The musical director of the Sag Harbor Community Band and former director of the Choral Society of the Hamptons talks about his new composition, “Dancing: Variations,” which will be performed at the Choral Society of the Hamptons annual seasonal concert on Sunday, December 8, at 3 and 5:30 p.m. and the Bridgehampton Presbyterian Church.
This year’s Choral Society of the Hamptons holiday concert, ‘Tis the Season: Offerings of Celebration and Renewal Old and New, will feature the world premiere of your new work, “Dancing: Variations.” Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind this composition and your connection to Sag Harbor poet Kathryn Levy?
Kathryn is a longtime friend, who I met through Hamptons Shakespeare Festival. She has been a great supporter and adviser. She’s not only a poet, but also a veteran arts administrator. When the Choral Society asked me to write a piece, I immediately thought of her. “Dancing” is a poem of hers which I love. It’s about a painting by Monet, but not just the painting itself. It’s about looking at the painting and the ideas it sparks. Also, it’s self-referential, which I find really interesting, and the rhythm of the words lends itself to being set to music.
Other seasonal pieces at the show include Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” to works by Camille Saimtn-Saens, Gustav Holst and Cecelia McDowall. How do you think these compositions compliment each other for a holiday show?
It’s a great program. The Saint-Saens “Christmas Oratorio” is an audience and chorus favorite. Cecilia McDowall is a prolific contemporary British composer, especially of choral music. And, I’m a big fan of Holst and Fauré. I’m looking forward to hearing everything!
As a local composer, co-founder of the Hamptons Shakespeare Festival, a former director of the Choral Society and musical director of the Sag Harbor Community Band, how have you seen the musical landscape of the East End evolve over the last decade?
The East End music scene is as vibrant as I’ve ever seen. There certainly has been more and more programming in the summer, but there’s also so much more happening year-round. A few things come to mind. The Sag Harbor American Music Festival started a few years ago. Music for Montauk has been revitalized. The Jam Session presents an ongoing jazz series. And the Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival has expanded with spring concerts. And of course, all of this is on top of the Choral Society, the Sag Harbor Community Band, all of the various church choirs, and so many more longstanding groups. There’s a lot happening.
Of course, your work has been far-reaching and performed well beyond the East End. What have been some of your favorite projects as of late and what are you currently working on?
Recently, I was thinking about a favorite project from several year ago — jazz songs I wrote for Hamptons Shakespeare Festival’s “Much Ado About Nothing” which I then arranged for big band and performed up at Yale. I was directing the Yale Jazz Ensemble at the time, and it was so satisfying to share work I’d done here with the students there and the New Haven audience. Right now, I’m working on an orchestra piece.
The Sag Harbor Community Band is an institution few can image the village without. How has the membership evolved? And what does the future hold?
I’m excited that the band has grown over the past several years. We now have about 55 musicians at any given Tuesday summer concert and at our holiday concert, which is coming up on December 14 at the Old Whalers’ Church. I’m also happy that we have more students in the group these days, both high school and college students, who rejoin the group when they’re home. I hope we can keep up the momentum. A bigger group which plays well has a fuller sound and attracts more musicians to join, which improves the sound, which attracts more musicians, which… It’s a musical snowball.
With Thanksgiving behind us, we are now fully entrenched in the holiday season with Hanukah and Christmas just around the corner. What are the holiday tunes that you play in your home to mark the season?
I love Vince Guaraldi’s music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and anything in a minor key. But it’s all great really.
For more information or for tickets, visit choralsocietyofthehamptons.org.