I had a phenomenal world premiere at Florida Atlantic University a few weekends ago.
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 think. During my graduate studies at UCLA, my friend, colleague, and trumpet charmer Courtney Jones came to me with an extended technique for trumpet 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. His goto warm-up is a quick run-through 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 string of notes.
So, this was great! The hardest part, the inspiration for a piece, was already taken care of. But there were a few other challenges. 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. Also, 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 our 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 this 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 revisions. There weren’t really enough players in a Brass Quintet for what I wanted, so I redid the piece for Brass Septet or Brass Ensemble. That version was such a hit that Courtney asked me to arrange it for Trumpet Solo with 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 very impressed by the genuine excitement and interest of the high-school students that were attending the festival. They were not shy to meet me after the open rehearsal and ask questions. This concert band festival that Kyle Prescott has now put on for thirteen years is truly 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). Not to mention Courtney Jones slaughtered the trumpet solo.
I am pleased to say that what started as a warm-up mistake, ended in a standing ovation. (Well, hopefully we just got started.)
For more information and recording clips of Aerial Navigation, click here for the wind ensemble version, and here for the brass septet version.
If you have any questions or comments about this article, don’t hesitate to contact me!