the composercait podcast

Episode 4: A New Horizon

February 05, 2024 Cait Nishimura Episode 4
the composercait podcast
Episode 4: A New Horizon
Show Notes Transcript

This episode is about A New Horizon, which was written for the University of Oklahoma New Horizons Band, and features an audio clip from the commissioner, Chris Baumgartner!

Episode links
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OU New Horizons

Please visit for perusal scores, recordings, program notes, and more info about me and my work. Connect with me on social media: @composercait

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Thank you for listening!

Hello and welcome back to the composercait podcast. I'm Cait and this is episode four. Today, I'm just gonna get right into it. We are talking about A New Horizon. A New Horizon is a piece for a grade three concert band. It was inspired by Oklahoma skies, the sense of belonging found in community bands and the optimism in being open to beginning again.

It is about three and a half minutes long with standard concert band instrumentation, plus it also includes a piano part. It was commissioned by Chris Baumgartner for the University of Oklahoma New Horizons Band. The timelines got shuffled around a bunch for this project because of how it landed within the pandemic, but it was a beautiful collaborative experience and I'm looking forward to sharing more about it with you today. Let me start by making sure we all know what New Horizons bands are.

So these are community ensembles for adults who are looking for an opportunity to make music in a social setting. Typically there is a wide range of playing abilities with a wide cross-section of people, such as retired people who wish to try a new hobby or learn new skills, or amateur musicians who maybe haven't played their instrument for many years and want to revisit it in a community setting. There are new Horizons bands all over the continent, and many of them have taken a liking to my concert band music, which is just...

most heartwarming thing to me. I think it's amazing that there are these groups of people of all ages making music together simply because they enjoy it. This is what I always have in mind when I suggest that young musicians stay involved with music for their entire lives, even if they don't make it a career. There's always a way to keep music in your life and these bands offer a really great option for a lot of people. So the OU New Horizons band was approaching their 20th anniversary

and they thought a commission project with me would be a great way to celebrate. When agreeing upon the details for the piece, Chris shared with me that the band played grade 2-3 level music pretty comfortably, and he said that typical middle school level literature fits them well and would likely get a lot of play beyond their performance, and I loved that he was thinking about it that way. I asked him if he had any requests for styles or themes, and he said, quote, I'm kind of up for some ideas from you. Would love for this to be a more

collaborative process rather than me dictating what we want. However, it might be meaningful to start considering new horizons since that's what we're a part of and see if that sparks any ideas for you. Well, it certainly did. It was such an easy concept to grasp and I loved that it carried a double or even triple meaning. New horizons as in their band name, new horizons symbolically as in new opportunities or pathways.

and then of course the actual sky and beautiful colors of the sunrise. So in addition to talking with Chris about the piece, I also talked with the band members over Zoom, or maybe it was Skype back then? Either way, we chatted as a group to brainstorm and get to know each other a bit before I wrote the piece, and after our chat, a bunch of the band members sent me photos of Oklahoma skies for inspiration, and others sent me letters or messages telling me

how important the New Horizons band was to them, and it was so special to have all of this input from them at the start of the creative process. I looked at those photos a lot, and I also drew inspiration from my own experiences with sunrises, thinking about how it feels to wake up slowly with the sun, how it feels to start something new and move from apprehension to confidence, how the blossoming of light and color from the horizon might sound. And I thought about Oklahoma, the place,

naturally the musical, I couldn't help it. So I borrowed a little bit from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma. I modified the melody from Oh What a Beautiful Morning and I used this material throughout the piece in various ways. So I started with these warm chords.



peaceful, reflective chords with long lines just like the horizon. I used syncopation to create this stretched out feel and paired that with offbeats and the percussion parts to elongate things even more. I was picturing the sky in the early morning just before sunrise when there's a nice glow but everything is still a bit of a wash before the Sun itself comes up over the horizon.

Starting at letter A and continuing through B and C in the piece, I add in new textures and more sense of motion. I scattered melodic fragments throughout and I used call and response to get everyone involved and create some expansiveness and connectedness. At letter C, I introduce my version of the Beautiful Morning theme from Oklahoma the Musical. In the original, it sounds like this.

And in mine, I extended the first note, the concert F, and changed the flat seven to a regular leading tone raised seven. You can hear this in the flute, oboe, trumpet, and clarinet parts at letter D.

Something interesting about the composition process for A New Horizon is that I made use of a loop pedal to write this piece. As I mentioned earlier, I found some old recordings in the archives, and while listening through, I could hear myself trying to work something out, but just not having enough fingers to play all the parts I wanted to hear at once. Classic composer problems. Shortly after that recorded brainstorming session, there is a recording of me experimenting with a loop pedal and

seemingly finding a lot of satisfaction in not having to play each individual line myself while trying to also add in new layers on top of that. With the loop pedal, I was able to play in each layer on the keyboard and have them all just continue while I added in other new things. At this point, even though I was just using the digital piano, I was hearing other instruments in my head and developing a pretty good sense of what it would sound like when played by the band.

A lot of my recordings are really messy or there's just too much background noise for me to use as an example, but I do have one that's a pretty good example of building all the layers in so we can listen to that together. I'm pretty sure there's a cat meow in the first section, which is very cute. My cats are usually nearby when I'm working and I love that they occasionally will make it into my recordings. So to set you up for what to listen for, this is in 3-4 time.

I play something for four bars, then press the pedal with my foot, and it plays those four bars back to me. Then I play in a new layer for four bars, and then repeat that same process until everything is in. And it is just on a piano, so it's a little bit tricky to distinguish all the different layers from each other. But after this, I will play the band version for you so you can see what it turned into. Okay, let's listen to this loop pedal clip.

Okay, and now this is the really cool part. I get to show you what that turned into in the final version of the piece. You can hear that I kept the piano part almost the same as what I started with, and I added marimba for support and texture. And then I layered in all the other things with different instruments in the band. So here's a clip from the band version starting at letter F, if you're following along in the score. I'm playing from my MIDI just to show a really clear example of all the different parts.

Draft 1 of A New Horizon was delivered on the last day of February 2020, and the band had their first rehearsal. After that initial playthrough, Chris emailed me with a recording of their rehearsal so I could listen and make some adjustments, and I think we had a meeting to chat in further detail where he shared some feedback from the ensemble. I decided to make some adjustments based on their feedback. I didn't change anything too drastically, but I reinforced some important musical lines that were getting a little bit lost.

and I made some slight changes to orchestration decisions. In my email archives, I found this email from me to Chris from March 12th, 2020. Hi Chris, Attached is a new version of the score and parts for A New Horizon with a few edits. Let me know if you see any issues. The changes are minor, but hopefully address a few of the things we talked about. I've been hearing about school closures and festival and conference cancellations constantly lately.

Keep me posted about how all of this affects your school and your ensemble. I've had quite a few gigs cancelled and anticipate more in the coming days and weeks. I can only imagine how frustrating it is to navigate from your side of things. And wow, how frustrating it was for a very long time after that. March 2020 was when everything kind of started changing in terms of the global pandemic that we all went through. And

The premiere for A New Horizon was originally scheduled for May 2020, but we ended up having to postpone it until December 2021, a year and a half later. We were originally planning for me to visit in person and be there for the performance and even work with some other local ensembles while I was there in town, but my participation ended up being virtual due to travel restrictions and other issues at the time.

During the premiere, they had me connected on video and projected really large on a screen on stage so that I could speak to the audience before the piece. Chris worked really hard to make sure I felt included in the experience of the premiere and that the community felt my presence there as well. I got to watch their performance on the live stream and although I would have loved to be there in person, it was still a really special experience.

There is a fun photo of the stage with the whole band and me on the screen above them. I will post it on my Instagram so that you can see it if you follow me there. When planning for this episode, I reached out to Chris to see if he had anything he wanted to share about the commissioning process for A New Horizon, and he kindly offered to send in an audio recording. So let's listen to that now.

Hi, my name is Chris Baumgartner. I'm the director of the University of Oklahoma New Horizons Band. And I wanted to talk for a couple minutes about our commission with Cait on A New Horizon. The work was conceived to commemorate 20 years of the New Horizons Band on our campus. We had performed Chasing Sunlight and our adult musicians.

just loved that work and Cait's writing. And so I suggested we commission a composer and we went straight to her and asked if she was interested. And it became one of the most rewarding artistic and collaborative experiences that I've had as a musician and educator. It was really neat to see how invested our band members were in the conception of the piece, learning the work.

premiering it. We visited with Cait on Zoom and shared their experiences, you know, coming back to music later in life. Talked a lot about their reasons for playing in community band and all of that I think really influenced Cait's approach to the composition itself.

We even sent her a bunch of pictures of Oklahoma, Oklahoma sunsets and things of that nature. So it was a really cool experience for our musicians who as adults maybe don't, in a community band, maybe don't get that opportunity to work directly with a living composer all the time, particularly in having something written directly for them. And as we talk about lifelong musicianship, you know, we want kids to perform music beyond high school.

and college and I think it's a great way to really instill some energy and vibrancy in community music making by having works written specifically for those groups and collaborating with those people. Most of them are not professional musicians but they are the people who attend our concerts and support school music programs and other community music endeavours.

And so I think we hit on a really important part of the music making population in having this collaborative approach with a composer. I think having someone like Cait, who had experience in public school teaching and playing in and working with community bands before really made it even more special because she understands the philosophy of our group, the mission, what those.

people are looking for out of music making, just the uniqueness of a community music program. So we couldn't have selected a better composer, in my opinion, for that endeavour. I've gained an outstanding friend and colleague and Cait since then and all of our work together. The world premiere was interesting. It was supposed to be in May of 2020. And of course, when the world shut down, I think we had had...

one, maybe two reads of the initial draft of the score. With our demographic of our group, we did not come back to full rehearsals until fall of 21, but we were able to put most of our spring 2020 program back together, including the premiere of A New Horizon. Of course, at that time, it was still difficult to travel. Cait was not able to make it, but we were able to zoom her in and we set up a giant screen.

behind the band and had her there on the screen live for the audience to see, for her to be a part of that first premiere. We even invited her to talk before the piece. I tried to make it as realistic as it could have been if Cait could have been there with us, which I think was really meaningful, not just for her, but for our band members, for the audience. It really brought everything full circle. So it was a super cool experience despite COVID.

and something I can't wait to do again in collaborating with a composer for recognizing the the lifelong music making that happens in these community ensembles

So there you have it, another amazing perspective on the power of community music-making and commissioning too. Thank you so much, Chris, for sending that in. Chris and I were able to collaborate even further by co-presenting at the National Association for Music Education Virtual Conference in November, 2020, which was over a year before the premiere even took place. Chris had conducted research about the impact of...

adult community musicians having the opportunity to work with a living composer, and we shared our experiences collaborating on this project. Presenting at that conference was not something I likely would have done on my own, so it was really cool to have the chance to do that with Chris.

Since the premiere, there have been performances of this piece all across the continent by other community bands, high school bands, honour bands, and more. As with a lot of my music, the notes and rhythms aren't overly technically demanding, but the independence of parts, syncopation and meter changes and long lines and other things make the music trickier than it looks, especially to put all the parts together. But I think it's a great piece for musicians of all ages.

And I'm so thankful for such a memorable and meaningful collaboration with Chris and the OU New Horizons band.

Alright, that's it for episode four. Thank you so much for listening. Thanks to Chris Baumgartner for sending in an audio clip and for initiating this collaboration in the first place. If you've enjoyed hearing about A New Horizon and want to check it out for your own band, I've linked it in the episode notes, and you can visit for perusal scores, recordings, and more info about me and my work. If you're enjoying this podcast,

please consider following or subscribing and leaving a rating or a review. Thank you so much and I'll see you in the next one.