|2014||Conductor's Flow Chart for New Music Programing
(i.e. How to be a Hero to Composers)
|Burt Family Christmas Carols (...continued!)|
|2011||Abbie's Guide to Commissioning (pdf)|
|2007||A more personal biography|
|Artist Statement (Op. 1 No. 1)|
|2005||Interview: Dan Welcher, composer|
|2004||Interview: Robert X. Rodriguez, composer|
|Review: European American Music Alliance summer composition program|
|Interview: Dale Warland, conductor/composer (three parts)
I. On new choral music, trends, ChoralVentures program
II. Recommendations for fine choral writing, promoting your work
III. Technical Q & A on writing for chorus
|More on the Relevance of Counterpoint|
|2001||On the Relevance of Counterpoint|
Written March 2007:Artist Statement (Op. 1, No. 1)
- Albert Einstein
Until the early twentieth century, there were two opposing theories of the nature of the propagation of light. Did it travel as waves, emitted in all directions through a medium? Or did it travel as particles, shooting off in straight lines as tiny -- yet complete -- entities? Composers and other sound artists are interested in these models because, like light, the transmission of our art form is also invisible. If we could see our music, traveling through space, what would it look like?
Most of the music I've written fits comfortably into this metaphor as wave-traveler. It is lyrical and melodic, with a succession of notes that seem to stream seamlessly from one to the next, the crests and troughs balancing to keep the music lapping forward. Not surprisingly, many of my favorite composers seem to fit in this category: Brahms, Bernstein, Faure, Howells.
But in just the last year, I've noticed the beginnings of a change in my writing style. Shorter statements, wrapped and sealed, a package even, of collected motives and ideas, delivered, unopened, to the ear, for it to make of what it will. This new music of mine seems influenced by the angular rhythms of Stravinsky, the motivic repetition of Sondheim, and the chunky quartal harmony of Copland.
Just like Albert Einstein, who discovered that these two theories of light transmission actually interact to form what we now know as wave-particle duality, the composers who have bridged these so often opposing musical styles are my heroes: Argento. Barber. Britten. Menotti. Mozart. Poulenc. Prokofiev. Their music loses none of its lyricism in its immaculate structures. Its transmission is elegant. It reaches the heart and mind immediately, and illuminates each to the other.
Like a few of those composers, my compositional projects usually culminate in a 'white heat,' coming together in an intense flurry of emotion and excitement. But there is more to the process than those final hours. I imagine we as composers are like a reverse-prism, carefully selecting each individual color, painstakingly sorting them, and then re-assembling them into a pattern, such that as we enter the last few hues in those midnight hours, the music -- approaching a magical proportion of all the right colors in the right places -- begins to glow as a bright white light.
And then . . . then! When we hold this white hot music up to the prism of the ear . . . perhaps . . . if we listen carefully enough . . . it will make rainbows.
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Written March 2007:
A more personal biography…
I was born in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and grew up 20 miles east of town surrounded by farmland and forest. There, with my younger sister, we built forts out of hay bales, mazes out of lilac bushes (much to my mother's dismay), and timed our toboggan runs on the back hill. Improvising rhythms and melodies was part of our family routine. We all made up songs to go with the grinding of the tomato press, the sorting of the apples, and after dinner we took walks through the fields and listened.
In kindergarten I started studying piano at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point's Suzuki Education Center, learning entirely by ear. As I progressed, my teachers gave me short composition assignments and I "notated" my work so I could remember it in pictures, in patterns.
At my small K-12 public school, I was often taken out of my classes to go to a back room with a few other kids and do "problem solving." I loved it. At recess I watched the other girls play double-dutch and studied the rhythms the jump ropes made. Once I got in trouble for staying inside to practice calligraphy. In high school, I played the flute (concert band), euphonium (pep band), percussion (marching band), and keyboards (jazz band). The choir director asked me to sing tenor because I could sightread. I enjoyed the challenge.
I attended St. Olaf College on a piano scholarship, but midway through my sophomore year I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease and was forced to return home to begin chemotherapy. I was heartbroken, but soon heard that UW-Stevens Point was offering a new acoustics course, a collaboration between the music, psychology, and physics departments. Plus, there was an alto opening in the vocal jazz group. I signed up for both. Walking around campus that winter, bald and thin, I spent a lot of time thinking about musical acoustics and the body. If every "body" has a resonating tone, what is mine? If I found it, would I heal faster? I began to spend a lot of time in practice rooms experimenting with sound. I don't think I was thinking about it as composing then. It felt more like "journaling" my conclusions on manuscript paper in pitch and rhythm.
Back at St. Olaf, I enrolled in Ancient Greek and grew fascinated by language and the often opposing forces that shape it: the fixed rules of grammar versus the changing needs of a culture. I found the musical parallel when I traveled to Paris to study composition in the esteemed tradition of Nadia Boulanger: what a balancing act it is to write music that follows the rules of counterpoint and theory, while still expressing the artistic climate of the culture, or -- even more difficult -- of oneself.
But what inspired me to pursue a life in music were two incredible jobs, straight out of college. After shakily sightreading a 12-tone row at my audition, I was offered a spot in the Dale Warland Singers. There I was introduced not only to marvelous new choral repertoire, but to Dale's vision: his high standards for himself and his art. The same month, Libby Larsen hired me as one of her office assistants. While I learned a lot from the work she assigned me, I was most fascinated by her life as a professional composer. I had never known anyone so passionate about a career, so resourceful, so independent. With Libby's and Dale's contagious energy all around me, all I wanted to do was write music.
I recently filed all the paperwork for my master's degree in composition. And in the spirit of one who has just completed a long journey, I find myself reminiscing about the road. I hear the echoes of my mentors in my head. Professor Zaimont, who praised my vocal music most highly, still worries that my affinity toward texted music could develop into a "crutch." Dr. Lasser, who awarded me his second prize in counterpoint, still calmly reasserts that one can never study enough Bach.
But after twenty-three years of school, I'm hearing Dale Warland's voice the clearest: "Always take your music seriously," he recently told me. "But don't be too influenced by other composers. Just go your own way, and enjoy it."
It's finally time.
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Written April 2004 for the application to l'Ecole Normale de Musique, Paris, France:
More on the Relevance of Counterpoint…
I have recently been quite caught up in the idea of recollection in music, or, as I understand it, the psycho-acoustic effect on a listener as a familiar motive is recognized as changing through time. It is important to me, as both an audience member and composer, to be able to chart this motivic alteration which so often occurs through the technique of counterpoint. Counterpoint, then, becomes something of the study of change to a melody over time.
In my music, I feel I am just beginning to understand the importance of setting up a musical motive well, and in a memorable way, so that charting its change becomes fascinating even essential -- to the listener. Having lately been drawn to the early works of Arnold Schoenberg, I have enjoyed exploring this concept particularly through his counterpoint, which treats melodic motives as if they are personified into characters with individual goals (“I must reach tonic!”), motivations (“If I move higher, my partner voice will be forced to descend…”), and even fears (“The fate motive is reappearing and I must change mode…”). Melodies entwine as if they are characters directly affected by the melodies around them. I, too, have started to think about counterpoint as if it is the interweaving of storylines. It sounds like an operatic plot: a top voice compelled to motion by the voices below, an inner voice attempting to hold its own in the midst of conflicting outer motion and needing eventually to choose direction, a tricky bass voice determined to ruin the consonant plot of the top voice by beginning to ascend chromatically...
In this way, creating counterpoint becomes very personal for me. The association of each musical motive with a character, then the knitting together of the storylines requires a careful listener -- one who can recollect where we started, where we’ve traveled, and hopefully gain some sort of understanding by comparing those places to that which we find ourselves at the music’s close.
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Written April 2001 for the application to La Schola Cantorum, Paris, France:
On the Relevance of Counterpoint…
I have been told that my greatest compositional strength lies in my melodies. Indeed, I initially compose away from the piano, with a specific melody in mind. Sometimes harmonization for this melody will present itself so clearly that I can hear exactly what is needed and write it down. In these cases, the compositional process flows so easily and elegantly -- and I am always pleased with the results. Most often, however, it takes much processing time and improvisation for me to find just the right way in which a melody should interact with another line. In these cases, my compositional process becomes belabored, and the results sound strained or manipulated. I long for a consistent ease in combining melodies linearly, while still creating naturally flowing vertical harmonies.
Counterpoint fascinates me in both its rigidity and its continual patterns of change. I think that many young composers feel pressured to create something so completely new that a thorough study of counterpoint is often neglected. I have just recently discovered in other areas of my life, namely a philosophical study of Darwin and a newfound appreciation for religious history, that the strongest new ideas are often deeply rooted in structural tradition. One must understand enough about the order of things to believe something (or, in this case, to create something) that is refreshingly new and yet strong enough to endure. The idea that counterpoint can be rigid in its structure, yet used in continually changing ways, compels me to learn more about it -- not only as a necessity for my compositional future, but as a way of thinking about freedom in order.
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