Monday, October 7, 2013

William Roper and the College of the Canyons Symphonic Band

William Roper, a multidisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles, will be Artist-in-Residence for the College of the Canyons Symphonic Band for the academic year 2013-2014. Roper is active in the fields of composition, music performance (especially on tuba), theater, dance, painting, and performance art. He will compose new works for tuba and winds to be performed by the COC Symphonic Band.

William Roper in Bavaria

On tuba, Roper's professional experience ranges from the symphony stage to free improvisation groups. He has toured North and South America and Europe as a soloist and as a member of jazz, rock, and classical ensembles. His has released several recordings as a leader and co-leader. He has played or recorded with numerous artists and ensembles, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, Elton John, Leon Russell, Jusef Lateef, James Newton, and Horace Tapscott. He has also played on several major motion picture soundtracks.

As a composer he has fulfilled commissions for the Gloria Newman Dance Theater, Dance L.A., and SASSAS. His compositions have been performed in the US and Europe. He has received awards from organizations such as the National Endowment of the Arts, California Arts Council, City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Meet the Composer, American Music Center, American Composers Forum, Durfee Foundation, Brody Arts Fund, and others. He has been a resident composer at the Djerassi Institute in California and the Oberfaelzer Kuenstlerhaus in Bavaria and recently fulfilled a cultural ambassadorship to Japan.

I have blogged about Roper before, because I find him to be an unusually interesting person and musician. You can read that blog here. Visit Roper's Web site here.

It is an important part of my plan to grow the COC Symphonic Band and its audience to invite eminent musicians like Roper to visit COC and work with the music students. A great deal can be learned from great musicians, and the greater Santa Clarita Valley area (including its many neighbors to the south) has many great musicians in its midst. The music world is smaller that it seems, and Roper's visits with the COC Symphonic Band will provide opportunities for much more than learning. Lifelong relationships sometimes come of such experiences.

Concerts by the COC Symphonic Band which will feature Roper and his works will be given on Monday, December 2, 2013 and Monday, May 19, 2014 in COC's Van Hook University Center. Both concerts begin at 8pm and are free to the public. Our December concert will feature "Four Centuries of Music for Band," while the May concert will take a more geographical look at band music in "Around the World in 80 Minutes."

Dr. Ray

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Melville, Moby, and Music: A Concert by the Premiere Brass Quintet

I've read Herman Melville's classic novel, Moby Dick. There's not a brass quintet in it anywhere.

But that minor detail will not daunt the Premiere Brass Quintet and I from embarking on a musical exploration of Moby Dick, Melville's life and times, his influences, and the results of his influence in a free community concert entitled, "Melville, Moby, and Music," to be given Noon to 1 p.m., Saturday, September 7, 2013 at the Edendale Branch Library in Echo Park (2011 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025). Come hear us in the Community Room. There will be free parking in the library lot.

Actually, the elusive white whale will be making appearances all over Los Angeles in September as part of the "Whatever Happened to Moby Dick" celebration sponsored by the Los Angeles Public Library and the Library Foundation of Los Angeles.

For our part, our concert program provides musical answers a few questions.

What was music like aboard ship in the days of sail?
  • We'll play some sea shanties that I arranged especially for this concert.
Who was one of Melville's principal influences?
  • The art of the British painter, JMW Turner, with its striking imprecision, was a major influence for Melville. We'll play the first movement of my original composition, "Isle of Colours." The work's movements represent and honor three great British painters: JMW Turner, John Constable, and David Hockney.
What was Melville's response to the Civil War?
  • We'll play two recently discovered and newly restored pieces from a collection of original Civil War brass band music. It's as close as you'll get to being there, without going to a reenactment!
How did Moby Dick influence later artists?
  • We'll play two sea-themed pieces of 20th-century art music (arranged for brass quintet by my friend, Charles Warren): the "Jig" from Gustav Holst's "St. Paul's Suite" and Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Sea Songs."
  • We'll also play popular selections from stage and screen that listeners of all ages will enjoy and recall!
  • And we'll close with Ian MacDonald's original composition, the "Maritime Overture" from his "Sea Sketches."
  • (We might even play a new setting of "Shenandoah" as an encore, if needed! It features our tubist, Bill Roper.)
The Premiere Brass Quintet is five professional musicians who are active in the concert halls and recording studios of the greater Los Angeles area: Ray Burkhart and Kevin Brown, trumpets; Steve Durnin, horn; Loren Marsteller, trombone; and William Roper, tuba. We look forward to meeting you and sharing our music with you.

It'll be a whale of a concert, and that's no fluke!

Dr. Ray


The Premiere Brass Quintet was introduced by Niels Bartels, Senior Librarian of the Edendale Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library, and Library Foundation of Los Angeles President Ken Brecher provided an overview of the month-long, city-wide "Whatever Happened to Moby Dick" celebration and series of events. I announced the selections and provided useful and occasionally humorous historical information and context. The enthusiastic audience gave a hearty standing ovation, and we played my new arrangement of the sea shanty, "Shenandoah," as an encore. Eventually, I wrote five sea shanties (The Maid of Amsterdam; Goodbye, My Love, Goodbye; Clear the Track and Let the Bulgine Run; Shenandoah; and Blow the Man Down) and published them with the astonishingly creative title of Five Sea Shanties.

The Premiere Brass Quintet (L to R): Ray Burkhart, Kevin Brown, William Roper, Steve Durnin, and Loren Marsteller

I thank photographer Vic Pallos and art director Emilie Pallos of Emilie Pallos Graphic Design for the photography.

Read Christina Linhardt's review of the concert HERE.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Goats Are A Funny Thing

Humor is a funny thing. To paraphrase that famous American observation: Something might be funny to some of the people all of the time, and to all of the people some of the time, but it might not be funny to all of the people all of the time. Until perhaps now. And by that, I refer to goats. Screaming goats.

Meet Billy, a screaming goat.

Goats are funny, some of the time. They make funny sounds, some of the time. In a few moments of near-genius, somebody captured a variety of goat vocalizations on video and posted it to YouTube, the 21st-century repository of all things video. I don't know how many screaming goat video compilations there are, but you can search YouTube for "screaming goats" and find a farm full, I suspect. Here's one, just as an example and to save you some time.

Then, someone improved on the "screaming goat" idea and edited brief bits of screaming goats into choice spots in music videos. And it's funny. Darned tootin' funny. Lots of well known popular artists now have "Goat Edition" videos on YouTube. I recommend them for a hearty laugh. There might be a fine line between mockery as a rude put-down and mockery that approaches imitation as a form of flattery. Either way, Taylor Swift, Psy, Adele, Lady Gaga, and many others have their own "Goat Edition" videos, although whether they were produced by fans or foes, I cannot tell. There's a Goat Edition for Nicki Minaj, but I'm not really sure that the goats don't bring up the tone of that vid.

So, I took a break one evening and watched a bunch of these Goat Edition music videos and just howled with laughter. Which is why I blog about them now, even though – according to the above maxim – there's no guarantee you'll find them as funny as I do. I'd say, Give it a try.

Here's the Goat Edition of some tune by Taylor Swift. She must be a big name. You'll get the picture.

As you surf from one bleating Goat Edition to another, you'll run into one big name in the pop world after another. No surprise there. What interested me was whether such irreverent treatment had spread to the world of "classical" music. I'm glad to say, It has. To save you from much searching, I have supplied some good links below. First up: the now imitable Pavarotti.

Pavarotti's a big enough name to earn two Goat Editions of Nessun Dorma. In the next video, notice how the goat is incorporated not only for its musical content, but also to enhance an appreciation of Pavarotti's acting.

Perhaps, if Mozart were composing today, he'd embrace his inner goat in his famous "Queen of the Night" aria.

And for you enthusiasts of 20th-century music, here's a goaty excerpt from Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire.

I hope you've enjoyed this jaunt through musical goat-dom, kids. Some of you will have found this udderly ridiculous. Others may have found something to ruminate upon. Wether you do or not is up to you. Maybe a Goat Edition Music Festival is in the offing. They could call it Livestock. You herd it here first.

And don't forget to visit and my Premiere Press music publishing site. Several new publications will be added there soon, and you can buy "Watercolor Menagerie," my compact disc of original music for brass quintet, there and at iTunes and CD Baby.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Welcome Back to "Notes on Music"

Welcome to my blog's new location – – a big breath of fresh air in the blogosphere. I'm getting all my Google ducks in a row, and the migration is a good step.

Dr. Ray, 11,053 feet above sea level, atop the
eastern Sierra's Mammoth Mountain in California

My readership is growing significantly around the world. If you keep reading, I'll keep writing! Why not bookmark the new location now? And you can easily follow my blog by entering your email address in the column to the right.

Dr. Ray

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Remembering Mary Hsia

On Easter morning this year, my good friend, Mary Hsia, passed on. I write this in loving memory.

Mary Hsia with her beloved tuba!

Mary was a dear friend and neighbor. "Hsia" was a married name, pronounced "Shaw." Mary was kind, fun, and generous, and she brightend my life, as she surely brightened the lives of many others. I believe her journey continues, and she still blesses others with her good and gentle nature.

Mary was an English professor at Los Angeles City College and a devoted amateur tubist. I first met her when I taught the Brass Chamber Ensembles at Pasadena City College. After awhile, there would always be a package of cookies or some other tasty treat on my music stand when I arrived for class. I never asked, and no one ever owned up to it, but I was always pretty sure Mary was the benefactor.

Some years later, she became a neighbor of mine. I recall driving home one day and hearing the Sesame Street song, "Rubber Duckie," from my driveway. I first thought someone was playing a radio, but then I realized it was Mary's tuba quartet playing in her garage with the door open. It was great fun, and the whole neighborhood got to hear it!

We also had fun up at the Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop, where she played in lots of groups, including tuba quartets and tuba ensembles. She told me many times of her youthful interest in playing tuba and how later in life she finally came to embrace it for real. I once wrote her a tuba etude, and I dedicated both that etude and another piece of mine to her: "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day." She and my mom are the only two people to whom I've dedicated more than one piece of music.

We talked often over the years. She was fun company. She loved teaching and her students, and it seemed clear that her students loved her, too. She loved plants, and her home and yard were always adorned with wonderful flowers, shrubs, and trees. Mary loved her pets, too, both dogs and cats. Many times she selflessly and lovingly took in my dog, Sophie, when I had to be out of town. Mary was a very loving person.

There is a web page in her memory with stories and photos HERE.

Several years ago, feeling much gratitude to Mary for many reasons, I wrote her a poem and pinned it to a poinsettia plant as a gift. It now takes on new significance for me. I share it here in honor and remembrance of my good friend.

A Poinsettia Poem
by Raymond David Burkhart
[copyright 2007]

Christmas: a time for giving to friends and
Family and strangers our love, which sends forth in
Cards, gifts and smiles, – even poinsettia plants –
Blessed wishes for good, which tend to enhance
True meanings of Christmas throughout the long year,
That selfless compassion and unbridled cheer
Might buoy us and others and strengthen our prayers
For peace in the bustle of daily affairs.

Places and persons we loved on a day,
And traditions once honored, might all pass away,
But loving and giving, they never wax old,
And our meaning and joy can hardly be told
By the things we possess, unless they incline
To represent that which outlasts even time.
And so now I give this poinsettia to you,
Remembering all of the good that you do.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Italian Postcards

Italian Postcards first got legs over a decade ago, and it's still running strong! It's one of my most performed compositions. It was commissioned in 2000 by the Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop. [Read my previous blog about the Workshop.] Every piece of music has a story or three behind it, and it's about time I wrote about Italian Postcards, especially since the German brass quintet, Windcraft, just performed the piece today in Munich. Watch their wonderful performance of Italian Postcards HERE.

The Colosseum in Rome.

The original Italian Postcards is for brass septet: 2 trumpets, 2 horns, 2 trombones, and tuba. Substitute parts make alternate instrumentations possible. The idea was to enrich the repertoire for brass chamber ensembles larger than the standard brass quintet. The piece is a three-movement suite, the idea being that each movement is the musical representation of a picture postcard from a popular Italian city. The movements are: I. Roma. Sunrise at the Colosseum; II. Venezia. Lovers in a Gondola; and III. Milano. A Crowded Marketplace. Each movement is roughly two minutes in length. Roma is brassy and grand, Venezia is tender and lovely, and Milano is quirky and fast.

In fact, I didn't actually start with an Italian focus for the music in mind, even though many listeners who have been to Italy say the music captures the imagery well. Also, no actual postcards prompted the music, and I've never even been to Italy! But it makes a good story. The truth is that, as the piece neared completion and I started pondering titles, the concept of three musical postcards from Italy came to me as I recalled a youthful memory.

Lovers in a Venetian gondola. Photo © Pierre Jean Durieu |

Jack and Althea Kifer were close friends with my parents. Althea and my mom grew up in Eagle Rock, California and established a lifelong friendship during their college years at UCLA. The Kifers visited our family often when we lived in Northern California, and I have fond memories of those times. Jack and Althea also traveled the world extensively. Althea still does, and she even made a complete circumnavigation of the world just a year or two ago. On their travels, which took them to over 200 different 'countries' (according to the Travelers' Century Club), they always sent us Burkharts a postcard or two. For a young boy like me, growing up in a rural community, getting postcards from Central and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Asian and Pacific nations was exciting. The stamps were exotic and the pictures fascinating. The idea of "Italian Postcards" is closely connected to my enjoyment of the postcards from the Kifers, and I dedicated the composition to them.

A crowded marketplace in Milan.

When I finished the music, the reality of the popularity of brass septets hit me, which is that brass septets are rare, whereas brass quintets are popular in many countries around the world. So, I made a version of Italian Postcards for brass quintet (2 trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba), and it is this version that has been widely performed and enjoyed. My own group, the Premiere Brass Quintet (see blog), made the first recording of Italian Postcards on our CD, "Watercolor Menagerie," which is available from iTunes and CD Baby (search on "Raymond David Burkhart") and from Premiere Press. The sheet music is also available from Premiere Press. Go HERE for the original brass septet version, and go HERE for the extra crispy version for brass quintet. Ordering is easy through Paypal.

Italian Postcards prompted four results worthy of mention here. First, tubists responded very well to the soloistic lines for tuba. Such writing is not often found in brass chamber music, and many tubists have found their parts in the second and third movements of Italian Postcards to be especially satisfying to play. So, in subsequent works for brass, I have taken care to write more good lines for tuba.

Second, one brass quintet performs Italian Postcards often in churches, but the title of the second movement didn't strike them as just right for sacred services. So, when they perform "Venezia. Lovers in a Gondola" in church, they rename it "Andante Religioso" or something like that. You are welcome to do the same!

Third, a dear friend, who has played Italian Postcards often, wrote me that, some day for a special occasion, he'd like the second movement sung for him. I found that to be an interesting choice of words, since the work was purely instrumental. But why need it remain so? Giving it some thought, a text from Psalm 139 came to me, and it fit the metric pattern of the second movement well: "Whither shall I go from Thy presence, or whither shall I flee?" As I considered the rest of the psalm, I found that part of it could be paraphrased to fit my melody perfectly. The result is my sacred solo, "Whither Shall I Go?"

Fourth, the popularity of Italian Postcards prompted me to write much more brass chamber music (see my Web site), including five additional suites for brass: Watercolor Menagerie (2001 -- the title work for the CD of the same name), Love Letters (2004), Bouquet de Brass (2005), Mishap (2009), and Isle of Colours (2012). All are published by Premiere Press, and Watercolor Menagerie and Love Letters can be heard on the CD, "Watercolor Menagerie." The stories behind these works are fodder for future blogs.

Ciao for now!

Dr. Ray

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Brief History of the Premiere Brass Quintet

For many years I've enjoyed playing in a group of Los Angeles-area professional musicians known as the Premiere Brass Quintet. We've made some good music and had some good times. When the group was formed in 1984 in Southern California, we knew of no other group with that name, but a Web search today shows several Premier(e) Brass Quintets. Perhaps we were the first. I don't know, and it doesn't matter. But it seems like it's time to tell the story of "my" Premiere Brass Quintet.

New logo by Emilie Pallos Graphic Design.

In 1983 I began a master's degree in Trumpet Performance at the University of Southern California. One of the very first USC students I met was Morris "Mo" Anderson, a tubist from Boston. We hit it off right away and were assigned to play together in a student brass quintet. Mo has a keen taste for adventure, and since our Friday afternoon brass quintet rehearsals ended just as rush hour clogged the LA freeways, we pretty often found something interesting to do after quintet practice. He was one of the finest tubists I have worked with, and we have remained friends all these many years. Now he devotes his energies to other creative arts, designing and making fine jewelry and pottery.

Morris "Mo" Anderson

The Premiere Brass Quintet was Mo's idea. Sometime in 1984 (I think), Mo formed his own brass quintet with me and trumpeter Kevin Brown and two other USC students, hornist Steve Becknell and trombonist Rick Spitz. For the first few years, the personnel varied occasionally, but Mo, Kevin, and I were consistent members. Finally, even Mo moved away, and with his permission I continued to use the name, "Premiere Brass." Kevin has played in the group all these years, and many other good friends have played in the group as time has waddled on.

The 'original' Premiere Brass Quintet, ca. 1984 (L-R): Rick Spitz,
Raymond Burkhart, Kevin Brown, Mo Anderson, Steve Becknell.

Early in January 2004, I awoke one day thinking, "I need to record my brass quintet pieces." I'd been writing music for brass quintet for many years by then, and it finally hit me that a CD needed to be made. By late June – in a remarkably short time for producing a full-length recording, and during which time I was taking doctoral courses full time and continuing my normal performing and teaching work  – my CD, "Watercolor Menagerie," was completed. It includes 15 different works comprising 22 tracks, including secular and sacred compositions and three of my popular brass quintet suites, Watercolor Menagerie, Italian Postcards, and Love Letters. (Bouquet de Brass, Mishap, and Isle of Colours were composed after 2004.) Kevin Brown and I played trumpets, Steve Durnin played horn, Loren Marsteller played trombone, and both Norm Pearson and Fred Greene played tuba. (Neither Norm nor Fred was available for all three days of recording, and since both are long time friends, it was a treat to have them both on the CD.)

Only now do I realize this was something of a 20th anniversary project! To purchase the CD or listen to clips, see my Website -- -- or search on "Raymond David Burkhart" at CD Baby or iTunes.

The Premiere Brass Quintet, 2004 recording session: (L-R) Raymond Burkhart,
Loren Marsteller, Norm Pearson, Steve Durnin, Kevin Brown.

The Premiere Brass Quintet still gathers from time to time in my living room in Los Angeles, and we still perform. I'm thinking about making another recording, too. I've composed a lot of new music for brass quintet since 2004. Kevin, Steve, and Loren all live nearby. William Roper (see my blog, Roper Remembers) often plays tuba. Dr. David Holben has also worked with us, anchoring the May 2012 recital of my compositions that was given in Stanford, California. A new work was commissioned for that concert by the scientific publisher, Annual Reviews. Entitled Isle of Colours (see blog), it is a three-movement homage to three of my favorite British painters: JMW Turner, John Constable, and David Hockney. You can view videos of this concert at my YouTube channel. (Many thanks to David Holben for producing the videos from footage taken by his wife, Cielito, on her cell phone as she was being more or less constantly besieged by bees!) Sheet music for all of the pieces on this concert is published by Premiere Press. Check out my many other works for brass quintet and other ensembles while you're there!

Needless to say, if you are looking for a brass quintet for your special event, drop me an email. We'd like to hear from you. We play all kinds of music, not just my compositions!

Of course, if you'd like a special program of my music or would like to commission a new work for brass quintet or any ensemble, let's talk! The world is full of musicians and audience-goers. There are not as many composers, and there are even fewer patrons of new music. Those who have the world view and resources to commission new works play a very important role in culture and human history, and their support of living composers may be even more important today than in centuries past.

I'm truly indebted to my many friends – fine musicians all, and especially Mo – who have played in the Premiere Brass Quintet in the last 29 years. You know who you are, and I hope your memories are as fond as mine. Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the Premiere Brass. We'll have to do something grand to celebrate. Perhaps there will be a new commission or two!

And so, to "my" Premiere Brass Quintet, the other Premiere Brass Quintets, and to all brass chamber ensembles everywhere: let's keep making good music, having fun, and passing down fine chamber brass traditions to future generations.

Dr. Ray

Monday, February 18, 2013

"A Summer Remembrance": Trumpet Solo Heard 'Round The World

Perhaps I should have entitled this blog, "Free Download," but I decided to take the high road, instead. Read on!

Many people think of the trumpet as a loud instrument, useful mainly for sounding military bugle calls, leading big band "shout" choruses, and driving great orchestral climaxes. This is true, of course, as far as it goes.

Trumpets and trumpet-like objects have surely been used to project signals over great distances since before recorded history. Old European courts could measure their grandeur by the size of their trumpet corps. And trumpets usually lead the way at big moments in the repertoire of both orchestral and jazz ensembles. But the trumpet is capable of great delicacy, subtlety, and lyricism, as well, and it was this potential that brought forth my work, A Summer Remembrance.

Each summer – like swallows to Capistrano, California (or buzzards to Hinkley, Ohio – the most fitting analogy depends upon your point of view) – trumpeters converge on some city in a ritual known in the business as an "ITG Conference." "ITG" stand for International Trumpet Guild. It's a professional organization with high goals and many worthy achievements. Most of its members live and work in the US, east of the Rockies and west of the Atlantic, so these conferences are rarely held in distant lands, and even more rarely here on the West Coast.

In 1989, however, the ITG held its conference in Santa Barbara, California. Robert Karon was the host. A regular feature of these conferences is the closing program, The Festival of Trumpets, and somewhat predictably, the Festival of Trumpets itself usually ends with a piece that uses many trumpeters all at once. The more, the merrier. But in 1989, Bob Karon had a different idea.

He called me one day – in that lost era before email and text messages, when land-line telephones still rang – to ask if I'd write a piece to conclude the Santa Barbara Festival of Trumpets, and would I consider having the piece finish quietly in a peaceful solo, instead of in the usual quasi-atomic incident? (My words, not his...) This interested me immediately, and when he described the concert venue, I was hooked.

Storke Tower at University of California, Santa Barbara

The concert would be held in a sunken area near the foot of UCSB's Storke Tower, which is a campanile in the middle of campus, measuring 175 feet tall. That's something like eleven stories high, with a carillon up top. I like writing music for specific venues, taking musical advantage of unique spaces, and this was perfect. A Summer Remembrance was born.

In five movements, A Summer Remembrance (for three or four trumpets, minimum) mixes traditional and avant-garde compositional techniques. The second and fourth movements are straight-ahead fanfare pieces; they were played by six trumpeters positioned up in the top of Storke Tower. The first and third movements employ spatial notation. In addition, the first movement allows for performance by one or more players, and there is no limit to the number of players that may be used in the third movement – which also employs aleatory through performer choice. The fifth movement is a simple, tonal, lyrical solo that employs just a touch of jazz flavor here and there. It is this Solo from A Summer Remembrance that I now offer as a free download at my website.

At UCSB in 1989, all of my performers were positioned out of view of the audience. Four players played the first movement. Sixteen were used on the third movement. Fred Sautter, then Principal Trumpet of the Oregon Symphony, performed the Solo. The players of the first and third movements were placed behind trees and hedges, above and encircling the area in which the audience sat. The fanfare players were in the top of Storke Tower. Fred Sautter and I worked for an hour one day, having him go behind various buildings and pointing this way and that, until we achieved just the right "distant" sound. He was great to work with, and his performance was flawless.

As an aside, I must mention that Fred had been a guest artist at the very first Claude Gordon Summer Brass Workshop in 1978, where he played a recital of music for piccolo trumpet and harpsichord. That was the year that I decided to become a professional musician, so working with him again a decade later was a great pleasure.

But, you ask, What's this business about "Around the World"?

Well, after all these years, I must reveal a little history. While the official premiere of A Summer Remembrance was indeed at the 1989 ITG conference in Santa Barbara, the work received a pre-premiere quasi-performance just a few days before at the Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop, where an hour each week is devoted to music for "like ensembles," including an hour of music for trumpet ensemble. So, as a long time staff member there, I rehearsed and conducted an informal performance of A Summer Remembrance using 33 players.

One of these was Tom Hyde, a high school teacher of mathematics and astronomy, whom I selected to perform the Solo. Tom is a well-traveled type, and one day afterward he sent me a postcard from Denmark or somewhere telling me how he was on a round-the-world solo trip and how -- having naturally taken along his pocket trumpet (who wouldn't?) -- he had played my Solo from A Summer Remembrance along the way. In Kathmandu in Nepal, there had been some civic trouble, and the city was locked down for some days. So he went on the roof of his hotel and played the Solo as a sort of prayer for peace. Elsewhere, he played the Solo in a cave for the local bat population. In Denmark, he played it on a street corner for passersby. And so on. It was my first international hit!

I've played the Solo many times, and others have played it, too. Most recently, Dr. Joan Paddock -- Professor of Music at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon -- wrote to tell me she played the Solo in concerts in Grecia and Puerto Limon in Costa Rica. Joan is a dear friend and also a colleague on the staff at the Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop. She conducts the Linfield College Band and concertizes widely.

So, where is the Free Download? At the Unaccompanied Trumpet page in the Online Store at my Website. I invite you to download it there and perform it as often as you wish. Perhaps folks will perform it around the world and post some videos to YouTube. I'd love that! I must say that, if the last note isn't comfortable for you to play (it's a high D, pianissimo), take it down an octave or two. That's OK. Just play with beauty and love in your heart and sound. There's also a Paypal button nearby, for anyone that wishes to make a $5 donation. You need not do this, and there is no way for me to know who has downloaded the piece. There's also no limit to the number of $5 donations one can make, if one is so inclined!

Either way, Dr. Ray is happy, happy, happy.

(A Summer Remembrance is dedicated to the great Los Angeles studio trumpeter, Mannie Klein, whom I was privileged to know. He'll be the subject of an upcoming blog. The full composition may be purchased HERE.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

What's Next?: "The Morini Strad" Closes at Burbank's Colony Theatre

Willy Holtzman's latest theatrical success, "The Morini Strad" (2011), closed last weekend after an extended run at Burbank's storied Colony Theatre. Whether the Colony Theatre itself will close is now the subject of its own drama. Let us hope it is not a tragedy. The cost of continued success threatens to lower the curtain on this valuable organization whose theatrical heart is indeed true. To learn more about the company and how you can support it, visit their Website.

In restating the true story of a Stradivarius violin's mysterious disappearance at the end of it's owner's life – the life of the once-famous virtuoso violinist Erica Morini (1904-1995) – Holtzman develops timeless themes – hope and defeat, truth or deception, old versus new, the challenges of friendship, the paradoxes of love, and the worthy goals of life – in a counterpoint made more delicious by its exposition through the world of music.

Mariette Hartley's performance as Morini was breathtaking. The interchanges between Morini and her new friend, the unknown master luthier Brian Skarstad (David Nevell), form the only dialogue, yet the story is much heightened by the dramatic violin playing of 14-year-old Geneva Lewis, a prodigy virtuoso in her own right. Could the touching second-act waltz be Hartley's Lullaby of Burbank?

The only false tones were the jarringly discordant off color humor that seemed as out of place as would be Honegger's anvil in the Ode to Joy.

The play appeals strongly both to those who make music from the inside out and to those who enjoy music as listeners and observers. As a performer and composer, I was touched by and appreciated Holtzman's exploration of the nature of the true heart of artistry, the cost of success, and the transience of fame. A favorite moment of mine was when Morini explains to Brian that there are some things that musicians just don't discuss with "civilians." It's a funny line, and Holtzman might have intended this barb to convey the artist's self-perceived superiority to common persons and Philistines, but contrariwise, I have found it, not at all beneath me, but a hard thing to explain some of my deepest musical musings to non-musicians. I identified very strongly with the scene in which Morini and Brian come to see that they each, in their own way – she through playing the violin and he through repairing it – have essentially communed with Stradivarius himself – have made a connection that would be inconceivable to any but a few whose peculiar life experiences might enable such a perspective.

Whether it is truly possible, and whether I should admit it or not, I have unquestionably had this experience myself. It has come after deep study of a composer's score while attempting to understand why the music is the way it is. Of all things, the ink of the masters – at least, before the 20th century – did not fall upon their scores haphazardly. A thought precedes every note. It is enough for many musicians to read a score and play it, even to analyze it in some fashion and demonstrate how this relates to that. But, "Why is the music so?" is a far deeper question.

Actually, many Whys are easily explained, but not all. Why did Joseph Haydn write the development of one of his early symphony movements in five-bar phrases, for instance? It was hardly the norm! I struggled with that question for quite some time many years ago, until I considered what is said of his nature, that he was a jolly and well-liked man. I have known a few of these, and none was without a good sense of humor. In the case of this particular symphony, was "Papa Joe" making a little joke? Can you imagine him in the moment just before he composed this music, sitting there thinking, "Well, what next? Shall I give the orchestra a little fun and write them some five-bar phrases, ha ha?" I think it would be in his nature to do just that, and as weird as it sounds, at the moment that this scenario occurred to me, I felt as if the notes were once again coming into being, as if I were watching Haydn himself pen the odd phrases with a twinkle in his eye and a chuckle in the air, and with the foreknowledge of his musicians' brief consternation and subsequent understanding providing the anticipatory satisfaction that comes to all good pranksters.

This is the Colony Theatre's 38th season. Please support the company in some way. For it to go under would be no joke.