2009 turned out to be a particularly slow composing year for any number of reasons. Last year I finished the final quarter of “Permanently” from at least a moment; wrote one choral work and four short songs; and started – but didn’t finish – a short work for orchestra.
One reason for my lack of significant output turned out to be a little surprising – I didn’t have a teacher anymore! I’ve always been quite a self-starter, so I was a little surprised to realize that one reason why I wasn’t churning out music was that no one was looking over my shoulder, and I didn’t have to have a certain amount written each week for someone else to look at. I’ve temporarily changed that state of affairs – this past weekend, I started private study with Chester Biscardi, a web client and good friend (also the Director of the Music Program at Sarah Lawrence College). We’ve decided to use the orchestra piece I started in Ucross as a jumping-off point. I’m glad to be finishing the work finally, and to be working with Chet because he’s a fantastic composer – and by all reports a great teacher, as well!
While working on the orchestra piece (still as yet untitled!), I’ll also be working on a paraphrase of at least a moment for solo piano. Marc Peloquin and I have been putting together the next Tobenski-Algera Concert lately, and, while I didn’t plan on having one of my own works on the progrm for once, Marc insisted that I write a new piece for him to help balance the program. So, rather than wrack my brains for new material under such a tight deadline (the concert is March 9!), I’ve decided to rework the Koch cycle – shorten it considerably, and fold the vocal line into the piano. I consider it a “paraphrase” – a la DDT’s Acrostic Paraphrase, but I’m making the work shorter rather than three times the original length! I’ve made the bulk of the cuts already, so my next task is to start folding the vocal line into the piano part. I’ve been aching for a premiere of the cycle, so this performance will be a bit of a palliative.
In keeping with the arrangement kick…. Last year, I showed Chet the finished score of at least a moment – or, rather, emailed him the PDF of the score with MP3s of the MIDI playback from Sibelius. Since I loathe the voice sample used in Sibelius’s Kontakt Player, I always use flute instead. After listening to the MP3s and looking at the score, Chet made the comment that the vocal line stands so well on its own that I could easily pull out the text and use it as a flute piece. So, I shall! The only decision that remains to be made before I jump in with the Delete button is whether to transpose it or not. As it stands, the piece goes a minor third too low for a standard flute (the piece bottoms out at A3), though it’s ideal for an alto flute. So I have to decide whether to leave it as is and say it’s for alto flute, or bump it up a minor third. Or I could do a version of both!
Further on the compositional horizon – past the completion of several other works that have been in my compositional queue for far too long (completing the piccolo trumpet & string quartet piece for David Glukh; writing a duo for violin & piano for Roger Zahab) – I’ve been thinking quite a lot on a musical subject that I’ve frequently been told I should pursue: opera. Probably the main impetus for my starting to think seriously in this vein (I’ve frequently, and idly, thought about writing opera throughout the years, and have several ideas for larger-scale projects that I won’t tackle for a little while) is the fact that I’ve been lucky enough to go to the Met several times in the past few months: I saw Janacek’s From the House of the Dead (liked the music, hated the production) and Strauss’s Elektra (wonderful) and Ariadne auf Naxos (absolutely divine). I’ve started grabbing recordings of operas where I can find them and putting them on my iPod to listen to at work. (Recently heard Der Rosenkavalier for the first time and was absolutely transported!)
So I’ve been thinking about how I would go about writing an opera – what a good starting point would be. I may start with an existing short play, since that would probably be the simplest in terms of getting started and working on my own. I’ve definitely got my eyes peeled for a potential librettist, though. There are a few ideas bouncing around in my skull at the moment that have got me excited (not so much plot ideas, as structure and general concept), and I’d like to pitch them to a librettist. That is, if I can find one! I suspect that I could make one of my large-scale ideas happen fairly easily (and, frankly, I need to do it quickly if it’s going to happen!), but I’d like to have a chamber opera or two under my belt first. More details as things progress.
This sudden burst of compositional thought and action ties in closely with the second reason for my dearth of output last year. I spent all but a month and a half of 2009 unemployed (2009 didn’t manage to be the Year of Buying DVDs – instead it was the Year of Falling Behind on Rent!), which left me with a lot of free time. By all rights, I should have been churning out new works right and left! The problem, though, was that I had too much free time, and I fell into a horrible habit of intense procrastination. I would wake up late every day (between 10:30 and noon), putter around the apartment for a while, then settle in front of the computer for the rest of the day – frittering away the hours with blogs, silly internet videos, and watching movies and TV shows on Netflix. Needless to say, there was a bit of honest-to-goodness depression involved here, which also stemmed from the fact of my unemployment. I found that when I don’t have a draw on my time, my time tends to become somewhat valueless, and therefore meaningless. A day job – the eternal enemy – is actually a necessity at the moment. And for more than just paying the bills!
I recently started a new day job – some temp work, which allows me the flexibility to function as a musician – and the result is that I can now both pay the bills and feel as though I want to write again!
Now that I’ve discovered two creative danger zones for me, I can address the issues and fix them.
Hopefully 2010 will be a Year of Writing a Lot of Music. 2009 was a let-down in a lot of ways. Compositionally, I wrote far too little. Financially, I was always anxious and falling behind. Economically in general, things just sucked. And politically, the year was a little disappointing – although some good things were accomplished, those accomplishments went largely unnoticed amid the noise of Balloon Boy; the hyped-up, insane expectations of The First 100 Days; the utter absurdity of The Second 100 Days (as though we hadn’t head enough talking heads talking about other talking heads’ evaluations of etc); etc. But with the success of the first new T-A Concert, and the start of a new day job, I’m feeling energized and positive about this year.