Thinking about a new school year…

It’s that time of the year. The summer is starting to feel like it’s winding down and my mind is moving toward the kind of teacher I want to be this year while thinking about concerts, big projects, and possible themes for the year. I’m also thinking about what the new school year means for my family and how much time I’ll spend away for home because I’ll be at school events or performing music.

When considering that I am a working musician and a teacher, I know I can’t take either for granted. The version of me that seems whole is the version that does both. With that in mind, I want to include more work related to diversity and inclusivity in my music curriculum. Not just dead white guys when talking about classical music, and including women who were instrumentalists, composers, and arrangers when talking about jazz.

I also need to be active in projects that promote D&I works as a performer. Remember to promote living composers when picking new repertoire and take more chances as a composer. It seems like the right thing to do as a person of color who what to see more diversity.

Persistent Ear-Worm

Over the summer I find myself going between the dropping off my kid at summer camps, helping the family with home-related projects, working/ continuing to learn how to care for my house, writing/ arranging music and (of course) practicing my instrument. Summer is a convenient time to make significant progress on some of these things.

With that in mind, I took to expanding some of what I do on my trumpet. If you spend time practicing an instrument, typically one plays exercises in a pattern. In my case, scale patterns. In order to switch things up, I thought it would be a good idea to rehash some of the jazz improvisation patterns I did so long ago as a student.

After working on transcriptions of Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Fats Navarro, and Clifford Brown, I started working on scale and arpeggio patterns related to Giant Steps by John Coltrane. As a classical guy, I tend to use chord changes in several ways.

First as a way of staying flexible through the different registers on the trumpet.

Second, it’s great for ear training because it reminds me that I need to hear the music before I play it.

Third, when breaking down some chord patterns, you can use them to practice alternate fingering. I often practice a small section and try to find natural lip slurs. Kind of like doing Clark #3 with mainly lip slurs like playing G major with a 1-3 fingering at the start.

However, Giant Steps is a different animal. First I can’t get the tune out of my head, and I can’t get Coltrane’s playing out of my ear as well. His navigation of those harmonies is mesmerizing. After listening to it for a period of time, I started to dream in these chord patterns. It’s an incredible piece of music and art.

 

 

Retrace your steps

I’m back at writers’ block. I think it should be good for me to just start writing and then send it out into the world, but I don’t think there much to mention. All I want to do is watch the NBA Playoffs and listen to music. So I’ll tell you about that. Perhaps if I retrace my thoughts, I can send out something worth mentioning.

For work, I’m listening to a lot of Percy Grainger. The is something truly satisfying about his orchestration for both band and orchestra. It’s been fun unpacking his music with my students. Between Grainger and Anderson Paak, I can’t decide who’s music I have spent more time listening to the past month.

Anderson Paak was a students’ suggestions and I’m so glad he reminded me of the incredible musician. Check out the Tiny Desk Concert if you think I’m kidding.

Music and Words

Last month my school had an assembly celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Every year I think about how my school celebrates MLK. In years past, when I taught at a small independent elementary and middle school, we kept it to many of his highlights and events.  Students learned about nonviolent protest, marches and other key figures of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Most of it was done to not upset young students or parents.

In that setting, I would use my lesson plans and classes as a space to explore more of the civil rights movement. Since I teach music, I could use several avenues or artist to explain the artistic reactions to many of the injustices that came as a result of Jim Crow laws or segregation. However, it still felt like I was just addressing the surface of this subject.

Now I teach at an independent middle school and high school so I can dive a bit deeper and have students explore more. It helps that students are also studying the civil rights movement and are becoming social-activists. But still, as a new faculty member, I don’t want to upset the apple cart and do too much too soon. So when the opportunity came up to include music in the MLK assembly, I jumped at the chance.

At first, the planners of the assembly didn’t want the school orchestra to play. It would have been a lot of moving parts with a for a fifty-minute program. Eventually, we compromised and had a string quartet playing arrangements of Lift Every Voice and Sing and We Shall Overcome. In between the two pieces, an excerpt of the speech Dr. King gave in 1966 came over the theater speakers. Toward the end of his speech, we started the play our version of We Shall Overcome.

This moment may be the turning point in how I address teaching MLK and the civil rights movement. This proved to be a powerful moment for the audience and set the tone for the assembly.

More From Composition Game – Glass’ish

In August I posted a short composition I put together as part of a pilot program connecting me with an artist mentor. Somehow between then and now I didn’t get around to posting some of the other sketches. I mean to remedy that with this post.

A friend thought the minimalist gestures sounded a little like Philip Glass. I’ll take that, I like Glass…a lot.

Remembering a brass quintet recording – Drei Stücke

I was going through some files recently and came across an old program for a concert I played with a brass quintet. There were two big pieces on the program and both were pieces were obscure to me. The one I ended up looking for online was a piece by Stefan Hakenberg named Drei Stücke. Which translated means “Three Pieces” in german.

I like this composer and I believe his music should reach more people. Below are recordings of Drei Stücke from a recording done in Seattle with me and Matthew Swihart on trumpets, David McBride on horn, Greg Powers on trombone and Mike Woolf on the tuba.

The Composition Game

I was recently asked to participate in a pilot program connecting me with an artist of the same discipline to work with me and coach me achieve an important next step in my career. My peer mentor and I talked about using music composition as a way of stretching out to meet some artistic goals. The other goal was to get me to work around my writer’s block.

The game was to set aside an hour every day for the month of July to compose and explore ideas. There is no restriction about what I need to write, nor barriers to whom I was writing music for. The only stipulation was to set aside time to write music. By the end of the month, I would share with my coach about my process and some of the work created.

There was no stipulation that I would share any of this work publically, but I guess I need to put something out into the world. In any case here is one of the drafts I came up with. (forgive the MIDI sounds) This piece could still be orchestrated for any number of ensembles.

All of the pieces I started during this game used a 12 tone matrix. I gave myself this obstacle as a structure to help foster ideas.