Thursday, 25 June 2015

Charlotte New Music Festival, USA: Day 10

View of Charlotte from the CPCC Overcash steps
One thing that is truly amazing here is just how good everyone is a multi-tasking. Maybe it’s just a skill all composers seem to have: an innate ability to just get a lot done in a very short space of time! This workshop has been pretty full on, but people have managed to take online classes, or complete existing commissions, or, like me, write this blog whilst doing everything else! Micro-management: the secret art of the composer!

First up today was Michael Goodman. Michael first presented a solo piece for for bassoon called ‘Dialetics’, which uses elements of jazz, particularly in the middle section - Personally, I think the world needs more jazz bassoon (let’s call it ‘jazzoon!’); it’s not an instrument you think would be particularly suited to the genre but for me it really worked. Most of the discussion of Michaels work was focused on his piece ‘Calm’, which he himself stated it had controversial subject matter, being rooted in inspiration from an intense breakup. Opinion on this piece was very split - some found the subject matter offensive, others (myself included) simply found it to be an expression of a particular time - I guess it boils down to the simple fact that you can’t give offence, you can only be offended, and in fact Carter Rice stated “don’t censor your art because you’re worried you’ll make people uncomfortable” - and he’s right. You have the right to create art that is a reflection of you and what you're feeling, and if people don’t like it, well that’s their right as well, but you don’t have to change to meet their wants. 

Ian Gunthie presented his orchestral music, with the preface that he set out on a quest to find orchestras to actually play and record his music, something I’ve already talked to him about privately, but in relation to choirs for myself. The massive discussion that arose from this presentation was the relevance of writing piano for orchestral music. Lansing Mcklosky made the observation that the piano is pretty redundant as an orchestral instrument, unless it’s a soloist, or the music is intended for a smaller orchestra (like the size required for early classical music); in order to be heard the piano needs to play at least twice as loud as everyone else at all times (and much of that also applies to the harp too). Although this is a valid point, I think this deviated from actually talking about Ian’s actual music - which I think is really lovely to listen to! Ian classes his writing as having a very ‘European flavour’, which I can really hear. His tonality is certainly more rooted in what’s popular with european composers as opposed to the American preferences. In his piano pieces that he presented later, in particular ‘Wy’East’ I could hear elements of impressionistic qualities, and the harmony and style favoured by the likes of Debussy and Ravel. 

After a few technical difficulties (first ones in the whole workshop, so pretty good going) the final presentation of the morning was Luciano Correa. Luciano is from Brazil, and chose to present a short informative explanation of Brazilian music for us before showing his works. I’ve done some very brief studies in Brazilian music, so this was a really nice little crash ‘refresher’ course in the concepts and history, in particular the racial divisions/combinations of brazilian music: Portuguese, Native Indian and African, which all bring a unique quality to the Brazilian music genre. Luciano talked about how he developed his own style consisting of ‘circle, lines and contra metric rhythms, and proceeded to show us a piece of his which included visual art. One of the great things about this composers workshop has been the unique ‘flavours’ of other countries: America, Spain, Greece, Taiwan, UK, and now Brazil. I’m glad that Luciano took the time to explain his background, as I feel it opened the door to understand and appreciate his music more.

The afternoon session was a discussion panel by some of the member of Great Noise Ensemble, specifically focused on how they like to approach programming new music, and the do’s and don’t’s for composers in writing new music for an ensemble. Armando Bayolo laid down ‘The Six Laws of writing new music’, as follows:
  • 1) Make your deadlines: people hate to be kept waiting (and they won’t work with you again if you’re late and blasé about it) - If you need an extension for a piece, ask for one (ahead of time!)
  • 2) Make your group sound good. Performers want to sound amazing, and you want your music to sound amazing too
  • 3) Just because something is possible doesn’t mean it’s practical - this isn’t just about extended techniques, it applies to all aspects, for example the logistics of using all the percussion a group has to offer (just because it’s there), or writing really high on a flute when a piccolo would make more sense
  • 4) Make your notation as clear as possible: simple things like making sure any performance notes for a specific instrument are in the parts as well as the full score, and (something I wasn’t aware of), sticking to Mohler standard notation for parts, which is 10”x13” and off-white paper.
  • 5) Make your electronic tech needs decipherable: essentially the same as making notation clear
  • 6) The Golden Rule: PLAY WELL WITH OTHERS
Along with the rules (which were discuss at great length and detail), Armando included some quotes from members of GNE about what they would like, or what they would advise. Some were simple and to the point (“More Oboe!!”), some where more complex (“Do your research but don’t just ‘write from a book’, understand your instruments”). Overall this was a really great presentation that outlined some really important things to consider as a composer, and it ended with a wonderful invitation to get cracking and send the group some music to play. 

Wednesday night's concert programme
The evenings concert was The Great Noise Ensemble, performing a few existing works by faculty composers, and seven new works by workshop composers, myself included (but I’ll get to that in a little bit). This was, again, a really strong concert programme of high quality performers and new music. In particular I really enjoyed the pieces by Marc Migo Cortes, and Rachel E. Matthews, but it was a truly great concert in variety, quantity and quality - My own piece “Voul-ous enne p’tite goute? (would you like a little tipple?)” was premiered, and I must say I am so very delighted with how it was performed, and even more so with how it was received: with lots of whooping and cheering, and one of my favourite comments ever, “Is it hot in here?...” (Thanks Cody Brookshire for that one!) - this has been an incredible opportunity, having had my work performed by this group in America, and I really hope this is the start of something great.

Quick! Someone score something for two women and a giant guitar!

After a great noise concert, you need to have a great noisy night out! A bunch of us headed out for Mexican food at Maverick Rock Taco’s (another place I would highly recommend - I ain’t gonna say no to $3 margaritas!). The social aspects of this workshop I think have been just as important as the more serious elements (presentations, seminars, lessons etc.) - reflecting on what you’ve learned or experiences in a comfortable and relaxed setting really does make everything easier to process, and I’ve really enjoyed being surrounded by other ‘nerds’ and being able to banter about certain subjects that might be lost of some of my other friends (not all, mind). It’s kind of sad that the workshop is drawing to a close now. We’ve definitely hit the home stretch. 

Composers and margarita's - the perfect mix