After what seems like years of sweltering heat here in the Oklahoma Panhandle, it was nice to take a few days and visit Aspen, Colorado so that I could present quintuplous meter at the Aspen Composers Conference, where I also performed Twenty Views of the Trombone, my work-in-progress that attempts to explore what it is like to play the trombone. It seemed like all my college friends headed to Apen every summer and now, fifteen years later, I made it there myself.
The drive from Goodwell to Aspen takes about nine hours, and gives one the pleasure of sampling an enormous variety of flora and fauna. Goodwell, of course, is squarely in the Southern High Plains, and those plains keep getting higher through Cimarron County and into northeastern New Mexico. The further west you drive, the more old volcanoes like Capulin start to rise from the range, and by the time you are in Raton, there are bona fide mountains. Then, heading north on I-25, I passed the daily westbound Amtrak train–the Southwest Chief–as I went through Raton Pass and into Colorado. North of Trinidad, Google instructed me to get off the interstate at Walsenburg, and I headed across more range, but now with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains ahead of me. Lunch was at the Wildflower Cafe in Gardner, a tiny place with a fantastic burger, and I was on the road again. I picked up US50 in Cotopaxi, and followed the Arkansas River and eventually US24 through Salida and Buena Vista. US 50 also winds through Cincinnati, Ohio, where I spent my college years, and I feel a special twinge every time I drive on a road that connects me to somewhere I used to know. It’s sort of like when Matt Specter and I worked at schools that were on the opposite site of Ohio Route 41–Northwestern High School in Springfield and Peebles High School in Peebles–I felt somehow connected even though they were 125 miles or so apart! The final turn before Aspen was on to Colorado Route 82, a road that closes down in the winter. I knew that I would at some point go over some mountains, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the switchbacks that my company car and I had to take. A light drizzle didn’t stop us, though, and we emerged at gorgeous Independence Pass, 12,000 feet above sea level. It was fascinating to watch scrub give way to glades of aspen trees, which then turned into pine forest, and finally, the pines gave way to tundra, and even a little snow. After enjoying the breathtaking view of the Pass, which is located on the Continental Divide, I wound my way down into Aspen to find my hotel. Dinner and some composing in the hotel room, and I was ready for some sleep.
A conference quickly develops its own rhythm as participants stake out their space and figure out how everything works. The Aspen Composers Conference is organized annually by Natalie Synhaivsky, and allows composers to meet to share their work, opinions and ideas. In addition to my presentation on quintuplous meter, topics ranged from analyses of works that continue to inspire various composers, to working techniques and philosophical concerns. Keane Southard’s presentation of Frederic Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated! was fantastic and gave me insight into a piece that I first encountered when I was teaching middle-school general music. The textbook for eighth grade included numerous excerpts from the work, and I’ve decided that it now needs to be on my list of pieces to investigate more fully. The spectre of Beethoven haunted the room, as not one but two composers chose to address his late music. Anne Goldberg, a composer and choreographer working in New York City discussed her approach to collaboration, in which collaborators are given enormous latitude to create a somewhat improvisatory approach. The day ended with a brief recital, and I represented the trombone with six pieces from Twenty Views, including two world premieres, “What it’s not Quite Like,” which explores quintuplous meter, and “What it Will (Not) Be Like,” a twelve-tone piece using a nifty little tone-row that I came up with last month. I don’t know when Twenty Views will be finished. I keep adding to it as I can, and as I have need to–it can turn any occasion I have to play into a world premiere at this point. I’d love to hear any suggestions for titles for new movements.
The drive home was uneventful, but for being held up by a painting crew before I could go back over Independence Pass. It gave me about an hour to pull out the laptop and work on my current project, a band arrangement of the Prelude to Carmen that we will be playing on our first concert. Surrounded by aspen trees with the windows down on a mild mountain morning isn’t a bad way to compose.