OWOSSO — The assistant band director at Owosso High School has created the first-ever concert band arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Fantasia in C.”
International music publishing company Alfred Music has featured Jordan Sterk’s arrangement of Bach’s baroque organ work in its 2017-18 band catalog. The piece has already gained the attention of a professional wind symphony, which is planning to perform it during a prestigious international music conference in December.
“Owosso’s superior reputation for the arts attracts the best instructors, and Mr. Sterk is unsurpassed not only instructionally, but as a leader in his profession,” Superintendent Dr. Andrea Tuttle said. “His accomplishments as an arranger and instructor are a gift to the music world and to our Owosso students.”
Sterk, 27, the high school’s assistant band director for four years, said he is devoted to teaching, and enjoys composing and arranging as a hobby. It took him six months to create the arrangement, written for 20 to 30 instruments. He said he chose “Fantasia in C” because of its interesting counterpoints and rhythmic twists, characteristic of a Bach work.
He submitted the piece to Alfred Music by regular mail — just one among the thousands of unsolicited submissions received by the publisher. A couple months later, Sterk received a call from Robert Sheldon, the internationally recognized music clinician in charge of Alfred Music’s band catalog, who told him he was impressed by the arrangement and wanted to publish it.
“Initially, it was pretty shocking,” Sterk said. “It’s a very high honor to be published by an international publishing company such as Alfred.”
“Fantasia in C” is probably not going to make Sterk wealthy, though that depends on how popular the score becomes. Under Sterk’s agreement with Alfred Music, he will receive 10 percent of sales. The print version is offered on Alfred’s website for $68.
But no matter what happens, Sterk said, he plans to hold on to his day job.
“I love teaching in Owosso,” he said. “I have the best students, the best administrative support and the best colleagues. But it’s neat to have a little side project.”
Sterk’s colleagues include Jillian Kowalczyk, the head high school band director and Mike Tolrud, band director at Owosso Middle School.
“The fine arts program in Owosso is unmatched by many in the state due to the leadership of our three band directors,” Tuttle said.
Sterk believes the experience of creating a complex musical arrangement will enhance his ability to teach effectively.
“I’ve lived life on the other side now,” Sterk said. “When I look at scores of pieces I’m considering for Owosso, I can better understand what the arranger had in mind, and by extension, teach it better.”
Sterk grew up in Traverse City, but often came to Owosso to visit relatives. In fact, his mother attended Owosso High School, playing clarinet in the marching band. Sterk played the baritone horn in Traverse City Central High School’s marching band, and wrote his first compositions with support from his band director.
For five years at Michigan State University, Sterk was a member of the Spartan Marching Band. A music education major, he continued to compose while also learning music theory and creating arrangements for small horn ensembles.
“I worked to broaden my skills and musical vocabulary,” he said. “I learned the principles of orchestration, for example which instruments blend together and sound kind of homogeneous.”
Sterk’s arrangement of “Fantasia in C” was “the sum of many years of studying the craft of music,” he said. Not long after it was published last April, the director of the Virginia Wind Symphony emailed Sterk to ask if he planned to attend the Midwest Clinic in Chicago, where the symphony will perform “Fantasia in C” on Dec. 21.
“That was a real shocker,” Sterk said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. I wrote him back and said, ‘I guess I’m going now.’”
The Virginia Wind Symphony is composed of professional musicians, military musicians, public and private school teachers, and independent music instructors, and is dedicated to playing the finest original and transcribed wind literature available.
The Midwest Clinic in Chicago is an international conference held annually, providing an opportunity for band and orchestra directors to improve their instruction by listening to performances by professionals such as the Virginia Wind Symphony.
“This is the first time I’ll hear it live,” said Sterk, who will be accompanied by wife Brittany Sterk. “For it to be performed by a band of that caliber onstage — it’s going to be pretty unbelievable.”