The Atlantic Music Festival finished a few weeks ago and I have to say that it was an incredible experience. I got to work with some incredible performers who premiered works of mine. I am so grateful for them to have worked on my pieces and all of the performances went fantastically. I also got to meet with some amazing composers from around the northeast, such as Nils Vigeland, Eric Ewazen, Robert Paterson, Ken Ueno, Robert Cuckson, Stephen Cabell, George Tsontakis, and David Ludwig. Getting to know so many different composers from around the world was also a great experience and hopefully the connections made here will last through my career as a composer.
In my earlier post about the Hero’s Journey, I talked about how a character ventures off into something unknown, goes through a series of tests, and comes back changed. This is exactly how my experience with AMF can be described. I entered the festival a little unsure of my abilities as a composer, but definitely willing to learn and adapt. I’m leaving the festival with a new sense of self confidence and ready to tackle my next pieces and looking for new challenges.
Throughout all of my experiences there, I want to share a few of the things I got from the festival.
Performers and Composers need a symbiotic relationship if either of them are going to survive.
“Write so that your performers sound great. When they sound great, you sound great.” Almost everything I experienced in working with the performers held true to this. I treated my performers like rockstars, because to me, thats what they were. I gave them works that, although difficult, highlighted some great aspects of their playing, and as a result, they sounded awesome.
In the long term, I see this being even more important. The colleagues who play my music now will hopefully be the same people playing my music 20 years down the road through their own careers. I feel like my mindset when writing for them should be thinking of how do I help them reach their own success. If they make it out there and they did it playing something I wrote, then it will be just like I made it too. Composers and performers should feed off of each others success, and that way, everyone wins.
Don’t be afraid to say “Hi!” and be nice.
I was a fairly shy and reserved person before going to the festival. When I landed in Maine, I walked past the one guy that I thought might have also been going to the festival maybe 3 or 4 times before I decided to introduce myself. After that, I realized that almost no one at the festival is going to know each other beforehand, so I might as well meet everyone that I can. In the end, I made a ton of great friends and colleagues who I hope to keep in touch with for a very long time.
I noticed some very talented people who were too into what they were doing and didn’t really bother to get to know many other people. Unfortunately for them, people didn’t get to hear much of their music outside of what they presented in some group lessons. Being involved in music calls for a sense of community. Don’t be afraid to be a part of it.
Focus on what you are trying to say.
Composing is about saying what you as an artist feel that you have to say. The musical language and vocabulary each composer writes with, whether it is tonal, atonal, minimalistic, experimental, or whatever combinations of any “style” or genre, is only a tool for composers to use to help convey that message.
Study scores to expand your vocabulary and technique. The bits of technique you learn in school like canon, isorhythm, or fugue may seem fairly pointless when you first learn them, but you at least know how to do it. When the time comes when you have something you want to say, but can’t figure out how to say it, think about all the possible techniques in your vocabulary. One of those just might be exactly what you need.
Coming from all of this, I’m feeling confident and ready for this next year and I am ready to write. Let’s see where I go from here.