Comprehensive Biography

This is my response to a conventional biography. I mean, EVERY composer has their share of awards, commissions, significant performances, attendance at respected educational institutions, blah, blah, blah...

Inspired by Berlioz' Memoirs, which is peppered throughout with purposefully humorous observations and great stories, it is hoped that the brief entries below amuse and just possibly, provide insight.

This biography is very much a work in progress, so do check back from time to time.

 

 

Grade-school flutophone choir

  • Groundwork laid for alternative tuning and noise-based composition

Middle-school clarinet

  • An indifferent player, who did not bother to learn the correspondence between notes and fingering, I would just find notes that "sounded right" and would respond to the general contour of the melody. This approach guaranteed that the only time I would get promoted to 2nd clarinet was when all of the 1sts were absent.

  • Lack of music reading skill paves way for indeterminacy and graphic notation

  • Somewhere within this time frame, Smetana’s Die Moldau was used as background music for a painting show where the project for the day was a waterfall. This music reached me in a special way: There was no emotional narrative, I was moved by the music itself.

1964 – The Beatles and the British Invasion

  • Passion for music ignited

  • 1964-1968 – guitar learned primarily by ear with chord formation knowledge courtesy of Mel Bay booklets

    • Somewhere in this time frame is my only private lesson on guitar

      • The lesson: “Bar F” chords

        • To this day, I still don’t play “Bar F” chords properly, preferring the thumb over the neck approach

  • Somewhere within this time frame, I was delivering newspapers in my neighborhood and heard orchestra music in my head and quite liked it. Searching my memories, I could not track the music down and concluded that I had imagined it. It’s remarkable that such little events can have such continued resonance.

1966 – while appearing in constantly shifting, amateur line-ups, eventually settled in with Zagfield, a truly original and musically dedicated group.

  • Tom “Hoj” Hojnacki – drums, occasional recitations from Ibsen’s Pier Gynt

  • Brian “Big Guy #1” Murray – guitar (12 string made by Framus!), vocals

  • Don “Big Guy #2” Staunton – bass, keyboards

  • Tom “The Gimp” Wellin – guitar, violin

    • My nickname was “Forks”

      • Dedicated to original songs and instrumentals, we were not automatically audience-friendly, on occasion, being threatened by bodily harm.

        • Sticking to our guns, Zagfield eventually found the right people, guaranteeing a devoted following that would pack the South Bend venues.

          • Lesson learned: There is no need to actively court acceptance. Trust that deeply considered passions will communicate with those open to receive.

1970-71 – Was recruited to play guitar and sing backup for a group whose demo tape made in the early rehearsals drew the interest of RCA Records within 2 weeks

  • My idea that the group be identified primarily by a visual icon, instead of a name (I had noted that Traffic had a symbol on their album covers) was accepted, although for the purposes of radio broadcast, the name Symbol, was adopted.

    • We recorded at Chess Studios

    • We opened for Alice Cooper, so notorious at the time, that the promoters insisted that our dressing rooms be separated.

    • We opened for the Ides of March (Vehicle) and enjoyed hanging out after to the point that Jim Peterik and I played on each other’s guitars.

      • His was a Les Paul. Mine was a Guild S-100 that I still own.

    • We opened for the MC5, playing one of our best shows by lining up our hard stuff and absolutely pounding through it without a single pause.

    • We played on a bill with Gary U.S. Bonds, where we learned at the gig that we would be his back up band……!

      • It was a blast. Outside of a few brief conferences to figure out key and tempo, we just flew by the seat of our pants. He loved us. We loved him. 

        • Confidence in playing spontaneously grew exponentially that night.

 

1971 – The week after opening for Alice Cooper, I see Fantasia and am especially impressed by the music for The Rite of Spring, Stokowski-driven chop-job that it was. I had begun college at Indiana University at South Bend, but was not a music major, leaning toward art history. But, even as the animated dinosaurs beat on each other in the driving cartoon rain, I knew I had to learn how to compose concert music.

  • A related memory was working with Symbol on a song that used imitative counterpoint. It was somewhat frustrating and time consuming, exacerbated by the fact that when it came to music, I didn’t even know the meaning of the word, counterpoint. I had a gnawing sense that music notation would have really helped.

  • Sometime in the fall of 72, Symbol had a meeting to strategize the next step, which I took as an opportunity to announce that I was leaving the band in order to concentrate on formal musical training, offering to mentor a replacement and play any scheduled gigs in the interim. Unbeknownst to me, Symbol’s keyboard player, Skip Staley, had the same idea, and made the same announcement.

    • Skip would go on to receive a doctorate in music composition from the University of Michigan.

 

1972 – 1976 – Bachelor of Music Composition - Indiana University at South Bend 

 

Renaissance

 

  • At first, I could not read music in a true, functional sense. Knowledge of music theory and music history was sketchy to non-existent

    • Knowing that I knew nothing was completely liberating. Everything I heard or read was revelatory

    • I think there were 2 reasons why I was allowed into the program

      • It was a state school and I was a resident

      • My voice wasn’t too bad, somewhat chameleon-like via my attempts to emulate tone production that ranged from Paul McCartney to Sam and Dave to Robert Plant.

  • While it was a small program, the faculty at IUSB was excellent, connected as it was to the prodigious standards of the music program of Indiana University.

    • While there, a remarkable group of fellow students created a dedicated, often hilarious atmosphere of learning and experience.

      • The excellent composers, Mark Saya and Ian Krouse were there at the same time. We constantly shared our discoveries in lore and repertoire, bolstered our shared passion for uncompromising music making and often commented excitedly and witheringly at concerts well before riffing became perfected by Mystery Science Theater 3000.

    • The small size of the program created situations where you did everything:

      • Conducted

      • Sang roles in the opera productions that IUSB would put on every spring.

        • Chorus – The Barber of Seville

        • Marullo – Rigoletto

          • Painted the portrait of the tenor who sang the Duke of Mantua role, who liked it so much, he took it with him

        • Peter, the Father/Straw Broom Binder – Hansel und Gretel

 

1976-1978 – Master of Music Composition – The Eastman School of Music

 

  • I can still relive the moment I opened the acceptance letter, re-reading it several times to confirm that I had been accepted. My composition teacher at IUSB was Barton McLean, himself an Eastman graduate, who had heard through the grapevine that the Eastman composition department had already rejected 100 out of 100 applicants before Christmas. I would later learn that the composition department had only accepted 3 new graduate students that year and that 2 of them were incumbents.

  • I didn’t know how I could afford it, but knew I just had to go. A government student loan made it possible.

    • At one point during my second year, I had 4 jobs:

      • Baritone section leader for one of the many excellent church choirs that had sprung up in Rochester due to the presence of Eastman

      • Part time music teacher at a Rochester high school

      • Teaching Assistant to Joseph Schwantner

        • His landmark piece for wind ensemble, “..and the mountains rising nowhere…” was premiered that year.

      • Bass player for a lounge type cover band, whose drummer’s lack of time made every one of his fills a guessing game about where the subsequent down beat had time-traveled.

  • While my voice teacher, Yi Kwei-Sze, diagnosed me as a helden-tenor, with a potentially lucrative musical career, I shrugged that off in favor of composition.

  • Because there was no guitar major at the time, it was found that I was enough of a player (even though my music reading skills were practically non-existent) to be invited to play in all of the amazing Eastman jazz ensembles. I loved that those ensembles were on fire to play, much like a well-rehearsed rock band. No fear. Instead, a sense of this is our stage, you can’t hold me back!

  • I continued to conduct, including a program of Bach, Mahler and a new work by long time friend and excellent composer, David Heinick.

  • I won the Louis Lane Prize (best chamber work in the school year 1976-77) for the drably named “Three Movements for Percussion Quartet and Piano”.

    • Initially written as a defiant “OK, I’ll write a 12 tone piece to prove that I can do it”, I ultimately learned that syntax (ALL syntax) is an immaterial concern compared to writing something worth hearing.

 

Let me make something clear

 

I am not, in the slightest, interested in accessibility. I am obsessed with audibility.

 

  • I won The Bearns Prize, awarded by Columbia University for the lamentably named “Four Oriental Songs”, whose name I am changing.

    • When I received the award letter from Columbia, I was concerned at first because I had been bad mouthing some of the music that had been on their record series. Forgetting that I had entered their competition, I expected some sort of cease and desist letter.

 

1978-1982 – DMA (degree awarded in 1983) – Composition – The University of Texas at Austin

  • Recruited by Barton McLean, who was on the faculty

  • An intense period of time that included

    • Successes in the realm of music composition

      • BMI Award

        • It was my last year of eligibility and because I had been born on January 1st (cheating my dear parents out on that sweet tax deduction) I was eligible by 1 day.

          • Don’t feel too bad about my parent’s tax income loss that year: I am second of teeming brood of 8 kids.

      • ASCAP Award

      • Fellowship to the Tanglewood Music Festival

        • Koussevitzky Prize

      • Performances of Cumulus Nimbus

        • Saint Louis Symphony

        • Chicago Symphony

    • A riotous circle of friends whose hijinks might still be recalled in hushed horrified tones around campfires.

      • One of the best concerts I have ever been involved with was the Larry Cabbage concert, completely unsanctioned by UT, it purposefully ended in chaos, horror and violence.

    • A personal life best understood as a devastating roller coaster ride.

      • To be candid and discreet, when I began my formal education in music in 1971, I was so insulated, so locked-in-my-own-head, that I wouldn’t have been good for anybody. I just wasn’t present.

 

1982-1983 – Assistant Professor of music theory – University of Kentucky

  • Tobacco fields smell surprisingly pleasant, aromatic in the brisk, Lexington, autumn air

  • Performance/recording of Cumulus Nimbus with the Louisville Orchestra.

    • This performance/recording introduced me to Gerhardt Zimmermann, a conductor of vision, who was truly my champion, premiering a half dozen orchestra pieces, always preparing them and programming them so beautifully that everything succeeded.

      • Our friendship developed to the point that I was invited to his son’s 6th birthday. One of the funniest things that can possibly ever exist is the failure of a Birthday Clown. Mrs. Guppy, apparently highly regarded in childhood clowning circles, was ill. (Clown flu had been going around) Giving it the old clown college try, hubby, Mr. Guppy, in a maniacal, driven performance that was like a cross between the yet-to-exist Krusty and sorry-to-exist, Juggalo, was soon drenched in flop sweat to complement his (floppy) shoes. The piece de resistance, the sacrificial dance, the closer was Mr. Guppy’s doomed attempt to complete even one balloon animal that didn’t first explode suddenly and loudly, scattering whimpering children behind the furniture. Much like the aforementioned Larry Cabbage concert, the event ended in total chaos. It is a treasured memory.

 

1983-1988 - Assistant Professor of music composition - University of Arizona

    • While orchestra performances continued steadily with excellent support from William K. Sisson of Alexander Broude, Incorporated (later, with Sunburst Music) a return of sorts in making popular music/songs facilitated with friendship and collaboration with the director of the UofA recording studio, Wiley Ross.

      • I still grill steaks the way Wiley showed me. They never disappoint.

 

1988 -present - Assistant, then Associate Professor of composition and theory - Southern Methodist University

    • Around 2014, I became the Chair of the composition department, more officially, a co-chair of the Composition/Theory Department.

    • While I will officially retire at the end of the 2019/2020 school year, I am on a year long research leave offered as an incentive to retirement.

 

Doubting Scholars

    • Solo

    • Having people sit in

    • 1st incarnation of Doubting Scholars

    • The Coffee Haus

    • 2nd incarnation of Doubting Scholars

      • Holidays

        • The Ice Weasels

      • Invited to the Dallas Irish Festival

      • We make Wynton Marsalis cry

 

Gouge

 

The Quintet for the End of Time

 

Needfire

 

The Banff Centre

    • 2010 residency

    • 2017 residency