A Slight Change of Plans

My last post was at the start of my fourth year of my undergraduate study, and now this post is happening right at the end. In September, I had this grand plan laid out in front of me. I was going to take an extra year of undergraduate study to finish with a degree in both Music Composition and Microbiology. I was going to to use that year to really focus on building a solid portfolio to apply for a Masters program in Composition. I was going to visit schools and professors to see which programs were best suited for me. I was going to use the summer to get another festival under my belt and try to get really solid recordings of my work. That timeline didn’t exactly stick. I had to adjust my plans accordingly, and these past few months have been intense journy.

  • September – Long discussions with my parents. Removed double major in Microbiology. Portfolio Panic.
  • October – Rough draft of an Orchestral piece. Lots of coffee. Revisions.
  • November – Orchestration and notation. More coffee…a lot more coffee. Editing. Resume building. Applications. Essays. Statements of purpose. Visited New York City. More editing.
  • December – “Are you sure you would like to submit your application?” ……yes. Christmas. Still not done. More applications.
  • January – “Please review your application before submitting”x10. Send. Breathe… Auditions Panic.
  • February – Aural skills review. Sight singing review. Theory review. Overnight assignment practice. Coffee. Overnight assignment practice again. Coffee. Overnight assignment practice again again. “Congratulations! You have been accepted to ….” and “It is with great regret that…”
  • March – New York. Auditions. auralskills-theory-overnightassignment. Interview. Breath… Meet Julia Wolfe. See NYU’s Campus. Attempt to contain excitement.
  • April – Decide to go to NYU.

I condensed almost an entire year’s worth of work into just a few months.… - Continue Reading -

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I remember coming across an article about Morton Feldman that said that he would always compose in pen. He would go on writing, and if he noticed that he was scribbling too many thing off the page, he would stop and be done for the day. He treated composing as if it were an act of performing.

Everyone has their routines and rituals they do whenever they set out to work. I have to have my coffee at the right time. My chair has to be the right height. I only write with Palamino Blackwing Pencils. It has to be the right paper. And, my ruler has to be within arms reach at all times.

But do any of those things really matter? Do they actually help me write better? No. In reality these are things that just mask insecurities of whatever I am working on. It’s like I’m saying “If I write with these pencils in this setting at this time of the day, I’ll do great work!” How ridiculous does that sound? All I really need is something to write with and some manuscript. That’s it. Through my experience playing piano and trumpet, I’ve found that when I’m just playing to have fun, I improve so much faster and perform at a much higher level. This is the same performing experience I want to have when I sit down to compose. Having this ritualistic act of writing adds a layer of stress and overthinking that doesn’t need to be there.

When you are working on a draft, there needs to be a flow to your work. The creativity needs to come out uninhibited by your mind saying “this isn’t good enough, what are you doing?” There is a time and place for that part of your brain to come out and shine, but the early stages of a work is certainly not it.… - Continue Reading -

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Return Home

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.… - Continue Reading -

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It’s a Rough Draft for a Reason

I’ve been stuck on this same movement of this flute piece for a good while now, but I finally feel like I’ve made some headway. I was in the middle of writing the rough draft thinking, “I don’t know what else to write. What do I do?” I had my roadmap perfectly laid out in front of me but i still couldn’t find the actual notes to fit what I wanted. I took a break and came back to it after a few days of vacation, which was fantastic by the way, but time went on and I realized that it had been forever since I touched the piece. In a way, I was afraid that whatever was going to come out next wasn’t going to be good enough. More time passed and I realized I hadn’t touched the score in far too long. It doesn’t matter what I write as long as I write SOMETHING. Get to the double barline and finish this draft. Who cares if it sucks, I can fix it after I know what I want fixed. So I wrote. And then I wrote some more. And then I realized I hated what I wrote, so I fixed it. And then I wrote some more. And even though what I wrote didn’t seem like it was that great at first, it was still better than having it as empty space on the score waiting to be written. Even if I absolutely hated what I ended up writing, I figured, “Screw it. I can always go and change it when I know what actually goes there.”

I remember working on essays and learning about the writing process way back in grade school. Start with your prewrite phase, do you first draft, edit and revise, and set up the final draft.… - Continue Reading -

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New Recordings

In case you missed my recital last month (or just want to hear it all again), here are the recordings! Please Enjoy.

- Continue Reading -

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Good News, Bad News, and Good Bad News

Good News: I am very pleased to say that my Junior Recital(s) went fantastically. Thank you to everyone who performed and thank you to everyone who came! It meant a lot!

Bad News: Exams. Papers. Deadlines.

Bad News: Rejection Letters.

Good News: Those rejection letters caused the most cathartic writing session I’ve ever had.

Good News: I just got accepted into the Atlantic Music Festival in Waterville, Maine! I’ll be learning from an amazing group of faculty including David Ludwig, Eric Ewazen, George Tsontakis, Ken Ueno, Nils Vigeland, Robert Cuckson, Robert Paterson, Stephen Cabell, Sheridan Seyfried, Vivian Fung, Mari Kimura, Jean-Baptiste Barrièr, and Tom Zicarelli. I’ll also be getting to know and working with some very talent musicians from all over the nation.

Bad News: I have less than a month to write a new piece.

Good News: I get to write a new piece.

Bad News: More deadlines.

Good News: I’m getting to be really good at writing fast.

Bad News: This past weekend, I went through 3 different occasions of throwing everything out the window and starting from scratch

Good News: By throwing old things out and starting out with something new, the new stuff made the old stuff viable again.

Good Bad News: Things rarely turn out how you would expect, but the unexpected keeps things interesting.… - Continue Reading -

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At UGA, we have a required number of semesters that students have to be in a small/chamber ensemble. Normally, most people go to their instrument professors and ask to be put into a standard chamber ensemble, like a brass quintet or a woodwind quartet. But I wanted to take this opportunity to put some more composing into my curriculum. This past year, I spent a lot of time listening to ensembles like Victoire or The NOW Ensemble, and even more recently yMusic. I was looking through the course listings and saw that we had a class called “Contemporary Chamber Ensemble” and figured I would actually put that to use, and decided to create a new ensemble.

The first person I came to with this idea was another composer in the studio and also a very talented clarinetist, Corrine Klemenc.  Originally she was hesitant about it, but eventually warmed up to the idea. I think what really sold her was the name: NuMew. But anyways, thats when the ensemble actually started to look like it was going to happen. The next step was to find more people.

After texting and facebooking other people around the school of music, Corrine and I eventually got a cellist, a double bass player, and a pianist along with Corinne on clarinet and myself on trumpet. Now that we knew our instrumentation, we could actually start writing, which was being done entirely over that summer. We hit a few bumps in the road when we started the fall semester and realized that neither of us had actually finished our pieces yet. Both of us were trying to be so perfectionistic about the piece, but this wasn’t the time for that. Sometimes you have to just write and go and then fix things along the way.

We didn’t actually start having rehearsal until about halfway into the semester.… - Continue Reading -

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Adventures with Influenza

This weekend, as I lied in bed coughing my lungs out, I found myself rediscovering Joseph Campbell’s monomyth, or the Hero’s Journey. Dan Harmon calls it the story circle or story cosine. The monomyth essentially is a cookie cutter of a good story and has been used as a frame for way too many stories to count, ranging from Homer’s The Odyssey to George Lucas’s Star Wars trilogies. You begin with your hero, minding his own business and happy (at least he thinks he’s happy) in his safe home. Something or someone comes along from outside of his little world and brings about a new opportunity or challenge. The hero then has a decision: to accept the challenge or refuse it. Either way, the hero somehow ends up taking on the challenge anyways (otherwise there isn’t much of a story to tell). The hero leaves his comfort zone in order to complete this challenge, and along the way, is tested. These tests change and transform him. The hero then either conquers or fails and then makes the journey home, but nothing is the same as before the journey. The hero has changed as a result of his journey. The new challenge is how to make his newfound self fit back into his old life, or he is forced to find a new home, thus starting a new journey all over again.

Dan Harmon puts all of that very eloquently into a short statement. “A character is in a comfort zone, but they want something. They enter an unfamiliar situation, adapt to it, get what they wanted, pay a heavy price for it, and then return to their familiar situation having changed.” Plain and simple.
(graph credited to Chris Woo http://www.chrisdwoo.com/post/60307732278/more-on-dan-harmons-story-circle-and-my-theory-it-is)


Over the past few years, I’ve learned that this cycle doesn’t just apply to literature.… - Continue Reading -

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We live our lives in moments. You don’t remember every single detail of every single thing that has happened to you like it’s a film. Instead you remember the important fragments and forget what didn’t resonate with you. When you remember what that day in the park was like, you don’t actually remember that whole day, but you remember how the sun felt on your skin, or the when you heard the birds singing, or how you saw the light break through the trees at that one spot in the park.

You remember people the same way. People themselves aren’t as fleeting as moments of time, but we don’t remember them in their entirety. You remember them based on the impact that they had on you because of various moments shared with that person. You remember a touch, a conversation, a small fragment of the time that you spent with that person and how that instance has affected you.

This idea of life and relationships being expressed in moments is the driving force behind my next project. I want to build a story that spans a lifetime, but told entirely in moments. I want to explore this idea of the significance of a single moment as the basis for my next piece while I’m working on this commission for Flute and Piano. My goal for this is to write something fairly complete in a fairly short amount of time (both performance time as well as time it takes to write). This project essentially can act as a training and learning exercise for me while still exploring new themes and ideas, and I’m eager to see how this all turns out.


-pt- Continue Reading -

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Imaginary Influences

People can pull the most arbitrary meanings from something that means absolutely nothing at all. We’ve been doing it for centuries with tarot cards, looking at cracks in chicken bones, looking for signs in the stars, and so on. Although we know that these things don’t actually mean anything now, the ignorance of the people who did believe in those things gave them an answer and something to look to. I feel like people still do this, or at least something similar, when it comes to art, music, and literature. We can read so deep into something that may not have actually meant anything at all. Perhaps that symbolism you thought you heard wasn’t actually there. Maybe the fact that a piece of music highlights some element doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that the composer just decided to highlight it because it sounded cool. There doesn’t have to be meaning in every little thing.

…But just because it isn’t there doesn’t mean we don’t get to entertain ourselves by looking for it. This hunt for themes and symbols can be extremely beneficial for the creative mind. Even if said theme doesn’t exist, it still exists in your own mind, and that can then be used as fuel in your own work, and create something original (since that theme that influenced you didn’t actually exist right?) You could be entirely wrong on your analysis of whatever you were reading or listening to, but it doesn’t matter. All the matters is what YOU got out of the work, and how you use what you got out of it. What’s the worst thing that going to happen? Someone says you’re wrong about that work. What’s the best thing that could happen? You get inspired by a completely original idea. So keep on looking for things that aren’t there.… - Continue Reading -

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