Archive for October, 2010

I saw the Philadelphia Orchestra play a couple of Brahms Symphonies a couple of weekends ago. The concert was excellent and at the end, as expected, the audience jumped to their feet and applauded with much zeal. My wife (a performer) leaned over and asked me (a composer) whether I thought the audience was applauding the orchestra or applauding Brahms.

I said they were applauding themselves for sitting still for the whole thing and behaving.

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I love public art.  I like the spirit of sharing, sense of community, and general expansiveness and simplicity of most public art.  As a composer, I want to participate in that sort of open-air aesthetic.

A great opportunity to explore this came up in Lancaster, PA this Summer.  Music For Everyone,  a non-profit group that advocates for music in schools, had artists decorate business-sponsored pianos that were scattered throughout the city.  Ryan Mast of Meteor Tower Films and David Moultan of Lancast approached me about writing a round for the pianos.  I wrote the round, then we got 20 of our friends to play the round on the 20 different pianos.  Back at the studio, the round was realized.

This project was really, really fun.

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As students back in the late twentieth century, my artistic colleagues and I would sit around drinking beer and making the usual complaint that symphony orchestras weren’t finding our doors and beating them down to beg for a new piece.  No matter though, chamber music is the future, we’d say.  Composition in the next century is to be lean, mean, efficient and economical.  But admittedly, the idea of writing for large forces is appealing.

Then someone would say, “yeah, too bad band music is so cheesy.”

Everyone would nod in agreement and several quintessential band composers would be harshly critiqued for the trite commercial schlock they’ve provided the world.

Then someone else would add–very thoughtfully–that band needn’t be cheesy at all.  In fact, wind ensembles should be a better vehicle for modern composers.  The variety of timbres, general inclination towards rhythmic precision, and availability of band programs in nearly every school, make the symphonic wind ensemble full of potential for the living composer.

Everyone would look off into the distance, nod, and take another sip.

Then someone would add, “Yeah, a lot of wasted potential.”  Slaps to the back would accompany peals of laughter.

Since then, a lot of new music has been written for winds and percussion and much of it quite good.  It’s entirely possible that we might look back on the Wind Ensemble as the most important large-forces vehicle for composers alive in the early 21st century.  Directors are certainly hungry for new rep and not particularly snobbish to styles.  Tonal?  Fine.  Atonal?  Great.  Controlled Aleatory?  Happens all the time.

Last year, I decided to write a piece for wind ensemble if I could find at least four directors who would commit to programming it.  Four directors did commit and I wrote “Cahaba” for wind ensemble.  James Saker at University of Nebraska-Omaha gave the work its premiere in March 2010.  It will be performed at the University of Montevallo under the baton of Joe Ardovino on October, 21, and Dan Heslink conducts it at Millersville University, December 1st.

Since posting an excerpt of the UNO recording on Facebook, four other conductors have asked asked about performing “Cahaba.”  I am also writing another work for UNO’s symphonic band.

There has even been an increase of interest from orchestra conductors because of this recording.  Commissioning a work for orchestra is a risky proposition, and having samples that show you can organize large forces does a lot to gain a conductor’s confidence.

Do you write for band?  Are you a band director who performs new works?  Who are some composers writing interesting stuff for winds and percussion right now?

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