I had a world premiere at Florida Atlantic University a few weekends ago. It was so great! The performance was energetic and exciting. I felt like an oratorical expert. For once, I felt comfortable in my own skin, and aside from a slew of “ums” that I wish I could take back, I spoke directly and effectively when I was presenting or instructing or answering questions. I can’t tell you how long it has taken me to get to that point alone. Public speaking, man. Not a common talent among us studio-imprisoned computer-staring composers.
The piece performed was Aerial Navigation, a crazy, groovy, off-kilter, torpedo of a piece that was first written for Solo Trumpet and Brass Quintet back in…2012? I don’t even remember any more. During my graduate studies at UCLA, my friend, colleague, and trumpet charmer Courtney Jones came to me with an extended technique (meaning, a sort of avant-garde way to play the instrument) that he had discovered, and wanted me to write a piece that used this technique.
Courtney discovered the technique by pure happy accident. He was practicing/researching extended techniques on his trumpet for his dissertation, and then switched into warm-up mode for an upcoming rehearsal. Courtney’s goto warm-up is a quick runthrough of the Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov. He had a mute in, but he forgot that one of his trumpet slides was removed for the extended technique research. So what came out was a weird, out-of-tune, completely coincidental groovy thing.
So, this was great! The hardest part, the inspiration for a piece, was already taken care of. But there were other problems. The technique is very quiet because of the mute, so I somehow had to make the trumpet solo still heard above all the other instruments. Plus this technique wasn’t just a weird blip. It was a whole riff. With two phrases. How was I supposed to incorporate an entire riff of extended technique into an original composition?
In Courtney’s and my initial meeting about the piece, I tore the whole thing apart. We dictated by ear exactly what was happening, we figured out exactly which pitches we heard, which pitches were passing through the mute and which pitches were passing through the open slide. What happens in different octaves? What happens with different mutes? How were we going to notate that crazy effect? I ended up basing every pitch, chord, rhythm, and basic tonality of the piece on that riff. The riff was funky, so the whole piece was funky.
Then came the revisions. The Brass Quintet version wasn’t working well so I redid it for Brass Septet. That version was such a hit that Courtney asked me to arrange it for Trumpet Solo and Wind Ensemble. And that was what premiered a few weeks ago.
It was performed at FAU’s Concert Band Festival, by Dr. Courtney Jones and the FAU wind ensemble conducted by Kyle Prescott. I was so impressed by the high school students that were attending the festival. Several of them came right up to me after the open rehearsal to shake my hand and ask me questions. They were intelligent questions too. “How do you approach voicing?” “How long did it take you to write the piece?” “How did you know what to say to the band to get them to play what you want?” (Boom! See, I really did express myself well!) This concert band festival that Kyle Prescott has now put on for thirteen years is really a great thing for the musicians of the future. I was thrilled and very honored to be a part of it.
The entire weekend went almost without any hitches (Composer Tip #1: ALWAYS proofread ALL the text in your score before sending it to print), the rehearsal was smooth and stimulating, and the piece was an absolute hit (Composer Tip #2: Never ever ever ever ever go to a performance of your work without a good personal recorder and SEVERAL EXTRA BATTERIES. EVEN IF YOU PUT IN BRAND NEW BATTERIES BEFORE YOU LEFT). Not to mention Courtney Jones slaughtered the trumpet solo.
So what started as a warm-up mistake, ended in a standing ovation.
Well…it’s not really the end. I think we just got started.