When was the first time you partook of this “drug”?
I got hooked on music when I was ten years old. I was a teenager when it started to settle in for me, the star trumpet player at school, playing in the marching band and having these loud, high, fast solos.
What did you feel the first time you picked up the trumpet?
I was a like a fish in water, which was good because I had started on the saxophone. That was a big disaster.
I could barely get any sound out of it -- just squeaks and squawks. I tried for about three week, but it was awful. Then a band teacher gave me a trumpet. I took off. Piano came soon after. I had all these tunes running around my head that I had to get out, so I would just sit down and plunk them out, playing by ear. Eventually, I taught myself how to play the piano.
Are you from a musical family?
No, my father was a banker his whole life, but he was a folk guitar player. He would sit on the edge of my bed and sing me to sleep every night with American folk music: John Denver, Harry Chapin, and Peter, Paul and Mary. I loved it.
Does folk music influence your composition?
It had a lot to do with me becoming a pops conductor and really focusing on the world of popular music.
What has being gay meant to your compositions?
Being gay hasn’t really influenced anything in my composition.
What does influence you?
My music is very visual. When people hear a piece of mine they can close their eyes and create a movie in their mind about what’s happening. I’m often inspired by places. A white water rafting trip in West Virginia became a piece of mine called “Into the Raging River.” “Pilatus: Mountain of Dragons” is one of my most popular ones, inspired by a mountain in Switzerland and some old stories about the dragons that supposedly live there. “In the Temple of Zion” is about Zion National Park.
Your music sounds very accessible.
The concert band music I’ve been writing since 1995 has been very popular. Schools around the world play it. I get messages on Facebook from Malaysia, Portugal, and Australia -- even a soldier in Iraq. There are two CDs of my concert band music out. It’s been really special to be an influence to so many young people that I’ve never even met
Have you had gay teenagers reach out to you?
A couple of times younger students who know that I’m out have sent messages via social media just to say, “You’ve been a big influence on me. I’m now going to college and majoring in music because you’ve been a role model to me, especially because you’re an out gay man.” It’s been very powerful.
What advice you have for teens that may be struggling to accept their sexuality?
As Dan Savage -- and everyone else out there -- has been stating, it definitely gets better. You get more in control of your own life. You get to create your own environment of friends, surrounding yourself with the people you want. That’s the advice I’d give to anybody, “Surround yourself with good people, because nobody wants negative people or negative energy around them.” You feed off the energy of the people around you.
Top photo by Steve J. Sherman, bottom photo by Johanna Weber