Hopewell Valley Central HS Jazz Band

Composing for school music programs is such an amazing experience. I try to make it as interactive as possible, and the results have been rewarding. In 2013, I’m lucky to have received commissions from three high schools: Hopewell Valley Central High School (Pennington, NJ), Central Bucks High School West (Doylestown, PA), and Kittatinny Regional High School (Newton, NJ).

Hopewell Valley Central HS Jazz BandHopewell Valley commissioned me early in the year to write a jazz band chart for their 2013 spring concert and jazz festivals. The piece is called “Strolling,” and it’s a mostly 3/4 swing tune that creates the feeling of walking outside on a nice day. We did a Skype rehearsal with David Schwartzer’s band, and everyone was open to the whole process of creating a non-traditional jazz band chart.

Same!For Central Bucks West, I’m writing a wind ensemble piece.  Before writing a single-note, I like to ask the director about his ensemble, the type of music he programs, and ideas for the commission. The only note Neil Delson, band director at CB West, had for me was that he likes melody. To quote Gob in season four of Arrested Development, “Same!”

Kittatinny’s jazz band call themselves the “K-Train.” When I found out their name in an email conversation with jazz band director Jarred Matthes, I signed off my email saying “All Aboard!”

As soon as I hit “send,” I knew I had the title for my piece.

Though I moved to Los Angeles to be a film composer, I love being a part of a community that got me into music in the first place. I had a lot of fun working with Hopewell Valley, and can’t wait to get it going with Central Bucks West and Kittatinny Regional.

If you’re a band director and haven’t commissioned a new work before, shoot me an email and we’ll talk about the process.  I’ll do my best to explain what an amazing experience it can be for your school music program.

All Aboard!


The Beginning

How would you react to the beginning of the end?

Sarah (played by Hunger Games actress Stef Dawson), a young artist based out of Los Angeles, finds herself confronted with issues no person in the prime of their life should ever have to face.

Coming home from a unsuccessful meeting Sarah finds herself in the midst of chaos that has sprung up quickly and enveloped all of Los Angeles. She escapes the carnage, but just barely. Safe and sound at home Sarah soon discovers that she didn’t escape completely unscathed. She has been bitten. A minor inconvenience until an announcement foretells that bite wounds are no trifling matter.

In a state of shock and denial Sarah tries to continue on as if nothing were amiss until the obvious fallacy of her pre-drawn conclusion begins to stare her in the face. As Sarah’s physical state begins to diminish she is forced to have to come to grips with her own mortality and come to the great understanding of life; that all life eventually ends in death.

A personal story and memoir of death, The Beginning is a deeply emotional tale that follows a character through their own personal anguish and reflection. In this world, it is the beginning of the end.

I met Justin back in September when the film was in pre-production. Besides being fascinated with Zombies (it can happen…maybe not rise from the grave type, but more of a 28 Days Later type of scenario…what? You don’t think it can happen?? Well, don’t come looking for me when you’re trying to survive the zombie apocalypse!), I liked that it followed the mind of one character as she goes through a range of emotions that lead to her imminent reanimation.

From a scoring perspective, everything came from Sarah’s point of view. The score is mostly strings and piano combined with a drone plugin that’s based on what’s put into it. While the instruments represent her current emotional state, the drone and other processing represents her fear of what’s out there. The result is a psychological score that mixes of classical scoring, extended techniques, and digital music processing.

Watch The Beginning by Justin Ashcraft

The Beginning from Justin Ashcraft on Vimeo.