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The Midwest Clinic – A Preview

December 18, 2012

The 66th annual Midwest Clinic is this week! The theme for this year’s famed International Band and Orchestra Conference is “In Honor of Our Mentors,” and some important figures in band and orchestra music will be in attendance.

Wynton Marsalis, internationally acclaimed musician and advocate of the arts, will be presenting the keynote address and holding an open rehearsal as part of the jazz track.  In keeping with the theme, the conference is encouraging people to email tributes about their own special mentors to info@midwestclinic.org. These tributes will be posted on The Midwest Clinic web site.

One of the reasons to attend Midwest is for the concerts.  The great United States Air Force Band under the direction of Colonel Larry H. Lang will have their first performance at 5:30 Wednesday evening.  Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser will guest conduct the band at this concert, which will include a performance of the Commando March by Samuel Barber.

The Air Force Band will perform a second concert at 7:30 the same evening.  In this performance, Sergeant Ben Park will be singing The Star Spangled Banner,” and the Air Force Saxophone Quartet will be performing “Concerto Grosso for Saxophone Quartet” composed by William Bolcom.  Both concerts will certainly be worth attending!

While this historic conference is known for the concerts, make sure to save time to visit the exhibit hall. In particular, stop by Pepper booth 904 to pick up your Midwest Brochure, which provides you with title information and an easy reference guide of all the published works being performed at the conference.  The conference floor is open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, and Friday hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Book signings will also be popular events with the following composers scheduled for time in our booth:

Mark Fonder (Patrick Conway and his Famous Band) – Thursday at 12:45 p.m.

Edward S. Lisk (The Musical Mind of the Creative Director) – Friday at 11:15 a.m.

Gary Stith (Score and Rehearsal Preparation) – Friday at 3:15 p.m.

Frank Battisti – Thursday, right after his session, from 2:45 – 3:45 p.m.

Russ Robinson – Friday, right after his session, from 9:45 – 10:45 a.m.

Pepper loves being a part of the Midwest tradition. We look forward to seeing you at McCormick Place West for the 2012 Midwest Clinic. You don’t want to miss it!

Culture

Elliott Carter: Celebrating a Long Life of Music

December 11, 2012

On November 5th of this year, the classical music world lost one of its giants. Elliott Carter would have celebrated his 104th birthday today, most likely by attending a concert or composing a new piece.

Elliott Carter

Born in New York City on December 11, 1908, Mr. Carter became interested in modern music in his teens. Attending the New York premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1924 was an early inspiration for the aspiring composer.  He found a mentor in Charles Ives who helped him get into Harvard, where he studied with Walter Piston and Gustav Holst.  After completing his master’s degree in music at Harvard, he went to Paris to study with Nadia Boulanger, and received his doctorate in music from Ecole Normale in Paris.

Over his long career, Mr. Carter taught at the Peabody Conservatory, Queens College, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell and the Juilliard School, and was on the faculty of the Tanglewood Music Center.  He received many awards, among them the National Medal of Arts, The Trustees Award (a lifetime achievement award given to non-performers by the Grammy Awards), and two Pulitzer Prizes.

Not slowing down in his later years, Mr. Carter composed over 4o of his 158 works between the ages of 90 and 100, and at least a dozen more after turning 100. His first opera, What Next?, was completed when he was 90 and his last work, 12 Short Epigrams for piano, was completed in August of this year.  He celebrated his 100th birthday in 2008 at Carnegie Hall at a concert which included his Interventions for piano and orchestra written the previous year.  The concert also included a performance of The Rite of Spring.

Often a polarizing force in contemporary  music, Elliott Carter was at times criticized for being too intellectual and inaccessible, but was also celebrated for his complex and challenging compositions.  His music spanned neoclassicism, populism, atonality, rhythmic complexity, and his own form of serialism, eventually arriving at a more lyrical style late in life.

Join us in remembering a life spent reinventing modern music.  We hope you enjoy this selection of Elliott Carter’s compositions.

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The Pepper Difference

My Score: Take Your Music Further

September 14, 2012

We’re happy to announce My Score, an exciting new service that helps composers make their music available for sale through the Pepper network!

My Score leverages the strengths of J.W. Pepper and makes it available to composers who want to have their music in print.  So what does Pepper have to offer, exactly?  My Score offers composers the ability to produce fine printed and digital editions in a secure online environment.  In short, it’s your music available to our expansive network of musically engaged customers.  Composers can even create a customized page on jwpepper.com where they can post a picture, biography and provide compositions for sale.

See example of Composer Page.

My Score is a non-exclusive service, so composers are free to post works for sale in other ways as well.  Here are some of the key services My Score provides:

  • Industry standard quality printed editions of your works
  • e-Print digital delivery
  • Your own composer page link on jwpepper.com
  • A profile page with your bio, photo, links, recordings, video and sample pages
  • One-click share buttons to promote your work on social networks
  • Free customer review system
  • Development and integration of online and mobile technologies
  • Customer service support for you and your customers

My Score gives composers a platform to distribute their works to musicians world-wide through J.W. Pepper’s network.   Before deciding if My Score is for you, first consider:

Should you have your work published?

Before deciding to self-distribute your work, consider being published by an established publisher.  You will benefit from a publisher’s editorial and business expertise, promotional strength, distribution channels and industry connections.  To connect with U.S. publishers, visit the Music Publishers Association.

If you self-distribute, how will you bring your music to market?  My Score gives self-distributed composers access to the most highly engaged audience in the sheet music world.  As the industry leader, Pepper is the right place for others to buy your music with confidence.

Learn more about My Score

Culture

John Cage: Inventor of Genius?

September 5, 2012

“Of course he’s not a composer, but he’s an inventor — of genius.” – Arnold Schoenberg on John Cage

To categorize him as simply “a composer” would certainly be failure to adequately describe all that John Cage was, nor would it serve to encompass the vastness of his influence on the arts as a whole.  Include musician, artist, author, inventor, teacher, student, philosopher, visionary, pioneer… and we’re NOW beginning to scratch the surface of all of the facets of this man’s legacy.  As the musical world celebrates what would have been Cage’s 100th birthday (September 5), we reflect on some of the contributions and influences brought forth from his work.

While not the inventor of the concept, John Cage coined the term “prepared piano” to describe a piano that has been altered by placing miscellaneous objects between on or on top of the strings, hammers, or dampers.  Cage first utilized a prepared piano out of necessity, when he was commissioned to write music for a modern dance production, called Bacchanale, by Syvilla Fort in 1938.  He had only been writing percussion music for several years when he found himself challenged by the fact that Fort’s dance was to be performed on a stage with no room for a percussion group.  So, he opted to alter the only instrument that was in the room – a single grand piano – and created “the equivalent of an entire percussion orchestra… with just one musician.”  Prepared pianos have since been used by modern artists such as Denman Maroney, The Velvet Underground and Tori Amos.

In watching a video of Cage’s performance of Water Walk on the popular TV show from the 1960s, I’ve Got a Secret, it’s easy to quickly identify a whole list of performance groups that his work most certainly inspired and influenced.  To name just some of the objects and instruments used:  iron pipe, water pitcher, bath tub, blender, ice cubes, a rubber duck, cymbals, and a grand piano.  “Extended techniques,” as they are called, are key components to performances from the likes of Blue Man Group, Stomp, several bluegrass and industrial bands, and even school and community groups performing certain Row-Loff publications, such as Bashin’.

Even before the 1952 premiere of what is probably John Cage’s most well-known work, 4’33”, critics and audiences alike have debated the reasons and purpose behind his unconventional approach to composition.  Some have described it as “nonsense” while others proclaim “genius.”  And then there are those who have accused him of simply being a vainglorious artist, with a flair for the avant-garde and the ostentatious.  However, in reading Cage’s autobiographical summary on his website, www.johncage.org, you begin to understand that here was a man who truly saw the world around him in different hues than most of us.  Cage recounts a conversation with his former mentor, Arnold Schoenberg:

“After I had been studying with him for two years, Schoenberg said, ‘In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony.’  I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony.  He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass.  I said, ‘In that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall.’”

In a 1991 interview with Miroslav Sebestik, he explains “When I hear what we call ‘music,’ it seems to me that someone is talking.  And talking about his feelings, or about his ideas of relationships.  But when I hear traffic, the sound of traffic — here on Sixth Avenue, for instance — I don’t have the feeling that anyone is talking.  I have the feeling that sound is acting.  And I love the activity of sound… I don’t need sound to talk to me.”

Even though he is no longer here with us, the essence of Cage’s unique relationship with sound and silence is evident in our everyday lives.  How many of us, as toddlers, pulled the pots and pans out of the cupboard to clang them together every chance we got?  How often have you smiled when you noted that the click of your turn signal was suddenly in perfect meter with a song on the radio?  How many times have you laid back and enjoyed the smooth, hypnotic rhythm of water waves rushing to a shoreline?  In truth, there is a bit of John Cage in us all.

Pepper Live

The Benefits of Attending a Live Reading Session

August 1, 2012

All is poised for the arrival of session attendees

On July 23, 2012, J.W. Pepper hosted Summer Sing, a choral music reading session in the company’s corporate headquarters in Pennsylvania.  While reading sessions are a standard practice for Pepper, inviting musicians into the corporate location for such an event was a first, and as the hundred-plus attendees of the sessions will attest, a great success.

With all the on-line media options available to directors in order to preview music, some might question the value of attending a live event over simply searching and listening via the internet.  So what do attendees and organizers see as the benefits of attending a live reading session, as opposed to listening to recordings at home, church, or school?

Live Events Display a Clinician’s Perspective

Individuals who deliver the content of live reading sessions are typically composers and performers in the genre of music they are presenting, and hearing the live input of these experts in their field proves a valuable resource to session attendees.  Clinicians at the Pennsylvania Summer Sing offered attendees not only a look at a vast array of new pieces for school and church use, but also offered their suggestions on the application of the pieces they presented—whether songs would be good for graduation, advent, or competition, for example.  Lloyd Larson, who presented materials at the church choral segment, continually referenced the events on the church calendar and related the songs he presented to this ever-present definer of church repertoire.

Additionally, the clinicians at the event also gave pointers on the effective performance of the pieces in the read-through. Clinician Greg Gilpin made specific mention of what sort of expression directors might seek from their performers to increase a song’s effectiveness, or even what sort of props might make a whimsical song more fun for the group and the audience. Such tips can prove a valuable fresh perspective for directors looking for ways to enhance their programs.

In Person, Composers are Real People Too

The sacred music session with clinician Lloyd Larson

The opportunity for personal connection to the individuals behind the names printed on the front of choral octavos provides a real value point to those who attend live reading events.  Most composers of church and academic music have stood in the shoes of the everyday school or church choral director.  They understand the challenges directors face, can sympathize and even joke about those tricky scenarios, and offer a rapport between the music publishing industry and those who depend upon it for repertoire.  A clinician’s dedication to helping teachers and directors provide a quality musical experience to those under their direction resonates deeply with those who attend their sessions.  A feeling of kindred spirit goes a long way in encouraging musicians and reminding them why they do what they do, even when challenges arise.  This kind of personal connection can’t be duplicated by simply shopping alone.

Directors are Still Performers at Heart

While teaching music and seeing students or ensemble members grow and achieve is rewarding in itself, there’s nothing quite like being part of the music.  At a reading session, attendees get an additional level of perspective on the accessibility of a piece by reading and singing it themselves.  And since the attendees of reading sessions tend to be seasoned musicians themselves, directors enjoy the opportunity to sing with a strong and musically attentive ensemble.  Sometimes it’s nice to step back and remember what it’s like to simply be part of the music, rather than being the one responsible for holding it all together.  Sight-reading in a room of a hundred like-minded singers certainly beats humming along with a studio recording.

J.W. Pepper sponsors dozens of reading sessions and events all over the country throughout the year.  Directors who have never attended such a session might consider the benefits attendance could have to their organizations.  After all, music is rarely a solitary endeavor.  How better to appreciate and experience new ideas for an ensemble than in enthusiastic company?

For a full listing of Pepper’s upcoming events, visit http://www.jwpepper.com/, and click on the events calendar link, which you will also find here.  Viewers can also watch recorded sessions of Summer Sing, coming soon to J.W. Pepper’s YouTube channel.

Archive

Band Composer Series: Frank Ticheli

April 11, 2012

I recently had the honor of interviewing composer and teacher Frank Ticheli. In addition to composing, he joined the faculty of the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music in 1991, where he is Professor of Composition. He is well known for his works for concert band, many of which have become standards in the repertoire. However, as you will read, he is an extremely prolific composer of many musical genres. He received his doctoral and master’s degrees in composition from the University of Michigan. His works are published by Manhattan Beach, Southern, Hinshaw, and Encore Music, and are recorded on the labels of Albany, Chandos, Clarion, Klavier, Koch International, Mark Custom, Naxos, and Reference Recordings.

When did you begin in music?

By age nine, I had already been exposed to a lot of early jazz music. I grew up near New Orleans, and my father would take me into the jazz clubs, and play lots of records of traditional jazz. When it was time to get an instrument, my father took me to a pawn shop in the heart of the French Quarter. In the shop window was a beautiful used clarinet for $80 that really got my attention, and an old beat-up trumpet that looked horrible, but was selling for $45. My dad said, “Sorry, Son, you’re going to play the trumpet!”

Did you have a specific “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician?

There were many signal moments, starting with my early exposure to New Orleans Jazz. At age 13 my family moved from Louisiana to Richardson, Texas, jolting me from a very modest music program to the powerhouse program at Berkner High School. I had no idea kids my age could even sound that good. Going straight from playing out of method books in Louisiana to playing very high- level music in Texas was a culture shock to me. It lit a fire in my belly that has never been extinguished.

What inspired you to become a composer?

The above-mentioned culture shock had a lot to do with this. I remember fantasizing about creating music that sounded as good as the stuff my high school director, Bobby Floyd, exposed us to. I also began lifting music off of records — mostly Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson recordings — to see what made the music tick. An assistant director, Jerry Brumbaugh, told me that what I was doing was unique, and suggested that I had the ear of a composer. Dictating music came very naturally to me, and I thought any musician could do it. But he pointed out that no, most musicians could not write down whatever they hear, and that it was a kind of talent that composers need to have. It really got me thinking in that direction.

When did you start composing and what instrument or ensemble did you start writing for?

When I began my undergraduate studies at Southern Methodist University back in the mid-1970s, I applied for the major in composition; however, because I had not yet composed any real music, I was told it was too late for me! This, of course, made me want to work even harder to prove the professor wrong, and fortunately for me, I was admitted to the program by my junior year. My first official piece, Trio for Brass, is a little suite built from quartal (4th-based) harmony. It was okay for a first piece, but, like all of my undergraduate works, lacked formal tension and any sense of urgency. It took a long time for me to learn how to compose music that deserves to have a life. It takes most composers a long time to learn this.

Do you have a mentor, or someone who has influenced your style of writing the most? If so, who would that be?

I did my graduate studies in composition at the University of Michigan, where I had the privilege of studying with William Bolcom, Leslie Bassett and William Albright. I’ll never forget my first lesson with Bill Bolcom. I showed up with what I thought was a respectable amount of music for a first lesson. Bill proceeded to read it flawlessly at the piano, casually saying, “Ah, yes, it’s a sequence; it goes up. But what else do you have to show?”

Ouch!

In a flash, I learned that if I wanted to call myself a composer, I’d better start composing!

Another signal moment occurred not with a teacher, but with a fellow student, Mark Kilstofte (now a successful composer at Furman University). When we were just 23 or 24 years old, I said to him one day, “I think I’m going to quit composing altogether; I’m not even the best student composer here at Michigan, so how on earth am I going to make it in the real world?” His reply possessed the wisdom of a much older person: “Frank, we don’t compose to be the best. We do it because each of us is different; each of us brings something unique to the world of music. Stop wasting your energy on trying to be the best; instead, spend it on getting to know who you really are!” Thankfully, I listened to him.

What would you say defines your style?

I’m actually uncomfortable talking about my musical style. Music takes us to a place that transcends words. If it didn’t, there would not be much point in writing the music. I will say that, like so many American composers, I’ve been influenced by a whole gumbo of musical cultures: early jazz, Cajun/Creole, folk, popular, European modernism, classical. It’s all there; I just don’t like analyzing it too deeply. I prefer to just do it.

What are you working on now?

I just finished Songs of Love and Life for soprano and small wind ensemble (18 players), based on poems by four contemporary American poets. It’s for my dear friend Allan McMurray, who recorded it with his terrific Colorado University Wind Ensemble and soloist Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson for the Klavier label (I think it’s coming out in the fall.) Eugene Corporon is also releasing a recording sometime in early 2013. If all goes well, my wonderful publisher, Manhattan Beach Music, should be releasing it later this year. I’m very excited about this work.

But now, I’m right in the middle of a big choral symphony, The Shore, to be premiered next season in celebration of the Pacific Chorale conductor John Alexander’s 40th anniversary season. It’s based on four terrific poems by poet/colleague David St. John. The Pacific Chorale and Pacific Symphony are recording it for the Delos label, and I can’t wait!

It’s ironic that many who will read this blog know me only as a composer of band works. My last three commissions have not been for the traditional band medium. I love the band medium, but I also love wearing different hats.

Do you have one of your own works which you would call your favorite?

 

Each work is kind of like a child, and it’s always difficult to pick a favorite child. But as a conductor I love how Angels in the Architecture covers this huge expressive range, from very personal private moments to public gargantuan moments. It’s so much fun to conduct when performed well. I enjoy Blue Shades , and American Elegy is very special to me because of its connection to Columbine High School. My choral work, There Will Be Rest, is very special as it is dedicated to the memory of the son of one of my dearest friends. Finally, my new Clarinet Concerto, composed for soloist Håkan Rosengren, is perhaps one of my very best works to date. Each of the three movements pays tribute to a different American icon: Rhapsody for George (Gershwin), Song for Aaron (Copland), and Riffs for Lenny (Bernstein). For whatever reason, the concerto ended up meeting, even exceeding, my expectations. Sometimes we composers get lucky.

Do you have any advice or tips for those interested in composing?

Listening to music by the masters, preferably with the score, is just as important as composing. I encourage my students to find moments from the repertoire that particularly speak to them, then take the time to make a score reduction of those moments. They can then bang the music out on the piano and discover why they love it. A licensed mechanic needs to take a car apart and put it back together again to really know the car. We do not do this enough as musicians. Isolate the music that you love, reduce it, take it apart, and take the time to really find out why you love it.

Listening to rehearsals and live performances of your own music is also important. A 45-minute rehearsal session can teach a young composer more about their music than an entire semester of private lessons because it can produce instant epiphanies. You can sometimes hear in an instant why a whole section doesn’t work, or, on the other hand, why one isolated measure is good enough to inspire the entire next piece!

Would you say your music comes to you more often through slow, careful planning, or by sudden inspiration?

Yes.  (laughs)

Sometimes music arrives in bursts where my pencil can’t keep up with my imagination, and sometimes it seems as though it will never come. Sometimes a short motive or even a single chord can inspire a whole piece. Other times, it may just be a vague feeling, and then I need to find the music to fit that feeling. It’s more an art than a craft, more a mystery than a method, and with every new piece, I feel a bit like a beginner again. I really don’t trust anybody who claims to understand how one composes. Music is mysterious, elusive, hard won. I used to try to ignore the difficulty, but I’ve since come around to celebrating it. It’s these very mysteries and challenges that draw us to music.

Do you have a specific type or style of work you prefer to write for?

I would love to write more chamber music, and also an opera set in old New Orleans.

What is your favorite aspect of composing?

I love doing the work! I go to my backyard studio every day and ask myself, “what if?” Some days are better than others, but I can’t wait to get out there. The fact that I get to create something that hasn’t been heard before is amazing. They pay me for this? I feel very lucky. I also love it when gifted conductors and performers show me another correct point of view about my own music, something I hadn’t thought of. I love those who are not afraid to show the heart and soul of the music, the human vulnerability that lies behind the notated page, the excitement, sadness, joy, fear, darkness, light. It’s the subtlety, the poetry of music that turns me on, not the literal stuff.

Could you tell me something people don’t know about you?

I love languages. I have studied Italian for 12 years. I speak German, badly, but enough to get by. I’m currently studying Mandarin Chinese, and I love the tonal aspect of that language. I also love history, and am an obsessive reader of nonfiction. We live at the foot of a very large mountain, and I love to hike it with my wife and kids.

“Inside the Actors Studio”-Type Questions:

  • What is your favorite word? – In Italian: “Andiamo! ” (“Let’s go!”) In English: “Epiphany”
  • What is your least favorite word? – “Like” (as overused by so many young folks)
  • What sound or noise do you love? – Offstage trumpet
  • What sound or noise do you hate? – My current trumpet sound
  • What is on your iPod? – Most recently:  David Diamond symphonies and Piazzolla tangos
  • What profession, other than your own, would you like to attempt? – Cooking
  • Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, living or dead, that you haven’t yet? – More poets
  • If you were stranded on a desert island, and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would that, be? – Beethoven (oh, how cliché of me!)

For more information on Frank Ticheli, please visit:  http://www.manhattanbeachmusiconline.com/frank_ticheli/index.html

Archive

Band Composer Series: Sean O’Loughlin

November 1, 2011
Sean O’Loughlin

Sean O’Loughlin is a rising name in the music world.  His music is characterized by vibrant rhythms, passionate melodies, and colorful scoring.  Commissions and conducting appearances with many professional orchestras highlight and showcase his diverse musical abilities.  He was the assistant conductor and arranger for a production of Sgt. Pepper Live at the Paris Hotel Las Vegas as well as music director and conductor for Cheap Trick’s Dream Police Live show.  Through his growing number of commissioned and published works, he is excited to continue contributing to the rich history of orchestral and wind band literature.  An annual ASCAP Special Awards winner, Sean was a composition fellow at the Henry Mancini Institute, and holds composition degrees from New England Conservatory and Syracuse University. He is represented by IMG Artists and his music is published by Carl Fischer and Hal Leonard. Sean, his wife Dena and daughter Kate reside in Los Angeles.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Sean about his musical experiences from his earliest days until now.

When did you begin in music? I started in the summer of 2nd grade.

What instrument did you begin with? I originally wanted to play saxophone, but my band director thought trumpet was better since I could sing pitches back to him.

Did you have a specific “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician? I think it was the first time I was chosen to be a soloist with the band in 7th grade.  I played “Rise” by Herb Alpert.

What inspired you to become a composer? In high school, I started listening to the Star Wars soundtrack (on vinyl, no less).  Once I transferred it to a cassette tape, I was able to listen to it anywhere.  I found myself transcribing the melodies and harmonies and was fascinated.

When did you start composing and what kind of instrument of ensemble did you start writing for? I started composing in high school as an outgrowth of my senior Music Theory class.  In college I was a music education major, but quickly added a double major in composition by my sophomore year.  I first wrote for a small brass quartet then quickly progressed to a full concert band.

Do you have a mentor, or someone who has influenced your style of writing the most?  If so, who would that be? Larry Clark has been a huge influence on my career, especially in the wind band and publishing world.  His approach and guidance have been integral to my success as a writer.  His writing concepts apply to every style of writing including large orchestra, chamber works, and marching band.

What would you say defines your style? My style can be characterized as distinctly American with a focus on melody and engaging rhythms.  I am constantly challenging myself to explore new sounds and am always on the lookout for new techniques.

What are you working on now? I just finished several orchestral arrangements for Sarah McLachlan, and a duet arrangement for Diana Krall and Itzhak Perlman with orchestra.  Now my focus is turning to a festival solo book for beginners and some publishing assignments.

What is your favorite instrumental piece by another composer? I have several pieces that jump to mind.  Rite of Spring by Stravinsky, Concerto for Orchestra by Bartok and Bernstein’s 2nd Symphony — “Age of Anxiety.” These works both inspire and educate as I listen and study them over and over again.  I am also very interested in film music, namely the works of John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and Alan Silvestri.

Do you have one of your own works which you would call your favorite? Not really.  I put my best efforts into each work.  Some of my upper-level pieces show my more advanced compositional techniques, whereas my beginning band pieces showcase my resolve to write serious music for younger students.

Do you have any advice or tips for those interested in composing? The main thing is to write as much as you can for as many different mediums and ensembles as you can.  Being a diverse composer and arranger will only enhance your chances at making a living as a composer.  Also, make an effort to align yourself with people who can hire you, like band directors, performers, conductors, and artistic planners for orchestras.  Knowing other composers is good for companionship, but they are looking for work just like you and probably won’t hire you for something they can do themselves.

Would you say your music comes to you more often through slow, careful planning, or by sudden inspiration? It all depends on the deadline for a particular piece or arrangement.  I have had to write pieces in one day, while others I have had several months to complete.  To be honest, each situation requires more craft than inspiration.  When you make a living as a writer, you often do not have time to be inspired.

Do you have a specific type or style of work you prefer to write for? I enjoy the variety of one day writing for the Boston Pops, then the very next day writing a beginning band piece.  To me, if my name is on it then I am enjoying it and proud of it.

What is your favorite aspect of composing? I think the journey of process is my favorite part.  Playing around with different possibilities, textures, and orchestrations makes me feel like an artist with paint.  You dab a little color here, splash a little rhythm there, and make it all come together at the end.  The hardest part is deciding on melodic or rhythmic material that will be the basis of an entire piece.  The “hook” has to be a good one to justify an entire composition.

Could you tell me something people don’t know about you? I am a huge sports fan.  I grew up playing baseball, basketball, golf and competed in high school with all three.  I even won the Syracuse Symphony golf tournament one year.  While in college, I became heavily involved in men’s competitive softball.  As a result, I was inducted into the New York State Softball Hall of Fame last year.  I’m not sure if that is a good or bad thing, but any time you are in some type of Hall of Fame, it’s pretty cool.

Rapid Fire Questions:

  • What is your favorite word? Inspire
  • What is your least favorite word? Excuse
  • What sound or noise do you love? My daughter’s laugh
  • What sound or noise do you hate? Two forks rubbing together
  • What is on your iPod? Mostly film scores , 20th century classical works, and the numerous pop and rock bands that I have arranged for
  • What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? I am an avid reader, so I would love to try my hand at writing a fictional novel someday.
  • What is your favorite composition? If I had to pick one, it would be Leonard Bernstein’s 2nd Symphony
  • Is there anyone you would like to collaborate with, living or dead, that you haven’t yet? The band U2.  I think their songs would be amazing with an orchestra behind them.
  • If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would that, be? John Williams.  His craft and creativity have been a big influence on my writing.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us!

Click here for a listing of Sean’s music available through J.W. Pepper.

 

Archive

Band Composer Series: Larry Clark

June 23, 2011
Larry Clark

Larry Clark

Larry Clark’s pieces have been performed internationally and appear on numerous contest/festival lists.  He  is an ASCAP award-winning composer with over 200 titles in print and is in high demand to write commissions for bands and orchestras across the country.  Larry has presented clinics recently at the Midwest Clinic; the New York State School Music Association conference; the Texas, Ohio, and Wisconsin Music Educators conferences; as well as numerous national guest-conducting appearances.  Recently I had the privilege of interviewing Larry Clark about his musical experiences from his earliest days until now, and I’m sure you will enjoy reading about his musical journey too.

When did you begin in music?  What instrument did you begin with?

My father was a band director, so I have been in music as long as I can remember.  He taught me to read music before I could read.  My first instrument was drums in the first grade.  I later learned to play the trombone starting in the fifth grade.

Did you have a specific “a-ha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a musician?

I resisted thinking I was going to go into music for a long time.  When I was in junior high and early high school I was trying not to do or be the same thing as my father, but when I was a senior in high school I became the drum major and student conductor.  My band director let me really rehearse the band – a lot.  At that point I was hooked!

What inspired you to become a composer?

It was kind of an accident.  I was a middle school band director first and started writing arrangements of pop tunes and movie themes for my band.  I think they were pretty bad, but my students liked to play them, so I kept doing it.  Later on I started to try to write original pieces for them and it just sort of progressed from there.  I guess I would have to say that I was inspired to become a composer by my father.  As a band director he was always writing music for his own groups and he also wrote a lot things for his church choir.  He taught me to love music.

When did you start composing and what kind of ensemble did you start writing for?

As I stated in the previous question I arranged music first and then started composing music for my middle school band.  It was nice to have sort of a lab group to learn from!  I guess that is why I have been successful writing music for middle school bands.

Do you have a mentor – or someone you would say has influenced your style of writing the most, and if so who would that be?

I have had lots of great mentor/teachers.  First off, my dad;  then later in college Dr. Bentley Shellahammer, who was the associate director of bands at Florida State University, encouraged me greatly.  In graduate school Dr. Pat Rooney was a big influence on me and he played my arrangements with the James Madison University Marching Royal Dukes and helped me to get my first arrangement published.  When I went into publishing I was highly influence by Sandy Feldstein.  Sandy was a great musician, music educator, author and composer.  On top of that he was a great human being.  I learn so much from him.  As for composing, I had the good fortune of having Robert W. Smith as one my teachers and later a good friend.  Certainly my music was influenced greatly by his example.  I also like to think of myself as a product of the school band and my musical style has been very much influenced by composers of great band music like Percy Grainger, Vincent Persichetti and William Schuman, to name just a few.

What things inspire your writing?

Lots of different things.  I do not usually like to write programmatic music that follows a story line, but people, happenings, events, etc. do inspire me.  I think that the music I write is a reflection of me at the time I am writing a piece.  Kind of like a photograph.  It is a snapshot of who I am at the time I was writing the piece.

What would you say defines your style?

First and foremost, melody.  The tune comes first most of the time for me.  I want my pieces, especially the ones for younger students, to be tuneful.  I want the students to enjoy playing it and that starts with the tune.  Other than that, I think there is an eclectic mix of rhythmic drive and lush harmonies that define my style.  I love full band sonorities and work to make at least one moment in each of my pieces that has a lush full sound.

Tell me something people don’t know about you (that they might find surprising).

I have five sons, two of which are adopted from the country of Haiti.

Are you in the middle of any writing projects currently, and if so, would you mind telling us about them?

I am always in the middle of writing something.  I was going to say above that what inspires me sometimes is a deadline!  When you work in the publishing business, you are always chasing a deadline to complete something.  I just finished a piece I am pretty proud of called Resurgence.  It is a more difficult work that was commissioned by the Savannah River Winds.  It is a fast and furious piece of around five and a half minutes and moves along at 184 beats per minute.  It is pretty exciting, I think.

What is your favorite band piece (by another composer)

Variants on a Medieval Tune by Norman Dello Joio.  There are lots that I like, but this piece has really influenced how I write music for band.

Do you have one of your own works that you would call your favorite?

That is difficult, because all of them are special in a certain way, kind of like your children.  If I had to pick just one – well, I can’t.  How about two?  One is called Quintus. I think it is one of my favorites, because it seemed to just jump out of my head and on to the page.  I wrote that piece in two hours.  It felt like true inspiration.  The other piece is called Whispers. It was written for Sandy Feldstein when I learn of his terminal illness.  It is a very emotional piece and it means a lot to me.

What advice or tips would you give to an aspiring composer?

The most important thing is to be true to yourself.  You should write music for yourself first and foremost and if other people like it, well then that is just an extra-added bonus.  In terms of getting your music published, I would say that you have to network.  You have to meet people and figure out who makes the publishing decisions for the various publishing companies.  Then you must take a risk and start submitting your music.  Be prepared, you will get rejected, but keep trying.  Believe in yourself and don’t give up.

Does your music come to you through slow, careful planning, or by sudden inspiration, or a combination of both?

It happens in all different ways.  Every piece is different.  I have had some pieces like I described above that just flew out and others that I have struggled with for years.  I have to say I am not much of a planning composer.  I don’t write an outline or come up with a form I want to write in or something like that.  I just get started.  Usually first with a tune and then go from there.

Do you have a specific type or style of work you prefer to write for?

No, I really don’t.  Being an arranger first and then a composer has given me the opportunity to write tons of music in every style imaginable.  I enjoy the variety in that type of work and I try really hard not to write the same types of pieces over and over again.  It is difficult when you become popular for one thing or another, but I really try to resist and just do something new.  I guess Mozart still sounds like Mozart too, so I am sure there is something that is similar about all of my pieces.  I am not sure that can be helped!

What is your favorite aspect of composing?

My favorite part is when I first get to hear one of my pieces performed by real live musicians.  Before then the piece only exists in my mind and in my computer.  It only becomes real to me when it is performed for the first time.  After all of these year I still get a thrill out of that.

Do you have the opportunity to rehearse and/or conduct your works with various groups, and if so, do you enjoy the experience?  Why or why not?

I have had the good fortune to conduct my music all over the world.  It never gets old and it is exciting every time.  The people I meet and get to work with are always hospitable and work very hard to make the performances of my music a success.

“Rapid Fire” Questions:

What is on your iPod?

A little bit of everything.  Classical, rock, pop, jazz, country — you name it.

If not composing or performing, what profession could you envision yourself doing?

I think it would still be something that is creative in some way.  Like I love to work with wood and make things.  I have also become very interested lately with website design.

What is your favorite composition? (of any composer, in any medium)

Talk about an impossible question.  Okay, well if I have to pick just one – here it goes:  The Nutcracker.  I just love Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece.  I never get tired of it.  It just has so many great tunes!

Is there anyone, past or present, that you would like to have the opportunity to meet?

Thomas Edison.  That guy was amazing!

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have the music of one composer, other than yourself, who would that be?

I guess to go along with the question above I would pick Tchaikovsky.

Favorite pastime?

Other than writing music?  Well, I absolutely love college football.

Performer or composer?

I am definitely not a performer, so yes I am a composer.

Many thanks go out to Larry for his time in answering these questions and thereby sharing his story of his musical journey with our readers.

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