As my 30th year of being a band director comes to an end while immediately dovetailing into the start of my 31st year, it is time to be honest: very rarely do I find myself sitting and listening to music for the simple joy it brings. No, it’s always “This could be fun to do in the fall.” or “That would make a great pep band chart!” Thoughts like that. The joy of listening to music for the mere sake of all it brings to the soul has become lost among the chaos of the job.
Pretty dismal way to start a post but I assure you there is a happy ending.
Last night, despite my fatigue from reasons that are not important to this post, I drove up to Princeton, NJ to hear a concert by The Eastern Wind Symphony, under the direction of Todd Nichols. The program was all music by Julie Giroux, a composer whose works captured my attention just a few years ago. Through the magic of Facebook, I, along with hundreds of others, “liked” her page and we have since become “friends.” (Spare me FB! We are not friends. I don’t even know the woman and never met her before last night. But because of FB it was easier to approach a stranger and engage in brief conversation as I am not the extroverted type of individual who is comfortable doing such things. But I digress…)
The experience I was part of last night was nothing short of magical. People are considered lucky, blessed, whatever the word is that fits the scenario of being part of a moment in time that you know is fixed for you–a moment that you will be able to point to later in life and say “That! That was when my world shifted in a different direction.” I have been lucky enough to have three such moments that I consider significant markers of the same type. (I’m talking a positive direction here folks. God knows we all have plenty of moments that shift our worlds in a negative direction.)
The first such moments was during graduate school while working on David Maslanka’s “Symphony No. 2” as a member of the UMASS Wind Ensemble under the direction of Malcolm Rowell, Jr. Mr. Rowell still tells the story of me knocking on his office door (after I listened to a cassette recording he had placed on reserve in the music library of Northwestern performing the work) and saying to his face “Have you lost your mind?!”
He had not lost his mind and by programing such a magnificent piece of music he brought all of us to a new level of understanding. Rehearsing with David Maslanka sitting on the front of the stage, deep in a state of meditation that you swore he was floating a foot off the ground, I learned there was so much more to learn and that I was capable of so much more.
The second marker of this type for me was when I was teaching at Temple University. The Wind Symphony, under the direction of Art Chodoroff at that time, was working on Karel Husa’s “Music for Prague,” another piece I experienced that was life-changing while at UMASS. Arthur had a project setup however: record the piece with Karel conducting. A week long recording session ensued and I had the privilege (and it was better than the recording experience!) to drive Mr. Husa and his wife back and forth from their hotel in Center City Philadelphia to the recording site in Collingswood, NJ. One evening Karel’s wife looked at me and said, “Please tell Karel it is time to stop and to get some rest. If not he will work with those students until 2 am!” (It was almost midnight and he was not happy with the percussion in the second movement, in particular the crotales. I have never seen such painstaking patience and persistence in my life!)
The conversations in which we engaged during the 40 minute drive each day were priceless, and I cherish those memories more than the autographed score he gave me at the conclusion of the experience.
Last night was the third of such milestone markers for me. I knew it the moment the EWS played the first notes of “Sun,” the first movement of Julie’s Symphony No 5: Elements!” This was the first time I was merely an audience member and not one engaged in the creation of the music or experience. My ears, and perhaps my soul, were simply a part of the birth of a world premiere…and in some ways I was just as engaged in the work coming to life as I was in my other experiences when I played an active role.
I will not review the performance nor the symphony–that is not what this post is about. I will tell you that if you have an opportunity to hear this symphony live you should not pass up it up!
Ms. Giroux’s music is now part of my arsenal. “Riften Wed” changed me this past semester and I cannot wait to program it again with another deserving ensemble. “Symphony No. 3 – No Finer Calling” took me to a new level of personal preparation, and soul bearing (movement 2). “One Life Beautiful”–I am not sure I will ever be able to perform that work because I was there with the gang when news hit of the tragic death of Ray Cramer’s daughter for whom the piece was written. Time will tell.
Take the time to remember who you once were and do the things you once did that made you who you are today.
To the EWS–magnificent performance!
To Todd Nichols–YOU are amazing, and yes, let’s talk!
To Julie–your gift that you share with us is pure, honest, and at times even raw. More composers would do well to learn from the vulnerability of your music. Thank you for the score, for taking a moment to say hello, for the chord, the musical turrets, and blowing me out the door. And yes, for a milestone marker I will be able to point to further down the road.