Band directors traveling with us to a bowl game or parade event get an extra perk each year. Recently, WorldStrides began commissioning an original concert band piece with renowned composer and arranger Carl Strommen to be given to band directors each year. The first original piece, “Kivgik,” became available exclusively to our customers in 2015. We sat down with Carl and WorldStrides Vice President of Bowl Games and Special Events, Doug Green, to learn more about the project.
WorldStrides: Where did the idea to commission an original piece come from?
Doug: At WorldStrides, we think of ourselves as a true partner to our band directors. I wanted to be able to offer them value beyond the event experience, something they could use all year. I reached out to Carl at the recommendation of a good friend, Dr. Ken Dye of Notre Dame. I already knew his name since he’s a regular adjudicator at our music festivals and Festival of Gold. Carl is regarded as one of the foremost composers of our day.
WorldStrides: Tell us about the process for this specific commission.
Doug: I asked Carl for a piece that could be used by concert bands in the spring season for adjudication and festival/concert contests, but also wanted to be sure as many of the transitioning marching band percussion players were included so bands have a chance to keep playing the piece throughout the season. He put together a very nice piece with two percussion breaks.
Carl: “Kivgik, the Inupiat word for ‘Messenger Feast’,” was a work in progress when Doug called to discuss a potential commission. I suggested that before accepting this or any piece, he should wait for the recording, but he instantly liked what he heard.
WorldStrides: Carl, how do you approach composing your commissions?
Carl: It depends on the type of performing organization – band, orchestra, jazz band, choral – and their level of play (professional or students). Unless there is a special request to celebrate a special event, like a centennial or a memorial, professional and community groups generally leave it up to the writer.
When writing for school groups, I address several aspects: current level of play, make-up of the group, balance, which sections are strong or weak, and the potential for soloists. Major publishers provide instrumental guidelines, like range, keys, and rhythms, for every level of student performance.
My M.O. is to involve the students and director in the process, from inception to final print, as much as possible. I like to visit with the students either in person or with a number of Skype calls. Once the students get over their initial hesitancy of speaking to a writer, these Q&A sessions are fascinating. They want to design the piece, suggest themes and titles, what the cover should look like, how and where the pieces will be recorded and printed, will the school name be on the piece, what is my day like, what time of daydo I like to work – on and on. The experience of this process should be educational as well as musical, and the students should have some sense of ownership in the final composition.
WorldStrides: What makes commissions like these special?
Carl: When the performing group and director have directly contributed to the development of the music, there is a sense of “owning” the piece. It belongs to them forever. They might have had a part in verbally describing how a piece should sound, like orchestration or lyrics for example. To the commissioning party, the message, theme, and backstory are clear. A successful composition, hopefully, will also be made clear and be enjoyed by all audiences.
Want to hear more from Carl? Read part 2 of our interview here!