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  1. “You have no chops!” Those were the illustrious words by my professor, Bright Sheng, during only my second lesson with him. I was speechless. Who was I though to argue with this award-winning composer? I had to be humble and just learn. Then the unthinkable happened. The Composition Department chair, William Albright, had suddenly died. He was key to me being accepted into the program. A great composer, a wonderful person, gone. It was only the third week of school. Amongst the big shuffle of students in the composition department, I was then switched to Prof. James Aikman’s studio. After a debacle of a start, Prof. Aikman would be the professor at the University of Michigan who also had the most profound impact on my technique. This would coincide with him always pushing me to write more chamber music. It wasn’t something that came to me. I generally wrote large works; it’s what I listened to daily. My CD playlist was Beethoven symphonies, Strauss tone poems, Respighi’s trifecta, and John Williams’ scores. I did eventually (per my grade) write a chamber work. I decided on a “flute trio” for my friends: flautist Susan Giroir, clarinetist Monica Berckley (Jacobsen), and cellist Leo Eguchi. Surprisingly, it was well-received. Even Prof. Sheng smiled and only said one word to me. “Chops!” Still, I wasn’t happy with this piece. After that premiere, I wouldn’t listen to it for another 22 years. Over time, I would often listen to the chamber music of Shawn Okpebholo, Jason Woodruff, Blaire Ziegenhagel, George Morrison, and James Grant. Their music would habitually encapsulate my mind. They made such beauty with small groups. Eventually, it brought me to revise ‘The Vivid Dawn.” Coming from the piece’s original source, this composition draws from the sunrise view from Belle Isle overviewing the city of Detroit. The “B” section is watching the view from my home in Russell Woods. As the “A” section returns, the “C” pays more attention to the birds on the beach playing. The “D” section is the traffic trying to get on Belle Isle as the weather warms and all its congestion. The final A is the journey home after an eventful day.
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