Imagining World: Remembrance vs. Celebration

A carefree wave of relief and relaxation has at last washed over me after completing my latest commission, Imagining World, a Grade IV wind ensemble work for Oswego High School in Illinois. This one created an interesting challenge in that it was meant to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the OHS band program while simultaneously memorializing a former student who had passed away. I stumbled upon a short poem that poignantly reconciled these two seemingly contrasting ideas.

Imagining World by Brian Andreas
In my dream, the angel shrugged & said,
if we fail this time, it will be a failure of imagination
& then she placed the world gently in the palm of my hand.

I love the idea of our loved ones returning as angels to watch over us in our dreams and encouraging imagination as we look toward the future. Having lost my mother a couple of years ago, I like to think that she is keeping tabs on me. In order to grow, looking to & planning for the future is a pivotal part of looking back & celebrating the past. 

Much of the thematic material for the piece is derived from the final melodic phrase of the OHS school song (also the Notre Dame Victory March). The work opens with the sparkling (& dreamy) qualities of wind chimes and metallic keyboard percussion presenting fragments of this melodic material, the "Oswego" theme, which appears throughout the piece in several forms. A trumpet and horn fanfare follows leading to a full ensemble climax before moving into the main body of the piece. Directly following the climax is the first statement of the "Dream" theme played by solo flute. It undergoes several transformations & moods and intermingles with the "Oswego" theme as the piece progresses. Imagining World strikes a delicate balance between reflection and celebration – a challenge that we must all embrace.

Listen to a recording here...


Imagining World (MIDI realization)

Imagining World will receive its premiere on May 20, 2010 by the Oswego High School Wind Ensemble, Stephanie Silosky conducting, with the composer in attendance.

About Beth Sharp...
Elizabeth May Sharp, the oldest of five children who all participated in the Oswego band program, was a piano player first, a clarinet player second, having started in fifth grade band under the direction of Margene Pappas, and a doctor finally.  Her vocation was that of medicine and her avocation that of music.  Beth went through the band program in Oswego IL and while in high school band, under the direction of James Felts, she attended IMEA All-State her junior and senior year on Eb Contra Alto Clarinet.  She studied privately with Margene Pappas until she graduated from high school.  She also had the opportunity to travel abroad after her senior year in high school performing in band.  She attended the University of Illinois and played bass clarinet in the top Symphonic Band under the direction of Harry Begian from her freshman to her senior year in college. 

When Beth went to Texas to study medicine she continued to play in community bands and orchestras as she loved MUSIC.  Beth's life was cut short when she contracted a disease that led to her death.  Her friends and family, shocked by her courage to fight the disease alone until the last few months of her life (Beth was a fighter!), established a scholarship in her name to be given to the most outstanding boy and girl musician from the Oswego High School Band.  The award recipients were chosen by the band director and were expected to be outstanding musicians, keep their academic standards high, and have the motivation to continue their musical participation in college and beyond either as a music major or by participating in college and community ensembles.  The scholarship was a $500 award and given each year until 2006, the year in which Margene Pappas retired from the band program in Oswego.  The remaining money, having lost ground from the original investment due to a faltering economy was intended to be used to foster commissions for band for the Oswego High School band program.

it was a strange dream: artist & storyteller brian andreas as muse

Strange Dream by Brian Andreas
It was a strange dream, he said,
& I don't remember a thing except
it kept my attention the whole time.

(*Disclaimer: There will be many links in this entry, as I do want to share as much of Brian's related work as possible.)

Sometime during my undergrad (um-teen years ago-ish), I became aware of the works of artist and storyteller Brian Andreas. He creates StoryPeople (http://www.storypeople.com) – sculptures made of found objects, such as wood and wire – covers them with vividly colored paint, and prints short little quirky, poignant & inciteful stories about life, love and the general pursiot of happiness & goodness. These stories are also available as colorful prints, furniture, books, postcards, and wherever else your imagination might take you. Scanning the walls of my home, you might discover five or six of these prints sprinkled about creating an air of whimsy.

When I first started composing during grad school, I was constantly in search of new forms of inspiration. I was about to start writing a duet for alto saxophone and marimba to enter in a composition contest (which I subsequently lost) and decided to turn to a couple of books of Brian's stories. The name of one of these books was "Strange Dreams" which immediately struck me as the perfect title for a collection of these 4 little vignettes for sax & marimba. Then I read the corresponding story to the title (above) and immediately thought it captured how I wanted people to perceive my music. I mean of course I want them to remember it, but capturing their attention so they are living 100% in the moment for at least the duration of the composition.

The stories I chose for each of the four movements were Unheard Music, Ballerina Mom, Mermaid Song, and Pools of Light. I encourage you to follow these links to read each of these stories. The RoseWind Duo (University of South Carolina professors Clifford Leaman, alto saxophone and Scott Herring, marimba) recently released a fantastic recording of the piece on the Equilibrium label and it is available on iTunes.

I have since returned to Brian's stories as the source of inspiration for two more of my compositions. One was a duet for marimba and vibraphone titled Edge of the World, which I gave as a wedding gift to two of my former students and now friends, Michael & Sara Wood. It is based on the story True Things ("They came to sit & dangle their feet off the edge of the world & after awhile they forgot everything but the good & true things they would do someday."). The other is a duet for piano and marimba titled Almost Beyond ("She laid on my chest & her breathing filled me to almost beyond what I could hold.")and commissioned by another husband/wife duo, Una Duo.

Something tells me this will not be the last time I use Brian Andreas and his writings as my muse, so stay tuned. I'm pretty excited about a future collaboration with him, but more on that when it actually comes to fruition. In the meantime, I highly recommend following him on Twitter (@briandandreas). Every time he tweets, another one of his little stories flows right on out of him, usually in the same vain as his StoryPeople, but if you're lucky, occasionally you catch a much edgier Brian Andreas giving him even more depth. I've been fortunate enough to become long-distance friends with him as a result of the mutual admiration of our respective artistic offerings.

Summary of Places to Find Brian:
StoryPeople website: http://www.storypeople.com
Zen Bandit (his personal blog site that hasn't been updated for a while): http://www.zenbandit.com/
Twitter: http://twitter.com/brianandreas