Sparkling in the Dark has two performances, tomorrow night and the next, in more trendy venues than I am normally accustomed to. First up is The Pinhook, Durham’s favorite destination for dance parties, in a show called Alleys of Your Mind featuring the Alex Kotch Dance Band. And on Friday, it’s off to Mack & Mack, a cool design showroom for women’s fashions in Greensboro.
All of this enhanced hipness comes courtesy of the Elliott/Fancher Duo, the latest standard-bearers of excellence to tackle my work. Brave souls, all.
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I’ve worked on, to one degree or another, five compositions this summer. In no particular order:
- Sanctuary for 2 violins, viola, cello, bass, piano and horn
- The Gemini for cello, bass and orchestra
- Seven Stories, for soprano and eight instruments
- Fantasy for string quartet
- Orchestration of Poke
Watching a new piece take on a life of its own is a wondrous and terrifying experience. At a certain point I always find myself face-to-face with one of these strange creatures, wondering just what the hell it is and where it came from.
Armenian artist Karen Sargsyan has captured this odd mix of feeling in his work Murderous Romance, a sculpture made entirely of paper that I had the pleasure of encountering a few weeks ago at SECCA, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. In this work, which the artist describes as a self-portrait, a small (maybe 3-feet high) man is pursued by a towering, conglomerative monster — part Frankenstein, part Dorian Grey — of his own making. The work manages to be both frightening and terrifically funny. A photo could hardly capture all the witty detail, but I couldn’t help wishing I could snap one to post on this blog. The picture below will have to suffice to convey some of the precision and character of his art – this piece is called Human Behavior.
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The night before last our Composition Department convened for the first time of the new year. Many new faces, many new challenges and rewards. Here is our schedule for the fall:
- Aug 24-25: Cirque du Soleil at UNCSA – UNCSA student groups perform for Cirque du Soleil representatives. Two works featured: The Black Widow and The Paper Crane, both with music by Bruce Tippette.
- Aug 31: Totally Tubular – composing for the trumpet-trombone duo.
- Sep 1: Open Dream Ensemble – premiere of Big Shoes, a multidisciplinary theater work with music by Bruce Tippette, Kenneth Florence and Ted Oliver.
- Sep 28: Amped – composing for electric guitar.
- Sep 30: Composers in the Hood – student-organized new music concert in Hood Recital Hall.
- Oct 4: Love Fail – premiere of a new work by David Lang, performed by Anonymous 4.
- Oct 13: deadline for new works for Totally Tubular.
- Oct 18: Forecast – new music ensemble performs works by Lawrence Dillon, Mark Engebretson, Michael Rothkopf and Alejandro Rutty.
- Oct 26: What’s nu? – contemporary ensemble director Saxton Rose discusses rep on the upcoming concert.
- Oct 27: nu – UNCSA contemporary ensemble tackles music by Randall Woolf, Caleb Burhans, Wolfgang Rihm, Giacinto Scelsi and Benjamin Broening.
- Nov 9: Amped II – Kenneth Florence and Nicholas Rich play student compositions for electric guitar. Also, deadline for orchestral drafts and completed works for nu ensemble.
- Nov 10: Saxophone Remix – Taimur Sullivan plays music by Joan Tower and Steve Reich.
- Nov 13: Totally Tubular – faculty duo premieres a student work for trumpet and trombone.
- Nov 16: Composition Juries
- TBA: sessions on improvisation, pairing up with choreographers and a surprise guest composer.
A lot to digest in less than three months. Lessons start today!
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We are all familiar with the struggles that composers face in finding artistic and professional success. The difficulties are enormous and the external rewards are few.
Given the challenges, it’s easy to lose sight of a few broader benefits of composing. Here is my list of the reasons why composers’ work is valuable:
- There are so many people who devote their lives to destroying things, it’s important to have just as many people devoted to creation, in order to balance out the human ledger. In our own lives, we often destroy things — intentionally and unintentionally — composing is a way of balancing out our personal ledgers.
- Composers create a unique record of what it means to be alive at this moment. Their record is different from poetry or prose, it’s different from visual representations. Without that record, we, as a civilization, know ourselves a little less, and the future understands us a little less, which is to our detriment.
- Composers teach the world to listen more closely. We will never reach a point where people listen too closely to themselves, or to one another. Our presence, our work, can serve as a reminder that listening brings greater wisdom and awareness.
- Composers make a unique connection to the past and the future. The musical ideas that get passed on and transformed from the beginning of time to the end are a tangible demonstration of the consistency and variance of life itself.
- New music surprises us, and rewards us for our willingness to be surprised. Developing the ability to accept and grow from surprise is a crucial survival skill.
- Living composers, forging music from their best and worst thoughts, demonstrate that the joys and indignities we all experience in our daily lives should never be wasted.
- It feels good. Never underestimate the importance of doing things that give you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Those good feelings feed one another, feed our relationships with others, and in turn are passed on to people we never meet.
If, as individual composers, we are ignored in our own lifetimes or forgotten when we die, that is beyond our control and, to a certain extent, irrelevant to our purpose. The truth is, most people are ignored and forgotten by society at large, and each one of us has come from a long line of ignored and forgotten people, what Thoreau called lives of quiet desperation. For adolescents, this is a tragedy. For adults, it should be an inspiration.
- originally posted June 2005
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