One of the most rewarding experiences I had at the Jacobs School of Music was performing in the New Music Ensemble (aka NME) my senior year. NME could be described as a micro-orchestra, a sinfonietta, where there is only one of each instrument, except for two violins and sometimes two percussionists. (You could say I was the first, last, best, and worst horn player.) Many new pieces are composed especially for this type of ensemble, so NME specializes in performing the music of living composers including acclaimed, international artists and Jacobs faculty, alumni, and students. A very special highlight of NME this year was performing with soloist, flute goddess, and real-life wonder woman Clair Chase.
NME performed a wide variety of exciting music by many of today’s leading composers including Nina C. Young, Dai Fujikura, Sean Shepherd, and Tansey Davies. Their compositions were full of musical challenges to be faced: Super-fast runs, saturations of high notes, quick leaps, tricky rhythms, and ensemble balancing. I had no chance of survival if I didn’t learn to beef up my high range playing. (Which, luckily, did happen.) NME definitely made me a better, more confident hornist.
When composers visited NME for dress rehearsals and concerts, it meant so much to hear their satisfaction and complements for us. We were rising up to the challenges in their pieces and bringing their work to life. Performing for composers, friends, and colleagues in NME made me feel like a legitimate musician. I was honored to be a part of the amazing ensemble I had already been listening to for three years at Jacobs.
As a composer, NME was an invaluable source of inspiration and knowledge. Instead of learning pieces through a score with a recording, I learned scores from the inside out, from sound to notation. I learned music by being part of it, not by studying it at a distance. Going in, every rehearsal felt like a new lesson in orchestration and timbre: how to combine instruments in new ways, how to uses extended techniques, how to score rapid, flickering passages, how to write good, engaging percussion parts, and how to weave intricate patterns among an ensemble.
What made NME most meaningful for me was the way it blended my passions, horn playing and composing. Playing contemporary repertoire brought my thoughts on composition into my horn playing and vice versa. Playing in a new music ensemble is an indispensable tool for any growing composer.