Dead German's Greatest Hits and Music that swings!

We often make a fatal mistake of attempting to separate the so-called classical tradition of African American music with our rich and profoundly influential improvisational traditions. Ellington, Strayhorn, Monk and Mingus should appear on any list of African American composers. We should never accept the superficial and racist divisions of "high" and "low" or "classical" or "vernacular." To accept this division is to embrace the very racial barriers that we attempt to overcome. Our music is profound because we have made American music something much more than a pale reflection of European traditions. 
-Anthony Davis, Composer

As a composer, I find myself defending at times my love for jazz, R&B, and hip-hop with some of my academic colleagues.  This battle has been on-going since I first stepped on the University of Michigan's campus on August 21, 1995.   What has irked me is when people hear my "classical-style" compositions, they would say remarks such as "Oh, it's so jazzy" with a tone of belittlement.  At times, I almost felt ashamed to incorporated the influences of my youth in my symphonic repertoire.  

However, when I look at the music of Bright Sheng, a composer I respect highly, he incorporates Chinese-influenced melodies in his music repeatedly with no shame.  The same of Arturo Màrquez, composer of the famed "Danzon No. 2", and Zhou Long, Pulitzer Prize winning composer.

In Fall of 2002, I stopped composing in the classical style.  I focused on marching and jazz band arranging, composing tunes, and learning how to be a good teacher in the Detroit Public School (which I loved).  Why?  I was tired of competing with dead Germans and Austrians.  How frustrating is it to pour your heart out on a twenty minute opus only to be turned down routinely by conductors? Yet, I would arrange the hottest song on the radio and it would be played immediately by any marching band in the city.  Better yet, I would arrange a chart for Ben's Friends Big Band and it would be programmed on the next concert.

With years of coercing by Damian Crutcher, Armand Hall, Jamal Duncan, Kelvin  Washington, and Ed Quick, I turned to the concert band.   I loved it.  I wrote five band pieces in fourteen months and I thank them for their support and encouragement!

Another change of events happened which I thought would never happened.  I returned to academia in the fall of 2010 to finish my Master's of Music at Kansas State University.  I then returned to orchestral composition. Craig Weston was an amazing teacher and was open to the incorporation of non-European styles in my music.  

With all this being said, I still see a problem with trying to compete with Dead German's Greatest Hits.  Orchestras still won't play my music.  Maybe it sucks.  Maybe it doesn't; however, the issue is the same with fellow composers.

1) I am no longer by the LEAST apologetic for my love for jazz, R&B, and hip-hop.  That's right. Hip-Hop. While I am reading essays of Joshua Rifkin, it is accompanied by KRS-One or CL Smooth.  When I read biographies of the Second Viennese School, be sure to know that Basie is being played.

2) If I write a non-commissioned composition, I understand that it probably won't be played any time soon.  I am okay with that.  No one asked me to write it so they won't program it.  In the words of myself, Brandon Williams, and Ibrahim Jones, "It is what it is!"

3) I attempted to write a "what is this?".  What's a "What is This"?  I wanted to write a large opus that had all my musical loves: classical, jazz, R&B, and hip-hop/rap.  Think about West Side Story.  Is it a musical? Operetta?  Who cares, it's great music.  
        In my youth, I didn't understand how to put it together.  I did everything backwards.  I wrote the music first and then tried to write a script/libretto.  Not too smart.  I abandoned the project.
       I will never forget the words of my friend and Sinfonian brother William Tonnisen, "Hey man, you should finish that opera.  There was some good music in there."  Jay Berckley also gave me similar encouragement.
      In December of 2009, I recorded one of the arias from that unfinished "What is this" with the group Relativity/Trio Nomadian (Damon Warmack, Demetrius Nabors, and Nate Winn aka Tightus Pocketus) .  It was a composition entitled "Daddy's Little Girl."  By the time I added the orchestra to the recording, I realized I finally had the composition EXACTLY how I wanted it.
I then thought to myself, "Maybe I should finish the 'What is this'"?
        As time went by, I knew I needed to write a story FIRST before composing (that didn't always happened but I did finish the story this time. )
        I remembered earlier on in 1997, Bright Sheng gave me some suggestions for my libretto (great ones I must add) but it just wasn't coming together.  However, after an in-depth conversation with Anniece Warren in January 2011 about my music, I finally came up with the story.  Actually, I came up with several different stories which I'll eventually (Lord willing) write to all of them.  
         I officially wrote the storyboard in October 2011 (I came up with the storyboard in Feb but I didn't write it down).  Initially, I was going to just place a short synopsis in the liner notes of my CD; however, thanks to the critique ofLaKindra Parker, I went ahead and wrote it as a novel.  However, this lead me to another issue: what about the music?  How is this going be labeled? It can't just be a "What is this?";
       One of my good friends asked me why not make my book, A Tale of Two Fools, an opera, oratorio, or musical?  Problems and more problems.
         A) An opera company wouldn't play it..flat out...refer to the title of this blog and change the word ""German" to "Italian".
         B) A musical COULD happen; however, I don't want to have a pit of seven people.  This isn't the fifties.  How many musicals have the large pits that is required of West Side Story?  In the age where Broadway is using a Motif instead having live trumpets, I can forget about having my dream-sized pit.  Plus, there is not trumpet synth in the world that could come CLOSE to sounding like Jon Faddis, Sean Jones, Byron Stripling, and Oscar Brashear put together.  Also, four string players are not going to cut it.  I want to tell this story symphonically and I'm sticking by it.
         C) Oratorio/Concert Version could work also and be financially feasible. I may do put it in this format later on.

4)  In the end, I decided to make this a Novel/CD companion (James Aikman calls this project a musical drama).  There would be great possibilities from this.  I could get the singers I want whenever they were available (the beauty of multi-track recording [thank you ProTools] ).  I could also use whatever instrumentation I wanted.  Let's talk about the cons. I would be forced to stay within the 80 minutes confinement of a CD.  Aikman also suggested that I stay around 75 minutes to avoid possible CD-replication errors (great advice).  Granted, I could do a two-CD set but that would drive my cost up astronomically.  In the end, I went with about 76 minutes of music having to drop three songs off the CD (about twelve minutes worth of music.)
What about digital download? There's not a time-frame for that     I'll answer that one later.

 In conclusion, I realize many conflicts are internal.  I have resolved mine.  This CD, my musical drama  A Tale of Two Fools: A Soundtrack of a Universal Language  will have classical, jazz, R&B and hip-hop and I make no apologies for the amalgamation of styles.  
I look at musical trailblazers like Daisy Newman who created the African-American Reading sessions with the Detroit Symphony; Anthony Davis, the father of opera politica america; and Henry Lewis who are/were unapologetic of their vision and passion.  I stand to imitate.

Now that I have started this blog, I will use this to talk about my creative processes of my compositions, librettos, novels, videos, and in-depth writings/discussions about A Tale of Two Fools.  

Much Love,
Chad "Sir Wick" Hughes

PS: I currently have a commission with the University of Alabama.  I asked Demondrae 
Thurman, the conductor/soloist I am writing for, that I wanted to write a jazz movement in his euphonium concerto.  He said "Go for it!"