Meet the Composer

Gregory

wanamaker

“I think I find more compositional inspiration in conversations and other extra-musical things than I do in music itself.”

-Gregory Wanamaker

 

 

 

 

One distinct highlight I found in my conversations with composer, Greg Wanamaker, was in our discussion regarding collaboration. The opportunity to work with other musicians is not only crucial to the success of a composer but is also a remarkable gift in itself. As a composer who draws inspiration from that which surrounds me, whether it be people, ideas, events, nature, or books, I connected with Mr. Wanamaker’s idea that “collaborators become an essential part of your identity.” Oftentimes we approach composition as a one-way mirror; we, as performers, see our personalities, feelings, hopes, and opinions reflected in any particular piece we might enjoy. However, after hearing Mr. Wanamaker describe collaboration, I am much more convinced that composition is a two-way window. Performers impact composers and their craft just as much as compositions impact performers and their performance. 

 

Such a collaborative spirit is present in several duos which Mr. Wanamaker composed for various instrumentations, as well as in his recurring work with saxophonist, Timothy McAllister, and groups such as the PRISM Saxophone Quartet and the Akropolis Reed Quintet. The duos are exceptional in their innovative sound combinations and communicative spirit. Duo Sonata, composed for McAllister and clarinetist, Alan Woy, consists of four movements, each of which holds a careful attention to detailed conversation between the two voices. Quick and robust, movement one, “Departure,” is full of fiery dialogue, contrasting an elegant second movement, “Elegy,” which explores the full ranges of each instrument as well as the extents of their varying color palettes. The final movements, “Scherzo” and “Arrival (Blues),” serve as playgrounds for Mr. Wanamaker’s skills in contrapuntal technique through complex dialogue and overlapping polymetric rhythms. 

 

Although there are many duos that are compelling and worthy of discussion, such as Still Moving for flute and alto saxophone, Double Cadenza for oboe and tenor saxophone, or Ragahoro Breakdown for clarinet and alto saxophone, I would like to take this moment to discuss one of the more unusual instrumental combinations seen in Mr. Wanamaker’s compositions. Three Episodes, scored for soprano saxophone and electric guitar is quite literally electrifying in its compelling use of asymmetric phrasing, vertically dense “power chords,” and multiphonics. I am drawn to this piece in the way I am drawn to a great mystery novel; I feel a deep freedom in the lack of predictability while simultaneously trusting that the end goal has been meticulously calculated and planned. The guitar and saxophone lines weave in and around one another, resulting in a constantly shifting conversation and listeners who are on the edge of their seats waiting for the next surprise. (Other notable “unusual” duo instrumentations are Slink for bass trombone and alto saxophone and Meditation and Dance for alto saxophone and harp.)

 

We can locate more familiar instrumental combinations in pieces such as Run, Blues, and Elegy for saxophone quartet. The last of this list- an arrangement of the second movement of Duo Sonata- has also been transcribed into a gorgeous reed quintet, joining Mr. Wanamaker’s other quintet: The Space Between Us, scored for oboe, clarinet, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and bassoon. Perhaps The Space Between Us is the piece whose story most clearly reflects Mr. Wanamaker’s emphasis on collaboration. As stated in the program notes found on the composer’s website, the five movement work is a study of the dynamic of “...changing relationships through language, texture, color and harmony.” Composed for the Akropolis Reed Quintet (and appearing on their album of the same name), the piece features the juxtaposition of the distinctive timbres of each instrument, frantic lines, and sharp, angular lines. The juxtaposition, however, does not stop there. As in any real life relationship, direct side-by-side contrasts  of agreement/unison/harmonic and rhythmic consonance melodies and dispute/individual voices/harmonic and rhythmic dissonance are present throughout the piece, creating a whole that is honest and relatable to listeners of any background. 

 

Despite his clear love for matching the color of saxophone with unlike instruments, Mr. Wanamaker does not seem to shy away from utilizing any and all types of saxophones. An apparent mastery of saxophone writing illuminates his saxophone ensemble pieces, providing moments for each individual instrument to showcase its unique strengths and capabilities. Moreso, Mr. Wanamaker’s writing displays an innate understanding of the power and beauty saxophones hold when brought together. A personal favorite of mine is Still Life: Loie Dances for saxophone ensemble. This atmospheric piece, whose United States premiere featured the University of Michigan Saxophone Studio under the direction of Timothy McAllister, is not only exceptionally beautiful, eerie, and sincere; it is also a crystalline clear look into Mr. Wanamaker’s first-rate understanding of the innermost workings of the instrument. 

 

Of course, I would be remiss not to discuss the abundance of solo saxophone work which permeates Mr. Wanamaker’s portfolio. An instant standout for me is his second sonata for alto saxophone and piano, Of Light and Shadows, which premiered in early 2016. I noticed a particular compositional ease in the first movement, collapsing any barriers between instrument and meaning. Small cells of ideas and melodies flow effortlessly, making way for color and timbre to take charge as the featured tools for expression. The resulting music is simultaneously gorgeous and hypnotizing, as well as haunting and unnerving. A piano chorale sounds in the latter half of the movement, cushioning a contrasting unsteadiness in the saxophone. In this moment, Mr. Wanamaker, once again connects with the audience at a personal level, drawing upon individual feelings of nostalgia and their relative uncertainties.  

 

Finally, Night Set for soprano saxophone and piano, a true “night music,” which calls upon a toolbox of dark sounds of the night. Although taking place in a slightly different soundscape, like Of Light and Shadows, this piece feels intricately related to a philosophical view of the human condition. From the first note, it dives headfirst into the psychology of the mind- forcing the listener to address the uneasiness and fear associated with any amount of literal or figurative darkness. Both pieces contain concurrent feelings of beauty, nostalgia, fear, unsettlement, and reflection. Consequently, the sounds of Greg Wanamaker’s music and the clarity of his expression cling to the listener long after the last note has sounded.

 

The Saxophonist: If we could begin by having you talk a little about your compositional background in regards to your studies, early career, and teachers? Do you remember any single moment in which you knew that you were going to be a composer? 

 

 

Greg Wanamaker: As a child, I spent my summers as an actor at the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, performing in musicals, so I was exposed to some pretty interesting music in that regard very early on. When I reached puberty (and was no longer the cute kid with the soprano voice), I began playing bass in the pit orchestra. I could read music, but I was a self-taught player, and really had to study my part to get things right. The West Side Story book baffled the hell out of me, and I found it incredibly difficult to learn until I discovered some repeated patterns in the opening music - an ostinato that didn’t conform to the meter. I found little discoveries like that exciting and interesting. Cool is also one of those amazing pieces in the show - I didn’t know what 12-Tone music was, but I did discover for myself some of the organization Bernstein used in that song. And the Counterpoint! I didn’t even know what counterpoint was, but I was so taken with the texture. And it was jazz-but-not-jazz at the same time. This led me to thinking about composing.

 

 

At the same time, I was trying to keep up with my brothers who were playing rock and roll. They turned me on to everything from Neil Young to progressive rock like early Genesis and Yes. And my parents were fans of muzak and dixieland. I was immersed in such a wide variety of stuff, that I didn’t really separate genres. It was all music to me.

 

 

Then, when I was 16, I attended a boarding school near Philadelphia and experienced Stravinsky (Firebird and Petrushka) for the first time on a Friday afternoon concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra. I also joined the small jazz ensemble as a guitarist and bassist, under the direction of composer and conductor Anthony Branker.

 

 

The following year, I took my first composition classes with Tony, which centered on jazz idioms and used the jazz ensemble as a sort of a lab band. I wrote several charts and arrangements there and took advantage of the band thoroughly as a collaborative ensemble. 

 

 

During our lessons Tony often played records and initiated discussions of style and historical context. The most influential session for me was when he brought in Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz - not so much because I immediately connected with it (which I didn’t), but because the idea that such a work whose purpose was to live only in the moment, was actually fixed in time forever on a recording was fascinating. Mr. Branker actually let me borrow the record, and much to the annoyance to the other boys on my hall, I played it constantly for a week trying to make heads or tails of the whole thing.

 

 

After I left boarding school, I spent quite a bit of time in my local library listening to experimental music and exploring compositional philosophy, which led me eventually to John Cage. Then I found that Cage studied with Schoenberg, who wrote extensively about Brahms, who was fascinated with Beethoven, who studied with Haydn (and Mozart), etc… My self-imposed survey took me backwards

 

All of this and more really energized me to explore sound and create music.

 

 

So I decided to study composition at Shenandoah Conservatory with William Averitt, who was a brilliant teacher of technique, and who encouraged me to explore so many different modes of musical discourse. I later studied with Ladislav Kubík at Florida State University. He was a very philosophical teacher, who guided me to think conceptually about composition.

 

 

All of this stuff led me to continue exploring a wide variety of music, which I still try to do to this day.

By the way, I have grown to love Ornette Coleman’s music, by the way, and can sing along with most of that two-record set.

 

 

TS: As a composer, which composers are your biggest influences? Non-composer musicians? Non-composers OR musicians?

 

 

GW: The list of influential composers is way too large for me to narrow down. I believe that all musicians, especially composers, are influenced to a large degree with everything they hear, good or bad. I have found influences in all genres I have been exposed to, and will be influenced by those that I have yet to discover. 

 

 

I love musicians who really know how to improvise (in any genre) as if they were composing. There is an energy in the organic spontaneity of a great jazz solo that I try to capture in some of my music. Sometimes, I think I may be more influenced by improvisation than actual composition even though I don’t compose much improvised music. 

 

 

At the recent NASA Conference in Cincinnati, I was lucky to sit down for a couple of drinks and a chat with Branford Marsalis. We talked a bit about teaching, and I remember asking him about how he coaches improvisation. I don’t want to misquote him, but what I took away was the importance of learning tradition - being fluent in all styles so you have an unlimited vocabulary. You gotta learn Louie if you wanna play like Coltrane (John or Ravi). There are students who actually argue with him about this. I sometimes experience a similar resistance when I teach composition.

 

 

In 1993, I had an after-hours bunch of drinks with my brother Doug and LeRoi Moore, after a trio gig at a small club Charlottesville. I was a grad student at the time, and we were talking about groove. He told me that groove can’t be written, but room to groove can be. I don’t write much of what younger musicians call “groove music,” but I do try to allow room for ensembles to find a groove that they are comfortable with when they perform my music.

 

 

As far as non-composers or non-musicians are concerned, I find influences in still-life images that may or may not imply motion. This sort of thing was the influence for Night Set and of Light and Shadows. It’s difficult to mention specific artists here, but I sometimes respond to specific images I find. 

 

I collaborated with Carrie Mae Weems a few years ago on a multimedia work called A Story Within A Story, where the central movement was on a collage of found video footage of largely white anger from the Civil Rights Era that Carrie created. In order to allow that to speak as strongly as it could, I tried to create an ironically quiet music that gave room for those moving images to speak. We also compiled a pastiche of quotes from Civil Rights leaders and their detractors of the time as a counterpoint to my music and Carrie’s video. She and those voices from James Baldwin to Marlon Brando to Harry Belafonte to Shirley Chisholm and more continue to inspire me to seek out more avenues of extra-musical influence.

 

TS: Are there any composers or artists that are inspirational or exciting to your ear, even if you don’t feel that they make a direct appearance or influence in your composition itself? 

 

GW: As far as my contemporaries are concerned, I am a big fan of Stacy Garrop’s music and Mischa Zupko’s, David Biedenbender’s, and Joel Love’s. (I know that I left many people out, please forgive me.) I had the pleasure of hearing the premiere of Stacy’s Quicksilver performed by Casey Grev with the Crane Wind Ensemble. The piece is absolute dynamite, as are all of her works that I have heard. She has a dramatic narrative sense that is unmatchable. 

 

Relatedly, after years of not understanding the appeal of Philip Glass’s music, I recently read his memoir Words Without Music. Along from his narrative of his amazing life, he shed a little light on his process from a personal standpoint, and explained what some critics don’t “get” about his music. I am not going to spoil this explanation, but it revealed a lot to me about not only his work, which I am beginning to appreciate - aw, hell, enjoy, but also about a way of approaching a gestalt that I haven’t applied to my own work. I highly recommend that all musicians - especially those composers who are contemplating graduate school to pursue a career in academe - read.

 

TS: Within your compositional career, what are you most proud of? 

 

GW: I am so grateful for the friendships and collaborators I have found during the course of my career. Most of them are saxophonists, I am glad to say… Without them, I would not have works entering standard repertoire, and I wouldn’t have the number of performances and recordings I am fortunate to enjoy. I am proud that I can continue to cultivate these relationships, and am humbled that I am welcomed into their circles. 

 

TS: Which piece was your first work for saxophone? What was the inspiration for this piece? What qualities of the saxophone created either exciting opportunities or (possibly frustrating) challenges for writing?

 

GW: Cyclic Movements was my first work for saxophone. I composed it in 1995 for Patrick Meighan while I was finishing my doctoral studies at Florida State. Pat demonstrated the wide range of slap tonguing from hard percussive slaps to a quasi-pizzicato timbre. The piece is scored for alto saxophone, cello, piano, and percussion. The centerpiece of Cyclic Movements makes use of a dialogue between  the sax and cello trading pizzicato and quasi-pizz slap tonguing. Pat and the cellist created a beautiful blend between the two instruments where they are almost indistinguishable from each other. 

 

I should also mention Sonata deus sax machina, which I composed in 1999 for Tim McAllister. This was a close collaboration and a game-changer for me in terms of my process and my timbral approach to composition. Tim introduced me to the possibilities of multiphonic-melody and a lyrical use of altissimo. I am grateful that this work has entered standard repertoire and has been included as a second round work for both the Adolphe Sax and the Pushnikov International Competitions.

 

TS: What is your favorite piece that you have written for the saxophone? Does that differ from most successful piece you feel you have written for the saxophone?

 

GW: I think of Light and Shadows is my favorite work I have written for saxophone. Liz Ames brought together about 25 saxophonists to commission this in 2015, with the stipulation that the piece contains a substantial slow movement. The whole piece, a sonata, is in two movements and makes lyric and thematic use of all of those extended techniques I used in deus sax machina, but over the course of a more gradual developmental process. I consider the first movement, Luminant Shadows, to be my most patient piece in terms of the gradual development of simple materials over the course of 13 minutes. In a way, of Light and Shadows is an answer to deus 15 years later. It is a much more mature composition in scope and overall discourse. I created a version of Luminant Shadows for wind ensemble (without soloist) last year that was premiered in October.

 

 

TS: Can you talk a bit about your compositional process? What is your process for collecting and sorting through inspiration for pieces, initial ideas, mapping out pieces, and coming to a finished product? Is there a particular order you fall back on when writing? (Melody first, harmony first, textural ideas first, etc)? 

 

GW: The details of my process changes from piece to piece depending on what I am composing. But overall, concept and structure comes first. With all of my commissioned works, the first thing I ask myself is “What is the point of putting these instruments together? How do they balance? How can they interact effectively?” I also need to settle on the length and overall affect before I do anything. Harmony is quite important too, but I view harmony to include everything - rhythm, texture, and timbre as well as melody, motive, and gesture.

 

 

For example, my Duo Sonata, commissioned by Tim McAllister and Alan Woy, began with the thought that I wanted to emphasize the similarities between the clarinet and sax, which allowed me to save their strongest contrasts at the structurally significant climactic moments. Thus I try to focus on very simple concepts as I outline a piece. The details are often a different matter and take more time.

The most important thing for me is finding a balance between what I am already hearing and what I want to hear in each piece. You can’t successfully write what you don’t hear, which is why I try to continue studying musics I haven’t yet experienced.

 

 

TS: I couldn’t help but notice some exciting upcoming projects on your website in regards to your quartets: With and Without. Can you talk a little bit about your inspiration for these pieces and the contrast they represent?

 

 

GW: Don-Paul Kahl, who was instrumental in commissioning Ragahoro Breakdown and Night Set, approached me about composing a work for his wonderful saxophone quartet Ensemble du Bout du Monde. During a FaceTime session with him and Noa Mick (the soprano chair of EBM) he brought up his ongoing research on techniques of playing without mouthpieces. I thought that it might be interesting to create a pair of works that were structurally identical - one played With mouthpieces, and one Without.

With is a relentlessly fast arch-form fantasy in a quasi-minimalistic style. While it makes use of much of the range of the saxophone quartet, its main feature is that the individual members of the ensemble must behave as a single individual.

 

Without is a version of With played without mouthpieces. Following the exact structure of With, Without makes use of various timbral possibilities from key-clicks, air-pitch, trumpet sounds, tongue rams, a sax-flute hybrid technique, and more.

 

Without presents a drastically contrasting sonic experience to With in that pitch in the traditional sense, while present and precisely notated, is largely obscured by the various techniques the performers must employ to create the sounds noted in the score. With this in mind, the harmonic and melodic materials of Without still exist in a gestural and structural manner similar to With, yet the timbral effects applied to these traditional materials create something analogous to a compositional “remix” – not dissimilar to a remix audio engineers might apply to preexisting sound recordings. 

 

Don-Paul’s research will prove invaluable to saxophonists and composers alike by expanding the available color-palette for the saxophone.

 

TS: Aside from these quartets, what’s next for you? (Without giving too much away, of course,) can you discuss your upcoming ideas, collaborations, and/or projects? 

 

GW: I am currently working on a piece for Cliff Leaman’s RoseWind Duo for soprano saxophone and marimba, and I have several projects in the hopper. Solo works, chamber music, a chamber opera, and more - most involving saxophone, of course. Over the past several years, I have tried to put together a consortium for a saxophone concerto with band or orchestra, but these arrangements have repeatedly fallen short of fruition. A project like this seems like the next logical step for me, considering my love for the saxophone (and saxophonists). It’s something I would certainly like to continue to pursue.

 

TS: You have written for several compelling (and sometimes unusual) combinations of instruments, especially in the form of duos. Why do you feel collaboration of all types is so vital to the growth of new music? 

 

GW: The duo thing (without piano) is cool because it is so portable, and can be performed in small and large venues that may or may not be set up specifically for musical performances. It is also incredibly versatile texturally and harmonically.

 

Collaboration is essential to the creation of art. I try to craft pieces for the specific performers who commission me so that their particular strengths are inherently used in the works I compose for them. I try to be a good communicator during the process to be sure I am creating something they will enjoy, that may challenge them, and that they will perform repeatedly.

 

I am very grateful that my Duo Sonata has received a little over 400 performances (that I know of) since I composed it in 2002. I think that the exposure I have received from that piece in particular has inspired performers to commission other duos from me and other composers as well.

 

TS: Along with collaboration and inspiring each other, I feel each composer has an important duty to be loyal to their own voice and artistry. In this regard, what would be the biggest advice you would give to young composers and artists striving to balance between “imitating and learning” and “establishing one’s own unique musical identity”? 

 

GW:

 

Be patient.

 

Learn craft. 

 

If you are 18 years old and think the muse is going to descend upon you and whisper melodies to you as you writhe around in some sort of existential angst, you are sorely mistaken. 

 

Some composers may disagree with this, but learning craft is absolutely essential to creating meaningful art in your own voice. 

 

Learning craft may sometimes feel as if you are forced to deny your initial influences - but this doesn’t have to be the case. 

 

If you think that you have decided at age 18 the kind of music you want to write for the rest of your life, you will never grow. Remember - people live to be 100 or so. Allow yourself to evolve as your identity matures.

Listen to something new every day. Twice. You don’t have to like what you heard, but you should try to figure out what makes it work (or not work).

 

Develop collaborative relationships with the best performers early in your studies and your career. It is likely that you will continue working with them for the rest of your life. Collaborators become an essential part of your identity.

 

Learn to be an independent freelance composer and collaborator. Academic jobs, while seemingly appealing have the potential to get in the way of compositional progress and stunt your identity - and they are few and far between.

 

If you can’t actually hear what you are composing, learn to hear it. Music you can’t hear and don’t understand can not possibly be a part of your identity.

 

If you are using music software to dictate what you compose because copying and pasting is convenient or you believe what MIDI tells you is easier than hearing, then you will never find your own unique musical identity. Instead you will always write like someone else, or like a piece of software.

 

Be patient.

 

Learn craft.

 

TS: How do you view the business of music composition? How much of your job revolves around marketing, self-promotion, and publication as opposed to actual composing? What steps can young composers (and young performers for that matter) take to put their business into their own hands as they strive to grow professionally? 

GW: I try to physically compose everyday, which can be difficult with marketing, promotion, grant writing, and self-publication duties. As far as my business is concerned, I am largely a one-person operation, but I am grateful to my old friend Christopher Clark and his company ILoveWhatYouDo for his wonderful website design and maintenance. He is a very creative independent designer who specializes in working with musicians and other artists.

I also mentioned earlier that composers early in their careers need to begin developing collaborative relationships early. This can lead to wonderful collectives and ensembles that may serve as vehicles for their own creations.

Don’t post bad performances of your music on YouTube or social media platforms. Bad performances are not better than no performances, and can hinder your ability to progress professionally.

Don’t participate in competitions or calls for scores that require a fee to enter. Instead, spend that money on making recordings and cultivating performances with your collaborators.

I also can’t stress patience enough. Not all composers will rush out of studies and be immediately successful financially, but if you’re committed, good things can happen. Philip Glass was still driving a taxicab when Einstein on the Beach received its first performance at the MET.

 

I’m going to say something relatively controversial: Academe begets academe. I have no major regrets about my career as a college professor, and I love teaching. But I wish that I pursued that career a little differently. It can be argued that the only reason to pursue a doctorate is to get a job in academe. (This is not universally true, but it is more frequently the case than not.)

If you want to be a composer, consider studying through your bachelors or masters degree and putting together a portfolio to actually work as a freelancer, or in film music, or in some sort of compositional field before pursuing a doctorate. I think that this applies similarly to performers as well, by the way. There are actually more jobs to be had in the real world than in the bubble of academe. I am not saying that this is an easy path, but I believe it will be more fruitful for composers and performers alike to actually live in their art rather than in fruitless meetings that focus on travel requisition procedures and curriculum revisions that remove music courses from music degrees. If, after a few years, you wish to pursue an academic career for whatever reason, then pursue a doctorate. Graduate schools will be happy to welcome you back, and you may have a leg up for academic jobs over those (like me) who plowed their ways through an education in one long hump because you will have practical experience.

Again, this is not an expression of regret: I am happy with and grateful for the career I have cultivated for myself (with tremendous help from my friends and collaborators), but the world has changed dramatically since I was a student, and the path I chose for myself is not as promising today.

TS:  A recurring argument in the music world revolves around a separation between types of music, so much that instruments become stereotyped into a single certain stylistic capacity. A few of your pieces (I’m thinking of …unsettled/ unphased.... and Three Episodes in particular) attack this conundrum head on with their utilization of instruments often boxed in as only “jazz instruments” or “pop instruments.” In the program notes for ...unsettled/unphased… you state, “Are they classical or jazz instruments? (It doesn’t really matter, does it)?” Does it and/or should it matter?Do you feel there is a distinct line between genres of music and if so, what will the impact of this divide be on the future of modern music composition and performance? 

GW: Genre labels continue to be less relevant today than they have ever been. In the late 80s and early 90s, record companies and record stores introduced the term “Alternative Music” to describe a subgenre of pop music. I still roll my eyes at this because all music is an alternative to another music. Nirvana was deemed alternative - not pop, not rock and roll - but alternative. What does that even mean?

Instruments outside the realm of the classical tradition have always been an issue-turned-non-issue. Saxophone, for example, is becoming a mainstay in the symphony orchestra. Not in those mostly-Mozart programs, of course, but in the myriad of new music being created for orchestra. Even further, look at works by David T. Little or Julia Wolfe’s brilliant Anthracite Fields that incorporate electric guitar and synthesizer as natural parts of chamber music textures. 

Similarly, Paul Hanson has revolutionized the bassoon as a jazz and rock instrument. Derek Brown has incorporated beatboxing as a natural part of his saxophone playing. Whether or not factions of the saxophone community approve of latter, or even like the fact that I wrote a saxophone quartet without mouthpieces, these performance evolutions are happening and transforming any instruments’ potential to something more than they have traditionally been. Cage’s prepared piano, which is actually a percussion orchestra controlled by one person is another example that can be traced back to 1938 or so. Kronos Quartet figured out how to play Hendrix so it wasn’t a gimmick. I can go on listing performer and composers who defy traditional genre labels. How can any of this possibly be a bad thing?

So when it comes to style and genre, there is a part of me that doesn’t care what instruments I am writing for, I am going to compose what I compose for them, which may be influenced by jazz, metal, Bulgarian horo, Stravinsky, or Yes. Or a combination of all of those things. Is …unsettled, unphased… classical? I don’t know… There’s some Bartók in there. Is it jazz? I don’t know… there’s come Coltrane in there. Is it World Music (!)? I don’t know… There’s some horo in there. (OMG! Is it CROSSOVER???) As far as I know, it is chamber music for a group of instruments that often comprises a jazz quartet. But I try not to worry about genre when I compose.

Jennifer Higdon posted something brilliant a few years ago about how orchestras putting leather jackets on Beethoven is not innovative programming. I like to think of the orchestras that do this as being akin to those record companies and record stores that invented the term “alternative” and “crossover” to sell their products.

TS: My final question is about a piece that seems to remain unpremiered: still life is life still. Is there a future for this piece? 

GW: still life is life still was an expansion of the slow movement of deus sax machina as a concertante for alto saxophone and piano with string orchestra and percussion. I was never particularly happy with the way it turned out, and haven’t marketed it. There is no future for that piece as far as I am concerned. But I still list it in my catalogue because I love the title, and plan to repurpose it for another piece. It’s a great title, if I do say so myself, and it will have more meaning when I can apply it to an original piece that deserves it. Maybe a saxophone concerto, if I can get one off the ground.

TS: Any additional tidbits you’d like to add!? 

GW: Did I talk about saxophone enough? 

You know, I gotta say that I have been pigeon-holed as a “saxophone composer” in some circles. I really don’t mind that. I find saxophonists fearless in their enthusiasm to try new things and to play new works. I love that. 

What some may find interesting is that I never played a woodwind instrument. In fact, the only time I touched a saxophone, I apparently did it wrong.