I haven’t written a bunch of program notes for Uncompliant, but on the night of the premiere, I gave a talk tying the piece into my journey with jazz and new music. It went pretty well, so that’s what I’m sharing with you here:
“My name is Megan DeJarnett. I work in a lot of disciplines—music is probably the one I use the most—but regardless, I tell stories a lot. And if you’ll permit me to borrow a couple of minutes, I’d love to give you a little bit of where tonight’s piece came from for me.
“Not that you have a choice, because you’re all here, but…
“The last time I was performing on this stage was in May of 2017, with this group. And at the time, I fully expected it would be the last time I ever played on this stage. (And the room goes very quiet!) Because I was fresh out of undergrad, I’d just finished a composition degree, and I was quickly realizing that the artist I saw myself becoming and loving and the, for lack of a better term, post-bop trumpet player a lot of the people around me expected me to become, were two completely incompatible people. They could not be reconciled; they weren’t going to be in the same body. I had tried. It wasn’t working.
“And I already exist in this space on this stage as being the only one who’s not a dude, and as such, when you’re working within a tradition that doesn’t hold space for you very often, it can be really easy to let yourself get lost in the people who say you don’t fit. They never say it to your face and they never say it like that, but they say it all the time. And when you start to hear that about your work, that your work doesn’t fit, that you’re turning your back on things that are real and legitimate and true in whoever’s definition, for me that tends to be the nail in the coffin. So when I went to Los Angeles to do my masters degree, I thought I was done with jazz.
“Now, I’m back here, so spoiler alert: that didn’t work. But I spent two years thinking about how I categorize myself and where I fit in a lot of different traditions, and at one point one of my composition teachers sat me down and was like, ‘You know, life’s too short not to make the music you want and art you like. And you make decent musical choices, and if other people don’t figure that out, that’s on them and not you.’
“And that’s one of those moments where, like, six years of lessons pays off, but it’s very much a road and not like a lightbulb! and then everything’s better. So I’m constantly working on doing the things that make me happy, even when they’re not necessarily ‘trad jazz.’ You know? Because standards are great, but I like weird noises, and those don’t always fit in the same place. Tonight I’ve attempted to smush them together—we’ll see how it goes—but the piece I’ve written is called Uncompliant. My players have a few notes and rhythms in front of them, but they also have a page of text instructions. [aside] They’re not going to be reading them, probably. That’s what rehearsal is for.
“But in this, I’m taking some stuff I wrote about five years ago, that’s very much based in the blues, which I love dearly, and combining it with extended techniques and experimental sound production and a lot of the things I love from free jazz and experimental music as a greater construct, and putting them all together and saying, ‘all of these are good and can work together, I promise,’ in something that’s a little more me than what I probably would have written otherwise.”
And really, Uncompliant is about the struggle for (and against) legitimacy and how we push back on unfair, exclusionary definitions of things. It’s inspired by and dedicated to my good friend Keith Kelly, who’s an exceptional listener who never backs down from a fight when systemic injustice is concerned.
Nuts and bolts: Uncompliant is a text score; the piece contains instructions for the ensemble that mark the parameters of structure, interaction, and sound production. More than anything, it relies on active, informed listening and a shared dedication to the priorities laid out in the score. Ensembles of most ability levels (likely early high school onward) should be able to realize this piece with a little guidance from a friendly neighborhood director. It is open score, with parts available in all transpositions, but should be played with a rhythm section when possible.
Patrons can hear my entire pre-concert talk over on my Patreon.
Listen to the world premiere of Uncompliant, as given by the Nash Composers Coalition: