Thursday, July 26, 2012

Published: Mass for Brass Quintet, by Steven Williams

Every once in awhile, you meet a lifelong friend. One such friend of mine is trombonist/composer, Steven Williams.

Steven James Williams

We played in the same brass quintet at the University of Southern California while we pursued our Masters' degrees in performance. When we toured the US playing the show "Bugs Bunny on Broadway," he instigated discussions on the philosophy and meaning of Chuck Jones' 1955 Warner Brothers' cartoon, "One Froggy Evening," including the central question of whether Michigan J. Frog was consciously evil or merely had bad timing. And his exacting work as tonmeister for my CD of original music for brass quintet, Watercolor Menagerie, was essential to its success. Good times. Good guy.

Steve ponders things deeply, not that he makes it obvious. He's an easygoing Southern gentleman, of a refined Tennessee variety, and he goes through life with a light touch, a helping hand, and a cheerful smile. He has a terrific sense of humor. We've had many a good chin wag over the years.

He's also a composer of considerable depth and quality.

This blog announces the publication of Steve's "Mass for Brass Quintet." I find it to be profoundly intellectual, yet immediately appealing – highly satisfying to both player and listener. It is carefully based on centuries-old contrapuntal techniques, yet it is always fresh and interesting. It makes you think (or at least, it makes me think), which is an admirable achievement – one not universally attained by composers of concert music.

The work is in five movements: I. Compassio; II. Bellitat; III. Fides; IV. Sacer; and V. Ephemer. Its duration is about 25 minutes total. The work calls for two trumpets in B-flat, horn, trombone, and tuba (the tuba part may be performed on bass trombone). It is well scored and eminently playable by advanced players. He calls for mutes more often than many composers do – even requiring "practice" mutes, which are traditionally not intended for use in concert – and the sound world he achieves ranges from bold to ethereal. I have loved the work since I first heard and played it, and it is the first original composition other than my own works that I have published.

You can hear excerpts of the five movements of Steve's Mass for Brass Quintet on YouTube.

Please visit this page at the Premiere Press site for more information and to place an order.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Published: Isle of Colours

Isle of Colours, my new composition for brass quintet, is now published. You can read my blog about its March 2012 premiere HERE.

Logo by Emilie Pallos Graphic Design

Britain has a long history of great artists. In this regard, it's truly an island of colors. I have recently been inspired by the art of David Hockney, and as I worked on this composition, the theme of British art kept coming to my thought. It seemed perfect to draw upon great British artists as muses for my three movements.

The first movement of Isle of Colours, named for J.M.W. Turner, employs strong themes and harmonic colors. The second movement, which honors John Constable, is a meditative and expansive theme and variations. The third movement is a bossa nova, inspired by the energy and modern appeal of David Hockney's art. There's just something about the subtle hipness of the bossa nova style – its unhurried creativity and freshness – that strikes me as a good musical match for Hockney's work.

To order Isle of Colours, go HERE. It's easy to order through Paypal.

HBS Makes HIstory in NYC

The Historic Brass Society -- "an international organization of amateur and professional brass musicians and scholars concerned with the entire range of early brass music, from Antiquity to 20th-century jazz" – held its Second International Historic Brass Symposium this month in New York City. The attendance at the symposium far outpaced expectations, and by giving a paper there, I am proud to have been part of the history-making.

New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art


I gave my paper, "American Women's Brass Quartets before 1900: 'Clever, versatile, and fair to look upon'," at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in an afternoon session devoted to the 19th-century. The early history of American women's brass quartets is essentially unknown, and the audience seemed to take a keen interest in the research I have done on Georgie Dean Spaulding's "Ladies Cornet Quartette," the Park Sisters Cornet Quartet, and the "Ladies' Brass Quartette" of the Boston Fadettes. I was pleased to share the session with Don Larry, whose presentation on brass bands in Arizona was exhaustive (but not at all exhausting), and with the highly esteemed British scholar, Trevor Herbert, who spoke on "British Military Culture and Music in the Long Nineteenth Century."

The Park Sisters (courtesy of Special Collections,
University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City, Iowa)


I enjoyed the symposium tremendously. There were too many great performances and scholarly papers to list here. My faves included papers by Trevor Herbert, Herbert Heyde, and the inimitable Don Smithers, the interview of Gunther Schuller, and the sessions on cornetto and African trumpets; also the concerts by trumpeter Crispian Steele-Perkins, cornettist Michael Collver, the sackbut ensemble Sacabuche, the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis Trumpet Ensemble, the Caecilia-Concert, His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, and Les Sacqueboutiers. Jaroslav Roucek's performance of the Hummel concerto on keyed trumpet was a gem among gems, and Gil Cline's Trumpet Consort von Humboldt (from Humboldt State University in Arcata, California) set a new standard for creativity in the world of early music.

The full title of the symposium – in true bipartite scholarly fashion – was, "The Second International Historic Brass Symposium: Brass Instruments, Repertoire, Performance, and Culture." The majority of the symposium was held at the Greenwich Village campus of The New School. There was also a full day of papers and concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, followed by a concert held at The Church of St. Luke in the Fields. Most days offered informal playing sessions for groups of cornettists, natural trumpeters, natural hornists, and perhaps even some unnatural brass instruments, the existence of which is known only to brass literati. Makers of period reproductions – including Egger, Seraphinoff, Munkwitz, and others – were present and showed their wares. Rainer Egger received the HBS Christopher Monk Award in the closing session.

If you have an interest in historical things of a brassy nature, I highly recommend joining the Historic Brass Society and attending their events, which include festivals and conferences and – every 25 years or so – historic symposiums like this one.