Sneak Peek: Song Book, Vol. 2 for a singing marimbist

Song Book, Vol. 2 will feature five singer-songerwriter pieces written for a singing marimbist, and will be available for purchase at PASIC 2017. In the meantime, watch Ben Pitt perform Bird’s Eye View, a love song I wrote for my wife and one of the pieces featured in the book. Next to the text “girl”, I’ve included “or boy”, because love songs sound best when they are sung honestly:

I first heard Ben sing and play marimba at Chosen Vale 2016. We talked over some food and drinks about composing music for marimba and voice. The idea of the marimba as a singer-songwriter instrument is something I’ve always been interested in, and soon after our convo, Ben organized a consortium to commission the collection. More soon!

Hop the fence.

Dear Musicians,

Perform for poor people. Perform for people in rural communities. Perform for people who don’t look, think, or act like you.

Places like Brooklyn, LA, and Austin will offer you inspiration. You will be surrounded by art and you will love it. You will surround yourself with other like-minded musicians who will support you at your concerts, and you’ll support them at theirs. People will talk like you, dress like you, and think like you. They will even vote like you. You will be happy.

I’m writing this to ask you to consider the effect your music can have on people who are not like you, people who don’t have the opportunity to experience art and music on a regular, or even semi-regular basis.

I ask that you consider what your purpose is as a musician, and if any part of that is to cultivate change, then consider where that change is needed. In New York City, a newspaper critic might write something nice about you, or you’ll impress someone at Le Poussin Rouge, or maybe you’ll find monetary gains gigging in and around the city. But in Victoria, Texas, for example, you won’t find any of those things. Instead, you’ll find a kid like me.

I grew up in a trailer park. The one pictured above. I was poor and loved music. I just didn’t know a lot about it, academically speaking. Lucky for me, a guy named Phillip moved into my town. He was an Eastman School of Music graduate, who, instead of moving to a big city to chase his dreams, moved to Victoria and helped me find mine. He took a job as a music teacher at my high school and taught me how to be a percussionist, how to work hard, and how to practice smart. I had no idea what classical music was, much less what a music conservatory was, until I met Phillip. In three years, eight of his students went on to study music collegiately, four at Eastman and four at University of Texas, all majoring in percussion. I was one of those eight kids. Phillip was my out, and if not for him, who knows where I would be right now. Thank you, a million times, Phil.

I share this story to get you to critically think about the possibilities your music can offer and the effects it can have on others. Maybe Phillip’s journey is not the journey you want to take. That’s totally ok. I’m not asking you to move from your arts city and take a job in rural town, USA, but I am asking you to consider how you can impact people in places like Victoria. Or Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, for example.

My friend George Clements has been hosting a percussion festival in Lewisberry for 10 years now, and it is flourishing. It’s called the West Shore Day of Percussion. I was there this past weekend. It was an absolutely beautiful event with over 50 public school percussionists participating in masterclasses, clinics and performances of some pretty elaborate music. This rural town and surrounding community has embraced our weird art music / percussion fest over the years. I met a father who spoke to me with such sincerity. “My son has been attending this festival since he was a little boy. He looks forward to it every single year. It’s truly a highlight for him.”

It’s a highlight for me too, and I know Aaron Staebell, Mark Boseman, Drew Worden and Erik Forst, all on faculty this year, feel the same way too.

I just read an article about how listening to music from other cultures helps people value diversity. This article reminded me of an earlier year at the same festival, where an elementary school student made an under-his-breath comment about me hopping over a fence to get here. He wasn’t talking about the metaphorical fence between my echo chamber and his. He was talking about an actual fence, to get to the U.S. from Mexico. Because I’m brown. There aren’t many people with my complexion in his area, and who knows what his home life is like.

Fast forward a few years to this past weekend. I coached the same kid in a music group. He was respectful and attentive, fully engaged in the music we were making. He was happy, and so was I. I’m not sure, but maybe this yearly music festival has opened up his mind to new ideas? Maybe our shared musical experiences have created a shift in his perspective, even if only a little bit? Perhaps this little festival in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania is the most important gig I do? This is why music is important.

As you go out into the world, by all means, chase your dreams. Move to a big city and make your mark if that’s what you want. But don’t forget where your music is needed the most. Perform for poor people. Perform for people in rural communities. Perform for people who don’t look, think, or act like you. That’s how profound change happens. Hop the fence.

With love,


PUNX for percussion ensemble

I wrote a new piece for percussion ensemble called PUNX.

I was a punk rock kid in my younger years. I played in a few bands, wrote tons of songs, and developed the ability to play really fast drum set. The punk scene taught me to be a self thinker, to question things, and that it was OK to be different. I had fun in the scene, and it definitely influenced my attitude and musical journey.

The piece pays homage to the music of my youth and is sort of a punk rock anthem for percussion ensemble. I thought it would be nice to revisit the sounds of my younger years; something rebellious, quirky and fun.

PUNX was commissioned by Broken Arrow HS Percussion Ensemble for their 2016 Midwest Clinic performance. It’s scored for 6-7 players; two marimbas, two glockenspiels, vibraphone, and two percussion parts. The percussion parts can be adapted for one drum set player if desired. Sheet music is now available.

PASIC Preview 2016 and other cool stuff too.

Hello, percussion friends. I hope life is great for you. Halloween was fun here in Austin. My parents dressed up like the Flintstones:

Who is going to PASIC this year? I will be there. I hope you will be there too! If you go, check out some of these things:

2300 DEGREES. I composed a new marimba duo. It’s called 2300 Degrees. It’s the most challenging marimba duo I’ve ever written, and was commissioned by Annie Stevens and Andrea Venet of Escape Ten percussion duo. It’s seriously hard. You have to do stuff like this while playing the right notes and rhythms.

Escape Ten will perform the piece at PASIC as part of their showcase concert on Thursday, November 10th at 2pm. Annie and Andrea are really talented musicians and sweet souls. I think you will enjoy their show. Here’s a video preview via the inter webs:

Sheet music for 2300 Degrees will be available at PASIC at the Steve Weiss and Lone Star Percussion booths. If you can’t make PASIC but still want to pick up the music, you can purchase a PDF here. I will personally email the piece to you on or before Wednesday, November 9th, before my flight to PASIC 🙂

Music will also be available for some of my previously unreleased pieces, like:

SPUR for solo snare drum + audio track. 

I wrote Spur with Jacques Delécluse in mind. His snare drum etudes are some of my favorite pieces ever written. They are so thoughtful and nuanced. I wanted to compose a piece through a similar lens. The piece was commissioned by a consortium led by Korry Friend, who plays the piece beautifully: 

Pick up a copy of Spur at PASIC, or purchase a PDF here.

THIS IS LIKE JAZZ! is a duo for contrabass flute and marimba (with spoken word by the marimba player). I composed the piece for Terry Longshore and Tessa Brinckman of Caballito Negro. The piece is storytelling set to music, detailing my experience working with young musicians in Turkmenistan, who improvised music for the first time in their lives. The end of the piece details my favorite memory from the trip. After a masterclass on improv, a teenage cellist raised his hand, and in broken english, said one word: “Improvisation”… They wanted to try it again: 

Pick up sheet music at PASIC, or purchase a PDF here.

Judging PASIC Chamber Percussion Ensemble Competition. I am a judge this year. I am very intimidating. No mess ups… I’m just kidding! Have fun up there. But, try for no mess ups.

And now, for some non-PASIC stuff…

I’m thinking about releasing a t-shirt.

Weird, or not weird? Some of the proceeds would go to a local music program supporting underserved youth in Austin. Not weird then, right? Plus, it’s designed by my good friend and artist, Mike Turzanski. Weird again! (in a completely good way). If you are interested in a t-shirt, send me a message so I can put you on “the list”.

This happened!

IN CONCLUSION. Let me know if you have programmed some of my music this semester. It’s nice to keep track of these things, and honestly, nice to hear from you. See you at PASIC!

With Love,