As I noted here, I usually have three pieces I’m working on at any given moment. Typically, one of those pieces will be playful in nature; it’s important to me to keep a healthy balance between serious reflection and expressive exuberance.

I’m waist-deep in a very exuberant piece right now, a composition for wind ensemble entitled Blown Away. A number of years ago, my colleague James Kalyn, who directs the NC School of the Arts Wind Ensemble, asked me to write something for his group. I declined, partly because I had just begun work on an opera and a string quartet cycle and felt a bit overwhelmed, and partly because writing for wind ensemble had little appeal for me at the time.

But this past summer, I stepped down as Interim Dean here, and with that decision I had a newfound creative energy. I couldn’t wait to take on fresh compositional challenges, and writing for wind ensemble was at the top of my list.

Just after I had decided to write this piece, I learned that James would be leaving the school at the end of the year: his wife, musicologist Andrea Kalyn, had just been appointed Associate Dean at Oberlin Conservatory. So Blown Away became a fond (but certainly unsentimental) farewell piece, a tribute to what James has accomplished here. It will be premiered in May.

The fun part has been exploring the challenges and benefits of writing for this ensemble. It’s great to have a rich bed of saxophones to serve as a foundation for dramatic shifts in color. The possibilities of percussion combinations seem endless. And the fact that virtually every gesture originates with the human breath is both a limitation and an exhilarating resource — I love the shape, exertion, fragility, power, elusiveness, ephemerality, symbolism, necessity and unconsciousness of human breath. I can’t wait until they find a way to put all of those things into midi.

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