Back when I was in high school and CEGEP, I thought that I was definitely going to be a composer. I spent all of my years in high school completely immersed in Bach and Mozart. Especially fugues, I was all about fugues — Die Kunst der Fuge totally blew my mind, especially contrapunctus III and (Mozart’s) K 546 (which is, not surprisingly, a fugue and is still my favourite piece of music of all time). These two pieces of music still give me goose bumps when I listen to them.
When the Canadian Brass came out with The Canadian Brass Plays the Pachelbel Canon, which has 3 amazing arrangements of Bach fugues, I nearly wore out the tape. I transcribed the Little Fugue in G Minor before I learned that I could just go to the sheet music store and buy it (which I later did for the other two). From what I learned of that, I started writing fugues. I didn’t know the terminology (exposition, subject, counter subject, sequences, etc.), I just knew that this is what Bach did, so this was what I was going to do because Bach. Was. God.
So, I wrote a lot of fugues and material for brass quintet and trombone choir (I’m a trombone player after all). I don’t have recordings of most of these, but I think there might be some of them in McGill’s archives (many of them were played by brass ensembles at McGill and UdeM). Maybe one day I’ll hire a trombone choir to record them, but I’m not holding my breath on that, because at scale, that’s going to be bloody expensive!
When I was in my early 20’s, I managed to get three trombone players and a tuba player to record a couple of pieces I had written in high school and CEGEP. I paid them some terribly low amount of money (I was a poor student), and we recorded these pieces as a gift for my mom. When I listen to them now, I’m surprised that I was 16-18 when I wrote them. Sure, they’re short and there’s very little development of the material, but I still really like them. Please have a listen to them below and let me know what you think:
So, like any good music student studying Bach, learning to write chorales is the first step – music theory 101. I wrote this on a Juno 106 that my high school had. My music teacher was awesome, he would let me in to the music room before and after school to play on it. It’s a chorale, but doesn’t sound much like Bach (I never really was one for following rules).
This piece was a prelude to a fugue (of which I do not have a recording, but the score is in a box somewhere) which is why it’s so short and somewhat contrapunctal (outer voices mostly). The feature image at the top of this blog post is an arrangement of it for 2 trumpets, horn and trombone.
Fun(k) with a Fugue
I had originally written a pretty straight up Bach-style fugue with this subject, but I got bored of it, so I decided to play with it, ‘jazz it up’ (I knew nothing about jazz at the time) and make it a little more modern. Plus, many of my more classically inclined friends at the time thought that this was sacrilege (I’m all for blasphemy!). There are a couple of flubs in this recording (we only had time to do one take), but these guys were fantastic players.
O süßer Tod
The title of this short little piece was a total rip-off from Bach’s Komm, süßer Tod, which I really loved (and it’s way simpler than Bach’s beautiful piece). It was a bit of an emo name for sure, but hey, my favourite colour to wear at that time was black but I still managed to not be a goth kid. This was my first piece to be played by Albert DeVito’s Trombone Choir, and at 17 it made me feel like a grown-up to have my piece played by such a great ensemble. Thanks for everything Al, you were amazing.
To make it sound more like a trombone choir, we overdubbed it. We didn’t have any sort of monitors, just my DA-88 and a small comsole, so Jason Lopez (who was conducting for me) listened to playback in headphones and guided the ensemble so that they would line up. The solo trombone part half way through was written for alto trombone, but Hugh Topham played it on his large bore tenor like a champ!
To this day, if someone asked me what my absolute dream job would be, it would be, hands down, film scoring and sound design. My chops are pretty rusty, so I would probably suck at it pretty hard for a while, but if I could ever make a living at that (and it wouldn’t take much to make me happy), it would be amazing. Thankfully, I don’t hate what my current line of work, it’s stable and allows me to feed my kids. It gives me a bit more free time, which I’m now going to spend back in school and getting back into composition. These things are food for my soul.