Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Premiered and Published: Burkhart, 'Fanfare St. Antoni'

On Sunday, September 25, 2016 I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of my new composition, Fanfare St. Antoni, played by the Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra under the direction of my good friend, Timothy Smith, in the world-class Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, California. Hear the world premiere HERE.

Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts

Fanfare St. Antoni is a strongly thematic and exciting fanfare for orchestral brass and percussion  3 trumpets, 4 horns, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, triangle, tenor drum, bass drum, cymbals, and tam-tam. One of the CCCO trumpeters told me, "This is a great fanfare! Every orchestra in the country should play it." Naturally, I agree, but I'd add two points: I hope it gets played outside the US, as well, and it need not be played by orchestras only! The brass and percussion sections of bands can play it, and there are many brass ensembles that will add a few percussion players and embrace the work.

Find out more and order HERE.

Smith commissioned the work to celebrate his tenth season conducting the CCCO. Fanfare St. Antoni opened the program, which included music by Wolfgang Mozart, John Brahms, Cindy McTee, and Paul Hanson.

Ray with CCCO conductor Timothy Smith

Hanson soloed on Mozart's Bassoon Concerto in B-flat and on his own composition, Concerto Serpentique for electronic bassoon and orchestra. I loved Hanson's work, and his improvised cadenza, during which he played continually for over four minutes using the "circular breathing" technique, was simply amazing. The entire concert was very well done. It concluded with Brahms' great and famous Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, which has long been one of my favorite works. It's one of Smith's favorites, as well.

The Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra. Tim Smith, Conductor

In fact, in conceiving the commission for the new fanfare – which opened the CCCO concert with its "Now and Then" theme – Smith hoped I could make a new composition with references to either Brahms' Variations on a Theme of Haydn or to the Chorale St. Antoni upon which it was based. It's a mix. Post-Brahms scholarship has revealed that the Chorale St. Antoni was not composed by Haydn, and I felt that too close a relationship to the Brahms masterpiece might limit the appeal of the new work, and so Fanfare St. Antoni stands on its own as a concert opener or fanfare for a special occasion, and its special Haydn and Brahms elements only add to the interest when programmed accordingly.

I am very grateful to Tim Smith for commissioning the work and to the Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra for premiering it. Bravi tutti!

Dr. Ray

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Premiere: Raymond Burkhart, Fanfare St. Antoni

My new composition, Fanfare St. Antoni, will be premiered on Saturday, September 24 and Sunday, September 25, 2016 in the San Francisco Bay Area by the Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra, Timothy Smith, conductor. [websiteFacebook]

Tim Smith commissioned Fanfare St. Antoni for large brass and percussion ensemble to celebrate his tenth season conducting the Contra Costa Chamber Orchestra. The duration is about 4 minutes. The instrumentation is: 3 trumpets, 4 horns, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, timpani, triangle, tenor drum, bass drum, cymbals, and tam-tam.

One of Smith's favorite works is the well known Variations on a Theme by Haydn by Johannes Brahms. It was one of the first works Smith conducted with the CCCO, and he selected it again for the first program of his tenth anniversary season, along with my new fanfare and works by Mozart, Milhaud, Cindy McTee, and the premiere of a concerto by Paul Hanson for electronic bassoon.

Smith's vision for my new work was to incorporate ideas from Brahms' Variations in a fanfare, with a contemporary, fresh sound, in keeping with the "Now and Then" theme for this concert. My solution was to create a vibrant, strongly thematic work using rhythmic elements and melodic motifs from Brahms' work and from the Chorale St. Antoni which inspired it. Scholarship has determined that Chorale St. Antoni was not actually composed by Josef Haydn, but Brahms didn't know this, but a rose is a rose, and all that.

My new music is in no way an arrangement, but new music. Listeners unfamiliar with Chorale St. Antoni and Brahms' Variations will hear new themes, while astute listeners familiar with the old works may hear many references, both to Brahms' Variations and to the original chorale. I could not resist one brief, composite "quote" from the original chorale, but this comes very late in the music, in a cameo role.

I'll be at the Sunday concert. Here are the details.
  • 2pm, Saturday, September 24, 2016. El Campanil Theatre, 602 W. 2nd Street, Antioch, CA. Ticket prices: adult, $15; seniors, $12; youth, $7, by phone or at the door. (925) 757-9500, www.elcampaniltheatre.com.
El Campanil Theatre, Antioch, California

  • 2pm, Sunday, September 25, 2016. Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA. Ticket prices: adult, $30; seniors, $20; youth, $10, by phone or at the door. (925) 943-7469, www.lesherartscenter.org.
Lesher Arts Center, Walnut Creek, California

I hope to see you there!

Dr. Ray

Friday, September 2, 2016


This stroll down memory lane may be droll, but it is not fantasy. All that I write here is, in fact, mostly true, the whole-ish truth, and very little but the truth.

IMDb. The Internet Movie Database. Search it, and you will not find me. At least, not yet. But not for want of trying on my part. In time, IMDb may catch up with me.

My other career, you see – tho I speak of it little – is as an actor, a thespian, a player, if you will, in the classic sense. Or, it was. I have trod the boards. I have brought down the house. And when the time came, Mr. DeMille, I was ready for my close-up.

Like many thespians, my beginnings were in the theatuh, mine being the rare case, however, in which I was not hampered by formal instruction in the discipline. Thrice have I broken a leg, nay, four or five times, yet while cameras were not unknown in that era, I now have no photos to document these older productions. Perhaps as a result of this essay, some will come forward. I’d like that. And while, as I recount my earliest work, you may say, “school plays,” there are those who think of them as the work of a prodigy. And when I say, “those,” yes, I mean me.

In third grade, at Lincoln Street Elementary School, I debuted in the role of a Chinese magistrate, in what I must admit was a forgettable play, since in fact I have all but forgotten it. My soliloquy lives on, perhaps, in the memories of my fellow students, were any of them eidetics. I had the lead, an auspicious start to a decade-long career, but all I really recall is that Mom made my costume, adding to her already illustrious résumé both costume designer and costume maker. It was a long, flowing green thing, reaching to my ankles and graced with red and black trim at my sleeves and collar. On front and back she traced some kind of elaborate geometric design in wide, black, permanent marker. The gown flowed generously around me, like a warm summer’s evening, which was good, since I wore it well into high school as a Halloween costume, by which time it dipped only to my knees and fit somewhat more snugly around the middle. Fortunately, my Fu Manchu mustache was applied with some kind of mascara, instead of a Sharpie.

My debut in a musical came in fifth grade. Some might have called it a choir concert, but it was television-themed, I wore a costume, and I had a solo. In truth, the solo was more of a trio, but more is always better in show biz. Still, I did get to sing on my own for a verse, if humbly from a trash can. The show was a Sesame Street pastiche, and I was one of three boys bedecked in old green carpet singing that eternal hit, “I Love Trash.” And yes, we were all in trash cans. The director was a purist. As it happens, the other two Oscars were tall and lithe, and when the curtain descended they easily popped up and emerged from their props. I on the other hand must have had the smallest of the three receptacles, since I had to wobble back and forth until I fell over and could crawl my way out. I refuse to think that the reluctance of the other singers, and even the parents, to assist me at this time of need might have been due to a certain amusement they derived from my predicament.

In sixth grade, at Bidwell Middle School, the footlights called again. This time I played the hero, one Hercules, by name. There might have been taller boys in class, but none apparently who were willing to memorize lines, and in any case, I had experience. I donned a yellow tank top and rigged my wristwatch's wide, tooled, leather wrist band – which really was quite the thing in those days and hardly as hideous as it might sound now – into a MacGyverish arm band, long before that character was ascendant, I might add. Sadly, my herculean work failed to impress the girls, but I observe that we were very young, and they were probably just shy.

One of my teachers in eighth grade had some of his students make their own movie. I was particularly attracted to this and was more involved than the others. I helped write the script, acted in the role of a news anchor, and even directed some scenes. The old 8mm camera could not capture sound, so I ended up recording a voice-over in post-production. You can imagine my anticipation before viewing the movie at year’s end, but you might also imagine my horror when I attended a second showing of the movie a year later, after my voice had changed.

I pursued other interests mostly in high school. Took a hiatus, if you will, from acting. But, when I was a senior at Red Bluff Union High School, a production was scheduled of Neil Simon’s comedic masterwork, “Barefoot in the Park.” Now, Neil envisioned the character of Mr. Munshin as not requiring an actual actor. In the script, he is only spoken of, and spoken to, by the leads as an imaginary being out of sight of the audience. In one scene, the female lead directs some lovey-dovey words to a man in the apartment hallway, who she thinks is her husband, only to find that the man is instead Mr. Munshin, an upstairs neighbor. Ah, the stuff of comedy. Some of my actor friends thought it would be funnier if at this point Mr. Munshin, in person, were to peer – perhaps even leer – hopefully through the open apartment door before the mistake is found out. My talents were sought, and with some assistance from costuming in the form of a raincoat, my silent, walk-on response to the line, “Hey, lover, start puckering your lips,” brought down the house. Both nights, if I’m honest.

Little more than a year later, I graduated from creating a role to playing a real person. Danny Day-Lewis had his Lincoln, George Scott had his Patton, and I had my Elvis. I know it’s an unusual choice, and my portrayal was limited to a single evening, but I counted it a great responsibility. My time was not lengthy on the temporary Occidental College dorm lounge stage, but playing a real person requires finesse and sensitivity, and in my case, it also required a wig, black mascara, an entirely white costume, and a large, sequined, cardboard and tin foil belt buckle. In true collegiate fashion, our spectacle – for that it surely was, as anyone who attended the 1981 Chilcott-Orr Fall Talent Show will attest – compared and contrasted “Young Elvis” – my  colleague dancing wildly to “Nothin’ but a Hound Dog” – with what they affectionately termed, “Old Elvis.” While I lip-synched to “Love Me Tender,” having just had my face sprinkled with droplets of water before entering the spotlight, three co-eds rushed the stage, screaming in delight and drying my face with their handkerchiefs. This was encouraging, but alas, they were but ringers, engaged in advance to heighten the drama.

Though I focused on other arts at Occidental, my acting nevertheless expanded into television and movie roles. In the spring of 1980, shooting began on the pilot episode of Steve Cannell’s crime-fighting comedy, “Ten Speed and Brown Shoe.” The big ending was shot on a hot, sunny day in Long Beach’s Veterans Memorial Stadium, and a marching band was required. Some Hollywood casting genius approached Occidental College, which hadn’t had a marching band in any living person’s memory, to supply one. We obliged, and the word was spread, but when the motor coach was ready to transport us on a very early Saturday morning to the location shoot, the number of true bandsmen was insufficient for even a small marching band. Emissaries were sent to the freshman dorm to roust several bleary-eyed wannabe sideliners, before they could fully comprehend what was being asked of them, and when the need for a Drum Major was identified, and a mace put in my hands, who was I to decline? I shared the field with the show’s stars, Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldblum, and our efforts succeeded. The show was picked up, as they say in the business, for an entire season. I suppose you could say ours was a singular success. I have just learned the show is now available on DVD, with the exception of the pilot. Something about rights and lawyers and money. It's more common in Hollywood than you might think. Fortunately, I viewed the episode when it originally aired, but editors deemed the marching band’s dramatic contributions to be less interesting than the car chase, and so our screen time is so brief that if you blinked, you would miss the entire band, which only appears in a shot so long that even the Drum Major, my only TV role to date, can hardly be detected. In a related aside, I have all my life been able to wiggle my ears, which is entertaining, but hardly original. However, I can also wiggle either ear independently, and for many years I was aware of no one else who could do this. But then, Jeff Goldblum did it one night on the Letterman Show, and now we are two. If I encounter Jeff some day again on set, I shall bend his ear on the subject.

And finally, motion pictures. Talkies. The Big Screen. It was 1981, fast on the heels of my TV debut, when Hollywood came a’calling. The picture was “Choices,” based on the true story of a handsome, high school senior with outstanding talents in both football and violin, but who also has significant hearing loss. Some of his friends are good people, some are not, and family dynamics pressure him to weigh his love of sports with his abilities in music. He has to make some important, uh, choices. I’ll admit, it’s not an A-movie, and it might not even be a B-movie, but surely there is some letter of the alphabet with which it may be graded. In an ironic acting stretch, I play an orchestral trumpeter. I have no lines, it’s true, and the music you hear was recorded later by a studio orchestra, but there’s no such thing as a small role, only small actors. Note the way I look up, when called. Observe how I look down when castigated. Acting, you see, is all in the eyes. By some miracle, the picture has been released on DVD, and you, too, can own a copy for a small investment. Very small. In my scene (31 minutes in, for anyone who wants to know), the kid plays assistant concert-master in a youth orchestra that his grandfather conducts. They are rehearsing Handel’s Royal Fireworks, and the trumpets tick off Grandpappy by making mistakes. This, of course, is not completely unknown in the real world, but in the movie, the kid gets so annoyed at the conductor’s behavior that he jumps up and leaves the orchestra in furious disgust. Now, I know just a little about orchestras, and never, ever – not since the first Tyrannosaurus Rex led the very first dinosorchestra – has a string player EVER left a rehearsal in anger over a conductor’s treatment of brass players. You can wish, you can dream, but that ain’t never happened, and it ain’t never gonna happen in real life, such are the social bonds between the sections of an orchestra. Anyway, another genius Hollywood casting director secured the services of the Peter Meremblum Youth Orchestra, of which I was a member at the time, and we scooted off early one Saturday en masse on bus to Simi Valley High School, which interestingly portrayed itself in this picture. However, the orchestra’s use of the word “Youth” was somewhat malleable, and a problem quickly arose. The script called for the horns to be the clammy culprits, which is not really a dramatic stretch, but one of our horn players that day was decidedly bald and not at all convincing in the role of a high schooler. So, they switched out the cue ball for us trumpets, and consequently, I’m in a few wide shots of the orchestra, and yes, I have a 2- or 3-second close-up. On a side note, the female lead was also in my scene, and it was apparently her birthday, since there was a cake for her after we wrapped for the day. Her name? Demi Moore. It was her film debut, too.

I haven’t acted in quite some time, but IMDb will probably read this and add me to their site soon. And I haven’t given up, either. I’m thinking of writing a little. And directing, of course. Isn’t that what every true actor wants?

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Premiered: “Suite Arcata” for Mixed Wind Quintet

My composition Suite Arcata received its world premiere on September 27, 2015 at Pomona College, and I now have the video to prove it! I hope youll enjoy a look and listen.

(L-R) Rachel Rudich, flute; Chisco Castillo, oboe; Carolyn Beck, bassoon;
Linda Sylva, clarinet; Ray Burkhart, trumpet.

The occasion was Pomona Colleges inaugural Chamber Music Extravaganza featuring primarily their applied music faculty. It was a lot of fun, and Suite Arcata concluded the concert. I am very, very grateful to my wonderful colleagues who joined me enthusiastically in the performance: Rachel Rudich, Chisco Castillo, Linda Sylva, and Carolyn Beck.

Suite Arcata is in three movements: I. Winter Rain, II. Coastal Fog, and III. Summer Sun. Total duration is about eleven minutes of music. Usually in my music, I don't try to tell stories. I do try to capture the essence of something or relate emotions, and sometimes that tells a story very well. I find that if I express an idea or emotion clearly to the minds and hearts of my listeners, they infuse the music with their own private meaning. Thats my goal.

What, then, are my ideas behind Suite Arcata? Much more than invoking Arcatas seasonal weather conditions! Its true that I love the northern California coast, with its winding roads, quaint towns, and scenic beaches and rock formations in rugged alternation, but in this piece, as in so many others, I let the music determine my titles. Woodwinds and, yes, even the trumpet, can perform very agile passages, so I explored some of that in the first movement, along with rhythmic asymmetry and occasional dense dissonance. The second movement was motivated by a common human emotion, but it need not be further defined, since listeners will connect to this music in their own way. And as life proceeds from its occasional tears to days of sunny, carefree, weekend fun, so Suite Arcata concludes with a whimsical smile of a third movement that I once described as having a palm trees and light breeze feel. And throughout the work I play with changing meters, instrumental solos, and colorful pairings.

Suite Arcata was commissioned by the Chamber Players of the Redwoods in Humboldt County, California. I enjoy good ties with several of the groups members, given my many years as a coach, lecturer, and performer at the Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop (held in Arcata annually since 1974), and Val Phillipsoriginal Brass Chamber Music Workshop director, esteemed retired HSU music faculty member, and Chamber Players of the Redwoods mover and shakerapproached me in 2012 with the idea of the commission.

Val is a fine horn player, chamber musician, and arts proponent. He likes to bring people and things together. The big vision type, who can manage the details, as well. And during decades of directing both brass chamber music and normal chamber music workshops, he developed a growing desire to break down the wall between them, even if just a little. Suite Arcata contributes to that effort.

This isnt a new idea, of course. Chamber music crossover works that blend brass instruments with the more usual chamber music suspects include Carlos Chávezs Soli No. 1 (oboe, clarinet, trumpet, and bassoon, 1933), Paul Hindemiths Septett fur Blasinstrumente (flute, oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, horn, and trumpet, 1948), Vincent Persichettis Serenade No. 6 (trombone, viola, and cello, 1950), Mel Powells Divertimento (flute, oboe, clarinet, trumpet, and bassoon, 1957), and Michael Cunninghams Epitaph for Dylan Thomas (brass quintet and piano, 1961). There are surely others. I didnt realize it at the time, but my own early work, Three Psalms (flute, oboe, trumpet, and bassoon, 1982), also contributes to this repertoire.

The sheet music for my Three Psalms is available at present in a purely woodwind quartet version for flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon. Suite Arcata is currently published in its original version, but I expect soon to publish it for standard woodwind quintet, as well. [Update: Suite Arcata is now available for woodwind quintet.]

Thanks for reading. Thanks for listening and viewing. If you want to explore commissioning music for your ensemble, please write me at ray@raymondburkhart.com.

Dr. Ray