MY 'MR. HOLLAND'S OPUS' MOMENT
In 2010, I composed a 2-part piece (Partner song) for my Elementary Choir that I called, 'Symphony of Peace'. My choir had recently performed, 'Al Shlosha D'varim' by Allan Naplan and I was moved by the beauty of the two parts and how well the two parts worked together to form a beautiful piece of music. Here is the text that I composed for my piece:
Wind so gently, whispers sweetly
to my wildest dreams, reassuring me
'listen to your melody'.
It sounds so free and clear
it's music to my ears
song so beautiful, sings to me
like a 'Symphony of Peace'
I was very pleased with the end result but somehow in the back of my mind, it only seemed appropriate that my piece be accompanied by a symphony orchestra due to the title, 'Symphony of Peace'.
Fast forward to 2017. I had just retired from teaching Elementary Music after 33 years. One of the first things that I did was reach out to an old college buddy of mine who had gone on to a very successful composing/arranging career. I was not sure that my friend, Mark Hierholzer, would be open to doing a collaboration with me. After all, his prolific career had kept him busy over the years. He even got to perform his compositions at Carnegie Hall with the Fredericksburg Children's Chorale! However, come to find out, he indeed was very agreeable to working with me! I felt such a tremendous honor!
Over the next 10 months (November 2017-September 2018), I would drive to Fredericksburg, TX every so often to meet up with Mark to fellowship, catch up, reminisce and make music. We ended up collaborating on three pieces:
'Reaching High' (Published by Colla Voce Music in 2019),
'Symphony of Peace' - World Premiere at Brandeis HS, San Antonio, TX. May 16, 2023
'Deo Gratias' - As yet, unpublished. I feel it's just a matter of time!
My friend, Mark Hierholzer, passed away on September 10, 2018 but not before he completed the first draft of the Orchestra arrangement for, 'Symphony of Peace'. In my mind, however, I knew that somehow, someway, I would find a way to move forward with the plan.
In the summer of 2019, enter my son, Josh Cavazos, who had recently completed his Master's Degree in Composition from Texas State University. Josh had met Mark in January 2018 on one of my trips to Fredericksburg. I savored in the moment of watching two piano virtuosos discussing the intricacies of music! It was certainly a masterclass to behold! Josh agreed to take on the task of completing what Mark and I had started. The first thing that we did was reach out to Kevin Garcia-Hettinger, Orchestra Director at Brandeis HS, San Antonio, TX. Kevin is an outstanding Orchestra Director who I had known and respected since his days as Orchestra Director at Connally Middle School. My daughter, Rebekah, was a member of his Orchestra. I knew that Kevin was the PERFECT choice to take on this project if he was willing and available. So, Josh and I set up a meeting with him at a local Starbucks and pitched the idea to him. To my delight, Kevin loved the idea and agreed to work with us to make our dream of a 'LIVE' performance a reality! He suggested some edits that he felt would make our piece more playable and orchestra friendly. So, we went back to work...
Before we could make anything happen, COVID hit and derailed us. So, the project came to a standstill for what seemed an eternity. Meanwhile, Josh was making the orchestral edits and we waited...and waited...and waited...
In the Fall of 2022, I once again reached out to Kevin to find out how he felt about the prospect of programming, 'Symphony of Peace'. Josh had completed the edits and we were ready to move forward.
Once again, Kevin was very open to the idea! So, we sent him the edits and waited for a response.
To our relief, Kevin approved the edits (with some minor tweaking)! Kevin suggested programming,
'Symphony of Peace' for their end of the year concert -- May 16, 2023!
We had a date and we had a Conductor/Orchestra! Now all we had to do was...wait! As my granddaughter Claire would say...'more waiting'!
In March 2023, Kevin asked us to send the extracted symphony orchestra parts to him so that he could prepare the scores for his orchestra. Josh promptly went to work sending Kevin the files that he needed.
I should also mention that, 'Symphony of Peace' has a Choral section as well. Kevin had already briefed, Bonnie Wolfe, Choir Director at Brandeis HS of the project and she was also very receptive to being a part of the 'World Premiere'! In my mind, the 'LIVE' performance was suddenly becoming a reality!
I remember watching the movie, 'Mr. Holland's Opus' and thinking to myself, how much his story mirrored my own story. He 'backed into' the teaching profession while he awaited his big music break. He figured that he would teach until his compositions hit it big. Turns out, teaching Band would become his passion. He taught for 30 years! In the end, many of his former students came back to play the Symphony that he had composed! He finally got to hear a 'LIVE' performance of his music! That movie struck such a chord (no pun intended) with me! I also had the same dreams. When I started teaching in 1984, I was writing a lot of music for the Church. I felt it was only a matter of time when my phone would ring and I was being offered a recording/music publishing contract. In the meantime, with a wife and growing family, I continued to teach elementary music. Well, the phone never rang. Pretty soon, I just resigned myself to the fact that teaching Elementary Music would become my world, my passion.
The composer in me, however, continued to flourish. I wrote kids music, church music, adult choir music, musicals, etc...before I knew it my catalog was pretty big!
In early May 2023, I received an invitation from Kevin to come to a rehearsal of, 'Symphony of Peace'!
The rehearsal would be taking place on Monday, May 15, 2023 at 4:45 pm. One day before the actual premiere! My excitement grew with each day as we drew nearer to the dress rehearsal. On that Monday,
I made sure to leave with plenty of time! I did not dare want to be late! As I entered the Orchestra room, there were literally hundreds of students practicing, talking, warming up...doing all the things that high school students do. I looked at their music stands to see if I could find my 'Symphony of Peace' music.
Maybe I wanted to make sure that they were REALLY going to play my music! I meandered my way from one side of the Orchestra room to the other, trying to find a spot where I could see everything yet remain inconspicuous. I managed to find a place that I was comfortable with and I waited. Finally, the rehearsal started! Kevin, knowing that I was present, announced to the Orchestra that 'Symphony of Peace' would be up first! As professional as can be, the students got their music in place and prepared for the downbeat. Silence followed. I think I stopped breathing. Kevin gave some quick reminders regarding key signatures, ritardandos and a tempos. The main thing, he said, was to watch him! The students nodded in agreement. After some more silence, we were off to the races...the beautiful orchestral introduction that Josh had written for our piece soared majestically! My goosebumps, likewise sprang up! I couldn't believe the glorious sounds that I was hearing! I stood there, stunned and proud, soaking it all in. I tried to look at each student, each instrument in action. Watching Kevin was a thing of beauty! A true conductor's conductor...anticipating each note, each phrase...waving his arms so fluidly, each movement a secret signal to the orchestra. They communicated brilliantly! Though the Choir was behind the Orchestra, their voices managed to rise above and sing incredibly in sync with the full orchestra. It was everything I dreamed it would be and more! When the final cut off happened, I realized that I had not captured any video...I was too dazed and in awe. I secretly hoped for a repeat performance.
Sure enough, Kevin gave a few more instructions to the students/musicians and announced a repeat performance! It was as if he read my mind. I quickly got my phone out and this time I was ready!
After the second performance, Kevin introduced me to the Brandeis Orchestra/Choir. I was relieved to see them all smiling excitedly with approval. Some of the Choir members jumped up and down with their hands in the shape of a heart! I said a few words to them, mainly an affirmation of their true musicianship and how much joy and happiness I felt at that moment. I don't think I said anything profound. How could I with so many emotions swirling inside of me. I just hope that what I said, made some sense to them.
May 16, 2023
A day that I will never forget! It was my 'Mr. Holland's Opus' moment! Laura and I arrived at the Brandeis HS Auditorium well before the 6:00 performance time to find good seats. Kevin had already told me that
'Symphony of Peace' was going to be the final piece on the program. He told me kiddingly, that our piece would follow orchestral works by Brahms, Berlioz and John Williams -- but no pressure! LoL!
I looked around to find familiar faces -- my son, Josh was there, of course as the co-arranger;
Trevor Phillips, another musician/arranger that I work with; Linda and Michael Richter; Paulina and her mom, Tatiana Csitkovits. Ironically enough, Paulina had sung the solo when I premiered the Choral arrangement of, 'Symphony of Peace' at Forester ES when she was in 5th grade! She is now a graduating Senior! Talk about a Mr. Holland's Opus moment! In attendance were also our good friends (who also call themselves our 'groupies'), Jose and Olivia Carazo. Jose even brought his mom! There were even distinguished guests like the Northside ISD Superintendent, Dr. Brian Woods and Troy Peters, Director of the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio (YOSA)! Of course, I had no connection to either one of them but I still thought that was kind of a cool thing!
Performance night is ALWAYS a special deal! The atmosphere, the audience, the performers --
The air is electrifying! This night was no different. ALL of the performances that night were nothing short of spectacular! True performers literally know how to 'Bring It' when the conductor's baton signals that first downbeat!
'Symphony of Peace' was programmed right after John Williams' 'Hymn To The Fallen', from the movie,
'Saving Private Ryan'. It's a beautiful and poignant piece to play the week before Memorial Day.
I felt a real sense of pride to have my, 'Symphony of Peace' follow it. Seemed fitting and appropriate.
The performance of, 'Symphony of Peace' was indeed flawless, exhilarating, inspiring and breathtaking! It seemed to be over way too fast! I wanted to yell out, 'ENCORE, please play it again'!
This may or may not be the ONLY 'Live' performance that I ever hear of, 'Symphony of Peace'.
Either way, I am beyond grateful and at peace. So grateful that I got to enjoy it with my loved ones present...grateful for the chance to experience my 'Mr. Holland's Opus' moment!
The following is a review of sorts that I received the day after...
It was beautiful.
I may not know how to strike a keyboard note
or pluck a chord,
but I know music in my heart when it moves me
and that's what your symphony did to me tonight.
(Jose M. Diaz Carazo - Used with permission)
Stories & songs for little ones
The Pandemic of 2020 brought about incredible change in all of our lives. We scrambled to find ways to go about our everyday lives amidst the changes that were going on around us. One of the things that my wife and I struggled with was something as simple as seeing our four grandchildren. We were used to seeing them frequently. They are all under the age of 5 so I'm sure it was quite difficult for them to understand what exactly was happening and why Grandma and Grandpa couldn't come over for a visit. It was during this time that, 'Stories & Songs for Little Ones' was born.
My wife enjoys reading to our grandchildren and I like playing my guitar for them. It became a natural outlet for us to create videos of us reading stories and playing music. We recruited two of our children to be our Video Producers, slapped up an old backdrop that my wife had created years ago and away we went! My wife chose the books she wanted to read and she assigned me the task of creating a musical activity or song for each book. She put her storyteller hat on and I summoned my 33 year career as an Elementary Music teacher and together we created, 'Stories & Songs for Little Ones'!
Our grandchildren enjoyed them so much that our children suggested that we create a YouTube channel for others to enjoy them as well! Granted, our videos are specifically designed for Early Childhood to Early Elementary (ages 2-6) but hopefully they will spark the love and joy of reading and music. If nothing else, we sure have enjoyed putting them together! We hope that you and your children will stop by our YouTube channel, 'Stories & Songs for Little Ones' to share in the fun!
Please visit: www.storiesandsongsforlittleones.com for more information