Archive for March, 2011

Some of the simplest things take me a very long time to figure out.

I’ve only recently come to terms with the meaning of my role as a model for young composers, and for younger people in general.  It’s inevitable: whether I like it or not, and whether the young people around me like it or not, they take cues from my words and behavior that can have lasting impacts on their lives.  Some of these cues are imitative – emulating the way I approach certain challenges, for example – and some of them are rejections, as in, “I hate the way Dillon does x, so I vow never to do x.”

When I was a young teacher, I think I must have been a terrible role model in almost every way.  There were several reasons for this:

  • I was a brash fellow, with an enormous ego and little concern for the consequences of my actions.
  • I didn’t want people to model themselves on me, because that would detract from my sense of my own uniqueness.
  • I didn’t realize the inevitability of learning from role models, because I thought I had rejected the models of my youth in my quest for originality.

I like to think I’ve learned to manage my ego more effectively since then – yet another thing that took me a while to figure out.

One of the things I’d love to model for my students is a taste for collective ambition.  What do I mean by collective ambition?  Here’s how I think of it.

Ambition, of course, is aiming high.  When you aim high, sometimes you hit high and sometimes you fall short.  I can accept falling short of high aspirations – at least you aimed high.  If you aim low, though, you are guaranteed to hit low.

One of the la Rochefoucaulds wrote “It is not enough for me to succeed, a friend must fail.”  I used to love the gentle cynicism of this quote.  Certainly, when you measure your accomplishments against those of your peers, it helps if their work totally flops.

But now I’m finding this kind of ambition unsatisfying.  If you truly want to accomplish on the highest level, then you do whatever you can to help those around you to excel, because that raises the bar even higher for you.   And that’s what I mean by collective ambition: having the highest aspirations for everyone – pushing yourself to greater achievement through others.

Not sure if my students will pick that up from me, or if they will only pick up the silly foibles I try to hide.  But I’ll aim high, and hope for the best.

Comments No Comments »

Field trip tomorrow.  Eleven of us on a small bus to Raleigh – about two hours away – for a full day of activities.

  • 1:00 pm: Recording session with members of the North Carolina Symphony of works by student composers Noah Ferguson, Leo Hurley, Ted Oliver, Zachary Polozune, Nicchi Rozsa, Alicia Willard, Max Witt.  A chance to participate in a professional recording session and experience some of the resulting challenges and opportunities outside of the academic environment.
  • 6:45 pm: Premiere of String Quartet No. 1 by UNCSA student Leo Hurley on an early-evening program in Meymandi Hall.  Leo’s piece won a competition sponsored by the North Carolina Symphony to get this premiere.
  • 8:00 pm: Composer Portrait performance by the North Carolina Symphony, featuring three works by John Adams.  Adams has put an enormous footprint on the new music world, especially in the orchestral sphere.  We’ve been studying his work all year: now we’ll experience Eros Piano, Short Ride in a Fast Machine and Harmonium live in one evening.

It’s a lot to pack into nine hours.  We should roll back into campus a little after midnight, a bit happier and a whole lot wiser.

(And here’s where I get to express my appreciation to the Kenan Institute for the Arts and the UNCSA School of Music for making these kinds of growth experiences possible.)

Comments No Comments »

Many composers over the past hundred years have devoted their lives to demonstrating that music doesn’t have to be tonal in order to be attractive, engaging, satisfying, lovely – pick your own adjective.

I was reminded of this fact by a recent review in American Record Guide of my recording Insects and Paper Airplanes, which the critic praised for reminding us that accessible music needn’t be overtly tonal.

Made me realize that I’ve spent maybe fifteen minutes of my life trying to prove that nontonal music can be beautiful.

After those fifteen minutes, it occurred to me that the music that was in the air when I was growing up proved something just as interesting: that tonal music could be abrasive, brutal, angst-ridden, vicious – pick your own adjective.

Popular music in my youth featured more wailing than crooning, more crunchy rhythm than melody, more aggression than solace.  And yet much of this music was as straightforwardly diatonic as anything in history.

So it should be no surprise that some of the most clearly tonal passages in my music have a harsher edge to them than some of the music that evades, or confuses, a tonal center.  My least dissonant music is often my ugliest.

It’s a nice example of the way rhythm can trump tonality when it comes to dictating musical character.  Certainly the rhythms introduced by 20th-century popular music gave the world a broader expressive pallet than had been known before.

Including some rather nifty, nasty crunches.

Comments No Comments »

I’m hitting the road today, but on my way out here’s a nicely nuanced new review of Insects and Paper Airplanes from Classical Lost and Found:

Comments No Comments »

I’ve been sick for more than two weeks: sore throat, hacking cough.  Stayed home from work just one day because I had no voice.  Been close to losing my voice on a few other occasions as well.  But there have been too many important things going on around here, especially deadlines my students are working around the clock to meet, for me to take a real break.

So other than that one day, which was thirteen days ago, I’ve been out and about every day for the last 25 days.  By out and about, I don’t mean trips to the grocery store or walks around the neighborhood, I mean interacting with students, colleagues, etc., ie meeting professional obligations.

It’s wearing me down, mostly because I am sick, but also because of who I am.  I tell my wife our kids have a bit of hermit crab in their bloodlines, because I seem to need to bury myself on a regular basis.  I need at least a couple of days a week when I’m closed off from the outer world.  Two or three times a year, my responsibilities pile up and I’m unable to hide in my hole for a while.

Then along comes spring break – at the end of this week – and all is well again.

Comments No Comments »

Wild and wonderful week here.  On Monday, we had a recording session with our orchestra of three student compositions.  Yesterday I had a sound/tech check for my upcoming ARTstem presentation.  Today we’ll have another recording session with our orchestra of student pieces.  Also today, the Winston-Salem Symphony will give the world premiere of one of the compositions: Ted Oliver’s Dreamcatcher.  Tomorrow I’ll team up with colleagues for our multimedia show previewing Shadow on the Sun – projections, music, and discussions of solar physics and musical composition.  On Friday, more rehearsals.  Saturday afternoon we’ll have a seminar with guest composer David Maslanka, then Saturday night the premiere of Shadow on the Sun – music, video, etc.

Learning new things constantly, on the fly.  When it comes to multimedia, it helps to have every possible adapter ever designed.

Now that it’s March, I’m finally remembering to announce that I was Composer of the Month for February at the Pytheas Center.  Here it is.

And I’m featured in the March issue of the Juilliard Journal, under their Alumni Q&A.  A very pleasant interview with oboist ToniMarie Marchioni.

Meanwhile, I’ve had great reviews from Gramophone and American Record Guide for Insects and Paper Airplanes.  Not available online at this point, but it’s always fun to see new ears getting what I’ve been up to in print.

Comments 1 Comment »