Editors’ Choice, one of our flagship services, represents the very best new music for every ensemble. The J.W. Pepper staff reviews hundreds of selections from a broad range of publishers, awarding only the highest quality titles our signature red check mark.
In addition to being a helpful tool for teachers and directors, Editors’ Choice represents a major career aspiration for composers and arrangers! We invited composers who had one of their instrumental pieces chosen for the first time this year to be featured on our blog. Read on to learn about the respondents and their work.
Editors’ Choice Piece: Imminent Danger for concert band with electroacoustic accompaniment
I am originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma and am currently based in Joplin, Missouri. After high school, I began studying bassoon performance at the University of Arkansas. I quickly learned that I wanted to ad-lib and compose more than I wanted to play my etudes and excerpts, and WAY more than I wanted to play scales, which I still loathe.
My composition professor, Dr. Michael Rothkopf, taught me so much and helped me realize that I have a voice in the world of composition. Other than a few family members, he was the first one to truly believe in me as a composer. I stayed another year after earning my master’s degree to study with another amazing composer and mentor, Kenneth Frazelle.
After college, I composed full-time for several months. Reality set in that I had student loans to pay off and a need for medical insurance, so I earned my Oklahoma Teaching Certificate, became a band director, and fell in love with it immediately. I could write and arrange music for my own groups, and I got to teach kids how to play instruments and learn to love music. I loved my job!
Throughout 15 years as an Oklahoma band director, I kept feeling the pull to compose more and more. As a one-director staff with two kids, it was becoming more and more difficult to do it all. I didn’t burn out; I simply rearranged my priorities. I will eventually return to the podium, and I look forward to that day. For now, I spend my time homeschooling my kids, editing audio for FYI: The Murphy Brown Podcast, being a virtual guest clinician with bands across the country, teaching private lessons, and composing.
For me, composing is like putting together a sonic puzzle. Sometimes I hear a small part of the puzzle in my head, but other times I will hear a cacophony and have to try and pick out the pieces one at a time. Since working with Randall Standridge, I have become more aware of structure and form, and he has really helped me develop as a composer. I am inspired and influenced by a wide array of musicians. I enjoy the compositional techniques of Stravinsky, the orchestration of Sibelius, the harmonies and orchestration of Bizet, Debussy, and Chopin, the rhythms and audio palette of Deadmau5, the melodies of Billie Eilish and The Weeknd, and the rhythmic flow of rapper NF.
When it comes to creating electroacoustic works like Imminent Danger, I will often get inspired by one simple sound and begin editing that sound to create something new, then I build a piece around that singular sound. With Imminent Danger, I was inspired by a dubstep beat and imitated that in my own way, then the piece just began forming as I went. After some great insight from Randall, I was able to create something I could really be proud of.
I like to focus on composing pieces that any ensemble with any instrumentation can successfully perform. There aren’t a lot of pieces out there for small bands and nontraditional instrumentation (although that is changing a little with the creation of “flex” pieces). Imminent Danger started out as a fully adaptable piece in four parts with audio track.
I hope to continue composing and inspiring young people to love making music, whether that’s through playing an instrument, singing, or through composing their work. I love seeing those “aha” moments when a student “gets it.” I love those moments of pride and deep satisfaction that students feel when they realize they have just accomplished something amazing.
I plan to continue working as a guest clinician, especially for small bands, and composing. I am currently working on two projects: a grade 2.5–3 electroacoustic work for solo trumpet and a grade 3–3.5 electroacoustic work for band, both pieces to be premiered in the spring of 2024. You can learn more about my work or contact me by visiting my website.
Editors’ Choice Piece: Dark Side of the City for concert band
I’ve dreamt of teaching and composing music for band ever since high school, when I had the opportunity to meet and be conducted by Frank Ticheli on our band trip to Italy. I majored in music education at William Paterson University and graduated from Montclair State University with my Master of Arts degree in music composition. I have to thank my colleague and fellow band director Mr. John Brigante for giving me the opportunity to write Overture for Education, my first-ever published piece. I’ve been fortunate to have so many great advocates like Dr. Kaitlin Bove, Dr. Thomas McCauley, and composer Patrick J. Burns.
I wrote Dark Side of the City while I was temporarily contracted as a long-term substitute middle school band director. I wanted to compose something darker than what I’d been previously writing, and only in the end did I realize that the music started to sound like something out of a Dark Knight movie—or maybe I was thinking about the “dangerous” side of New York City at night. My students enjoyed it very much and it showed me that I could write great music for young bands.
My creative process, or at least the way I talk about it, has changed over time. I believe you have to make meaningful music for yourself first. Not every piece a composer writes, whether commissioned or personal, will be a true success unless its significance has first been felt by the writer. Sure, I can go onto the piano and play some random melodies until something strikes my interest, which sometimes works, but then you are simply trying to force something to happen—and then you lose that charisma to develop it because nothing special comes to you.
I’ve played music from Brian Balmages, Frank Ticheli, Randall Standridge, Samuel Hazo, and John Mackey. They are amazing, and as a band director I’ve found their music to be both engaging and inspirational. Classically, I love the big five of orchestral writing: Sibelius, Elgar, Mahler, Beethoven, and Persichetti. I’ve also been influenced by composers Michael Markowski, Rossano Galante, Cait Nishimura, JoAnne Harris, and Quinn Mason.
There’s so much that I want to do as a composer and as a band director. I wish I had more hours in the day to balance my composing and teaching music.
I have two pieces of advice that I give all of my students:
- The best things to write about and express in your music are your own stories. Just about every piece that I’ve composed came from an experience or an event that I had in my life. All the sad, happy, or life-changing moments have made their way into the corners of my music. What draws people to their favorite pop songs and their favorite classical pieces is the ability to connect and relate.
- You don’t have to work alone. When you compose music, ask your musical friends and fellow musicians how it sounds and what they think—their knowledge of their instruments and their listening can go a long way to making your music better. When you want to promote your work through social media, ask people to promote you or find an assistant you trust. When you’re traveling somewhere for a workshop or a performance, bring a friend. Have a composing session with your colleagues where you can give and receive feedback in a friendly environment. These little things really do go a long way.
I expect to complete my first consortium piece for grade 5+ symphonic band, Gaudi, in late December. It is going to be one of my largest compositions yet, with four continuous movements about the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. I’m also creating a collection of new concert and cinematic works for wind band. I have completed two compositions for this collection with more to come!
You can find me on many social media platforms. I have a Facebook composer and personal page, as well as an Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube profile that can all be found with my name. You can also find my compositions on my website and …And We Were Heard.
Editors’ Choice Piece: Dragonfly’s Journey for string orchestra
I was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel, where my father played bassoon in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. My early exposure to music was quite eclectic, ranging from classical to electronic to popular music and progressive rock. My father’s collection of contemporary scores, including pieces like Messiaen’s Turangalila Symphony and many classical and romantic symphonies, was a treasure trove that fueled my curiosity and passion for composition. As a child, I first studied cello and then piano, and in my youth, I wrote music for various ensembles, including my own rock band.
I’ve been fortunate to have my work championed by renowned orchestras and soloists worldwide. I’ve received several awards from ASCAP, ACUM, the Asian Composers’ League, and the 2018 Azrieli Prize for Jewish Music.
My creative process often starts with a sense of curiosity and sometimes even puzzlement about what musicians who commission me are looking for. I like challenging myself to meet their expectations, but on my terms. A typical workday involves a mix of composing, researching, and teaching, as I also serve as a music professor. I usually start my day with reading or listening to music, followed by focused composing sessions. My musical influences are as diverse as my background: I’m inspired by classical composers like Josquin, Bach, and Messiaen, as well as Middle Eastern and Indian music. I am also often inspired by jazz and popular music.
Dragonfly’s Journey was a special project for me, as it was my first piece for a young string orchestra. Written for the Gettysburg Area Middle School, the piece is an energetic adventure in the key of A major. My daughter’s violin studies and my wife’s involvement in music education inspired me to explore writing pedagogical works. The piece aims to bring a professional concert hall experience to young musicians and has been well received. I’m excited that the Jasper 9–10 High School Legacy Orchestra will perform Dragonfly’s Journey at The Midwest Clinic in Chicago this December!
My advice to an aspiring composer would be to never stop learning. Stay open to influences from various genres and cultures. Don’t be afraid to challenge the expectations of your audience and the people you’re writing for. It’s great to try out new directions, and it’s always important to work with other people. Collaboration fuels creativity and leads to opportunities.
I continue to write music for the concert hall—I’m working on a couple of concertos and some chamber music. I’m also keen on furthering my involvement in music education. I will conduct the county orchestra this November in my hometown of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and I wrote a new string orchestra piece for that performance. Last year, I arranged one of the themes from a recent film score for the Harrisburg Junior Youth Symphony Orchestra. You can find more about me and my upcoming projects on my website, Facebook, and Instagram.
Editors’ Choice Piece: Rushing Dragons for concert band
I started music at a young age and played the trumpet throughout my schooling into college. In the middle of my undergraduate program, I changed majors from trumpet performance to composition. My friends were my greatest inspirations in the beginning of my compositional career.
My creative process starts with sketching out ideas using paper and pencil. Once I feel like I have an idea, I start composing the piece. There’s a lot of trial and error in the beginning, but that’s just part of the process. At the moment, I’m getting my doctorate in jazz composing at the Frost School of Music in Miami, so when I’m not in class, I’m composing something. As I work on getting my DMA, I plan on teaching at a university and to continue composing for all genres. Composing comes first, then teaching. Some of my influences are from 20th-century classical and jazz composers, including Bill Evans, Igor Stravinsky, Gustav Holst, Henri Dutilleux, Ron Nelson, and John Williams.
Rushing Dragons has a bit of a funny story. I was on a trip to San Diego with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas marching band during my master’s degree and I brought my laptop with my MIDI keyboard. During the six-hour drive, I decided to write a piece easy enough to be played by a middle school band. One of the directors suggested the title as a sort of inside joke since middle school students tend to rush and drag.
My advice to an aspiring composer is that composition requires the composer to be very meticulous and put in a lot of hard work, so be ready. On the other side, it’s also very rewarding to hear your piece performed. You really need to know that this is what you want, and once you figure that out, you can go from there.
I’m excited to announce that the UNLV Wind Orchestra has an album coming out this November that features New York Philharmonic principal trombonist Joseph Alessi and the Boston Brass Quintet. On this album, you’ll hear the premier wind band transcription of Chick Corea’s trombone concerto as well as my concerto for brass quintet featuring the Boston Brass. You’ll also hear Hugo Montenegro’s Fanfare for the New, which I transcribed and arranged for band. Included in the album is a piece I wrote titled Her Name is Nessa. My music that is featured in this album will become available after its live premiere in November. You can find my music on my website.
Editors’ Choice Piece: Jesus Is a Rock in a Weary Land for 3–5 octave handbell choir
I think of myself primarily as a church musician, but I’ve had a very eclectic musical background. Growing up in northeast Kansas, I played in school band and orchestra and sang in choir, but also played guitar and bass in rock and jazz bands. Over my career, I’ve directed various instrumental and vocal ensembles for church and school and now serve as Director of Handbell Ministries at the First Baptist Church of Keller, Texas. Most of my compositions have been written for groups I direct, sometimes by inspiration, but often more for a lack of “just the right piece” for my group!
I don’t have a set process for composing, but I try to stay alert to new ideas for old tunes, or different approaches to bring new energy to a familiar hymn tune or children’s song. I usually sketch out the rough form and some notes on paper, then start working in Finale to flesh out the ideas. After I think I’m through, I’ll let it sit for a few days before coming back to see what I need to adjust—or if it’s even worth pursuing. If it passes that test, I’ll try to get it to a live group, where it may get a few more tweaks.
My main musical influences are early 20th-century British composers (Holst and Vaughn Williams), the prog rock bands of the 1970s (Kansas, Pink Floyd) and jazz/fusion groups like Weather Report and Blood, Sweat & Tears. Compositionally, much of my influence is from spirituals, folk music, and hymn tunes. My love of mallets and mallet clicks in handbell pieces is a direct result of the music of Valerie Stephenson, whose mallet pieces continue to inspire!
I’m honored that my arrangement of Jesus Is a Rock in a Weary Land was selected as an Editors’ Choice. It was written with our church’s middle school PraisRingers handbell choir in mind and premiered by that group. The use of mallets both on and off of bells creates an internal rhythm section (and keeps everyone busy) with a bass groove that drives the piece forward while allowing the traditional melody to shine. It has lots of syncopation and different techniques but is still playable by relatively inexperienced players—we had fun with it!
I suggest that composers get their work into the hands of live musicians to see how it works in the real world. Listen to the results and to the musicians’ feedback and apply whatever you learn to the next piece.
You can find me most Sundays playing handbells, bass, or horn at church; I can also be found at area handbell events (Handbell Musicians of America Area 9 in particular – check out our Spring Ring and Summit events!), at Fort Worth Symphony concerts, and walking in the park with my wife and puppy. I have a few more pieces to write, but I also enjoy conducting and teaching, so I hope to have opportunities as a clinician or guest conductor. Find out more about me and my music on my website.
I started making music with an old rusty cornet my mom bought from a local music store for 20 bucks and went on to become the first American to be named Fellow in Conducting at the University of Michigan, studied in Leonard Bernstein’s last conducting class at the Tanglewood Music Center, and have conducted orchestras and operas on three continents. Not bad for a $20 start-up fee, eh?
When I began to arrange music, my first consideration was to introduce student musicians to composers of color and women composers. I feel it is important that all young people become aware of the best among these underperformed masters. The arrangements of mine selected for Editors’ Choice are by Afro-Caribbean composer Joseph Bologne and Afro-Cuban composer Joseph White. Their biographies are remarkably similar: white fathers, enslaved Black mothers; their fathers claimed them as their own children, taught them to play the violin, and eventually sent them to Paris where each man, now a virtuoso violinist, enjoyed tremendous success in the city’s musical scene.
Musical ideas have always popped in and out of my head and sometimes even keep me awake at night. I really don’t have a daily regimen, but when I’m working, everything else ceases to exist.
Igor Stravinsky and American jazz have been my main compositional influences since my early days. Stravinsky, by contrast, awoke every day early, composed until lunch, took a nap, then composed until dinner. Every day.
The best advice I can give to young composers and arrangers is that it doesn’t have to be good, but it does have to be on paper. Write down and listen to whatever comes to mind and store it away. There may be an element of gold in there. Keep writing!
My latest arrangement by African-English violinist and composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor will be published soon, and I have a couple of new compositions that are likely to be picked up by a publisher for next year. Jubilare for string orchestra and timpani expands on ideas found in the music of G.F. Handel. You can get in touch with me by visiting my website.
I’m a music teacher and saxophone performer in the Philadelphia area. I’ve always loved arranging and composing and found myself diving deeply into the latter during the pandemic. While I enjoy writing for concert band, much of my recent output has been for strings!
Ballad and Jig is the first piece I wrote for string orchestra, published by Grand Mesa Strings. Harvest Ritual is a more recent work for string orchestra, published by Randall Standridge Music. In both pieces, I was exploring different styles of dances through a variety of modes and rhythmic content.
When I’m composing, I sometimes begin by crafting a melody or exploring a certain concept. I’m a big proponent of working with pencil and paper first, so I use a book of manuscript paper for rough sketches. Once I have a few ideas sufficiently developed, I move over to the computer.
I definitely want to keep writing as much as I can, as it is fun and fulfilling! And as always, there’s plenty more to learn. To that end, I’ll be pursuing a Ph.D. in composition at Temple University starting in the fall of 2024. I’m also going to keep teaching music (this will be my 15th year). This year, I started teaching band at Tower Hill School in Wilmington, Delaware and I absolutely love it!
I would share these valuable lessons with aspiring composers:
- Never be afraid to ask questions about how to write for certain instruments! In my experience, performers on those instruments are always happy to share their knowledge with you.
- When starting a new piece, limit yourself to pencil and paper at first, and an instrument if you like. Only move over to the computer when you have your ideas sufficiently developed. If you go to the computer too soon, you’re bound to hit a wall!
- During the writing process, don’t be afraid to try different things. If you don’t like something, you can always cross it out or erase it! Trust the process.
- Never underestimate the power of having a good layout. You might have the best musical ideas in the world, but if they’re not presented clearly, logically, and neatly, this will be a hindrance to the performers.
- Giving a title to your piece should be the very last step; don’t dwell on it!
I have so many musical influences! I love J.S. Bach, George Frideric Handel, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Gustav Holst, Edward Elgar, and Aaron Copland.
My central hub is http://www.hart-music.com.
Bruce A. Healey
Editors’ Choice Piece: High Flight for narrator and concert band
I started my musical career with piano and percussion lessons, then discovered jazz at age 16. I majored in composition at California State College at Fullerton, where I studied classical piano and played percussion in wind ensemble, orchestra, and percussion. I also sought out teachers in the commercial world to study jazz piano and arranging and commercial orchestration. I have very broad musical influences and varied tastes: I grew up listening to jazz piano, contemporary big band jazz, classical and 20th-century orchestra music as well as musical theater and pop genres of the day. Nothing is off limits to me as long as it is well done.
I was the Senior Music Director and Producer at Disneyland for over 30 years. I’ve had the opportunity to orchestrate for several films and television series including The Karate Kid Part II, North and South: Book II, and Masters of the Universe. I also have written special arrangements for the Cincinnati Pops, the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, the Disney Concert Library, Allsun Music Co., the Hal Leonard Symphony Pops Series for Professional Orchestra, and the G. Schirmer Rental Library.
I’m very proud to have High Flight selected for Editors’ Choice and glad to see that the J.W. Pepper team is staying open to new ideas, since this piece is something different for the concert band audience. I’m also very happy to let everyone know that the venerable Long Beach Municipal Band, under the direction of Kurt Curtis, has premiered High Flight this year.
I usually let the needs of any project drive my creative choices. For example, I have a specific way that I approach arranging a medley, where I lay out all the source material in front of me, play through it all at the piano, discover what glues it all together, and absorb it. Then, I start moving themes and songs around to discover commonalities and create a flow. Introduction and transition ideas reveal themselves, and I strive to find the ultimate “payoff” of the arrangement. Then, I sketch it. If I’m composing without an assignment, I often start by writing a theme or themes, motives, or fragments, which then I compose into the final work.
I would advise aspiring composers to keep writing and do everything they can to hear their work performed by the best performers possible. That will teach you more than any textbook.
Next on my creative to-do list is to compose another piece for concert band in the “tone poem” genre. I don’t want to give away the concept just yet! You can find my work on my website, SoundCloud, and YouTube.
Editors’ Choice Piece: The Egg for jazz ensemble
I’ve been composing jazz music for as long as I can remember. I’m trained as a jazz pianist, but I’ve always written and arranged music for my small groups. Big band jazz is a more recent endeavor.
I spend most of my musical day teaching at local colleges and practicing piano. I try to carve out some time every day to write, but I don’t have a set schedule around composing.
My main musical influences are the great jazz pianists! There are so many, but recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Andrew Hill, Mary Lou Williams, and Kenny Kirkland.
The Egg is a funk piece with a lot of fun section work, a good rhythm section groove, and a simple solo section that younger improvisers can sound great on!
My advice is to write a little bit of music every day, whether you want to or not. It won’t always be great, but you learn just as much from the pieces that don’t turn out the way you wanted. Just be consistent! My plan is to keep writing and see where it takes me.
You can find me on my website, which I update with my performances in Seattle and music from my grunge trio.
I started learning the (French) horn at Fremont-Mills Jr./Sr. High School in the small town of Tabor, Iowa. I often say that I was the finest horn player at my high school, but that’s perhaps because I was the only one! I dabbled in composition in high school, and my first piece was a brass trio that I wrote for my brother, a friend, and myself to play. Today, I direct the Kansas City Horn Club, one of the largest and most active horn ensembles in the United States.
I hold bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music education from Northwest Missouri State University where Alfred E. Sergel III, Director of Bands, gave me the opportunity to write music for university ensembles. There, I wrote my first work for band, A Day in the Ville, which premiered at a graduation commencement. I also studied composition at the University of Kansas with James Barnes and have had private instruction with other composers such as Stephen Melillo, John Mackey, Julie Giroux, Charles Rochester Young, and Gabriela Frank.
I start creating a piece by jotting down a multitude of notes on a page and then refining them until I’m confident in what I’ve created. I’ve discovered that even the slightest inkling of doubt about my work can often be a sign that something isn’t quite right, prompting me to make revisions until I’m completely satisfied with the outcome. Writer’s block can be quite a frequent visitor for me, but just as often, pieces flow effortlessly from my mind to the page. When I find myself grappling with the dreaded blank page or uncertain about what comes next, I will take a break, step outside for a walk, and let the fresh air and change of scenery serve as a mental reset. My goal is to compose music for both musical theater productions and independent video games.
With Dragonstone, my goal was to compose a piece for young bands that could also be appreciated by those with more experience. I have fond memories of playing video games in the 1980s and ’90s, and Dragonstone serves as my rendition of “Boss Battle Music” for an imaginary video game. It represents the intense confrontation between our player hero and the ultimate boss.
Mesa Dances originally served as the final movement of a large-scale band composition titled Long May We Reign, which was commissioned by the Denison High School Band in commemoration of 100 years of bands in Denison, Iowa. Denison is known for its diverse community, and it stands out as one of the few schools in Iowa to boast a thriving mariachi band program. In fact, the school has multiple mariachi bands, and I drew inspiration from the talented students who participate in them.
The composer James Barnes once said, “Amateurs write chords, professionals write counterpoint.” This advice continues to shape my approach to composition, serving as a constant reminder of how musical lines and harmonies interplay. Also, if you write music that you genuinely enjoy, there’s a good chance that others will enjoy it, too.
Numerous composers have left a lasting impression on me: I draw inspiration from J.S. Bach, Sergei Prokofiev, Aaron Copland, and Gustav Mahler. I have also been inspired by modern composers who have written for bands including Stephen Melillo, Julie Giroux, and James Barnes.
Editors’ Choice Piece: The Gumshoe for jazz ensemble
I am a band director for a small rural school in northwest Ohio. I started composing in a sort of roundabout way: for a long time, I was arranging marching band music and creating hybrid parts for my groups. From there, I got to transcribing melodies and solos from jazz tunes. After that, I began attempting to put together lead sheets and tunes of my own creation and design.
In writing The Gumshoe, I was inspired by the sound and feel of the Count Basie Orchestra. I attempted to keep the band in a nice, even, comfortable range in terms of technique, volume, and groove. The piece is in a straightforward, typical blues form and a friendly key (concert F).
Because of my full-time job, my creative process is not very structured. I do attempt to sit down at the piano each day and improvise or create several ideas of my own. When I do get an opportunity to sit and work, I obsess over each note and then get input and opinions from people that I trust. Eventually, I continue chipping away until I am pleased with what I have.
During the pandemic, Chick Corea put out videos of himself improvising or performing at his piano on Facebook. I picked up ideas for practice and improvisation and applied them to composition. It was like getting private lessons from Chick Corea!
I have many musical influences, from some very good friends and teachers to musicians I have never met. Some of the many I enjoy include Horace Silver, Art Blakey, and Blue Mitchell. Since I’m a trumpet player, one of my first favorites was Clifford Brown.
I am eager to explore different styles of music that all fall under the jazz genre: Latin, funk, jazz rock, more swing, etc. I enjoy immersing myself in many different styles to help better understand each one. This way, the intricacies of each style will eventually show up in my writing, too.
My best tip for composers would be—don’t give up. Persevere and understand that rejection is part of the process. You will eventually find success!
Editors’ Choice Piece: Four Portraits for Strings for string orchestra
I’ve loved music all my life. I learned guitar from my dad and piano and trumpet in elementary school. I also had some great middle school and high school teachers who gave me a solid foundation in music.
I earned a BME from the University of Colorado Boulder in 2010 and took composition lessons with Carter Pann. After graduating, I spent five years teaching K–4 music, during which I wrote musicals for my students to perform and taught composition. Then, I got my MME from Indiana University in 2015 and went on to teach in a K–8 school focusing on general music and jazz band. Writing music for my students became a real passion for me, and I kept pursuing more and more projects.
In 2021, it was time for a career switch, so I pivoted to full-time composing and education outreach in composition. Shortly thereafter, I took the Composer in Residence position at the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra in Greeley, Colorado. Since then, I have been writing commissions for everything from operas and concert works to chamber and solo music to short films and narratives.
Four Portraits for Strings was inspired by the whimsical artwork of Lloyd Mitchell. I first saw Mitchell’s work in a museum outside of Boulder, Colorado. I was immediately drawn to his cartoonish, stylized depictions of the romanticized Wild West. His imagery, and somewhat surreal situations, were so vivid as to paint immediate music in my head. Each of the movements of the work is based on a separate portrait and attempts to capture in music what Mitchell captures beautifully on the canvas.
I love to compose and spend much of my day doing it at some level. Most of the time it’s just in my head, as that’s where I get most of my ideas fleshed out. I then write from the piano, usually improvising ideas to make sure they work and sketching the overall form and direction of the work. From there, I go to the engraving software to give me the orchestrated parts, and I’ll work from there until pieces are done. I sometimes get ahead of myself and sit down at the engraving software too soon. When this happens, I get stuck or start coming up with ideas that don’t work or fit. At that point, I go back to the piano or spend time away from the piece to get it reworked in my head before I start engraving again.
I have so many musical influences! It is hard to choose just a few since they come from so many different backgrounds. I seek out music of all styles and genres for fresh ideas and find that individual pieces, more than composers or artists as a whole, are most influential to me. There’s so much music out there, and so much to learn from it. I love this quote from Stravinsky: “[Music] is legitimate to the extent to which it is genuine.” When I hear any music that is genuine, it’s inspiring.
I’m really enjoying the commissions that I’ve received lately and I’m looking forward to more like them. I love doing human interest commissions. Some of my most recent ones have been writing a seven-movement symphonic work as an homage to the people of Weld County, Colorado, writing music for a birth center at a hospital to welcome newborn babies, and setting Oscar Wilde’s poetry to music for a multimedia event. What really inspires me as a composer is the beauty of nature and the human spirit, so I hope to continue to have opportunities to share pieces like that with others.
Andrew David Perkins
Editors’ Choice Piece: Skeletonic for concert band
I’m very fortunate to have been immersed in a rich musical environment my entire life. My mom was a career music educator, and I grew up very involved in school band and orchestra, all-state groups, and musical theater. My education includes degrees from Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and the Berklee College of Music, and I’ve been actively working in public school music education in Michigan for 22 years. Composing music was a natural outgrowth of my various roles, beginning with creating arrangements for my own ensembles, and eventually writing original music for large ensembles and chamber groups.
Skeletonic was commissioned by a consortium of directors in the fall of 2022. It was designed to be a fun, spooky piece that can come together quickly, in time for a Halloween concert. It also features a very simple bass line that stays mostly on the tonic, which is great for players who have recently moved to tuba, baritone sax, or bass clarinet and have only been playing the instrument for a few weeks. It features an ascending octatonic scale, so there are some built-in opportunities to teach music theory and tonality concepts in a fun way.
I’m very pleased that the editorial team at Pepper has recognized my work, and I’m looking forward to continued collaboration with their fantastic staff. Over the last year, Pepper has taken over print-on-demand services for my entire catalog as well as ePrint for all of my works. It’s been a fantastic move for my company and has increased directors’ access to my music. I want to continue to write music that I feel compelled to create across all genres and levels.
Because of my daily schedule as an active music educator and conductor, I write in the evenings and on weekends. I usually have several projects that I’m working on in various stages; I’ll be composing one piece in Logic, engraving another in Sibelius, and managing various consortia and the business side of my business (APOLLO STUDIOS Music Publishing) in between. I’m a night owl, so my most creative time is late in the evening when there are few distractions.
My musical tastes and influences are all over the board: Bernard Herrmann, Aaron Copland, Led Zeppelin, Gustav Holst, Leonard Bernstein, Jimi Hendrix, John Williams, Van Halen, Tchaikovsky, James Newton Howard, John Coltrane, Rage Against the Machine, U2, Percy Grainger, Pearl Jam, Alan Silvestri, Sufjan Stevens, Hans Zimmer, the Beatles…
I’m a huge advocate of pursuing music education as part of a career in music composition. There are so many reasons for this, from the undergraduate methods classes to the relationships you’ll build with future music directors, performers, and colleagues. The experiences of performing in large ensembles and studio classes are invaluable, and the friendships you build within the music education field will open doors for you. The bottom line is that music is entirely about connection and people, which are entirely at the heart of music education.
All of my music is available on my website and, of course, through J.W. Pepper. My YouTube channel has demos and recordings of all my works, and I’m usually posting on TikTok, Facebook, and Instagram. You can also email me at email@example.com.
Editors’ Choice Piece: The Myth of the Golden Camel for string orchestra
When I was five years old, I would watch Ricardo Muti conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra on my local PBS station and conduct along with him. That’s when I knew that music was my passion. I started writing music at the age of ten on a piano that my aunt had given us, and I even had one of my songs performed by my high school choir.
When I first started teaching string orchestra in 1997, there were many pieces I wanted my students to perform, but I could not find music that was appropriately arranged, so most of my earliest orchestral pieces were arrangements of classical compositions.
As the years went on, I started sharing some of my original works with my students. To my surprise, they really seemed to like what I was writing! After putting it off for many, many years, I finally decided to submit my compositions and arrangements for publication in early 2020.
My inspiration for The Myth of the Golden Camel was an old pennant with a silhouette of a golden lion wearing a crown in our school’s auditorium. I was inspired to write a song about it, but I wanted it to have a Middle Eastern flair, so I went with a golden camel. The main theme came to me right away, and the background followed soon thereafter. It took me just a few days to have the entire song completed, and I’m excited that it will be performed at The Midwest Clinic in December.
The Myth of the Golden Camel received its world premiere at the American International School in Vienna, Austria, when a friend of mine connected me to her son who teaches orchestra there. I was blown away hearing one of my pieces performed by a group of that caliber. I truly believed that if any one of my pieces needed to be published, this was the one—along with Starscape! Fortunately, both of them were chosen by C. Alan Publications the day after I submitted them for consideration. After spending years doing so many other things with my teaching career, I had finally achieved my lifelong dream of becoming a published composer.
I would tell any aspiring composer: never give up! I was rejected by six different publishing companies before my music was chosen for publication. Apply to as many publishers as possible. You never know who is going to love your music as much as you do and give it a home.
I feel like I always have music flowing through me. More often than not, I will simply get a tune in my head, and sing it (poorly) into the recorder app on my phone. Most of the time, this happens when I am most relaxed, usually when I am just about to fall asleep, and then I spring out of bed to sing into my phone before I lose the idea. I probably have hundreds of these recordings, but only a couple of dozen have become full-fledged songs.
Once I find some time to sit down and start composing, I tend to complete a piece within a few days. Of course, the bowings, dynamics, and articulations take a bit more time, but once I begin composing, everything falls into place. I write what feels right to me, then listen to it over and over to make sure it sounds right. Finally, I do my best to make sure it is playable—and, more importantly, enjoyable—for students.
I am a huge fan of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Rossini, and Bach—anyone who writes music that moves you and stirs your soul. I remember loving a CD collection called Classical Thunder when I was a kid and even bringing it into music class in middle school! My formative years were the 1980s, so pop music from that decade holds a special place in my heart. I truly believe, however, that there will never be a better decade of popular music than the 1940s, especially songs made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. Compositionally, soundtrack music really inspires me, especially the works of Patrick Doyle, Hans Zimmer, and James Horner. I believe that the soundtrack music of today will be considered the “classical” music of tomorrow, and their works will stand the test of time.
I had some music teachers in Wilson Borough, like Kent Kuder and Ann Hockin, who always encouraged me to pursue my love of music, passionately and unapologetically. I am also a huge fan of the original compositions of many of those composers and arrangers who have had pieces on the Editors’ Choice list for years, such as Larry Clark, Robert W. Smith, Deborah Baker Monday, Brian Balmages, Soon Hee Newbold, and so many, many more.
Because we have no children of our own, my music is my legacy. I would love to have as many works as possible published to be shared with orchestra students throughout the nation and the world. If any of those pieces were to be chosen for Editors’ Choice, that would make it even more special. I have already had four pieces selected for publication in 2024, with more being considered right now. I am grateful that I get to share a little bit of my heart and soul with all of you, my esteemed colleagues and fellow music teachers!
We’d like to thank all the fabulous composers featured here for participating in our interview and for their music!