Composer Erik Morales listens as Wantagh students rehearse his world premiere


Members of the Wantagh High School band received a real treat as they prepped for their spring concert: The renowned composer whose music they have been practicing led them through a special rehearsal.

Musician and composer Erik Morales guided the band through the rehearsal a day before the May 18 concert, as the wind ensemble performed the world premiere of Morales’ “Huntress of the Fiery Air,” under the direction of the high school’s band leader, Dan Aviles.

The band had the opportunity to meet one of the finest composers in the world and get a deeper look at why and how he wrote the piece. Morales has collaborated with bands in the Long Island area, and Aviles, who took over the high school’s wind ensemble five years ago, contacted Morales last summer.

“It’s a hard piece of music, but this band is capable of performing hard music at a very high level,” Morales said. “For a composer, it’s always a treat to hear our music being represented in the highest possible way. When the students are enjoying it, you can hear that in the music.”

Morales visited Wantagh High to hear the students rehearse the piece for the first time, and Chris Cockren, who leads the ninth- and 10th-grade bands, ex-plained the pressure of rehearsing the piece in front of Morales before the premiere.

“These are the kids that really love the band, and this is like meeting a sports star,” Cockren said. “For the composer has a vision, and he’s trying to match the vision, and he only has an hour and a half to get the message across, and the kids have to get as many corrections in as they can.”

Freshman Olivia Scherer, 15, and senior Natasha Meagher, 17, who are both members of the wind ensemble, discussed their emotions going into the concert.

“This is definitely the hardest concert that I’ve ever done, ever, but it’s really rewarding,” Meagher said.

“The challenge is what makes it fun,” Scherer added. 

Morales, 56, was born in New York City, and his family moved to Florida, where he spent most of his childhood. He attended college at the University of Southwestern Louisiana, which is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and graduated with a degree in music with a theory and composition major in 1989. He moved to New Orleans in 1992 and now lives in Mandeville, Louisiana.

Morales started to learn about music theory at a young age and first got involved with band in the fourth grade. He said he always had an interest in music but didn’t develop a thirst for writing music until the 11th grade. His high school band played the music he had written, which began his journey as a composer, he said.

Morales’ father, Peter, who died of Alzheimer’s disease in 2000, had written a poem, which was the inspiration for Morales’ “Huntress of the Fiery Air.” He wrote the poem in 1984, but Morales didn’t discover it until his father was already sick, so he never had an opportunity to discuss it with him and find out what it meant to his father.

“I can only make my own determination about what it was about,” Morales said.

He used the title, “Huntress of the Fiery Air,” for the very first piece of music he wrote for band, but because he was still a raw composer in his 20s, he never released the piece for public consumption. Morales said that today it’s a completely different piece of music based on the poem that his father wrote.

While Morales’ father had dabbled in poetry, he worked as a probation officer in New York City back in the 1950s. He continued that same type of work when the family moved to South Florida, but Morales added that poetry was still one of the hobbies he loved.

“He was always a very intelligent person and read a lot and (wrote) poetry,” Morales said.

“I wanted to do a piece that would honor his memory. I haven’t done that yet as a composer, and I felt like this was probably a good time to do it. My dad was an interesting person, and I think this piece does some justice to his art as well by introducing another piece of art on top of it.”