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Music career started with $5 request
Frederick Taylor plays his bass trombone recently in Casper, Wyo. Eleven years ago, Taylor created the Brass & Storm Door Company, an ensemble of brass and percussion musicians that is quite possibly the only band of its kind in Wyoming.

CASPER - Every sonata, Fred Taylor will tell you, has three parts: exposition, development and recapitulation.

The first section builds, note by note, through tonic and dominant keys, a theme that defines the whole work. The exposition is critical, setting up the whole life of the piece - where it will go, what it will become.

As Taylor, the bass trombonist for the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra, explained, the harmonic possibilities of the theme both unfold and are contrasted in the second section, development.

Perfectly rendered, a swarming resolution of notes returns to the tonic key in recapitulation, back to the starting theme.

Like life, all music sets up expectations that are either confirmed or denied. As a composer, as a man who has lived music, Taylor knows this.

Eleven years ago, Taylor created the Brass & Storm Door Company, an ensemble of brass and percussion musicians.

But before the company, before he joined the Symphony as a trombonist and assistant conductor, before he wrote nearly 600 original compositions and arrangements, there was a boy who discovered an instrument and received some remarkable advice. There was exposition, development, recapitulation.

Exposition

On a chilly December morning in 1951, a 13-year-old Fred Taylor pedaled down his newspaper delivery route on his black three-speed Raleigh bike, whistling while he went.

At 6:30 a.m., it was still dark outside when he reached the final house on his route in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. - a great big house that barely could be seen from the main road. Like every other day, Taylor cycled down the long, winding pathway up to front door of that final house.

But this time, the owner came outside. "I heard you whistling," the man said as Taylor moved a newspaper from his bike basket to the rack on the front porch.

"I'm sorry if I woke you up, sir," Taylor replied.

"Oh, no, it's quite all right, I always know when the paper's coming because you're always whistling or singing something. Do you sing in a choir?"

"Yes. I sing in school and I sing in church, too."

"Do you play any instruments?"

"Well, I just started to learn the trombone. I can play about six notes."

"Do you ever write down what you play?"

"Sometimes I'll make myself a staff and write it down so I can remember it."

"Wait here," the man replied. He turned and walked back into the house. Taylor peeked around the open door, and caught a glimpse of the largest piano he had ever seen, at the end of a long hallway. The man appeared again and put a $5 bill in Taylor's hand.

"I want you to buy a ream of manuscript paper so you don't have to write out a staff every time."

Taylor thanked him for the money, and the man told him to get on his way so he wouldn't be late for school. Then, he said something that would guide the future trombonist later in life: "Always remember that the essence of all great art is simplicity."

Development

Growing up in New York, Taylor sang and played under the direction of masters such as Arturo Toscanini, Aaron Copland and Igor Stravinsky - the greats of the last century, men who revolutionized music forever.

His grandfather gave him his first trombone when he was 13.

Taylor steadily pursued voice and trombone in his younger years, completing degrees in conducting and music education from universities in Indiana and Ohio. He met his wife, Connie, while singing Mendelssohn's "Elijah" at the University of Dayton. She was his accompanist on piano.

The Taylors ended up in Wyoming by chance in 1980. While on vacation, exploring a snowy Saratoga, they came across a small, nondescript building labeled "Carbon County Superintendent's Office."

Taylor walked inside and asked the secretary if the county needed a music teacher. They were looking for two.

The superintendent offered the Taylors jobs that same day. They would teach in Hanna, population 900, for six years - he as the band director, she as the choir director.

Music was expensive, so Fred composed music of his own for the students to play - always keeping it simple.

He once composed an entire coronation march for the school's homecoming around three notes. All the parts the middle and high schoolers played were written around the third trumpet, played by one of Taylor's students who was dyslexic.

Taylor said he wanted the boy to be able to feel the joy of making music. The three trumpet notes looked the same forward and backward. No matter how he read the music or looked at his instrument, the boy would play it right.

When the coal mines in Hanna shut down, so did the school.

The Taylors moved to Casper, where Fred joined the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra.

Artcore director Carolyn Deuel approached Taylor in 1998 when the arts group sought to showcase more local talent.

"When I asked Fred to do a show, we didn't know what he would come up with because he's a singer, a trombonist and a composer," Deuel said.

Rather than develop a simple solo work, Taylor created the Brass & Storm Door Company, starting with 15 brass musicians and one percussionist.

Recapitulation

On Christmas Eve, several weeks after the 13-year-old Taylor delivered papers to the man at the end of the winding road, the future trombonist, his parents and his little sister gathered around their 10-inch black-and-white television to watch the premiere of "Amahl and the Night Visitors," the first opera composed for American television. It would become a Christmas classic.

Before the performance began, Gian Carlo Menotti, the Italian-born composer who wrote more than two dozen operas and won two Pulitzer Prizes in his lifetime, appeared on screen to introduce his opera.

"Mom! That's the Mr. Menotti who gave me the $5!"

Menotti moved to Paris after the television opera aired, and Taylor never saw him again. But he never forgot what Menotti said: The essence of all great art is simplicity.

In a way, Fred Taylor's career began that December in 1951. He's come from only knowing six notes to conducting orchestras and directing a choir.

When he composes, he writes on manuscripts at his kitchen table. He can hear the music, all parts together, without touching a piano. This is normal, he said, just something he learned - like riding a bike or driving a car.

Some works, such as liturgical hymns, take 12 minutes to write. Others, like his symphony, take 2½ years.

But in everything he writes, simplicity is the through line.

His piece "Wilderness Ode" is based on the idea of open space, with a straightforward overture and basic melody. His symphony starts and ends with a single clarinet, floating above the strings.

"With Fred, it's very interesting that (his works) are, on paper, very sparse as far as not having millions and millions of notes. But when the whole thing comes together, it's beautifully done," said Deuel.

Some of Taylor's friends have asked him why he stayed in Wyoming, why he hasn't returned to a larger music city.

"The air is clear, and when I go to the grocery store people say, "Hi, Fred." If your car gets broken down, the next guy with a truck to come by will pick you up. I haven't had to lock my front door in 28 years.

"I'm doing the things that I love to do. I have a symphony to play in, I have a choir to direct, everything I write gets played. Why wouldn't I like doing what I'm doing?"

At 70, Taylor has plans to write more church music, compose an opera and a ballet, and finish a trombone concerto for a friend at the New York Philharmonic. He got three more contracts in the mail recently from a California publisher who wants several of his works.

Once a sonata reaches recapitulation, it's over. But where a sonata has three parts, a symphony has four. The sonata is really just the first part of the symphony. A slow movement, minuet or scherzo, allegro or rondo are still to come.

Copyright © 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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