26 Saturday Jul 2014
Acadia University, Ardith Haley, Arizona State University, College Music Society, creativity in music, Dale Lonis, French horn, hang drum, horn, Improvisation, James Naigus, John Ericson, Mandala Drums, Mandala drums; KYMA, Rich O'Donnell, University of North Dakota
Catch up time. Or making a first start on catching up. It’s been a busy year and getting busier, which is a feature, not a bug. I’m a big fan of doing stuff. Let’s pick up some of the action since the beginning of this calendar year. Second semester has a different flavor than first semester. Both semesters have as core activities horn lessons, horn seminar, and Iowa Brass Quintet. Fall semester adds my Creativity in Music class and my freshman seminar Weird Music, both near and dear to my heart. Fall is football season, go Hawks! Spring frees up all those Saturdays. Spring is horn choir, Improvisation for Classical Musicians, IBQ touring, and visits to other universities and conferences (workshops, presentations, performances).
In March I gave a presentation on ensemble improvisation (with music ed prof Erin Wehr) at the New Directions conference at Michigan State U, and had great time in a masterclass session with the MSU horn studio on the side (although unfortunately horn prof Corbin Wagner was out of town at the time). The next weekend was IBQ mini-tour #1.
The weekend after that was spent at Arizona State University. Superproductive horn star John Ericson, horn prof at ASU, invited me to talk my talk for a day to the horn studio of ASU plus those of 3 other Arizona universities. John was the perfect host, and of course it was nothing but great fun for me to dilate at length on various topics such as creative music, horn technique, and The Future of Everything.
Right after ASU was IBQ tour #2, this time to the Chicago area, where there are some very large and impressive high schools – and music teachers.
The week after ASU (right after the IBQ tour) I had a 2 day residency at the University North Dakota, hosted by Kayla Nelson (whose web site horn history.com is a model of its kind that every horn player should know about and visit). The faculty there was terrific – wonderful, open-minded people very interested in creative music, and you know how I love preaching to the choir. They kept me busy from early to late, doing improv workshops with a local high school band, UND students, rehearsing and performing with Jim Popejoy on vibes (plus one of his grad students on djembe and other percussion), and also with composer Mike Wittgraf and his software/hardware device KYMA (do a search on YouTube and you can hear our improvisations), plus presentations to the music ed students, and horn masterclass; we also had some wonderful discussions/conversations (I miss them!).
The week after that I had 5 days of evening rehearsals and performances with a dancer. Marie Mortensen’s graduate project was to improvise dance on stage with improvising musicians, who were me and several of my students from my improv class. A very fun, unique, and fascinating experience….
The week after that I gave a horn masterclass at Drake University in Des Moines. The next run-out was two weeks later when IBQ played at the Iowa Bandmasters Association conference in Des Moines. That concert was at the tail end of the school year – the week ahead of that concert was brass juries, grading, wrapping up the semester.
The week after that came three days of recording for a new CD project. The general theme of the content is horn improvisation plus something to do with electronics in some way. My recording engineer for this project was/is the Wizard of Oz, Michael Ozment, who, after getting his masters in horn performance at UI some years ago ended up as the audio wiz and manager of Spivey Hall at Clayton State U in Georgia.
The working title of the CD is “Soundings,” taken from the name of the piece that James Naigus wrote for me for this project. Like all of James’s compositions, it’s wonderful piece – unique, catchy, fun to play. He created a sparse, rhythmic accompaniment that is mainly Hang Drum ostinatos, and composed the beginning and ending horn line, with room for me to do some improv over the accompaniment in the middle. I’m sure he will publish it later, and you may play it with or without improv. I had recorded Soundings with James earlier; during these three days I recorded with other musicians/composers/improvisers, all for the first time.
Remember the KYMA concert with Mike Witgraaf mentioned above? Well, I had the delightful opportunity for this recording project to work with another KYMA expert, Rich O’Donnell, who was a percussionist with the St Louis Symphony for 43 years and is phenomenally creative percussion instrument designer and builder (besides percussionist!), and, of course, has a KYMA set-up. It’s pretty challenging to describe what making music with KYMA sounds like, but I’ll give it a shot. Rich and I improvised, playing into microphones and listening with headphones to the whole output. KYMA takes what it gets from us and instantly processes it in several different ways at once. We never know what is coming; we just have to try something, listen, and respond. KYMA might take my line and play it back, delayed by a couple seconds. Or play it up or down some octaves, or faster or slower, or turn it into space birds twittering. Or play back something we played a minute or two ago. Or something else. It was a very unique experience – improvising while listening to something that you played but now it’s different, perhaps recognizable, perhaps a little distorted, perhaps completely distorted/different. It was a very new and different way to create music – the focus is on the amazing variety of unusual timbres that are created, re-created, combined, tweaked, and twisted. And, boy, was it fun!
I also worked with another composer, Jason Palamara, who created a multi-looping device with the MAX-MSP software. I watched a computer screen which gave me very brief instructions (e.g. to play a note, crescendo, play 2 or 3 notes, etc.) – 52 instructions in all, changing every 5-10 seconds or so. There was a chance to do some improv in the middle. I played into a microphone and the program used the input to put through multiple loops, each loop transforming the sound in some way (e.g. playing it faster, slower, higher, lower, etc.).
I met pro rock drummer Aaron Wells when I serendipitously found out about his expertise with something I had never heard of before: the Mandala Drum. The MD is a midi-trigger; you can program areas of it to produce different sounds when whacked with a drumstick. Aaron came by and demonstrated it for me last spring, and, very wowed, I went out and bought one. So for this recording, Aaron had two MDs – his and mine. We decided to just turn him loose creating tracks (sometimes multi-tracked); I added a horn line (sometimes 2) later. The MD can create some amazing sounds and effects; since they are purely electronically produced, they may have a richness of texture and cinematic depth beyond the capability of any drum or percussion instrument on this planet to produce. Very fun, and another completely new experience for me.
One of the most fun parts was working with UI Afro-Cuban faculty member and percussionist Jim Dreier and his grad student. I simply asked them to bring as much percussion as they could carry, set-up in on stage and have at it. I would a horn line (or two) later. Listening to what they came up with, it sounds like 8 people. They each did multiple things at once, using hands, feet, and occasional mouth (samba whistle, etc.). It was like a couple of conservatory-trained but very hip octopi jamming. I added a track or two to each of theirs after they left; we’ll see what Oz does with it all.
There were a couple of other tracks that have already been recorded: “Turnarounds,” a wild and amazing piece for horn and electronic sounds by Israel Newman; Dark – our tuba prof John Manning created a fascinating background with Garageband and I improvised over it; and one, two, three, or all four movements of a piece called “Improv Sonata” that I did a few years ago in concert. James or I or Oz will add some kind of electronically created background to go with the solo horn line. We’ll see what works and then decide what works and what doesn’t and what (if any) to include on the CD.
So that brings us up to the end of May.
I spent the first two weeks of June preparing for my summer outings.
First was my usual two weeks on the faculty at the Kendall Betts Horn Camp in northern New Hampshire. Because there are always a goodly number of players who keep returning to KBHC, I like to have something new to offer them every time, not just repeat what I’ve done in the past. So that takes some time and thought, but it’s always rewarding to work on. I love the work/play there; it is such a wonderful luxury to have 3 hour masterclass every morning and be able to get into various topic in considerable depth. I really enjoy the lessons every day as well as conducting a horn ensemble. KBHC gives its teachers what it calls “open studios”, where you can do anything you want, and where students can leave their scheduled classes and visit the offerings of the various faculty. I was a bit chagrined to see that for the first time I had no open studios my first week, but they gave me 6 (six!) the second week. Go figure. Since the main theme of the camp is Kopprasch, and since I also do plenty of K the rest of the year, I always do classical improv/creative music for my open studio (unless someone requests something else). This year I had more players than ever before take part. It was great fun. I even played on faculty recital night with a participant – Michael K. is a retired accountant, but he is a good improviser and can take solos over a tune or a chord progression. So he and I did something I don’t really get a chance to do much of: we did a sort of Dixieland sort of thing on “Oh, When the Saints”. We threw a curveball at first by starting with the opening of the Overture to Der Freischütz and easing into the Saints… What fun!
I found out while at KBHC that I had another book accepted for publication (by GIA, publisher of my other improv books): Vocal Improvisation Games for Singers and Choral Groups; my co-author (since I know improv but nothing about voice) is Patrice Madura Ward-Steinmann, vocal jazz improv professor at Indiana University, whom I met several years ago at a conference of the International Society of Improvised Music. We submitted the manuscript a year ago, but publishers always have a backlog of material to get through. Better late than never – it was great to hear that it will finally be published later this year.
I got back home June 29 and immediately set to more prep for my upcoming two weeks in Nova Scotia. Ardith Haley engaged me to teach two cohorts (groups) of masters of music ed students for two weeks – 3 hours a day each. The course is the brain child of Ardith (arts education consultant for NS) and music ed rock star Dale Lonis. It is a two year course for the masters degree, most of it done in online assignments and webinars, plus two two-week residencies at Acadia University in Wolfville, NS (about an hour north of Halifax; it’s on the Bay of Fundy, which has the great vertical tide range in the world, 40-50 feet – twice a day!). My part in it was to teach a course in creative music (although the whole degree has much creative music in it), i.e. improv for these two weeks.
Arrival was, um, exciting. Hurricane (now tropical storm) Arthur had just smashed up the eastern seaboard, including NS, and it was quite amazing that they let our plane land. Everything else was CANCELLED CANCELLED DELAYED DELAYED. Maybe pilot made a bet with the control tower… Carnival rides are smoother than our ride in. But the pilot did a great job (and received a sitting ovation), and my two weeks had begun. I suspect I may report on this more in depth in my improv blog (improvinsights.com); for now, let’s just say that I had a terrific time from alpha to omega. The students were fantastic; I have never had the chance to work/play with improv students at such a high level of creative music for so long.
I’m back now, catching up on mail, email, and deep into planning the coming semester and year. Finishing up an article for The Horn Call that will appear in the October issue. Usually fall is a time of now run-outs. This year is dramatically different. In late September I have a two day residency in creative music with Lin Foulk at Western Michigan University. The third week in October I will be in Winnipeg to give four presentations at the annual conference of the Manitoba Music Educators, as well as working with area collegiate hornists (I was supposed to appear during this same time at the MidNorth Horn Workshop at St Thomas University in St Paul, but Manitoba booked me a year and a half ago…). The following week I will join my friends Jim Sherry and his wife Bang Lang in giving an improv workshop at the annual symposium of the College Music Society.
One more thing for fall: the date is not set yet, but Bernhard Scully – of the Canadian Brass and my long-time colleague at KBHC – has asked me to teach his horn students for a week some time this fall at the University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana.
This is all stuff outside daily life at school – but that’s what the job demands – constantly designing and fulfilling creative projects of some sort that are beyond and in addition to your job description. The good news is that this is all stuff I like and love to do. But I also love the day to day activities – teaching my students, playing in the quintet, teaching my other courses. This is just the best!
A block from where our “temporary” digs (which are way better than the old music school wiped out in the 2008 flood) are now our new state of the art music school is rising – a little more every day. One more wonderful thing to look forward to.
OK, I think we are mostly caught up now, unless there are any questions. I promise to get back to writing more about ideas, my favorite. Stay tuned!