Being Andrew Massey

Riding home from Sunday’s rehearsal with Owen Tatum, we were chatting about it all – the rehearsal, Mr. Massey, and the upcoming concert – our last as VYO members. The conversation began with our memory of the Montgomery Center holiday performance in which Mr. Massey invited a handful of VYO students to participate. Mr. Massey’s wife had graciously brought us water just before the show started. But, we could not figure out how to open these impossible bottles no matter how much we fumbled with the caps! We were tugging, tearing and twisting the caps when Mr. Massey appeared and imparted on us these gentle words of wisdom: “Just imagine a cow and the little teats on her udder, and the bottle will be open in no time at all!” Yes, this was unexpected, yet this story illustrates my point exactly.

If not for Mr. Massey’s oddly hilarious puzzles and commentary, I could never have thought of the violin parts during the Dvorak as moments of virtuostic screaming in the grocery store, or of the harp part in Brigg Fair as a dream involving our most guilty food pleasures. Aside from making us hungry, these vivid scenarios helped us to convert written music into a mental images to further our understanding of the compositions we were exploring. Through this kind of commentary, we became more aware of what the composer actually intended the audience to hear. Also, our ears have learned to listen for subtle nuances and to make adjustments according to this information. It is this working style that is so entirely unexpected in Mr. Massey – so much so that he has become somewhat of a treasure to us all this past season.

Mr. Massey has clear tasks and works relentlessly to achieve them, but in the lightest, most efficient, and decidedly humorous manner. He seemed to know what mistakes we were about to make before they happened –  last fall, during our performance of the Overture to Romeo and Juliet, our rhythm suddenly collapsed, but within one measure and a precise wave of his baton, the problem was righted. Mr. Massey is prepared for anything and everything. (A relief to those of us who sometimes aren’t!)

As for those water bottles referenced in the beginning of my post, we got them open. I remember the look on Owen’s face when Mr. Massey told him to think of a cow’s teats. At first his eyes got really big and then he smiled a huge grin. This comparison was actually puzzling to me, but that’s probably because I grew up on a dairy farm and that more than likely I have a different mental image of  cow teats than the others. This is kind of cool because it demonstrates how different people interpret the same message. Mr. Massey gave us the ideas and left us the liberty to run with them in any direction we pleased…which is exactly how he has conducted our weekly rehearsals. Every week, his instructions have been translated stylistically and expressively –  our reading of the music in this way is what has made the Vermont Youth Orchestra so unique this year.

Mr. Massey has connected with each of us in some way or another during this past season. And, he leaves us with fond musical memories. I will never forget making music with him. He gives us energy and a purpose to play. He has encouraged all of us to push our limits and become better musicians. For me, he inspired my decision to major in music when I go to college next fall. Mostly, though, I thank him for every one of his philosophical comparisons, and for a great final year with the Vermont Youth Orchestra!

Emily Wiggett, flute


Top: Andrew Massey conducts the VYO in a live “From The Top” taping at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts, February 2010 – photo by John Servies

Middle: Taking bows with the VYO and soloist Tim Woos at Winter Concert, January 2010 – photo by L. Charlesworth

Air – Thirteen Bars Worth

There are only two weeks left until the VYO spring concert!

When we first opened up our folders to learn the spring program, we couldn’t wait to get started on Capriccio Espagnol. As soon as Mr. Massey had us play Rimsky-Korsakov, the wind and brass section perked up and the strings played more energetically than ever. This may not be serious and thick like anything Wagner wrote, but it sure is fun.  Alison Gagne’s clarinet solos soar over the bouncing cellos while the violins sing a sweet countermelody. Music like this is so refreshing for all of us, as we are swamped with school and life stresses and are desperate to simply play music. However, this piece merely holds a perceived lightness. It sounds light and happy, but each section struggles with difficulties that may not appear within the printed score. It’s upsetting not to play it perfectly! And so, we work.

Within the various movements, a variety of elements must happen. In the Alborada, dynamic contrast is crucial, especially in the solo sections. The Variazioni features English Horn, which Jon Lee plays stunningly. When I hear Jon’s solos, I think of a warm family moment. The flute has a solo as well. When I play it, I think of how much air I wish my lungs would hold. (Thankfully, thirteen long and painful bars of chromatic scales have become much simpler, thanks to Julianna Matthews and our trade-off technique.) In the movements that follow, there are numerous violin solos which are executed with light alertness. Capriccio Espagnol ends with a meaty A major chord which I know the audience will love.

The two Wagner pieces and the Delius are quite different that the Capriccio. The beauty of Prelude and Love Death could not possibly be described with words (at least not with mine), but each of us seems to have an individual emotional reaction to playing it. During sectionals a couple of weeks ago, Tim Woos stated that Wagner is the best composer that ever lived. I was unsure that I agreed at the time, but the more I play this piece the more I start to feel the same way as Tim does. Brigg Fair has also grown on me. This piece is right down Mr. Massey’s alley, especially since he shares cultural similarities with the composer – I find this inspiring! Evelyn Reed and Bronwen Hudson begin this piece with pastoral dreaminess and as the orchestration begins to build, Owen Tatum plays the main theme with perfect tone. We have spent hours, since February, assembling this piece. It poses an interesting challenge in that it contains so many musical changes, both huge and subtle; we need to stay keenly aware absolutely all of the time. And, since February, we’ve come a long way with it.

I am so proud of the members of the Vermont Youth Orchestra. We have all improved exponentially as soloists and as ensemble players. The personal preparation that we take on in preparing for our performances is immensely impressive, and it makes rehearsals that much more rewarding. This feeling of
satisfaction has made my senior year enjoyable, which is something that many of my school friends are unable to say. We still have room for much improvement, but I know that we will not disappoint. The orchestra sounds great—I cannot wait to perform. May 16, here we come!

Emily Wiggett, flute

Emily is a senior at Lakes Region Union High School in Barton, VT. She is currently the principal flutist for the VYO. Next fall, Emily will attend the Crane School of Music in Potsdam, NY, where she will pursue a double major in flute performance and music education.  (Photo: Stina Booth)

The Paterson Effect – No Powdered Wigs Allowed

Rob speaking at VYO January concert

It is difficult to put in words how much fun I’ve had during my amazing first year as the Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with VYOA! I am thrilled that the Vermont Youth Orchestra gave such a wonderful performance of my orchestral work Enlightened City on January 24th at the Flynn Center, but the best part of my residency—by far—has been meeting and working with such enthusiastic, talented and interesting musicians, including the staff—and luckily, I have two more years of coming to the Elley-Long Music Center to work with the VYOA! How awesome is that? This is what I live for.

A major part of my residency consists of outreach, whether visiting schools such as the Edmunds Middle School or organizations like the Colchester Rotary Club, or working with young composers through the Vermont MIDI Project. One interesting comment I received came from someone at the Rotary Club, who said, “Well, I have to admit, before hearing you speak, I thought to myself, oh great—a composer. This will be so boring. But you were really interesting! Nothing like what I thought you would be.”

Josh Morris, Nick Bonaccio, Rob Paterson, Tim Woos

This made me wonder: what did he think I would be like? That I would have a powdered, white wig, like in typical paintings of Mozart? Maybe he thought I would talk about “combinatorial hexachords”? I guess I can’t blame him. The thought of writing notes on a page seems so cerebral, doesn’t it? And I always joke that I should set up a composer cam, just so people can see how boring the act of composing looks. I think my mentioning that I do what everyone else does—go food shopping, mop the floor, change diapers, and so on—helped reenforce that composers are basically just like everyone else, except that they write music for a living.

This leads me to my main mission as a Composer-in-Residence, which is two-fold: First, talk to people about what it is like being a composer, and answer questions about what I do daily, how I survive, and so on. Second, and perhaps much more importantly—at least to me—is talking up the VYOA, and getting people to come to the concerts. Just like people who attend Little League games or school plays, everyone should attend VYOA concerts! Here is a perfect example of what mean: a few of my in-laws live in Vermont, and of course, I invited them to the concert. I also asked my sister-in-law Juliana and her husband Kevin to invite two friends. Keep in mind that their friends had never been to a VYOA concert, and aren’t musicians, relatives or have any affiliation with VYOA. For them, it was a first-time experience. Guess what? They loved it! They were blown away by how wonderful the performance was and how talented the kids are, and I have a feeling they might start regularly attending the concerts, just for the fun of it. So, what can we learn from this? Half the challenge is getting people in the door. If that happens, it is a LOT easier getting people to attend the second and third time, and make it a regular part of their lives.

This falls directly in line with some of my goals for the coming two years as the VYOA’s resident composer. I want to get to know everyone even more, and find out what they like, and their experiences. (I probably learn more from them than they learn from me!) I did get to know the very talented Nick Bonaccio, but he is a percussionist, and so am I, so that’s not fair! I want to get to know everyone, whether wind or brass players, violists, singers in the choral groups. In turn, I hope they will feel free to ask me anything they want. If nothing else, hopefully their experience of working with me will encourage them to work with other composers in the future.

Tim Woos performing at the Flynn Center in January

Next, I want to make it a goal to make sure all of the VYOA concerts are packed. Really packed! Every seat in the house! The energy at the last Flynn concert in January was amazing—especially the standing ovation for Tim Woos – who played the first movement of the Brahms Piano Concerto – it was very much deserved. The house was actually quite full, but I want it to be a standing room only crowd, with every single seat filled. How cool would that be? I want to help make that happen.

Finally, I want to write the best music possible for these musicians, whether I’m writing for the Vermont Youth Orchestra or the VYO Chorus. I want the students to feel excited about working with a composer. It is fun—and comforting—to play cherished classics by long dead masters, but to me, nothing is more exciting than performing music by living, breathing composers, whether the work was written by me, Erik Nielsen, Joshua Morris (a cellist in the orchestra who also composes) or your next door neighbor. I especially like premieres of new compositions: it takes a lot of courage to play a new work, but it’s not a sure thing, It could be great… or not! To me, that’s super exciting.

To everyone, it’s been a wonderful first year! I can’t wait until the Reveille! Music Festival this summer.

Rob Paterson, VYOA Music Alive Composer-in-Residence

Photos: Lisamarie Charlesworth, Cheryl Wiloughby & Jody Woos

Robert Paterson is the Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with the VYOA. Music Alive is a national residency program of the League of American Orchestras and Meet The Composer.

The Paterson Effect – Did You Say Taser?

This is my third week in residence with the VYOA, and like everyone else, I am very much looking forward to the announcement of who will be named the Music Director of the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association. These next few years will be an exciting time for VYOA and I am so glad to be a part of it.

This weekend, the VYO will present the world premiere of a newer version of my orchestral work Enlightened City, conducted by Andrew Massey at the Dibden Center for the Arts at Johnson State College, and at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts in Burlington. The piece is a “new version” because I heard that the VYO harp and oboe players are really good, and since I always heard these instruments in my piece (at least inside my head), I decided to add them into my original score.

One of my first activities this week was visiting the third and fifth grade classes at the Wheeler Integrated Arts Academy. (Everyone remembered me! That  made me happy.) It is amazing to see such diversity in one classroom, even by New York City standards, where I am living now. There are kids from all over the world, some with truly tragic backgrounds or even orphaned. Many were relocated to Vermont, and I cannot think of a nicer and more supportive community. They all seem like great kids, a few very shy, others extremely vocal, but all very enthusiastic about learning music. After constructing a simple composition using only rhythm and dynamics and having them play it using percussion instruments, there was a question and answer session. The oddest question I received, by far, was, “As a composer, have you ever been tased?” I didn’t even know how to respond to that! Perhaps the person thought I said I was a conductor? (Just kidding!)

I was also asked, multiple times, how much money I make. I thought this was interesting, particularly since we are in the middle of a recession. Most composers are not driven by thoughts of becoming rich unless they write commercial or pop music, but this was a valid question nevertheless, and I answered it as best I could. For those who are curious, I address this further on my personal blog.

Yesterday I did a radio interview with VPR Classical host Walter Parker. I was also interviewed with student soloist Tim Woos for a piece that appeared in today’s Burlington Free Press, and I was interviewed by the Plattsburgh Press Republican for a piece that also appeared in today’s issue. Perhaps the most interesting comment of the two interviews came from Tim, who said that he doesn’t really get nervous when his music is premiered. I wish I could say the same! As a composer, I always want my music represented accurately and played as musically as possible, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. Then, the audience thinks that is the way the music should sound—wrong notes and all. It will be interesting to see if Tim feels the same way if he ever receives any not-so-perfect interpretations down the road, but I certainly hope he receives only excellent performances.

Finally, yesterday I met with Sandi MacLeod, the director of the Vermont MIDI Project, to discuss making keyboard percussion videos next summer. She knows I am a percussionist as well as a composer and since I am bringing my five-octave marimba to VT next summer, it seemed like the perfect time to do this project. The videos will be instructional, meant to help high school and grade school students write for a variety of instruments, including xylophone, vibraphone, marimba, orchestral bells and chimes. If all goes well, these videos will be available for free and online next fall.

My week is not over yet…I will report back after Enlightened City is premiered this weekend. Stay tuned!

Rob Paterson, VYOA Music Alive Composer-in-Residence

Robert Paterson is the Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with the VYOA. Music Alive is a national residency program of the League of American Orchestras and Meet The Composer.

Concert Information:

Friday, January 22 at 8:00 pm
Dibden Center for the Arts, Johnson State College
Tickets: Adults/Seniors $10; students 12 and under $5;
JSC faculty & students FREE
802-635-1476 or

Sunday, January 24 at 3:00 pm
Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets: Adults/Seniors: $15, $12, $10; Students: $12, $10, $6
802-86-Flynn or

Photo: Kyle Martel – Courtesy Barre-Montpelier Times Argus