Too Many Rests

April 28, 2010

I have a 12 CD collection of band music from J.W.Pepper. Each track starts with an enthusiastic Dick Clark-ish announcer saying things like “You won’t want to miss this harbinger of a piece” or “Your students will LOVE this new work by …” or “From the hear-pounding introduction to the sublime conclusion, you’ll find this work …” After that, a professional sounding band accurately plays the piece for you to audition.

And I’ve always wondered, why do most of the band pieces in these 12 CDs sound the same?  Not with the same melodies or same beats, but with the same sound?

I used to blame the clarinets. If there was ever a section worth blaming, it seemed like it would be the sea of clarinets that every band has. They always seemed like a poor substitute for the violins. Read the rest of this entry »


Program Notes for the Band Piece

April 23, 2010

When you post something on the web, you want folks to bang on it before it goes to your intended audience.  So, when I posted the sound file of this band piece, I emailed it to my family.

So far, lots of positive comments on the piece, but the one comment that was consistent with all of the listeners so far:

What’s with the loud start at the beginning?  My teenage fill-in-the-blank (child, niece, alter-ego, …) doesn’t wake up that energetic!

So, it was time to write some program notes for those who were not part of the residency.

Here they are: Program Notes


Finishing the Piece With Percussion (sound file included)

April 23, 2010

There is now some hope that I can claim my life back.  I believe that I have officially finished the band piece.

The music for the wind players was finished nearly 2 weeks ago.  The percussion was left to be done.  And, for me, percussion is like dynamics. Sure, they’re important, but I’d rather write REAL notes. Read the rest of this entry »


March 22, 2010

When I compose, I sometimes like to bounce ideas off of my wife, Maria.  It has its risks, though.  An idea that I have in my head may provoke a completely different reaction from her than what I envision.  But one of the nice things about being married for almost 20 years is that I no longer need to tell her if I disagree with her.  She can read that look in my face … the one that (unintentionally) says, “OK, I hear what you’re saying, but I disagree, and this conversation is no longer helping me.”  And she politely backs off from her point and lets me take what ideas I did like from her.

I find it well worth bouncing ideas off of her, because sometimes, as a composer, I need a fresh perspective to throw in some new directions.

So, today I took a risk, and I learned what it was like to get fresh perspective from a high school band. Read the rest of this entry »

Untested Technology

February 27, 2010

One of the things I do not like about writing my own applications for one-time use is that one is never sure if everything will work correctly when the app is in its production use.  Actually, it’s not a problem if I’m the only user, but when 40 high schoolers are counting on this thing to work smoothly as they text all day what they are doing – that gets scary. Read the rest of this entry »

Dead White Men

February 3, 2010

I teach piano, and just about all of the music my students are expected to learn are written by dead white men.  When the listen to the radio, they hear music written by people living very far away from them.  We live in the world where composing music is very distant from your average student.

This is one of the reasons that I teach all of my piano students to compose.  Among other reasons – its fun, it helps us learn how music is constructed (thus, making it easier to learn), and, like all creative endeavors, it validates our existence on this planet.  (OK – maybe that’s a bit existential …)

So, while chatting with the band members of my residency this Monday, I mentioned that one of the reasons I compose is that I get tired of playing (or, more accurately, teaching) only music that is written by dead or far away people.

And then, a lone voice came up from the flute section in front of me.  “I wish we played more music by dead people.” Read the rest of this entry »

Getting the Site Working

February 3, 2010

I visited the PHS Wind Ensemble on Monday to introduce the residency.  Cool bunch!  I’m looking forward to this.  Last few days have been spent getting the technology working for this residency.  On February 27, each of the students in the PHSWE are asked to document what they do during the whole day by texting or emailing the blog  Then, on March 1, the residency begins, and I work with the band to craft a new piece for them, based upon the events of the day that they documented.

Getting the technology to work took some time.  The trick is – how do I get a phone number to which folks can text that will automatically go to the blog?  It turns out that there are some services which will email you your texts.  And since there are blogs to which you can email your entries, I ended up doing this:

cell phone text -> email -> PHP script -> email -> blog

I use a service called 3Jam to buy a cell phone number for only 1 month ($9!) to which anybody can text, and it will forward it to an email account.

3Jam puts in all sorts of extra advertisements into their emails, so I wrote a PHP script (based on this article) to strip out these advertisements and pop the sender’s phone number into the subject line.  The PHP script then re-mails the message contents to the blog, hosted by

Kind of cool, I think.