a song for past selves (flugelhorn and piano)
Commissioned by Carrie Blosser, a song for past selves is a 4′ song for flugelhorn and piano that plays with texture, register, and collaboration as vehicles for reflection. Written flugelhorn range: A3-G5, or Bb5 if you’re feeling fancy. Great to round out a recital or any performance where an easygoing ballad is the right call! (Don’t have a flugelhorn? Trumpet is just as good!)
What do you write about somebody who no longer exists?
When Carrie Blosser and I started talking about creating this work, I knew I wanted this piece to serve as a chance for personal reflection at a turbulent time in my life. a song for past selves came together as my family moved from Arizona to the Pacific Northwest, very solidly closing the door on my life in Phoenix and exploring new, yet-unknown pathways. From the outset, the piece was going to be special not only due to its time of writing but because it also marked my return to writing for both flugelhorn and piano after a long break. Despite playing flugelhorn at every opportunity since eighth grade and piano for all but the first few years of my life, I found myself wondering what I could write that would possibly reflect the growth of those years back at me.
Thankfully, my past selves have a longstanding habit of keeping scrapped drafts of pieces that never came to fruition, and for this piece, that proved vital. While packing for the move, I rediscovered an ages-old draft of a flugelhorn etude I’d written sometime in early undergrad. I amused myself by picking it apart—not only articulating the original decisions that weren’t working but also taking the time to understand why I’d made those choices in the first place. In that process, I found the part of my composer self I’d loved during my education: someone who eagerly does the best they can with the tools they have at the time. So much of that outlook still permeates my writing, even though many of my early professional experiences made me want to hide that genuine energy away.
Rather than return the entire work to the scrap pile, I dusted it off and carefully excised the material that struck me as most valuable, and I wrote my own metamorphosis. a song for past selves is an examination of balance—for most of the piece, the flugelhorn and piano are subtly at odds, unable to decide who should lead and who should follow. Ultimately, they move toward a blend that allows both to step forward together. With every pair of performers, this will likely manifest differently, allowing for a myriad of different selves (past, present, and future) to be made real.
Frequently asked: How should I write the name of this piece in programs/posts/etc.?
Answer: In all lowercase (“a song for past selves”). This song is intentionally not written with Capital Letter Energy; please honor that by writing it as I’ve written it for your programs and other media.
May I chop up your program notes?
Answer: Please don’t! My notes are in many cases my only opportunity to speak directly to your audience. If limited program space is a consideration, consider linking them to this page via a QR code and/or reading them aloud for your audience during your set. If you must make a cut, you can end the notes at “…I wrote my own metamorphosis.”
Notes to the Performers (excerpt):
a song for past selves is a piece best realized through open collaboration between both performers. If you’ve come to this piece as a soloist, that’s awesome; hopefully you’ll get to make something great with your pianist. Though I know not everyone who performs this work will get to choose their counterpart (no matter which of the parts you’re playing), I hope that regardless of your situation you take some time to consider what you want from the performance as a whole, not just your particular notes and rhythms.
Dynamics in this piece should be treated as a general guide rather than a strict system. I care much less about what mezzo-forte means to you in this piece and more about how you move together as performers. I have in most places marked the piano slightly below the flugelhorn dynamically, but as you explore the piece together, feel free to tweak that balance if something different feels better to you. (If you are playing this piece for a jury, I recommend handing your adjudicators a copy of these notes and highlighting this section-you’re following my directions and shouldn’t be penalized for that!)
There are a couple instances where dotted slurs are used to indicate broader phrasing. Please read all non-dotted (solid) slurs as you normally would on your instrument. (Pianists, this is the best notational method I had of indicating the handoff of the melody. Apologies for the slightly inelegant solution.)
I highly recommend the flugelhornist read from the full score if possible. The flugelhorn part isn’t always the most important thing happening! I personally find reading from a score more useful for overall understanding, but if you’d feel better marking up the part, by all means do what will make your performance the most manageable. (Oh, and use the optional lower notes if and when you want to. They’re not a compromise or a failure, just another path.)
(notes continue in the score)
Perusal score coming soon!
Listen to the impeccable Dr. Jen Oliverio, one of my flugelhorn heroes, play a song for past selves below:
Got one I’m missing? Drop me a line!
- 12/1/2023: Matthew Vangjel, Baton Rouge, LA.
- 10/4/2023: Jen Oliverio and Ellen Sommer, Missouri Western State University, Saint Joseph, MO. Watch Jen perform a song for past selves here.