Hope you all had a wonderful holiday filled with family, fun, and food! But now, it’s my favourite time of the month: Music Monday! Follow the link to see some of my past posts!
Today we’re featuring Peter Petrack, another artist who is both an author and a musician. You can find out more about his urban fantasy novel, Wayfarer’s Highway, here but read on for my interview with him about his music and his latest work.
Q: How did you get started in music?
A: I decided I wanted to play the trombone in kindergarten. I honestly don’t remember picking it. It just fascinated me, for some reason. I had to wait a while to start trying to play it though. A five-year-old’s arms just aren’t long enough. I started taking lessons when I was nine, at the local youth band that I was a part of until I aged out at eighteen.
Sometimes I’m really thankful that I picked a versatile instrument. Most instruments don’t find work in Funk, Jazz, Orchestral music, and in churches. Also, it’s an instrument that relatively few people are actually good at. I feel like I maybe dodged a bullet, since I picked it when I was so small.
Q: Have you always been interested in writing as well as playing?
A: I didn’t start thinking about writing until right around when I went to high school. I’d just gone to a jazz camp, COTA – Celebration of the Arts, that brought in most of its staff from Manhattan. They are serious professionals. Several of the mentors and teachers at the camp stressed to me that it’s really helpful to learn music theory and study composition. “Even if I never planned to write a thing”, they said, “I’d have a deeper knowledge of music than most people.” So I started dabbling, and over time I got good at it. I have a knack for writing catchy tunes. More and more, writing has become a focus of what I do.
Q: Where do you get inspiration for your compositions?
A: Story. I’m also a writer of novels, and I have to say the two arts are more similar than most people would think. In classical music training, they teach that there are two kinds of music: program music, music that’s about a story – like most songs, movie music, opera, theater; and then you also have absolute music. Absolute music exists in abstraction, like many Classical Symphonies. Well, I write strictly programmatic stuff. Everything I write has a story and I have to get behind the story and understand it to write properly, even if the audience probably isn’t going to pick up on the literal story in my head, from the lyrics, from the instruments. All my best work starts with a story.
Q: You cover quite a mix of different styles; are there any that you most enjoy working in?
A: Honestly, it isn’t about the style, for me, in terms of how much I’ll enjoy a project. My enjoyment of a project is more based on who I’m working with and the purpose of the song/piece, than the style on its own. If I get to work with really talented people who respect me, then I’m going to enjoy the project. If I can get behind the idea of the project, in whatever capacity, that’s definitely more important to me than genre.
Great example: I went to Moravian College in Pennsylvania. The Moravians have a long history with the state. They’ve been around since before the American Revolution. My big honors project, as a senior in college, was to write a piece I call The Brethren’s Voice. It’s a modern Symphonic Band arrangement of four early Moravian hymns, and makes them more accessible for the modern audience at the school, including many of the non-religious students. Now, I’m NOT a Moravian, but their story, being persecuted in Europe, leaving out of genuine pacifism, settling in America, and actually being peaceful with the local Native Americans, was something I could totally get behind and something I enjoyed capturing in music – even though I didn’t grow up with the hymns and Symphonic Band isn’t necessarily my personal specialty.
Q: Can you tell us more about the latest piece you premiered, ‘The Penitence of Time’?
A: I’ve had a good bit of success writing music about stories present in the world around me, especially through the connections I made back in college (that’s a big reason music school can be important: networking). The city Moravian College is in, Bethelem, PA, turns 275 next year. It’s a very old place. The building where I studied music was a Revolutionary War Hospital. George Washington met with some of his senior staff, some generals, right there in the building.
There are tons of ghost stories about the place. I didn’t see anything spooky while I was there, but it’s the kind of place where you can practically feel the history. So I wrote this orchestra work about the ghost stories. I have this almost cinematic-style American march in it, some Revolutionary War-era fife and drum, church bells, but all of it was written to be very accessible. I wanted it to be catchy and memorable, but meaningful in the way that a lot of the big movie scores were to me when I was a kid. Also, I wrote it for Moravian’s semi-professional orchestra. I worked for them, the MCCO, when I was at school, working my way through my education moving pianos and formatting sheet music, typical college kid stuff. It was fun to come full-circle and write for the group as a professional, work with that group, mostly the same people, in a totally new capacity.
Q: What are you working on next?
A: I have a bunch of projects coming up. I’m adapting The Brethren’s Voice for publication, that’s the big piece I mentioned before, the one about the Moravians. It’s going to be performed for Bethlehem’s 275th birthday concert, as a bit of a centerpiece. I have a good bit of work to do with that. I have to make sure all my i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed for this one, since official events intrinsically have a lot more scrutiny than the tunes I write for my friends and I to play in bars and restaurants.
I’m also starting the publication process for several of my Jazz/Rock Fusion tunes, so I can make the sheet music commercially available.
Q: And finally, where can we find you?
I’m also in the process of putting together a personal website, as a specific home for me on the Internet. If you’re interested in seeing that site when it’s done, I’ll definitely post about that on Twitter. I’ll keep everyone up to date.
Thank you so much Peter for sharing your music and inspiration with us!
If you would like to be a part of Music Monday on my blog, visit my contact page for how to get in touch! Of course, you can also participate on your own blog! Any topic involving books and music works, just leave a link to your post in the comments below and use the hashtag #MusicMonday!
Happy Holidays, everyone!