Composer Michael Markowski (b. 1986) claims that he is “fully qualified to watch movies and cartoons” on the basis of his bachelors degree in film from Arizona State University. Despite this humility regarding his musical training (and glossing over the performance of his joyRIDE at Carnegie Hall when he was a high school senior, and his Frank Ticheli composition prize for Shadow Rituals the following year) , he is gaining attention as a composer of unique and sophisticated works for wind band, film, and other media. His works are being performed across the United States and around the world, leading to an ever-growing list of commissions for new works.
Brooklyn Air is the result of a commission from 12 schools around the USA, concentrated in Markowski’s home state of Arizona. It was created “to celebrate the retirement of Dawn Parker [Markowski’s middle school band director] at Smith Junior High School,” and it was premiered by the band there on May 16, 2016. Markowski himself gives the best account of Brooklyn Air‘s meaning and its genesis. From his website:
In Brooklyn (and pretty much everywhere else in New York City), the air is always an exotic melting pot of smells. Freshly baked donuts, sweet springtime flowers, and salty ocean breezes combine with car exhaust, dust, and sun-baked garbage to form an aromatic paradox. Every breath you take is complex and bittersweet.
In Italian, the word for “air” is aria, a word most of us probably recognize from its origins in opera. Although we typically know it as being a song for solo voice, an aria could also be more simply described as any expressive melody. The word also literally translates to “expression” and “tune.”
Brooklyn Air is a musical play on these words: a lyrical song flavored with extended jazz harmonies, grimy dissonances, and sweet melodies. The piece opens with buzzing trombone glissandi complemented by a lulling ocean drum and the slow scraping of a brake drum that introduce our ears to a musty, somewhat industrial atmosphere. The woodwinds soon enter singing sweet and salty chords: major, minor, major, minor. By measure 17, the ensemble has landed on a succulent B-flat major chord, our most pleasant taste yet, but by measure 18, the saltiness returns to our palette—a concert E-natural, the raised fourth scale degree, sings sharply in the melody.
At its heart, the piece is dedicated to Dawn Parker in celebration of her 30-year career teaching music and, in particular, as a ‘thank you’ for the two of those years that she taught the scrappy middle school saxophone player who would eventually write this piece. Farewells aren’t always sad and they certainly aren’t usually happy, and as Dawn prepares for the next chapter of her career as an instrument repair specialist, I can’t help but imagine that the transition must have her feeling a little bit of both. Perhaps these bittersweet moments are the ones that linger with us the longest— moments that surprise us, pinch us, and remind us that they are worth remembering.
Brooklyn Air played by the Cal State Fullerton Community College Intercollegiate Band:
See more about the piece here.
Want to see more about the composer? Visit his wonderful website.