For a long time I have felt that musicians (and other artists) are showing a way forward to the world. One of the reasons why I've loved jazz since I was a young child is how individual expression is balanced with collaboration in an ensemble and how the music absorbs influences from people and music all over the world. As the great drummer Art Blakey famously said, "Jazz is not African. Jazz developed in this country as a kind of stew of various social and musical ingredients thrown together in a pot." As I think about jazz in this way, it inspires me with a message of hope for the world.
I have been reflecting on the music that I wrote before 1989. With a handful of exceptions, all of the handwritten scores and lead sheets from that time have been lost due to one reason or another.
A number of pieces that I wrote in the late 1960's and early 70's come to mind. In particular, two pieces for concert band -- Four Haiku Sketches and Ten Events for Band -- and several works for experimental theater. I'm also remembering an extended piece for double quartet (classical woodwinds and jazz ensemble) as well as more of my originals and arrangements for various kinds of ensembles. I did a lot of writing in those years!
At this stage in my life and in how my music has evolved, it is likely that I would no longer care for those earlier pieces. However, some of them might have stood the test of time and would be like meeting old friends again. Regardless, what's gone is gone. I am entirely happy to have all of the music that I have written since 1989...more than 30 years worth. When I think about the pieces that I no longer have, I can see how they served as a foundation for the music that came later.
UPDATE 2/9/2021: I just discovered that the score for Four Haiku Sketches is in the University of North Texas library. It is part of the Source: Music of the Avant-Garde collection. The score is in Series 2: unpublished scores. oversize, Set 1; Box 1 Barcode 711602. I contacted the UNT music library to request a copy of the score and will post an update when there is a reply.
UPDATE 4/30/2021: Happily, I received a photocopy of Four Haiku Sketches from the UNT music library. It is mind boggling that after 52 years I am seeing this piece again. Now, as I review the score and hear it in my mind, I would say that it still sounds fresh. At this point, I have spoken with the Director of the Composers & Schools organization (of which I'm affiliated) and she is enthusiastic about it. Both of us see this score as being like a time capsule from 1969.
Note: Four Haiku Sketches has been added to my compositions at the New Music USA Online Library.
Out And About is a new feature of my website. It has a series of blogs that describe experiences I am having with various kinds of energy practices. Links to it are on the Home page and in the navigation menu.
Several days ago I discovered that 28 pieces of mine had somehow been taken from Sheet Music Plus and were being distributed (in violation of Copyright law) by two music sites. The sites are topmusicsheet.com and musicsheets.org. I sent DMCA Take Down Notices and, happily, both sites removed my music from their sites.
Here is a message that I received from Sheet Music Plus after I wrote to them about the situation:
Hal Leonard Legal is aware of this issue with this website. They seem to have only have the sample pages, not your full pdf.
For now, I recommend submitting a DMCA notice
Please submit it to the website owner, the website hosting company (If you know it) and CC us.
Based on this experience, it is prudent for composers to periodically do an internet search on several of their music titles and see what comes up. That is how I discovered that my music was at those two sites.
Over the weekend Nancy and I went to the Four Seasons Bookstore in Shepherdstown, WV. As I looked through the used book section, a particular book jumped out at me. It was Emergence by Steven Johnson (2001).
As Johnson describes, emergence is what happens when an interconnected system of relatively simple elements self-organizes to form more intelligent, more adaptive higher-level behavior. It is a bottom-up model rather than being engineered from top-down. Emergence begins at the ground level when agents residing on one level start producing behavior that lies on a scale above them.
This is exactly how I envision deep changes coming about in today's world. That is, largely through grassroots collaborative movements springing up as more people begin to remember who and what they are (as spiritual beings currently having a human life on Earth). As this happens, we will naturally outgrow deeply entrenched social divisions.
Interestingly, this is also one of my core music concepts in how I envision ensembles going beyond what is written on the page to create music collectively that is fresh and different each time it is performed. I have had this vision for many years and now there is a word for it.
In 1999 I received a BMI royalty check for one of my tunes that was recorded in the Czech Republic. The music was Smoke In The Hollow, a fiddle tune that I wrote in 1993. No information was given about who recorded it. This has been a mystery for 20 years. Several weeks ago I remembered the royalty check and, being curious, I tried to see if I could discover something about the recording.
Several musician friends in the U.S. and Europe were able to help me and I received the following information: My tune is on a Ladislav Vodicka album that was recorded in 1996. Looking up Ladislav Vodicka, I learned that he was known as the "Czech Johnny Cash". My title Smoke In The Hollow was translated as "Zakouřená Rokle" and the recording is track #5 on the album Starej Voda po dvaceti letech.
Thanks to Vojtech Pestuka, I received a recording of Zakourena Rokle and was finally able to listen to it. However, I was surprised by how the recording is completely different from my music. Yet, I have a composer's credit on the album. I wrote to the person who was the music director for Ladislav Vodicka to see if he can give me more information. No reply has been received so far. Thus, I still do not know how my music found its way to the Czech Republic in that time period and was changed in such a drastic way. For now, it is still a mystery.
Here is the recording of Zakourena Rokle and a scan of my original copy of Smoke In The Hollow.
According to Vojtech, the lyrics are about a tramp who comes to a county where they warn him not to go to a hollow with smoke in it, but he does, and he sees a girl appearing out of the smoke every night. He approaches her and then then song ends with the repeated phrase “he never had to walk alone in his life again”.
When I woke up today memories of my graduate composition recital came to mind. It has been many years since I thought about it. The music was presented in an unconventional way. Each piece was performed in a different location. The audience walked from place to place and was led by actors from the drama department. The actors were in costumes and street theater was performed along the routes. A ragtime band led the audience to the last performance.
The compositions included a string quartet, a piece for flute and electronic tape, an instruction-based piece for 14 instruments that included staging, and an extended jazz piece. Most of the music had an avant-garde flavor. However, my concept for the event was for it to be fun and accessible. Afterwards, Dr. Tyrone (my composition professor) came up to me with a big smile. He loved it.
In 2012 I wanted to write a new piece that expressed the spirit of that earlier time in my musical life. Smaller Ups And Downs was the result. The piece came to me in a dream! Instead of hearing the music, I saw pages of a score. The dream also gave me ideas for an 11-tone harmonic complex based on intervallic relationships. Upon waking up I wrote down as much as I could remember from the dream. Then, as I worked on the score in the days that followed I used my intuition to fill in the gaps.
This piece is for 5 wind instruments (flexible instrumentation) and soloist. The role of the soloist is entirely improvised. In addition, the soloist does not have to be limited to one musician. It can be expanded to multiple musicians -- up to a small band (any genre). This music has a great amount of freedom. Any creative possibility can be explored.
Ensembles that are interested in playing Smaller Ups And Downs can write to me from the Contact page.
I received this letter from my friend Gary Wakenhut in April 2016. I wrote a number of tunes for his ensemble (including his wife Anne) which they recorded in the 1990's and early 2000's. Gary passed on in February 2017.
"Roger, I don't think you are aware of how many people listened to your music back in those early days. One of your compositions is on 12 of our 16 Collecting Consort releases. Through the years, those recordings have sold over 200,000 copies. That's a lot of people hearing your music when you weren't aware of it.
Don't feel badly that no one gave you any feedback for your compositions. When people mention their favorite recording, I often ask them what their favorite composition is on that recording. They can never give me an answer even though each recording has many familiar folk, classical, and contemporary selections . I think that has something to do with the spirit of our recordings and the expressive capacity of your compositions. People seem to enter a different reality, perhaps on a deeper unconscious level when they listen to this music.
It all goes back to me answering your ad for "free compositions" in a music magazine. You sent us a book of your music and I responded with a gift of one of our cassettes. After listening to it, you wrote "Winter's Woods" for us. You truly captured our essence and it appeared on our next recording. That must have been the late 1980's. Thus our collaboration and release of your compositions continued until we quit producing CDs in 2005. 200,000 recordings is a lot of listening time for Roger Aldridge's music.
Now we are exploring videos of nature with our music as the sound track. I expect it won't be long until a Roger Aldridge composition appears on one of those videos. I suspect "Treasure the Chesapeake" might make it. Thanks for all these years of great collaboration and friendship."
This is part of a message that I received in an email from Bandcamp: "If you give fans easy ways to directly support the artists they love, they'll take you up on it every time". Is this statement true?
During the years of vinyl records, and later with CDs, music listeners purchased a physical product. Now, in today's world of digital music -- while one can purchase music downloads from sites like ITunes, CDBaby, and Bandcamp -- many people listen to music without paying for it on streaming sites like Youtube, Soundcloud, etc. These sites make money through ad revenue, third-party use of music, and other ways. However, the musicians, whose music draws people to these sites, typically receive no or little money for the number of plays their music receives. This is a departure from TV & radio where composers receive royalties for the use of their music.
Musicians need financial support from those who listen to their music. Fan-funding is a simple concept and it can help: If individuals give a small amount of money as a show of support to a particular artist, the collective amount spread across many people can help to fund new projects. Fan-funding campaigns are typically done within a specified time period for a single project. However, this concept can be used by fans in on-going ways such as licensing the artist's music for videos, purchasing sheet music, as well as buying MP3 downloads or CDs as several possibilities. Simply put, even in small ways, please support the artists who are creating the music you enjoy.
There is a common understanding that each saxophone, trumpet, and trombone player in a big band has an individual part. However, that is a misconception with regard to harmony.
Traditional big band arrangements -- with 5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, and 4 trombones (13 horns) -- typically use 4 or 5-part harmony. This means 2 or 3 horns could play the same note, with unison or octave doubling, in a given harmonization.
As an example of harmonic doubling, following is a traditional way to harmonize a melody in top-down, close-position writing for 5 saxophones: The 1st alto plays a melody note and the three chord tones below the melody are played by the 2nd alto, 1st tenor, and 2nd tenor; then, the baritone doubles the 1st alto an octave lower. While there are 5 saxophones, the chord voicing is actually 4-part harmony.
Close-position 4-part harmony can also be used for the trumpets and trombones when they play together as a brass section. The 4 trumpet parts are often written first and then the trombones double the trumpets an octave lower.
Open or spread voicings can go beyond the 4-part harmony used in close-position writing. In spread vocings, the trombones and/or lower saxophones often play essential chord tones (such as 1-7-3) and the trumpets and/or higher saxophones play chord tones and tensions. Using tensions (natural or altered 9, 11, 13) makes it possible to have 5-part, 6-part, or 7-part harmony. This gives a greater amount of richness to an ensemble sound than with 4-part harmony. However, unison or octave doubling still occurs when even 7-part harmony is used in concerted saxophone & brass passages.
Given the extent of harmonic doubling in big band music, I have an idea to offer to big bands: Try playing my mid-size ensemble scores with doubled players on a part. As I envision it, this will give a fresh sound to a big band.
Of prime importance is having lines with individual tone colors instead of harmonized saxophone, trumpet, and trombone sections. To do this, an expanded palette of tone color is created by having the brass as individual colors in different mutes & open with a mix of saxophones and woodwind doubles. If they are available, including instruments such as soprano sax, flugelhorn, bass clarinet, and tuba is a good way to add more color. With this palette of color choices, each wind instrument is taken out of its customary role in a section and combined with another instrument(s) to produce a distinctive sound for a given line in the score. Creative combinations of instruments are encouraged.
As a way to begin, I recommend my piece Fanfare for big bands to try. It is reasonably easy to play and its page on my website has a suggested assignment of parts.
Bands are encouraged to experiment with my music and ideas. The Mid-Size Ensemble page has more about my approach to a jazz ensemble along with a score video that serves as a sample of my writing.