Feb 26 2010
Last week I traveled with Molly and Brian to SUNY Fredonia, where we talked with students, played in and coached rehearsals, and had a concert sponsored by the Ethos New Music Society which included several compositions of mine, as well as works by Per Boland and Lei Liang. Thanks to Rob Deemer for being a most excellent and generous host! It was really fun! We were a posse.
A highlight of the trip for me was working with the four student percussionists who performed “Coyote”. They practiced hard all year, guided by Dr. Kay Stonefelt, to prepare for this performance (did I mention that this piece is actually a BEAR to play?), and they did an outstanding job! Guitarist Jim Piorkowski also gave a lovely, thoughtful performance of “Luminoso”.
There was much talk about the composer-performer relationship – a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. It is a more complex issue than the nuts and bolts of writing clear notation and understanding how an instrument works. The performer and composer are collaborating in the creation of a new work.
Working with performers is one of my favorite parts of the composition process. After spending weeks/months in semi-solitary confinement creating a new thing, I am SO ready to go out into the world for a dose of basic human contact, not to mention additional sets of eyes and ears on the work. Together we iron out the details, and as that happens the performer develops a personal approach to playing the music. It is incredibly satisfying when a performer brings something of themselves to a composition! For example, Jim P. plays the last section of “Luminoso” (a structured improvisation) with a sense of drama that is completely wonderful and surprising, while Ben unleashes his Inner Percussionist with an intensity that makes me worry slightly (!) about his guitar. Same piece, very different approaches, both awesome. The performer adds new layers of meaning and depth to the work.
For the composer this requires being open to interpretation. Literally! Letting go of the music enough to allow a musician to add their own voice to the mix. In my experience, when a performer asks, “Do you want this phrase played this way? Or that way?” sometimes they present options that I hadn’t considered, and sometimes those options are better than what I initially had in mind! Similarly, if there is a more efficient way to achieve that double/triple/quadruple stop, or that harmonic, than what I have written, I see no reason not to change it. The score is a means to an end. Don’t get me wrong – I am very attached to my compositions. VERY. They are extremely personal to me, and I know how I want them to be. At the same time, I understand that when the score leaves my hands, it’s not totally mine anymore – I am entering into a partnership, and the best thing I can do is be open to how that might unfold.
To make a little, er, structured improvisation on the words of Kahlil Gibran:
Your music is not your music….once in my hands it is mine…..once in the ears of the audience it is theirs!
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