It’s Happening…

In Search of a Beer Mug was first a short story by Bill Melvin, a friend of my grandfather’s and lifelong storyteller. Throughout his long and interesting life, he was middle school teacher, Peace Corps basketball coach (in Sierra Leone), traveller, and amateur writer. Most of my interactions with him were as a young child travelling with my family through California–I remember sitting in the car with him for hours, listening to him recount his days in the Peace Corps and elsewhere.

“In Search of A Beer Mug” is a semi-fictitious story following Bill and some of his college buddies, my grandfather included (a Wisconsin-born farmer’s son–true story). The story is a different sort of ‘rite of Spring’–-the Wartburg College tradition of Outfly–a day on which all students reign free as campus is shut down for the first nice day of the spring.  The tradition remains yet today, and is an important part of the college’s lore.

On this particular Outfly, Bill’s group of merry students took to the countryside, armed with wine, kegs, and beer mugs. Tragedy grips the end of the tale, however, and my work intends to set off where Bill’s story stopped. You’ll hear the youthful joy (a melody set up after the introduction), and the biting tragedy, but most of my work sets out to reconcile the boys’ reaction to the tragedy with acceptance and recovery, and the eventual return to youthful energy at the end of the piece.

The piece was premiered in 2016 by the Donald Sinta Quartet, and was written for their composition competition. It is performed today by students of the DSQ’s soprano player, Dan Graser. Particular thanks to Andrew, Darwin, Zach, and George, who mercilessly attacked the piece, and were absolute delights to work with.

“The first week of April in the Midwest was still muffled in the fleeting chill of a winter that seemed reluctant to depart. The waters that closed over the beer mug were still cold from the remnants of recently melting ice. The fresh spring sun, however, was already calling to the leaves that would soon appear on the nearby trees. In the meantime, the sons of men were calling for beer.”

a patchwork dream was written for Julia Bovee, who is performing it today with pianist Lonnie Ostrander. The work is in ternary form–the first theme presents a floating euphonium line played over an energetic and unrelenting piano riff, and the second theme is an art-song parody that quickly degenerates into crashing, dissonant piano noises. A quick jaunt through one more dreamscape returns us to the first theme, which is fragmented with pointillistic interjections in both parts.

The work was premiered a few weeks ago by Julia and Lonnie at the fourth annual GVSU Octubafest.

Devastate is an experimental short film by Cate Tremblay, a film and video student at Grand Valley State. The five minute work addresses the intersections of nature and human society and juxtaposes West Michigan’s environments with images of natural catastrophes and urban landscapes.

The film score starkly juxtaposes the two parts of the film (presented in color and grayscale, respectively), and I extend my gratitude to Bailey Groendyke, Gabriel Ellis, and Lukas Schroeder, who recorded percussion, trumpet, and tuba parts quickly and effectively.

Three Pictures for Tuba and Marimba was written with tonight’s performers in mind. Lukas and Makenzie have been long-time collaborators in jazz combos, wind bands, and our rock band, The Lake Effects, and we agreed that it would be fun to tackle a new genre. The piece was conceptualized during a stay in Missouri for a music conference and festival, where I found myself with ample free time in a new and interesting environment.

The first movement, “Between a church and a highway in the foothills of the Missouri River” builds around a couple of riffs that hover between parallel major and minor keys–a sort of suspended modality that becomes clarified by the melodies. The movement features some programmatic elements–high clustered chords and multiphonics represent cars whizzing past, and the melodies alternate between the serene and the frantic.

The second movement, “Saying ‘I Love You,’ and then vomiting it drunkenly in an alley downtown,” is written in a loose binary form (A A’) that juxtaposes aggressively contrasting textures and dynamics. One persistent melody is treated and variated throughout the entire movement.

The third movement, “Winston the dog chases monsters through a castle in San Jose,” was written about the dog of the family we stayed with in Missouri. While asleep, he (Winston) has a habit of aggressively kicking his feet, in a way that suggests that he is chasing something more frightening than rabbits. The music captures the distractible nature of dogs (and 20-something Millennials) by moving through several abrupt changes. The chase begins, and then stops, and then begins again, and then… “OH, a squirrel!!!!!”

Waiting for Niko is the ensemble that formed to perform the music that I composed as my senior Bachelor of Arts project. The project encompasses every aspect of realizing this music, from composition to rehearsal to performance. We will also be recording these tracks in a studio setting later in the semester, and they will become available for download.

“Chase it Anyway” is a song written by the late Patrick Carroll, who was an active performer and audio engineer in West Michigan and Traverse City. Pat’s positive impact on fellow musicians is undeniable–from his work with Earthworks Music, the music that he left behind, and the testimonies of his many friends, collaborators, and supporters. As Earthworks puts it, Pat left a legacy of “loving without reservation, courageously facing challenges without complaint, and appreciating the beauty of the present moment.” “Chase it Anyway” was released shortly before his death on the album Glow in the Dark, on which he was joined by many friends and past collaborators.

“Brothrrs” was written to honor the friends and family at Grand Valley that influenced first steps into the world of New Music. It consists of two parts–first slow, then fast. It is the only piece written for this project without singing.

“On the Changing Repertory of Birdsong” is a short and frantic cry for environmental health, in which a frantic piano line becomes overtaken by profanity-ridden lyrics, which are then overcome by one very, very, angry bird. The charging music pauses, and then resumes with a warped chorale in the strings and crashing chord clusters in the piano.

“Sailing for a Round Earth” is a nod to the folk-music that is a major influence on my writing–solo guitar and voice are soon joined by the full ensemble in an instrumental, mixed-meter chorus. The rest of the piece is characterized by sharply juxtaposing textures, incorporating elements of the previous three compositions. This song and Pat Carroll’s serve as frames to the set, as they are both performed on open-tuned guitars in D major, and this song incorporates the idioms from Pat’s song most heavily.

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