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Category Archives: Markowski-Michael

Composer Michael Markowski (b. 1986) claims that he is “fully qualified to watch movies and cartoons” on the basis of his bachelors degree in film from Arizona State University.  Despite this humility regarding his musical training, he is gaining attention as a composer of unique and sophisticated works for wind band and other media.  His works are being performed across the United States, leading to an ever-growing list of commissions for new works.

Turkey in the Straw came out of Markowski’s early association with Manhattan Beach Music after winning the first Frank Ticheli Composition Contest.  Publisher Bob Margolis introduces the piece in the score:

When we asked Frank Ticheli Composition Contest Winner Michael Markowski to create a concert band arrangement of the fiddle tune, Turkey in the Straw, we were figurin’ to get a ‘merican-soundin’ creation.  Square dance, anyone? No way.

Instead it was “Fire up the Markowski Phantasmagoricon!” and hold on tight.

Markowski has created, in effect, Turkeys Gone Loco — music for a wild cartoon, a crazy surrealist extravaganza, an eclectic, filmic frolic.  In a work overflowing with ideas, yet tightly wound and carefully crafted, Markowski has composed a Turkey in the Straw of today’s Zeitgeist.

Markowski himself follows that with a good, substantial program note:

We all know the melody, even if not by name.  But for me, Turkey in the Straw is nostalgic, beckoning back to a childhood where grandma and grandpa would sit me in front of their TV with a bowl of orange Jell-O (in a small room papered wall-to-wall with decorative clowns), to watch old-time cartoons on VHS.  From its early days in vaudeville to its silver-screen premiere in Disney’s cartoon, Steamboat Willie (1928), the tune has become a staple of Americana (and my favorite — cartoons).

Most arrangements stay true to the song’s Southern roots.  But for a contemporary ensemble such as the concert band, I wanted my arrangement to be what Ivesian, and, as colleagues have described it, closer to Quirky in the Straw.  Above all, I wanted this piece to resemble classic cartoon scoring.  Rather than simply arranging a brief melody in a handful of contrasting styles (as is typical of theme-and-variations), the form instead takes on an almost storytelling narrative or three act structure.

Each successive treatment of the melody increases the orchestration and contrapuntal complexity, starting with the simplest orchestration within the first 35 measures.  The melody quickly modulates, twists and turns, loses itself and finds itself in musical vignettes (already in development by measure 36).  Each new scene seems to bring its own musical plot, orchestrational characterization, and many a custard pie in the face.

Here is the piece as realized by the US Air Force Band of the Golden West:

The piece is published by Manhattan Beach Music, which links to a preview score with a recording that is even better than the one above.  Markowski links to an EVEN BETTER recording from his website.

There far too many versions of Turkey in the Straw to list here.  Here’s one played straight on the fiddle, which is how the tune first came into being:

Here’s another old version from a black and white movie, complete with comic hayseeds and questionable lyrics:

Here’s the Steamboat Willie that Markowski mentioned above.  Its treatment of Turkey in the Straw starts around the 4 minute mark:

Disney used it again in a later cartoon (and a personal favorite of mine as a kid) to great effect:

One final bonus video: Turkeys Gone Loco!!

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Composer Michael Markowski (b. 1986) claims that he is “fully qualified to watch movies and cartoons” on the basis of his bachelors degree in film from Arizona State University.  Despite this humility regarding his musical training, he is gaining attention as a composer of unique and sophisticated works for wind band and other media.  His works are being performed across the United States, leading to an ever-growing list of commissions for new works.

The Cave You Fear was commissioned by the Gravelly Hill Middle School Bands and their director Arris Golden.  Markowski describes his inspiration for the piece on his website (also printed in the score):

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all the opportunities we’re given day-to-day to try something new or to go somewhere we’ve never been before—the opportunity to take a spontaneous road trip, to go see a concert by a band we’ve never heard of at a venue we’ve never been to, to try that new restaurant down the street where the menu is in a language we don’t quite understand. Some people have an innate sense of adventure, who go-with-the-flow, who live life for the unexplored, and I couldn’t be more inspired by them.

For a long time, I was the opposite. I used to prefer to stay at home, working on my computer because it was the safe and responsible thing to be doing, listening to the same albums on my iPod, ordering the same meal at the same, familiar restaurants. And while there’s nothing necessarily wrong with having a routine or knowing what you like, I eventually realized that my life was starting to have a certain predictability to it. It was a few years ago, while I was still living in the same state that I was born and raised in, that I had the most terrifying epiphany that I think I’ve ever had. I was becoming increasingly bored and incredibly boring.

In film schools around the world, Joseph Campbell‘s book The Hero With A Thousand Faces is required reading for filmmakers, screenwriters, and storytellers because Campbell has single-handedly identified what we refer to as “The Hero’s Journey” — the series of events and conflicts that arise along a character’s path as he or she fights their way to some ultimate goal. After studying Campbell, it’s easy to question where we are on our own paths. What is our own story? What are we fighting for? What does it mean to be a ‘hero’ and how can we be more ‘heroic’ ourselves? When we hear our own call-to-adventure, will we jump up, prepared, or will we ignore it, sit idly and take the easy way out because we would rather life be quiet and comfortable? According to Campbell, each of our adventures are already out there, waiting for us. That’s not the problem. For him, “the big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty ‘yes’ to your adventure.”

So for the next four minutes, let’s take a chance, let’s venture into the dark unknown, let’s fight whatever monsters we find in there. And although we might not always prevail, at least we’ll have a story to tell by the end.

Everything you’ll ever need to know about The Cave You Fear is on Markowski’s comprehensive website for the piece, which includes a recording, an interactive sample score (here’s the pdf version), a SoundCloud recording, the program note I quoted above, and more.  Of special interest are the videos demonstrating some of the more unusual techniques he calls for in the score, which I will reproduce below.  These are especially useful, as this is a piece intended to be playable by middle school bands.

I had the great privilege of leading the Brooklyn Wind Symphony in a recording session for this piece.  My thanks to both their director Jeff Ball and Michael Markowski for getting me involved in the project!  Here is the wonderful result:

Now, those technical videos I promised.  First, the Amplified Lion’s Roar:

Next, the Saxophone Multiphonic:

Finally, two different demonstrations of the Superball Mallet.  First, on timpani:

Next, on tam-tam:

Composer Michael Markowski (b. 1986) claims that he is “fully qualified to watch movies and cartoons” on the basis of his bachelors degree in film from Arizona State University.  Despite this non-musical training, he is gaining attention as a composer of unique and sophisticated works for wind band and other media.  City Trees was commissioned in 2012 by the Lesbian and Gay Band Association “to commemorate 30 years of Music, Visibility, and Pride.”  It was premiered on September 15 of that year in Dallas, Texas by the LGBA 30th Anniversary Band.  Markowski describes the origin of the piece:

I had just moved from Arizona to New York City when I began sketching the first fragments of City Trees. After being born, growing up, and living in the desert for 25 years of my life, moving to New York so suddenly was and continues to be one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. I think it has also been one of the bravest. I left my friends, my family, and my ridiculously cheap rent all without much planning.

Every time I walk down a street in New York, I notice the trees shackled by the sidewalk. Some have little fences around them, many have trash nestled up next to their exposed roots, and others have grown so big and become so strong that they have broken right through the concrete pavement. As I pass beneath them, they all seem to wave their leafy pom-poms in the wind, a thousand leaves applauding, cheering me on as if I had just returned from the moon.

These trees have learned how to brave the concrete jungle, and it gave me solace knowing that they had flourished in such a challenging environment. Over time, the impossibilities of the city have become familiar, and although I continue to learn new lessons everyday, I’ve slowly begun to assimilate, finding my way around, discovering new places, and making friends while still keeping close with those who aren’t close by. The music in City Trees began to take on a growing sense of perseverance, embodied by the expansive melodies that sweep over the pensive, rhythmic undercurrent.

For me, City Trees is a reflection of the bravery that it often takes to venture into new worlds, embrace other cultures, and lovingly encourage new ideas. I am deeply honored to dedicate this piece to the Lesbian and Gay Band Association. Although I may never completely understand the unique challenges my friends have faced and had to overcome, I am inspired by the overwhelming courage that has been so firmly planted for 30 years and that continues to grow, perhaps slowly, but always stronger.

Everything you’ll ever need to know about City Trees is on Markowski’s comprehensive website for the piece, which includes a recording, an interactive sample score (here’s the pdf version), a SoundCloud recording, an analysis by Dr. Marc R. Dickey, the program note I quoted above, and more.

Now, in case you didn’t already find it among the links above, here is City Trees on video:

Composer Michael Markowski (b. 1986) claims that he is “fully qualified to watch movies and cartoons” on the basis of his bachelors degree in film from Arizona State University.  Despite this non-musical training, he is gaining attention as a composer of unique and sophisticated works for wind band.  Elixir (2012) starts with a sparse texture and explodes into something of a Latin feel.  Markowski describes its genesis thusly:

So many of us spend our entire lives working tirelessly at what we love to do, striving to become experts in our field, passionately in search of something to be remembered for, something we can change the world with, something that gives us purpose.

It’s a bold idea—the thought that a small part of us might, in some way, live forever—but it seems that the bold idea, itself, has had an inexhaustible life of its own. Across the span of history, folklore has given mankind a way to find this meaning, be it through a quest for the Holy Grail, the Fountain of Youth, or even the legendary sword Excalibur. The mythology behind Elixir is a brother to these legends, probably most associated withElixir Vitae, or as it’s better known, the Elixir of Life—a special potion with magical properties said to extend a person’s life indefinitely, allowing him or her to become immortal, to be forever young. By drinking the potion, man is enabled to overcome his inherent limitations and achieve the greatness that he has always longed for.

Elixir is dedicated to Scott Coulson, a man who has passionately devoted his life to others through music. Above all, the piece is a musical “toast”—a “cheers” to a continued journey and to a long, healthy life not only to Mr. Coulson, but also to the students at Poteet High School, whose amazing journeys are just beginning.

Michael Markowski
May 13, 2012

Everything you’ll ever need to know about Elixir is on Markowski’s comprehensive website for the piece, which includes a recording, an interactive sample score (here’s the pdf version), a YouTube video, an analysis by Dr. Marc R. Dickey, the program note I quoted above, a link to all of his blog postings on the subject, and more.

Now, in case you didn’t already find it among the links above, here is Elixir on video:

Composer Michael Markowski (b. 1986) wrote Shadow Rituals in 2006.  It’s best to describe its genesis in his words:

I can remember sitting in my junior high school band reading through my first Frank Ticheli piece; I remember it because I found his style so unlike the other arrangements and “standards” that we performed.  Now, several years later, I realize the remarkable inspiration Ticheli’s music has made on my own writing and growth as a musician.

Because of this, Shadow Rituals was written particularly for the Manhattan Beach Music Frank Ticheli Composition Contest and I dedicate it humbly to Frank Ticheli.

Shadow Rituals is rhythmic, energetic, and challenges the performer to constantly stay engaged in the music.  The piece is a dark and mystical dance–a reflection of something primitive or ancient.

Shadow Rituals won that very first Frank Ticheli Composition Contest in Category 2 – Young Band.  Markowski has since written several more compositions for band and various other media, all of which are on display at his website.  Look at his bio also: you’ll notice that he only just finished his undergraduate work (none of which was in music!) in 2010.  We can expect to hear much more from him.

If you don’t know about the phenomenon that is Frank Ticheli, check out my post on his Amazing Grace.

Shadow Rituals is one of the only pieces I know that has its own website.  That’s always a good starting point.  Follow the links there:  You can look at the full score, listen to a recording, and read an analytical article about the piece.

Now, Shadow Rituals on video:

Keep that tempo up!  The plan is to go at 184 bpm.  This a senior choice for CUWE publicity man and hornist Jason Mogen – don’t disappoint him!