(NOTE: There is an INTERESTING and IMPORTANT UPDATE at the end of this post; keep reading or scroll down past the big picture of the ridiculously talented and good-looking orchestra to read! If you're not interested in interesting and important updates, there's also a Christmas carol at the end. Hooray!)
I've always been a chronic multitasker. I'll compose during class, write essays while on the treadmill, and sleep ANYWHERE I can get away with it (have not finished a movie or episode of SNL in at least two years). It's finals week, and my studying has mostly consisted of flipping back and forth every fifteen minutes between different subjects, with frequent breaks to work on shuffling my teaching schedule to accommodate college auditions or look up something completely non-school-related on the Internet. (Fortunately, I literally have three finals. Three. Most people have at least five or six... I love this.) Composition and bass are unusually easy for me to devote large blocks of time to, but even within those fields I sometimes get distracted. I honestly do think it's a good thing; this way I'm not crippled by writer's block or stuck practicing one piece when I need to simultaneously learn and polish seven-- but that's probably how I ended up with about seven or eight partially finished pieces in my binder as we speak. They're all great ideas that I love and desperately want to see implemented (SpireSpire is definitely in heavy rotation in that pile!), and they all seem to have a deadline sometime next semester, seeing how many of them I'm writing specifically to make use of the talented people from my high school and youth orchestra who won't be so close next year. So much for being a relaxed second semester senior!
I recently got a smartphone as an early Christmas gift, since my several-years-old phone no longer makes calls (not that that's important or anything)-- now I have a Samsung Galaxy S3 and it's absolutely the best gadget I've ever had. In the hands of a chronic multitasker like me, it seems like it'd be an absolute weapon of mass destruction, but I can happily say it's caused no such drop in productivity! I've set up a metronome, a tuner, a digital voice recorder (perfect for recording my audition, playing it back, cringing, and then fixing EVERYTHING), a miniature piano for composing on the go, and a detailed practice calendar for the weeks leading up to my first college audition (January 19th!). Organization's always half the battle for me; not only am I ready to finish strong before this audition, I'm EXCITED. This thing is the perfect practice tool, and already everything's been a smashing success using it.
The next logical step, of course, is to smartphone my composition life, so to speak. Even though composition is much more fickle than bass practicing in terms of inspiration (you don't need any sudden strokes of genius to tune a B-flat major scale!), I feel like as long as I give myself a solid game plan, I should be able to get a ton of these crazy composition projects done. Over the next week, I'll take a look at the projects that are really grabbing my attention, figure out when they need to be done, and hopefully map out which ones I can finish over winter break (I have a few smaller ones that hopefully won't take long at all... I feel like those words have been the kiss of death for me on this blog so I shan't get more specific than that until they're finished, just to be safe). With enough time, patience, and elbow grease (I've always thought that was a weird expression; where does elbow grease even come from and why would one grease elbows?), my ridiculous multitasking habit should result in the actual completion of multiple tasks. Hey, it worked in October!
What a ridiculously talented and good-looking orchestra! So glad these are my friends, and that they were all willing to give up the better part of a Saturday to play my piece. Did I mention they are ridiculously talented? And ridiculously good-looking?
INTERESTING and IMPORTANT UPDATE: Those composition contest results I mentioned last week? They FINALLY came in on Tuesday afternoon! Out of six categories entered, I won third place in the Vocal Solo category with "The Tree of Song" (which I posted here in May), second place in the Arranging category with "Cherry Tree Carol" (which is below-- yay Christmas carols!), second place in the Avant-Garde/Electronic category (I know, it's weird that I entered that category in the first place, but I guess it worked!) with "the secrets of living" (which I will post in the coming weeks), and FIRST PLACE in the Vocal Ensemble category with "three love songs (on poems by e. e. cummings)" (have I showed you this? I need to do that, it turned out great, you'll love it). So, hooray! I also got an email from the composition department at LRU1 saying that I'm one of a "select few" called back for an interview! That's likely going to be March 1-2 (eep, that's the end of SpireSpire!), and it's actually a little bit ridiculous how much I'm looking forward to that visit and interview. LRU2 is a wonderful school and I absolutely would never knock it (I have tons of friends there for all sorts of majors, and most of my music teachers are alumni), but LRU1 is the first school that's gotten back to me where I can REALLY see myself going. It's one of the most beautiful college campuses in the country, and while it's not the conservatory I've always dreamed of, it's as close as you can really get with a large research university, and I could honestly see myself being extremely happy there for four years and then getting into a conservatory for grad school. So yeah, it's been a big week... Here's hoping I hear back from my other three schools soon. Now, as promised, here's my Christmas carol-- it's called Cherry Tree Carol, and it's performed by my school's top women's choir, the Chamber Singers! Enjoy!
*Yaaaaaaaaaaawn*... Oh, hello, Spire Choir and supporters! What's up? How've you been these past two months? I'm sorry I haven't been posting... there's been way more on my plate than I ever thought possible. Let me throw a brief recap at you and then get back to outlining my goals for the rest of the year!
--My college composition portfolio is DONE DONE DONE DONE DONE!!!!!! I can't tell you how excited I am about this. I spend most of October under nail-bitingly painful deadlines, and I'm happy to announce I met them all! I have SIX PIECES (!!!!!) finished, recorded, and sent to five colleges and one composition contest. Of course, I have yet to hear back from any of them (so much for a first week of December return date on that composition contest... argh), but it's good to know that I got them finished at least. There are wonderful live recordings of everything, so I'll start posting them here! (Yes, that's me conducting the orchestra I mentioned last post! That's probably my favorite thing I've done in my entire musical career... it is beyond ridiculous that I even managed to get all of that together, and you'll hear at the end of the post how GREAT the recording turned out!) This means I can basically start writing whatever I want-- I've got a woodwind quintet and a choir piece on informal commission right now, but the symphony's back on the high priority list again, which is great.
--All my college apps are also DONE! I ended up applying to five schools: LRU1, LRU2, RUC1, SAC1, and SAC2. I've got a set audition date at LRU2 since they have no prescreening for composition (January 19th! Wait, that's way too soon...), and I'm already accepted to LRU1... just the university and not the music school, but at least I know I'm going to college next year! (I feel like I'm overusing the exclamation point this post. But this post just feels so... exclamatory! Whee!) Assuming I pass composition prescreening everywhere, I'll have auditions February 15th, February 17th, March 1st-2nd, and... well, whenever SAC2 decides interviews should be. They don't really have that hammered out in advance, but then again they're only calling back five people for interviews, so I guess they don't need fifty applicants marking off a date on their calendar that they likely won't need open. I mean, it's my dream school-- I'll move my schedule around to accommodate it if that's what it comes down to.
--"But Patricia," you ask (and by you I mean probably just the Spire Choir and my mom), "if you finished all of this in October, what did you do with November that you couldn't post?" WELL. November ended up being the month where I suddenly had a ton of performance-related obligations to catch up on and thus ended up doing crazy things like staying after school on the last day before Thanksgiving break to sit in a windowless room and play Bach until my fingers stopped working. The first two weeks were desperate prep for a school concerto competition (which I lost-- these things happen, I'll reuse the concerto for a few other competitions as well as my college audition), and the next two weeks were desperate prep for a college audition prescreening tape for SAC1. Now, most colleges will let just about any bass player with a pulse show up for a live audition; as long as you pass their basic academic requirements (usually something like a B average), they'll schedule your audition. Other, more competitive departments-- say, violin or flute (or composition)-- require some sort of prescreening to make sure that only qualified candidates are scheduling auditions. Otherwise, the poor violin teachers would have to schedule audition weeks instead of days! SAC1 is trying out a new system where EVERYONE has to submit a prescreening, though: it even says on the website that the department "may or may not elect" to view the tape, but rules are rules, I suppose. Fortunately, this has left me with not very much of my college audition left to learn-- two more orchestral excerpts and I'm done! Hoping to get them learned before Christmas so I can enjoy some time with relatives (I'm pretty sure most if not all of mine are coming over at some point... it'll be insane, as my mom has six siblings, but lots of fun nonetheless).
So, where does this put my symphony? Actually, at the top of my composition to-do list right now! I'm going to work on the second movement as we speak-- it's got the most defined structure of the ones that are left. Then I'll do the first, and HOPEFULLY by then I'll have ideas for the last. (No, I can't end it at three-- the third movement's so soft and I feel like it needs a really triumphant ending. I'll get to it. Soon.) It'll be tricky writing it all before March 1st and I'm totally prepared for the possibility of not finishing, but man, wouldn't even just a finished rough draft be awesome? I'd feel good about that.
I'd like to close this (novel-length) post by talking about the symphony recording I did in late October! Murphy was definitely in on the fun with that tone poem-- everything that COULD go wrong, from my computer crashing with the finished piece on it to having to find another half an orchestra within the last week to having half the violinists I needed, DID... but somehow between my friends, my parents, my teachers, and some really generous random strangers, everything pulled together just fine in the end! I had a friend from DePaul running through the practice rooms looking for an extra horn player an hour before rehearsal started... that horn player sightread a major solo as beautifully as I could've asked the original player to. My parents managed to arrange transportation for half the orchestra (plus instruments!) using only two rented minivans and my dad's stellar negotiating skills. I somehow even fed everybody! (Bacci's 30-inch pizzas, you are a godsend.) And above all, I got an awesome recording out of it. I'll put up more pictures tomorrow or something... for now, here's The Youth and the Planet... enjoy!
Apologies for the lack of posting the past few weeks-- I've been in nonstop portfolio mode since the last post. BUT, because of that, I'm happy to report that the end of what I've lovingly dubbed "portfolio hell" (aka the six weeks of frantic composing and recording I'm in the middle of) is fast approaching! Out of the six recordings I need to make between college portfolios and the IMEA composition contest, I have set dates for all but two of them, and I'm waiting for maybe seven or eight people to confirm they're willing and able to record. This sounds like a lot, but I added it up: I have 110 people currently either rehearsing or waiting for parts, some of whom are working on two or even three pieces. That's two choirs, one chamber symphony, and three chamber groups (including two vocal soloists). I could never have gotten to this point without the help of my amazing ensemble directors and friends from school and CYSO, so if any of you are reading this, THANK YOU!
"But Patricia, where are YOU in this process?" all three of you reading ask. Well, all three readers, I'm happy to report that I'm much closer to being on schedule than I thought I'd be. My chamber symphony piece-- a tone poem called "The Youth and the Planet" (explanation later) is SO CLOSE to being finished; right now it's about five and a half minutes long, and I should have about another minute or two of music to write. The orchestration's actually sounding great, which was my biggest fear; I've told the musicians that parts are coming within the next day or two, and I should be able to stick to that.
The two chamber pieces I'm still working on are posing a little bit more of a problem. The ee cummings piece I mentioned at the end of August is TECHNICALLY finished, but I'm still not happy with parts of it. I have a few more accompaniment battles to go on that one before I'm happy handing out parts; fortunately, the vocalist has had his music for a few weeks (it's a HARD piece to sing, so I'm glad he's got the extra practice time) and the rest of the ensemble is good enough that they should adapt really easily. The biggest difficulty in that piece is going to be in putting the ensemble together; I'll likely try to organize a few partial-ensemble rehearsals before recording day, and leave a large block of time for the actual recording session. Unfortunately, Fire is still giving me a LOT of grief; once parts are out for my tone poem, I'll be working full speed ahead on both.
The inspiration for my tone poem came from a book I read over the summer for English class, Demian by Herman Hesse. It's a very strange book. One particular parable in it really spoke to me, though, so I decided to use it as the material for my tone poem (a tone poem is a single-movement symphonic work based on some kind of story or scene-- think Strauss' "Don Juan" or Debussy's "La Mer"). I'll leave you tonight with the story I'm using; hopefully next week I'll be able to report that I've finished everything mentioned here!
"And she told me about a youth who had fallen in love with a planet. He stood by the sea, stretched out his arms and prayed to the planet, dreamed of it, and directed all his thoughts to it. But he knew, or felt he knew, that a star cannot be embraced by a human being. He considered it to be his fate to love a heavenly body without any hope of fulfillment and out of this insight he constructed an entire philosophy of renunciation and silent, faithful suffering that would improve and purify him. Yet all his dreams reached the planet. Once he stood again on the high cliff at night by the sea and gazed at the planet and burned with love for it. And at the height of his longing he leaped into the emptiness toward the planet, but at the instant of leaping “it’s impossible” flashed once more through his mind. There he lay on the shore, shattered. He had not understood how to love. If at the instant of leaping he had had the strength of faith in the fulfillment of his love he would have soared into the heights and been united with the star."
Last week was maybe one of the most intense weeks I've had since the beginning of SpireSpire... and it's just about to get more intense from here on out. I've been out east visiting schools since late Wednesday night (our one and a half hour flight somehow got bumped back THREE hours... but by the time it actually took off the plane was half empty and we all got a row of seats to ourselves, so worth it). I came back Sunday morning with a MAJOR goal change that's going to be intact until the first week of November. Don't worry-- it's exciting stuff!
So I visited RUC2 and SAC2 on Thursday and Friday (respectively) and came back with an entirely new perspective on where I need to head for the next two months. RUC2 was a very good school-- everything about it seemed to fit what I've been looking for in a school. Although I didn't really feel that WOW factor that, say, RUC1 had, I think I'd be happy there. SAC2, on the other hand... that school was PERFECT. It's a little unfortunate that the school I feel most strongly about is also the most selective school on my list (and in the country... why, hello there, 4% acceptance rate!), BUT I talked to one of the composition professors there and he said that while there are never any guarantees with this sort of thing, I'm definitely at the level SAC2 is looking for in composers my age, and I should have a shot at getting in! His biggest recommendation was to have excellent recordings of every piece in my portfolio. That's no problem with the choir piece I plan on sending in: my school's top choir is making me a recording of it. It shouldn't pose any difficulty with the trio I wrote during ISYM, either: I've got a great ensemble lined up and totally willing to play it. However, SAC2 strongly recommends that applicants include one piece for orchestra. I had originally planned on submitting my finished symphony movement, but I know it would be impossible to get a good live recording of it: I'd need a huge orchestra with harp, piano, and a TON of percussion, and as much as I wish I had a huge orchestra lying around to do whatever I need, I don't. So over the next two or three weeks I'm planning on writing a chamber symphony and getting some of my friends from school and youth orchestra to record it. I'm lucky enough to know a LOT of very good musicians, and I'm confident I'll get a great recording out of them. I don't know if this is because of SAC2's reputation or a testament to how ridiculously close we are for a 120-member symphony or a combination of the two, but everyone's been insanely supportive of me so far. I talked to a lot of them at rehearsal on Sunday; I'm only about four or five people short of a full symphony for this recording, which is AMAZING. So, uh, go youth symphony friends!
What does this mean for SpireSpire? Well, first off it means I will have nothing in the way of actual SpireSpire-related progress until my portfolios are neat and tidy and mailed off November 1st. I'll be composing like crazy, but it won't be working towards my main symphony. I say "main symphony" because I could technically count this chamber symphony as MY SYMPHONY and be done with the project. There are a few one-movement symphonies out there, and while it's going to be quite short, it would technically be a complete piece written for full orchestra (ish), which is your basic definition of a symphony in the loosest possible sense. However, I don't think I'm going to do that. SpireSpire isn't about making a goal and then doing something you needed to do anyway. It's about stating your craziest, wildest, most impossible dreams and slowly making them possible. I know I've grown so much as a composer and as a person from this project, and I know that when I read everyone's posts, I'm seeing everyone else do the same. And while I know that because of this my four-movement symphony might not be completely finished by March 1st, I'm not ready to let this end.
It's hard to believe, but September 1st was the halfway mark in this crazy SpireSpire journey we're all on. (Not as hard to believe: the fact that I was extremely tempted to make this post a giant "Livin' on a Prayer" pun. Score one for exercising journalistic restraint!) So that seems like a good time to look back on everything I've done-- and haven't done-- from my old sub-goals.
1. All that transcribing.
So I didn't transcribe much of anything. It honestly wasn't the best use of my time... I replaced most of it with more writing, so I'd consider that better overall. I do still intend to orchestrate that sonata, although that might have to wait until after SpireSpire.
2. All those chamber ensembles.
I intended to write a brass quintet, a woodwind quintet, a string quartet, and a percussion ensemble this year. I've finished exactly one of those... but past that I've done so much more chamber music anyway. I've got a decent start on a woodwind quintet and a string quartet, though, so that's good. I'm not sure when or how I'll get to learn about percussion, though. Again, it might have to wait until after SpireSpire. (I also have another brass quintet trying to perform A Valediction-- this one's from CYSO. Hooray!)
3. The symphony!
I have a movement finished. Well, mostly finished... some of the orchestration's still messy and I need to revise it. Theoretically, I should have two movements finished by now... but honestly, the fact that I even have a full movement in the first place still amazes me. Realistically, the symphony writing is probably going to have to go on hold for a few months while I finish up my college portfolio. I'll be back to making this my main focus sometime mid-November or so.
Ultimately, the goal of all of this was to get me writing more and make me a better composer. I wanted to go into college with a solid portfolio and a lot more experience writing, so I could have a reasonable shot at going to a top music school. I'm seeking to eventually transition my passion from SpireSpire into a career; essentially, my goal is not only to write a symphony, but to become the best composer I can be. And with the amazing boosts in confidence and productivity SpireSpire has given me, I might not be halfway there-- maybe not even close-- but I'll make it, I swear.
(Turns out I couldn't resist the Bon Jovi pun. Sorry/not sorry.)
Senior year has OFFICIALLY started... and my writer's block is gone! I know it seems counterintuitive, but my senior year schedule is perfectly set up for composition-- so far I've had less than an hour of homework every night, AND I have a 90-minute block of music independent study, which I've mostly used as composition time so far (although I'll probably use half of it for bass practicing as college auditions get closer). And that's been a really, really productive time so far! I've started a new piece based on this
ee cummings poem for a few of my friends who've asked for something to play-- they're all excellent musicians, so I know I'll be able to get a great recording from them. It's for baritone voice, alto sax, violin, and piano; the instrumentation's inspired by the main theme from Up, which I've always loved. The piece is maybe a third finished-- I've got the entire baritone part written, as well as the rest of the instruments almost to the end of the first stanza. It's ended up with a slightly jazzy feel, sort of Ravel meets Copland meets Chick Corea. That's new to me; I honestly don't know how it's going to turn out, although it's sounding good so far. But I expect to have it finished within a week or two, and that's REALLY exciting. I'm also toying with ideas for a string quartet; I have something like twenty or thirty measures written, although that's not much music since it's a fairly fast piece.
I know I was supposed to have Fire finished by now, and maybe another movement of my symphony. That didn't happen. It just... didn't. More and more I'm finding out that it's impossible to force a composition to happen: either it does or, like in this case, it doesn't. I'm not giving up on Fire or on the symphony, but I feel like it's best if I can finish at least the ee cummings before taking a crack at either one again. Finally, here is a video of the brass quintet I recorded in June! Hopefully I'll be back next week with news as to when I'll have new music up next... for now, enjoy!
So it's been weeks since I've posted. Usually I come back from these absences with at least SOMEthing entertaining to show for it... but this time, nothing. I've been writing as much as I can, but it honestly hasn't amounted to much-- just a few measures of various things here and there. It's better than nothing, but I'm still pretty disappointed in myself. Part of it is the same massive writer's block I've been struggling with on and off all summer, but a lot of it is because of my new part-time job: finding a college. By the time I post next Monday, I will officially be in the middle of my LAST year of high school, and while that's extremely exciting (no math! AND a two-period music independent study!), it means that in much less time than I care to consider, I'll need to decide where I'm applying and finish all those pesky applications, auditions, and portfolios. (At most of the schools on my list, I'm planning to major in bass performance and music composition, so I need to prepare an audition and a portfolio for just about all of them.) So I thought I'd go a little off-topic this week and describe exactly what I'm up against in this process. This may be long and dreadful OR kind of neat, depending on your attitude towards college searches: read at your own risk.
First up are Large Research Universities 1 and 2, which I visited last spring. (I feel like it's unwise to name schools until I'm actually attending one, so bear with me through the acronyms.) LRU 1 has a ridiculously large and prestigious music program-- there'd be something like 50 composers admitted in my class alone. It turns out consistently excellent players, and the facilities and guest artists are jaw-droppingly incredible. It's a beautiful school with a really diverse student body in a classic small college town-- I've yet to meet anyone who's visited this school and doesn't love it. I have more than a few friends there, and they couldn't be happier with their choice. I met with a composition and a bass professor there; the composition professor absolutely loved my work... the (famously tough) bass professor, not so much. Granted, I'm a much better player than I was at that time-- partially because of that lesson with that professor-- but I'm still concerned I might not get as much attention as the players headed for careers in major orchestras. (There's another bass professor at that school, but he's retiring soon and nobody knows who his replacement will be. Since I'd ideally be working with the same bass professor all four years, I'm not sure if I want that uncertainty.)
LRU 2's biggest asset was its professors. Its composition department is small, close-knit, and best of all VERY encouraging of tonalism, which is sometimes uncommon in college composition departments. Its facilities were not horribly impressive, but they were still quite nice. The school itself might be too much of a party school for me, though. Something like 40-45% of the student body is involved in Greek life, which makes me a little uncomfortable. It's an EXTREMELY good school academics-wise (consistently top 20 or 30 in the US News and World Report rankings) so you wouldn't think that would be the case, but I shadowed a student here and it really surprised me how central that was.
I stayed at LRU 3 for a week in July, during a composition camp. While the atmosphere at this school has never really seemed like my perfect fit, I've had nothing but incredible experiences with the composition and bass professors, and living there for a week really made me feel like I could be at home there and receive a great (and fairly cheap) education. I know I'm applying to this school; I think I can get in based on professorial feedback, and I think I'd be pretty happy here.
Two weeks ago I visited four different colleges: Large Research University 4, Research University w/Conservatory 1, Liberal Arts/Conservatory 1, and Stand-Alone Conservatory 1. And I mean DIFFERENT colleges! I should probably explain the distinctions I'm making here: LRU is a research university with a strong school of fine arts, LAC is a small liberal arts college-- think Oberlin or Williams-- with an on-campus conservatory, RUC is a research university with a school/conservatory loosely affiliated with the main campus but separated both geographically and by coursework and housing, SAC is solely a music school-- no official ties with a university, although students can often take classes at a nearby one. I know, it's horribly confusing... see what I'm up against?
Anyway, Large Research University 4 was an excellent school. It's in a beautiful city, the student culture seems fantastic, there are lots of resources available in terms of internships and study-abroad experiences... I'd be applying right now, if it weren't for one small problem: the entire music school was gone when I visited! Most of the faculty work at a music camp affiliated with the school over the summer, so there was nobody there for me to talk to or take lessons with. Unfortunately it's about a thousand miles away, so it might be tricky to sort out; I'm hoping to contact some faculty via email or phone so I can get a better feel for it, though.
After several stops along the way for various regional bakeries (I swear my mom can smell them from fifty miles away... she's very helpful to have on these trips for that exact reason), we got to RUC 1... and I absolutely fell in love with the place. I took a lesson with the bass teacher before I toured the school, and before the end of that lesson I knew I wanted to study there no matter what everything else looked like. He's been teaching at that school for almost forty years-- almost every bassist in a successful chamber ensemble in New York or Chicago studied with him, as did the director of my youth orchestra-- and within about 30 minutes he had already fixed three or four problems my bass teacher and I had been working on for months. The rest of that school is incredible: it's in one of the nicest parts of the (admittedly slightly grungy) city it's in, it's home to the largest music library in the US, it's got a huge focus on new music and what it means to be a 21st-century musician, and from day one on campus you're playing incredible music in one of the most beautiful halls I've ever seen.
Basically the view from my seat... freshman year... first day. Wow, right?
Of course, RUC 1 is extremely selective. And extremely expensive. So as much as I'd love to apply only here, I should probably take a second look at all these other schools as well.
I wasn't as fond of Liberal Arts/Conservatory 1, unfortunately. Don't get me wrong-- the campus was incredibly beautiful, and the students seemed very smart and very friendly, albeit very, very weird (not that that's a bad thing-- what's not to love about a student body that's more interested in its Quidditch team than its football team?). I met with a composition professor and listened to a CD of the department's best work, though, and it really left a bad taste in my mouth. Freshman composition students are completely indistinguishable from freshman electronic music/recording arts students in terms of classes taken, and it shows in their music: everything was very electronic, very experimental... very UNlike anything I enjoy writing or hearing. I know whatever college I attend will probably encourage me to experiment with music outside my comfort zone-- and that's fine by me-- but at the end of the day I'm interested in writing music that you don't need a composition degree to enjoy, and I'm not sure I'd be able to follow that interest at LAC 1 without some opposition from the professors. It made me sad, because I'd always imagined myself at LAC 1 before, but I guess that's what happens.
Stand-Alone Conservatory 1 was an extremely pleasant surprise, though! It's got a reputation as a school where people practice their instruments, practice their instruments, and then for fun they... practice their instruments-- I'm a little apprehensive about that. But there wasn't anything I didn't like about the school on my visit! I feel like I'd really grow and learn with the professors there-- they were excellent, but at the same time challenged a few of the musical beliefs I'd always held, not at all making me feel like I was completely incompatible with the school. The recital halls are brand new and absolutely INCREDIBLE, and the university's less than a ten minute walk from the city's symphony hall, art museum, and botanical gardens (all with free or cheap tickets for SAC 1 students most days)... as well as what my mom claims is the best bakery ever (and she's kind of an expert). Although it's a stand-alone conservatory, I could also take any classes I wanted at a nearby top research university, although I"ve already filled most of my requirements through AP classes (so it'd basically be a free pass to learn anything I wanted if I had extra electives to fill... nice!). Again, it's selective-- possibly more so than RUC 1, especially for composition-- but it's a little less expensive, since they tend to give more money to individual students (especially for academics-- RUC 1 expects you to be a good student, but SAC 1 is a little more lenient and a little more likely to be impressed by a strong transcript when considering merit scholarships). And hey-- there are worse things for a student body to be known for than practicing all the time!
If you have read this far you deserve a MEDAL, because the college search is supremely tedious (and even more so when it's someone else's search). But those are the options so far... of course, there's a few schools I've visited that are no longer under consideration (such as the one that didn't have a music library at all-- none! not a single score!-- and the one that's known for its great choirs, but everyone performs in a gymnasium), and I've got a few more schools to go. Mid-September I'll be visiting SAC 2 (I'd be studying composition with the most well-known and critically acclaimed female composer of all time, a personal hero of mine... but I wouldn't get to play as much bass since I know I couldn't prepare for their bass audition, much less pass it-- oh, and did I mention it's twice as selective as Harvard? Although it is free if you get in.) and RUC 2 (which looks very promising AND a little less frighteningly competitive than RUC 1 or either SAC, thankfully). I've got two more schools to visit after that-- another LRU and another LAC, thankfully both close to home. And then I'm done! Except for the applying, and the portfolios, and the interviews, and the auditions, and the... yikes.
Disappointed to report another two straight weeks of basically nothing happening. My house has been full of relatives since last I posted (my mom's one of seven siblings, most of whom live within a few hours' drive)-- while it's been a lot of fun, it's often hard to find time to write anything, even if I DO have ideas (which, sadly, have been few and far between). I've managed to carve out some time to practice bass on most days (got those pesky college auditions coming up), but that's about it. So basically, due to a combination of writer's block and life happening, I have about six and a half measures of Fire finished. That said, I think this week is probably a good time to step back and look at what needs to happen over the next few months.
1) Between now and the end of summer break, I'd like to finish Fire. I have a lot of other things on my plate between college audition prep, summer homework, and college visits (big tour of my northeastern schools coming up next week) so I probably shouldn't push it, but I think I should be able to put in the time. Once I'm finished with that, I'm planning on emailing it to Dr. Taylor from ISYM-- I think he'll be curious to see how it turns out-- and at the same time ask him to take a look at my finished symphony movement (still don't know if my orchestration is any good). I'd also like to get at least some headway on a new piece for my women's choir, so I can hopefully get a recording of that first quarter. Finally, I need to contact W.W. Norton (the company that holds the copyright to all of ee cummings' work) to get written permission to use a few poems for a piece I wrote last spring... more on that later.
2) In the first quarter of the school year, my number one goal is to polish my college portfolio. As a composition major, the schools I'm applying to ask for anywhere between two and seven scores, preferably with live recordings. I've got probably four or five strong pieces I could hypothetically include already; my main obstacle here is diversity. I'm aiming to finish the first movement of my symphony, my Emily Dickinson art songs (for solo contralto voice and double bass-- so I can record and perform myself), an arrangement for Allstate, and maybe something else-- solo piano music or more chamber music. I'll have about 90 straight minutes a day that could potentially be dedicated to composing during the school year. They won't all be dedicated to composing, but a lot of them probably will be.
3) My second quarter will be dedicated to finishing up my IMEA Allstate entries. There are six categories that I could plausibly enter-- arranging, vocal solo, vocal ensemble, instrumental large ensemble, instrumental solo/chamber, piano solo-- and I intend to enter as many as possible, if not all of them. Most of this should overlap with my college portfolio, but there are a few things that might not-- namely, the choral works I've written with texts still under copyright (these are against contest rules without express written consent of the publisher... thus, contacting W.W. Norton, since I know the ee cummings piece will be performed and recorded, and my college portfolio's already quite strong on vocal works). A lot of this quarter will also probably be spent preparing for my college audition on bass, so I'm not sure how much work I'll be able to do on my symphony.
4) With all of that out of the way, the rest of my SpireSpire year will likely be dedicated to finishing the rest of my symphony! Two movements in three months might be a lot... but then again, that 90-minute block will be a huge boon. It should be reasonable as long as I don't get too sidetracked after auditions... yup, no senioritis here!
Even though I didn't get a lot done this week, it's probably good that I took this time to step back and plan out the rest of my year. Now I don't feel quite so behind!
Oh, and before I forget, here
are the first three movements of The Elements (my piece from ISYM)-- enjoy!
Apologies for the lack of post last week-- I was halfway to Champaign-Urbana before I realized I hadn't written anything! I hope this week makes up for it, though: I've made a lot of progress in the past two weeks, and I have some very exciting things to share.
I spent a good chunk of the first week of July working on a woodwind quintet that's actually going quite well. I temporarily stopped working on it last week, though-- I was at the University of Illinois' annual summer music institute, attending their first annual summer composition/electronic music camp! It was a really great experience overall; I got to work with Dr. Stephen Taylor, the head of the university's composition department and a really, really interesting guy, and he seemed to really like my work. We learned a bit about different music technology, instrumentation, and composition techniques, but we spent most of the week frantically writing pieces for our recital on Saturday, where we all premiered brand new pieces. Unfortunately I didn't get a lot of individual instruction from Dr. Taylor because he spent most of his time helping out the younger and less experienced composers in the session (I was the oldest at the camp, the youngest was an incoming 8th grader), but I DID get a lot of dedicated composing time... and within the span of about five days I managed to write three movements of a four-movement suite for cello, clarinet, and piano entitled The Elements. (It ended up being a good seven or eight solid minutes of music completed in a week! It's one of my favorite things I've written so far.) I even got one of those movements played on the U of I public radio station! They haven't uploaded the show to the website quite yet, but it should be here
by Monday or Tuesday if you want to listen to it-- I'm somewhere around the 20 or 25 minute mark, and you'll get to hear the second movement of the suite, plus a few of my thoughts and inspirations behind the piece (including some metaphysical poetry from English class I had to recite on the spot... the things that happen on live radio!).
My goal for this week is to keep up at least a little of my momentum from last week. True, now that I'm home I don't have the luxury of sitting in a MIDI lab for six hours a day working, an amazing composer sitting twenty feet away ready and willing to critique my works, or an ensemble full of AMAZING players to write for (I still can't get over how awesome our clarinet player was-- he's a doctoral student at U of I and he ROCKED)... but given that, I've still got to make an effort to keep writing as much as I can, rather than just resting on my laurels after having such an amazing week. I'm going to try to finish the last movement of The Elements this week-- this suite's definitely going to be one of the major centerpieces of my college audition, so the sooner I can finish the last movement and find an ensemble to play it, the better.
In the meantime, here's my brass quintet from a few weeks ago! I wish we could've had more rehearsal time, but I'm pretty proud of how it turned out, all things considered. (Specifically, listen to the trombone and the high trumpet... holy cow!) Hopefully next week I'll have something to post from the composition recital... for now, enjoy!
In composition and in everything else, I've always preferred working with a lot of different projects on my plate at once. That way, if I run into one dead end, I can switch to a different project and hopefully make some progress there. Usually this isn't a problem: there's one project in particular that sticks out above all the others as one I really want to work on. Unfortunately, that isn't the case right now! I have so many different preliminary ideas for compositions I'd really like to work on that I legitimately don't know where I want to focus my attention. A small sampling of the projects that I've been considering:
--The first movement of my symphony.
--The score to a short film series for a friend.
--Choir pieces for various choirs I'm a member of (I found a new public domain poet-- Christina Rossetti. She's wonderful
... and did I mention public domain? I can use her poetry as lyrics as much as I want without having to get permission from a publisher. Hooray!).
--Some kind of mixed chamber music (either a piano trio-- piano, clarinet, cello-- or some kind of quintet-- I'm thinking piano, cello, clarinet, oboe, percussion... neither of these are terribly common orchestrations but I think they'd both be fascinating color palettes to work with).
--Orchestration of a piano piece (either the Beethoven sonata I posted a few months ago or something different entirely).
--Other chamber music I mentioned at the beginning of SpireSpire as subgoals: woodwind quintet, string quartet, percussion ensemble.
--Various other projects to round out my college portfolio: piano pieces, art song cycles, what have you.
I'm going to keep reading my orchestration textbook in the coming weeks-- and keep tinkering with new ideas. Hopefully a project will jump out at me soon... well, hopefully a REASONABLE project that I can make some decent progress on over the summer. (For some reason I spent half my plane ride to Spain convinced I was going to write a three-movement piece for SATB choir and string orchestra based on Walt Whitman's "O Pioneers"... right then and there, without so much as a piano to help me out. Jet lag does strange, strange things to me... although it's definitely a cool idea I'd like to revisit after SpireSpire and my college portfolio are both behind me.) I'm also headed off to a composition camp at the University of Illinois on the 8th; their composition professor is fantastic, and I'm sure that experience will give me some direction if I can't manage to find one on my own within the next week.
In other news, I got my brass quintet recorded this week! They did a lovely job; I'm just waiting on the teacher in charge of the school recording device to email me the recordings. I'll post one here next week if I can!