Feeling pretty good thus far. John Quincy Adams and Louisa Catherine Adams would often write poems for each other, and my librettist (David C. Cole) decided to incorporate this aspect of them into Act I, to show the depth of feeling they had for one another. I set the dual poem (Dave’s original text – not many of these poems survive) last week, and also wrote the transition music to the next part of the scene. You can listen to that here, as performed by MIDI.

Here’s a little taste of the duet:

Up next – the music for the meeting between JQA and John Cleves Symmes, in which the Hollow Earth theory is explained. This segment would be mostly instrumental, with a few lines interjected here and there, while pages from Symmes’ notebook would be projected.

Back to work. Like a cheap set of drugstore nails, we press on.

WF

And we’re off!

I received the libretto for Act I and part of Act III a couple of weeks ago, so I’ve been sketching motives and the like, as well as the curtain music for Act I (which will be the same, with a couple of twists, for the second and third acts as well). JQA and Louisa Catherine Adams have a duet in the middle of Act I, and I’ve started composing that.

I’m using bits of ”Hail Columbia,” which, while now is the official march of the Vice President of the United States, was at the time of JQA associated unofficially with the President. ”Hail to the Chief” became associated during the term of Andrew Jackson, so it’ll show up as well.

This is going to be a lot of fun. By the end of this week I should have the Poem Duet done as well as some of the music in and out of it.

Allons-y!

WF

Well, it’s been a bit.

2021 was a tough year. My mother, Linda Flinn, died on June 17 after an 2-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was just a couple of months shy of 85. We’re all still heartbroken, of course, but Dad somehow soldiers on, though sometimes I get overwhelmed when I think about the fact that they grew up together and he probably has no memories that don’t involve her in some way.

Work was challenging with COVID, but we did the best we can. Owing to a concatenation of events, I had to be discipline coordinator this fall, when we had turnover in all three ensemble director positions and when the other two tenured faculty were on leave. It was harrowing and I’m pretty sure I aged several years. But the adjunct faculty, staff, and students all performed admirably, and I am pleased to say we did not have to postpone or cancel a single event for weather-related or COVID-related reasons. I am fortunate to work with people this good.

Now comes the fun part – I am taking a sabbatical of my own this spring to write an opera! The plan is to write this spring, orchestrate this summer, workshop and revise next year, then do a full staging in 2024. This will hopefully also launch a summer festival of new opera/musical theatre works here.

I will try to do weekly (or hopefully more regular, anyway) updates on my progress.

The opera will feature a libretto by my dear friend David C. Cole and will combine elements of American history, science fiction, and politics. The title is…

John Quincy Adams and the Subterraneans

Major roles:
John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States of America (tenor, though a contralto could do the role as well)
John Cleves Symmes, Jr., explorer (Bass-Baritone)
Louisa Catherine Adams, First Lady of the United States (mezzo-soprano)
Monarch of the Subterraneans (dramatic soprano, possibly coloratura)
Andrew Jackson, General and later Seventh President of the United States of America (mezzo-soprano or countertenor)

I haven’t been excited about a composition project like this in a very long time.

In other news, I am pleased to announce that I finished several works in 2021. I wrote some miniatures for the Georgia Runoff Commissioning Project (Riff for solo piano; bent not broken for solo contrabass; Souvenir from a Canceled Trip for solo flugelhorn; Thibodeaux Breakdown for solo tuba; The First Amendment for SATB choir). A small consortium commissioned a three-movement trombone quartet, The True Saga of Charles Everett Mathews and His Search for a Perpetual Motion Machine (named for my maternal great-grandfather, who never found one). For my new-found interest in alto trombone, I wrote Everything About This Is Wrong, an exploration of a poem by my friend Emily Vieweg and scored for solo alto trombone with flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, soprano sax, horn, trumpet/flugelhorn, timpani, vibraphone, and snare drum. I finished the orchestration of Concerto for Piano and Wind Band.

My article on techniques of developing variation in the music of Morton Gould was published in GAMUT, and it’s nice for that research to have found a home. Might mess around and start writing a theory textbook too.

My beloved wife and the cats are all in some reasonable facsimile of good health, and I am grateful for that. I lost a few pounds last year (10-15); the plan is to keep doing that, though the fact that I bake more might make it difficult.

I hope you’re all well. Let’s keep muddling through together.

WF

This morning’s low was a whopping -28 degrees Fahrenheit. Not gonna lie to you, Marge – very happy to have multiple cats and a fireplace.

In other news, while most of my performances have been cancelled due to the pandemic, Jason Ladd premiered my piece Thibodaux Breakdown for solo tuba (one of five miniatures I wrote for the Georgia Runoff Commissioning Project) on February 2 at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA. Also, I will be presenting this weekend (Feb. 19) at the South Central Society for Music Theory‘s virtual conference. My topic is “Looking at Music Theory through the Overton Window,” and it might ruffle some feathers. (I hope it does.)

I have a couple of big projects afoot as well. I’ve completed a concerto for piano and wind band in two-piano score and will be putting together a consortium to fund the orchestration. I am currently working on a trombone quartet, and then I will be writing a thing for alto trombone, soprano saxophone, and chamber ensemble based on a poem by Emily Vieweg. After that, well, I’ve got a super-secret project about another super-secret project, and I think you’re gonna dig it.

How’s everyone holding up during this?

WF

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