Washington State University music professor Greg Yasinitsky isn’t interested in composing pieces that sit on a shelf. But if his framed scores hang on the wall once in a while, that’s okay.
Yasinitsky, the composer-in-residence at Lincoln Middle School, dedicated “Room 806” to out-going principal Bill Motsenbocker. At the final concert of the year in late May, Motsenbocker received a copy of the score signed by the entire Lincoln Middle School jazz band.
“I was more honored by that than I think by anything I’ve ever received,” Motsenbocker said later. “I’m a life-long lover of music. I can’t imagine life with out it.” So, he said, to have Yasinitsky dedicate a jazz chart to him that will be published and played around the world is incredible.
Greg Yasinitsky works with the Lincoln Middle School jazz band.
Yasinitsky and Lincoln Middle School band director Joe Covill said they wanted to give the score to Motsenbocker in recognition of and appreciation for his support of music programs.
“He’s been an incredible source of support for the music program over he past 11 years that he’s been here,” said Covill. “That’s why we wanted to do something really nice for him.”
Music for all
Lincoln Middle School has a long-standing policy that requires every sixth grade student to enroll in either a vocal or instrumental music class. But behind the scenes Motsenbocker has supported the program in myriad ways, from finding funding for special projects to showing up not only at every concert, but often stopping by the band room — Room 806 — just to listen.
Motsenbocker, is leaving Pullman to become superintendent of Liberty School District, which serves the communities of Fairfield, Latah, Plaza, Spangle, Mt. Hope, and Waverly, in south Spokane County. He said he has long believed that music is essential in a middle school curriculum, not an extra.
“Every child in the school system has to experience something that they can do well, if not better than most,” he said. “That’s what they hang their hat on; it’s what they can build their self-confidence on.”
That self-confidence was fully apparent during the jazz band’s final concert of the year when the group performed the world premiere of both “Room 806” and “Muscle Car,” another Yasinitsky chart. The standing-room-only crowd responded with enthusiastic applause and loud cheers. (To hear an audio clip of the band and comments from Yasinitsky, click here.
Yasinitsky, a professor of music and head of the jazz department at WSU, is a prolific composer. A week after the middle school concert, Yasinitsky’s newly commissioned jazz mass was premiered by St. Paul’s Vocal Jazz Quartet in Salem, Ore. A few weeks before that, Yasinitsky’s work was featured in a concert at Louisiana State University. He has composed for some of the biggest names in jazz, including drummer Louie Bellson and trumpeter Clark Terry.
“It’s important that the music I write gets used,” Yasinitsky said, and it is rare that he writes a piece without knowing where and when it will be performed. “I’ve always had more requests for music than I have time to write it.”
New York connection
His work with Lincoln Middle School is supported by The Commission Project, a New York-based nonprofit that funds composer-in-residence programs in more than 25 schools, from elementary school to college.
Yasinitsky said he enjoys working with middle school students and with band director Covill. Covill, who also writes music for his students, instructs sixth, seventh and eighth grade concert bands, a sixth grade jazz band, a seventh and eighth grade jazz band and a jazz ensemble. That works out to about 170 individual students, and about 100 of those are in both concert band and jazz band.
“Joe is pretty exceptional,” Motsenbocker said. “If you’ve listened to other student groups, you’ll know, the kids in Joe’s band play much better than kids in other middle schools.”
Having Yasinitsky work with Lincoln Middle School offers students a deeper understanding of the creative process, of why composers make the decisions they do.
“You don’t get that when you buy a chart off the internet,” he said.