Grammy-Nominated University Of Miami Trumpet Teacher Explains His Unique Performance Style

Feb 6, 2019

Frost School of Music associate professor of trumpet Craig Morris is nominated for a Grammy in the "Best Instrumental Classical Solo Performance" category, for his arrangement of influential composer Philip Glass’ "Three Pieces in the Shape of a Square," which includes moving around a geometric shape while playing his trumpet. 

Morris was attracted to the repetition in Glass' piece and its ability to take listeners on a musical journey. He will be performing part of it during the 61st Grammy Awards pre-show on Sunday. He spoke to Luis Hernandez on Sundial about his music and getting the Grammy nomination. And he performed live in studio. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.

WLRN: What was the initial response when you found out you were nominated for a GRAMMY? 

MORRIS: I was trying to get out the door to go teach that morning and forgot they were announcing them that day. I didn't know what kind of chance [the album] might have. There's a huge number of recordings in that category. I was on the way out the door and I got a text message from my wife and I just had to stop for a second. Wait a minute. What? It was a huge surprise.

Remind people [about] Philip Glass and his contributions.

Philip Glass is a widely known as a minimalist composer. He was one of the founders of this musical movement, which is based on lots of repetition and simple music ideas that happen over a long piece of time and he's known more popularly through film scores. He's been a very prominent opera composer, but I think his film scores are how most people might know him.

Let's talk about this piece. I'm fascinated by trying to understand how it works. The performers are not static and you're performing as you move around.

There are two pieces on the album that are from a concert in 1968 that Glass put on when he first came back from France. When he came back to New York he really disavowed all of his earlier work and then started writing heavily influenced by these Indian rhythms that he had been working with. And this eventually delved into this minimalism. Another idea he had at the time was to write out the music skipping every other staff ... setting up the music in some sort of geometric pattern. In this case a square and laying the music around that geometric pattern and then having the performer or performers move around the space as they're reading the music.

At the Grammys this Sunday I am performing a reduced version [of the arrangement I was nominated for] -- but if you do the whole thing live it would look like this: you have two performers, [they stand across from eachother] and they move around a 10-foot square in opposite directions and [they perform] the music. As the [performance continues], they start moving apart. And what's interesting about this particular piece is as they move apart the music is identical (in unison). And then as they move apart, the parts become more and more divergent. So when they're roughly halfway around the square, they've become very divergent. [At the end] they end up crossing. As they finish the trip around the square the original material (melody) starts coming back in reverse. Sort of like a giant palindrome.

Watch Craig Morris' live performance at the WLRN Studios.