Tag: student composers

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This last year has been a great start for the Libera Composers Association consortium project; what started as a short-term venture among friends is quickly expanding to a nationally-reaching collaboration between composers and school music programs. While we are still accepting bands for the consortium this season, my co-director Maxwell Lafontant and I are already making plans for next year. We have learned quite a bit in our first season about how to reach out to band directors and what we can do to make our consortium more convenient for them in the future. While there are some general administrative changes underway–such as switching our operating calendar from a “calendar year” model to a “school year” model–there are a lot of bigger-picture changes we hope to make in the coming seasons.

Next year’s composers will write their initial scores as piano reductions so instrumentation of the final product can be tailored to each band.

In order to facilitate a more collaborative experience, we plan to have next year’s composers write their initial scores as piano reductions. In this way, with the main musical material of the work easily accessible and clearly understood, band directors and composers can collaborate throughout the season to tailor the instrumentation of the final product to each band individually. This will also give our composers, most of whom are still in degree programs or freshly graduated, an in-depth look at orchestration and arranging, while also allowing them to more intimately appreciate the kinds of challenges high school bands face. This training will offer them the opportunity to better understand the current high school market for future works and projects, as well as provide them with a variety of arrangements available for future performances.

We have also received a large number of requests to add concurrent series for orchestra and choir, which are also programs across the country in desperate need of projects like this for their students. While we are still looking at how feasible accommodating these requests are at this time, we believe that adding at least one of these ensemble types to our project next year may in fact be possible. We have even discussed the option of using student texts for a future choral series, providing young writers the opportunity to have their words shared across the country as part of our consortium. While we would end up with fewer composers for band next year (only three or four rather than five or six), we would have the ability to work with multiple musical programs within in a single school, thus providing multiple composers (and therefore a wider variety of opportunities to high school students) per program in a single school year.

Max and I have been looking at composers for next year, attempting to find alumni composers in more disparate areas of the country, creating ease of access to our composers for a larger number of schools at a lower cost. We also hope to bring alumni composers together from an even wider variety of disciplines and musical backgrounds.

One of our composers, Dylan Carlson, has been making connections with schools in the Los Angeles area, and we’ve been in discussions with the district about becoming an official arts partner, meaning that those schools would have more consistent access to all of our composers in that geographic area for lessons, workshops, and clinics. These kinds of partnerships could be mutually beneficial for municipalities across the country–Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Dallas. All of these larger metropolitan areas have many schools in a concentrated area that could benefit from young composers working with the students to create more vital, interesting performances for the community, and an even more interactive educational environment for students. Also, with these kinds of partnerships, the potential for interdisciplinary collaboration can be developed as well. With so many of our composers having backgrounds in theater, film, video games, history, the sciences, literature, and the plethora of other fields that our liberal arts education has taught us to synthesize with music, the possibilities for school-wide involvement in this kind of project are endless. We hope to further develop the potential for interdisciplinary work in future seasons, as we work with schools to see what kinds of projects they would like to develop with us.

The goal is to re-engage students in the musical arts and to educate them about the relevancy and vitality of artistic endeavors.

More than anything, the goal of the Libera Composers Association is to re-engage students in the musical arts and to educate them about the relevancy and vitality of artistic endeavors. We feel the best way to accomplish this is to create well-crafted music, to connect students to living composers who are studying and working in the field today, to collaborate directly with music programs—both those in need of revitalization and those looking to further enrich their students’ musical experiences—and to create stronger, more concrete connections between school music programs and their communities through performance. Particularly at time when funding for the arts has become tenuous and school districts are struggling to meet a wide array of demands with smaller budgets, it is more important than ever to bring projects like this to communities across the country.

More is More

There are many people out in the world who are smart. They are smart about how much they can take on professionally, artistically, and personally. They know how much food/music/art/life they should consume at any given time. They don’t over-extend themselves and they don’t overdo it (whatever “it” is). If they write music, they will do their utmost to push aside distractions and only take on a few projects a year. If they teach, they know how much they can or should expect from their students.

I am not that smart.

Brushing aside any comments that my friends and associates may be able to make about my eating habits, I admit that I am not one to do anything incrementally. Ever since I was very young I’ve tended to “jump into the deep end,” so to speak, in so many aspects of my life—even if I had never been taught to “swim.” This, of course, has not only been the cause of much consternation for my family over the years, but it has shaped the way I think about what I do as a teacher and advocate of new music.

When I interviewed for my current position at State University of New York at Fredonia five years ago, they asked me to give a talk about my philosophies of teaching composers. One of the sections of that talk (that I still adhere to) was the idea that “more is more.” I recalled a story I had once heard about a pottery teacher who had half his class spend the entire semester perfecting one single vase while the other half of the class was expected to finish 20 vases over the same time period. According to the story, while the first set of students were able to create a well-crafted vase, the second set not only improved at a faster rate, but had a firmer grasp of both their creative process and the skills that went along with it.

This idea both informs the way I work with students (regardless of age), my concepts about presenting concerts and inviting guest composers, and, to be honest, the way I tend to write my own music these days. It’s pretty common to find methods of composition instruction at the collegiate level in which beginning students spend a long time on one piece, focusing on each detail and parameter, until they have brought that piece to closure; the duration of the process is based less on the length of the piece itself but more on the amount of detail and attention given to each parameter of the composition.

Usually teaching concepts like this tends to gradually speed up the process as the student improves until they find their optimum work speed. In contrast, I prefer to have the students work on many short works at first, gradually shifting their focus as they progress; my beginning composition course this fall will have the students write seven works every two weeks concluding with a second reading of a work they’ve revised. I will then slow and extend their process as they improve until they find that sweet spot that feels comfortable to them. I’ve had quite a few comments from colleagues along the lines of, “Isn’t that overdoing it? How can they learn if they’re going so fast?” I might have thought the same thing years ago, but the concept actually comes from my own studies in film music at the University of Southern California back in the mid-’90s; I realized that by working on many shorter cues in the classes, as well as my own scoring projects with students throughout the one-year program, worked my compositional “muscles” in a way that extended focus on one piece would never allow.

As I mentioned, this concept can also be used when considering how many different composers a student is exposed to, both in private lessons and in lecture/workshop experiences. I used to have to teach almost all of my students throughout their entire four years, but now that we have a few experienced composers here teaching theory, I have the luxury of making sure they have at least two or three different teachers during their studies. Similarly, I’d rather bring in a large number of younger visiting composers whose styles and attitudes run the gamut rather than “shoot the whole wad” on one or two top-tier composers who are probably much older; I teach primarily undergraduate students and assume (rightly, I hope) that they will get a chance to meet the “big dogs” soon enough during their graduate studies.

Some may have noticed over the past year that I’m not adverse to bringing in a list or two to make a point. It always surprises me (I’m a slow learner) how often these lists engender vitriol, since I never think of them as rankings or focus on the composers that are left off. I’m realizing, however, that this may be because of my own mindset. I find myself looking for patterns and clues among a large sampling of composers rather than focusing like a laser-beam on one person. I don’t think I made that connection when I started my interview project and now that I’ve completed 50 of them (with about 10 more to go), it’s all beginning to make a little more sense to me.

What’s been your experience, either teaching or learning? Did you start slow and pick up steam or the opposite? Are you smarter than I am (chances are likely!)?

2012 BMI Student Composer Awards Announced

Composer and jury member Joseph Schwantner, BMI President and CEO Del Bryand, and BMI Foundation President Ralph N. Jackson announced the winners of the 60th annual BMI Student Composer Awards on May 11, 2012, at 6 p.m. in a ceremony at the Jemeirah Essex House in New York City. Nine composers, ages 16-27, were chosen from more than 700 applicants from throughout the Western Hemisphere whose scores were submitted with pseudonyms (in order to be judged anonymously); the winners received cash awards totaling $20,000. The award-winning compositions include two orchestral works, a concertante piece for clarinet and symphonic winds, two song cycles, an unaccompanied choral work, two compositions for Pierrot ensemble, and a work for large chamber ensemble.

Curtis Institute of Music composition student Andrew Hsu (born 1994 in Fremont, CA), who received the award for his Dickinson Songs for soprano and piano, was additionally awarded the William Schuman Prize, which is awarded to the score judged “most outstanding” in the competition. As the youngest winner in this year’s competition, Michael D. Parsons (born 1996), a high school student at the Watchung Hills Regional High School in Stirling, New Jersey, who also studies at The Juilliard School’s Pre-College Division, was additionally awarded the Carlos Surinach Prize; Parsons’s award-winning work is Wolf for full orchestra. Bennu’s Fire for solo clarinet and symphonic band by Roger Zare (born in 1985 in Sarasota, FL) earned its composer his third BMI Student Composer award, which is now the maximum number of times a composer can receive this accolade. (The rule was established subsequent to Charles Wuorinen receiving four BMI Student Composer Awards, the all-time record, between 1959 and 1963.)

The remaining six 2012 awardees and their award-winning compositions are:

Ryan Chase (born 1987 in Port Jefferson, NY): The Light Fantastic for orchestra
Joshua Fishbein (born 1984 in Baltimore, MD): With a Greeting for SSAATTBB a capella chorus
Laura M. Kramer (born 1984 in Minersville, PA): The Miracle of the Walking Fish for baritone and guitar
Joseph E. Lyszczarz (born 1987 in Syracuse, NY): Tracing Shadows for large chamber ensemble
Philippe Macnab-Séguin (born 1992 in Montreal): Ubiquity for flute, clarinet, piano, violin, and cello
Daniel Temkin (born in 1986 in Houston, TX): Butterflies and Dragons for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion

The jury members for the 2012 competition were Chester Biscardi and three composers who themselves received BMI Student Composer Award early in their careers: Tobias Picker, David Rakowski, and Joseph Schwantner. The preliminary judges were Shafer Mahoney, David Schober, Sean Shepherd, and Bernadette Speech. Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, who was unable to attend the ceremony, served as the chair of the competition. The BMI Student Composer Awards are co-sponsored by BMI and the BMI Foundation, Inc.