Performance Restrictions, Ethics, and Calls for Scores

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.

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Notes from the Margins: Impossible Asks

A lot of the lessons I’ve learned in music school were designed for my male peers.

There are a lot of directions I could go from here; I could talk about the homogenization of the classical canon into the Straight White Men’s Club or the devaluation and exclusion of women and queer people in the jazz tradition or the gendered (and racist, and classist) expectations for concert dress. And while I’m sure I’ll spend time with each of those individually, none of them are quite hitting home for me at the moment.

One such lesson, though, that disproportionally benefits the men I’ve been educated alongside is one of the most important ones a composer learns: how to run a rehearsal of your own music. While a lot of the components of this come down to “don’t be an ass, and make sure you respect your performers,” a large part of why we run our own rehearsals is so we can address questions promptly and ensure the music sounds how we want it to. The core tenets of running a good rehearsal, besides regular community maintenance, are these: “don’t be afraid to ask for what you want” and “be picky.”

To be clear, it’s not that these strategies for running an efficient rehearsal are inherently dehumanizing toward gender-marginalized people. It’s that most of them are only acceptable when leaving the mouths of men. And this is where we get into Pushback City, so I need y’all to stay with me and read everything before you go off and grouse internally. See, I’ve been at this awhile now, and I can tell you what it’s like to be in a rehearsal room where you’re the only gender-marginalized person—and you’re supposed to be the one running the show.

Sometimes it’s fine. Sometimes it’s not.

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lightning rod/harbinger (lucky/too much)

I have always been jealous of my male friends in the jazz world.

Not because of their skill or their musicality—though I admire that also—but because of their freedom to focus on the music first and foremost. It’s a tricky concept and often difficult to explain, but today, I’m going to try.

Before we begin, though, it’s important to note that I’m keeping this jazz-focused specifically because the prevalence of jam sessions and more consistent shows (at least in Phoenix) means we’re doing a lot more running around and getting together as a community than some aspects of the classical scene. More things are casual, but there’s more happening overall. When my CalArts friends asked me why on earth I would go back to Phoenix jazz in any capacity, the answer was convoluted, but part of it was that’s where the people are, and I need people.

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Commission Season: I’m Looking for Collaborators!

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.

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The Finalists are Here! Phantom Announces its Second-Round Composers

No time like the present for a call for scores announcement!

As many of you know, Phantom recently wrapped our second call for scores. This time around, we separated the process into two parts: our initial judging and a finalist round,
in which we look at works from ten to fifteen composers and make our selections. In no particular order, our finalist composers for the Winter Call for Scores are:

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YOUR MOUSE GOD iS DEAD (and other new works): presenting the program

Hello again, friends and readers! (I know it’s been awhile. Life gets in the way sometimes. I’ll be back on the blog more in the coming months.)

As we round the corner into March, I’m well into my second semester at CalArts, and that means it’s recital time again! In addition to appearing on a slew of other concerts this semester, I’ll be presenting my own recital, YOUR MOUSE GOD iS DEAD, this Saturday, March 3, at 5PM PST in the Wild Beast. Because I’m in the Performer-Composer program, the show will be a mash-up of my own work and efforts from friends and colleagues around the world. The program is as follows:

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The Pursuit of Relaxation: Brianne Borden on Music, Yoga, and Balance

Mornings start early in the Arizona desert. Though summer and fall are by far the most torturous, runners, cyclists, and the athletically-inclined start going out before dawn as early as March in order to avoid heat stroke. It’s part of the state’s culture—get up early, be outside, then retreat to the depths of air-conditioned buildings until it’s safe to set foot outdoors again.

Brianne Borden’s mornings start early no matter how warm it is (or isn’t).

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Shiny Violin: Alex Wilson Plays Paganini

Classical trumpet players rarely learn a Paganini concerto just for fun. Then again, most trumpeters in their mid-twenties have not already served as principal trumpet of a touring orchestra and placed first or second in not one but three National Trumpet Competition categories. Most trumpet players have not performed as a soloist with the symphony orchestras of two universities and accepted a position as a visiting trumpet professor while finishing their doctoral studies.

Alex Wilson is not most classical trumpet players, and his recording of Paganini’s second violin concerto proves it.

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We Now Return to our Regularly Scheduled Performances

Man, what a semester it’s been! I premiered five new works (Don’t TellLiar, LiarTipping PointStorm Warning, and Flatline); I gave my senior recital; I visited Michigan, Canada, and Los Angeles; I spent quality time with family and friends; and I made big decisions about my future. After all that, it’s been nice to get back into the routine over the last couple weeks. I thought I’d take a moment to outline where I’ll be playing, attending, and presenting work for the rest of the semester, for those of you who are interested:

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Graduate Programs: And the Winner Is….

The higher education application process stymies me. Sure, you can take a year or two off between high school and college or undergraduate studies and grad school, but for those of us that choose to power through it all, it’s a little crazy to be making super important life choices while juggling some of the craziest semesters of our education. I’m fresh off my senior recital, and now the time has come to make the next major decision of my professional and academic life: where I’m attending grad school.

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