Thursday, January 22, 2015

Happy New Year (Already)?!

Wow.  Has it really been since the Fourth of July that I posted on here?  I really am bad at this blogging thing.  Sorry about that.

So, what's going on around here?  Hmm.... Nah, too long to explain.  Let me sum up a bit:

2014 was awesome!  I got married, adopted two amazing kids, and finished up all my doctoral exams and began work on my dissertation.  My job is great.  My students continually challenge me to be a better teacher every day.  And, more often than not, they teach me way more than I teach them.  It's one of the few perks of teaching in Kansas these days, I guess.

I'm looking forward to defending my dissertation in April.  I'm REALLY looking forward to being done with the dissertation and spending my summer reading books I want to read (and don't have to read for my studies) and painting.  And crafting.  And walking.  And spending time with friends and family.  And enjoying life.  In short, I'm really going to enjoy NOT being a student any more!

I've got some new music coming out this year: the third movement to my third string symphony (the Christmas Symphony) and the Sarabande (from Bach's Sixth Cello Suite) that I arranged for string orchestra.  My "Theme with Academic Variations" is being published as well.  That's three pieces from three publishers.  Pretty cool for a nerd like me!

And, speaking of seeing stuff in print, I'm very happy (and daresay proud) to say that my "Assemble the Minions" is one of the top-selling pieces in the country right now!  Always cool to be "famous" and "not dead" as a composer.

Again, sorry about the hiatus.  I'll try and write more before, oh, I don't know...Flag Day?



Friday, July 4, 2014

Sometimes You Just Want to Connect....

I couldn't take it anymore.  I was addicted, I admit it.  So I had to do something about it.  And, I feel strangely liberated because of it.  Yes, I did it: I quit Facebook.

Here's what I had to say in my last post:

This may be a little “TLDR,” but it will be my last post for a while, so bear with me. 

I’m a social scientist.  I’m very proud to say that I am, in fact, a real scientist.  Granted, I’m not into quantum physics, advanced mathematics, or astrophysics, but I am a researcher, and mostly, a teacher.  I’m well versed in behavior theories enough to know when something is awry and needs to be either limited or eliminated.  I’m at that point with Facebook.

I believe that Facebook is a wonderful tool by which people can connect with people, businesses, organizations, and events with which they want a relationship. It also is a way in which people can insulate, inculcate, and withdraw from a civil discourse in the greater community outside the pixilated walls we create.  In short, I’ve seen too much hate, bigotry, ignorance, and anti-intellectualism on here that I am feeling overwhelmed by it.  I also must protest Facebook’s use of our information to conduct experiments on us.  I am not willing to be complicit by my own inaction to this activity on Mr. Zuckerberg and friends’ part.

Instead, I am hoping to enrich my own experiences.  I have spent far too many hours on Facebook.  It’s not healthy for me and for those whom I love dearly.  I would rather talk to them in person or on the phone rather than see “feeds” as our lives pass by.  This is not an indictment or some kind of vilification of those who use Facebook.  This is me, getting in touch with who I am and what I want out of life.  I am not finding it here on Facebook.

So, with that, I ask that if you want to see what I’m up to, please give me a shout at (913) 558-1142.  Or better yet, let’s get together and discuss grandiose philosophies over tea.  I’m going to maintain my SMNW Orchestra Alumni page, SMNOFI page, along with the pages for my music business and books, because as a business owner and teacher that just makes sense.  Now it’s time for me to read books, do some research, write some music and a book or two, and reconnect with the people in my life the old-fashioned way.  I wish you only the very best and I hope that we stay in contact, because if you’re reading this, you’re important to me.

Yeah, so that's it.  Now what?  Well, hopefully the people who matter are reading this and know how much they mean to me.  As for me and mine, well, we're going to be reading, writing, researching, and making connections.  Because, that's what's really important.

Pax omnibus,


Friday, May 2, 2014

May I? Oh, yes I May.

Wow.  It's May already.  I mean, really?  It was just Christmas Break, wasn't it?

Or was that Spring Break?

Huh.  Well, either way, here we are.  And where are we,  exactly?  We're at the end of another year of teaching.  My twentieth, by the way.  Twenty years teaching music to kids.  I need to let that roll around in my head a little bit. Twenty years.  It's funny, really.  Twenty years ago I took a part-time gig at a local high school while I was finishing up my master's degree in conducting.  I was planning on getting the degree and go straight to a doctoral program.  Didn't know if it'd be in conducting or composition, but I knew I wasn't going to be teaching, that's for sure.

Boy, was I wrong about that.  And thankfully so, I must add.  That first year of teaching I fell in love with the kids, with the process, as archaic and bizarre as education can sometimes be, and I just ran with it.  I remember being in the "teachers work room" my first week when an older teacher tried to run me out of there.  "This is for teachers only," she snapped.  I showed her my brand-new district ID and smiled.  "I'm the new band guy," I said.  She slunk off, embarrassed.  And, now that I think about it, I never did see her again.  I also remember how badly the choir teacher hated me and resented my ability to get through to students.  Those two situations taught me my first two important lessons about teaching: 1) Learn to laugh; 2) Wherever there are people there are politics.

A couple years later I won a national composition prize while teaching here in my current district.  I was a long-haired whipper-snapper who thought I was pretty big stuff.  "Award-winning composer, that's me!" I thought.  But, then as now, my students didn't really care about that.  Or the conducting gigs across the country, or the fact that I have a hundred pieces published.  Around here, I'm just Mr. Bishop.

I'm the Mr. Bishop who is up at school early in the morning and stays too late some afternoons.  I'm the guy who writes the most amazing recommendation letters, well, as long you deserve a really amazing one.  I'm good at writing letters that don't say much, either.  But I try to avoid writing a bad one at least.  I'm the Mr. Bishop who guides kids through the murky waters of college auditions and deals with the tears when the boy/girlfriend is found to be less than perfect.  And I am the guy who gets to stand in front of the most amazing young people on this planet when they rise above themselves and play absolutely sublimely, if only for a moment.  Because, at the end of the day, I'm just Mr. Bishop, their teacher.

Twenty years ago, sitting in the band office of that old high school in an urban core, I was daydreaming about writing movie soundtracks or conducting a major orchestra.  Now, I'm sending students out to do just that.  Two former students of mine were chosen, from two different masters programs, for the Yale School of Music doctoral program.  I'm sending another student to major in composition for the first time in my career. And, I'm happy to report, he's already writing music better than I did when I was thirty!  I've got several music teacher alums, too.  And that makes me so very proud and happy.

May is rough.  April is brutal - more required events (concerts, contests, festivals) than all the rest of the school year combined - and it doesn't let up until graduation.  But, like tonight, as I'm sitting here in my studio with the sun streaming in, the fan in the window blowing in the smell of fresh cut grass, and the cat lounging nearby, waiting for a belly rub, there are moments in May that I harken back to that first year of teaching.  That moment when I decided that I wouldn't be pursuing what I thought was my dream, but instead looked around me and saw that I was already exactly where I needed to be.

It's trite, but it's true: teachers often learn more from their students than the students learn from the teacher.  And, as May bashes her way past me once more, ineloquently pushing me to the ground as she makes a mad dash for June, I think I'll just lie here in the cool, fresh cut grass and enjoy the view as I think about all I've learned these past twenty years.

And, if you happen to be one of those students from whom I have learned so much, I invite you to stop by, plop down in the grass beside me, grab a dandelion or two, and just sit and listen to the clouds pass overhead.  And, if you can't do that, well, let's just leave it with "Thanks. I wouldn't be here today without you."



Friday, February 28, 2014

To begin again, anew.

It's tough sometimes, to remember what it's like to feel the rush of something new.  That exhilarating thrill of "Wow! I want to try that!"

I've been at our state MEA Convention (Music Educators Association) for the past couple days and I can honestly say that I have been inspired.  Not only by the very fine concerts I've attended (I heard some amazing bands, choirs, and orchestras), but also by the sessions given by my peers and guests from across the country.

I'm often asked to give sessions while I'm guest conducting at an event (all-state or regional orchestra conventions).  It's a lot of work to prepare these sessions, so when I'm able to attend one (or three), it's a  pleasure to just sit and ABSORB.  Too often we teach in a vacuum, surrounded by only our students and, if we're lucky, some great colleagues on the music staff.  To be able to attend sessions where you are given great information that make you want to get back to the classroom as soon as possible, well, that's a little piece of heaven, thank you very much.

Sometimes it's the littlest ideas that give you the biggest push.  And I'm thankful for my colleagues that have helped me renew and revitalize my teaching as we head into the busiest part of the school year for us music teachers.  It's time to begin (again).

I wish you peace and a little bit of rejuvenation,


Monday, January 13, 2014

Well, there you are!

Here I was frantically finishing up my first string quartet, getting stuff ready for my Pilot Study in preparation of my dissertation, and then *BOOM* it's a new year.

Funny how that happens.

But, that's life.  And what a great life it is.  I have so much to be thankful for as we begin a new year: an amazing fiancĂ© whom I am marrying this summer and starting our family together; a career that I thoroughly love and through which I get to work with some of the most amazing students in the country; and an education that I'm enjoying so much that I find it hard that I'll be "done" this summer (well, except for that whole "write the dissertation" bit).

Whether you've been part of my world through playing my music, being part of a commission, or a student for years or only a couple days; whether you're a friend or part of my amazing family; whether you brought joy into my life by either coming into it or leaving it, I want to thank you for all you've done for me in 2013.

And I wish you only the very best life has to offer you in 2014.



Monday, September 30, 2013

Hays, America! And the State that I Love....

You can tell that school has started.  Long time since my last post. I'm still pretty giddy about having my second symphony played on NPR!  (Yes, when you're a living composer, that's a pretty big deal!)  So, as I settled into my last class of PhD work this summer, the months rolled by rather quickly. And so, here we are.

I had the good fortune to receive a commission from the Hays (KS) Symphony Guild to write a piece for their 100th Anniversary.  The Hays Symphony premiered "Hays, America!" last Saturday evening. I was very proud, not only to be involved in such a storied organization, but also because the music really captured the essence of Hays and Western Kansas.  My congrats and appreciation goes out to the musicians, concert master Matt Means, and conductor Ben Cline.  They performed beautifully and really brought my work to life.

But that's got me thinking, as a PhD student is wont to do from time and time again, about what it means to not only be a composer, but a composer from Kansas.  I've lived here longer than any other state, going on my twenty-first year now, and I am proud to say that I'm a Kansan.  (Although, without getting too political here on my business site, I'm not exactly proud of my state government and some of the yahoos who garner national media attention with their hate and stupidity!)  And even though I love my home state of Iowa, I'm a Kansan now.  And because of that, I feel it's my responsibility to represent what it means to be from a "flyover state," lest someone compare the Great American Symphony to the Tallest Skyscraper in Kansas (see my last post for that inside joke).

I clinic orchestras all over the country as a composer and conductor.  When I tell people I'm from Kansas, it's often met with a look of surprise.  I used to say I was from Kansas City to avoid any undue rolling of the eyes, but not anymore.  Now it's just, "Hi, I'm Jeffrey. I teach and compose in Kansas."  I think it's about time people know that there are many intelligent, inspired, and creative people here in the Sunflower State.

And so, it is with great pride, and a little trepidation, that I come to grips with what I only recently coined "Prairie Style."  Yes, my music can sound like Copland.  But it can also sound like Stravinsky, Kancheli, or any number of composers whom I like to emulate.  But mostly, this mishmash of sounds is my own expansive, if not frenetic at times, exploration of what it's like to live in a state with as much potential as it has horizon.  "Prairie Style" means open, blocky chords that ring out, clarion-style, like Carrie Nation with her hatchet, or William Allen White tick-tick-ticking on the keys of his typewriter.  It means John Brown raising hell and Missouri Ruffians trying to quell it.  It means history and progress, sometimes in great leaps, but other times in tiny increments.  It's Dorothy and her red ruby shoes and "I like Ike." It's six hundred miles of beautiful scenery along I-70 that's there for the viewing if you just take the time to really look at it.

I'm an ardent tonalist.  I'm a Romantic at heart.  And, as I come full circle with it, I'm a Kansan.  And although I hear it much too often for it to be funny, it is true when they say "There's no place like home."

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Great American Symphony vs. the Tallest Skyscraper in Topeka, Kansas

Maybe I should learn to keep my opinions to myself, after all, who really wants to hear from a music educator/composer/writer anyways?  Well, I found out that, apparently, National Public Radio will not only listen (or read), they'll actually respond!  Here's how it happened:

I was commuting between Kansas State University and KC (going home from my PhD class) on Thursday, July 3rd, when I heard Robert Siegel interview JoAnn Falletta on the NPR program "All Things Considered."You can listen to it HERE.  I was struck by Mr. Siegel's comparison of "should we care about symphonic literature" to "the tallest skyscraper in Topeka, KS."  Ironically, I was driving past that very same skyscraper when the story aired.

I went home and, after really thinking about what I wanted to say, I wrote the following response:

Dear ATC,

I was intrigued by your story today on the "Great American Symphony" with guest JoAnn Falletta. In it, Mr. Siegel and Maestra Falletta debate the fate of our American Symphonic history. I was especially surprised, if not taken aback, by Mr. Siegel's comment comparing the Great American Symphony to the "tallest skyscraper in Topeka, Kansas."

Ironically enough, I happened to be driving past the very same skyscraper in Topeka when he made that comment. I am currently working toward my PhD in Education at Kansas State University (with a Music Education Cognate). I commute to and from a Kansas City suburb, where I teach high school orchestra. And, I am a composer, an American composer with dozens of published works for bands and orchestras, including three symphonies.

I wanted you to know that music educators across this country are instilling in our students the importance of our American musical heritage. It may not be the "Great American Novel" nor the "Great American Movie," but it is alive and kicking and growing and changing from generation to generation. Granted, not everyone can write like Barber, Copland, or Ellington, but there are those of us who are teaching the next generation of composers through our very own "American" music. My second symphony for strings, for example, utilizes American Folks Tunes from the American Great Plains, the "Wild" West, and the deep South. Yes, it is "European" in form, but at its core, it is American music. 

I'm not sure exactly why Mr. Siegel's "skyscraper" comment caught my attention, but I guess that it speaks to the attitude that somehow American classical music is an oddity, a relic of bygone eras that fail to garner the fame and accolades of more popular music. Mostly, I wanted him to know that American music is being composed all over this country by amazing living composers (John Adams, Tobias Picker, and Michael Daugherty come to mind immediately), and by those of us who want nothing more than to write music that inspires young people to pick up the mantle of music creation and to make it their own.

Thank you for sharing this article with the NPR audience.


Jeffrey S. Bishop
Educator, Composer, NPR Listener

I didn't expect a response, but was pleasantly surprised by an email from ATC producer Rob Ballenger asking if they could have permission to use my letter on today's episode.  Moreover, I was struck at how even-handed they were in reading my response.  And, at the end of the story, they played a portion of my second symphony for strings, "An American Folk Symphony."  You can listen to the segment HERE.

I am deeply humbled and honored to have had the chance to advocate for America's music educators on a program that I greatly enjoy and admire.

I've got to admit, I'm feeling rather proud to be an undead, American composer today!

Happy Fourth of July!