Nearly ten years ago, in the summer of 2005, I was on stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City playing alto saxophone as a senior in my high school band. The concert lineup: Grainger, de Meij, Mackey, and just under three minutes of Markowski.
When my band director, Jon Gomez, first received word that our high school music department was selected to perform in New York, he asked me if I'd like to write something to open the concert and commemorate the trip—something that was bursting with joy. "Maybe," he suggested, "it would be cool to take something more traditional, like Beethoven's Ode To Joy, and blend it with something more modern, like John Adams." The idea was so simple and so astounding that the assignment excited me immediately—it excited me so much that within ten days, I had completed the first complete draft of joyRiDE, a two-and-a-half-minute concert opener that borrows Beethoven's infamous melody and dresses it in a tie-dye blazer of rhythm and texture that nod humbly to John Adams's Short Ride In A Fast Machine.
It was the afternoon dress rehearsal and we had just played through joyRiDE for the first time in that historic hall when a young John Mackey bolted down the aisles and onto the stage, in classic Mackey fashion. We were headlining our portion of the concert with John's early piece, Redline Tango, but he hadn't run on stage for that. To my surprise, he grabbed my arm and said, "you have to hear it out there!" He gestured out towards the twenty-eight hundred empty red velvet seats for no more than a second before dragging me offstage and into the house to listen to another run-through, this time as an audience member.
Just then, it dawned on me that I'd only ever heard my music as a performer in the performing ensemble, or on a recording, or while awkwardly sitting at the edge of the stage, or from the last fleeting echo from a final chord as it washed out into the hall, decaying into nothingness. I guess I hadn't ever really heard my music before from this point-of-view. This was the very first time I'd ever been invited to simply sit back and enjoy what I had created.
Sitting next to John in the back of Carnegie Hall, listening to some of my best friends onstage bring such amazing energy and passion to my music, I felt like one-of-the-guys—I remember thinking, "Hey! This music thing might just be crazy enough to work out!" It felt surreal, refreshing, inspiring, and, of course, like it was over too soon. Over the years, I've been lucky to share a growing friendship and remarkable collegiality with John, but I've never quite gotten over how powerful that moment was. In fact, the day was made even more unforgettable only a few hours later when I stood up to bow to a packed hall and looked up to the balcony where my choir and orchestra friends had jumped to their feet, cheering.
joyRiDE was the second piece of music that I'd written for concert band, and as a 12th grader at the time, it included some beautiful mistakes. For instance, 12th Grade Me really wanted to hold true to the spirit of Beethoven's "Symphony No. 9" by keeping my mash-up in Beethoven's original key of D Major. However, looking back, I realize that while D Major is a string player's best friend, it is not so copacetic with band players, who often prefer their tonal centers to be flat (pun intended). Luckily, Eb Major is just up the block so for this 2014 revision, I decided it best to raise a portion of the piece by a half-step. Other edits included re-spelling accidentals, re-notating rhythms, filtering out an impractical 2nd Tenor Saxophone part, re-managing the percussion forces, and polishing the overall orchestration in a few key sections that seemed a bit sloppy.
For the longest time, though, I wrestled with whether or not I should even revise the piece—thinking that it should be kept exactly as-is, that I should honor the original as a sort of time capsule of myself and where I was—but I think this version finds a healthy balance between preserving what my 18-year-old self musically intended while maximizing the piece's playability. Although I've improved the piece since 2005, don't worry. I'm not exactly George Lucas and I'm not trying to remake Star Wars.
Dobson High School Symphonic Band; Jon Gomez, director
- Trumpet 2 (in parts and score); m. 10, eighth note on the and-of-2 should tie over to beat 3.
- Clarinet 2 (in parts and score); m. 6 and m. 8 should be the same as m. 5 and m. 7.
- Low Brass (in parts and score); accents on beat 2 of m. 15 should be on the and-of-2 to match trumpet accents.