Symphony No. 1 – “The Great Machine” – CBDNA East Premiere!
I’m back home from CBDNA East. The machine has been unleashed upon the world in brilliant fashion. Here is a recap from what was a FANTASTIC premiere of “The Great Machine”
Tuesday – 02-15-2022
Arrianne and I traveled out to Baltimore from Kansas City. Nothing uneventful to report here
Wednesday – 02-16-2022
Dr. Harlan Parker took Arrianne and I out to a lovely lunch where we caught up, talked about life and ultimately how he thought the piece was going. Afterwards Arrianne returned to the hotel while I went off to educate young minds in Joel Puckette’s orchestration class. I spoke at length around “Failing Forward” and how I applied that to composing for electronics and wind ensemble. Shortly afterwards I got to sit in on rehearsal and hear my first “in person” runthrough of “The Great Machine”. I sat with Patrick Towey (DMA student) who was running the electronics while I was running the mixer and setting levels as we went through the piece then it hit me…
There are few moments in my life that I remember where I sat in shock and disbelief. Most of those moments are usually for sad occasions. I’m pleased to say that this was not one of those. They played it nearly perfectly and I was crying for joy. I told Harlan “I need a minute!” because I legit was sitting there bawling my eyes out. After I had gathered myself I suddenly remembered the things I wanted to fix were mistakes I noticed on my end and not their end. I worked with the group for another 30 min or so just going through and fine tuning the work and making orchestration tweaks.
One very obvious change that would need to be fixed was the kick beat bed in movement 4. It was so loud that it was causing weird acoustic issues in the auditorium. I might have caused historic Friedberg Hall to rattle. No worries I can fix that in Ableton. Another weird electronic issue popped up was a warping issue I noticed with one of the samples in movement 3 causing latency/timing issues. That one would take a full day to fix.
I wrapped up that day with a nice lovely dinner with my wife before crashing for the night.
Thursday – 02-17-2022
I spend most of the morning fixing the mix on a lot of the electronics. The hall was so lively that I needed a way to control the individual levels of each sample without getting in Patrick’s way of running the electronics. As the saying goes, there’s an app for that! I found a $3 DAW Control app for my ipad that would let me set levels for each audio track while Patrick was using the laptop. This worked great and you can see the new setup we came up with below. Definitely something I am going to be using more in the future!
During Thursday’s rehearsal I had Arrianne attend to give her feedback. We also took the opportunity to record the entire piece in one go in case something happened during the performance (insert heavy amounts of foreshadowing here). Arrianne’s main concern was the dictation of the machine and how it sounded muddy / not-understandable in the hall. I tended to agree but when I went up on stage it sounded perfect to my ears. I tried a few more things to adjust it and spend more time fixing the warped sound of one of the samples.
Friday – 02-18-2022
The day I’ve been waiting for over a decade for is finally here. I woke up so nervous and jittery. I met up with Harlan to get my CBDNA passes. Afterwards I met up with Sam Broomell (masters in conducting) to go speak with Harlan’s conducting seminar. This was an interesting class for me as it was just basically me talking about my approach to working with conductors, the collaboration process, how to handle the “business end” of commissioning a piece, and how I thought I could help them out in their early conducting careers. I thought it was a good conversation with a lot of thoughtful back and forth.
After that I met up with my good friend Dr. Robert Pippin (DMA, Peabody) for lunch with Arrianne. I’ll talk more on this later but Robert was the reason I even thought that I could rebuild the machine and he’s the reason this was possible. After lunch I attended several sessions of CBDNA before I retreated back to my hotel to take a power nap before sound check.
During soundcheck we discovered one little hiccup in the audio system that proved to be a quick fix via a turn of a knob on the sound interface. With that scare out of the way it was time for the concert.
The wind ensemble opened with Omar Thomas “Come Sunday” (an absolutely amazing piece). Then it was my piece to close out the concert. The performance was some of the highest quality musicianship I’ve ever heard in my life. The electronics were synced well, and everyone was firing on all cylinders…
Remember that foreshadowing I mentioned earlier from Thursday? Well during the middle of movement 4 the click track somehow got soloed so it was the only thing going in Dr. Parker’s ear. The good news is that the section worked well without the electronics. So by the time I had figured out what happened I fixed it just in time.
Then it was over. The final statement of the “Revolution” theme rang throughout the hall, followed by silence. We had done it. The world now knew of the great machine. I was (and still am) on cloud 9. The feeling of knowing that this piece, that has lived with me in my head for over a decade, is now out for the world to hear is indescribable. I had thought about and dreamed about this day for a long time and it finally came to fruition. And it got great reactions from friends, family, and colleagues.
That night we went to the hotel bar and celebrated. It wasn’t just a celebration for me, but for Dr. Harlan Parker as well. He and I talked about future projects and what his plans were next. The directors I talked to were complimentary of the piece and encouraged me to keep writing for electronics and wind ensemble. After tonight’s concert, I definitely won’t stop writing for that medium. And this will definitely not be the final time Harlan, Peabody, and myself will work together.
Well that’s the question. My plans for the future are wide open. I’m tentatively going to write a trumpet concerto but don’t have major plans or commitments to any pieces as of right now. I do want to continue composing pieces for electronics and wind ensemble but I might do some easier/shorter ones to make them more accessible.
As for the symphony:
Have a couple of revisions to make in the score and parts. I want to make it easier for the electronics to be performed. There is a very good possibility I can get it so the electronics in movement 5 to be performed without a click track and instead only need a keyboard hooked up to ableton live. I think the same can be said for movement 3 and 1. However movement 4 will definitely require a click track no matter due to the kick drum part.
My next plans also include to make most movements playable individually. That will take a little more thought but I know at least 4 and 5 could be done, not sure about movement 3 or 1 yet. I will be sure to post updates as I think through it.
As of now it is available for purchase for performances by anyone!
There are several people who I want to thank for helping make this week possible:
Dr. Robert Pippin:
If it wasn’t for you introducing me to Dr. Harlan Parker via email all those years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible. You’re a true champion of my music and I cannot thank you enough for everything you’ve done for me.
Dr. Harlan Parker / Peabody Wind Ensemble:
You guys continue to blow me away with your musicianship. This work was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Every time I come to Peabody I walk away blown away by how high you guys continue to set the bar. I cannot wait for our next performance together!
You’re the love of my life and my “spark” of inspiration. You continue to provide me with the most critical and honest feedback of all in both life and my music. I continue to write better music because you continue to help me become a better person.