Archive for April, 2005

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Da Capo’s in dress rehearsal right now for tonight’s program: music by Charles Wourinen, Stefan Wolpe, Shulamit Ran, Chinary Ung, John Harbison and Joan Tower.

While the da capites were teaching instrumental classes last night, I snuck off to hear a lecture by Carol Gilligan, noted psychologist, author and feminist.

 height= Dr. Gilligan was here as part of the ongoing Kenan Writers Encounters series. I’ve read her 2002 book “The Pleasure Principle,” which recounts her studies of childhood and adolescence. In it, she draws a wonderful parallel between girls in their teens and boys in the 5-7 year age range. According to her studies, these are the times when we learn to hide our true feelings in order to fit into our social milieus. For adolescent girls, it’s often the pressure of the “good girl/bad girl” dichotomy, of acting like a lady. For boys in the 5-7 year age range, it’s the pressure of acting like a man, of not being emotional.

In her lecture, she tied all of this developmental psychology into the creative arts, into finding one’s voice, or, more accurately, not losing ones voice. She drew a vivid distinction between the academic and artistic worlds, clearly having experienced the worst of academia. It was an interesting, thoughtful presentation on the dangers and benefits of artistic expression.

A fascinating sideshow was the audience: about 300 adults of all ages, many of them busily taking notes on little pads. It was as if we were at a convention of the nation’s psychology journalists.

Or maybe they are all sitting at their computers at this moment, blogging away on their thoughts and observations from the evening.

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When I took charge of the Composition Department here in 2000, the first thing I did was secure funding to establish the NCSA Twenty-first Century Residencies program, through which we bring a major new music figure or ensemble each year. Here’s what we’ve done so far:

2000-01: Composer Bernard Rands. Performance of String Quartet No. 2 (1994), Memo 8 (2000) and Concertino for Oboe (1996), with guest oboist Jacqueline LeClair.

2001-2: eighth blackbird. Music by George Perle, Frederic Rzewski, Daniel Kellogg, Minimum Security Composers Collective.

2002-2003: Speculum Musicae. Music by Mario Davidovsky, Christopher Winders, Charles Wourinen.

2003-2004: Composer William Bolcom. Premiere of String Quartet No. 11 (2003) to celebrate the opening of Watson Chamber Music Hall.

This season we’re bringing the Da Capo Chamber Players for a residency — I will be picking them up at the airport this evening. Schedule:

FRIDAY 8 APRIL

Outreach: Forsyth County Day Care: 1:30

Instrumental classes: 7:30 pm

  • Patricia Spencer: Contemporary Flute Repertoire and Extended Techniques
  • Meighan Stoops: Professional Opportunities for Clarinetists
  • David Bowlin: Violin Master Class
  • Andre Emilianov: Cello Master Class
  • Blair McMillen: Piano Master Class
SATURDAY 9 APRIL: Watson Hall

10 am – 1 pm, Open Dress Rehearsal
7:30 pm, Concert

SUNDAY 10 APRIL: Watson Hall

Recording Session for student composers:

  • Gregory Miles Hoffman (Graduate 1): Unine Emamesilane
  • Dylan Zola (College 1): From the Head
  • Joseph Edwards (College 1): idolini
  • Felix Ventouras (College 2): Mystery
  • J.E. Rose (Professional Artist’s Certificate) Quintet No. 2
  • Justin Poindexter (College 3): Photograph Quartet
  • William Stevens (College 4): Capriccio

Lunch with Da Capo and Composition Department

2:00 Internet 2 Session
Da Capo Chamber Players Informance on John Harbison’s “Songs America Loves To Sing”

The recording session will be a great opportunity for the students involved, who are used to having their peers play their music, to get direct feedback from professionals who are unfamiliar with their work. The Internet 2 session will include several other schools, allowing for questions and discussion in real time on a new work by John Harbison.

I’ll be very busy hosting/shuttling/trouble-shooting (and conducting) over the coming days, but I will give a full report as I’m able. Some parts of the residency will undoubtedly be spectacular, and there may be some disappointments. We’ll see. I’m curious to hear about similar guest residencies at other schools, since I’m always looking for ways to make this program work as effectively as possible.

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I’ve had some email suggestions for my 80s list that have been very provocative and helpful. Time to take a crack at the 90s and 00s. This isn’t a “best of” list, it’s a list of works I have seen have an impact on young composers. I don’t claim to be an expert, I’m hoping to get feedback from younger composers whose are in the process of shaping their voices, because the fallout from a lot of newer music is difficult for older composers to measure:

Julia Wolfe: Four Marys (1991)
John Adams: Chamber Symphony (1992)
David Lang: Cheating, Lying, Stealing (1993)
Michael Daugherty: Metropolis Symphony (1993)
Tan Dun: Marco Polo (1996)
Thomas Ades: Powder Her Face (1997)
Pierre Boulez: Sur incises (1998)
Frederic Rzewski: Pocket Symphony (2000)
Osvaldo Golijov: La Pasión según San Marcos (2000)
Michael Gordon: Decasia (2001)

As Kyle Gann and Rodney Lister have averred, and I certainly agree, there are a number of reasons why a list like this will always fall short of being comprehensive. Again, I am looking at this as a starting point. Most of all, I want to know what I’ve missed, so I can take a crack at filling in my own gaps. So let me know what you think!

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J. Mark Scearce’s article on the Ethics of Education for NewMusicBox has sparked some healthy disagreement, both over there and on Sequenza21′s forum. It seems to me that he started off with an important message, but got sidetracked into some flimsy pronouncements. The one I’d like to address is his statement that since only 10% of the composers accepted into degree programs end up having a career, then degree programs should only accept 10% of the students they currently accept.

Doesn’t hold water. After all, which 10% do you accept? Composers around the age of 20 are more potential than accomplishment. Getting from potential to accomplishment takes a lot of work, determination and good luck. There’s no way to tell, at that age, who is going to get there. One can only say that some seem to have more potential than others.

But again, I think he began with an important mission: to point out the discrepancy between what some music programs say they do and what they actually do. I know this is an issue I grapple with constantly as a teacher: how do I balance my desire to nurture budding artists with my awareness and sensitivity to the challenges and realities of the profession?

As a student, I recall Milton Babbitt saying to a group of us, “if I knew what I know now about the profession when I was your age, I would have done something else.” Very discouraging words from someone who most composers think has had as much professional success as one could hope for.

I don’t have a formula for how to address this issue with students. I try to be sensitive to each student’s artistic direction first and foremost, while offering them honest feedback on their professional options. I also try to offer them experiences and awarenesses that will serve them well in their adult lives, even if they end up never composing another note.

For me, there is no more rewarding pursuit than designing sound worlds. But the rewards are psychic: intellectual and emotional. Anything beyond that is gravy.

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Thanks to the help of Sequenza21 readers, I have a list of pivotal works from the 70s. Time to take a crack at the 1980s. Again, these are pieces I think had widespread influence on many composers, even though some of them didn’t have much influence on me personally:

Laurie Anderson: O Superman (1981)
Steve Reich: The Desert Music (1983)
Arvo Part: Te Deum (1984)
Morton Feldman: Piano and String Quartet (1985)
John Adams: Harmonielehre (1985)

Much to my surprise, I’m finding it very difficult to come up with works from the late 1980s that I’m certain belong on this list. Can anyone help? A lot of the pieces I thought could be included turned out to be from the early 90s. Maybe I should give in to the temptation to include the same composer more than once. But in any case, I may be missing a pivotal work from Downtown and from Neo-Complexity land.

And does anyone know just when and how the craze for big, steroidal orchestral works got started? I think I must have missed that chapter.

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