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.

Fading Into Shadows:A neat Experience with a Future Film Composer (from 2014)

DISCLAIMER* this is a past post from 2014 that failed to get published until now for various reasons. I am sharing this now because it was an awesome experience  and goes tho show that you don’t  necessarily need to go to a large school to do a project like this. Sometimes it just takes a little extra persistence and creativity.

For this blog Post I have invited  fellow YSU Alum, professional Sound Engineer and now Film Composer,  Ryan Cunningham to co author. Last January (2014), Ryan was looking for people to play for this awesome Sr. project Idea that, to my knowledge, had not been attempted at Dana until he had done it this past November. He and his brother, Barry Cunningham, had produced an independent film and he (Ryan) had written the music. Ryan was using the opportunity to combine all of his skills that he had learned as an Undergrad by having us perform the score live (as if we were at a professional scoring session), record it and balance it, then set it to the film for all to watch in the second half of the recital.

Now I will let Ryan  Take the stage  and Tell us a little bit about the process in creating this Project and all of the work that went into it.

Well, the capstone for the recording program at YSU is called the “Senior Project”.The only requirements that the instructor, Jack Ciarnello, puts forth for it is that it 1.) It be something that has not been done in the last 5 years or more and 2.) Be something that you’re extremely passionate about. The school of music requires that it pool all your knowledge of recording from your coursework and that it be presented in a recital setting.

Film, TV, and game music is something that I’m extremely passionate about. More than two-thirds of my iTunes library consist of score music from all 3 genres. I decided that I wanted to do something related to that because Music Recording and Sound Engineering aren’t that too far displaced from Screen Scoring. But, I had nothing original to score to. My brother Barry is a graduate assistant at the University of New Orleans and I decided we should film a short film to give us both experience and an addition to our work reel in our respective fields. Over the course of November and December 2013 we filmed a short film in the Youngstown area. It’s called “Fading Into Shadows”.

After Barry finally got done editing it, I wrote the score in about two to three weeks. During that time I listened to tracks from various TV, film, and video game sources to try and draw inspiration for the music. I didn’t want it to sound like those sources but, hey, it was my first scoring project and I needed to start somewhere. I also posted flyers and contacted people about playing in the ensemble. I would have liked to have a full chamber orchestra ensemble but sadly, that was not to be. Finally, when the music was completed and everyone recruited, the ensemble began having rehearsals in the spring ’14 semester.

We had to push the performance to November ’14 because of an oversight in scheduling for the recital. We lost some members due to this but we gained new members as eager to participate in such a rare and exciting project. the one thing i was excruciatingly frustrated by was how few string players volunteered for the project. That’s not to make any insinuations about the instrument or anything, but everyone seemed to busy or not willing to take a “gratis” gig. I obviously couldn’t pay them but was more than willing to offer my services as a recording engineer for any recitals they might want/need recorded. It was also extremely difficult to try and get some members to show up to rehearsal. I suppose I could’ve sent out reminder texts to remind people to show up. They’re not getting paid to play so it should have been on me to be responsible. At any of given time i could have just threw it all out the window and say “screw it” but I didn’t. I kept going because I am confidant that is what i want to do for the rest of my professional life.

I’ll admit that it was hard on my ego and my confidence. I wasn’t exactly happy when I had to put it off for a semester and replace some members. All kinds of thoughts were going through my head about it.:

“I have to do this over again. I’m gunna lose more people cuz they’ll see me as a schmuck that can’t hack it. I’m never gunna graduate. Why do I SUUUUCCCCCCKKKKKKK?! ”

But I persevered.

In the recital, I conducted the music for the scenes, pieced some together with the audio/video, and played it for the audience (after the intermission). Two months later, the video has been successfully completed and uploaded to YouTube.

All in all, it’s one of my fondest and proudest musical achievements. It proves to me that when the going gets tough and you feel like life’s beating you to your knees, that isn’t when you give up. It’s when you rise up and get the job done that you can finally see whether or not it was really worth it.

At this point I will take over and tell you a little bit about what it was like from the performance standpoint.:

Performing on this recital was a completely new experience for most of us involved. We received sheet music for cues.It was similar to the way that music is in musical pits in that you may have pieces with a long tacit and maybe a hit every once in awhile. However, instead of accompanying actors on a stage, you were accompanying actors on a screen and, being prerecorded, there was less flexibility for tempo fluctuations. We began the whole process by watching the film sans  live cues to get a picture of the final project. . Ryan conducted the cues wearing headphones and we took several takes to get it just right, being that this was such a new experience for all of us.

My first reaction to the music itself was that of amazement and intrigue. This was my first experience really hearing Ryan’s music and loved the darkness and neo-tonal aspects of his score. It was not quite what I expected given his mellow yet fun personality, but I nonetheless enjoyed it and felt that it accompanied Barry’s film quite well. I was also impressed at how well the film and project were put together, despite  the few difficulties that Ryan discussed prior.Also, it was awesome how the recital was similar to demoing a live recording session for a film to the public, as we played the cues (which were recorded on site) and Ryan then mixed them into the film. After the Intermission, we watched the final  result of the project.

I hope that reading about this project might inspire other composers to team with other musicians and people from other disciplines and think outside the box to come up with new types of projects. Overall, it was a great experience for all involved and one I won’t soon forget.

EDIT as of 11/2016: Ryan would like to note that he will be re-scoring the film in the future.  A few years have passed  since this project wrapped up and he has improved as a composer and feels, along with Barry, that the score could fit the film a bit better (especially since there is no longer a looming graduation deadline).

Additionally, If you are interested in seeing the film in its current incarnation, you can view it here.