In 2012, I did a few projects with Tia Wortham, a bassoonist in the U.S. Navy Band, a soprano and a dear friend. One of those projects was an early version of one my own compositions with text by T.S. Eliot. I later had to change that text–which was adapted from his poem “Little Gidding.” The estate of T.S. Eliot did not want his poems set to music. “But!” I replied, “what about the Broadway musical Cats?” Haha. No…I didn’t actually bring that up to the estate. I wasn’t going to earn billions of dollars on my little composition like Andrew Lloyd Weber did with Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. Instead, I re-texted the music. But I do still have a recording of the Eliot version of my piece, from when I presented a clinic at the Levine School of Music summer string camp in 2012. The pianist is John Healey.
I also performed a recital with Tia at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Arlington, Virginia. In that recital, we performed Henry Purcell’s “To Arms” from the music he composed for Thomas Shadwell’s play, The Libertine. Here are some brief excerpts from that performance–brief, because I tried to edit out my bad notes! It’s hard to play note-perfect on the natural baroque trumpet. I enjoyed doing a careful “walk on” at the beginning, but I think this could be even more dramatic in my body language (less careful) if I tried this in the future.
Ulysses James, leader of the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association
In 2012, I volunteered to play Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 for a charitable event at the Kennedy Center. The Beethoven Found organization was sponsoring a concert to benefit wounded warriors. I felt great about the music, the venue and the reasons for doing this concert. Ulysses (“Ul”) James was the conductor. He was also the conductor for the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association, an amateur group in the area.
Unfortunately, the musicians that I had to work with were not great. In fact I remember one of the musicians actually being silly during the rehearsal and even a bit during the concert. It was a little humiliating to present one of trumpeters’ holiest of pieces with this going on.
Ul apologized afterwards and asked if he could make it up to me. A light dawned on my to take advantage of this situation. I asked him if he would program a solo for me to play with his group. And–I took a leap of faith here–I asked him if I could compose it. He agreed.
And that was how I started working on a three-movement solo piece for trumpet and orchestra that I titled Night Passages. I was grateful for this urgent opportunity to grow as a composer.
If there was a lesson to learn and share with this experience, it is that all kinds of gigs are good for us. Even, sometimes, the bad ones.