Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Notes on Music" Has Moved!

I have moved my blog to a new location: You'll find all of my old articles there, plus many new essays and reflections on music by me, Dr. Ray.

Why not bookmark the new location now? Readership is growing by leaps and bounds, both nationally and internationally. Thanks for reading! -- Dr. Ray

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Remembering Mary Hsia

[Please visit my new blog, which contains all of these previous articles in addition to new articles, at ]

On Easter morning this year, my good friend, Mary Hsia, passed on. I write this in loving memory.

Mary Hsia with her beloved tuba!

Mary was a dear friend and neighbor. "Hsia" was a married name, pronounced "Shaw." Mary was kind, fun, and generous, and she brightend my life, as she surely brightened the lives of many others. I believe her journey continues, and she still blesses others with her good and gentle nature.

Mary was an English professor at Los Angeles City College and a devoted amateur tubist. I first met her when I taught the Brass Chamber Ensembles at Pasadena City College. After awhile, there would always be a package of cookies or some other tasty treat on my music stand when I arrived for class. I never asked, and no one ever owned up to it, but I was always pretty sure Mary was the benefactor.

Some years later, she became a neighbor of mine. I recall driving home one day and hearing the Sesame Street song, "Rubber Duckie," from my driveway. I first thought someone was playing a radio, but then I realized it was Mary's tuba quartet playing in her garage with the door open. It was great fun, and the whole neighborhood got to hear it!

We also had fun up at the Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop, where she played in lots of groups, including tuba quartets and tuba ensembles. She told me many times of her youthful interest in playing tuba and how later in life she finally came to embrace it for real. I once wrote her a tuba etude, and I dedicated both that etude and another piece of mine to her: "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day." She and my mom are the only two people to whom I've dedicated more than one piece of music.

We talked often over the years. She was fun company. She loved teaching and her students, and it seemed clear that her students loved her, too. She loved plants, and her home and yard were always adorned with wonderful flowers, shrubs, and trees. Mary loved her pets, too, both dogs and cats. Many times she selflessly and lovingly took in my dog, Sophie, when I had to be out of town. Mary was a very loving person.

There is a web page in her memory with stories and photos HERE.

Several years ago, feeling much gratitude to Mary for many reasons, I wrote her a poem and pinned it to a poinsettia plant as a gift. It now takes on new significance for me. I share it here in honor and remembrance of my good friend.

A Poinsettia Poem
by Raymond David Burkhart
[copyright 2007]

Christmas: a time for giving to friends and
Family and strangers our love, which sends forth in
Cards, gifts and smiles,—even poinsettia plants—
Blessed wishes for good, which tend to enhance
True meanings of Christmas throughout the long year,
That selfless compassion and unbridled cheer
Might buoy us and others and strengthen our prayers
For peace in the bustle of daily affairs.

Places and persons we loved on a day,
And traditions once honored, might all pass away,
But loving and giving, they never wax old,
And our meaning and joy can hardly be told
By the things we possess, unless they incline
To represent that which outlasts even time.
And so now I give this poinsettia to you,
Remembering all of the good that you do.

Monday, April 1, 2013

"Italian Postcards"

[Please visit my new blog, which contains all of these previous articles in addition to new articles, at ]

Italian Postcards first got legs over a decade ago, and it's still running strong! It's one of my most performed compositions. It was commissioned in 2000 by the Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop. [Read my previous blog about the Workshop.] Every piece of music has a story or three behind it, and it's about time I wrote about Italian Postcards, especially since the German brass quintet, Windcraft, just performed the piece today in Munich. Watch their wonderful performance of Italian Postcards HERE.

The Coliseum (or Colosseum) in Rome.

The original Italian Postcards is for brass septet: 2 trumpets, 2 horns, 2 trombones, and tuba. Substitute parts make alternate instrumentations possible. The idea was to enrich the repertoire for brass chamber ensembles larger than the standard brass quintet. The piece is a three-movement suite, the idea being that each movement is the musical representation of a picture postcard from a popular Italian city. The movements are: I. Roma. Sunrise at the Coliseum; II. Venezia. Lovers in a Gondola; and III. Milano. A Crowded Marketplace. Each movement is roughly two minutes in length. Roma is brassy and grand, Venezia is tender and lovely, and Milano is quirky and fast.

In fact, I didn't actually start with an Italian focus for the music in mind, even though many listeners who have been to Italy say the music captures the imagery well. Also, no actual postcards prompted the music, and I've never even been to Italy! But it makes a good story. The truth is that, as the piece neared completion and I started pondering titles, the concept of three musical postcards from Italy came to me as I recalled a youthful memory.

Lovers in a Venetian gondola.

Jack and Althea Kifer were close friends with my parents. Althea and my mom grew up in Eagle Rock, California and established a lifelong friendship during their college years at UCLA. The Kifers visited our family often when we lived in Northern California, and I have fond memories of those times. Jack and Althea also traveled the world extensively. Althea still does, and she even made a complete circumnavigation of the world just a year or two ago. On their travels, which took them to over 200 different 'countries' (according to the Travelers' Century Club), they always sent us Burkharts a postcard or two. For a young boy like me, growing up in a rural community, getting postcards from Central and South America, Western and Eastern Europe, Africa, and the Asian and Pacific nations was exciting. The stamps were exotic and the pictures fascinating. The idea of "Italian Postcards" is closely connected to my enjoyment of the postcards from the Kifers, and I dedicated the composition to them.

A crowded marketplace in Milan.

When I finished the music, the reality of the popularity of brass septets hit me, which is that brass septets are rare, whereas brass quintets are popular in many countries around the world. So, I made a version of Italian Postcards for brass quintet (2 trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba), and it is this version that has been widely performed and enjoyed. My own group, the Premiere Brass Quintet (see blog), made the first recording of Italian Postcards on our CD, "Watercolor Menagerie," which is available from iTunes and CD Baby (search on "Raymond David Burkhart") and from Premiere Press. The sheet music is also available from Premiere Press. Go HERE for the original brass septet version, and go HERE for the extra crispy version for brass quintet. Ordering is easy through Paypal.

Italian Postcards prompted four results worthy of mention here. First, tubists responded very well to the soloistic lines for tuba. Such writing is not often found in brass chamber music, and many tubists have found their parts in the second and third movements of Italian Postcards to be especially satisfying to play. So, in subsequent works for brass, I have taken care to write more good lines for tuba.

Second, one brass quintet performs Italian Postcards often in churches, but the title of the second movement didn't strike them as just right for sacred services. So, when they perform "Venezia. Lovers in a Gondola" in church, they rename it "Andante Religioso" or something like that. You are welcome to do the same!

Third, a dear friend, who has played Italian Postcards often, wrote me that, some day for a special occasion, he'd like the second movement sung for him. I found that to be an interesting choice of words, since the work was purely instrumental. But why need it remain so? Giving it some thought, a text from Psalm 139 came to me, and it fit the metric pattern of the second movement well: "Whither shall I go from Thy presence, or whither shall I flee?" As I considered the rest of the psalm, I found that part of it could be paraphrased to fit my melody perfectly. The result is my sacred solo, "Whither Shall I Go?"

Fourth, the popularity of Italian Postcards prompted me to write much more brass chamber music (see my Web site), including five additional suites for brass: Watercolor Menagerie (2001 -- the title work for the CD of the same name), Love Letters (2004), Bouquet de Brass (2005), Mishap (2009), and Isle of Colours (2012). All are published by Premiere Press, and Watercolor Menagerie and Love Letters can be heard on the CD, "Watercolor Menagerie." The stories behind these works are fodder for future blogs.

Ciao for now!

Dr. Ray

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A Brief History of the Premiere Brass Quintet

[Please visit my new blog, which contains all of these previous articles in addition to new articles, at ]

For many years I've enjoyed playing in a group of Los Angeles-area professional musicians known as the Premiere Brass Quintet. We've made some good music and had some good times. When the group was formed in 1984 in Southern California, we knew of no other group with that name, but a Web search today shows several Premier(e) Brass Quintets. Perhaps we were the first. I don't know, and it doesn't matter. But it seems like it's time to tell the story of "my" Premiere Brass Quintet.

New logo by Emilie Pallos Graphic Design.

In 1983 I began a master's degree in Trumpet Performance at the University of Southern California. One of the very first USC students I met was Morris "Mo" Anderson, a tubist from Boston. We hit it off right away and were assigned to play together in a student brass quintet. Mo has a keen taste for adventure, and since our Friday afternoon brass quintet rehearsals ended just as rush hour clogged the LA freeways, we pretty often found something interesting to do after quintet practice. He was one of the finest tubists I have worked with, and we have remained friends all these many years. Now he devotes his energies to other creative arts, designing and making fine jewelry and pottery.

Morris "Mo" Anderson

The Premiere Brass Quintet was Mo's idea. Sometime in 1984 (I think), Mo formed his own brass quintet with me and trumpeter Kevin Brown and two other USC students, hornist Steve Becknell and trombonist Rick Spitz. For the first few years, the personnel varied occasionally, but Mo, Kevin, and I were consistent members. Finally, even Mo moved away, and with his permission I continued to use the name, "Premiere Brass." Kevin has played in the group all these years, and many other good friends have played in the group as time has waddled on.

The 'original' Premiere Brass Quintet, ca. 1984 (L-R): Rick Spitz,
Raymond Burkhart, Kevin Brown, Mo Anderson, Steve Becknell.

Early in January 2004, I awoke one day thinking, "I need to record my brass quintet pieces." I'd been writing music for brass quintet for many years by then, and it finally hit me that a CD needed to be made. By late June -- in a remarkably short time for producing a full-length recording, and during which time I was taking doctoral courses full time and continuing my normal performing and teaching work  -- my CD, "Watercolor Menagerie," was completed. It includes 15 different works comprising 22 tracks, including secular and sacred compositions and three of my popular brass quintet suites, Watercolor Menagerie, Italian Postcards, and Love Letters. (Bouquet de Brass, Mishap, and Isle of Colours were composed after 2004.) Kevin Brown and I played trumpets, Steve Durnin played horn, Loren Marsteller played trombone, and both Norm Pearson and Fred Greene played tuba. (Neither Norm nor Fred was available for all three days of recording, and since both are long time friends, it was a treat to have them both on the CD.)

Only now do I realize this was something of a 20th anniversary project! To purchase the CD or listen to clips, see my Website -- -- or search on "Raymond David Burkhart" at CD Baby or iTunes.

The Premiere Brass Quintet, 2004 recording session: (L-R) Raymond Burkhart,
Loren Marsteller, Norm Pearson, Steve Durnin, Kevin Brown.

The Premiere Brass Quintet still gathers from time to time in my living room in Los Angeles, and we still perform. I'm thinking about making another recording, too. I've composed a lot of new music for brass quintet since 2004. Kevin, Steve, and Loren all live nearby. William Roper (see my blog, Roper Remembers) often plays tuba. Dr. David Holben has also worked with us, anchoring the May 2012 recital of my compositions that was given in Stanford, California. A new work was commissioned for that concert by the scientific publisher, Annual Reviews. Entitled Isle of Colours (see blog), it is a three-movement homage to three of my favorite British painters: JMW Turner, John Constable, and David Hockney. You can view videos of this concert at my YouTube channel. (Many thanks to David Holben for producing the videos from footage taken by his wife, Cielito, on her cell phone as she was being more or less constantly besieged by bees!) Sheet music for all of the pieces on this concert is published by Premiere Press. Check out my many other works for brass quintet and other ensembles while you're there!

Needless to say, if you are looking for a brass quintet for your special event, drop me an email. We'd like to hear from you. We play all kinds of music, not just my compositions!

Of course, if you'd like a special program of my music or would like to commission a new work for brass quintet or any ensemble, let's talk! The world is full of musicians and audience-goers. There are not as many composers, and there are even fewer patrons of new music. Those who have the world view and resources to commission new works play a very important role in culture and human history, and their support of living composers may be even more important today than in centuries past.

I'm truly indebted to my many friends -- fine musicians all, and especially Mo -- who have played in the Premiere Brass Quintet in the last 29 years. You know who you are, and I hope your memories are as fond as mine. Next year will be the 30th anniversary of the Premiere Brass. We'll have to do something grand to celebrate. Perhaps there will be a new commission or two!

And so, to "my" Premiere Brass Quintet, the other Premiere Brass Quintets, and to all brass chamber ensembles everywhere: let's keep making good music, having fun, and passing down fine chamber brass traditions to future generations.

Dr. Ray

Monday, February 18, 2013

"A Summer Remembrance": A Trumpet Solo Heard 'Round The World

[Please visit my new blog, which contains all of these previous articles in addition to new articles, at ]

Perhaps I should have entitled this blog, "Free Download," but I decided to take the high road, instead. Read on!

Many people think of the trumpet as a loud instrument, useful mainly for sounding military bugle calls, leading big band "shout" choruses, and driving great orchestral climaxes. This is true, of course, as far as it goes.

Trumpets and trumpet-like objects have surely been used to project signals over great distances since before recorded history. Old European courts could measure their grandeur by the size of their trumpet corps. And trumpets usually lead the way at big moments in the repertoire of both orchestral and jazz ensembles. But the trumpet is capable of great delicacy, subtlety, and lyricism, as well, and it was this potential that brought forth my work, A Summer Remembrance.

Each summer -- like swallows to Capistrano, California (or buzzards to Hinkley, Ohio -- the most fitting analogy depends upon your point of view) -- trumpeters converge on some city in a ritual known in the business as an "ITG Conference." "ITG" stand for International Trumpet Guild. It's a professional organization with high goals and many worthy achievements. Most of its members live and work in the US, east of the Rockies and west of the Atlantic, so these conferences are rarely held in distant lands, and even more rarely here on the West Coast.

In 1989, however, the ITG held its conference in Santa Barbara, California. Robert Karon was the host. A regular feature of these conferences is the closing program, The Festival of Trumpets, and somewhat predictably, the Festival of Trumpets itself usually ends with a piece that uses many trumpeters all at once. The more, the merrier. But in 1989, Bob Karon had a different idea.

He called me one day -- in that lost era before email and text messages, when land-line telephones still rang -- to ask if I'd write a piece to conclude the Santa Barbara Festival of Trumpets, and would I consider having the piece finish quietly in a peaceful solo, instead of in the usual quasi-atomic incident? (My words, not his...) This interested me immediately, and when he described the concert venue, I was hooked.

Storke Tower at University of California, Santa Barbara

The concert would be held in a sunken area near the foot of UCSB's Storke Tower, which is a campanile in the middle of campus, measuring 175 feet tall. That's something like eleven stories high, with a carillon up top. I like writing music for specific venues, taking musical advantage of unique spaces, and this was perfect. A Summer Remembrance was born.

In five movements, A Summer Remembrance (for three or four trumpets, minimum) mixes traditional and avant-garde compositional techniques. The second and fourth movements are straight-ahead fanfare pieces; they were played by six trumpeters positioned up in the top of Storke Tower. The first and third movements employ spatial notation. In addition, the first movement allows for performance by one or more players, and there is no limit to the number of players that may be used in the third movement -- which also employs aleatory through performer choice. The fifth movement is a simple, tonal, lyrical solo that employs just a touch of jazz flavor here and there. It is this Solo from A Summer Remembrance that I now offer as a free download at my Website. I'll tell you exactly where later!

At UCSB in 1989, all of my performers were positioned out of view of the audience. Four players played the first movement. Sixteen were used on the third movement. Fred Sautter, then Principal Trumpet of the Oregon Symphony, performed the Solo. The players of the first and third movements were placed behind trees and hedges, above and encircling the area in which the audience sat. The fanfare players were in the top of Storke Tower. Fred Sautter and I worked for an hour one day, having him go behind various buildings and pointing this way and that, until we achieved just the right "distant" sound. He was great to work with, and his performance was flawless.

As an aside, I must mention that Fred had been a guest artist at the very first Claude Gordon Summer Brass Workshop in 1978, where he played a recital of music for piccolo trumpet and harpsichord. That was the year that I decided to become a professional musician, so working with him again a decade later was a great pleasure.

But, you ask, What's this business about "Around the World"?

Well, after all these years, I must reveal a little history. While the official premiere of A Summer Remembrance was indeed at the 1989 ITG conference in Santa Barbara, the work received a pre-premiere quasi-performance just a few days before at the Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop, where an hour each week is devoted to music for "like ensembles," including an hour of music for trumpet ensemble. So, as a long time staff member there, I rehearsed and conducted an informal performance of A Summer Remembrance using 33 players.

One of these was Tom Hyde, a high school teacher of mathematics and astronomy, whom I selected to perform the Solo. Tom is a well-traveled type, and one day afterward he sent me a postcard from Denmark or somewhere telling me how he was on a round-the-world solo trip and how -- having naturally taken along his pocket trumpet (who wouldn't?) -- he had played my Solo from A Summer Remembrance along the way. In Kathmandu in Nepal, there had been some civic trouble, and the city was locked down for some days. So he went on the roof of his hotel and played the Solo as a sort of prayer for peace. Elsewhere, he played the Solo in a cave for the local bat population. In Denmark, he played it on a street corner for passersby. And so on. It was my first international hit!

I've played the Solo many times, and others have played it, too. Most recently, Dr. Joan Paddock -- Professor of Music at Linfield College in McMinnville, Oregon -- wrote to tell me she played the Solo in concerts in Grecia and Puerto Limon in Costa Rica. Joan is a dear friend and also a colleague on the staff at the Humboldt State University Brass Chamber Music Workshop. She conducts the Linfield College Band and concertizes widely.

So, where is the Free Download? At the Unaccompanied Trumpet page in the Online Store at my Website. I invite you to download it there and perform it as often as you wish. Perhaps folks will perform it around the world and post some videos to YouTube. I'd love that! I must say that, if the last note isn't comfortable for you to play (it's a high D, pianissimo), take it down an octave or two. That's OK. Just play with beauty and love in your heart and sound. There's also a Paypal button nearby, for anyone that wishes to make a $5 donation. You need not do this, and there is no way for me to know who has downloaded the piece. There's also no limit to the number of $5 donations one can make, if one is so inclined!

Either way, Dr. Ray is happy, happy, happy.

(A Summer Remembrance is dedicated to the great Los Angeles studio trumpeter, Mannie Klein, whom I was privileged to know. He'll be the subject of an upcoming blog. The full composition may be purchased HERE.)

Monday, January 28, 2013

College of the Canyons Symphonic Band, Spring 2013

[Please visit my new blog, which contains all of these previous articles in addition to new articles, at ]

Calling all SoCal band musicians! The College of the Canyons Symphonic Band commences its second semester on Monday, February 4. Rehearsal runs from 5:45-9:50pm in Pico Canyon Hall, room 202, at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, which is a much shorter drive from north Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Glendale, and Burbank than you think. I hope you'll consider joining us. [Very important update: Yes, we used to meet 6-10pm, but the school changed the time slot to 5:45pm-9:50pm.]

Pico Canyon Hall at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, CA

Last semester was capped with a very successful concert attended by a large, enthusiastic audience. The program included a set of European fanfares composed in 1921, band music of the Civil War, works by 20th-century American avant-garde composers, music for brass ensemble, and other compositions. Student soloists were featured on trumpet, horn, and tuba.

I expect to program more great band music (Holst's First Suite, anyone?), music for brass ensemble, and music for 'harmony' ensembles comprised often of pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, and horns. The facility is new, the music is enjoyable, the band members are fun, and the possibilities are great! Please contact me if you have any questions. You can read my two previous blogs about the band HERE and HERE, and you can visit the College of the Canyons website HERE.

I also welcome interest expressed by local composers and player-composers. If your music is a good fit for us, we might read it and/or perform it. I especially welcome compositions by COC students and Santa Clarita residents. Please email me at ray at for more information.

Your humble conductor (is there such a thing?),
Dr. Ray

Monday, January 14, 2013

What's Next?: "The Morini Strad" Closes at Burbank's Colony Theatre

[Please visit my new blog, which contains all of these previous articles in addition to new articles, at ]

Willy Holtzman's latest theatrical success, "The Morini Strad" (2011), closed last weekend after an extended run at Burbank's storied Colony Theatre. Whether the Colony Theatre itself will close is now the subject of its own drama. Let us hope it is not a tragedy. The cost of continued success threatens to lower the curtain on this valuable organization whose theatrical heart is indeed true. To learn more about the company and how you can support it, visit their Website.

In restating the true story of a Stradivarius violin's mysterious disappearance at the end of it's owner's life -- the life of the once-famous virtuoso violinist Erica Morini (1904-1995) -- Holtzman develops timeless themes -- hope and defeat, truth or deception, old versus new, the challenges of friendship, the paradoxes of love, and the worthy goals of life -- in a counterpoint made more delicious by its exposition through the world of music.

Mariette Hartley's performance as Morini was breathtaking. The interchanges between Morini and her new friend, the unknown master luthier Brian Skarstad (David Nevell), form the only dialogue, yet the story is much heightened by the dramatic violin playing of 14-year-old Geneva Lewis, a prodigy virtuoso in her own right. Could the touching second-act waltz be Hartley's Lullaby of Burbank?

The only false tones were the jarringly discordant off color humor that seemed as out of place as would be Honegger's anvil in the Ode to Joy.

The play appeals strongly both to those who make music from the inside out and to those who enjoy music as listeners and observers. As a performer and composer, I was touched by and appreciated Holtzman's exploration of the nature of the true heart of artistry, the cost of success, and the transience of fame. A favorite moment of mine was when Morini explains to Brian that there are some things that musicians just don't discuss with "civilians." It's a funny line, and Holtzman might have intended this barb to convey the artist's self-perceived superiority to common persons and Philistines, but contrariwise, I have found it, not at all beneath me, but a hard thing to explain some of my deepest musical musings to non-musicians. I identified very strongly with the scene in which Morini and Brian come to see that they each, in their own way -- she through playing the violin and he through repairing it -- have essentially communed with Stradivarius himself -- have made a connection that would be inconceivable to any but a few whose peculiar life experiences might enable such a perspective.

Whether it is truly possible, and whether I should admit it or not, I have unquestionably had this experience myself. It has come after deep study of a composer's score while attempting to understand why the music is the way it is. Of all things, the ink of the masters -- at least, before the 20th century -- did not fall upon their scores haphazardly. A thought precedes every note. It is enough for many musicians to read a score and play it, even to analyze it in some fashion and demonstrate how this relates to that. But, "Why is the music so?" is a far deeper question.

Actually, many Whys are easily explained, but not all. Why did Joseph Haydn write the development of one of his early symphony movements in five-bar phrases, for instance? It was hardly the norm! I struggled with that question for quite some time many years ago, until I considered what is said of his nature, that he was a jolly and well-liked man. I have known a few of these, and none was without a good sense of humor. In the case of this particular symphony, was "Papa Joe" making a little joke? Can you imagine him in the moment just before he composed this music, sitting there thinking, "Well, what next? Shall I give the orchestra a little fun and write them some five-bar phrases, ha ha?" I think it would be in his nature to do just that, and as weird as it sounds, at the moment that this scenario occurred to me, I felt as if the notes were once again coming into being, as if I were watching Haydn himself pen the odd phrases with a twinkle in his eye and a chuckle in the air, and with the foreknowledge of his musicians' brief consternation and subsequent understanding providing the anticipatory satisfaction that comes to all good pranksters.

This is the Colony Theatre's 38th season. Please support the company in some way. For it to go under would be no joke.