My sweetie Marion turned 63 last December. In preparation for it I faced a quandary: we have acquired enough things over the years that getting her another thing just seemed unnecessary. In fact, it’s been a good while since I bought her a “thing” for a gift for a holiday. (Except flowers: I buy her flowers a lot, especially when I’m not in trouble). For the last few years holiday and birthday gifts have been primarily events, and such events have very often been concerts, opera performances, or plays. None of these were going to be happening in December of 2020 of course – and that was apparent by last spring.
So what to do? I have long wanted to commission a piece of music as a gift to Marion, and the perfect thing to do last year seemed to be to commission the composition of a piece of music and then arrange a private performance. I even had the perfect idea. Lucia di Lammermoor by Donizetti is one of Marion’s favorite operas. It begins with a horn quartet – horn quartets being a form of chamber music that I as a French Horn player have always loved. So my idea was simple: to commission the composition of a French Horn quartet with two constraints: 1) it should have enough of a quote from the quartet at the beginning of Lucia that a person who knows this opera would say to themselves “Hey, that’s a quote from Lucia,” and 2) the subtitle was to be “For Marion.” I worked with IU Professor of Composition Donald Freund to advertise my interest in commissioning such a composition to be written by a current or recent IU student. One of the huge surprises in all of this was how much interest I received from students. Eleven people sent me samples of their compositions, and all were at least “very good.” Three were so good that each – if presented to me alone – would have easily resulted in an enthusiastic commission from me. But one submission stood out particularly because the composer sent a recording of a horn quartet that he had written. After a couple of conversations Craig Michael Davis was off to work composing a new horn quartet. Several weeks transpired and then Craig sent me a snippet generated electronically. I was ecstatic.
Then time came to arrange a concert. This was harder than it would have been under different circumstances: all of the performing venues of the IU Jacobs School of Music were closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there was a limit of no more than 15 people in a gathering. Four horn players and a composer makes 5. Fortunately the Bloomington-based family totaled … exactly 10 people.
Craig Davis knew a French Horn player who was interested in putting together the players for a quartet. Craig also recommended the FAR gallery in Bloomington (https://thefar.org) as a venue.
And thus… on Marion’s Birthday last December our family gathered in advance at the FAR gallery. I had told Marion that I had something planned, but family and friends (including several who have relationships to the Jacobs School of Music and knew what was up) had kept the secret well. Marion arrived at the FAR gallery and was completely flabbergasted when she saw our family, four horn players, and one other person she did know. Then she figured out the gist – a concert for her. She was between laughing and crying for much of the concert. when we got to Craig Michael Davis’ new composition Marion was on the edge of tears the whole piece. IT was truly, truly beautiful.
The concert is FINALLY online (this is a long story… ). You can see and hear this wonderful performance at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S71jOralyY
This concert features French Horn players Mikayla McCommas, Layne Anspach, Mica Redden, and Cameron Wray, all of whom are graduate students at the IU Jacobs School of Music. Ms. McCommas led the horn quartet.
The program was as follows:
*Arrangement of Overture to the Magic Flute (W.A. Mozart)
*Shenandoah (arrangement by Mica Reddin)
*Horn Concerto Number 2 (“for Marion”) composed for this occasion by Craig Michael Davis
*God Only Knows (Wilson and Asher)
The new piece – the Craig Davis Horn Quartet # 2 – is a set of variations based on the chord progression in the French Horn quartet that begins Lucia di Lammermoor. The Davis Academy of Music is online at https://thedavisacademyofmusic.com. If you are looking for music lessons or you want to commission a composition I recommend them highly!
One of the big lessons for me was how straightforward it was to arrange a private concert. And commissioning a piece of music for my sweetie Marion is one of the coolest things I have ever done. And she loved it. Maybe commissioning a piece is beyond what you want to do. But pulling together a group of musicians for a chamber music performance was surprisingly manageable financially. The musicians appreciated the opportunity, and it just felt great. Now that the pandemic seems to be waning, do what you can to help the artistic community. Hire your own concert. Go to concerts. Donate to your favorite musical organizations. Support the arts – because without your help there won’t be any!
From left to right: Craig Michael Davis, Layne Anspach, Mikayla McCommas, Marion Krefeldt, Craig Stewart, Mica Redden, and Cameron Wray, at the FAR Gallery.