In February, I will be travelling to Atlanta, where I will give the premiere performance of the complete Twenty Views of the Trombone at Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery, at the invitation of Olivia Kieffer. This is the third in a series of posts about that piece and how it has come to be what it is.
Read the first post, on the history of this piece’s composition so far, here.
Read the second post, specific comments on the first seven movements, here.
Read the third post, specific comments on the eighth through the fourteenth movements, here.
I performed Twenty Views of the Trombone in October 2013 on a concert of the Cleveland Composers Guild. At that time, it was still a work in progress, with only eight or nine pieces complete, but you can listen to that performance here.
The premiere performance will be Friday, February 17 at 8pm at Eyedrum. Admission is $7 at the door.
I will be tweeting using the handle @MattSComposer before, during, and after this process. Join the conversation with #twentyviews–the final post in this series will be a Q&A, so send me your questions about the piece, or composing, or life in general, and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Twenty short pieces is a lot to keep track of, even for the person who is writing and performing them. I’m not completely sure how to keep the audience on track–perhaps they should open their phones to this blog during the performance!
At any rate, here are my thoughts on the last six pieces, in the order in which I am currently planning to play them at the premiere.
15. What They Might Think It’s Like
Another of the group of pieces written in 2016 to bring Twenty Views of the Trombone to completion. This is the only political piece in the group, and I have generally not been a political composer. The revelations of warrantless wire-tapping and domestic surveillance by the United States government, however, are concerning and troubling to me, and this piece imagines snips of phone conversation that might be misconstrued or misunderstood as they are picked up by massively parallel copies of speech recognition software in a government computing center.
16. What It Might Have Been Like (II)
Another of the 2016 crop of pieces–a bumper crop, if there is one, since completing the piece for the upcoming premiere required writing as many pieces as I had already composed. In 2007, after applying to full-time college teaching jobs across the United States and in Canada, I accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Bands at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. It was as far off as it sounds, but my wife and I learned to love the people there, if not always the place itself, and we look back on it as a wonderful adventure in our lives. It was also where we found our family, since both of our children were born there (although, not to us–adoption is a wonderful thing). In 2012, we moved back to Ohio, again after an intense job search on my part.
In Oklahoma, the wind never stops, and in the Panhandle, it seems particularly strong all the time. The first really windy night, Becky and I lay in bed in our apartment wondering if the roof of the building would be torn off, but we soon came to realize that it was nothing special. We could have stayed in the Panhandle–our chief unhappiness was the distance from our families (a two-day drive). “What It Might Have Been Like (II)” imagines a counterfactual in which we stayed there.
17. What It Could Be Like (III)
This piece, also from 2016, wraps up the “life after death” group of pieces, which considered first oblivion, and then Heaven. This final piece imagines Hell. Gary Larson’s The Far Side gave two images of musical hell: Charlie Parker trapped in a soundproof room with easy listening music, and a conductor being led by the Devil to his room, filled with banjo players. I truthfully find it harder to imagine Hell than it is to imagine Heaven. I can imagine unpleasantness and pain, but to imagine them going on for eternity is another thing. All of our metaphors likely fail. So, perhaps this: just as the music seems to get good, it is interrupted, and the interruption, becomes the final word.
18. What It’s Like at the End
Another piece from 2016, in fact, the last piece to be composed. In a way, this is a slower, more reluctant answer to the assignment that inspired “What It’s Like” in the first place–a one-minute composition that describes the experience of playing trombone. Have I answered this question completely in Twenty Views of the Trombone? I have left something crucial out, perhaps, and that is the resting. Trombone players are great at counting rests, which is probably why we’re called upon to do it all the time. As I’ve been preparing to play this entire piece, it is not lost on me that playing a forty-minute composition with no long rests is a very rare experience for a trombonist–I am pleasantly relieved that my chops seem to be up to the task. Last night (February 5) I played through the complete piece for the first time, and it is a testament to the great teachers I have had over the years that I didn’t come out particularly fatigued at the end–not ready to do it all again, perhaps, but not completely exhausted, either. I can thank Tony Chipurn and Joseph Duchi for their guidance in this area–I’ve been fortunate to have had two great teachers with different approaches.
19. How I Remember What It Was Like
The other piece composed in the summer of 2013 for a first performance with the Cleveland Composers Guild in September of that year. Over the last few years, I have been writing pieces that give into a sense of nostalgia that I have felt increasingly. Both “How I Remember What It Was Like” and my 2015 orchestra composition …into the suggestive waters… explore this aspect of my inner life–something I outwardly denied myself for a long time. Both pieces reflect on my childhood and teenaged years growing up in Columbus, Ohio, and both are centered on a motive derived from one of the Remington Warm-Up Studies for trombone. “How I Remember What It Was Like” recalls my experiences in high school band, when playing the trombone slowly changed from something I did to something at the center of my college and career plans. This piece also contains quotations from my high school fight song, “Stand Up and Cheer,” (borrowed from Ohio University) and “Simple Gifts,” a tune which kept appearing through high school, first in Copland’s Variations on a Shaker Melody (in both band and orchestra versions), then in John Zdechlik’s Chorale and Shaker Dance, then, in youth orchestra my senior year, in Copland’s full Appalachian Spring.
20. What It’s Really Like
The last piece in the cycle is from 2009, and was first performed that year on a faculty recital at Oklahoma Panhandle State University, and then formally premiered at an Oklahoma Composers Association Salon Concert in Norman, Oklahoma. Once I realized that there was going to be a Twenty Views of the Trombone, and that it would grow and develop over a period of years, adding pieces as they were needed, I decided that the best way to tie the entire group together would be with a closing piece that echoed the opening piece, “What It’s Like.” So, every performance since 2009 has begun with “What It’s Like,” and ended with “What It’s Really Like,” and any partial performances should do the same. In fact, all of “What It’s Like” is contained within “What It’s Really Like,” making the first movement a synecdoche of the last movement. Both, in their ways, are synecdoches of the entire work, and of the experience of playing trombone, and perhaps, of the experience of listening to trombone music. “What It’s Really Like,” then, amplifies “What It’s Like” by extending phrases, by repeating some ideas, and by inserting additional developmental material. The piece ends where it began, and the composer ends where he began–a man who loves to play the trombone, and wants everyone to know What It’s Really Like.
This is the third of a short series of posts about Twenty Views of the Trombone. The first post gave an overview of the history of the composition of the piece. The second post describes the first seven movements in detail, the third describes the eighth through fourteenth pieces, and the last will answer questions about the piece, received from facebook and Twitter.