I’m Nathan Curtis, a serious composer of silly music, and vice versa. I am a bass trombonist, but I also play too many other instruments not well enough to identify myself with any of them. I was born in New York, I grew up in northern Virginia, and now I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts. If you want to learn more about me, you have several options:
For general background information, including a lot of stuff that has nothing to do with music, see my bio.
I was born in Manhattan in 1979, but my family moved to northern Virginia when I was two, so I can’t really claim to be a New Yorker. In middle school, I found my calling — not music, but mathematics. I devoured textbooks, took advanced courses at an academic summer program, and excelled at various math competitions, at regional, national, and international levels. Back when I started out on the competition circuit in seventh grade, I was also playing trombone in the school band, but that was just a hobby.
Then marching band came along in high school, and music became a time-consuming hobby. Also, I switched to bass trombone in concert band, and as I qualified for better bands, I was exposed to better music, and better music-making, both in the classical microcosm of concert band music and in the world of big-band jazz. And I really got into the music. From my seat at the end of the trombone section, I could see almost everyone else in the band, and I became fascinated with how all the different instrumental parts came together. Sometimes I got frustrated when the music didn’t come together the way I knew it should; I wanted to play everyone’s parts so they could be up to my standards. I knew that was impossible, but that didn’t stop me from teaching myself to play piano, flute, tuba, and clarinet on the side. But if I wanted to make the music bend to my whim, I figured I’d have to be either a composer or a conductor. Conducting seemed like a job, but composing was something I could do in my spare time when I wasn’t doing whatever I should end up doing as a mathematician.
When I went off to college in North Carolina, I knew for certain I was going to double-major in mathematics and music. Unfortunately, I had bad luck with the first math class I took as a freshman — not that it was a class I did poorly in, but that it was a class I found dull. I went on an extended medical leave the semester after that, and I decided that maybe upper-level research mathematics just wasn’t as interesting to me as the sort of problems I had to solve in competitions. At the same time, the more I studied music, the more I was fascinated by it. When I resumed classes, math was no longer my top priority. I didn’t get to start taking composition lessons for another year, but I built up my chops by arranging jazz charts for
At that point, I knew enough about composition to know that I didn’t know enough about composition, (though now I know that a composer never knows enough about composition, at least, not enough to stop learning) so I went the to Boston area to study composition for a couple of years in grad school. Again, I was fortunately to have a really great teacher, who helped me deal with compositional challenges and creative droughts without being judgmental or meddling. I also further expanded my performing horizons to include small-ensemble jazz and experimental music, and I played a lot of new compositions, both by my peers and by my own hand. And I wound up enjoying it so much in Massachusetts, despite the nasty winters, that I decided to stay.
Now I live in Cambridge, and I write music and I play music. Apart from that, I’m a geek. I love learning about the world, being surprised by it and giving others surprises. I am perhaps obsessed with puzzles — both word puzzles and really complex, unclassifiable puzzle…things. And, as an indulgence to the past that I never left behind, I always make time to go teach advanced math classes at a familiar academic summer program.
1997-2002: Duke University, Durham, NC
Bachelor of Arts in Music, minor in Mathematics
Anthony Kelley, Composition
Paul Jeffrey, Jazz Performance and Arranging
Mike Kris, Trombone Performance
Clifton Anderson, Trombone Performance
2003-2005: Tufts University, Medford, MA
Master of Arts in Music (Composition)
John McDonald, Composition
Joel LaRue Smith, Jazz Composition
Duke University Wind Symphony, 1997-2001 (bass trombone)
Duke University Jazz Ensemble, 1997-2002 (bass trombone, tuba)
Tufts University Small Jazz Band, 2003-2004 (bass trombone, flute)
Tufts University New Music Ensemble, 2003-2005 (bass trombone, flute, clarinet)
Played in premier performances of: (instrument indicated in bold)
Robert Zimmerman, Things I Learned in School (2001) [for large ensemble; bass trombone]
Antony John, Hemisphere of Darkness (2002) [for chamber orchestra and chorus; bass trombone]
Andy Sauerwein, A Resurrection Series (2002) [for chamber orchestra; bass trombone]
Matt Snook, Diversionary Quartet (2004) [for trombone quartet; bass trombone]
Ryan Vigil, Composition (2004) [for chamber orchestra; bass trombone]
Marco Visconti-Prasca, Common Sense (2004) [for saxophone quartet and four speakers]
Valerie Hattis, Sie Notre Vie (2004) [for choir; bass voice]
Jason Coleman, Futility (2004) [for flute and cello]
Warren Weberg, Blues for Nathan (2005) [for solo clarinet]
Beau Vinson, a life passed... (2007) [for ensemble; bass trombone]
Beau Vinson, god bless (2007) [for solo trombone]
Nathan Curtis, various compositions, bass trombone, piano, flute, clarinet, and conductor
See list of works.
I don't have a single guiding philosophy as a composer. Rather, I have a cluster of ideas, some partially overlapping, others essentially independent, that inform my compositional decisions on multiple levels. Check back here as I add essays exploring various aspects of my philosophy.
This is my website. There are many like it, but this one is mine. Perhaps I should show you around.
At present, this site has four main divisions, each with its own purpose and structure. There are links to the top level of those structures in the upper-right-hand corner of each page, and links to important pages within those structures in the left sidebar of each page. In no particular order, we have:
Some pages are devoted to helpful information. Information about Nathan Curtis -- that's me! -- Tortoiseshell Music -- that's my publishing alias! -- and tortoiseshellmusic.com -- that's here! That's probably not what you're here for, though if you're reading this page, then I guess you are here for that, at least partially. Also, if you want to know what motivates me as a composer, you might be interested in checking out aspects of my compositional philosophy; check back periodically as I add mini-essays on different facets of my musical personality.
I'm a composer. I compose things. I put these things up on the internet for you to enjoy. It would be a shame, then, for you to pass them by. If you want to see my whole body of work at once, you can take a look here. If you want to browse around a bit more, I have helpfully grouped my various and sundry compositions by instrumentation and genre. These will lead you to pages for individual pieces, which usually include some remarks about each piece, as well as score and/or recording samples. I hope to eventually have pages up for all my compositions, including my current projects, so keep an eye out for new additions.
These days, a website just wouldn't be complete without a blog. You can find mine here. I will be writing about a wide range of topics, both musical and mundane. If your interests are not exactly the same as mine, it may be useful to know that I have divided my blog into several categories. Some of the major categories are listed on the left sidebar, but you can find a full listing of sub-blogs here. So, if you like hearing me go on about my favorite non-musical obsession -- puzzles -- but couldn't care less about what I have to say about music, then you can easily find all the posts you want, with few distractions. But would it kill you to at least try reading about music? You might like it! Hopefully, I shouldn't need to point out that the sub-blogs are not mutually exclusive, but I just did anyway. Also, if you came to the Tortoiseshell party a bit late, you can browse through the blog archives to catch up.
I would be quite remiss in my duties if I failed to point out the most important part of the site: the part that makes me money! At least in theory. Over at my store you can purchase the things that I have made for you! At present, I only have sheet music available for sale, but at some point I will have recordings available as well. For now, you can browse through my offerings over here. Alternately, you can browse through my list of works at a more leisurely pace, and when you find a piece that interests you, you can follow a link to the product listings for that piece in the store.
This website was entirely created using Drupal, an open-source content management software package. If you are able to find your way around this site without difficulty, thank Drupal. If you do have difficulty, blame me. In addition to the core package of Drupal, I have made extensive use of several contributed modules. Most notably, my online store is powered by Pathauto, Token, and Views.
I can't really say that people have been frequently asking me questions about Tortoiseshell Music, so instead I'll arbitrarily pose some questions, and answer them. Got a question I didn't arbitrarily pose? Ask me!
So who is this Nathan Curtis fellow?
I am! I'm a composer and performer of contemporary chamber music. You can find out more here. I seem to have many namesakes on the web; most of them are not me. Most relevantly, the British gospel musician Nathan Curtis is not me. The Nathan Curtis who earned honors in a bunch of high school and college math competitions in the '90s probably is me.
And what is "Tortoiseshell Music"?
It's the business name I chose for my self-publishing efforts. And since my name was already taken, I am also using it as my domain name.
Why "Tortoiseshell Music"?
Because I sometimes go by Tortoise. Once, years ago, I was in a silly contest where everyone competitor was given a nickname. I received the weakly rhyming monker "Nathan 'The Tortoise' Curtis," which at the time was a one-off thing. A few years later, I adopted "Tortoise" as a nickname when teaching math, and this gained traction among both my students and my colleagues. To this day, there are several people who know me primarily (and occasionally exclusively) as Tortoise.
Oh. Any relation to...?
I have no particular connections to any post-rock bands from Chicago or eclectic indie Canadian musicians. I do, however, share a spiritual kinship with both tortoises and tortoiseshells, and I have a soft spot for hippos.
...Right. So what can I find here at Tortoiseshell Music?
Lots of things. You can read about, and occasionally listen to, my compositions. You can watch me run my keyboard off on a range of musical and extra-musical topics over at my blog. If you're particularly interested, you can purchase some of my scores (and eventually recordings) at my store.
I can't purchase recordings?
Not yet. I haven't worked out the appropriate agreements with the musicians who have performed my music in existing recordings. Future recordings will, hopefully, be available for sale.
There's a login prompt on the left side of the page. Is this required?
Anyone can create an account and login at tortoiseshellmusic.com, or you can log in using OpenID. A login is not required for accessing any of the free content on this site. You can even leave comments without logging in, but they will be anonymous comments; you do need to log in to have a name attached to your comments. Additionally, you do need to create an account to purchase anything from the store; this is handled during the checkout process.
Why do I need to create an account to purchase anything? Are you harvesting my email address or something?
Well, the software I use to run the store requires a site account to process orders; I can't get around that. Additionally, any file downloads you purchase through the store (scores as PDF files, recordings in MP3 format) are handled through your user page.
I hate spam, identity theft, and other scourges of the internet as much as anyone else. I will not sell or give personal information about registered users of tortoiseshellmusic.com to any third party, without the express permission of those users. I do not process credit cards or other means of financial transactions on this site, so I will not even have access to your credit card numbers.
If you don't process credit cards on-site, how do you handle purchases?
I use PayPal as a payment gateway for purchases made from this site. You do not need a PayPal account to complete your purchases; they can also process credit cards. You will be taken to the appropriate PayPal website automatically during checkout, and then taken back here when that's done.
I notice that parts of this site are covered by a Creative Commons license. What's up with that?
The short answer is that works covered by that license, including my writings on this website and some of my scores, can be reused for non-commercial purposes, as long as you credit me as the creator of the original work. For the long answer, see my copyright information page.
But what if I want to use your music for commercial purposes?
Contact me. As with any copyrighted works, you can use my compositions for any purpose if you get prior written permission. And even if you're using my work for non-commercial purposes, I'd like to hear about it. I'm interested in finding out where my music is being played, and I'd be happy to promote your performance here on my site.
I really like your music, but I'm looking for something in particular. Do you do commissions?
That sounds really exciting. Contact me to discuss the details. Unfortunately, I may not be able to accept your offer for various reasons, but it would make me very happy nonetheless.
I really like your music, but I don't think I can do a commission. What else would make you happy?