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: clarinet and piano
Duration: ca. 15:00
Premiere: March 4, 2017 :: David Cook and Emily Grabinski :: Wichita State University School of Music :: Wichita, KS
Synchronicity was commissioned by David Cook and a consortium of clarinetists and sponsors. Synchonicity is the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection. Each of the three movements looks at synchronicity through a different lens. The first movement, Brainstorm, was conceived as an improvisation between the clarinet and piano, and, in fact, my compositional process was centered on improvising and then transcribing much of the musical material for this movement. The music feels like a musical conversation between the clarinet and the piano where ideas are stated and then bounced back and forth. There are moments when the conversation coalesces around a single idea, but much of it also feels impromptu, like two people discovering the ways in which their ideas are connected.
The second movement, Quiet, is an homage to Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto and is dedicated to my friend Jonathan Ovalle. Berg’s Concerto was dedicated to Manon Gropius, daughter of Alma Mahler (once Gustav Mahler’s wife) and Walter Gropius, who died of polio at the age of 18. Berg’s dedication reads: “To the memory of an angel.” Quiet borrows two musical ideas from Berg’s work, namely an ascending fifths pattern and, like Berg, who quotes J.S. Bach’s chorale Es ist genug (It Is Enough), a highly distorted version of the Christian hymn Abide With Me. These small hymn fragments are displaced both horizontally and vertically, as if time has slowly torn apart a fading old memory of the hymn. I do not know Jonathan Ovalle particularly well—he is a professor of percussion at my alma mater—but I am connected to him through social media. I originally conceived of this piece for solo vibraphone as a gift for Jonathan, whose wife, Lisa, was battling cancer at the time I began writing. Jonathan bravely shared many of his thoughts and emotions during her last months, and I was deeply moved by his courage, strength, and willingness to be vulnerable in a time of great sadness. My intention was to write a short and simple piece that he could play to either reflect upon or escape from the world around him—to find silence and stillness through music at a time when his life must have felt anything but quiet; however, as I dug deeper into this material and into my emotional response to Jonathan’s circumstances, I realized that this was not for vibraphone and it was not particularly short and simple either: this music needed to be for piano and some sort of wind or string instrument that could sustain these long melodic lines. I began writing a longer and more intense piece—connected to the Berg Concerto—and, coincidentally, I decided to score it for clarinet just a few days before Jonathan shared that Lisa had actually been a clarinetist. This music is for Jonathan and Lisa.
The third movement began to take shape in the summer of 2016 around the time that the United Kingdom surprisingly voted to leave the European Union in a decision known as Brexit. Muster Point is the British term for a designated place or area where a group of people assemble in case of an emergency in preparation for exiting a space. The Brexit referendum was the result of a growing populist and isolationist movement in Europe, and the vote occurred just a few months before the United States Presidential election in November, when Donald J. Trump was elected. Trump was also seen as a populist and, in some ways, an isolationist, and both votes were largely driven by a populace that, among other things, was feeling discontent, left behind, fearful, and angry. In the wake of these ballot results and continuing from a highly contentious and fraught pre-election/voting cycle, people on both sides felt disillusionment and uncertainty, fear and anger, as well as vindication and jubilation. This music comes from part of my own personal response to these political events and is at times angry and energetic, absurd and wild, and at other times swirling with quiet anxiety and tension.
Instrumentation: SSAATTBB a cappella choir
Duration: ca. 5:30
In physics, flux is defined as the rate of flow of a fluid, radiant energy, or particles across a given area. This music is my attempt to translate this idea into sound. I use short, pulsed, echoing music as particles and long, sustained notes that gradually melt and morph through glissandi and shifting timbres as fluid. The particles and fluid combine in various ways to slowly transform the music over time. Rather than setting and painting a text, the singers use various syllables to shape the sound itself, and I imagined shaping and manipulating these timbres and textures much like I would in electronic music, using filters, delay, reverb, and ring modulation.
Instrumentation: solo flute
Duration: ca. 5:00
Together Alone was commissioned by Erika Boysen. Broken into two contrasting movements, Together Alone is a reflection on social media and its psychological affect on me. Although I believe in its power to connect me with other people, particularly with family, friends, and other artists and musicians—which is ultimately why I have yet to try to completely remove it from my life—I have become increasingly disillusioned by the way it sculpts, shapes, and distorts my time and my sense of reality. Movement 1, News Feed, divides time precisely into one-second ticks, using percussive sounds and an incessant, high, pulsing pitch that eventually bends and distorts, as time seems to break apart and slow down. The music is charged with quick rhythmic bursts, like the small, frequent releases of dopamine I feel when scrolling through my Facebook or Twitter Feeds. Stepping back from these addicting streams of information, I am increasingly left with a sense of longing: I have come to realize this this form of connection is not entirely real—not that the way in which it impacts the world isn’t real (it is!), rather, it is simply not the same as interacting in person. Although I am connected to a larger community of people than I could have ever imagined a decade ago, there’s an emptiness in these interactions that fundamentally leaves me feeling alone. I still need to share physical presence with others—I need to look at them, to listen to them, to watch their facial expressions and interpret their body language. I need to interact in real time. I need to try to understand them. And I want them to try to understand me too.
Performed by: Joseph Lulloff
Instrumentation: solo alto saxophone
Duration: ca. 7:00
This version of Detroit Steel for alto saxophone is for Joseph Lulloff. The original version of Detroit Steel for solo flute was commissioned by Ashley Stanley for her Hustle Harder commissioning project. She writes:
The mission of this Hustle Harder is to help give a voice to Michigan culture by featuring the unique perspectives and experiences of six composers, who all have some strong connection to the state. I conceived this project idea because I grew up in Metro Detroit and lived in both Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, I have seen a great deal of diversity, artistic growth, economic fluctuation, beautiful natural landscapes and huge shifts in cultural norms. I understand the rich histories; I have walked across the Mackinaw Bridge, rolled down the Sleeping Bear Dunes, swam in all of the great lakes and been to Grand Rapids’ Art Prize. I grew up watching the University of Michigan football team religiously and sat at the dinner table while my grandparents told stories about growing up in the Italian District of Detroit. There are so many important stories to tell that can serve as an artistic reflection of what is happening here in the state of Michigan and my mission is to help share them.
The idea for this project initially came about during the financial collapse of the automotive industry. As with most political matters, Detroit’s economic affairs became grounds for public discussion. It amazed me at how uniformed people were, and had to sit back and hear the general public say things like “Let Detroit fail, it is a useless city anyways” and talking about how “my tax dollars shouldn’t be spent paying all of the lazy people in Detroit’s unemployment and bailing out these failing automotive institutions.” From the time I was 10 years old until I turned 22, my parents were constantly in and out of work and on unemployment. Institutions were cutting jobs, outsourcing jobs, and forcing people into a retirement they couldn’t afford to take. Every other house on my street was selling for desperate costs or being foreclosed on, every person I knew had a family member who couldn’t find work, and everybody was struggling to make ends meet on a domestic level. I am so proud to be from Detroit and am exited about the massive growth both economically and artistically that is flourishing from the city today. To hear so many people talking negatively about my home city without understanding any of the context was (and still is) upsetting.
Detroit Steel is about the grit, strength, and resolve of the people of Detroit.
Instrumentation: reed quintet (oboe, Bb clarinet, alto saxophone, bassoon, bass clarinet)
Duration: ca. 10:00
Premiere: February 13, 2016 :: Stamps Auditorium, Ann Arbor, MI :: Akropolis Reed Quintet
Refraction was commissioned by the Akropolis Reed Quintet. Refraction is split into three distinct movements, each inspired by different musical sources that have been bent and distorted by time, space, and my imagination, much like light is bent as it enters a medium of different density. The first movement comes from a short, ridiculous, and awesome YouTube video called “Death Metal Chicken,” which features a chicken screaming over a death metal band (of course!). The second movement is called “Kyrie” and is dedicated to Guillaume de Machaut and Arvo Pärt. The third movement is called “Goat Rodeo” and is a strange mash-up of dubstep, funk, and musical pointillism, inspired by a goat rodeo, which 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: trombone choir
Duration: ca. 6:30
blue dream of sky was commissioned by and written for David Jackson and the University of Michigan Trombone Choir. The title comes from a line in E.E. Cummings’ poem i thank you God for most this amazing day.
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: tenor trombone (or euphonium) and piano
Duration: ca. 17:00
Radiant Spheres was commissioned by Timothy Higgins, Principal Trombonist of the San Francisco Symphony. The inspiration for Radiant Spheres centers around the second movement, for me, time moves both more slowly and more quickly, the idea for which came to me while on a flight over Lake Michigan in the Spring of 2014. As I boarded the plane, one passenger in particular caught my eye—a woman sitting directly behind me, looking barely strong enough to make the flight, who I quickly gleaned was with her husband on her way home to Michigan following treatment for cancer. My son Izaak, who was about ten months old at the time, sat on my lap during most of the flight, and he kept his eyes on her almost constantly, smiling and giggling at her as she smiled back at him. As we ascended to 35,000 feet, most of the passengers started to become quiet and sleepy, and I found Izaak smiling at her yet again. This time, I turned to find her smiling back but with tears running down her face. I remember looking into her eyes and thinking that, for her, time must move both so slowly and so quickly, as she felt the poignant juxtaposition of her impending departure from this earth alongside her extraordinary pain. She also seemed strangely at peace, and I remember thinking of the hymn “This is My Father’s World” as we cruised above the earth:
This is my Father’s world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.
On our ascent, I remembered looking out the window at the shadows of the airplane and the clouds, seemingly dancing on the earth as they rushed over the surface of the uneven ground. As we began to descend, I looked again out the window. But this time, from a much higher vantage point, I saw the gentle glow of the earth, this radiant sphere, where the cerulean water meets the dark blue sky, separated by the reddish-orange glow of the evening sun moving behind the earth. And I felt small and I felt grateful.
Instrumentation: soprano saxophone and piano
Duration: ca. 14:00
Purchasing: Murphy Music Press
Premiere: March 21, 2015 :: Connor James Mikula :: Michigan State University :: East Lansing, MI
Walking on the Ceiling was commissioned by the Mikula Family as a college graduation present for Connor James Mikula. I remember approaching graduation myself, and though my family and friends were very supportive, it was the first time I felt like my decisions had important, real-life consequences. I felt pressure to do something great with my life—to get a job, to figure things out, and to apply the things I learned during my education. I remember feeling overwhelmed. I wanted to strike out on my own and to defy everyone’s expectations—to do something with my life that even I wasn’t sure I could do—to defy gravity. I had this image in my mind of doing the impossible, of walking on the ceiling. The three movements are titled heavy, float, and run. The first movement is groovy and funky, a quirky kind of swagger; the second is slow and reflective, a lullaby to my 18-month old son, Izaak, who is doing amazing new things everyday; and the last movement starts slowly but churns and bubbles until it is blazing and vibrant.