I’m working on a piece for trumpet, trombone, and piano that is based on tourist traps and crazy roadside attractions. Two movements are available (in cheesy MIDI demo) below.

“Cheshire Cheese Press” is a meditation on democracy, based on the statue commemorating a 1,234lb block of cheese that the citizens of Cheshire, MA sent to Thomas Jefferson.

“Pedro’s South of the Border” is a Tango-Passacaglia in honor of the famous tourist trap on I-95 on the NC/SC state line.


Cheshire Cheese Press

Pedro’s South of the Border


Watching the Inaugural parade on C-SPAN, I am struck by the sounds of bands, bagpipers, drums and other musical acts all blending together. It’s very Ivesian, and that is absolutely appropriate for this day.

Once every four years, we show the world – and ourselves – that no matter what happens in the lead up to the election, when one term ends and another begins, we do it peacefully. Though it has happened because of death, that is statistically rare. Instead, the will of the people, as expressed through the ballot box and the Electoral College, is carried out.

I know that this language makes some people uncomfortable (especially coming from me, an unashamed liberal/progressive), but we live in the greatest country on the planet because of this.


I had a brief conversation with a friend the other day, and we shared memories of marching band. I got to thinking about it, and when I get to thinking about something it usually ends up on here. So blame her for this.

I have talked before about where I grew up and the challenges facing the unathletic in a place where sports are even more disproportionately important than normal. I was spectacularly awkward physically as a youth (is it because I was born a month early? I wonder); if it were be possible to be picked after last in gym class, I would have been.

Then I started marching band.

I was still awkward, but for some reason, it would go away when I had a horn on my face and had to move from one dot to the next. My body, which I would fight every other waking moment, actually did exactly what I asked it to and when I asked it to. I lost weight, made new friends, and felt like I actually belonged somewhere for the first time in…well, let’s go with “ever.” I did it for four years, earning the marching band equivalent of a letter jacket, and decided to major in music in part because of the experience of marching band. Majoring in music led me to music theory and composition, so you could say my entire career exists because of one choice I made in 1986.

Slightly more than a quarter-century has passed, and I still remember aspects of marching band shows in incredible detail. I have done research on Jesus Christ Superstar because we did a JCS show my junior year. (Went to Finals with it too!) Playing those charts gave me a sense of how to write those charts, which led to all my drum corps arranging/composing.

So yeah, I’d consider my high school marching band years “formative” in just about every sense. There are many things I’d do differently, but I’d still march no matter what.


Pedagogical question this week: How many of you out there in Theoryland incorporate what the students are doing in lessons/ensembles on a regular basis? I’m always looking for ways to do that. I believe the more the students can do theory on their instruments/in their voices, the more likely they are to understand the concepts.


I have just finished John Lewis Gaddis’ George F. Kennan: An American Life. Normally, when the cover blurb is a glowing review by noted war criminal Henry Kissinger, I write off the book immediately. However, Kennan was a giant in the field of foreign relations, and his history is the history of the Cold War. Gaddis is a biographer of the highest caliber, and the prose jumps at the reader. In this, the book represents its subject well, as Kennan was well known for his pungent writing.

What I took away from all this is that Kennan (who was the half brother of the composer Kent Kennan, he of Counterpoint text fame) succeeded as a diplomat and planner because he recognized early on that nations were more than just governments. Kennan read Tolstoy, Pushkin, and Chekhov; the latter had a tremendous influence on him outside of diplomacy as well. Because he understood Russian culture and heritage, he was able to predict the collapse of the Soviet Union some 40 years before it happened. Kennan saw the diplomatic corps, politicians, and military leaders miss opportunities to solve many of the problems of the Cold War before they even started, and in a peaceful manner.

Kennan was also a human being with all the foibles thereof. He could be bullheaded and was prone to bouts of serious depression. He often took diplomatic and professional setbacks personally, and when he missed something, he missed it big. In this, he was very much like the great writers he loved as well. When out of government service (and sometimes while in), he worked at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, producing historical scholarship and interacting with some of the greatest minds in human experience.

Gaddis knows his subject and his times backwards and forwards, and is also known as a historian of the Cold War, so it makes sense that this book is put together well. He had the full participation and approval of George and Annelise Kennan before they died, and spent decades with both of them to get the material. If this is an era of interest to you, get this book.