UMKC Composition Workshop: Day 4

Day 4 of the UMKC Composition Workshop began with a listening session with Dr. Jim Mobberley. Afterwards, he shared some of his own music with us.

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┬ácan 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.

Details on Day 5 coming soon!