"Here in America people think that music must bring only pleasure, must entertain. That, of course, is not so, especially if you are a professional. Music also brings suffering and a sense of your own insignificance. It's not always comfortable to be one-on-one with it. That's why it's more pleasant to listen to music in a concert along with an audience."
-from "Balanchine's Tchaikovsky"
I am happy to announce that I have just completed the third piece in what I call my "Monterey collection". My time in California was fruitful and I had some great experiences and time to sketch out ideas for these new pieces. The three pieces that came from this experience include: Monterey Sketches for brass quintet, Postcard from Monterey for wind ensemble (grade 3), and Monterey Letters for unaccompanied trumpet.
When I watch this I don't see two talented people doing what is natural to them. I see two broken people who have learned how to tap into the beauty that was placed inside of them and have also searched it out in this broken world.
I just spent the last two weeks working with some wonderful musicians and guest composers.
The Principal Brass Quintet performed my piece, In the Seeking. I will have a recording from a reading session to post in a few weeks. This group impressed me more than I can express in words. They bring so much musicality and beauty of sound. What a privilege it was to work with them.
I also had the honor of meeting two wonderful composers, Tony Plog and Eric Ewazen. Plog's view of this world and music was refreshing. I am so glad composers like him are active writers! I also found Ewazen's joy contagious. What a joy for music he has!
And ofcourse I got in a few good bike rides!
Tomorrow I fly back to Columbus with a list of many projects to do.
I will be in residence at California State University from July 10-24 for a course in brass quintet composition with the Principal Brass of the New York Philharmonic. Looking forward to this great opportunity!
We live in a world where people live as if 2 +2 = 5, yet a math teacher would never teach such a thing. However, many music teachers seem fine with letting the brokenness of a culture into their classroom as if it is a good thing. Truth has left music more than it has any other subject. We do not need poor quality pieces in the music classroom. It hinders progress from understanding the true beauty of music. Teachers are using "pop" music and justifying it by saying it holds an audience's attention or it hooks their students. But If you use it to get students interested in music or interested in playing an instrument, you'll have to continue to use it to keep them in the program. Instead, shouldn't we teach them how to struggle through not always connecting with something instantly? Shouldn't we teach them how to find the wonderful layers that great music has? That is what will lead to a deeper love. To quote Stravinsky:
"The trouble with music appreciation in general is that people are taught to have too much respect for music; they should be taught to love it instead."
Culture is like soil, in that it has layers and layers of death. The problem is that it is shallow, not deep soil. When a beautiful seed, such as "classical" music falls on it, it can take no root. Not teaching students how to listen to true music is like dropping seeds that will never stand a chance of growing into anything great. First, we must till the soil and prepare them for how to love great and beautiful things. It starts in the music classroom.
People are hungry for substance, yet they don’t know it because they are filled with so much entertainment. We live in an entertainment culture that seeks comfort and surface level consumption. So many experiences capture our attention, but they lack enduring substance. In other words, these experiences leave us unchanged.
In a recent trumpet lesson, I played a video of Leonard Bernstein conducting a piece I wanted the student to hear. My student commented on how much she was enjoying watching him conduct. I told her about his Young People’s Concerts and the lectures he gave to help people grasp the substance in classical music. It then dawned on me how much I miss having this kind of man in today’s world. It seems that even if a program like this were broadcast today, most would still choose reality TV shows, or other entertainment that lacks integrity. Even audiences that attend concerts expect to be entertained. This saddens me greatly! I have even been a part of conversations that center around how composers can better grab the attention of the audience and appeal to this type of an attitude. I think conversations like this go in the wrong direction. Perhaps instead of finding ways to give in to this entertainment-seeking attitude, we should take a stand and simply focus on providing the best music and the most musical performances possible. Entertainment allows people to escape how bored and stressed they are for an hour and then return to their lives no better than before they entered the music hall. However, well-done performances of quality music can feed hungry souls and bring reality into people’s lives. This must be our main focus.
The entertainment-seeking attitude should not be encouraged and I believe it shows love to take a stand on this issue. Why? Well, it goes back to my first sentence. People desire substance. People desire an experience that not only stays with them, but also changes them. It is a deep desire and is one that may only be discovered when the entertainment is stripped away.
I desire greatly for our culture to change in this area. If you feel the same, take heart that you are not alone.
I write music to feed hungry souls, not to entertain people on the way to their grave.
"Why, it has often occurred to me to ask myself, do I so frequently choose death, transience, and the grave as subjects for my paintings? One must submit oneself many times to death in order some day to attain life everlasting."
-Caspar David Friedrich
Excited to be back in East Lansing, MI in April for the premiere of my choir piece, Bread of Life.
There will be two performances this week, including a world premiere!
My piece, Through Wind and Whispers, will have it's premiere in Europe at Bath Spa University under the direction of Jeff Boehm on Wednesday. Wish I could be there!
Davis Middle School will premiere my piece, On A Hill Far Away, this Thursday at their 8th grade concert. This piece was written in honor of the band director's mother who past away last year. I've gotten to work with the students each week in preparation for the concert and it has been a joy. I must say, my favorite pieces are the ones with a dedication written on the top of the page.
“Learning to hear passing dissonances in counterpoint, for instance, made me more attentive to (and thus in greater control of) subtle dissonances arising in other areas of experience. (the most conspicuous example is writing.) More generally, the ‘inner dancing’ involved in listening naturally suggests ‘moving well’ in life. Similarly, the organic development of a theme evident in symphonic music, or the culmination of a tension toward climax in a jazz solo, are images of motional possibilities that are akin to configurations that arise in practical life…The symphonic development of a theme brings to mind the possibility that I can take a longer view of my relationship to any particular project, that perhaps I am making progress even when my particular hours of effort seem ungratifying. Or when a project is moving comfortably forward, music of admirable complexity can suggest the possibility of organization on multiple, often subtle levels”
-Kathleen Marie Higgins, The Music of Our Lives
I recently finished a book of short trumpet duets, each between one to two minutes in length. When my primary focus was trumpet I remember having a difficult time finding duets that were serious in nature that I could play on a recital or just with a friend during a practice session. At the most recent ITG conference I experienced the odd feeling of being surrounded by so many trumpet players, yet not being a performer. It was during a moment of listening to others warm up around me as I stood without a horn in hand that I thought about my role change in the trumpet community. I now consider myself a servant to them in many ways and one of my goals as a composer is to provide music that is serious and also enjoyable for brass players to play. I hope that these duets will be of good use to many.
And now, it is on to the next project! I was asked to write a choral work that is a part of a community composing project and I am excited to get started on it.
What if the only thing that can hide Light is light?
I sometimes wonder if we forget to teach music simply because we are human. Yes, there are plenty of studies on the benefits of music education and how practicing music enhances other skills. But what if we didn’t have those studies? What if we didn’t know that was the case? Would we still think music is valuable?
Well-written music holds much power, but we seem to be losing our ability to allow this power into our lives. We no longer allow ourselves to feel a wide range of emotions. Who has time for that? I’ll get my music “fix” in the car on the way to somewhere important. Who has time to sit down and listen to a 30 minute symphony? I could watch a TV sitcom during that same amount of time. And I can do that while eating, texting and searching Facebook all at the same time. I need “down time” after my busy day. I don’t want to spend time listening to something that may compel me to contemplate corners of my soul I didn’t know existed. Or how about I find some other methods of escape for a while? Who has time to feel deep emotions and deal with them? Who has time to deal with reality? Who has time to deal with being human?
We may not be consciously thinking in this way, but our ability to be vulnerable seems to be diminishing. Allowing music to enter our lives and transform our thoughts and hearts requires this vulnerability. We seem to be losing our humanity. We are turning into consumers. Machines. Trying to become gods through the creation of technology.
To quote H.R. Rookmaaker “Man is no longer a human being who buys things: no, he is a consumer. He has become a little wheel in the big machine, a unit in social statistics, and electronic oscillation in the computer.”
Does that make you angry? I think it should. It’s true. What is a higher honor: being a consumer of “goods” or being a human being?
We will always be human-we can’t escape it. While we often like to think of ourselves as strong and powerful, we are also weak and frail. Great art shows the nobility of humanity as well as the tragedy of humanity. By eliminating the arts from our lives we are also escaping these aspects of our nature. In the end, trying to escape reality only creates more chaos in an already chaotic world.
These are only words I have while I figure out actions to take to keep music in the lives of students. Perhaps one action is just to simply sit down and create more music and teach others to allow this power into their lives. I love teaching my trumpet students. And I don’t teach these students because I believe it will make them more intelligent or help with their math grades (though it might). I teach because I want them to have the power to understand something that can nurture their very souls. I want them to fully experience life as human beings.
I took a trip to the Columbus Museum of Art this winter and met a work that captured my attention. The piece is titled “Blow Up #1” by Ori Gersht. I visited this exhibition a number of times while it was showing at the museum and enjoyed watching the reactions from various people. They all seemed to notice something different. Gersht used high-speed photography to capture a moment in time of an arrangement of flowers exploding. In just this one short moment, Gersht captures a profound truth about this world and the human condition.
At first sight the photo looks amazing. Beautiful and exciting. Yet when I look closely, I realize it is beauty that is broken. The photo is a visual display of reality. Reality can have many exciting appearances, but it is deeply flawed. First, I was attracted to the beauty. Then I saw the violence and wanted to turn away. Once I accepted both, I began to see. I understood and was at peace. Troubled, yet comforted. I was holding the paradox.
We tend to only take pictures of good and beautiful things. We take pictures because we want to be outside of time as we try to hold on to moments of beauty. We want the experience to last forever, yet we know it won’t. Here we have a photo, yet it is not attempting to hold onto beauty. It is honest. There is no deception because it displays a beauty that has been subject to corruption. It is tragic. There is no sense of hope directly given in this, yet I do still find hope in it. It makes me face reality-that all things fade. And this brings out my longing for a better world. As C.S. Lewis said: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
The world was subjected to futility…in hope. And hope that is seen is not hope. The new earth is not seen. Peace on earth is not seen. Love without parting is not seen. Jesus Himself is not seen, yet we hope for these things. The now is broken, but the brokenness points us to wholeness.
If I look at this and just see beauty or excitement- I have deception.
If I look at this and just see violence and brokenness- I have despair.
If I look at this and see both beauty and brokenness- I have hope.
It does not take much observation of this world to notice the tension between destruction and beauty. Look at a tree in autumn, or a dying flower, or a frozen waterfall. If there are these two opposing forces, how do we make sense of it? One might ask, “How can there be death when there is so much beauty?” Another person might ask a similar question with a different focus, “How can there be so much beauty in a place filled with so much destruction?” I only know of one satisfying solution that addresses these problems. We need something with a hand touching purity and beauty to reach down into the dust of destruction with the other hand and unite itself to this dust and make it glorious forever.
My next composition, Beauty Broken, will express these same truths.
I was recently at Michigan State for the premiere of "Through Wind and Whispers". I had a great time talking with the composition studio class earlier in the day and felt honored to have a piece on the Symphony Band concert in the evening. The piece was on the first half of the concert along with great pieces by Aaron Perrine, Joel Puckett, and Joseph Spaniola. The second half was a bit lighter with Ewazen's "Celtic Hymns and Dances" and two pieces by Grainger. There was a great surprise as Professor Madden's sister sang "Oh, Danny Boy" before Grainger's "Irish Tune from County Derry". How refreshing to hear a folk singer! I thought that was a great idea to introduce the piece. And I cannot help but smile and be moved whenever I hear Percy Grainger's band works. It was a great concert and I hope to work with John Madden and the Symphony Band again.
Listen to the piece here: