Instrumentation: saxophone quartet (SATB) and wind ensemble (also piano reduction)
Duration: ca. 21:00
Premiere: January 10, 2020 :: U.S. Navy Band Saxophone Quartet, Captain Kenneth C. Collins, conductor :: International Saxophone Symposium :: George Mason Center for the Arts, Fairfax, VA
U.S. Navy Band Saxophone Quartet: Jonathan Yanik, soprano saxophone; Patrick Martin, alto saxophone; David Babich, tenor saxophone; Dana Booher, baritone saxophone
Severance was commissioned by the United States Navy Band. The title for the piece and for the second and third movements come from a linked collection of poetry called Severance by my friend Robert Fanning, who has been the muse for several of my recent works. Robert’s poetry often gives voice to my own emotional world in a way that is deeply important to me. In Severance, the main characters, two marionettes, Professor and Grief, sever their wires and escape the play and the theatre in Winterland in “search for a life untethered and authentic, crossing from day into night, from wood into flesh, from wakefulness into dream, from ice into thaw. Severance sings of a way—through the narrows of time and body—toward healing.” (Severance by Robert Fanning, Salmon Poetry).
In the first movement, Clouds of Remembering, I introduce all of the musical material for the piece, but it is often shrouded and ephemeral, always fleeting, like the distant memory of something or someone lost.
The second movement, Every Way Through Hurts, is dedicated to my friend Jovanni-Rey Verceles de Pedro. Jovanni and I met at the University of Michigan while completing our graduate work. He was a pianist, professor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. After graduation, we both moved to Idaho—Jovanni taught piano at the University of Idaho, and I taught music composition and theory at Boise State University. He recorded my Rhapsody for solo piano on his first studio album, and I had planned to write him a new piece, but Jovanni died suddenly in the summer of 2019 while traveling with the global nonprofit organization he founded. When I heard about his passing it took my breath away. At 36 years old—a young, hopeful, energetic musician, a person with whom I felt a kinship and a related musical path—it just didn’t seem possible that he was gone. The outpouring of grief from his friends and family was extraordinary—he had connected with so many people through music. There is no way around grief—every way through it hurts—but very gradually, the waves of grief become smaller and grow farther apart, and we come to know that we can weather them. This music is for Jovanni, and the piano plays a prominent role, often gently tracing the saxophone solo lines like some strange shadow or echo.
The third movement, Follow the threads: Unstrung, begins with metaphorical darkness. The saxophonists play slow melodic lines—threads—that are passed around the quartet and are eventually passed to the ensemble as the quartet’s music transforms into raindrops and then into a peculiar dance. I imagine the marionettes dancing, awkwardly at first, recently untethered and free from their strings, but becoming assured and ecstatic as they dance through grief, through their scars, through the waves, and toward healing.
Robert Fanning’s Severance is published by Salmon Poetry and you can find out more about his work at www.robertfanning.wordpress.com.
Instrumentation: picc, 2fl, 2ob, eh, 2bsn, cbsn, 4 cl, b.cl, cb.cl, s.sax, a.sax, t.sax, b.sax, 4hns, 3tpt, 3tbns, bs tbn, 2euph, 2tuba, db, timp, 5 perc, harp, pno
Duration: ca. 24:00
Premiere: February 23, 2019 :: Dustin Barr and the California State University, Fullerton Wind Symphony :: 2019 College Band Directors National Association Conference, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ
This work is currently under a consortium exclusivity agreement and will be available after April 30, 2019 at Murphy Music Press
*When programmed together all movements are played attacca, but they may be programmed separately.
What is Written on the Leaves was commissioned by a consortium of conductors and ensembles led by Matthew Westgate and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Dustin Barr and California State University, Fullerton, and James Batcheller and Central Michigan University. It is dedicated with gratitude to John E. Williamson, Director of Bands at Central Michigan University from 1979 until his retirement in 2018 and in whose wind ensemble I played euphonium throughout my undergraduate studies. Mr. Williamson had a profound impact on my conception of music; he both pushed my understanding of what is possible and honed my approach to nuance, detail, and expression.
The title What is Written on the Leaves comes from a poem by my friend Robert Fanning. Robert’s poem is a beautiful reflection on letting go, and, like much of his work, seemed to be the words I needed to hear at that particular moment in my life. As I meditated on Robert’s words, the metaphor of trees seemed to me to be an apt way to describe the relationship students have with their teachers: bold, green branches and leaves sprouting from deeply rooted trunks of wisdom and experience, eventually, new seeds falling to earth and becoming new trees. The next generation of musicians may not have the chance to experience Jack Williamson’s extraordinary perspicuity on the podium, but his words and his passion will continue through the work of his students, in the same way each autumn the ephemeral leaves fall from their branches and eventually become the soil that nourishes the tree itself.
The first movement is entitled I no longer recognize my hands, which is a line from Robert’s poem. For me, John Williamson’s wind ensemble was home. I have been listening to the Central Michigan University Symphonic Wind Ensemble since the beginning of my formal music education. But you have to leave home in order to know it. Graduating from Central Michigan University and heading out into the world was when I truly began to appreciate and understand the music we had all made together. It is also when I began to understand myself and the music I eventually wanted to write. It is a strange but important feeling to realize that you have changed but to also realize that change is an important part of the process of finding yourself.
The second movement stems from a vivid dream my father had and recounted for me and the title, Coming Home, came from an article written by composer Steven Stucky. Steven’s words speak to how everyone—even the most original and innovative artists—come from somewhere. It is a beautiful reflection on how to find your own way while acknowledging the people and the places from which you come, and it has stuck with me for a long time. In many ways, this piece, this metaphor, is a way to say thank you to all of my mentors and teachers.
The last movement, And the trees clap for winter, was inspired by a conversation I had with my son, Izaak, when he was three years old. For the first time, he had noticed the leaves changing colors and falling off the trees, and, in his innocent and somewhat concerned voice, he asked me what was happening. I told him about the change of the seasons and mustered an explanation for how this cycle is all a very natural and important part of life. Izaak paused for a moment and described the movement of the trees as the “trees clapping for winter.” This final movement is a dance, at times dark and earthy and at other times ecstatic and radiant. Ultimately, it is a celebration of the past and those who have set a path before us as well as the future and the change that will come.
Commissioned by a consortium led by:
Matthew Westgate and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Dustin Barr and California State University, Fullerton, and James Batcheller and Central Michigan University
Eastman School of Music – Mark Scatterday
Nazareth College – Jared Chase
SUNY Potsdam, Crane School of Music – Brian Doyle
University of Delaware – Lauren Reynolds
University of North Carolina at Greensboro – John Locke & Kevin Geraldi
Western Michigan University – Scott Boerma
Brooklyn Wind Symphony – Jeff W. Ball
University of Oklahoma – Shanti Simon
Southern Illinois University – Chris Morehouse
Texas Tech University – Eric Allen
Virginia Tech – Jonathan Caldwell
Azusa Pacific University – John Burdett
Bowling Green State University – Michael Thomas King
University of Arkansas – Chris Knighten
University of Nevada, Reno – Reed Chamberlin
West Virginia University – Scott Tobias & Stephen Lytle
University of Connecticut – Vu Nguyen
[Performance above: Tim Conner, trombone; University of Miami Frost Wind Ensemble; Robert Carnochan, conductor]
Instrumentation: solo tenor trombone with wind ensemble (also with orchestra or piano reduction)
Duration: ca. 20:00
Orchestra Premiere: November 15, 2018 :: Ava Ordman and the Lansing Symphony Orchestra, Timothy Muffitt, conductor :: Wharton Center, East Lansing, MI
Wind Ensemble Premiere: March 22, 2018 :: Ava Ordman and the Michigan State University Wind Symphony, Kevin Sedatole, conductor :: Wharton Center, East Lansing, MI
I often wonder what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of my children. I have two sons, Declan and Izaak, and, at the time of writing this piece, they were ages two and four, respectively. The title, Their Eyes Are Fireflies, is a metaphor for the magic and joy they bring to my life. The light in their eyes—both the way in which they take in the world with wonder and amazement as well as the way they add light to the world with their innocence and joy—has shaped and changed my perspective in profound ways.
For Declan, at age two, there are so many beginnings, so many firsts, so many discoveries, and so many adventures. The first movement begins with an extended trombone cadenza in time, building from the foundations of the instrument into increasingly accelerating, ascending, and ecstatic waves and surrounded by distant echoes and a halo of dimly twinkling lights. These waves finally burst, revealing a distorted image of the beginning—cascading waves of sound that finally come crashing down like an overgrown tower of toy blocks.
The second movement, This song makes my heart not hurt, is for Izaak. One day he said this exact phrase, and its simplicity and directness stopped me in my tracks. For me, this very unadult-like turn of phrase contained something special—both a recognition and admission of pain but also a turning toward healing. This music is my humble meditation on Izaak’s words.
The third movement is entitled Izaak’s Control Panels. Izaak loves to draw and paint. One of Izaak’s favorite subjects has been ever more fantastical control panels. We have piles of these controls panels in our house, carefully created using pencils, pens, markers, and paint on sheets of paper of varying sizes and colors. These control panels are connected to airplanes, race cars, boats, helicopters, and even strange, imaginary machines that he’s created both in his imagination as well as with Legos. What’s more, the panels often contain gadgets and gauges for unusual and awesome purposes, including to measure the level of mint chocolate ice cream (his favorite flavor), chocolate milk, pasta, as well as typical things like speed, altitude, and fuel. This music comes from looking at the world through the creative and surreal lens of a four year old—motoric, machine-like music for building imaginary worlds is disrupted by the playful smashing, destruction, and recreation of those worlds, culminating in a spectacular and bizarre place where time flows backward, objects fall up rather than down, and airplanes come with milkshake gauges.
Commissioned by Ava Ordman and a consortium of trombonists, conductors, ensembles, and sponsors led by:
Kevin Sedatole and the Michigan State University Wind Symphony
Timothy Muffit and the Lansing Symphony Orchestra
Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra
Mark Williams and Grand Valley State University
Timothy Higgins, San Francisco Symphony
Jeremy Wilson, Vanderbilt University
Kenneth Tompkins, Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Michael Haithcock, David Jackson, and the University of Michigan Symphony Band
Nan Washburn and the Michigan Philharmonic
Robert Carnochan, Timothy Conner, and the University of Miami Wind Ensemble
Mallory Thompson and the Northwestern University Wind Ensemble
Rodney Dorsey, Henry Henniger, and the University of Oregon Wind Ensemble
Robert Lindahl, Central Michigan University
Steven Kandow, University of Saint Francis
Instrumentation: Band (grade 3)
Piccolo, 2 Flutes, Oboe (div.), 3 Bb Clarinets, Bb Bass Clarinet, Bassoon (div.), 2 Eb Alto Saxophones, Bb Tenor Saxophone, Eb Baritone Saxophone, 3 Bb Trumpets, 2 F Horns, 3 Trombones, Euphonium (div.), Tuba (div.), Timpani, 6 Percussion
Duration: ca. 6:30
Premiere: December 21, 2017 :: Riverwatch Middle School Band :: Matthew Koperniak, conductor :: Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic :: Chicago, IL
Purchase: Murphy Music Press
Unquiet Hours was commissioned by the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic.
This piece is about the unquiet hours—the times when sadness, doubt, anxiety, loneliness, and frustration overwhelm and become a deluge of unceasing noise. When the distant din of the past and the steadily approaching uncertainty of the future grow closer and become louder than the present moment. When the world swirls and churns like a hurricane of discord and anger. And this piece is about finding peace inside this noise—it is about listening, it is about being still, and it is about empathy.
Musically, there is one central idea in this piece: an idée fixe around which everything centers. This idea is repeated and varied—even meditated upon—slowly changing color and shape, becoming increasingly tumultuous until eventually returning to the quiet stillness of the opening.
The title comes from the opening line of George William Russell’s poem The Hour of Twilight.
Instrumentation: Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, English Horn, 2 Bassoons, Contrabassoon, E♭ Clarinet, 4 B♭ Clarinets, Bass Clarinet, B♭ Contrabass Clarinet, Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, 4 Trumpets, 4 Horns, 3 Tenor Trombones, Bass Trombone, Euphonium (div.), Tuba (div.), Double Bass, Timpani, 6 Percussion, Harp, Piano
Premiere: 7:00pm, Thursday, March 16, 2017 :: Michigan State University Wind Symphony, Kevin Sedatole, conductor :: 2017 College Band Directors Association National Conference :: Kauffman Center, Kansas City, MO
Purchasing: Murphy Music Press
Cyclotron was commissioned by Kevin Sedatole and the Michigan State University Wind Symphony. A cyclotron is a type of particle accelerator in which charged particles accelerate outwards from the center along a spiral path, using a static magnetic field and accelerated by a rapidly varying (radio frequency) electric field. Cyclotrons serve many purposes, including to create high-energy beams for nuclear physics experiments and in particle therapy to treat cancer. Nuclear physics research began at Michigan State University in 1958, and the National Superconducting Laboratory (NSCL) is one of the world’s flagship nuclear science research facilities. Hundreds of researchers come to MSU each year to take advantage of the NSCL facilities and explore the inner workings of atoms and their role in the universe.
In this piece I use the cyclotron as a launching point for my creative process. I imagined a fictional and playful sonification of the cyclotron and of what happens to particles when they are smashed together at nearly half the speed of light. These violent nuclear collisions tend to cause strange things to happen, and, among other things, at MSU’s cyclotron, the experimental observations of these collisions have led to the discovery of completely new types of nuclei (isotopes). In fact, the infinitesimally small particles that make up atoms generally behave in bizarre—though not totally unexpected—ways (thanks to quantum physics) when compared to our understanding of the visible world. Among many peculiar subatomic phenomena, light particles called photons can behave both like particles and waves and particles can simultaneously be in two different places at once!
The music develops out of a small collection of motifs and gestures, which are layered and transformed over time to try to portray things like time dilation (accelerated particles experience slower time) through acceleration/deceleration and expansion/contraction, particle versus wave-like motion, cyclical and spiraling motion, the Doppler effect to convey speed and direction, and mechanical, machine-like sounds. It is my hope that, in some small way, this music captures the strange and mysterious beauty of the sub-atomic world and that it honors the work and research of the scientists at MSU and their extraordinary machine.
Additional information on Nuclear Physics at MSU:
Nuclear physics research began at Michigan State University in 1958, and, through a National Science Foundation grant, the first cyclotron at Michigan State University became operational in 1965. In 1981, after years of research and development, scientists at MSU used superconducting technology to create a more powerful and smaller particle accelerator: the superconducting cyclotron. The National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory is also the source of innovations that improve lives. A medical cyclotron built by the laboratory in the 1980s was used to treat cancer patients at Harper University Hospital in Detroit for more than 15 years. More recently, NSCL technology and design were used in a new, higher-powered medical cyclotron built by Varian Medical Systems. This technology will bring more advanced nuclear therapy to cancer patients in several countries. For more information, visit: nscl.msu.edu.
Nuclear science research continues to expand at MSU with the creation of a new Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB), including a new linear particle accelerator which will be operational in 2022. Funded with support from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science, MSU, and the State of Michigan, FRIB will provide intense beams of rare isotopes (that is, short-lived nuclei not normally found on Earth), which will enable scientists to make discoveries about the properties of rare isotopes in order to better understand the physics of nuclei, nuclear astrophysics, fundamental interactions, and applications for society. As the next-generation accelerator for conducting rare isotope experiments, FRIB will allow scientists to advance their search for answers to fundamental questions about nuclear structure, the origin of the elements in the cosmos, and the forces that shaped the universe. For more information, visit: frib.msu.edu.
Instrumentation: Band (grade 3)
Piccolo, 2 Flutes, Oboe, Bassoon, 3 B♭ Clarinets, B♭Bass Clarinet, B♭, 2 Alto Saxophones, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, 3 Trumpets, 2 Horns, 2 Tenor Trombones, Bass Trombone, Euphonium, Tuba, Timpani, 4 Percussion
Optional: Double Bass, E♭Contra Alto Clarinet, B♭Contrabass Clarinet
Premiere: Thursday, December 14, 2017 :: East Lansing High School Wind Ensemble, David Larzelere, conductor :: East Lansing High School :: East Lansing, MI
Purchasing: Murphy Music Press
Program Note: Many people use narrative to structure the way they listen to music. If a title or a program note does not immediately evoke a story, some will invent one to frame their listening experience. Video games—some more than others—also allow you to create your own story within the framework of a given world. Ghost Apparatus—a hidden network or force—is the soundtrack for a video game that exists only in my head. The narrative for this game is up to you. From the beginning, every note, every decision has a consequence—a cause and effect—that sets in motion a chain of events that cannot be undone. Every note, every gesture is part of a larger puzzle—these single points of sound come together to form something bigger. It’s not apparent from the beginning, but there’s also a force working against the music, against the game. It comes in the form of a melody that emerges slowly—just quick, dramatic swells at first—gradually becoming longer and punctuated by low, loud pillars of sound from the low voices until, finally, the music melts into chaos and this force overtakes the music entirely.
Instrumentation: brass choir with percussion [4.3.4.euph.2-timp-3 perc]
Duration: ca. 2:00
Premiere: September 18, 2016 :: Kevin Sedatole, Beaumont Brass Quintet, and principal brass players from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra :: MSU Brassworks Concert :: Fairchild Theatre :: Michigan State University :: East Lansing, MI
Spartan Fanfare for brass and percussion was written for my wonderful colleagues in the Michigan State University College of Music. The fanfare is an arrangement of material from the finale sections of my orchestral pieces Dance the Dream Awake and Strange, Beautiful Noises, which I had long wanted to adapt into a short fanfare for brass and percussion.
Instrumentation: fl, ob, cl, b.cl, bsn, s.sax, a.sax, t.sax, b.sax, hn, tpt, tbn, 2 perc, bass, pno
Duration: ca. 5:30
Premiere: April 6, 2015 :: University of Texas Austin Wind Symphony :: Robert Carnochan, conductor
Purchase: Murphy Music Press
Schism is about divisions. I wrote Schism in 2010 in the midst of the turbulent national mid-term elections, a time that, in the context of more recent political turmoil, actually seems quite tame. I was overwhelmingly frustrated by the sophomoric mud-slinging and ridiculous lies being told by many politicians and the variously allied media, but I was also somewhat amused by what was nothing short of a nationwide goat rodeo*. Much of the musical material is transcribed almost note for note from an improvisation I played on the piano and recorded in the early stages of sketching the piece. I remember being interested in combining the pointillism of Anton Webern’s music with a bluesy rock groove, so much of the piece is based on a single, simple, eighth note based, divided melodic line that jumps around the piano in very large leaps. I think of the musical affect as similar to the compound melodies in J.S. Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites, where a single melodic line is perceptually transformed through large leaps into multiple voices, though, in the end, I used the ensemble to actually hold out the notes the piano could not to add color, character, and attitude to the independent voices. I also wanted to play with the notion of groove by dividing it in unusual and unexpected ways, almost like running a few of the licks and grooves through a meat grinder.
Schism was originally written for the chamber orchestra Alarm Will Sound. This version for winds and percussion was commissioned by a consortium of ensembles led by Robert Carnochan and the University of Texas at Austin Wind Symphony as well as Michael Haithcock, University of Michigan; Chris Knighten, University of Arkansas; Steven D. Davis, University of Missouri–Kansas City Conservatory of Music.
*A goat rodeo is a slang term for a chaotic situation, often one that involves several people, each with a different agenda/vision/perception of what’s going on; a situation that is very difficult, despite energy and efforts, in which to instill any sense or order.
Instrumentation: wind ensemble (grade 4)
Piccolo, 2 Flutes, 2 Oboes, 2 Bassoons, 3 Clarinets, Bass Clarinet, 2 Alto Saxophones, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, 3 Trumpets, 4 Horns, 2 Tenor Trombones, Bass Trombone, Euphonium, Tuba (div.), Double Bass, Timpani, 6 Percussion, piano
Duration: ca. 5:00
Premiere: May 8, 2014 :: Washtenaw Community Concert Band, Chris Heidenreich, conductor :: Washtenaw Community College Auditorium, Ann Arbor, MI
Purchasing: Murphy Music Press
Daybreak Crossing was commissioned by the Washtenaw Community Concert Band for their 35th anniversary. I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan in Washtenaw County for seven years, and I wanted to capture some of the spirit of that wonderful place in this piece. When I think about Washtenaw County, there are many images and experiences that come to mind: warm summer evenings spent in Depot Town along the railroad tracks sharing a meal with family and friends, quiet autumn walks in the Arboretum, and incredible, exciting concerts in Hill Auditorium, just to name a few. All of these places find a small role in the sound-world of this piece, but one place in particular remains firmly and fondly my favorite: the beautiful Huron River at Argo Park in Ann Arbor. On many quiet, summer mornings, I found myself on or along the Huron, either in a kayak or on a running trail, taking in the serene, glassy surface of the water as the sun slowly rose. As a new day began, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of adventure and resolve at the thought of all that the new day held. This image—this feeling—served as the inspiration for Daybreak Crossing—that of excitement, energy, nervousness, determination, and hope as the brilliant light from the rising sun slowly filled the sky and danced on the surface of the water in that beautiful place I called home.
Instrumentation: concerto for alto saxophone and wind ensemble (piano reduction and orchestra version also available)
Premiere: 7:30pm, Friday, January 4, 2013 :: United States Navy Band, Brian O. Walden, conductor, Jonathan Yanik, saxophone :: 2013 International Navy Band Saxophone Symposium :: George Mason University, Fairfax, VA (edited in 2014)
The initial inspiration for Dreams in the Dusk came while walking on my father-in-law’s farm on a cold, snowy evening. Situated in rural Michigan, miles from the nearest city on the flattest land I have ever seen, I came the closest I have ever been to feeling real silence. The silence, stillness, and peace that I found in the fleeting moments of daylight while walking in the crisp, fresh snow was one of the ways that I dealt with the passing of my sister-in-law, Julia Hope Voelker, a mere 23 years old, who lost her battle with cancer in January of 2013. Those walks at dusk became a kind of ritual for me during the last few weeks of her life, as our family had gathered together to be with her as she lived out her final days in her childhood home. Searching for a voice for the many emotions I was feeling, I turned to one of my favorite poems, “Dreams in the Dusk” by the American poet Carl Sandburg. For me, this poem captured the essence of that sacred time at the waning of the day in a way that was beautiful and profound.
Dreams in the Dusk
By Carl Sandburg
Dreams in the dusk,
Only dreams closing the day
And with the day’s close going back
To the gray things, the dark things,
The far, deep things of dreamland.
Dreams, only dreams in the dusk,
Only the old remembered pictures
Of lost days when the day’s loss
Wrote in tears the heart’s loss.
Tears and loss and broken dreams
May find your heart at dusk.
Sandburg, Carl. Chicago Poems. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1916, 1999.
There are two primary musical gestures that most often occupy the musical foreground of the piece, including a moaning, groaning, or wailing, which is usually manifest in the form of long, slow portamenti between notes in various melodic structures, and sharp, quick crescendi, which are usually orchestrated into either spacious chords or tight harmonic clusters. The melodic groans are a kind of musical mourning, analogues of sung or spoken lamentations. The quick crescendi are used in a variety of contexts in Dreams in the Dusk, but, for me, they represent the musical icon of reverse tape playback effects, which are nearly ubiquitous in popular and electronic music. More important than a genre or technique reference, they take on a specific personal significance within the context of this piece, signifying a desire to turn back time, to start again, to change the diagnosis, to return to a time when all was well.
Dreams in the Dusk was commissioned through the generosity of the following saxophonists and sponsors:
Jonathan Yanik, Timothy McAllister, Dale Underwood, Joshua Thomas, Donald Sinta, Jonathan Nichol, Dale Wolford, Don-Paul Kahl, Matthew Kobberstad, Alex Sellers, Garrett M. Ledbetter, Matthew Schoendorff, Todd Gaffke, David Cook, Jeffery Kyle Hutchins, Gordon Gest, Mark and Debbie Freier, Zachary Shemon, James Fusik, Jeffrey Heisler, and Keith Petersen.