Posts tagged #profile

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.”

A Look Inside "Tetelestai" – Talking to Andrew Boss

By Alyssa Pry

These are classic music questions: How should a piece of music be interpreted? What should the listener feel? And who is responsible for shaping that experience? Composer Andrew Boss is purposefully leaving those questions unanswered with his symphony Tetelestai, which Brooklyn Wind Symphony will be performing at MMC’s March 20th concert, Modern Wind Symphony.

“I take an interpretive approach [to composing],” Boss said. “I’m very fascinated by interpretation and the cognitive experience behind music.”

The 27-year-old composer burst on the wind-band scene with the premiere of his 2014 symphony Tetelestai, which was performed by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble, where he is also pursuing his Doctorate of Musical Arts in Composition.

The symphony is framed around the biblical account of the death, fall and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But instead of retelling the story, Boss wanted to interpret the images and emotions he felt through music.

Boss also looked to the meaning behind the word “Tetelestai,” which is Greek for “It is finished” and is supposedly the last word spoken by Jesus before his death.

“I’m absolutely fascinated by religion, and I would call myself religious, with a few reservations,” he said. “But what was more fascinating to me was the story line, and the word “Teleo,” which implies that something has been done that can’t be reversed." 

Boss had already completed the first movement of the symphony and planned to have it performed as a stand-alone piece. But it was his collaboration with renowned conductor Jerry Junkin that introduced the idea of expanding it into something larger. 

“I knew if there was anyone I wanted to perform this, whatever it would become, it would be Jerry Junkin,” Boss said. “And the piece was read and it was great, and I thought, well this is going to be a bigger piece.”

Junkin then commissioned Boss to create a new work for him, after listening to some of Boss's other work. 

“That was certainly a huge impetus in my desire to make this a bigger piece,” Boss said. “And after the first movement and before I completed the next two, I decided to bring in the religious component.”

"Different people bring in their beliefs and understanding of the world as they sit down and listen to it, and that determines how they listen to it."

Boss turned to the biblical tale to frame the three movements of his symphony. 

“I tried to clarify the three movements as the crucifixion, the battle [of life and death] and the resurrection,” Boss said.

Regardless of religious beliefs or a person’s understanding of religion, Boss wanted the listener to go on a journey--their experience with the piece shaped by their own personal connections to the music.

“Different people bring in their beliefs and understanding of the world as they sit down and listen to it, and that determines how they listen to it,” he said. “[And] how they experience it will impact what they feel about it and the images they see or feel,” Boss said. 

Boss portrayed the death of Jesus for the first movement, Homage, and was moved by feelings of betrayal, despair, suffering and death. The symphony begins with a clanging of percussion, and then introduces a distant and melancholy horn solo. The movement ebbs and flows—full bursts of sound giving way to exposed solo lines; an ominous low brass line building to a bombastic climax; before returning again to the haunting and lingering notes of the french horn. 

“[In the first movement] I portrayed the death [of Jesus] — which really gives a powerful set of feelings,” Boss said. “If you’re not religious, it’s symbolizing hardship or suffering—things that are very real in society today.”

The second movement, Tocatta, is Boss’s interpretation of the war between heaven and sin, during the three days between the death and resurrection. For Boss, it’s a conflict between two opposing forces—the rhythmic introduction to the 2nd movement swells to a frantic flurry of instrumentation, a thrilling battle cry. The movement is a constant push and pull between moments of intensity and relief.

“The second movement was about war in those three days between death and resurrection,” Boss explained. “It could symbolize an obstacle that you’re trying to overcome.” 

The symphony’s final movement, Interlude and Finale, is Boss’s portrayal of the resurrection, and he looked towards feelings related to victory and rebirth. The reflective interlude at the beginning of the movement transitions to the symphony’s soaring finale, a powerful and unrelenting crescendo leading to the final ringing notes.

“For the final movement, obviously I felt I needed to portray the resurrection. And whether that was a personal rebirth or a depiction of the resurrection—it eventually brings its way to a catharsis,” Boss said.

“[Tetelestai] gets to that point where it transcends being notes on a page and it becomes emotion...and it becomes that perfection of existence we get when we play music.”

The 25-minute symphony caught the ear of Brooklyn Wind Symphony conductor Jeff Ball, who was immediately drawn to the originality of the work.

“It’s a piece that has such a unique voice to it—there are parts that really don’t sound like anything else for the genre,” Ball said. “I really respect someone that can make the wind band sound different.”

Ball said the experience of listening to Boss’s piece epitomizes the beauty of wind band music, and for musicians, captures the joy of playing within an ensemble.

“The goal of music and the reason why we’re all here in these community ensembles is that we all at some point in our life became addicted to that feeling,” Ball said. “[Tetelestai] gets to that point where it transcends being notes on a page and it becomes emotion and it becomes power and it becomes that perfection of existence we get when we play music.”

For Boss, working with the wind band community has allowed him the freedom to explore and challenge himself as a composer. 

“Because of the friendliness and support of the wind ensemble medium, that was a huge boost to my career,” Boss said. “They’re very open to doing different things.”

Boss will be sitting in the audience at Sunday’s concert; an experience Ball says is a unique and thrilling part of the wind band community.

“It’s been amazing working with him because he’s been extremely accessible. A lot of these [composers] in the wind band world are, [which is] something we’re fortunate to have,” Ball said. “It’s really amazing; that our composers are living and they’re excited we’re doing their work. We’re literally contributing to the future of classical music.” 

David Gould Takes His Chances

David Gould.jpg

By Alyssa Pry

When David Gould discusses his career as a professional clarinetist, it’s not through the boasting character of a Julliard-trained musician who has performed with the New York Philharmonic, American Ballet Theater or on Broadway (…to name a few.) There are no great proclamations of ego, no vanity, no arrogance. 

Instead, Gould is acutely aware of the string of small moments of luck and happenstance, combined with his talent, that have built his illustrious career; those eye-opening moments of clarity that, yes, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is worth the work I’m putting in.

“Things started happening one thing at a time,” Gould said. “These things added up to these moments that continued to validate it for me.”

As a professional clarinetist, Gould has an impressive roster of accomplishments: playing with the New York Philharmonic; as third clarinetist with American Ballet Theater; in Broadway shows like West Side Story and On the Town. On Sunday, he will join the Brooklyn Wind Symphony to perform Michael Markowski’s clarinet concerto Unfamiliar Territory.

[It’s] a chance to discover new music, to play as a soloist, to meet new people, to play in a new ensemble, to see a new part of Brooklyn,” Gould said about performing with BKWS. “That’s really for me, some of the things that are great about it.”

But Gould’s journey to the Grand Street High School stage on Sunday afternoon has not been a straight one of success.  Rather, the twists and turns of Gould’s musical path started even before he picked up a clarinet. As a child, Gould’s parents encouraged him and his two older brothers to learn an instrument, and Gould assumed he’d play the trumpet, like his “cool older brother.”

“My father said, no, why don’t you play the clarinet? This was a point when he was listening to a lot of Artie Shaw and Bennie Goodman, and he loves music of that era,” Gould said. “And I was like, ‘um, I don’t know.’ And we were actually at an antique car show and flea market and he bought a clarinet and gave it to me.”

Gould became more serious about playing throughout high school, performing in honors ensembles, and was then accepted to Julliard, where the idea of becoming a professional musician started to move closer to reality.

“I always thought all along that I would be a teacher, because that seemed like the best thing,” he said. “And when I got accepted to Julliard, I think that’s when it started to percolate.”

After graduating, Gould accepted a grant to study in France, where he lived for three years. He then took a job working with the French reed and mouthpiece company, Vandoren, where he still works today. But Gould described a time early in his career when he really started to question if it was all going to work. 

“I think that any good musician always has to question, am I on the right track?" 

“I was really going through a lot. I wasn’t making enough money, and was starting to think about it—maybe it’s better to get rid of this,” Gould said. “I was getting kind of depressed, [thinking] I can’t do this; all this stuff rolling around my head.”

But then, another chance moment that suddenly set the wheels spinning forward—a phone call from an old friend, looking for players for a high school production of West Side Story.

“I came home that night after that first rehearsal, and I get a phone call from a guy I’ve known and he said, “Would you be interested in subbing on West Side Story, on the Broadway revival,’” Gould recalled. “It was kind of hilarious. I went, you’re not going to believe this [but] I just rehearsed with a friend’s high school! And I probably played that [show] 150 times and loved every second of it." 

For Gould, it was exactly what he needed. 

“It got me playing more often and opened up some other doors, and reminded people that I still existed,” Gould said with a laugh.

 Another moment of ­­surprise: his opportunity to play with the New York Philharmonic.

“I can still remember the first time—the firsts are always what stick with you. I was playing at City Center; I remember the middle of the dress rehearsal, I got a text from a friend, ‘Hey are you around? I wanted to see if you wanted to play with the New York Philharmonic,’” Gould recalled. “And it was like walking on air!”

Gould has taken these successes and challenges as motivation, and has an appreciation for what it has taken to get where he is today.   

“I think that any good musician always has to question, am I on the right track? That should continue to push you to strive for better things.”

His passion for performance is something he says he sees working with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, an experience he says has been inspiring to him.

“It’s really going to the root of amateur—loving to do what they do. People are doing this because they want to be here. Here there’s a real passion,” he said.

Performing Unfamiliar Territory has been a departure from the classical repertoire Gould plays in his professional life, and he’s enjoying the change of pace.

“It's contemporary music you want to listen to and play—it’s rare,” he said of the piece. “You look at it and it looks very black and white. [Then] you’re playing it, and there’s melody, but it really feels like you’re setting up a mood.”

“There’s going to come a point where you’re going to have to learn to let go.”

Gould has worked closely with composer Michael Markowski in preparation for Sunday’s concert, and will also be performing the concerto when the Brooklyn Wind Symphony records Markowski’s music next month.

Gould had some words of advice for Markowski, drawing on his experiences producing his own recording project, The Forgotten Clarineta collection of lesser-known French works for clarinet and piano. 

“There’s going to come a point where you’re going to have to learn to let go,” he told Markowski. “It’s limitless what one can do, but after a while, it’s going to start to lose the spontaneity and magic.”

Gould seems to be following his own advice, allowing moments and opportunities to shape his career, ultimately recognizing them as a chance to share his talent and love for playing.

“That’s our goal," Gould said.  "Ultimately as a performer, we’re there to interpret the music and also really steward the music to other people.”

Michael Markowski Meets Brooklyn--The Composer on his Newest Project

By Alyssa Pry

Michael Markowski is a newly-christened Brooklynnite. “I’ve gotta relearn how to live here,” he joked in a recent phone interview. But while he may be a newcomer to the neighborhood, Brooklyn is already playing a big part in his newest project—recording his wind band music with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. The group will also be performing his work at their November 1st concert, A Night with Michael Markowski.

“It kind of all comes back to Brooklyn in a way,” Markowski said about the recording project, a one-day session that will be recorded at the Grand Street High School Campus. “The project is just my music; collaborating with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. It’s sort of as simple as that.”

He may have the borough and the band, but those are just two parts of the ambitious project Markowski is taking on. Currently on hiatus from composing original music, Markowski is finding himself knee-deep in the logistics of recording ten years’ worth of his work.  

“It’s actually quite overwhelming to put this whole thing together,” he said. “There’s so much more to think about.”

From the process of choosing which pieces to record; to working with a sound engineer on the audio production; to the most minute details of schedules and ordering lunch, Markowski is leaving his mark on every piece of the puzzle. But one piece that has always fit is his collaboration with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, a group he feels a close connection to.

 “I can’t imagine a better ensemble to collaborate with,” he said. “Some of these people were my first friends when I moved to New York, so I feel very intimately connected to the group.”

This is not the first time Markowski has had his music recorded, but this time he’s doing it completely on his terms, producing and funding the project himself.  

“I’ve had college ensembles record my music and they’re always fantastic recordings, but I’m never really part of the process,” Markowski said. “By the time I get a final recording, I don’t really have input into the interpretation. And this collaboration [with BKWS], I have that.”  

Markowski has been attending weekly rehearsals and working closely with conductors Jeff Ball and Brian Worsdale, who will both be conducting on the recording.

 “I have two amazing collaborators to be the eyes and ears,” Markowski said of Ball and Worsdale. “It’s such a big project; if I was the only ears, it would just be overwhelming. So I’m depending on them to do most of the work for me,” he said with a laugh.

Looking over a decade’s worth of work meant choosing pieces Markowski hoped would highlight his range of composing styles.

“I think what you’ll hear in my music is that every piece is so completely different, stylistically, it’s kind of hard to wrap it up in a nice bow with some kind of theme,” he said.

He’s including pieces that struck him as “no-brainers,” like City Trees, the first piece he composed after moving to New York City from Arizona.

“It’s a very New York Piece,” Markowski said. “It’s the first piece that I wrote [after moving] here so it’s particularly special to me.” 

He’ll also be recording joyRIDE, his first published piece. Markowski composed it in high school, and based it on Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. For him, it’s a reminder of the originality that comes from a young composer.

“I wish I had as good of ideas now as I did back then,” Markowski laughed.

Markowski acknowledged the pressure of creating original ideas; his hiatus and this project have been a welcome respite from a process he says can be “lonely.”

“There is a lot of pressure to come up with a decent idea for a piece,” he said. “It’s important to try to say something new and surprise yourself, and that’s a very difficult thing to keep doing day after day.”

The recording project has been an opportunity for Markowski to focus on other aspects of his career, a process he’s found to be a refreshing change.  

“It’s been really fun and challenging to focus on music in a different way, that’s separate from the actual writing process,” he said. “[And] the part where you’re working with an ensemble, that’s the fun part. The human interaction portion of it all, that’s what makes you keep going and keep doing.”

In the end, he wants the project to highlight both his music and the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, with the character of the new borough he’s calling home.

“It’s going to be raw, it’s going to be Brooklyn, and I think it’s going to be one of the more intimately shaped recordings of my music out there.”


Read more about Michael Markowski on the MMC blog here and here

Posted on October 14, 2015 .

Jeffrey Hodes Takes the Stage—Preparing Maslanka’s Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble

By Alyssa Pry

Talking to Jeffrey Hodes, the principal clarinetist for the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, you’re immediately struck by his excitement and enthusiasm for just about, well, everything. Over the course of our interview, we discussed his job as a software engineer at Google: “I freaking love computer science”; discovering the Brooklyn Wind Symphony after a friend encouraged him to join: “That’s awesome, I found a good group!”; to his preparations for his performance of David Maslanka’s Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble:  “Playing a concerto is always super fun.” 

Hodes will be performing Maslanka’s concerto at the Brooklyn Wind Symphony’s “Postcards” concert on June 13th, before performing it with the group at the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles (WASBE) in July. While most people may find the prospect of playing a twenty-minute clarinet concerto in front of hundreds of people daunting, for Hodes, it’s simply an opportunity to continue to follow his passion for music. 

“I’m super happy with how I’ve ended up being able to play a lot of clarinet non-professionally,” Hodes said. “Brooklyn Wind Symphony is one of those high-level groups for non-professionals and it’s super fun that I get to play with them.” 

Hodes may not be professional clarinetist, but he’s managed to create a life where it plays a major part. He attended Princeton University and played with the Princeton University Orchestra and other chamber groups, an experience he describes with trademark enthusiasm as “a blast.” After graduating, he was offered a position at Google Headquarters in California, but chose the tech company's New York office, in part for the city’s unbeatable music scene. 

“I decided I wanted to live in New York instead, in no small part because of the music community here,” he said. “Not only are the best orchestras here, but as a non-professional, you can take lessons and practice and play with other great people,” he said. 

Hodes also performs with the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, as well as in various chamber groups. The opportunity to play with BKWS involved a bit of happenstance and good timing—both he and BKWS clarinetist Sarah Cohen were subbing for players with the New York Doctor’s Symphony, and Cohen asked if he would be interested in joining her group.  

“I was like sure, because I was new to New York and was like, ‘I want to play in everything,’” he said.  

But what stuck with Hodes initially was not his immediate success within the ensemble, but an early chastisement from conductor Jeff Ball. 

“I was playing and I got told off by Jeff Ball for playing too loud in the first rehearsal,” he said with a laugh. “It’s a really good sign when you get told off in a rehearsal; that means the group is playing at a high enough level that your mistakes are noticeable and worth mentioning.”

And now, Hodes has the opportunity to play with the enthusiasm he had in that first rehearsal as he tackles Maslanka’s Concerto for Clarinet and Wind Ensemble. Written in 2014, there have been no published recordings of the piece, which gives Hodes the opportunity to explore and interpret it in his own way. 

“This is the classic question—when you’re reading a poem, should you care what the author’s intent was or should you read it however you want? [Maslanka] wrote it, but we’re performing it,” Hodes said.  “And part of the fun of being a musician is interpreting the music and playing it in an interesting or compelling way.”

For Hodes, that’s meant looking at the piece as a whole, and how he fits into it within the context of the ensemble. 

“It’s an interesting piece. Unlike a lot of concertos, where it’s a solo line, and then goes back to the orchestra and they never really step over the soloist, [here] the instruments are playing with the soloist or playing in direct harmony,” he explained. “It’s really about the clarinet and one or two other sections at any given moment. It’s a very active collaboration with people in the band.” 

But working towards a high level of performance has meant daily practices for Hodes, often in some unexpected places. 

“I am definitely practicing this every day. [And] I’ll do weird stuff—because I don’t want to get noise complaints at my apartment, I’ll walk back to my office at midnight if I don’t have anything else to do and practice for 2-3 hours,” he said. 

Aside from working out the technical elements of the piece, Hodes’ goal is to feel confident in his playing.  

“With a concerto, you obviously have to practice a lot so you’re confident. From my experience, if I’m like, ‘I got this,’ then I won’t get too nervous,” he said.  

And if mistakes happen?  

 “You have to keep in mind—the audience isn’t waiting for you to mess up so they can go, ‘Oh! He messed up! What a loser!’” Hodes said. “They’re here to listen to it, but if you miss a note, everyone understands.” 

Hodes’ laid-back attitude towards playing has kept him grounded and calm during his practice and preparation, but if David Maslanka decides to make an appearance to hear his performance of the challenging concerto, Hodes may have to deal with those nerves after all.  

 “I think knowing that David Maslanka is in the audience might make me a little more nervous,” he said, laughing. “[But] I want him to think, ‘What a nice interpretation this group gave.’” 


Posted on June 19, 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 .