CURRENTS IN TIME showcases the profundity of the human voice in a prime selection of a cappella and subtly orchestrated compositions, whose lyrical foundations are as diverse as the emotional states transported. Featured on the album is composer Jason Huffman’s Sea Calm, Moonlight Night, Island, a three movement work collectively expressing a constant, sometimes-invisible struggle against forces that can seem irresistible, but can be fought through transgenerational resilience.
Today, Jason is our featured artist in “The Inside Story,” a blog series exploring the inner workings and personalities of our composers and performers. Read on to learn about the Hadyn concerto that sparked his artistic journey, and the daring maneuvers he pulled off for a performance at Harvard…
When did you realize that you wanted to be an artist?
I didn’t grow up in a musical family and it wasn’t until high school that I started exploring classical music in any kind of depth. And that happened through the instrument I had started playing in grade school, the trumpet. A performance of an arrangement of Haydn’s trumpet concerto in band led to me searching for the score and laboriously entering the entire thing into the extremely basic music notation software that came with the soundcard to my computer. This led to my own experiments in that software and eventually a series of concertos for orchestral instruments that got me into the undergrad composition program at Oberlin a few years later.
Who was your first favorite artist(s) growing up?
Having started playing the trumpet, I was naturally drawn to the composers who wrote the best parts for the brass family that I had easy access to recordings for, Bruckner and especially Mahler being my early obsessions that led to Sibelius and Pettersson later. I was an active member on an early Mahler listserv that eventually led to me attending the Colorado Mahler Fest. Because of my financial situation at the time, the festival planners allowed me to be the orchestra manager for the week and covered my lodging, and I got to play a performance of an early version of the first symphony and Das Lied von der Erde.
What was your most unusual performance, or the most embarrassing thing that happened to you during a performance?
In 2008, Harvard awarded Ted Kennedy an honorary doctorate and as part of the ceremony, a fanfare, written for these occasions, was to be performed from a very narrow walkway at the very top of Sanders Hall. In order to get to this space, we needed to put on a harness to climb a very tall ladder and slowly hoist all of our instruments up after (no small feat as we were using fanfare trumpets which have extremely long bells).
If you could spend creative time anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
My happy places are mostly in the parts of Scandinavia above the arctic circle, with the Lofoten Islands in Norway having special meaning for me as a place I spent a month composing and exploring with a good friend, and later another few weeks on my honeymoon.
If you could instantly have expertise performing one instrument, what instrument would that be?
Piano. Having started on a brass instrument, not having as much proficiency on keyboard instruments has been both the most frustrating and most liberating instrumental deficiency of mine. Though I think it has ultimately been a boon to the formation of my sound as a composer, I wouldn’t mind trying it all over again with this skill in my pocket.
What does this album mean to you personally?
The songs of mine on this album had been churning around in my head since I first found them as part of a school project and they were the first words I had ever set to music after having written quite a bit of instrumental chamber and orchestral music. For a long time they have sat dormant in my catalog since they were first performed on my senior recital at Oberlin, as I did not have funds at the time to properly get the rights to the Langston Hughes poems and I would not come back to pursuing composing until many years later after exploring architecture. This album reconnected me to these early works and for that I am extremely grateful.