This past year went by FAST. It seems like yesterday that I was bitching about having to write 40 minutes of music and praying for the possibility of dreaming about the end of grad school. It is all finished now and the dust has only begun settling after the whirlwind year I’ve had, only to reveal a completely new set of hurdles. This past year has marked the biggest leap of progress I think I have ever made, provided me with absolutely amazing opportunities, and giving me the extra boost of confidence a freshly graduated classical music composer in the 21st century should have to go barreling towards a life of road blocks and banana peels. Taking the necessary steps to embark on my next phase in life feels like I’m riding my bike again for the first time in 10 years. Actually, this is an amazing analogy for how I currently feel. Allow me to indulge in a rather unnecessary story:
I rode around the neighborhood for hours when I was a kid, and was quite daring at that. When I was in high school, my focus shifted heavily towards practicing my music-ing and driving automobiles, so my bicycle took a backseat (pun definitely intended!) for quite some time. Fast forward almost 10 years. Soon after I graduated with my bachelors, I decided to buy a new bike and take up riding around the city. Everything basic in life follows the old adage that these things are “like riding a bicycle,” because picking it up again after a lifetime of neglect is supposed to be quick and painless. The initial ride made for a great second honeymoon, until the moment my legs lost all energy to continue after 3 miles. The ride back home was way more of a workout than it would seem a 24 year old should endure from a 5 mile bike ride. The real fun came the following two days, when it felt like an elephant had punted me right on the tail bone. It certainly made the next bike trip feel like I was sitting on an up-turned 2×4. From then until about 6 months later, I rediscovered that wind was invented because God hates cyclists, going downhill makes the bike travel faster and scarier, and that if I ride out too far, then I struggle the entire ride back home. Only after months of rigorous riding, did I start to develop the stamina for longer rides and greater distances. Fast forward 4 years. 25 miles is my standard ride, and my endurance for wind and mild fatigue is greatly improved. I ride more now than I ever did as a teen.
I have “planned,” for years it seems, to piece together an ensemble for the purposes of performing new and contemporary music. The first time I ever had the thought of such a ridiculous thing was about seven years ago, after listening to some some orchestral Zappa records. The idea was awesome enough to entertain for all of the 35 minute drive from my parent’s home in Katy, Tx to where I lived just west of downtown Houston. The idea didn’t recur until a few years later, when I had decided to take up composition as a possible career path. I was playing guitar in a tech-metal band at the time (which I only quit doing so a year ago, by the way), and had some difficulties “getting my way” musically in the band when it came time to write music. I remember reading about Philip Glass and Steve Reich having their own ensemble’s as outlets for their music and thinking instantly that I needed to do the same. When I combined this with my love for Frank Zappa’s music and his many incarnations of live ensembles, I was led to the conclusion that having my own “modern classical band” was the real solution to my problems (because starting a band is always a great solution to something else).
As I began my graduate studies, I quickly noticed that I was following an all too common pathway for young composers. I discovered that many of my now favorite composers had really began their careers with the same intentions as me. What a great way to affirm my mostly intuitive compulsion! The day I realized what Bang on a Can was, and that one of its co-founders, Michael Gordon, was going to visit my school for a premiere and listen to my music during a masterclass was absolutely mind blowing. Looking back, I wasted a great opportunity to ask him some great questions about starting up the group: It seems all I have right now is a bunch of paper work and bullshit to wade through. Did BOAC have similar issues?
As graduation drew closer and closer, I realized that I would soon be faced with the reality that time had run out and I would need to either shit or get off the pot, as they say. I began asking around for some minor advice and for some players to jam out with me. I was faced with real decision making for the first time. What the hell kind of ensemble was it? What is the instrumentation? Will it play only my music? What is the name? Where will we play? Who will play? HOW IS THIS EMEFFER GOING TO BE PAID FOR? Only a year ago did most of these questions present themselves to me. A FREAKING YEAR! Shouldn’t I have considered some of this shit before then? What the hell was I doing with my time, besides having a family, working full-time, and going to grad school?
I’m proud to say that most of these questions have been answered. I have some players. I’ve got a plan. I have some repertoire. I have potential venues. I even have the outlines for a sweet educational outlet. But, where’s the name? Where’s the money?