A Musician “Dreams of Flying”

Photos by Lindsay Lozon; hair and makeup by Paul Langill; styled and co-ordinated by Liz Parker.

Experiences of the world are just as important to musicians as practicing and performing. For composers, it is even more important, as experiences feed ideas, and ideas are sometimes most aptly expressed as music.

Rob Teehan captures the feeling of exhilaration and elation that young musicians feel when they experience a break-through in their musical lives in an orchestral piece entitled “Dreams of Flying”. The piece was written for the National Youth Orchestra of Canada (NYOC), who performed and recorded it in 2009.

“Dreaming you can fly is a metaphor for dreaming that you can be a musician and living that dream. I was in the National Youth Orchestra once when I was younger. I remember being there and you feel like you’ve stepped up, and you’re in this new level of success. You’re surrounded by people like you, gunning for it, professional faculty supporting you, and everyone’s basically there saying, ‘Go, go, go, you can do this! You can have a career!’ I channeled that energy into a musical composition, and it was very well received by the members of the orchestra.”

The National Youth Orchestra captured the essence of the piece in their recording in 2009 so well that it earned two JUNO nominations: one for the album and one for Teehan’s composition. To top it all off, Teehan also had the enviable position of being the youngest nominee in the composer category in the history of the Juno Awards.

“I always thought that eventually, if I keep working hard towards the goal, I would get a Juno-nomination. You apply and hope for the best. I just never expected it to happen that fast.”

Despite such accolade and recognition on the red carpet, Teehan has not enjoyed the same recognition from his peers in the music competition circuit. When asked about why this may have been the case, he reflected on the nature of composition competitions and juries:

“I guess one of the reasons why it got the nomination is that the jury for the JUNO award is comprised of a variety of musicians from different genres, and also conductors, record label executives, and other industry people. When I enter competitions that are judged solely by other composers, I rarely win, I think because they might hear me as too popular-sounding or conservative. But I’m not interested in strictly avant-garde music—I’m interested in connecting with a people on a basic level, telling a story, and appealing to a broad audience.”

The appeal of Teehan’s music to a diverse audience is reflective perhaps of his own diverse musical interest. First trained as a tuba player, Teehan has been developing a reputation as a sousaphone player that performs across a variety of genres. He had just returned from the Zlane Uste Golden Festival in New York, which featured brass bands that performs Balkan and eastern European music, and he is an active member of many bands including The Heavyweights Brass Band, The Boxcar Boys, and The Lemon Bucket Orkestra.

His performing career has occupied so much of his time that he has had to put his personal composition projects on the back burner. At the moment, he focuses his compositional efforts on commissions, such as the two short films that he scored last year, writing and arranging songs for his bands, as well as his residency with Sinfonia Toronto this year.

“I haven’t written a full orchestra piece since ‘Dream of Flying’. Since 2009, I also shifted the focus back towards my performing career, which has really taken off. Playing the sousaphone has allowed me to play bass lines for all these different bands in different jazz, folks, and world music styles.”

After a performance of this piece by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra last October, Teehan is very excited about the performance of his piece by the Sneak Peek Orchestra in February. He’s excited not only because it is so difficult for new works to get performed after a premiere, but also because of his long connection to Sneak Peek Orchestra as one of the first tuba players.

“For me, SPO is inspiring, for a lot of the same sort of reasons that the NYOC is inspiring. You go into an environment that supports you as an emerging musician, and you feel that this is something special and of a totally different league. When I was in SPO rehearsals that were self-organized, music written by members of orchestra and conducted by one of us, then performing to a packed house, it was the same feeling, but a little bit different. It wasn’t like ‘I’m getting trained’, it was ‘Here I am, and we’re DOING it, and look at what we’ve built!”

Join us on February 4th, 2012 for a performance of “Dreams of Flying” by the members of Sneak Peek Orchestra under the direction of Victor Cheng. You’ll hear for yourself the music that was written for young orchestral players, echoing their shared dreams of becoming the musicians of tomorrow.