Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Joy’

International Horn Symposium

Saturday, June 6th, 2009

Don’t ever forget that classical music folks live in a small world.  I was at the International Horn Symposium at Western Illinois University this week for the premiere of my piece South Africa, (about which more later) and got renew acquaintances with several people I hadn’t seen in years.  First, I was delighted to see David Amram’s name featuring prominently on the day I actually got to spend at the conference.  When I was a senior in high school and at the MENC National Conference as part of the Ohio All-State Orchestra, Renee Goubbeaux and I were wandering the exhibits.  We stopped at the C.F. Peters booth to admire the score to John Cage’s 4’33”  (yes, it’s actually available for sale), when I noticed that manning the booth was the composer of the score next to it, who happened to be David Amram.  I had been composing for all of about two years at that point, and he had some very encouraging words.  I have always carried with me his good-natured approach and good humor and genuine kindness to a stranger.  He was the first “real,” “live” composer I ever met, and it was a good experience.  (The second was Libby Larsen, the same day, and the experience was just as positive.  It was just as great to get to talk to her a few years ago.)  I of course invited David to come hear my piece later that day, and he seemed to enjoy it.

Finding my seat for the concert featuring Amram’s music for horn (who would think a piece for horn, tenor sax and bassoon could work so well?), I noticed a man who looked familiar from the back.  It was indeed Colvin Bear, who plays in the Springfield (Ohio) Symphony Orchestra.  When I knew Colvin about eight years ago, his day job was teaching at South Vienna School, where I was the band director.  We played in Northeastern High School’s musical together, and I taught his son during his senior year.

At some point, I may delve into my feelings about that job, but I know that Colvin and I agree about many things about that position, and always did.  It is easy to admire someone who does the best possible work within a flawed system, continuing to excel despite unfavorable changes.

It turns out, as well, that Colvin was one of the first horn teachers of the wonderful player who commissioned the piece I was there to hear, Nancy Joy.

Nancy and I ran into each other on a plane from Columbus, Ohio to Albuquerque, New Mexico on New Years Eve 2007.  My wife saw her horn case, and struck up a conversation.  We traded ipods, and as I was thinking that I needed to write a piece for Nancy, she was thinking that she needed to commission me to write a piece.  Eighteen months later, the result was the piece she premiered fantastically with Fred Bugbee, her colleague at New Mexico State. 

It is always a pleasure to sit and listen to good musicians perform my music.  After the rehearsal in Las Cruces last week, I knew that this would be the case in Macomb, and it was just wonderful.  I’ve learned so much from these two performers that I will carry ahead with me as I write future pieces, and the feedback I got at the conference was overwhelming.  Just a fantastic experience.

Other highlights–I got to try an alphorn, and listened to most of a session about natural horn; Richard Todd gave some fantastic jazz horn performances–who knew horn was a jazz instrument?  I had some time in Chicago, and visited the Federal Reserve Bank and my new favorite sheet music store, Performers Sheet Music in the Fine Arts Building on Michigan Avenue.  I only wish my wife had been along!  The next trip I have planned for composition is to MInot State University in North Dakota in November, and hopefully Becky will be able to come then.

Travels of Late

Friday, May 29th, 2009

It’s good to get out of town sometimes.  Last weekend, Becky and I took off for Colorado Springs, which, if you haven’t been there, is a fantastic little city, surrounded by incredible natural beauty (especially if you’ve been living in the Oklahoma Panhandle).  I highly recommend the Garden of the Gods, which is just stunning.  We saw it in twilight in between rainstorms–just fantastic.  The price is right, too, as in free.  Expensive but also worth it was the Royal Gorge Bridge and Park in Canon City, about 45 minutes from Colorado Springs.  I was surprised at the price, $24 a person, but it gets you in for the day and includes the incline (Pittsburgh-style!) to the bottom of the gorge and the cable-car (think James Bond with the creepy guy with the special cut-through-cable-car-cables braces on top) across to the other side.  Very good for the soul that has been in the High Plains.  We also visited the US Air Force Academy for their church service on Sunday morning, which also happened to be their baccalaureate service.  The chapel is, of course, iconic, and is more beautiful inside than outside.  I’m a firm believer that the practice of architecture can be a form of worship.  Becky and I used to attend a wonderful church that, unfortunately, had chosen to build a “worship activities center.”  I never got used to the basketball hoops hanging from the ceiling that were a major distraction for me on Sunday mornings.  It is probably too “Western” of me to need a holy place to be constructed by human hands, and I don’t mean to make it sound that way… certainly Colorado Springs and the Pike’s Peak region abound with examples of perfectly holy places in which the work of human hands is, if not negligible, certainly not the dominant theme.  I worry that many of the churches of the last quarter century were built as though they were just other buildings, without a sense of holiness.  If you play basketball in the same place you worship, it doesn’t make your worship any less relevant to God, but it might make your worship less relevant to you.

So then, on Wednesday, I drove to Las Cruces, New Mexico.  The drive is about nine hours from Guymon, Oklahoma, including stops.  That means that because of the difference in time zones it takes eight hours to get there and ten to get back.  I welcome a long, lonely drive, although not on a regular basis.  There is no interstate; mostly US 54 to Alamogordo, where you pick up US 70.  Until you get to Tucumcari, there is almost unmitigated flatness–just like the Texas and Oklahoma Panhandles, but south of I-40, you cross ridge after ridge of mountains, and the two hours before Alamogordo are wonderful–the San Angelo range to the west and the Sacramento range to the east, with the White Sands dunes in between, always looming ahead.  Then US 70 takes you west to Las Cruces over a fantastic pass.

I had a great rehearsal there with Nancy Joy and Fred Bugbee, the horn and marimba players (respectively) who are going to premiere my piece South Africa at the International Horn Symposium next week.  The piece wasn’t perfect when they played it for me, but I learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t work on marimba, and I know from what I heard that the premiere will be fantastic–Thursday, June 4 at 1:30pm at Western Illinois University, if you’re in the area.

Then it was off to dinner at Fred’s house with his charming and lovely family.  We ate on their patio, and I started to understand why anyone would move the middle of the desert.  I only wish Becky had been along!

So, next week I’m off on another trip, to Illinois for the premiere.  Flying this time, but then in Chicago I’m going to pick up the train to Macomb.  I hope that Obama’s plan to promote high-speed rail gets going–if you’re not in a hurry, the train is a great deal more comfortable than flying, as long as it goes where you want to go. 

From that point on, I should more or less be home for the summer.  I’ll be teaching Fundamentals of Music, which I always enjoy, and we’ll be looking for a new choir director–speaking of trips, our current director, Matthew Howell, is packing up his family for a move to Hawaii.  Congrats, Matt!