by Alyssa Pry
Take a walk down a city block in New York City and you see them. Along residential blocks, lining up like soldiers. Clustered in parks. Posing as shady resting spots. Surrounded by traffic and horns and the constant pulse of New York. Tall, short, stubby, lush—they’re city trees—somehow surviving and growing in one of the toughest places to survive. They’re also the inspiration behind Michael Markowski’s piece of the same name, which the Grand Street Community Band will perform at their Carnegie Hall debut on June 6, 2015.
GSCB director Brian Worsdale was directing the Gay and Lesbian Band Association in 2012 and wanted to commission a piece for the organization's 30th Anniversary. He immediately thought of Michael Markowski. The two had met several years before, and his point of view appealed to Worsdale for this project.
“Every time I’ve listened to a piece of Michael’s, it’s been unique,” Worsedale said. “I wanted that for the piece. None of the pieces that have preceded [City Trees] have sounded anything like it, and nothing sounds like it since. Each piece has its own unique stamp.”
The collaboration between the two started with the idea of a celebratory theme—but both Worsdale and Markowski wanted to avoid the standard marches and fanfares. It was a task that proved especially challenging for Markowski.
“I had two months to write the piece, and for six weeks I tried to write some sort of celebratory something. And when it’s not working, it’s just not working,” Markowski said. “So with two weeks before the piece was due, I freaked out.”
“If I remember correctly, it was a Friday afternoon, and I had a blog at the time, and I wrote a blog that was called, ‘I suck,’” Markowski shared. “I wrote about how much of a failure I felt like I was being for this particular piece, and making that public helped me get over that hurdle and just admit to myself that the piece needed to be organic, and stop forcing it to be something it wasn’t going to be.”
Markowski wrote the initial chord progression and the piece clicked. “I was like, that’s the basis, that’s the seed of the piece,” he said.
Worsdale recalled hearing the first mockup of the piece. “I listened to it, and I called and I said, ‘You nailed it.’”
Worsdale and Markowski continued to collaborate on refining the piece throughout rehearsal time, an experience that was enriched by the trust they had in each other, Worsdale said.
“You know, a collaborative work between a composer and a conductor, when they have a good relationship, the composer trusts the conductor to enhance some of the sounds they want,” Worsdale said.
Markowski agreed. “Brian knows this piece better than I do,” he said.
The piece premiered at the Lesbian and Gay Band association National Conference in Dallas, Texas; an emotional experience for both.
“That’s why we write music,” Markowski said. “Because living, breathing musicians can bring so much soul and so much heart to something you create in a way that’s different with every performance.”
With the Grand Street Community Band preparing for their debut at Carnegie Hall, each performance allows Markowski an opportunity to hear City Trees in a new light.
“It never gets old. Being at rehearsal has been different from every other time I’ve heard the piece,” Markowski said. “There’s always something new, so it gives you new things to think about.”