This past year, I’ve been looking for more and more ways to put more composing into my non-composition based music curriculum.
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 brass quintet or string quartet or [insert standard ensemble]. This past year, I spent a lot of time listening to ensembles like Victoire or The NOW Ensemble and more recently yMusic. One day I was looking through the course listings and saw that we had a class called “Contemporary Chamber Ensemble” and figured, hey lets actually have people register for that class.
The first person I came to with this idea of starting a new ensemble was another composer in the studio and very talented clarinetist,Corrine Klemenc. We were actually picking up pizza for our performers for a recital that night. Originally she was hesitant about it, but eventually warmed up to the idea. I think what really sold her was the name: NuMu(sic). Essentially its just New Music, but sort of like a typo, hence the “(sic)” at the end in place of the actually syllable “sic.” But anyways, thats when the ensemble actually started to look like it was going to happen. Next step, find more people.
After texting and facebooking other people around the school of music, we eventually got a cellist, a double bass player, and a pianist along with Corinne, and myself on trumpet. Now that we knew our instrumentation, we could actually start writing, which was being done entirely over that summer. We started the fall semester and then 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 ….a long way into the semester. We pushed our recital into the next semester and put a ton of long hours on saturday mornings into putting together a decent recital. It was a lot of hard work but we managed to get through it.
This was a VERY difficult endeavor and I think that most of the difficulty came from different levels of attitude towards the ensemble as well as the lack of structure. It was very much fly by the seat of our pants.
The current ensemble has thus split, but I still want to keep trying at this again next semester but with perhaps a different spin on it. Make things stricter as far as deadlines go, but still have the downtime before the piece is finished actually be useful and use that time as a workshop. Have the ensemble sit in with the composers and play their sketches for them, have them show off what their instrument can or can’t do and bounce ideas of the composer. I want this next attempt at this project to be more of a collaborative writing and performing effort than it is about rushing to put on a recital.
Its not about where you’re going its about the journey it took to get there.
Just because something is hard or isn’t exactly how you imagined, it doesn’t mean its not worth doing. Put yourself out there and if anything, you’ll learn what not to do the next time, which brings me to my next project.
I’m in the middle of drafting a proposal for a class that turns this chamber ensemble concept into a workshop for performers and composers. A problem that I’ve faced, and something I’m sure that many other composers face, is that I want to be more effective during rehearsals as far as rehearsal technique goes. I know what the piece sounds like and what I want to happen, but how do I communicate that to them and make it actually happen. Also from the performer aspect of things, I’m sure many of them would want to be involved in the actual writing process to see what all goes into the creative process of composing a new piece, as well as having a more present influence on the piece.
Right now, I picture the class being spread out across 13 weeks out of the 15 weeks in the semesters with a recital during the 14th week. the first 6 or 7 weeks will be writing intensive for the composers where they will present ideas and sketches to the performers signed up for the class. Performers will give input and each composer will have a dedicated portion of class time to experiment with the sketches they have presented based on the input they have received. By the end of the writing intensive portion all the pieces should be completed, and then the rehearsal intensive portion will begin. Each composer will have a dedicated amount of class time to work with the ensemble. What I also hope to achieve in this is to bring in some of the Music Education faculty or Graduate TA’s to come in and make comments on how we approach rehearsal technique.
Hopefully this actually turns out to be something. Meanwhile I also have my Junior Recital coming up, so I’ll be working on some more rehearsal technique while that is getting prepared.