Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Hey, remember that time I started a blog....

Well I certainly have been neglectful in my blogging duties. I have not however been neglectful in my duties as a composer. For the past year, I have been writing what has come to be my first symphony. It's due to premier on June 2 at 8:00 p.m. in Weigel Hall on the campus of Ohio State University. (I think that's enough prepositional phrases for that sentence....) I'm so thrilled that Dr. Mikkelson has agreed to program the symphony on the final concert of the Wind Symphony's season, but today was rather a surprising maelstrom of emotions surrounding the symphony.

Today was the first day that the group read the piece together. It's really exciting especially to see my name listed on the rehearsal schedule listed under Aaron Copland's; it's exciting to know that what has existed up to this point as a mostly theoretical thing, either as an idea or a digital file or a piece of paper is going to become a tangible sonic sensation; and it's exciting to know that the 29 players and 1 conductor that the piece requires are joining in the effort that I've singlehandedly been a part of for the last year. It's exciting and humbling, but there's also a tinge of nervousness on this emotional landscape.

For the past year I have lived with this piece and it hasn't seen many people aside from me. It's met my composition teachers and it's met Dr. Mikkelson and few other friends and colleagues, but it hasn't spent enough time with any of these people for them to scrutinize it. This is the part that makes me nervous. There's no reason that the reading should go disastrously, but the irrational and vulnerable parts of me are nervous that players will judge my work harshly. My work that I've spent the past year of my life creating and developing and nurturing. There's a fairly large emotional risk involved in this process, especially for a composer who has yet to create a name for himself outside of his own university.

The counter-argument to Debbie Downer up there is that, while the piece hasn't seen many people for the past year, I have. During my tenure at Ohio State, I've had the pleasure of forming friendships with talented musicians from many facets of music be they bassoonists, percussionists, conductors, educators, or myriad other musical disciplines. The people with whom I've formed these relationships have unwittingly invested part of themselves into my piece, too. It's much easier to write a virtuosic piece when you deal daily with budding talents who inspire confidence in a burgeoning composer and are willing to offer guidance to him and, what's more, they are willing to take a risk with that same young composer. I am happy and proud to say that it has been my experience at Ohio State that the overwhelming majority of people work to create at atmosphere of collaboration. It is one that allows for safe failure (which is an important step in any learning process), but encourages success. I must reiterate that I am humbled to have so many talented musicians putting energy into this process.

That is an ex post facto look at my emotions from this morning. I'm very glad to report that the reading went well and was well received by the Wind Symphony members. That is (somewhat thankfully) an anticlimax to an emotionally turbulent morning and this will be a similarly anticlimactic end to this post. Anticlimax happens sometimes and sometimes that's good. I'm glad there's no feeling of devastation that I have to wind myself up to recuperate from or conversely a feeling euphoria that I would end up crashing from. I'm glad to find myself in satisfyingly placid emotional waters.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

as per my sister's and Mariah's requests

a new DJR-gram!

this is a free writing activity I did yesterday to help organize my thoughts on the second movement of the suite for Wind Ensemble on which I'm currently working. This movement is about mountain steams. Here is the unedited free writing in its entirety.

Free Writing on the Second movement of the yet title-less [Water Suite]


I have begun the first draft of the second movement of this suite. The first movement filled 3:30 mins quite easily, which is encouraging for the desired length of this work as a whole. The second movement stands in stark and deliberate contrast to the fury of the first. Another (less intentional) contrast is the use of a recognizable tonal center.

I don’t think that I gave the stipulation that the entire suite would be derived form [01345789] (let us call this “set A”), but if I did, I want to rescind that stipulation. It seems that it would be super arbitrary and not allow for right harmonies for the scenes I want to convey. It may be in my favor though to perhaps allow for harmonies based on some truncation of set A. right now, I think it best to just derive harmonies aurally and let things go organically. The idea of movement by 4ths (melodically) is an intriguing one to me and I’ve already started to use it.

The entire movement needs to sound fresh, cool, and green, like spring time or early summer. Everything is alive and vibrant. The opening is quiet and still, using mostly open 4ths. Through flurries of movement in the oboe, flute and clarinet, we transition into a more active texture of descending diatonic thirds in upper winds. There are now two contrasting ideas: stillness and movement. Both are equally important to my feelings when I am near a quiet stream in the hills (Think Tinkers Creek, OH or Crabtree Falls, NC) The water is moving ceaselessly, but I feel so still and don’t want to disturb anything. It’s all so quiet and tranquil and perfect and I just want to recede into the woods and stay in this vibrant quietness forever. It is at once invigorating and quieting. It gives me respite from the busy, (often) ugly world of people.

How to solve the musical problem of balancing stillness with motion is real point of this exercise, though. Picture a still pond. You can take this all in and it’s wonderful in it’s pristine stillness. There’s a problem though. Nature abhors a static state so this picture we’ve dreamt up is impossibly unnatural. There will doubtless be a light breeze to ripple the surface, or barring that some dragonfly will fly though our picture. But still there is a type of stillness and this is the stillness I want to portray. Open 4ths do this more than adequately. It’s a simple harmonic construction that is consonant between directly neighboring members but dissonant between every other member: simultaneous consonance and dissonance.

Motion is also simple to convey by itself. Florid lines in woodwinds achieve this quite simply, but how does one portray stillness without allowing motion to overpower. One answer short burst of motion. (recall the dragonfly in our picture that flies quickly in and then out of view) but much more than perhaps 30 seconds of this will drive a listener crazy; start and stop and start and stop to the point of motion sickness! This is not an acceptable macro-scale solution. Some marriage of the two can be achieved by slowing the motion down, but then the two are melded rather than simultaneously existing independently of each other. A potentially effective solution may be to create stasis on the high winds and allow alto and tenor voices to create the motion. The ear is drawn toward the soprano voice because of range and the lower voice because of motion. (A tip of the hat to Gunther Schuler and his Contrabassoon Concerto). I think this is the best solution at which I have yet arrived and this is the one that I plan to use most extensively.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What are we doing here?

I'm David. I am a 22 year-old music student at Ohio State University. I'm studying composition and bassoon performance, and I'm starting this blog to share my ponderings about various topics in classical music with others. I thoroughly enjoy conversations about music with my colleagues at OSU, and now I hope to broaden my horizons and learn others' opinions about music. I also just find it helpful to get thoughts down in writing, and hopefully readers find some interest in my thoughts.

I can honestly say that I love being a music student. I was reminded of this while practicing in Hughes Hall this evening at around 1:15am. I realized how lucky I am to have found something that I am consistently so excited about and furthermore how lucky I am to have so many friends that share my excitement. Friends that are willing to give up time to advise me what will or will not work on their respective instruments while I am composing. As trite as all that sounds, it's true. I can no longer picture myself following any other career path with the same level of fulfillment and that being the case, I am dedicated to becoming a successful composer.