A seemingly random day to celebrate the Earth revolving around the sun is a great opportunity to slow down and take time to remember events in the last year that shape the people we are becoming.
The year started out leading a “J-Term” project at the high school in which I teach. The project was to teach the kids “IMPROVESTRA” and it was a wild success. I’m not used to having to teach people how to improvise so, it was a huge learning curve for myself. The kids rose to the challenge and even took turns leading the group in full scale improvisations. This has got me thinking a lot about writing some sort of book or set of videos about how to improvise and grasp the concept of improvising.
I also got asked to help conduct a small triangle choir (the instrument, not the shape) in a Marcos Balter composition at the Ordway. The SPCO has been good about commissioning new music and Marcos is a fabulous composer from New York. He wrote a programatic piece about the life of the God Pan, and had Claire Chase playing every flute imaginable; surrounding her throughout the venue were little choirs of instrument groups: ocarinas, triangles, singing water glasses, etc. This was a great experience for me to be apart of such a beautiful piece of music with some incredible professionals. Maybe one day I will be flying all over and hearing my music played by different ensembles.
Lastly, I’ve included a video of my arrangement of “Precious Lord” for Martin Luther King’s Birthday:
This was my favorite month of the year, which is not often how I feel about February in Minneapolis, but after working for two years plus to finally finish my bassoon concerto, my year couldn’t get much sweeter. I have a lot to learn about composition and the expression that comes with writing music unhindered by lack of knowledge, but looking back on this performance is something I can hold on to for a little while as a great accomplishment that will push me towards more and better writing.
Here is the program:
Here is a link to the video if you’d like to listen:
In March, my girlfriend Christine and I went on a trip out to Denver and met up with an old friend, Shanna. Traveling with a partner is a sure fire way to know if you are meant to be together long term and we clicked perfectly.
I also started a new residency with IMPROVESTRA at Surly Brewing Company every second Monday of the month, to replace the once great Potted Meet Mondays. This only lasted a year, but it was good and taught us a lot.
There was a second and final performance of the concerto but I began taking on other projects finally. I wrote an all female choir arrangement to accompany Elliott Blaufuss’ song “Nothin’ Left To Do But Love” but it never got recorded. Here is the original song:
April was not a very exciting time but I did a lot of writing and I began a summer long expedition of lowering my handicap in golf. I was shooting around the low 90’s in the beginning of the summer and my goal was to break 80. This is just a beautiful twilight hour on the 18th hole of Columbia Golf Course.
May was uneventful as well but filled with different kinds of memories. I started putting all of my scores on Youtube as a way of promoting my music.
The biggest change was my first year of teaching at a high school was over. The seniors graduated and I was forced to say goodbye to some students that I had become very close with and that I admired very much. We had our final concert with the orchestra where we played the second movement of Prokofiev’s 5th symphony; this is still one of my favorite pieces of music.
Dan Zamzow also left our house and me as a roommate. Dan and I lived together for about 3 years and still is one of my best friends. He has a way of thinking outside of the box and getting me to consider different perspectives about any situation. I went back and looked at all my Facebook memories with Dan and there are a lot: we did a Tedx talk, we have played probably 30 gigs, we’ve watched football, we went to Toronto, we’ve done podcasts, we’ve been on the radio, we’ve done stage plays, and the list goes on. This is probably my favorite memory:
Lastly, I traveled to Palm Springs and got to watch my cousin Liz Dinapoli marry the man of her dreams: Josh Rose. I was reunited with Gina and Emerson and had some good realizations about my life. If I want more freedom in my life, I will have to make a little more money; If I truly desire that kind of freedom, I should have a higher education so that more teaching jobs are applicable to me. My newest life calling has been made clear: I want to teach music composition at a University level and continue to write for better and better orchestras.
At some point this month, I joined my buddy’s brewery team and started supporting my golf habit with a little hard work. I became a beertender at Headflyer Brewery.
June I golfed a lot and enjoyed my first real month of freedom from work. Both my church gig and my teaching gig pay me year round but I get the summers off. So, life was really good.
That month as bigger for more reasons though. This month Scott Bergmann and I released an album that we had been working on for about two years: Dreamcatcher. This album was the culmination of so many people’s hard work. I am more proud of this album than almost any other project, excluding of course my own concert works. My favorite track is probably “Leafboat” but a lot of people tell me “Dreamcatcher” is their favorite.
The month started off by IMPROVESTRA going up to Door County Brewing Company and playing the opening of their new brewery and spending some time on the “beach”.
July was full of trips and fun. Christine and I went to Chicago for the fourth of July to visit some of her family and then we went to Northern California to visit some of my family. We stayed in a family’s home in Gualala on the coast of California with my Dad, Stepmom and Brothers. We went into Santa Cruz and spent more time with Emerson and I got to show Christine an old place I used to eat breakfast, “Paula’s”. The cook and owner recognized me after 11 years and we sat and ate with my uncle Rob.
This month, things started to wind down and become a little more normal. I finally hit my goal in golf of breaking 80. In fact I broke it 3 times but the last time was early in August with a low of 78.
Also this month, Sarah Koster got married to the love of her life, Steve Wilk. It was a great time at a really cool venue and it was the first marriage that Christine and I attended together, which had us talking of course. Michael Holloway and Mickey Mangan, two of my oldest and best friends came to visit for the wedding and we shared it all together.
September brought even more regularity as I began my second year as a high school teacher of music.
Brian Just and I collaborated on some of his songs for his album and they were released with a huge show at the Turf Club in Minneapolis on the ninth. IMPROVESTRA got to play a couple of sets before Brian and then opened his set with an all acoustic performance of one of his songs with my arrangement.
This was a night to remember. I felt an extreme amount of love coming from every player and audience member at that show. Nights like these leave me very happy to do what I do.
This was a cool month for me. I was treated by Christine to a lovely birthday at a pizza farm, some lovely food at Travail and some quality time with good friends trying to get out of an escape room full of riddles.
I also took some initiative and started my own website full of my compositions and some educational videos in music. I think I’m getting closer to making some of these improvisational education videos.
There was, of course, some halloween fun to be had as a squirrel.
November was filled with Thanksgiving visits from my cousin Brandon and his family and trips to Iowa to visit his twin sister Brooke, as well as more IMPROVESTRA gigs.
One of my favorite memories from this month was visiting Andrew Thoreen’s cabin in Ponsford, MN where I originally went for six weeks to write my Bassoon concerto. This was my first trip back there and I was accompanied by Andrew himself. This was a time of great writing and reflection on what is important in my life. A time when everything is quiet, possibly more quiet then I would like.
But the biggest part of this month was my application to a school for a Master’s in composition. After months of talking with some professors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (currently ranked the third best performing arts school in the world), I decided this was the only place I was going to try and attend. We will see what the future holds and if there will be more applications next year.
December started off in a scary way. My dog Spaghetti got into something he shouldn’t have and began shaking and seizing. He was treated quickly but the vet left me with a huge bill. Thankfully, my neighborhood of friends and family pitched in and through crowd funding donations of about $10 a piece, the bill was paid off in a couple of days. I am beyond grateful for the friends and community I have here and around the world.
On a more positive note, Josh Misner and I completed the final mix of a piece I wrote for string orchestra, “Contained”. Josh played most of the string parts with a little help from Eric Solberg, Cory Grossman, Erica Burton and company. Josh used this piece to show off his new studio and recording abilities. I am proud to say that this piece steps in a new direction for me and was a leap of faith. It came together very nicely but regardless, I feel a new type of expression with this music. I hope you all can enjoy the complexity of emotion in this piece.
My alma mater, McNally Smith College of Music closed it’s doors this month as well. This is not a huge shock to anyone but a devastating blow to the Minneapolis/St. Paul musical community none the less. The school treated the students and the faculty unfairly in this situation. I am not excited to see how the musical community evolves from here.
Finally, I capped off the year by traveling to Scotland to visit the school I applied to earlier this year. I met up with my old roommate and friend, Paul Jennings and met a lot of folk that Paul considers family. I got to talk to some professors from the school in person and they seem very excited by my music and what I could bring to the school.
This year has been maybe a little more mundane than previous years in terms of output and ingenuity but I have made some great connections. I’ve lost some friends and learned more about myself than maybe every before. Growth and a strong value system is very important to me as well as setting strong and specific boundaries for myself. If I have one wish, it would be that more people take an active role in the music around them. My final thoughts are this:
I write music because I love to and I believe in it’s power to move people. However, people seem to be complacent about music recently, and it’s my belief that because of the incredible over-saturation of music in our everyday life, it doesn’t seem to hold as much weight as it once did. For me, music is special when I know the person who created it. There is a lot of cool music on the radio and throughout the world, but if someone I know created something special to them and it has merit, I get an incredible feeling from knowing I can call or text that person and ask them about specific parts. I know that makes their day and it certainly makes my day when it’s done to me. You cannot compliment me more than listening to the music I create and talking with me about it or using it during an emotional part of your life. Please keep this in mind if you have musicians in your life.
Thank you for reading.