Monday, June 30, 2008

Tuba Conference

This past weekend I attended the International Tuba/Euphonium Association conference. The organization meets every two years and this year, it just happened to be held at my alma mater, the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. I drove down, went inside, and promptly got lost. After I graduated they felt the need to tear everything down and re-build, so the only things that are at all familiar are the auditorium and the theater. The old building was a labyrinth, so you'd think they would take the opportunity to build some order and sense into the new design, but no. After stumbling around for a long while wondering where everyone was, I got directions to a different building.

I arrived just in time to hear the last few pieces of a concert conducted by my friend (and pseudo-relative) T.J. Ricer. I met up with T.J. after his show and he introduced me to a lot of people, many of whom have heard and enjoyed the Sonatina I wrote for T.J. a few years back. I also met the guy from Tuba-Euphonium Press, who published the piece and got to autograph a copy after one of T.J.'s friends bought it.

T.J. is currently working on the concerto I wrote for him and I'm excited to hear how it sounds (apparently I got carried away and wrote it as if for a clarinet. Who knew Tubas aren't accustomed to lots of quick multi-octave leaps?).

So Saturday was a good time and I made a lot of good contacts. Hopefully, it will lead to more sales and exposure!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Going Ahead With It

After getting the cold shoulder from more than a handful of vocal-music "pros," I've decided to be proactive with my opera and take a hard look at it myself.

Being an instrumentalist, I take for granted that we can hit any note out of the clear blue at any point in a piece of music and play an independent melody, but singers are a different breed. As I understand it, they need cues and hints throughout the accompaniment to stay on pitch and in place so, with this in mind, I've started revising my score. I've been adding more cues, adjusting both the accompaniment and vocal lines, and, in some especially tricky spots, letting instruments double the voices.

I hear Beethoven had the same issues.

I've worked my way through most of the first act - I plan on finishing the last scene of Act I tonight - and from there I'll make a new piano score. The hard part is going to be the choruses. I'm not sure how to handle those yet. The good news is that since starting this round of revisions, I've heard back from two of the "pros" that I've contacted. One said he could meet in about two weeks and another said she might be free in mid-July. I hope it will work out and that I'll have some newly-revised music to show them.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Opera Hostility

I've become very apprehensive about telling people that I wrote an opera. I think it's generally recognized that
writing an opera is a lot of hard work. It's very time-consuming and requires commitment, dedication, and a lot of personal sacrifice. On top of that, it requires a variety of skills, from playwriting to music composition to orchestration, a sense of drama, and a base knowledge of history. When I started and mentioned to people that I was working on an opera, I expected the reaction to be something like "Wow, that's a lot of hard work," or even "That's quite an accomplishment."

In reality, though, when I tell people that I've written opera the reaction is usually a sneer and a snide comment. The attitude I get is "So you think you're BETTER than me!?"

For the record, I don't think I'm better than anyone. My writing an opera is not a personal attack on anyone. It's a creative, artistic achievement that I'm very proud of - not a psychological weapon. This, I think is why I've had such a hard time getting help refining the piece. Just about everyone I've approached has copped a "How Dare You" attitude. I swear I'm not trying to "take advantage" of anyone. I just want to finish this piece.

In his autobiography, Philip Glass says that in his experience, getting an opera premiered isn't hard - companies are always looking to tout a "World Premiere." The more rejection I face in just having some look at the reduced score, the more I think he's wrong. I don't want to offer my opera to companies until it's performance-ready, but once it is, will they take me seriously or will they turn their noses up? I'm holding onto my hope, but am trying to be realistic through this little ordeal. I am resolved: I will find someone to help me and I will get my opera in the best possible shape.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Dissapointing News

I got a heartbreaking phone call yesterday and thought I'd share.

As you may have read, I've been working for the past few years on a new opera. As an instrumental composer, I'm not terribly familiar with writing for voices, so I've been looking for someone with a choral background to take a look at what I've done and make suggestions for making the piece more appropriate for singers. I thought I'd found that help when I contacted a professor at my alma mater. She sounded excited to help but just couldn't seem to find the time in her busy, busy schedule for me. Things got worse when she learned that I don't have a college degree in music composition (never mind the fact that I've had more success as a composer than a lot of graduates who have Composition degrees). "Call me in a week," she said, "We'll work something out." That week was extended to two, then two more, and on and on.

It's been three months now and she called yesterday to say that she is going to be out of town for the summer and that I should try calling her in October. She kicked me around for three months and now it looks like she has no interest whatsoever in spending just a few hours looking over my score. The part that upsets me most is that she has a copy of my piano score and a rough Finale recording, which will sit in her office. I should have asked for it back.

I'm determined to get this thing done, so I contacted two other professors. One seemed genuinely interested, but can't scheduling anything until mid-July (better than October!). The other hasn't responded yet. I'm not getting my hopes too high - this isn't the first (or even the second) time that people at this esteemed university have failed to follow through on their promises. It seems endemic.

I'll write more on what happend next, but I am determined to have someone look at this piece. I am determined to whip it into shape, and I am determined to get it produced on a stage.

Friday, June 6, 2008

New Piece is Done!

Last night I worked out the bowings, added articulation, rehearsal numbers, and dynamics, and finished the new piece! All that's left is a title and I have plenty of time to think about that. My original thought was "Nairobi," but it's such an evocative title that I might want to save it for a more dramatic composition. Also, Kenya is in East Africa and this new piece is inspired by West African drumming. With all the cross-rhythms and pizzicato going on at once, maybe something like "Mosaic" or "___ Mosaic" would be good. "Tapestry" also crossed my mind.

Monday, June 2, 2008

New Piece Taking Shape

I got quite a bit done on the new piece this weekend. I worked out a 16-measure "C" section of the rondo where the whole orchestra gets to drum and pizzicato. It's set up as a two-measure pattern starting in the 'cellos and basses. After four measures, the violas join in. Two more measures later the violins II enter, and two measures after that, the violins I play high pizzicato notes over the whole thing. The last four measures build the intensity and lead harmonically toward a recap of the main theme. Limiting the rhythms in each part to repeated two-measure phrases should make it a little easier to play.

I actually wrote this section backwards - I started with the most complex layering of rhythms and then added measures before it, judiciously taking away parts.

The recap features the 'cellos bowing an extra harmonic line under the violins. Today, I need to iron out a few transitions, come up with a suitably flashy ending, and start the editing process. More on that later!