Strata was commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Brass Quintet and completed on January 1, 1999. It is dedicated to the American Brass Quintet in celebration of their 30th year in residence at the Aspen Music Festival. The work is comprised of three movements and has a performance time of sixteen minutes.
Having composed two quintets previously for the American Brass Quintet, Morning Music and Distant Voices, I began the third with a desire to expand upon what I had already written, yet refer to the other two. As a result, I chose to begin the first movement with the trumpeters playing flügelhorns as I did in my first quintet Morning Music. While this darker texture was a nod to the earlier quintet, Strata begins with slowly shifting harmonies and no themes or counterpoint, in direct contrast to Morning Music. The music of LaMonte Young influenced this section because of a series of recent performances I was involved in as a trumpeter with Young’s ensemble. Following this meditative music is a rhythmic and pointillistic section with the trumpeters now on trumpets but in Harmon mute, the trombones in straight mute, and muted horn. Motives abound and there is much playful interaction between all five players.
The second movement is an introspective dirge with no direct thematic connection to either quintet but similar emotional content to both. There is also a hint at the techniques of Arvo Pärt with close harmonies and restricted material. The texture is again dark because of flügelhorns and the bass trombone is featured with an extended solo in the middle of the movement. As the third movement begins, we hear for the first time a trumpet unmuted followed by the rest of the group in a freely shaped introduction. Slightly jazzy material is then heard which is developed during the rest of the movement. Reminiscent of the James Agee movement of Distant Voices, it ends with one final fortissimo riff.


Sonata Forty, for horn and piano, was commissioned by Scott Brubaker and the International Horn Society. Completed on February 2, 1992, the title and composition were inspired by my fortieth birthday. This birthday along with my twenty-first and thirtieth, was a transitional one. As it approached, I found myself becoming increasingly agitated with thoughts of dreams unfulfilled, countless failures, missed opportunities and questions concerning what direction my life should take now. Even though I had read that this “taking stock” period was very common around this age, it surprised me that the emotions were so powerfully disturbing. I spent a great deal of effort sorting through basic questions of time, vulnerability and choices. When I began writing this horn sonata for Scott, this working out process flowed directly into the composition and presented me with a natural form. The movements portray the progression from crisis to inner doubts and shadows to the cherished memories and finally to a resolution of building on the past and moving on. Coincidently, I found out later that Scott also celebrated his fortieth birthday around the time I was writing this work. It makes the title and subject matter seem even more appropriate.


Morning Music for brass quintet was written during the summer of 1986 for the American Brass Quintet. It is a sequel to a previous work of mine titled In Memoriam: W.E.S. for woodwind quintet written in 1981 and premiered by the Dorian Wind Quintet. The subject of that piece was the murder of my brother, William Evan Sampson, by the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazis in 1979. Morning Music deals with my thoughts and feelings seven years later. As you will hear, the anguish over the death is as intense as ever, but strength and hope will gradually emerge from the despair. The work is one movement with clearly delineated sections ending with a fast-paced coda. I have dedicated Morning Music to my mother, Betty Sampson, whose optimism and resiliency have been an inspiration to me.


Just Keep Moving was written as part of a concept album titled Chesapeake (Summit DCD 639). The album features the American Brass Quintet with two additional performers on percussion and piano. It is conceived as if one were attending a recital of the ABQ performing Breakaway for two trumpets and electronics, then Powell Trio for trombone, marimba and piano followed by Three Sides for trumpet, vibraphone and piano. Just Keep Moving is next with four movements of varied techniques and moods concluding with a wild drive to the climactic end. The title was suggested by a comment made by my mother, Betty, years before the creation of Just Keep Moving on how to deal with adversity and loss: “never stop, just keep moving”. The album or recital concludes with Chesapeake for brass quintet which aurally depicts three sailing trips on the Chesapeake Bay.


On the morning of November 3, 1979, a caravan of cars and vans occupied by members of the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazis drove to Morningside Homes, a residential development in Greensboro, NC, where an anti – Klan demonstration with approximately one hundred participants was forming. When the caravan arrived, heckling soon escalated into physical violence, culminating with the Klan and Nazis opening up their trunks and withdrawing shotguns and high powered rifles. They fired into the crowd. Eighty – eight seconds later, five demonstrators lay dead or dying. One of them was my brother, William Evan Sampson. In Memoriam: W.E.S. was an an attempt a year and a half after the murders to express my personal feelings about the tragedy. The music to this day pales compared to the actual pain, anger, fear and disillusionment. But, it served as a catharsis and continues to be an expression of my great love for my brother.