As a new feature, every month ICA will be presenting a new “composer of the month,” featuring a living composer with a significant body of work for the clarinet
ICA COMPOSER OF THE MONTH, April 2022
Tod Kerstetter Memorial consortium:
Alyssa Morris, Tod’s colleague, oboe professor and composer extraordinaire at KSU will write this 5 minute work for clarinet choir and recorded track. This piece will premiere on the ICA Professors Choir concert during the 2022 ClarinetFest® in Reno, Nevada. The recorded track is Tod playing Amazing Grace and was provided to us for this project. It will be an opportunity for the clarinet professors attending ClarinetFest® in Reno an opportunity to play with Tod one last time!
The piece will be available to all active and future ICA members as a digital download, to be performed by clarinet choirs all over the world. The only requirement is – they must send a copy of the program to Jackie Kerstetter before the performance. There are three available tiers for this consortium project:
- Professional Clarinetists – $50
- Student Clarinetists – $25
- Pay what You Can Option
With any remaining money gathered by the consortium, two things will happen:
- Help Jackie and their boys attend ClarinetFest® 2022 and be present for the premiere.
- Make a donation of all remaining money to the Mayo Clinic for Pancreatic Cancer research in Tod’s name.
For more information or to sign up email [email protected]
ICA: Welcome, Alyssa Morris, we’re very happy to have you as our March 2022 composer-of-the-month!
Alyssa: Thanks so much for this opportunity!
ICA: Tell us a bit about the featured composition.
I feel humbly grateful to have the opportunity to write a unique work for clarinet choir that will pay tribute to the truly incredible performer, improviser, pedagogue, dear friend, and example to all, Tod Kerstetter. Tod was such an important part of the clarinet community, such an important part of his Kansas State University community, the Manhattan, KS community, and beyond. I know I speak for so many when I say that his loss is heartbreaking. I was grateful for the opportunity to have been colleagues with Tod and Jackie Kerstetter at Kansas State University. Tod was the clarinet professor at K-State, Jackie is the horn professor at K-State, and I am the oboe professor at K-State. They both have been dear friends, and examples of light and goodness to me. Tod was the first person I met when I came to KSU. He was the head of my hiring committee, and when I came out for my interview, I was immediately grateful for Tod and his friendly and encouraging demeanor. I really feel like his confidence-boosting ways helped me to do my best at my interview. Tod became my mentor for my first few years at K-State. He answered many career questions, advocated for me, and taught by example. I performed with him and with his fabulous wife, Jackie, in the Konza Wind Quintet at KSU, and with Tod the Topeka Symphony. I was always awed by his beautiful musicianship.
When Tod was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, I was amazed by the incredible response of Tod and Jackie. They were optimistic and were ready to fight the cancer with the very best medical expertise and help out there. With the guidance of some of the most reputable doctors in the world, his incredible pillar of strength, Jackie, his wonderful boys, and a local and worldwide community who was rooting and praying for him, he valiantly fought this cancer for two incredible years.
One of the things that continued to amaze me through his journey was his ability to move forward with optimism and continue to bring sunshine and beauty into the world with his teaching and performing, even when he was sick. He continued to perform, improvise, and inspire with his musicianship. In January 2021, Tod and I performed Rite of Spring together with the Topeka Symphony. He played Eb clarinet with brilliance, precision, and inspiration. He continued to make many, many beautiful recordings of his arrangements, improvisations, and more.
When Tod passed in summer 2021, Austin McFarland reached out to me about the possibility of writing a piece honoring Tod. He had a recording of Tod from earlier that year; a gorgeous improvisation Tod made on Amazing Grace. When Austin showed me the recording, I was deeply moved by Tod’s performance. One of the beautiful things about music is that people can live on in a way, after they are gone, in recordings of their performances. When I first heard Tod’s recording Amazing Grace, it sounded like he could have been in the same room, effortlessly stringing together gorgeous musical lines in this soulful improvisation. Austin McFarland explained that the idea was that I would take this improvisation and make a clarinet choir accompaniment/ arrangement, so that it could be performed in synchronization with the recording. This way, Tod’s clarinet family, the ICA, gets to perform with Tod one more time. This work for clarinet choir will be an arrangement of Amazing Grace, with Tod Kerstetter as soloist. I am honored for the opportunity to be a part of this tribute to Tod. To me, everything about this process is poignant and inspiring: transcribing his recording, writing the accompaniment to his gorgeous lines, and being able to hear him live on in this 2022 ICA performance tribute.
ICA: What other works have you written for clarinet?
Since my primary instrument is oboe, I began writing for oboe or for chamber ensembles with oboe. As I learned more and doors of opportunity opened, I am grateful to now be writing for ensembles of all types. Here are some of my chamber works that include clarinet:
“Motion,” a quartet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, and Bassoon; composed in 2010; published by Trevco Music Publishing
“Up and Away” for Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, and Piano (originally for oboe, bassoon, and piano); composed in 2013, to be published this year by TrevCo Music Publishing
“Nik-Nak” for Oboe, Clarinet, and Bassoon; composed in 2017; published by TrevCo Music Publishing
“Melting Pot” for woodwind quintet; composed in 2017; to be published by TrevCo Music Publishing this year
“Where the Colors Fall” for woodwind dectet (double woodwind quintet); composed in 2017; published by TrevCo Music Publishing
“Eyes to See Them, Lips to Tell” for reed quintet (oboe, clarinet, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and bassoon); composed in 2018; to be published by TrevCo Music Publishing this year
All (begins at approx. 1 hr 12 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvNrxsaRkMA
“Dumbarton Oaks” for woodwind quintet; composed in 2019; published by TrevCo Music Publishing
“Tlapalli, Tlahuilli” a concerto for woodwind quartet soloists (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon) and orchestra; composed in 2021; to be published by Trevco Music Publishing
“Konza Parable” for woodwind quintet and piano; composed in 2021; to be published by TrevCo Music Publishing this year
ICA: What’s your encouragement composer-to-composer or performer-to-performer about engaging reed quintet as a medium?
I love the reed quintet color capabilities! There is a savory and sweet quality to the instrumentation. It can be intense and biting in quality, and also tranquil and silky. There is a virtuosic quality to the instrumentation: Loud dynamic capabilities, gorgeous tapers, fast playing, slow playing- so much can be done by this colorful ensemble instrumentation. I had the opportunity to write a reed quintet in 2018, “Eyes to See Them, Lips to Tell” for the incredible Paradise Winds. The work will be published later this year. The title of the piece and each movement are based on words in the text of the Anglican hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” with titles of movements being:
- Bright and Beautiful
- Creatures Great
- Creatures Small
- Glowing Colors, Painted Wings
- The Lone Wolf’s Hunting Call
Each movement is about a different endangered animal: the Malayan Tiger, the Blue Whale, the Axolotl, the Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing Butterfly, and the Mexican Wolf. The Paradise Winds were definitely an inspiration as I was writing the piece. As I listened to them, to recordings of their virtuosic, emotive ensemble, this inspired my writing process for sure. I knew they were capable of so much technically and musically, and I wanted to make sure to tap into extremes in articulation, dynamics, virtuosic technical passages, sweeping emotive lines, rhythmic and angular grooves. It was a joy to write for them, and their performance of the work was totally inspiring.
ICA: Swing/jazz is an element that you frequent in the compositions, where do you get your inspirations for that? Is it a musical style that you grew up with/learned in school?
I am also a pianist, and I played in the jazz band in high school. I grew up listening to jazz. My mom and dad were very supportive of all of their childrens’ musical endeavors. When it was my dad’s turn to take us to music lessons, his “go-to” on the radio was a station that played jazz. I developed a love for jazz to and from music lessons, and in my high school jazz band. Since I am primarily an oboist, we are a little “left out” of the jazz club- there aren’t a large volume of jazz-inspired classical works for oboe, and we don’t really get to play in big bands or combos very often- at least not yet 🙂 When in my undergraduate studies, as I was preparing for my senior recital, I asked my oboe professor, Geralyn Giovannetti, if it was alright if I composed a work that I would play for my senior recital. (I had been composing all my life, and though “performance” was my official degree title, I took composition classes every chance that I had.) My wonderful teacher was supportive of my desire to write a new work for my senior recital, and I set to work on a piece that I called “Four Personalities.” Each movement (Yellow, White, Blue, Red) is based on a personality from the Hartman Personality test. Here is a recording on the work:
The first movement especially infuses a lot of jazz idioms into the writing, though jazz harmonies and stylization do prevail through the whole piece. I am grateful that the piece has become a success. It has been performed many times at the International Double Reed Convention (first by Nancy Ambrose King in 2008), was an International Double Reed Convention Young Artist Competition piece in 2018, has been recorded by multiple artists, and is published by TrevCo Music Publishing. I really feel grateful to Nancy Ambrose King and her performance of “Four Personalities” at IDRS 2008. That initial international exposure really launched my composition career opportunities. I also feel grateful to my wonderful teacher, Geralyn Giovannetti. She was supportive of my writing a piece for my senior recital, and then encouraged me to make more of it, by sending it to Nancy King and to TrevCo Music Publishing.
I studied jazz improvisation on the oboe at CCM for two years in my doctorate. Jazz continues to find its way into my music, as do popular and rock music idioms, world music, a variety of old and new classical idioms, and more.
ICA: How would you describe your music?
One of my interests has been to write to the human experience, or humanity in music. There is something really special about finding meaning, guidance, hope, peace, and reconciliation through music. There is something special and healing as a composer when I can use the composition medium to express the feelings of the soul: happiness, sadness, laughter, grief, peace, fear, anxiety, joy… Sometimes I express these feelings as a type of parable: “it’s about something else, but really, it’s about life” like in:
“Up and Away:”
Sometimes, they are expressed more overtly, like in “Coping:”
- Counting, Breathing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwF5Gll6K4Y
- Praying: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69d5S44daBo
- Running: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbNJeWvtB2c
I feel a sense of wholeness when I can express some of the human experience through music.
ICA: What are some of the important influences on your work?
Compositionally speaking, I really try to learn about and be inspired by as much as I possibly can! I absolutely love jazz, and some of my favorite classic artists are Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Clifford Brown… I also love new groups like Snarky Puppy. I love classic and new rock and pop, I love Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Ravel, Mahler, Copland, Bernstein… I love the music of new concert music composers: Reena Esmail, Missy Mizzoli, Jessie Montgomery, Oscar Navarro… I love movie music: John Williams, Alan Silvestri… I really think everything we listen to inspires us, whether consciously or subconsciously!
Regarding extra-musical inspiration, I think who we are and what we do can inspire and come through our work. Some of my roles are: mother, wife, teacher, oboist, composer, Sunday school teacher… Some of the things I love to fill my time with when I am not performing, teaching, or composing music are: spending time with my husband and two kids, hanging out with our furry friends (two cats and a dog), hiking, swimming, baking, church… The things that are important to us often come through in the creative work that we do. I believe the human experience is a spiritual experience, that every soul is unique and important, and that they bring a beautiful one-of-a-kind color and hue to the tapestry of life.
ICA: What is your composing process like? Do you have a regular routine/time of day you like to work? What tools do you use to compose?
Life feels a bit like Tetris sometimes, where I am trying to fit the pieces in as carefully and efficiently as possible, since the pieces keep coming and fast! I don’t have a dedicated time each day for composition, but I am always composing. The specific projects and their deadlines are guiding the approach to composition and when I compose. I always compose a lot in the breaks in the academic year: Summer, Christmas Break, Spring Break, Thanksgiving Break. I am also always excited when I can multitask: Recently, I extracted some parts for an upcoming premiere of my concerto “Of Infinity” for two oboes and wind band while I was on a plane. I might steal a moment before an oboe practice session to improvise on the oboe or the piano a bit, and hit record on my phone so I can catalog the work if anything I like pops up. If a melody or an idea for a piece comes to mind while on a drive to a symphony rehearsal (this is actually a time where I do feel a lot of ideas come), I will catalog those ideas as a memo in my phone. I have a couple of processes that I use to spark inspiration for a piece (not necessarily in this order):
- I improvise; at the piano, on the oboe, on the English horn, on a percussion instrument (drum, marimba, whatever), a recorder or melodica, on voice, you name it. Even if my knowledge of the instrument is more limited, improvising on an instrument that is not my primary instrument can sometimes spark a new take to musical ideas that I hadn’t come up with before.
- If my piece is supposed to be about a specific thing, I research. When I was tasked with writing a work about endangered animals, I tried to learn as much as I could about the region they were from, folklore about the animal, music from those regions, etc. This will inform melodic, harmonic, form, and instrumentation decisions, and more. When I was tasked with writing “Tlapalli, Tlahuilli,” a concerto for winds and orchestra based on Gerald McDermott’s “Musicians of the Sun” and the Aztec story of how the world received its color, I read about Aztec deity and beliefs, listened to their music, and learned about their language.
- Once I have some ideas written out, both in prose (what is the piece about and some bullet points about that subject), and in music (some melodic ideas cataloged on my phone memos), I begin work at the computer with finale and my midi input keyboard (an old Alesis 8.1 that my dad got me when I was in high school, actually- I love it, and it reminds me of dad every time I work with the keyboard.)
- Sometimes, I write with paper and pencil. Most recently, I wrote the following unaccompanied oboe work via paper and pencil when I was in a hotel in Houston. The piece is called “Ruminations” and it was a personal outlet and expression of some of my feelings during the pandemic: “Ruminations” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNA98BZ-xDc
ICA: How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted your work?
Since many of our performing opportunities came to a halt during 2020, this really freed up time for me to dive into some composition projects: many were planned long before, and some were new projects that I took on. Some of the large ensemble works that I completed in 2020-2021 include:
- “Alone,” a concerto for cello and orchestra, for the Richmond Indiana Symphony and cellist Andres Diaz (an international Barlow LDS Commission work)
- “Tlapalli, Tlahuilli,” a concerto for flute, oboe, clarinet, and bassoon soloists and orchestra, for ROCO (as ROCO composer-in-residence)
- “Konza Parable” for woodwind quintet and piano, for ROCO (as ROCO composer-in-residence)
- I also completed a number of chamber works:
- “Look” for English horn, bassoon, and piano (to be premiered at IDRS 2022)
- “The Voices Within” for contrabass flute (premiered at World Flutes Festival in 2021)
- “Lost and Found” for English horn, bassoon, and piano (to be premiered at IDRS 2022)
- “Prayer” for berimbau and piano
- “Mixed Signals” for oboe and piano
- “Puccini Fantasy” for viola and piano
- “Jerusalem Fantasy” for two pianos
- “Sleepy Puppy Suite” for violin and piano
- “Stripes” for double reed ensemble
- “Chameleon Lament” for oboe and piano (oboist simultaneously performs oboe and piano) premiered at IDRS 2021 Virtual Symposium
- “Ruminations” for oboe and piano (oboist simultaneously performs oboe and piano) premiered at IDRS 2021 Virtual Symposium
ICA: Now that things are hopefully starting to return to “normal,” what is one thing you’re especially excited to be able to do again?
I’m so excited to travel more with my family again. We are trying to get the kids to all 50 states before we graduate, and I would love to take them on a vacation out of the country. We really love traveling. I also love that some of our large national and international conventions will be held in person this year. I really love gathering, and feel it is such an important part of building community. I am excited that it is becoming safer to gather.
ICA: Tell us about a current project or two that you’re excited about.
Richmond (IN) Symphony and Andres Diaz will be premiering my concerto for cello and orchestra “Alone,” dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Covid-19 Pandemic. I am excited to go to Richmond in April for the premiere, and that at last it is happening! It was to be premiered last year, but was pushed to this year due to Covid restrictions. I am thrilled that this is happening next month! I am also really excited for another premiere next month! I just finished a double concerto for two oboes and wind band, a commission for Frank Tracz and the KSU Wind Ensemble. I will premiere the piece with Kelley Tracz and the KSU Wind Ensemble next month, at the end of April! It is called “Of Infinity.”
ICA: Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Ft. Worth, Texas, and moved to Utah when I was 5. I grew up in Utah, and attended Brigham Young University for my undergraduate and masters degrees in oboe performance, with a secondary emphasis in composition. I met my husband Jared on a BYU band tour to Scandinavia! He is a percussionist, and a high school band director. We were married when we were both in our undergraduate degrees. Our two children (now teenagers), were born just after our undergraduate degrees, when Jared was beginning his first HS band director job. We all moved to Cincinnati and Jared and I both studied at CCM in 2015-2017 (I finished my DMA and he finished his MM.) I was offered the position of assistant professor of oboe and music theory at K-State in 2017, and we have been in Manhattan, KS since then! At Kansas State, I teach the oboe studio, Music Theory III, Music Business, Woodwind Methods, Aural Skills, Songwriting, and I have taught composition lessons. Additionally, I am a member of the KSU Konza Wind Quintet, the principal oboist of the Topeka Symphony, and I am a founding member of Aglow Trio, with Karen Large (flute) and Amanda Arrington (piano.)
ICA: Are there other musical activities/projects that are important to you, beyond composing?
I love to perform: I feel that performing informs my composing and composing informs my performing. I also love teaching, and improvisation!
ICA: What non-musical activities do you enjoy?
I love spending time with my family traveling or in the mountains or prairies hiking and biking. I enjoy lap swimming at a leisurely pace 🙂 As a family, we like playing card games, board games, and video games. We like going to concerts and movies together. I love baking, and my favorite desserts to bake are cinnamon rolls and cheesecake!
ICA: If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
A NICU Nurse- my son was born 6 weeks early, and spent a lot of time in the NICU. The nurses in our NICU were angels, and what they did to help us feel comforted and supported while our son was growing and getting stronger in the NICU was so special to me.
ICA: Where can people learn more about / hear / buy your music?
TrevCo Music Publishing
C. Alan Publications
Blue Griffin Records
Alyssa Morris on Facebook
ICA: Thanks for taking the time to share your work with us! We really appreciate it!
Thank you so much for this opportunity!