Author Archive

Greetings!  Been awhile.

I’ve been even farther off the grid than usual lately.  For the most part, I keep a discrete distance, but in the last four months I’ve even abandoned this blog.  There are a number of reasons, but I’m just going to write about one today.

I grew up in a world where you got what you paid for, at least in theory.  That world still exists, to some degree, but huge chunks of it have been supplanted by a world in which what you get depends on how much you are willing to divulge: lots of smart corporations have figured out that having all of your personal information can be more valuable than having a portion of your money.

Some people don’t really care about their privacy, as long as it’s not being invaded by a government, so this is fine with them.  There are many others, I suspect, who don’t really understand that their personal information is being collected and analyzed by multiple anonymous entities around the world.  They click on user agreements, like stuff, and share pictures without a thought about how sophisticated data collection has become.

I’m aware that these kinds of observations can quickly sound paranoid, and maybe that’s what I am, but just as often I am a willing partner in the system.  Once in a while, though, I get sick of it and just shut my participation down.

Though I suppose those occasional shut-downs can be as informative to data-collectors as anything else.

This all connects with music, of course, or I probably wouldn’t be writing about it here.  Coming back to where I started, I like the idea of paying money, something to which I have no personal attachment, for the things I want.  And I would much rather be paid money for the things I’m good at (eg music) than gather personal information.  But more and more people want music for free, not realizing that they are paying for the music they listen to through vast systems of data collection, or else feeling that maybe that form of sharing is a fair trade-off.

It doesn’t feel fair to me.  Money leaves my hands with barely a shadow; my personal information sticks around long after the transaction takes place.

To raise awareness of this issue, it occurs to me that I should start amending the commissioning contracts I’ve been signing all these years.  Maybe I could add a line like composer agrees not to collect your passwords, lists of movies you’ve watched and music you’ve listened to, address book contents, and other personal data.

Money — just pay me what I’m worth in money, and your privacy will be maintained.

I know, it’s a lot to ask.

Comments No Comments »

Been reading the manuscript of Jonathan Kramer’s Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening.  Kramer brings up the familiar postmodern notion of questioning the possibility of communication from composer to listener, and it got me thinking.  In recent years, I believe I have been hearing more young composers tell of focusing on their communications with performers.

This focus takes two variants: physical and creative.

First the physical: Some works are designed to feel a certain way to the performer.  They may call for a particularly idiomatic technique, or one that a particular performer has mastered.  Or the opposite: they may present a challenge to the performers to expand their comfort zones.  Or they might just establish a pacing or ambience that the composer believes the performer will enjoy.

Others give creative leeway to the performer, inviting input into the shape and direction of the music.  One of my students recently said to me that he was trying to create improvisatory worlds that would be gratifying for the performers to inhabit.

What the listener experiences in these scenarios isn’t disregarded, but it sometimes becomes secondary to the experience of the performer.  It’s as if composers, having lost the ability to communicate with listeners, have shifted their attention to the part of the process they can have a more direct impact on.

Of course, nothing has really changed – composers communicate with listeners as much as they ever have.  The difference is one of attitude – a postmodern attitude, as it turns out.

Comments No Comments »

“Writers have to keep on writing if they want to mature, like caterpillars endlessly chewing on leaves.”

Haruki Murakami, 1Q84

Comments No Comments »

Eric Whitacre stopped by nine days ago to tell us about his wind ensemble piece Noisy Wheels of Joy.

Have I mentioned how crazy things have been around here the last few weeks?  I’ve tried to, but I’ve only been able to skim the surface, leaving out important details like the one in the previous paragraph.

It’s all given me less time than I would wish to process the practical and emotional challenges surrounding my mother’s death.  I take comfort in knowing that I have the rest of my life to give that the attention it deserves, and knowing that I had her blessing to live every day of my life to the fullest.

Back to Whitacre – our April 4th Wind Ensemble concert featured his piece along with Joel Puckett’s The Shadow of Sirius and Ryan George’s Firefly.  And those were just the newest pieces.  It was a tremendous program.  And it was great for our students to meet Whitacre, who has carved out a spectacular career from enormous talent and unfettered common sense.

The following day our orchestra premiered four student works, playing each one twice.  In between the performances, the composers went up on stage to talk about their music, so we were able to listen once without preconceptions, then a second time armed with insights.

On Friday our Composition Department visited the American Moderns exhibit on loan from the Brooklyn Museum.  Phil Archer was our capable host, talking us through the challenges and solutions the 1910-1960 generation faced and formulated.  I have been steeped, lately, in some of the writings on postmodernism Jonathan Kramer left unfinished when he died, so it was bracing for me to visit this exhibit.  More on some of my thoughts on these and related topics later.

But first we have a performance of Electric Counterpoint coming up in two days, as well as new and newish works by Dusan Bogdanovich, Carlo Domeniconi and William Kanengiser.

Comments No Comments »

I once heard that the greatest gift a parent can give a child is to die well.  At first, that seemed like a pretty stark thing to put at the top of the gift list from someone who gave you life.  Over the years, though, I’ve come to see the wisdom of these words.

Life is the initial gift we get from our parents.  Sometimes it is given joyfully, and that usually seems preferable.  Sometimes it is received joyfully, and that also seems preferable, given the alternatives.  Even so, I can certainly understand the circumstances in which life would not be given or received with joy.  I feel certain it was given to me with joy, and I wish I could say I had always accepted it joyously, but the record shows that I didn’t particularly like life very much for a number of years.

But death.

Death has never struck me as preferable, regardless of how negatively I have felt about life.  The end of each composition is enough of a death for me, for now.

So I am still here after that initial gift, 4.5 dozen years later, now enjoying life quite a bit, which is to say I’m not taking any of it for granted.  The night sky, the fresh hopes of youth, the sounds made by skilled musicians – these are all wonderful sparks that illuminate and engage more than ever.

My mother died almost three weeks ago, and the way she died certainly counts as one of the great gifts she ever gave me.  Her digestive system having failed her, she slowly starved to death, rejecting any intravenous supplements or pain medications.   She did this without complaint — indeed, taking every opportunity to exclaim how lucky she had been in life, how much she was enjoying every moment, every interaction with friends and family.  Her last words to me, barely intelligible because her voice was so thoroughly parched, will remain private, but they were clearly calculated to give me comfort and strength.  Speaking with others who communicated with her in her final days, a pattern emerged of a person who was consciously demonstrating how to die with grace and dignity.

So is that the greatest gift she has given me?  Still seems like an odd thing to say, when my mother was renowned for her generosity, even getting audited by the IRS once because they couldn’t believe how much she gave to charity.

But the gift of dying well serves as instruction on how to live well, and that’s a lesson I can turn to every day.

Comments No Comments »

Today we start rehearsals for our Orchestral Premieres concert.  First orchestra rehearsals are wonderful and terrifying things.  Hopefully every instrument and every page will be in their proper places.  I’ll be there, hanging on every note.

The concert will feature four student works:

Clayton Davidson: Phase, Ellipsis
Derek Arnold: Symphony No. 1 (1st movement)
Brent Lawrence: For Wheatfields, Crows and Rain
Dak Van Vranken: Dark Face

Saturday, April 5, 2 pm, Crawford Hall, UNCSA

Comments No Comments »

We had a fantastic session with yMusic the other night, but there’s no time to give it the appropriate gaga response, because the world keeps moving under our feet.  The next day, after a fun brunch with yMusic, the students had a practice session with Toastmaster Rebecca Nussbaum on public speaking, one of those things that often goes along with being a composer that many composers find torturous.  Tonight the UNCSA Symphony, led by James Allbritten, will give the NC premiere of my colleague Kenneth Frazelle’s Triple Concerto with violinist Kevin Lawrence, cellist Brooks Whitehouse and pianist Eric Larsen.  On Tuesday night, UNCSA guitar ensembles will premiere two works by student composers on a program mixing 16th and 21st century music:

Derek Arnold: Redarkened
Brent Lawrence: Serenade

And then things start to get really crazy.

Comments No Comments »

Hot on the heels of Saturday night’s flute ensemble premieres, tonight we have yMusic in town for a recording session.  A sextet with interesting flexibility with regards to instrumentation, yMusic presents completely different challenges from those we addressed with the flute ensemble.  Finding a personnel list online isn’t easy, so here is the lineup:

Alex Sopp: flutes
Hideaki Aomori: clarinets
CJ Camerieri: trumpet/horn
Rob Moose: violin/guitar
Nadia Sirota: viola
Clarice Jensen: cello

They will be recording the following:

Kenneth Florence: 12,000 Years
Brent Lawrence: Shared Inheritance
Laura Reynolds: Burning Bridges Feels Good (At First)
Nick Rich: Half Remembered

Comments No Comments »

This Saturday night, we have four premieres of student works for flute ensemble:  Brent Lawrence’s Orange, Green, Darkness, Nick Rich’s Lennon Variations, Cheyne Runnells’ Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing and Alexander Umfleet’s Sunder.

Creating a piece that takes advantage of the benefits and avoids the pitfalls of scoring for multiples of the same instrument is a special challenge, a little cranny in a composer’s attic that deserves its own exploration.  We put a floodlight on this particular nook, listening to several flute ensemble pieces, drafting our own compositions, then workshopping the pieces last fall with the ensemble.   After that, the composers had a few months to refine and recalibrate.

Results on the 22nd.

Comments No Comments »

“The classical author who wrote his tragedy observing a certain number of known rules is freer than the poet who writes down whatever comes into his head and is slave to other rules of which he knows nothing.”

– Raymond Queneau

Comments No Comments »