|Numinous The Music of Joseph C. Phillips Jr.|
The Numinosum Blog
13 years ago this week, a special event in my life and the lives of the many students I used to teach at Interlake High School in Bellevue, Washington occurred. So over the next three days I'll share a bit of that experience with you.
Let's set the scene: I began the 1995-96 school at Interlake with high hopes, coming off one of the most successful years in the program since I began teaching. That summer of 1995, during my drive to and from Montezuma, New Mexico for International Baccalaureate training, I began thinking about what interesting music to program for the students that upcoming year. For all of my ensembles, I was always interested in performing non-standard repertoire. Sure, at times we played Holst and Grainger in the wind ensemble or Ellington, Basie, Thad in the jazz ensemble, but the preponderance of great high school bands doing the standard literature (groups such as the Garfield and Roosevelt High Schools of Seattle, which are perennial winners at the Jazz at Lincoln Center Essential Ellington contest--the contest didn't include West Coast schools until 1999, after I had left Interlake for NYC) made my contrarian heart bristle to find something else. The more years I taught, the more this feeling became prominent and the repertoire we performed reflected the move away from the typical standards. And the students were totally into it and that non-conformist attitude helped to establish our own identity. So I was looking for something out of the ordinary, something 'different' to perform. For the jazz ensemble, that feeling lead me to remember that wonderful music I heard the University of Oregon Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Steve Owen perform a few years before at the 1992 All-Northwest Music educators convention in Portland, Oregon. This is how I came to know the name Maria Schneider for the first time and come in contact with her music. The UO Jazz Ensemble, along with the many pieces they performed that afternoon by other composers (which I don't remember), performed Maria's "Dance You Monster to My Soft Song" and "Last Season" (which I remember quite well). I had never heard anything quite like it before. While clearly coming from the jazz tradition, it was somehow speaking another dialect; already my proto-mixed music heart could 'feel' the connection to other genres in those two pieces and I filed Maria's name away as 'music-I'd-like-to-play someday.'
So after my IB training session, it came time for my annual summer repertoire hunt for the upcoming year and I remembered Maria's name and went a-looking for the sheet music for "Dance You Monster..." and "Last Season". Once I found out her publisher was Kendor, I called (email was a distant horizon then) and found out that those pieces were not published. The person I spoke with suggested I write a letter to Maria, which they would forward, asking if it was possible to purchase those pieces. I wrote the letter, sent it off, and waited. I don't remember how long of a wait I had (maybe a month or two) when one, nondescript morning the phone rang in my music office. And little did I know when I picked up that phone, that the person on the other side of the line, was about to change the trajectory of my life.
Maria herself called me to say that yes, she had gotten the letter and the request and that, yes, those pieces were available for purchase. She told me how much and I said we'd like to buy them. Then, while we were still talking, basically on a whim, I asked her if she does clinics/workshops for high school bands. She said she did and we discussed what that would entail, including how much it would cost. Even though I had little idea how I was going to get the money, I said let's do it. Over the next few weeks we discussed logistics and throughout that 1995-1996 school year, I began work toward Maria's residency and concert set for May 20-22, 1997: got the students and band parents excited about Maria coming and involved in trying to raise money; found a cool, classic venue in downtown Seattle; planned and worked on an advertising campaign including a poster design; decided on repertoire for concert and ordered the scores and parts; and so many other details, both small and large. I personally called or visited MANY local businesses about sponsorships to help us bring Maria out. And you know the response I received? From almost every single place I contacted, a resounding NO, not interested! Don't they know this is a GREAT opportunity! It's MARIA SCHNEIDER! Although this was years away from her Grammy wins and generally universal acclaim in the jazz world, she was not unknown. From her first two albums (to that date) to her work with Gil Evans, she was beginning to make a name for herself. So certainly Bill Gates and the Microsoft Empire, who were just about two miles from our campus, could drop a little pocket change our way to help out! Starbucks? Hello, I know you were just starting your national dominion back then, but could you spare a dime...or 100,000 dimes? Even Earshot Jazz, Seattle's premier jazz organization, which one would think would want to be involved in bringing Maria Schneider out to the Pacific Northwest for her very FIRST performance in Seattle, had no interest.
How was this residency going to be pulled off if we couldn't pay for it and no one wanted to help us? That would be highly embarrassing and unprofessional to call Maria and say we can't do the residency after all. It was starting to look more and more discouraging. I guess all of the rejections were just foreshadowing for my future life in New York City, where resiliency, determination, and hope is often necessary in the face of 'no, not interested' or the more annoying, ignore-and-hope-they-go-away-if-there-is-no-response-at-all. C'mon, is it really that hard to answer back? Back then is where I learned about turning rejection into a DIY ethos and spirit that says 'you aren't going to stop me from achieving what I want to achieve!' But I'm digressing. So anyway, things were not looking good by the end of that 1995-1996 school year. In addition to all of the disappointment putting together the residency and concert, I had one of the most stressful and least productive teaching years since I started: our jazz band, which had previously won numerous awards from various festivals, struggled mightily amidst internal strife and the loss of senior leadership; the Wind Ensemble and Concert bands were unfocused and inconsistent when a planned East Coast trip was canceled because of parental divisions and concerns. Despite my winning Educator of Year award from the city in the spring of 1996, I felt the program was at one of the lowest ebbs since I got there. Like many teachers, the opportunity to start a new year fresh, to learn from previous difficulties and hardships and improve one's self as well as one's students, is one of the most appealing aspects to teaching. So when the 1996-1997 school year began, I was ready to dig in and work hard to achieve my goals that year; and one of the most pressing, were the plans to bring Maria Schneider to Bellevue that upcoming spring.
Tomorrow's post: Things are starting to look up...
(photo credits: Seattle Times May 12, 1997; old marquee announces Maria Schneider concert at Interlake High School, 1997)
POSTED BY NUMINOUS AT 7:30 AM
To all things that create a sense of wonder and beauty that inspires and enlightens.