When I'm not creating music, I can always be found creating something else! I was super drawn to Legos as a child, and now, I've rediscovered them as an adult. As part of this fun hobby, I built a little model of the Aurora School of Music as a Christmas surprise! Special highlights include two itty-bitty grand pianos (with adjustable lids and shiny strings!), wooden stage, concert hall balcony, practice rooms, waiting area, faculty lounge (with adjustable fridge door!), and the outdoor garden arrangement of white hydrangeas. In all, this project took 40 hours and was totally worth it!
My friend Elanor Lee (cello) and I are halfway through our collaboration! We're super EXCITED by how well it has been going. After a lot of brainstorming, we decided to write a set of six little pieces for cello that don't use the bow. It's 2021, and everyone has explored the infinite library of techniques using the bow. Why not explore what's possible without it? There's a whole world of techniques associated with pizzicato playing, and Eleanor is super dedicated to mastering all the possibilities! She is the perfect musician to help me compose this piece!
Below are some excerpts of the second and
third movements with brief commentary.
The second movement began life as a Sarabande, but never found itself in the proper meter (3/4) for that dance. Instead, it's a quiet, melancholy meditation for the cello. With no bow to use, Eleanor does an amazing job using all of her pizzicato playing techniques to turn the cello into a harp! This movement alternates between slow arpeggios (rolled chords) and lyrical recitative-like passages.
In the third movement, the cellist will use a rat tail comb in place of a bow! Eleanor and I actually discovered this technique somewhat on accident. At first, I was planning on having her use dowel sticks to play this movement. To try this out in a Zoom session, we used a comb to substitute for the dowel (We hadn't bought a dowel yet.) However, we realized that the comb was WAY MORE AWESOME! Because of the difference sides of the comb (teeth, handle, etc.) there's so many playing techniques possible. We ended up using arcomb to create a kind of drumming on the strings and comb bows drawing the comb of the teeth across the strings; it creates a school scratchy punctuation!
An incredible piece I recommend to everyone for listening!
Truly amazing music by an amazing human being.
After a months on hiatus in the COVID-19 pandemic, I find myself more ready to composer than ever. I’ve been very fortunate to work on several engraving and arranging projects during all this craziness, but now it’s time to get back to my own music!
I will be working on a series of modern cello miniatures (think bite-size music) in collaboration with cellist Eleanor Lee. Our goal is to explore all the sound possibilities of the cello by using alternative playing techniques (e.g. using a wooden dowel instead of a bow) in variety of combinations with established techniques for the instrument. Just how far can we push the boundaries? Stay tuned!
We hope these little pieces will prove to be of great interest to cellist, composers, and our fellow audience members! What good is a piece of music, without it’s listeners?
Today's composing inspiration brought to you by Cleveland's Wade Park under fresh snowfall. Not pictured: church bells ringing
Current state of the living room...
A new concerto for bassoonist Brendon Sill.
(Probably good I have no roommates!)
What shall we call you?
Composing in Color
Part of a new chamber concerto for bassoonist Brendon Sill.
Every day in the studio, library, or coffee shop, an artist is making decisions, taking risks.
Though letting go of perfection is a huge part of the decision process (at least for me), I’ve found some other mind tricks that help me decide the details of a piece.
Happy creating in 2020!!
How many times have I found myself asking the same question? I swear it must be the hundredth time, though it feels like the millionth!
“Should this note be an A# or a G#?”
“Should this measure be in 4/4 or 5/4?”
Sometimes I feel plagued by the tiniest details of a piece. Even though I know they’re small – seemingly insignificant – they feel so giant, overwhelming. How has it already been thirty minutes, and I’m still asking this question? Am I crazy or just incompetent? Maybe I simply can’t make up my mind today, but this also happened yesterday! Could there be a simple answer I’m missing? Maybe…
My solution these past few months has been to try making more decisions, minus the overthinking. I’m finding some success, but if that’s an illusion, at least I feel like I can create more easily.
What I’ve been thinking about more is something a past teacher told me. When I was studying horn at IU (Indiana University), my professor went on sabbatical my freshman year. Filling his position was an alternating flow of teachers from across the country, a multitude of horn players. Among them, one made a lasting impression on me, and I am so thankful to have met him, Thomas Jöstlein.
In lessons, Jöstlein would say something like, “Make statements. Don’t ask questions.” He could tell that I was second-guessing myself while playing the horn. Instead of focusing on the music, specifically the pitches, my brain was busy asking many questions: “Will I play the right notes and rhythms? Will my tone or articulation be good enough? Will this sound in tune?” My insecurities of playing the horn, like the plague of details, were preventing me from sounding my best. What I needed to do was focus on my target, making a statement with the music and not hesitating or questioning in the process.
Focusing on my target, the music, allowed me to let go of distractions and better commit to performing. With me, Jöstlein emphasized letting go just as much as he emphasized commitment to high-quality music making. I can still see him, sitting in the chair beside me, speaking seriously, but with the compassion and understanding of any great teacher: “You will need to learn to let go.” Years later, I think I’m finally starting to “let it go” more regularly.
To be clear, letting go doesn’t mean allowing quality to slip. It’s absolutely necessary for any musician to work towards high standards of musical excellence. The most details of music are absolutely important to any meaningful performance. Bringing them out is what makes great music possible! Letting go isn’t about ignoring details. It’s about approaching them differently. Details should be there to enrich the bigger picture (concept, idea, etc.), not to project insecurities.
The more I let go, the easier it becomes to make decisions about the details. I can work towards the bigger picture of a piece without fretting and halting my creative process. Once some of the bigger aspects (form, keys, etc.) are in place, I can spend more time refining details because I have a better understanding of the whole piece.
In a moment of composing, it doesn’t even matter sometimes if I make the right decision. I just have to make a decision! Inevitably, I know I will change my mind later, (I’m a voracious reviser!) but before I can even begin to make changes, I need something to work with. I tell myself to make a decision, take a risk, and create. If I’m going to write some wrong notes, why not compose them first and get them out of the way!
In part 2, I'll discuss some of my tips and tricks for deciding the details of a piece. To be continued...!