The pandemic tore apart the ability for people to collaborate on music. But it also forced artists to work together in other ways. One local musician and educator seized the opportunity to change how music is written and performed.
Trombonist Paul Fleming started a new local nonprofit during the pandemic. Renew Music is seeking to present classical, brass and jazz in ways that are more accessible to people. That’s while maintaining musical integrity and encouraging audience members to participate in how music affects them.
Paul explains the mission of the nonprofit plus his goals as a musician and educator to transform how we experience new and different forms of music. Visit https://www.renewensemble.org to learn more.
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The global pandemic tore apart the ability for people to collaborate on music, but it also forced artists to work together in different ways. One local musician and educator sees the opportunity to change how music is written and performed. And he did that during the pandemic. It's a it's a very rewarding feeling, being able to train other people to hear things thoughtfully and intentionally for what they are, instead of just saying, you know, knee jerk, good or bad, or weird or gross, or, you know, does this does this sound like Leonard Skinner? Renew music is Paul Fleming's brainchild. A new local nonprofit renew music is seeking to present classical brass and jazz in ways that are more accessible to people. That's while maintaining musical integrity and encouraging audience members to participate in how the music affects them. For this week in Reno News, I'm Bob Conrad with this is reno.com. Today's guest on the show is Paul Fleming, a local musician and educator. Tell me or tell us about renew music, are you the executive director, so I'm the I'm the president and one of the founders of renew music. We are as of March of this year, a 501 c three nonprofit based in Washoe County. Our mission is to create and perform new music, particularly music that's written by local composers and pieces that are of local interest. Basically, we want to highlight the creative side of classical music that's being created today in our area. What prompted you to start renew music given that Reno kind of already in some ways has a rich history of classical music and symphonic and orchestral? Yeah, I'm from here, I went to school, here in in, in Reno er, when I left town, I lived in Boston for about a decade for grad school and then continuing on on after that Boston as well. As you know, a lot of other towns in the United States have a very rich new music culture. I got the taste for partnering with composers and being part of that creative process. When I was in Boston, I met a lot of other people who felt the same way. When I moved back here in 2017. I was hoping to continue that on. And, you know, I was playing a ton I was I was active in the performing scene, but I didn't have the connections that I had grown used to having. And I've met a lot of people around town that felt the same way. You know, there are obviously some excellent, excellent orchestras and groups in town. There's the Reno Philharmonic, the Reno chamber orchestra, the Reno jazz orchestra, the list goes on. But, and the Philharmonic especially, is really, really good at premiering and performing new works. But there wasn't really any group in town that was hyper focused, giving me Paul the opportunity to work face to face with a composer that I could speak with and kind of bounce ideas off of. I am friends with several people who are in the jazz scene. And so we formed a brass quintet together the Reno modern brass, one of the performers at the time. Now he's in LA. He is a jazz performer, Brandon Sherman. And he wrote us a couple of pieces. And he put us in touch with a couple of other jazz players. And that's kind of where we found our niche. Because there are a lot of jazz music writers in our town. And we just said, Hey, will you write us a brass quintet? The more we did it, the more we found that this was something that was valuable and rewarding to us personally. And the people who came to our audiences agreed with what we saw, which is this is something new, this is something real, this is something interesting and relevant. And it basically turned into an entire organization because we wanted to have access to grant monies that would fund larger long term projects. What makes you different from what's already happening? I'm not 100% clear on that just yet. So there are two main things that differentiate us from other music organizations we call ourselves contemporary classical, also known as new music, but the term new music has such a broad definition. But the thing that renewed does to differentiate itself from other organizations, number one, the people that we work with, we commissioned composers that are from around Reno to write for traditional chamber ensembles, Brass Quintet, string, quartet solos, small chamber works. Nobody else in town is doing that at the hyperlocal level that we're doing. Why? Why is that important? If feel that Reno as a city has an identity, we see it through events like our town, Burning Man. You know, Hot August Nights, the rodeo things like that. As a music, as a classical musician, I should say specifically, because the jazz scene I feel is fairly well developed. As a classical musician. We, we don't have that identity that the other artistic forms have. And so we're able to kind of celebrate that side of music making. And when you when you Commission works, talk about that process and why that's important to support what you're doing and local musicians. A lot of it is just relationship building, we go to performances of other people's works. We show up to jazz events, and we meet the jazz musicians, the former grad students, the people who are new into town, who are writing music, and we just start the conversation with them. We have a friend who just moved to Reno from the Midwest, his name is Jonathan Sokol, you'll hear him on the July 27, Sculpture Garden event. He was a composer. He changed careers. One thing led to another he moved out to Reno. He went to a philharmonic concert or meno Philharmonic concert and introduced himself around to Laura Jackson, the conductor and a few other people. And he said we'd like to, I'd like to get involved in the composing community, and they directly referred them to us. We struck up a conversation and now here he is part of our circle. Another way that we find composers to perform is just hey, I like your style. I like your music. Have you ever written a string quartet before? Usually the answer is no. We say well, you know what, this is a great testing ground for us, which is another hallmark of ours. We're not afraid to try new things, and to go out on a limb for people that we love, but have not necessarily heard their classical portfolio. You're not just limited to classical however, there is a concert that we're doing it on July 20, at Cypress with what we're calling the Renew Jazz Ensemble, which is the same instrumentation as the Miles Davis birth of the cool album. It's a couple of saxophone this trumpet, trombone, French horn tuba rhythm section, and this is going to become one of our main flagship ensembles. The idea here is and we are playing many of the pieces from the birth of the cool album as well as pieces by composer Paul Johnston, who is from the Midwest. The idea there is that we don't want to box ourselves in too much to classical music. A lot of the works as I've mentioned several times already. The works that we can that we commission are by classic jazz performers. And this is just another way of us saying listen, we are new music, but we're not elitist in a way that we're keeping one sub genre of art out of our large umbrella. There was a man the was the president of the New England Conservatory for a while Gunther Schuller who coined the term third stream relating to kind of middle of the line genre. of music between classical and jazz. Some of our work, I think very appropriately fits into that very middle of the Line Road. And we're very happy to occupy that space. I, I'm a longtime. Some people would say, drummers aren't musicians. But I'm I'm a longtime player will say that to avoid any arguments about whether drummers can be musicians, I have never in my life, heard of classical and jazz blending. Why have I not heard about this? I think that I think that in the classical world, in the jazz world, too, there's a lot of gatekeeping. There's a lot of purists. And there are a lot of norms that if you go to a jazz show, this is how you're supposed to act, and this is what you're supposed to be hearing. Same goes for classical. I think there's a lot of parallels in those two worlds, as far as this is how it is. But isn't jazz it at least the formation, the early years of jazz being born out of, you know, Ragtime, and Civil War era, music or marches and then kind of coming into its own in New York City? Isn't that always been sort of about breaking those norms, and defying them in some way? And I'm gonna, I'm gonna get myself in trouble here. I think that the origins of jazz, yes. But, but we've become locked. It's become co opted by academics. And it's been taken over by, as I said, already, just purists. I think that the and we did we actually did an improvisation seminar just a couple of weekends ago with Tristan Sessler, and we actually got into it. Pretty deep conversation about, yeah, we're improvising. We're creating as we go along. There are many, many rules. There's a form and there's a style. And there is there. I mean, there are right notes and there's right times and wrong times to play a note. And if you show up to, you know, a blues session, and you start playing, just kind of weird out there shit, like, I don't know, maybe I'm certain it might go over well, but there are there are rules. And there are more rules now than there probably were back in the 1920s and 1930s, when the genre was first kind of coming into its own. Yeah. So what are those rules? And why do they need to be followed? And why? Questions above my paygrade but take a 12 bar blues, right? Sure. There's a form you guys swing it? Yeah. You can choose to play the bebop scale, you can choose to play the blues scale, you can choose to draw if you're feeling weird, you could choose to take some Triton subs every once in a while a little, a little diminished scales. But there's a menu of options. And if you're with the right group, or if you have enough experience, you can bend those rules. But it always exists within this form. This structure this style you can't slow down speed up the tempo on any tune, unless you have pre arranged it otherwise, you know, like there's there's absolutely freedom. There's absolutely improvisation but let's define improvisation for a little bit you know Period End of sentence I was waiting for you to define improvisation. So, it sounds like we have as you come together you have to have some kind of agreement or certain sort of basic ground rules to do. I mean, when we commissioned a classical composer to write us a brass quintet, there is sometimes improvisation, there is sometimes non traditional notation. But what we usually find when we speak to those those musicians that are outside the classically trained world is a type of harmonic language that is different and it's usually a lot more accessible and listener level. A lot of the songs especially you know, Tristan Selzer is written as a couple of quintets and I mentioned earlier Brandon Sherman. He's written us Do quintets that are incredibly complex, but also very song like and have a flow to them. Which I really love, and which is one of the reasons why I really love to talk to those other people because they they might be thinking about the music as something listenable? You know, whereas classical composers, a lot of them are like, Okay, we're gonna, we're going to try, you know, this 12 tone series, and we're going to try a little, you know, we're going to do this or do that. And it's going to be cool. It's going to be interesting. It might also be a little bit too cerebral for for certain audiences. Yeah, that makes sense. And I would, I would echo that some of what I hear coming out of these genres is perhaps a little bit cerebral. You mentioned Miles Davis, and you'll be performing his work. Thank you for doing that. I don't consider that necessarily, too cerebral. That to me is, again, as a longtime performer. It's somewhat accessible. And in fact, when I, when I put on jazz for my wife, who doesn't, she's not a fan of jazz by any stretch, but when I put on something that I think would grab her, or that she would be able to kind of hum along to Miles Davis would be a good pick. Yeah, and especially the birth of the cool album, we just got the charts. And so we've all been working on our own to prepare for this set. And it's, I mean, it is composition, written by Miles Davis. And if anybody says that Miles Davis is a songwriter and not a composer. Do you know like, that's, that's the kind of elitist elitism that we're trying to dispel. Because he didn't compose in the way that we may have always understood composition to have occurred, he did it kind of in his own way, right? I mean, you look at you look at kind of blue, right, and its head solos head, this album of which you're going to hear a lot of tracks on the birth of the cool album, it's very much composed. I'm playing the tuba part. And there's there's notes every measure it's not just play these changes, play those changes, play the head, go on to the next song, it's, it's there. And you follow from measure to measure in a in a way that a lot of his other stuff? Well, I think necessarily so with a nine piece ensemble, it he had to he had to write out stuff for me or else I wouldn't know what to do. So in addition to commissioning works, and I'm on your I'm looking on your website, and you have easily a dozen, if not more, works that you've commissioned. Talk about those some you've mentioned, Brandon Sherman, and Tristan cells are talking about some of the other ones. So one of the big things that we did during COVID. And this was one of our board members, passionate project, his name is Jason from he recently moved to Portugal. He had the idea for online only offering, you know, COVID times. And so we commissioned many, many short works that lasted a minute or two. And we just put out a call to composers both locally and internationally. And so on the on our YouTube channel, you'll see a healthy mix of fat, you know, people people from right around Reno as well as people from Brazil and China and Scotland, places like like that, and that we recorded in our own home. And so this was just you know, we wanted to give composers an opportunity to write and be heard, and we in turn gave them professional level recordings. But also, considering we can't we can't do quintet performances right now. We can't have live concerts. Another thing that we did that was kind of along the same vein, which is started last year, bringing it back this year on the 27th of July, our sculpture garden, individual musicians posted around different places along a public park. Oh, wow. This year, we have booked the River School farm which is along the Truckee River. Okay. How many people are going to be a part of this? They're going to be six performers, and six composers who are writing pieces specifically for this event. And so some of the composers or names that most are hopefully most if if not check them out. Of the listeners of this show. No BS you Bell. Larry Engstrom John Paul Porat. I'm and they're writing pieces specifically for this event. So last year, we were able to communicate with the composer's, here's where I'm going to be standing, this is what it's going to be looking like. And maybe there's a little bit of bird call, maybe there's a little bit of space left open for people to actually hear what's going on around us. Jonathan Sokol, who I mentioned earlier, is writing a piece for all of the performers together. And I have no idea what it's going to sound like. But that's that's kind of the point is to just show up, and expect to hear something that you've never heard before. And I know I've mentioned this on the podcast in the past under various discussions related to arts. But I don't think we're very, in general as a populace, very well educated. As to arts and music. We, you know, we go to a concert, we pay our 50 bucks to see our favorite artists, we experience it, we rock out, whatever. That's it. What you're talking about is a much deeper level of experience relating to music. If you think about classical music, well, most of the music that you think of when you think of Symphony is 150 200 years old. At one point, Mozart was writing symphonies. And people showed up, and they listened to it. And that was new music. And if he played one of his throwbacks, and one of his concerts, people were like, Hey, let me hear your new stuff. There are bands that we check out, you know, any, any of the old old timer bands that you'll go to the GSR and watch? Or, you know, playing Hot August Nights, you don't, you don't necessarily want to hear the new stuff. But there's a lot of bands out there that are putting out amazing music right now that people are excited to hear. And they can't wait to hear their new albums. And if Beyonce puts out a new track, it's going to be a number one, that day, people are going to be singing along to it by the end of the night. And why not? This other type of music? Why can't we be excited and curious to hear something that is written today. And so I think part of that is what we're actively trying to fight against is the expectations, the norms, the gatekeeping. The idea that I don't like new classical music, because it is weird, or off putting or overly cerebral. In our events, you're going to show up and you're going to get a drink, and you're going to sit your kids at the kids table that has art, and you're going to hear some newly written music by highly trained academics, or at least highly practiced professionals. And some of it some of its gonna be weird. Some of its gonna be like, Oh, but the way that it's framed, at least this is our hope, the way that it's framed. You're gonna say, oh, yeah, I get where they're coming from. Or this is different. And I like it. That's, that's the that's the feeling that we're trying to create with this organization. So don't expect Beyonce, but expect an experience that deserves perhaps discussion. And it perhaps deeper meaning than you would get from your local top 40 Your pop artist? I mean, yeah. If if it's if you showed up to our performance, and you stayed through the whole thing. Cool. If you stayed through the whole thing and liked a couple of pieces, and maybe didn't like a couple of the other pieces. Yeah. Thank you for being there. Thank you for giving it a try. I think what some people miss with art, and I'm differentiating art from music. What we know as music here a little bit is that it's not meant necessarily to be liked. It's meant in a lot of cases, or at least the end result is to generate a lot of discussion perhaps or talk or controversy. Yeah. And I'm, I'm a, by de I'm an elementary music teacher. We haven't mentioned that yet. I teach at at a public elementary school by day. Thank you. Thank you. We need those. When I came back to Reno, I was lucky enough to play with the Reno Philharmonic in the second trombone position, and on my right was Leonard Nighthold, who was playing principal trombone at the time. And Andy Williams on my other side playing bass trombone. My two of my mentors and two of my greatest influences Andy Williams was my high school band teacher, Leonard Nighthold, I student taught under him, and how, how many people in life get a chance to sit in between two of their greatest mentors in life. And I know that that story repeats itself over and over and over again, for any musician that you talk to. That someone out there has led them to, to the place where they are. But I digress. What was I saying? I talked about my teacher, music teacher. And so you know, we have we have listening all the time over Halloween, we play, you know? Dadda, Dadda, Dadda Dadda Dadda data data? The piece from the oh, why am I blanking on the name of it. But anyways, it comes up time and time again. And musical history someone on someone who's listening is going to be asked that piece. We don't ask did you like it? Did you not like it? That's not that's not something that you asked to an elementary school kid. You ask, what did you notice? How did it make you feel? Draw a picture of what you were hearing? Do you have questions? I think that the approach to listening or experiencing any art of any kind that you haven't experienced before, should begin with the questions of how did it make you feel? What were you imagining? Instead of was this good? Or was this bad? Did they rock out? And man, I've played some new stuff. I listened to a lot of new music and I play a lot of new music from my elementary kids. And I am shocked by the by the openness once they're trained to listen with open ears. How many my kids are like yeah, that's cool. What is that? I'm gonna listen to it in my house like it's you know, no, it's not Party in the USA. This is something else and they're still into it. To learn more about renew music visit renew ensemble.org taking us out this week is another piece commissioned by renew music. This is called Rancho Santa fell by Andrew Conrad no relation to me. It just performed on cello by Eileen Brunel? That's it for this week in Reno news, please visit us online at this as reno.com If you're enjoying the show and podcast please give us a review on your local podcast player so more people can find the show. Thank you for listening