UNDER TENNESSEE SKIES
Chris Combest, tuba
Eunbyol Ko, piano
Brian Mueller, percussion
"Under Tennessee Skies" is an arts inclusive recording project involving the collaboration of
performers and composers to create new works for the tuba inspired by the natural beauty, culture and musical offerings of Tennessee. This project is made possible through the generous support of a Faculty Research and Creative Activities (FRCAC) grant from Middle Tennessee State University. More information about the FRCAC program can be found at
Jamey Simmons: "Under Tennessee Skies" for solo tuba (2020)
1. The Incident in Nickajack Cave
2. Lament for the Sultana
3. The Jonesboro Reel
“The Incident in Nickajack Cave” reflects a moment in the life of country music legend Johnny Cash. While visiting Nickajack Cave, outside of Chattanooga, the singer decided to end his life. He described it this way: “There in Nickajack Cave I became conscious of a very clear, simple idea: I was not in charge of my destiny. I was not in charge of my own death. I was going to die at God’s time, not mine.” The movement utilizes the ambiguity of augmented chords, and finally resolves to a slower, more relaxed ending.
The Sultana was a 260-foot long steamer that worked on the Mississippi River during the Civil War. Designed to hold 376 passengers, the boat was loaded with over 2100 Union prisoners-of-war from Andersonville and other Confederate prisons. Due to corruption among army officials and steamboat operators, the mechanically compromised vessel went north from Memphis, leading to a boiler explosion that killed approximately 1700 people. In “Lament of the Sultana”, the recurring steamboat horn (a concert C) can be heard throughout, with increasingly frantic chromatic melodies that die down to the ending pedal C.
The reel is an ancient Scottish dance that migrated to North America that influenced bluegrass, country, and zydeco music. “Jonesborough Reel” was inspired by a family visit to the East Tennessee town in summer 2020. Nestled west of the Appalachians, it is the oldest city in the state. Using the classic ABA form of the reel, the tuba plays a line that incorporates some unexpected contemporary sounds, but still retains the dance feel and “twangy” approach of a fiddle player.
Arranger, composer, trumpeter, and educator Jamey Simmons grew up in Wisconsin and knew early on that music was his unique gift. He earned his Bachelor of Music at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire and his Master of Music in Jazz and Contemporary Media at the Eastman School of Music. Simmons is currently Director of Jazz Studies at Middle Tennessee State University where he teaches courses in jazz. As a trumpet player, Simmons toured internationally with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and is currently active on the Nashville professional music scene. He has made appearances with artists as diversified as the Temptations, Dave Weckl, Buddy DeFranco, Lee Konitz, Duffy Jackson, and Vince Gill. He has written arrangements and compositions that have been performed by the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, Buffalo Symphony Pops, Nashville Jazz Orchestra, Brussels Jazz Orchestra and numerous university ensembles. Active as a commissioned composer and arranger, Simmons’ published compositions and arrangements are available through Sierra Music and Kjos Music Publishing. Find Jamey online at www.jameysimmons.com .
Paul Osterfield: "Nashville Nightlife" for tuba, piano and percussion (2020)
Nashville Nightlife was commissioned by tubist Chris Combest as a part of his “Under Tennessee Skies” project involving one Tennessee-inspired work each from six composers. Written for tuba, piano, and percussion, Nashville Nightlifeis a series of episodes depicting post-twilight festivities for what the New York Times in 2013 referred as the “It city.” The work opens with the hustle and bustle of downtown Nashville, with music emanating from multiple honky-tonks, bachelorette parties crowded on “pedal taverns,” and tourists milling about the sidewalks. Transitioning outside of the lower Broadway area and into the surrounding neighborhoods, the nights are quieter, with couples going on romantic walks, friends catching up in a coffee shop, or people attending concerts and plays in various locales. Interspersed about the bustle of downtown and the surrounding quiet, speckles of excitement from a minor league baseball game, a fall Titans game or the country Christmas festivity of the Opryland Hotel contribute to the texture of Nashville at night.
Nashville-born Paul Osterfield spent his formative years in Northeast Ohio, where he composed and studied cello, violin, piano, and conducting. His early efforts as a composer were recognized at age 16, when the United States Copyright Office and the Library of Congress awarded him first prize in their Young Creators’ Contest. Paul’s compositions receive performances throughout the United States and abroad. Paul has been a Fellow at MacDowell, and has won and Individual Artist Grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission, and awards from BMI, ASCAP, and the National Federation of Music Clubs. His works are available on the Albany, Equilibrium, Navona, and Ravello labels. As Professor of Music at Middle Tennessee State University, Paul teaches music composition and theory. He has earned degrees from Cornell University, Indiana University, and the Cleveland Institute of Music, and has studied with Steven Stucky, Roberto Sierra, Eugene O’Brien, Frederick Fox, and Donald Erb.
Brian Mueller: "Becoming" for tuba and vibraphone (2020)
My primary exposure to the landscape and scenery of Tennessee over the last five years has been my weekly drive to Sewanee, TN. Sewanee is located on the Cumberland Plateau on the edge of the Smoky Mountains. The area is vibrant and beautiful, regardless of the season. On my first visit to ‘the mountain’ I noticed signs warning drivers to turn their lights on during fog, which I soon discovered is a frequent phenomenon in the area.
“Becoming,” for tuba and vibraphone, is derived largely from the mysterious, almost eerie atmosphere as one drives through the winding roads during the fog. The piece emerges out of a simple, tonally ambiguous opening statement by the tuba, which forms the primary motif of the piece. After the vibraphone enters, the two voices swirl around and follow one another,
briefly coming to rest before launching into a more rhythmic, driving section. As the piece approaches the end, the fog begins to lift, and the original motif is transformed into a brighter version of itself as the sun breaks through the clouds.
This piece was composed for the "Under Tennessee Skies" project organized by my friend and tubist colleague, Chris Combest, during the spring and early summer of 2020.
Dr. Brian Mueller is currently Lecturer of Percussion at Middle Tennessee State University, where he has been on faculty since 2015. He is also on faculty with the Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts. He holds a Doctor of Music degree from the Indiana University Jacob’s School of Music (2016). His prior academic background includes a Master of Music degree from the University of North Texas (2009) and a Bachelor of Music degree from Wichita State University (2007). Brian has worked as a freelance drummer and percussionist for many years, and is a published composer and arranger, with pieces available through Tapspace Publications and C. Alan Publications. He has performed and presented clinics nationally and internationally, including at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention; the MTSU Jazz Festival; the Shanghai Jazz Festival; the Columbus (OH) International Festival; the North Georgia Percussion Festival; the McCormick Marimba Festival; Reinhardt University; Southeastern University; Florida State University; Tennessee Tech University; Indiana University; Wichita State University; Kansas State University; Middle Tennessee State University; the University of the South (Sewanee, TN); the Conservatoire à Rayonnement Régional de Paris; the Central Conservatory of Beijing; the Midi School of Music (Beijing); Wuxi Grand Theater (Wuxi, China); Hangzhou Normal University (Hangzhou, China); the Zhejiang Conservatory of Music (Hangzhou, China); and the Wuhan Conservatory of Music.
Brian proudly endorses Pearl/Adams Concert Percussion and Innovative Percussion.
Barbara York: "Tennessee Journey" for tuba and piano (2020)
The piece opens with two main themes. The first is to represent the western mountains and later become more integrated and transformed to include "the land" and the terrain itself. The second theme is a modal melody reminiscent of folk music and in my mind it is "the heart of Tennessee". The first four notes of this theme are also the first four of the Tennessee Waltz.
There is also a secondary, "watery" countermelody to both which represents the many streams, creeks and waterfalls that are so abundant in Tennessee.
As we continue through the piece, all of these themes become integrated with each other and become more and more obscure within the totality as we include farmland, country folk, different types of music and eventually an urban hustle and bustle that still contains elements of the earlier themes.
We return eventually to the initial two themes to remind us that the land and the heart of Tennessee still remain with us throughout its history and development. -Barbara York, 2020
Barbara York has been working in both Canada and the U.S. for over 50 years as a concert accompanist, choral and theatrical music director and composer. Her score and lyrics for the Canadian musical Colette won a Dora Mavor Moore Award (Canada’s version of a Tony) in 1981. She has received commissions from two Canadian symphony orchestras (Mississauga and Saskatoon), the Boise State University Symphonic Winds and the Boise State Symphony Orchestra, plus numerous private groups and soloists in both the US and Canada.
She has presented compositions at three World Saxophone Congresses and at 2 International Double Reed Symposia. Her 50-minute scripted, children’s piece, A Butterfly in Time was nominated for a Canadian “Juno Award” for recordings in 2006 and is available through Amazon.com and elsewhere under the Children’s Group label. Conversations, for Euphonium, Alto Saxophone and Piano, won the Harvey Phillips Award for Euphonium in Chamber Music at the 2006 International Tuba Euphonium Congress and has been recorded by Adam Frey, its commissioner.
Her Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra was recorded by Tim Buzbee with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and is available internationally through Albany Records. Other CD recordings of her pieces include Saxspectrum 1 and 2 by Glen Gillis, How Beautiful by Matt Brown and recordings by many other artists including Deanna Swaboda, George Palton, Stephanie Frye, Adam Frey and Demondrae Thurmon.
Several of her compositions have been on National and International competition lists and are on the Contest lists of several States as well as being available in recordings through Amazon.com, CDBaby and Itunes.
Barbara recently retired as a part-time Staff Accompanist at Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg Kansas. Her music is published exclusively by Cimarron Music Press.
Brad Baumgardner: "Broken Echoes" for solo tuba (2020)
I grew up in the suburbs of Nashville – close enough to a largeish city to enjoy the culture it had to offer, but also within walking distance of a few acres of scrubby “woods” where every summer my kid brother and I got into as much trouble as we possibly could. When I was coming of age, our city’s landscape wasn’t quite what it is today. The Honky Tonks could still be found downtown, though it seems that there were far fewer of them, and the music was the primary attraction – and Opryland was still a bustling theme park rather than a mega mall.
When I left Nashville for college in the late 90’s, we didn’t have any pedal taverns, construction cranes didn’t dot the city’s skyline, and I could make the drive from my parent’s house in Hermitage to my summer job near Demonbreun and 8th Ave. in less than 20 minutes.
I returned to Nashville in 2014 and in a mere 15 years our city had changed dramatically and mostly for the better. The rapid growth brings cultural development along with its congestion and sprawl, and the city hasn’t lost the friendly feel that I had come to expect. But, I guess it is always strange to return home to discover that the grassy field you drove by countless times as a child now hosts a Super Target and a Party City. Our green spaces are still there, they’re just more crowded and fewer and farther between.
This piece explores this kind of rapid change primarily by the juxtaposition and development of two primary themes – a descending and accelerating repeated gesture, and a simple two note rising “sigh”.
Few things ever remain unchanged, and like many other seemingly concrete notions – memory is completely subjective.
Composer and Bass Clarinetist Brad Baumgardner holds degrees from Western Kentucky University, the University of Louisville, and the UMKC Conservatory of Music and Dance where his creative programming and leadership was rewarded with the Kauffman Foundation Excellence in Graduate Teaching Award in 2010.
Brad’s music is regularly performed in the United States and internationally and has been described as “energetic” and full of “lovely harmonies”. Brad remains active as a performer both as a solo artist and as a member of prominent area ensembles. His playing has been hailed by critics as “virtuosic” and has been recently described by the Kansas City Star as “effortless” and “unearthly”. Recent engagements include multiple performances by the Digital Honkbox Revival in Iowa, Kansas City and Washington, multiple featured performances with the Kansas City Electronic Music Association, performances for the Charlotte Street foundation at Kansas City’s fabled Blue Room, and a performance as a soloist with the UMKC student orchestra on the premiere of his own concerto for bass clarinet and orchestra.
His awards include an individual artist grant from the Kentucky Arts Council, a residency as an associate artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and the Kauffman Foundation’s 2010 excellence in graduate teaching award. He and his family currently live in Nashville TN where he serves as an advisor and adjunct professor at MTSU.
Evan Zegiel: "Synchronous Fireflies" for tuba, piano and percussion
This work, Synchronous Fireflies, is named after the Photinus carolinus species of firefly. It is the only species in the U.S. that can synchronize its flashing, and it is one of 19 or so species which lives in the Smoky Mountains. As if nature could not find any more beautiful ways to decorate our world! I have always found these little flashing bugs to be, simply, magical. I grew up in South Florida, so my experience with bugs was mostly relegated to mosquitoes and gnats until my first summer at Brevard. For a species to coordinate their flashing is even more magical, and I believe there’s a metaphor here. Perhaps we humans should think more about what we can do together in synchronous cooperation. We might discover even greater, more beautiful things to create in our limited time here.
Evan Zegiel holds a Master of Music degree in Performance and Chamber Music from the University of Michigan as well as a Bachelor of Music degree in Tuba Performance from the University of Michigan. He is currently pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Michigan State University as a University Distinguished Fellow.
Zegiel is a primarily self-taught composer, but has recently studied intensively with David Biedenbender at MSU. This year, his piece for unaccompanied tuba, Climate Strike, won the Tuba category of the 2020 Leonard Falcone International Tuba/Euphonium Festival's Call for Scores. He has received commissions, premieres, and frequent performances of his compositions from performers and ensembles at the New World Symphony, Brevard Music Center, Lancaster Festival (OH), the University of Michigan, Yale University, Northwestern University, the University of Iowa, Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Washington State University, and Middle Tennessee State University.
Evan is in demand as an orchestral tubist and chamber musician, performing regularly with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra. He has also performed with the Baltimore Symphony and Erie Philharmonic, among others, and was the Tuba Fellow at the New World Symphony during the 2018-19 season. As a chamber musician, he performs most frequently with his tuba-percussion duo BrassTaps Duo, which has commissioned and arranged over 10 new works in the last four years. Zegiel is also an award-winning tuba soloist, winning seven competitions in the last eight years, including both the Student and Artist Divisions of the Falcone Festival competitions.