Kenley Kristofferson

Composer.

“Nothing Gold Can Stay” (NEW WORK!)

Photo by gang coo on Unsplash

Hey everyone, I have a new work in print! I know, even in this crazy year of remote rehearsals and streaming concerts, composers are still writing and publishers are still printing new music. I am so grateful for that.

This new piece is an SATB setting of Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” and I’m so incredibly proud of it. It was commissioned by Dr. Mark Munson at Bowling Green State University and his choirs totally knocked it out of the park. So much so that Cypress Choral Music agreed to publish it. Here’s the recording of it:

When finding poetry to set for choral music, it is important to me that the text not only be expressive, but also have layers of interpretation. Robert Frost’s Nothing Gold Can Stay meets both criteria in spades.

On the surface, the text is quite bleak, highlighting the fleeting nature of time and how all our most beautiful moments eventually slip away – that nothing lasts forever. But, the more I read it, the more the text reminds me to cherish moments and to be present with those I care about. While nature’s first green is her hardest hue to hold, it is still in fact, gold. While the flower lasts but an hour, we need to appreciate that we have a flower at all.

Upon further reading, I feel a sense of value in these objects or moments ending. The impermanence of life invites us to be grateful for the time we have it. Whether it is our youth or a summer vacation, time with friends or a family meal, playing with a toddler or sharing stories with your grandparents.

This poem also reminds me that there is a surplus of beauty in the world and, while something ends, it is never the last beautiful object or moment. “Dawn goes down to day,” but a new day is only tomorrow.

And hey, isn’t all of this such a representation of the last two years? Of watching our normal actions from the previous years slipping away? Of finding gratitude in things we didn’t know were important to us? Of appreciating untenable moments before they slip away? My goodness, writing this piece was so cathartic, even though I had to drag it out of me kicking and screaming.

When I wrote this, I was up to my eyeballs in remote teaching from home and looking after my then-two-year old son. We had no child care in Spring or Summer of 2020 and my wife works the intake line for a benefits company (so she had to be on the lines, also dealing with things that were confidential), so that left me. Don’t get me wrong, we had help sometimes, and my small fry and I had lots of wonderful experiences, but “the drive to create art” was not where I was in the hierarchy of needs. Plus, I still had to finish the year teaching music at my school. It was a whirlwind, but I accepted this commission in 2019, so I had to finish it and it had to be good.

And, you know, it really did turn out well. This was the first piece since finishing my Master’s at Brandon University where I thought to myself “this is what my advisor (Dr. T. Patrick Carrabré) meant,” as I increased the harmonic and textural complexity in the work. It was a process of discovering how I could do the things he was talking about in my music and still have it sound like my music. I still have a ways to go, but this was the first step.

Please consider purchasing this music for your ensemble!

Stay gold, everyone.
Kenley

Band Room Podcast!

Hey everyone,

Well, I just wrote a really long and intense post about my 2020 experience, so here’s something a little shorter and brighter!

Dylan Maddix and Cait Nishimura had me as a guest on their Band Room Podcast and it felt really amazing to talk shop with them. We talk composing, teaching, balance, video game music, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It’s a really wonderful conversation, so please check it out!

New Year, ______ Me – A 2020 Reflection

I was feeling okay this morning, then my cat meowed at me and my stress level went from 0 to 10. He just meowed… that’s it. It seems like a good metaphor for how things have been going.

My last blog post was–perhaps naively–about my goals for 2020. Until this past year, 2019 was one of the busiest years of my life and one where I had the fewest internal resources to deal with it. When I was 25, I could eat “busy” for breakfast, but with a full-time job, finishing my Master’s degree, raising a toddler, and trying to be a present and contributing husband, that wasn’t so easy. There was just so little room for art-making at that time. I want to say that I had big dreams in that last post, but they actually seemed pretty modest: Try find some light of inspiration/motivation to write music.

So, what happened? You won’t need all three guesses, but I want to follow-up my previous post and keep a record of how things actually transpired.

Our program’s last performance was at the Optimist Festival in February of 2020, and things started to change shortly after. We had our last Jazz Band rehearsal in the first week of March, where after weeks of hashing out Chick Corea’s “Spain” and Charles Mingus’s “Haitian Fight Song,” they were finally starting to take shape. We actually got to celebrate their hard work. That was last time we played together that year. We had class until the week before Spring Break at the end of the month, then it was all online from there.

And this is where things take a turn. It had still been a busy 2020 up until that point, but with normal busy things. Senior Symphonic Camp (which my teaching partner ran, but it was still in our calendar), marks being due and semester change, then festival performance and prep for the Cantando Festival in April. I thought to myself, “at least we still have child care and I can recharge a bit during Spring Break before this push into remote learning.” Our private child care ended on the Tuesday of Spring Break, to be reassessed every month, so our two-year old was home with us full-time. My wife is an intake worker for the counselling department of a benefits company and she was starting to work from home, but needed her own space to answer calls and privacy for the confidentiality of said calls, so her handling child care wasn’t in the cards. That’s not to say that we didn’t come visit her in her office sometimes, but she certainly couldn’t be downstairs making muffins with us if there were no calls. The public health advisories at the time told us to keep our bubble small and not to introduce seniors into it, as they were more at risk, so that ruled out parents. That left me as the primary child care provider.

Now, this is where the story leaves some room for interpretation. I’m old enough to know that there’s what I feel happened, and what really happened, and here’s a hint: they aren’t the same story.

As our department was figuring out how to deliver online learning for the first time, we decided that Band was to be the delivery mechanism for a lot of the online teaching, because everyone in Jazz Band also had to be in Band — it was the biggest umbrella. My teaching partner and the primary band teacher, Michael Brandon, was an absolute champ. He did so much research and troubleshooting and content delivery that he really kept that boat afloat. I taught Music History every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 11:15-12:20, timing it with my wife’s lunch break so that she could have our two-year old during that time. I would still have lots of correspondence with the kids, but my only time free of child care was from 6:00am-9:00am, then from 4:30-7:00, unless my wife worked late, then I would just work later in the night. To the students last year who got emails from me at six in the morning, or at seven-p.m., sorry about that. It was the only time I could do it. Anyway, It turned into my wife and I being on the clock from about 6:00am to about 8:00pm, then we’d hang out for an hour and collapse into bed. I was doing my best, she was amazing, but it was totally unsustainable.

I thought child care might resume by May; it did not. June? It did not. But surely, summer in Manitoba was in pretty good shape, so maybe July? Nope. Maybe I’d get one month of rest in August. I’m afraid not. The tough reality that I had to face was that we wouldn’t have child care until September. We would later learn that there was more to the story that we’d previously known and that our provider was going through health and other things, so there are no hard feelings. That being said, when I found out that day care wasn’t resuming in August, I smashed the shopvac into my garage wall until it broke apart. That’s not generally the kind of person I am, but that’s where I was at.

Now, there is a lot of truth in that, but there’s more to the story. My wife and I really struggling with the demands of work and parenting by about May, so we had to open up our bubble to include our parents. We just couldn’t handle the intensity, alongside the social anxiety of just existing in this time, managing the fear and isolation. My in-laws took Milo one day a week (sometimes more), which turned into the day where I could turn the proverbial amps to eleven and connect with kids, deliver content, mark, assess, and actually do my job while the sun was up. It wasn’t a rest day, it was a catch up one. My parents had him on the weekend too, sometimes. It was just such a difficult feeling to navigate, between safety and self-preservation. I know that’s a bit melodramatic, but that’s how it felt; again, how I felt versus what really happened.

By the time the school year was over, I was totally fried. It’s not like my proverbial tank was empty, the “Check Gauge” light was frantically blinking. But, it was nice outside now and restrictions were lifting a bit because we had low case numbers, so my small fry and I could actually do things. We could go to a park, we could go to the splash pad, have picnics, stop at the coffee shop and pick up a treat… there were things to do.

Here’s the most important part: Even though I was beyond exhausted and solo-parenting for the summer days (mostly, but not entirely), it really cemented my son and I’s relationship. Everyone I talked to about it said that this will be a gift and, while I couldn’t feel it at the time, they were right. He and I have a really awesome bond. Mom is still the favourite, but I’m a pretty close second.

Near the end of that summer, we actually secured child care in a children’s centre for September in our neighbourhood. We had wanted to get in there for some time, and we had been a pretty squeaky wheel, but it was finally happening. Of course, I’d be back at work, but at least we had care and our guy could meet the kids he’d eventually go to school with… and just in time for me to go back to work.

While I missed my little guy dreadfully when I went back, I was not in a good place when I started work again, and I knew that I wouldn’t be. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t going to come back energized and that that would need to be okay. I lined up counselling, I had a plan to stay active, and I was going to take sick days when I needed them. I knew that my students would need a lot from me, so I needed to get myself in a position where I had the most to give (within reason). By October, I was seriously considering taking a leave, and the second wave was just beginning.

While we had child care, we couldn’t see our parents around this time and that was really hard for everyone. I got through my funk and came out the other side (as we often do), but the alternating days of A-K and L-Z high school classes were very challenging on a pedagogical and musical level. October would deal one more gutpunch, though: by the end of the month, we couldn’t play instruments in class anymore. Sure, we had to play with masks, instrument covers, be six-to-nine feet apart and at about 25% capacity, but we could play.

Some teachers hadn’t been playing all year, which must have been a really difficult decision to make and has very few silver linings. We knew it might be coming down the pipe, but seeing as the world has so few crystal balls right now, it’s hard to see anything a few weeks in advance sometimes. We had to reinvent, and it was fun for a while (boomwhackers, bucket drumming, basic keyboarding, documentaries, etc.), we all really just wanted to make music together again, and we still do.

And we will. It will either get warmer outside and we can play out there, or restrictions will change and we can play indoors. People will get vaccinated and the numbers will continue to drop (hopefully before a third wave, but see the sentence above about crystal balls). For me, I actually need some time off, so I’m looking forward to the end of the month where I can get a week of solitude at Spring Break.

It’s okay not to find a silver lining in all of this. To use my teaching partner’s analogy, it’s okay to be mad that we were building a sandcastle for decades and something came to knock it all away. There’s loss here: loss of time, loss of energy and motivation, loss of arts students in our programs, loss of musical moments in our day, and for a lot of people, a loss of life of those around them.

It’s also okay to keep persevering in spite of loss. It’s possible to feel gutpunched about kids dropping our programs, while still showing up for the ones that stayed and giving them the best experience we can, given the circumstances. I don’t find a lot of silver linings in this past academic year, but here’s the most important one to me: Life keeps throwing obstacles at these kids, and a lot of them keep showing up. I’m not saying we should praise kids on their resilience (because they don’t want to hear that, they want to play volleyball or go to a movie theatre and they’d take that over resilience any day of the week), I’m saying we should keep giving them something to show up for. We need to be grown-ups they look up to and keep finding ways to build their ability and skill sets in our educational areas. One transformational paradigm in our program was shifting to online rehearsals, and like the previous remote materials, my teaching partner spearheaded this and he is a rock star for all of the work he’s done for our department.

Now, online rehearsals aren’t perfect–not even close! BUT, they do enable us to play our instruments and work on music in some capacity. When Manitoba high schools went remote in January, we shifted to playing online and, in some crazy form, we could make music together. The kids could unmute their mics, play something that we’re working on, and we could celebrate some great sounds together. As a teacher, it’s amazing how quickly my music ped language came back: “Okay, clarinets, let’s hold that all the way to the end of that line,” or “lots of support here, lows!” or “One, two, three, no-breath-no-breath-no-breath-no-breath-all-the-way!” hahaha.

That gets old too, don’t get me wrong, but it’s something. The absence of music is the wound, online rehearsals are the gauze and pressure, and band rehearsal is the ambulance; we just need to keep gauze and pressure on the wound until the ambulance gets here.

And it will. Keep fighting the good fight teachers and students. We’re all in this together. Let’s keep showing up for one another, support each other when we need it, and be patient with ourselves and lean on others when we can’d do it ourselves. If Band is the biggest team we’ll ever play on, let’s show the world how true that really is.

Thanks for reading.
Kenley

Music Ed Monday – Assignments for Days Without Playing

Hey team. I’ve been thinking about ways to help my fellow teachers in these uncertain times, especially considering that we won’t be playing very much to help stem transmission of COVID-19. So, I thought I’d share some of the materials/assignments that I’ve got for when we’re not playing.

1959 – The Year That Changed Jazz

Four big jazz albums were released in 1959: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, Time Out by Dave Brubeck, Mingus Ah Um from Charles Mingus, and The Shape of Jazz to Come by Ornette Coleman. There’s this tremendous documentary about that one year, which I’ve included above. I find that it’s a great way to introduce what and who to listen to for my Grade 10 Jazz students when they start my program. The assignment has two parts: Firstly, comprehension questions (with timecodes for each answer, so they can make the connection between the question and the correct answer) and a long answer response at the end, where they need to listen to one of the four albums from to back.

(Also important: The timecodes are for the video above, but I don’t think it’s available on mobile. That being said, other ones are)

1959 – The Year That Changed Jazz Assignment

Eric Whitacre (Oxford Union) Response

One of the things I love above Eric is hearing him speak about his musical experience and craft. He’s very eloquent and well-spoken, but also talks about composition in a way that’s easy for people to relate to.

Here’s a response that I’d give to my Composition class (but is applicable to anyone).

Eric Whitacre (Oxford Union) Assignment

Jazz Profiles (NPR) Assignment

There is this amazing series from NPR called “Jazz Profiles” that’s made up of one-hour episodes about jazz musicians of the 20th-century. Each episode focuses on a different artist and is a great way to introduce students to some of the masters.

Here is the link to show.

Here is a link to the assignment.

Miles Davis Album Review Assignment

A few years back, one of my bands went through a big Miles phase, especially his later stuff, so I tried to follow their interest with an album review assignment. In the end, it turned into a project done in pairs as a sort of “gallery walk” through Miles’ discography. It also engaged the kids in listening to some of the difficult fusion stuff, which was a good exercise in itself.

I can’t find the rubric right now, so you might be on your own for that one, but here’s the assignment anyway.

Miles Davis Album Review Assignment

Bach and Beethoven – Being Subversive in a Culture of Polite Music

This assignment explores how Western culture has made Classical Music more “respectable” by wallpapering over this less-than-savoury parts its composers life. CBC’s Michael Enright did an awesome interview with Ted Gioia that explores how Bach and Beethoven were more subversive than history often tells, but also that said subversion also informs so much of their art-making.

You can listen to the CBC Interview here.

And here is the assignment.

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Okay, team, it’s a start! I hope that helps!

Let’s do our best and get through this.

-K

New Year, Old Me.

On paper, last year was a pretty incredible year. In the first half of 2019, I completed my Master’s degree in Composition (with the gold medal for the Graduate Music program, so it went well), I taught a lot of amazing kids and made some wonderful music, and I was flown out to Arizona State University for the American premiere of “Transcendent Light.” I got some articles published in our national band journal and I presented at our provincial music conference in front of my peers. On the home front, my family was doing great, my then-one-year old was growing and changing… everything was in good shape.

Transcendent Light, performed by the Arizona State University Wind Ensemble, Barrett Choir, and Choral Union and conducted by Dr. Jason Caslor.

When summer finally came and I had July and August away from work, I crashed incredibly hard – harder than ever before. The intensity of my graduate degree while teaching full-time and being a present and involved father while still trying to be a working composer finally caught up with me. While there have been summers that started as burnout (like watching “The Office” from my couch for a week straight), I usually came out of it within a week or two and then was back to my old self. That didn’t happen this time.

I spent a lot of the summer despondent and overspent. I felt the absence of presence, like I was floating through the days as they slipped away toward September, when I’d have to go back to work. In hindsight, I’m quite certain this is what depression felt like for me; not feeling sad, but instead, the absence of feelings, like being a shell of oneself. For the first summer in recent memory (or maybe ever), I didn’t do anything creative – I didn’t make anything.

It was like plugging in your phone after the battery dies – it doesn’t turn on, just a white plug and a lightning bolt against a black background. It’s on, but it can’t really do anything.

When I got back to work, the metaphorical phone was functional, but it was nowhere near 100%, probably less than 50%. I started some small contract work lined up since before the summer and it took me months to finish (I just finished it today, in fact), and old me would have hammered it out in six weeks.

Something needed to change. For the last few years, I’ve been feeling that the work/life balance (whatever that even means) has been climbing to an unsustainable place and, this year, it got there. I often had this diagram in my mind:

Let’s be clear: That doesn’t mean I’m going to quit my job or shut out the world or anything, but that I needed to find ways to keep my head above water.

After much discussion with my wife, I started going for counselling and it has made a really big difference. We talk a lot about protecting time in a variety of contexts. Maybe it’s going to the gym on my lunch break at work, or declining new contracts/commissions if there isn’t time/energy to do them, or bringing my toddler to day care even if I’m home on a week day. It’s also amazing how effective it is to just say something out loud to someone – that’s a big part of it too.

It really came to a head a few weeks ago, when I was talking to my wife about how I had no drive to make anything and that I missed being creative. Her eyes lowered as she spoke: “That doesn’t sound like you. You used to love being creative.”

So one of my goals for this year is try and find my way back to the person that I really enjoyed being, someone who is creative and has ideas about people, art, and the world again. It’s not a resolution, but more of a goal. Here are some steps that I’m planning on taking:

  • Protect my time, either at work, home, family, or leisure time.
  • Work on things that are meaningful to me (and to not work on things that aren’t).
  • Develop more rituals that are nourishing, like date nights with my wife or non-negotiable times to work out during the day.
  • Be more organized at work.
  • Engage in energizing solitude where I can.
  • Spend more time with my friends and family too.

I know that my life has changed now, but it can be as nourishing as it once while still being different, and I think that I’m off to a good start. As I’m writing this, I feel good. I’ve got some musical ideas spinning around and feel pretty good going back to work on Monday. I’ve had some excellent family time these last two weeks and built back some important bridges in my social groups (which I’ve neglected over the past year).

I know the saying goes “new year, new you,” but for me, “new year, old you” is where I’m headed.

Onwards and upwards, everyone.

Transcendent Light – US Premiere!

Wow, what a year… actually, it’s more like two years.

I’ve been kind of neglecting my website duties (though, if you follow me on social media, I’ve still been pretty busy). That being said, I have a lot to share, but there’s something pretty special that I want to share today.

In 2017, I had the incredible privilege to be selected by a consortium headed by the Manitoba Band Association to compose a piece for someone particularly special to our provincial and national band organizations. His name was Ken Epp and, without going into too much detail here, many of us in Manitoba and Canada owe much to his advocacy and hard work for band and music education. I promise that I’ll write more later about this, but for now, let’s continue.

This piece turned into a three-movement work for concert band and concert choir called “Transcendent Light” and it receives it’s US premiere tomorrow night; that is, Monday, April 22nd, 2019. It will be performed by the Arizona State University Barrett Choir and Choral Union, as well as the ASU Wind Orchestra. The conductors are Dr. David Schildkret and Dr. Jason Caslor, respectively. Plus, I’m presenting to the ASU Composition studio for the second time in two years.

It’s an incredible feeling, flying out of the country for a national premiere of my work and presenting at a big university. I promise I’ll write more about “Transcendent Light,” but for now, it’s time to prepare myself for an amazing show. If you’re in the neighbourhood, I sure hope you can join us.

Kenley

Music Ed Monday – Lighthouse Music (Part 1)

Fiery-sunset-at-lighthouse-pier

Source: miriadna.com

Hey team,

I love music – I really do. I think about it quite a lot, but when both my day and night jobs are music, sometimes I get so burned out that I can’t see the forest from the trees; or rather, the beauty in the sonic fabric from the succession of pitches in a unidirectional harmonic progression.

Sometimes, we play music; sometimes, we work music. When the grind of it starts to get to me, I often have this small voice in my mind that whispers: “I do love this, right? Right…?”

And I know that I do, but it’s almost like being lost at sea at times and I really need a lighthouse to bring me back. I call these songs/pieces/works lighthouse music because it helps bring my musical ear to shore. Here are a few of them:

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Morten Lauridsen – Lux Aeterna

I keep trying to write about this, but I just can’t. It speaks to me in a way that transcends line and harmony and craft. It’s one of the few pieces that I don’t analyze and I just let it wash over me (and I’ve studied/listened to a lot of Lauridsen). And this monstrously good performance sure doesn’t hurt either.

When I hear this, I sometimes tell myself: “This is what light sounds like.” It’s as though the light embraces me, it pulls me in and surrounds me. That’s how I feel when I hear Lux Aeterna.

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Lord of the Rings (Annie Lennox) – Into the West

I never know what to write about this, other than it moves me every time I hear it. I always want to be technical about it – you know, “the lyrics,” “the tone,” “the orchestration…” But I don’t know, I feel things when I hear it and I feel like that needs to be enough.

As someone who has read all of Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion, the Children of Húrin, the Unfinished Tales (you get the picture), the narrative runs pretty deep for me. There’s something about Into the West at that point in the story that speaks to me in a very authentic way–leaving friends behind, being unable to live in the world you used to, saying goodbye…

(And all the technical things too. It’s one heck of a performance).

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Final Symphony – Born with the Gift of Magic (Final Fantasy VI)

For anyone who’s into music from video games, Final Fantasy VI is core repertoire and there have been countless orchestrations of it (even when an orchestra is entirely unnecessary for the musical goal, but that’s a whole other can of worms). As someone who knows this score inside and out, I’ve always been waiting for someone to take the musical material and work the heck out of it, which is what Born with the Gift of Magic is; in fact, the entire Final Symphony concert/album does it.

The orchestration, structure, and performance is amazing, but the thematic layering is a grad-school level assembly of the musical material that mirrors the narrative. It’s not just a medley, it’s the central conflict of the game and it’s all framed in the series most iconic sequence (the opera, if you’re wondering, which is also the unifying structure of the game). It’s genius… out of this world…  Ah! The craft!

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Ingrid Michaelson – The Chain (Live from Webster Hall)

My wife and I listened to this album quite a lot when our son was first born, sometimes at 4am while bouncing on an exercise ball, counting the seconds until he’d fall asleep again. I must have heard this song a hundred times, but I still love it, maybe because it takes me back to that crazy period…

Also, dodie/orla/lauren’s is really great too. There’s this really beautiful purity in their voices, the kind that only comes from young people who love to sing.

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What are some of your lighthouse songs/pieces/works? Post in the comments or reach out on facebook/twitter! I’d love to hear from you.

Keep fighting the good fight.
-K

Music Ed Monday – The Long Game

I’m writing this as my baby is fussing in the crib beside me — not crying or screaming, just kind of whining.

We’re in the midst of sleep training our seven-month old and there are many days where I feel like what we’re doing just isn’t working.  Even a week into this, there is still a lot of fussing and particularly around nap time.

It makes me think a lot of picking/rehearsing repertoire. As music educators, it’s one of the most important parts of our job: Picking the right rep for the right band. If I had a nickel for every time I said “I really like this piece, but it’s not right for this group…”

The strange thing is that sometimes I pick a piece of rep that I think is a great choice for my band and, despite my best efforts to pre-teach the concepts, it just doesn’t work; it may not even work for a few weeks.

If you’ve been there, you know the questions we ask ourselves: Did I misjudge the piece? Or my group? Why isn’t it working? And then the logical last question: Do I pull it?

Sometimes, the right decision is to pull it, right? How long as an ensemble do we decide to keep banging this square peg into a round hole? And no one is enjoying it at that point either (including us teachers) and we’re just dragging the band up the hill. Now we’re a month behind schedule and we have fill this gap left by this piece that we thought was going to be great.

This is how I feel about sleep training.  There are many days where I just bang my head against the wall and feel like a terrible parent, especially in the beginning.

On the other hand, there are times where my baby actually stops crying and falls asleep by himself and those are wonderful moments. They don’t happen every time, but they happen sometimes. Many parents tell me that’s normal and that I shouldn’t expect every nap to be a magical perfect experience…

… Just like a rehearsal, right? Some days, it’s two steps forward and one step back; and others, it’s one step forward and two steps back.  Those are the days we need to review.

And then the days get better. The baby needs to learn how to sleep and the band needs to learn how to work through pieces they can’t nail on the first read. In short, both the baby and the band need to work through things they can’t immediately do and that’s okay. It’s okay if it’s hard.

In my earlier years, I would give my senior big band a piece that was pretty above-level for them in September. To be sure, the band would usually listen to a recording of it and really like it, then barely get through four bars of it. I reassured them that it probably wouldn’t sound good until November, but that this was the next level and we needed to work on how to learn it. We needed to practice how to practice it.  I still think that there’s educational merit in it, but there’s a particular personal merit too.

As I’m writing this line, the baby is now sleeping. It took a few pick-ups and put-downs, a couple of head rubs, and a handful of shushes (and some screaming later on, on his part), but he did it.  It wasn’t a pretty hour of fussing–67 minutes, to be exact–but he got it.

Baby sleeping in crib

(not my baby, I found this one at hirerush.com)

To bring this back to my big band, they usually started putting the above-level piece together around late November. And let me tell you, when something technical falls into place, it is joy that we rarely experience as educators because there is genuine accomplishment and success in the band and they know it. They worked hard and could do something that they couldn’t do before, then we give them genuine praise for their sincere accomplishment.

There is value in playing the long game.

That brings us back to the question: Do I pull it? If we believe in the piece and believe in the band, are we willing to play the long game, especially when there isn’t as much gratification during the day-to-day? Truthfully, maybe we can structure in more short-term gratification with smart pedagogy and rehearsal strategies, but the long game is the long game, no matter how you slice it.

With baby, we’re in this sleep training business for the long haul. The baby rests better and longer, and also is in a deeper sleep. And hey, we adults have more time during the day to do what we need (like writing a blog post?) so everyone wins, but especially baby.

If it’s the right piece, the band can also be the one that wins, not only by performing the piece well, but actively working through material that’s difficult and challenging for them–I say again, there is educational value in that! It’s a gift in life we can give to our students. Not only can we can teach them how to persist through adversity, but we can do it while making music.

-K

P. S. …aaaaaaand they’re awake. A 20-minute nap? I thought they were supposed to sleep longer and better! Ugh, two steps forward…

NEW PIECE – “Colossus”

Hi everybody,

So, it’s been a big year.  In the last eight months, my family grew by one and I took a one-year sabbatical from teaching to pursue a Master’s degree in Composition from Brandon University.  I know, perhaps we could have timed that better but, as the old saying goes, “the right time is when it happens,” right?

Anyway, I’ve certainly learned a lot this year (from both experiences above) and I’m ready to share my second semester piece for concert band, “Colossus.” It’s a Level 5 piece–my first one–and it’s a programmatic tale about the dangers of human hubris… oh, and hunting a giant.

Giants are in folklore and media from across the world, though I’ve long been fascinated with the creatures who protect (rather than attack) humankind; the gryphon is one such creature, but what if it were a giant? Something like humans, but bigger? My first thought is that humanity would rather protect itself and that there would be great honour to whomever slayed the giant (because we are arrogant and often don’t trust what is there to protect us, right?).  However, even more provocative questions are “who will protect you when the giant is gone? And what were they protecting you from that you never even saw? And was removing your guardian even a good idea?” And my favourite one: “What happens now?”

(And if you think that humanity doesn’t behave that way, look no further than Brexit).

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You might also be thinking that this sounds a whole lot like the plot to Team Ico’s 2005 release Shadow of the Colossus for PlayStation 2 and you’d be right. In fact, there’s a great big quote for you about two-thirds of the way in.  I drew a lot of inspiration from the game’s narrative (including the piece’s title), but especially from the music.  I studied Gus Tredwell’s (The Slow Pianist on YouTube) piano transcriptions and looked at how all of that music was put together.  The title Colossus implies a Greek sensibility, as opposed to “giant” or “jotun” or something, so all of that is in there.

Even the structure has a Shadow of the Colossus element to it: It starts strong, but there is a long slow build as the giantslayer traverses the landscape, gradually growing in intensity as the colossus gets clearer into view, despite still being far away.  When the battle finally engages (with the band restating the opening motive), the music is dark and dramatic until the hero takes the upper hand, when it gets epic and victorious.  That last section, however, is very short and where we expect a triumphant ending, we get an unsettled ending, as though we may have done something we shouldn’t have.

Musically, I’m pretty outside of my comfort zone here.  There’s a lot of diminished and augmented harmony in the first half as dissonances stack through the band.  The second half of the piece is quite chromatic over pedal tones, so the different sections feel more like key areas and less like harmonic motion from chord to chord (slow harmonic motion is something I really worked on throughout the piece).

So, I hope you enjoy it and, if you want to play it, send me a note (in the “Contact” field) and let me know!

-K

The Past Year and the Next!

How can it be that it be that I haven’t updated this website in seven months? Wow, we’d better get started.

IMG_6691.JPG2017 was an amazing year, both personally and professionally.  Let’s start with the personal stuff:

  • My son was born on November 4th! He’s just the best.
  • I started grad school and am actually doing university right.  More on that later.
  • I made some of the best beer I’ve ever made in my entire life (A citric IPA, a Cascade SMaSH Pale Ale, and a vanilla bourbon stout, if anyone is interested.)
  • My podcast/YouTube show about video game music, Into the Score, is starting to gain some traction.  Maybe you’d like to watch it?

And now, the professional stuff:

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  • I taught a great year at my school, Lord Selkirk Regional Comprehensive Secondary School.
  • I wrote a three-movement work for band and choir called “Transcendent Light” and it had the most glorious premiere by the Winnipeg Wind Ensemble the Manitoba Music Educators’ Association.  It was inspired by Ken Epp, who gave so much strength to music education in our province.  I am so grateful that I got to write the piece.
  • I wrote a piece for 150 trumpets for a Canada 150 brass concert in Regina, Saskatchewan (that’s in Canada, btw).  Also, I got to hang out with Pete Meechan and Michelle Styles, who are two of the most wonderful musicians and composers you’ll ever meet.
  • I worked with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra on two separate occasions: I did seven of ten arrangements for their “Manitoba, mon amour” show that celebrated Franco-Manitobain musicians in WinnipegIMG_6561and I did four pieces for Faouzia and the WSO for the Canada 150 Canada Day show at the Forks.
  • “The Matters of Kindness” is finally published! It’s going out with Grand Mesa Music in Spring 2018 and I hope that every band in the world plays it.
  • I’m still working on Ship Out of Luck by Complex Games.  It is really coming along – this game is going to make waves.  It’s looking and sounding so amazing.
  • I wrote a euphonium concerto, am setting my “Prairie Trombone Suite” for band, and have some new work under my belt for the coming year.
  • Published two articles in the Canadian Winds!

There’s a lot coming up on the horizon, so stay tuned!

Let’s have a great year.
-K