Thursday, January 19, 2017

Last warning—er, notice: N.H. Philharmonic
to play my 'Kilimanjaro Suite' Sunday, 1/22

The N.H. Philharmonic rehearsing under Mark Latham on Sunday, Jan. 22.

I'm thrilled to say that this weekend, I'm not performing anywhere!

Rather, I'll be in the audience while some other very talented musicians play a concert that includes music that I composed.

It's the 'Kilimanjaro Suite' for orchestra, and the concert is Sunday, Jan. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Stockbridge Theatre, Pinkerton Academy, Derry, N.H.

There's a whole page about this concert and the music already posted, and I encourage you to check it out!

I also encourage you to attend: tickets are available at the box office or online at

And I hope you'll come not because there's music by me on the program, but mostly because the Philharmonic should be encouraged to take risks like this.

What risks? Well, agreeing to play a new work by an unknown local composer. In the rarefied world of so-called "classical" music, this is an extremely rare thing.

And yes, risky. Who is this guy who thinks he can write stuff for a bassoonist to play, plus 60 other musicians—including a second bassoon player!

Music director Mark Latham.

But music director Mark Latham and the Philharmonic musicians are living up to their mission to serve as a "living laboratory" of live concert music played by local people—and sometimes even written by local people!

And truth be told, I've been studying and preparing for this opportunity for most of my life, really.

It's just that it's not every day that a symphony orchestra comes along and asks you to dance, so to speak.

In my case, when I came back from Kilimanjaro, Mark encouraged me to create music about my journey even when I wasn't sure what it would be about.

The issue was that prior to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, I had heard and read many stories about how such an adventure is a life-changing experience.

All the time we were trekking around the mountain, I was certainly thrilled to be there. But I was still always waiting for that big lump-in-the-throat moment.

On our trek: is that a lump in my throat? Or did I swallow a rock?

The short version is that the moment never came. And for awhile I thought there was something wrong with me.

Was I too tired? Too old? Was I past my emotional expiration date? Was I no longer able to feel things?

But I later realized that perhaps Kilimanjaro was telling me something after all.

By virtue of its silence, maybe it was saying that my life didn't really need to be changed all that much.

That sounded too self-congratulatory, so I still wasn't satisfied. My life is nice, but vast improvements could be made, for my sake and for the sake of others around me. :)

Then it dawned on me—yes, like the sun rising on that summit morning—that Kilimanjaro's message to me was more general:
If my life needed changing, the mountain wasn't about to do it for me. I had to make it happen myself.
That felt right. And as soon as I realized that, the music started to take shape.

Unfortunately for Mark and the Philharmonic, it morphed from a modest musical travelogue into a full four-movement symphony all-but-in-name.

(I kept the original "Kilimanjaro Suite" title to avoid sounding too pretentious.)

To Mark's credit, he let the composing process play out, insisting that I bring all the movements to completion so the orchestra could at least run through them.

Thus we have this Sunday's premiere of the full score—the most ambitious artistic project I've undertaken since the "April Fool's" edition of the Goffstown News in 1996.

How weird to see my stuff on the same stand as music from 'The Empire Strikes Back.'

And the process of composing this work and preparing it for performance has been immensely satisfying in many ways.

For one thing, it was really rewarding to conceive of something I thought was worth saying, and then to find a way to express it.

Also, it was satisfying to draw upon all the arcane knowledge I've accumulated over the years about the orchestra, the instruments, and how a score is put together.

It's an unusual field—an archaic craft, really, not unlike glass-blowing or candle-making, except on a larger scale. So it's nice to get to make a few bottles, so to speak.

But most of all, it was gratifying to draw from the personal musical language I've developed for film scoring and use it in a concert work.

For almost 10 years, I've been improvising live musical scores to full-length silent movies, averaging about 100 screenings a year.

It's given me the time and the space to figure out some things on my own—things that I don't know if I could have discovered through a traditional teacher/student relationship.

And with the Kilimanjaro music, I can see how it's now time to make use of that language in other ways.

So now I have projects I plan to work on: scores to write, pieces to put down on paper so others can play and hear them.

My ultimate goal: an opera about the notorious Pam Smart case.

This is something I've wanted to do for some time—and for many years didn't think would ever happen. Compose new music for orchestra? I thought that train had left the station long ago, both for me and for the culture in general.

New music for a symphony orchestra that could connect with audience in the 21st century? Talk about a hopeless cause!

But though the kindness and support of so many people, I've learned that even if you've missed one train, others are likely to come after it.

And so here's an irony. After composing a whole symphony about how Mount Kilimanjaro didn't change my life, it may have done so after all.

Well, we'll find out Sunday!

P.S. It won't be announced at the concert, but go backstage afterwards to join us for a slice of Kilimanjaro-shaped cake!

No comments:

Post a Comment