Gospel Time

Gospel Time by Jeffrey Agrell (video)

I like to think of the notated versions of my compositions as beginnings, not ends. I am always happy when performers inject their own visions and imaginations into my music. Composers don’t know everything. If we make performers partners, we will have a lot more varied and interesting performances. Why should a composition be frozen forever in one single version (recordings tend to make us think that there is only one valid version of a piece). The performance below of my Gospel Time for trombone quartet is good evidence of great imagination. There is no singing in my version – it was delightful to see that they dared to transform the first section into a sort of wordless sung hymn. There were more liberties in the middle – with a spontaneous oom pan section – what fun! They also had fun with the ending – more singing; plus a late coda encore. Good for them. I really enjoyed their performance, and clearly, so did the audience

Aural Influences: Learning from What’s Not Written Down

The video of the piece below is an example of a piece that come from Composing Tip #3, below. The piece arose from the confluence of several experiences. At the time I was working on jazz guitar, and went to a three-day jazz workshop in Tübingen, Germany that was sponsored by the publisher Advance Music. It was a terrific workshop and I still remember (this was, oh, over twenty years ago) great talks and performances by Bill Dobbins, Dave Liebman, Rufus Reid, Bobby Watson, Steve Erquiaga (guitar), and others. What was most affecting, however, was not guitar. I had an hour free and wanted to fill it with something, so I signed up for Pamela Watson’s Gospel Choir. I am not a singer, but I can find pitches and read rhythms. I was the only native English speaker there – there were (real!) singers from Vienna, Berlin and other places. What astounded me was that, unlike me, they were not new to singing this style. When they started singing, it sounded like they had been born and raised in Mississippi. It was a real treat to masquerade as a singer and be among them. Pamela Watson was a terrific director. We sang some of her arrangements and I am here to tell you: it was probably the single most fun I have ever had making music of any sort, and that is saying something.