A Well Traveled Rhapsody

Mr. Slocum was a wonderful human being. He was the one professor who, no matter who you were, would cheer you on and always have encouraging things to say after brass juries. It did not matter if you were in his horn studio or not. He always seemed to care about the students. Mr. (Bill) Slocum always took time out to talk with anyone who would listen to his recollections of his remarkable past, and he had a plethora of stories to tell from his experiences! It was through these recollections that I learned of his past performing summers at Tanglewood (under Leonard Bernstein!), his time with the Cleveland Orchestra, and his connection with my Hometown Orchestra of Buffalo NY, the Buffalo Philharmonic, having performed in this organization as well as several others. Sometimes these stories would trail into the next hour when you were trying to leave for class. You’d try to say good bye but somehow could not, as his stories always left you hanging on for more.

He also took time out to help me in a way that I’m not sure the other professors knew how. Although he was not my composition professor, he would give me helpful advice as to which pieces to study, and what I should try next. He also took me aside after a class once and did what most do not do: told me to my face how much potential I had, the good things he had heard around the building, and how he recognized my work ethic. (Sadly Mr. Slocum, I could not afford to go to the festivals that you advised me to go, but I promise to keep my promise to you to keep composing). Somehow, he knew that I needed that confidence boost.(Thank you!)

When he passed away in April of 2015 , I was heartbroken. I can only imagine the grief his students and family must’ve felt upon hearing this news.

At the time, shortly after graduating, I had reluctantly moved to MN to live at my Dad and stepmom’s home, and was broke, car-less and jobless. That day (April 15th), after taking the bus to the next town over to job search for the afternoon, I had some time to burn while waiting for a ride back, so I stopped at a Perkins for some coffee. It was there that I received the news.

Shortly after that bombshell, a theme in 6/8, distinctly played on a horn appeared inside my head. It was a theme fit for a hero! Thankfully I was prepared with some scrap staff paper to scratch it down, and fatefully place my coffee, leaving a ring- or “seal of approval” over the new melody.* This melody would remain untouched for about four years.

*This is also the origin story of how I came up with the coffee seal of approval and why I call my self publishing business Coffee Seal Music, summed up in one sentence!

This past Summer, Bill Richter, who I hadn’t heard from in almost 3 years, contacted me asking if he could commission me to write something for his Master’s recital. This came as a surprise, as the last time I had heard from him, he’d left YSU and transferred schools and as far as I was aware, was studying something completely different. At the (no doubt incessant- he had an almost magical way of making his thoughts and intentions known ) urging of Mr Slocum, Bill had returned to school to study the horn! In a stranger twist of fate- call it serendipity if you will- Bill had requested that I put the ending to Mahler 1 in the piece as this was the last piece that Mr. Slocum had coached the YSU Horn studio on, and, this melody that had been sitting there since Mr. Slocum’s passing fit PERFECTLY alongside Mahler’s melody.

A Well Traveled Rhapsody starts with the hero’s theme, where it morphs into several references to many famous horn lines and solos, of which I am told Mr. Slocum enjoyed on his time on earth. Some of these you may catch are a reference to Holst’s Jupiter (as he exuded Jollity), Mozart’s Jupiter (the piece he advised me to study as it has everything I’d ever need), variations of the opening to Strauss’s Horn concerto and Wagner’s Siegfried Call and , of course, Mahler 1.

The middle section, while not a direct quote, alludes to the melodic horn writing of Jerry Goldsmith as heard in the Star Trek the Motion Picture Soundtrack. As the piece seems to wrap up in the last third, I tried to emulate the feeling of listening to his stories and trying to leave his office, but truthfully wanting to hear more as he’d trail on with his wonderfully interesting recollections. Finally, the hero’s theme rises up gracefully in the piano, octave by octave just as his spirit, as far as I can tell, may have risen towards the heavens upon his departure from this mortal realm. It ends on a plagal cadence because, well, of course it does!

Mr. Slocum with his Students at the YSU Horn Studio Pumpkin Party circa 2008

Bill Richter will Be premiering A Well Traveled Rhapsody at his recital on April 19th , 1 PM at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. This piece is written in the memory of William (Bill) Slocum and his gregarious, giving, uplifting, musical spirit.

2011 Mr Slocum and his last horn studio class before retiring.

The art of Improvisation at Brass Chix 2019

Every year since 2014, Woman Brass players from the Minneapolis-St Paul Metro have been gathering at the end of January for this annual one day conference.

I have been attending this amazing shindig since 2016 (having moved here in March of 2015) and have had the opportunity to see it grow. This year was easily the best program that I’ve attended.

So, What is Brass Chix?

It is a once a year event where woman brass players of all abilities from High School age all the way to Seniors come together to learn from presentations by professionals in the field, and by talking to each other about issues ranging from performance on their particular instrument of choice, to the social aspects of being a woman in what traditionally has been a male dominated area.

Why do we, a group of Women from multiple generations who just happen to play brass instruments, gather for this event every year?

Sarah Schmalenberger puts it best when she says that what makes us unique is that “We as women, never have a straight path”. Because of how most of us are conditioned by society , we are more prone to sacrifice for others before our own needs and desires, and are expected to take a back seat instead of fighting for what we want, whether that be to stay home and take care of the family, or back down and compromise in order to keep peace when faced with conflict.

Men (in general) tend to plow through obstacles hard nosed while women, tend to go around these obstacles. It takes a bit longer for most of us to get where we are aiming to go as a result.

It helps to have this event to discuss these issues and remind ourselves that we handle things differently and are all very capable and powerful in our own ways. Empowerment builds confidence to work towards success. Also, there is just something very special and healing about getting together with others TO MAKE  MUSIC!

My own journey has been a roundabout way of getting to where I am and continues to be this way- but that is a topic for a future blog post or possibly a book someday. For now though LETS GET TO THE BLOG ENTRY OF THE DAY OF BRASS CHIX 2019!!

The day started at St Thomas Student center where I Got to help at the check in table with Sue ( a trumpet player) and noticed a few new faces. When someone asked Where the Horns were rehearsing, without a beat, Sue Responded, “OUTSIDE!!”- the lol moment of the day. (Note: remember, this was in the middle of MN winter, where the temperature outside is easily below zero).

We soon gathered in our respective brass subgroups; Horns, Trumpets, and Low Brass (aka the coolest chix who play Trombone and tuba respectively*).

*This is my opinion that may be a more than a little bit biased

Becky Haines, trombone superstar,  led us in a warmup and reading session, providing excellent advice on breathing exercises and focus techniques.

Lunch was filed with more conversations and LEGOS, meant to be a part of the improvisation theme.( Or maybe a ploy for advertising the then new Lego Movie ha ha). Some lunch conversations ranged from trying to figure out how Legos fit into the music theme to how our every day lives tend to be improvised, especially when trying to fit our passion of music into everything else that goes on around us. Our path around life obstacles tends to be improvised after all.

After LEGO LUNCH,  we gathered in a group and were treated to a Masterclass workshop on practical improvisation advice, led by Local Brass Superstars .

We talked about how jazz improvisation actually works, ways to do it effectively, and learned a little about Judy Gaunt’s (trumpet) experience going through University among some crazy analytical, genius jazz cats. When the presentation was over, several volunteers attempted to do a group improvisation with Oh when the Saints Go Marching In- with some live coaching of course.

After this we separated into our respective subgroups to put this advice into practice. Lauren Husting led the low brass session and introduced us to easy backing tracks with chord changes on YouTube.

ALL of us tried our hand at improvisation and by the end we were all sounding fairly competent. I even managed to “improv” Smoke on the Water when it was my turn during the Dorian chord changes. Thankfully, this got a laugh.

Then it was picture time for our annual group photo.  Heidi, Laurel, and I shared a special moment when we reprised the Oh When the Saints improv. exercise while riding on the elevator on the way down to this part of the shindig.

Our Grand Finale of every year is where we play pieces in a massive brass choir, and share the experience of Making this Music Together. This happened once again, but with the most amount of vigor I’d heard coming from this group since first attending. We always break from the day by reaffirming our bond as Musicians and Women, by doing the Brass Chix Salute.

Next year, the topic of focus will be….WOMEN’S HEALTH as it relates to brass playing. If you are or know a Woman who plays a brass instrument, please spread the word about this event. We learn something new every year, it’s a ton of Fun,  and we have a great time experiencing it together. I Hope to see you in 2020!