Day Two, Thursday, was the most intense part of my MUSIC NOW residency. Tony Iannacone picked me up at 9 am from the hotel and brought me to Pease Auditorium, where I was scheduled to give the 11 am Convocation Speech. The stage manager, whose name I wish I could recall, was very patient while I fussed about the playback – I had several samples of my music I wanted to play, and the setup seemed a bit tinny to me. He ended up going to another building to get equipment in order to rig up a more robust system.The audience filtered in as the appointed hour approached. Later, Tony estimated there were about 500 people; I thought there were a bit fewer than that, but the bright spotlights in my eyes made me an unreliable judge. David Woike, the head of the Department of Music and Dance, gave a very kind introduction, and then I launched into my spiel.

The speech, which I will post here later, covered a lot of ground, but hovered around three of my ongoing compositional interests: Classical heritage, spoken text and musical humor.

Forty-five minutes, 2200 words and nine recorded excerpts later, I opened the floor to questions. Tony had warned me that the students were often shy, but he forgot to warn them – they had plenty to ask me. The questions were all good ones — challenging and insightful.

A side-note: some in the audience were amused at the flask I kept taking swigs from during the speech – it looked for all the world like I was tippling from a bottle of gin. During the question-and-answer session, I assured them that it was water – and very tasty water at that.

At 12:00 sharp, Dr. Woike had to put an end to the questions because of time constraints. I was then ushered into a large green room where about a hundred students sat on chairs, tables and the floor. These students turned out to be members of a music literature class taught by Willard Zirk. Zirk had collected questions from the students, written on little slips of paper, and shot them to me. The questions covered a wide range of pertinent topics: my compositional process and preferences, the future of music, etc. The class had studied a score and recording of my Amadeus ex machina, so there were technical questions as well. They had gone through the entire piece, identifying all of the connections to Mozart’s 40th Symphony. I wouldn’t be surprised if they found some that I didn’t realize were there.

We went straight from the literature class to an orchestra rehearsal: Conductor Kevin Miller was brushing up Amadeus ex machina. The piece was just about ready for performance, but they still spent an hour and a half on it, fine tuning every entrance and gesture. I tried to give them helpful feedback, but they were already very well prepared.

At 2:30, Tony took me back to the hotel. My three-and-a-half hours of interacting with these students were very invigorating: they were an inspiring and dedicated bunch, just as a friend of mine, who used to teach there, had told me.

After a chatty dinner, we headed back to Pease Auditorium for the evening concert played by faculty, students and guest artists. The concert was free, and well attended. Four of my works were performed: Facade (1983) for violin and piano, Dunigan Variations (1991) for four flutes, Big Brothers (2004) for saxophones, vibe and piano, and Furies and Muses (1997) for bassoon and string quartet.

In between, they premiered two great little pieces for horn by students, winners of a competition sponsored by faculty hornist Willard Zirk. This was a great idea: I’m going to push for something similar at NC School of the Arts. Faculty members get new works for their instruments, student composers get a professional challenge to rise to, and everybody gets to hear a premiere.

After the concert, there was a lavish reception, which certainly made me feel quite well treated, after which Tony took me back to the hotel.

I’m trying to figure out how to describe the many vivid and revealing discussions I had with Tony Iannacone. As I mentioned in my last post, we have many friends, colleagues and acquaintances in common. I don’t want to betray any confidences, though, so I’ll keep what I’ve learned to myself until I can figure an appropriate way to share a wealth of information I think many would find quite helpful and interesting.

On a personal note: right before the concert, a very familiar looking man came up to me and introduced himself as Tim Dillon. I did a double-take before I realized he was a cousin I hadn’t seen in 40 years. He didn’t look familiar from 40 years ago — after all, we were children then — but he looked like he could have been a long-lost brother. It was a lovely surprise.

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