By Alyssa Pry
David Maslanka was a prolific composer who impacted the wind band community not only through his music, but through his presence, as a musician and as a person. The people who knew him or were lucky to work with him seemed to be pulled into his orbit, spinning through his musical stratosphere.
When he sadly passed away this summer, the outpouring of love for such a giant in the wind band community seemed to be endless. For his son Matthew, seeing his father’s impact expand so wide was an overwhelming experience.
“I’ve been working with [my] dad and his music basically my whole life. And there’s been an understanding that people who listen to his music were transformed by it,” Matthew said. “But it’s usually one person at a time, or one group at a time. It was an overwhelming thing to see everyone feel that at once.”
“This has been an opportunity for everyone to write their stories,” he continued. “For them to say, ‘This is what he meant to me.’ It’s very powerful.”
Matthew worked with his father since he was just ten years old, photocopying musical scores to send to band directors. They travelled and worked together throughout David’s career, and Matthew will continue to share his legacy with the music community.
“I’m very likely the person that knows the most about his music in the world,” Matthew said. “It is up to us now to move his music forward, and keep bringing it to people.”
“I can’t fill his shoes. [But] I can provide direction and instruction for people who are interested in performing the music. I can continue publishing and get the music out to people,” he said.
For Matthew, it’s a large undertaking. David composed more than 150 pieces of music over his career, which spanned decades. But throughout his vast repertoire is a common thread: the music’s power to transform.
“[His music] allows people to transform themselves through the work,” Matthew said. “That people can feel this connection is a testament to how well he’s able to transform them.”
"He kept opening himself up further and deeper to see what the universe had to say to him, and then he wrote that down."
This skill came from a deeply personal place, Matthew said. His father spent a lot of time at his home in Montana going for long walks and meditating. Matthew says this allowed David's mind to be open and focused.
“There was a deep fulfillment he got through his compositions, and a deep connection he had to the universe,” Matthew said.
“There is a thing about, when you look at great art—timeless masterpieces—you get something new every time you see it. You pay attention. You get a greater understanding of it,” he said. “That’s where he lived. He kept opening himself up further and deeper to see what the universe had to say to him, and then he wrote that down.”
When asked if his father saw composing as his job, Matthew paused, considering his father’s dedication to his art.
“The word “job” feels weird associated with this. This was the way that he was,” he said. “When you talk about his work ethic, one of the central ideas was to show up everyday, and to create a space for the music to happen. He’d go to his studio, and give the music space to show up. If nothing happened, then that’s what happened, but he put in his attention and presence.”
Grand Street Community Band will be performing Maslanka’s work, “On This Bright Morning” at their fall performance of Our Favorite Things. Working with the Metropolitan Music Community was a highlight for Matthew and his father, and one Matthew hopes to continue into the future.
“My dad believed in what Jeff [Ball] was doing with the group. He saw someone who was committed to making great music and he believed in what they were doing with the community,” Matthew said. “I’ve been able to be apart of that development over the last few years. I’m glad to be apart of it.”