When Stevie Wonder needs a musician -- namely you -- life's pace can quicken a beat. Glenn Caldwell, a music instructor at Western Maryland College, got such a call last spring.
It wasn't Stevie Wonder on the line, but Dr. Henry Panion, a music theory teacher at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.
Dr. Panion had 20 songs by Mr. Wonder to arrange for backup musicians. Mr. Wonder would leave for a 15-city European tour in two weeks. Would Mr. Caldwell be able to help?
Mr. Caldwell says Dr. Panion, a colleague he had met in graduate school at Ohio State University, "tracked me down."
"They needed arrangements or orchestrations," he said. "They asked me to do several tunes."
Mr. Caldwell, 34, did three arrangements. It was nothing new -- he had frequently written arrangements for contemporary gospel and musical groups in Ohio.
He was given a list of instruments to work into the arrangements -- flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, French horn and some strings "for a bigger, more sophisticated sound."
The work took him about a week, sandwiched in between administering final exams. "For me," he said, "that was fun."
In each city in Europe, the music prepared by Dr. Panion and Mr. Caldwell was "rehearsed a couple of times" by hired players to accompany Stevie Wonder's band.
Unlike Dr. Panion, Mr. Caldwell didn't get to meet and travel with Stevie Wonder.
But Mr. Caldwell has been on his own European tour or sorts, traveling through French musical history -- in the original French -- tracking the chromatic harmonies of an almost-forgotten music theorist.
For several years Mr. Caldwell has been working on his dissertation, "Tonality and the Harmonic Theories of Jerome-Joseph Momigny."
"It's getting to that murderous stage right now," he said of editing of the paper, which he expects to take until next April.
"Momigny was an early 19th century French theorist, known around the Paris Conservatory," said Mr. Caldwell. "But as time crept on, his name was lost."
When Momigny's treatise on harmony was published in 1806, "he was kind of a hit of his time. He influenced quite a few other theorists," said Mr. Caldwell. "But oddly enough, he died in 1842 in an asylum, still trying to get his theories accepted. People kept telling him, 'No.'
When Momigny proposed that his treatise on chromatic harmony become textbook study at the conservatory, "They kept telling him, 'Thanks, your ideas are curious,' " but no more, Mr. Caldwell said. "As far as they were concerned, it conflicted with how theory was [then] taught in Italian, French and German schools."
As a composer, Mr. Caldwell doesn't think twice about the use of chromatics, which he describes as the source of music's color and diversity.
"But back in the 19th century, if accidentals [sharp or flat notes] showed up, they strictly thought about change of key."
Mr. Caldwell finds it exciting that Momigny's theories would be the first explanation of some developments in 20th century music.
"The increase of chromaticism in music runs hand in hand with emotionalism," he said. "The lush sounds, those that convey emotional feeling, were only possible because chromaticisms were accepted in music.
"My dissertation is to let people know that for his time, he was ahead, even to his death."
At Western Maryland, Mr. Caldwell lives in college housing with his wife, Denise, while they both work on their dissertations for Ohio State. She is studying landscape architecture and working for Photo Sciences Inc. in Gaithersburg.
He is busy teaching music theory and more. "At a small, liberal arts college, you find yourself doing other things, too," he said, citing the saxophone ensemble, a clarinet quartet he is forming and the college concert band he has led since arriving last fall.