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  • November 29, 2007

    Sax Concerto – posted for real!

    After a bit of a false alarm several weeks ago, I now have a shareable recording of two (of the five) movements of my Concerto for Soprano Sax and Wind Ensemble. This recording, of the US Navy Band (conducted by Captain George N. Thompson) with Timothy Roberts on soprano sax, is of a performance at the VMEA conference about two weeks ago.

    And it’s frickin’ fantastic.

    The group is performing the same two movements at Midwest on Wednesday, December 19, at 9pm. If you’re at Midwest and you miss that performance, you are a stupid head. They’re playing the entire piece in January at the International Saxophone Symposium.

    Go, get to it! Go check out movements 4 (“Wood”) and 5 (“Finale”) of my new sax concerto!

    (My sincere thanks to Captain Thompson for allowing me to share this recording — and to Tim Roberts, who absolutely plays the hell out of the piece. You’ll see…)

    2 Comments

    November 27, 2007

    I Heart Japan

    AEJ and I have decided that our honeymoon will be in Japan — primarily Tokyo. We had the most incredible time in Japan in March, but we barely saw Tokyo. This time around, we’ll be spending the majority of our 6 days in Japan all in (or very near) Tokyo.

    You can read all about our previous trip to Japan by following the links to the right (Japan, parts 1 through 5). There about 200 pictures in those entries — and that was before I went completely camera-crazy. The next trip, I may go a little overboard.

    We’ll be there in late-January. Any suggestions of things we can’t miss in Tokyo? We’re already planning to attend the big sumo wrestling competition.

    Oh — and we’re particularly excited about the flight. We both cashed in all of our frequent flier miles (I now have about 330 miles remaining) so that we can fly business class. Now that will be sweet.

    Tim Roberts, the sax soloist in the US Navy Band (who, by the way, will be performing two movements of my sax concerto at Midwest on that Wednesday at 9pm), is writing an article about my concerto for a sax journal. They needed pictures of me, but the only pictures I had were the old headshots from roughly 7 years ago. So, I asked AEJ to take a few pictures of me on Sunday. Here’s what she got…

    “Hey, look over there!”

    This one was considered, but ultimately dismissed because I think I look just a little too approachable. Please. Do not approach me.

    For a fascinating “before-and-after” comparison, here’s my picture from seven years ago…

    … and here is almost exactly the same facial expression, but two days ago.

    And for real comparison, here’s Loki — hiding under the Christmas tree.  I wish I could have submitted this one instead.

    You can bet, with the Christmas season upon us, that there will be many, many more pictures of Loki doing holiday things…

    2 Comments

    November 23, 2007

    FSU: One more time

    I spent several days last week at Florida State, where Rick Clary — who is certainly my biggest champion — performed two of my pieces. It was, as it always is, a great visit, and a spectacular concert. Rick knows how to do my music better than just about anybody (just check out his performance of “Turbine” elsewhere on this site), and the concert on Sunday was no exception.

    I stayed, as I always do when I visit FSU, at what we like to call Casa Clary. Rick and Lauren are always wonderful hosts, from the little custom toiletry basket left in my room, in case I’ve forgotten anything…

    … to the homemade apple pie that their daughter, Emily, made. (This was Emily’s first pie. Who makes a pie that looks like this on their first try?!)

    Rehearsals were fun. I brought along my newest lens, the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS, which I hoped would work well for conductor shots. Hey! Are you listening?

    The lens does a nice job indoors…

    … but how would it do outside, with even faster action? To find out, Pat Dunnigan, FSU’s Director of Bands, hooked me up with an all-access / sideline press pass for the football game between Florida State and Maryland. Before the game, we checked out the various sections of the 400+ member FSU Marching Chiefs. Here comes the tuba section.

    Guess what they played! No, seriously — you’ll never guess. They played “Cars,” the 80s hit by Gary Numan, as arranged for tuba ensemble. It was… something else! (Seriously, it was pretty fun. If you don’t know the song, click here for the original music video.)Then it was off to the stadium. It was awesome to hang out on the sidelines with my camera. I actually saw several pro photographers with the same lens I was using, which made me feel super cool. Ever wonder what photographers look like? Here’s me in — I’m guessing — 5 years.

    Warm-ups were fun. This shot feels very Heisman-like.

    Here’s Bobby Bowden, the FSU head coach (and all-time winningest coach in the NCAA) just before kickoff.

    Out of nowhere, a guy came up to me and asked me to take his picture with my camera. “I’ll pay you for it,” he offered. Sweet! My first photography commission! I told him I didn’t need any money for the shot, but I needed his email address so I could send him the image. His business card only had his mailing address on it, not his email address, and neither of us had a pen. “I think the ref has a pen,” I told him. “I totally dare you to take the ref’s pen.” So this guy — Jan — goes over to the ref, roughly 30 seconds before the game is going to start, and asks him if he can borrow his pen. (The ref miraculously said yes.) Here he is, my new photo buddy, Jan.

    Right before kickoff, some white guy in redface rides out on a pony with a flaming arrow. I can totally understand why nobody is offended by this.

    Then the game started. I went up to my actual seat, in the front row at the end zone in front of the marching band. It let me catch this shot of the game’s first touchdown. Go Noles!

    Let’s see another shot of that.

    Yeah! Make some noise!!!

    I headed back to the sidelines, hoping for another action shot…

    … or two…

    … or three.

    I don’t know that much about football, but it seems that this player is facing the wrong direction.

    I know he’s a Terp, but this Heyward-Bey guy was pretty good.

    It’s half time! Here comes the band! And the color guard! This smile may look a bit more natural from the stands…

    The marching band is great.

    This, I think, is my favorite music picture I have ever taken.

    The trumpets were awesome (and screamin’ high). I’m guessing that crazy cheek action like this is helpful when projecting to 80,000 people.

    Later that night (oh — FSU won the game), we had the dress rehearsal. One of Rick’s students, Amy Acklin, conducted the first piece on the program, Norman Dello Joio’s “Fantasies on a Theme by Haydn.”

    Amy did a great job, with both the dignified moments of the piece…

    … and the somewhat more raucous parts as well.

    I absolutely loved what Rick did with “Turning.” The band borrowed a real Waterphone (thank you Jim Campbell at Kentucky), and it made a huge difference. I just purchased an authentic Waterphone, which I’ll receive in December, and I plan to rent it out to other schools that want to do “Turning” but don’t have access to this instrument. The real deal does make all the difference. Well, that, and it doesn’t hurt to have Rick on the podium… and what may be the best French horn studio I’ve ever heard. Even Rick is occasionally surprised by the skill of the FSU horns.

    I realized that I have six band pieces — and now, Rick has performed all six of them. Good lord — that is a champion to have. Not only does he do every piece, he gives what become the definitive performances of them. I’ll post his performance of “Turning” ASAP — likely by Monday. A sincere thank you to Rick, Lauren, Emily, and the FSU Wind Orchestra. Until next time…

    19 Comments

    November 12, 2007

    Wataru’s Scoring Session at Sony

    I’ve written several times about my friend Wataru Hokoyama, a composer whom I’ve known since our days together in undergrad. Wataru is an absolutely incredible orchestrator, and he helped me a great deal with my revisions to both “Turning” and “Turbine.” Wataru has several excellent cinematic band pieces (check out “Spiritual Planet“), but what will someday make him the wealthiest CIM graduate ever is his skill at writing for film.

    Wataru’s biggest gig yet is the score for the upcoming PlayStation 3 video game, “Afrika.” In a real coup, Wataru somehow convinced the executives at Sony Japan that 1) Wataru should write the score for this game, 2) Wataru would orchestrate it himself, 3) the music would be recorded with live musicians, not synths, 4) Wataru would conduct the session, and 5) it would be the first PlayStation game with a live soundtrack recorded in the United States. The session was this morning at the Sony Scoring Stage — now called the Barbra Streisand Scoring Stage.

    This is where John Williams records his scores. In fact, the majority of the players in the orchestra are the same players Williams uses. (The first horn player was first horn on the Jurassic Park soundtrack, as just one example.) For a guy who has dreamed of writing for the best Hollywood orchestra — and recording it in the Sony Scoring Stage — this was a pretty heady morning. No wonder that Wataru looks a little scared.

    Who could blame him? There were executives from Sony Japan, flown in just for the session. There was a camera crew. He was about to conduct a 106-piece orchestra of the best studio players in LA. Wataru studied privately with Alan Gilbert, the recently-appointed Music Director of the New York Philharmonic, so the conducting may not have been his biggest concern, but still, I’d be scared to death.

    Somehow, before he even took the podium, he relaxed. (Maybe it was the close proximity to the harp. It’s hard to be too stressed when you’re next to a harp.)

    Here, Wataru greets the orchestra and tells them what an honor it was to write for — and conduct — them. I think they appreciated his sincerity — and his excitement.

    Then they read through his first cue. It was stunning, and to say they nailed it would be an understatement on par with me saying “I kind of like food and boobs.” The enthusiasm after the last note was electric, with the orchestra bursting into spontaneous applause for Wataru — as Wataru literally jumped up and down for joy. Even the Sony executives seemed pleased, likely thinking that perhaps the incredible expense of recording these cues live just might be worth the cost after all.

    There were a lot of cues to get through during the eight-hour session…

    … and as you can see from the violin part, they weren’t exactly easy. What’s miraculous is that the orchestra would play everything perfectly, including precise dynamics and articulations, and at full tempo from their first reading.

    Here, Wataru steps into the booth to check the playback. He’s surrounded by Sony executives and, on the far left, the concertmaster.

    The number of people with very specialized jobs was pretty impressive. Here is the station for the in-session librarian, always ready in case a part needs to be revised or re-printed.

    And this guy’s job is to run the click track. The entire score is recorded to a click track — really just a computerized metronome to keep the music synced with the picture. That click is fed through headphones that the conductor wears. (The headphones also have a live mix of the orchestra.) Sometimes, though, Wataru would decide that a ritard was too mechanical when conducted from the click, so this guy would follow Wataru’s instructions on the fly about where to drop the click and where to bring it back. It may not seem like it, but this is a very busy job.

    There are monitors all over the place. Some are showing the picture for the film (or in this case, the game), and some just show the click (with a live feed of the conductor in the corner). It all felt very… expensive.

    And here is the coolest instrument in the world: a contrabass trombone — live, and in the wild. It’s on the right. That tiny thing next to it is a tenor trombone. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a trick of perspective; the contrabass trombone is probably 2 feet larger than the tenor. This is an instrument that you’ll only ever really hear in film scores. Must be nice to have the option…

    Here it is from another angle.

    Wataru hit a home run with this score. It’s exciting, it matches the video of the game, and good lord, he orchestrated the hell out of it. I am completely in awe of his orchestration skill. It was perfect. There was no adjusting dynamics or scoring to fix balance problems. When played by first-rate players, Wataru’s music just sounds right. Congratulations, Wataru!

    8 Comments

    November 6, 2007

    Kingfishers Catch Fire : US Premiere

    Tomorrow night (November 7), the UCLA Wind Ensemble, under the direction of Thomas Lee, will give the US Premiere of “Kingfishers Catch Fire.” Although US bands are not officially permitted to perform the work prior to December 1, an exception was made for Professor Lee so he could add the work to his repertoire prior to his performance of the piece with the Texas All-State Symphonic Band in February.

    The performance is at 8pm in Schoenberg Auditorium. Yes, it’s that Schoenberg. I suspect my big, fat D major chord at the end of the piece will cause ol’ Arnold to turn in his grave…

    On Thursday, AEJ and I are taking a short trip to Vegas to finalize the wedding plans. While there, we’re also going to see my best friend from undergrad, Damien Bassman, who is now the percussionist for Barry Manilow.

    Seriously. Barry Manilow.

    I love Barry Manilow — no joke — and now my friend is his full-time percussionist. The same friend for whom I wrote my Percussion Concerto… the same friend heard on the recording of Juba… the same friend with whom I used to stay up late on Saturday nights to watch “Grudge Match,” the short-lived knock-off of “American Gladiators.” And now he’s playing for Barry.

    I have a feeling it’s going to be a very, very exciting trip.

    1 Comment