An Open Letter to CCSD Regarding Proposed Music Education Cuts

An Open Letter to Superintendent Matt Reilly and the Cazenovia Central School District Board,

Although it is hard for me to believe, it has been nearly ten years since I’ve left the familiar, comforting halls of Cazenovia High School and ventured off into the ‘real world.’ Over these past ten years, I have pursued a career as a professional musician. In that time, I have toured South America with a college choir, worked as an arts administrator with one of the leading classical music publishers, and have held artist residencies in New York, Pennsylvania, and Portugal, among other places. Music I’ve composed has been performed on stages and screens throughout the world, most recently at the prestigious Symphony Hall in Birmingham, England, widely considered to be one of the finest concert halls in the world.

I know I am not alone in this success, friends and fellow classmates of mine from Cazenovia have continued to pursue music in a variety of professional contexts. Scott McCreary, Class of ’07, recently completed a run as Robbie Gould in the national tour of the musical, Dirty Dancing, and performed on NBC’s The Sing-Off, Season 2, as a member of the internationally renown Yale Whiffenpoofs. Matthew Abernathy, Class of ‘09, is finishing up his Masters in Conducting at the internationally known University of Michigan. Countless others have dedicated themselves to music education, becoming teachers in Central New York and beyond, educating the next generation of young musicians.

The foundation of this success has been our time in the music programs at Cazenovia schools. I worked closely with Ellen Dougherty and Kathy Dinardo as a student. While I wish them nothing but the best in their retirement, their leaving represents a tremendous loss to Cazenovia’s musical community. I strongly urge the board to find worthwhile replacements for both positions to continue Cazenovia’s strong tradition of music education.

As a student at Cazenovia, I was blessed with the opportunity to participate in the concert band, middle school band, fifth and sixth grade band, middle school choir, concert choir, orchestra, and the middle school and high school musicals. I wrote and performed my own songs at Common Grounds cafe and participated in a variety other musical groups. I spent my Saturdays in the bleachers cheering on our football team with the pep band and spent my holiday seasons singing around Cazenovia and Central New York with the chamber choir. Since leaving Cazenovia, I have watched with great pride, as the music program, under the leadership of Teresa Campbell, has not only maintained this level of opportunity but has continued to grow, with the creation of an audition only wind ensemble and the construction of new music facilities. This investment in music education should be celebrated and honored.

When I was a student, I took these experiences for granted. It wasn’t until I left Cazenovia that I realized how unique my time there was. I’ve worked as teaching artist in schools in the United States and England without strong music programs and have seen students adrift, desperate for that special spark that music education can provide. Cazenovia must continue the investment in our own young people’s music educational experience to prevent this from happening in our own schools. By Superintendent Reilly’s own admission, as quoted in the Cazenovia Republican, proposed budget cuts “will effect” the music programs in Cazenovia. (Cazenovia Republican, 3/28/16)

We mustn’t take for granted the truly special place that we’ve created in Cazenovia. I understand that taxes are always too high and the need to save money is always present. I understand that economic times are tough and difficult decisions need to be made in order to balance budgets and ensure the sustainability of Cazenovia Central School District. However, I implore you to run towards, not away, from what makes growing up in Cazenovia, NY a wonderfully unique experience. The depth and diversity of the music program in Cazenovia is something to be cherished and nurtured, something that all Cazenovians should be proud of. I strongly urge you to reconsider proposed cuts to the music program and to maintain the current level of investment for future generations of young Cazenovian musicians.


Christopher Cresswell
Composer/Sound Artist/Teaching Artist
Cazenovia High School
Class of 2006


Matt Reilly, Superintendent, Cazenovia Central School District
Jason Emerson, Editor, Cazenovia Republican
Eric Knuth, Principal, Cazenovia High School
Dr. Jean Regan, Principal, Cazenovia Middle School
Teresa Campbell, Fine Arts Director, Cazenovia High School
Kevin Johnson, Band Director, Cazenovia High School



2015 in Review

It has been another exciting year with successful premieres around the world. In addition, to starting an MMus in Composition at the Birmingham Conservatoire in Birmingham, UK, I had four major premieres in the United States and the United Kingdom. Two new chamber works, a still life in blue-green and From Dreams, We Emerge premiered in Syracuse, NY and San Francisco, CA. The sound installation, dis- and the orchestra work, A horizon intoxicates a body premiered in the United Kingdom. Learn more below: 

In May 2015, a still life in blue-green, premiered as part of Society for New Music's annual fundraising gala event. This event was streamed throughout the world and was included as part of the American Composer Forum's 40th Anniversary celebration. The work was premiered by the Society for New Music All-Stars. 

Over the summer I worked on a major new work for the San Francisco based group, Wild Rumpus. The eventual work, entitled From Dreams, We Emerge, premiered in October 2015 at the Berkeley Arts Festival in San Francisco. Cited as 'gorgeous' and 'enthralling', From Dreams, We Emerge is a 9 minute piece for bass flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, electric guitar, and electronics. 

 A photo from the rehearsal of   From Dreams, We Emerge  .

A photo from the rehearsal of From Dreams, We Emerge.

Also in October was the premiere of the sound installation dis- at The Eden Project in Cornwall, UK. The Eden Project is a nature sanctuary comprised of an outdoor garden and two biomes. dis- was installed inside the world's largest indoor rainforest! Commissioned by the National Union of Students, dis- was designed to disrupt the way listeners experienced The Eden Project's lush, beautiful surroundings. The field recordings were all collected from my final day living in New York City and were complemented by an electronic soundscape that slowly degraded. 

 A photo of the waterfall inside the rain forest biome at The Eden Project.

A photo of the waterfall inside the rain forest biome at The Eden Project.


November saw the premiere of my first orchestral work, A horizon intoxicates a body. Written for the Composer's Orchestra Project, the work premiered at the Adrian Bolt Hall in the Birmingham Conservatoire. Having the legendary Edwin Roxburgh conduct the work was a dream come true. It was a tremendous learning experience and a great chance to learn about orchestration. The work was written in September 2015 as I was preparing to move to the UK and reckons with the darker side of wanderlust. 

Upcoming Premieres in 2016

The upcoming year is already set to be one of my busiest years yet. I will begin 2016 in Portugal at the Estalgem Ponta del Sol residency in Madeira. I will be working alongside fellow new music and electronics enthusiasts. In addition to the upcoming residency, there are already a handful of premieres scheduled in March 2016 as part of Birmingham Conservatoire's Frontiers Festival. 

Just Imagine Commissioned by the Learning and Participation Department at the Birmingham Conservatoire, Just Imagine is being written for professional ensemble, student ensemble, and electronics. The work will be introduced by Julian Lloyd Webber and will premiere on March 7th at Symphony Hall in Birmingham and will receive at least one more additional performance in London in April. 

Thoughts of Carolina - The first work to be written entirely while in the United Kingdom, Thoughts of Carolina was written for the London based group, Project Instrumental. The work takes inspiration from James Taylor's Carolina in My Mind, (also written while James Taylor lived in the United Kingdom). 

Concerto for Recorder and String Quartet -  A concerto for recorder and string quartet, this is a new work that will also premiere as part of the Frontiers Festival. 

Two Preludes (For Holly) - Written in 2015 for pianist, and friend, Holly Roadfeldt, Two Preludes will premiere sometime in early 2016 as part of Holly's "Prelude Project". 

Walking into the Sprinkler - A song cycle for soprano, clarinet, viola, and harp, this will be premiered in April 2016 at the Birmingham Conservatoire.

That Went According to Plan

 This was where I stayed for those few days I stayed in Guyana.

This was where I stayed for those few days I stayed in Guyana.

The reason I haven't been updating about my adventure in Guyana is I haven't been on my adventure in Guyana. Unfortunately, a few days after I arrived in Guyana, I began having some unexpected medical issues and had to return home. I had surgery a month ago and have been recovering back home in Cazenovia. While the trip was obviously not what I expected, I did meet some wonderful people who are doing great work in Georgetown. We've discussed the possibility of me helping out from afar and we'll see what we can do. I hope to be able to work with them in the future, depending on how the recovery process goes. 

All of the money fundraised for my trip has been donated to the WorldTeach organization so they can continue their mission. Thank you again to all who donated! 

 Hanging out at the White House Gardens.

Hanging out at the White House Gardens.

In the meantime, I've begun working with Music Ascension again. We are continuing the mission of bring music education to underserved and special needs students in the New Jersey area. I've also taken the last few weeks to visit friends in NYC and DC. I even had a chance to tour the White House Gardens, which was a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to this new adventure, although it wasn't the adventure I planned on. 

Arriving in Guyana

I arrived in Guyana safe and sound. This morning I watched the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean. It was pretty awesome. 

 The view of the sunrise from my airline seat.

The view of the sunrise from my airline seat.

I've spent most of today catnapping and trying to understand Guyanan currency. I opened up a Stephen Dunn book that I picked up yesterday at The Strand in NYC. This was the first poem:

Solving the Puzzle

I couldn't make all the pieces fit
so I threw one away.

No expectation of success now,
none of that worry.

The remaining pieces seemed
to seek their companions.
A design appeared.

I could see the connection
between the overgrown path
and the dark castle on the hill.

Something in the middle, though,
was missing.

It would have been important once.
I wouldn't have been able to sleep
without it.

The Next Terrifying Thing

Since deciding to move to Guyana with WorldTeach I've heard variations on the phrase 'You're so brave!' and 'You're so adventurous', which is funny because I always joke about how I'm terrified of all things all the time. And it is true, I am scared of almost everything. Especially seaweed. 

I think a lot about an interview Ben Folds gave once. He was talking about his song, Still Fighting It. In the interview hew was talking about the birth of his son and how the process of being born must be terrifying for the baby. Then Folds realized that what he was about to embark on, the journey of being a father, was also terrifying. Essentially, we're all doing the next terrifying thing. 

So that's really it. It's not that I'm not terrified, life is about doing the next terrifying thing. As long as that next terrifying thing has nothing to do with seaweed. Or commitment. Not big on commitment either. 

Unpluggin the iPod

Hi, my name is Chris and I'm an iPod addict. 

I loved my iPod. When I lived in New York I had headphones plugged into my ears from the moment I left my apartment to the moment I returned. I had a laundry list of my favorite podcasts that I listened to, I was constantly listening to music, to Marc Maron's complaints about his cats, and to whatever NPR decided to produce this week. Then my iPod headphone jack came loose and my iPod stopped working. This coincided with my last few days in NYC. Preparing to move left me little time and money to go get it fixed. So I stopped wearing my headphones. The change was incredible. 

I started to hear the sounds of the city in a different way. I came to appreciate the ebb and flow of the traffic sounds, the bits of conversation you overhear while walking down the street, and the ambience of the world around me. This led me to pursue the project, I was walking home, which explores the ambience of real world sounds and uses them as source material for a large scale electronic work. 

In addition to appreciating the natural beauty of these real life sounds, this listening has caused me to rethink my approach to musical structure. I'm fascinated with the way these real world sounds (whether urban or rural) create an organic tapestry. These sonic gestures (wittingly or not) interact with or ignore one another. A cricket becomes drone-like and contextualizes the birdsong in beautiful and interesting ways. In addition to the sound installation, I've been working on an all acoustic work for brass quintet that mimics the gestural and structural qualities of these real-world sounds. I'm trying to create a music where performers come together to interact with one another but also act as individuals, ignoring those around them. Is it possible to create a satisfying musical structure that emulates a field recording, while still maintaining a musical sensibility?