It’s been a busy semester of teaching and grading, rehearsals and more grading, and I’ve found myself composing a little less. This isn’t entirely a surprise—it’s my first full year out of grad school, and I’m trying to commit to not writing on absurd deadlines anymore—but it’s been an interesting change of pace. While I’ve enjoyed having the opportunity to sit back and really think about what I’m putting on the page, I’ve also learned a lot from watching competitions and calls for scores go by.
The side of me that cares very much about ethics isn’t super impressed with those right now.
Before we get too far into it, I’ll freely admit this is colored by my preexisting dislike for most competitions. Some are fine, but anything that costs money to submit to and doesn’t provide transparency about what that money is used for grinds my gears. (My rule of thumb: for existing ensembles, if there isn’t a cash prize involved, regardless of performance opportunities, competitions and calls for scores should be free to submit to.) Further, the motivation behind competitions specifically has always been a little odd to me. How are any of us realistically going to identify the best composer?
Okay. Time to get back on topic. Otherwise, this is going to get unfocused fast. I’m not the biggest fan of competitions, but I’ve run my share of calls for scores, and for the most part, I don’t mind them. They’re a great opportunity for composers and performers to swap scores for recordings (and performances!) without either party losing a lot of money. They’re especially awesome for composers who have scores sitting around and ensembles who wouldn’t have a lot of access to new music otherwise.
That said, I tend to shy away from calls for scores that are billed as “new works” recitals, and tonight, I want to talk about why.
Have you ever gone to something expecting to have a reasonably good time and come out of it with your life forever changed? I’m not talking about I-went-and-got-another-degree; no, I mean the kind of thing where you come out with unexpected new inspirations, role models, and routes of exploration, the kind of thing that makes you get out of bed at a reasonable (or maybe even unreasonably early) time because you can’t just stay still when there’s so much to do, the kind of thing that stays with you in ways you don’t expect.
It’s been awhile since I had one of those experiences (I think the last thing that even comes close was when I premiered He Probably Just Likes You with the Nash Composers Coalition), but I spent this past week at the International Women’s Brass Conference, where I presented two of my own works and a solo set. After just six days, I’m a different person. Like, my hair is still (blissfully) purple and I still need to practice for approximately forever, but I’ve got new paths dangling in front of me that I desperately want to explore. But first, I wanted to talk a little bit about what it took to get here.
Wow, what a crazy first half(ish) of the semester. I’m spending the weekend sleeping extra and getting back on a somewhat normal schedule for, well, everything. I’m still a little shocked that I spent two months working hard on an intense show about sexual assault and victimhood and somehow it worked. We had a great run last Sunday—my dancers were superhuman and my chops were happy with me—and now I’m diving deep into footage, thinking critically about the next steps for face the mirror. I’d really love to take it on the road in California and the Southwest, so if your school or venue wants to host a night or two, give me a shout. For the time being, though, I just want to take a few moments and expound a little on what this show means to me and how it came into existence.
Tomorrow night, I take the stage to bare a piece of my soul.
Mine, and a thousand others’.
Tomorrow night, I take the stage with a little fire in my feet and a spark in my eyes and I bring the world into a story I might’ve told a hundred times by now. I bring the world in, and I shut myself out.
You see, that girl onstage isn’t me.
Sure, she wears my face and laughs and cries like I do. She carries with her the same sense of wonder, the same reactions to old wounds made new again. She lives a story that is rich and complex and devoid of the words I’d choose to write for myself. Her experiences shape her, ever so subtly, in different ways than mine shape me. Sometimes they look the same, outwardly—she falls to the floor at all the same times that I probably would—but her motivations, her qualms, her relationship with herself is dramatically different.
As 2018 comes to a close, I’m spending time reflecting on some of my professional endeavors from the past year. Among the greatest joys in my musical year has been getting so many opportunities to create new works for performers and ensembles who want to add something new to their repertoire. Just this past year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a slew of folks in three different time zones. Each collaboration has been incredibly rewarding for me, and I’m pleased to announce I’m now accepting commissions for 2019 and 2020.
Honestly, performers can have a really hard time choosing grad schools.
I say that as a composer and composer-performer who’s always had way too many things to think about when it came to school choices. During my undergrad auditions, I managed to piss off an interviewer at a school that will remain unnamed because I insisted on continuing to play my instrument as I continued my composing. (They didn’t accept me. This was not a surprise.) Yet as I’m starting to look toward the final semester of my MFA, it stymies me that so many teachers request or insist that their students focus on one thing and one thing only. I was incredibly lucky at Arizona State to have not one but four composition teachers who supported my performative endeavors, and that streak has continued at CalArts. But as my performance-major friends look at grad schools and doctoral programs, often they’re only focused on one thing: the teacher.
As we move into the fall semester (or quarter, if you’re weird like that), I’m happy to announce I’m accepting commissions for Fall 2018 and Spring 2019. I’ve had a fantastic time working with individuals and groups this year, including the Spring View Middle School Jazz Band, Failsafe Duo, Willis Dotson, John Pisaro and Ian Stahl, and Oakwood Brass. That said, something I’ve come to realize is a lot of my friends, peers, and colleagues are interested in commissioning new works but don’t necessarily know how to approach the process. I can’t and won’t speak for all composers, but these are the most important things to know if you’re interested in working with me.
DCI Championships are this weekend. It’s a fact most current and former band kids can’t escape—social media lights up with profile pictures from when everyone you’ve ever known marched in the Blue Devils, the handful of friends who are on staff or on tour with a corps are super excited, and everyone who wants to see the shows at their best without flying to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis flocks to the movies to watch the live stream of the quarterfinals.
This year, following a season or two of not keeping up with the activity, I joined them. I sat in the same place for five hours (plus bathroom breaks) and munched on entirely-too-unhealthy popcorn and rooted for Vanguard (and Crown, and The Academy, and . . . you get my point). And since I hadn’t been to a show in a couple years, it was a lot of fun. I’ll always have massive respect for my friends who march and tech for these groups, but I’ve also realized that as much as I like DCI, I’ll never again adore it as much as I used to.
Panel discussions, at music festivals or elsewhere, are a great way to ask a variety of questions that might not fall under normal “how do I play this” or “what do I need to work on” categories. During my time at the Rafael Méndez Brass Institute this summer, I had the pleasure of attending several such panels. My partner, John, was along for the ride with me, and we both enjoyed getting each other’s take on the day’s discussion. The first day’s panel was about building a sustainable practice schedule, but as it progressed it expanded into performing and personal wellbeing, too. Toward the end the panel, one of our colleagues raised his hand and asked if the panelists had any tips about balancing work and life.
Before I go on, let’s be clear—that’s a great question and one that plagues many musicians at various stages of their careers. It’s one I’ve contemplated asking on various occasions. However, the direction the panel took the question caught me a little off guard. They talked at length about how it’s an extensive process to get your partner to accept your musicality and all the commitments that come with it (especially the practice schedules). They shared anecdotes about taking their horns on their honeymoons. They treated musicianship like something your partner has to accept about you, and that’s true—except when your partner is also a musician.
I’ve spent much of the past week reflecting on my experiences at the Rafael Méndez Brass Institute and getting back into the daily grind. I had such a great time getting to know everyone at RMBI, but it’s dawned on me that as someone who actively identifies as both a composer and a performer, I don’t talk as coherently about my creative practice as many of my new friends do. To be completely honest, I’m a little envious—from the outside looking in, it seems nice to be able to start by saying “I do this” and then getting more specific instead of explaining that you do two or three or five different things and having to elaborate on each one. I’ve also realized that I haven’t at any point sat down and written out how I describe and view my own work. (Grad school application essays don’t count.)
Generally, I dismiss myself pretty quickly. I tell people that I try to marry traditional technique and tonality with experimental idioms, and that’s true. Making weird things accessible to audiences regardless of their musical background is and always will be a priority. Even still, there’s so much more to my writing and performing than “it sounds a little weird but also sort of normal.” There are facets of my creativity I haven’t talked about very much. So this post has two objectives: to introduce myself a little more thoroughly to my friends (new and old, musicians and non-musicians) and help define for myself how I frame my creative practice.