Space for All—A New Ensemble Takes Shape

By Alyssa Pry

If you spend any time around people in the Metropolitan Music Community these days, the buzz is swirling around the Kings County Concert Band, MMC’s newest ensemble, which will have their very first rehearsal Wednesday, September 21st at Grand Street High School. KCCB will be joining the MMC roster with Brooklyn Wind Symphony and Grand Street Community Band, as the MMC continues to expand at a rapid and exciting pace!

  Jasmine Britt, Kings County Concert Band's artistic director and conductor. 

Jasmine Britt, Kings County Concert Band's artistic director and conductor. 

At the helm of this brand new group is Jasmine Britt, who has played with both BKWS and GSCB, and was a founding member when the organization started in 2008. Now, eight years later, Britt finds it hard to believe how far it’s come.

“I had no idea it was going to grow this large,” Britt said with a laugh. “What I notice is there are a lot of motivated people in the group, and our musicians are the biggest asset, both musically and otherwise.  We get momentum going for one project and that helps with the next project.”

That momentum has been a driving force in the MMC since the beginning, and creating a new band was a response to the overwhelming and growing demand for musical opportunities for non-professional musicians.

“The original artistic plan [of the MMC] is we want to be in a position where we don’t ever have to turn anyone away,” Britt said. “So we had plenty of people interested in playing, we just didn’t have anywhere for them to go. So the third ensemble was imminent, just to stay true to the mission of never turning anyone away.”

Over the past several years, BKWS and GSCB have continued to grow both in size and in skill level—another hurdle the MMC hopes to straddle by creating a new ensemble that caters to musicians who bring their passion and love for music but may feel intimidated or nervous to join a group.

“There are many people that put the horn away for many years—can we create a space for those people, who maybe didn’t continue through high school or didn’t get the chance to play in high school?” Britt said.

Britt also sees KCCB as an opportunity for players in the MMC’s existing ensembles to play new instruments and stretch their artistic talents.

“Basically we have the opportunity to kill 2 birds with one stone—we have a place where experienced musicians can explore secondary instruments, and at the same time we can create a safe music space for people to rediscover the skills they had.”  

Starting this project from the ground level may be intimidating, but for Britt, who is also a band director at Grand Street High School, KCCB is an extension of what she is already dedicating her life to do.

“It’s really nice to really have everything you want—to create art in a really viable and vibrant space, and at the same time be creating a community."

“This is the one thing I do for a living. I spend a lot of my musical time doing sectionals and working with this particular level of musician,” Britt said.

She’s been spending time listening to musical programs to curate a selection of works that will highlight the identity of the new ensemble—as a space for musicians to learn and express their musical personalities at varying skill levels.

“What I’m thinking for Kings County Concert Band is exploring things you would get from first year players to something a solid high school player can perform. [But] I don’t want something for kids. I want to keep the dignity of the musician and everything age appropriate, but also keep it skill appropriate,” she said.  

Putting together this puzzle has been a challenge, but it also carries the thrill of what the MMC is capable of providing to eager musicians. And what grounds KCCB and Britt’s goals for her new ensemble are the same values that have created such a vibrant and welcoming community over the last eight years.

“You’re creating a community. We’re a city of 8 million people, yet it can get lonely if you don’t have a group you can connect with,” Britt said. “It’s really nice to really have everything you want—to create art in a really viable and vibrant space, and at the same time be creating a community. So it’s a win-win all around.” 

Posted on September 15, 2016 .

MMC Band Camp 2016!

What an incredible weekend at band camp! For the second year, the Metropolitan Music Community gathered at French Woods Performing Arts camp for an inspiring and magical Labor Day weekend. We hit the ground running on an exciting musical program for Grand Street Community Band's first cycle, and enjoyed the fresh air and beauty of the Catskill Mountains! We swam, hiked, bowled, ate, drank and laughed our way through the weekend, and then loaded up a big yellow bus back to the city, relaxed and ready for a brand new year with the MMC! Special thanks to everyone who made this weekend possible, especially GSCB conductor Brian Worsdale, whose generosity is unmatched! 

In true summer camp fashion, check out a scrapbook of our weekend adventures, and we'll see everyone in a few weeks! Reminder that rehearsals kick off September 19th (GSCB), September 20th (BKWS) and September 21st (KCCB) from 7-9 PM at Grand Street Campus High School. 

Click image to enlarge. 

Posted on September 8, 2016 .

MMC Artist Series: Michael Cuadrado Sees Another World

We're wrapping up another incredible year with the Metropolitan Music CommunityBrooklyn Wind Symphony will be closing out the 2015-16 season Saturday, June 11 at 7 PM with their Spring Concert, a joint-program with the New York City All-City High School Concert Band. BKWS will be performing Aurora Awakes by John Mackey and Colonial Song by Percy Grainger, among other works.  

Our final Artist Series is Grand Street Community Band clarinetist Michael Cuadrado. Michael is a Drawing major at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and has been playing with the Grand Street Community Band for the last three seasons. Michael is an incredibly talented artist, and was given the artist's blessing/curse of having free-reign over the direction of the program art, after being told this concert had "no theme." Read about how Michael's piece took shape, and see the piece in progress along with much more of Michael's work in the slide show below! 

Finding a Feeling...

"When I was first approached to do a commission, I was told that this was the only cycle that didn't have a theme. That worried me a little, but I knew I could put something together. So this may have been just how I felt, but the pieces from this cycle posses a feeling of [being] otherworldly. They have these elements of being about about greater things, and that's what really drew me in. So I guess you could say I gave the cycle a theme [and] found it easier to make a piece that way."

Getting Started...

"The first thing I did was listen to all of the pieces but decided that it would be a little difficult for me to take something from all of them. I really had to listen to all the pieces over and over again, so I could get a sense of what the atmosphere was throughout every piece and try to make something cohesive. So I narrowed it down to specific ones--the ones that I instantly felt some kind of connection or reaction to. Aurora Awakes was the main one that has what I described earlier--that feeling of otherworldly. So I went with that because it felt right."

Letting Ideas Take Shape... 

"I didn't draw or sketch anything before hand, but I had a pretty good idea of what kind of color palette I wanted, and I knew I wanted it to be figural. So I just kind of made sketches in my head; it was all ideas at first. I also knew that it would take me some time to finish it and that things could change along the way, and if that was the case then I would just go with it. A lot of things went through my mind as well before I made the piece--what the color palate would be if I did decide to use color; if I was going to draw a person, what gender would they be; what material would be best for it, etc. Those aren't just the decisions I made for this poster--those are the decisions I have to make whenever I make an art piece." 

Revisit all of the Artist Series from this year right here. 

Posted on May 31, 2016 .

A Night in Ireland with Victor Herbert

The Grand Street Community Band is tuning up for an entertaining and lively night of Irish music at the Gerald Lynch Theater on Friday, May 13th for a special performance of "Victor Herbert's Ireland: Music of the Emerald Isle." Our fingers will be flying, your toes will be tapping, and we'll all be booking tickets on Aer Lingus by concert's end! 

The MMC blog teamed up with artist Rebecca Pry to learn a little more about Victor Herbert, a Dublin-born musician, a prolific composer, and an advocate for musician and composer's rights. Read on for some quick facts about Herbert, and be sure to snag your free ticket to Friday's concert here! Sláinte! 

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Posted on May 11, 2016 .

MMC Artist Series: Maggie Nelson's Joyful Dance

Grand Street Community Band is lacing up our step-dancing shoes and pinning on our clovers for two performances of Irish Night at the Pops! Our first performance will be Friday, May 13th at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater, for "Victor Herbert's Ireland: Music of the Emerald Isle."  Then we return to our stomping grounds at Grand Street High School for our final performance of the 2015-2016 season on Friday, June 3rd at 8 PM. GSCB will be performing an exciting and entertaining program, including Leroy Anderson's Irish Suite and Percy Grainger's Molly on the Shore, among many other traditional tunes! 

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GSCB trumpet player Maggie Nelson created the program art for this cycle, drawing on her own background and artistic style for inspiration. Maggie is an artist and art educator, and attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City. She joined GSCB three years ago after searching for a place to play, since, "Trumpets aren't great in small apartments with roommates!" Read on to hear about Maggie's process and how she dealt with an artistic curve ball, and see more of her work in the slideshow below! 

 

A Cultural Connection...

"I have a particular relationship to Irish music--I'm half Irish and did Irish step dancing when I was little, and heard a lot of the music from an early age. It feels very familiar to me. I didn't want to highlight anything very nostalgic or sentimental, but I did want to find something essential about playing this traditional music on the anniversary of the Easter Rising." 

Her Style, and a New Theme...

"It was tricky, because we had a different musical theme for this concert when I did the original piece last fall, which was inspired by "A Night at the Pops." Later, it changed to Irish Night, so I did a second piece where I took the themes from the first [piece] and inserted them into something like the Irish countryside. For both, I had to think through all of my tropes from my own drawing practice and find ones that fit with the music, [like] my dancing, joyous figures; my magical creatures that reminded me of Celtic fairies, sprites and ghouls; my wide-mouthed singing figures, and my water color landscapes. Something new that came out of the first drawing was incorporating my magical, singing creatures with gold tubing and bells reminiscent of wind instruments."  

Inspired by Dance...

"I was thinking a lot about dance, since that's what most of this music was originally for, and I was thinking about communities rising up together and celebrating their culture. [So] it was a combination of the dance music--the reels and jigs--that made me think movement and joy and brightness; and of the ballads--with their sonority and somberness--that made me think of lifted voices in unison."

Art, Everyday...

"I'm an art teacher in an after-school program at an elementary school in Sunset Park. It's the best! Making art with kids is really important to me, and I love working in after-school [programs] because there's an understanding that it's not like the rest of public school--you're trying to do something different, something better. Then at home I make art, while trying to figure what I'm able to make in my little room with little time! I draw, felt, and sew primarily. I make objects out of fibers and ceramics and I make drawings and books. I'm also Quaker and spend a lot of time in that community--right now my most exciting project is organizing an artist residency at a Quaker summer camp in Maine, called Art Camp!"

Posted on May 4, 2016 .

Getting to Know...Ethan Bourdeau

Spring is (sorta, kinda maybe?) here, which means a new season, a new concert cycle, and meeting new members! Stepping up to the plate this month is Brooklyn Wind Symphony euphonium player Ethan Bourdeau! Ethan joined the BWKS in September and brings with him a laundry list of musical talents. (If there's ever a conch horn solo, Ethan's your guy!)

Name: Ethan Bourdeau

Occupation: Architectural Acoustical Consultant

What's your favorite thing about your day job? I enjoy learning about and practicing social responsibility in noise mitigation, especially in such an urban environment like NYC where everyone is likely to be affected in one way or another. 

Instruments: Euphonium, Jazz/Classical Guitar, Bass, Mandolin, Cello, Charango, Trombone, Tenor Horn, Tuba, Keyboard, Percussion/Kit, Conch Horn…I can go on, but I love learning new instruments, especially ethnic/world instruments…it’s totally an obsession.

How long have you been playing with the BKWS? I just joined this past September!

How did you get started with the MMC? Once I knew I was moving to the city, I wanted to find a way keep playing the Euphonium. Naturally, the BKWS seemed like a great community of skilled, passionate musicians that I am fortunate to now be a part of!

What's your favorite MMC memory? The day before the Michael Markowski CD recording I came down with pneumonia and was worried it would keep me from performing well for such a long period of time, let alone render me too sick to come out at all. I’m not sure what it was, but during the recording session, despite being sick, I managed to out-perform how I had been playing in the rehearsals leading up to it…it was wild stuff!

What's the first thing that comes up on your ipod when you press shuffle? Ov Zarmanali by Tigran Hamasyan (the dude is one of my absolute favorite musicians!)

Dream spring break destination? Mauritius

What is your typical Sunday routine? Cycle for the better part of the day, try a new recipe for dinner, and practice some guitar before bed.

Give us a "local" New York/Brooklyn recommendation: TØRST in Greenpoint is easily my favorite hang in the city. The best beers and, supposedly, exquisite dining in the back restaurant.

Finish this sentence: "I knew I was a musician when....” …I pleaded with my elementary school teacher to give the “stand-up-in-front-of-the-band" euphonium solo to me instead of the trombone player so long as I promised to practice more at home.

Posted on April 12, 2016 .

A Look Inside "Tetelestai" – Talking to Andrew Boss

By Alyssa Pry

These are classic music questions: How should a piece of music be interpreted? What should the listener feel? And who is responsible for shaping that experience? Composer Andrew Boss is purposefully leaving those questions unanswered with his symphony Tetelestai, which Brooklyn Wind Symphony will be performing at MMC’s March 20th concert, Modern Wind Symphony.

“I take an interpretive approach [to composing],” Boss said. “I’m very fascinated by interpretation and the cognitive experience behind music.”

The 27-year-old composer burst on the wind-band scene with the premiere of his 2014 symphony Tetelestai, which was performed by the University of Texas Wind Ensemble, where he is also pursuing his Doctorate of Musical Arts in Composition.

The symphony is framed around the biblical account of the death, fall and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But instead of retelling the story, Boss wanted to interpret the images and emotions he felt through music.

Boss also looked to the meaning behind the word “Tetelestai,” which is Greek for “It is finished” and is supposedly the last word spoken by Jesus before his death.

“I’m absolutely fascinated by religion, and I would call myself religious, with a few reservations,” he said. “But what was more fascinating to me was the story line, and the word “Teleo,” which implies that something has been done that can’t be reversed." 

Boss had already completed the first movement of the symphony and planned to have it performed as a stand-alone piece. But it was his collaboration with renowned conductor Jerry Junkin that introduced the idea of expanding it into something larger. 

“I knew if there was anyone I wanted to perform this, whatever it would become, it would be Jerry Junkin,” Boss said. “And the piece was read and it was great, and I thought, well this is going to be a bigger piece.”

Junkin then commissioned Boss to create a new work for him, after listening to some of Boss's other work. 

“That was certainly a huge impetus in my desire to make this a bigger piece,” Boss said. “And after the first movement and before I completed the next two, I decided to bring in the religious component.”

"Different people bring in their beliefs and understanding of the world as they sit down and listen to it, and that determines how they listen to it."

Boss turned to the biblical tale to frame the three movements of his symphony. 

“I tried to clarify the three movements as the crucifixion, the battle [of life and death] and the resurrection,” Boss said.

Regardless of religious beliefs or a person’s understanding of religion, Boss wanted the listener to go on a journey--their experience with the piece shaped by their own personal connections to the music.

“Different people bring in their beliefs and understanding of the world as they sit down and listen to it, and that determines how they listen to it,” he said. “[And] how they experience it will impact what they feel about it and the images they see or feel,” Boss said. 

Boss portrayed the death of Jesus for the first movement, Homage, and was moved by feelings of betrayal, despair, suffering and death. The symphony begins with a clanging of percussion, and then introduces a distant and melancholy horn solo. The movement ebbs and flows—full bursts of sound giving way to exposed solo lines; an ominous low brass line building to a bombastic climax; before returning again to the haunting and lingering notes of the french horn. 

“[In the first movement] I portrayed the death [of Jesus] — which really gives a powerful set of feelings,” Boss said. “If you’re not religious, it’s symbolizing hardship or suffering—things that are very real in society today.”

The second movement, Tocatta, is Boss’s interpretation of the war between heaven and sin, during the three days between the death and resurrection. For Boss, it’s a conflict between two opposing forces—the rhythmic introduction to the 2nd movement swells to a frantic flurry of instrumentation, a thrilling battle cry. The movement is a constant push and pull between moments of intensity and relief.

“The second movement was about war in those three days between death and resurrection,” Boss explained. “It could symbolize an obstacle that you’re trying to overcome.” 

The symphony’s final movement, Interlude and Finale, is Boss’s portrayal of the resurrection, and he looked towards feelings related to victory and rebirth. The reflective interlude at the beginning of the movement transitions to the symphony’s soaring finale, a powerful and unrelenting crescendo leading to the final ringing notes.

“For the final movement, obviously I felt I needed to portray the resurrection. And whether that was a personal rebirth or a depiction of the resurrection—it eventually brings its way to a catharsis,” Boss said.

“[Tetelestai] gets to that point where it transcends being notes on a page and it becomes emotion...and it becomes that perfection of existence we get when we play music.”

The 25-minute symphony caught the ear of Brooklyn Wind Symphony conductor Jeff Ball, who was immediately drawn to the originality of the work.

“It’s a piece that has such a unique voice to it—there are parts that really don’t sound like anything else for the genre,” Ball said. “I really respect someone that can make the wind band sound different.”

Ball said the experience of listening to Boss’s piece epitomizes the beauty of wind band music, and for musicians, captures the joy of playing within an ensemble.

“The goal of music and the reason why we’re all here in these community ensembles is that we all at some point in our life became addicted to that feeling,” Ball said. “[Tetelestai] gets to that point where it transcends being notes on a page and it becomes emotion and it becomes power and it becomes that perfection of existence we get when we play music.”

For Boss, working with the wind band community has allowed him the freedom to explore and challenge himself as a composer. 

“Because of the friendliness and support of the wind ensemble medium, that was a huge boost to my career,” Boss said. “They’re very open to doing different things.”

Boss will be sitting in the audience at Sunday’s concert; an experience Ball says is a unique and thrilling part of the wind band community.

“It’s been amazing working with him because he’s been extremely accessible. A lot of these [composers] in the wind band world are, [which is] something we’re fortunate to have,” Ball said. “It’s really amazing; that our composers are living and they’re excited we’re doing their work. We’re literally contributing to the future of classical music.” 

Solo Spotlight: Laurel Stinson Gives It Another Go

This week, we're checking in with Grand Street Community Band soloists Lena Barsky and Laurel Stinson! They're preparing solos for two pieces on the GSCB concert program at MMC's March 20th concert, Modern Wind Symphony

In Part 2 of Solo Spotlight, we hear from Laurel Stinson, clarinetist and Assistant Conductor of Grand Street Community Band! Laurel has been performing with the MMC for the last four seasons, made her Carnegie Hall conducting debut last June with the Grand Street Community Band, and plays with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. She's also a music educator at Grand Street High School! 

Whew! With such a full musical schedule, Laurel shared how she's preparing for her performance, what she loves Blue Shades, and her very special good luck charm. 

Click here for Part 1 of Solo Spotlight where Lena Barsky talks about her part in John Mackey's Asphalt Cocktail. 

What was your first impression when you saw the solo? 

"Yes. We meet again..." I played the solo with the Ithaca College Symphonic Band about 8 years ago. 

What part do you look forward to the most in the solo?

The bends in the jazzy style of Blue Shades are simply fun to play. I'm able to express the music freely. 

What’s the best part of playing such an exposed part in the ensemble?

I usually have my back to the ensemble as assistant conductor [of GSCB] so I'm looking forward to facing the other direction. I'll be able to perform for the audience rather than expressing the music to the musicians through gesture while the audience only gets half of the musical picture. 

What’s your practice regimen?

I am a music teacher at the Grand Street Campus so my job enables me to play my instrument. I warm up and play the solo while my students are warming up for class or after the school day is done. In a way it motivates the students because they can see what is possible through efficient practice. I only play for 20 minutes on days I don't have rehearsal. I play in various rehearsals for six hours a week including Monday nights. 

How do you deal with pre-solo nerves/jitters?

Science! I eat a banana. A college professor told me the potassium helps with anxiety.

Any good luck charms?  

I always wear a ring that belonged to my mother, may she rest in peace. I play for her and the memory of her warm and inspirational spirit. She spent her last days at Grand Street listening to the music of the Metropolitan Music Community--she never missed one concert throughout the 15 years I've been playing the clarinet. 

Solo Spotlight: Lena Barsky's Wild Ride

Grand Street Community Band is tackling a roster of demanding works for MMC's March 20th concert Modern Wind SymphonyTwo pieces this cycle feature huge (and hugely challenging!) clarinet solos, and GSCB musicians Lena Barsky and Laurel Stinson have boldly stepped up to the music stand!  

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First up, Lena Barsky, who will be performing the wild and wacky clarinet solo in John Mackey's Asphalt Cocktail. Lena is a relative newcomer to GSCB--she joined the group in September after moving to New York last May. Her first foray with the MMC was band camp at French Woods, which she says she attended "on a bit of a whim."

"I'm a huge band nerd, which means that seeing an email with the phrase, "Do you want to go to band camp?" filled my heart with joy," she said. "And I'm so glad that I did, because everyone was so welcoming and so talented! Joining GSCB has probably been The Highlight of my Very Special First Year in NYC." 

Lena has dived right in, tackling the lengthy and enormously technical clarinet solo in Asphalt Cocktail. She shared her thoughts on the part, her practice regimen and how she keeps those nerves at bay!

Click here for Part 2 of Solo Spotlight where Laurel Stinson talks about her part in Frank Ticheli's Blue Shades. 

What was your first impression when you saw the solo? 

"Ohhhhh geeze" and then, after a second, "OHHHHHH NOOOOO, I'M GOING TO HAVE TO PLAY THIS IN FRONT OF PEOPLE." I mean, this is far and away the hardest solo I've ever had to play, including the pieces I performed at my college senior recital! It's hyper-exposed, really fast, and filled with accidentals that aren't exactly easy to play in succession, so I was pretty intimidated. 

What part do you look forward to the most in the solo?

There's this really great part at measure 89, fairly early on into the solo, where Mackey takes the original theme of "da-da-DAT-da-da-DAT-DAT-DAT" (it'll make sense when you hear it, I promise!) and riffs on it, then the part gets really schmeary with several long glissandos, almost like that classic Benny Goodman sound or the opening clarinet lick from Rhapsody in Blue. Getting to play around with my sound in such an unregulated, over-the-top way -- the part literally reads "Dramatic Sighs" -- is REALLY FUN and is something that you don't really find in more traditional wind band music.

What’s the best part of playing such an exposed part in the ensemble?

*dramatic hair flip* Getting to SHOW OFF how GREAT I sound, OBVIOUSLY. No, no, no, I'm totally kidding. I'm not really sure! This Asphalt Cocktail solo is actually giving me a fair amount of stress because the rest of the band is working so hard and playing their hearts out on a song that's supremely difficult, and I don't want to let anybody down. Given that, I think what's great is similar to what I said above -- that I get to have fun with this part for a few lines and kind of jam out on my own. 

What’s your practice regimen?

Definitely rehearsing every day! Otherwise there's no way my fingers would have all the wacky accidentals down. When I first found out I'd be playing the solo I went home and listened to those specific measures of Asphalt Cocktail several times, to really cement the timing and pacing and to understand what the rest of the band is doing while I'm fighting to hold on to such a wild part. I like the old standby of "run a really tough part a bunch of times slowly, then gradually up the tempo." My college clarinet teacher was also really big on using different rhythms to cement the notes in long runs, which for this solo (and Asphalt Cocktail as a whole) is crucial. 

How do you deal with pre-solo nerves/jitters?

CROSS MY FINGERS AND HOPE EVERYTHING WORKS OUT! No, again, kidding... kind of. ;) I take a lot of deep breaths, drink a lot of water, review the hardest passages slowly, check the really high notes to make sure my reed is working, and then visualize myself KICKING BUTT. I've also been known to sing a lot of Queen to pump myself up. 

Any good luck charms?  

I wear the same set of necklaces and rings on a day-to-day basis, so I make sure that I'm wearing them for the solo, too. It's as if the magic of the solo has been embedded in the jewelry! And usually over the course of practicing for the solo I've figured out my ~*~Magic Lucky Solo Reed*~*, so I make sure that I use that reed during the concert.  

Click here for Part 2 of Solo Spotlight where Laurel Stinson talks about her part in Frank Ticheli's Blue Shades. 

MMC Artist Series: Jill Austen's Floral Symphony

We're fast approaching the third concert of the 2015-16 season, Modern Wind Symphony, a joint program with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony and Grand Street Community Band. GSCB's program will feature music inspired by "the third stream," a fusion of classical and jazz-influenced works including Blue Shades by Frank Ticheli and Asphalt Cocktail by John Mackey; and BKWS will be performing Andrew Boss's 2014 work, Tetelestai- A Symphony for Wind Ensemble, among other contemporary selections.  

Tasked with combining and interpreting such a varied concert program was artist and musician Jill Austen. Jill is a flutist with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony and has been playing with the Metropolitan Music Community since their very first rehearsal! As an accomplished music educator, musician and artist, Jill has worked and taught around the US, Mexico and the Caribbean and currently has some of her art work displayed at Columbia University.

Jill describes her paintings as "quirky and whimsical, and always colorful." Her painting, titled Metaphoric Wind Ensemble, is a combination of both ensembles' concert themes, and incorporates Jill's love of nature and floral motifs. Read on to hear about the challenges Jill experienced creating this piece and where she finds inspiration for her art, and see her process and more of her work in the slideshow below! 

Finding a common thread...

"At first it seemed an impossible commission. Both programs, although extremely creative, had little in common. On the GSCB side, wonderful representational possibilities lie in the classical/jazz fusion of their third stream music line-up. However, the BKWS program, which features the extended complexities of a new symphony (Tetelestai), was not so artistically straightforward. I did not want to focus on a single piece or musical style at the exclusion of others. Visual metaphor seemed the way to go."

Getting Started...

"First, I listened to recordings of the music and jotted down ideas in the form of pencil sketches. While I played around with several ideas, I kept coming back to the flowers in small bottles. [Then] I did a preliminary study in watercolor. Satisfied I had worked out the composition, I sketched the final version in charcoal over a peach-toned underpainting. I began by focusing on the individual blooms and adjusted for color hue and intensity as the work progressed. Next, I concentrated on achieving "believable" transparent bottles - always a fun challenge - and finally, I heightened the contrast of the bright light and purple shadows."

A Floral Symphony...

"Flowers in small bottles are arranged like the rows of a musical ensemble. Single blooms indicate the individuality of performers within the group, but work together in a larger, cohesive composition, like musical collaboration. Bell-shaped lilies in the last row stand in for brass instruments: the single white lily is a reference to the biblical theme of the [Tetelestai] symphony. Overall, bright colors evoke the many shades of jazz and the contemporary sonorities of both GSCB and BKWS programs."

Staying Inspired...

"I'm never at a loss for projects, especially if they involve collaboration and travel. I am fascinated by the interconnectedness of music, art and and poetry. On December 31, 2015, I completed a challenging year-long project, The 365 Series, for which I completed a painting a day. I find inspiration for painting in traditional subjects--landscape, seascape, still life, floral. Nature is fond of sculptural beauty and unexpected juxtapositions of form and color. I simply strive to interpret those which I find most lyrical."

See much more of Jill's work on her website, JillAusten.com  

Getting to Know....Matt Torrey!

Happy New Year everyone! We hope everyone is successfully keeping all of their unrealistic resolutions (I've managed to put fifty cents in my savings account so far!). One thing we should all resolve to do is get to know more of the amazing musicians in the MMC! Taking the plunge this month is Brooklyn Wind Symphony percussionist and everyone's favorite bar owner, Matt Torrey

Name: Matt Torrey

Occupation: Bar owner, bartender

What's your favorite thing about your day job? My job hours give me the flexibility to spend time with my kids during the day. And I like drinking.

Instrument: Percussion (actually, I'm a drummer but I play in the percussion section.)

How long have you been playing with the BKWS? My first cycle was Lord of the Rings, so 5 years I think.

How did you get started with the MMC? Some of the members came into my bar after practice one night about 5 or 6 years ago. It just so happened they were looking for a triangle player. I passed the audition, and the rest is history.

What's your favorite MMC memory? I would have to say Carnegie Hall--definitely the greatest venue I've ever played. I also remember being able to hear a lot better.

What's the first thing that comes up on your ipod when you press shuffle? Probably the band Spoon.

New Years Resolution? I think they're overrated so I never make one.

Favorite drink to make/favorite to drink? Beer and tequila.

What's your typical Sunday routine? Hang out with my kids (Dylan 6yrs, Sara 9yrs).

Give us a "local" New York/Brooklyn recommendation: Favorite breakfast - Jimmy's Diner on Union near McCarren Park.

Finish this sentence: "I knew I was a musician when...." I learned to play the recorder in elementary school music class.  It came naturally.

Posted on January 15, 2016 .

Happy Holidays from the MMC!

Another year is wrapping up! Hard to believe that 2015 is coming to a close, but what a year it's been for the Metropolitan Music Community! With a handful of incredible concerts at our home base at Grand Street High School, performances by Brooklyn Wind Symphony and Grand Street Community Band at Carnegie Hall, a trip to WASBE for the BKWS, an inaugural end-of-summer band camp at French Woods, and an amazing recording debut by the BKWS of composer Michael Markowski's music, we've certainly filled this year to the brim! Phew! What will 2016 bring?!? 

Until then, let's toast to an amazing year! Happy Holidays from the MMC (and a few famous composers...) See you on the other side! 

Posted on December 17, 2015 .

"Keep The Music Alive"--Donate to the MMC!

The holiday season is here, which means we are a little more than 1 WEEK (!!) away from our December 12th winter concert, 40 Under 40! We have an exciting program lined up, and a joint performance by the Brooklyn Wind Symphony and Grand Street Community Band to close out the concert and ring in the holiday season with Alfred Reed's Russian Christmas Music. Mark your calendars! (And bring friends!) 

Rehearsals and practicing are well under way, giving us a great reminder of how much hard work and effort go into each season of the Metropolitan Music Community. When you come to our concert on December 12th, you'll see 175 musicians who have put in many hours of practice time both on and off the stage, along with an army of volunteers who work tirelessly to keep the MMC up and running! Whatever our role, we're all there because we love music and the community the MMC offers. It's a special place to be on Monday and Tuesday nights, and we hope you'll consider making a donation this holiday season through Keep the Music Alive.  

Every little bit helps to keep the Metropolitan Music Community open and available for the talented and passionate musicians who play with us. You can make your contribution to the MMC through "Keep The Music Alive" here: http://bit.ly/KeepTheMusicAlive

Posted on December 3, 2015 .

MMC Artist Series: Kristin Sedivec Remixes a Classic

Our second cycle is well-underway; both bands preparing for our December 12th concert 40 Under 40 at the Grand Street High School at 7 PM. The concert will include a joint performance by Grand Street Community Band and the Brooklyn Wind Symphony of Alfred Reed's Russian Christmas Music. 

Designing the program art for this cycle is Brooklyn Wind Symphony oboist Kristin Sedivec. Aside from playing in BKWS and as an oboist with Brooklyn Symphony Orchestra, Kristin is a stellar tattoo artist who specializes in music-related tattoo art. She has a private studio in Brooklyn and has tattooed six current and former members of the Brooklyn Wind Symphony with her designs! Kristin is even offering to tattoo this cycle's program art on willing participants for free! (Now or never folks! Send her a Facebook message!) 

Kristin combined the contemporary styles of the 40 Under 40 concert theme and played off the traditional motif of Russian nesting dolls in her design. Read on for more of Kristin's thought process in creating the program art, and scroll through the slide-show to see the piece in progress, along with more of her artwork! 

Gathering Inspiration...

"To get inspiration, I made a spotify playlist with every song for both bands and just put it on repeat while I was working on it. I already knew I loved Russian Christmas Music and I thought it could be fun to incorporate the themes of other pieces into the intricate designs of Russian stacking dolls. 

Mixing Modern and Traditional....

"The turning point came when I saw the name of one of GSCB's pieces is Ghettoblaster...as in the massive boom boxes of the 80s and 90s that are carried on shoulders. That brings to mind all things early hip-hop, heavy graffiti, and even heavier lip-liner. It wasn't until I was staring at my design of a chick holding a boombox that I remembered "Top 40" [music] is also a thing. 

There isn't one stand-out programmatic piece among a list of abstract standard repertoire, so it was hard to choose. The music itself is really colorful for both bands this cycle." 

Incorporating Tattoo Style....

"Sarah Cohen (our head graphic designer) originally asked if I wanted to contribute a photo for the cover. She left it totally up to me and even said it could be photos of tattoos I had done. I liked that idea, but I couldn't figure out a way to combine existing photos in a pleasing way or to get a group shot of band members I've inked, so I just scratched that idea and decided to draw something new. 

That urban graffiti aesthetic is also a common tattoo style, so turning the Russian stacking dolls into a stylized tattoo sketch seemed like a good fit. I definitely had to Google some boombox references, but then the curvy and cartoony elements were just fun." 

Mixing Music and Tattoos....

"I did that kokopelli tattoo (in the slideshow) on my former high school band director's forearm. It can be seen by all of his students and the community band he conducts. I never would have predicted that back when we were sitting in his office discussing my upcoming college auditions! And then a year after I tattooed him, he was in the audience watching [BKWS] at Midwest! It just goes to show you that you never know where life will take you!"

 

Posted on November 18, 2015 .

Getting to Know....Karen Popkin!

We've kicked off the second cycle of the MMC season, after two amazing concerts (and a professional recording session!). With so many exciting things going on, take a breather and get to know another member of the Metropolitan Music Community--Brooklyn Wind Symphony euphonium player Karen Popkin!

Name:  Karen Popkin

Occupation: Music Therapist

Instrument: Euphonium

What’s your favorite thing about your day job? I hear people's personal stories and music memories and learn how it relates to what is most meaningful in their lives.

How long have you been playing with the MMC? Since 2010.

How did you get started with the MMC? My husband (BKWS tuba player Jedd Wolchok) was searching for a community band and found an online article about Grand Street Community Band.

What is your favorite MMC memory? So many, but I'd have to say that performing at Midwest was especially spectacular.

What was the last concert/musical/performance you saw? "The King & I" on Broadway with my daughter.

Favorite Thanksgiving side-dish?  My mom's baked mac'n cheese with sharp cheddar on top.

What’s your typical Sunday routine?  Sleep in, listen to NPR's Weekend Edition, go for a walk/jog. 

Give us a “local” New York recommendation. You must visit Kossar's Bialys on Grand Street (Manhattan) when it's cold outside and the warm, garlic bialys are just coming out of the oven.  Heaven!

Finish this sentence: “I knew I was a musician when…..” at about the age of 6 we got a piano and I was engrossed by making combinations of tones. One day, a choral director who was also a pianist came to talk to my mother and I loudly exhibited my "skills" so he would know I was ready for lessons. I eventually did study with him, then came trumpet and event later, euphonium.

Posted on November 11, 2015 .

David Gould Takes His Chances

David Gould.jpg

By Alyssa Pry

When David Gould discusses his career as a professional clarinetist, it’s not through the boasting character of a Julliard-trained musician who has performed with the New York Philharmonic, American Ballet Theater or on Broadway (…to name a few.) There are no great proclamations of ego, no vanity, no arrogance. 

Instead, Gould is acutely aware of the string of small moments of luck and happenstance, combined with his talent, that have built his illustrious career; those eye-opening moments of clarity that, yes, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is worth the work I’m putting in.

“Things started happening one thing at a time,” Gould said. “These things added up to these moments that continued to validate it for me.”

As a professional clarinetist, Gould has an impressive roster of accomplishments: playing with the New York Philharmonic; as third clarinetist with American Ballet Theater; in Broadway shows like West Side Story and On the Town. On Sunday, he will join the Brooklyn Wind Symphony to perform Michael Markowski’s clarinet concerto Unfamiliar Territory.

[It’s] a chance to discover new music, to play as a soloist, to meet new people, to play in a new ensemble, to see a new part of Brooklyn,” Gould said about performing with BKWS. “That’s really for me, some of the things that are great about it.”

But Gould’s journey to the Grand Street High School stage on Sunday afternoon has not been a straight one of success.  Rather, the twists and turns of Gould’s musical path started even before he picked up a clarinet. As a child, Gould’s parents encouraged him and his two older brothers to learn an instrument, and Gould assumed he’d play the trumpet, like his “cool older brother.”

“My father said, no, why don’t you play the clarinet? This was a point when he was listening to a lot of Artie Shaw and Bennie Goodman, and he loves music of that era,” Gould said. “And I was like, ‘um, I don’t know.’ And we were actually at an antique car show and flea market and he bought a clarinet and gave it to me.”

Gould became more serious about playing throughout high school, performing in honors ensembles, and was then accepted to Julliard, where the idea of becoming a professional musician started to move closer to reality.

“I always thought all along that I would be a teacher, because that seemed like the best thing,” he said. “And when I got accepted to Julliard, I think that’s when it started to percolate.”

After graduating, Gould accepted a grant to study in France, where he lived for three years. He then took a job working with the French reed and mouthpiece company, Vandoren, where he still works today. But Gould described a time early in his career when he really started to question if it was all going to work. 

“I think that any good musician always has to question, am I on the right track?" 

“I was really going through a lot. I wasn’t making enough money, and was starting to think about it—maybe it’s better to get rid of this,” Gould said. “I was getting kind of depressed, [thinking] I can’t do this; all this stuff rolling around my head.”

But then, another chance moment that suddenly set the wheels spinning forward—a phone call from an old friend, looking for players for a high school production of West Side Story.

“I came home that night after that first rehearsal, and I get a phone call from a guy I’ve known and he said, “Would you be interested in subbing on West Side Story, on the Broadway revival,’” Gould recalled. “It was kind of hilarious. I went, you’re not going to believe this [but] I just rehearsed with a friend’s high school! And I probably played that [show] 150 times and loved every second of it." 

For Gould, it was exactly what he needed. 

“It got me playing more often and opened up some other doors, and reminded people that I still existed,” Gould said with a laugh.

 Another moment of ­­surprise: his opportunity to play with the New York Philharmonic.

“I can still remember the first time—the firsts are always what stick with you. I was playing at City Center; I remember the middle of the dress rehearsal, I got a text from a friend, ‘Hey are you around? I wanted to see if you wanted to play with the New York Philharmonic,’” Gould recalled. “And it was like walking on air!”

Gould has taken these successes and challenges as motivation, and has an appreciation for what it has taken to get where he is today.   

“I think that any good musician always has to question, am I on the right track? That should continue to push you to strive for better things.”

His passion for performance is something he says he sees working with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, an experience he says has been inspiring to him.

“It’s really going to the root of amateur—loving to do what they do. People are doing this because they want to be here. Here there’s a real passion,” he said.

Performing Unfamiliar Territory has been a departure from the classical repertoire Gould plays in his professional life, and he’s enjoying the change of pace.

“It's contemporary music you want to listen to and play—it’s rare,” he said of the piece. “You look at it and it looks very black and white. [Then] you’re playing it, and there’s melody, but it really feels like you’re setting up a mood.”

“There’s going to come a point where you’re going to have to learn to let go.”

Gould has worked closely with composer Michael Markowski in preparation for Sunday’s concert, and will also be performing the concerto when the Brooklyn Wind Symphony records Markowski’s music next month.

Gould had some words of advice for Markowski, drawing on his experiences producing his own recording project, The Forgotten Clarineta collection of lesser-known French works for clarinet and piano. 

“There’s going to come a point where you’re going to have to learn to let go,” he told Markowski. “It’s limitless what one can do, but after a while, it’s going to start to lose the spontaneity and magic.”

Gould seems to be following his own advice, allowing moments and opportunities to shape his career, ultimately recognizing them as a chance to share his talent and love for playing.

“That’s our goal," Gould said.  "Ultimately as a performer, we’re there to interpret the music and also really steward the music to other people.”

The First EVER MMC Halloween Costume Contest!

A small but mighty group of brave MMC members participated in our first ever Halloween Costume Contest! Scroll through the slideshow to see their creative costumes, and then VOTE! 

Make sure to mark your calendars and come dressed-to-impress for the Grand Street Community Band's concert, "Things That Go Bump in the Night" on Sunday, November 1st! 

Thanks for all the great submissions--and now it's time to vote! The poll will stay open for a week, so get your votes in here! 

Posted on October 21, 2015 .

Michael Markowski Meets Brooklyn--The Composer on his Newest Project

By Alyssa Pry

Michael Markowski is a newly-christened Brooklynnite. “I’ve gotta relearn how to live here,” he joked in a recent phone interview. But while he may be a newcomer to the neighborhood, Brooklyn is already playing a big part in his newest project—recording his wind band music with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. The group will also be performing his work at their November 1st concert, A Night with Michael Markowski.

“It kind of all comes back to Brooklyn in a way,” Markowski said about the recording project, a one-day session that will be recorded at the Grand Street High School Campus. “The project is just my music; collaborating with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. It’s sort of as simple as that.”

He may have the borough and the band, but those are just two parts of the ambitious project Markowski is taking on. Currently on hiatus from composing original music, Markowski is finding himself knee-deep in the logistics of recording ten years’ worth of his work.  

“It’s actually quite overwhelming to put this whole thing together,” he said. “There’s so much more to think about.”

From the process of choosing which pieces to record; to working with a sound engineer on the audio production; to the most minute details of schedules and ordering lunch, Markowski is leaving his mark on every piece of the puzzle. But one piece that has always fit is his collaboration with the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, a group he feels a close connection to.

 “I can’t imagine a better ensemble to collaborate with,” he said. “Some of these people were my first friends when I moved to New York, so I feel very intimately connected to the group.”

This is not the first time Markowski has had his music recorded, but this time he’s doing it completely on his terms, producing and funding the project himself.  

“I’ve had college ensembles record my music and they’re always fantastic recordings, but I’m never really part of the process,” Markowski said. “By the time I get a final recording, I don’t really have input into the interpretation. And this collaboration [with BKWS], I have that.”  

Markowski has been attending weekly rehearsals and working closely with conductors Jeff Ball and Brian Worsdale, who will both be conducting on the recording.

 “I have two amazing collaborators to be the eyes and ears,” Markowski said of Ball and Worsdale. “It’s such a big project; if I was the only ears, it would just be overwhelming. So I’m depending on them to do most of the work for me,” he said with a laugh.

Looking over a decade’s worth of work meant choosing pieces Markowski hoped would highlight his range of composing styles.

“I think what you’ll hear in my music is that every piece is so completely different, stylistically, it’s kind of hard to wrap it up in a nice bow with some kind of theme,” he said.

He’s including pieces that struck him as “no-brainers,” like City Trees, the first piece he composed after moving to New York City from Arizona.

“It’s a very New York Piece,” Markowski said. “It’s the first piece that I wrote [after moving] here so it’s particularly special to me.” 

He’ll also be recording joyRIDE, his first published piece. Markowski composed it in high school, and based it on Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. For him, it’s a reminder of the originality that comes from a young composer.

“I wish I had as good of ideas now as I did back then,” Markowski laughed.

Markowski acknowledged the pressure of creating original ideas; his hiatus and this project have been a welcome respite from a process he says can be “lonely.”

“There is a lot of pressure to come up with a decent idea for a piece,” he said. “It’s important to try to say something new and surprise yourself, and that’s a very difficult thing to keep doing day after day.”

The recording project has been an opportunity for Markowski to focus on other aspects of his career, a process he’s found to be a refreshing change.  

“It’s been really fun and challenging to focus on music in a different way, that’s separate from the actual writing process,” he said. “[And] the part where you’re working with an ensemble, that’s the fun part. The human interaction portion of it all, that’s what makes you keep going and keep doing.”

In the end, he wants the project to highlight both his music and the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, with the character of the new borough he’s calling home.

“It’s going to be raw, it’s going to be Brooklyn, and I think it’s going to be one of the more intimately shaped recordings of my music out there.”

 

Read more about Michael Markowski on the MMC blog here and here

Posted on October 14, 2015 .

MMC Artist Series: Al Perkins Paints the Music

This year, the Metropolitan Music Community commissioned several of its members to create art for the concert programs and marketing materials. For our November 1st concert, the Grand Street Community Band will be performing a variety of Halloween-themed selections for their concert, "Things That Go Bump in the Night"; followed by Brooklyn Wind Symphony's performance, "A Night with Michael Markowski."  

Our first artist is Al Perkins, the principal horn player for the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. Al has been with the MMC since 2009 and also serves as the organization's librarian. Al is not only a talented musician, but a gifted artist, often finding inspiration through music. For this first "Artist Series," Al shared his process of creating the program art for this cycle--creating his pieces based on "Dance of the Witches" and Michael Markowski's "City Trees." He even gave MMC an inside peak at his studio space! Read on below and take a look at more of Al's work in the slideshow. 

Starting with the music...

"It's very important for me to know the piece intimately, and more so what the piece is trying to say. [For example] Michael's program notes are always a good place to start, even though on once occasion I had to turn to him to get a better insight. 

Once I absorb the music and the material, I try to capture the mood as I see it. Then it's almost like purging. Once it starts flowing, it's fast and furious."

Creating "City Trees"

"City Trees" was based on a photo I found so it had details of a real building. Then I started to layer it so it had an almost impressionistic feel. I wanted the tree to be a contrast to the roughness behind it, but I didn't want it to look like it was in a different painting. So I tried to always be aware of where the light was coming from and to keep it all consistent." 

On "Dance of the Witches" 

"I had to mull over the GSCB's program for a while to find the one that jumped out at me. The more obvious choice would have been to go with "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," but I felt "Dance of the Witches" would have made a better overall image. 

The witches in "Dance of the Witches" started as sketches, which I later carved into a stencil on a piece of acetate that could tape down on the canvas and brush over.  For the shadows I used painter's tape to allow me to dry brush the color to get the effect I was looking for."

Creating the final pieces....

"A lot depends on what I'm trying to do -- if the image is literal or implied.  I'll sometimes find pictures and paste images together for the composition I'm looking for and use it as a guide.  Then I'll figure out what sort of technique I want to use, or what the piece calls for.  Often I'll turn to YouTube to learn a new technique or two (remember, I'm still fairly new to this painting thing, so I have a lot to learn).

And then there are times when I approach an effect in a similar way that I would if I'm painting a theater set, which is viewed from a distance, not too close. (But) if I dwell too long on one painting, the soul of it is usually lost. It's an image--a thought--so I try not to belabor it. That's why I try to keep it simple and I don't obsess once it's done."

Posted on October 7, 2015 .

Getting to Know....Dave Smith!

A new season with the Metropolitan Music Community is underway! With rehearsals in full swing and 175 members tuning up their instruments for an exciting fall concert performance, let's get to know the talented musicians seated all around us! 

First up--Dave Smith, President of the MMC and a trumpet player with the Grand Street Community Band! Read on to hear about Dave's Sunday routine, his favorite MMC memory, and what "A Barrel of Monkeys" has to do with his path in music! 

Dave Smith.jpg

Name:  David L.B. Smith

Age:  55

Occupation:  Higher Education Administrator

Instrument:  Trumpet

How long have you been playing with the MMC? Since the second rehearsal.

How did you get started with the MMC?  A friend of mine who I met in the now defunct Williamsburg Community Orchestra call me and told me she found a great place to play.  I emailed Jeff Ball (director of Brooklyn Wind Symphony) and told him I was an adult beginner and he said, “Come on”.  So I did.

What is your favorite MMC memory? Alice Tully Hall for sure.  As a child my parents brought me into the city regularly but since we were of limited means it was mostly for free things to do.  But we often visited Lincoln Center, just to gawk.  She used to go to the free rehearsals when Zubin Mehta directed the Phil.  I know for sure that if she hadn’t already died and gone to heaven, she would have the day she saw her “little Davie” play at Tully!

What's the first song that comes up on your iPod when you press shuffle?  Something from the Roches most likely.

What was the last concert/musical/performance you saw?  I just saw Garrison Keillor’s farewell tour this summer in Maine.  I’m going to miss A Prairie Home Companion very much.

What I did over my summer vacation….. Eat, sleep, golf, repeat.

What’s your typical Sunday?  I get up late and waddle down to Bagel Boy.  I pick up a poppy with butter for Marion, a chocolate chip cookie for Hannah and an everything bagel for me.  I stop in Brooklyn Market on my way back and pick up the best tomato they have.  I watch Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood while eating the world best smoked salmon bagel known to man.  Then I head across the street to church where I sing bass in the choir.  Then…who knows.

Give us a “local” New York recommendation.  Katz’s Deli serves the best pastrami in the history of humankind.

What was your favorite Halloween costume?  Now, now…my daughter might read this!

Finish this sentence: “I knew I was a musician when…..” On my third birthday one of my gifts was a large cylinder.  “It’s a drum”, I exclaimed.  No it’s not a drum said my mother.  Not understanding the difference between a birthday present and a Christmas present I had no way of knowing that my mother was probably right—how would she know what Santa got me for my birthday?  “I think it’s a drum” I persisted.  “No sweetie, it’s not a drum; open it and see.”  It was a barrel of monkeys (and I know none of you are old enough to remember but they came in a much bigger barrel back then).  But I was not out done; I emptied out the monkeys and exclaimed, “And it’s a drum too!”

Posted on September 30, 2015 .