Forks in the Road

Fireworks Ensemble, May 4, 2012, Brooklyn Conservatory of Music

Fireworks Ensemble, a Manhattan-based group with a UO School of Music connection, is performing  tonight at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. Here’s a blurb from the ensemble’s website:

Fireworks joins the National Chamber Music month festivities with a concert of recent works written for the ensemble. The show is a rare chance for us to perform David Kechley’s chamber music-meets-funk masterpiece, “Mixed Messages,” and Scott Johnson’s “Pact,” a unique synthesis of electric ensemble and sampled voices.

Wonder why I care? Well, check out the program:

David Ozab: A Fork in the Road
Scott Johnson: Pact
John MayroseMonophony
David KechleyMixed Messages

(other selections TBA)

A flashback to my former life as a composer. In 1997, Brian Coughlin and I were both graduate students at the University of Oregon School of Music. At the time, I was at a crossroads in my compositional career. I had joined the doctoral program in the Fall of 1995 and subsequently busted my butt over the first year to compose an hour of chamber music for my qualifying recital. I succeeded, but through the experience I realized that I was writing what my teachers expected me to write instead of what I wanted to. I had my own ideas.

What interested me at that time was a union of electronic and instrumental music that blurred the lines between the two. So in my second year I faced a choice: to continue on the old path or to forge a new one. The result of taking this particular “fork in the road” was a composition for bass and tape—yes, we used digital tape back then—titled “A Fork in the Road.” It has been one of my most successful works: Brian has performed it numerous times and it was featured on Fireworks’ debut CD First Tracks (2001).

Fireworks First Tracks

This performance tonight in Brooklyn—the first performance of one of my compositions in over six years—got me thinking about the other forks I’ve taken. How at each point in time the decision I made was the right one, and yet  I could have never anticipated where the numerous forks would take me.

Fifteen years ago, I was a single graduate student living in a one-bedroom furnished apartment. I knew I was going to be a composer, that I would move anywhere in the country I needed to in order to get a teaching job. I figured I’d be married and have kids, but I didn’t think too much about those things, beyond the  happiness they might bring me when I wasn’t composing or teaching. I rarely thought about God, and hadn’t set foot in a church in years. Honestly, I thought about myself most of the time. I was the center of my world, and it was a selfish and a lonely one.

And now? I’m not an active composer anymore; I’m not teaching at a university or even a community college; I still live in Oregon and have no plans to leave. The things I focused on fifteen years ago no longer matter, and the things I hardly thought about are now the center of my life: my wife, my daughter, and my faith in God.

I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I had taken different forks. If I had continued on the path I  saw myself on fifteen years ago.

My life would have been different—for better or worse I can’t say—but I wouldn’t be. I’d still be the same person I was fifteen years ago: self-centered and alone.

I’m glad I’m not that person. I’m glad I’m me.


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