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.
*When programmed together all movements are played attacca, but they may be programmed separately.
Commissioned by a consortium led by:
Matthew Westgate & the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Dustin Barr & California State University, Fullerton, and James Batcheller & 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