Trying to not be That Guy, but I’ve been able to do a couple of things I didn’t expect to do because the pandemic has kept us at or near home. I bought an alto trombone, and this is generating new ideas – plus, it’s fun to learn! I also downloaded Reason, and hope to spend this summer getting good at it.

I miss classroom teaching, though. Quite a lot.

How are you coping?

WF

I’ve been remiss. Last year was a tough year.

But – I have been composing and doing academic things, as well as playing. I am trying to make updates to this website as well. So let’s recap:

January 2019 – premiere of Woody Creek Breakdown in Brookings, SD by someone who has been kind enough to commission two or three pieces from me (and who is an absolute joy to work with), Tammy Evans Yonce

February 2019 – premiere (in piano reduction) of Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra here at UMM (Mike Odello on tuba, Angela Nybakke on piano); I also played on this recital, doing euphonium works by Libby Larsen and others

March 2019 – gave a talk on Morton Gould at CMS Great Plains in Cedar Rapids, IA; also, Fujin performed Urban Legends VIII: Chupacabra in Cullowhee, North Carolina

April 2019 – Rational Exuberance performed by the Fort Dodge Symphony under the direction of Joshua Barlage

May 2019 – Second-ever performance of Bedtime Story by NANOWorks in Atlanta, GA

June 2019 – Lisa Neher performed Urban Legends V: Helen in Portland, OR

What does the future hold? I’m presenting twice at the CMS National Conference in Louisville, KY in October. The orchestral version of the Concerto for Tuba will be premiered on May 17, 2020 in Alexandria, MN by the Central Lakes Symphony Orchestra (conducted by Brad Lambrecht) with Mike Odello once again on the big horn. And speaking of the CLSO – I am honored to be principal trombone with the group this year. I have not played in a concert orchestra since high school; 29 years is a long enough stretch.

I have a few other projects, too – Misty Theisen and the Asheville Modern Big Band commissioned Triple Double, a concerto-of-sorts for woodwind doubler and big band, and I just sent that off to the performers last week. Can’t wait to hear it! I am also working on getting one last Morton Gould paper off to a journal (if anyone has journal recommendations, I’m listening) and then I have a larger project on the idea of engaged music theory (based on folks like Cheng, Amrein, hooks, etc.).

Personally…I’m exercising again, which is nice. Not much, but every little bit counts, and I’m consistent about it – six days a week, without fail. I’m practicing again too. Being a performer makes me a better composer, theorist, and teacher.

It’s good to be back. I’ll try to do this more often.

WF

A couple of weeks ago, I went down to Iowa City for the International Trombone Festival. Picked up a new mouthpiece. Here I am getting used to it.

Maybe I’ll put more of these up every now and then.

Also, I can’t recommend Giddings Mouthpieces enough. This is the EXL model, stainless steel with a frost finish. I play on a Conn 88H (Elkhart).

WF

(Yes, that is a boring title.)

I’ve been Tweetstorming quite a lot lately, and someone said, “Don’t you have a blog?” This reminded me that, yes, I do have a blog and should probably start using it more. (There was a time when I wrote a blog post every day.)

Some background:

I love this gig. It’s a great gig with great colleagues, great students, and administrators who more often than not get it. But it is not without challenges. First and foremost is geography. We are 90 – 100 miles from anyplace with more than, say, 25,000 people, and three hours from the Twin Cities. In many fields, that wouldn’t make a whole lot of difference, but since music is so specialized (you wouldn’t want me teaching, say, flute), the six full-time faculty cannot hope to cover all the possible areas of instruction. We rely more on adjuncts than I would like, but we do provide mileage for those coming from more than 10 miles away, and we do also put people up in hotels as necessary.

The problem with this is that it is unsustainable. Not financially, necessarily (though it may be that), but just in terms of building a traditional music program. I wouldn’t want to drive three hours each way every week for no more than four students, but we cannot in good conscience give a student less than the best possible instruction. We have tried some online lessons (through a partnership with MacPhail Center for Music) and that has worked to some extent, but to do that well we would need a large increase in our capital budget to update some rooms with a full spectrum of equipment for those purposes (cameras, microphones, necessary connections). This will be an ongoing challenge.

The other issue we face is somewhat tied to the first issue. Our curriculum is pretty much the Standard Undergraduate Music Curriculum (four semesters of theory, two semesters of history, lessons, a jury, a senior project, and some electives). It is designed to prepare students for graduate study, a teaching career, or a performance career.

But most of our students don’t do that.

We’re a liberal arts college on the prairie. Even though we have a high percentage of first-generation students, who are usually geared more toward music education as a career, most of our students don’t take that path. We have a couple of students who are carving out performance careers, but they are the exception. Same for graduate school. Our students usually end up working outside of music, using the ancillary skills they develop in the program and continuing in music on an amateur or semi-professional basis while paying the bills in some other way. There’s nothing wrong with that. There are days I’d do that. But it doesn’t make sense for our curriculum to reflect an approach that is simply not in line with what our graduates do. Thus, we are making some changes to the curriculum.

They haven’t all been ironed out yet, but when they are, I shall post them for your feedback. Like David Letterman in his Late Night years, the stuff may or may not work, but we’re going to try it anyway. If it doesn’t work, well, it wouldn’t be too difficult to return to the traditional model. But if it does work, we could change the face of music education in a liberal arts context.

Of course, this new curriculum would not likely earn the imprimatur of NASM, but we’re not accredited by them anyway, and many of the top music programs are pulling out. I have nothing against NASM; I worked with them at the last gig, and I think they do what they do very well and they should continue to do it. I just don’t necessarily agree that what they do overlaps much with what we do.

More bulletins as events warrant.

WF

What: Selections from River Songs (2009) for soprano or mezzo-soprano and piano at a concert celebrating composers who grew up in rural areas
When: Saturday, June 7, 2014, 7:00pm EDT
Where: Lincoln Junior High School Auditorium, Plymouth, IN

I shall be there with many family members. If you’re in the area, come by!

WF

So if you’re in and/or around Morris, MN this coming Friday night, swing by the Humanities Fine Arts Recital Hall on the campus of The University of Minnesota, Morris to hear Four on the Floor, a new tuba-euphonium quartet. I’m playing first euph, and we’re doing everything from a Bach fugue to Duke Ellington to an…interesting take on Rossini.

We’ll also be giving the world premiere of my new work Minnesota Movements. How can you pass up an opportunity to hear a piece that contains a movement named “Last Tango in Bemidji?”

WF

Has it really been nearly a month since I’ve updated? Why yes, it has.

I went to the SMT conference in Charlotte and was blown away by the papers. This fills me with resolve. Next year, there will not be an annual rejection – next year, I will get in. I figured out a good approach for my current research (more on that once I get a couple of things nailed down), and this should work well with the direction of SMT.

Lots of good pedagogy stuff as well; that was the main reason I went. Also, because I livetweeted a couple of sessions, the number of Twitter followers I have jumped substantially. This is making me think about pedagogical applications of social media. We’re on the cusp of rewriting the theory curriculum in toto at UMM, and I want to make it one that implements all manner of tech (but not just because we like shiny new gizmos – everything must serve a larger pedagogical purpose).

The Great Speckled Variants are going well; I am meeting with a guitarist this week to see how idiomatic the writing is. I fully expect to do a lot of editing on this, but it’s worth it to get it right.

I’m sure both of you are disappointed by this, but I just haven’t been compelled to put up much in the way of political postings. I still follow it, but until next year’s election season begins in earnest (and until the Minnesota State Legislature is back in session), there’s just not a whole lot of the nuts-and-bolts policy stuff that interests me. Oh, sure, there’s the ACA and its computer glitches, but I am stupefied that people are upset that they might be getting better insurance. For 97%* of us, that means cheaper.

That’s all for now. Got some plans for the new year that involve expanding this website. More bulletins as events warrant.

*source: here

WF

Something happens in the third semester of music theory. Sometimes it’s early in the semester, sometimes it’s later in the semester, depending on which book (if any) you’re using and how the class is overall. Currently, it’s happening right now for my Theory III kids this year.

It’s the point where we’ve cleared most of the *conceptual* framework and can start getting more into analyses and study of entire pieces. There are still concepts to cover (extended chords, other modulatory techniques, etc.), but most of the puzzle pieces are in place. We can move into analysis that transcends the descriptive and start thinking in terms of prescriptive; that is to say, we can start applying what the analysis yields to actual performance.

For various reasons, most books/sequences use German Lieder as the springboard into this new analytical world. There are piano pieces, chamber works, and symphonic works that could show these concepts equally well, but it is almost always Lieder that we use. Part of this is because there are so many songs out there; you could get the entire third semester and a good hunk of the fourth just with four composers (Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Schoenberg for the fourth). Part of it is because you can bring in text for discussion, taking things out of the realm of absolute music and into something more programmatic. And part of it is simply because it’s just so wonderful. Schumann’s cycles especially do such a great job at showing the totality of human emotion.

I leave you with a video. This is tenor Ian Bostridge and pianist Graham Johnson with what is my favorite Lied – Robert Schumann, Myrthen, Op. 25, no. 1, “Widmung.” Du meine Seele, du mein Herz…

WF

(Does anyone blog anymore?)

This ought to be fun.

Since I don’t have any immediate compositional projects (the last three were the opera Bedtime Story, Vegas Vespers, and the solo violin suite pARTita), I decided to stretch out a little bit and challenge myself to write for instruments for which I have not yet written. The first fruits of this project have already appeared in the form of Small Movements for a Big Harp, written with the much-appreciated input of Shana Norton. So on to the next thing…but first, some background:

The above video is Roy Acuff singing “The Great Speckled Bird.” It’s fairly standard country-gospel, and the tune is quite simple. “The Great Speckled Bird” also happens to be my father’s favorite song.

I’m not going to lie: My father and I are very different people. It’s not always been an easy relationship, for either of us. At this point in our lives, I doubt there is anything either of us could say that would change the other’s mind on a point of disagreement – and there are plenty of points of disagreement. (Most kids nearly come to blows with their fathers over issues of a car, or of money, or of respect; the only time I nearly swung at the old man was during a “discussion” about whether Lt. Col. Oliver North was a hero who deserved the thanks and praise of a grateful nation or a traitor who should face the proscribed punishment for treason swiftly and certainly. Guess which side I was on!)

I don’t want Dad to stop being cantankerous, conservative, and stuck in his ways. It’s part of his charm at this point, and he’s nearly 79. He’s earned the right to be darn well whatever he wants to be, and we’ll love him and respect his choices no matter what. But in recent years, as we’ve both aged, I would like to think we’re at a point where none of that matters anymore. So, while I can, I want to do something nice for him.

Let’s connect the two threads: I want to write something for an instrument that will make me grow as a composer, and I want to honor my father in some way.

Re-enter “The Great Speckled Bird.”

I have decided to write a set of variations on “The Great Speckled Bird” for solo guitar. I’ll be working with Jim Flegel, our guitar professor, and hopefully I can get it performed at some point in the next year. When it’s all said and done, I want to get a nice bound copy of the score and a good clean recording, and give them to Dad. He built a home, a business, a farm, a family, a church, and he did it all without complaint. He deserves a little gratitude from his youngest son.

So watch this space and my Facebook page for updates on the piece.

WF

So’s the missus and I are at the Perkins restaurant in Alexandria, MN for a post-movie dinner (the movie was Gravity; short review: SEE THIS MOVIE ON THE LARGEST SCREEN POSSIBLE), and I check Facebook and see this message:

“Do you know what’s fun? Casting your opera is fun.”

I haven’t stopped smiling. Bedtime Story, my Very Short Opera, is going to be performed by North American New Opera Workshop, probably in late March 2014.

WF

In my previous post, I asked what could be done.

I think you’re looking at one path.

Blogging with commentary has the potential to help reshape scholarship. We are already seeing some experimentation with this, and in an age when publication can be instantaneous it is patently absurd that major journals in most fields take anywhere from 18 months to 3 years in the submission-to-publication process.

Further, blogging allows for ideas to be “workshopped,” with input during the whole process, rather than a big hit of commentary after submission but before publication (assuming the work is even allowed a “revise-and-resubmit”). In this way, authors can work out issues and problems in a timely but not rushed manner instead of trying to do a large amount of revision in a short amount of time.

Further still, a more transparent process means people are able to see different intellectual trends and major players thereof develop in real time. Instead of “anonymous” responses, people put their name – or a reasonable pseudonym, let’s be honest – on the line. If it’s a question of making sure that only actual scholars in a field will have a chance to take part in the commentary, there are ways to maximize security. I actually like the idea of enlightened amateurs taking part, but I can see how it could be problematic.

Finally, it can conceivably cost nothing (or, at worst, the price of webhosting and DNS registration). I am using a free blogging platform. The material can be put out, reviewed, and accessed for no financial outlay (beyond the cost of Internet access).

I am told the SMT Conference this year will feature a session on peer-review. If I don’t end up doing a research trip in October, maybe I’ll go there and check it out.

WF

On this Labor Day, we have an untenable situation. The board of the Minnesota Orchestra Association (MOA) has locked out the musicians of the Minnesota Orchestra for just about a year now. Several musicians have left, and the group is in real danger of disappearing for good.*

Make no mistake – this was intentional. The board, composed of crony-capitalist charlatans and Ayn Rand acolytes, set out to do this. They saw a thriving, healthy non-profit organization that respected its employees and realized that the mere existence of such a thing was a threat to their Capitalism Über Alles, enrich-your-friends-and-strip-the-rest-for-parts, why-should-there-even-be-a-minimum-wage mindset. So they did what they always do; they set out to destroy it.

Whatever problems unions may have, and I am not so blind as not to realize that there are problems, I would rather be run by a union boss than by the CEO class (a group still upset that they can’t get the ultimate in cheap labor – slavery – because of that pesky 13th Amendment) any day of the week. We are not cogs. We are not simply another working expense. We are human beings, and you will give us the respect and dignity we deserve.

Or we will take it from you.

There’s always a Bastille that needs storming somewhere.

WF

*Oh, maybe not for good, as I’m sure they’ll take the Louisville Orchestra approach and try to hire high school kids.

For other views on the wholesale and wanton destruction of the Minnesota Orchestra:

  • Bill Eddins (Sticks and Drones); The Cheap Seats
  • Daniel Gilliam; MOA Cross-blog contribution
  • Drew McManus (Adaptistration) Arrogance is a weed that grows mostly on a dunghill
  • Emily Green (guest author); It’s Time to Make Music Again
  • Emily Hogstad (Song of the Lark); “Patron Advocates”
  • Frank Almond (non divisi) Calling the questions
  • Henry Peyrebrune (guest author); The Holy Grail
  • Holly Mulcahy (Neo Classical) A Journey Of Legacy, Appreciation, and Heart
  • Jim Lieberthal (guest author); A quiet opinion
  • Joe Patti (Butts in the Seats); Of Blogs and Boards
  • Kevin Case; False Equivalence
  • Lisa Hirsch (Iron Tongue of Midnight); Minnesota Orchestra: Down To The Wire
  • Rolf Erdahl (guest author); Reflections on Robert Frost’s Mending Wall
  • Scott Chamberlain (Mask of the Flower Prince) An Un-Strategic Plan
  • Tom Peters (guest author); Baseball and Beethoven: The Minnesota Orchestra, the Marlins and the Perils of Market Correction.