Posts tagged #grandstreetband

Into the Universe with Composer Anthony Barfield

By Alyssa Pry

Composer Anthony Barfield has his head in the stars.

“We all come from the same place, we’re all one - the question is, where do we come from?” he mused about his piece Red Sky, one of two pieces the MMC will be performing at Modern Wind Symphony on Sunday, March 19th.

Both Red Sky and North Star draw from Barfield’s fascination with what exists both around and above us.

“When I got into music and started traveling, I started seeing there were different religions and everyone believed that was their truth. I sort of had a big question mark in my life for, what is spiritualism to me? Where do we come from?” Barfield said. “That big question mark put me on a quest to find what the best meaning was for me. So by studying that, I became fascinated by the creation of us.”  

Aside from this deep exploration and introspection, Barfield finds himself firmly planted in this world as both an accomplished musician and talented composer. As a child growing up in Mississippi, it was a music teacher who pulled him aside after recognizing his talents.

“I always knew I could hear things a certain way. It was just sort of a gift,” he said. “So one day they called me in and said, Anthony, what is this note right here? And I told them, and they said, ‘Well you have what’s called perfect pitch.’ So that was cool to define.”  

His fascination and talent for music lead him to Juilliard, where he began studying trombone performance. But once he was there, he decided to focus on composition instead, a change he says happened organically.

“When you’re in a place like Juilliard, I never thought about it as, ‘Ok, it’s a really difficult school, I’m going to get through it and then quit [playing],’” he said. “It was a situation of being in the moment, living in the moment, soaking up as much as I could, regardless if it was trombone or composition, just as much art as I could, and running with it.”

For Barfield, this attitude has seeped into the way he approaches composition.

“I consider myself to be a creator,” he said. “I consider myself to be an emotional composer. So the organic part of it is that I try to make sure I’m attached to the piece emotionally.”

Grand Street Community Band will be performing Red Sky with trombone soloist Jon Whitaker, Professor of Trombone at the University of Alabama. The piece is based on the concept of the Big Bang Theory, and Barfield explained his process for how he wrapped his head around such a vast idea.

“I tried to get into the true feelings - the piece is about the creation of life as we know it,” he said. “So to get into it, I did a lot of meditation to steal the sense of creation. And then from there, I write down aural notes - [for example] the word ‘bang’ - something that will spark an idea. Then I come up with the chord structures and the melody comes from the chords.”

“That’s the most important thing for me - making sure I can stay true to who I am with my music.”

Barfield drew on similar inspiration when composing North Star, which Brooklyn Wind Symphony will be performing with soloists Joe Alessi, the principal trombonist with the New York Philharmonic, and Chris Coletti, the principal trumpeter with Canadian Brass.  The piece is based on the journey through the Underground Railroad and the way African Americans used the night sky to guide them to freedom.

“African Americans, because they could not read, would learn the patterns of the North Star and use those patterns in the sky from the Big Dipper as a way to follow the path,” he said. “They travelled at night and they basically used nature and the universe to help them escape.”

Barfield said North Star holds another, more current, political message, and says it was the first piece where he made a conscious choice to make a political statement with his music.

“It’s a time where there is a lot of police brutality going on, and we need a modern underground railroad for people who are being shot by police. I felt a strong connection with that,” he said.

For Barfield, the message and the music need to ring true to who he is.

“That’s the most important thing for me--making sure I can stay true to who I am with my music.”

Barfield says he’s been lucky to work with collaborators who respect his vision and give him the freedom to explore his ideas without restriction.

“Every piece, I just want to make sure I stay true to myself. I do appreciate that people give me flexibility, because that’s the only way that I will make a voice for myself.”

MMC Artist Series: Maggie Nelson's Joyful Dance

Grand Street Community Band is lacing up our step-dancing shoes and pinning on our clovers for two performances of Irish Night at the Pops! Our first performance will be Friday, May 13th at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, for "Victor Herbert's Ireland: Music of the Emerald Isle."  Then we return to our stomping grounds at Grand Street High School for our final performance of the 2015-2016 season on Friday, June 3rd at 8 PM. GSCB will be performing an exciting and entertaining program, including Leroy Anderson's Irish Suite and Percy Grainger's Molly on the Shore, among many other traditional tunes! 


GSCB trumpet player Maggie Nelson created the program art for this cycle, drawing on her own background and artistic style for inspiration. Maggie is an artist and art educator, and attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She joined GSCB three years ago after searching for a place to play, since, "Trumpets aren't great in small apartments with roommates!" Read on to hear about Maggie's process and how she dealt with an artistic curve ball, and see more of her work in the slideshow below! 


A Cultural Connection...

"I have a particular relationship to Irish music--I'm half Irish and did Irish step dancing when I was little, and heard a lot of the music from an early age. It feels very familiar to me. I didn't want to highlight anything very nostalgic or sentimental, but I did want to find something essential about playing this traditional music on the anniversary of the Easter Rising." 

Her Style, and a New Theme...

"It was tricky, because we had a different musical theme for this concert when I did the original piece last fall, which was inspired by "A Night at the Pops." Later, it changed to Irish Night, so I did a second piece where I took the themes from the first [piece] and inserted them into something like the Irish countryside. For both, I had to think through all of my tropes from my own drawing practice and find ones that fit with the music, [like] my dancing, joyous figures; my magical creatures that reminded me of Celtic fairies, sprites and ghouls; my wide-mouthed singing figures, and my water color landscapes. Something new that came out of the first drawing was incorporating my magical, singing creatures with gold tubing and bells reminiscent of wind instruments."  

Inspired by Dance...

"I was thinking a lot about dance, since that's what most of this music was originally for, and I was thinking about communities rising up together and celebrating their culture. [So] it was a combination of the dance music--the reels and jigs--that made me think movement and joy and brightness; and of the ballads--with their sonority and somberness--that made me think of lifted voices in unison."

Art, Everyday...

"I'm an art teacher in an after-school program at an elementary school in Sunset Park. It's the best! Making art with kids is really important to me, and I love working in after-school [programs] because there's an understanding that it's not like the rest of public school--you're trying to do something different, something better. Then at home I make art, while trying to figure what I'm able to make in my little room with little time! I draw, felt, and sew primarily. I make objects out of fibers and ceramics and I make drawings and books. I'm also Quaker and spend a lot of time in that community--right now my most exciting project is organizing an artist residency at a Quaker summer camp in Maine, called Art Camp!"

Posted on May 4, 2016 .

Solo Spotlight: Laurel Stinson Gives It Another Go

This week, we're checking in with Grand Street Community Band soloists Lena Barsky and Laurel Stinson! They're preparing solos for two pieces on the GSCB concert program at MMC's March 20th concert, Modern Wind Symphony

In Part 2 of Solo Spotlight, we hear from Laurel Stinson, clarinetist and Assistant Conductor of Grand Street Community Band! Laurel has been performing with the MMC for the last four seasons, made her Carnegie Hall conducting debut last June with the Grand Street Community Band, and plays with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. She's also a music educator at Grand Street High School! 

Whew! With such a full musical schedule, Laurel shared how she's preparing for her performance, what she loves Blue Shades, and her very special good luck charm. 

Click here for Part 1 of Solo Spotlight where Lena Barsky talks about her part in John Mackey's Asphalt Cocktail. 

What was your first impression when you saw the solo? 

"Yes. We meet again..." I played the solo with the Ithaca College Symphonic Band about 8 years ago. 

What part do you look forward to the most in the solo?

The bends in the jazzy style of Blue Shades are simply fun to play. I'm able to express the music freely. 

What’s the best part of playing such an exposed part in the ensemble?

I usually have my back to the ensemble as assistant conductor [of GSCB] so I'm looking forward to facing the other direction. I'll be able to perform for the audience rather than expressing the music to the musicians through gesture while the audience only gets half of the musical picture. 

What’s your practice regimen?

I am a music teacher at the Grand Street Campus so my job enables me to play my instrument. I warm up and play the solo while my students are warming up for class or after the school day is done. In a way it motivates the students because they can see what is possible through efficient practice. I only play for 20 minutes on days I don't have rehearsal. I play in various rehearsals for six hours a week including Monday nights. 

How do you deal with pre-solo nerves/jitters?

Science! I eat a banana. A college professor told me the potassium helps with anxiety.

Any good luck charms?  

I always wear a ring that belonged to my mother, may she rest in peace. I play for her and the memory of her warm and inspirational spirit. She spent her last days at Grand Street listening to the music of the Metropolitan Music Community--she never missed one concert throughout the 15 years I've been playing the clarinet. 

Solo Spotlight: Lena Barsky's Wild Ride

Grand Street Community Band is tackling a roster of demanding works for MMC's March 20th concert Modern Wind SymphonyTwo pieces this cycle feature huge (and hugely challenging!) clarinet solos, and GSCB musicians Lena Barsky and Laurel Stinson have boldly stepped up to the music stand!  


First up, Lena Barsky, who will be performing the wild and wacky clarinet solo in John Mackey's Asphalt Cocktail. Lena is a relative newcomer to GSCB--she joined the group in September after moving to New York last May. Her first foray with the MMC was band camp at French Woods, which she says she attended "on a bit of a whim."

"I'm a huge band nerd, which means that seeing an email with the phrase, "Do you want to go to band camp?" filled my heart with joy," she said. "And I'm so glad that I did, because everyone was so welcoming and so talented! Joining GSCB has probably been The Highlight of my Very Special First Year in NYC." 

Lena has dived right in, tackling the lengthy and enormously technical clarinet solo in Asphalt Cocktail. She shared her thoughts on the part, her practice regimen and how she keeps those nerves at bay!

Click here for Part 2 of Solo Spotlight where Laurel Stinson talks about her part in Frank Ticheli's Blue Shades. 

What was your first impression when you saw the solo? 

"Ohhhhh geeze" and then, after a second, "OHHHHHH NOOOOO, I'M GOING TO HAVE TO PLAY THIS IN FRONT OF PEOPLE." I mean, this is far and away the hardest solo I've ever had to play, including the pieces I performed at my college senior recital! It's hyper-exposed, really fast, and filled with accidentals that aren't exactly easy to play in succession, so I was pretty intimidated. 

What part do you look forward to the most in the solo?

There's this really great part at measure 89, fairly early on into the solo, where Mackey takes the original theme of "da-da-DAT-da-da-DAT-DAT-DAT" (it'll make sense when you hear it, I promise!) and riffs on it, then the part gets really schmeary with several long glissandos, almost like that classic Benny Goodman sound or the opening clarinet lick from Rhapsody in Blue. Getting to play around with my sound in such an unregulated, over-the-top way -- the part literally reads "Dramatic Sighs" -- is REALLY FUN and is something that you don't really find in more traditional wind band music.

What’s the best part of playing such an exposed part in the ensemble?

*dramatic hair flip* Getting to SHOW OFF how GREAT I sound, OBVIOUSLY. No, no, no, I'm totally kidding. I'm not really sure! This Asphalt Cocktail solo is actually giving me a fair amount of stress because the rest of the band is working so hard and playing their hearts out on a song that's supremely difficult, and I don't want to let anybody down. Given that, I think what's great is similar to what I said above -- that I get to have fun with this part for a few lines and kind of jam out on my own. 

What’s your practice regimen?

Definitely rehearsing every day! Otherwise there's no way my fingers would have all the wacky accidentals down. When I first found out I'd be playing the solo I went home and listened to those specific measures of Asphalt Cocktail several times, to really cement the timing and pacing and to understand what the rest of the band is doing while I'm fighting to hold on to such a wild part. I like the old standby of "run a really tough part a bunch of times slowly, then gradually up the tempo." My college clarinet teacher was also really big on using different rhythms to cement the notes in long runs, which for this solo (and Asphalt Cocktail as a whole) is crucial. 

How do you deal with pre-solo nerves/jitters?

CROSS MY FINGERS AND HOPE EVERYTHING WORKS OUT! No, again, kidding... kind of. ;) I take a lot of deep breaths, drink a lot of water, review the hardest passages slowly, check the really high notes to make sure my reed is working, and then visualize myself KICKING BUTT. I've also been known to sing a lot of Queen to pump myself up. 

Any good luck charms?  

I wear the same set of necklaces and rings on a day-to-day basis, so I make sure that I'm wearing them for the solo, too. It's as if the magic of the solo has been embedded in the jewelry! And usually over the course of practicing for the solo I've figured out my ~*~Magic Lucky Solo Reed*~*, so I make sure that I use that reed during the concert.  

Click here for Part 2 of Solo Spotlight where Laurel Stinson talks about her part in Frank Ticheli's Blue Shades. 

MMC Artist Series: Al Perkins Paints the Music

This year, the Metropolitan Music Community commissioned several of its members to create art for the concert programs and marketing materials. For our November 1st concert, the Grand Street Community Band will be performing a variety of Halloween-themed selections for their concert, "Things That Go Bump in the Night"; followed by Brooklyn Wind Symphony's performance, "A Night with Michael Markowski."  

Our first artist is Al Perkins, the principal horn player for the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. Al has been with the MMC since 2009 and also serves as the organization's librarian. Al is not only a talented musician, but a gifted artist, often finding inspiration through music. For this first "Artist Series," Al shared his process of creating the program art for this cycle--creating his pieces based on "Dance of the Witches" and Michael Markowski's "City Trees." He even gave MMC an inside peak at his studio space! Read on below and take a look at more of Al's work in the slideshow. 

Starting with the music...

"It's very important for me to know the piece intimately, and more so what the piece is trying to say. [For example] Michael's program notes are always a good place to start, even though on once occasion I had to turn to him to get a better insight. 

Once I absorb the music and the material, I try to capture the mood as I see it. Then it's almost like purging. Once it starts flowing, it's fast and furious."

Creating "City Trees"

"City Trees" was based on a photo I found so it had details of a real building. Then I started to layer it so it had an almost impressionistic feel. I wanted the tree to be a contrast to the roughness behind it, but I didn't want it to look like it was in a different painting. So I tried to always be aware of where the light was coming from and to keep it all consistent." 

On "Dance of the Witches" 

"I had to mull over the GSCB's program for a while to find the one that jumped out at me. The more obvious choice would have been to go with "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," but I felt "Dance of the Witches" would have made a better overall image. 

The witches in "Dance of the Witches" started as sketches, which I later carved into a stencil on a piece of acetate that could tape down on the canvas and brush over.  For the shadows I used painter's tape to allow me to dry brush the color to get the effect I was looking for."

Creating the final pieces....

"A lot depends on what I'm trying to do -- if the image is literal or implied.  I'll sometimes find pictures and paste images together for the composition I'm looking for and use it as a guide.  Then I'll figure out what sort of technique I want to use, or what the piece calls for.  Often I'll turn to YouTube to learn a new technique or two (remember, I'm still fairly new to this painting thing, so I have a lot to learn).

And then there are times when I approach an effect in a similar way that I would if I'm painting a theater set, which is viewed from a distance, not too close. (But) if I dwell too long on one painting, the soul of it is usually lost. It's an image--a thought--so I try not to belabor it. That's why I try to keep it simple and I don't obsess once it's done."

Posted on October 7, 2015 .

Getting to Know....Dave Smith!

A new season with the Metropolitan Music Community is underway! With rehearsals in full swing and 175 members tuning up their instruments for an exciting fall concert performance, let's get to know the talented musicians seated all around us! 

First up--Dave Smith, President of the MMC and a trumpet player with the Grand Street Community Band! Read on to hear about Dave's Sunday routine, his favorite MMC memory, and what "A Barrel of Monkeys" has to do with his path in music! 

Dave Smith.jpg

Name:  David L.B. Smith

Age:  55

Occupation:  Higher Education Administrator

Instrument:  Trumpet

How long have you been playing with the MMC? Since the second rehearsal.

How did you get started with the MMC?  A friend of mine who I met in the now defunct Williamsburg Community Orchestra call me and told me she found a great place to play.  I emailed Jeff Ball (director of Brooklyn Wind Symphony) and told him I was an adult beginner and he said, “Come on”.  So I did.

What is your favorite MMC memory? Alice Tully Hall for sure.  As a child my parents brought me into the city regularly but since we were of limited means it was mostly for free things to do.  But we often visited Lincoln Center, just to gawk.  She used to go to the free rehearsals when Zubin Mehta directed the Phil.  I know for sure that if she hadn’t already died and gone to heaven, she would have the day she saw her “little Davie” play at Tully!

What's the first song that comes up on your iPod when you press shuffle?  Something from the Roches most likely.

What was the last concert/musical/performance you saw?  I just saw Garrison Keillor’s farewell tour this summer in Maine.  I’m going to miss A Prairie Home Companion very much.

What I did over my summer vacation….. Eat, sleep, golf, repeat.

What’s your typical Sunday?  I get up late and waddle down to Bagel Boy.  I pick up a poppy with butter for Marion, a chocolate chip cookie for Hannah and an everything bagel for me.  I stop in Brooklyn Market on my way back and pick up the best tomato they have.  I watch Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood while eating the world best smoked salmon bagel known to man.  Then I head across the street to church where I sing bass in the choir.  Then…who knows.

Give us a “local” New York recommendation.  Katz’s Deli serves the best pastrami in the history of humankind.

What was your favorite Halloween costume?  Now, now…my daughter might read this!

Finish this sentence: “I knew I was a musician when…..” On my third birthday one of my gifts was a large cylinder.  “It’s a drum”, I exclaimed.  No it’s not a drum said my mother.  Not understanding the difference between a birthday present and a Christmas present I had no way of knowing that my mother was probably right—how would she know what Santa got me for my birthday?  “I think it’s a drum” I persisted.  “No sweetie, it’s not a drum; open it and see.”  It was a barrel of monkeys (and I know none of you are old enough to remember but they came in a much bigger barrel back then).  But I was not out done; I emptied out the monkeys and exclaimed, “And it’s a drum too!”

Posted on September 30, 2015 .

A First-Time Carnegie Conductor on the Piece That Started it all – Talking to Laurel Stinson about Procession of the Nobles

By Alyssa Pry

For most people, it’s difficult to recall the exact moment you decided what career to follow. Perhaps it was a gradual discovery of something you liked doing. Or maybe you fell into something for the practicality of simply having a job and paying the bills. But for a lucky few, there is an “A-ha!” moment when you discover exactly what it is you were meant for. And for an even fewer number, they actually go on and do it. Laurel Stinson is one of those people.  

Now a conductor and music educator at Grand Street High School and with the Grand Street Community Band, it was an early experience with a band piece that inspired a career in music and has led her to the Carnegie Hall stage, where she will be making her conducting debut with the GSCB on June 6. 

Stinson will be conducting Procession of the Nobles by Nicholas Rimsky-Korsakov, a piece that has captivated her since she first played it her 8th grade wind ensemble. 

“I remembered the melody,” she said, singing the first few bars. “And just being fascinated by the different sections of the piece—the fanfares, the very articulate fast moving notes, and then these beautiful lines in between,” she said. 

For Stinson, it opened up the possibility of making music into a career. 

“I was like, ‘Ok, music is kind of cool,’” she said. “All of a sudden this world of music just started unfolding. And Procession of the Nobles was kind of the gateway.” 

But just months before, Stinson had been close to giving up on band, after her family moved from Texas to Pennsylvania. 

I was going to quit playing the clarinet because band was not as challenging as it was when I started playing in Texas,” Stinson said. “My parents made me stick it out with the new middle school band director.”

Her director encouraged her to continue with band, and after a successful high school music career performing in various honors ensembles, Stinson attended Ithaca College, where she once again encountered the piece that started it all. 

I came back to Procession of the Nobles when I was in wind ensemble at Ithaca College, [and to see] it from a beginner light, like, ‘what is this?’ to [then] really delve into it as a piece of music, it was cool” she said. 

Now, making the transition from playing within the ensemble to leading one on the Carnegie Hall stage has given Stinson the opportunity to experience the piece in an entirely new way. 

“Making that transition, from a successful ensemble member, of being like, ‘O god, that’s a lot of notes’; to college, ‘O, that’s what’s going on the other side of the ensemble!’; to now, on the podium, I have an idea of what it should sound like, all parts together,” she said. “My job is to make sure I wave my arms or use the expression on my face to make sure all that sound comes out,” she said. 

Bringing that energy and passion to the podium is something Stinson relishes about her job as a conductor. 

“I’m a conductor through and through,” Stinson said. “I like being the prism. That’s what I consider the conductor’s job. You are taking all this energy that’s in front of you [and] synthesizing it so you can get it out to the audience.”

With the Grand Street Community Band performance approaching quickly, Stinson said she’s ready and excited for the opportunity to conduct at Carnegie Hall. 

 “[I’m] honored to be able to tell people that I’ve been able to lead an ensemble on that stage and [have] put in the work,” she said. “That’s the beauty of live performance. We will do everything we need to do to make sure it’s prepared so once we get on stage we can just press play.” 

But could Stinson have imagined she would be raising her baton at Carnegie Hall to the same piece of music that inspired her so many years ago? 

 “Life hands you these doors and my mother taught me just to walk through them,” Stinson said. “Just to see where it goes.”

Posted on May 28, 2015 .

Collaborating On City Trees – A Conversation With Michael Markowski & Brian Worsdale

by Alyssa Pry

Take a walk down a city block in New York City and you see them. Along residential blocks, lining up like soldiers. Clustered in parks. Posing as shady resting spots. Surrounded by traffic and horns and the constant pulse of New York. Tall, short, stubby, lush—they’re city trees—somehow surviving and growing in one of the toughest places to survive. They’re also the inspiration behind Michael Markowski’s piece of the same name, which the Grand Street Community Band will perform at their Carnegie Hall debut on June 6, 2015

GSCB director Brian Worsdale was directing the Gay and Lesbian Band Association in 2012 and wanted to commission a piece for the organization's 30th Anniversary. He immediately thought of Michael Markowski. The two had met several years before, and his point of view appealed to Worsdale for this project. 

“Every time I’ve listened to a piece of Michael’s, it’s been unique,” Worsedale said. “I wanted that for the piece. None of the pieces that have preceded [City Trees] have sounded anything like it, and nothing sounds like it since. Each piece has its own unique stamp.” 

The collaboration between the two started with the idea of a celebratory theme—but both Worsdale and Markowski wanted to avoid the standard marches and fanfares. It was a task that proved especially challenging for Markowski. 

“I had two months to write the piece, and for six weeks I tried to write some sort of celebratory something. And when it’s not working, it’s just not working,” Markowski said. “So with two weeks before the piece was due, I freaked out.” 

“If I remember correctly, it was a Friday afternoon, and I had a blog at the time, and I wrote a blog that was called, ‘I suck,’” Markowski shared. “I wrote about how much of a failure I felt like I was being for this particular piece, and making that public helped me get over that hurdle and just admit to myself that the piece needed to be organic, and stop forcing it to be something it wasn’t going to be.” 

Markowski wrote the initial chord progression and the piece clicked. “I was like, that’s the basis, that’s the seed of the piece,” he said. 

Worsdale recalled hearing the first mockup of the piece. “I listened to it, and I called and I said, ‘You nailed it.’”

Worsdale and Markowski continued to collaborate on refining the piece throughout rehearsal time, an experience that was enriched by the trust they had in each other, Worsdale said. 

“You know, a collaborative work between a composer and a conductor, when they have a good relationship, the composer trusts the conductor to enhance some of the sounds they want,” Worsdale said.

Markowski agreed. “Brian knows this piece better than I do,” he said. 

The piece premiered at the Lesbian and Gay Band association National Conference in Dallas, Texas; an emotional experience for both. 

“That’s why we write music,” Markowski said.  “Because living, breathing musicians can bring so much soul and so much heart to something you create in a way that’s different with every performance.” 

With the Grand Street Community Band preparing for their debut at Carnegie Hall, each performance allows Markowski an opportunity to hear City Trees in a new light. 

“It never gets old. Being at rehearsal has been different from every other time I’ve heard the piece,” Markowski said. “There’s always something new, so it gives you new things to think about.” 



Posted on May 6, 2015 .

Grand Street Band Plays Carnegie Hall!

We’re thrilled to have been invited by the Atlanta Youth Wind Symphony to perform at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, June 6 at 8:00 PM. We’re playing music from our Great American Songbook program, including works by Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers, and Jule Styne. Guest conductor Curt Ebersole, conductor and music director of the Westchester Symphonic winds will be leading us for one piece. We couldn’t be more excited to be performing at Carnegie Hall and hope you will join us! Tickets are available for purchase now at Carnegie Hall’s site. Please click here for tickets.

Posted on May 1, 2015 and filed under performances.