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Friday, January 22, 2010

A Short Autobiography of my Compositional Happening

It would be inaccurate to say that I was born with the talent to write music. I grew up in a household of mildly talented musicians. My mother sang - My older brother, Matt played Piano - Paul and Mario both play guitar and write songs. My sister was in chorus and I was in we all had our own personal musical experiences. However, I was the only one who sought out an education and ultimately a career in music. It all started after seeing Craig Cornish, who is currently the director of bands at Middle Tennessee State University came to my elementary school (Garden Springs) and began demonstrating the sounds of mouthpieces for certain instruments. I found the buzz of a trumpet mouthpiece the most amusing, and according to my mom I wouldn't stop RAVING about it when I got home. Unfortunately, for certain reasons I would not be able to play with the band in the fifth grade. However, I did not forget that experience...and I attended a few of the Elementary school band concerts. I would sit there in awe, amazed at this new ability to generate those kinds of sounds out of structured piece of wood and metal. I desperately wanted to be part of this experience. It wasn't until the summer before I began Middle School at Beaumont Middle that my mother surprised me one morning by presenting my very own trumpet, which she rented from Don Wilson Music. Along with the trumpet, she had gotten me lessons with Stewart Smith of DW Music to prepare me for middle school band. In middle school, because I missed elementary school band, I had to sit in the beginner's band for the first semester of school. To my excitement, that funny guy named Mr. Cornish was the beginner's band director. He was also the director at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, but the pay rates for Kentucky High School Band director's were not high in those days so most director's worked at the local middle schools to earn a secondary income. There were not a whole lot of us in that beginners, and we used to have a lot of fun learning the instruments. Eventually, I taught myself how to play the theme from the "Muppet Show" and got a lot of amusement and laughs out of my bandmates. I loved the trumpet, and would spend a lot of my own personal time just playing the instrument and experimenting......"writing music" with my mind.

I would eventually play trumpet, until switching to Baritone in the 7th grade (and a new middle school) due to a difficulty in hitting the high notes. I would eventually attend four different middle schools in four years (I repeated the 6th grade because it was not felt that I got the propper education at Beaumont and several of my grades were substantially low) I performed in the band at all middle schools, and despite the other schools accepting my lone ability to read treble clef....Jessie Clark Middle insisted that I learn Bass Clef, as that was the standard clef for Baritone and Euphonium players. J. Steven Moore, the assistant band director who was also the director of bands at the prestigious Lafayette High School Band, was the one that individually spent time with me teaching me how to read Bass Clef.

Truth be told, I only marched three years with the Lafayette High School. I claim to have marched four years in most of my biography's because I regretted my decision to drop out of band my first year within the first month of parting from them and went to every football game and nearly every competition I could. I really felt like I was a part of the band that year and video taped many of their shows, taking them home and watching them. I probably knew Parisian Venues better than more than half of the band did. Thankfully, Charles M. Smith (Chuck), the Lafayette Director that replaced J. Steven Moore, allowed me to rejoin the band and informed me that if I quit again I would not get another chance. That was a fair condition, and the following summer I went back to band camp and worked really hard at helping the band win three more state titles as well as numerous other awards and recognitions. I also participated in many solo and ensemble contests and honor and all-state bands.

It was during my time in high school when I really began to notice how I had a unique ability to hear and regenerate music that was played by the ensembles was I in. Most bandmembers can hear individual melodies and counterlines, however I would literally be able to go home and recreate some of our music on the piano without ever seeing the other parts. This was a gift that I had discovered and that has really helped me mature and develop as a composer. My mom said it was as if I was breaking apart the music piece by piece and finding ways to put it back together. I began writing my own songs on piano, none of which were very good....but I kept working at it and would experiment with different chord structures. While in my dad's basement, I heard some computerized instrumental sounds coming from Matt's room. Astonished by what I was hearing, I went over to the door and saw him sitting at his desk. Curiously, I asked him what it was. Excited, he told me that it was a new 'music notation software' that he bought for about $40. It was called Voyager, and he was able to create music and play it back. I later found out this particular software was geared towards people who could not read music as you did not place the note values....instead you would drag the length of the note you needed onto a pitch chart. I was AMAZED by this amazed I went out and found the software myself. Thankfully, that was around the time I spent my evenings working at McDonald's and had enough money to purchase. I took it home immediately, and spent a LOT of time with that program. I would write all kinds of orchestra songs, or instrument solos and would let my family listen to them. Still, none of music would ever leave beginner stages. I was unable to find ways away from the one chord, so most of my music was very boring.

After accepting a full-tuition scholarship, I started attending the school of music in education. Initially, I wanted to go for Composition however this was frowned upon as they informed me that the job hunt was much easier in education. My roommate, Allen, would become one of my primary influences. He shared the same passion for classical music that I did, and also did his share of writing music using inexpensive amatuer programs similar to voyager. Often times, we would find ourselves competing over our music.....usually in friendly manners, but would crack jokes at eachothers works. We ended up becoming really good friends, and I learned a whole lot about music composition from Allen. I also began taking courses in Music Theory which really helped to train my ear. I've sometimes commented that I have perfect pitch, because I was able to sing intervals and recite music that I heard much better than most of classmates.

The year 2000 was a rough year, financially for my family. My step-dad found himself constantly on the job hunt, trying to find work that paid well enough to support my other two siblings and help me with college. My mother was also struggling with her work. They lived in a rented house at at times could barely afford to pay their rent on time. Still, in Christmas of 2000 when talking to my mom about how AWESOME the new music notation software 'Sibelius' was, and how I really wished I could afford it she said "I'll buy it for you for your christmas present." I couldn't believe mother truely cared so much about my future and my passion for composition that she insisted on risking her families financial security for it. And she stayed true to her word, and purchased it for me on Christmas. My mother is by far the biggest influence of my musical life.

Sibelius was amazing. There was so much I was able to do with it, and I could create the most amazing scores. I spent a lot of time with Sibelius, and eventually began to self-publish my music on in 2001. I started interacting with the other sibelius music users and made some friendships along the way. To this day, I have over 50 self-published works at Sibelius music.

My junior year, I began taking lessons with Dr. Steve Rouse, who was the head of composition at the University. Now, I had written some pretty amazing music around that time.....however, most of it was rough around the edges. I had a tendancy of writing music too difficult to be performed, and my sense of repetativeness needed some fine-tuning. Dr. Rouse taught me how to make music interesting as well as playable. He also got me my first ever compositional performance.

In February of 2004, "Cataclysm" would be performed under the direction of Mark Kersting. The experience was once in a lifetime. Not only because of how amazed I was, but one of the percussionists happened to miscount a bar, and unfortunately her tubular bell part happen to be the cues in half of the musicians' music. The ensemble literally was parted exactly one measure from eachother. Mark's first thought when this happened was "My God, PJ's gonna kill me" Instead, I rushed backstage after the concert and before Mark could apologize I said "Don't worry! I actually liked it better that way!"

The music was contemporary enough that without seeing the score there was virtually no way to tell that the group was off....and it actually did make the piece all the more interesting.

I have had several performances since then, including an arrangment of my "Christmas March" that was performed in Singapore by the Tuba Powerhouse. I never was able to witness that performance, but the arranger sent me a recording of the performance and it sounded terrific!

Unfortunately, because of some struggles with grades as well as confusion with the financial aid offices I was forced to withdrawl from school without graduating. I managed to remain in Louisville and continued to work at Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom. Eventually, I would spend the next two years more focussed on my job. I wrote little pieces of music here and there, but I had the toughest time concentrating and being away from the school of music caused me to drop back into some old habits. I also lacked motivation, and considerably...nearly got rid of Sibelius and quit composing all together. This was literally a day before I received an intriguing e-mail on that cold December day in 2007. The sender was Martin Andraszek, of Harrah High School in Harrah, Oklahoma. His e-mail was very brief, but said that he really liked my style and wondered if I would consider writing the show music for his band for the 2008 season. It was at that moment, that I realized SOMEONE didnt want me to give up on my dreams. SOMEONE didn't want me to throw ten years of experience down the drain. And that SOMEONE opened the door of opportunity and invited me to walk-in. Graciously, I accepted and three months later 'Elements of Time', my first Marching Band Score, was created. And because of that, I was inspired and began writing music left and right and received several opportunities to write music for musicians who were willing to pay for my music.

That following summer, I got tangled up in a relationship with a girl who I really thought I could help. She was a struggling single mother of three boys, and I vowed to take care of her for the rest of my life. Unfortunately, her life took a huge toll on myself and I fell into a very painful depression. My financial situation had never been worse because of my constant efforts to bail her out of situations, and I appeared exhausted at work and could not focus on my job because of how much time I spent on her and her kids. In August, I decided I could not live that life anymore and got out of the relationship. It was a brutal end, involving the police being called, and several harsh words said towards eachother. Frantic, I quit my job at SFKK and moved back home to Lexington, landing a job at the Marriott and at Amazon (which was later replaced by Toys R Us). During my time in Lexington, it was hard for me to write music because working two full jobs to pay off my debt, and bring myself out of the financial hole made me very exhausted and I spent a lot of time sleeping. In December of that year, after applying for an apartment in Louisville I received a very detrimental reponse. I had been turned down because I had a balance on my old apartment. I was unaware of this balance as I put in my 30 days notice and attempted to contact the offices several times upon my leave. When I called the complex, they informed me that I had 'abandoned' my apartment and said I owed them $2000. It was a shame that my poor incident phone had to suffer the impact of hearing this news as I threw it across the room and it smashed open (miraculously it still worked after putting it back together) I was very enraged and scared my family because of my terrifying shouting and cursing. At that point, I even told my mother "There is no God, because if there was he would not have let this happen to me."

On a side note, I was raised in a very religious atmosphere and I grew up believing in God and have often times found myself receiving religious experiences that could not be explained by any sort of logic other than to use the easy phrase "it's just a coincidence". I've managed to attend church on my own both in Louisville and currently here in Indiana. I still believe in God, and know he is looking out for me so for me to say something so mother was nearly in tears when she heard it. Apparently God heard it as well, because he responded....

After calming down, though still angered, I checked my e-mail. To my astonishment, I received an e-mail from a Jason Miller. As it had turned out, he had seen my Marching Band Score for Elements of Time on sibelius music, and claimed he felt it would sell well and offered to publish it for me at his site Impact Marching. That night, I owed God two apology, and a thank you. I gave him both.

Since these experiences, I still continue to publish at Sibelius music and have three professionally published scores at Impact Marching. I have also been hired for a third time to write for Martin and his band, and have also received several other offers of works that are currently in process. I can not explain exactly how I got to this point, but three conclusions can be drawn from all of my experiences. One would be that influences such as my mother, and my siblings have really helped push me to getting where I need to be. I have fallen several times, but someone has alway been there to catch me and help me stand...and that's a gift you can't buy. The second conclusion is that there IS a God and that he is watching over me, and wants me to succeed. It is easy to say that those were just coincidences, but to have huge opportunities come up following times when I feel its neccessary to throw in the towel...the odds just arent in the favor of basing that on chance. And the third conclusion is that I am a very tenacious individual. My grandmother was the first to place that label upon me, and I have stuck to it since her death in 1999. I have overcome a lot of challenges, and its primarily because I refuse to give up.

I did not write this blog as any means to upsell myself or talk about how great I believe I am. In fact, several times I've considered myself the worst human being. I have written this because I want to encourage anyone who has read this to never lose hope. Every challenge can be overcome in someway, and all you have to do is work hard and have a little faith. You will never know how successful you can become if you give it all up.

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