The Semester of Marathon Composing Comes to an End

At long last, the semester comes to a close. The final total comes to five new pieces, and right at an hour of music written since January! If I weren’t a student of Davy Rakowski, I might be tempted to find that impressive. Always nice to have guys like him around to keep me humble.

The latest completions came this past week: I Felt a Funeral for medium-high voice and piano (based on the poem by Emily Dickinson), and Cycles for violin and cello – both written for New Music on the Point in Leicester, VT, where they will be premiered this summer. Amazingly, these were both written in the last 3 1/2 weeks! And right now I even think I like them. Hopefully that will last…

Of course, as always, endings bring new beginnings. I’ve been commissioned to write a work for chamber wind ensemble by my Alma Mater, East Carolina University! The premiere will take place during the 2013 NewMusic@ECU Festival in Greenville, NC. My name’s even on the website! Right there alongside Augusta Reed Thomas…now that’s a crazy feeling. It’s like I’m a real composer or something…

Fortunately, I’ll have some time to get started this summer. I’ve been accepted as an Associate Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, FL, with Master Artist (and my past teacher) Melinda Wagner! 3 weeks in Florida in the middle of the summer, so obviously I’ll be staying inside in the A/C to write. I’ll also be hanging out with fellow Brandesians Peter Van Zandt Lane and Seunghee Lee, and fellow NEC grad Liza White. Looks like Boston’s heading south!

But for now, I’m taking a little break. After I grade papers. And submit grades. Then I’ll take a break.

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“Ponder” Premiere

Well sports fans, after much writing, editing, rehearsing, and yes, pondering, last Thursday finally saw the premiere of Ponder for 4-part brass choir, to be played around a body of water. For those of you following along, you’ll remember this work was written for the 2012 Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Arts at Brandeis University (for most of you, who aren’t following along, you can see my previous blog for more details).

The weather forecast for the day said chance of showers, but the “hourly” assured me that there would be no rain until 8pm (performance was at 6pm). So of course, it began raining at exactly 6:08, and rained of and on for the next half-hour. On the bright side, once the performance was over, it didn’t rain anymore the whole evening. Thank you, New England Meteorology.

But in all honesty, I (and everyone in attendance) think the rain actually enhanced the overall experience. The sound of the rain and the ripples on the pond were quite beautiful, as was the moment when, without being asked, members of the audience each grabbed an umbrella and went to stand with a musician, covering us as we continued playing. It was one of those true “wow” moments in life.

Best of all, my family was there for the performance! My wife, Lauren, was there (as she always is because she’s so awesome), and my parents came up from NC for the weekend, so I had a very sympathetic audience.  🙂 Toby couldn’t come, but I know he would have if he could. He’s a busy guy. (He’s actually my dog)

And the icing on the cake: I found out Monday that I am the recipient of the 2012 Anna Walinska Prize for outstanding work on the festival! That’s much better than what I get for outstanding parking tickets…

Anyways, it was a wonderful experience, and a wonderful weekend. A full recording/ video will be coming soon, but in the meantime, there’s a video/ interview on the university website, and below are a few shots from the event.

 


…in which I use a 12-tone electric bass line

For the 2-3 of you keeping track, I can now announce the completion of TWO of my “works in the queue“. Ponder, written for the 2012 Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Arts, was completed last week, only a “little” behind schedule (what’s a deadline, anyway? Oh yeah…).

The latest double-barline comes at the end of RAWR, written for The Gentlemen’s Very (Very) High Art Society of South Waltham, Brandeis’s Official Unofficial Graduate Composers Ensemble, of which yours truly is a distinguished member in good standing. Instrumentation of the piece (and the group) is piccolo, trumpet (not to be confused with “piccolo trumpet”, though that’s a thought…), flugelbone (yes, really), bassoon, piano, drums, and pink sparkly electric bass (Yes, the sparkles matter. Pink not so much, though it helps).

The title comes from the most stereotypical sound I could think of for lead singers in most death metal bands (for example) (or this, definitely this). The piece itself sounds kind of like what happens when a composer with a “classical” training and a sort-of jazz background listens to a lot of Frank Zappa and spy movie/ cartoon soundtracks, watches Metalocalypse, and decides to write a piece. Actually that’s exactly what it sounds like. Or Weather Report, according to Herr Professor Davy Rakowski. But don’t take our word for it. Now, through the miracle of those highly talented Sibelius Sounds and MIDI, you, Dear Reader, can decide for yourself, and post what you think is wrong with me in the comments section. Unless it’s mean. Don’t be mean.

Oh, and it uses a 12-tone electric bass line. Not the whole time, though.


New Music on the Point

I was very excited (and now anxious) to learn of my acceptance into the New Music On the Point summer composers workshop! Excited because I’ll get to compose two works for some excellent performers (including the JACK Quartet). Anxious because, well, I now have to write two works for these excellent performers in the next month!! At least I know what I’ll be doing with my time…


“Ponder” Update

And…done! At long last, the piece is finished, and parts have been distributed. Now begins that post-double-barline period of relief, jubilation, second looks, second guessing, doubts, serious doubts, depression, “what does it all mean???” moments, exhaustion, and acceptance (composers/ artists, you feel me). But for the time being, I’m content to relish the “relief” phase. This has been a long one, and as excited as I am for the performance, my present thoughts are on how grateful I am that at least the composition stage is over. Time for a celebratory single malt, then off to bed. Tomorrow begins the next project.

 


Ponder

Since I can’t sleep, and if I stare at Sibelius (this one, not this one) any longer today my brain may start to bleed, I guess it’s as good a time as any for an update. (I almost said, “I figure it’s as good a time as any…,” but that may have geographically pegged me a little too specifically) This week’s never-ending project has been to tame said notation software into submission, allowing me to create an appropriate score for Ponder, the piece I’m writing for the 2012 Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Arts at Brandeis (for more info, see my previous blog).

The issue at hand is creating a score of musical “cells”, rather than continuous measures on a staff. Of course, Sibelius doesn’t always like to be helpful, and so the only way I’ve found is, to put it mildly, extremely convuluted and non-user friendly. I won’t bore you with details (I’ll just keep complaining instead).

Anyways…

So because of the technological hurdles, things are moving slowly but surely (And don’t call me Shirley), and not really in the “I’m savoring the art, blah, blah…” kind of way. More like in the “It’s been four hours and I finally have a page of the score formatted” kind of way. But I have begun to figure it out, so hopefully the rest of the parts will go more quickly.

What is making the whole thing bearable, however, is that I’m still very excited about the project! The end product, in my head at least, should be very cool, and fun to perform. As a teaser, here’s a look at the first page of the score for Part 1:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s it for now. If I’m going to stay awake, I should probably actually get something done. More soon!

 

 


Works in progress…

Out of one fire and into another! Still riding the high of a great premiere last weekend (see previous blog), I now need to turn my attention somehow to the next round of deadlines, or more importantly, all the work that has to be done before said deadlines. Currently there are 4 pieces in the queue:

#1 – Official title: Ponder: a work for 12 brass instruments, to be performed around a body of water. I guess it should go farther and say “to be performed around a specific body of water,” namely the Chapels Pond on the Brandeis campus (shown on right). I received a grant for this piece from the Brandeis Office of the Arts for the 2012 Leonard Bernstein Festival of the Arts. The piece will be premiered on Thursday, April 26th at 6:30pm (around the pond) as part of the festival’s opening night events.

The idea to write a piece specifically for this location had been in the back of my head for a while, as it’s one of my favorite places on campus: it’s secluded but not removed from campus life, and it’s a very peaceful, shady, “happy” spot, and it’s beautiful! So when I was talking with Ingrid Shorr (from the Office of the Arts), and she mentioned that she’d always thought it would be nice for someone to do a site-specific installation/ piece/ something at the Chapels, I knew I had to jump on it!

I also had an almost immediate picture of what I wanted the piece to be, and I’ve deviated only slightly from the original plan (odd for me!). The work will be a “deconstruction” of sorts of the well-known, so-called (somewhat erroneously, but oh well) “Hornpipe” movement from Handel’s Water Music (the actual “Hornpipe” movement occurs earlier in the work, though this better known movement is subtitled “alla hornpipe”), which was itself a sight-specific work, requested by King George I to be performed on a barge in the middle of the Thames.

This deconstructive process involves breaking the melodic material down into small motivic “cells”, divorced from their original rhythmic counterparts, thus making the work much less (if not completely un-) recognizable while preserving the melodic content in its entirety. The 12 brass players will then be divided into 4 groups, with each group being given a sequence of these cells to be completed within a specified amount of time. Each section of Ponder will correspond to a section of the original work, and will be marked not by measure numbers, but by minutes/seconds. So for example, Section 1 lasts 5 minutes, and Group 1 is given a sequence of 24 cells, to be completed within the 5 minutes, though they are free to individually decide, within that time frame, when they move from one cell to the next.

The overall effect (at least in theory), then, is one of a sort of “free micropolyphony”, with the performers in each group playing the same material, within the same amount of time, but independently of one another, creating a continuously morphing “web” of sound. The picture I use in my head is that of what would happen if the notes of Handel’s piece were to suddenly become sheep and meander across the page, each at their own pace, stopping at will to graze or running ahead to a shady tree or a drink of water, all the while moving toward the same destination, ushered along by a sheep dog, but in no real orderly fashion. It’s now March 24th, so the piece should theoretically be finished within the next week or two. Please don’t ask me how far along I am…

#2 – Working title: RAWR, for piccolo, bassoon, trumpet, flugabone, drums, piano, and electric bass. This piece is being written for the Unofficial Brandeis Graduate Composers Ensemble, The Gentlemen’s Very (Very) High Art Society of South Waltham, of which I am a Distinguished Member in Good Standing (that plays the trumpet). The title, along with the inspiration for the piece, comes from my long-term interest in and more recent obsession with heavy metal bands. More specifically Meshuggah, Mastadon, and my personal favorite Gojira. Mix that with lots of classical training, a jazz background, and the occasional awesome absurdity of Primus and Frank Zappa, et al, and you’ll have an idea of what I’m going for. We’ll see how it turns out! The premiere will be on Sunday, April 29 at 4pm, at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis, played by The Gentlemen.

#3 – Chamber Wind Ensemble piece. This one I haven’t really started thinking about yet, and probably won’t until the summer, but it’s an exciting project! The commission is from East Carolina University (my Alma Mater – go Pirates!), and initial discussions have raised the possibility of writing a piece for the same instrumentation as the original version of Symphonies of Wind Instruments by Stravinsky. Could be fun!

#4 – Piece for Alto Flute and Dbl. Bass. This is probably the coolest commission I’ve received. A friend and colleague at Brandeis has two friends who are getting married later this year, and instead of traditional gifts, all their closest friends have decided to commission works of art for them! Someone is commissioning a sculpture, some paintings, some poems, etc., and Georgia (my friend) wants to commission me to write them a short piece. The couple are both musicians (she flute, he bass), so I thought a duet for that instrumentation would be interesting, and holds many nice compositional puzzles and possibilities. Most of all, I really think this is the most awesome gift idea I’ve ever heard of, and I’m honored to be a part of it!

As my wife will no doubt remind me, there should actually be a #5 on here (and it should probably be closer to the top!), because the coming year will also be my dissertation year, meaning a paper and another piece are in my not-so-distant-and-now-I’m-freaking-out future! Yikes.

But one fire at a time….


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