If I Can Make It There

A busy week coming up…  Sunday, the University of Texas Conducting & Rehearsing Workshop begins, and I’ll be the guest composer.  I’ll do a little talk about my music on Monday, and on Wednesday, I’ll work with the half-dozen-ish conductors who have picked either “Aurora Awakes” or “Undertow” as their repertoire selection.  It’s going to be fun.

That wraps up on Thursday, and then AEJ, Loki, and I are packing up the car and beginning our drive to NYC, where we’ll spend the next seven weeks. (Thank you in advance, Liz Love, for housesitting!) AEJ will be taking classes at NYU, and I’ll be spending my days either 1) eating sushi or 2) trying to write one of the several pieces I need to work on this summer.

I have a few projects in the works. There’s an 8-10 minute Percussion Concertino coming up, but there seem to be some funding issues with that at the moment, so that might be delayed until next spring. At this point, it looks like my next piece will be a commission for Calvin Hofer’s ensemble at Mesa State College.

I’m looking forward to writing Calvin’s piece, largely because it’ll be a departure from most of my wind pieces. This one will be entirely slow, and (hopefully) lyrical — something along the lines of the first section of “Aurora Awakes” or the “Metal” movement of my Soprano Sax Concerto. I have one slow piece in my catalog — “Turning” — but that one is dark and angry (and requires a waterphone).  For this new piece, the goal is lush & beautiful.  We’ll see how it goes.  I have a very hard time writing slow music, always fearing it’ll tip towards sentimental (and, in my mind, cheesy).

It’ll be interesting writing a lyrical piece while living in New York — a city that I associate more with Asphalt Cocktail than unabashed lyricism.  If I psychoanalyze it, though, I don’t think I would have written Asphalt Cocktail if I’d lived in NYC when I started that piece.  Asphalt Cocktail is more of a reaction to not currently living in a huge city — with the noise and constant energy that provides —  and wanting to create something that felt extremely urban in order to fill that void.  So maybe being back in the middle of a megalopolis will make me want to write something beautiful.  That’s the hope, at least.

Speaking of Asphalt Cocktail, AEJ had an idea for a young band piece — and I think I actually want to try writing it.  I consider “Undertow” to be sort of a “playable Turbine.”  The idea for this new piece would be a “playable Asphalt Cocktail,” with extensive use of the percussion section, including found percussion like shakers and maybe — maybe — that good ol’ steel trash can.  But whereas Undertow is a “Grade 4” level, this new piece would be a true Grade 3.

This would be a fun piece to write, and the huge color options provided by the various found percussion would solve a lot of the problems inherent in writing for young band.  (The greatest difficulty in writing for young band, in my opinion, is the restricted color palette caused by the limited doubling options with young players.  Solos are a risky idea with young players, and part transparency in general is extremely difficult to obtain, because almost everybody has to play almost all the time or the players get bored — and you don’t want bored kids at that age.  “Plus,” as my friend Bruce Richardson pointed out, “if you give the clarinets more than 12 bars of rest, somebody is getting pregnant.”)

This new grade 3 piece is just an idea at this point; nobody has asked me to write it.  I do kind of want to see if I can convince somebody to do just that, though.  Maybe I’ll take payment in sushi…


Tyler S. Grant says

How are you planning to write those pieces away from your studio? Laptop? Cram the desk in the trunk?

Aaron says

A true grade 3 piece from you would be a great addition to the young band rep. I would definitely write a purchase order for that!

Nick says

Will you be doing any workshops in the area while living in NYC?

only a 40 minute drive for me so I would love to attend anything you were doing during your stay.

Cathy says

If there's no rice, it's just sashimi....

Alex says

I resent your penultimate paragraph! write music! don't write something that creates a sterile non-learning environment for students. In my high school band one of the most valuable things learned is the difference between playing music and playing notes and rhythms: music should be written in such a way that the instrumentalists can express themselves as best as possible, even if it means that sometimes they will have to sit around for a while and listen. when we played "strange humors" that was one of the more challenging things we had to overcome, but when we were through, it was beautiful and expressive

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