Bringing People Together

The “generation gap” exists.

Yes, it exists.

Younger people are constantly screaming to older people: “You just do not understand!” Older people are constantly saying to younger people: “When I was your age …” And because of this, the rift between the age groups grows ever deeper and wider.  If only, for just a moment, each person would take a moment to acknowledge the things they have in common with those older and younger than themselves.

And perhaps the experience that over 140 band members people shared yesterday evening would happen more often. Although, there is a story that goes with this – a story that spans over two years that puts this together. Truly, it is a gem story.

It started one Tuesday afternoon after Theory IV class with Dr. Kuss to where I approached him with a draft of a piece that I attempted to write in high school. I happened to find it in my basement at my house. I wrote this piece for the standard wind ensemble (concert band). I asked Dr. Kuss about the possibility of looking at this and seeing if it was worth revising and recreating so that it could actually be a piece that would be ready to be played by a conservatory or professional wind ensemble.

Fast forward to a week later and of course, he agreed. I was surprised because normally, most people would not give anyone the time of day with projects like these. He said after class: “Yes, I would be interested in doing an independent study of some sort with you working on this.”

But it was what he then said that made me laugh. He said:

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This is just awful! The writing is horrendous and the worst I have ever seen. However, I think it has potential for some catchy, juicy lines.

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Now mind everyone, I knew that I was in high school so of course I did not know anything about anything! So the minute that I heard Dr. Kuss say that to me was the minute I knew that I was going to learn from the right person.

So, we then figured out a time and day during the semester where we would meet, and treat it as an independent study. We would generate ideas and I would begin rewriting lines, parts, etc. He would look things over and offer interesting suggestions, and most importantly, he would be very critical (which is something most people have trouble with).

During our independent story, Dr. Kuss would teach me how to write for instruments. He taught me how to communicate with other musicians to be critical of how I rewrite and structure parts. He taught me “trade secrets” that no one knows about. Basically he taught me how to be practical, not theoretical. And I guess it stems from the realization that most college music composition majors take classes stemming from “dig deep to your soul” and “embrace the beauty” or, in Dr. Kuss’ words: “Useless garbage that teaches you absolutely nothing except for hoping that in doing yoga, you discover your abilities to write music about the supernatural.”

And, after talking to a few music composition majors, conservatory graduates, it was amazing how right Dr. Kuss was! He even taught me how to part out scores the right way, and prepare scores.

Anyway, there is so much that goes into writing a piece of music for an ensemble only to have an ensemble play it for 11-minutes at most (that is how long my piece eventually came out to be). It is almost like teaching and I know teachers can relate to that, because it takes teachers hours to write formal lesson plans for their formal observation that lasts about 20-30 minutes at the max – only!

Anyway, over the course of the semester and semester after, it was clear that Dr. Kuss was very hard on me because he expected the piece to sound good, and that he was using his life experience to teach me how to be better than I thought I was. It makes me feel validated that he was critical of everything I was doing. It made me validate the fact that I realized that he really cared about me. He cared that I had the product that I wanted. And I knew that he has written for the highest-of-the-highest in the industry, so everything he was was for a purpose.

Fast forward to a year later, and the piece was written.

Now, it was a matter of seeing what ensemble wanted to perform it. Most conservatory and college bands had extensive schedules, so I anticipated it would be difficult to find a band that was willing to premiere it. In fact, most times than not, new music is tough to be premiered. Especially when it was written by a college senior music major. Who would want to spend time on something like this? Although, I knew was not impossible and tried tried to give credit to many groups that do premiere new music.

Now, enter Wesley Broadnax.

After submitting a consideration to different universities, Dr. Broadnax remembered me because of a clinic I attended where he presented. After a request to add on Facebook, he said he was interested. I was intrigued because it really depended on the scope of what I actually wrote.

So I sent him copies of my piece for him to look over. It was then where he told me that he wanted to premiere it and thought it was “something worth working on.” So, I immediately told Dr. Kuss and little did I know, he worked with Dr. Broadnax on a project years ago. He filled me in on how great the Drexel University ensemble was and that “Dr. Broadnax gets those kids to play and do what he wants them to do.” I knew this was a great opportunity to work with him and a high-caliber ensemble.

Over the course of the next year, Dr. Broadnax and I would go back-and-forth working on revisions to parts and the score and I kept him updated of changes. On the other side, Dr. Kuss and I were working on the finishing touches on actually parting out the score.

I am still amazed that Dr. Kuss can part out an entire score in less than six hours and it is literally PERFECT. It took me over 4 months to do. I guess it is because I am new to this whole thing and I am learning. Although, it was what he said to me that made me the happiest person alive:

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Wow. You can part out a score. You can do it.

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In other words, he told me that I had what it takes. This was so incredible coming from someone like him that told me previously that what I had on paper was “god awful.” Turns out that I came full circle in my abilities to take what he has taught me and made it work. I still can’t believe it.

And of course he suggested that I can do side work parting out scores for people and I told him I would do it, but he told me that it was “bitch work” (which I thought was true – considering I went through the process).

Anyway, Dr. Broadnax kept me updated on how the ensemble was doing with the rehearsing of my piece. He had questions, and I had answers for him. Now at this point, it was all Dr. Broadnax. I wrote the piece. He now had the job of preparing it for a premiere performance.

Fast forward to the end of the year, and I now had the chance to plan logistics for the premiere of the performance. Where would I stay for the weekend? How would I receive travel accommodations? How would I get there? Those were easy to plan, and thanks to the university music department: My expenses were paid for.

I was so excited that I was now going to Philadelphia. This whole product was finally happening!!

Now, enter Istvan.

While I was waiting a semester for the premiere of the piece, I wanted to take a private lesson with Istvan. A teacher at Neighborhood Music School and a few other conservatories, we met and developed a friendship and teacher-student friendship. He looked at my piece and noticed some critical things that made me reconsider key things in my piece.

So, we spent the semester working to repair those. Now, mind you, it was Istvan that made the best saying regardless of changes he helped me make to my piece. He said:

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Consider a piece of music like a newborn baby. When the newborn baby is all grown up (in this case, when the piece has been written), it is ready to spread its wings and fly away. There is nothing you can do other than let it grow (in this case, the ensemble recreates it).

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At the end of the semester, I was confident that Istvan had been the outsider eyes-and-ears needed to prepare me with a solid product that, in Dr. Kuss’ words would “save at least a minute of rehearsal time.”

And so … the realization happened. Such a very simple thing as writing a piece of music was not really simple after all. Yet, I am outraged by the 20 and 30 people writing music on the radio. How is that true music? I wrote a piece for over 15 instruments all by myself. How come people like me are not given equal credit.

Anyway (before I start ranting), now we can fast forward to this past weekend.

Friday morning came and we landed in Philadelphia around 11 AM. Our hotel was not ready, so we decided to walk around a little bit and peruse the area. Aside from the homeless on the street in the slums which was rather depressing, we saw some incredible scenery.

Dr. Broadnax met us at our hotel around 5:30 PM. We enjoyed a very nice meal at a small Hibachi place in Downtown Philadelphia. We then saw the Drexel Symphony Orchestra on campus perform. What a show!

Saturday morning came and I got lost taking the Subway. This was an interesting experience in itself because I felt out of place asking random people where to go. It seemed like they expected me to know what line to wait in and what route to take. All-in-all, I figured it out and ended up finding my way to the rehearsal room. I think that if I were to live in the city, I would know how to navigate the subway. I did learn though and I had to step back a little bit and appreciate the culture that is different than where I live in Connecticut.

As I got in the room, I could hear my piece being rehearsed. I am so glad that I was able to see how the band was workshopping this piece. I almost thought, for a second, it was Eric Sessler’s piece to which that is how great it sounded. So, I listened and offered very minimal remarks because it was now in the hands of the musicians to recreate the piece. Then, I stayed to listen to Dr. Sessler’s piece get rehearsed shortly afterwards.

Dr. Broadnax and I then went for a quick lunch to the Shake Shack. Afterwards, I got to explore the huge Macy’s store, the LOVE Park and a park called Dilworth. It was truly magical, because they had so many lighted decorations and it just looked so beautiful. I went to the Reading Market to pick up a root beer float, and then Dr. Broadnax and I grabbed  dinner at a place called Bai Wei.

And let me tell you, we had an experience.

First off, what business puts no notice or word-of-mouth that they only take cash not credit card? While the food was good, we were not happy.

Anyway, we finished perusing downtown Philadelphia after and then I went to bed because I was tired.

Sunday came, and we waited for my parents to get to the hotel after driving for a couple of hours. I then got them settled in and then we went out for Italian food at a place called Magginos. It was very good.

Then, I was able to meet up with Dr. Sessler at Starbucks and we had a conversation about a lot of things. I still am in shock because anyone who plays concert band music or has studied it knows how prolific he is. Shortly after, we went to the Mandell Theater for the final dress rehearsal.

The concert started at 7 PM sharp. Dr. Broadnax opened the concert by explaining that ensemble members would rotate parts which resulted in set changes every song. It all seemed simple enough, and frankly it really was easy to coordinate and execute. It was a great system. But I wondered how would the members of the ensemble react and respond to each other?

The answer would not be long in coming.

People slowly trickled into the performance hall for the concert. The hall was thick with apprehension and quiet nervousness. Of course, it would be because this is a huge concert having two original pieces of music being played. The band took their usual seats but left one or two open seats between each other. Then other members filled in the empty seats.  The result: A totally mixed group with a common thread in each section – their instrument. Suddenly, the feeling in the room started to change. There was a soft chatter at first as pieces were being played, and within minutes, the soft chatter turned into “full-blown awe.” I noticed smiles and laughter also started to float across the hall. And when the first note of my piece was played, it was clear this concert be not only a success but a life-changing one for the ensemble, myself and all other parties involved.

While the original intent of my piece was to provide the opportunity to share my music as a college graduate, the outcome went far beyond that. Low-and-behold, I noticed a lot of smiles, laughter, and stories shared. Stories that started out as: “This piece is beautiful” and concluded with: “This section of the piece brought back childhood memories and I was moved to record it. The hope from all parties at the end of the day was the same – that they would do this again in the near future.

It is amazing, yet, how people who were not so sure how this would work realized they had more in common then ever imagined. Music, for me and others, has been and will always be a full day and night experience. It is not about the final product (meaning: What everyone sees) like most people believe because it is about everything that takes place from the two years before the product, to 3 hours after the product (product, as in: Going to practice, going to play a song or show). It is the people who support you, the people who watch you, the people who know you, and it is all the “in-between” stuff too: The laughter, the cheering, the conversations, the trips down memory lane, and the glue that makes us all part of the same whole.

And as I sit and reflect on this weekend, by writing this rather longer post while waiting for a 2-hour delayed train to come, Dr. Broadnax came to the train station, and we had that “closure” (yes teachers, its important).

Music. It brings people together for all sorts of reasons. It has brought Dr. Kuss, Istvan, Dr. Broadnax, Dr. Sessler, and me together. On Sunday, December 8, 2018 at Mandell Theater at Drexel University, it brought an ensemble together that through the vehicle of music, bridged this generation gap which was the focus of this post.

I owe my success to the people who came before me: my teachers Dr. Broadnax, Istvan, and most importantly, Dr. Kuss – who would have never even given me the chance to have something like this happen if I had not come up to him that day after Theory IV class. Although, it really would not have happened if I never found that piece from high school that was “just awful” (I am still laughing about it to this day).

This project was one of many that allowed me to be even more than what I thought I was. This project helped me realize that. My professors (really, they are teachers) supported me in my realization of that and helped shape me to be that.

And because of this, I AM more than what I thought I was.

It reinforces my own belief – one that Mitch Albom stated so eloquently in his book “Five People You Meet In Heaven” that I read a while back:

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The secret of heaven: That each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.

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Thank you for this opportunity in my life like what I experienced this weekend. You guys will always have a special place in my heart forever and always. I am looking forward to more things like this to come.

I love you all.

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