from the depths,

WOW I have not written on here in almost a full entire year, which is crazy, because I have so much to talk about- everything from Miss America to Beethoven sonatas, all of which is coming your way.

But not today, because today I’m here to tell you about my new piece!

Over the past *covers mouth* years that I have been at Ole Miss, I have written, as of yesterday, 4 works for the wind ensemble here. It’s been interesting, because it’s almost been like a long-term residency, where I’ve really gotten to know the players and see  how the ensemble has changed and grown. So, it was a nice surprise when David Willson, probably the biggest champion of my music, asked me to write another piece for them, to be part of a concert of all premieres by composers associated with the University in some way.

The challenge here was two-fold. 1) Being on a concert of entirely new music is weird, because you want your piece to be different, but there’s no way to know exactly what the other composers will write.

2) I was given carte blanche to write whatever I wanted, which is the hardest thing to write. If someone tells you “Write me a 5 minute concert opener” or “I want a 6 minute ballad”, that’s easy because you automatically have a frame to work in, but having no restrictions is the worst, because then you have to set your own.

At first, I wanted to do something big and celebratory- kind of a “shave and a haircut” on my time here at Ole Miss, but the music never fit like I thought it should. The piece ended up being, very VERY different than what I or anyone expected, which is not entirely bad.

Without going into too much personal detail, about a year ago I went through a very dark time in my life, and those feelings have held on to me even now. So, when I went to write what I thought would be a big, happy piece, the music came out wild and angry and did not stop. About the same time, I found this poem by Louise Erdrich, and the sixth section (God, I was not meant to be the isolate/cry in this body,) latched on to me. I quickly realized that the piece was meant to be about desperation.

“De profundis clamavi” (loosely translated “From the depths, I cried”) is a sort of companion piece to my last piece for wind ensemble, “Et exspecto”. But where “Et exspecto” started still and nervous, and then ramped up the energy to the end, this piece starts with a shriek and ends in stillness and desperation. One is a crescendo, the other its decrescendo.

The music is full of upward phrases, literally cries from the depths, that never get resolved. This is music about unability. Unable to get to the next place, to get out, to resolve. The ensemble tries the same phrases again and again, hoping to reach something new, but rarely succeeding.

The piece ends with a flute quartet, which taken alone would feel very much in F major, but the ensemble quietly hums a unison D underneath, the relative minor tone, undermining what should be the happy ending. Echoes from a solo vibraphone keep the minor tone ringing in our ears to the end.

“De profundis clamavi” premieres on November 20, 2014.

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The Gospel According to the Others

Below is an essarticle (copyright 2013) I wrote for the latest edition of the online magazine Opera21 (which you should all read here) about John Adams and religion in his oratorios, and its influence on me.

Sometime in the spring of 2009, I heard El Niño for the first time. It was my first John Adams piece. I have no idea how I came upon the piece, but it quickly became a watershed moment in my musical life. I grew up Free Will Baptist, and I had no idea what to do with these strange new stories, ideas, and the music that illuminated them. It was like I stumbled on this new, unconventional Bible. But, despite this unfamiliarity, I was immediately transfixed. I asked for the DVD for Christmas, and watched it about 10 times in the next two weeks. Since then, I’ve probably seen it upwards of 75 times (at least 5 during each Advent, and multiple times throughout the rest of the year). I’ve half-joked before that I subscribe to the gospel of John Adams, which is probably more true than anyone could imagine.

 

When it was announced that Adams was writing a “sequel” to El Niño based on the Passion, it was like Christmas come early. I patiently waited for the premiere, devouring every bit of information we were given in interviews and videos. When Adams posted Peter Sellars’ synopsis on his blog, I went into overdrive doing research, trying to know as much as I could. I could probably quote verbatim most of the reviews of both premieres. The day they posted the broadcast of the premiere was another defining moment in my musical life. I was in New York City at the time, and I had woken up early so I could get in the rush line to see the Pippin revival, I conveniently had about a 4 hour wait, just enough to listen to the piece almost twice. As I sat there on the sidewalk of 45th street, I watched as people passed by with strange looks, wondering why someone was crying in the middle of a rush line. There was no good explanation for what I was feeling.

 

John Adams has often described himself as a “secular liberal,” and has always requested that interviewers not ask him about his religion or spirituality. When he was asked about this, he answered that he doesn’t “feel comfortable talking about [his faith] — no matter what I say, it comes out sounding wrong.”

 

Perhaps a more appropriate titled for El Niño would have been María, for the voice of the work is undeniably the Virgin’s. In addition to the soprano and mezzo-soprano soloists, who both sing the words of Mary, Peter Sellar’s original staged version also featured a film running in time with the work, showing a version of the same story set in modern-day Los Angeles. These three Marys all join together to show different facets of a woman we thought we knew. It’s almost as if they are saying that all mothers are Mary. The miracle of childbirth isn’t reserved for Jesus, but every birth is just as miraculous.

 

The music Adams writes walks hand-in-hand with the story he tells: it is mystic, strangely beautiful, full of darkness and light. Close to the end of the first act, Adams sets a poem by Rosario Castellanos, “Se habla de Gabriel,” (not the angel, but Castellanos’ son):

 

As all guests do, my son got in my way

crowding my space

ruining my schedule

[…]

His body begged mine to give birth, to give way

to give him a place in the world

the time he would need for his story.

 

Mary is a human mother, taking care of a human child, who cries, needs changing, and doesn’t sleep through the night. Adams paints a beautiful picture of Mary and Jesus as every mother and child. He doesn’t focus on their holy or perfect status, but colors them in a new way. Adams sets this gorgeous text over a series of long string drones, with small ticks from the piccolo and harp, as if to count down the minutes until the child is born. In the final scene of act one, the words of Gabriela Mistral paint a metaphor for the childbirth, exclaiming:

 

A little girl

comes running,

she caught and carries a star.

 

[…]

 

They try to take it away–

but how can she live without her star?

 

[…]

 

It didn’t simply fall–it didn’t.

It remained without her,

and now she runs without a body,

changed, transformed into ashes.

 

The road catches fire

and our braids burn,

and now we all receive her

because the entire Earth is burning.

 

Adams appropriately sets this against a gorgeous ecstatic backdrop of percussiveness, with the chorus proclaiming in Latin, “The tender shoot which is the Virgin’s son has opened Paradise.” Every birth opens paradise. Our lives are all connected to the Divine.

 

In The Gospel According to the Other Mary, John Adams set a text by Louise Erdrich (from her collection Baptism of Desire) about Mary Magdalene washing Jesus’ feet. It is full of beautiful eroticism. She claims that she will drive boys to smash empty bottles upon their brows. She will pull them right out of their skins. It’s almost a fetishistic ritual. The bowing at the feet, the washing with the hair. Adams surrounds this texts in music that makes you feel as if you could smell the perfume in the air. The orchestra feels as though it is writhing in its own skin until it settles in a strange pattern, when, suddenly, the chorus, filled with the smells of the perfume, possessively declare “Spiritus sanctus!” over and over, ritualistically. (In a similar fashion, Olivier Messiaen writes a movement called the Amen of Desire in his piece Visions de l’Amen, that supposedly represents the love and communion between God and man, but feels only 2 steps away from being the soundtrack to a very sophisticated porno.)

One of the most heartbreaking moments in the entire work (and maybe ever) is when the women are at the cross, weeping. Jesus looks down from the cross and sees his mother and tells her “Mother, behold thy son.” Unlike the Biblical story, he is not referring to John. He is asking His mother to look at him. To see what has happened. At this point, Adams references his own “Mary” music for El Niño and it is devastating. You can feel her heart break as she remembers the star, the shepherds, the wise men, the birth.

When Mary (Magdalene) finds the empty tomb, she immediately begins to weep. Here is perhaps the only man she has ever loved, and now she can’t even take care of his body. A man she thinks is the gardener walks up to her and asks “Woman, why weepest thou? Whom seekest thou?” Mary begs to be told where the body has been taken. The gardener, now revealed as Jesus, softly speaks her name through the voices of the countertenors. The music is strange, but refreshing. Adams doesn’t give us a Messiaen-like triumphal celebration of the Resurrection. Instead, he shows us the story through Mary’s eyes, what it was like to just be a friend of his.

Adams sets two more Erdrich texts (she is by far the work’s main voice), both having to do with Jesus. At the beginning of the second act, Jesus has a “fever dream,” where he chops down his cross, buries his parents alive, and flees to Damascus and Beirut to lead a revolution. It presents a more violent version of The Last Temptation of Christ. He forsakes the Divine plan for his own savage design. The music is just as savage as the story. The piano and electric bass lay down a menacing ostinato, while the chorus practically screams above it. The music is relentless and terrifying. It will not let up until Jesus has fled.

Later in the same act, Jesus, on the cross, screams out to his Father who had abandoned him in heaven,

I want no shelter. I deny

the whole configuration.

I hate the weight of earth.

I hate the sound of water.

Ash to ash you say, but I know different.

I will not stop burning.

Jesus has succumb to the human side of being fully human/fully divine. Up to this point in the scene, the music had been rather subdued, occasionally passing out, then stirring again. Shivers of pain and cold running through us. But at this point, a bass drum hit signals the final rush. Jesus engages in a yelling competition with the bass drum, and he wins. THe orchestra echoes his anger in the yells of brass instruments and the rumbles of bass instruments. Until finally, he completely gives up, the pain is too much. We immediately relate to him, because who among us wouldn’t be crying the same or worse?

Adams succeeds in these works by deepening these ancient characters and stories with modern day poetry and stories. (At the beginning of the work, Mary has adopted the story of Dorothy Day, where she is in jail for being a part of the women’s movement, and is tortured by the sound of a drug addict in withdrawals in the next cell.) He uses a similar idea in Doctor Atomic, but it is the exact opposite. He uses these ancient texts, from the Bhagavad Gita, and the less ancient John Donne and Muriel Rukeyser, to deepen Oppenheimer and his wife’s torture of being involved in the creation of the atomic bomb, a story we all think we know. John Adams focuses on the Others. He takes these stories we think we know and turns them on their heads, creating deeper characterizations and meanings that cause us to find ourselves in these stories we probably never could.

These ideas loom over me as I work on the libretto for a new piece I’m writing, based on the parable of the Prodigal Son. The work is based on the Other Son, the older brother of the prodigal. In a manner similar to Orozco’s Christ, the older son, angry at how the father has treated his brother upon his return, rises up against him and kills him, recalling Cain. Afterwards, he goes to his father, steals his portion of the inheritance, and goes into the city to squander it away, exactly like his brother had done. There can be no doubt that this piece would not have ever been planned without these “operatorios” and their enormous influence on me, musically and beyond.

I recommend these works more than any other works I love. They are two of my favorite pieces of all time. I can’t help but want everybody to hear these works and find themselves in the stories of the Marys, Martha, Jesus, and the other various characters in these beautiful stories. We are all the Others, and religious or not, these are human stories, just like the stories of our current day, and our personal stories.

 pw

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the gospel according to the other frogs

Tree frogs have recently invaded the woods around my house. (Orlo ate one last night and I went into full on crazy parent mode. He turned out fine.) I have found 3 in my house already. I hate frogs, and I specifically hate frogs in my house. I’m not sure if this is a plague and I’m supposed to release Orlo from slavery or what I have done to deserve this.

In honor of these little frogs, here is a chorus from John Adams’ vast new work “The Gospel According to the Other Mary,” all about frogs. (I would explain what the birth of tiny frogs has to do with the Passion of Jesus Christ, but it’s a long story and I’m lazy. It’s a metaphor kind of. If you are prepared for a long, stream of consciousness explanation, contact me and we will work something out.)

Gustavo Dudamel conducts Kelley O’Connor, the LA Master Chorale and the LA Philarmonic.

from Sacraments

It is spring

the tiny frogs

pull their strange new bodies

out of the suckholes,

the sediment of rust,

and float upward,

each in a silver bubble

that breaks the water’s surface,

to one clear unceasing note of need

Sometimes, when I hear them,

I leave our bed

and stumble among

the white shafts of weeds

to the edge of the pond…

I sink to the throat

and witness the ravenous trill

of the body

at last and then,

consumed in the rush of music.

- Louise Erdrich.

pw

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title sequence

It occurred to me today that I should explain the title of the piece I’m currently working on, “Knock on Wood”, because on the surface, at least right now, the piece sounds nothing like what the title would suggest.

I think a lot about titles, and I especially like titles that carry multiple meanings and things like that. When I thought about it, the phrase “knock on wood” seemed to carry a feeling of security with it. We use it as a sort of protection blanket, so the bad thing won’t happen to us.

Whenever I think about comfort or security, I always think about my relationship with God. A big reason of how I’ve kept my faith over the years has to do with the security of knowing someone up there is looking out for me, as best He can.

Well, whenever I think about my faith, I always think about my upbringing in church. One thing I always loved was the congregational singing. There is something really special about hearing 200 country people with horrible voices singing together on a Sunday morning.

And thinking about those old hymns always brings me back to my grandfather, who led the singing all my life up until he passed away almost 9 years ago. My grandfather meant and still means the absolute world to me. He taught me so much about how to be a good person and about keeping a life-long thirst for knowledge. I really regret that he isn’t alive now, almost selfishly, because I would love to just sit down and talk with him like he used to. He was a high school science teacher way back in the day, and he loved to give me little science lessons while we drove in the car. He taught me that inertia is the reason that the rain goes up the windshield, why the leaves change colors, how a rainbow works. I often dream that I’m sitting with him in his basement, talking about things just like we used to. When he died, I got to have a good portion of his library including his books about the hymns and the great hymn authors, which mean the absolute world to me now.

Last year, for Father’s Day, I did an arrangement of one of mine and my grandfather’s favorite hymns, This Is my Father’s World. I played it at the church I grew up in, a Free Will Baptist church, and I joked that it was perhaps the only time bitonality has gotten an “Amen!”. I knew from the time I finished it that the solo version wasn’t its finished form. It needed expanding. There was too much there for a 6 minute solo piano piece. I knew it needed to be a sort of piano concerto. My grandfather died before I came into my own as a piano player, and I like to pretend that he’s up there somewhere smiling over me while I play. I needed to be personally involved in the performance of this piece.

So all of this somehow came to be Knock on Wood, which will be dedicated to my grandfather.

And that’s my story.

pw

all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.

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the resurrection of the dead: part two

So, as I sat in this coffee shop, I came to the realization that I have not blogged in quite a while, even though I have had a ton to blog about. So, here is my attempt at catching you all up.

The major thing is that I had a premiere of a piece! The first week of June I was in Virginia working with the Stuart High School wind ensemble on the premiere of Et exspecto, which was very nervewracking, but also fun. The piece was/is _hard_ and contained a lot of things in those 6 minutes that could be kind of difficult for a high schooler to grasp, but these kids and their director, Brian Thomas put a ton of work in, and put up with my old movie references and we had a lot of fun working together, or at least I did. The premiere went really well, and the kids and parents all seemed to respond really well to the piece, which is always nice and appreciated.

The next few days were spent with Doug Martin and the Langley High School band working on their performance of that classic hit, hydrogen jukebox. Doug was actually the one who organized the commission, but through an unfortunate series of events (he got a new job, which I guess is not that unfortunate) he wasn’t able to give the premiere of the piece, so he, wonderfully, decided to do another one of my works to make up for it. It’s always fun to hear old pieces again, especially ones that you wrote WHEN YOU WERE 18 and dumb, and the kids all seemed to have a lot of fun with it, which is exactly what the piece was intended for. It’s interesting to hear how different hydrogen jukebox is from something I would write now, like, say, Et exspecto. All the gestures and style seem so foreign to me now, almost like somebody else wrote it, which is probably not far from the truth. Once again, the kids were great and put up with more old movie references (I don’t know how this came about, but whatever works) and the rehearsals were a lot of fun. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be there for the performance, but from all accounts, it went really well, which is always nice. Doug was also a very gracious and wonderful host, and he has the cutest daughter and dog that ever walked on 2 (or 4) legs. (Apparently later on, Doug was playing some Bach around the house, and his daughter asked him to put on “one of Price’s pieces” instead. Take that, J.S.! I’m kid approved.)

Hopefully the other 6 commissioners liked the piece and are going to give performances of it this semester. They have exclusivity until November, which is just in time for all of you to put it on your fall concerts. (Shameless plug.) Tell your friends, band directors, and moms about it.

Moving on, the next 2 weeks were spent in New York City, which was the first non-working vacation I have taken in years and cost far too much money, but it was so worth it. It was also my first trip to New York since I went when I was 6.

A quick aside: When I went on that first trip, all my cousins and aunts and my mom wanted to go ice-skating at Rockefeller Plaza, but I was scared to go, so my mom, quite sacrificially, took me to the Disney store instead. I think about that story a lot and it makes me really sad, so I have promised that I’m going to take her back one day to go ice-skating, and then to the Disney store, obviously. Also, the trip was for my cousin’s 16th birthday. We went to see the Today Show, like you do, and she had a sign that said “Sweet Sixteen and on Today,” even though she had already turned 16 the summer before. (This was around New Year’s.) Well, it just so happened to be Matt Lauer’s birthday, and when they saw the sign, they had to get her on the show. So, my cousin was on national tv under false pretenses.

All in all, I saw 10.5 shows while I was there (we second-acted Annie one night), not including two cabaret shows where I saw Sherie Rene Scott and Judy Kuhn, which was amazing. I could go on and on about the shows, but I will refrain. Just ask me if you want opinions.

I had such an incredible time. I got to meet tons of friends I had only connected with via the Internet, which was amazing. It was so wonderful to know that I had a built-in community while I was there, which took so much fear off of the trip. It was the best time, and exactly what I needed at that point in my life.

I spent the last two weeks working a summer theatre camp in Starkville, MS (shiver), which was very unexpected, but quite welcomed. Their usual accompanist got very sick the week before, so I was hired on a Thursday and had to move in Saturday morning. This camp was unlike any theatre camp I had ever heard of. The first week, they have about twenty or so campers come in. They split them into three groups, and each group writes an act of a jukebox musical. The next two weeks, they bring in the rest of the campers (53 in all) and they put together the whole thing. The writers write exactly enough parts so that each kid has a part. So, as the saying goes, there were no small parts. It made casting an absolute nightmare (3 hours total), but I thought that was just the coolest thing. A big part of my job was getting together arrangements of all the songs and figuring out who needs to sing where and what is a chorus number or a duet or whatever, which was a lot of fun. There was all kinds of music represented, from Nine Inch Nails to Manhattan Transfer to Miley Cyrus. All in all, it was just the best time and full of the coolest people. I made such good friends with a lot of the staff members, and I think there are going to be a lot of cool collaborations coming of it. (Specifically, I think I’m going to be working on two new musical type things.)

Now, I’m spending the next few weeks working on a couple new pieces. One is a piece for piano and wind ensemble that I’ve been wanting to write for a while now, which will premiere with me and the Ole Miss wind ensemble later on in the fall. I’m also finally going to write this sonata for clarinet and piano, as well as working on new orchestrations for Spring Awakening for the Ghostlight student theatre group and working on incidental music for the same group’s production of Almost, Maine later on this semester. Busy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

As I talked about on another forum, I have had the strangest feeling lately that I am going to hurt myself somehow, obviously not on purpose. But every time I pick up a glass or try to step over something, I have this feeling that I’m going to drop it, or stumble and fall somehow. It’s a very Liz Lemon idea of living by yourself in constant fear that you will choke and nobody will be there to give you the Heimlich. I’m sure my psychiatrist would have plenty to say about this. I think it stems from spending so much time this summer with people, and now that I’m back in my normal routine I have to kind of take care of myself, which my brain has interpreted as imminent death and destruction.

I’ve been spending a lot of time holed up into a practice room, tearing apart Phrygian Gates, in preparation for my recital next year of Phrygian Gates, Beethoven Op. 110, and maybe Schumann’s Gesange der Fruhe if I decide to be a total masochist. Phrygian Gates is no doubt the hardest thing I have ever had to learn, but it actually is a lot less harder than it looks. The hardest part so far, besides the crazy 16th note sections, has been trying to find a convincing way to take this 25th minute journey, without it being 25 minutes of “here’s a lot of notes.” It’s very elegantly structured, and I’m trying to find how that translates into the total arc of the piece.

So, know that you know just how crazy I’ve become, you should be prepared to send care packages of coffee, chocolate, and the oft talked about 25th hour of the day. Also, bourbon if you are so inclined. Prayers and good vibes could also work.

Until next time, which hopefully won’t be as long,

pw.

insert gratuitous picture of my puppy.
insert gratuitous picture of my puppy.
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“Nice bowtie.”

As I type this, I am sitting in my hotel room in DC awaiting the first dress rehearsal for “Et exspecto” which is tomorrow! Eastern time zone is the worst and I find myself being unable to sleep until ungodly times of the morning.

I technically was not supposed to get here until today, but I decided to get here a couple days early to be in the city and, most importantly, to see John Adams conduct the NSO Saturday night.

You read that correctly. I got to see my favorite composer conduct a concert, which included City Noir. And also, the Ravel both hands concerto with Jeremy Denk, my favorite living pianist. The concert was just insanely good. Adams the conductor is very good at the same things he is good at as a composer, which is to say that he’s very good at the energy of pieces and shaping overall structure and such. Also, he is so much fun to watch. Watching his face was so wonderful, because you can see just how much fun he is having and how much he genuinely loves the music. Jeremy Denk took the Ravel concerto and slammed it up against the wall and forced it into submission. It was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen/heard. He is such a dynamic player and his interpretations are always so smart. Also, the third movement was so fast, and he and Adams were practically in a race towards the end.

Also, how good is that whip at the beginning of the first movement and the third movement?! Really good, that’s how good. I’m just going to add a whip to the beginning of all of my pieces from now on.

And the best part of the night/my life. I got to meet Adams and Denk both after the concert. I met Jeremy first, and he was so kind and appreciative. He remembered me from Twitter! He and Adams were both off to a dinner, so we didn’t get to talk for long, but the small amount of time was enough for me. And Jeremy Denk said to me, and I quote, “I love your bowtie.” Highlight of my life. There was a small crowd, so I waited for a bit for Adams to make his way through, and then he just sort of walked up to me to say hi and my internal monologue was “AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.” We talked a little bit, and he was so incredibly kind. He asked me if I was a musician and I told him I was a pianist and composer and then told him how much I loved City Noir and that hearing it live made all the difference in the world. As he left, he turned to me and said “Nice bowtie!” Yes. John Adams complimented my bowtie. I almost didn’t wear a bowtie to the concert. Oh, how different my life would have been. I’m still freaking out about it a little bit because of how much Adams’s music has changed my life and the whole thing was just perfect and if you ask me about it it will be at least a 30 minute long string of me freaking out.

About City Noir: hearing it live really did make a big difference in how I thought about the piece. It’s an odd piece just to listen to a recording of, because it has an odd kind of Adamsian structure, and tons of inner workings you can’t really make sense of through your computer speakers. I mentioned to someone that it’s funny how the older he gets, the more he is able to cram on top of each other in a piece, but it’s also really interesting and is starting to influence my writing more. I’ve decided that City Noir sounds like if Doctor Atomic was set in some shady bootleg joint. Also, Timothy McAllister played the saxophone part (I’m pretty sure he’s the only person in the world to have played it so far) and he was an absolute monster and I’m so excited for the saxophone concerto Adams is writing for him and the recording they’re doing of it and City Noir later this year.

(transition)

I’m very nervous and very excited to hear the piece for the first time tomorrow, which is funny because that’s really what the piece is about. Hearing a new piece for the first time is disorienting, because it’s usually music you wrote months ago, and you have to remind yourself of the actually music you wrote and also be objective about how everything works. I already have ideas about a couple things I might want to change about the piece, but I’m going to hold all that until after the premiere, so I can hear the piece as is and make a judgement on how it works now. And it’ll be fun to get to hear hydrogen jukebox again because it’s been a hot minute since I’ve heard it live and it’s always fun to revisit a piece you wrote WHEN YOU WERE 18 AND DUMB.

A few things:

I’m taking a 2 week vacation to NYC starting Thursday, and I’ll be in town for a whole lot of really fun things like the Tony’s, the Bang on a Can marathon, and Make Music NYC!

Speaking of Make Music NYC, I’m participating in this massive event they have where they are setting the world record for the largest keyboard ensemble. It’s something like 175 Yamaha keyboards and a grand piano. We’ll be premiering a 30 minute piece written by Jed Distler which will be really interesting. The majority of the parts are like “pick 15 notes and play them in order over the course of a minute” and things like that, where a lot of people who may not be totally good pianists or pianists at all can participate, which is fun. There’s also a group of more advanced parts for players who are so inclined. I semi-reluctantly called myself an advanced pianist, but I have no idea what kind of part I will actually be assigned yet. Anyways, it should be fun regardless and it’s so cool that this is something people can be a part of. Also, my composer friends Buck McDaniel and Kyle Tieman Strauss are doing a couple of concerts which you should also go to. Also, there’s an all accordion version of “In C” happening which sounds like the best, most awesome, crazy thing ever.

Also, I’m going to be in NYC for Mississippi Picnic in the Park AND the BBQ Block Party, which means I am going to get to see a lot of my SFA and foodie friends which I am ridiculously excited about.

I’m currently reading Infinite Jest as part of an online book club we put together for the summer. You read about 10 pages a day and at the end of 3 months you’ve finished it. If you’ve never read it, you should, because it’s as good as everyone has told you, maybe even more. It’s an absolute crazy kind of rollercoaster ride, and it makes more and more sense the more you read. It’s also really great to read with other people, so you can talk and try to figure out the book as you go. It’s also nice to talk to people who have already read it, so they can tell you when you need to push through what might seem like a difficult chapter or so.

As part of a sort of ritual I have whenever I fly, I’m also re-reading Kevin Brockmeier’s The Illumination, which is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read and you should all go get it now. I heard a radio broadcast of a reading he was doing at the local bookstore, and I immediately went a got a copy and got it signed. His prose reads like poetry and the story is so beautiful and you will love it, I promise.

Ok. Off to the cupboard with ya now, Chip. It’s past your bedtime. I promise to blog more after the premiere with hopefully a recording.

PW

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The C Word

There is much talk today about opera (and classical music in general) and its need to be more relevant and, dare I say, “cool.” Because apparently there are other things teenagers would rather go and do besides listen to someone with a massive voice and lots of vibrato sing for 3 hours in a language they don’t understand in a seat where they can’t eat popcorn and can’t just walk out of and where they can’t look at their phone ever.

None of this is an attempt to solve that problem, such as it is. Merely just pointing out ways that are not going to solve that problem.

For instance, this week the San Francisco Opera released this article outlining all the ways that they think opera and Arrested Development are similar. (Never mind that they just inherently aren’t.) The whole thing is just terribly forced and unfunny.

Here’s how imagine this meeting going:

Somebody in Charge of Making Opera Cool: Quick! Yonge people! What is cool that we can put in a sentence with the word opera and make it seem cool?!

Intern: Well, people seem to like Arrested Devlopment.

SCMOC: Yes! But wait- opera and AD don’t really have anything to do with each other. How can we do this anyway?

Intern: Well, doesn’t that guy give people an elixir?

Other Intern: Yeah, and Lucille gets drunk!

SCMOC: Good job! Go forth and find GIFS!! Also, don’t worry if it is only applicable to a specific production we did one time, that’s totally cool.

Another Intern: *tries to point out that the elixir in L’elisir doesn’t even work, but is ignored, as usual* *”Christmastime is Here” begins to play*

[commercial break]

PW

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…the resurrection of the dead.

Et exspecto has been the hardest piece I’ve ever had to write. The music came in small bursts, with long stretches of me beating my head against the desk. I have stacks and stacks of sketches and sections that just didn’t fit the piece.

I attribute this to a couple of things. First of all, I was writing the piece at one of the busiest times in my life. Every minute I wasn’t in rehearsal was spent writing, even when I was in class. As a result, I had to take a lot of time away from my piano rep, but that turned out to be a good thing, which I’ll talk about in the next post.

But the biggest factor in the difficulty was most likely that this is one of the most personal pieces I have written yet. The piece is very much about my struggles with anxiety over the past year or so, and I had to make sure the piece was reflective of that. It very much feels like a lot of what tends to go on in my brain, it’s just a constant nervous energy, filled with thoughts that don’t get completed, sudden changes of focus, all with this underlying twitchy pulse. It’s almost a day in the life of.

I’m somewhat happy with the way everything turned out in the end. I used a lot of things that I just won’t know how they turn out until I hear humans play it, so I can’t be very sure, but I took a lot of risks and tried to step out of my comfort zone for this one.

The piece is mainly based on a tone row derived from the opening bars of movement three in Messiaen’s “Et exspecto resurrectionem et mortuorum,” one of my favorite pieces, which also, coincidentally, is for a wind ensemble. I quote the opening figure verbatim at the very start of the piece. In general, I split the six notes in half, with each set of three notes forming the basis for the harmonic and melodic material, often right on top of each other. A lot of material I derived directly from permutations of the row, and other material I came up with on my own, but it ended up being related to the row anyway.

Another very personal aspect for me are the pieces I reference throughout. Each of these pieces (which I’ll not name here, you have to guess) are very important to me on a deeply personal level and have had a profound influence on me musically, and on me as a person. I’ve had it in my mind to reference a lot of the pieces for a long time, and it gives me a lot of joy to be able to do it in such a personal and meaningful context.

The perusal score and midi are now posted on the aptly titled Et exspecto page. The piece will premiere at the beginning of June, with the Stuart High School band. Doug Martin, former director at Stuart, organized the commission while was the director there last year, but took another job at the beginning of the year, and as part of my residency there, he’ll be doing that classic hit, hydrogen jukebox, which should be a lot of fun. The commissioners have exclusivity until November of this year, just in time for everybody else to do it on their fall concerts, so start planning now, band directors of the world.

I’m very excited about my new projects, including a clarinet sonata for Michael Rowlett, the clarinet professor here at Ole Miss, and my next chamber opera, which I’ll be writing this summer. Exciting things to come.

And I await…

pw

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Before you came into my life…

So, here we are. One musical is over, the other is in rehearsal. I’ve just finished midterms. Spring break is next week. Call Me Maybe didn’t win the Grammy. It’s just a very conflicting time for me right now.

The piece was technically due last Friday. (I say technically because that makes my brain feel like it’s ok, for some reason.) And, naturally, it is not finished. Now, there are a couple of reasons that could explain why this happened.

A) I was music directing a production of Urinetown at the same time. Back last spring, when we were negotiating the commission, the performances were supposed to be in the fall, but something happened with the performance venue and we had to move it to the spring. Ok, no big deal. Except about a month ago when I realized that the due date for the piece was the day after opening night. Oops.

B) I wrote a lot of music and about 75% of it is in a big stack on a shelf right now. About 60% of it is probably music that I actually like and will use in the future, just not in this piece. For some reason, I have had a really hard time getting a grasp on what this piece should sound like, and look like, and feel like. So, I have pages upon pages upon pages of music that I worked really hard on, that just did not fit in the piece, no matter how hard I tried.

So, between these two things, this piece has had a very difficult life. I usually take a very long time to get in the groove of a writing session, but I’ve not had that luxury, so I’ve had to learn to just knock it out. If I had 30 minutes between classes, my computer was out and I’m writing. I’ve written and orchestrated a lot of this piece in class. (I still took notes, I promise.) One teacher will not let us have electronics of any kind in class, so I took manuscript paper and wrote by hand. Priorities.

And, naturally, the piece is still not done. But, it’s close, I promise. I threw out a transition section last night though, so eventually I’m just going to have to tell myself to let it go.

In the next blog, hopefully tomorrow when the piece is finished, I’m going to fully outline how I wrote the piece and how it’s all constructed and such, because it’s very different from anything else I’ve written before.

What if I just said that a new aspect of waiting for the piece is everyone waiting for this piece to be finished? No? No.

PW

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