Musing About the Benefits of Running (again)

I just returned from the 50th annual Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) in Indianapolis where I was fortunate enough to do so many of the things I love – perform for and talk to an attentive audience about composing for percussion as a percussionist, chat with hundreds of new friends and old at the C. Alan Publications booth while I attempt to sell them music, visit with my awesomely supportive sponsors (Yamaha and Vic Firth) and RUN! 

Every year at PASIC I realize how much I talk about (er… annoy people with my posts about) running on Facebook (and here I go again). One of the first things out of people's mouths when I haven't seen them for a year is "Man, you've been running a lot, huh?" It has become something that defines me and I'm okay with that. Let me tell you why though. A couple of years ago, I mused about Why I Think All Classical Musicians Are Pre-Programmed to Be Runners, talking about how similar the disciplines are, whether you are preparing for a marathon or a recital. Potayto, Potahto.  

While in Indianapolis this past weekend, more of the career & networking benefits of running became apparent. Over the summer, I volunteered to organize the PASIC Fun Run, which in the past has occurred on Friday morning at 7:00 a.m. during the convention. Historically, the attendance has been rather poor and I was determined to improve on that, so I expanded from one morning to three and plastered the social networks (tweeted with hashtags, created FB events, harassed friends & "friends" on their FB walls) to get the word out. 

What we ended up with was a terrifically eclectic group of percussionists each morning that had this common thread of running (and drumming). Where else are you going to hop from conversations with percussion professors from New Mexico, Missouri, Connecticut, Texas & South Carolina to the President-Elect of PAS to husband/wife drummer/percussionist for actor/musician Gary Sinise's Lt. Dan Band? We didn't set any speed records. We didn't run terribly far. We did have a lot of fun, meet new people and talk about anything from marathons to the new Schwantner Percussion Concerto to the mess at Penn State to our upcoming concerts & recitals. Even people who didn't join us for the runs each morning used topic of the Fun Runs as a conversation ice-breaker since I had posted about it so much leading up to the conference.

In the clinic I co-presented with Josh Gottry at the convention, I encouraged the young percussionists & budding composers in the audience, in the spirit of networking, to approach performers and composers they might have put up on a pedestal. They're all people. I think any two people can have at least one common thread that can break the ice – be it percussion, sports, politics or even… 

Running.

Good for your health. Good for your career.

New Pieces at PASIC 2011!

In the spirit of shameless self-promotion, here's a list and brief description of all of my new publications that will be available at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention (or PASIC...we love our acronyms) next week in Indianapolis.

Concerto for Vibraphone & Wind Ensemble (full score to peruse)
Solo Vibraphone w/ Wind Ens | 4-mallet | 15:00 

The Cry
Percussion Ensemble | 12 players | 11:00

Edge of the World
Keyboard Percussion Quintet (w/ opt. aux. perc.) | 4:00

Encantada
Solo Vibraphone | 4-mallet | 4:30 

The Sacred Marimbist, Volume 2
Solo 4.3-octave Marimba | Hymn Arrangements | 4-mallet | 25:00-35:00

Spun
Keyboard Percussion Ensemble | 8 players | 8:30

Topsy Turvy
Young Percussion Ensemble | 6-14+ players | 2:40

Everything can be found at the C. Alan Publications booth in the exhibit hall (Booth #227-231). Hope to see you there!

Ellipsis at the Eastern Music Festival 7/27/11

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Now in its 50th season, the Eastern Music Festival has been acting as a gateway for young classical musicians from all over the world right in my backyard since I came to Greensboro 18 years ago. I even served for one season as the coordinator for the Project:Listen Program, EMF's now defunct outreach arm. 

I'm honored to now have to my piece Ellipsis performed by the EMF Percussion Ensemble during this landmark season.

EMF Percussion Ensemble Concert
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
4:00 p.m.
Dana Auditorium, Guilford College (Greensboro, NC)
General Admission: $9 

Many thanks to John Shaw, principal percussionist with the Florida Orchestra & percussion instructor at St. Peterburg College, and Eric Schweikert, principal timpanist with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic & Director of Percussion at EMF for including my music on the program.

Flute & Marimba: An Extraordinary Correspondence

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The flute and the marimba have a fairly short yet rich history. However, it wasn't until I was commissioned to write a piece for the combination a year ago that I started exploring it more in depth. Not having performed any flute/marimba duets, I was delighted to find some wonderful pieces for the combination (see the lists below). Additionally, more and more performance duos have been popping up in recent years, helping to expand the repertoire. I encourage you to check out the plethora of recordings from some of the pioneers in the genre by Googling some of the names of performers in the list below.

Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity when Rick and Jenn Elliott contacted me about a commission for flute and marimba. I had already written pieces for clarinet/marimba, oboe/vibraphone and alto saxophone/marimba.  Those reedy wind instruments blend extremely well with the mellow woodiness of the marimba. Honestly, you don't have to work that hard to make them sound good together. When preparing to write for flute and marimba, I listened carefully to the qualities of the different registers of both instruments and how I might play them off one another. I recall falling in love with the lower register of the flute (lower half of the treble clef staff) and finding ways to have that rich, breathy sound emerge out of the marimba playing in the same register. In fact, this is how the piece opens.

The title of the duet, An Extraordinary Correspondence, comes from the subtitle to the book "Griffin & Sabine" by Nick Bantock. This groundbreaking book appeals to our (taboo) voyeuristic desires to read the mail of others. The story follows two people who have never met that start writing to one another because Sabine shares Griffin's "sight." He's an artist and she can see what he draws and paints as it is happening. As their relationship unfolds, they quickly find that they are actually living in parallel worlds. I followed the arc of the story pretty closely, having the marimbist play the role of Griffin and the flutist play the role of Sabine. 

Listen

Rick and Jenn Elliott will perform the world premiere of "An Extraordinary Correspondence" on August 7, 2011 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Hamilton, OH. The piece will be published C. Alan Publications and available to the rest of the world in June of 2012.

Resource Lists

Works for Flute & Marimba
1958: Tanner, Peter - Diversions for Flute & Marimba
1977: Wilder, Alec - Suite for Flute & Marimba
1984: Klatzow, Peter - Figures in a Landscape
1997: Farr, Gareth - Kembang Suling
1997: Tanabe, Tsuneya - Recollections of the Inland Sea
2001: Gillingham, David - Five Fantasies of Natural Origin
2002: Hasenpflug, Thom - 5 Mornings for Flute and Marimba

Works for Flute & Percussion
1958: Wilder, Alec - Suite for Flute & Bongos Nos. 1 & 2
1964: Harrison, Lou - Concerto #1
1966: Dahl, Ingolf - Duettino for Flute & Percussion
1974-80: Adams, John Luther - Songbirdsongs
1994: Parker, Philip - Beneath the Canopy

Flute & Percussion Performance Duos
Armstrong Duo (Eleanor Armstrong, flute & Dan Armstrong, percussion)
McCormick Duo (Kim McCormick, flute & Bob McCormick, percussion)
Tambous Duo (Holly Stackhouse, flute & Theodore Frazeur, percussion)
Verederos Duo (Jessica Johnson, flute & Payton MacDonald, percussion)
Marc Grauwels & Sarah Mouradoglou
Michael Haldeman & John Samuel Roper
Richard & Jennifer Elliott

Bibliography & discography of works for flute and percussion compiled by flutist Larry Krantz:
http://www.larrykrantz.com/fltperc.htm

Topsy Turvy for Young Percussion Ensemble

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While living in Houston a few years ago, I started developing a new series for C. Alan Publications that would feature percussion ensemble pieces for younger groups with flexible duration, instrumentation and number of players. The Ignite Series for the Developing Ensemble will finally be coming to fruition this spring/summer with a fresh collection of pieces by C. Alan composers, including Josh Gottry, Mario Gaetano, Adam Miller, Kandis Taylor, Scott Harding, Donna Bohn and myself.

My first contribution, titled Topsy Turvy, is meant to conjure up the magical sights and sounds under the big top of the circus. The piece features very flexible instrumentation and also provides the opportunity to 1 or 2 students to be in the spotlight playing percussion "toys," such as siren whistle, slide whistle, slapstick, duck call, ratchet, vibraslap, flexatone, brake drums, or cowbells. It is playabale by as few as 6 players or as many as 14.

Topsy Turvy will receive its world premiere on May 10, 2011 by the Braxton Craven Middle School Percussion Ensemble, directed by Chris Ferguson and Lindsey Eskins.

Look Inside
Topsy Turvy Score

Listen

Instrumentation
Bells & Toys (double with Vibraphone)
Xylophone & Toys (double with Marimba)
Optional Vibraphone
Optional Marimba
Timpani (2 drums)
Snare Drum & Woodblock (double with Bongos)
2 Concert Toms & Suspended Cymbal (double with Temple Blocks)
Bass Drum & Acme Police Whistle (double with Low Tom)
Optional Toys (extracted from other players' parts) 

More information...

Slovenian Performance of Downtown Dash

While tooling around on YouTube, I discovered this video of a Slovenian concert band (Prekmurska Godba Bakovci, conducted by Željko Ritlop) playing my Grade 2.5 band piece Downtown Dash. The piece was featured in the most recent volume (8) of Teaching Music Through Performance in Band.

Downtown Dash is published by C. Alan Publications and available from music stores worldwide.

Student Spotlight #2: Kishan Patel

This past December, I had the wonderful opportunity to perform the 2nd movement of my Concerto for Vibraphone and Percussion Ensemble at the Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic in Chicago with the Union High School Percussion Ensemble. This ensemble from Camas, WA put on a spectacular display with a challenging and varied program. In rehearsal, I met fellow percussionist Chris Whyte, who is a percussion specialist at the school, and learned that he had performed the solo part to the concerto at their concert back home in Washington (and probably played it better than me). I was also struck by the unparalleled talent of senior Kishan Patel as featured playing tabla on one of the final pieces on the concert, "Sketches of India" by director Lewis Norfleet. I followed up wth a brief interview so that you can get to know more about Kishan before he takes over the percussion world completely. (Scroll to the bottom to watch a YouTube video of Kishan playing tabla)

Kishan Patel

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Born: May 24, 1993

High School: Union High School Class of 2011

Activities: Band, Percussion, Music Teacher, Indian Language Teacher

Instruments: Aside from standard western percussion, I also play the Tabla (north Indian classical percussion instrument) , I am a north Indian classical vocalist as well. I also play a variety of Indian percussion instruments such as dholak, dhol, mridangam, ghatam, Aside from percussion, I also play the Sitar, the Tanpura, and the Bansuri (Indian bamboo flute) 

Private Percussion Teachers: Lewis Norfleet, Christopher Whyte, Taylor Kragness, Nisha Joshi, Sachin Pimple

Awards & Honors: 3rd place Marimba Solo in the State of Washington, Maestro Award at the Heritage Band Festival in Vancouver, BC Canada, 1st place Marimba Solo Regional Solo ensemble Festival, Performance with the UHS Chamber Choir as  Guest Artist at The MENC Conference, Performance at the Midwest Clinic, Performance at the WMEA Conference

Aspirations for the Future: I would like to create my own school of music where I would teach Classical north Indian music and western classical percussion.

When did you get your start in music?
I started learning music when I was 7 years old from Dr. Nisha Joshi, who first taught me the art of North Indian Classical Vocal and Tabla (Indian Drums) playing. Later, my 5th grade year, I joined band, and since then, I have been a very active member of the band program at my Middle school and High school.

Of the instruments you play, which is your favorite?
My list has a very close tie between Tabla and Marimba for my favorite instrument, although I think Tabla is what I enjoy most. 

What is your favorite solo piece you have performed and why? Percussion ensemble piece? Concert band piece?
My favorite percussion ensemble piece that I have performed was "Sketches of India" written by Lewis Norfleet. Very close to that would be Lewis Nofleet’s arrangement of Astor Piazzola’s "Libertango." My favorite concert band pieces are any pieces written by Percy Aldrige Grainger, the top three being "Lincolnshire Posy," "Themes from Green Bushes," and "Childrens March." My favorite solo piece which I have performed is "Parody" by Jesse Monkmon because of how it has elements of all qualities I look for in a marimba solo.

How has music helped or influenced you in other areas of your life?
Music in my life has taught me dedication, commitment, and humbleness. Learning any sort of music requires lots of time and commitment, and music has helped me learn that. The suave nature of Indian music has taught me humbleness and relaxation.

Who are the most influential people in your life? Personally, musically, etc.?
The people who have influence me the most musically include my band director, Lewis Norfleet, and my Indian music teacher, Dr. Nisha Joshi. In my personal life, the person who has influenced me the most would be my Uncle.

What do you see yourself doing in 10 years? 20 years?
Ten to twenty years from now, I see myself continuing my passion teaching Indian music and keeping it alive throughout the generations to come, and also helping out with a drum line and privately teaching western percussion as well.

What are the 10 most frequently played/listened to artists on your iPod or in your iTunes library and why? Does this influence your performance in any way?
Being a north Indian musician, I listen to lots of vocalists and percussionists. Some of the main vocalists I listen to are Pandit Rajan Sajan Mishra, Pandit Uday Bhawalkar, Gundecha Brothers, Ustad Sayeeduddin Dagar, Ustad Rashid Khan, Shrimati Kaushiki Chakrabarty, and Begum Parveen Sultana. Musicians in the Indian Percussion world that I listen to include Ustad Zakir Hussain. In the western world, my number one source of inspiration is She-e-Wu.

The vocalists that I listen to strongly impact how I sing, and the techniques I use when I do perform certain raagas. Anytime I know I will be performing a certain raga, I will go back and listen to those artists renditions of the raga, and see how I can apply it to my performance.

Because tabla is my main instrument, Ustad Zakir Hussain has always been a role model for me, and when I listen to him, I always listen to his clarity, and watch his expression. These two elements are also what have greatly helped me in western percussion.

She-e-Wu is the number one person I look up to when I perform marimba. The way she expresses herself through what she plays truly touches me. Her superb note accuracy and her technique has always been one that pushes me to be better at performing.  

wrap-up
Kishan plans to attend either the University of North Texas, University of Oregon or Central Washington University in the fall, majoring in Music Performance and Music Education.

Listen Hear: "Ellipsis" performed by the OU Percussion Ensemble

During my brief stint in Houston, TX from September 2007 through March 2009 I met some great lifetime friends, tasted some fantastic food and had the opportunity to work with some of the best middle and high school percussion ensembles in the country. I adjudicated a few percussion ensemble festivals and witnessed several middle school ensembles performing pretty advanced literature for their age. Just before I moved away, the middle schools of the Spring Independent School District (just outside Houston, TX) commissioned me to write a piece for them. I Gladly accepted, but knew that I couldn't approach the piece as I would a typical middle school composition, so I wrote as if writing for a high school. The result was a piece that has been picked up and performed by high schools and colleges all over the country.

Here is a recording of the University of Oklahoma Percussion Ensemble (made up of primarily freshmen and sophomores) directed by Josh Knight.

Listen

"Ellipsis" is published by C. Alan Publications and available for purchase from Steve Weiss Music.

Listen Hear: "Imagining World" performed by the UNT Symphonic Band

Every now and then Dennis Fisher, conductor of the University of North Texas Symphonic Band, graciously agrees to do some demo recordings and occasionally I'm lucky enough for one of my pieces to be included. While in Chicago for the Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic this past week, Dennis presented me with a recording of my newest band work Imagining World, which was commissioned by the Oswego High School Band, directed by Stephanie Silosky. Because of this new UNT recording, I was able to share it with another band director at the conference, which is likely going to result in a performance in March. So, a big thanks to Dennis Fisher and the UNT Symphonic Band!

Listen

"Imagining World" is published by C. Alan Publications and available from J.W Pepper.

Listen Hear: "Spun" performed by the Penn State Percussion Ensemble

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I've talked about Spun fairly recently on here, so I won't bore you with too many details. This recording is from the premiere at Penn State University, where Dan Armstrong is the percussion professor and the one responsible for the piece coming to fruition. At the final dress rehearsal, just an hour before the concert, Dan asked me if I'd like to conduct the piece on the concert. Wearing only the upper half of a suit with jeans on the lower half (you know... going for that cool-down-to-earth-composer-in-the-audience-graciously-accepting-applause look), I was hesitant and hummed & hawed. But after a quick drive back to the hotel trading out the jeans for suit pants, I was ready. In reality, I was just scared to conduct the quick-changing multi-meter stuff I had written. So, any inaccuracies can be traced back to me hacking my way through "conducting" this world premiere.

Listen

"Spun" is published by C. Alan Publications and available from Steve Weiss Music.

Listen Hear: "Downtown Dash" performed by the UNT Wind Symphony

Every couple of years, I write a Grade II or III concert band piece to fill a hole in the C. Alan Publications catalog for a given year. Downtown Dash was written for release in the summer of 2009 and was subsequently selected as a J.W. Pepper Editor's Choice piece and was just included in the newest volume (8) of GIA Publications' series "Teaching Music Through Performance in Band" series. The world-renowned University of North Texas Wind Symphony, conducted by Eugene Corporon, recorded it beautifully ensuring this little Grade II band piece will never sound so good.

Listen

"Downtown Dash" is published by C. Alan Publications and is available from music dealers all over the world.

Listen Hear: " The Cry" performed by the OU Percussion Orchestra

I feel like Christmas has come early! In the past week, I've been fortunate enough to receive 4 fantastic recordings of my newest pieces – 2 for percussion ensemble and 2 for concert band. I'll be sharing them each in their own entry over the next week.

The first I'll share is The Cry, which was commissioned and premiered by the OU Percussion Orchestra. I had the opportunity to fly out to Norman, OK to work with Lance Drege and his ensemble for a few days back in November (2010) and had a blast. This recording is the result of a session during an afternoon rehearsal the day of the concert.

Listen

"The Cry" will be published by the OU Percussion Press and available from Steve Weiss Music.

New publications at PASIC 2010

The 2010 Percussive Arts Society International Convention (PASIC) is finally upon us! I anxiously await it every year – catching up with old friends and colleagues, going to see & hear first-rate (for the most part) performances and seeing what kind of damage I can do to my checking account with all the new music & other such percussion products that are on display in the exhibit hall. I know others feel the same, so I figured I would put in a shameless plug for my new publications that are being released this year at PASIC by C. Alan Publications (Booths 101-105).

Almost Beyond
Listen | duet for marimba & piano | $24.00

The Celtic Xylophone, Books 1 & 2
Listen | xylophone w. piano accompaniment (orig. for xylophone w. marimba trio) | $18.00 each 

Concerto for Vibraphone & Percussion Ensemble
Listen to Mvt. I | Listen to Mvt. II | solo + 8 players (piano reduction also available)
$80.00 (PE version) | $50.00 (piano reduction) 

Ellipsis
Listen | percussion ensemble 8 | $36.00

Encantada
Listen | solo vibraphone | 3-octave (opt. 3.4-octave) | $12.00 

A Winter Prelude & Postlude
Listen | solo 5-octave marimba (Prelude) & marimba quartet (Postlude) | $10.00

The Yuletide Marimbist Companion
vibraphone accompaniments for The Yuletide Marimbist book | $12.00 

Spun... cart before the horse?

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my recently finished commission for the OU Percussion Orchestra, The Cry. Even before I was commissioned to write the piece, I was sitting on the poem by Federico García Lorca on which it is based, thinking it would make the perfect backdrop for a composition. It helped immensely with the organization of the musical form, as well as the harmonic language I would end up using.

Such was not the case with the percussion ensemble commission I just finished on Sunday night, titled Spun. In fact, the piece didn't even have a title until I was about 50 measures from completion (out of 322). Instead of starting with some sort of extramusical source of inspiration (such as a poem, painting, book, etc.), I began with a melodic motif (D, A, Bb, F#, C, Eb) with turned into the pitch material for the entire piece. The first 59 measures utilize only pitches from this set before exploring other chromatic key areas. As the piece progresses, the rules set forth are quickly broken and the theme expands, becomes the accompaniment, acts as the root for the chord progression, but it is always moving forward. 

The title Spun is derived from the term Fortspinnung ("spun out" or "spinning forth"), which was a term employed by Wilhelm Fischer (1915) to describe the developmental, often sequential middle part of the ritornello in Baroque music. The composer would take a short musical idea or motif and spin it out into an entire phrase or period. It may be used to expand the pace or accelerate the pace of the piece. 

Okay, I've probably bored you to tears by now, but I assure you that the piece is not boring. Take a listen for yourself...


Spun Recording

Spun was commissioned by Dan C. Armstrong and the Penn State Mallet Ensemble and will receive its premiere on November 30, 2010 at Penn State University.

The Cry: An Andalusian Fantasy for Percussion Orchestra

Back in 2007, shortly after the OU Percussion Orchestra performed Limerick Daydreams, Lance Drege and I started talking about a commission for the OU Percussion Press – the same commissioning series that has produced such staples in the repertoire as Maslanka's "Crown of Thorns" and Ewazen's "Palace of Nine Perfections." I already had the seed of an idea for a new piece based on Federico García Lorca's poem "Poema de la Seguiriya Gitana." With other commission projects already underway (like my Concerto for Vibraphone), it took a while for this one to finally take shape. There's nothing quite like a world premiere and recording project to help move things along.

Lorca's poem has a great arc to it, giving way to an overall slow-fast-slow form for the piece. The work divides into 5 primary sections: 

Paisaje ("Landscape")
La Guitarra ("The Guitar")
El Grito ("The Cry")
Un Silencio Ondulado ("A Rolling Silence")
Tierra de Luz, Cielo de Tierra ("Earth of Light, Sky of Earth") 

Lorca was extremely interested in the Spanish gypsy music known as Cante Jondo (or "Deep Song"), which is the purist and most natural precursor to Flamenco music. It is filled with passionate melismatic singing and sparse guitar playing. Great care has been taken to differentiate between the more popular Flamenco form and Cante Jondo, always emphasizing that the latter is the purer and more serious of the two forms.

It is this struggle that is at the heart of "The Cry." The virtuosic melismatic singing is emulated throughout the ensemble in long flourishes that are full of twists and turns. The antiphonal castanet players help bring in the flamenco elements to the piece, as well as the sounds of flamenco dancers tapping, stomping and clapping in rhythm. Most important in composing this piece was that the beautiful words of García Lorca and the form of his poem are represented.

Look Inside

The Cry Score

Listen


The Cry

"The Cry" will receive its premiere at the University of Oklahoma by the OU Percussion Orchestra, directed by Dr. Lance Drege, on Tuesday, November 9, 2010 at 7:30 p.m. in Sharp Concert Hall. It will likely be webcast, so stay tuned!

Summer 2010 Publications

Several of my new compositions are being released this summer by C. Alan Publications. Below you will find descriptions, recordings, and score samples. All will be available for purchase from Steve Weiss Music in the next 2 weeks.

Almost Beyond

Medium: Marimba/Piano Duo
Publisher: C. Alan Publications
Composed: 2009
Duration: 5:00

Instrumentation
5-octave marimba
piano

Look Inside Score


Full Recording
Performed by Nick Ryan (marimba) and Angi Ko (piano)

 

The Celtic Xylophone, Books 1 & 2

Medium: Xylophone w/ Piano Accompaniment 
Publisher: C. Alan Publications
Arranged: 2009
Duration: 8:00 (each book)

Instrumentation
xylophone
piano

Look Inside Book 1 | Look Inside Book 2 


(Use the fastforward button to skip to the next track)
Book 1:
1 / 2 / 3 | Book 2: 1 / 2 / 3

 

Ellipsis

Medium: Percussion Ensemble 

Publisher: C. Alan Publications
Composed: 2009
Duration: 5:00

Instrumentation
bells, xylophone, vibraphone, 2 marimbas, 4 toms, SD, timpani, BD, 2 woodblocks, bongos, sus cym, hi-hat, tam-tam, wind chimes

Look Inside Score


Full Recording

 

Encantada

Medium: Solo Vibraphone

Publisher: C. Alan Publications
Composed: 2010
Duration: 5:00

Instrumentation
3-octave vibraphone
(with optional extended range to 3.5-octave) 

Look Inside Score


Full Recording

Video: "Encantada" for Solo Vibraphone

My new vibraphone solo Encantada is being released for publication (among a slew of other pieces that I'll share later) in the next couple of weeks by C. Alan Publications, so I thought it a good idea to post something other than the electronically-generated recording that has been representing the piece so far.

Please excuse the following:

  • the green hue courtesy of the flourescent lights in my office at work
  • the moderately poor video quality
  • the 4 wrong notes (yes, I counted)

Otherwise, enjoy!

Read more about "Encantada" in an earlier blog post.

Why I think Classical Musicians are Pre-Programmed to Be Runners

In the middle of a recent 10-mile run while on vacation in the Outer Banks of NC, I found myself wondering what the hell I was doing. I mean this was a vacation. A break from reality over a long weekend. At the beach. With good company. And I consciously brought with me my running shoes, running clothes, & fuel belt – all so I wouldn’t fall off of my training too much in preparation for an upcoming half marathon trail race.

So, I found myself running past the Wright Brothers Memorial knowing why I was running – to get the mileage in for my training – but pondering why I enjoy it so much and why it feels so natural to me now. And this is when it hit me. Since I was 4 or 5 years old, I have been playing a musical instrument of some kind and, therefore, preparing for recitals and concerts. If I didn’t put in enough hours practicing the music for these performances, I would be completely unprepared and would likely fail. If I procrastinate (which I am very prone to do) and try to cram all the practicing into a short period of time just before the performance, pain will ensue because I have not trained my muscles properly and built up the requisite calluses & scar tissue necessary to play pain-free. The exact same thing can be said of training for a road race – especially the longer distances, such as a 10K, half marathon, and marathon. If you don’t get enough mileage in the weeks & months leading up to a race, it’s going to hurt and you run the risk of injuring yourself and possibly not even finishing the race.

Here’s my list of reasons why I think all classical musicians should be runners:

  1. Discipline. We already have it. We have spent hours and hours alone in a practice room playing those passages over and over again. Just need to have the patience to start out at a slow pace and build it up from there. Dial back that metronome.
  2. Stamina. Running non-stop for 2+ hours has greatly improved my stamina behind the marimba in practice and performance. Whether you are a percussionist, conductor, string player or whatever, your “instrument” is physically demanding. Nothing wrong with a bit of aerobic conditioning.
  3. Mental Practice. Being out on the road running for 30 minutes/an hour/2 hours is a fantastic opportunity to do some practicing away from the instrument. Some people I talk to think that all the time I spend running takes away from my practice time. No reason it should. Just spend that time “playing” through a piece in your mind or memorizing a certain passage.
  4. Inspiration. This is an extension of mental practice. I have come up with several seeds of ideas and themes for compositions while on a run. For instance, the main theme of the first movement of my Vibraphone Concerto came to me while on a long run in Oklahoma. I also wrote a middle school band piece called Downtown Dash that was inspired by a 5K race I ran.
  5. SWAG. I don't really have a musical correlation for this one, but who doesn't like getting free stuff?! Race shirts, running socks, gel, coupons, and for the longer races a medal. Good stuff!

I only started running about 3 years ago, but I quickly caught the “bug” and now I absolutely love it. Training for my first full marathon (the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.) will start in mid-July (ugh) and will continue for 17 weeks until race day on Halloween 2010. I have several performances in the middle of the training, including one in Wisconsin that’s two days before the main event. I have met so many great friends in the running community, but hardly any of them are musicians. My charge to you is to get out on the road or trails and run. You might find that it’s exactly what was missing from your life and that you’ll become a better musician as a result.

Student Spotlight #1: Edward Witt

This is a new section I'm adding to my blog. It was the result of trying to find a creative way to chronicle my travels around the country without shining the spotlight on myself (too much). My final flourish of spring 2010 gigs culminated in a trip to Mt. Lebanon, PA – a beautifully quaint (& hilly) suburb of Pittsburgh. I was there to perform David Gillingham's "Concerto No. 2 for Marimba & Percussion Orchestra" with the inimitable Mt. Lebanon High School Percussion Ensemble, under the direction of Rick Minnotte. While I was there, I was introduced to a new piece for percussion ensemble by one of the graduating seniors, Ed Witt, and was really struck by the maturity of his writing. He took a composition lesson from me on Friday and shared several more pieces and I am certain he is going to have a very bright future. Here's some information about Ed followed by a little question/answer session we had.

Edward Witt

Born: December 19, 1991

High School: Mt. Lebanon High School Class of 2010

Activities: Percussion Ensembles (Holiday, Brazilian, Keyboard Percussion), Marching Band, Orchestra, Intramural Ping-Pong

Instruments: Percussion, Trumpet, Piano

Private Percussion Teacher: Mr. Subha Das

Awards & Honors: High Honor Roll, Featured soloist at Interlochen Arts Camp

Plans for the Fall: Attend Carnegie Mellon University majoring in music composition

Aspirations for the Future: Film Composer & Teacher

 

Of the three instruments you play, which is your favorite?
I really love piano, simply because I’ve played it enough that I’ve reached the point where I can just sit down and play whatever comes to mind. It’s a great stress-reliever. I also like playing the trumpet in a large ensemble, like my school orchestra. A full brass section can add so much muscle to the sound and always makes things more epic. Percussion is great because it’s very physical and hands-on. Hmm... It’s hard to pick a favorite because they are all great in different ways.

When did you first start composing?
Before I could read music, I would sit at the piano and play a few notes. After a little while, I started to put simple sequences that I liked together. In elementary school, we had a small composer’s forum where kids would write little pieces and then have them performed. I composed my first piece, entitled “Monday Morning” for solo celesta.

What is your favorite ensemble or instrument to compose for so far?
I really like the textures you can create with percussion. The instruments are so versatile and there are so many different sounds you can get out of them. I am also attracted to percussion ensembles simply because they are still a bit unconventional.

Where do you find inspiration (musical or otherwise) for your compositions?
I find inspiration in many different ways. Occasionally I’ll see something in nature that, for whatever reason, really sticks with me and I do what I can to recreate it. For example, in a recent visit to Italy, I was standing outside a train station in Venice when it suddenly started pouring rain. Just being in that environment really affected me and so I started writing. I also try to listen to as much new music as I can get my hands on. I go through “phases” of what I focus on. I might listen to only jazz for one week, and then hardcore techno the next. My pieces are very influenced by what I am experiencing at the time. It’s kind of like a journal.

Tell me about your percussion ensemble piece "Cellar Door" that was just premiered at Mt. Lebanon. It's a really striking title.
After I finished the piece, I really had no idea what to call it. Titles are always very difficult for me because I feel like people interpret the piece based on what I call it rather than experience it in a way that is more meaningful to them personally. In other words, I would rather people experience the piece without the prejudice they might gather from a title. It is for this reason that I arbitrarily chose "Cellar Door." As told in the movie Donnie Darko, J.R.R. Tolkien has described this phrase as the most beautiful utterance in the English language. By calling the piece "Cellar Door," it got people to say this phrase often (sort of a whole new piece on its own in a John Cage-esque way). The title is independent of the piece itself. I just wanted it to be ambiguous.

How has music helped or influenced you in other areas of your life?
How have other areas of your life (people, activities, etc.) affected or influenced your musical experiences?

Music, for me, is all about communication. I’ve never been good with words. Music allows you to convey a message that you might not know how to say. It can also teach you a lot about patience, discipline, and dedication.

What do you see yourself doing in 10 years? 20 years?
I’d love to write film scores some day. I think my writing style would really lend itself to it. If that doesn’t work, I also have some interest in teaching.

What are the 10 most frequently played/listened to artists on your iPod or in your iTunes library? Does this influence your compositions in any way?
10. David Gillingham (Century Variants, Symphony #2 for Band, Concerto for Horn)
I really love all of Gillinghamʼs work. I feel like my style is very similar to his. I hope my music can be half as good as his some day.

9. Tenacious D
I like this band for itʼs comedic values, but also for Kyle Gassʼ skill on guitar. “Tribute” is one of the best songs in the world :)

8. Pink Martini
This group is great for chillinʼ. They are so different, and I love the way they mix genres.

7. Joris de Man (Killzone 2)
You need to check this album out. He hasnʼt done much mainstream stuff, but his orchestration skill is top-notch. Itʼs so emotional and epic. He tends to blend a live orchestral (organic) sound with MIDI (industrial) percussion for a really neat effect.

6. The Killers
The sound of Brandon Flowersʼ voice has such an interesting quality to it. This music helps me think.

5. The Kooks
Also good for contemplation. I donʼt know how to describe them other than incredibly smooth.

4. Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethovenʼs later works have a significant impact on my writing. His symphonies are the best, especially his 7th. I love his innovation.

3. Sergei Rachmaninoff
For me, Beethoven is to symphonies as Rachmaninoff is to piano concertos. Iʼm in love with the way he combines the orchestra with the piano. He truly was a master at what he did.

2. James Newton-Howard (Lady in the Water, I Am Legend, The Village, Treasure Planet)
Also something you should check out if you havenʼt already. The music of “Lady in the Water” really had a strong impact on me. I love the chord progressions he uses. His work is the single greatest inspiration for me to write film scores.

1. Camille Saint-Saens
I love Saint-Saensʼ charm. His music has such a magical quality to it that no one has been able to duplicate.

wrap-up

Ed Witt will be attending Carnegie Mellon University in the fall of 2010 where he will study music composition with Nancy Galbraith. Be on the lookout in the near future for more great music to come out of this talented individual!

Encantada: A New Solo for Vibraphone

It seems that nowadays I just don't have much time to write pieces that I want to write. I have an ever-growing list of composition projects that I would love to work on (several solo marimba pieces, a slew of band pieces, and so on), but these pesky commissions keep getting in the way. I have several composer friends (and writer friend for that matter) that only write on commission and never write anything for themselves, so I really shouldn't complain. It is a really good position to be in. Every now and then, though, it is nice to break out on my own and write something for which I am not getting paid... even if it is just a short, pretty little vibraphone solo.

Encantada (meaning "enchanted" in Spanish) might be considered the child of my new Concerto for Vibraphone. The harmonic material in the opening bars of the solo are taken from the 1st movement of the concerto while the title of the piece is taken from the 2nd movement, "Enchanted Light' (or "La Luz Encantada"). As I mentioned in an earlier post about the concerto, much of the repertoire for vibraphone is jazz-influenced because of the instrument's history (see Lionel Hampton & Milt Jackson for examples). This definitely extends to the solo repertoire, so I sought to create more of a concert piece. This was the result:

Look inside

Encantada

listen


Encantada

The piece will be available from C. Alan Publications and all of your favorite music dealers (i.e. Steve Weiss Music & Lone Star Percussion) this summer.