Tag: wind band music

New Music Ushers In The Inauguration of the Next President and Vice President of the USA

The United States Capitol

UPDATED Lots of new music will usher in a new American administration on January 20, 2021. The musical selections being performed during tomorrow’s inauguration of Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice President of the United States of America will include newly composed works for the United States Marine Band “The President’s Own” under the direction of Col. Jason K. Fettig by Kimberly K. Archer and Peter Boyer. Other works performed during the hour-long music program preceding the official swearing include pieces by Adolphus Hailstork and Julie Giroux, the subject of the most recent interview on NewMusicBox.

Kimberly Archer, Peter Boyer, Julie Giroux, Adolphus Hailstork, Kendrick Lamar, James Stephenson, and Joan Tower.

Among the composers whose music will serve as a soundtrack to the 46th U.S. Presidential Inauguration are Kimberly Archer, Peter Boyer, Julie Giroux, Adolphus Hailstork, Kendrick Lamar, James Stephenson, and Joan Tower.

Archer’s Fanfare Politeia celebrates our traditions of a free and fair election, and of a peaceful transfer of power. “This is an incredible honor,” Archer said. “If you had told my 20 year old self that someday the Marine Band would play my music, much less for a presidential inauguration, I would never have believed it.”

Boyer’s new work, Fanfare for Tomorrow, began as a brief piece for solo French horn, originally commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra last year, as part of their Fanfare Project in response to the pandemic. Boyer significantly expanded and developed that music for a full concert band for this commission. Boyer said, “In these extraordinarily challenging days for our country, I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute some optimistic music to an historic occasion, at which Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will take their oaths of office as the next President and Vice President of the United States. This commission represents one of the greatest honors of my life as an American composer.”

Hailstork’s Fanfare on “Amazing Grace” is scheduled to be performed as the second piece during the USMB’s inaugural program. This marks only the second time that music by a contemporary African American composer has been selected to be part of the repertoire performed at a presidential inauguration, according to Africlassical.com, a website on African heritage in classical music. Hailstork is working on a requiem cantata for George Floyd titled A Knee on the Neck.

Julie Giroux’s Integrity Fanfare and March is the first movement of her 2006 composition No Finer Calling which was jointly commissioned by The United States Air Force Band of Flight, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio (Lieutenant Colonel Alan Sierichs, Commander and Conductor), The United States Air Force Academy Band, Peterson AFB, Colorado (Lieutenant Colonel Steven Grimo, Commander and Conductor), and The United States Air Force Band of Liberty, Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts (Lieutenant Colonel Larry H. Lang, Commander and Conductor.

Giroux has written about the work: “Integrity, Virtue, Morality, Truthfulness, Accountability and Pride. When I thought of these words as a composer, I heard a fanfare, a processional and a march. Not all at the same time, but more of a melding of all three—a fanfare that states ‘We are here,’ a procession that states ‘We are prepared,’ and a march that states ‘Lets GO!’”

The Marine Band has also put together an “Inaugural Soundtrack” which they have posted on YouTube featuring a range of historical curiosities including marches composed for the inaugurations of Abraham Lincoln and James A. Garfield, the latter of which was composed by John Philip Sousa, as well as the newly composed Fanfare for Democracy by James Stephenson. Stephenson wrote a series of articles for NewMusicBox in 2016.)

In addition, Classical Movements, a concert touring company, has formed the Hope & Harmony Ensemble, a group consisting of 14 professional musicians from orchestras and conservatories across the country, to give a virtual brass and percussion performance in honor of the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris under the direction of conductor Marin Alsop. As stated on the Classical Movements website, “the ensemble performs two masterpieces of American classical music that perfectly represent our President- and Vice President-Elect: Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland and Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman No. 1 by Joan Tower.” The stream was posted live to YouTube exactly 24 hours before the inauguration ceremony is scheduled to take place.

Finally, last Friday, the Biden-Harris transition team released a new 46-song Inaugural playlist curated by The Raedio and D-Nice on Spotify which features tracks by A Tribe Called Quest, Beyoncé, Bruce Springsteen, The Staple Singers, Bob Marley, and Kendrick Lamar, who along with Aaron Copland is a past recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

Unprecedented Time

A computer altered image of a Zoom recording session for Brian Baumbusch's music

There is no doubt that we are in unprecedented times. Living through a global pandemic has tested and revealed so much about who we are as a people and what we possess as a culture. From the social battles that we have all watched boil over and spill out onto the streets, to the emotional battles that we have all waged within ourselves over this past year, we are struggling to make sense of what the future holds. And through it all, I have learned what many already knew: that art is like a weed – stubborn and persistent. Art will push on regardless of the circumstances, and I find it to be a transcendent privilege as well as a dire responsibility to stay focused on ways to continue innovating the arts without hesitation or compromise.

My personal experience in 2020 has offered countless peaks and troughs on the emotional roller-coaster ride of life, though peppered within have been some welcomed serendipities. Dating back to the fall of 2019, I was gearing up to work on a commission for a large-scale multi-faceted project, TIDES, that had been several years in the making and involved video/media artist Ian Winters and co-composer Wayne Vitale, both long-term collaborators of mine. We laid a foundation with concrete artistic concepts and interlaced composing strategies, but due to last-minute circumstances beyond everyone’s control, that foundation cracked and we ended up dividing the musical component of the project into two separate compositions: a sound installation was to be composed by Vitale and I was to compose a live piece, and both would accompany video footage and media created by Winters. I then took on the responsibility during a five-week window to compose thirty minutes of music for TIDES to premiere in late March 2020. Indeed, this would be the first new composition that I had undertaken since the birth of my first child in May of 2019.

The piece that I composed as a result, named Tides after the larger project, is a quintet for clarinet, violin, vibraphone, harp, and piano, and as one might have guessed, the March premiere was never to take place. After completing the music in February and hosting some preliminary rehearsals with the players, our last round of rehearsals in March were cancelled one by one until ultimately the Minnesota Street Gallery in San Francisco, where the premiere was to be held, cancelled the late March performance.

As I witnessed all of this playing out, I started to glimpse the peculiar silver lining that was specific to my situation. Over the past five years, much of the music that I have composed involves the use of multiple simultaneously varying tempos, or polytempo. In order to perform this music accurately, I tell the musicians that they are required to use click tracks in performance, something that isn’t always met with open ears. Because of the fact that each click track carries its own independent tempo stream, players often express the frustration that hearing the other ensemble members adjacent to them playing in a different tempo can hinder their ability to accurately follow their own click track. In the case of Tides, I started to develop a new level of complexity in the polytempo structures that I was using, in part because I had assembled a crack ensemble of some of the Bay Area’s finest musicians, but also because the music was designed to accompany video footage created by the lead artist of the project, Ian Winters. Because of the fact that film and click-track-music are both real-time mediums, I wanted to take advantage of the potential for hyper-synchronicities between the two. All of this served to make a live ensemble performance of this piece that much more difficult.

After the Minnesota Street Gallery cancelled the premiere, they reached out about the possibility of reimagining the project so that it could be presented virtually on their website, and offered some additional funding en route to doing so. It occurred to me that not only could the project continue to move forward, albeit as a recording project rather than a performance project, but that it had the potential to be more successful this way. Since the players already had the click tracks and had been practicing along to them at home in preparation for the performance, I developed a concept that would allow for the players to record their parts directly from their own homes. I decided to break their parts up into “fragments” so that they wouldn’t have to record full takes of each movement. To do this, I snipped up each click track to the length of each predetermined fragment, and I added a “count-in” to each fragmented click track so the player could know when to enter; this was then reflected in their original part with new annotations.

Clarinet excerpt from the score of Brian Baumbusch's composition Tides.

Clarinet Excerpt from Tides, Movement 3

To produce the recording, we loaned hi-fi recording equipment to each player on a week-by-week basis so that each player would keep the equipment for a week, and then it would be wiped down, sanitized, and delivered to the next player. After finishing a recording session on a given day, the player would then upload the recordings to an online cloud drive that I had access to, and I would review them in the evening and send comments for adjustments that should be made in the next day’s recording session. Once the player had recorded all of their fragments to satisfaction, they were finished and their contribution to the project was then complete.

Unfortunately, our pianist had traveled to Indiana in the interim period after the premiere was to take place but before beginning the recording sessions. However, she had brought her electric keyboard with her which she used to maintain her remote teaching schedule. It occurred to me that if I could get her to record her part in MIDI using her electric keyboard, I could then reproduce that MIDI recording on an acoustic Disklavier and record the Disklavier playback for the final mix. I shipped a small audio interface and some MIDI cables to Indiana, and the pianist was able to use that in conjunction with her keyboard and laptop’s built-in recording software to produce the MIDI recording. Being a faculty member at the University of California, Santa Cruz, I was able to access one of the university’s Disklaviers to capture the final recording of her part.

As we underwent this unique recording process, I noticed some interesting parallels with film/moviemaking (we were in fact working together with a video artist). In film acting compared to stage acting, an actor can make use of subtle facial expressions and slight changes in their tone of voice to convey the nuances of their part. In addition, most actors who contribute to a large film project only get a small glimpse of the full production; their scenes will be shot in an order achronological to the film itself, and they likely will not interact with most of the other actors in the film and will have little sense of the overall concept or tone of the film aside from what they can gather from the script. All of this was true of our recording process. By recording their parts independently and at home, the players could record their part in whatever order they pleased, and they could narrow their dynamic range by close-miking their instruments and allowing for subtle dynamic changes to provide the necessary contours. Similarly, aside from the fact that we held some preliminary rehearsals of the piece before shelter-in-place restrictions were put into effect, there was no need for the musicians to be acquainted with one another or to have worked together before. Another similarity that I alluded to earlier is that both of these mediums are created along a careful timeline that, once completed, is fixed and exists in real-time, allowing for intricate synchronicities that are not so easily achieved in live performance.

  • Art is like a weed - stubborn and persistent.

    Brian Baumbusch, composer
  • There was no need for the musicians to be acquainted with one another or to have worked together before.

    Brian Baumbusch, composer
  • This new project provided supplementary work for me while allowing for the wind ensemble to avoid cancellation.

    Brian Baumbusch, composer
  • Almost all of our music history has been predicated on our ability to manifest a group feeling of musical time.

    Brian Baumbusch, composer

Some of the benefits that emerged out of working this way included the fact that since the players recorded their parts independently, those recordings were acoustically isolated from one another which offered advantages as to how they could be edited in post-production. Also, there was no need to coordinate and align the limited rental times of rehearsal space with the musicians already busy schedules, something that is difficult everywhere but can be an insurmountable task in the Bay Area. In essence, as technical complexities are added in the process of producing music this way, many logistical complexities, and the resources associated with them, are removed. These benefits notwithstanding, in order for musicians to work this way they need to accept the downsides which include the fact that they don’t get to play music “together;” more specifically, the social benefits of in-person music-making, both emotional and artistic, have been thrown aside and the cathartic culmination that comes during live performance has been lost. What has been gained, on the other hand, is the opportunity to produce idealized recordings that can make use of innovative compositional ideas that push past the limitations presented by in-person music-making.

Isotropes

I’d like to rewind back to mid-March of 2020. At that time, I had completed composing the music for Tides, learned that the premiere was to be cancelled, and developed some preliminary ideas for how to produce the remote-recording version of the piece without having yet done so (Tides was recorded in August). Realizing that I was well poised to make use of my skill set in composing with click tracks and eager to develop new and related compositional ideas, I was hungry to work on a new project. In a sleepless night, with infant yelps coming from the other room, I started to imagine the possibility of creating a modular open-instrumentation piece (think Terry Riley’s In C), in which a large group of musicians could record modules or “fragments” of their choosing. I imagined that a piece like this might be useful for lots of musicians, maybe even possible as an open-source project, as shelter-in-place orders were descending across the country and so many players were losing work. The next step was to find a group that was in need of such a project.

The U.C. Santa Cruz Wind Ensemble is an excellent group comprising students, community members, faculty members, and occasionally hired ringers, and happens to be directed by a close friend and collaborator of mine, Nat Berman. On March 15th, I texted Nat to ask him if he knew yet what the status of his ensemble was for the upcoming spring quarter, since it seemed likely at that moment that all of the university music ensembles would be cancelled. I myself am currently in my seventh year as the director of the Balinese gamelan ensembles at UCSC, and I was unsure then of the status of my own ensembles. Nat divined my underlying plan and responded to my text saying “Do you want to write us a click track piece that everyone can record individually?” As it turned out, both of my ensembles were indeed cancelled for that spring quarter, but this new project with Nat provided supplementary work for me while allowing for the wind ensemble to avoid cancellation.

The details of the commission were worked out in the following week after my initial text to Nat, and finalized around March 23. The piece would be called Isotropes, and the general concept was that it would be designed so that the players could record their parts remotely from home using whatever recording technology that was most readily available to them (generally cell phones and laptops, though various players had their own pro-audio recording gear that they used), and they would record along to click tracks that I would provide to accompany each part. The “premiere” would then be a virtual presentation of the final recording, mixing together all of the individual recordings made throughout the quarter. The first ensemble meeting was the very next week, on March 30, so I had about a week to compose some preliminary material for the piece and generate the parts and click tracks so that the musicians would have music to work on once the quarter started.

In that first week, as I further developed my concept for the piece and composed a collection of preliminary “fragments,” I continued to prioritize the need to create an open-instrumentation modular work. One of the reasons for this was that in the week before classes started, and even a week or two into the quarter, we were unsure of how many players would enroll in the ensemble and what the resulting instrumentation would be. Therefore, the piece needed to be flexible in regard to the number of players required and the instrumentation. As a result, I organized the score so that parts would be arranged first by instrument class (parts were either considered “sustaining” e.g. winds, strings, etc. or “non-sustaining” e.g. percussion, harp, piano, etc.) and then by register. In this way, the piece became “semi-open instrumentation” in that a given part must be played in the notated register and by an instrument in the same classification as the part, but within those restrictions the orchestration is flexible. Although this concept was tailored to some degree for the UCSC wind ensemble, the piece is designed to be for “adaptable orchestra” and playable by other types of orchestras such as string orchestras, symphony orchestras, etc.

An excerpt from the score of Brian Baumbusch's composition Isotropes

Excerpt from the score of Isotropes, Part I

Between March 23 and March 30, I wrote as much material as I could so as to keep the musicians busy once the quarter began and to give myself time to go back and write more of the piece as the musicians recorded the first section. Unlike most of the pieces that I compose in which I come up with a large formal structure for the entirety of the piece before composing various sections achronologically, in this case I composed from left to right, often feeling like I was composing one measure ahead of the musicians. And so it went for the ten weeks of the academic quarter: I would compose a movement of the piece, engrave the parts and click tracks and upload them onto a shared Google drive and as the musicians recorded each of the fragments from that movement, I would go back and compose the next movement. This happened in roughly two-week intervals so that over the course of about eight weeks, I had composed the four separate movements of the piece allowing for some final edits and re-records to take place during the final two weeks of the quarter.

Similar to the concept that I described for the piece Tides, Isotropes is designed to be recorded in fragments wherein each part contains between 5 and 15 fragments per movement. There is a total of about 1000 fragments in the whole piece split between 22 parts. Each fragment has its own unique click track, and the fragments are also assigned a difficult level (easy, medium, or difficult). I transposed each fragment in all of the relevant keys so that the players could choose which fragments they wished to record (often based on the difficulty level) as long as that fragment was written for their instrument class and fell within their instrument’s register. To keep track of who recorded what, we created a giant spreadsheet containing a box for each fragment, color-coded green (easy), yellow (medium), and orange (difficult), where the players would mark their initials in the boxes representing the fragments that they planned to record.

Spreadsheet listing the various components of Brian Baumbusch's composition Isotropes

The notated parts themselves referenced the accompanying click track, each of which contained a count-in and was composed of different pitched clicks to indicate the meter of the given fragment.

A notated example of a polytempo

Rhythmically, the piece makes use of many instances of polytempo in which multiple simultaneously varying tempo streams occur between the parts. In these cases, the rhythmic notation that I chose to display for the various parts is simplified to only contain note-heads without stems, and those note-heads are roughly spatially oriented within the score. In looking at the part above, you can count 12 notes in the first measure and 8 notes in the last measure, which is evidence that this fragment is undergoing a gradual ritardando, even though that ritardando is not reflected in the global score but is only localized to this specific part. At this point in the piece, simultaneous with this part is another part that is undergoing a gradual accelerando; this occurs during the third movement in which these two discrete tempo streams begin with a relationship of 3/1 in that the faster tempo is three times as fast as the slower tempo, and over the course of about a minute they converge on one another.

This is just one of many instances of polytempo used in the piece. Other sections of the piece contain three or more simultaneous tempo streams, some of which may be changing while others remain static. Sometimes, the tempo will vary drastically between two adjacent fragments within a single part. From the perspective of the musicians, this is a non-issue because adjacent fragments are not recorded in a single take and might not even be recorded by the same player. The players’ perspective is always localized to the tempo of the fragment that they are recording at a given time, and the rhythmic complexity of the music only comes together as multiple recordings are mixed together in post-production.

In this way, Isotropes demonstrates some of the possibilities presented by the remote recording paradigm. Although it is a piece that could be performed live (while still using click-tracks), it is actually much easier to create through remote collaboration. It also justifies the use of technology, particularly click tracks, in composing and recording music. For me, the process of attempting to innovate musical time through my work with click tracks has often felt like more of a necessity than anything else. Once I decided that I was going to ask performers to use click tracks in live performance starting back in 2015, I had to justify that decision by creating music that couldn’t be made any other way. In the same way now, I hope that composers and ensembles who turn to click tracks for their remote collaborations can justify the use of that technology for reasons other than convenience or compromise.

Over the past 8 months, many ensembles have been forced to compromise their plans because of the limitations that they see resulting from the prohibition of in-person rehearsal and performance. Many have struggled as they’ve tried to adapt existing musical traditions to meet the current predicament, finding that much of these adaptations introduce difficulties and degradations to something that we are much better suited to do in person. Indeed, almost all of our music history has been predicated on our ability to manifest a group feeling of musical time, either through a unified pulse or as indicated by a conductor, while playing our instruments together in-person. This is something that we are very good at as a species and has been evidenced across the globe for millennia. However, this is not the only way to manifest musical time. As more and more musicians and ensembles are turning to recording technologies and click tracks to create music, we have a responsibility to use this technology to innovate music in ways that will expand our musical language even after a return to normalcy arrives. If for no other reason, we need to do this now because we CAN do this now. Right now is an incredible time to explore the possibilities of remote collaboration and innovative approaches to musical time, precisely because of the fact that so many musicians are at home and looking for work. In that way, the unprecedented time that we are in offers an unprecedented opportunity. We have no justification for blaming the current moment for curtailing our artistic potential. We need to start adopting new performance practices, rather than adapting or compromising existing ones.

[Ed. note: Other Minds has released a digital album of Brian Baumbusch’s music featuring both Isotropes and Tides which is available to download via Bandcamp as of December 18, 2020. – FJO]

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.

Crowdsourcing Rehearsals

This is a two-part article about rehearsing a traditional large ensemble: orchestra, band, or choral ensemble. Many of the ideas put forward won’t be necessarily new, which is a good thing. It means that many conductors are experimenting with, even perfecting, a more inclusive, student-driven approach to large ensembles. But having traveled around this country and a few others visiting music programs, I’m still struck by the overwhelming adherence to the top-down, dictatorial method of running a rehearsal.

I’m convinced that the majority of conductors believe that simply because a student is in his/her ensemble playing an instrument, or singing, they are “engaged.” More and more, I’m convinced that this just isn’t the case. We stand on a box, with a stick, telling them what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. And yet, I keep hearing from the music advocacy folks that what we do in the music classroom is somehow “different” or “better” than what happens in other classrooms. Well, of course it is—as far as I know, there aren’t any snare drums and saxophones in a chemistry classroom—but we really don’t teach any differently. And lest anyone think that I’ve got this completely figured out, let me assure you, I don’t. In 2013 I published an article in the Music Educators Journal on this topic and I still don’t pretend to have it all figured out. More on that later.

There aren’t any snare drums and saxophones in a chemistry classroom.

Broadly defined, the student I am teaching today in many ways is the same kind of student I taught at the beginning of my career—smart, engaged, overachieving, hard-working, dependable, dedicated, curious, kind…all that good stuff. But, in other ways, the student I’m teaching today is different. It’s mostly because of an addiction to technology but also trends in parenting and schooling—and societal changes, too. So I think it’s important to assess how we teach every once in a while. Trends come and go, I realize (who knew that leg warmers and high-waisted jeans would make a comeback), and there is a LOT of validity in teaching students to sit, listen, and be quiet. But there is also validity in more student engagement, more student involvement in learning and process, and more student ownership and responsibility.

Imagine, if you will, a gentleman plucked up from his late-19th-century life with a time machine plunked down in Times Square New York City in 2018. Absolutely everything would blow his mind—the cars, the lights (NEON!), the noise, the dress, the store offerings, the height and density of the buildings…everything. He would be completely lost. Until, of course, he walked into a classroom. Except for those white boards and maybe a projector/screen, nothing much has changed in that department. Now imagine a trombone player from the Sousa band plucked up with that same time machine and plunked down in your rehearsal room. With the exception of wondering what all that extra percussion equipment was doing in the room, he would know exactly where he was and where to sit. Now, I’m not saying this is all bad. But, it’s something to think about.

A gentleman plucked up from the late-19th-century to 2018 would be completely lost…until he walked into a classroom.

A decade ago, Randall Everett Allsup and Cathy Benedict penned an important wake-up call for band teachers called, “The Problems of Band” (Philosophy of Music Education Review, 16, no. 2, Fall 2008). If you haven’t read it, give it a go. It’s a no-holds barred exposé of the “band tradition” that even names names. Ouch. Here’s one of my favorite quotations from that article:

The problems of the American wind band…stem from an inheritance that is overwhelmed by tradition…predominantly teacher-centered, teacher transmitted, and content/repertoire driven…we are deluding ourselves if we think our students are actually taking on the responsibility of independent musicianship or becoming more musical.

Let’s think a moment about WHY we rehearse, especially in a school setting. I would think that what immediately comes to mind is something like this: to prepare a performance; to improve and perfect. But let’s go deeper. Rehearsing is something we conductors spend a tremendous amount of time doing, not to mention forcing our students to do it, too. What do we really want our students to learn in rehearsal other than the repertoire? Here are some ideas:

We rehearse to make mistakes because we know that we learn more deeply from failure than success.
We rehearse to facilitate LISTENING.
We rehearse to learn everyone else’s part in the whole.
We rehearse to learn how to lead. And how to follow.
We rehearse to build a musical community. To build trust.
We rehearse to develop musical independence.
We rehearse to co-create an environment of safety and the freedom to take risks.
You see where I’m going here? I think what we should be doing in rehearsals is more than getting the music right.

In a subsequent article, I’ll talk about some basics of good rehearsal technique, keeping in mind everything we’re talking about here. And then, we’ll move beyond the basics to get a bit more innovative and even more student-centered.

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

It’s Not What We Do, It’s How We Do It: Evolving the Concert Experience

What I’d like to talk about today is what we do, what we believe in, and how we do what we do. Which, I believe, is rather suspect. At the end of this article, there will also be some practical ideas.  You probably shouldn’t try them all at once. And you probably won’t like some or all of them. But I think it’s time that we start thinking more about a pretty important stakeholder in what we do, our audience. I’ll talk about my experience in the collegiate and/or professional concert world, but I believe most of the ideas could work in a variety of settings.

It’s time that we start thinking more about a pretty important stakeholder in what we do, our audience.

An iceberg partially above water but mostly below.

Perhaps you’ve seen this meme on the internet. Where the tip of the iceberg is the performance and that vast complicated bit underneath the surface is the rehearsal process. It’s so true, isn’t it? And we’ve all heard that the journey is supposed to be more important than the destination. The process more robust, more post-modern, more life-changing than the product. Presumably this means that the more important lessons are learned along the way. That there is joy in each day’s progress (even, struggle). And the end result will be more fulfilling if we concentrate and are mindful of each step (both forward and backward) along the way.

And who am I to refute this notion? I don’t, in fact. But, let’s be honest, we are surrounded by messages that scream the opposite. We are destination-driven—goal-oriented. I’m a runner, but I don’t really train methodically and smart unless I’ve signed up for a race. Who doesn’t make to-do lists and take great pleasure in checking off the tasks when they are completed? Just about everything we do, especially as teachers/conductors, is driven by the end result.

In our case, that’s the concert, isn’t it? And if that concert is bad—poorly executed, boring, poorly organized, out of tune, rhythmically unstable, whatever—everyone feels bad: the musicians, (perhaps worse of all) you, the musicians’ family members, the community members, and, of course, the administrators. So in this article, I’d like to focus on that performance, that product, the destination, the stuff above the surface.

Just about everything we do is driven by the end result. In our case, that’s the concert, isn’t it?

Let me ask you a question: how many of you think about the audience when you program your concerts? It’s a serious question.

Now, in my case, most of the time, whether I’m guest conducting or at home, our audience is typically friends of the student musicians (or professional musicians), fellow faculty and educators (the student’s teachers), parents, donors, community members, and administrators. This includes the live and the virtual audience, as we’ve been live-streaming concerts at the University of Georgia Hodgson School of Music for the past three years.

With perhaps a few exceptions, I would guess that this is basically your audience as well. Yes?

OK, before we talk about our audience, let’s step back a moment and talk about the classical music concert experience.

When I googled “Classical Music Traditions” in preparation for this article, here are some of the titles that came up:

“What to wear to a Classical Music Concert”
“Concert Etiquette”
“The Concert Ritual: How to Enjoy a Live Concert of Classical Music”
From The Guardian, “Admit It, You’re As Bored As I Am”
“Saving Classical Music”
“The Awfulness of Classical Music Explained” (Huffington Post)
“Is Classical Music Boring?” (According to the bloke at The Guardian, it is)
“Is Classical Music Dying?”
“How Diversity Can Help Save Classical Music”
“Can Classical Music Be Cool?”
“How Do We Fix Classical Music?” …that one from National Public Radio

And my personal favorite,
“Cracking the Secret Orchestral Codes” (NYT)

Isn’t that extraordinarily odd? I don’t think the average person needs to worry about etiquette, rules, what to wear, fixing the genre, saving the genre) when they attend any other kind of live music event. Nope, it’s pretty much just “classical music” concerts that are fraught with strange and difficult-to-understand norms and behaviors. Here’s something, when I google “who attends classical music concerts?” a whole bunch of stats come up, which I’ll share with you in a moment. When I google “who attends a popular music concert,” my whole feed is about the Obamas attending a Beyoncé concert.

It’s pretty much just “classical music” concerts that are fraught with strange and difficult-to-understand norms and behaviors.

If I may quote Richard Dare, a first-time classical music concertgoer who wrote the article I mentioned, “The Awfulness of Classical Music Explained”:

Although I loved the music I heard that evening, I was struck by my observations that concerts might not be easy to figure out for a first-timer. Had I at least been allowed to authentically enjoy the performance going on inside that hall as I might spontaneously appreciate any other cultural pursuit like a movie or a hip-hop concert—if I could clap when clapping felt needed, laugh when it was funny, shout when I couldn’t contain the joy building up inside myself. What would that have been like? But this was classical music. And there are a great many “clap here, not there” cloak-and-dagger protocols to abide by. I found myself preoccupied by the imposing restriction of ritual behavior on offer: all the shushing and silence and stony-faced non-expression of the audience around me [let me add that I bet he observed that on the stage as well], presumably enraptured, certainly deferential, possibly catatonic. I don’t think classical music was intended to be listened to in that way.

Neither, dear reader, do I. Richard Dare calls it “ritual behavior”; I have a student who calls it “ritual compliance” and I believe it’s killing what we do, and what we actually believe in.

We all know that it didn’t always used to be this way. Think of the bawdiness at a Mozart premiere, the boo-ing at a concert featuring the not-so-well-liked Beethoven, the riot that broke out at the premiere of The Rite of Spring…women throwing their unmentionables at Franz Liszt during his piano recitals. I’m not advocating throwing our underwear at anyone by the way, but surely, we’ve moved way too far in the opposite direction.

Concert attendance at classical music events is down in the United States and Canada. We all know it has been in decline for some time. Experts and pundits blame lots of things for this: music teachers (my favorite), poor government funding for the arts, Spotify and Pandora, wind band repertoire (my second favorite), technology and decreasing attention spans, movie music, video games—and perhaps all of this is true and we can lay blame where blame is due. But don’t we need to think about evolving the concert experience?

In 1958, Milton Babbitt penned a deeply controversial but memorable article. (By the way: Can you name a composition by Milton Babbitt? How about some of his contemporaries, such as Igor Stravinsky, Percy Grainger, or Aaron Copland, all of whom who embraced folk song—so called “pop music”—in their music. And whose music has endeared itself into our hearts.)

Charles Rosen wisely said, “The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest living tradition.” Yes, we’ve been saying classical music is dying for at least 200 years. I’m not worried about the music itself. It’s too good to die. Bach, for example, seems to me to be indestructible. The institutions of classical music and music education though, are another matter. There is good reason to worry about them, especially those that have refused to evolve for the better part of a century.

Back to dear Milton. I make my graduate students read his infamous article and write a counter-response entitled, “I Care If You Listen.” Let me be clear, I do care. I care about my audience. I care who listens and I care about what they think. I care when they choose not to come. And when they do, I want them to have a great time.

I believe that the days of ritual compliance at classical music concerts should end. And end now. The kind of concerts that most of us present where, as an audience member, you are never spoken to, you are expected to read the boring program notes in the dark, the musicians on the stage look as bored as you are, and you are expected to behave in a certain way, etc., seem now so silly to me. And boring. And I’m a so-called educated musician!

So, what I promised: here are some things that we have experimented with at the University of Georgia, and before that, at Cornell University. Some of these things you might not be able to do in your particular circumstances, but I hope as I go through these, you’ll let your creative juices flow and think about ways that you might incorporate some of these ideas (and add more of your own) in your unique setting.

No. 1 (and its No. 1 because anyone can decide to do this, anywhere, and any time)

Dump the no-applause rule.

Dump the no-applause rule. Invite your audience to clap whenever they feel like it. There is nothing more ridiculous and repressive than experiencing a huge cadence, inspiring and loud, at the end of the first movement of a concerto or symphony and all you hear is paper rustling and coughing. And we wonder why people don’t enjoy classical concerts? Or why the musicians on stage might not be having as good a time as they could be? Live music is supposed to be invigorating. And there’s a give and take with that audience and player energy that’s so important. Why not give this a try? The Hodgson Wind Ensemble has been doing this for about two years now and WE LOVE IT.

Now, there are ways to introduce this that will be successful and ways that won’t. But you can start with playing a march, or a polka, or any other kind of energetic, motor music, and turn around and clap to the beat. You can also, which is what we did, plant a bunch of clappers, to get the ball rolling and the rules changed.

No. 2

Embrace technology.

Embrace technology. We have tweet seats at the Hodgson Wind Ensemble concerts. They’re at the back of hall (so the lights on the phone don’t disturb the folks who don’t want to tweet), and listeners are invited to tweet to #HWE any time they want during the concert. I know some of you don’t like this. Can’t we find places in our lives where we put the screen down and just be in the moment? I get it. I do. But, I went to an orchestra concert when I first arrived at UGA. Down my row, during the slow second movement, a man started flipping through the program to see what was coming up later in the semester. An older woman across the aisle was so deep asleep, she was drooling on her sweater. You can’t tell me those folks were more engaged without their phones than the folks who tweeted things like this, during the concert:

“Love the clarinet soli! Hard to believe this was written in 1961. So good.”

“I’m down for ‘diet serialism’ but I’m a big boy who can handle full calorie Schoenberg.”

“When the bass drum hits are slightly too soft for your liking.” (Followed by a meme of disappointment)

“Breath. Taking. Completely beautiful and mesmerizing concert setting.”

“Erik has set the tone with that boss level performance. There will be applause after each movement now!”

“How fun! Y’all having fun up there stage-sitters?” (More on this later)

 

No. 3

Talk to your listeners. There is an entire generation of people who don’t know HOW to listen to music. And, if you are like me and play a lot of new music, guide the audience through it. Share with them why you love the music and want to play it for them.  You might have to examine what makes it quality music—something we don’t explore enough or define. We’re really good at criticizing bad music, but we’re not very good at defining quality. Take a crack at it.

If it’s complex music, play excerpts for them before the actual performance.

If it’s complex music, play excerpts for them before the actual performance. Then they have ‘ah-ha’ moments of recognition when they hear it again.

One of my great moments at UGA was when we performed Messiaen’s Oiseaux Exotiques. I invited a music history professor to speak about the work. We played excerpts and we played bird song over the sound system. We showed the video of Messiaen and his wife at the piano. In the parking lot after the concert, an audience member behind the wheel of an F-150 pick-up truck slowed, rolled down the window, and said, “Dr. Turner! That bird piece was my favorite!”

No. 4

Any time you can have musicians sitting in the hall, go for it.

Experiment with intimacy and breaking down imaginary walls. “Stage-sitters” are just that. Put out some extra chairs and invite audience members to come on stage and sit in their favorite section while you perform the last number. This is a HUGE hit at UGA. A very touching moment happened once when our bass player’s five-year-old son came and sat on his daddy’s bass stool. Any time you can have musicians sitting in the hall, go for it. That requires memorization—not a bad skill for our students to practice.

Rote Hund Muzik (the contemporary chamber ensemble at UGA) transformed the band hall into a lounge for Steve Reich’s Double Sextet. We set up the ensemble in the center, put a few chairs around the audience but invited people to get up and walk around; grab a drink, get a closer look. Big hit.

No. 5

Take risks. At UGA, there is a tradition at football games to “Light Up Sanford.” At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the fans take out their phones and put their lights on and hold them in the air while the marching band plays “The Krypton Fanfare” (from the 1978 Superman movie). Really loud.

We did this at a concert. During a piece called Beacons by Peter Van Zandt Lane, we invited the audience to take out their phones and do the same. We had stand lights, and the hall went completely dark. It was gorgeous. And fun. And pretty. And moving.

No. 6

When you have to put program notes in 120 point bold on the screen, you think twice about what you write.

Experiment with projection and visual aids. At Cornell the stage had a huge screen that could come down because the concert hall was also a lecture hall. Instead of printed program notes, we projected them on the screen. And let me tell you, when you have to put program notes in 120 point bold on the screen, you think twice about what you write. They have to be pithy and interesting. Don’t get me started on bad program notes. Anyway, as the piece progressed, the program notes came on the screen.

We can’t do that at UGA (no screen) so we experimented with listening guides.

But we also rent a projector and screen sometimes. We display images, video, Skyped composers, all sorts of things.

No. 7

Flash mobs. In some USA schools there is a disconnect between the marching band and the concert bands. At some of the Hodgson Wind Ensemble concerts, we invite the marching band to perform in some capacity or another, usually a flash mob outside after the concert. There is also a very popular program of training service dogs at UGA. We had them all come on stage when we performed “The Whistler and His Dog.” I believe we tend to live in a vacuum. We become insulated in our silos of thinking and being. Reach out. Is there an organization or group or individual that you could invite to participate in your concerts in some way?

No. 8

In a world gone mad, why not make statements with music!

Don’t shy away from making a statement. Recently I had an interaction with a student who said, “I don’t want my dissertation to be a political statement.” Why not? In a world gone mad, why not make statements with music! Why not provoke? Why not challenge? Why not engage in difficult discussions? HWE has addressed climate change, racial injustice, gun violence, mental illness—the list goes on. These concerts have been hugely impactful and successful and students have shared that they need to process some of these things. Why not through music?

These are just some ideas. I hope that they get you thinking creatively about what you can do in your own environment.

We all know what happens to a species that does not adapt to changing environments: they simply go extinct.

Leveling Up, Part 3: Entering the Marketplace

You’ve written a band piece. Now what?

There are a couple of ways you can enter the world of educational band music. The first is to be commissioned by an ensemble to create something new just for them.

When this happens, a few problems are likely already solved for you: instrumentation, difficulty level, length, and first performance. And you’ll probably get paid, too! It’s a great gig.

On the other hand, if a piece of music is too customized for the commissioning ensemble (i.e., the year the ensemble commissions you they have 45 clarinets, 2 trumpets, and an all-state didgeridoo player) it can become very difficult to sell. If a publisher was interested in the music, you will likely be asked to re-orchestrate for a more balanced ensemble.  You may also need to write in cues and to include some doublings you never intended.

There is a lot of value to be found in filling your catalog with multiple pieces at a variety of grade levels.

The second way to enter the world of educational band music is to compose on spec. There is a lot of value to be found in filling your catalog with multiple pieces at a variety of grade levels. The more content you put out into the world: a) the easier it is for people to find you; b) the better you become at the craft of composition; and c) the closer you will get to writing Good Music every time.

You still need to solve a few problems before you begin:

  • Instrumentation: What size ensemble are you writing for and what forces are available? Ensembles with players new to their instruments will have fewer options. (It is unlikely a contrabassoon, C trumpet, or five-octave marimba will be available in Grade 1–2 ensembles.) The best way to learn what instrumentation is available at a given level is to study the scores of popular pieces. Pay attention to the degree of part independence and doubling as well.
  • Difficulty Level: I strongly encourage you to write the music that is pouring out of you! Let your imagine soar. Just be aware that you will likely end up (based on range, rhythmic/melodic complexity, harmonic language, instrumentation) with a Grade 5–6 piece. If you want your music to be available to the greater majority of educational ensembles you will also need to write pieces in the Grade 2–4 range. You do that by referring to the descriptions in the previous article, through score study, and by showing your music to your band director friends. If you’ve completed a piece of music and don’t know what the level for it should be, give it your best guess and then ask three or four band directors for help in leveling it. You’ll get great feedback, too.
  • Length: Young players who have just picked up their instruments have limited stamina. You might have an excellent idea for a Grade 2 multi-movement work that lasts for 15 minutes, but they will likely struggle to sustain that. Attend a few concerts at the elementary, middle, high school, and college/university levels and pay attention to how long the average piece lasts.

There are no special skills required for composing educational music. If you are open to the challenge of crafting well-written music within a few given parameters, start writing!

No matter what, if you want people to play your music you need to build relationships. Through each interview I have conducted for my podcast (and I’ve done almost 170 of them), one consistent idea to building a vibrant career as a composer is mentioned: relationships. To build a strong network, you need to build relationships. You build relationships by showing up at concerts and conferences.

Next Steps

I used to believe that reaching the double bar in my compositions was the ultimate goal, as if finalizing my musical vision through notation meant I had given birth to a new creation and it would go forth into the world.

I was wrong.

The music may be alive, but it’s not living just through notation.

The music may be alive, but it’s not living. After the double bar, you now have the daunting task of entering the market place, getting the attention of directors, and selling copies of your score.

You have to market and promote your music.

What follows are four questions to ask yourself as you go about marketing and promoting your music.

The principles are true no matter what kind of music you write, but I will focus the discussion on the educational band music world.

1) What level of music is it?

This entire series of blog posts started with trying to clearly define what each grade level of music meant. I found it to be an impossible task. Instead, there are guidelines for each grade level. If you have questions about how the leveling system works and want to see some basic definitions of Grades 1–6, read the previous article.

Knowing the difficulty level of your music will help you market your music, because one of the first filters a band director uses when selecting new music is to sort by grade level.

The band directors I know typically program some easier music in order to work on technique and sound production, music at the heart of the ensemble’s level that is accessible yet keeps the students on their toes, and music that challenges them and helps them mature as musicians. Where does your music fit? The answer, of course, is different for every school, director, and ensemble and will likely even differ from year to year. You should be able to confidently describe to a director which ways your music provides challenges to the players.

Knowing how difficult your music is, and answering the next question below, is the first key to marketing your music. A challenging piece for a middle school ensemble may be an easy or on-level piece for a high school ensemble.

2) Who are you writing for?

This question is less about aiming to please a specific set of people than it is about knowing who might purchase your score and parts and then perform your piece.

If you haven’t answered the first question—What level of music is it?—you will struggle to answer this question.

A common answer I hear from the composers I work with as they build their businesses is that their music is for everybody.

Is it? Really?

The surest way to guarantee no one engages with your music is to make it for everybody.

The surest way to guarantee no one engages with your music is to make it for everybody. Knowing who may be interested in your music will help you market your music. It allows you to know who to get your music in front of. Most composers have a limited marketing budget (if any) and limited time. Understanding who we should be reaching out to simplifies the process and makes our efforts more meaningful and cost efficient.

This reduces the number of people we should email. It will increase the effectiveness of any advertising you do, and it will help you know who to speak with at conferences.

Now that you know who to get your music in front of and how to describe the difficulty level of your piece, you can begin to generate traffic.

3) Where are you sending people?

In business, traffic is what leads to sales. A brick and mortar store that is difficult to get to, has poor parking, and is in a part of town that feels unsafe will struggle to generate traffic. Likewise, a poorly designed website that has an obscure address (URL), is difficult to navigate, and doesn’t provide safe and easy ways for band directors to purchase your music will not prosper.

Ideally you want to control the traffic. Some marketers refer to this as owning the traffic. If conductors are clicking on your links or searching you out, do you know—or have control over—where they end up?

Part of the problem with Facebook is that we own zero of the traffic that comes to our pages. But we do own the traffic that comes to our own websites from, or through, Facebook. The goal should always be to get people to your website.

It’s fantastic if your Facebook composer page has hundreds, or even thousands, of likes, but have those likes translated into sales of scores, performances, or new commissions? Probably not. Don’t confuse social media interest with controlling traffic. Do everything you can to send people out of social media and onto your website where you can build an email list and (hopefully) sell a score.

Clever URL names don’t work well.

Be sure your website looks good, is easy to navigate, gives visitors what they’re looking for, and has an easy to remember or find URL. (YourName.com is always the best choice; clever names don’t work well. My first URL was frogmanmusic.com, which no longer exists—why would anyone ever click on or trust that?)

4) Have you made it easy for people to buy your music?

When people are ready to make a purchase online, they want to make the purchase now! If you have your music for sale on your website (recordings, scores, or whatever), make it easy for them to make the purchase.

Here are some tips:

  • Create a large “Buy Now” button for each piece you want to sell. Don’t make the conductor who visits your site and is interested in acquiring a copy of your score search for the purchase link. It should be big and easy to find. Maybe even put it on there twice, once on the top of the page and again on the bottom.
  • Create a storefront. If you have a WordPress website, there are several plugins that will enable you to create a storefront that allows visitors to make a purchase. These plugins can also track inventory, create item pages, create and accept coupons, calculate shipping and tax, and generate receipts with unique order numbers. The WooCommerce plugin works great and is relatively easy to set up. If you don’t know how to do this, hire a freelancer from fiverr.com to set it up on your site—it’s money well spent. If you are going to run your own storefront, you will need to purchase an SSL (secure sockets layer) certificate from your website host to make your website and the storefront as secure as possible. The last thing you want to do is expose the credit card numbers and personal information of those who purchase your music.
  • No matter which platform of website you are on (WordPress, Joomla, Wix, Squarespace, custom built, or something else—and some of these come with built-in storefronts), you will need a way to process payments. Remember, the goal is to make it easy for those who are interested in purchasing your music. Therefore a cumbersome payment processor with many levels of clicking might cause people to walk away halfway through. Online marketing and sales experts call this phenomenon shopping cart abandonment—and you don’t want to cause those who have ALREADY made the decision to spend money on your music to get frustrated and walk away. I personally use PayPal, Stripe, and Square between my multiple businesses, but other frequently used processors include Amazon Payments, Braintree, and Samurai. Each processor offers a different set of benefits and has a different cost structure. They earn money by taking a percentage of each transaction and adding on a service fee—these are the same as the credit card processing fees every brick and mortar store has to pay whenever you make a purchase. Choose the one with the lowest fee structure that also integrates with your storefront and/or website platform. (Nothing is universal.) If you plan on selling your scores, parts, and recordings at conferences and in-person events, you will need a payment processor for that as well. Square and Clover are almost ubiquitous. If you live in the U.S., I guarantee that you have made a purchase at a restaurant, farmer’s market, or small business using one or both of these methods. They allow you to create invoices and process sales from your tablet or smartphone.
  • If you are traditionally published, you can still create the “Buy Now” All you need to do at this point is make that button a hyperlink that sends the customer to the purchase page of your publisher or an online retailer. Remember: make it easy and eliminate as many steps and clicks as you can.
  • A regular problem self-published composers encounter when selling to educators is the processing of purchase orders. Most school districts have very strict policies regarding how a purchase can be made—don’t expect the director to simply use their personal credit card and submit the receipt for reimbursement. It’s often not that simple or easy. A purchase order (often abbreviated PO) helps large organizations, such as a school district, systematize purchases from all vendors. They are documents specifying what is being purchased, the quantity of each item, and the price. When a vendor or business accepts a PO it becomes a legally binding contract to fulfill the order. Contrast that with an invoice (or receipt), which is written by the vendor and describes what the vendor will do or what the vendor did. POs, on the other hand, are written by the buyer and describe exactly what they want and how they want it. Very small businesses, like yourself as the composer selling a score, can struggle to process a PO because it increases the paperwork and might require you to set up special processing with your bank. The vendor may also require other things from you, such as a W-9 and your business EIN (tax number). One solution is to get your music into the online storefronts of music distributors and retailers who already have systems in place to deal with POs. Both SheetMusicPlus and J.W. Pepper offer the option to sell your music on their site for a fee or percentage cut of every sale. (By the way, J.W. Pepper is the largest online retailer of educational music.) There are also a number of co-ops and other distribution platforms and storefronts popping up for self-published composers. These include NewMusicShelf, MusicSpoke, ADJ∙ective New Music, Graphite, and the Independent Music Publishers Cooperative. Some of these are exclusive, but all of them have figured out how to make it easy for all interested parties to purchase music, including schools that have to use purchase orders.
Don’t be afraid! The world needs your voice.

Lastly, and most importantly, don’t be afraid! The world needs your voice. Many people struggle with the transactional nature of selling music. However, if you’ve taken the time to build a relationship first, it’s less about selling and more about having a dialogue about your compositions.

Suspending Time and Figuring Out the Impossible—Remembering David Maslanka (1943-2017)

Generous. Kind. Humanitarian. Gentle. Mentor. Humble. Friend. Oh, and a composer. My first exposure to David Maslanka’s music was in the spring of 1986 at the University of Arizona when I led a performance of his 1981 wind ensemble composition A Child’s Garden of Dreams which had been commissioned by John and Marietta Paynter for the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble. Conducting this music was a monumental, life changing experience for me as a young college wind band conductor and it was a work I returned to many times over the next twenty-six years. (Interestingly, A Child’s Garden of Dreams was both the first and last piece of David’s that I programmed, the last being in November of 2012, my final concert and recording session at ISU.)

My first exposure to David Maslanka’s music was a monumental, life changing experience for me as a young college wind band conductor.

I vividly recall sitting with Gary Green listening to the premiere performance of David’s Symphony No. 2 during the 1987 CBDNA Convention in Evanston, Illinois, gripping the seat, spellbound. The performing group was the combined Symphonic Band and Symphonic Wind Ensemble of Northwestern University conducted by John Paynter. Mr. Paynter had David say “a few words” prior to the premiere performance and I remember how this quiet, introspective individual speaking from the heart about his music captured me.

I moved to Normal, Illinois in the fall of 1987, beginning a quarter of a century journey with the Illinois State University Wind Symphony. When I arrived, I found a small, disheveled, underdeveloped group of students. We set about building an ensemble in an environment that previously had no wind band offering in the fall semester. In the spring of 1989, I “heroically” programmed Child’s Garden, which was a HUGE undertaking and underscores my naïveté at the time. David was very receptive to phone conversations, helping me realize the nature of his composition. He also spent time talking with a particular student who was having extreme misgivings about origins and the deeper meaning of his music.

Gary Green commissioned a “major work” from David, premiering Symphony No. 3 at the University of Connecticut in the fall of 1991. I attended the final couple of rehearsals and the premiere in Storrs taking advantage of the opportunity to spend some quality time with David on a couple of occasions, growing closer to his music and this quiet, generous man who would become my dear friend.

In the spring of 1993, both David and Gary came to campus for the final rehearsals and a performance of Symphony No. 3. I remember the experience being a real struggle for everyone involved, not the least of which were David and Gary.

When David was asked to write a piece, he composed until the music was finished. There was not a magic number of measures, nor was there a duration goal. Gary asked for a “major work,” not necessarily expecting a piece of the size and scope of Maslanka’s Third Symphony. Jerry Junkin commissioned a small work, maybe ten minutes or so, and received Symphony No. 4!

Jerry Junkin commissioned a small work, maybe ten minutes or so, and received Symphony No. 4!

I attended the final rehearsal and premiere of the 4th in Austin, Texas and developed a stronger, more intense relationship with David. We programmed it at ISU in the fall of 1994. That final week of rehearsals with David was the seminal experience for me, making a connection that lasted two decades. Following the stunning conclusion of the symphony and multiple “curtain” calls, I recall that David and I stood in the adjacent room for what seemed like an eternity waiting for the ensemble and audience to emerge from the performance space. Students and audience members alike said they were just “too drained” to move.

David Maslanka and Stephen K. Steele (center left and right) with organist Karen Collier and timpanist Karen Cole following our first performance of Symphony No. 4 in November 1994.

David and I with organist Karen Collier and timpanist Karen Cole following our first performance of Symphony No. 4 in November 1994.

We commissioned Symphony No. 5, receiving the parts for the first three movements prior to winter break in 2000. The Wind Symphony had a limited number of reading rehearsals before leaving for their break and we planned an extended rehearsal period across the Martin Luther King weekend, just prior to the spring semester beginning. David came to campus for those January rehearsals and we worked our way diligently through the first three movements over a number of rehearsals. Finally, he asked about the fourth movement. The students had it but we hadn’t read it as the parts arrived during the winter break. After we “slashed” our way through the movement, the room was deathly quiet. David slowly looked up and said, “My God, what have I done?” He decided at that moment that he NEVER wanted to be present to hear his music sight read again!!!

By the time of that workshop weekend I felt that I knew David very well. When he visited campus he stayed in my home. David traveled with a rolled up exercise pad he used for a thirty minute yoga stretching each morning at 5:00 or 5:30. He frequently cooked for us. It was not unusual for him to take hour or longer walks. Like the yoga, that too was a period of meditation for him. David HAD to have the daily New York Times cross word puzzle, which he did in ink! David was a very easy houseguest and we had some wonderful chats, not always about the music. We had shared stories, music, philosophy, passionate opinions and laughter. NEVER in all that time had I heard him swear. Not even “damn,” or “hell.” In the course of that long weekend, during one particular read-through, I had a metronome amplified through speakers so the ensemble could hear it, in an effort to help the ensemble develop a unified and steady pulse. David walked up behind me as the ensemble was slashing away and said directly in my ear, “Turn that fucking thing off.” I got the point; I never used a metronome in the same manner again.

David HAD to have the daily New York Times cross word puzzle, which he did in ink!

Symphony No. 5 was important in many ways to the relationship between David, the Wind Symphony, and myself. David returned to campus for the premiere and to travel on tour, culminating at the University of North Texas, site of the 2001 CBDNA convention. David convinced me that the piece needed to be recorded and released through Albany Records. I resisted, not being a fan of the measure-by-measure recording process that had become standard practice by then. He put me in touch with Jeff Harrison in Massachusetts who talked me through the recording process that would produce a musical representation. Jeff loaded up his gear and met us in Dallas. We arranged the use of a west Dallas high school auditorium and recorded all the repertoire we planned to perform at CBDNA the next day; this became our first Albany release. That began a long relationship with Jeff Harrison, Susan Bush of Albany Records, David and myself, releasing more than twenty recordings through 2013. David produced each and every recording; painstakingly involved whether it was his music or not.

Stephen K. Steele and David Maslanka looking through one of his scores near a kitchen sink.

David and I looking through one of his scores at my home in Hudson, Illinois in November 2010.

David and I often talked of the “ripple effect.” He realized the importance of working with the conductors and ensemble members who were preparing and performing his works. From a small core of conductors and their students, a “ripple effect” has been occurring and will continue to build. He tried ever so diligently to be present for each and every conductor who invited him to be part of his or her experience.

A former student was asked to describe his experiences with David and said, “You just can’t explain someone’s soul.” David did that; exposed his soul, in his music, in his teaching, in his conversations with you. His music does that with audiences. He and his music communicate at a deeply intense and personal level. To David, the act of making music is pure meditation at its most basic level, music provides the most basic form of communication. If those whom he touched were willing to listen and do the things he suggested, they too would experience these things that seemed so unlikely and confusing to most. Time is suspended when playing and/or listening to David’s music. It never failed. Each and every time on the podium in concert, when turning the final page, I would always think “Really? Already?” David wrote music to satisfy what the music needs rather than the opposite. He frequently told me that he would be finished with a particular composition when the music said it was finished.

David and his music communicate at a deeply intense and personal level.

David’s music could be extremely difficult, but his expectation was that the musicians would figure out how to make it possible. I recall a trumpet teacher commenting that David didn’t know how to write for trumpet. My reply was that David didn’t know how to write for bad trumpet players. My experience was that for those individuals who were diligently prepared and paid attention to the music, they were better musicians as a result of the process. A tuba player brought an oxygen tank to a rehearsal of David’s Symphony No. 8 to assist him with the sustained B. If you know the piece, you know of what I am speaking. On the side of the cylinder was written “for use during Maslanka’s Symphony No. 8.” Many people have thought that they couldn’t possibly play David’s music with their groups. He would show them that they could. In rehearsals he would make very soft and gentle suggestions, most often regarding what was clearly indicated in the score and parts. He simply called it “paying attention.” I used David’s Collected Chorale Settings, 117 four-part chorales composed in the 18th-century style, to begin every rehearsal in order to set the “tone” and intonation as well as to assist with the notion of “paying attention” and laying the foundation of the ensemble “sound.” David scored these chorales from his daily work with the 371 Four-Part Chorales of J. S. Bach, using the original melodies and composing new alto, tenor and bass lines.

David at the piano in Missoula, Montana, in June 2008.

David at the piano in Missoula, Montana, in June 2008. David began each composition session playing and singing Bach chorales. He said the most important aspect of succeeding was to “show up.”

David’s music speaks, regardless of the technical proficiency of the individuals or the collective ensemble.

David’s music notation was always very specific. His work in rehearsals to gain the marked tempi and expressive marks made the music come to life. However, to David, it was not about the perfect performance, it was about the experience the musicians and audience could gain from it. David’s music speaks, regardless of the technical proficiency of the individuals or the collective ensemble. Once, during a rehearsal of the final movement of A Child’s Garden of Dreams, I looked at the principal flute who had tears streaming down her cheeks as she played the final flute solo which ends the piece. Yes, she cried during the concert as well.

David had an uncanny ability to connect with people. And I mean, immediately connect with people. He ALWAYS had time for people, whether during a residency, during a convention, on the phone, via email, whatever. It didn’t matter whether the person was a fellow composer, a conductor, a college student, a high school student, or an interested community member, ANYONE. ALWAYS. It was not unusual for David to have developing composers visit Missoula for a week or more of lessons and meditation.

David Maslanka (far right) and Stephen K. Steele (center) with students: taken at a steak house during the Symphony No. 5 tour and CBDNA performance in Denton, TX, February 2001

David and I with students: taken at a steak house during the Symphony No. 5 tour and CBDNA performance in Denton, Texas in February 2001.

David always used pencil writing his scores. Always. He told me it connected him more personally to the music. I believe that to be true.

David kept a relentless schedule of residencies. Typically, he travelled from November through May, spending time with conductors and ensembles that invited him to their campuses. He worked with community groups, high school bands, and university ensembles. He connected with students, conductors, and community members, causing the ripples to spread and grow.

David connected with students, conductors, and community members, causing the ripples to spread and grow.

The work we did with David on No. 5 led to more commissions. We commissioned, premiered and recorded symphonies 7, 8 and 9. Between 2001 and 2012, there were many other commissions, premieres and recording projects as well. He wrote many lovely concerti for wind instruments and wind ensemble, occasionally utilizing beautiful cello writing in the score. One of David’s favorite compositions was A Carl Sandburg Reader for baritone and soprano voice and wind ensemble. (David had a strong connection to both Abraham Lincoln and Carl Sandburg.)

During his residency for No. 9 we made plans to commission Symphony No. 10. David was adamant about needing to write 10. We decided to let a bit of time lapse following 9 before building plans for 10. Our goal was to premiere and record 10 in the spring of 2014, which I projected to be my retirement concert. Things came to a sudden and unexpected end when I left ISU in the spring of 2013. What to do with 10? David had a growing stack of sketches that “belong in 10.” During the spring of 2014 we came to an agreement with another conductor to lead the consortium supporting the completion of 10. The consortium got off to a rather slow beginning, picking up steam in the summer of 2016.

At almost the same time, a consortium for No. 11 filled its membership rapidly, putting 10 in jeopardy. David asked if I would complete the consortium for 10, to which I agreed. My goal was to reach forty members. I only achieved thirty, but David assured me that it didn’t matter, 10 was well on its way. We aimed for a September 2017 premiere with a Tucson professional ensemble. The premiere of No. 11 was to be in the spring of 2018 and he would get some space between them.

The residency travels between November 2016 and May 2017 were particularly grueling for David. He complained of constant fatigue and the inability to compose. When he was finally finished and returned home for the summer, his wife Alison was bedridden.  Very soon after that, David not only found that Alison was terminally ill but that he was in an advanced stage of colon cancer. Through all of this, Alison continued to urge him to complete 10 since it was through his composing that he lived. Alison passed away on July 3 and David passed away on August 6.

Alison and David Maslanka in late June 2017

Alison and David in late June 2017.

David left clear notes for an anticipated completion of his 10th symphony.

Before his death, David told me he was dedicating 10 to Alison. His scoring was complete for the first movement and most all of the second. He had crossed out the work on the third movement and replaced it with sketches. This was to be the centerpiece for Alison. The fourth movement is fully sketched but will require some interpretation. He left clear notes for an anticipated completion of the symphony. David’s son, Matthew, owner of Maslanka Press, who knows his father’s sketches and composing well, is convinced at this point that he will be able to successfully complete the score. We hope for a March 2018 premiere. Nearly all the membership of the No. 11 consortium is opting to join with the No. 10 membership. All commission fees will become the seed money for the Maslanka Foundation.

My wife Andrea and I, along with many of our friends and colleagues, will travel to Missoula for a September 3 memorial honoring Alison and David. I am a better person having known David. The world is a better place having David’s music. May the ripples continue.

Alison and David Maslanka dancing outside in June 2008, somewhere in Wyoming

Alison and David traveled to middle America to attend our 2008 wedding. Andrea and I took them home from Hudson, IL, sharing our honeymoon, somewhere in Wyoming, June 2008.


Victor Pesavento
ISU Alum
Freelance musician in Los Angeles
Golden State Pops Orchestra Music Director

(The following text has been reprinted from his Facebook page with permission.)I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Maslanka on two or three occasions while in the Wind Symphony at Illinois State University, always on a “professional” level. I never had the chance to hang out with him after rehearsals or any other informal situations so I can’t speak about him in that regard. However, as a clinician, he struck me as a very warm, caring man. He was always encouraging of the group and I always loved listening to his stories about what the inspirations were for his compositions.

My first experience with David’s music (that is, outside of Rollo Takes a Walk during a summer music camp) was with Symphony No. 4. We performed this monumental work only a year after its composition. I remember weeks of grueling rehearsals in which Dr. Steele systematically tore apart the ensemble and then slowly put it back together piece by piece, 16th note by 16th note. There were many tears shed and I’m sure some blood also along the way.

There were many tears shed and I’m sure some blood also along the way.

The symphony was technically beyond most of us in the group, but away we sequestered ourselves in the dungeon-esque practice rooms of the Cook Hall castle. At any given hour of any given day you would find at least one member of the clarinet section toiling away at one-quarter speed some hellish passage that would probably be equally difficult even if written for a piano. I remember hours spent on two bars here or two bars there, each more impossibly difficult than the prior, just to be able to lock seamlessly into the “grid” when I got into rehearsal with everyone else.

Among the pains were of course the pleasures. Anyone who knows the piece will recall the first 29 bars as an a capella horn solo in the key of G with the ensemble entering on a beautiful G major chord as the horn completes the opening thematic statement. I will never forget the day that the horn soloist (Kent) decided to transpose his opening solo by a half step, making for a wonderfully awful sounding surprise when the band entered (still in G) in bar 30.

As we neared the end of the cycle, after all the hours spent in the practice rooms and in ensemble rehearsal, after all the metronome batteries had died, the week of the concert was here. The first rehearsal with Dr. Maslanka came and we were all very excited to perform for him this piece on which we had worked so hard. In Cook Hall room 212, during that rehearsal, the ISU Wind Symphony gave what might have been the best performance in my entire tenure in the ensemble. I say “might have been,” but more on that in a bit. This rehearsal “performance” was nothing short of spectacular. The group was so focused that you could reach out and feel the energy and life force in the room. We finished the piece and all looked around at each other with huge grins on our faces. All those hours in the practice rooms had paid off and we were now seeing the results. The only down side…did we just peak? Surely we couldn’t re-create that same level of symbiotic energy later in the week for the concert. This had to have been the pinnacle of our labors.

After all the metronome batteries had died, the week of the concert was here.

The next couple of rehearsals we didn’t really hit the technical side of the music too hard. Instead, Dr. Maslanka took us on a wonderful ride of imagery and symbolism. This trumpet lick here signifies this and that impossibly difficult run in the saxes signifies that. Hearing his stories about how President Lincoln’s funeral train fit into the music was truly enlightening. At this point, there weren’t any scales left to practice; no more notes to learn. This week was when we learned the music.

Armed with our hard earned technical proficiency and with this new musical insight from the composer (and thankfully a bit of tapering on the endurance of the chops), we arrived at concert day. The concert opened with a fantastic Alfred Reed piece for wind ensemble and pipe organ and as we finished I remember thinking, “Holy shit, that was #$%^ing unbelievable.” We followed the Reed with pieces by Grainger and Weinberger, both of which were accompanied by the pipe organ. Finally the time came for the Symphony.

Payoff time.

I always get more nervous listening to a colleague play a difficult solo than when I myself am playing a solo. In this case, I can’t even count on one hand the rare times Kent had chipped a note in rehearsals; he was automatic (even sight transposing a half step out.

I learned that day what it meant to be a true professional.

Twenty-nine bars of unaccompanied horn solo to begin a symphony. Weeks and weeks of rehearsals. The group was feeling confident, especially after how great the concert was going so far that evening. All it would take would be one chipped note, one missed partial on a lip slur from the horn solo to break everyone’s concentration. No pressure, right? I would like to say that Kent played the solo as well as any other time he played it in the countess rehearsals leading up to that moment. He didn’t. He played it better. With the spotlights on and with hundreds of audience members waiting with anticipation, he played with the most musicality and passion that I had ever heard. I smiled a huge grin and breathed a heavy sigh of relief when that magical G major chord sounded in bar 30.

During a thirty minute piece, you usually have no choice but to let your mind wander a bit while counting rests. I don’t remember losing focus for even a beat. It felt as if the ensemble was breathing and playing all as one unit, as if we were just puppets whose strings were being manipulated by some outside being. There were missed notes. There were rhythms that weren’t quite locked in. The difference this time was that were weren’t playing the notes or rhythms. We were playing the music. I remember tearing up a little bit during the clarinet extended technique section mimicking crying babies. Maybe because of the music, maybe because I knew all the hard work that everyone put in was paying off greater than we could have ever imagined. As we neared the end of the piece and the “Old One Hundredth” anthem started sounding, I could sense the horns to my left (Kent, Brandon, Eric and Marc) starting to let loose a bit more, everything seemed so easy. We were playing the loudest I’d ever experienced in that section but yet it felt effortless.

As Dr. Steele gave us the final release of the piece (an ending, I contend, that rivals any Mahler symphony), I remember taking a deep breath and thinking to myself, “Well, that wasn’t too taxing, I could probably play that whole show again tonight.” I was quickly brought back to reality when my knees buckled and I almost fell back into my chair as the section was summoned to stand for a bow.

I mentioned earlier that I thought that there was no way that we could have performed better than our first reading for Dr. Maslanka. I was right. We were nowhere near as technically sound as we were that rehearsal, but none of that mattered. The difference in musicality was immeasurable. Everyone in the room felt it. I can’t think of another concert I’ve performed in or attended that elicited this level of emotion from an audience. Looking out of the audience, there were a number of people crying, overcome by the journey that Dr. Maslanka’s music had just taken them on. The wave of emotion wasn’t just reserved for the audience, either.

Of course, it’s always said that you get out of something what you put into it and I think that may be why all of us involved in this performance look back on it with such fondness. We worked our asses off for months on this music and then when Dr. Maslanka showed up and shared himself with us, we became emotionally invested as well.

This is the single greatest performance I’ve been involved with.

To this day, this is the single greatest performance I’ve been involved with. Not because it was technically perfect, or because the group was so talented that we could play this incredibly difficult music like it was whole notes…but because of the exact opposite. Because we earned it. As a group. And Dr. Maslanka was the whole reason. His music, his being, his guidance and most of all, his passion for making music and for working with groups like ours.

To Dr. Maslanka, may you rest in peace. Thank you for giving me and my colleagues a memory that we will carry with us our entire lives.

David Maslanka and Stephen K. Steele with the ISU Wind Symphony horn section: taken during the recording sessions of A Child’s Garden of Dreams, November 2012

David and I with the ISU Wind Symphony horn section: taken during the recording sessions of A Child’s Garden of Dreams, in November 2012.

Emily Nunemaker
ISU Alum
West Carroll High School Band Director
Mount Carroll, Illinois

(The following text has been reprinted from her Facebook page with permission.)So in this mourning process that I’m sure all the ISU kids are experiencing, I’m listening and remembering. I’m on a road trip alone and had to pull over while listening to the 2nd Symphony. I forgot how visceral the middle movement is, how dark and ominous and impending. It shook me absolutely to my core.

I remembered my very first impression of this music. I remembered wandering lost, looking for my first wind symphony rehearsal and being shown how to find the room by an older musician. I remember opening my folder to the first two cycles worth of music and eyeballing some Hindemith and being like, “okay, that seems fine” and then pulling up Symphony No. 2 by a man I’d never heard of, David Maslanka, and at first glance (and every subsequent glace) thinking “Oh shit, I’m in the wrong place. I don’t belong here. I can’t do this.”

I nearly left, as a wet behind-the-ears freshman I thought surely there was some mistake because I couldn’t possibly be expected to play this. But something made me stay and work harder than I ever had in my life to earn the right to play it and to do so among the most superb musicians I had ever encountered and for the most intense, terrifying, and utterly brilliant conductor I had ever encountered, Stephen Steele. Now I was a solid reader but I failed miserably at my first stab and spent more time working that monster than the 4th and the Mass combined. (Maybe I was more Maslanka ready the next few times?)

But the payoff, oh the payoff.

I wanted to be worthy of being in that section, worthy of playing that piece.

If you don’t know the E-flat solo in movement 1, then you can’t possibly imagine my awe to hear Mandy Fey Carota put so much passion into every swell of every note. Listening now I’m in tears remembering how she and Christine Hoover Tuck were my first true clarinet idols and it was No. 2 that did it. I wanted to be worthy of being in that section, worthy of playing that piece. Now listening I remember the 3rd movement ripping through me tearing me limb from limb and then putting me back together better than I was before.

That is Maslanka’s music to me, destroying everything I think I know about myself and returning me to myself better than I was before.

Members of the ISU Wind Symphony

Members of the ISU Wind Symphony during a rehearsal with David, in November 2010.

Martha Mooke: Walls, Windows, and Doors

Putting together a career as a working musician has never been easy, but one of the mantras for making it possible in the 21st century is: you must multitask. Most musicians multitask out of necessity, but for others it’s actually the source of their inspiration. And then there’s someone like Martha Mooke, who is engaged in so many different types of musical activities on a regular basis that it’s difficult for anyone else to keep track of them all. In any given week, she could be performing a solo concert on her electric five-string viola, playing in the viola section of a symphony orchestra or a Broadway pit orchestra, touring with a famous rock musician or with one of her own improvisational groups, and/or giving educational clinics to young string players on how to find their musical voice.

“I’ve had to come to terms with my different personalities,” Mooke acknowledges when we caught up with her in between gigs at the New York offices of ASCAP. ASCAP was actually a fitting place for us to talk, since it was through her ASCAP-produced Thru The Walls, a series of concerts that focused on composer-performers who worked in a variety of musical genres, that she first met David Bowie which ultimately led to her performing and recording with him and then a whole host of other luminaries.

“I wanted to have that juxtaposition of music worlds … all types of influences: jazz, electronics, rock, all kinds of things,” Mooke remembers. “I spoke with Tony [Visconti], who had a very broad background and broad interests. What could be better than having a renowned, legendary rock and roll producer introducing a new music concert? … Tony was living up in Rockland County at that time. I’d gone over to Tony’s house … and as I was leaving, he said, ‘By the way, I mentioned to my friend David this event tonight, and he said, he might come.’ And I’m like, ‘Right; sure.’ But sure enough, two minutes before the lights go down, in walks David Bowie.”

Within a year, the string quartet she put together to perform with Bowie appeared with him on the stage of Carnegie Hall for the annual Tibet House benefit and also in the recording studio for his 2002 album Heathen. She described similar chains of circumstances that led to her appearing on tour around the United States and Europe with Barbra Streisand in 2006 and 2007, her extensive educational work under the auspices of Yamaha (which is still ongoing), and one of her more recent obsessions—writing for symphonic wind band.

“I think it began almost as a joke, in a way,” she recalls. “I had never thought about writing for concert band. I had really, at that point, never written for an ensemble larger than a string quartet or a chamber ensemble. Then finally we said, ‘Let’s just do it.’ So I came up with the concept of X-ING … It’s the crossing of the worlds between electric viola and concert band. What happens when you cross those worlds? One of the things that happens is you don’t have to tell the band to play quieter because a string instrument is soloing. I just crank my volume; I go to 11.”

But no matter what musical activity she is involved in, she always views it as an opportunity not just to break through walls, but to open doors or to look out through a window in a new way. It’s a crucial life lesson that she taught herself very early on and one that she hopes to impart to others.

“I never accepted limitations and boundaries no matter what I was doing, whether it was because I was female or because whatever. If I liked doing something and had an interest in it, I just did it. I found opportunities. If the opportunities don’t exist, I make them. … I’m about overcoming those barriers and breaking through that inhibition factor, which seems to get more built into students as they go through school. … Unlimited possibilities. I would say you never know what you’ve been missing until you know what you’ve been missing.”


Martha Mooke in conversation with Frank J. Oteri at the NYC offices of ASCAP
February 14, 2017—1:00 p.m.
Video presentations by Molly Sheridan
Transcribed by Julia Lu

Frank J. Oteri:  I’m going to begin in a very unlikely place; I’m going to compare you to Gunther Schuller.

Martha Mooke:  Wow.  I’m actually honored.

FJO:  Well, one of the pieces of trivia regarding Gunther Schuller is that he was the only person who performed with both Toscanini and Miles Davis.  Plus the instrument he played was the French horn, which is not an instrument that you normally think of as being able to genre hop. That’s also true for your instrument, the viola. And yet, you’ve performed with David Bowie.  You’ve worked with Osvaldo Golijov, Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett, Alvin Singleton, and Barbra Streisand—so many people most people would never think of in the same sentence.

MM:  Right.  Actually it’s interesting that you mention Gunther Schuller because I’ve been doing a lot of research for this new piece that I’m writing for Symphony Space called Beats per Revolution.  It’s for electric viola, beat boxer, and chamber ensemble. All the musicians in the ensemble will be improvising, so one of the people I’ve been studying is Charles Mingus.  I actually purchased his score of Epitaph, which is a two-and-a-half-hour monster piece.  Gunther Schuller helped to finish that and he conducted it, so it’s kind of cool that you started out with that.  I’ve been immersed in Mingus and Gunther Schuller for the last few weeks.

FJO:  The other thing about Schuller is that in the ‘50s he codified this notion of there being a Third Stream—there was classical music, there was jazz, and then there was this third thing that emerged from connecting the other two. But for you, it’s not three; it’s not even four or five. You’ve gone beyond streams; you’re in an ocean of music!

MM:  I’m calling one of the segments of Beats per Revolution “Third Stream of Consciousness,” and that will be a little homage to that genre.  But I love instruments that you don’t think of as being in the forefront, improvising or playing in non-traditional ways, like a bassoon playing jazz.  Or a French horn.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to open things up from the inside.

FJO:  Interesting that you say open things up from the inside, because the horn and the viola are both essentially mid-range instruments.  We won’t get into viola jokes.

MM: We can laugh at them; we’ve overcome that.

FJO:  But the thing about the viola is that most people don’t know what it is.  If they see it, they’ll probably think that it’s a violin that’s a little too big.  Most people would probably just say it’s a violin, if they know the word violin.  On top of that, the viola is the only instrument that plays music written in this oddball clef that no one else can read.

MM:  It’s the only clef that really makes sense because middle C is actually on the middle line in alto clef.

FJO:  It really is in the middle, yet it’s a total outsider in a way.

“I love instruments that you don’t think of as being in the forefront, improvising or playing in non-traditional ways.”

MM:  Right. I think whatever instrument you’re playing needs to resonate with your soul. I started on the viola because in my public school class, when I was in fifth grade, the music teacher came in and said, “We have violins, violas, cellos, and basses; who wants to play violin?”  And pretty much everybody raised their hand.  Nobody knew what a viola was.  A few people knew what a cello was.  I always go the route of most resistance, so I picked the viola.  I worked with it and it resonated with me to the point where the music teacher wanted me to switch to violin because I was actually progressing a little more rapidly than the violin players were.  So I took one home one weekend, but I brought it back because it didn’t resonate under my ear; it didn’t do anything to my soul.  I’ve overcome that now, by adding the fifth string, but that’s how I began as a violist.

FJO:  I’m sure the reason why most students gravitate to the violin is that they are hoping to become soloists. A viola soloist is rare, but at that point you were just playing viola in your school’s string orchestra.

MM:  Yes. The middle school teacher came to the elementary school and started the program to feed us into the middle school.  Then that fed into the high school.  They were all public New York City schools.

FJO:  Wow, you’re a poster child for public school education and for music education programs in the school system.

MM:  Absolutely.

FJO:  This is something that we don’t quite have to the same extent anymore.

MM: There are a few programs still around, but it’s definitely not on the same level as it was in those days.

FJO:  It’s fascinating to me that playing the viola resonated with you so much that when the teacher asked you to switch to the violin, you tried the instrument and it didn’t speak to you.  At what point did you think to yourself that playing this instrument was what you want to do for the rest of your life?

MM:  I just kept doing it.  I was studying other things in school, but there was just something about music and playing the viola at Tottenville High School in Staten Island. I was a member of the string quartet and in the orchestra I got to play Bach’s Sixth Brandenburg with my sister, who at that time also played viola with the orchestra.  They also had music theory in this high school, so I just kept going because I was proficient and I loved it. So I was exploring and I was learning, taking private lessons and playing with community orchestras.

FJO:  The Sixth Brandenburg has no violins and so the violas are really carrying the melodies, which is pretty rare in the repertoire.

MM: Right.

A very young Martha Mooke playing viola at home in front of a bunch of potted plants.

From very early in Martha Mooke’s career.

FJO: The interesting thing about identifying with the viola and it being your instrument is that it really didn’t function so much as a foreground instrument until the mid-20th century.  I doubt that either the school or the community orchestra you were involved with was performing the Bartók Viola Concerto.

MM:  No. But I never accepted limitations and boundaries no matter what I was doing, whether it was because I was female or because whatever.  If I liked doing something and had an interest in it, I just did it.  I found opportunities.  If the opportunities don’t exist, I make them.  It never occurred to me that viola could not be a solo instrument. Then somebody gave me an album of Jean-Luc Ponty in my last year of high school, I think.  That opened up all kinds of new worlds for me, and I started delving into non-traditional string playing.

FJO:  Had you written any of your own music by that point?  Had you improvised?  Or were you just playing other people’s music?

“If the opportunities don’t exist, I make them.”

MM:  I used to write songs with a guitar.  I wrote a lot of singer-songwriter songs, and then I stopped because I felt like I got a little bit stuck.  I loved to sing.  My sister and I would sing together, but I didn’t see that that was going to be my career path.  I wanted to do something a little more than write songs.  After listening and exploring the world of Jean-Luc Ponty, I went and explored any jazz violinist I could find because I don’t think there were that many jazz or electric violists at that time. I hadn’t yet encountered The Velvet Underground with John Cale, but Turtle Island String Quartet was also popular back in those early days. So I went out and bought all the albums that I could, closed the shades and closed the doors, put on music and just started playing with it, improvising to it.  When I went away to college, I did that as well.

FJO:  Cale’s stint in The Velvet Underground pre-dates the Turtle Island String Quartet, but that probably wouldn’t have been something anyone would have exposed you to by the time you were in high school.

MM:  No, not at that point.  In fact, I didn’t discover them until the day I got a call to go on tour with John Cale.

FJO:  Really!

MM:  Then a whole other world opened up.  I ended up recording and doing a bunch of tours with John Cale and the Soldier String Quartet.

FJO:  Without having heard The Velvet Underground?

MM: Yeah, I didn’t really know about that world.

FJO:  Even though you grew up in New York City, your family probably didn’t listen to that music. Were they interested in classical music? What did your family listen to?

MM:  Neither of my parents were into music.  My father loved Gilbert and Sullivan, so we listened a lot to The Mikado and The Pirates of Penzance. And we watched the Boston Pops.  That was my classical music. That’s how I got to love Stravinsky and The Rite of Spring and started tuning into that world.  But I just gravitated towards music and my parents always supported me in that and paid for lessons.

FJO:  So there was no rock and roll in the household?

MM:  Not really.  There was more traditional stuff like Peter, Paul and Mary.

FJO: And I suppose even for people who were fans of harder rock, The Velvet Underground wouldn’t have been the mainstream.

MM:  Well, don’t forget, I also grew up in Staten Island.  At that point, to get to the city you almost needed a passport!  And when you’re not driving, it’s that much harder.  It takes two hours to get to the city from Staten Island, so there’s a big a culture gap in many ways.

FJO:  But hearing Jean-Luc Ponty opened your world up. Not just to improvisation but also to amplification and electronics.

MM:  The album that changed my world was called A Taste for Passion.  On the cover, Jean-Luc Ponty is cradling a beautiful blue five-string Barcus-Berry violin.  Within a year or so I convinced my parents to take me to Manny’s on 48th Street, and I went in and I bought a Barcus-Berry, the same color five-string. It was my first electric instrument.  I still have it in my instrument closet.

FJO:  So what’s the difference between a five-string violin and a five-string viola?

MM:  The range is the same, but on the viola you’ll have a longer fingerboard, which is pretty much the difference.  You don’t need to have a bigger body because you’re amplifying it, although the size of the body and the material of the body of an electric instrument does impact the sound.  But that instrument was an electric violin.  I couldn’t find any violas.  But it was five-string, which meant I could have the range of the violin and viola.  So I started exploring. I bought an old delay [unit] called an Effectron.  It was digital and analog. You had to push the buttons and you could only do one effect at a time.  But I made my very first demo tape with that. I didn’t have a recording studio or anything, and I wanted to apply for a residency at Harvestworks.  So I took headphones, plugged them into the headphone jack, put them on the floor, put the microphone to my tape recorder, put towels on the bottom and on the top, and that’s how I made my demo record.  They accepted it, and I got the residency. And because of that, I started recording my very first CD, Enharmonic Vision.

Marftha Mooke in performance on an electric five-string viola.

Marftha Mooke in performance on an electric five-string viola.

FJO:  Now before we make that jump, we’ve already made another jump, because at this point you’re creating your own music.  You went from playing viola in orchestras and performing classical music with lots of other people, to hearing Jean-Luc Ponty and wanting to improvise on an electric five-string. You’d written songs on a guitar and you sang, but when did you get the idea that you could make your own music for this instrument, and when did you decide to create music specifically for you to perform by yourself?

MM:  I just started to explore the world of improvisation in combination with the electronics.  I never studied formally.  I didn’t study jazz.  I didn’t study composition.  I was self-schooled in a way.  I discovered it on my own, so there was no wrong way.  I asked a lot of people what amplifier and what effects to get, but every person I asked had something totally different to say.  So I ended up doing just lots of trial and error, experimentation with sounds.  I discovered digital delay and that became a looping device; it was like an infinite echo.  They couldn’t start and stop at any time, just four seconds or eight seconds. But that’s where I started exploring.  Then I went to my first AES convention—Audio Engineering Society. I walked in and there was a guitar player there with this looping device called the JamMan made by Lexicon. I stood in front of this guy, and it was this big thing—eight seconds of delay that you could start and stop and so have control over.  So as soon as it became available on the market, I bought it and started working with it.  I was able to expand that to 32 seconds and, adding more electronics and just experimenting and building sounds, I started—through improvisation—creating works.

FJO:  There had been many people messing with delay units independently of one another by that time; it’s been part of the zeitgeist since the late ‘60s when Terry Riley experimented with his time lag accumulator and when Robert Fripp and Brian Eno had done concerts together in the early ‘70s. In fact, this was well after Fripp had started doing his solo Frippertronics, which was also a way of being an orchestra of one by controlling various effects units.  You hadn’t heard any of that stuff yet?

MM:  No.

FJO:  Well, all of that was improvisation-based music. No one was “writing” music involving delay units, at least not that anyone was aware of at the time.

MM: There was no repertoire, so again, just out of necessity, I started creating repertoire. Then, having a lot of composer friends, I started asking composers to write for me.

FJO:  The initial impulse came more from wanting to perform than out of wanting to compose?

I wasn’t calling myself a composer. I wasn’t calling myself anything. I was a player. I was a violist.

MM: I wasn’t calling myself a composer.  I wasn’t calling myself anything. I was a player.  I was a violist. Looking back on it now, I think I was just tapping into a way of expressing myself that I didn’t know I was able to do.  I was finding this voice within me.  The electric viola’s unlimited possibilities, the colors and the textures, were allowing me to really explore different worlds.  What was interesting was whenever I would find a new piece of equipment, I would always find the limitations of it right away.  So I would have to overcome that somehow.

FJO:  Like being restricted to looping either a four- or eight-second phrase.

MM: Exactly.  I just developed ways of working around it. Creating just kept going in that direction, because I had accessed something that I needed to get out—my inner voice.

FJO: And instead of avoiding the limitations of what you could do alone with this equipment by creating music to play with other people, you found workarounds so you could still do it yourself.

MM:  I think that was part of the exploration of my voice as a creative entity. I was just exploring by trial and error, listening to Jean-Luc Ponty, discovering Laurie Anderson, then Kronos Quartet big time, and following the Turtle Island String Quartet.

FJO:  Your first record came out in 1998. I remember the first time I heard you perform.  It was a year later at the Henry Street Settlement.  You were doing Vertical Corridors, which is still active in your repertoire and which you’ve since expanded and done other things with. I was so intrigued by what I heard you do that I immediately bought your CD there from someone who was selling stuff at a table.

MM:  Oh cool.

FJO:  But I was so bummed because the piece that I heard wasn’t on the CD.

MM:  Right.  It’s just come out this past year. It’s on No Ordinary Window.

FJO:  But it’s a different version than what I heard.

MM:  Well, every time I play it, it’s different.

FJO:  Anyway, the thing that struck me about that performance, even though you started creating so that you’d have music to play on your instrument, was that it made me forget the instrument. You were making music in real time, but because there were all these other effects, it didn’t sound like one person playing a viola.  Instead it was an immersive and all-encompassing sound world that sounded like a large group of people.  It could probably have been triggered from any instrument, so in a way it didn’t matter what the instrument was.  I felt the same way when I heard the pieces on that CD. The music was so harmonically—as well as contrapuntally—rich.

The cover for Martha Mooke's debut CD Enharmonic Vision

Martha Mooke’s debut CD Enharmonic Vision

MM:  When I’m writing for myself, it really starts out as a lot of experimentation, looking for different sounds and finding a recipe for a combination of sounds.  When you’re working with different electronic devices, you pluck one note and it could trigger a whole episode of beautiful harmonies or delays or a really interesting rhythm.  So when I find something and get that “Aha!” moment, then I start exploring that. A lot of my music I’ll notate after the fact, and I have to go in and figure out what it was that I did.  Sometimes it’s complicated to notate because, if it’s based on some harmonization or multi-effects processor, there are a lot of elements involved. With No Ordinary Window, I created a score and I did snapshots of the parameters that I use as far as reverb and delay and things like that.  So if somebody wants to perform the work other than me, they can do that with any other piece of equipment.

An excerpt from Martha Mooke's score for No Ordinary Window showing notations for various pedals as well as what the musician should play versus the actual resultant sound.

An excerpt from Martha Mooke’s score for No Ordinary Window showing notations for various pedals as well as what the musician should play versus the actual resultant sound. © 2014 by Martha Mooke, Vener Music (ASCAP). International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

FJO:  So other people could play these pieces?

MM:  Yeah, but there’s a certain sound when I play—everything is my instrument.  It’s all an extension of me as a player—the instrument going into the electronics and into the speakers or whatever system it is.  It’s all me as an instrument.

FJO:  But at the point when you were creating the pieces that are included on Enharmonic Vision, they weren’t all necessarily written down.  I imagine that they were all amalgams of pre-conceived ideas, improvisation, and studio experimentation. You probably weren’t thinking of other people playing them.

MM:  Not at that point.  It was just something I was compelled to do.  Again because there weren’t that many people doing it at that time.  Then it was at around that time that I installed a pickup on my acoustic viola that I play in orchestras.  I would show up to an orchestra rehearsal and people would look at the pickup on my bridge and think right away that I play jazz.  That wasn’t part of the mainstream, so it sort of perked a little bit of interest at that time.

FJO:  A lot of violin and viola repair people are horrified by the notion of putting a pickup on a classical music instrument, that doing so is somehow tainting it.

MM:  I found very friendly luthiers that welcomed that, actually.  They loved the fact that I had a pickup on my bridge, and they could fix it if it needed to be fixed.  There’s one actually around the corner from here, Mathias Lehner. I bring my acoustic viola to him, and I bring my electric. If something happens to one of my Yamahas, I bring it to him and he can put the tailpiece on, which is all connected to the electronics. It’s a whole other world for them, and the ones that welcome that have that much more business, I guess!

FJO:  Before we leave Enharmonic Vision, the CD booklet has all these wonderful quotes from other people, but it doesn’t have quotes from you. So I want to ask you about certain aspects of those pieces.  There are so many different kinds of music on there.  Raindance sort of sounds like bluegrass to me, a little bit.  It comes out of that whole double-stop fiddling sound world.  Winds of Arden sounds like ambient soundscape-y kind of stuff.  And then Bones is filled with all these pizzicatos and extended techniques; it’s pretty avant-garde sounding. They’re all different, but you don’t seem to think of them that way, and it’s all a seamless and cohesive whole.

MM:  Because it’s me.  I guess this is both a plus and the bane of my existence.  When I released Enharmonic Vision, I did so as a solo entity.  I was the artist, the composer, the publisher, the record label.  Very naïve.  I took a few copies with me down to Tower Records in the Village.  I went up to the classical section, because that’s where the Kronos Quartet and Philip Glass were. I met the manager and I said, “I have this CD.  Would you listen to it?  Could you sell it here?”  He listened to it and he said, “Okay, I’ll take five copies on consignment.”  So I signed five copies over to him. He called me within the week and said, “We sold out; bring five more.”  He had liked it so much that he put it in the listening station between Kronos and Philip Glass, so people who would not have known to look under the filing of Martha Mooke saw me there.  They listened to it, and they bought it.  It was kind of neat.  I still have a few copies with the Tower Records price tag.

FJO:  But it’s interesting that you took your CD to the classical section. Listening to that album and even looking at the cover, I wouldn’t necessarily think it was something for the classical section.

MM:  Yeah.  I guess that as a violist, I came out of the classical world.  That was the thing with Tower; you had to fit into one of those slots.  Somewhere I guess it would have been great to be in different rooms, different slots, but that’s how it worked out.  So that’s where I first started selling my CDs.  And then they hooked me up with their distributor, Bayside, and that connected me with a distribution company.

FJO:  This was before you connected to anybody in the pop world.

MM:  Yeah.

FJO:  Even though the album looks more like an alternative rock album than a classical record.

MM:  Well, I guess unintentionally. It turned out the way that I dreamed of it.

FJO: I noticed that Bill Duckworth and Nora Farrell were connected to that first album. Bill Duckworth was such an extraordinary person.  He came out of classical music, but he was open to so many other things and he really opened the door for people creating music who weren’t necessarily writing it down for other people to play. And he, together with Nora Farrell, conceived and built one of the earliest musical performance interfaces on the internet. That was around that same time.

MM:  I became friends with them through the new music world.  And I really struck up a friendship with Nora who, I guess through conversations, joined on as the producer of Enharmonic Vision.  She actually designed the cover, too.  I had this really cool picture that had been taken at the World Trade Center during an orchid show.  I think I was lying on the floor.  Anyway, she came up with this cool idea and created the cover art as well.  And produced the recording.

FJO:  That makes sense, because one of her mantras was that classical music had to stop looking like classical music.

MM:  Yeah, she had a big influence. And Bill, too.  They were great friends.

FJO:  Still, at that point, you’re not thinking of yourself as a composer per se.  You’re a performer who is creating pieces for yourself, and you’re occasionally asking other people to write pieces for you.  So at what point did you start identifying yourself as a composer?

MM:  I guess it was around the time I became a member of ASCAP, which is where we happen to be sitting.  I became a member of ASCAP so I became a composer.  But I didn’t quite fit in with the classical concert world as a composer.  I wasn’t writing orchestral pieces or string quartets at that time, so that wasn’t really a place for me.  Shortly thereafter, I happened to be at a big membership meeting of ASCAP and listening to something that just made me say, “Wait a minute, I have to figure out where my voice is in this organization and in this music world.”  I remember Marilyn Bergman was the president.  She was walking up the aisle and—there’s where you need your 20-seconds elevator pitch—I just sort of stepped in front of her and said, “I’m an ASCAP classical composer, but I’m doing things that are beyond classical and I have this idea of doing something.” And she’s like, “Okay, talk to John LoFrumento.”  So I went over and talked to John.  He’s like, “Okay, that sounds good. Talk to—” and it went down the pike.  That’s how [my club concert series] Thru the Walls was conceived.  Out of necessity, because I needed a place where I could have my voice heard that was accepted and was legitimized in a way.

FJO: I didn’t realize that Thru the Walls came about so soon after you joined ASCAP.

MM:  Within a few years, I guess. It was at a membership meeting. There were lot of people in the room, and they didn’t discuss concert music at all.  And I think I got upset, because I thought, “I’m part of this terrific pro-composer, pro-writer organization, but I don’t know where my voice is in it.”  It was just kind of spontaneous.  I’m usually pretty shy.  But there was something that really pushed me. I had that moment with Marilyn to block her path and somehow explain with enough clarity that I was then able to make appointments with Lauren [Iossa] and with Fran [Richard] and Cia [Toscanini] where we sat down and came up with this idea.  I came up with the name: Thru the Walls—listening to something through the walls, not being able to easily identify what it is.  It was based on ASCAP composers who were also performers.  This is not a new concept—the composer as performer, or the performer as composer—but the idea was to take it into another context in the contemporary scene, bringing it down to The Cutting Room, which was a venue that was more likely to produce jazz and rock concerts.  You wouldn’t think of going to that venue to hear a classical music concert.

Tony Visconti and Martha Mooke

Tony Visconti and Martha Mooke

FJO: Nowadays everybody’s playing in clubs. But at the time Thru the Walls came into being, it wasn’t as typical. The other thing that made this series unusual, I think, is that it was officially embraced and directly supported by ASCAP, so it had this official imprimatur; others who were playing classical concerts in clubs didn’t have that kind of endorsement.  It also attracted a very diverse audience, which included people like David Bowie.

MM: Right.  Well, I understand a lot of things now about what I was doing that I really didn’t understand then. It’s all about reframing the situation.  Again, as far I’m concerned, as a musician I can be playing Beethoven one day, rock and roll the next day, and my own music the following day or something else.  So I don’t have these [walls] and I didn’t at that time, either—and this was pre-2000.  I had been doing sessions with Tony Visconti.  I had met him backstage at some concert that I played with the lead singer of the Zombies.  I had been asked to play in the string quartet. He got interested when I said I also play electric viola, so I started doing string sessions for Tony.  When Thru the Walls started developing, I wanted to have that juxtaposition of music worlds, composers who weren’t just doing classical.  It was all types of influences: jazz, electronics, rock, all kinds of things.  I spoke with Tony who had a very broad background and broad interests. What could be better than having a renowned, legendary rock and roll producer introducing a new music concert?  That sparked a lot of interest in both worlds.  People who knew Tony were like, “Why is he doing this?” And people from the classical world thought, “Why is this happening at The Cutting Room?”  Kudos to [The Cutting Room’s owner] Steve Walter who embraced us; that’s how it began.

FJO: I imagine that Bowie showed up because Tony produced some of Bowie’s records.

MM:  Right.  Tony was living up in Rockland County at that time. I had actually gone over to Tony’s house.  Tony also did Alexander Technique, and I was a little nervous, and he was sort of calming me down a bit.  As I was leaving, he said, “By the way, I mentioned to my friend David this event tonight, and he said, he might come.”  And I’m like, “Right; sure.”  But sure enough, two minutes before the lights go down, in walks David Bowie. He sits down at my table, and the rest is history.

FJO:  Well, not completely.  We’re going to make it history now.  How did it go from him being there to you performing and recording with him?

MM:  I guess you’d call it fate.  You’d call it circumstance.  January 2001 was the first Thru the Walls, and shortly after that I got a call from Tony that David was slated to play the Tibet House benefit concert that Philip Glass produces at Carnegie Hall.  That was going to be at the end of February.  He wanted to know if I could put a string quartet together to play with David.  So I said, “Yeah, I could do that.”  I did and it was amazing.  We rehearsed at Philip’s studio a few days beforehand. We played “Heroes”—string quartet and Tony played stand-up bass.  Can you imagine playing “Heroes” with David Bowie?  Moby was also on that concert.  Moby played guitar.  And we played another song, “Silly Boy Blue,” with David.  It was absolutely magical.

Martha Mooke and David Bowie wearing a long yellow scarf.

Martha Mooke and David Bowie backstage at Carnegie Hall.

FJO:  So that’s what opened the doors to your being a go-to side person for all these pop stars?

MM:  Yeah, that was a big door opener.  Then there was another Thru the Walls, which happened right after that. And that led to a bunch of other opportunities.  A little documentary was done for DCTV, downtown television. At that point I was recording Osvaldo Golijov’s Rocketekya, so they came up and they filmed the recording session with Alicia Svigals, David Krakauer, and Pablo Aslan. It was cool because the beginning of the tape is Rocketekya.  It’s a rocket ship taking off, so we don’t count in.  We count down—five, four, three, two, one.  Then it takes off.  Then we got a call from David to play with him at Tibet House again and, in the middle of that, he asked us to record with him on Heathen, which happened the weekend after 9/11.  It was very emotional in a lot of ways.  Then we just kept being asked back.  We became David Bowie’s quartet; then we became the quartet of Tibet House.  People were asking, “Can we borrow the quartet to play?”  Even after David didn’t do the benefit, which he did three years in a row, we kept coming back.  Philip kept calling us to come back; this is going to be our 17th year.

FJO:  Wow.  And the Streisand connection.  Did that happen through Marilyn Bergman?

MM:  No, but I did end up on tour with Marilyn.  It came about through my work as a Broadway player.  When Barbra was putting a U.S. tour together for 2006 and then the 2007 European tour, she hadn’t toured that much and she wanted to have a Broadway orchestra.  They used a rhythm section from L.A., and they culled from the different pit orchestras on Broadway.  I feel like I hit the lotto on that one.  It was just such an amazing experience.

Tony Bennett standing next to Martha Mooke who is holding a viola.

Tony Bennett with Martha Mooke

FJO:  Well, talk about putting together a career doing music. One day you could be on stage with the Westchester Philharmonic or the American Composers Orchestra, with whom I’ve seen you play.  Then in the pit with a Broadway orchestra another day.  Or backing up a rock band. Or part of a jazz group.  Or playing your own music by yourself.  Or writing music for other ensembles. But it seems that carrying out a specific role in each of these musical projects would require different approaches to where you personally fit in.  Do you feel you need to be in different mental spaces for each of these activities or is it all part of a continuum?

“I’ve had to come to terms with my different personalities.”

MM: I’ve had to come to terms with my different personalities.  As a player, I have to approach it from a different point of view.  If I haven’t created it, there’s an obligation to be true to the printed notes as long as they’re all printed out.  So I have to do my due diligence—woodshed and practice and, if it’s with an ensemble, rehearse.  But if it’s a piece that I’ve composed and I’m playing either with my quartet Scorchio or my piece e-chi—which is with a percussion ensemble—or something with a combination of notation and improvisation, that gets a little tricky for me. Because I’m coming at it as the composer, I have to work twice as hard to realize I can also take some license with what I play.  But realizing that I have written parts for the other players, I need to make sure that we’re literally on the same page.  With Bowing, the duo with Randy Hudson, we started just as improvisers and built the pieces which became part of the Café Mars record. Then I retro-notated Quantum, which is on that duo CD, for string quartet and then for string quintet, when we add a bass player.  Time in a Black Hole, which is with bass and percussion, is all just improvisation.  We don’t have a plan. We just get together; we meet, hit, and leave.

Martha Mooke and Randy Hudson in performance on electric viola and electric guitar.

One of Martha Mooke’s long standing groups is her duo Bowing with electric guitarist Randy Hudson

FJO:  I love this term retro-notated.  How much of this music is retro-notated? Can all of these pieces be retro-notated?

“Ultimately I retro-notated it, so it exists in a notated version.”

MM:  Sure. Sometimes there’ll be a bare bones notation, like in jazz you have a chart.  That’s how No Ordinary Window began, or Virtual Corridors.  For many years, when I played Virtual Corridors, it existed just as words on a page with maybe a couple of lines that I sketched out.  It was really more a description of what I’m doing.  Ultimately I retro-notated Virtual Corridors, so it exists in a notated version.  No Ordinary Window existed just basically as a solo line. Then I needed to figure out how to notate the electronics that I used—this amazing pedal by Eventide called the H9 that opened up a whole other world of sound.  I figured out a way of bringing that into the score by describing what kind of effect I’m using and then actually taking screen shots of my iPad, which has the exact parameters of reverb and what kind of effect or filter I’m using.

FJO: But considering all the improvisational passages you include in your own music, as well as all the educational workshops you do about improvisation, you’re somebody who wants to engender improvisation in other people.  When you retro-notate something and fix it on the page, aren’t you losing something in terms of what an interpreter is bringing to it?

MM: Well, the beauty of live performance, especially when you’re an improviser, is the energy of that and the communication with the audience.  I think sometimes that gets lost in more traditional concert settings where the audience comes in and they know they’re going to hear a Mozart symphony. Sometimes the tempi are different from what they remember, but they don’t realize there is communication going on between the performers and the audience.

When I’m performing solo, I make sure the audience is aware that they’re actually part of the performance.  I’m informed by them sitting out there.  I get feedback.  You can call it biofeedback or whatever.  For the audience, it becomes more of an experience than just being played at or played to.  You can’t notate that and that’s okay.  Likewise, a recording is just a moment in time.  But that’s okay, too, because hopefully people will have heard the music live and they’ll take that as a memory.  At some point the album will exist when I no longer exist.  Hopefully there’ll be enough material out there, whether it’s videos on YouTube or other iterations of performing the same piece, and they’ll draw their own conclusions.  People think that everybody’s hearing the same piece when it is the same notes being played, but everybody hears differently.  We all have our filters and our own way of processing—if you wake up in a bad mood, if you have a headache, if the temperature’s too hot in the room, or the person sitting next to you is a little odorous. It’s never going to be the same.  You’ll never process that experience the same way.  That’s something that, more and more, I’m putting an emphasis on, because it’s so easy just to stay home and watch on your screen, but you don’t get that same experience as being in the room when it’s happening. So as long as I’m alive, I’m going to keep that happening.

FJO: I’m curious about the pieces that have been written for you by other composers.  How much does somebody who wants to write a piece for you have to know about all of the electronics you use when you perform?  Or are these elements that you then add on as an interpreter, post-composition, in a sense becoming a sort of a co-composer?

MM: I did two full concerts of works that I commissioned, all from friends and acquaintances of mine.  Most of them didn’t know anything about writing for electric viola, let alone the electronics like foot pedals.  So most of them came to my studio once or twice, sitting on the floor.  Victoria Bond, Alvin Singleton, Tania Léon, and even Leroy Jenkins were asking me questions.  “Can you do this?  What happens if you do this?”  So there was a lot of collaboration in the pieces.

FJO:  And are those pieces fully notated, or were they retro-notated?

MM: Some of them have improvisation in them, like Alvin’s piece, which I’ve recorded.  Leroy’s piece was not notated with notes.  It was more a back and forth between the two of us, a conversation between a grandfather and a granddaughter.  But most of them were fully notated. There was one piece I remember, almost every note had a different effect.  I had to enlarge the score and color code everything. It doesn’t get performed as much these days.  But getting such a variety of pieces from the different composers was an incredible experience.

FJO:  Now in terms of your writing music for others, an area you’ve been working in quite a bit—which is somewhat surprising since there are no strings—is wind band music.

MM:  I think it began almost as a joke, in a way.  In one of the orchestras I play with, there was a French horn player who is the music director of the Ridgewood Concert Band—Chris Wilhjelm. We started talking, and he was intrigued by what I was doing as an electric violist. He thought it would be cool if we did something together at some point.  I had never thought about writing for concert band.  I had really, at that point, never written for an ensemble larger than a string quartet or a chamber ensemble.  Then finally we said, “Let’s just do it.”  So I came up with the concept of X-ING—as in pedestrian crossing or deer crossing.   It’s the crossing of the worlds between electric viola and concert band.  What happens when you cross those worlds?  One of the things that happens is you don’t have to tell the band to play quieter because a string instrument is soloing.  I just crank my volume; I go to 11.  The first movement is “Pegasus X-ING”—the winged horse.  I use electronics and, in the notated score, I had to notate so the conductor is actually seeing what he’s hearing.  There’s an effect where I play one note and a series of rhythms happens.  I play dah, but what you hear is da-da-da-da-da, da-da-da.  In the ending, I use a combination of loops and different effects to get the winged horse taking flight.  I keep the loop going while I switch instruments.  I switch to an instrument that’s actually re-tuned to E-flat and B-flat, so that I can play open strings and harmonics in the middle movement with the band that tunes to B-flat.  When I was writing the middle movement, I was at the MacDowell Colony; it was at the time when my uncle, whom I was very close to, was taken very ill in Miami, and he was actually at the point of crossing over.  That became that second movement, “X-ING Over”; that’s a tribute to him.  The last movement, “Double X-ING,” is rock and roll. It starts with a crazy cadenza with overdrive and all kinds of improv and loops and things going on.  And then we’re off, trap set and all.

The first page of the third and final movement of the full score of Martha Mooke's X-ING for wind band and solo electric viola.

The first page of the third and final movement of the full score of Martha Mooke’s X-ING for wind band and solo electric viola. © 2012 by Martha Mooke, Vener Music (ASCAP). International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

FJO:  Then you wrote another band piece, which you’re not playing in at all.

MM:  That was one of the hardest moments I’ve had, understanding that I wasn’t going to be playing.  I spent a lot of time working on that.  I had to come to terms with how I would approach writing it.  With X-ING, I actually was playing and composing at the same time, but Skandhas, which is the name of the piece, came out of a different world.  I was composing more at the computer, using Sibelius. It does have elements of improvisation in it as well, but I had to remove myself and that was very challenging.  There’s some really cool things that I like about it, but after the premiere, I ended up doing some revisions and, who knows, I may still revise it more at some point.

FJO:  But you liked the experience enough and felt confident enough to go on to write yet another one.

MM:  I just finished my third piece, but I got a little sneaky with it.  It’s going to exist as two entities.  It will exist as an ensemble piece, but then there’ll be another version with electric viola obbligato improvisation. It’s not quite an alternate version, because the plan is for them to be performed on the same concert.

FJO:  So for the new piece, did you return to composing with your viola in one hand like you had done with X-ING?

“When you cross electric viola and concert band you don’t have to tell the band to play quieter because a string instrument is soloing.  I just crank my volume; I go to 11.”

MM:  I think I wrote less with the viola in hand. I had a keyboard and a computer. I also had to not make it too complicated, in terms of notation, since it’s not for a professional ensemble— although it could be played by professionals—and also had to bear in mind that it may be written for an ensemble that doesn’t have that much experience improvising.  In many school bands and orchestras, there’s not an opportunity for members of the ensemble to improvise, whether it’s the full ensemble improvising or members as soloists.

FJO: You’re also now performing X-ING with an orchestra.  So you’ve taken the band score and turned it into an orchestra score. Many people have written orchestra pieces and then have made band versions of them.  But this went the other way around.

MM: I’m retro-orchestrating!  I’m not a purist in anything that I do, so I don’t have a problem.  It’s another opportunity.  That’s another thing with the band world—they love playing new music and they love living composers.  They love supporting living composers, and they rehearse a lot.  Certainly there are orchestras that play new music and commission new works, but it’s a little bit different in the orchestra world.  So I love that the orchestra world is interested in performing it. The challenge was how to re-write the piece. It wasn’t just substituting violins for flutes and things like that.  I had to rework some of the innards.  I revised the middle movement a little bit, tightened it up in ways.  I’m looking forward to the first time performing it.

FJO: It’s funny that you wrote for band before you wrote for orchestra and that your first orchestra piece turned out to be a revision of a band piece. You’ve played in so many orchestras and so you really have an insider’s knowledge of the orchestra.  That’s not something you had with band. In fact, many composers who’ve written for orchestra, even ones who are master orchestrators, are reluctant to write for band since it’s just not something in their background.

MM: Yeah, it’s a big learning curve, learning the ranges of the different instruments and the transpositions, learning that you can’t just write a slide anywhere you want to for trombone because it may not happen, it may be over the break.  It’s not just write the notes into Sibelius and this is how it’s going to sound and if it’s red you can’t write it.  It doesn’t work that way.  There’s also a harp in the band version. I had to learn the intricacies of the harp.  I was actually writing that part when I was on the Streisand tour, so I had access to the harpist Laura Sherman; she would look at it and give me some hints.

FJO:  I thought that the band stuff grew out of all the education work you do, but it didn’t.  Still, I’m curious about that part of your life. You’ve done so many education seminars, teaching string players how to improvise and use electronics.

“I’m about overcoming barriers and breaking through that inhibition factor which seems to get more built into students as they go through school.”

MM:  A lot of that is due to my involvement with Yamaha. We came together when they were just designing their electric string line.  At that point, they were calling it Silent Violin, because the whole point was that you could plug your headphones into this instrument and nobody else would have to listen to you practice.  I happened to meet one of their team and they liked what I was doing, so they sent me a prototype of it and I said, “I love it with the headphones, but I want to play it loud.  Can you do this?”  That began our collaboration.  They’ve even invited me to go to their headquarters in Hamamatsu, Japan, to work with a design team.  I’ve been with them for a long time, and I have many generations of their instruments.  They’ve also been extremely supportive in the educational realm when there are opportunities to go to schools and to conferences to demonstrate and present workshops, working with students and also working with the teachers. A lot of times, the teachers don’t know how to work with electric string instruments, if they have them in their schools, or with improvisation and having it be an opportunity for the students to create and find their voices.  Sometimes they may not be as proficient as they’d like in order to be able to express themselves. I’ve discovered ways to help them overcome that, whether it’s by banging on a table, strumming the inside of the piano, or just playing some other sounds just to help them find their creative voice.  It’s all about discovering that voice inside that a lot of times kids are afraid of accessing.

Martha Mooke demonstrating string techniques for students at a clinic.

Martha Mooke demonstrating string techniques for students at a clinic.

One of my most popular workshops is called “Am I Allowed to Do That?” That literally came out of a workshop in a school. I sometimes start out with my acoustic viola, walking around the room, playing really crazy stuff just to get the students to respond without thinking, because that accesses something that they don’t know how to do usually.  They’re not supposed to do that.  They’re supposed to put that part away.  What happened is I went over to this violinist and started playing and said, “Answer me.  Don’t think.  Just answer me.”  And he looks around to see if his teacher’s looking and says, “Am I allowed to do that?” Yes, in this timeframe, you’re allowed to do that.  And you’re allowed to explore it after school, or at home.  In the school, in this class, you need to conform and do what you need to do, but I’m about overcoming those barriers and breaking through that inhibition factor which seems to get more built into students as they go through school.

FJO:  We began this conversation talking about how you started making solo music with an electric viola and various electronic effects units, which enabled you to create an almost orchestral-sounding sonic landscape all alone. It’s something you still continue to do, even though now you also do all these other projects.  The pieces on your new CD No Ordinary Window are fuller sounding than any of your solo work I had previously heard. And one of the pieces on it you perform live with video; it’s an immersive sight and sound experience that you’re triggering all by yourself which adds yet another layer.

MM:  These are actually two projects. No Ordinary Window is its own performance experience that doesn’t usually involve video.  The whole concept is finding these amazing spaces with a window, starting the concert before dark, and having the sunset be part of the lighting show.  It’s a window looking out, a window to the soul, and a window of opportunity.  I first envisioned No Ordinary Window in Sedona up in the Red Rocks.  There’s a chapel there and my dream was to play in that chapel as the sun was setting and having that be a natural lighting effect with the music.  As the concert starts, the audience sees the beautiful rocks outside as the sun is setting.  Then it gets dark outside and the windows become mirrors.  The audience sees themselves.  I was able to do that concert, though not in that chapel. I happened to be talking to the president of Eventide saying this is my dream concert.  He knew somebody that had a house on the next block and made that happen.  It happened to be the person that created Eventide.  Again, it’s all these coincidences.  But that’s the No Ordinary Window experience.

A Dream in Sound is on the recording of No Ordinary Window. Then I did a version of it for that became Dreams in Sound, which was essentially the same music, but it took on a whole different form with a string quartet where everybody was using effects.  I took that a step further when I got a commission from this improvisation festival in Prague and a foundation that discovered me through an event I produced a couple of years ago with Women In Music. It was another one of those Thru the Walls moments. I was commissioned to write a piece for this festival, so I took the dream experience to the next level.  I created a 50-minute piece called Dreaming in Sound.  I had another residency at Harvestworks that was supported by that foundation, and I was able to work with one of their engineers there and designed multi-dimensional effects and looping, not just for the solo viola, but also for four channel audio that I also controlled with a foot pedal.  I was able to launch sounds into four isolated speakers.  I had control over the speakers, rotating this way and that way; this was done through Max/MSP on computer. I knew that I had to also have a video element—that was part of the proposal—but I wasn’t quite finding the right way to go about it.

A couple of years ago through these monthly salons called LISA—Leaders in Software and Art—I met the woman that runs them, Isabel Draves, and we became friends. Her husband is this amazing software artist, Scott Draves. I was asking Isabel if she could recommend any video people.  And she said, “Scott has this new program and he loves your music, and he’d love to work with you.”  That’s how that whole collaboration came about.  The program—which he calls Dots—is “listening” to all of the music that I’m creating on the spot, and it’s responding to it.  There’s a big score, but there’s also lots of improvisation, and the video is responding to me.  And then I’m watching the video and responding to the video, which takes it to another place within the improvisation.  So, again, every time I do it, it’s different.  I premiered it in Prague during this festival.  Then I was able to do it the following week at National Sawdust because there was this big Creative Tech Week going on. It’s a big ensemble piece, but I’m the only live player in the room.

The cover for Martha Mooke's latest CD, No Ordinary Window.

Martha Mooke’s latest CD, No Ordinary Window.

FJO: Too bad that that wasn’t released on a DVD.  Maybe it will be at some point?

MM: I need to do it.

FJO:  Might there ever be a time when you incorporate immersive video with a larger ensemble?  It would be amazing to do that kind of thing with a wind band!

“You never know what you’ve been missing until you know what you’ve been missing.”

MM: Unlimited possibilities.  I would say you never know what you’ve been missing until you know what you’ve been missing.  A lot of what I do is exploration, trial and error experimentation.  Sometimes the best thing is if I’m improvising or I’m playing something, and something goes wrong with a foot pedal.  I misfire or I play something I didn’t mean to.  I take that as an opportunity to explore the space that I might not have explored before.  I didn’t really mean to do that, but it happened for a reason. So I’m going to go in that direction.

FJO:  It’s really an extension of your workshop where you give students permission to do anything.

MM:  I was taught a long time ago, even as a classical player, if you make a mistake don’t let on, don’t make a face.  Either make the same mistake again if it comes back or just keep going.  Most of the time, people won’t ever know if I intended to do it or not.  Hopefully they don’t.  Hopefully it just becomes part of that moment and that experience.

Martha Mooke outside in Sedona; thre's a rainbow in the sky.

Martha Mooke in Sedona

Banding Together

Having developed a rough idea of what our consortium would look like, my colleague (and now co-director) Max Lafontant and I got to work. The first big task was to figure out how many composers we wanted to have involved and who we were going to ask. While we wanted to provide a wide variety of music for the band directors, we knew that we still needed to pay the composers for their time and thus keep the number realistic. In the end, we settled on five total composers—myself, Max, Scott Senko, Neil Quillen, and Dylan Carlson.

Photos of the five participants of the Libera Composers Association.

The five composers in our collective: (top row) Neil Quillen and Maxwell R. Lafontant; (bottom row) Scott Senko, Dylan Carlson, and me (Kimberly Osberg).

Neil had just finished up his master’s degree at NYU Steinhardt and had worked on video games and short films; his orchestrations were fantastical and his music held a whimsy we thought a lot of bands would be attracted to. While Scott had never written for band before, he had a reputation for gorgeous choral and vocal music, and would bring a fresh perspective to the project. Dylan writes excellently detailed textural music with challenging harmonies, which would be great for directors who were looking for something to fit into a more advanced pedagogical curriculum. Max, veering towards the more neoclassic side, would be a great addition to any standard band program of marches, film music, and transcriptions. My work, Band Together, included both indeterminacy and rhythmic hocketing, providing both a counterpoint to more standard repertoire as well as an intense lesson in ensemble playing. [Ed. note: A page from the score is pictured on the top of this page.] While we hoped band directors would program more than one work from the consortium, we anticipated that there would be at least one work of interest to most directors looking to fill out their concerts.

While we hoped band directors would program more than one work from the consortium, we anticipated that there would be at least one work of interest to most directors.

Originally, we also had another composer involved—one who was known for incorporating elements of jazz fusion and minimalism—but due to unforeseen circumstances, he had to be released from the consortium. This proved to be a tricky scenario to navigate, as there were directors interested in working with him specifically. While we were able to find pieces of equal interest for some directors, others decided to wait until next year to see if this other composer would be available at that time.

This situation made Max and I realize that there was real, widespread interest in a project like this. While we had thought this would be a great way to spend the next year, it was clear that this project had the potential to grow far beyond that. And, even though we could make some educated guesses about how to develop and run a nation-wide consortium, we—quite frankly—didn’t really know what we were doing. Max and I decided we would try to get our alma mater, Luther College, onboard; there were many artistic connections between our project and Luther, so we felt we had a very strong case to get clerical, promotional, or even financial support from the college. We reached out to our former composition teacher Dr. Brooke Joyce to get his opinion on the project and see if he would be interested in being involved.

He was very excited about the project—as far as we knew, there really wasn’t another college or university that provided this kind of opportunity for its composition alumni, and this would be a mutually beneficial collaboration for bands, composer alumni, and the college alike. Skipping over a lot of e-mailing, while a full partnership with Luther was not feasible at this time, they were happy to provide us with other support—printing and shipping our scores, connecting us with bands and directors who had ties to the college, and sending press releases about the project. The Luther College Concert Band even agreed to do a reading session for us so we could send clips of the works-in-progress to potential directors (rather than sending MIDI renderings, which—especially for pieces that have special effects—can be unhelpful or even misleading). With Dr. Joyce as our point-of-contact person, we were able to reach out to the Iowa Composers Forum, which agreed to act as an umbrella organization if we ever grew large enough to start accepting donations. For this season, however, it was simply “money-in-money-out,” so while we will still have the composers report the income on their taxes, we had no need for fiscal agents or to file as an LLC/non-profit just yet.

One of the more difficult tasks was setting up our payment structure in such a way that we could keep the scores affordable for band directors.

One of the more difficult tasks was setting up our payment structure in such a way that we could keep the scores affordable for band directors, yet still be able to fairly compensate our composers. While some of us felt that a sliding scale would be best (charging schools with bigger budgets more money and schools with smaller budgets less), others felt a flat fee for both visits and scores would be the fairest. In the end, we came up with something else entirely. While there was a flat buy-in fee to enter the consortium ($100), we gave schools a discount for each additional score they purchased. The first score would be $35, but if they bought two scores it would only cost them $65 ($35 for the first score, $30 for the second). This meant that any school that performed all of the works would only pay $225 for five brand-new scores and parts. Their buy-in fee also includes customization options, so if the instrumentation doesn’t quite fit their ensemble (such as having a bass clarinet but no bassoons, or having a lot more percussion than what is scored), the composers in the consortium agreed to do reasonable re-orchestrations so that no band was barred from performing a piece due to instrumentation limitations. This also meant that the composers still got a chance to collaborate with directors, despite their pieces being written before directors were contacted. While the schools would still have to negotiate with the composers individually to compensate for visits, Skype sessions, or clinics, this kept the initial investment low enough to allow more rural programs to participate.

With our collaborating forces excited about the project, the structure of the group finalized, and the music well on its way to being completed by the perusal date, we still had one big task left: finding interested directors.