Seattle, Part 1: You Have Nice Shoes

I had such grand aspirations to blog daily from “the road,” but it’s turning out that I’m too busy to do even that much! In short, here’s what’s happened since I arrived in Seattle on Monday night…

I’m staying at The Gaslight Inn. It’s beautiful. (Special thanks to EN for setting that up.) It was hard to find on Monday night, as the street signs in the Capital Hill area of Seattle are very hard to read in the dark. After calling the owner of the Inn from the street for directions (and waking him up, to my embarrassment – and about which he couldn’t have been nicer), I made it inside to my lovely little room.

The next morning (yesterday), I started with a visit to Kenmore Junior High School to see my first “Endangered Instruments Program” session. “What’s that program, John?” I hear you asking. Well, there are a number of instruments that aren’t played especially well by a large number of people. These are instruments like bassoon, French horn, double bass, etc. Seattle has a program to encourage the education of these very instruments. (This is a brilliant idea.) My first visit yesterday morning was with the bassoon students at this middle school.

Okay, for reference, as I said, almost no kids play bassoon. Well, at this one school — a middle school, at that — there were 5 bassoon players. Not trumpet. Bassoon. And they’ve been studying bassoon for 2-3 years. So I ask, “what are you going to play for me?” “Yesterday,” the teacher replies. “No, not when, what are you going to play?” “Uh, ‘Yesterday.’ By the Beatles.”

So, I felt retarded. Good start.

Anyway, they played through it, and they sounded really good — especially considering that they’re 13-year old bassoon players!

The plan with this Endangered Instruments Program is for me to compose a piece for all of the students to play at their spring concert. Normally, all of the bassoonists (or a small group) play a short piece, then some horn players play a short piece, etc. This year, though, all of the students — all 120+ of them, consisting of oboes, French horns, tubas, double basses, and violas — will simultaneously perform a piece that I will write just for them. Any ideas from the peanut gallery?

After that school visit, I headed to the University of Washington to speak with the graduate dance students. Mark Haim, a resident choreographer at UW, set up the session, although he, unfortunately, had to teach another class for much of my session. In addition to the student choreographers in attendance, one composer from the UW music school attended. (This guy, Jonathan Haek, seems to be in great demand by the choreographers at UW, and will be composing scores this year for no less than three of them! In fact, right before the seminar started, the third choreographer came in and pleaded to him to write a score for her. I may have to keep an eye on this guy… I already discouraged him from moving to NY, as I really don’t want the competition.)

The UW chat was great. It’s a very smart and inquisitive group of choreographers, and I hope I get a chance to see their work while I’m in Seattle.

Later last night, I attended my first rehearsal of the Seattle Youth Symphony — my whole reason for coming to Seattle. They started the rehearsal with the final movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. (For the non-la-de-dah, that means “Fantastic Symphony.” Nice ego, Berlioz.)

So, it turns out that the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra is awesome. You should hear the low brass! (Granted, you can’t not hear the low brass.) They really nailed the Berlioz.

When they got to my piece, they had a little trouble at first — this was the first time they’d played it in the huge Benaroya Hall – the home of the Seattle Symphony — but by the second time through, it was 200% better, and sounded great. After another 45 minute rehearsal on Saturday, I’m sure they’re going to just nail it. I’m excited.

Day 2

Yeah, that was just the first day of the residency. Today was day 2.

Today has been a little lighter. I had another Endangered Instruments listening session, this time at Eckstein Middle School, where I heard a half-dozen French horn players. The highlight? At one point during a Q&A with the students, one guy asked me — and this is a first — “are those new shoes?” It took me a second to realize that yes, in fact, he just asked me if I was wearing new shoes. I was, as it turned out. “Um, yeah. They’re pretty new. I mean, not like, ‘this week’ new, but pretty new.” “Oh. They’re nice,” the kid said.

That was followed by an interview on KING-FM. The interview seemed to go well, but when I do those things, I never have any recollection of what I’ve said, as my brain is constantly working so hard thinking, “what will I say next? I can’t let myself sound silly, or stupid, or like I’m trying to hard, or that I’m making myself sound too self-absorbed, blah, blah, blah.” Interviews are fun, but it’s tough to be “on” the whole time. This one wasn’t bad, as it was short — 10 minutes, to be edited down to probably 4 minutes — and it wasn’t live. My interview on Friday, though, will be longer, and it will be live. I’m trying not to think about that one yet.

Tonight is a dinner at the home of the president of the board of the youth symphony. I’m looking forward to that. Sounds like good company.

Sorry this is so lengthy, but I’ll try to update more regularly from now on, thus avoiding these rambling entries.


abacus says

Well, those are really nice shoes.

I think they should change the name of the progam to "Dangerous Instruments Program." All the kids would sign up for that. Plus, then your piece could be called "CAUTION - Dangerous Instruments Ahead." That would rule.

Newman says

Last time I had to write something for an incredibly odd combination I came up with UNCLE SID. Enjoy. ;-)

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