Composer Institute Blog: Post #2

Composer Institute Blog: Post #2

It is Tuesday evening and I am back in my hotel room after the second long day of presentations, meetings and fun conversations. Everyone is excited and jittery about the first rehearsals, which will finally take place tomorrow afternoon. We’ve talked a lot about our pieces and their potential issues, but no one has actually heard anything yet! Since the rehearsals alone will shift the week into an entirely different gear, I’d like to write a bit about what we’ve covered so far. 

The Composer Institute offers young composers advice about practical matters, whether it is on the business side or the specifics of part-making and notation. Self-publisher Bill Holab and Norman Ryan from Schott Music presented us with divergent perspectives about the benefits of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. It was particularly interesting to hear their opinions about the changing world of music distribution and how various software and publication platforms are currently undergoing dramatic change. It is now easier than ever for anyone to share music with the public digitally, yet acquiring an expert level of musical craft/development/commitment seems to be a timeless standard to work toward, regardless of individual style. 

These presentations also brought up big, philosophical questions that we discussed more informally between sessions. I was especially heartened by our visit to the (cozy and bubble-themed) American Composers Forum office in St. Paul. There, we learned about their diverse programs, which prioritize individual artists and simultaneously engage local communities. Using these projects as a model in states outside of New York and Minnesota could potentially make dramatic positive changes in our nation’s music scene as a whole. John Nuechterlein, the President of ACF, asked us candidly about rallying support for public arts funding in this time of great political uncertainty. Those of us who were in the conversation had a few ideas: creating a unified front of diverse arts organizations, making our voices heard through calls and mailings on behalf of this singular effort, and showing up in the community as volunteers and educators, particularly in rural areas. 

Our meetings with the Orchestra musicians—harp, percussion and strings thus far—addressed specific technical concerns. It is clear that all of us have had extensive experience composing for different instrumental families. However, we learned from the past two days that expressing ideas to a professional orchestral musician requires a bit of translation from a chamber or new music ensemble setting. Because of the nature of the American orchestral institution, particularly the busy rehearsal and performance schedules, it is crucial for composers to reduce instructions to their basic essence in order to best convey our intentions. We tend to fill our scores and parts with very “composer-ly” reassurances for ourselves, such as expressive adjectives, technical symbols and other markings. Such details are probably crucial during the compositional process, but might actually hinder learning a part in the larger context.

One thing that struck me about our meetings with the musicians were their wonderfully distinct personalities. I find myself wanting to dream up concertos or solos for each of them. They were gracious with their time and offered extremely detailed comments, but definitely gave us some “tough love,” as principal bassist Kristen Bruya said after our strings session. I am curious as to how their individual personalities contribute (or not) into the orchestral effort. How much do the unique qualities of each person’s sound need to be dialed back in order to play successfully in an orchestra? Or do little personality quirks find their way into defining the sound of a particular section, and a particular orchestra? I am sure to be confronted with these completely unanswerable questions at rehearsal tomorrow!

Read Tonia's first blog entry »

The Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute »

Future Classics details & tickets »

Tonia Ko