Eric's Summer Vacation—2017 Edition

The feeling of exultation I experience at the end of May and the beginning of June is a true Rite of Spring for me—a celebration of renewal and new life that has a bit to do with the cycle of nature, to be sure, but even more so with the change of routine. With the turning in of grades on the campuses, the winding down of the concert season, and the exhilarating but brief camp weeks at the PAC, life takes on a new tempo in a very different daily routine.

I get to focus on marks I make on music paper as I work on composing and arranging projects. Just that. No preparation for and running off to classes, no papers to grade, no rehearsals to plan and performances to absorb every ounce of energy. Instead, I get to contemplate things that don’t exist yet—to dream dreams and think about the possibilities of music that lives only in the most fragmentary, potential form in my mind.

This has become the standard shape of summer for me for about the past six years. So what did I do on my summer vacation? Work. And take naps.

This past summer I reserved to devote to two projects: an original composition for brass choir on commission from Dr. Otis French at the University of Mount Union, and the orchestrations and choral arrangements of Franc D’Ambrosio’s Christmas in New York for the Tusc Phil.

The latter project is slated for performance in December as the orchestra, the kids chorus, and the adult chorus collaborate with the great Franc D’Ambrosio in what will be the premiere of the orchestral and choral version of his musical memoir. The music consists of just about every popular Christmas song you can name, and it has been performed in an arrangement for solo piano to accompany Franc in his solo act. (The show was presented at the PAC two years ago.) So, what I am doing is taking the music for solo voice and solo piano and distiributing it to other groups that will be accompanying him on stage. The all-important decisions about “what happens when” have all been made, and I have only (only!) to decide who plays those notes at any given time. It’s like coloring in a sonic coloring book. For the Philharmonic and choruses, it's an exciting opportunity to perform with a legend. For Franc, it expands a performance vehicle. And for me, it’s another chance to make art on paper that comes vividly to life in sound.

The orchestrations are being cooked up in a slow simmer as you read this—it’s a lot of music, and summers are not as long as they used to be. Have you noticed?

I get to contemplate things that don’t exist yet - to dream dreams and think about the possibilities of music that lives only in the most fragmentary, potential form in my mind.

And then there was the original composition to dream up and notate which is a more involved process and has an earlier due date and, hence, received more concentrated attention. I mused on it all through the months of June and July and only really put pencil on paper to make notes on a staff later that month. What emerged is a set of variations on the hymn tune “Old 100th” for large brass choir that times out at about eight minutes. Notes on paper are the first permanent record of my musical ideas—I’m old school and still love the experience of drawing the shapes of noteheads on the lines of the staff with a number two pencil. Only after I have at least a single line of music in every measure do I then move to the computer and enter the piece into music software where I can easily listen to playbacks, fill in gaps, do rewrites, assign instrumentation, and make the innumerable other decisions that go into composing a piece.

Mostly I worked at my home in Alliance, but as I have done for the past six summers, I traveled to Hardwick, Massachusetts to take up residence at the farmhouse-home of dear friends for a few weeks. There I could enjoy their company and the ambience of rural New England while working on the piece in solitude. I love to get up at dawn, make the coffee, and set to work, surrounded by the silence of the countryside, punctuated only by bird songs.

Oh, “Things Philharmonic” were never far from my mind, rest assured. Hardwick is somewhat off the grid, but Sallie Stroup (executive director), Barb Moore (personnel manager), and I could still, online, make swipes at those busy and elusive clouds of planning details that flutter like moths around the porch light. And I was back in northeast Ohio to take up responsibilities entailed in my post as associate conductor of the Akron Symphony, with concert and rehearsal dates that dotted the calendar through July and August.

The “Old 100th” piece is complete and delivered, I am back in the classroom and on the podium, and of course, still working on the D’Ambrosio Christmas arrangements. Summer, in a form, continues…I don’t speak of it in past tense until October 1.

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