Consortium Opportunities! – Band and Choir

I’m excited to announce the launch of two new works – one for band, and one for choir. See details below.

Band Consortium – Grade 3-3.5 work:
I’m starting a new band work in 6/8 time, inspired by the sunken city of Port Royal, Jamaica. The area, notorious as a wealthy pirate haven, was struck by a series of disasters which eventually sunk the city under the ocean. The work starts with a pirate song, followed by the disaster striking, and the sinking of the city. In the end, you can hear a pirate hymn from the submerged ghosts. The working title is “The Sunken City.” The buy-in for ensembles is $50. Use the form below to register your intent to become a member of the consortium.

Choir Consortium – for SA/piano, and SATB/piano
I’ve long been a fan of the elegant and lyrical poetry of Sara Teasdale. Her works are in the public domain in the US. As such, I’ve started a piece using the poem “The Winter Blue Jay.” It’s a beautiful secular poem inspired by winter imagery and romance. The buy-in for choirs is $30. Use the form below to register your intent to become a member of the consortium.

Use this link to officially express interest in these works. I look forward to delivering them this summer, for use in fall and winter concerts! Regular updates will be sent to respondents as the projects proceed.

Fanfare in a Blue Pilu (2020) – for trumpet septet

Fanfare in a Blue Pilu was inspired by my love of the music of Jimi Hendrix (specifically, the Hendrix Chord) and the postminimal fanfares of John Adams. The title refers to the scale used, the raga Pilu, although I derived the scale from the opening harmonic idea: the Fdim/F7 polychord which sounds quite bluesy.

The work was commissioned and performed by Brandon Dicks of the Rhode Island Recording Ensemble. Dicks, a doctoral student at Arizona State University, commissioned a series of trumpet ensemble fanfares to support composers through the pandemic; he performed and mixed all parts for the premiere recording.

Preview score (concert pitch, unedited).

Purchase here for $30

Tombstone Galop (2020) – flex ensemble

Free downloads:
Full Score – Flex Ensemble (any 6 melodic instruments and percussion; 11″x17″)
Reduced C Score (for easier printing/reading; letter sized)
All Parts (letter sized)
Preview Audio

About the piece:

Tombstone Galop was composed in response to the Creatve Repertoire Initiative. The CRI was designed to encourage composers to write for flexible instrumentation, to allow directors unsure of their upcoming instrumentation to have repertoire to perform, especially with COVID-19 happening. This is for any six melodic instruments and up to 5 percussionists (3-4 is preferred). The parts are in the range of grade 3-4 in difficulty.

I have long been a fan of spaghetti western films. Recently, I moved to Benson, Arizona, which is a short drive away from perhaps the most famous town in the Wild West – Tombstone! The town has a legendary history, starting as a silver mine and growing into one of the big boomtowns of the West. At its peak, it had saloons, hotels, schools, churches, gambling and dance halls, an ice cream parlor, and a bowling alley! This served its nearly 14,000 residents, many of whom were made wealthy from the mine. It was not uncommon to see people in the latest European fashions. But it was not all fun and games. Dangerous gangs made a living smuggling across the Mexican border and extorting locals.

Tombstone entered the history books on October 26, 1881. That March, three members of the notorious gang called The Cowboys attempted to rob a stagecoach filled with nearly $26,000 worth of silver (that’s nearly $700,000 in today’s dollars). Two men in the stagecoach were shot and killed. The Earp family, in charge of the police in Tombstone, pursued the robbers. This would culminate in October at the legendary shootout at the O.K. Corral. This short gunfight led to three deaths. Later, two of the law enforcement officers involved would be assassinated. This event spawned several movies and TV episodes, and inspired the gunslinging view many had of the Wild West. The town of Tombstone exists to this day, and is a hotspot for tourists who are fans of the Wild West.

In this piece, I tried to imagine what music might have been heard in a dance hall in Tombstone, during its happier days. This is tinged with the dark opening and the sounds of horses and guns. It is in a traditional march form, with the faster circus march tempo. The introduction and first strain are in C minor. The second strain is in Ab major, and we hear horses for the first time. The trio is gentler and in Db major. The dogfight represents the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Can you hear the horses? The piece ends triumphantly with the victory of law over the outlaws of the notorious Cowboy gangsters.

The piece can be performed by any 6 melodic instruments. The parts are labelled 1-6 and with their transposition. For example Part 4 (F) could be played on a mellophone or horn; Part 1 (C) could be played on violin or flute. The flexibility is up to you! Numerous markings make the instrumentation more interesting, offering solo opportunities, or encouraging certain parts to play the second time only at a given repeat. Be creative, have fun!

How to Compose for Young Band

Composing for young band is a challenge many composers balk at. But should they?

I rather think of composing for beginners an interesting challenge as a composer. What can you write for musicians who maybe only know five notes on their instrument, and only whole, half, and quarter notes? How can you integrate modern composing techniques, such as electronics, aleatoric elements, and improvisation with new musicians? How can you make the music interesting and valuable for new musicians? How can you make this music appeal to middle school students?

Know what beginning and first or second year music students can perform! They may only understand a few music elements, such as five notes or only whole, half, and quarter notes, but can you make an aesthetically pleasing work for young musicians with such limited means? It’s challenging work, but worth the means. It teaches music can be written by living composers, rather than just by dead white European men, and that maybe they can do the same! It can teach new elements of music, such as dotted rhythms or a new note or scale.

Are you willing to take on the challenge? Do you think this kind of work is limiting or a worthy challenge?

Thoughts on Composing for Young Bands

Robot Penguin - for beginning band
Robot Penguin – for beginning band

Many composers are wary of composing for beginning and young musicians. Ensembles for these musicians can be small, limited in instrumentation, and of course, being beginners, there is often a lack of sophisticated technique simply because these musicians are young and learning. Young musicians are learning the fundamentals of sound production and reading music. With experience, they learn more notes and rhythms, and develop tone, range, and a variety of other musical skills as they mature physically and as musicians.

Some music written for this level is of questionable quality, and many composers question how or why they would limit themselves to the means necessary to write for beginners. These are valid concerns. However, I relish the challenge of using limited means to create an exciting musical product playable by beginners. There are thousands of beginning bands in schools around the US, and it is a great market. Bands love playing new music. They also love commissioning new music and publishers love it because they make money selling the music to school bands. Additionally, there are many young bands around the world who perform with astonishing quality and musicianship. You cannot paint young bands with a broad brush!

Many musicians start to learn an instrument in the fourth, fifth, or sixth grade. During this time, it is critical that they learn to love making music, so they continue to stay in our ensembles. If we are to continue to have professional musicians, we have to keep students learning music. What better justification is there for writing good, quality music for young musicians than this? Think of yourself as composing for the next generation of performers, composers, and directors.

Interested in composing for young bands? Check out these resources:
Alfred Grading Guidelines
FJH Grading Guidelines
ABC Grading Chart
Ralph Ford’s Thoughts on Composing for Young Musicians

Classical Music Isn’t Dead/Dying, Thanks to Wind Bands

11150702_552807181528548_151573596814780672_nHardly a week goes by where I do not see an article proclaiming the impending death of classical music, or offering ways to revive the art. I must admit that I am quite young and perhaps not the best expert on the state of classical music in today’s world. I am, however, a music educator who dabbles in the art of composing for a type of ensemble that is thriving. Many of those who claim art music is dying simply ignore the fact that wind band music is an exciting and growing medium, and composers are taking notice.

Perhaps the idea of classical music conjures up the great orchestras of the world. While many of these ensembles are facing financial trouble, which is tragic and should be reversed, if possible, the wind ensemble is thriving. Thousands of elementary, middle, and high school students participate in wind bands both in and out of school. Many adults participate in community wind bands. Colleges often have one or more wind bands as well. Respected composers have started to notice the artistic possibilities of these great young musicians. Pulitzer Prize winning composer John Corigliano had this to say:

“Attending a band concert, in contrast, I find exhilarating. For starters, the repertoire of band music is largely contemporary. As a result the audiences expect and look forward to new works. Listening in an environment largely ignored by the press, they learn to trust their own ears and respond directly to what they hear. Most important of all, concert bands devote large amounts of rehearsal time over a period of weeks – not days – to learning thoroughly the most challenging of scores. With its combination of new notations and spatial challenges demanding an intricate coordination of a large work, Circus Maximus could only have been attempted under such special circumstances.”

His symphony “Circus Maximus” is just one of many works being commissioned by great wind ensembles. John Mackey recently wrote a band symphony. University wind bands have commissioned numerous works, including a concerto for saxophone and band by Steven Bryant, a trumpet concerto by John Mackey, and a song cycle for winds and voice by John Mackey. Joe Alessi, principal trombonist of the New York Philharmonic, recently commissioned a trombone concerto from John Mackey and another from Stephen Bryant. Wind bands are commissioning new and exciting music from great composers and great performers are also enjoying these fruits.

School bands are also commissioning a great number of works. Whether to celebrate some event, have a new piece of music for an honor ensemble, or to mourn a tragedy, bands around the country and around the world are interested in playing new music. Some bands commission works from composers simply because they like their music. Even Philip Glass, early in his career, wrote for school bands.

Is classical music dying? Well, I guess it depends on your definition of classical music. But from where I stand, art music is alive and well.

Shepherd’s Pi (2016) – for Ensemble

Pumpkin PiEvery once in awhile, I get the idea to write something a bit unusual. Given the season, I decided to write a piece reflecting my love of pumpkins, pumpkin pie, math, and dad jokes. Inspired by Rzewski’s composition Les Moutons de Panurge, I composed Shepherd’s π for any size ensemble and using a similar process. Incidentally, I once carved a “Pumpkin Pi.”

Full score here.Score Picture