Composing in the desert

You often read about artists and composers who are inspired by nature or their surroundings. Many are convinced that the quality and the type of art they create is a direct result of the environment in which it was created.

If this were true in my case, the music I’ve written lately would be brown, drab, boring, and just flippin’ ugly.

Against my better judgment, a few months ago I accepted the offer of a commission for a grade four band piece. I did this after less than a month in Kuwait…not enough time to really know how much time I would be able to devote to creative work or whether or not I would be able to concentrate on it. As it turns out, I’ve had plenty of time to dedicate to writing music since I can decide what to do with whatever spare time I have. (I miss my family terribly, but it’s easier to get work done when your four-year-old isn’t barking at you to run with her every two minutes.) Plus, I’ve found solace in the Starbucks that’s mere yards from my “pod” (living quarters); it’s a little slice of home here in the desert, and if I don’t look out the window it feels pretty much like a Starbucks back at home. I grab some coffee and a chair, plug my MacBook into the wall with my three-octave MIDI keyboard and voila, I’ve got my own studio.

So, with some free mornings and hours open to composing, I had plenty of time to write Keynote Address for my old chapter of Delta Omicron. I’m very pleased with the way it turned out, and I think it stands up to any of my other personal favorites despite being written in some of the butt-ugliest country you’ve ever seen.


New pieces

I guess things are picking up a little bit.  There’s less than two weeks remaining for the Adjutant General Captains Career Course, leaving only nearly a month until I report to Pershing’s Own.  It will be a great relief to get back into music full-time.

 In the meantime, I did manage to finish a couple of new pieces; pieces that had been on the burners for probably waaaay too long.

The Roarsville Rag is a short grade 4 written for the Rohrersville Band.  I’m really happy with the way it turned out.  I wanted to introduce three melodies that combined for the finale, and I think they really come together well in a satisfying finale.  Once the ending was written and I had all the melodic material ironed out, the expositions were easy.  Two criteria were not met, however: I wanted to deliver the piece last year for the band’s 170th birthday, and also make it a grade 3.  But I discovered that once you decide to write a rag, you’re pretty much locked into writing a fair amount of syncopation.

The other piece I finished was Montpelier Dances, a very difficult woodwind quintet composed with the Montepelier Winds of James Madison University in mind.  I met them at Midwest in 2003 when they gave a clinic.  I decided then that I would write a piece for them, but I cannot remember if I actually told any of them of the plan.  Oh, well.

Anyway, the piece is in five contrasting movements, and each movement features one of the instruments in virtuostic fashion (each movement even features a short cadenza).  Please go to my website and give it a listen; there’s a pretty decent computerized performance until I can get the real thing.

Soon, I’m sure I will beat myself up for not being more productive during this time away from crazy work hours and the wonderful chaos of a house with kids, but for now I’m content with pulling out two slow-going pieces.  There’s no shortage of new ideas to tackle, though, and I think I’ll get started soon (after I do my taxes)!

NBA/Merrill Jones results

I haven’t written anything for a while in this forum, but there’s a very good reason for that–there’s not a whole lot to report. I’m in the purgatory of Army schooling, and it’s not a music-rich environment to say the least. But after a few very slow months, an eventful day today…

Two days ago I received notice that Black Tie Blu-bop didn’t win the NBA/Merrill Jones Band Composition Contest and that my submission would be returned under separate cover. Fine. But today I get a letter from Frank Wickes saying that the committee thought my piece was “excellent” but exceeded their Grade III/IV requirement (an accurate assessment–it’s a solid Grade V). So he forwarded the score and CD to Wingert-Jones for publication consideration even though the piece didn’t win! What a classy thing to do; I sent a quick email of thanks. W-J should have a look in a month or so. Even if it doesn’t get selected, it was a meaningful gesture from the judges not to simply throw out the piece as ineligible.

This good news led to a friendly call to Dave McKee (Virginia Tech marching band and symphony band director, and good friend), who said that Grafton High School‘s performance at VMEA was fantastic. It totally slipped my mind! Hopefully Darren will come through and get that recording to me.

Though I haven’t been productive, I’m still at least trying to write. I figured I would be able to write a lot of music while I didn’t have the distractions of home during the course, but I was mistaken. I talked with my wife earlier and I think she’s right: I have the time to write, but without the immersion in and exposure to a musical environment, I’m not getting anywhere. Note to self: never apply for the Rome prize; you’ll only waste everyone’s time.

At least I am nearly done with my woodwind quintet and there will be much rejoicing when it’s finally finished. I don’t see another one in the forseeable future.


While we were waiting for permission to take the field for rehearsal the day of our World Bowl performance, the band spent a fair amount of time hanging out in one of those huge concrete tunnels that leads directly to the playing field from the outside.  And when you’re waiting around with nothing to do for over an hour, and you have a horn in your hands, you’re going to noodle.

Our trombones and horns started playing Mahler 3.  At the time, I was out on the field, but you could hear this huge sound coming from the tunnel, even though this was a reasonably large stadium with a lot of ambient noise.  One particular passage coming from that huge echo chamber sounded like something that would work well in the Meyerson lobby in Dallas…wait a minute…let’s think about this…
And that’s sometimes the way things happen.  Just a couple of notes in succession of people just fooling around can catch your ear in a unique way and start the creative juices flowing.  I had no intention of entering the Dallas Wind Symphony fanfare competition again; I thought the success I had before would be tough to top.  But just a week has passed since that moment and I have a decent start on a piece that only has to be two minutes long (but it is due in two weeks–can I work that fast?).
So, dear reader, you may expect a posting of my next fanfare effort, Galaxy Portals, coming soon.

Kid tunage

Yesterday I did something that I said I would do a while ago, but finally got around to it. I wrote a short piano piece for my son. It is the first of what I hope will be a series of pieces for both he and my daughter (if she decides she wants to play). I don’t think this will blossom into anything like Bartok’s Microcosmos (in scope, quality, or significance), but it sure was fun! It’s nice to just step back and write something short and simple without having to work out a large form or mess with orchestration. Of course, writing for just piano (and a relative beginner, at that) is challenging enough without adding further restrictions.

The working title for the compilation:

Daddy’s Book of Kid Tunage