Posts Tagged ‘Nancy Joy’

A View of Twenty Views, part 3

Monday, February 6th, 2017

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.

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 seven more pieces, in the order in which I am currently planning to play them at the premiere.

8. What It Will (Not) Be Like

Here’s a movement in imitation of the strict serial style of Arnold Schoenberg, who claimed that he had invented a musical language for the next millennium.  It didn’t work out quite that way.  From time to time, I have included twelve-tone rows in my work (in the final section of Martian Dances, for example, but this “What It Will (Not) Be Like” is my only purely dodecaphonic composition to date.  Also following Schoenberg, it follows a traditional model–Baroque binary form, with the 3/8 time signature suggesting a siciliano or slow gigue.  I have found this sort of approach useful from time to time, particularly when I was starting to compose and struggling with melody.  I’m less conscious of my anxiety about melody these days–I understand melody as an outgrowth of rhythmic expression, and I have also learned to be patient with my material and trust that the first note I try is not necessarily the right note.  I will never be an essentially melodic composer, but as someone writing a 40-minute piece for unaccompanied trombone would have to be, I have made my peace with melody (by making pieces with melody… ha!).

This was one of two movements that were composed for and first performed at the 2011 Aspen Composers Conference, an annual event organized by Natalie Synhaivsky adjacent to the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado, but not affiliated with it.  I drove from Guymon, Oklahoma to Aspen, and the trip from the High Plains, over the Continental Divide was incredible.  In the summer, I highly recommend the “back” route into town, avoiding Denver.  My hotel was wonderful (and cheap in the off-season), and I met some intriguing people.  It was one of my favorite trips to date as a musician.  The conference featured both paper presentations (more on mine later) and a recital, so the ability to play my own piece without assistance paid off again.

9. What It’s Like After a Cup o’ Joe

This movement is one of my favorites.  It was written and first performed in late 2012 for a John Cage Musicircus held at MOCA Cleveland in December of that year.  It was also one of the first pieces I wrote after I moved back to Ohio from Oklahoma, and one of the last pieces, along with Lady Glides on the Moon, and La Voyage Dans La Lune, that I wrote prior to moving to our house in Willowick.  It stands at the end of one era and the beginning of the next.  It’s the first piece to be solidly technical in nature–something that a better trombonist might find missing from Twenty Views of the Trombone as a whole, but I find that it lies well on the instrument while being sufficiently jittery, as befits the title.

The title has two meanings: first, the effects of a cup of coffee (a drink I do not particularly like, but imbibe on occasion); second, a more personal, autobiographical meaning.  When I returned to Ohio in 1999, newly single, I did a fair amount of online dating.  My preferred place to meet a woman for the first time was a coffee shop near the Ohio State campus called Cup o’ Joe.  After one of these meetings, my adrenaline would be high, and even though I didn’t usually order coffee (they had a great cider drink called Hot Apple Pie), I would be on the same kind of comedown.  None of those meetings worked out, thankfully: the first time I met Becky, we ate Mexican food, which is a thousand times better than a lousy cup of coffee.

10. What It Could Be Like (II)

This movement was composed in 2015 and first performed at the Manchester New Music Festival at Manchester University in Indiana in March 2015.  This is the second movement that considers what might happen after death–in this case, a minimalist depiction of the eternal worship and praise that take place in Heaven.  My limited mind, of course, chafes at this more than a little–it may be the many distractions of this life, or it may be my sinful nature, but I have trouble focusing on worship for an hour or so each week.  Unending worship for eternity?  To my busy, ever-spinning mind, that doesn’t sound like Paradise, although I hope to find that it is, in some way that I just can’t understand.  I rather like this description, which seems to be based in Scripture.  “The best music you’ve ever heard will pale compared to the music of heaven. The most awesome worship you’ve experienced on earth is but a dim reflection of the praise we will render around the throne of God.”  Of course, he earlier describes Heaven as “more fun than the best party you ever attended,” which, frankly, is a relatively low bar for me, since I’m not much of a party-lover, notwithstanding a few very memorable parties I’ve attended.

11.  What My Greatest Hits Are Like (Synecdoche South Africa and Elementary, My Dear Noah)

If there are two pieces so far that seem to be making an impact, they are my 2009 piece for horn and marimba, South Africa, and the music I wrote for an educational YouTube video about the elements of music, Elementary, My Dear Noah.  South Africa was commissioned by Nancy Joy of New Mexico State University after we met on a flight from Columbus to Albuquerque (thanks to my wife, who started talking to Nancy when she saw her horn case).  It was premiered in 2010 at the International Horn Symposium by Nancy and marimbist Fred Bugbee, and has caught on a little bit.  It is by far my best-selling composition as of this writing, and is one of my most-performed (my most-performed music is three pieces from my piano cycle Starry Wanderers that Avguste Antonov has had in his repertoire for several years now; South Africa has been performed by a greater number of players).  I harbor hopes that South Africa will one day appear on repertoire lists.

Elementary, My Dear Noah, is a surprise hit.  I wanted a short YouTube video that would introduce my students to the seven elements of music.  I have taught the same list of seven elements for twenty years now–melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo, timbre, dynamics, and form.  It works for middle school and it works for college.  My current music appreciation textbook, Take Note by Robin Wallace, substitutes meter and texture for tempo and dynamics, but ametrical music is quite common, and texture is an outgrowth of rhythm and timbre, so, I have my reasons for holding on to my list, which was taught to us at CCM in Elementary General Methods by Dr. Rene Boyer-White.  At any rate, in June 2013, I decided to make the video and try it out on my Popular Music class at Lakeland.  It took an afternoon to create, from start to finish, using the sound library included with Sibelius 6, along with some vocals by my family.  I began incorporating it in my classes regularly, but made the video public on YouTube, thinking others might find it useful, and at some point, it seems to have become a resource for music students around the US and around the world.  As of this writing, it has amassed over 33,000 views, far surpassing all my other videos combined, and giving it the largest audience of any of my compositions.  The average view time is about half the length of the video, so at least some people seem to be watching most of it, leading me to think that it is helping someone.  Viewing also seems to spike at the beginning of fall, spring, and summer semesters, just when a class like mine is covering the topic of the video.  I’m no YouTube star, but it’s fun to watch the counter tick upward.

“What My Greatest Hits Are Like” is a mashup for trombone of material from South Africa and Elementary, My Dear Noah.  It also constitutes a synecdoche of both pieces, and of my compositional output as a whole.  It was composed in 2016, and will  be premiered at Eyedrum this month.

12.  What It’s Not Quite Like

Along with “What It Will (Not) Be Like,” “What It’s Not Quite Like” was composed in the summer of 2011 for a premiere at the Aspen Composers Conference in August 2011.  It partnered with my presentation there, “Quintuplous Meter: Notations and Applications.”  I spent several years considering the best way to notate five-to-a-beat music, and incorporating it into my compositions.  It appears in my clarinet concerto Daytime Drama, my Piano Sonata and Piano Concerto, and in this short piece, which is a demonstration, as much as anything else, of what I still think is an untapped rhythmic resource.  As unlikely as it seems to catch on, it is fun to have a notational quirk to pull out from time to time, and I’m thinking that I haven’t used it in a while, so maybe it’s time to write something with it again.  From 2010 to 2012, I presented on quintuplous meter in several venues, where it was generally well received by colleagues in music theory and composition.  Most fun was presenting it as a poster session at the 2010 College Music Society National Conference.  My poster was in the front of the poster area, near a set of elevators, and I got to talk to nearly everyone who came by.  I also met Nolan Stolz, who I had known only through the Internet before, and Rachel Ware Carlton, with whom I would end up collaborating on a piece (that we still hope to be able to premiere!).  Here’s the PDF of my poster.

13.  What It Might Have Been Like (I)

The tracks of our lives all have places where they fork irrevocably.  It’s ironic that the first complete performance Twenty Views for the Trombone will take place in Georgia, a state where I once assumed that I was going to spend a substantial chuck of my life.  I lived in Macon for one frustrating, life-changing year, and in a different universe, I would have stayed much longer and become a person who I would be hard-pressed to recognize, I think.  “What It Might Have Been Like (I)” imagines how that might have turned out, a counterfactual, as it were.

This movement was composed in late 2016, and will be premiered at Eyedrum this month.  I knew that I wanted to learn the technique of multiphonics, and incorporate it into some of the movements I had yet to write, and this piece includes both that and some tongue clicking.  It sounds nothing like the rest of my music, as that life unlived in Macon would have been nothing like my life has been since then.

14.  What It Once Was Like (II) (Synecdoche Homo sapiens trombonensis)

In 2005, I was finishing my master’s degree at Ohio State, and my advisor, the late Donald Harris, wanted me to write a composition as my thesis.  He suggested a trombone concerto with winds, a piece that would certainly play to my strengths.  The result was Homo sapiens trombonensis, and when I showed it to Russel Mikkelson, he immediately agreed to program it the following spring, so in March 2006, I appeared as the soloist in my own concerto with the Ohio State University Wind Symphony, under Dr. Mikkelson’s baton.  It was one of the highlights of my career as a musician so far.  In 2013, Mark Wade invited me to play the piece again with his band at Denison University, and I began to relearn it, as it had been quite some time.  At the same time, I was preparing for a performance of Twenty Views of the Trombone for the Cleveland Composers Guild.  It made sense to kill two birds with one stone, so I created a “highlight” reel of the concerto to premiere that October, with the concerto performance following in November, the last performance of my music before the birth of our daughter Melia.

The time I spend with the trombone has dropped significantly since I returned to Ohio to take my current position at Lakeland Community College, although I am hoping to change that.  I did not immediately start looking for gigs, and the demands of family life limit the time I can spend honing my skills as a trombonist.  Thus, “What It Once Was Like (II)” is a snapshot of a time when I was still growing as a performer instead of (I’ll kid myself) holding the line.

And at this point, I begin to wonder–is there something valedictory about this piece and this premiere?  It seems unlikely that the trombone will ever be as important in my life as it once was.  Am I in a way getting ready to say goodbye?  My hope is that the answer is “no,” and I’ve recently started teaching trombone again, and perhaps as my children get older there will be more chances to play.  Since 1986, the trombone has been a part of my life, and ready to take whatever time I chose to give to it.  As a fifth-grade band student at Windermere Elementary School, I had no idea that I would still be worried about the trombone as a grown-up.  In those days, I wanted to be an astronaut.


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, and the fourth will describe the remainder of the piece.

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!