Thursday, December 13, 2012

Midwest Clinic 2012

I'm excited to announce that three of my compositions will be performed at the 2012 Midwest Clinic, a prestigious international conference for music educators held every December in Chicago! Groups that perform here are considered among the best programs in the country and getting selected to perform is a pretty big deal. I've had one or two performances in years past, but three is almost unheard of. I'm super-excited. 

If you're going to be at the clinic, please check out one (or all) of these performances:

Wednesday, December 19, 10:30am at Ballroom W190
The Edmond North High School Symphony Orchestra of Edmond, OK
performs Harrowland.

Wednesday, December 19, 4:00pm at ballroom W190
The Sinfonia Orchestra of Orange City, FL
performs Maharaja.

Friday, December 21, 9:00am at ballroom W190
The Douglas Anderson School of the Arts Chamber Orchestra of Jacksonville, FL
performs Samba Del Sol.

My pieces are right in the middle of each program, but these shows are always great and you'll enjoy the whole thing. Congratulations to the performers and directors for making it to Midwest and thank you for programming my music!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Online Concert

It's time for another online concert!

Up first, please enjoy Gargoyles, performed by the DPO on October 28, 2011. (Possibly California's Dos Pueblos Orchestra? There's no indication of who the conductor is or where the group is located.)

Fantastic musicianship and some great, precise playing! The articulations are perfect. It's exciting to see such a large group that doesn't feel the need to play loud all the time. Their pianos are exhilarating.

Up next is the LaVilla School of the Arts Orchestra of Jacksonville, Florida performing A Breeze In the Keys.

There's a really nice energy in that performance and good contrasts between the bouncy rhythmic parts and the legato sections. Kudos to the percussion section on this one.

Next, let's hear from the Philharmonic Orchestra of Hopkins High School in Minnetonka, Minnesota, led by Andrew Bast. They're performing Maharaja.

This is a tough piece and they pulled it off nicely. It's all about pacing, and making sure you don't get too loud or intense too soon and they did a great job. They also have a good sense of rhythm and an ear for the style.

Finally, let's jet over to Germany (Berlin, I think), where Jana Wirth leads the Kammerorchester MSO in a performance of Agincourt.

Small but mighty! Those are some good players. The crispness of their staccatos is absolutely delightful and their intonation is spot-on. They look like high school students but they sound like pros. Well, done!


Friday, October 26, 2012

Doug Spata in Italy

Back in September I spent 10 days in Italy, seeing beautiful things, visiting wonderful places, and meeting fascinating people. This was my second trip to Europe - the first was in 2002 and Italy was just a small leg of a larger journey, so when it was time to go back, I knew that I wanted to explore Italy more.
And explore I did! I signed onto a guided tour which took me to Rome, Tivoli, Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano, and Venice. I brought my trusty Olympus SP-620UZ along with me and a list of things to see and when I got back home I compiled the thousands of photos and hours of video into an epic video. And then (much like Peter Jackson's upcoming Hobbit movies) I had to split it up into three smaller videos because YouTube has a 15-minute limit for videos on a basic license. Then I made a trailer for the videos using an iMovie template.  So please sit back and enjoy my trip with me!


Part 1: Rome

Part 2: Tuscany

Part 3: Venice


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Doug Spata's Olympic Dream

The Olympics begin this week and it's always an exciting time for the world. I love watching the opening and closing ceremonies and the Parade of Nations, though I don't have a specific sport that I follow. The first Olympics I was aware of was the 1984 games in Los Angeles and I remember that for a long time all anyone could talk about was the U.S. gymnastics team.

TV coverage does a good job of highlighting the dramatic stories that drive the competitors and led the athletes to the games. They all have that "Olympic dream," to achieve at the highest level in front of the whole world.

Even though I'm not an athlete, I have an Olympic dream of my own: it would be an epic thrill to hear one of my compositions used in during Olympic competition. I'm not talking about the opening and closing ceremonies – that's way too much to ask. But it would be amazing to hear one of my pieces accompany a gymnastics floor exercise, a synchronized swimming routine, or, at the Winter Olympics, figure skating or ice dancing.

As a kid, I especially enjoyed hearing the music used in the gymnastic competitions because it's so full of color, energy, and emotion. I think some of my pieces would be suitable. Need something with a dark energy? Try Avatar, Elementals, or Storm Trail. Something more rhythmic and angular? There's Agincourt. Need a bright explosion of sound? Quicksilver or Star of Valor. For something more lyrical, have a listen to A Hero's Welcome. And if you need something fun and sassy, I recommend Violet's Tango, Samba Del Sol, Lemon Twist, or Mambo Incognito. Of course, Gauntlet is good for any occasion.

Professional recordings of all these and more are available at

So if you're an Olympic-level gymnast, synchronized swimmer, figure skater, or ice dancer... you're probably training really hard and don't have time for music classes, so you've never heard of me. But if you're someone who knows an Olympic-level athlete, maybe suggest one of my pieces and help make my dream come true!


Friday, July 6, 2012

Gargoyles Tutorial Videos

Another great teacher has posted tutorial videos on You Tube!  She goes by the name QuietMusic, and I'm not sure where she's from, but please to enjoy and play along with her videos for Gargoyles:

Violin I

Violin II




Nice job!  These are great - thank you for posting them, anonymous teacher! I hope your administrators, students, and their parents appreciate your dedication.

You can find more tutorial videos for North Pole Workshop and Lemon Twist here.


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

I Take Requests

Occasionally, I'm lucky enough to get fan mail. My e-mail address is pretty easy to find and I've received messages from teachers, students, parents, and even audience members who have questions or comments about what they've heard or played. It's always wonderful to get feedback right from the source. I got an e-mail recently from a student in Texas and it was a little different:
 I love your compositions, and so does my high school orchestra director! 
We play your pieces all the time and they are our all time favorites. I was wondering if for your next submission to Alfred Music Publishing, could you compose a piece that has these components:
  • Written in the style of an overture like, "Gauntlet" (ABA form)
  • Set in a minor key 
  • Quick tempo
  • Dark motifs using sixteenth note and eighth note passages
  • A slower more lyrical and expressive middle section (it would be cool if it could alternate between major and minor keys/modes), that then quickens back up into the beginning themes
  • And be the grade level of 3-4
Performing a piece like that written by you would be the coolest thing EVER!
Students frequently ask me to write something "like Gauntlet," but I've never been sure what that means. I've written lots of other overtures in minor keys with fast tempos and I'm wary about repeating myself - if it's too much like Gauntlet, then what's the point? But this was the first time that someone actually delineated what that means. And the thing that sticks out is the mention of Gauntlet's middle section (a.k.a "the hard part"). This e-mail made me realize that I'd never done a slow section quite like that in any of my other pieces. I responded:
I've written a few minor key pieces for more advanced orchestra, but I don't think any of the published ones have slow middle sections.  Still, if you haven't heard them already, you many enjoy Storm Trail, Elementals, and Agincourt.  Next time I work on a fast minor key piece for advanced orchestra, I'll be sure to include a slow middle section before the recap.
 I've always kind of assumed that students don't enjoy Gauntlet's nebulous, melody-free middle section. It is, admittedly, a weird 25 measures. In recordings and videos it's the place where counting most frequently breaks down, entrances are missed, and musicianship is lost. I hadn't considered that  the challenge of that passage of music was appealing to students.

So after thinking about this, I set out to start a new piece of music. I didn't want it to be the same ability level as Gauntlet, so it has some advanced technical demands. I'm pleased with the piece and thought I'd share with my fan what came of his suggestions:
I just finished a new piece based on your recommendations and I thought you'd like to hear it - the sound file is attached. It's a fast Grade III piece with 16th note syncopations and optional shifting, it's in C minor with a few key changes, and it uses overture form with a lyrical middle section similar in style to Gauntlet's. I also included snare drum, bass drum, and tam tam parts for this one. I'd love to hear what you think.
He responded:
Wow! It sounds awesome! The middle section sounds really good. I also really like the percussion sound. It gives color and a really cool adventure/quest sound. The intensity builds all the way to the end and that's what I love about all your pieces! Do you have a title for this one yet? 
I wrote back:
Success!  No title for this one yet, though. Writing music is easy - writing titles is difficult.
I'll send this piece off with my submissions next spring and I have high hopes for it!


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

New Music Selected for 2013

I got word recently from my editor that I'll have two new pieces in Alfred Publishing's 2013-2014 String Orchestra catalog!

First is "Across the Wind," an intermediate-level major-key concert overture that features 16th note ostinatos. It features a lyrical middle section that I'm particularly proud of.

The second is "Dragonfly," an minor key piece that not only features furious 16th note rhythms, but also meter changes. It's intended for advanced groups, but I'm sure it will get picked up by ambitious intermediate players.  "Dragonfly" was developed from a piece I wrote many years ago on commission for a local school orchestra. That version was never published, but I was very happy with the themes, so I split it up and recycled it. The first part of that piece became the main theme to my first opera and the second part developed into "Dragonfly." And now it's getting published! So it's been a long interesting road for this particular piece.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Gauntlet, Zydeco Two-Step, Las Mariposas Exoticas

How about a little online concert?  Let's kick things off with Gauntlet, performed by the McMath 8th Grade Orchestra of Denton, Texas.

This might be one of the best performances of Gauntlet I've ever heard. Here's why:

1. The tempo is perfect.
2. The expression is really great (especially in the "hard part": mm. 56 to 80)
3. Fantastic intonation and rhythmic precision.
4. The articulations are dead-on perfect. Listen to how short those staccato notes are. They're so dry they're practically a fire hazard. You could go out and get a bite to eat between each of those notes.

Up next is the 2012 Middle School Honors Orchestra (there's no indication of what district or city, but I've been able to narrow it to the state of Georgia) performing Zydeco Two-Step (they start playing at 1:00).

Nice job!  It's a little faster than I'm used to hearing it, but it was handled nicely and the increased tempo adds a rollicking feel to the piece.  Also, nice use of dynamics. Everyone looks like they had a good time playing this one.

Finally, here's the Cooper Middle School Orchestra (possibly of McLean, Virginia?) performing Las Mariposas Exoticas.

Delightful!  They did a good job of making it sound delicate and light.  The key to this piece is to make the arco articulations match the sound of the pizzicato and this group did a great job, especially at the ends of phrases.

Well done, all!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Lemon Twist Tutorials

I was on YouTube recently and came across these great play-along tutorial videos for Lemon Twist. There's not a lot of info about who this wonderful teacher is, but she's providing these videos for her students in the Middletown Middle School Orchestra.

Violin I

Violin II



Sorry, Bass players, looks like you're on your own because there's no Bass video in this series.  But anyway, great job to this wonderful orchestra teacher for her dedication to her students.  I hope the orchestra, their parents, and your administrators appreciate all your efforts!


Friday, April 13, 2012

MP3 Downloads 2012

One of my absolute favorite things about working with Alfred Publishing is hearing their promotional recordings of my music.  The studio orchestra does a great job every year and I always look forward to their professional interpretations.  This year's recordings are no exception.

The links below are to Alfred's music download website,, and my three new pieces for 2012-2013. You can listen via Flash or download each piece for only $.99 USD.  You can search for my name or for any of my pieces and you can download those as well. For example, Gauntlet, Gargoyles, Agincourt, and Maharaja. Enjoy!


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Music Engraving

Watch this video. It's fascinating.

I don't think any of my music is prepared this way. I'm pretty sure that my publisher creates printing plates electronically. But still, imagine engraving whole pieces, symphonies, and even operas in this painstaking method.  And doing it all backwards.  Hats off to these engravers and their artistry.

Monday, March 19, 2012

New Submissions for 2013

This past weekend I gathered together my portfolio of new music, recorded it to disc, wrote out some brief descriptions, and today I took it all to the post office and shipped it all to my publisher for consideration in their 2013-2014 catalog!

As always, I try to offer a wide variety of music and this year's packet of nine pieces includes three pieces for beginners, three for intermediate-level performers, and three for advanced players. Five are in major keys, four are in minor keys. Some are overtures like Gauntlet or Westward Motion, but I also included a scherzo and some pieces that mimic styles from around the world. None is too much like any other.

When I first decided which selections I'd submit, only three had titles, but I spent the last week coming up with names for the other six. As always, that's the most difficult part of the process and I know I shouldn't leave it until the last minute.  But I'm happy with the titles and with all the submitted music in general. 

Now we wait and see. The selection committee will meet, look over all of this year's submissions (from me and from all the other composers) and put together a catalog of interesting music for all ability levels. I usually hear back in June or July, when my fingernails are nubs. Once I hear back, I'll be sure to post it here. Wish me luck!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Doug Spata's iPod 2012

Every year around this time, I share some songs that I've been enjoying recently. While I love a lot of music, I usually just use my iPod when I'm running, so I don't keep classical music on there. It's hard to keep a steady pace when tempos and moods keep changing, so I prefer up-tempo pop music. Here are some of my current favorites:

1. "Domino" by Jessie J.

She's like the British Katy Perry and has a really powerful voice. I'm impressed with her vocal control on the melismas and I like her subtle use of vibrato. The song itself has a great beat and fun chords.

2. "Back and Forth" by Bright Light Social Hour

This Austin-based band is really good, but there's an even better version of this song, if you can find it. Their keyboard player (who goes by the nom-de-DJ "Mirasole") did a techno-electronic remix that is truly amazing. Unfortunately, it's not available on iTunes or YouTube.  Anyway, enjoy the original version and its weird video.

3. "Maniac" by Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Here's a great song to run to - I just love that propulsive bass line and excellent drumming. There's no official video for this song, but I found a really good fan-made clip that features a stuffed ferret, geometric solids, and a tea party. You're welcome.

4. "Love Etc." by Pet Shop Boys

Like a lot of Pet Shop Boys songs, this one has a wonderfully sly sense of humor and that characteristic bone-dry, sarcastic British wit. It has a great call-and-response melody and the aloof, icy cool beats indicative of great English dance pop.

5. "The Geeks Were Right" by The Faint

This is another ice-cool electronic dance tune. There's a serious environmental message in the lyrics, but the buzzing synths and mechanical beats are the real draw.

6. "Breakin' Up" by Rilo Kiley

Whispy, breathy vocals become stronger and more assured as this song progresses, moving from ennui to complete confidence. The song is about getting over a relationship and by the end, it's an all-out hand-clapping sing-along celebration of freedom. This video is kinda hilarious.


7. "Clap Your Hands" by They Might Be Giants

I got to cross off "see They Might Be Giants live in concert" from my bucket list last year when I attended an amazing 150-minute show that included 8 encores and every single one of my favorite Giants songs.  I've been a fan of theirs since middle school and believe that Lincoln is one of the greatest albums in all of music. The show I saw was for grown-up kids, but they still played some songs from their kids' albums, including this little gem.  There's no story or heavy meaning here - sometimes you just need to get up and clap your hands, stomp your feet, and jump in the air.

8. "Holidays" by Miami Horror (featuring Alan Palomo)

I love love love the fat bass sound in this modern-day disco song. And speaking of weird videos...

9. "Friday I'm In Love" by The Cure

Is it any surprise that the composer of Gauntlet is a fan of The Cure? They have a reputation as a mopey English band that sings dark, sinister rock dirges and they're a touchstone of goth style, but this song is an absolutely ecstatic expression of sheer happiness. Beneath all that dark eye makeup and tangles of Edward Scissorhand hair, their hearts are little balls of sunshine. I couldn't post the official video, but this one will do nicely.


10. "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen

Quite simply the greatest song written by the greatest rock star who ever lived and performed by the greatest rock band ever assembled.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Oscar Night Post-Mortem

Well, I had a pretty good Oscar night!  I correctly picked 15 out of 19, which is a 79% success rate.  Here's how it turned out (I've asterisked my correct picks):

Best Picture: The Artist*
Best Director: Michael Hazanavicius, The Artist*
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist*
Best Actress:
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners*
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help*
Best Original Screenplay: Midnight In Paris*
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants*
Best Editing: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Best Cinematography: Hugo
Best Score: The Artist*
Best Song:
"Man or Muppet" The Muppets*
Best Art Direction:
Best Costumes: The Artist*
Best Makeup: The Iron Lady*
Best Sound: Hugo*
Best Sound Editing:
Best Visual Effects: Hugo
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation*

I didn't pick the Short Film, Documentary, or Animated Feature categories, but here's who won:

Documentary Feature: Undefeated
Documentary Short: Saving Face
Live Action Short: The Shore

Animated Short: The Fantastic Flying books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
Animated Feature: Rango

I probably could have picked Rango, but all the others would have ruined my average. I dodged a bullet there.

It was a good show - Billy Crystal never disappoints and it moved quickTributes and montages were kept to a minimum, there were no musical performances, and the thing Cirque Du Soleil was entertaining.  It was a lean, entertaining show. I had fun this year, even without writing a series of long blog posts. I can't wait for next year's Oscar season where, no doubt, I will be rooting for The Hobbit.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oscars 2012

Oscar Night is my favorite holiday of the year and I usually celebrate online by writing in-depth reviews of the Best Picture nominees and explaining my picks in exacting detail here on the blog.  A lot of work and thought goes into the process ever year, but I've had this conversation too many times:

Friend: "So what do you think of the Oscars this year, Doug?"

Me: "I've been publishing all of my opinions and picks online for the last month. Haven't you been reading my blog?"

Friend: "No."

As much as I love writing them, the exhaustive string of blog posts just doesn't get read and all anyone really wants to hear about is who is going to win.  So here are my final picks for this year's Academy Awards:

Best Picture: The Artist
Best Director: Michael Hazanavicius, The Artist
Best Actor: Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Best Actress:
Viola Davis, The Help
Best Supporting Actor: Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Best Supporting Actress: Octavia Spencer, The Help
Best Original Screenplay: Midnight In Paris
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Descendants
Best Editing: The Artist
Best Cinematography: Tree of Life
Best Score: The Artist
Best Song:
"Man or Muppet" The Muppets
Best Art Direction:
Best Costumes: The Artist
Best Makeup: The Iron Lady
Best Sound: Hugo
Best Sound Editing:

Best Visual Effects: Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Best Foreign Language Film: A Separation

As always, I don't pick documentaries or short films, because I don't get to see most of them during the year and can't make an informed decision. This year, the same goes for Animated Feature, a category which features two films that have yet to get wide release and (for the first time since the category was established) no Pixar entry. I feel surest about the Actresses, least secure about the technical awards, and am pretty sure that The Artist will charm its way to the top spot and receive five other awards, but not Best Original Screenplay. The movie with the most nominations, Hugo, is also a marketing nightmare and will walk away with a respectable three statuettes.

Several prognosticators predict a win for George Clooney, but I think Jean Dujardin will be named Best Actor. The closest we have to a lock this year is Christopher Plummer for Supporting Actor.

I'm making some pretty daring picks this year in other categories. The visuals in Hugo blew me away, but I think Tree of Life's artistic camera work will impress voters more and will win the Cinematography prize. Harry Potter 7b was last year's highest-grossing movie, but I'm predicting that Planet of the Apes will best it for Visual Effects and The Iron Lady's prestige will vault it ahead of Potter for Best Makeup. I usually don't pick a Foreign Language film, but I'm taking a guarded chance this year with Iran's A Separation, which is the clear favorite.

We can all see how my predictions pan out on Sunday, February 26. Tune in to ABC at 7pm EST for the red carpet (or E! will have coverage all day if you want an early start).


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sales Statement 2011 (Part 2)

As I mentioned in Part 1, my foreign sales make up just a tiny percentage of my annual total. But it's still interesting to see what sells. Here are my top five foreign sales of scores with parts in 2011:

1. Sneaking Suspicion
2. Gargoyles & Star of Valor (tie)
3. Quicksilver
4. Avatar, Gauntlet, Hot Potato, Porcupine Pantomime (all tied)
5. Lemon Twist and Storm Trail (tie)

The new ones are popular and some of the old favorites made the list, but a lot of these entries are surprises. Sneaking Suspicion seems to be a breakaway hit overseas.

Alfred Publishing also sells scores alone, without the parts. You'd need extra scores to give the judges at contests, so the best-sellers on this list are the ones that are popular at contest season:

1. Gautlet
2. Gargoyles
3. Avatar
4. Las Mariposas Exoticas
5. Crusader

No surprises here. Except maybe for Mariposas - I suppose that explains its resurgence in the score-and-parts list.

Again, if you bought anything of mine in the past year, thanks very much!