For many of the students, the workshops were an introduction to composing and new music, and I was inspired by the open-mindedness and sense of joy with which they approached it all.
It’s been a little more than a month since the conclusion of my New Music USA/League of American Orchestras, Music Alive: New Partnerships residency with Renee Baker and her Chicago Modern Orchestra Project, and I’m happy to have a chance to share some of the highlights here on the New Music USA blog.
I’ll get the composer-y stuff out of the way first. This residency was important to me for several reasons—it was my first orchestra residency, the first performance of my music in Chicago, and it enabled me to meet and work with a fantastic conductor and new music ensemble on the premiere of a new, third version of my 2002 sextet, in shadows, in silence, which has become my most popular work. This new version of the piece for 20 players, though about half the size of the first chamber orchestra version, still packed quite a punch! Honestly, aside from omitting the brass in this version, it sounded almost the same and about as big, so I was happy with my new arrangement. And it was also a homecoming of sorts for the piece, since it was written for, and premiered by, the wonderful Chicago-based ensemble, eighth blackbird.
Aside from all of this, the most gratifying part of the residency for me was our involvement with education and outreach. Renee organized three workshops for us with pre-K–high school student musicians at the Midwest Christian Montessori Academy in Bolingbrook, and the Kenwood AcademyArts High School and the Sherwood Park After-School Program in Chicago. Since I spend most of my time as teacher working with undergraduate liberal arts students and music majors, I was particularly happy to have the chance to talk about composing and contemporary music with younger students, and to share some of my own experiences as a young student musician in the not-too-distant past, in particular, the path that led me from playing trumpet and guitar in high school and college, to conducting, and ultimately to composing. For many of the students, the workshops were an introduction to composing and new music, and I was inspired by the open-mindedness and sense of joy with which they approached it all. I couldn’t help but recall my own performance-centered elementary and high school music education—I didn’t actually meet a living composer until my first year of college—and felt glad that at the very least, we were able to make these students aware of new music much earlier than that.
I hope that the time Renee and I spent with these young musicians will be of some use to them as they move through their lives, musical and otherwise, and that perhaps the next time I return to Chicago, some of them will be playing in Renee’s orchestra and working with me on my latest piece.
For me, that would make this a truly successful residency, and “new partnership.”
P.S. Speaking of highlights—my wife surprised me by flying out to Chicago for the premiere, and the night before my concert, we were able to catch a few sets by Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues at the legendary Kingston Mines. It was good to be in Chicago!