The 2017 SCI Region VI conference was hosted by Dan Cavanagh and UT-Arlington this year. My colleague Ben Justis and I took the trip down from the University of Kansas and we had an absolute blast. I can confidently say that Dan ran one of the best SCI conferences I’ve ever been to and many attendees echoed this sentiment.
Below is a list of my favorite works I heard at the conference (in no particular order). This is by no means to say that there were not other great works that were performed; the list below signifies those pieces which had an immediate impact on me. One can never really say they don’t like a piece without listening to it more than once.
Waves by Dan Cavanagh
Hear Us by Micah Hayes
Echo Caves by Igor Karaca
Up In Smoke by Ben Justis
Wooden Triptych by Bryce Craig
Veiled Expanse by Natsumi Osborn
5:1 by Joseph Bohigian
Wax Argument by John Huenmann
Essay for Cello by Dan Racer
Pistol Pete’s Passacagilia by Mike D’Ambrosio
Una Reunion Nocturne by Eric Lara
I encourage everyone to see out these works and these composers! Buy their music and show some love.
Helsinki Music Centre where I presented my research on Julius Eastman.
The Fifth International Conference on Minimalist music took place from September 23-27, 2015. This conference is put on every two years by the Society for Minimal Music. Some of the most important scholars on minimalism were in attendance; Kyle Gann, Jelena Novak, Robert Fink, Tom Johnson, David McIntire, and others. To be among so many fascinating people with a deep understanding of minimalism was an honor. Sometimes it is easy to forget how young minimal music is; it is still a small mark in the long history of music. My imagination and scholarly intrigue were thoroughly stimulated by all the wonderful music and informative presentations I heard at the conference.
Rock and Popular Music
John Richardson and Slow Floe performing the song cycle “The Fold”
If there is an academic event the greater public might feel comfortable at, it is certainly this one. This conference was certainly a gathering of intellectuals who spend a lot of time thinking about art, but the art form that was being addressed has its roots in a desire to rupture a code of the 20th century avant-garde. Letting the influence of the popular music of America seep naturally into their music was what set Riley, Glass, and Reich apart from the mid-20th century avant-garde. This conference began with a performance from a Krautrock inspired band from Finland called E-Musikgruppe Lux Ohr. They performed Riley’s Keyboard Studies II and then immediately followed it with Kraftwerk inspired variations on the same piece. The group consisted of three people on keyboards and synthesizers and a guitarist; all creating hypnotizing polyrhythms, loops, and ethereal drones. Afterwards, John Richardson (the chair of this conference) performed with his band. The music they played is what one could imagine a David Gilmour-led psychedelic folk band would be like.
Some of the presentations given at the conference discussed the explicit relationship between popular music and minimalism. Jedd Schneider and David McIntire co-authored research on Krautrock and other 70’s progressive rock acting as “tangible conduit[s] of minimalist tropes.” Mark Perry presented his research on the intersections of Intelligent Dance Music (IDM) with minimal music. IDM is essentially the art-music counterpoint to Electronic Dance Music (EDM). Some of the defining features of IDM records are ambient drones, repetitive musical structures, and atmospheric instrumentation. Dean Suzuki gave a presentation on Andrew Poppy and DIY attitudes in the New Music community, especially with the post-minimalists. Andrew Poppy formed groups that were part rock band part vehicle for the performance of new music. The first such group was Lost Jockey which formed in 1981, six years before the founding of Bang on a Can.
Robert Fink Presenting
Robert Fink was one of the keynote speakers at the conference. His presentation on Musical Stutters was absolutely fascinating. Stutters are simply repetitions. Fink explored the implications of and diagnoses for stutters in art-music, EDM, and hip-hop. Examples he used were Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room, old school hip-hop turntable scratching, and modern digital stuttering created by splicing together very short sound waves which are heard in most genres of popular music from the 90’s onward. Fink made some throught-provoking assertions about the connections between the capitalist cultures of repetition and the prevalence of all types of stuttering found in music.
Nature/Finnish Music and composers
A border patrol agent asked me a series of questions upon my return to the United States. The series of questions led the patrolman to ask me something I did not expect: “What is minimalism?” True story. In hindsight, that was a great teaching moment. At the time, I was caught off guard. Just the other day, I again had to explain what minimalism is to an inquiring mind that seemed to have a negative view of minimalism due to its sometimes repetitive nature. I explained to her some of the basic musical characteristics that define minimalism just I had done for the patrolman, but this I tried to give some historical context to the advent of the style. Minimalism fits in with the time in which it appeared. The early to mid-20th century was a time of rapid scientific advancement in which humans were able to begin to grasp the vastness of reality like never before. Most things that happen in the universe are on a scale of time or size too large for us to understand; minimalism reflects our expanding ability to comprehend or at least accept this burdensome fact. Sitting through the entirety of Dennis Johnson’s November may take just as much patience and mental strength as it does to comprehend the Big Bang or Darwinian evolution or the formation of the Grand Canyon. In the case of both minimal music and the large-scale workings of nature, the pay out of patience is a profound discovery of beauty. There was a lot of talk at the conference on how the beauty and vastness of nature effect composers of minimal music.
Drone and repetition are features of minimal music, but these techniques are applied to both pre- and post-minimalism musical styles. One of the great humans I met at the conference was Juha Torvinen, adjunct professor of musicology at the University of Turku, and he gave a presentation on how composers and musicians from the Northern Hemisphere, particularly Scandinavia, are inspired by the “northern geography, climate, and environmental conditions, which are intimately linked to Northern mythologies and cultural traditions.” (from the abstract of his paper Nordic Drone Pedal Point, Static Texture, and the Norther Atmosphere)
Another wonderful professor I met at the conference, Susanna Välimäki from the University of Helsinki, gave a presentation on “Postminimalism in Finnish Art Music in the 21st Century.” This presentation exposed me to the music of the Finnish composer Juhani Nuorvala. Listen to this work of his for synthesizer and cello:
There was a concert at the Sibelius Museum in Turku that featured works by Glass, Gann, Feldman, Tom Johnson, and the Finnish composer Erkki Salmenhaara. The music of Erkki Salmenhaara was full of conversational counterpoint, romantic expressivity, and minimalist techniques.
Kyle Gann and Tom Johnson
The concert at the Sibelius Museum was my first chance to hear the music of Kyle Gann and Tom Johnson live.
Left: Veli Kujala and his microtonal accordion. Right: Kyle Gann.
Both Gann and Johnson had their music performed throughout the conference. What a treat this was; hearing the music of living minimalist composers who have been in the scene since the advent of what we now call “minimalism” (at least in the case of Johnson, Gann is a bit too young to implicate such a thing.) Gann’s music is expressive, rhythmic, and complex. So complex that it seems like process music at times; I may be mistaken about this thought, but process or not the music retains expressivity. One piece of Gann’s that was heard at the conference was Reticent Behemoth for quarter-tone accordion. After the performance of this piece, Gann was asked what he thought about the sound of the instrument. Gann replied: “It didn’t hurt as much as I thought.” When asked about the role emotions play in his music Gann replied: “If [the] emotive aspect isn’t strong, it doesn’t mean much to me.” This is especially interesting to hear after hearing a piece with an instrument that, to many people, sounds so foreign. What is strange and what is beautiful are, of course, subjective.
Left to right: Anna-Maria Huohvanainen, Tom Johnson, Orestis Willemen
Some of Johnson’s music performed at the conference was definitely processed based. He talked about the ways in which he used processes in his pieces Eggs and Baskets and Counting to Seven. These pieces were extremely effective, entertaining, and in some instances, very funny! Johnson was asked about humor in his music and he said that he never tries to be funny; he just tries to be honest and sometimes the truth is very funny. One example of his honesty: His piece Eggs and Baskets was intended for children. The piece involves a process of liquidation of the possibilities of a particular motive played on guitar and violin; the pitches are the eggs and the instruments are the baskets. Johnson said that at the first performance of the piece, none of the kids were laughing but all the parents were. So he decided to not play the piece for children any more.
One of the other highlights of the conference was Jelena Novak’s presentation on minimalist and post-minimalist techniques in contemporary opera. One of the operas she addressed was The News written by one of the most interesting composers of the 20th and 21st centuries: Jacob ter Veldhuis.
There were too many interesting presentations to cover here, but some of my other favorites were Adam Cadell’s presentation on Nordic underground music including black metal, David McIntire’s presentation on the music of Ann Southam, Jason Rito’s presentation on David Lang, and James Andean’s presentation on how communities shape the musical output of its members and members create musical communities; he specifically addressed the strange fact that so much minimal music is by definition electroacoustic yet is rarely classified as such because of, perhaps, sectarian issues.
This conference was well worth the trip from Michigan to Finland. Our hosts at the University of Turku and the University of Helsinki were absolutely lovely, and the event organizers from the Society for Minimal Music gave everyone at the conference a stimulating experience. Kyle Gann wrote this following the conference: “The Sixth International Conference is now tentatively scheduled for June of 2017 in Knoxville, Tennessee, in connection with the Nief-Norf festival run by Andrew Bliss. It gives me something to look forward to. The passage of my life is measured out in minimalism conferences.” Check out Gann’s brief article, which includes much better photos the ones I’ve posted, about the conference here.
After a 4 hour train ride, a 12 hour layover in Chicago, and a 19-hour train ride, I had finally reached Penn Station in Manhattan. On June 23rd my piece Prozium was be played at the Abrons Art Center as part of the 2015 New York City Electroacoustic Music Festival (NYCEMF). During the first two days of this long trek, I encountered a lot of acts of confidence.
I spent some time exploring all the art on display at the Gold Coast Art Fair while in Chicago. There were a few artists whose work stood out to me: Melvin McGee, Kana Handel, and Gabor Koranyi. Of the hundreds of booths that featured some very impressive visual arts, these three artists were my favorite. Koranyi’s art was especially appealing to me due to a technique he employed in all of his works which exaggerates the human figure through the use of curves and circles. At the risk of over simplifying things- think cubism but at the opposite end of the technical spectrum.
Koranyi was a very nice man who graciously endured my curiosity about his works. What I found most profound about our encounter was the act of confidence he had carried out by displaying somewhere between 15 and 30 pieces that are so similar. Each piece was distinctly beautiful, but they all employed his signature technique.
During intermission at the NYCEMF 8pm concert on Monday, June 22, I met a very nice Danish composer named Kenn Mouritzen. We got into discussing different cultures in Europe. This somehow led to a lengthy discussion about Iannis Xenakis. Kenn told me a revealing anecdote about Xenakis and his daughter. Apparently, her father would sometimes take her canoeing off of the coast of his native Greece in the Mediterranean Sea. Sometimes these outings would be less than safe due to storms and intense waves. Not deterred by a little danger, Xenakis would paddle him and his little girl out to sea and experience all the glory of Mother Nature’s power. Kenn observed that this behavior perfectly captured Xenakis’ character. The mathematician turned architect turned composer was not timid about his aesthetic decisions. His compositional methods were cerebral and detailed, but they were also unique and effective; as evidenced by his legacy. He was confident that his methods were worthy of being shared with the world.
My good friend John Jansen and I recently discussed the role confidence plays in the work of an artist. We pondered the role our own confidence plays in our compositions and in those of others. We have a mutual friend and comrade in new music by the name of Matt Finch. A couple of years ago I saw him play a gig at a venue in Grand Rapids, MI and it truly blew me away. Up to that point I did not know much about Matt’s music. After the concert I offered him a hearty congratulations and said “That…that is what you have to do.” I made that statement due to, perhaps, an ill-conceived assumption that he was still in search of his unique voice, like many of my comrades studying under Bill Ryan at Grand Valley State University. Whether or not that was the case is mere conjecture at this point. But I did notice a lot of the other audience members congratulating him on his successful performance of vivid and intoxicating atmospheric grooves. From that point on I have followed what he has been doing and I am excited to see my friend make a name for himself. He recently released an album on the slashsound label and he has performed with increasing frequency. Whether it was the performance in Grand Rapids a couple years ago, or a gradual series of successes, or a sheer sense of will and direction, something at some point gave Matt a boost to jump into his canoe, despite the possibility of choppy waves and rapid currents, and embark on his artistic voyage.
Koranyi, Xenakis, and Matt Finch, were confident that their aesthetic decisions are worthy of spreading to those who are willing to listen. This type of confidence is one of the first signs of a mature composer.
Having your music performed anywhere takes a lot of confidence, especially if you are sitting in the room when it happens. Luckily, the NYCEMF is a wonderful place to have this done. Other than receiving commissions, the first step one must take to get one’s music performed is submitting it to calls for scores or contacting people in your network about concertizing new music. The nature of the electroacoustic music genre is often experimental, so for some finding the confidence to believe the strange and beautiful sounds you have created are worthy of being shared with the world can be hard. I can assure my readers that I met some of the most down-to-earth and friendly people at this festival. The sense of community was comforting. I had at least one mutual friend with nearly every person I met! If you have an electroacoustic piece, I implore you to submit to next year’s festival.
I was only at the festival for a few days, but I will share some details about my favorite performances.
Eric Chasalow’s Scuffle and Snapis a playful piece for violin and electronics. Mari Kimura performed energetic pizzicato passages broken up by familiar and tuneful sounding bowed phrases. The electronic media interacts with the plucked strings to create driving rhythmic polyphony. At other points, glassy pads create an ethereal harmonic backdrop to the bowed gestures.
William Dougherty’s piece for bass clarinet and surround-sound fixed media Nyuijd is a breathtaking piece inspired by a ceremony performed by indigenous people of Australia to honor the dead. From the program notes: “…a songman plays the didgeridoo while beating sticks and singing songs…” The clarinetist took on the role of songman and the fixed media took on the role of the surrounding tribesmen beating sticks and echoing rhythms played by Liam Kinson. The performance of rapid key clicks duplicated in the recording engulfs the audience in an eerie cloud of noise. At times, one certainly feels like they are amid furious tribal percussion, but our songman comforts us with his somewhat tuneful baritone gestures.
Tae Hong Park’s Bass X Sungclosed out the June 23rd festivities. This piece is a semi-improvisational work for bass guitar and signal processing. The piece began with tidal synth-pads and slowly evolved into a toe-tapping 5/4 groove in the high range of the instrument. This groove grew louder and lower over several minutes with the bassist (Park himself) adding interlocking rhythms and the signal processing adding exciting electronic textures. The way that Park played and interacted with the audience before and after his performance signaled to me that this guy definitely had some experience playing rock music. My suspicion was later confirmed by the composer.
I am not as well-versed as I would like to be in the electroacoustic repertoire. Perhaps that is obvious due to my favorite pieces being for live instruments and electronics. One of the beautiful things about this festival was the diversity of styles. Roughly half the pieces I heard were for fixed media only. Pieces without live instruments are still somewhat foreign to me and they often contain unique chronological developments. The more I hear these types of pieces, the broader my frame of reference becomes. This festival presents twenty-seven concerts of electroacoustic music making it one of the easiest times to immerse yourself in the experimental genre which it hosts. If you are like me, somewhat new to the genre, sometimes your ears can grow fatigued from attempting to actively listen to the multitude of unusual pieces. It is the pieces with live instruments that can give you a somewhat familiar place to take a mental rest. Hubert Howe, director and co-founder of NYCEMF, does an excellent job of curating concerts that are both artistically stimulating and accessible to both artists and patrons of the arts.
2014 was such an exciting year! I think 2015 will be even more exciting.
I’ll be participating in three conferences in 2015. First, I will be sharing a bit of my research on composition pedagogy at Michigan Music Conference in January. That same weekend, I will be traveling to Northern Illinois University for the North American Saxophone Alliance Region V Conference where two of my pieces are being performed: A Dance Not To Be Danced To for sax quartet and Lament for alto sax and fixed media. Then, in March I and three of my comrades from Central Michigan University will be participating in the Society of Composers, Inc. Region VI Conference at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. There, my sax quartet will be performed and I will be doing a paper presentation on my composition pedagogy research titled, The Necessary Skills for Undergraduate Composition Students. I will make the paper available on this website soon.
One more fun thing I will be doing in the first half of 2015 is participating in the Grand Rapids Community College Alumni Composition Concert. I am so proud to have attended this school right out of high school. At the time of my attendance, it was one of only seventeen community colleges in the entire country with an accredited music program. They had incredible professors that truly helped me figure out my musical life.
In January I will begin teaching music at Delta College. My first two courses are Contemporary Guitar Techniques and History of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
In November, I curated the composition studio recital at Central Michigan University and I believe it was quite a success! We had a very eclectic group of pieces ranging from the avant-garde to the populist. For this concert I wanted to give the audience an intimate experience. Rather than having the audience in the hall and the performers on the stage, we set up chairs directly on the stage so they could be close to the performers and composers. If you aren’t afraid of having the sweat of the performers hit you then you’re sitting too far away! This also forced audience members to sit closer to one another and I’ve found this always makes for a more electric experience. Sitting close to performers gave the audience a chance to have a personal connection to the composers. The composers spoke directly to the audience about themselves and their work and being so close to someone who is sharing something so personal helps to make a close connection for what would otherwise be a distant relationship. Though we had set up close to eighty chairs on stage, we ran into a very fortunate problem when so many people showed up to the concert that the hall was over half full as well! But that was okay, we write music for people to hear it, so the more the merrier!
One of my pieces that was performed is called Junipers and is based on a poem written for me by Dr. Allegra Blake. The poem is about the conflict between Palestine and Israel. A recording of the performance will be posted soon. Here is a great picture taken of me and all of the performers after our final rehearsal:
Recently, my good friend and excellent audio engineer Ethan Fitzpatrick recorded my piece Exoplanet. Writing, rehearsing, performing, and recording this piece was such a good experience. It has definitely been one of my favorite pieces to work on. I think that is because it was written with the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. The piece is for drumset, electric guitar, tuba, and trombone. One of the things I miss most about playing rock ‘n’ roll is the collaborative experience, and with this piece I was lucky enough to enlist the help of good (and very talented) friends of mine who were patient enough to give this piece a lot of rehearsal time. The piece could’ve been performable after two or three rehearsals, but I really wanted to give this piece time to grow. I put notes on a page, but that was merely the seed from which the piece grew. I encouraged all the players to give me input and improvise throughout the rehearsals. Because the piece was not terribly difficult and because of the multitude of rehearsals, each time we got together was just fun. It was never a stressful situation in which we had performances coming up on us that we were not ready for, it was just a group of friends getting together to jam. Classical musicians and composers sometimes forget to have fun, so the whole process was quite refreshing. Take a listen to the final product:
For those of us lucky enough to remain in the world of academia, the slow turbulence that is the Fall Semester has been well under way for about a month.
I recently created a playlist of a few pieces I’ve written over the past seven months for those of you interested in what I have been up to musically. I hope you like the playlist I have curated!
In other news:
As I have mentioned in the past, Dr. Casey Robards commissioned me to write a piece for two pianos. As of today, the duet is complete! All that is left to do is edit, hand off the final copy and sit back and let the master work her magic on it. I am so honored that such a talented performer will be playing my music. The piece is called It’s Okay to Clap. It’s in three movements, and, as the name suggests, has an interesting theatrical element to it.
Lastly, I recently compiled a list of works. Email me at email@example.com if you are interested in performing any of these works. Of course these are not all the pieces I’ve ever written. Just the ones I’m willing to share with the world:
Wonder: an Ode to Carl Sagan (for SATB or TTBB choir)
The Children of Abraham (for orchestra)
It’s Okay to Clap (piano duet for 2 pianos)
Lamb of Light (for multiple 7 seven string guitars and backing track)
Exoplanet (for trombone, tuba, drum set, and electric guitar)
Lament (for Alto Sax and Fixed Media)
Songs of Informality #2 and #4 (open instrumentation, lead-sheet)
A Dance Not To Be Danced To (for saxophone quartet)
Unhinged (for tenor sax, bass clarinet, and clarinet)
Odyssean Steps (for soprano sax and tenor sax)
Alten’s Bullfight (for viola, clarinet, and alto sax)
Ektos (fixed media)
One Thing (for guitar, spoken word, and fixed media)
I’m gonna be honest folks, I’m sitting here on my phone in a cramped Subaru on my way back to Michigan, my mind complete mush, barely able to process this past week. But, I will try and recap the last few days of the UMKC Composition Workshop.
In the morning Dr. Mara Gibson conducted a master class, which I was lucky enough to take part in. I presented my piece “Phantasy for Piano.” I was pleased to hear that she enjoyed the work. My favorite things about participating in this master class with her were the questions she asked. One vital thing I learned about composition pedagogy this week was that a good teacher knows the right questions to ask to activate a students mind. Dr. Gibson definitely got me thinking about ways I could improve upon my piece without having to outright tell me what was “wrong” about it, or what she didn’t like. Dr. Rudy and Dr. Mobberly seemed to practice a similar tactic in their master classes while maintaining their unique personalities.
Later in the day, percussionist extraordinar Mark Lowry held a presentation. He shared several percussion parts from solo works and larger scores as a way to start a discussion about the do’s and dont’s of percussion writing. The most interesting things I took away from the discussion that I did not know before were: 1) let the player create the set-ups 2) even Stravinsky wrote god-awful percussion parts (L’histoire du soldat) but they seemed to work for the piece- because there’s really no standard in percussion notation!
That night all of the students of the workshop were invited to a concert of meditative drone music featuring Dr. Paul Rudy and Heidi Svoboda. Heidi manned a large set various sized gongs and Dr. Rudy manned electronics (featuring recorded prairie sounds) and various percussion instruments. The venue was strangely beautiful. It was held atop a six story roof in downtown Kansas City. An artist had created an oasis in the otherwise concrete jungle. The roof was covered in shin high grass and gravel with the musicians playing inside a stationary box car.
(wow I’m surprised I remembered that much…this was all on Wednesday, June 18. onward….)
First thing in the morning we were led in a listening session by two pedagogy track students. The first presentation was held by Evan Williams. He discussed the very close relationship between architecture and music throughout the ages, from the cathedrals that helped inspire polyphony to the move to smaller venues helping to create smaller ensembles. Next, Bradford Tilden presented John Corigliano’s concerto for percussion. It’s a great piece and was one of those pieces for Bradford that inspired him and made him say “I want to do that!” (seems to be a recurring theme)
Later, Robert and Lyra Pherigo held a presentation on extended techniques for piano and flute. I learned some great things, but it was especially awesome to see some of the younger composers being floored by some sounds they may had never heard before.
That night we were treated to a concert of guided improv led by Dr. Rudy and the improv track students. Each student set up a set of parameters to improvise to. You could tell there was some fear in being so vulnerable, but it was a fun and rewarding concert for all!
The final day of the workshop!
Aside from taking group photos and having various discussions between peers and professors on ways to make next year even better, there were two events of importance-
First, the “standard” track students presented what they had been working on all week to the rest of us. It was most impressive to see what everyone came up with in such a short amount of time. There were four groups of three people that wrote a piece in collaboration with each other using various processes.
Finally, we reached the highly anticipated closing concert featuring some incredible musicians from the newEar new music ensemble. The standout pieces for me were “C” by Hannah Lash, “Syrian Requiem” by Antonio Celso Ribeiro, “Once Again to the Light” by Jim Mobberley and “The Body of Your Dreams” by the one and only Jacob ter Veldhuis.
What a week. I am inspired in a way that only has happened to me a few times before. I loved Kansas City, but I am ready to get back to Michigan and reflect on the past week!
During the listening session we listened to three pieces. The first piece a was a song (I cannot recall the title) by Willie Nelson, the second piece was the prelude to Tristan and Isolde, and finally he played a song (again, no recollection of the title) by the band Yes. He cites the three works as making a significant impact on his decision to become a composer, which he didn’t actually make until the age of 21.
With the Willie Nelson tune, we delved into a discussion about the importance of folk and popular music to classical composers and instrumentalists. A good classical instrumentalist should be able to create gestures that sound just as sincere and natural as Willie Nelson when he sings or plays his guitar. His “technique” may be imperfect, but his expression can be flawless.
With Tristan, Dr. Mobberley discussed the fascination he felt when listening to this work. Over the span of eleven minutes, Wagner builds upon the same essential musical material like a true craftsman. Dr. Mobberley strove for a very long time to become a craftsman of similar caliber, and, by his own admission, this took til his late 30’s to accomplish.
Finally, we talked about the progressive rock band Yes. Dr. Mobberley reflected on some of his early days playing guitar in a rock band and how trying to figure out the intricate guitar parts of Steve Howe was part of a natural progression in the evolution of a composer. It’s again going back to that idea of hearing something mind blowing and having the inexplicable necessity to recreate that sound. It seems to be in the DNA of us composers.
After the listening session, Dr. Mobberley played some of his music for us. The works that stuck with me were his pieces Words of Love for soprano and wind ensemble and Edges for wind ensemble. He is not primarily a wind ensemble composer, however, these may be among the best compositions for the medium I have ever heard. For whatever reason I rarely find myself liking pieces for concert band or symphonic wind ensembles; they often seem to be too heavy and invariably hokey (for lack of a more technical term.) But these two pieces by Dr. Mobberley were orchestrated in such a unique way- I had none of those negative experiences I usually have with similar works. If you ever get the chance to hear these pieces or any other works of his, I recommend taking a listen.
After a lunch break, we received an informative and fascinating lecture on composing for viola by our resident violist for the workshop Michael Hall.
First off, he led us in a listening exercise in which he tried to free our minds from the assumptions and expectations people are constantly and unconsciously making. Before saying too much to us, he played what we thought was going to be a recording of Beethoven’s 6th. Right when we were all convinced we’d be listening to this piece a, THUNDEROUS and ROARING crash came through the speakers, and for the next few minutes we were bombarded by intense and surprising recorded sounds of storms and collapsing buildings. Dr. Rudy did this to prove that we are most often listening for something when hearing music, rather than listening to something. Right away, many of us knew what style of music we were listening to, what instrumentation, and some of us even knew the exact piece. All the assumptions and expectations can often lead the listener astray from the intent of the composer. As composers, we can utilize audience expectation as a tool, but we also need to be aware of our own expectations when listening to new music so that we are not depriving ourselves of new experiences and potentially great learning moments. Some of the most important moments I’ve had as a composer are those when I hear something incredibly beautiful and think “How did they do that?!”
Immediately following the listening exercise, Dr. Rudy presented some of his music to us. Saying his body of work is diverse is an insulting underestimation. He’s put out several albums of electro-acoustic music built around field recordings of everything from hail to farts, he’s written a 30-minute long improvisatory piece based on the theory of chakras, he’s written a super groovy concerto for alto sax and wind ensemble, etc. etc…Please check out this man’s music, it is interesting, beautiful, and inspiring.
To close out the Rudy centered activities, he and Michael Hall performed the previously mentioned 30-minute long improvisatory piece. It led to a thought-provoking discussion regarding the efficacy of improv focused performances, i.e. choosing the right venue, successfully including/engaging the audience, and we discussed the line between pure self-indulgence and actually performing with the intent to entertain others. It was a fascinating and enlightening discussion. We’ve been very lucky to hear Michael’s thoughts on composing and improvising from a performers point of view. He is of the highest caliber of players and incredibly wise and open-minded.
Later in the day were the “track” specific activities. There are three tracks: the standard track with Dr. Gibson, the improv track with Dr. Rudy, and the pedagogy track with Dr. Mobberly. I am on the pedagogy track. I love teaching, so I knew this would be the track for me.
On the first meeting with Dr. Mobberly he discussed the fact that there is almost no literature on composition pedagogy. For someone steeped in the world of academia, such as myself, it may be a good idea to develop my higher-ed teaching skills. I absolutely love watching people learn, it is one of life’s greatest pleasures for me. I look forward to discussing various methods and observing some of the greats here at UMKC work their pedagogical magic!
Day 2 of the UMKC Composition Workshop started out with Dr. Mara Gibson sharing some of her past and recent projects with us. Her musical focus is on collaboration. She says that 90% of the music she writes now is for people she is acquainted with so that the process feels more like a joint effort rather than a “capital-C-Composer” dictating music to others. She has also done some fascinating and beautiful work with videographers. I think that the lesson of collaboration is such an important one. Even to this day we composers feel the burden of tradition. We feel Beethoven, Brahms, and Boulez starring at us from some stormy cloud in the sky. Something that Dr. Gibson said during our first meeting on Saturday puts my preceding ramblings into concise perspective:
“Write music for people, not posterity.”
Later, we took a tour of the Nelson-Atkins Museum. It is good to know that the fine people at UMKC running this workshop understand the importance of art appreciation and would treat us to such a wonderful experience. I am not alone as a composer in being intensely interested in things outside of music, and this seems to be true of a lot of great composers. We sometimes need something extramusical to inform our work, whether it be politics, science, or sculptures.