UMKC Workshop: A Wrap Up

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.

Day 5:

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….)

Day 6:

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!

Day 7:

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!