This Friday, 4 October 2013, I’ll be having a composition premiered alongside new works by other Masters students from Peabody Conservatory at the Walter’s Art Museum. My piece is for soprano, recorder, guitar, violin, and bass viola da gamba. This was an interesting project for me for a number of reasons, but at the heart of the matter was that I only had about two and a half weeks to write a 6 minute piece from the ground up. There were also a lot of firsts: writing for viola da gamba, writing for recorder, writing a concert piece for voice and chamber ensemble, not to mention the first thing I was to compose at my new institution.
I had to come up with a concept immediately, find a text to set (or determine another way to write for the soprano affectively), then experiment with the actual musical material. Having been given the instrumentation and the performance space, I immediately noticed a connection between the plethora of historical pieces in the Walter’s and the pseudo period ensemble. This served very strongly as a source of inspiration conceptually. It made me think about the purpose of these artworks and instruments today; is the interest artistic or historical or both? This was a decent starting point for me and I had to find a text that concerned itself with that. Well, I didn’t know any, and everyone knows finding a text that is musically motivating can take months if not longer.
In a bizarre coincidence, I had learned about this opportunity while in Baltimore signing the lease for my new apartment, though I wasn’t moving in for another week and had to drive back to upstate New York. While driving for 6-7 hours I was thinking about what sort of text I wanted. In fact, I got such a good idea of what I was looking for, I actually ended up just writing the text myself! I don’t claim to be any kind of poet, but I like words and writing enough that I felt comfortable, in this case, writing text to be set to music. With the concept settled and and poetry finalized, I could proceed basically unhindered in the composing of the piece. I spent my last week in Albany and my first week in Baltimore at the piano with my head down, pencil in hand, guitar on my lap. The only breaks I had were miniature seminars with the recordist and viola da gamba player who graciously helped me get a sense of their unique instruments. The whole experience was a great exercise in ‘creativity on demand.’ At the end of it all, I feel it’s a strong piece, born of necessity with little time to double back and alter the particulars.