Composer James Curnow is reciting his upcoming commission and conducting engagements — so many of them that he says, "I know I'm forgetting something in there."
In a world where most composers have to beat down doors for engagements, the Nicholasville-based writer has never wanted for work. In the brass band world, Curnow is virtually a household name.
But even some Kentucky brass band aficionados probably don't know how close he lives to them.
Sunday's concert by the Lexington Brass Band, with the Cincinnati Brass Band and Derby City Brass Band as guests, aims to drive that point home and honor a distinguished artist.
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"We have a tendency to wait until people are pushing up daisies to say, 'We had a great man in out midst,'" Lexington Brass Band director Ron Holz says. "Why not do it now, while he's fit and trim and can even conduct?"
Curnow, 67, says, "It's wonderful that they would do that for me. It's like a gift."
The concert will feature each band performing on its own and then a combined finale, with 100 players onstage. It will include some of Curnow's best-known music, including his Olympic Fanfare and Theme for the Olympic Flag, first heard at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Curnow will take up the baton for a piece by each group.
There was a lot of Curnow music to choose from because he has been composing since he was a high school student in Royal Oak, Mich.
"I had all the music in my head and I could write it down," said Curnow, who played trombone and euphonium. "I knew counterpoint, I knew harmonic structures, but I didn't know what they were until I went to college and took theory. It just came out of a passion to write."
At Wayne State University in Detroit, that passion came in handy when he agreed to write arrangements for the marching band on the condition that he didn't have to march.
Curnow says that composing for brass bands was a big help in staying busy, as opposed to orchestral composition, in which new works are fewer and farther between.
"The door is more open," he says. "Concert bands and brass bands always want new music."
And they want Curnow's music.
"Jim's music is accessible to the average listener. ... The average listener says, 'I connect with this.' Performers love the music because it challenges them, and he writes so well for the instruments," Holz says. "He makes the ensemble sound good.
"His music has great emotive content that speaks to the mind and the heart, and he has a generally positive outlook on life that I think comes from his Christian beliefs."
Curnow first came to Kentucky to teach at Asbury College, now Asbury University. He then was a composer in residence at Georgia State University, and from there, he taught at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
When he reached a point when he could live where he wanted, he chose to come back to Central Kentucky, where his children had settled and where he had enjoyed living in the 1970s.
And although he travels the world to conduct and hear the premieres of his works, Holz says, Curnow has been a solid citizen of the Central Kentucky music world, even winning the composer of the year award from the Kentucky Music Educators Association and the National Music Educators Association in 1997.
"He's been a great supporter of the band," Holz says. "We have performed his music over the years, but we never did a whole concert of his work. It was time to honor him."