Strange Time: Time-Space Phenomena, Music and My Journey With the Wind Band
Updated: May 17, 2020
Most, if not all of my compositional life has been spent on the orchestra. In fact, it's safe to say that I live and die by the orchestral repertoire and plan to make my life and career in it, both as a composer and a conductor. However, one of my golden rules as a composer is to be as eclectic as possible. This has led to me trying some unusual things in my music. Recently, it came the time (no pun intended) to write my newest symphony. I decided to use this effort to depict time travel in music.
Before starting the composition process, however, I was faced with two big challenges:
1. How was I going to depict the phenomena of time in music?
2. I mostly specialize in writing for the orchestra. How was I going to approach writing for the wind ensemble....and why???
To understand how I got to where I am today in terms of writing for winds, we have to look at my background in the medium.
Relationship with the wind ensemble
First, since this work is for expanded wind ensemble, it is important to understand my experience and history with the band in the first place. I started band class relatively late, as a junior in high school and got my start playing quads in marching band (a fact I'm proud of, as it began my love of playing timpani) and gradually transitioned to percussion, which I still play to this day.
With this beginning experience with the literature and a band director who fed my curiosity and introduced me to many landmark works for this particular ensemble, I was ready to start writing for it.
Or....was i...? Was I really?
Remember when I said I specialized in writing for the orchestra? By the time I started composing for band in late 2012, I had been writing for orchestra for about 6 years and until that point, had only been writing for the orchestra, along with other small ensembles extracted from the orchestra (like string quartets, small wind pieces, etc.). I had no idea how to use the saxophones (I remember going "What the hell do I do with saxophones?" when it came time to write my first band score) in a large ensemble context, nor did I really know how to effectively utilize the Euphonium (something I still struggle with, I admit; the name 'Euphonium' sounds cool though).
The first piece I ever wrote for band was something for my high school band called the "Bulldog Fanfare (2012-2013)", named because of the school's mascot. It was a simple celebratory fanfare, and I chose to work with some basic musical material to create a very accessible piece of music. Because of that it was played at my high school's graduation ceremonies twice (I conducted it the both times).
Excerpt from my very first work for band: Bulldog Fanfare (2012-2013)
In 2014, just because I wanted to test my band writing chops further, I composed "6:00", a musical depiction of traffic at rush hour for band. By this time, I had become much more familiar with the wind ensemble, but still wasn't entirely confident with its inner workings. As a result, the writing was a little more adventurous but still not entirely sure of itself; for example, I utilize the key of C for this work, which is very, very rare for band pieces (usually you'll find band compositions in flat keys). I wouldn't exactly call it one of my strongest works either.
Excerpt from '6:00' (2014)
Since those two pieces, I've composed several other pieces for band, most of them written with certain ensembles in mind. Enter: the Richland Trilogy.
The Richland Trilogy and gaining experience
In 2015, I wrote 'Journeys III' (the first two 'Journeys' were for string orchestra), the first of three wind band pieces for the Richland Wind Symphony (at Richland College, which I attended from 2015-2017) and my first real attempt at a truly original piece for the medium. It turned out to be too difficult in terms of how it was written; I was still not yet familiar with band keys or how the different band instruments interacted with each other and some of the time signatures made no sense. Of course, I've revised the piece substantially since then but it still hasn't been performed.
Finale from 'Journeys III' (2015)
The next year, I tried again with 'Faster', for the same ensemble. It was written through a panic attack I had at the time. It was ambitious and still too hard (very technical passages and frequent changes of time signature), especially with short preparations for the concerts we had. It was premiered a year after I wrote it by a different ensemble, and it turned out well, but not before undergoing several revisions of course.
Those two pieces served as learning experiences (I believe the saying goes something like "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice....shame on me" or something like that) so my third and final piece for the Richland Wind Symphony was composed in 2017 and consists of a simpler lyrical style that is so popular in the band medium. 'August Morn' was a success; the ensemble really enjoyed playing it and it was prepareable in a short amount of time. I've since then had one other performance of the piece in another revised version. With this, I've found that sometimes simpler is better.
I found that the more I wrote for band, the more I wanted to treat it like an orchestra, and discover new sounds I could create with just the winds. I wanted to design something epic in the vein of an monumental orchestral piece, but I needed something, a source of inspiration to turn to. So I turned to one of the most influential symphonies written in the past 50 years and it just so happened to be for wind ensemble: David Maslanka's Symphony No. 4.
The influence of David Maslanka and his Symphony No. 4
In February 2017, I won a composition contest hosted by Texas A&M University College Station with a brass quintet I composed in 2015 called 'There's Been a Breach'. As part of my prize, I flew to College Station, TX where I attended the world premiere of this piece performed by the amazing (and very fun to hang out with) Atlantic Brass Quintet. I also got to work with the guest composer for the event, David Maslanka. Before our meeting, I was only a little familiar with Dr. Maslanka's music having heard a recording of the 4th symphony and being very impressed by it. Of course, I was naturally curious about his other symphonic works, so I went to do research and check the others out (with the exception of No. 1, written for orchestra in the early 1970's and apparently unperformed) and was immediately fascinated by the depth and scope of each work. My favorite Maslanka symphonies quickly became nos. 2 and 8. This was shortly before my trip, and it was then that I realized who exactly I would be working with. This was someone who captured the very soul of the world in his music. It was really my first time hearing something different that wasn't the band music I was used to up to that point like marches, UIL pieces or Christmas tunes (including the dreaded 'Sleigh Ride'). It was eye and mind opening to say the least.
And even though I had heard pretty much all the Maslanka symphonies and his numerous other pieces (like personal favorites Requiem and Mother Earth, which I've played the timpani part on), Symphony No. 4 was my favorite and fascinated me the most. I made it a point to get as deep inside of that symphony as possible. I found that the deeper I dove, the more I discovered that Maslanka's writing for the wind ensemble was