Skyscraper: A Beautiful View into the MTNA Collaborative Commissioning Project

Wynn-Anne Rossi

By Wynn-Anne Rossi
Composer, Arranger, Teacher

Following the premiere of Skyscraper at the 2014 MTNA National Conference, I walked to the John Hancock Center with a friend and took a speedy elevator to the 96th floor. In a quiet lounge, I gazed over the many skyscrapers of Chicago. I could see Lake Michigan and the famous ferris wheel at Navy Pier, so tiny from this perspective. The jazzy sounds of the new piece were fresh, and they played in my mind as I watched the tall, twinkling lights of the city. What a day!

This experience all started about a year ago when I got a phone call. Ann Witherspoon, director of the MTNA Collaborative Commissioning Project, asked if I would be interested in being one of two commissioned composers for the 2014 MTNA National Conference. This was not a difficult question to answer. Yes! The commission was for a late intermediate trio, and we discussed possibilities for instrumentation. My inklings were towards jazz, and we settled on Bb clarinet, Eb alto saxophone, and piano.

When I compose, I usually begin with a seedling of an idea. In this case, it was…skyscraper. I came to Chicago as a child, and these towering giants made a huge impression on me. As a composer, I love the presence of architecture in music. My mind went to the skeleton of the structure, full of steel girders forming squares and triangles. I liked the idea of representing these shapes through my harmonic and melodic choices using minor 3rds and 4ths (quartal harmony). I also looked up the famous “Chicago Poems” by Carl Sandburg.

“By night the skyscraper looms in the smoke and the stars and has a soul.”
–final line of “Skyscraper” from Chicago Poems by Carl Sandburg

Nighttime view of Chicago from the 96th floor of the John Hancock Building.

Wynn-Anne’s nighttime view of Chicago from
the 96th floor of the John Hancock Center.

Full of inspiration, I sat down at the piano.  After briefly experimenting with ascending and descending 3rds and 4ths, the music began to take shape.  As many writers will admit, a piece will take on a life of its own, and you enter a place of trust as it creates itself.  I was particularly pleased with a “nature break” that happened in the music, featuring two gliding birds.  Then came the revision stage!  In fact, I wrote two entirely different endings.  One landed gracefully at ground level, and the other flew off the top!  I hope listeners are pleased with my final choice.

Click the button below to listen to a recording of the MTNA performance of Skyscraper with Janice Wenger on piano, Leo Saguiguit on saxophone and Paul Garritson on clarinet.

The first rehearsal with live performers is always a magical moment. Imagination becomes reality! Through the incredible talents of faculty musicians from the University of Missouri-Columbia, the skyscraper emerged with Janice Wenger on piano, Leo Saguiguit on sax and Paul Garritson on clarinet. By the time the audience arrived and the actual performance began, my bubbly nature had bubbled over. I would like to say that I am always calm and professional in these situations, but I simply had too much fun to behave!

Wynn-Anne Rossi with Janice Wenger, Leo Saguiguit and Paul Garritson.

Wynn-Anne Rossi with Janice Wenger (center),
Leo Saguiguit (left) and Paul Garritson (right).

The MTNA Collaborative Commissioning Project is a valuable gift to composers, performers, and teachers. Ensemble music is particularly exciting, bringing musicians together to celebrate new works. From small local groups to national organizations like MTNA, commissioning programs such as these help to inspire new works well into our future. No group is too small. LAMTA, with four teachers in Langdon, North Dakota sets an excellent example. They are hosting a Latin Festival in May, 2014 with a commissioned finale. As a composer, these projects are incredibly energizing, and they help me discover the inspiration to keep doing what I enjoy the most.

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11 responses to “Skyscraper: A Beautiful View into the MTNA Collaborative Commissioning Project

  1. Victoria Szalapski

    “Skyscraper” makes you feel on top of the world without the scary heights!” I will listen to it again&again!

  2. I love it! I live in Chicago surrounded by skyscrapers and this song is spot on! It should be Chicago’s theme song.

  3. Gayle Colehour

    Loved it Wynn-Anne! Very “uplifting.”

  4. Sally Faulkner

    What a wonderful musical interpretation of Chicago’s skyscrapers! Thank you for sharing your talent! I love the “feel” of this!

  5. Thank you, Victoria. If the music reaches just one person in this way, I will consider it a success. Enjoy the top of the world!

  6. Thanks for this beautifully written article about the commissioning and composing process! How better to inspire young people than to visualize images -in this case skyscrapers and birds singing- as an aid in the process of creating music. MTNA thanks for supporting composers to spur them to exciting creations, like you did for Ms Rossi and I for one am looking forward to hearing this music!

  7. Pingback: Celebrating Living Composers « Music Teacher's Helper Blog Music Teacher's Helper Blog

  8. Gretchen Jayawardena

    I would have loved to see this performed live, but nonetheless it is a remarkable piece that truly puts sound to the feeling one gets as they explore Chicago across time. When I close my eyes and listen, my imagination immediately sees vivid images of the Chicago skyline and the hustle and bustle of a diverse array of people going about their busy Chicago day.

  9. I’m very touched by these enthusiastic comments. Thank you!

  10. Betsy McCann

    I love the energy of this piece, Wynn-Anne! It must have been fun to live in this soundscape during the composition process; it feels great to listen to.

    • Thanks, Betsy. A lot of my music is based on nature, so it was fun to explore the potential of big city inspirations. A tall tree says something very, very different than a skyscraper!

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