Ask the Maestro

Ask the Maestro

How do you come up with the music you write? (sending you an air hug)  Asked by Mrs. Perdue’s third grade class at Guyandotte Elementary

The hardest part about writing anything, whether it be an essay at school or a piece of music, is getting started.  Therefore, it is important to be determined to write something, without worrying about how it fits into the overall plan, nor about whether you might end up using the material at all.  For instance, I always write the beginning of the piece last!  It is like going on a journey: you plan where you want to go first of all, long before you decide what time you are going to set your alarm for on the first day of travel.

What is your favorite genre of music to write and what is your favorite instrument? Asked by Mrs. Brown’s fifth grade class at Guyandotte Elementary

I love ALL genres of music and cannot imagine not having any single one of the instruments of the orchestra. They all make their own special contribution!

Why do you use a baton? Asked by Mrs. Thompson’s kindergarten class at Guyandotte Elementary

The musicians must look at their music, while “watching” the conductor out of the corner of their eye, something we refer to as using peripheral vision.  Because they are not looking at me directly, the fact that I use a white-colored baton helps them to understand my gestures more easily.

What is your favorite part of your job?  Is it conducting, playing an instrument, writing the music, or singing? Asked by Mrs. Bane’s fourth graders at Guyandotte Elementary

To be honest, singing is the least favorite part of my job!  But the part of my job that I like the most is that I get to do ALL those things you mention!  Each one of them (including singing) is rewarding in its own, special way.

 How long did it take you to write the music for Boyz in the Wood?  Asked by Ms. Patterson’s second graders at Guyandotte Elementary

There are two answers to this question.  From the time I first started writing something down to the time of having enough written to give it to the instrumentalists and singers and put on a public performance was probably about 3 months – that’s for 30 minutes of music or so, so I guess I was writing about 10 minutes of orchestral music per month.  But then, after performing the piece, I did what every good writer must do – I revised my writing, adding some things, while taking out others that did not work as I had intended.  This process of revision lasted as many as 10 years, with my learning something (and changing something) after each and every performance.  The version we played for you has remained the same since 2003.  I think I can finally say that Boyz in the Wood is finished!

 How did you come up with the idea for Boyz in the Wood? Asked by Ms. Mitchell’s First Grade Class at Guyandotte Elementary

I wanted to continue some work I had started when my own children were quite young: writing music that asked young people to both listen to music and take on some interactive role in the performance of the music.  In Boyz in the Wood, the audience role is to sing along with the Wolf’s chorus and to warn Little Red Riding Hood not to go on, because “it’s dangerous.”

The first piece I had written like this was one of my children’s favorite bedtime stories, “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.”  This story has an important characteristic – that of “repetitive action.”  Do you know what this means?  The value of repetitive action to a musician is that the composer can bring back certain musical elements to represent a certain action, (such as “Grandmama, what big EYES you have!” and then vary the musical response as the characters in the story vary their response.  My other stories with music are “Rumpelstiltzkin” and “Song of the Wolf,” which is the story of “The Three Little Pigs.”  Each of these stories has repetitive action as its basis.  Perhaps you can discuss this with your teachers and learn what action is repeated and what the purpose of each repeated action is.

How do you feel about being in front of a lot of people?  We want you to know that we really like your music! Asked by Mrs. Gibson’s Kindergarten class at Guyandotte Elementary

I’m glad you like my music!  Thank you!!  And, yes, I enjoy being in front of people and performing, very much.  I hope you could tell that from watching me perform!

What do you wear for performances? Asked by Mrs. Javorksy’s first grade class at Guyandotte Elementary

It depends on the performance.  When the orchestra plays formal concerts, we all wear formal clothing, so that our clothes do not become a topic of conversation – we want the audience to be concentrating on the music, not on what we are wearing.  On the other hand, there are many concerts that we give where our clothing can help reflect the theme of the concert, in which case we want the audience to be VERY aware of what we are wearing.  I must tell you, that I DO like to dress up!

What is it like to lead the orchestra?  Is it difficult to lead that many people? Asked by Mrs. Farley’s second grade class at Guyandotte Elementary

Leading an orchestra is not something that happens without a lot of training and experience.  Rather than wanting to be a conductor, I wanted to be the best instrumentalist I could be.  Playing you own instrument well is, I think, an important part of being able to lead others in the playing of their instruments. The second part of your question can be answered in this way: it is harder to conduct a large number of people than a smaller number.  It takes more technique to conduct an orchestra of 60 players than to lead an ensemble of, say, 6 players.


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