Something a little different today...before I got into choral composition, I used to write for voice and guitar. I had a less-serious side, songs that I wrote for my "group" Those Two Annoying Guys (me and my friend Kyle). But I also had a serious side to my writing as well. This is one I wrote back in 1998, Land of Dreams. The recording was done in December 2009. I played around with the audio using GarageBand and came out with this video.
As you probably know if you're familiar with my bio or my research, I speak Slovak and was, once upon a time, fluent. I decided to create a singable translation of the song in Slovak and recorded that version as well. It's a tricky thing to translate for meaning, it's a harder thing to make a singable translation. It has to make sense and rhyme. So, here's the Slovak version, Zem Snov.
Please watch, like and share these videos and don't forget to SUBSCRIBE to my YouTube channel.
In 2015, during my 10th year of teaching choir at Germantown High School, I was preparing to take my choirs to New York City to sing at Carnegie Hall under the baton of Dr. André Thomas. As with any trip of this scale, it took tremendous planning and fundraising, including a three-night Germantown’s Got Talent production. The students were getting super excited.
Part of the excursion was going to be a trip up the Empire State Building with chance to perform in an open area on the 80th Floor. I decided that I wanted to write something brand new for my choirs to perform for this special venue.
I wanted something that sort of said “America” without being overly patriotic, so I started thinking of folk songs. I couldn’t find one that really fit what I had in mind, so I decided to write my own. I know, I know…can it really be a true ‘folk song’ if I’m writing it in 2015? Probably not, but I feel that it is written as if people today were to start singing songs the way that our ancestors did. I think people would want to look back at the past.
That's what this song is. It's a song looking back at the songs of yesteryear. It's written in the style of Mack Wilberg's Bile Them Cabbage Down and Paul Busselberg's Skip to My Lou and other songs in that vein.
Written for SATB choir and piano, this was premiered in March 2015 by the GHS combined Chamber Choir and Honors Chorale on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building. It was more recently performed in May 2018 by the University of Washington Chorale under the direction of Dr. Giselle Wyers with Sereena Chin at the piano.
Sheet music is available at CadenzaOne.com.
I know, this is the third "slow song" in a row that I've posted about. The next one I post about will be more up tempo, I promise. ;)
Today I've decided to talk about my first piece specifically written for middle school voices, Dream a Dream. This was a psuedo-commission, meaning that I sort of asked the commissioner to commission the piece. It went a little something like this...
When my daughter Annica was graduating from 8th grade at Appling Middle School in Bartlett, TN, the principal stood and read a poem written by a graduating 8th grader, Katelyn Clemmer.
Dream a dream today
And forget of yesterdays.
Dream a dream you never let go
for God who knows.
Dream a dream that
keeps you alive
For it lies ahead of us
for something that strives.
Dream a dream like you
never did before.
Dream a dream that
opens many doors.
So allow God to turn you
into a dreamer today.
For through this he can
use you In a mighty way.
Dream a dream that will last a lifetime.
The ones that come from above
For God will plant these dreams
In our lives as a way to show his love.
Dream a dream today.
I listened to the poem and thought it was quite lovely and would set nicely for the Appling Middle School Honor Choir. I contacted the principal who helped me get permission from Katelyn to use the poem. I then contacted Nick Wammack, the director of choirs at AMS and approached him about writing a piece for his choir. He was very enthusiastic about the project and helped me with voice ranges and skill level of his group.
The result was this piece, Dream a Dream, premiered by the AMS Honor Choir, of which my son Steven was a part, on May 19, 2016 with Nick Wammack conducting with yours truly at the piano.
The piece is set for three-part mixed choir and piano. It is completely accessible for middle school choirs.
The sheet music by following this link to CadenzaOne.com.
I'm going old school today...in two ways. Firstly, The Itsy Bitsy Spider is a nursery rhyme (in case you weren't aware) from most of our childhoods (childrenhood?). Secondly, this is one of my early compositions, yet still one of my favorites.
When I was attending BYU in the very early 2000s, the BYU Singers were finishing up their landmark album of Eric Whitacre a cappella choral music (yes, I know this is the second post in a row mentioning Whitacre; it's an addiction). No, I was not in the BYU Singers (that's a conversation for a different day), but I was in Concert Choir which met directly after them. I would sit in the lobby of the Madsen Recital Hall with my friend Sarah eating lunch and listening the Singers do their thing. Suddenly, Eric Whitacre himself was there and wafted through the lobby. I was, as most singers of the time were, in awe and became much more aware of his music.
I began to ask myself if I could write something that sounded Whitacre-esque. This was a rather bold move on my part since I had zero composition training and had only done a couple choral arrangements at all. Nonetheless, I decided to put my hand to it and give it a shot. I didn't want to be so serious, though, so I chose a nursery rhyme as my text and proceeded to play around with it. The Itsy Bitsy Spider was the result.
The piece was finally premiered while I was at the University of Memphis. I showed the piece to my professor and mentor, Larry Edwards, and asked if I could conduct the Chamber Singers doing this piece. He said it sounded like it belonged in a set. I had a short piece that I wrote for a theory class based on a Shel Silverstein poem, A Selfish Child's Prayer that I added as the second piece in the set of Children Songs. Then, I wrote a brand new piece called Mary's Lamb and the premiered all three of them in the spring on 2004.
I have used the piece a couple times with other choirs since the premiere. Its for SATB div. choir, a cappella. It's appropriate for high school, community, or collegiate levels. I guess a church choir could use it, but you'd have get creative. :)
Sheet music is available at CadenzaOne.com.
For more information about how I really feel about Eric Whitacre (it's positive, if you're wondering), check out my previous blog post about Whitacre's Virtual Choir.
I have decided to put down in print my feelings about some of my compositions. You know, origins, poetry, premiere information, etc. My hope is to post something once to twice a week.
The first piece I'm going to write about is From the Ashes which I wrote at the end of 2017. I was in my second year of my doctoral program at the University of Washington and was feeling a little discouraged. I began to find inspiration in the image of the phoenix who dies by bursting into flame, but is then reborn from the ashes. I knew that I could emerge from my discouragement stronger than when I began.
I wrote the text thinking of the phoenix immediately after the burning as it's about to wake up into a new life.
Enfolded in peace.
The agony and pain Disappear:
The burning, the sorrow, the flame
Enfolded in peace.
Entranced by life.
Remembering fire Inside;
Death before sleep, and now
Entranced by life.
Enraptured by flight.
The strength within Burning.
Spreading my wings, I soar
Enraptured by flight.
I began to set the music using the text as a guide. I moved from the simplicity of repeated open fifths during "I Sleep" moving forward to the eventual spreading of the wings and the flight of new life.
The music of this piece was influenced by the music of Giselle Wyers, Eric Whitacre, and Jake Runestad.
As I wrote the piece, I didn't have a choir lined up for a performance, but shortly after I started writing, Dr. Geoffrey Boers at the University of Washington said that he wanted to use student compositions in the spring concert, so I began to write with Chamber Singers in mind. When I was finished, I sent it to him and he gave me suggestions that would help shape and improve the piece. It was premiered in May 2018 by the UW Chamber Singers under the direction of Jennifer Rodgers, one of my DMA colleagues.
Written for SSAATTBB choir with piano, the sheet music is available at SheetMusicPlus.com and is appropriate for advanced high school and collegiate groups as well as community choirs.
This is sort of a follow up to a post I wrote almost a year ago. I asked the question, "When will it be enough?" I've had some very interesting experiences in the past couple of months that have helped me come to an answer to that question.
First, this summer I directed the UW Summer Chorale. I was able to recruit, rehearse, and conduct an hour and a half concert with no oversight. I was free to play with the ideas that I have learned over the past two years of grad school. The concert came together with great success.
Second, I traveled for two weeks to Slovakia and spoke with music teachers and choir directors from universities across the country: Bratislava, Košice, Prešov, Žilina, Martin, and Trenčianské Teplice. I was able to not only carry on conversations in Slovak (which I wasn't sure I'd be able to do after 20 years), but learned how to converse about music and choirs. I was treated with respect and as an equal colleague.
Third, I have been called to be the choir director of my ward choir at church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). This is an un-paid position, but I wouldn't trade it for the world right now. We've only met a couple times since summer ended and I can already hear an improvement in their sound. It's fun to watch the growth!
Fourth, earlier this summer I auditioned for the position as the conductor of the Ensign Symphony and Chorus in Seattle. I was recently informed that I'm one of two finalists being considered for the position. The other finalist and I will share the concert in October (I'll conduct the second half) and the final decision will be made from there. I had my first rehearsal with the choir on Thursday and had a fabulous time. I felt like everything I did was truly from me. It wasn't an affectation. And the choir is wonderful, too. Whether I get this position or not, I'll be grateful for the time I get to spend working with this choir of such high musicianship.
I was pondering on all that has happened this summer, as well as all that has happened in the past two years, and I realized something important. Somewhere along the way, I started to believe that I Am Enough. They aren't empty words...I mean it. I don't feel like an imposter anymore. I feel that I'm at the point that I could actually become a college professor and do well at it. I'm not saying I'm finished learning or growing by any means, but I at least feel like I don't have to feel like I'm faking it anymore.
I am enough. When we get to the point that we can say that, obstacles no longer look insurmountable. When we understand that we were enough all along and the events in our lives are just extras, life looks differently. I couldn't have found this point without my loving wife, Angi, who has been telling me this for over 20 years, or for all my professors over the years who have pushed me to find myself.
It's a new perspective. I'm ready to start the school year on Monday (my last one!!).
Bring it on!!
The following is excerpted from my proposal for funds to travel to Slovakia for research:
From 1996-1998 I served as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Slovakia, namely in Žilina, Martin, and Bratislava. During my time there, I fell in love with the language, the people, and the culture. In a project such as I am proposing, having a grasp of the language and the culture will do much to open doors, create connections, and aid in the research. I would not go as far as to claim fluency in Slovak any more since I have not spoken in conversation in about 15 years, but my knowledge far outweighs that of most other people. I have arranged and conducted Czech and Slovak folk songs with various choirs in Tennessee and Washington.
My time in Slovakia was not as a musician and so my exposure to the music of Slovakia was limited. When I returned to the United States and to my university studies, I began preliminary research into the folk music tradition of Slovakia. Recently, as part of my doctoral studies, I have had the opportunity to begin researching the choral music of Slovakia. I am making contacts with university professors, composers, and conductors in Slovakia that are already aiding my research.
What I have found is that there are limited sources in the United States that write specifically about Slovakian music. The Czech composers of the Romantic era and into the twentieth century such as Dvořák, Smetana, and Janaček, overshadowed the work done by their neighbors to the east. There was not a great deal of compositional momentum in Slovakia during the 19th century in the first place.
The birth of choral music in Slovakia began in the early 20th century with the field research of Hungarian ethnomusicologist Béla Bartók whose work carried him up into the villages of Slovakia to record and collect folk tunes. This important work preserved the indigenous folk music before those that still knew the songs died out. These folk songs served as the catalyst for the choral music movement in Slovakia. At my recent doctoral recital, I conducted Bartók’s Four Slovak Folk Songs in their original language.
Other musicologists soon followed Bartók's lead. Vítězslav Novák, a professor, from Prague, traveled to Moravia and then to Slovakia and learned about the beauty of the Slovak folk melodies. Later, after the formation of Czechoslovakia in 1918, composers from Slovakia traveled to Prague to study with Novak. He encouraged them to learn and embrace the folk melodies of their people. These composers became the basis for the current choral climate in Slovakia.
I would like to be able to travel to Slovakia for two weeks. In Martin, Slovakia, the national archive for the arts, the Matica Slovenska, houses records donated from Bartók during his studies. These records are not available online or through any other means besides in person contact. I would like the opportunity to see and study these records and trace more exactly how they were instrumental in forming the current choral composers’ musical language. I would also like the opportunity to meet and interview current composers in Slovakia, trace their musical heritage, and gain more exposure to their music - especially those works that are not available in the US.
I am currently running a GoFundMe Campaign to try to raise the funds to travel to Slovakia. If you are in the position to be able to help, please consider doing so. Every little bit helps! You can donate by visiting https://www.gofundme.com/slovak-music-research
Thank you for your support!
I have not hidden the fact that I've had a hard time finding a publisher. I only say that to preface this story.
I received another rejection notice from a publisher today. I've received many from this publisher. I don't know why I keep trying. Perhaps, this particular publisher is usually so blunt and sometime almost harsh in the response that I feel a need to be vindicated and finally submit something that they will agree to publish.
This rejection notice was different, though. In this instance, the rejection had nothing to do with the music, but instead the lyrics. This was my setting of Felicia Heman's (1793-1835) poem entitled The Child's First Grief. I called my setting, Oh, Call Him Back to Me.It's a beautifully haunting piece.
The publisher agreed. The comment was "Such sad lyrics. I don't think there would be many takers. Sorry."
My thought was, "What's wrong with sad?" Has our society become so emotionally unstable that we can't stand the thought of being sad? I get the publisher's point of view...sort of. They have to keep their bottom line in mind. If they believe a title won't sell, they won't publish it. But just turning it down because it's sad, I don't agree with. Sad doesn't mean bad. Sad doesn't mean that people won't perform it (it's been performed twice already - once by a high school and once by a university).
Sometimes we need sad. Sometimes we need a chance to let ourselves feel...anything!
Oh Call Him Back to Me is set for SSA choir and piano.
Sheet music available at CadenzaOne.com
Hear the University of Washington Women's Choir perform this song from May 2017.
There are 5 minutes left in class...
I direct the University of Washington Singers, a non-auditioned group of singers that greatly vary in their ages and abilities. The class meets for an hour and a half twice a week.
We had just had a full rehearsal and accomplished every goal that we set for the day.
There are 5 minutes left in class. "Great. What to do?" I think. Have them sing it again just because, even though we just sang it about 5 times? My solution, "I think you have done a great job today. I'm going to let you out 5 minutes early!"
Immediately I'm greeted by choruses of "No! Let's sing something else! Let's keep singing!"
There is a power in singing that touches the soul. Once you start singing, it's almost easier to keep singing than to stop. Singing is personal. "We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams."
I love those "5 minutes left" moments where the soul takes over and says,
"No, let's keep singing!"
I had an interesting conversation yesterday...
At the University of Washington, the Choral Conducting graduate students are gathered in to what is affectionately referred to as "the Cohort." Yesterday we had our annual retreat at Dr. Boers home. We were asked to think about our strengths, or the thing about our artistic selves, that we are most excited about at the moment. We were also asked the think about our greatest challenges - what's holding us back from our progress, especially in regard to our artistic growth.
My greatest strength, I feel, is my ability as a teacher. When I am in front of a classroom, I feel that I come alive: I'm more empathetic, I listen, I adjust, I teach. I feel like that is a gift that I have been given and I'm working on cultivating that gift.
My struggle, though, comes from a deep desire for validation. I have been composing music for a long time now - long enough that I realize that I will never be a master composer. I won't been a Beethoven, or a Dvorak, or a Whitacre. I'm ok with that. What I long for is for someone to say, "Yes, what you've created is good." Though the course of the discussion yesterday, I realized that isn't quite true. I'm not waiting for just anyone to say it. I'm waiting for particular people to say it. People who, in my mind, know what good compositions should sound like. Whether that means certain other composers, certain college professors, or certain (or any) music publishers.
So through the course of the discussion, I started asking myself, when will it be enough? Will there come a point that I get the validation from all those people and then think, "I've made it. I can stop worrying about what other people think about my music"? I mean, what else do I really need? I've had church choirs, middle school choirs, high school choirs, college choirs, and a professional choir, perform my works. What more am I waiting for?
So my new goal, my new outlook, is to just let it be enough. When I compose, it's because I have something inside of me that needs to be said. I need to say it, make it available to others so I can share my story, and then let it be enough. I'm going to focus more on my strength and cultivate being a master teacher - a maestro. I won't stop composing. I won't stop posting to my site. But I won't let it eat me up anymore that I'm not published or that so-and-so's music is more popular, or that such-and-such choir hasn't performed my piece. What I've done so far is enough.
What happens next? I'll watch, work, and wait, but it will be enough.