Tag: Midwest Clinic

Julie Giroux: A Wind Band is a Box of 168 Crayons

Julie Giroux on boardwalk

I still vividly remember my very first encounter with Julie Giroux. It was in 2015 during the first time I attended the Midwest Clinic, a massive music conference/festival/expo which is heavily but not exclusively devoted to wind band music held annually in Chicago right before the end of each calendar year.

Though I knew some wind band repertoire and had even attended a few wind band concerts over the years, nothing prepared me for how huge the wind band community is—comprising school-based ensembles, community groups, and musical units that are the pride of each of the branches of the military, plus wind bands from around the world. I was not only floored by the sensitivity and virtuosity of performance at what were basically showcases at a conference center which normally might not inspire such a level of commitment, but also how devoted these musicians were to newly composed music. There were so many new composers I discovered that first year, mostly all men, with one very noticeable exception—Julie Giroux, whose works were featured on several concerts. I still remember two of her pieces I heard that week—Riften Wed and Just Flyin’. Both took the audience on a journey that was a real sonic adventure and, at the same time, both were—dare I say it—fun.

Who was this Julie Giroux? I had to meet her. I tracked her down in the giant exhibition area of McCormick Center, which is where Midwest Clinic attendees congregate in between concerts and panel discussions. In fact, it’s a giant marketplace where attendees can and do buy sheet music, recordings (fancy that!), instruments, and even band uniforms. Giroux was holding court by the stand of her music publisher, Musica Propria. There was a line waiting to get her autograph that was longer than two city blocks. I waited. When I finally got directly in front of her, she was laughing uproariously, perhaps at something someone had just said. I was not sure. It’s very loud in that space. I didn’t have much time since there was a line just as long behind me by that point, but I told her how much I liked her music and handed her my business card saying that I hoped we’d have a chance to have a longer conversation at some point for NewMusicBox. I learned that she was based in Mississippi and began plotting ways of traveling there to chat with her. It proved challenging. Then I thought maybe we could record a convo with her during next year’s Midwest Clinic. That proved impossible since everyone else there wanted to talk to her, too, but at least I managed to say hi briefly again and hear some more of her music. And the cycle repeated itself in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

But strangely in this crazy year of 2020 when no one is able to go anywhere, we’re actually able to go more places than usual—virtually—since almost everyone is online all the time. In fact, this week (December 16-18), the Midwest Clinic, which typically attracts well over 15,000 attendees, is also an exclusively web-based experience and, as a result, might even break their previous attendance records. So, I thought I’d take a chance and reach out to Julie Giroux and see if she’d be willing to talk over Zoom. It took a while to set up, but it was well worth the wait.

“I feel like we’re in one of those really bad sci-fi films from the ‘70s where you get sucked into some computer and are trying to live that way,” she commented at some point during our sprawling conversation in which we explored the ins and outs of the wind band (including an in-depth discussion of her own wind band symphonies), her career in Hollywood (which led to her being the first female composer to win an Emmy), her wacky arrangements of Christmas songs (‘tis the season after all), and how she’s coping with life in quarantine. “I have a whole other year to sit here, and eat Cheetos and play video games,” she quipped.

  • When I was in junior high, I was writing for junior high band, because that was the level I was.

    Julie Giroux on boardwalk
    Julie Giroux, composer
  • Because I’d always played piano—when I got into band, I realized I was only playing one note. And that’s pretty boring.

    Julie Giroux on boardwalk
    Julie Giroux, composer
  • Now I have a whole other year to sit here, and eat Cheetos and play video games.

    Julie Giroux on boardwalk
    Julie Giroux, composer
  • I didn’t know that there weren’t women. I didn’t think about it. … . I didn’t know anybody was alive who was doing it.

    Julie Giroux on boardwalk
    Julie Giroux, composer
  • The band is as complex and has as many colors as an orchestra does.

    Julie Giroux on boardwalk
    Julie Giroux, composer
  • Elvis stopped being Elvis because he stopped growing.

    Julie Giroux on boardwalk
    Julie Giroux, composer
  • It’s like I have a box of 168 crayons. And if you want to give me 12, I don’t want to color with 12.

    Julie Giroux on boardwalk
    Julie Giroux, composer
  • There isn’t a person in the United States that doesn’t know “Jingle Bells.”

    Julie Giroux on boardwalk
    Julie Giroux, composer

I was somewhat surprised to learn that despite Giroux’s interest in a broad range of music making, she is not terribly interested in writing chamber music. “It’s because I am just a spoiled brat,” she confessed. “It’s like I have a box of 168 crayons. Right? And if you want to give me 12, I don’t want to color with 12. I want to color with 168, you know. So to me, it’s always no. It’s like you go to a restaurant and it’s a menu that has one thing on it. You know, you’re like, ‘No, no. I want pages. I want to just be overwhelmed with the choices that I have.’ … I mean it does sound like something I need to do to be a better composer, but it’s not something I want to do.”

New Music USA · SoundLives — Julie Giroux: A Wind Band is a Box of 168 Crayons
Frank J. Oteri in conversation with Julie Giroux
November 16, 2020—7 P.M. E.S.T.
Via a Zoom Conference Call between Mississippi and New York NY
Produced and recorded by Brigid Pierce; audio editing by Anthony Nieves

Omar Thomas Wins 2019 Revelli Award

A photo of a man with a black background and face paint

During the 2019 Midwest Clinic which was held over the course of four days (December 18-21, 2019) at McCormick Place in Chicago, the National Band Association (NBA) announced that Omar Thomas has been named the recipient of the 2019 William D. Revelli Award for his 2018 composition Come Sunday. The announcement that Thomas had received the $2,000 cash award, becoming the first African American composer so honored, capped a week during which there were several panels devoted to issues of diversity, inclusion, and equity at the annual Clinic, which is the world’s largest instrumental music education conference, drawing approximately 17,000 attendees.

Omar Thomas has been commissioned to create works for both jazz and classical ensembles and his works have been performed by such diverse groups as the Eastman New Jazz Ensemble, the San Francisco and Boston Gay Mens’ Choruses, and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, in addition to a number of the country’s top collegiate music ensembles. Born to Guyanese parents in Brooklyn, New York in 1984, Thomas moved to Boston in 2006 to pursue a Master of Music in Jazz Composition at the New England Conservatory of Music. He is the protégé of composers and educators Ken Schaphorst and Frank Carlberg, and has also studied under multiple Grammy-winning composer and bandleader Maria Schneider. While still completing his Master’s Degree, Thomas was appointed Assistant Professor of Harmony at the Berklee College of Music at the age of 23. He is currently on faculty in the Music Theory department at The Peabody Institute of The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Omar Thomas’s first album, I AM, debuted at #1 on iTunes Jazz Charts and peaked at #13 on the Billboard Traditional Jazz Albums Chart. His second release, We Will Know: An LGBT Civil Rights Piece in Four Movements, was awarded two OUTMusic Awards, including Album of the Year. For this work, Thomas was also named the 2014 Lavender Rhino Award recipient by The History Project, acknowledging his work as an up-and-coming activist in the Boston LGBTQ community. Thomas is one of seven members of the Blue Dot Collective, a group of composers dedicated to creating new works for wind band that are “well-crafted, compelling, sincere, exciting, and fresh.” Music by Thomas was played twice during the 2019 Midwest Clinic. The Austin, Texas-based Grisham Middle School Honors Band, under the direction of guest conductor Jerry F. Junkin, performed Shenandoah, Thomas’s soulful and occasionally ominous 2019 reworking of the celebrated American folk song, and the Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina-based Wando High School Symphonic Band, under the direction of Bobby Lambert, performed the second movement of Come Sunday.

Omar Thomas describes Come Sunday as a “tribute to the Hammond organ’s central role in black worship services.”

Omar Thomas describes Come Sunday on his website as “a two-movement tribute to the Hammond organ’s central role in black worship services. The first movement, ‘Testimony,’ follows the Hammond organ as it readies the congregation’s hearts, minds, and spirits to receive The Word via a magical union of Bach, blues, jazz, and R&B. The second movement, ‘Shout!,’ is a virtuosic celebration – the frenzied and joyous climactic moments when The Spirit has taken over the service. The title is a direct nod to Duke Ellington, who held an inspired love for classical music and allowed it to influence his own work in a multitude of ways. To all the black musicians in wind ensemble who were given opportunity after opportunity to celebrate everyone else’s music but our own – I see you and I am you. This one’s for the culture!”

Thomas’s 11-minute, grade 6 work, received its world premiere on November 15, 2018 in a performance by the Illinois State University Wind Symphony under the direction of Anthony C. Marinello, ISU Assistant Professor and Director of Bands, at ISU’s Center for the Performing Arts Concert Hall. It has subsequently been performed by the University of Miami’s Frost Wind Ensemble under the direction of F. Mack Wood, the University of Florida Wind Symphony under the direction of David Waybright in Gainesville, Florida, and the Michigan State University Wind Symphony under the direction of Kevin Sedatole, in East Lansing, Michigan, a video recording of which is embedded below.

The Revelli Award, which was established in 1977, is described on the website of the National Band Association as an accolade whose mission is “to further the cause of quality literature for bands in America. Works chosen as winners should be those not only of significant structural, analytical, and technical quality, but also of such nature that will allow bands to program them as part of their standard repertoire. Each year the contest receives approximately 50-80 entries from all over the world. Entries range in scope and quality and are from new to well-established veteran composers. During the evaluation process, entries are narrowed down to a select number of finalists, which are brought to Chicago each December during the Midwest International Band and Orchestra Clinic. There, a panel of leading public school, university, and military band directors meets to determine a winner.”

The members of the 2019 Revelli contest selection committee were: Matthew McCutchen, University of South Florida (chair); Terry Austin, Virginia Commonwealth University; Marcellus Brown, Boise State University (ID); John Burn, Homestead High School (CA); Catharine Sinon Bushman, St. Cloud State University (MN); Col. Jason Fettig, U.S. Marine Band (DC); Jay Gephart, Purdue University (IN); Arris Golden, Michigan State University; Jennifer Hamilton, Red Mountain High School (AZ); Chadwick Kamei, Pearl City High School (HI); Tremon Kizer, University of Central Florida; Diane Koutsulis, Retired (NV); Jason Nam, Indiana University; Scott Rush, Fine Arts Supervisor, Dorchester School District (SC); Shanti Simon, University of Oklahoma; and John Thomson, Roosevelt University (IL).

Although Omar Thomas is the first African American composer to receive the Revelli Award, a female composer has still never received it.

Previous winners of the award include Donald Grantham and Steven Bryant (both of whom have received the award three times), John Mackey and Wayne Oquin (both of whom have received the award twice), Mark Camphouse, David Dzubay, David Gillingham, Jeffrey Hass, Ron Nelson, James Stephenson, Frank Ticheli, Swiss composer Oliver Waespi, and the late Michael Colgrass. British composer Philip Sparke (who has also received the award twice) and Swiss composer Oliver Waespi are thus far the only non-U.S. based composers to receive the award. Although Omar Thomas is the first African American composer to receive the award, a female composer has still never received it. (It should however be acknowledged that there were more works by female composers programmed during the 2019 Midwest Clinic than in any of its previous iterations. In addition to several works by Julie Giroux and Carol Brittin Chambers, concerts featured music by Jennifer Higdon, Kimberly Archer, and Karen K. Robertson. The Portuguese Orquestra de Sopros da Escola Superior de Música de Lisboa, under the direction of Alberto Roque, performed a movement from Carol Barnett’s evocative Cyprian Suite and two movements from Xi Wang’s Winter Blossom: In Memory of Steven Stucky, works which—along with Thomas’s music and Peter Van Zandt Lane’s Astrarum, performed by the Osakan Philharmonic Winds during the final concert—were personal favorites of the week.) A complete list of previous recipients of the Revelli Award is available on the website of the National Band Association.

The audience applauding at the conclusion of a wind band concert at the 2019 Midwest Clinic at McCormick Place in Chicago. Signage includes a composite image of flags from all over the world reflecting the nationalities of this year';s performing ensembles.

This photo of a portion of the audience for one of the wind band concerts at the 2019 Midwest Clinic should offer some idea of the vastness of this event.

The Curious Case of Keiko Yamada

A Japanese face mask on a shelf

The evening of August 31 began like most Saturday nights at the start of the fall semester. I was reviewing course plans and readings for the upcoming week, while I casually scrolled through my email. It was late, and I had long since lost whatever drive had propelled me earlier when I received an email from David Biedenbender, a friend and colleague at Blue Dot Collective, with the subject line “Larry Clark.” Curious, I clicked on the message and was presented with a top-line that read, “This is SO NOT OKAY…” above two screenshots. The first was an image from jwpepper.com of a Grade 1/2 string orchestra piece entitled Kon’nichiwa by a composer named Keiko Yamada with the description: “This piece is ‘hello,’ with a smile on your face.”

I was confused. The title and description were, at worst, innocuous, maybe trite, but they certainly didn’t warrant an all caps critique. It wasn’t until I scrolled down further to the second screenshot that I began to understand. There I found a copied message from Owen Davis, a composer/percussionist/music teacher from Flagstaff, AZ that outlined the controversy signaled in the email’s subject line. It read in part[1]:

*PSA* to all of my friends in music education and specifically the band world: Prominent composer/Arranger Larry Clark made a pen name “Keiko Yamada” to pretend to be a Japanese Female composer in order to profit from calls for diversity in music education! […] To make things worse, after being pulled from some prominent music publishers after being publicly outed for this, some publishers decided to put his real name on the score. This winter [he] is an invited presenter at the prestigious Midwest Band Clinic leading a talk on “Selecting Quality Literature” for band.

Despite the anger expressed in Davis’s account and his speculated motives, my initial reaction was disbelief. The idea that a white male composer decided to use a pseudonym that did not conform to his race or gender read almost like a bad joke—who could possibly think this was a good idea? Moreover, I thought, who needs a pen name in twenty-first-century American music publishing? Women and people of color aren’t overtly banned from publishing or self-publishing their music, and white men are especially not prevented from getting their works performed. There’s no reason to have a pen name today. And while cultural appropriation has become a topic of discussion recently, there are no prohibitions that would necessitate a fake Asian identity to write a piece like Kon’nichiwa. White male composers have been doing it for centuries and continue to do so.[2]

The idea that a white male composer decided to use a pseudonym that did not conform to his race or gender read almost like a bad joke—who could possibly think this was a good idea?

I logged onto Facebook to see if the story had developed. It had, but like most social media discussion, it was more emotionally enlightening than factually informative. Comments were flooding in, some expressing confusion, but mostly anger. While monitoring the conversations, I decided to verify the charges against Clark as best I could. I checked the Midwest Band Clinic schedule, and Clark’s clinic “In the Eyes of the Beholder: Selecting Quality Literature” was indeed happening. Then I went to the JW Pepper site. I saw more Japanese-themed titles and pieces with duel compositional credit given to Larry Clark and Keiko Yamada.[3]

At this moment, my disbelief became resentment. The thought that Clark, a former Vice President and Editor-in-Chief at Carl Fischer Music, one of most prominent publishing companies for educational music in the country, had used his position to publish and promote works under his Keiko Yamada pseudonym was enraging. Because it was late and no additional information was forthcoming, I grew irritable. I told my friends and colleagues I would certainly be there at Clark’s Midwest presentation to ask him what it meant to program “quality” literature. Like many commentators, I fantasized about a confrontation, the chance to be seen and be heard. But this online back-and-forth quickly exhausted its potential, and failed to provide any release. We needed and deserved to know more.

The next day, Clark issued a statement of apology on his Facebook page.

To my friends and colleagues in the music community, I offer my heartfelt apology. Several years ago, I wrote music using the pen name Keiko Yamada. I sincerely meant no harm in doing so. It has been common for composers and authors to use pen names for centuries. Times have obviously changed, and I realized that the use of this pen name was uninformed, insensitive, and out of touch with the need for cultural appropriation and diversity in music.

In 2016, together with my publisher at the time, we decided to eliminate the use of pen names altogether. I chose to have all of these pieces changed to reflect my name as a composer. Old inventory was removed and recalled from music retailers. New versions with my name as the composer were reprinted, at my personal expense.

I accept the responsibility for my uninformed decision to use this pen name. I believe in the music as I do all of the music I write, but what I did was wrong and needs to be corrected.

I can’t change the past and am trying to make things right through my own company Excelcia Music Publishing. Cultural authenticity is paramount, and I will strive to put the composer first by seeking out composers of diverse backgrounds that better reflect the students that will perform the music. I hope that my actions going forward will demonstrate my desire to learn from my mistake.

I am sincerely sorry and will continue to be better informed and sensitive to these important issues.

When I read this, I felt deflated. What should have provided the information crucial to making sense of the emotions riled up the night before was missing. Clark’s apology failed to explain why he decided to use a pseudonym. Its absence only aggravated my frustrations. I took to social media and again found comfort in peers who felt similarly disappointed in Clark’s statement. Unfortunately, by this time, the Internet had produced its inevitable backlash. And we were confronted by Clark’s defenders who posted hurtful remarks like “I’m sorry this was a problem for you ppl [sic] are so triggered and emotional these days I don’t think you need to apologise [sic]” and “Seriously? I see no need to apologize. This world is getting way too sensitive!” Needless to say, but this didn’t help.

As the debates around Clark grew increasingly acrimonious, a series of dramatic actions took place. The Midwest Clinic canceled the Clark presentation. Music by Keiko Yamada was quickly removed from Internet shelves. Webpages disappeared. Carl Fischer issued a statement to their orchestra directors about the controversy saying, “We now realize we should have gone further by taking these publications out of circulation, an action we have since taken.” Clark reiterated his apology online. Everything regarding Larry Clark and Keiko Yamada was shut down in a mere matter of days.

The disappearing of Clark and Yamada felt vaguely like a cover-up, a way to cut debate off before more significant questions could be asked.

The responses to these actions were mixed. Some friends and colleagues were jubilant. For them, the offender had been punished, and the offending material erased. But their numbers were small, and their satisfaction generally waned in the wake of the Midwest Clinic talk cancellation, and the removal of Clark’s music from available outlets. Others, myself included, were more ambivalent. The disappearing of Clark and Yamada didn’t feel like a resolution. It felt vaguely like a cover-up, a way to cut debate off before more significant questions could be asked. Like questions that extend beyond Clark about his enablers at Carl Fisher, about the people who knew about Keiko Yamada and remained silent, and about the other potential pen names that did or may even still exist in company catalogs.

Most of all, the actions still didn’t answer the question of why Larry Clark had done what he had done. What was Clark’s rationale? What possible circumstances allowed him to think Keiko Yamada was a good idea? My initial research only produced more questions, like if Keiko Yamada’s name was used specifically for originally composed Asian-styled pedagogical orchestral music, why did Clark/Yamada arrange Albert Ellmenreich’s Spinning Song? I realized I needed to talk to Clark. Fortunately, Clark was also eager to talk, and a month after the scandal broke,[4] we were able to sit for an interview.

What follows is a transcript of our conversation I produced in the hours following our meeting. (Clark did not want a recording and has approved the text below.) Our time was limited, which prevented some follow up questions that I wanted to ask. Overall, the exchange was frank, and I appreciated his readiness to respond to all queries that I posed.


Fortunately, Clark was eager to talk, and a month after the scandal broke, we were able to sit for an interview.

Jennifer Jolley: In your initial apology you claimed that using a pen name “has been common for composers and authors…for centuries,” but that “[t]imes obviously have changed.” Looking over the pieces under the name Yamada it seems that you adopted this name in 2009, am I correct?

Larry Clark: I wrote the first piece (Hotaka Sunset) in 2004 and it was published in 2005.

JJ: Okay, you created this persona in 2004. So, then you believed it was appropriate to create the persona of an Asian woman in 2004. I guess my question is: what events or developments in the past decade caused you to reassess the decision you made in 2004?

LC: I wasn’t thinking that it was a good idea in 2004; it was flawed thinking on my part anyway. I didn’t give it a whole lot of thought. When I started writing in the publishing business, I was mentored by a lot by older composers in publishing. It was really common that most of them had pseudonyms. This is not an excuse, just how it was when I started getting pieces published.

JJ: How many of these composers had pseudonyms? How many did they have?

LC: I can’t really even tell you that because I don’t know. All of the composers that I had worked with at least had one. Sometimes it had to do with market proliferation; sometimes it had to do with that you’re known as a person who writes at a certain grade level, and sometimes to be taken seriously at a different grade level you needed to use a different name.

“When I started writing, I was mentored by a lot by older composers. It was really common that most of them had pseudonyms.”

I don’t have any excuse for doing this at all. I didn’t give it a lot of thought. I realize it was super insensitive, not a really well-thought out idea. I wish I could take it back, honestly. Going forward, I realize there was no excuse. I was being ignorant and it’s appropriation. Back in 2005, no one really thought about it like they do now. Again, not an excuse.

JJ: So now I’m curious as to when you decided not to use the Yamada pseudonym anymore. What prompted you to do this? You wrote that you and your publisher worked to eliminate pen names and sought to recall inventory that didn’t list you as the composer. Why didn’t you or Carl Fisher Music make a public statement on this? The recalling of music at your own expense suggests that you thought it was at least problematic, why did you remain silent?

LC: It started to feel like it was a bad idea when things started to change culturally, and with more awareness, and political correctness. I’m super apologetic to you; I understand how this could be interpreted.

My feelings about using the pen name started to change when the pieces began to have success. People wanted to meet Keiko Yamada and possibly commission works. Honestly, I didn’t know what to do. I felt really uncomfortable about that. At first, I was not trying to keep it a secret. Musicians in the recording session were aware it was my pen name. When we started receiving requests for information I tried to be more elusive about it, which I regret greatly. I guess I just got scared, which is not a good excuse, but the truth. As the political climate changed and the country became more divided, that is when the topic came up at Carl Fischer. And that is when I began to think about the opportunities this could be taking away from real composers of diversity, and how hurtful that could be.

“People wanted to meet Keiko Yamada and possibly commission works. Honestly, I didn’t know what to do.”

We got into discussions at Carl Fischer about this, so we decided to stop. At first, we thought it would be best to get rid of all the music. That did not sit well with me, because I believed in the music. I thought it was some of my best work, and wanted it to continue, so I made the choice personally to take whatever ramifications came my way and have the pieces changed to my name. The problem is, we didn’t do a good job expressing all of that to the public, because we feared what the ramifications would be. We had concern that what has been happening would happen. I was willing to at that time take it; I wanted to have the music continued. The problem was with the execution of what was done. I was on the team; it was a company decision and that’s how it was handled. [Ed. Note: Sonya Kim has been president of Carl Fischer since 2008.] I think we would all agree that we didn’t handle it well and we didn’t handle it thoroughly and I regret that too.

In retrospect, I, together with Carl Fischer, could have been more transparent and thorough in handling the situation.

JJ: So the orchestra people/directors knew about the pseudonym?

LC: Many of the orchestra people were very upset when that happened.

JJ: Why?

LC: Because of the same reason as the band people. On Facebook there is a String Orchestra Directors Page and that information blew up then. It was split: they took sides. At the time, I asked Sonya Kim, president of Carl Fischer what are we were going to do.

JJ: I want to pinpoint something you said earlier. When exactly did Keiko’s music become successful? Can you pinpoint a year or piece?

LC: People wanted to meet me/her in either 2006 or 2007? Yes, it is Japanese Lullaby that became successful. It was selected for a lot of festival lists and was performed at Midwest, etc.

JJ: Following up on this, Keiko Yamada is a composer listed on a few Prescribed Music Lists, and I believe one of Yamada’s works was performed at the Midwest Clinic. Did you alert anyone involved that you were the composer of the works selected? Do you remember which state lists Keiko Yamada was on?

LC: Which state lists…this is very challenging to determine…

JJ: That is what I’ve been discovering.

LC: I know they were on Florida, Texas, maybe Maryland? There are a lot of states that don’t have a state list. Many of the pieces were performed at Midwest. This happened multiple times, and almost every year.

This is how we tried to alert people in 2016. The intention was not successfully executed. Carl Fischer was to alert the dealers that the names were changing to mine. The Letter asked music dealers to alert the music committees for state lists. This was sent out after these pieces were selected. Carl Fischer sent this to their dealer network, the sheet music dealers.

JJ: While the use of a pen name does date back centuries, this doesn’t satisfactorily explain your motive for using one. A pen name is a strategy employed in response to exigent circumstances such as the protection of an individual’s physical safety (dissents in unfree societies), the preemption of discrimination (Jewish actors that Anglicize their stage names), or to allow individuals access (women authors seeking the consideration of male dominated publishing houses). Given that you were a successful American composer working in a publishing house what were the circumstances that necessitated and/or motivated your creation of Keiko Yamada?

LC: Well, it was not well thought out, I had written a piece that was Japanese in style; I was having difficulty with sales in orchestra music, because I was considered more of a band composer. When they see my name they think, “Oh well, he’s a band music guy. He’s just writing band music and then writing and arranging it for strings.” I was not taken as seriously at that point as an orchestra composer.

JJ: So to clarify, this piece you’re talking about was initially a string piece, not a band piece that was later transcribed to strings?

LC: This was initially a string piece. Clarification: there are no Keiko Yamada band pieces.

JJ: I find it fascinating that publishing educational band and orchestral music was so segregated and isolated. That just boggles my mind.

“Funny story: I was chatting with Michael Colgrass once. He asked me, ‘Why don’t you write college level music?’ and I replied, ‘I’m known as the middle school band guy!’”

LC: Funny story: I was chatting with Michael Colgrass once. He asked me, “Why don’t you write college level music?” and I replied, “I’m known as the middle school band guy!”

JJ: That’s nuts because you have band pieces for higher levels.

LC: I think it’s easier to go top-down; I started writing music for lower levels first, so it’s harder to go up. There was a time at Carl Fischer where they wanted to label music as “serious vs. educational music.” I was against that.

JJ: That’s so wrong. Anyway, how did you invent the name Keiko Yamada?

LC: The name was not well thought out, not sensitive, not all those things. I thought, Yamada is a common Japanese surname. Keiko…I don’t remember. I didn’t want anything gender specific. I didn’t do enough research.

JJ: I have to say, I’m not of Japanese descent, but I’ve known a few Japanese people in my life, and “Keiko” is very much a feminine name.

LC: I realize that now; I didn’t do a lot of research. Honestly, I don’t really have a good answer for you, because it was not well thought out.

JJ: Next question. Colleagues of mine have noted that when they researched Keiko Yamada, they were confused by her online biography. Several publishers and even a young student presenting on Yamada used the birth date of another musician of the same name—it’s the first Keiko Yamada musician when you Google the name. You also contributed to this effect by having most of Yamada’s work be Asian themed (Kazoku, Kabosu, Yuki Matsuri, Rickshaw, Japanese Hoedown etc.), and then when you had Keiko Yamada arrange Albert Ellmenreich’s Spinning Song. So I guess my question is if Yamada is an innocuous pen name, why did you develop such a distinct body of work for her? Was it because these pieces are strictly orchestral in nature?

“The interesting thing is that—no excuses—I found a different voice to write in, which I enjoyed.”

LC: With regard to the birthdate and the bio, I have no idea where any of that came from. There was never a bio or birthdate sent out. Regarding a body of work, yes, the interesting thing is that—no excuses—I found a different voice to write in, which I enjoyed. I was trying not to be disrespectful or cliché to the music to Japan, I creatively sounded like a different composer I thought. Again, it doesn’t change the fact that we’re here.

Spinning Song…That was the only one that was not of Japanese influence…I don’t remember why. I don’t know.

JJ: Is it because Spinning Song fell under the purview of “orchestra music” and Keiko was strictly an “orchestra composer”?

LC: I wasn’t doing as much orchestra music under my own name because it wasn’t doing as well.

JJ: Following up on this, do you have records of how many other composers in 2016 in the Carl Fisher Music catalog were writing under their own name and an additional pen name? If so, did any of those composers use a pen name that didn’t conform to their gender or race?

LC: Actually, not with Carl Fischer. My first job in publishing was with Warner Bros. Publications in Miami in 1995. [Pen names were] used often for grade level and used often for a lot of arrangements. If someone did use pen names, it would be for Grade 2 marching band arrangements, for example if they were known more for say more difficult arrangements.

JJ: Does this still go on?

LC: I think so. I was working at Warner Bros. until 1999. I still believe some are still out there.

Actually, I have a funny story about this. I started out as a marching band arranger, and a friend of my boss Jack Bullock, who was a middle school band director, said, “I like this guy Larry Clark’s arrangements; is that a pseudonym for you?”

JJ: That’s wild.

LC: My name is so simple, it probably sounded like a pseudonym to her.

JJ: Did anyone know about some specific pseudonyms? I mean, there seemed to be a reputation that everybody was using them.

LC: There was a reputation of pseudonyms, but no one knew who they were. This was more so in the “pop” arranging scene at WB. We were doing so much so quickly. We had a couple of days or a weekend to turn around these arrangements.

JJ: Did anyone switch their gender or race with these pseudonyms?

LC: Gender or race? YES. Race, but not gender.

JJ: And this had to do with style?

LC: Did this have to do with style? It was similar to what I did, but I took it one step too far. There is one case I remember off the top of my head; it was used to be a specific style of music.

By the way my official title at Warner Bros. was Marching Band and Jazz Ensemble Instrumental Editor from 1995–1999. I worked at Carl Fischer from 1999–2018, and I started my own company in 2018.

JJ: Why did you start your own company?

“I left Carl Fischer on good terms in 2018, and will always be proud of the company and the work I did there.”

LC: I worked remotely (from my Florida home) for Carl Fischer starting in 2003. It is challenging to keep a connection with a company over a long period of time as employees come and go, and so in the last few years I felt more disconnected to the company, despite the ongoing collaboration, conference calls, trips to the headquarters, etc. It was no one’s fault, just happened, and I left Carl Fischer on good terms in 2018, and will always be proud of the company and the work I did there. With my new company I had some ideas on how I wanted to do some things differently.  Self-publishing has become more of the thing. I think it’s because composers don’t feel serviced. We’re trying to help with that.

JJ: So, speaking of Carl Fischer, your position at Carl Fisher Music from 1999–2018 was Vice President and Editor-in-Chief and an archived bio from Midwest describes part of your duties as reviewing thousands of works for publication. Between 2005–2016 did you ever promote Yamada works in your official capacities?

LC: I don’t understand your question. What do you mean by promoting works in official capacities?

JJ: Let me clarify. For example, I believe if you register as a publisher at the Midwest Clinic, you’re allowed to submit some pieces for reading sessions?

LC: The Keiko pieces were already being selected for performances, so there was no need for reading sessions. Midwest has very strict restrictions for what can be programmed on concerts. You have to have one of each grade level from a different publisher on your concert…

JJ: You have to have a march…

LC: You have to have a march, etc. for band. Midwest provides the list of performing ensembles to the publishers once they are selected.

JJ: Did you have a say as to which pieces were on which list?

LC: Yes, but we would send them a CD sampler/MP3 list that also included scores. We would send everything; including Christmas music, because some groups wanted to play those, since the convention is close to Christmas.

JJ: Because that was a good time of year to buy Christmas music, I’m assuming.

LC: Yes.

JJ: Did you ever promote Keiko Yamada’s music over others?

LC: No, we did not promote some pieces over others. We promoted the new pieces in our catalog. We would usually send out separate band and orchestra lists. We would send out CDs for all the new orchestra music and all new band music. If any of these were of interest, we would send you a full score or even a set. We would bend over backwards to get music performed as often as we could. Now it’s all in Dropbox; we have available non-printable scores. We organize it more by grade level.

And again, everything we were sending out was new. We’d send it out in the late spring/early summer for the new school year. Also, Carl Fischer would send out a cover letter on behalf of the composers. I’ve been encouraging composers in my new company to write an additional personalized cover letter in addition if they have time; most composers take me up on that and it has been very successful.

JJ: I’ve spoken with a lot of composers and music colleagues in the run-up to our discussion and there is a lot of frustration, and even anger from their points of view. In their perspectives, your apologies for your actions ignore the real-world consequences of your actions. You were already an established composer; you held a position of power in a prominent publishing company, and yet you decided to compose under the name of an Asian woman. Given the concerted push to diversify music that is occurring when you’re writing as Keiko Yamada, do you understand why many people feel you likely stole opportunities from them?

“All I can do going forward is to try to make a difference for women and composers of color.”

LC: One hundred percent. Of course, I didn’t think about this when I created the name in 2004. Again, this is not something you can take back. All I can do going forward is to try to make a difference for women and composers of color. I’ve already agreed to give every penny I’ve made from these pieces over to help underrepresented composers. I’m still waiting for Carl Fischer to give me a full accounting of how much I made with these pieces. But I also don’t want to do any of this with any fanfare, and I am not looking for any accolades. I know how upset people are, and I know how ridiculously ignorant and insensitive this was.

This is not in line with who I am. I did a very insensitive and uniformed thing; I regret doing this. I understand people may never play my music again. However, I have five boys, and they have to see me handle this the right way. A lot of people said horrible things without knowing me. I have a multicultural family. I adopted two boys from Haiti. I’m disappointed in myself; I’m embarrassed. It’s been tough.

JJ: What do you think you can offer the current conversation about diversity in music given your actions?

LC: Certainly, I’ve been trying to do this throughout my career. There are a lack of women and people of color that are composing. Today it’s even more difficult because there is even more self-publishing. It’s very difficult to find people. It’s a challenge. I’m continuing to do that. We have women and people of color in my company. You know, some people said I didn’t have enough women and people of color, but I just started my company in July of 2018, and it takes time, but I feel I can also help with this. I will have one conversation at a time and work to regain trust.

JJ: Individually?

LC: Yes. There are some people who said I did nothing wrong, but that’s not true. I did do something wrong. I want to talk to those people too. If other composers use pseudonyms, I hope they reconsider using them. I hope I can be a beacon as to what not to do.

JJ: Are there any specific people you want to talk to?

“I hope I can be a beacon as to what not to do.”

LC: Anyone who wants to listen? I would love to hear your feedback. I will be at Midwest, so if anyone wants to talk to me, they can find me.

JJ: How will they find you? Can I tell people how to find you at Midwest?

LC: Excelcia will have a booth, and I will be there, because the most important thing to me is that I don’t want my actions to hurt my fifty composers. They just had their first release. We just started.

JJ: You know, admittedly, I was a little disappointed that your Midwest session got canceled because I thought this would have given you the perfect opportunity to answer the questions we all had personally. Hopefully, by December our deep frustration and anger would be lessened a bit so we can have a constructive conversation with you.

LC: And my topic at Midwest was not to tell people which pieces they should be programming. It was how to pick literature that’s of quality, how to identify pieces with good counterpoint, good harmony and melody, which pieces used good ranges for their specific ensemble, etc.

JJ: And I get what you’re saying here; unfortunately, the word “quality” now is code for “music that has been written by cisgender white males” because “quality” has been used as a knee-jerk response to why it’s still okay to ignore and disregard music written by women and people of color. And then when people like me hear the word “quality” being used in association with programming, I instantly believe those who refuse to diversify programming state that music by others cannot be as good.

LC: I agree that the same people who tried to say I did nothing wrong were also throwing around things like “I only play quality music.” That is wrong, too, and the point of my clinic at Midwest was not to tell anyone what quality music is, but to give conductors tools to look for pieces with good craft. I understand what you are saying about the term “quality” and its implications—I will be more sensitive to that.

JJ: Here’s a question: is your new publishing company more of a distributor than a traditional publisher?

LC: It’s a regular publishing company; it is similarly done like Carl Fisher and others. We do professional recordings and distribution with all the major sheet music dealers of the world. We do a lot more on social media.

JJ: I’m thinking aloud here…is there an “in between” way in which composers who are skeptical about having you publish their works could have some sort of trial period? Admittedly, considering how I identify, I would not want you to publish my music. But let’s say, maybe over quite a few years from now, you can use your publishing company to get a person of color’s music on a Midwest reading session without having them officially sign up with your company?

LC: Midwest has strict rules: they have all these rules on how you have to have certain representation of grade levels, different publishers…it’s challenging. I recently reached out to Kaitlin Bove [the founder of the organization …And We Were Heard] to inquire how I might be able to assist the organization. I think her idea of the recordings is awesome. Here’s the interesting thing. They are finding bands to record Grade 3 and 4 pieces, but they can’t get anyone to record the Grade 1 and 2 pieces, and I said, “I’m your guy!” I’ll record those pieces—even for orchestra.

JJ: That is a great idea. I love this. We composers are so dependent on these recordings, and they’re hard to obtain.

“I was also thinking about starting a scholarship with the money I earned to help fund a composer who is a woman or a person of color going to college to study composition. And I don’t want credit for this.”

LC: Yes, I’m hopeful that she will be interested in me doing that, and I’d pay for it personally; I won’t have my publishing company pay for those recordings. I was also thinking about starting a scholarship with the money I earned to help fund a composer who is a woman or a person of color going to college to study composition. And I don’t want credit for this.

JJ: Those are all my questions, and I want to thank you for taking the time to chat with me and answer my questions. Is there anything else you would like to add?

LC: I just appreciate the tone and the tenor of this interview. And I want to apologize to you personally, and I’ll personally apologize to anyone, because I know what I did hurt others and I am truly sorry for that. I also have apologized to my kids too, because I want them to see that we are all flawed beings, and we sometimes make poor decisions in life. We have to own up to those mistakes, accept the consequences, try to make amends to the people we hurt, and learn and grow in the process.  I also want them to learn from me so that they think very carefully about everything they do, and how their actions affect others.


As the conversation fades and the transcript becomes my primary reference, things are both clearer and more complex. My first imaginings of confronting Clark the night the story broke bore little resemblance to the encounter. After talking one-on-one, I have to admit, I have more empathy for Larry Clark. I relate to him as a composer and as an imperfect human being. Yet even in retrospect, the experience poses some difficulties for me.

It’s hard to stay angry with Clark, but not because his explanations of Keiko Yamada are particularly good.

On the one hand it’s hard to stay angry with Clark, but not because his explanations of Keiko Yamada are particularly good. I believe he’s deeply sorry, and his desire to learn seems genuine. On the other hand, it’s still frustrating and disappointing to read his evasions like “political correctness” or his self-presentation as a victim (“that band guy in the eyes of the orchestra world”). I find myself wanting to yell that white men impersonating Asian women didn’t just become wrong in the twenty-first century. But to be compelled to forcefully say something so obvious is exhausting and worse, it puts the responsibility on me.

And it’s here where I find some clarity to the source of conflict I feel about Clark and Yamada. Powerful people have the luxury of evolving to a point where they might consider the benefits their person and positions have accrued. But this process takes place in real time, time that is experienced very differently by people outside the establishment. How many composers during Keiko Yamada’s “career” lost opportunities because a rental or a place on a state list went to “her”? How many of those selections were motivated by a music director’s desire to diversify their concerts? How many times did a young woman or person of color feel that powerful sense of possibility in imagining someone like them writing the work they were about to play? Moreover, how do we take stock of the reverberations extending from the fact that Clark didn’t confess but rather was caught.

It’s a certain way the open booth at Midwest (which I genuinely recommend) is the perfect encapsulation of the problems and contradictions that I’m feeling: it is laudable but insufficient. The booth will likely be more therapeutic than transformative because it keeps Clark at the center and does little to address the systemic corruption of the larger music world. Indeed, the paradox of the entire Clark/Yamada affair is that Clark does deserve harsh judgment, but focusing too much on him dilutes the ability to see the broader problems. Systems are difficult things to imagine, understand, and transform. Clark’s actions warrant condemnation, but he was aided and abetted throughout Yamada’s fictitious career. A culture of silence and selfishness of vision in the highest reaches of the publishing world permitted Clark to act as he did. For the Clark/Yamada affair to be useful, there needs to be a much more comprehensive and transparent examination of catalogs in the band and orchestra world. If Clark’s claims about the pervasiveness of pen names are correct, we need an account and not just of the composers, but of the administrators and executives who facilitated this.

Composing music is hard, but being a composer is harder.

Composing music is hard, but being a composer is harder. It’s financially precarious, filled with rejection, and driven by a sense of self that is constantly under siege. To be a composer of color or a woman (or both) is beyond difficult. They are profoundly absent in concert halls today, and the situation is not much better when you look at the state lists.[5] The lingering effects of Clark/Yamada are to magnify the paranoia and cynicism too often experienced by underrepresented composers. It confirms the most extreme sense that the music world is an unfair system rigged in favor of the privileged. I guess this is why I can’t offer a succinct summation or tidy lesson learned from this mess. So in place of a conclusion I want to offer thoughts. I hope Larry Clark will continue to work for change. I also hope he knows how much work needs to be done and that there’s a real chance he’ll never balance his ledger. I want him to get to that place, but I also know that I can’t speak for anyone else. Above all, to the women and people of color, I hope you keep writing.


Notes:

1. Full Text of Davis’s message:

*PSA* to all of my friends in music education and specifically the band world: Prominent composer/Arranger Larry Clark made a pen name “Keiko Yamada” to pretend to be a Japanese Female composer in order to profit from calls for diversity in music education! This is disgusting, misleading, and just awful that we have students being subjected to not even appropriated music, but a fantasy of appropriated music. What does this accomplish? What goals of diversity and growth does this further?

To make things worse, after being pulled from some prominent music publishers after being publicly outed for this, some publishers decided to put his real name on the score. This winter he is an invited presenter at the prestigious Midwest Band Clinic leading a talk on “Selecting Quality Literature” for band. There is so much music that exists in the world of band by diverse voices – why does this still need to be published?

I don’t know what needs to happen and can’t individually leverage against this. I am not a band director, but if I was I probably wouldn’t support his work any longer. As a music educator, however, I am just really frustrated and saddened by this news.


2. For example, John Barnes Chance wrote Variations on a Korean Folk Song for concert band in 1965; this piece is standard wind ensemble repertoire and is still being performed.


3. Besides Kon’nichiwa, other titles include Tsumasaki, Koneko, Sunayama, Mystic Fawn, and Japanese Hoedown.


4. This interview took place on Monday, September 30, 2019.


5. Average Representation of Diverse Composers (Women, People of Color, Women of Color) across state lists: 6.37%; Average Representation of Women Composers of Color on sampled state lists: 0.03%. Statistics compiled by Cory Meals, Assistant Professor of Music Education at the University of Houston.

An “Inspired by Midwest Clinic” Playlist Curated By Nicole Chamberlain


Our goal with user-generated playlists is to give you the power to curate the music you love on our New Music USA platform. You can now save, organize, listen to, and share videos and recordings from both projects and profiles by using playlists.

Using playlists is simple and intuitive. When you are logged in and on a profile or project page, if you see a video or sound recording that you want to add to your playlist, just click “Add to Playlist.” Once you do that, you can access your playlist at any time by navigating to “My Playlist” underneath the user tab at the top right of the page. The recordings you’ve added will now appear in your playlist.

Our friend and colleague Nicole Chamberlain agreed to curate a playlist inspired by the upcoming Midwest Clinic with works that she sourced from across the New Music USA platform. She put together this fantastic list featuring tracks from Alex Shapiro, Molly Joyce, Jennifer Jolley, Emily Koh, Alan Theisen, Russ Zokaites, and more! Nicole’s picks are helping us get pumped to experience Midwest Clinic through and through. Click the link and join us in the excitement.

LISTEN TO NICOLE CHAMBERLAIN’S
INSPIRED BY MIDWEST CLINIC PLAYLIST

About Nicole Chamberlain 
Atlanta Composer and Flutist Nicole Chamberlain (b. 1977) has composed numerous works for flute and has won NFA’s 2017 Flute Choir Composition Competition, 2016-2018 Newly Published Music Awards, The Flute View Composition Competition, Areon Flutes International Composition Competition, finalist in the Flute New Music Consortium Competitions, and finalist for the Kappa Kappa Psi’s 2018 Female Band Composition Competition. She has been commissioned by the Atlanta Opera, Georgia Symphony Orchestra, Gonjiam Music Festival, Oklahoma Flute Society, Atlanta Flute Club, and many others. An album of her music, Three-Nine Line, released in 2018 by MSR Classics. Learn more about Nicole at www.nikkinotes.com

Stepping Forward at the Midwest Clinic

Every year during the week before Christmas, thousands of music educators, student musicians, and industry professionals gather in Chicago to discuss the latest trends and techniques in music education, listen to top-level ensembles from around the world, hear newly available repertoire, and peruse the expansive exhibit hall at the Midwest Clinic. The largest international band and orchestra conference in the world, this event is truly a spectacle. The four-day conference is packed with panels, presentations, concerts, reading sessions, and promotional goodies that attract close to 20,000 attendees, including many band directors. For composers, it is an exceptional networking opportunity simply due to the sheer number of conductors present. And if you are lucky enough to have your music performed, it will be heard by thousands of band directors from throughout the country who are seeking out new pieces to program.

If you are lucky enough to have your music performed at the Midwest Clinic, it will be heard by thousands of band directors.

I had been considering attending the Midwest Clinic for a while, but I wasn’t quite sure where I would fit into the mix. I’m not a band director, and I only have two band pieces in my catalog, so I’m not sure I can even call myself a “band composer.” Was it worth going?

While still on the fence, I was pointed to a Facebook post from composer John Mackey–a veritable superstar of the band world. Due to Midwest’s policy requiring publishers to buy advertising space if two pieces of music they publish are performed in showcases there and a booth in the exhibition hall if they have three or more, Mackey had purchased a booth in the exhibit hall and was offering it up, free of charge, to self-published composers who are people of color and/or identify as women. I was shocked and delighted, and I immediately jumped at the opportunity! Not only was this offer incredibly generous (booth space is not cheap!), it recognized what I already suspected before even venturing to the festival: the Midwest Clinic has a diversity problem.

A screenshot of John Mackey's Facebook post

As you enter Chicago’s massive McCormick Place convention center and ascend the escalator to register for the conference, you are greeted by larger-than-life banners honoring current and former festival award winners, and a giant, cylindrical “wall of fame” covered in photos of even more award winners and board members from throughout the conference’s 71-year history–all but a small handful of whom are white men. Such a display can feel a bit unwelcoming for those who do not look like the men in the photos, and it is disappointing to consider that the movers and shakers of the Midwest Clinic, with their impact on music education nationwide, do not reflect the diversity of the students in our schools.

But the Midwest Clinic has a diversity problem.

Beyond the leadership, Midwest Clinic’s programming is equally in need of modernization. After my second day at the conference, I realized that not a single one of the concerts I had attended included a female composer. Now, it would be impossible to see every concert at Midwest, and I had experienced just a handful of the performances. Was it a fluke that I had missed the pieces by women? To be certain, I pored through the festival program and found that of the 500 pieces performed at the Midwest Clinic by 51 different ensembles (including bands, orchestras, jazz bands, and chamber groups), only 23 pieces (4.6%) were composed by women, and just 71 (14.2%) were written by composers of color.

But what about the band concerts on their own? With such enthusiasm for new music, surely the wind ensemble programming would be more diverse than that of the orchestras, right? Alas, of the 212 pieces performed by bands during the Midwest Clinic, only seven (a measly 3.3%) were written by women, and 26 (12.3%) by people of color.

Of the 500 pieces performed at the Midwest Clinic, only 23 pieces (4.6%) were composed by women, and just 71 (14.2%) were written by composers of color.

Sadly, none of this came as much of a surprise to me. I’ve been performing in winds bands since the fifth grade, and I continue to do so today. Through the years I’ve become keenly aware of the white male dominance both on the podium and in the repertoire. In fact, the performance of one of my works by a wind ensemble last year marked the first time in more than five years that this particular group had played a piece by a woman. This dilemma is not unique to the Midwest Clinic, but a festival of its magnitude and influence has the potential to create meaningful change in the diversity represented in music education settings throughout the nation.

Luckily, members of the music education community are stepping forward to do just that, and it seems that things are slowly changing. For the first time, this year the conference included three clinics pertaining to diversity and inclusion. Tremon Kizer, associate director of bands at the University of Central Florida, offered an overview of various wind band repertoire by minority composers; Minneapolis-based music educator Adrian Davis gave a presentation on the underrepresentation of African-American males in music education, examining recruitment and retention from K-12 to professional levels; and a discussion on equity and inclusion in the music classroom was led by a diverse and illustrious panel of music educators. And of course there was John Mackey’s booth in the exhibit hall, taken over by underrepresented composers and generating quite a buzz throughout the convention center.

Luckily it seems that things are slowly changing.

Thanks to Mackey’s offer, nine of us showed up to exhibit our music together at a shared booth sponsored by Mackey’s publishing company, Osti Music. The participants were Erin Paton Pierce, Kevin Day, Evan Williams, Nicole Piunno, Haley Woodrow, Denzel Washington, Jennifer Rose, Omar Thomas, and myself. We took shifts working the booth, during which time we could display our scores, share recordings, and chat with conference attendees. The reaction from visitors was overwhelmingly positive; band directors are eager for new, high-quality repertoire to perform with their bands. While some people were initially confused that there was no music by John Mackey at the booth, they were almost always content to discover something unexpected from the composers who were present. Other visitors claimed they simply had to stop by to see what all the fuss was about. Apparently, this kind of booth-sharing has never been done at Midwest before, and there was even some confusion over whether it was within Midwest Clinic’s exhibit hall regulations. In the end, all the rules had been followed and we forged ahead.

Six of the composers who were promoting their music at the Osti Music Booth at the 2017 Midwest Clinic.

Away from the exhibit hall, our participation at the Osti Music booth was an easy conversation starter when networking with band directors, and it provided an extra layer of legitimacy for those of us mired in impostor syndrome. Between my shifts at the booth and networking throughout the conference, I made numerous new contacts with potential collaborators and fellow composers, sold a few scores, and even recruited some new members to a consortium commission I’m organizing. On top of that, I heard impressive performances by ensembles ranging in age from middle school to professional, learned about current trends and needs in music education, and discovered a thrilling assortment of music from my new composer friends.

All in all, attending the Midwest Clinic is an outstanding experience for composers of music for wind band. And while an air of exclusivity remains intact throughout the conference culture and programming, the tides are slowly turning. The messages of clinicians addressing issues of diversity and inclusion are now being heard, and John Mackey’s generosity in sharing the Osti Music booth set an incredible example of what it means to be an ally to underrepresented composers. I hope that this shift will continue, and I’m eager to see what kind of impact these efforts will have over the next few years at the Midwest Clinic and in instrumental music programs throughout the country.

The composers who were promoting their music at the Midwest Clinic's Osti Music booth sitting around a table with John Mackey having dinner.

Our group of “Osti Music” composers had a celebratory dinner with John Mackey.

 

Composer Advocacy Notebook: A Tale of Three Cities

Man sticking hand inside tuba bell shaped bowl next to another man holding a doll wearing an elf cap.

One of the most exciting aspects of my role as New Music USA’s composer advocate is that from time to time I participate in various music-related convenings around the country and sometimes internationally. I consider these trips to be an extremely important aspect of my work since they often afford me the opportunity to serve either as a mentor to or an ambassador for composers and, more broadly, to encourage and facilitate a wide range of new music (particularly at proceedings that are not exclusively focused on new music or where the definition of new music is narrower than it ought to be). Sometimes my role at these events is official (I’m asked to give presentations, etc.) but just as often it is more informal—I relish being a rabble rouser during Q&A time. An equally important benefit of these activities is that they help to increase my own awareness of the range of the new music scene, plus the experiences and knowledge I’ve gained are things that I can usually translate it into prose here.

But sometimes it takes a while for me to catch up with all of this stuff and to find an effective way to make sense of it. Over the past two months I attended three significant national music events which were extremely different from each other in terms of scope and scale—the Minnesota Orchestra Composer’s Institute (January 25-29, 2016 in Minneapolis), the Midwest Clinic (an annual Chicago-based educational music conference primarily but not exclusively focused on wind bands which most recently took place between December 16 and 19, 2015), and the Chamber Music America conference (which takes place annually here in New York City, this time around from January 9 to 11, 2016). I’ve decided to write about these three events together instead of reporting separately on each since it has been in searching for common ground among these disparate gatherings that I think I’ve come to some clarity about them. I should point out that it made the most sense to offer my thoughts on these three events in reverse chronological order which might seem counterintuitive, but will hopefully make better sense for what I’d like to call attention to here.

*

A dusting of snow outside Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

It was often quite cold outside Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, but it wasn’t as nearly as cold as it has been in New York City the past few days.

In terms of scale, the Minnesota Orchestra’s Composer Institute is by far the smallest. It is typically, as it was again in 2016, an opportunity that benefits just seven composers (although in 2012 it was only six and in 2006 there were nine!). While the week’s intensive sessions with various musicians and industry professionals (on topics as diverse as effective public speaking, score and parts preparation, copyright law, and commissioning contracts) can be audited by anyone who is a member of the American Composers Forum, only the lucky members of that chosen small group get to have an original orchestra composition of theirs workshopped. And since 2006, when the program transformed from reading sessions (which began in 2002) to a week culminating in a concert, these composers have also had their works performed on a subscription concert by one of this country’s most respected orchestras and broadcast on the radio as well. The opportunity for such prominent exposure is a really big deal and arguably was a decisive event in establishing the careers of some of today’s most visible composers. Among the program’s alumni are: Lisa Bielawa, Anthony Cheung (the only composer to participate twice), Anna Clyne, Stacy Garrop, Ted Hearne, Hannah Lash, Missy Mazzoli, Andrew Norman, Narong Prangcharoen, and Sean Shepherd. I’m particularly thrilled by the gender balance in that list of names though admittedly it was a somewhat unscientific gleaning from the names of the 92 composers who have had music performed through this program, out of which only 18 were women. Still, though this is shocking in the year 2016, it is a better track record than most of what goes on in our field as a whole.

As in previous years, I was invited there to serve as a mentor to the composers (which on their official materials is described as “faculty”) which enabled me to have a considerable amount of face time with each of the composers and to attend all of the Composer Institute’s events (except for the private one-on-one consultations each composer gets with conductor Osmo Vänskä). As always, it was great to get to know these seven composers. I was impressed by features of all of their pieces, though what has remained most in my memory two weeks after attending the rehearsals and the concert are the progression of luscious harmonies in Kirsten Broberg’s Celestial Dawning, the unbridled humor and almost cinematic narrative arc of Matthew Browne’s Barnstorming Season, the sheer sonic audacity of Anthony Vine’s Transmission (which heavily features real radio static as well as orchestral simulacra of static), and the—to me at least—completely unexpected final chord of Emily Cooley’s Scroll of the Air (which I actually loved even more in the rehearsals than I did in the performance when I obviously knew what was coming). I also really enjoyed being something of a back seat driver during Performance Today radio host Fred Child’s presentation to the group about how to handle being interviewed. One of the seven composers, Emily Cooley, wrote a blog for the Minnesota Orchestra’s website which offers more details on the specifics of the week than I will here. Suffice it to say, every time I attend this thing I have newfound respect and hope for the future of the orchestra.

Kevin Puts and the seven 2016 Minnesota Orchestra Institute Composers sitting on the edge of the orchestra stage/

A group portrait of the Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute Class of 2016 (from left to right): Michael Gilbertson, Anthony Vine, Kirsten Broberg, Composer Institute director Kevin Puts, Nick DiBerardino, Emily Cooley, Joshua Cerdenia, and Matthew Browne.

*

The annual conference of Chamber Music America, an event which has been on my calendar every year for nearly two decades, offers plenty more, albeit smaller scale (by definition), opportunities for composers. There are numerous occasions for attendees to check out a really broad range of music and, perhaps even more importantly, to engage in conversations with potential future collaborators. Unlike many of the conferences of national music organizations, which often tend to attract a much larger percentage of administrative personnel than folks who actually make music, the folks who show up to CMA’s get-togethers are a real cross-section of the music ecology—composers, interpreters, booking agents, presenters—and music always seems to be everyone’s primary focus. Above and beyond that, what keeps me coming back year after year, is that the range of music focused on there is pretty wide and much of it is new. It has been a long time since CMA first opened its doors to jazz in a very significant way, in terms of topics that get featured in panel discussions and ensemble showcases as well as through the grant opportunities it offers to its members. In recent years, the borders between so-called contemporary classical music and work that incorporates improvisation have grown more and more porous and CMA seems to be doing better than most organizations in reflecting that paradigm shift.

So I really looked forward to this year’s conference. It also helped that I didn’t need to hop on an airplane to attend it, plus two-thirds of it took place over the course of a weekend so it didn’t cut too deeply into the rest of my work schedule. And thankfully, it didn’t overlap with the Minnesota Orchestra’s Composer Institute like it did last year. Sadly, though, it almost completely overlapped with this year’s New Music Gathering in Baltimore. I was hoping I could at least witness the Gathering’s first day, but I was asked to be a mentor for a group of first-time CMA conference attendees which required being with them at an orientation session an evening before the official schedule began and being as present as I could be for them for the duration. I sincerely hope that in 2017 none of these events will overlap. Folks seeking to establish themselves in this community as well as the folks who can help facilitate that need to be at as many of these convenings as possible; it is a disservice to everyone in the community at large to schedule such important powwows at the same time.

I must admit, however, that I experienced several disappointments in addition to my usual aesthetic epiphanies by staying in NYC for CMA; I will try to address these in a way that I hope will be helpful as I offer a few of the weekend’s highlights. As they now have been for quite a few years, CMA’s panel discussions were relegated exclusively to the 9:00-10:15am time slot. Since the closest coffee was outside the hotel and was sold at Times Square tourist prices, scheduling these talks so early did not always yield the most engaged interaction. That said, there were some great insights proffered during a session on programming in the 21st century moderated by Del Sol Quartet violinist Charlton Lee. While Lee claimed that “an all-new music concert brings in a different audience because it’s more relevant,” Oni Buchanan, who runs Ariel Artists, countered that while “an all-new music concert is a completely different kind of experience … including a new piece on a [mixed] program gets audiences to listen to the old pieces in a new way.” Certain approaches are more effective than others depending on the community you are trying to reach. During the question and answer period, Atlanta Chamber Players’ general manager Rachel Ciprotti pointed out that concerts of mixed repertoire sell better than concerts only containing new work. Even more interesting was another session devoted to the Southern Exposure New Music Series that was basically a conversation between its founding director, composer John Fitz Rogers, and its current one, Mike Harley, a bassoonist who plays in Alarm Will Sound. Harley, in what seemed like a direct refutation to the aforementioned discussion led by Lee, claimed that “Mozart is a way harder sell than most contemporary music.” Admittedly Southern Exposure is a relatively small scale operation and they want to keep it that way. It has been central to their mission that all of their concerts are free and take place in venues that can only seat a couple of hundred people. Since the series operates on a somewhat tiny budget (accrued from funds raised from loyal patrons, grants and a small stipend from the University of South Carolina), visiting artists must often purchase their own travel and lodgings from a relatively small all-inclusive performance fee. But the option of home stays are offered to guests to help defray costs, plus they get taken out for great barbecue! And because it is a positive experience with a really engaged audience, many new music luminaries have still been willing to participate.

Mike Harley and John Fitz Rogers

Mike Harley and John Fitz Rogers

One of the reasons panels are only scheduled in the mornings is to reserve the most optimal portion of the day—the afternoon hours—for ensemble showcases. These showcases have been the heart of the CMA conference for several years now and they probably should be. But there are some logistical problems to the way they are presented. All of the ensembles featured perform in the same room, an acoustically-challenged, partitioned-off ballroom space, yet surprisingly most groups usually make the most of it and sound relatively good in that environment. However, every half hour a new group takes the stage—for four consecutive hours on Friday and five consecutive hours on Saturday. With no breaks! Aside from the inevitable auditory fatigue of processing so many performances at once, the format makes it a real challenge for musicians to make deeper connections to the people who just heard them and vice versa. Talking to someone who just performed—a conversation that could lead to bookings, commissions, and who knows what else—requires walking out on the next ensemble and missing the music they have to offer. So often quick chats happen right outside the door, but the sound proofing is inadequate. I confess to being someone who runs out to chat with performers immediately outside the door, but I usually try to run back inside before the next showcase starts, sometimes losing my seat in the process. There’s got to be a better way to organize this to ensure that all the musicians have a chance to both perform in the most optimal possible conditions (it can never be perfect) and also to have sufficient opportunities to speak to people who could further their careers in a meaningful way.

Still some extraordinary music-making took place during this year’s ensemble showcases. I was very impressed with the energy as well as the tone quality of the Kenari Saxophone Quartet, which was particularly well displayed in their performance of an extremely moving piece called In Memoriam written for them by Joel Love who flew in from Texas to hear their performance. And I was completely floored by Organ Monk, a trio led from a Hammond B3 by Greg Lewis which totally funked out on a series of original compositions named in honor of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. They also included some unexpected twists in their interpretations of the classic standard “Lulu’s Back in Town” and material by the group’s namesake Thelonious. (Lewis and his group are performing at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola on February 16, 2016.)

Hammond B3 organ accompanied by drums and electric guitar.

Organ Monk in action. (Pictured from left to right: Greg Lewis on Hammond B3, Jeremy “Bean” Clemons on drums, and Ron Jackson on guitar.)

As I already mentioned above, the blurring of lines between strict score-based interpretation and improvisation-oriented performance has yielded some fascinating musical hybrids and some of the most interesting music that took place during the showcases fell into this zone. Though nominally a “classical” group, Sybarite5, a string quintet (quartet plus double bass) which released a disc of Radiohead covers in 2012, played much more than what was on their music stands. Similarly Matt Davis’s Aerial Photograph, though described on CMA’s webpage for the 2016 showcases as jazz, ultimately shouldn’t be pigeonholed. Davis, an electric guitarist, exclusively performs his own compositions, which tend to be long form and chuck full of subtle orchestrations. For the showcase, he was joined by nine other musicians—which included a tenor saxophonist, a drummer, and a string quartet—who performed music he wrote based on conversations he had with people in different communities around New York City. The Westerlies, a brass quartet (two trumpets and two trombones) who released a terrific CD of music by Wayne Horvitz in 2014, played their own comprovisational music this time out as well as an arrangement of a song by Charles Ives. The Carpe Diem String Quartet also proved equally adept at navigating classical and jazz idioms as well as Iranian microtonal inflections, in an excerpt from a work by Reza Vali, and even bluegrass, in a selection from the Fiddle Suite by their Montana-born violist Korine Fujiwara.

Another string quartet, the Argus Quartet, a youngish, more exclusively classical-oriented group from L.A. that is now in residence at Yale, made a really compelling case for Peculiar Strokes, a collection of miniatures by Andrew Norman which each explore particular a bowing technique. They had planned to play only selections, which would not have left the audience feeling cheated since the work is designed to be modular, though it was great to actually hear the whole thing. However, by playing all of it, they had to cancel their performance of a movement from Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas, which actually would have additionally given audiences an opportunity to hear their interpretation of traditional Peruvian sonorities. Even more distressing is that since they cancelled Leyendas and Sybarite5 did not perform a piece by Jessica Meyer that they had been scheduled to play according to the printed program, the only female composers represented during nine hours of showcases were women who performed their own music—the aforementioned Fujiwara; Montreal-based Lorraine Desmarais, who fronts a relatively straight-ahead piano trio; and Jen Shyu, who mixed jazz vocals, traditional East Asian instruments, and ritual theatre in a stunning duo with violinist Matt Maneri that ended with her simulating self-immolation. (I was there for the whole thing but couldn’t help but wondering what the experience was like for people who just showed up at the climax.)

But that’s not all. In addition to those nine hours of music during the showcases, there was also an off-site intermission-less two-hour-plus CMA concert on Friday night at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music which featured performances by four additional groups who had received CMA commissioning grants. Talk about sonic overload. Directly before the concert and immediately following the last Friday showcase (that of Sybarite5 which seemed to attract an audience that was well beyond the room’s capacity) there was an opening reception hosted by BMI which is one of the year’s most intense networking hangs. Usually nothing else is scheduled that evening which seems more prudent since conversations that begin over drinks at that reception often spill over to more informal dinners among various attendees. I imagine that they did this year as well since only a small percentage of the seats at DiMenna were occupied. So there weren’t many people in the audience for Duo Yumeno’s performance of Gene Coleman’s Kirigami. The work was an intense exploration of the timbral subtleties of the duo’s two instruments–Japanese koto (played by Yoko Reikano Kimura) and cello (Hikaru Tamaki)–that I, at least, would have benefited more from hearing earlier in the day. The same was true for pianist Fabian Almazan’s Alcanza, which he performed with his largish band Rhizome (another group that incorporates a string quartet into an ensemble of jazz improvisers), though I found the voice of Sara Serpa utterly mesmerizing. Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson’s Touch Move, performed by his quintet Sicilian Defense, seemed mostly a platform for individual virtuosic flourishes rather than a cohesive composition, but again it was pretty late in the day at this point. I imagine that the somewhat disjointed form of the piece was by design, considering the chess references in both the name of his group and the title of the composition; I probably would have been more attuned to it had there been a program note or some pre-performance onstage commentary explaining what was going on. By the time PRISM came on stage to perform Julia Wolfe’s Cha I was ready to pass out, but the music thankfully wouldn’t let me. Though far shorter than anything else on the program, it was an incredibly dense 10 minutes filled with hockets and other kinds of tightly woven counterpoint that was completely seamless, both from a compositional and interpretational standpoint. (It was only the only time during the entire conference that a composition by a woman was performed by an ensemble that the composer was not a member of.) At 10:15pm I was completely wiped out and eager to finally have dinner, but I would have gladly stayed for more.

There’s undoubtedly a lot more I could describe about the 2016 CMA conference, but I will only make a few more small observations here. One of the conference’s highlights for me has always been the CMA/ASCAP Awards Ceremony which acknowledges ensembles and presenters whose programs have featured the most new music (music that was composed during the last 25 years). Additionally, during the ceremony, ASCAP member composers and publishers in the audience are invited up to the podium to briefly tell attendees about their own music. It is always a good way to gage what is going on around the country and in years past, I always wound up learning about a few more folks I had not been previously aware of. However, this year’s ceremony, which was scheduled on the last day right before the dismantling of the exhibits, was so poorly attended—only four ASCAP members (myself included) went up to the podium. Plus, unlike in previous years, no printed program was distributed to attendees listing all the qualifying new music repertoire on winner’s programs—an extremely useful list. It was a lost opportunity. Perhaps the distribution of these awards, which is a collaboration between ASCAP and CMA, should take place during the luncheon and membership meeting on the first day of the conference. It would reach a much larger percentage of the attendees and would set an appropriate exploratory tone for the weekend.

Lucy Shelton

One of the bright moments of this year’s CMA-ASCAP Adventurous Programming Awards was the introduction by new music championing soprano Lucy Shelton, who is a member of CMA’s board.

Many of the sessions of the 2016 conference were devoted to more effectively interacting (both personally and professionally) with other members of the community. New Music Gathering co-founder Mary Kouyoumdjian, in an essay she wrote for NewMusicBox in anticipation of that weekend’s contemporaneous NMG in Baltimore, claimed that she “really doesn’t like conferences” because they make her “think of barriers” and feel “pressure.” The folks at CMA did their very best to help attendees overcome this very real perception and it is perhaps a testimony to their success that I’ve received even more follow-up communications from folks I met for the first time at this year’s conference than I had in previous years, and I receive a ton of emails.

One of the best things that CMA did was to make first-time attendees feel more comfortable by assigning them mentors. I’d like to offer some space to the folks I mentored that weekend—all of whom are composer/performers active in the jazz scene, though as I can’t emphasize enough, the parsing of members of our community into jazz vs. classical slots is becoming less and less meaningful in today’s new music scene. I mentored four really interesting musicians. I’ve already described the music of Matt Davis, whose ensemble was a highlight of the showcases. Stephen Griggs is an extremely thoughtful Seattle-based saxophonist/composer, one the recipients of this year’s CMA/ASCAP Adventurous Programming Awards, who has composed suites about the Japanese-American internment camps and the plight of a still not-completely-recognized Native American community, the Duwamish, whose most prominent chief, Seattle (c1786-1866), lives on in the name of Griggs’s hometown. Will Holshouser fronts Musette Explosion, an extremely unusual, though completely delightful trio—consisting of his musette (a button accordion) plus guitar and tuba—that offers post-modern re-imaginings of gilded age Parisian café music. Finally, Sheryl Bailey, a guitarist who co-leads a delightful duo with bass legend Harvie S. as well as a Hammond B3-organ trio that would make an interesting double header with the group led by Greg Lewis featured during the showcases. (What’s with the sudden resurgence of the B3?) Unfortunately, when I wandered around recording chats with people during the final hours of the conference I couldn’t find Sheryl, but here are some brief musings about the weekend from Matt, Steve and Will:

 

 

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If the breadth of activities I experienced at the Chamber Music America conference dwarfed the Minnesota Orchestra Composer’s Institute, the Midwest Clinic possibly drowned every other music convening I have ever attended, in terms of its scale as well as potential, including the massive biennial conference of the American Choral Directors Association I wrote about last year that boasted more than 12,000 registrants. I attended the Clinic for the first time eight weeks ago and I still can’t completely make sense of its size and benefits to the greater new music community. It was simply overwhelming.

Lots of cymbals.

Have you ever seen so many cymbals in one place?

Part of why I’ve couched my description of the Midwest Clinic alongside two other events to which I’ve have a long relationship is in order to attempt to explain it. The first Minnesota Orchestra Composer’s Institute (as I stated at the onset) did not occur until 2002 (and the first “official” concert wasn’t until 2006). The CMA conference has a much longer history; it first took place in 1978. But the Midwest Clinic has been going on now for 70 years (though alternately under the names “Band Clinic,” “Mid-West Band Clinic,” “Mid-West National Band Clinic,” “Mid-West National Band and Orchestra Clinic,” and “Mid-West International Band and Orchestra Clinic”). So what is it and why is it called a clinic (the only thing that has been consistent about its name these past seven decades)? Everyone in the music community I’ve talked to who had no familiarity with this event was utterly baffled by the name when I told them I had been there: “Were you sick? Are you having a midlife crisis and enrolling in med school?”

Female and male mannequins in marhing band uniforms

At least I didn’t come home wearing one of these band uniforms!

By the end of my latest trip to the Windy City I came to understand that the term “clinic” is common parlance for a masterclass within the music education community and the folks who lead such sessions are called “clinicians,” a term which to the rest of humanity refers to medical doctors who have direct contact with and responsibility for patients. Yet considering how many “clinics” take place during this annual Windy City marathon, the singular form “Midwest Clinic” is still somewhat misleading, and “clinics” are not the only kind of activity that goes on there. It isn’t exactly a conference though many conference-type panels occur during its super jam-packed four days. It’s also not a music festival, though there were more concerts packed into that relatively short amount of time than during either Gaudeamus Music Week or the ISCM World Music Days, both of which consistently wow me with the sheer amount of music they present. And then there’s the larger-than-life exhibit hall which is a major locus of activity. In addition to being chock full of promotional fare from various universities, music organizations, and branches of the military, there are also tons of items for sale that many attendees flocked to—everything from band instruments and uniforms to sheet music and CDs. (Yes, people were actually buying physical recordings there; I personally came home with a bounty of 62 discs which I’m still attempting to listen through.)

Of all the music-related events I’ve attended during my professional life, the Clinic most resembles MIDEM, which is something of a cross between a conference, a festival, and an industry trade show. Though that’s probably not a completely accurate description, either, since MIDEM is pretty much a closed-door event for music industry insiders. The Clinic attracts a much broader range of music aficionados, everyone from numerous members of military, university, and high school bands (many of whom I witnessed delightedly trying out instruments in the exhibits) to some of America’s most prominent bandleaders and composers: I ran into Eric Whitacre and Michael Daugherty, both of whom led sessions during the Clinic, just walking around the supersized McCormick Place, which boasts being the largest convention center in North America.

Man sticking hand inside tuba bell shaped bowl next to another man holding a doll wearing an elf cap.

One of the more entertaining booths I visited was the one for the Northshore Concert Band in Evanston, Illinois. I wound up buying several of their discs.

The first day of the Clinic got off to an extremely early start—registration began at 7:00am, and by 8 (let’s be real here), there was still a massively long line but luckily it moved pretty fast since there was so much to see and ultimately precious little time despite each day’s activities going on pretty much non-stop for twelve consecutive hours. As a first time attendee, I was given a special sticker to affix to my badge, but there was no special welcoming reception. Certainly nothing resembling the TLC of the mentors for first-time attendees at the Chamber Music America conference. So I plunged right in. Throughout those four days, the only acknowledgment I received as a newbie was an occasional comment from an exhibitor who noticed my sticker. I now wonder if it was something of a Scarlet Letter and I might have fared better had I not worn it; despite how many people were there, I got into way fewer conversations with complete strangers than I normally do at music conferences. It’s a lesson learned for the next time there, although it is only possible to be a first-time attendee once.

Attempting to enumerate all of the various things I attended and all of the people I met there would probably require me to take another eight weeks to write, so I will only recount some of my most salient memories. Among the concerts I heard, the performances by the North Texas Wind Symphony (which, under the direction of Eugene Corporon, is the gold standard in the windband community), the Atlanta-based Tara Winds, the VanderCook College of Music Symphonic Band (the Chicago hometown favorites), and, most impressive of all, the Shujitsu Junior and Senior High School Wind Ensemble (who travelled here all the way from Okayama, Japan) were as proficient as any top tier symphony orchestra, including Minnesota. So as great an opportunity as a performance by a high profile orchestra is for an emerging composer, it might be equally satisfying to secure a windband gig and also probably more career savvy—these ensembles are far more eager to perform new music, will play your piece a lot more frequently, give it much more rehearsal time, and also be thrilled to give you a recording of it. People have been telling me this for years but witnessing it first-hand repeatedly is even more convincing.

A sprawling line of people that snakes around multiple times.

One of the most heartening thing I witnessed during the Midwest Clinic was the seemingly endless line of people waiting to attend a session featuring four composers–John Mackey, Eric Whitacre, Jonathan Newman, and Steve Bryant. The only disappointment was that because there were so many people ahead of me in the line, I ultimately wasn’t able to get in.

My other big epiphany was that the Midwest Clinic is not exclusively a gathering for folks involved with wind band music. I heard a demonstration by a mariachi band during one of the clinics as well as part of a concert by the Beckendorff Junior High School Honor Orchestra, a string orchestra from Katy, Texas, which featured works by two female composers: Soon Hee Newbold and Keiko Yamada. [Ed. Note: Subsequent to the publication of this article, it was discovered that Keiko Yamada was a pseudonym for the male composer Larry Clark. (See September 1, 2019 comment below.)] Few concert experiences I attended last year were as exhilarating as the concert I heard by the Michigan State University Jazz Orchestra (who call themselves The Be-Bop Spartans) despite it taking place in a convention center! I’d also be remiss if I did not write something about the Hendrickson High School Saxophone Ensemble (from Pflugerville, Texas). A transcription they performed of a Double Violin Concerto by Vivaldi was surprisingly very effective but I was even more smitten with what they did with a new work written expressly for them by Daniel Montoya, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek nod to Philip Glass titled Einstein on 6th Street which juxtaposed the sound world of Glass’s motoric arpeggios with melodic shapes more characteristic of the various popular music traditions that co-exist in Montoya’s hometown of Austin, Texas. I had to talk to him about it:

In terms of saturation and inundation nothing prepared me for the New Music Reading Session given by the National Guard’s Bands of the Air, one of several such sessions that took place during the Clinic. Their plan was to get through over a hundred submitted works, playing about a minute from each one. After the first fifteen I thought my head would explode and I had to leave. It was impossible for me to distinguish any of these pieces from each other with so little to go on and constant bombardment from yet another piece of music before having anytime to process what I had just heard. Much more poignant, I thought, was a presentation called “Birth and Life of New Music” that was devoted to an explication and performance of a single piece of music, an extremely vibrant and timbrally thrilling concerto for bass trombone and wind band by David Gillingham that was passionately delivered by the Central Michigan University Symphonic Wind Ensemble under the direction of John E. Williamson featuring the New York Philharmonic’s George Curran, for whom the work was written, as soloist. But the most moving thing I attended the entire time I was there, however, was a session called “Teaching Children to Create,” co-led by Glen Adsit from the Hartt School of Music and maverick composer Michael Colgrass, in which students from the Plymouth-Canton High School band program (again, from Michigan) created and then performed some incredibly far out music using graphic notation. If the “professional” orchestras performed stuff as wild as this even twice a year, I’d become a lifelong subscriber! But it wasn’t just about being avant-garde. There was a remarkable formal cohesion to one of the pieces they played, a short aleatory work by one of the girls in the class whose name I regret I am unable to include here. (I jotted it down on a piece of paper that does not seem to have make it back to New York with me.)

Disappointingly, aside from her and the two women [Ed Note: actually one, see Ed. Note above and September 1, 2019 comment below] who wrote string orchestra pieces, the only woman composer programmed during the entire Midwest Clinic was Julie Giroux, three of whose wind band compositions were featured. I was grateful to get to hear two of the three and I brought back some additional pieces of hers on recordings I got there as well. Nevertheless, such a lack of representation is shocking in the year 2016. I already know tons of worthy repertoire for wind band composed by women and I still consider myself a rookie in this scene. African-American, Hispanic, and Asian composers were also marginal to the proceedings. In addition, the winners of various awards that were given throughout the four days were all white men. Banners of photos of previous Clinic honorees, all male and all white as well, greeted me when I entered the space to register on the very first day. For such an inclusive music event (in terms of its breadth and range) to be so exclusive was very disturbing.

A series of banners with photographs.

The banners of honorees that greeted 2015 Midwest Clinic attendees.

Since there were so many simultaneous competing events, it was hard to decide from moment to moment where I should be. Most of the sessions I attended were less than stimulating, however, with many clinicians simply reading from handouts they distributed to attendees as they entered the rooms. So by the third day, I figured out the best way to gather information was to circulate among as many conference rooms as I could, grabbing all the handouts without sticking around for too long. I also wanted to devote a significant amount of time to wandering the exhibits since that seemed to be a congregating place where attendees actually had an opportunity to converse with one another. I managed, in addition to bumping into Whitacre and Daugherty, to chance upon other composers I knew—among them composers Jim Bonney, Jennifer Jolley, Martha Mooke, Jonathan Newman, Alex Shapiro, Jim Stephenson, and Stephen Bryant (who has the best business card I’ve ever seen–a thick card containing his photo that is also a USB stick containing perusal PDF scores and recordings of his band compositions). I also bumped into Scott Tegge from the Chicago-based super new music friendly brass quintet Gaudete Brass whom I met several years ago at a CMA conference. Plus I got to meet composer Joel Love whose saxophone quartet I had the pleasure of hearing a few weeks later, again at CMA. There’s clearly a connection here and yet several people who knew me seemed very surprised that I was attending the Midwest Clinic since they all associate me exclusively with new music. But there was so much new music there, which is why I was there and why they were there as well. Jonathan Newman perhaps summed it up even better than I could: