Composing has always been a part of me, even from my earliest days, but my youthful voice was one of avoidance: I'd compose two notes that sounded OK. . .I'd add a third and realize it sounded like Stravinsky. . .I'd retreat, try a different note. . .Then it sounded like Hindemith. . .retreat again, add more notes. . .That was the process. I once played a 'finished product' created like this for a friend of mine who called it "pleasant"â€”the kiss of death! I finally decided to pay homage to the masters rather than avoid them. If you hear a little Mozart, a little John Williams, a little Gershwin in my music, I'm happy because that's just what I intend.
After I began playing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra ”one of the world's best" I knew I could stick my neck out a bit more. I had been arranging and composing for years, but sporadically. Then Ronald Feldman (who I'd actually known since Red Fox Music Camp in 1965) joined the BSO he was only 19 years old. His youth, his ambition, his competitiveness all struck a chord with me, and he became a great friend and respected colleague. We were very much alike, and our careers intertwined: when I decided to create and conduct the Boston Radio Orchestra, Ronald Feldman was my cello soloist. When Ronald pursued conducting in earnest, I was his bass soloist! When he became assistant conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, he asked me to write an overture.
"Finally, a piece of music had a reason to exist."
I leapt at the opportunity, and Freefall was born. Like most of my compositions, it's light and airy, but there's always a 'moment': one of my favorite teachers at New England Conservatory of Music, Dr. Francis Judd Cooke, used to call those moments 'purple patches.' I understand them as points of transcendence, the true heart of the piece and that's what hopefully gives my music an afterlife.
"Composing is a rational process leading up to the point where reason and words fail and all that remains is the phrase and the feeling."
I suppose every composer works differently. Some have music running through them all the time, and it just must be set down. I work differently. I need an occasion, a reason for the music to come into being. When that happens, my creativity takes over. I imagine the audience sitting in the dimly lit hall, the stage, the musicians. . .What do they want to play? What does the audience want to hear? How can I say what I need to say? Only then does the composition emerge. Early on, I tried to rewrite, to refine the obviously flawed music composed in this way. I only succeeded in removing the good humor which has become my trademark people now expect and enjoy that in my music.
When I'm successful, my compositions have a grace within them that allows listeners to be taken out of their everyday frames of reference. I do want my music to transport the listener. But lightly, gently.
"My music is a voice I've spent a lifetime acquiring - it's tied to who I am."
When people at The Masterworks Chorale heard Freefall, they commissioned me to do a celebratory piece for chorus and orchestra, which I based on the work of Walt Whitman it's called Prophecy and Joy. These two experiences were so successful, I began to branch out. Trumpeter Tim Morrison asked for a concerto - John Williams premiered the resulting trumpet concerto as conductor with the Boston Pops Orchestra, and it was well received.
Since then, I've composed popular songs as well as four musicals. A recent composition for solo trombone and concert band was performed by BSO principal trombonist Ronald Barron, and won top prize in the British Trombone Society's composer competition. I've composed many solo and ensemble pieces for BSO bass trombonist Douglas Yeo, with whom I've collaborated by composing Triptych for his recent CD Proclamation. And I've had a piece for actor and orchestra 'Suite Dreams' performed by numerous orchestras including the Boston Symphony with Keith Lockhart conducting, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, the San Antonio Symphony, and the New World Symphony with Richard Hoenich conducting.