Landscapes Recording

Landscapes recording is up! I’m very proud of this work that I was able to bring to life with a group of incredible musicians. You can find it here:

Program Notes and Ensemble:

Landscapes (2017)

Landscapes is in part a summation of my experience here at Northwestern and in part a love letter to the world of wind ensemble music, both of which have contributed largely to my persona and have nurtured me in times of need. Each movement was titled after a location that has inspired or resonated with me in some way. Each location was chosen to represent a certain aspect of my time at Northwestern.

I. Route 13 (Streetlights Highway at Night)
The titular highway is one that runs through my home town of Ithaca NY. It traverses from the heights of uptown, where I spent most of my formative years, to downtown, where my high school lies. This highway sits directly on the East side of the valley and is flanked by the beautiful Cayuga Lake. Its steepness allows for some beautiful views of the lights of Ithaca at night. However, the scene that mesmerized me the most is not the glittering lights of the city itself, but rather the regular and rhythmic visual created by the streetlights as I remember them during my thoughtful drives just before coming to Northwestern. This movement represents the beginnings of my college experiences. I tried to capture the excitement and wide-eyed optimism that I felt during my first year as I explored the newfound opportunities and freedoms. Quotes of the Ithaca High School Alma Mater can be heard in snippets, composed by friend and colleague Michael Stern.

II. The Mountains
My first trips to the west coast can be directly attributed to my involvement with the band program here at Northwestern. The majesty and awe of witnessing true desert mountains up close for the first time was a powerful experience. With this movement I hope to convey the strength and resilience of the friendships and other interpersonal connections I have cultivated throughout my time at Northwestern, which I hope will keep as steady as those very mountains. I dedicate this movement to the brothers of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia and their unyielding support.

III. The Cold, Dark Lake
For all its opportunities and vitality, the Northwestern campus can sometimes become a difficult and stressful place. Many students struggle with academic and social pressures that can often become overwhelming. It is a side of college not frequently discussed, yet extremely important to viewing the experience as a whole. This movement is my attempt at depicting some of my own struggles in this area. It is largely inspired by Lake Michigan, which during the day, can appear so calm and beautiful, yet become a cold and dangerous vastness at night.

IV. Stargazing from Skyscrapers
This movement is inspired by “The First Poem in the Imaginary Book” by Sarah Kay and “The Old Astronomer” by Sarah Williams, and is dedicated to Lauren Barmore. It is a recomposition of my previous piece “Stars of the Old Astronomer.”

V. Interlude
This movement serves as a short interlude, referencing much of the material from the first movement. This movement serves as my connection to the musical aspects of this university, by quoting melodies from The Waa-Mu Show and the university Alma Mater.

VI. The City of Lights
There is an image that is perhaps the most strikingly poignant visual that I have witnessed in the past four years, which has seared itself into my memory. When driving Southwest on Illinois I-55 just after crossing the Des Plains River, most signs of civilization disappear almost as far as they eye can see. At night, this portion of the drive is surrounded by complete darkness, with the resounding exception of an incredibly beautiful array of glistening lights situated to the East of the highway. The large complex of yellow and orange lights and illuminated pipes on the backdrop of hazy smoke and pitch darkness resembled a city, alive and filled with hope. I remember being transfixed at the sight through the window of the back seat. I later learned that this was an oil field – the juxtaposition of the industrial and gritty reality of the place during the day against the majesty of the sight at night only added to the striking nature of that memory.

With this final movement I hope to capture the hopeful yet uncertain feeling that I have towards my future after Northwestern, and all of the complex emotions that accompanied my fourth year.

Conductor
Joon Park

Flute
Jane Carpenter
Julia Clipper
Christine Kim
Nate Pham

Oboe
Jasper Igusa
Dallas Turner

Clarinet
Haley Kost
Victoria Lynn
Emily Manheimer
Jose Martinez
Theo Mavrakis
Jazmin Yuen

Bass Clarinet
Jintae Park

Bassoon
Katie Muñoz
Danielle Pindar

Saxophone
Leo Aguilar
Janos Csontos
Steven Liu
Aidan Manaligod
Karen Zhang

Trumpet
Joe Brozek
Jennifer Hepp
Sean Whitworth

Horn
Scott Beck
John Girotto
Ian Shaw
Helen Wargelin

Trombone
Kenton Campbell
Sean Holly
Aneesh Kumar
Lena Piazza-Leman

Euphonium
Matthew Kundler

Tuba
Sander Schierer

Bass
Haley De Boom

Percussion
Tarun Bellur
Austin Busch
Issac Frank
Thomas Wolff

Aurora Awakes – A Journey

Sometimes you have had a long week, perhaps a tiring day to cap it all off, and all you want to do is just come home, let all your worries go for an hour or two, and just do something that relaxes you. That’s exactly what I did this evening – come back home, throw down my backpack, and just put on some good old Aurora Awakes.

But this time, it was a little different. A few days ago, I’d learned to my great surprise that the full score of John Mackey’s Aurora Awakes had been added to the Northwestern music library’s collection! I had been wanting to see a paper copy of this score for quite a long time now and I immediately raced to the library to check it out. I hadn’t had the time to really open it up and dig into it until today, but man, am I glad that I went and got that score.

When I started the recording, I expected a few things as I often do when I listen to a piece with the score in front of me. I expected to find some things that I would never have noticed had I not been looking at the score, some things that I would not have expected to be notated as such, and some things that make me go “Ah, so that’s how you write that sound.” These are all reasons why I try to listen to my favorite wind ensemble scores with the score: it teaches me quite a lot. But this time, it was more than just the pockets on knowledge here and there. Aurora Awakes has always been one of those listening experiences that had a noticeable affect on me – sometimes calming me, sometimes exciting me, and sometimes instilling in me a sense of “man, I wish I could write like this.” This time, in a special way that I can’t quite describe, the listening experience was more of a journey than anything else. I felt like I was truly being enveloped by the music, and that I could begin to see glimpses of Mackey’s thoughts and intentions throughout the piece. Familiar melodies, motifs, and sections leaped out at me in a whole new light, and it was as if the score was speaking to me, saying “look at all these wonderful ways in which he has orchestrated us.”

I’ve never had a score listening experienced feel quite like that before. Perhaps it’s the relief after a long week, perhaps it’s because I just love this piece so damn much, I don’t really know. But it definitely felt special enough for me to have to sit down and write about it. I’m not sure if that’ll ever happen again, and that’s okay. Whatever the case, I’ll still keep on learning more and more every time I go through that piece. What I do know for sure is that these are the moments that make us say “this is why we do music.”

John Mackey, thank you for bringing this incredibly majestic work of art into the world. I wish I could write half as well as you do one day.

Recital of Gratitude

Wow.

Simply wow.

I still am still processing the fact that my recital just happened – not only happened, but the fact that so many of my friends, family, and mentors came out to listen to what I had prepared. It’s absolutely crazy to think that an undergrad could get a wind ensemble of almost 40 music majors together and rehearse/conduct them in a piece that he himself wrote. I still can’t quite believe that I was able to pull it off.

I’m no newcomer to setting a high bar for myself, but what an ambitious undertaking that was. And after the recital went as smoothly as it did, I am absolutely overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude. I simply cannot express in words how thankful I am to so many people. I actually couldn’t go to sleep last night because of the blanket of feeling that comforted me, knowing that I have friends who support and care about me, parents who love me, and people who enjoy my work. I have never in my life felt such a tide of emotion – still high from the happiness of it all, so thankful, so glad.

A few people deserve some special thanks, so here they are:

First and foremost my parents, without whom I would not be able to attend this incredible institution of fine musicians. They flew all the way out from Ithaca to see my recital and set up the reception! I thank them from the bottom of my heart for their constant support.

To all of the players who played not only in the Landscapes ensemble but also in the Oboe Concerto – it was an honor and a privilege to work with you all. You guys are all amazing musicians and if someone told me musicians of this caliber would be playing my music just three years ago, I would not have believed them. I am so thankful that they were patient with my conducting as I learned on the podium, and thus I, in turn, was able to grow tremendously as a musician.

A million worlds of thanks to DaJuan B, who supported this crazy undertaking from the very beginning and taught me how to be a better conductor – without him I would not have been able to put the Landscapes ensemble together, nor rehearse them. Thank you for giving me the confidence to step onto that podium and believe that I could do this. You absolutely did not have to spend so much of your time and effort being at all the rehearsals, helping set up, and so much more, but you did anyway and it means the world to me.

Sarah K. – without you, the Oboe Concerto would not have happened. Thanks a million for putting together that ensemble. I probably would have lost my sanity if I had to put together both ensembles myself.

Thomas W. and Austin B. – We had a difficult time organizing the percussionists but you guys stepped up and put the section together, so thank you for that. Austin, thank you for helping prepare those parts and being so supportive!

Jasper I. – Thank you for championing my work! I’m so honored to have such a great oboist perform my concerto. You are such a positive delight to work with, and I hope to be able to again before I graduate.

John G. – Thanks for always keeping my mood up and for all those encouraging words. I was so glad to have you as a part of the ensemble and thanks for always being willing to help set!

Daniel C. for giving me many of the resources I need to put this recital together – thank you for being there, it means a lot that you would attend!

To all my brothers in Phi Mu Alpha that came out last night – you guys are all incredible peers that inspire me every day. It meant the world to me that you all supported my work.

Scott B. My friend and brother, who’s been there with me from day 1 of college… it is so fitting that you would be the cornerstone of my senior recital. It would have been a crime if I didn’t ask the one band geek that can match me for my wind ensemble geekdom to play for a wind ensemble piece I wrote. Without you, in so many ways, this piece would still just be an idea. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything you’ve done for me.

And of course, all of my mentors along the way who have made me who I am today, especially my composition teacher Alex Mincek for supporting me in this undertaking even though he knew it would be an ambitious challenge, and my high school band director Nicki Zawel, who has always been an incredible inspiration in the world of music.

If you weren’t able to attend, you can find the recital recording below. Hope you enjoy!

First Rehearsal for Senior Recital – Check

Well… that happened.

It really is a privilege and an honor to be at Northwestern university, where an undergraduate composition student can decide to put on an wind ensemble piece on his senior recital and actually make it happen. It’s still a bit hard to believe – that I could stand in front of a group of incredible talented musicians and rehearse them through a piece of music I wrote. I’m just so incredibly thankful and I feel so fortunate to be supported by so many great friends.

The first rehearsal for my wind ensemble piece (to be performed at my senior recital next weekend) went pretty well. We were able to run through the entire piece (all six movements) in the first half, and was able to hit some trouble spots more specifically in the second half. Thanks to a conductor/teacher friend of mine who actually does this stuff for a living, I had some great conducting guidance. I learned a lot just today, not only about what I can actually do as a musician but also about the things I need to improve (being expressive while conducting mixed meter is hard!). On the composing side, I feel like I’m starting to get a much better grasp of what wind ensemble writing really is. This piece is by far the longest piece of music I’ve written (if you count all the movements together), and I feel like I have grown so much as a composer in the process.

And the best part… there’s still SO much more learning left to do! Two more rehearsals until the recital. Hope you’ll join us!

Chaos and Chorale, Recorded by the Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble

The Northwestern University Symphonic Wind Ensemble is an ensemble of incredible caliber. This comes as no surprise to anyone at Northwestern who is familiar with the ensemble, but here’s basically what happened this past Wednesday:

During their regularly scheduled rehearsal, they rehearsed my new work for concert band, Chaos and Chorale, for about 10 minutes. Conducted by the wonderful graduate assistant Dominic Talanka, they touched some difficult spots and transitions. Then, we recorded the piece from top to bottom – that was the first time this piece was played from start to end. Ever. By anyone. And that’s the recording you can hear here. Go ahead, check it out – can you believe that recording is an ensemble that’s reading the piece for the first time? It sounds crazy, even still to me, who watched it happen right there. It just goes to show the caliber of the musicians in the ensemble.

I learned a lot of good things by having my piece played by SWE, as they are lovingly called in the Bienen school of music. It would not have been possible without my composition professor, Juan Campoverde, and Dr. Mallory Thompson, director of bands. Of course, a huge thank you to Dominic Talanka who rehearsed and conducted the piece. It was very clear from his preparation that he cared very much about the presentation of my work, and that means the world to me.

I think I’m hooked on this wind ensemble thing. Here’s to more pieces for wind ensembles and concert bands!