Remembering David Maslanka

Remembering David Maslanka: One Year Later

 Photo (c) Matthew Maslanka

Photo (c) Matthew Maslanka

I never met David Maslanka, but his music and influence on my life have been some of the deepest I have known.

I’ve played and conducted a number of David’s pieces over the years, and I’ve studied more beyond that. To know his music is to know him, as any number of my colleagues and friends will tell you. David was a quiet, gentle, deeply thoughtful and philosophical soul.

My first encounter with David’s music was in 2007 as an oboe player in college, and the work was his Mother Earth fanfare. I remember being very intrigued by the piece’s form and the musical lines that seemed to fly by before I could fully grasp them. Ultimately, I recall not being particularly moved by the piece.

Fast forward to 2011.

I received my M.M. in conducting the previous spring and had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I wasn’t doing any conducting and wasn’t really doing any artistic work in music. While surfing for inspiration, I came across this video of a then-recent performance by the US Navy Band of David’s Symphony No. 4 from the previous fall.

The United States Navy Concert Band, guest conducted by Mallory Thompson, performs "Symphony No. 4" by David Maslanka at the Hylton Performing Arts Center on Sept. 19, 2010.

This piece not only changed my perceptions of what the wind band could do, but it brought David’s music back into my life. Even more importantly, it proved to be the intersection of two of the most important musical influences in my life: David Maslanka and Mallory Thompson.

 with Mallory Thompson

with Mallory Thompson

While I would never claim Mallory as one of my teachers, her impact on my craft (and my life, for that matter) has been one of the single greatest forces I have encountered. It’s only fitting that Mallory is such an advocate for David’s music.

For me, my experience with David's music has been one of ultimate emotional expression. I find myself being drawn back to David's music with increasing frequency - usually when I'm feeling particularly reflective or an overwhelming need to center myself. Whenever I have trouble processing something (emotions, events, life in general), I will wander over to my library and pull one of David's scores. For whatever reason, getting lost in his world for a little while always makes me feel better when I lift my head from his music.

It's this energy, this force, this ability to feel and process emotion through music that I always try to transmit whenever I conduct David's music. And while that should always be a goal when a conductor works on a piece by any composer, I find myself taking special care with his scores. This cornerstone of his music is something we can all identify with, and it's one of the reasons that I think David's place in the eternal universe is secure.

Thank you, David, for your wonderful music. Thank you for the way you've touched me, the countless students and people who have gotten to know you through your music, and for the wonderful embrace you've helped to create.

If you want some additional listening recommendations, check out these pieces:

2016 CBDA California All-State High School Wind Symphony "California" by David Maslanka (World Premiere) Conductor: Mallory Thompson Feb 13, 2016 @ Center for The Performing Arts, San Jose, California My recording gear: Canon Vixia HF M41 + Azden SMX-10 external microphone

The Eastman Wind Ensemble performs David Maslanka's Symphony No. 2. February 5, 2016, Kodak Hall At Eastman Theatre: Rochester, NY. Kevin Michael Holzman, conductor. I. Moderato 0:00 II. "Deep River" 10:22 III. Allegro Molto 19:56

Finding Value in Serving Music from Outside the Profession

I do a lot of different things for work. I conduct two community ensembles (and serve on both their boards), I co-founded and conduct a historical performance practice orchestra, I have a woodwind studio, I gig and play musical pits whenever I can, and I do my best to promote my own work/serve as my own agent. I’m a former adjunct professor at two institutions (and was director of bands at one of them).

And in spite of all that, I still have a day job.

Because, let’s face it - while all those jobs are great, they don’t pay the bills. You can adjunct at several institutions and still only expect a meager salary given that, on average, an adjunct professor can expect to make ~$2,400-3,000 per course. Teach five courses (a typical course load for full-time faculty) at the high end of the scale, and you can still only expect to make $15,000. This is obviously before rent, health care (what health care?), student loan payments, etc.

No, this isn’t a post on the plight of the adjunct. The reality is that music students (even the education majors, who “can always teach if performing doesn’t work out”) are entering job markets that are far too saturated, and we lead them to believe that they have a chance to be successful.

Well, they do have a chance.

Far too often though, talented players, teachers, researchers, etc. can’t land a job immediately after graduation. For some, it takes several years. For some, it never happens, and they are resigned to give up and change professions entirely.

During the day, I work as a personnel manager and music librarian for a regional orchestra (also a part time job). While I’m technically employed by a musical organization, my job is not artistically motivated and, as I think most administrators would tell you – working for a musical organization is not the same as making music.

Here are five things I do to make sure I keep in touch with music:

1)         Make it a point to play or sing every day. Whether you pick up your instrument, sit down at a piano or sing in the shower, remember that making music is good for you – do it often! This also keeps you in touch with why you decided to go into music in the first place.

2)         Find a community ensemble to play with. You can find an extensive list of community bands and orchestras here. If you’re looking for a community choir, try researching your area, or start with your church. Churches are generally looking for talented vocalists to serve as cantor or augment their parish choir. At the very least, it’s a place to make connections and find out where others sing.

3)         Whatever organization or field you’re working in, find ways to tie music into your profession. It can be something as simple as getting a group together to play at your company’s next work event.

4)    Learn a new instrument. If you’re looking for a way to reconnect with music, this is one that I highly recommend. Sometimes, being able to reset and start from square one is a refreshing way to engage with music from a new perspective. If you’re already an instrumentalist and you’re looking for an extra challenge, pick an instrument from a different family than your primary (i.e. if you’re a flute player, take up the cello).

5)    Bring your music to others. When I was in high school (certainly long before I was getting paid to make music), I would volunteer to play at local nursing homes and hospitals. This is a great way to keep your chops up, but even more importantly, you can share your love of music. (Not to mention, residents/patients tend to enjoy the entertainment/company/distraction.)

No matter what has drawn you away from music, you don’t have to lose your connection to it. These are a few of tips that I’ve found useful. Feel free to leave yours in the comments below or share them with me via email or social media.

Appearance on "Everything Band" podcast

Last month, I was interviewed for a wind music podcast called Everything Band, run by composer Mark Connor. We talk covered a lot of different topics, including:

My background as an oboist
The importance of personal connections
Having opportunity as a young musician
Rhythm and young students
The wind ensemble at Hiram College
The value of having community members in the small college band
Staying in touch with your instrument
Teaching a new piece
Score study
Talking/commissioning works from composers
Programming new music
The importance of taking your time and having diverse musical experiences.

Check it out here! Many thanks to Mark for inviting me!