Whew, state contest season is over. That was a lot of traveling for us - Florida, Missouri, Illinois, Georgia, Kentucky, and Arkansas. Now we're getting all that music back on the shelf and settling if for contest season. Plus, with a short break before the CBDNA Conference in Nashville in a few more weeks, I have time to get back to this newsletter.
Before I begin, one note - I have a special request for all of you at the end of this newsletter if you care to help me out on a future issue.
I discovered the works of Philip Rothman when a regular customer of mine asked me about obtaining his setting of America the Beautiful. I listened to it and was quite struck by the piece. I looked him up and discovered he had some other wind band compositions under his belt as well. So I started a conversation with him to see about carrying his works and promoting them.
Philip Rothman lives in New York City and in addition to being a composer he has several other responsibilities as well, such as serving as program advisor to the Aaron Copland Fund for Music and running NYC Music Services, a full-service music preparation business (see below). I asked him a few questions about his compositional process, and our conversation is below.
So Philip, tell us about your approach to composing a new work for wind band.
Each piece takes shape in its own way. Sometimes it's a linear process where one idea leads to the next one in a very natural way. When using that approach successfully, the music unfolds organically and it can be very exciting. I wrote Starsplitter that way; the piece starts with a bang and the energy never lets up. However, the downside is that with no pre-composed plan, it can be easy to get stuck. For that reason, other times I will plan out the architecture of a piece before even writing a single note. That way I've carefully thought through the relationships among the sections and what I want to achieve overall. That approach worked well in Battery Park Suite, which is a four-movement piece, with each movement featuring a specific type of percussion.
When I first began composing, notation software was in its infancy, and I wrote out every note by hand. As technology has progressed through the years, my work process changed as well, to the point where I will do almost all my writing on the computer. Usually I will compose in full score. Timbre and texture are as important as notes and harmonies, so I like having the full sonic palette available to me as I work. That said, if I'm blazing along, I won't get hung up on orchestration details; I can always go back and decide later if, say, a passage should be on first or second clarinet.
Do you have any wind band commissions in the work? Do you have any works in any medium that you have done, or are planning to do, without a commission behind it?
My arrangement of America the Beautiful was my latest commission. It was commissioned by Carnegie Hall for the National Youth Orchestra of the USA, their very successful summer youth orchestra program. The orchestra was planning a tour to prestigious venues all across the country. The conductor, David Robertson, wanted to conclude the concert with an encore of America the Beautiful, with the option of having the audience sing along. With all respect to the Carmen Dragon arrangement and others, he wanted a new version that was fresh yet familiar. I only had a couple of weeks to write it, but knowing the parameters and intention behind the commission was very helpful. The piece begins and ends with a fanfare based on the theme, and there are two full statements of the familiar tune within the arrangement.
Hearing the piece performed in Carnegie Hall, with 2,000 audience members singing along, was a thrilling experience. That night, when I returned home, I immediately began making a concert band version of the arrangement, even though no one had requested it. Luckily, interest in the piece has been high and many bands and orchestras across the country have already performed it.
What brought you to publish your own works, seeking out the traditional publisher route with an established band publisher?
I've always been interested in the business side of music. As an undergraduate student in music composition, I took a terrific course in music business and law that laid the foundation of a lot of future knowledge. Before becoming self-employed eleven years ago, I worked for music organizations that gave me more experience and understanding of the music industry. Not to mention, I have the equipment - heavy-duty computers, printers, and supplies - to be able to process and fill orders quickly. I even act as the agent for a handful of other composers who wish to retain their copyrights but rely on me to take orders on their behalf and ship their music. I happen to enjoy that part of the work, but it's not for everyone. I definitely recognize the importance of the established publishers and would certainly consider an opportunity to partner with one in an appropriate circumstance.
Are you a full time composer, or do you support your living by other means as well?
If "full-time composer" means that I do nothing else but compose original music, then I'm definitely not full-time - but everything else I do is related to being a composer in one way or another. Over the past decade I've orchestrated music for other composers for more than 20 film and television projects (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2374554/) . I also run a full-service music preparation business called NYC Music Services where I've worked on many more films and TV shows, concert works, operas and educational projects. We prepare and ship out music for Carnegie Hall's highly successful Link Up program, which has grown from a handful of orchestras in 2010 to more than 70 internationally this year.
As a music copyist and engraver I've had the good fortune to work with many terrific composers and publishers, and I think my perspective as a composer myself helps inform my work in a positive way. One very exciting project I just completed was a new engraving of Aaron Copland's Third Symphony, which restored a cut in the finale that was important to the balance and thematic proportion of the piece. I'm about to start a new engraving of Appalachian Spring, which will be available in an "extended suite" version incorporating eight minutes worth of additional material from the original ballet.
I also run and write for the Sibelius Blog, which is an independent site devoted to tips, news, tutorials and opinion about Sibelius, related products and the fields of music notation and computer technology. It all adds up to a busy life and a lot of work, but every day I wake up excited to begin the tasks at hand.
How often do you travel, and for what reasons?
I've been in residence with orchestras and bands around the country, thanks to several Meet The Composer (now New Music USA) grants and other support. It's invaluable to be present as a composer, and when there have been well-designed activities and educational opportunities that make the most of my interests and abilities, it's fantastic. Several times I've designed composition projects with young people in conjunction with a residency, and it's exciting to see those budding composers discover the joy and fulfillment of composing.
I've also been present many times to conduct my work or to supervise a recording session or performance. It's all valuable time well spent, meeting colleagues and being involved. Living in New York, its pretty easy to catch a flight to just about anywhere, and because musicians tend to make their way through here at one time or another, it's convenient to have a coffee or lunch with colleagues during their visits.
Out of all your band compositions, which one(s) do you feel the strongest about, the most connected to, the ones you feel are your best works for the medium?
That is like asking a parent to name their favorite child. I love them all!