There’s a new album out that I’d like to shill for, and you’ll never guess who’s a featured composer on it.
What Music Tells Me by the Gargoyle Brass and Organ Ensemble
The album is mostly arrangements for brass & organ of standard orchestral repertoire: Egmont Overture, “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral,” the Brahms Haydn Variations, and Messaien’s Apparition de l’église éternelle to name a few. There’s one bit of church music (also in an arrangement), Healey Willan’s “How They So Softly Rest.“ And it will come as no surprise—given the title of the album—that Gustav Mahler is also represented on the disc, though not with his third symphony as you might expect, but with the final two movements of his second (!!) All the arrangements are by Craig Garner and I truly cannot praise him and his work highly enough. The man has wrought pure magic from these 7 or 8 instruments in a way that I scarcely could have thought possible.
My piece is the major outlier on the disc, not just for being the only work by a living composer, but for its sheer weirdness. I’d written a bunch of stuff for the Gargoyles before, most notably, a crowd pleaser called The Dwarf Planets (featured on their 2015 album Flourishes, Tales and Symphonies.) This new piece, Flood of Waters is something else altogether. In a lot of ways, it picks up from the gnarly opening of the last movement of The Dwarf Planets and extrapolates it to a further order of gnarlitude. It’s raucous, loud, dissonant, and perhaps even transgressive.
I was in Chicago in 2019 for the recording session, and let me tell you, it was a wild night. The group was positioned in the rear balcony of St. John Cantius Church, the echt conservative Latin rite monastery just off the Chicago blue line stop. The recording engineer—and I think I can get away with saying this now that it’s all said and done—was a cantankerous old guy with a big reputation and a short fuse. His stress levels were through the roof and he got very mad many, many times during the session.
In fairness to this guy a) he’s a multiple Grammy award winning producer, so I suppose he knew what he was doing and b) the set up for this session was absolutely insane. They had to drive a cherry picker into church sanctuary, like the thing that the phone company uses to lift workers up to the top of the pole, and they had bundles of wires cascading down the stairwell.
The thing that really threw this guy for a loop though, was how loud my piece was. Too loud, according to him. He suggested that I should make it softer and… what do you even say to that? It reminded me of the time in 2008 when I moved from Chicago to Bloomington, and the head of the moving crew offered me $300 not to move my piano.
In the end, he was able to adjust his levels sufficiently to capture the sound. But like… you gotta agree it’s kind of badass that I wrote something so loud that a Grammy-winning producer told me it was too loud, right? Maybe I’m in the wrong genre. Heavy Metal, here I come.