Thursday, October 3, 2013

New Music from Wingert-Jones

I got some great news recently – in addition to my three new compositions getting published by Alfred Publishing next year, two more pieces (Pioneer Sky and Woodpecker Cha Cha) will be published next year by Wingert-Jones Publishing! Here's the story of how this came about:

I've been working with Alfred Publishing for nearly 15 years now and they've included one to three of my compositions in their String Orchestra catalog every year. All the while, my editors have reminded me that we don't have an exclusive contract and that it's not uncommon for composers to get deals with several different publishers. So every once in a while I sent a portfolio of music to Kjos, Carl Fisher, or Hal Leonard and always received a nice rejection letter explaining that they're not looking to expand their stable of composers. Even when I introduced myself as the composer of Gauntlet and mentioned the enormous success that Alfred was enjoying with my publications, they still weren't impressed enough to accept my submissions.  Eventually, I got bored with the rejection and stopped trying to get their attention. Alfred has been more than happy to work with me and I'm happy to work with them.

Then, out of the blue this past summer, I got an e-mail from the String Editor at Wingert-Jones, a small but well-established music publisher looking to expand its String Orchestra catalog. He knew me by reputation and invited me to submit some music for their 2014 catalog, which I did. This week, he wrote back to tell me that two of the five pieces I sent have been selected for publication!

I normally send Alfred Publishing about nine pieces of various levels and styles each year and they take two or three of those. That means that about 70% of the music I write goes unpublished. When they pass over a piece of music, it's often not that they don't like it, it's because it doesn't fit their needs at the moment. Maybe they found another piece with a similar style or one that covers the same playing technique or they need more beginner-level pieces to create a well-rounded catalog. I've re-submitted music to Alfred and occasionally the timing is better on the second pass.

Alfred has been great to me over the years and I'll always give them the first (and sometimes second) opportunity to publish any String Orchestra music I write. But now, with Wingert-Jones, I have an additional outlet for some of the great music that was previously shelved.

So I hope you look for my two new pieces next year from Wingert-Jones as well as my three new pieces from Alfred! It should be an exciting time!


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

You Tube Concert

It's the start of a new school year here in the States! Hooray! I thought I'd kick things off with another YouTube concert of performances of my music that I've discovered over the summer.

First up is a performance of Star of Valor, uploaded by the AFA Symphony Orchestra of the American Festival of the Arts Summer Music Conservatory at Pershing High School in Houston, Texas. They do a really nice job balancing the overlapping melodies and negotiating the tempo changes. Their intonation is really good. And just look at the concentration in their faces.

Here's a really nice performance of Westward Motion, performed by the CMS 8th Grade Orchestra. Again, there's no indication of where they're from, geographically. But they do a nice job with the piece. My only quibble: they clearly have timpani, chimes and a glockenspeil on stage and they're completely unmanned and silent throughout the piece! The percussion parts are optional, but I always prefer to hear them whenever possible.

I've saved a really good one for last: check out this performance of Gauntlet from the String Quartet Program of Northern Colorado Works in Progress concert. It looks like an all-ages group and they do a remarkable job bringing the emotion out of the piece. This is definitely one of the best performances I've heard of Gauntlet. The whole concert is great, but Guantlet starts at about 12:10.

There is another video of this same performance, just of Gauntlet, taken from a closer angle at stage level, but I wasn't able to link it to this post. It should be easy enough to find with a quick YouTube search, though.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Performance in Qatar

So I was looking around on the Interwebs recently and discovered an article from May 26th, 2013 about a performance of Maharaja. The article was in the Gulf Times and my first thought was that it was from Mississipi, Louisiana, or maybe Texas. But I was way off.

The Gulf Times reports news from the PERSIAN Gulf.

It turns out that Maharaja was performed in Qatar. In the Middle East.  Roughly, here:

Here's what the article said about the group and about Maharaja:

Almost 80 musicians took to the stage of the American School in Doha (ASD) on Saturday evening to perform in front of a delighted audience.  

Musicians range from semi-professionals and professionals, including the occasional ‘loan’ from the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra, to amateurs ranging in age from 10 to those nearing retirement - all united in their passion for music.
It seems that at every concert the orchestra achieves new heights, and Saturday’s performance was no exception.  
...and then it was time for ‘something completely different’ with the musicians snapping their fingers as well as playing away for dear life in Doug Spata’s  sizzling and stylish ‘Maharaja’, with the audience invited to join in the finger-snapping by conductor Brita Fray. Combining rhythms and motifs from Southeast Asian music with a powerful beat and exciting melodies, this very recent composition is as much fun to play as it is to listen to, and the DCO did it full justice.
  They were doing a "multi-cultural" program and chose Maharaja to represent India (by way of the U.S.). My mind is blown. I also appreciate the Monty Python reference. Thanks to the DCO orchestras for choosing my music!

Here's a link to the full article.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

New Music Selected for 2014

I'm thrilled to announce that Alfred Publishing has picked up three of my pieces for their 2014 String Orchestra catalog! Back in March I sent them nine selections of varying styles and ability levels and they took all of the beginner pieces. Here's what to look forward to:

March of the Wood Elves starts with a minor-key pizzicato pulse and a sly melody, builds in intensity, and then quietly marches off into the distance. I think the influence of Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony is pretty apparent in this one.

Winstride is a sunny, vibrant piece with a bit of a rock feel. Easy syncopations and simple, sparkling 8th note accompaniments give way to a contrasting minor key middle section before returning to the main themes and an exciting conclusion.

Zuma Breakers pays tribute to classic surf rock artists of the 1960's like Dick Dale, The Ventures, and Jan & Dean. It's a fast-paced zip down the beach with a focus on the second finger pattern and G-string notes. This one includes an optional drum kit part for extra rock & roll flair.

I'm excited about these three selections and I'll be sure to update their progress here on the blog when they go through the editing, recording, and publication phases.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Zydeco Two-Step Tutorials

The wonderful Dr. Patrick B. Murphy of Tecumseh Junior High School and Jefferson High School Orchestras in Lafayette Indiana is at it again with a series of tutorial videos for Zydeco Two-Step. He does a fantastic job of breaking each part down and giving expert guidance. Check them out and play along!

1st Violin

2nd Violin




Dr. Murphy previously posted tutorial videos for North Pole Workshop, which you can find here. Again, these are fantastic videos and I hope Dr. Murphy's students and administrators appreciate the time and hard work that goes into making them.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

YouTube Concert

It's time for another online concert! Let's start with a performance of Maharaja by the Marshall Philharmonic Orchestra of George C. Marshall High School in Falls Church, Virginia,

These guys get it. The tempo isn't too fast, leaving lots of room for expression and the stylistic nuances of their performance are excellent. Maharaja is a character piece and this group was able to see beyond the notes on the page to really bring the character to life. Bravi.

Up next is a performance of Star of Valor. I'm not sure which group this is, but it looks like it was performed at Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Nice job! Star of Valor is like an emotional roller coaster and this group does a good job of navigating the turns. Lots of good stuff happening in Virginia.

Our final selection is Gargoyles, performed by the Concierto Solidario of the Conservatorio Superior de Música in Córdoba, Spain, led by D. Gabriel Arellano.

I can see that there's a lot of passion in this performance but, to be honest, this isn't the greatest rendition of Gargoyles I've ever heard. It's rather heavy-sounding and there's not a lot of dynamic contrast. So why am I featuring this video? Because it was made in Córdoba, Spain. In Andalusia.




Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Avatar Debate

A friend of mine who teaches middle school orchestra recently asked me to settle a debate he'd been having with his class over my piece Avatar. The argument centers on the very last measure, which looks like this:
His 'cellos and basses prefer playing all of beat 2 as a three-note slur, rather than slurring just the 16th notes and playing the upbeat as an upbow, as written. So my friend, the orchestra teacher, turned to me to judge the case. Here's my response:
The reason it's a two-note slur instead of a three-note slur is:

1. That same rhythmic figure appears a two-note slur throughout the entire piece (practically every odd-numbered measure) so playing it that way at 59 keeps things consistent. It's an essential part of the piece's DNA. Changing it on the last rhythm of the final measure would be weird.

2. Playing a two-note slur at m. 59 ensures that the last note is played with a down bow, which naturally has more power than an up bow and results in a natural accent.

3. Playing a two-note slur and ending the piece on a down bow keeps things consistent with the violins and violas, who also end with a down bow. Everyone ends together on a strong down bow, which gives the piece both a sonic and visual sense of finality.

4. I'm the composer and I know what I'm doing.

There's plenty of room for interpretation when it comes to expression, style, and even flexibility in tempo and dynamics (within reason) but notes, rhythms, and bowing are all carefully chosen and shouldn't be messed with. Especially in this piece, which requires precise, articulate playing.
Let me know what you think – which elements of written music are open to interpretation?  And if you have your own debate about something I wrote, I'd love to hear about it and make a ruling.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Doug Spata's iPod 2013

It's been a while since I posted about the music I've been listening to. I use my iPod when I go running, so up-tempo pop and dance music works best. Nothing against ballads or classical music, but a fast steady tempo helps me keep up my pace. Here are some of the songs currently on my running mix:

1. My World by Hands Up!

There's no video for this one, but the song is really cool. I especially like the percussive, overdubbed violin ostinato. It reminds me of Steve Reich's piece Violin Phase. Also, you don't hear many pop songs (or, really, much of any music) in the key of C# Major.

2. Love You Like a Love Song by Selena Gomez

When I first heard this song on the radio I thought I was hearing a lost Donna Summer track from 1978. It has a great groove and I love those disco violins and the dubstep wub-wub-wubs give it a modern edge. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was listening to a Disney pop princess.

3. Brokenhearted by Karmin

Here's a cool, infectious pop song. I'm especially fascinated by the bass line, which outlines the same four-chord progression (I - vi - IV - V) without variation throughout the piece, similar to the famous ground bass in Pachalbel's Canon In D.

4. Closer by Tegan and Sara

Their new album, Hearthrob, is a real departure for Tegan and Sarah, who made their name with quiet, folksy songs. But I'm thrilled that they found the beat, making this one of the best pop albums of the year. I especially love this track for its bold, hands-in-the-air confidence.

5. Perform This Way by "Weird" Al Yankovic

I think it's generally accepted that induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is the second-highest honor one can achieve in the world of popular music. The first is having your song parodied by Weird Al. And I always like Al best when he skewers the artists themselves (like Smells Like Nirvana), rather than turning the song into something else. I think he picked a great pop culture moment to parody and I'm happy to hear that Lady Gaga was so accommodating.

6. Get Lucky by Daft Punk

Oh, Daft Punk, you crazy French robots. You've done it again. And good on you for bringing in the legendary Nile Rodgers and his funky guitar licks along.

7. Celebrate by Mika

Ohmygodyouguys. Mika put out another album. And (as usual) it is amazing. His cover of Popular from the musical Wicked is getting more attention, but I like this song which, like Get Lucky, features Pharrell Williams. It bears repeating: Mika is writing all the songs Freddy Mercury never got around to.

8. The City by Madeon

Here's a great song for running. It's a cool piece of EDM with a nice, driving beat. And the best surprise is when it ends with a piccardy third! Baroque compositional techniques in the house!

9. Nanobots by They Might Be Giants

The latest from one of my favorite bands. I'm a lifelong fan and I was lucky enough to see them live a second time this year. I hope to see them again and again as long as they keep touring. They're an unabashedly nerdy band that writes awesome songs about nerdy things. As usual, their melodies are infectious, their songwriting is inspired. It's sheer brilliance and I look to the Johns as creative role models.

Friday, April 19, 2013

New Recordings and Sheet Music Available!

I'm thrilled to report that my new music for 2013 - 2014 is now available! I'm really excited about this year's selections and can't wait to share them with the world. I've included links in this post so you can buy the sheet music from J.W. Pepper and listen to and/or buy the recordings on the Alfred Publishing website.

First is Dragonfly, a piece in G minor that buzzes with energy and features darting, zigzag rhythms in changing meters.

Listen to Dragonfly here

Buy sheet music here

The second piece is Across the Wind, a soaring, triumphant overture in F Major with bristling ostinatos and a range of emotions.

Listen to Across the Wind Here

Buy sheet music here


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Oscar Post-Mortem 2013

I did pretty well with my Oscar picks - I got 16 out of 21 (not counting the documentary or live-action short films), which is 76%. Here's the full list, with my correct picks bolded:

Best Picture: Argo
Best Director: Ang Lee
Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway
Best Original Screenplay: Django Unchained
Best Adapted Screenplay: Argo
Best Animated Feature: Brave
Best Foreign Language Film: Amour
Best Film Editing: Argo
Best Cinematography: Life of Pi
Best Production Design: Lincoln
Best Hair & Makeup: Lex Miz
Best Costumes: Anna Karenina
Best Song: Skyfall
Best Score: Life of Pi
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Best Sound: Les Miz
Best Sound Effects Editing: Zero Dark Thirty & Skyfall (a tie!)
Best Animated Short: Paperman

Best Live-action Short: Curfew
Documentary Short: Innocente
Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugarman

I thought it was a great show, with only a few mis-steps. The producers of this year's broadcast were the guys behind 2002's Chicago and they took every opportunity to remind us of that fact, shoehorning clips and tributes throughout the show and reuiniting the cast to present awards. We get it. Chicago was a great movie. Ten years ago.

I thought Seth MacFarlane did really well and it was smart of him to acknowledge how thankless a job it is to host the Oscars. The monologue dragged a little, but his Sound Of Music gag was a particular favorite. Overall: thumbs up.

And I like that the ceremony was full of surprise moments like Daniel Day-Lewis's charming acceptance, Jennifer Lawrence being adorable, Quentin Tarantino's sweaty, rambling speech, and a tie for Best Sound Effects Editing.

I'm already looking forward to next year!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Oscars 2013

Hey! Oscar Night is Sunday and I haven't posted my picks yet!  Let's rectify that.

Best Picture: Argo
Best Director: Steven Speilberg
Best Actor Daniel Day-Lewis
Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence
Best Supporting Actor: Tommy Lee Jones
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway
Best Original Screenplay: Django Unchained
Best Adapted Screenplay: Argo
Best Animated Feature: Wreck It Ralph
Best Foreign Language Film: Amour
Best Film Editing: Argo
Best Cinematography: Life of Pi
Best Production Design: Les Miz
Best Hair & Makeup: The Hobbit
Best Costumes: Anna Karenina
Best Song: Skyfall
Best Score: Life of Pi
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Best Sound: Les Miz
Best Sound Effects Editing: Zero Dark Thirty

I took each category on its own merits and it looks like I've picked Argo, Lincoln, Les Miz, and Life of Pi to each take home three awards.  It's highly unusual for one film not to stand out.

As usual, I don't pick the shorts or documentary films because I normally don't get to see them ahead of time. But if I had to make an unofficial guess, I'd pick Paperman for Animated Short.

There it is! Under the wire! Enjoy the show on Sunday night!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Sales Statement 2012

Every year, the good people at Alfred Publishing send me a report showing how many of each of my pieces have been sold in the past 12 months. It's always exciting to get that kind of quantifiable feedback. When I first started getting them, they were much simpler, but since the advent of digital printing and different combinations of scores and parts became available for sale, the sales reports have become a lot more complicated. So, filtering through the many lines of data, here are my top-selling sets of scores and parts within the U.S. for 2012:

1. Maharaja
2. North Pole Workshop
3. Avatar
4. Gauntlet
5. Agincourt

I submitted Maharaja with little hope of it ever getting published and was shocked that it was accepted. I just thought it was too odd or too technically demanding to be taken seriously. A year later, looking around YouTube, I was shocked to discover that it's popular. And now I'm shocked to learn exactly how popular - nearly twice the sales of my next-best-selling piece! New pieces for tend to make a big splash in their first year, but Maharaja goes beyond expectations.

Gauntlet always makes the top 5 list and I'm excited to see that it remains popular. North Pole Workshop was also a new piece this year and it's great to see that it did so well.  Avatar was the top-seller for the past two years and I credited that to people mistaking it for the theme to James Cameron's movie, but it still has a strong showing, so I think it's safe to start attributing success on its own terms. Agincourt is one of my personal favorites, so I'm thrilled that it remains popular. Gargoyles usually makes the top five list but this year it was edged out by just one sale. Another newer piece, Shadows of Venice, would have taken the #7 spot.

Looking at the data for foreign sales of scores and parts is a different story:

1. Maharaja & Shadows of Venice (tie)
3. Agincourt & Sneaking Suspicion (tie)
5. Mambo Incognito & Star of Valor (tie)

There's a different system for music education abroad, which often doesn't involve classroom music ensembles, so foreign sales are far lower than in the U.S. But still, this year's numbers show an increased interest in some of the newer selections. If I was shocked to see that Maharaja is popular among American orchestras, I'm floored to learn that it's popular in other parts of the world. Major-key novelty pieces tend to dominate this list, but it's wonderful to see music like Agincourt and Shadows of Venice catching on.

Here's one more list - domestic sales of scores:

1. Gauntlet
2. Gargoyles
3. Avatar
4. Agincourt
5. Las Mariposas Exoticas

This list is important because orchestras need to buy extra scores to give the judges when they go to state Solo & Ensemble contests and high sales mean a piece is popular at contests. It takes several years for a piece to build enough credibility to be included on contest lists, so big sellers here are usually older pieces, but it's good to see Agincourt surging ahead.

There are a lot more ways to break down the data - digital scores and parts, print licensing, MP3 downloads – but that's enough for now. If you bought one of my pieces in 2012 (in any format) I want to thank you for a great year!