Let me start out by saying that I think we can all agree that 2020 was probably one of the most eventful years in recent memories. For me, it was a year that started on a high note, went to crap really fast, but made a decent recovery.
I celebrated my 30th birthday. We went out and celebrated with friends. It was a great time but little did we know that this would mark one of the last times we would go out in public in this capacity. At this time I also had 2 of the 5 movements of my Symphony completed and ready to go. Arrianne also started her volunteer work with Make-A-Wish foundation.
We were originally scheduled to go to the Philippines for 2 weeks but we decided against it once we started hearing how bad covid was getting overseas. I started work on movement 3 of the symphony but was struggling to find a voice and direction on how to get where I wanted to go with the work.
Like many Americans, we went into lockdown. Arrianne and I were lucky to have jobs where we could continue our work from home safely. At this point I found my creativity taking a dive in quality but I continued to push on with my symphony knowing that I’ll be hearing it live in a year.
We celebrated Arrianne’s 29th birthday. This occasion was marked with some socially distanced surprise visits and some of her favorite order-in food.
What was supposed to be a 2 week quarantine turned into a full on lock-down. At this point sports had stopped completely. I along with many of my fellow co-workers were laid off as a result. It was at this point I entered a depression like I’ve never experienced before. I think the combination of concerts being cancelled, several commissions suspended, and me losing my main job as a software engineer just piled up.
At this point I started my job hunt for my next adventure while Arrianne continued to work from home.
More job hunting for me. At this point Arrianne was told they would probably be working from home for the remainder of the year. I was struggling to find anything because the market was saturated with tons of people with my level of experience.
Arrianne and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. We took our usual picture with the previous year’s photo and added a mask this year just to mark what we were doing during that time.
This is around the time Marching Band season starts. However socially distanced rules changed the game and made things a lot harder to plan for. My drill writing became more focused on letting groups learn and rehearse in chunks without needing the other until performance time. This was a different approach but it allowed groups to continue marching band season within their own rules and guidelines for covid.
After months of interviews, I finally accepted a new job at a fintech firm. This role was probably one of the longest and hardest interviews I’ve ever done. I was beyond excited to join their team and help lead their technology and software development.
At this point I had 4 out of 5 movements done for the symphony. The summer had taken a really tough toll on me creatively and this was the first time I’ve felt creative in a while.
I officially started my job. I couldn’t have made it through that horrendous summer without Arrianne.
I finished the symphony (rough first draft). 26-30 minutes of music. Arrianne also finished one her side projects of making 100 hats (pictured below) for homeless shelters. I couldn’t be prouder of her and her accomplishment. She was literally working on these almost every knight and was cranking out 2-3 hats a week.
Not much happened during this time in our lives. I continued to refine and edit the symphony and Arrianne started to work on launching her own crafting brand (more on that soon).
Forward Looking and Conclusion:
I built up a ton of momentum as a composer in 2019 but 2020 kind of slowed it down. I’m starting to find my creativity again and have many things to look forward to in the future:
Major website redesign and brand overhaul launch in 2021.
Covid vaccines rolling out
Arrianne and I’s first major european trip late 2021.
The return of live music and the premiere of my first symphony by the Peabody Institute Wind Ensemble fall 2021.
While 2020 didn’t go how we planned, it taught us how to adapt and keep on moving forward. I want to thank everyone who supported both of us in 2020. We look forward to seeing everyone again in person in the future when it’s safe to do so. Until then, be safe and keep checking in with each other.
Highlights from 2020
Robert’s favorite Astrophotography shots from 2020
Hey all, I’m doing a public call for voice recordings. I’m looking to get as many people as I can saying the word “machine” for my symphony! Your voice would become part of the last movement of my work. Your name will also be credited in the score as well. For every voice that is submitted till Jan 1st 2020, I will donate $5 to a local charity (TBD) up to $500. If we reach this goal I will think of something else to do as well!
Here are the instructions
1) Record yourself in a quiet place free from noise. A bedroom, office, or other indoor space will work fine. 2) You can record the audio on your phone, desktop or laptop. 3) The recording should be one single take of you saying machine. You can use any inflection, tone, or emotion you want. a ) You can do it as a group of people as well, but the word “machine” should be said in unison. 4) Upload that recording to this google form:
With the school year rapidly approaching many directors are having to reduce their ensemble sizes to help combat COVID-19. I along with many composers/arrangers around the world have started to adapt many of our works to flex/small ensembles. This effort is a massive undertaking by everyone and has challenged me creatively in many ways. Below is a list of works that are flex or small-ensemble along with links to purchase them. This list will continue to update as I finish adapting them.
(WIP) = Work in Progress
Forge – Grade 2.5 – S A T B with optional percussion
Curtain in the Sky – Grade 4 – SSAATTBB
Excelsior – Grade 2 – SATB with optional percussion and synthesizer choir
(WIP) Sonic Fanfare – Grade 4 – SAATTB with percussion (1-2 players)
And my most ambitious project yet… (WIP)CELLphone – Grade 2-5. A cell style piece can be performed with electronics from an app on your phone! I will even be making the music available on the app so it can be paired easily with each electronic cue.
Along with these pieces, I will freely adapt any chamber piece on my website to fit your instrumentation when you purchase it. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me and I will help you out as much as I can. Let’s get through this together!
Now that I’ve wrapped up drill production it’s time to take a look back at this 2019 season.
This year’s clients:
As with previous years I try to offer my services again to previous clients to make sure they have their spots reserved on my schedule before taking on any new work. This year I had 8 groups take me up on this offer and I added 2 new groups to the mix.
I hardly advertise my drill writing services but some of my work seems to be spreading by word of mouth. So I had 2 new groups, from different parts of the country, that reached out to me about writing their drill. So big thanks to everyone who have been recommending me!
I break my clients down into 3 group sizes:
Large: >100 performers
Medium: 51-99 performers
Small: <=50 performers
Each season I like to take a mix of groups sizes, usually 2-3 large, 2-4 medium, and 2-4 smalls. This usually works out great for my schedule and doesn’t cause me to much crunch in the summer (my wife would disagree with this!).
This year saw a lot of my returning clients with larger groups than the previous years. This means that their programs are seeing growth which is a great thing for the marching band arts and music!
I had several groups (even the small schools) give me numbers early this year so I was able to get a good chunk of my drill writing done earlier in the summer!
I had my first client that tried using Ultimate Drill Book as a way to distribute drill. This was an interesting learning process for him and I. But, I appreciated his effort to going green and embracing technology as an effective teaching tool for drill.
This was the first year I fully used Pyware’s production sheet for all my shows. Gone are the days of me having to create a text box with on the chart with all the instructions. Now everything goes on a nice spreadsheet and each set gets its instructions, measures, and counts automatically added to the bottom of the page.
Rewrites… they are inevitable. While I know not every group will need them, there were a lot this year across multiple clients. I don’t mind doing the rewrites but there seemed to be more this year than in previous years.
While I had several groups get me numbers earlier in the summer, I had about 1 month gap where I had no numbers from anyone so I was unable to proactively write drill. This lead to a point where I had 3 clients give me numbers all at the same time and caused me to go into crunch to get them done in time for camp. I’m hoping to help mitigate this in the future with my production schedule.
Small/rural schools are starting to have harder times enforcing their numbers. I plan on writing a larger blog post about this soon.
I need to remember to leave one spot open in my schedule for that last minute client. There is one every year so I can better prepare for that.
Overall this summer was my busiest. At certain points I felt stretched pretty thin but I was able to make it through. There are definitely changes coming next season to the way I approach drill. I would like to be able to compose during the summer again so I might take a few less clients. There are tons of great groups out there and I’m happy that I get to write drill for them. Good luck to all my clients this season and I’m already looking forward to next season!
To say that this last weekend was a life changing experience would be an understatement. I’m still in a state of euphoria after the Peabody Modern Orchestra gave me the best world premier I’ve had to date. The entire concert in itself was phenomenal with 2 world premieres: Evan Jay’s “That Which We Cannot Live Without” and my piece “Celestial Body”. The concert ended with Cindy McTee’s “Ballet For Orchestra” which is a phenomenal work that displays the full power and grace of the orchestra. You can watch the world premiere performance here.
Celestial Body – How Did This Come to Be?
I was at my booth at the 2018 Missouri Music Educator Conference. I was approached by Dr. Robert Pippin about how his conducting professor, Dr. Harlan Parker, had a group at Peabody Conservatory that did modern music. It sounded like something I would be a good fit to write for, so he sent a recommendation/introduction email that same day. Harlan responded and reached out to me the next day.
We started talking the next couple of weeks about the capabilities of the group and what kind of music they played. Harlan mentioned to me that they finally had the ability to scale up to a full orchestra. I had been looking to write an original full orchestral work for a long time and it seemed like the perfect time to do so. So we settled on a commission for a new orchestral work with electronics in the 10-15 minute range that would be premiered February 2019. Harlan also was interested in my “Concerto for Wind Ensemble” which was to be premiered a March 2018 so he offered to perform it December 2018 with his group.
The Writing Process
Writing a new work for orchestra of this size and magnitude is no easy task. Steven Bryant once told me that you should have an entire work planned out on paper before you write a single note. The second you start writing notes, you’re locked in. So, I started thinking about different sources of inspiration and what I wanted the piece to be about.
I have been always interested in space. Ever since I had access to pictures from the Hubble space telescope, I’ve loved looking at different cosmic bodies and imagining what it would be like to visit them.
After some thinking, I came up with a 5 movement work called “Celestial Bodies”. It would be Sun, Asteroid, Planet, Black Hole, Galaxy. I wrote up a short synopsis of each movement and what I wanted to achieve compositionally wise with each movement. I quickly realized that if I were to do 5 movements, the piece would be almost 30 minutes long (double the max length they wanted) and I wouldn’t get it done in time. So I reworked the concept into a 3 movement work called “Celestial Body” that would be played without pauses or breaks between movements that would be around 20 minutes of music.
From a composition standpoint I wanted to keep a somewhat minimalist palette surrounding the same 3 note motif.
I started writing in February 2018 and finished writing late September 2018. When I was done, by my final performance time was around 21-23 minutes (depending on how long the cadenza was to be performed).
The Technical Setup and Challenges
Because I use a DAW to compose, I found it easier to integrate electronics into my work and make them seem like they were organically fit without feeling forced. Since I had never done electronics at this scale before, I tried to keep them simple with as little room for error as possible. This meant some samples would have to have a click track to keep everything in sync. While others would be played synced with the orchestra. I decided to use Ableton Live for the performance of the electronics.
My friend and fellow composer Steven Bryant has used Ableton Live for all of his electronics in the past to great success. So I naturally did what any good composer would do and copied his electronics setup. Every sample had a number/letter assigned to it to fire it off and I added a couple of safety checks to make sure things run smoothly.
Below is a diagram of the setup needed to perform this piece:
Thursday (3rd Rehearsal of the Piece)
The time finally came for us to travel to Baltimore. So, with a laptop bag full of gear, we got on a plane to Baltimore (after our first flight was mysteriously canceled) and went straight to rehearsal. I had heard the electronics where working pretty well except the clarinet microphone (which I’ll get into later). I was overall very pleased with the group’s progress. I made some minor tweaks during rehearsal and that night I went back to my hotel room to start debugging the clarinet microphone.
Friday (Dress Rehearsal)
On Friday we had lunch with Robert Pippin and Harlan Parker, we discussed future projects and thoughts about the piece at hand. Afterwards we met up with my sister-in-law and brother-in-law. Robert gave us an impromptu tour of Peabody and showed us the impressive music library where we found many hidden gems such as this book:
When we got into the performance venue for dress rehearsal, I started noticing a ton of peaking/spiking in the audio coming from the clarinet microphone. So much so that at one point we got into a feedback loop. I made more adjustments but I had only so much time for rehearsal and decided to cut the Microphone for the rest of it while I figured out what was going on.
I found out that my gain settings where all jacked up and that the I needed to added more gain to my input to get the effect to process correctly and needed then to decrease the gain on the output side so I wouldn’t blow-out the speakers. In theory this should of worked and I was pretty confident that I would have the levels low enough that I could adjust them in the performance. I decided to leave it be as my parents had just flown in and we were going out that night.
My parents, my wife, and I decided to climb the steps of the Washington Monument the morning of the premier. It’s one hell of a climb, but the view was totally worth it. We spent the rest of the afternoon going to the art museum and wandering around Baltimore. It’s not often I get to travel to a new city and have free time, so I wanted to make sure I took full advantage of it.
I have a weird ritual before a big premier. Whenever I can, I like to show up to a performance venue about an hour before the concert starts and just sit and get a vibe for the venue that night. I don’t always get to do this but whenever I do I can usually get a good feeling for how the performance is going to go. This time I got to the venue early and sat down and had a great feeling. I can’t really explain it, but the general feeling I got was this was going to be a phenomenal concert.
I was lucky enough to have family and friends at this performance, so the pressure was on to make it perfect. It came time for my piece and Harlan cued Abhinn and I to start the electronics….
And nothing happened.
The first sample didn’t fire. Harlan looked back at us laughed and said “Technology, gotta love it!”. I figured out was going on in seconds and reset the window focus back into the play area of Ableton, and the track fired off correctly the second time. After that point the rest of the performance went smooth until the clarinet microphone section. Once again the output started to peak immediately so I killed the gain to -20DB and then slowly brought it up. It was at this point I told Abhinn we would be cutting the Microphone for the rest of the piece. Since my mouse was focussed into another part of the software, the next cue (ticking clock) didn’t fire off correctly either. Once again not a big deal. I just reset focus and manually triggered the next sample to ensure it worked. After that, the rest of the piece went beautifully including putting the entire performance venue in darkness by the end of the piece.
In hindsight, the audience was not aware of any of these issues going on and they were honestly small and minute. The orchestra played beautifully and Harlan rolled with the one or two technical glitches we had. When the electronics faded out for the final time, the absolute silence of a full concert hall, in pitch black darkness, was one of the most haunting things I’ve ever experienced. And judging by the audiences reaction, after the lights came back on, they loved it too!
Summary and Thanks
There are so many people that helped make this project possible. Here they are (in no particular order):
Dr. Robert Pippin:
This whole piece would not exist without him. He was the reason and I was introduced to Dr. Harlan Parker and Peabody Conservatory. This piece was dedicated to him as a thank you and in honor of him graduating with his Doctorate in Wind Band Conducting from Peabody. I look forward to collaborating with you for many years to come!
Dr. Harlan Parker:
Never has someone said “yes” so fast as he did to my crazy ideas. Not only did he offer me the chance to write for his group, he also conducted a phenomenal performance of my “Concerto for Wind Ensemble” a few short months before “Celestial Body” was premiered. It’s rare finding someone as passionate as he is about new music and supporting active composers and their works. I was honored to have my music premiered by you and I cannot wait for our next collaboration!
Thank you for running electronics with me and being our chauffeur in Baltimore. You’ve got a bright future ahead of you and I look forward to seeing what you do when you are done with your academic career!
For helping me wrangle my electronics together and helping me polish them off! Thanks for helping me debug my microphone issues over the phone while I was in Baltimore. I can’t wait to collaborate with you on future electronics projects!
For being my electronics guinea pig. Thanks for testing out my Ableton Live file for me while you were in the middle of writing your own massive electronics work (The Automatic Earth). I’ve always been inspired by you and continue to do so today!
I’ve always said she is my spark of inspiration and I stand by it to this day. She supports my dreams and constantly gives up her free time to help me pursue them! No gas lights me as hard as you do. COOT.
Hard to believe another year has come and gone. 2018 was another great year for me. I thought it would be good idea to do a write-up of my 2018.
My wife and I celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary this year. She is the reason I can keep doing what I do. She picks up the slack around the house whenever I get into crunch time (AKA drill writing season) and she continues to be my rock. So being able to celebrate our 5th anniversary in Mexico at the same resort we had our honeymoon was amazing.
We adopted another dog this Fall. My wife named him Thanos. He is a Welsh Pembroke Corgi and is about 4 months old at the time of writing. Our older dog, Garen, loves him to death and he’s been a great addition to our family!
In all I wrote 4 new pieces this year (around 35 minutes of music), it represents some of the best music I’ve written in a long time.
In early 2018 I wrote “Reflections”. This piece was a commission for Dr. Russ Coleman’s 90th birthday. The piece was premiered at the 50th annual Missouri Bandmaster Association by the Warrensburg Community Band. You can learn more about this special project here.
During the Spring/Summer I wrote my first commissioned original work for orchestra (not including my own wind band transcriptions) titled “Celestial Body”. The piece has some of the best music I think I’ve ever written and incorporates electronics into the piece as well. This piece is getting premiered February 2019 by the Peabody Modern Orchestra.
In September my new piece “Summit” (Symphonic Band Grade 4) was premiered by the University of Northern Colorado Wind Ensemble. It’s not often I get to write a piece on the side and keep it under wraps. I had started it as a side project for a composition contest but was unable to finish it in time to submit it. The piece is a wild mixed meter ride and will be out next year with Grand Mesa Music Publishers.
Finally, coming in at the buzzer,my new grade 2 piece “Excelsior!”. A superhero inspired piece that gets its title from the late Stan Lee. This will be premiered Summer 2019 by the Elkhorn Middle School Summer Band Program.
2018 wasn’t all about new pieces, “Spark!” saw quite a few performances and “Curtain in the Sky” was officially put out for sale by Grand Mesa Music. From what I’ve been told both pieces are doing extremely well so I’m excited to hear more performances of them!
While I was writing “Reflections”, my “Concerto for Wind Ensemble” was premiered by the St. Louis Wind Symphony. It was subsequently performed again by the Peabody Conservatory Wind Ensemble in December. Both performances left my jaw on the floor and gave me the confidence that I could write large and complex works. I’m looking at potentially taking the 1st and 3rd movements of the piece and making them their own stand-alone works in the future (with additional content). That way high schools and smaller colleges can perform them.
Looking at 2019
I’m going into 2019 with a potential project on my plate then I want to start working on my remastered/re-imagined edition of my first Symphony. My goal is to not do a complete rewrite, but take the material I’ve been sneaking into my other pieces and actually put it in its original form. I want to have this project started with a committed group to premier it by the end of 2019 with a group to premier it late 2020.
We will be attending MMEA this January and for the first time, Arrianne and I will be attending Midwest next December! We are both very excited for it.
I’m really thankful to everyone who was involved with my music in 2018. You guys made my 2018 my best year yet. There were so many times I thought I wouldn’t make a deadline but I made them all thanks to Arrianne. I’m hoping to take the momentum I’ve built up in 2018 and keep it going.
Last night was a night I’ll never forget. I’m still recovering from the partying we did, but I still can’t believe we pulled off this big surprise for Russ Coleman’s 90th birthday. I decided to write this blog post explaining everything about how “Reflections” came to be.
One day in early January 2018, I had received a phone call from Pam Smith-Kelly about a couple of clarinet quintets I was engraving for her. During our call she had brought up that Russ Coleman was turning 90 this year and she was trying to figure out something special to help celebrate it. I had a break in my composing schedule, so I brought up the idea of writing a piece for him. She said she liked the idea and told me we would talk more.
Fast forward to MMEA 2018 and she introduced me to Dr. Anthony Purcell. We all talked about the piece and he wanted to premier it at MBA 2018 that summer. Plenty of time for me to write it. We also decided to keep it a surprise for him. The tricky part was that it would be his community band premiering it and we wanted to keep it a surprise. I’d give the piece a fake title and composer and we would do the real reveal for him at MBA that summer.
As I sat down to write the piece, I found myself struggling to find inspiration to write the piece. It wasn’t until I started listening to a lot of Claude Smith’s music that I found inspiration for how the piece would ultimately sound. I would draw from Claude’s unique style of mixed meters with my own personal flair of orchestration and melodies. My ultimate goal was to conclude the piece with a full statement of UCM’s “Alma Mater” without much modification.
I composed the piece in about 2 months time and thew on a surprise ending for Pam. When I played her back the midi file, she had the biggest smile on her face and said it was perfect and I shouldn’t change it anymore. Now came the hard part of keeping it a surprise from Russ.
The premier of the piece went flawlessly. Anthony introduced Pam, who introduced me and we 100% caught Russ of guard and successfully surprised him. It’s not often in the band world you can surprise a man like Russ, but we actually managed to pull it off without tipping him off.
This piece would not have been possible without the hard work of Anthony Purcell. He put together a massive consortium (the largest I’ve ever had). I’m thrilled to have worked with him on this project and look forward to working with him. Pam Kelly planned the post concert reception and helped organize the logistics of getting Russ’s family present for the concert. I cannot thank these two enough for trusting with this piece and letting me be a part of this celebration.
“Reflections” will be available for purchase Fall 2019. Consortium members will be getting their own copy later this summer.
I can’t believe 2017 is almost over! This year has flown by super fast. I thought I’d take the time today to post a small update about what I’ve been doing this fall.
One of the biggest changes for me was that my wife and I adopted our first dog. We’ve been cat people out entire marriage and decided now was a good time to adopt. Here is a picture of our new dog Garen:
He keeps us busy and is adjusting well to our home. The cats are not the biggest fan of him right now but they will warm up to him soon!
We just got back from a very successful NMEA Conference. Everyone I met had a genuine interest in my music. I got to reconnect with a couple of my old directors. They are the guys that helped kindle my composition passion and are one of the reasons I chose to pursue music as a career.
I got the parts and score sent off for my 3 spring premiers: “Concerto for Wind Ensemble”, “Forge”, and “Curtain in the Sky (Orchestra)”. This was a monumental task for all three pieces as their deadlines all stacked on top of each other. Now that they are delivered I have this sense of relief and pride. I cannot wait for the premier of these pieces this spring!
Now as I sit here, I’m starting to look at 2018 a little bit. I’ve already taking drill orders for 2018 and I’m quickly filling up all my spots. This might be a first for me as I usually don’t get all my spots filled until January/February! Next summer already promises to be busy and exciting!
As for what I’m writing next, that remains up in the air at this moment. For the first time in a long time I have no commissions on my plate. It’s kind of refreshing but I have an itch to write. So over the next couple of months I’ll be writing pieces that I’ve wanted to write for a while. One of them will definitely be a contest piece and the other was just to get it out of my head. We will see how they go….
As I wrap up this post, I would like to encourage everyone to please give to their local music and arts organizations this holiday season. All of these groups do amazing things and are one of the reasons I write music. It doesn’t have to be much but your money goes a long way.
Keep an eye out for my next update in December! Until then have a great holiday season!
Sometimes life gets a little crazy… and throws a 13 minute concerto in your way. So I’m sorry that I’ve haven’t posted one of these in a while! I’m editing parts for the Concerto right now and will deliver them by this Friday. After I do that I will post up a longer blog post about where I’ve been and where I’m going. In the mean-while, here are 2 video updates about the concerto!