bass clarinet, and clarinet)
Odyssean Steps (for soprano sax and tenor sax)
Alten’s Bullfight (for viola, clarinet, and alto sax)
Ektos (fixed media)
One Thing (for guitar, spoken word, and fixed media)
Shake ’em (for bass clarinet and maracas)
Phantasy for Piano (for solo piano)
Prozium (fixed media)
A Little Trip (for woodwind quintet)
Jukai (for flute/pic, violin, 2 cellos, bass, guitar, 2 tam-tams, bass drum, and vibraphone)
Your comrade in New Music,
I’m gonna be honest folks, I’m sitting here on my phone in a cramped Subaru on my way back to Michigan, my mind complete mush, barely able to process this past week. But, I will try and recap the last few days of the UMKC Composition Workshop.
In the morning Dr. Mara Gibson conducted a master class, which I was lucky enough to take part in. I presented my piece “Phantasy for Piano.” I was pleased to hear that she enjoyed the work. My favorite things about participating in this master class with her were the questions she asked. One vital thing I learned about composition pedagogy this week was that a good teacher knows the right questions to ask to activate a students mind. Dr. Gibson definitely got me thinking about ways I could improve upon my piece without having to outright tell me what was “wrong” about it, or what she didn’t like. Dr. Rudy and Dr. Mobberly seemed to practice a similar tactic in their master classes while maintaining their unique personalities.
Later in the day, percussionist extraordinar Mark Lowry held a presentation. He shared several percussion parts from solo works and larger scores as a way to start a discussion about the do’s and dont’s of percussion writing. The most interesting things I took away from the discussion that I did not know before were: 1) let the player create the set-ups 2) even Stravinsky wrote god-awful percussion parts (L’histoire du soldat) but they seemed to work for the piece- because there’s really no standard in percussion notation!
That night all of the students of the workshop were invited to a concert of meditative drone music featuring Dr. Paul Rudy and Heidi Svoboda. Heidi manned a large set various sized gongs and Dr. Rudy manned electronics (featuring recorded prairie sounds) and various percussion instruments. The venue was strangely beautiful. It was held atop a six story roof in downtown Kansas City. An artist had created an oasis in the otherwise concrete jungle. The roof was covered in shin high grass and gravel with the musicians playing inside a stationary box car.
(wow I’m surprised I remembered that much…this was all on Wednesday, June 18. onward….)
First thing in the morning we were led in a listening session by two pedagogy track students. The first presentation was held by Evan Williams. He discussed the very close relationship between architecture and music throughout the ages, from the cathedrals that helped inspire polyphony to the move to smaller venues helping to create smaller ensembles. Next, Bradford Tilden presented John Corigliano’s concerto for percussion. It’s a great piece and was one of those pieces for Bradford that inspired him and made him say “I want to do that!” (seems to be a recurring theme)
Later, Robert and Lyra Pherigo held a presentation on extended techniques for piano and flute. I learned some great things, but it was especially awesome to see some of the younger composers being floored by some sounds they may had never heard before.
That night we were treated to a concert of guided improv led by Dr. Rudy and the improv track students. Each student set up a set of parameters to improvise to. You could tell there was some fear in being so vulnerable, but it was a fun and rewarding concert for all!
The final day of the workshop!
Aside from taking group photos and having various discussions between peers and professors on ways to make next year even better, there were two events of importance-
First, the “standard” track students presented what they had been working on all week to the rest of us. It was most impressive to see what everyone came up with in such a short amount of time. There were four groups of three people that wrote a piece in collaboration with each other using various processes.
Finally, we reached the highly anticipated closing concert featuring some incredible musicians from the newEar new music ensemble. The standout pieces for me were “C” by Hannah Lash, “Syrian Requiem” by Antonio Celso Ribeiro, “Once Again to the Light” by Jim Mobberley and “The Body of Your Dreams” by the one and only Jacob ter Veldhuis.
What a week. I am inspired in a way that only has happened to me a few times before. I loved Kansas City, but I am ready to get back to Michigan and reflect on the past week!
During the listening session we listened to three pieces. The first piece a was a song (I cannot recall the title) by Willie Nelson, the second piece was the prelude to Tristan and Isolde, and finally he played a song (again, no recollection of the title) by the band Yes. He cites the three works as making a significant impact on his decision to become a composer, which he didn’t actually make until the age of 21.
With the Willie Nelson tune, we delved into a discussion about the importance of folk and popular music to classical composers and instrumentalists. A good classical instrumentalist should be able to create gestures that sound just as sincere and natural as Willie Nelson when he sings or plays his guitar. His “technique” may be imperfect, but his expression can be flawless.
With Tristan, Dr. Mobberley discussed the fascination he felt when listening to this work. Over the span of eleven minutes, Wagner builds upon the same essential musical material like a true craftsman. Dr. Mobberley strove for a very long time to become a craftsman of similar caliber, and, by his own admission, this took til his late 30’s to accomplish.
Finally, we talked about the progressive rock band Yes. Dr. Mobberley reflected on some of his early days playing guitar in a rock band and how trying to figure out the intricate guitar parts of Steve Howe was part of a natural progression in the evolution of a composer. It’s again going back to that idea of hearing something mind blowing and having the inexplicable necessity to recreate that sound. It seems to be in the DNA of us composers.
After the listening session, Dr. Mobberley played some of his music for us. The works that stuck with me were his pieces Words of Love for soprano and wind ensemble and Edges for wind ensemble. He is not primarily a wind ensemble composer, however, these may be among the best compositions for the medium I have ever heard. For whatever reason I rarely find myself liking pieces for concert band or symphonic wind ensembles; they often seem to be too heavy and invariably hokey (for lack of a more technical term.) But these two pieces by Dr. Mobberley were orchestrated in such a unique way- I had none of those negative experiences I usually have with similar works. If you ever get the chance to hear these pieces or any other works of his, I recommend taking a listen.
After a lunch break, we received an informative and fascinating lecture on composing for viola by our resident violist for the workshop Michael Hall.
Details on Day 5 coming soon!
First off, he led us in a listening exercise in which he tried to free our minds from the assumptions and expectations people are constantly and unconsciously making. Before saying too much to us, he played what we thought was going to be a recording of Beethoven’s 6th. Right when we were all convinced we’d be listening to this piece a, THUNDEROUS and ROARING crash came through the speakers, and for the next few minutes we were bombarded by intense and surprising recorded sounds of storms and collapsing buildings. Dr. Rudy did this to prove that we are most often listening for something when hearing music, rather than listening to something. Right away, many of us knew what style of music we were listening to, what instrumentation, and some of us even knew the exact piece. All the assumptions and expectations can often lead the listener astray from the intent of the composer. As composers, we can utilize audience expectation as a tool, but we also need to be aware of our own expectations when listening to new music so that we are not depriving ourselves of new experiences and potentially great learning moments. Some of the most important moments I’ve had as a composer are those when I hear something incredibly beautiful and think “How did they do that?!”
Immediately following the listening exercise, Dr. Rudy presented some of his music to us. Saying his body of work is diverse is an insulting underestimation. He’s put out several albums of electro-acoustic music built around field recordings of everything from hail to farts, he’s written a 30-minute long improvisatory piece based on the theory of chakras, he’s written a super groovy concerto for alto sax and wind ensemble, etc. etc…Please check out this man’s music, it is interesting, beautiful, and inspiring.
To close out the Rudy centered activities, he and Michael Hall performed the previously mentioned 30-minute long improvisatory piece. It led to a thought-provoking discussion regarding the efficacy of improv focused performances, i.e. choosing the right venue, successfully including/engaging the audience, and we discussed the line between pure self-indulgence and actually performing with the intent to entertain others. It was a fascinating and enlightening discussion. We’ve been very lucky to hear Michael’s thoughts on composing and improvising from a performers point of view. He is of the highest caliber of players and incredibly wise and open-minded.
Later in the day were the “track” specific activities. There are three tracks: the standard track with Dr. Gibson, the improv track with Dr. Rudy, and the pedagogy track with Dr. Mobberly. I am on the pedagogy track. I love teaching, so I knew this would be the track for me.
On the first meeting with Dr. Mobberly he discussed the fact that there is almost no literature on composition pedagogy. For someone steeped in the world of academia, such as myself, it may be a good idea to develop my higher-ed teaching skills. I absolutely love watching people learn, it is one of life’s greatest pleasures for me. I look forward to discussing various methods and observing some of the greats here at UMKC work their pedagogical magic!
Day 2 of the UMKC Composition Workshop started out with Dr. Mara Gibson sharing some of her past and recent projects with us. Her musical focus is on collaboration. She says that 90% of the music she writes now is for people she is acquainted with so that the process feels more like a joint effort rather than a “capital-C-Composer” dictating music to others. She has also done some fascinating and beautiful work with videographers. I think that the lesson of collaboration is such an important one. Even to this day we composers feel the burden of tradition. We feel Beethoven, Brahms, and Boulez starring at us from some stormy cloud in the sky. Something that Dr. Gibson said during our first meeting on Saturday puts my preceding ramblings into concise perspective:
“Write music for people, not posterity.”
Later, we took a tour of the Nelson-Atkins Museum. It is good to know that the fine people at UMKC running this workshop understand the importance of art appreciation and would treat us to such a wonderful experience. I am not alone as a composer in being intensely interested in things outside of music, and this seems to be true of a lot of great composers. We sometimes need something extramusical to inform our work, whether it be politics, science, or sculptures.
The past two nights have been close to sleepless in preparation for the UMKC Composition Workshop. Today is day one of the workshop, and so far it has been an outstanding experience, despite the sleep deprivation.
Today we were introduced to some of the composition faculty here at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. Namely, Paul Rudy, Mara Gibson, and James Mobberley. They are incredibly interesting and open-minded. I can’t wait to get to know them throughout this week!
Shortly after the panel discussion with them, we watched a wonderful presentation from the trio Ensemble of Irreproducibale Outcomes. They are a group of composers that create innovative scores for themselves that allow the players in the group to improvise and generate different outcomes for each performance. If you’re ever able to see these guys live, don’t miss it!
To end the first day we heard an excellent performance of some 20th century music. My favorites from the night were Robert Pherigo’s performance of The Alcotts from Ives’ Concord Sonata and Michale Hall (viola) and Pherigo’s performance of Berio’s Naturale.
More updates to come!
Summer break is finally upon us college folks! I have several exciting projects in the works right now.
My last project before the summer was to finish editing some recordings to share with you-
If you know some pianists or are one yourself, the score is available for purchase!
Here are a few excerpts from my piece Unhinged-
I am very proud of these pieces and thrilled to have worked with such great performers on them!
This past Monday I was a guest at Eastern Michigan University. In December, EMU saxophone student AJ Pratt commissioned me to compose a piece for alto sax and fixed media. On Monday he gave a stellar premier of Lament for alto sax and fixed media. His quartet also gave a wonderful performance my piece A Dance Not To Be Danced To. The saxophone studio at EMU are definitely friends of new music. Thanks to AJ and Woody Chenoweth for having me!
Speaking of friends of new music, I found another ally yesterday. Dr. Casey Robards, the professor of collaborative piano at Central Michigan University, has commissioned me to write her a piece for piano duet. We had a long chat yesterday, throwing around ideas and discussing the state of contemporary classical music. I am very honored to have someone of her caliber interested in my music. Stay tuned for updates on this project!
Last order of business- here is a recording of my piece Songs of Informality #4 performed by Trio Insurgent.