Stacy Garrop and the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra
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A CONCERT WITHIN THE DANVILLE CORRECTIONAL CENTER
One of the activities I’m doing in the final year of my Composer-in-Residence position with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra is a series of two outreach programs at the Danville Correctional Center, a medium-security prison for men that’s about forty miles east of Urbana. This past June, I made a trip to the Danville Correctional Center under the auspices of the University of Illinois’ Education Justice Project (EJP) to work with incarcerated men on unleashing their inner creativity (see my previous post by clicking here). I returned on September 26th to hold a concert that combined music (pre-recorded and brought in on CD), poetry, and artwork for forty students in the prison’s Education Justice Project program. I was accompanied by Ms. Rebecca Ginsburg, Director of the Education Justice Project and Associate Professor at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and by Mr. David Sharpe, the Co-Coordinator of the Education Justice Project’s mindfulness discussion group. It was a very unique experience that now has me thinking about how we can bring projects like this to other prisons in the United States.
For the concert, I wanted to create a program of music and poetry for the participants based upon the structure of Terra Nostra, the oratorio I wrote in 2014 that focuses on our planet earth. My oratorio has three sections: I. Creation of the World, which celebrates the planet’s beauty; II. The Rise of Humanity, which explores the achievements of mankind; and III. Searching for Balance, which links our own existence to that of our planet. I constructed the concert within the Danville Correctional Center to follow this same path. I also wanted to invite the participants to creatively take part in several ways throughout the concert.
Pre-Concert Composing of O World
Before we started the concert, I led the participants in creating a group composition called O World that we would perform ourselves. I listed the four basic elements on a chalkboard – earth, air, water, and fire – and the participants came up with vocal and body sounds for each (i.e. earth involved humming a low pitch and stomping their feet). One of the participants suggested we have all four elements be performed simultaneously, so we divided the room into four groups, with each group having their own conductor (four participants volunteered to take these positions). We practiced the piece a few times, analyzed what was working and what wasn’t (for instance, it was too long and had no dramatic shape), and rehearsed it some more. This piece would end our concert. Planning and rehearsing the piece not only served a role in helping the participants to experience the process of composing, but it also provided an activity that allowed everyone in the room to get comfortable. It is likely that most of the participants hadn’t ever taken part in creating a musical composition before, nor had I ever worked with as large an incarcerated group until this evening. I’m guessing that we were all a little outside of our comfort zones, and group activity that involved collective brainstorming and experimentation helped to serve as a unifying device.
The concert consisted of three main components. I alternated components #1 and #2 in the concert program in order to pair poem topics with relevant musical selections:
First, I selected ten poems from Terra Nostra that nine EJP students and I read out loud throughout the concert. We started with poems that celebrated the beauty of the planet, then proceeded to poems about humanity’s achievements via the advances made by the Industrial Revolution. Next, we explored poetry that commented on humanity’s impact on the planet and her resources, before concluding with poetry that reminds mankind that we are always connected to the planet, from birth to death. Participants read poems written by Walt Whitman, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Lord Alfred Tennyson, John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Wendell Berry.
Next, I scattered several of my earth-themed chamber works among the poetry. I played recordings of my Phoenix Rising (for solo flute) and two arias from Terra Nostra recorded at a performance given earlier in the fall by members of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra. I supplemented these performances with the (now defunct) Biava Quartet’s commercial recording of my String Quartet No. 3: Gaia, which follows a similar story line to what is listed in the section above. We concluded our concert with our premiere of O World.
3. Participants’ Creative Projects, both made beforehand and on-the-spot
Three EJP students who had taken part in my June 2018 workshop took up the challenge to produce their own original work. Each participant was invited to share their projects with the group in the middle of the concert. Raylan Gilford read a very moving story he had written about his brother; Marcelo de Jesus created artwork that displayed humanity and the planet in harmony; and Ryan Howard wrote a meaningful poem about the toll we are exacting on the planet’s resources.
Additionally, I brought poster board and colored pens, pencils, and crayons with me into the prison so that the participants could take part in my ongoing “Messages to Gaia” art & poetry project (see artwork and poetry scattered throughout this post). I have held this event at two other concerts in the Champaign-Urbana region; the idea is that the audience is invited to draw art, write poetry, and leave messages to our planet. We will showcase the creative work that the EJP participants, as well as the artwork and messages that previous audiences left, at the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra’s upcoming March 9th Terra Nostra performance. It took a little while for the EJP participants to get going, but finally a participant finally approached the “Messages to Gaia” table and began drawing. It wasn’t long before we had a more or less steady stream of participants adding their own thoughts and artwork to the poster board (examples of the participants’ art work and poems are in the slide carousel).
Follow-Up Question-and-Answer Session
Once we concluded our concert, I opened up the floor to questions from the participants. They asked many questions (30 minutes’ worth!) about a variety of topics, from general to very specific. A small sampling of questions asked are:
How do I go about finding inspiration for a new composition?
How did I get started composing in the first place?
In my piece Phoenix Rising, what was the flute doing that sounded so airy?
In the 3rd movement of my string quartet, what was happening to the meter?
How did I select the poems that I included in Terra Nostra?
This last question led to an interesting discussion on issues with poetry still under copyright, and how not gaining the permission one is seeking from a copyright holder will force one’s creativity in new and unexpected directions, which can actually help strengthen a project.
Our two-and-a-half hour event flew by, and before I knew it, it was time to pack up the “Messages to Gaia” poster board and head back to Champaign-Urbana. The participants were very respectful and thoughtful throughout the entire event. They listened intently, with all of our participating readers and creators prepared and ready to go when it was their turn. A few commented on how they’d not heard any concert music before our event, and how its intensity struck them. Several brought up the meditative quality of some of my quieter movements (several of Mr. Sharpe’s students from his mindfulness class were at the event). Many thanked me and shook my hand on the way out of the room.
The truth is, I learned just as much as they did from our event. Music has the power to affect us all. It can enhance and deepen the mood of a text, be it an opera libretto or a poem about the planet. To have the opportunity to share my music with a group of people who have not had much or any exposure to such music before, and to thread poetry through the music along with the participants’ own creativity on a topic important to us all, was a powerful experience. The participants were visibly moved throughout the event, and the comments several left on the “Messages to Gaia” poster board reflect how the topic touched their psyches (see pictures scattered among this post). Is this an event that can be replicated at other prisons? Will experiences like these enhance the lives of its participants, to help them see themselves as connected to the world even when disconnected from most of society? Will events like these have lasting impacts on participants long past the event itself? These are questions I am left to ponder, and to hope I can explore in more prisons throughout my life.
Thank you Ms. Rebecca Ginsburg and Mr. René Francisco Poitevin, Director of EJP’s Academic Programs, for making arrangements for me to visit the prison, as well as David Sharpe for helping to work out the details of the event and to provide transportation to the prison and back. It took everyone a lot of work (and patience!) to get clearances worked out to bring in a musical CD and all of the materials I wanted to share with the participants, and I am grateful to Danville Correctional Center and the Illinois Department of Corrections for helping us work through the details.
Thank you as well to the EJP students, who were willing to put themselves outside of the comfort zones to help create an experience that was unique and meaningful for all involved.
A PICTURE-PERFECT GELATO SOCIAL AT PRAIRIE FRUITS FARM & CREAMERY
On Sunday, Sept. 23rd, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra and Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery co-sponsored a Gelato Social. It was, quite literally, picture perfect! We had blue skies above us, a modestly warm temperature with a gentle breeze… with homemade gelato, live music, and cute goats, who could ask for more?
Our event got underway at 2 PM with Leslie Cooperband, co-owner of PFFC, scooping up fresh gelato for our guests. As PFFC makes all of their own gelato, we were treated to a range of intriguing flavors including salted caramel, honey lavender (harvested from their own garden), and a delicious pear sorbetto (harvested from their orchard).
People wandered around the farm for a bit, visiting with the goats and admiring the herb and flower gardens, before finding seats in the pavilion for our 2:30 PM performance. We had about 80 people in the audience, but you’d never have known it – they were serenely quiet throughout the event.
CUSO’s 2018-2019 theme is “Our World, Our Music,” and the music I chose for the Gelato Social fits perfectly with this earth-inspired theme. CUSO flutist Amanda Pond began the concert with my Phoenix Rising, which tells the tale of the old phoenix who perishes on a bed of flames and bursts forth as a young, spry phoenix. This story of rebirth, and renewal was an apt piece to tell in the middle of lush farmland that seasonally goes through its own process of renewal. Between works, PFFC co-owner Wes Jarrell spoke about how he and Leslie began raising goats in 2004, which led to their interest in making cheese and eventually gelato. He also talked about their farm’s sustainability efforts. The short concert concluded with my String Quartet No. 3: Gaia. CUSO musicians Maria Arrua, Aaron Jacobs, Robin Kearton, and Barbara Hedlund performed movement 2 (Creation of Mother Earth) and movement 5 (…et in terra pax); maestro Matthew Sheppard conducted the quartet for this performance.
We then took a break from music-making for about a half hour. Leslie served up more gelato while Wes brought out a goat to take pictures with musicians and guests. We had also set up tables for our ongoing “Messages to Gaia” art & poetry project, in which we invited our audiences to create artwork or write short messages/poetry inspired by our planet. Several audience members migrated over to the tables to leave their contributions. I’ll write a blog post about the “Messages to Gaia” in November, sharing pictures of what our participants have left as messages to the planet.
We gave another short chamber concert at 3:30 PM. The CUSO string musicians played movement 3 (Dance of the Earth) of my String Quartet No. 3: Gaia, and Amanda reprised her performance of Phoenix Rising. This was a wonderful way to wrap up a completely splendid afternoon of music-making on a goat farm!
There is one more detail to mention – Executive Director Gerri Kirchner made beautiful posters featuring several of my earth-themed texts that I set to music in Terra Nostra, my oratorio. These posters included texts written by Walt Whitman, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. We attached the posters to several of the pavilion’s wooden posts, so people could read the poetry at their leisure. This was a very nice roll-out in getting people excited about CUSO’s upcoming March 9, 2019 performance of Terra Nostra at Krannert Center with the University of Illinois Oratorio Society, Central Illinois Children’s Chorus, and soloists.
Thank you everyone who came out and spent this special afternoon with us! Thank you as well to Wes Jarrell, Leslie Cooperband, Gerri Kirchner, Alex McHattie, and the CUSO musicians for all of their work in making our event a wonderful success, as well as to our event photographer, Darrell Hoemann. We hope you enjoyed the merging of music, gelato, and goats as much as we did!
CHAMPAIGN-URBANA SEEN THOUGH A COMPOSER’S EYES
I’ve finally had enough “down time” while on my trips to Champaign-Urbana to stop and ponder the rapturous charm of the region. As a composer, I’m interested in seeing everything… the vastness of the prairie from afar, half-eaten ears of corn still nestled in their dried-out stalks, an old wood and wire fence in a pasture, a recently plowed cornfield that’s catching the last rays of sunlight, sculptures embedded in a grassy field, an alley filled with brightly colored graffiti… beauty and complexity surround us everywhere. As a composer, I draw my inspiration for new works from a wide range of sources. Often, where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing find their way into future musical compositions. Who knows how these images and memories of this region will manifest in my music?
Here are a few of my favorite pictures that I’ve taken on recent trips. Enjoy!
GELATO, NEW MUSIC, AND GOATS, OH MY!
Want to listen to some of my earth-themed chamber music performed by Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra musicians, meet some cute goats, and eat delicious gelato? Then come spend two hours with us at Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery! This Sunday (Sept. 23), 2-4 PM, we will present a free event featuring my Phoenix Rising for solo flute, performed by Amanda Pond, and movements of my String Quartet No. 3: Gaia, performed by violinists Maria Arrua and Aaron Jacobs, violist Robin Kearton, and cellist Barbara Hedlund.
There will also be farm and goat tours, led by PFFC owners Leslie Cooperband and Wes Jarrell. We will have four tasty gelato flavors and one sorbetto from which to choose. We will also be running our “Messages to Gaia” project, in which all children and adults can draw artwork & write poetry to our planet.
2:00 PM: Welcome and gelato is served
2:30 PM: Mini-concert #1
3:00 PM: Farm/goat tours and gelato is served
3:30 PM: Mini-concert #2
Come spend a delightful afternoon with us! Prairie Fruits Farm & Creamery is located at 4410 North Lincoln Avenue in Champaign. This free event is is co-sponsored by CUSO, PFFC, and New Music USA.
WONDERFUL REVIEW OF 9/5/18 CHAMBER CONCERT IN THE NEWS-GAZETTE!
John Frayne, the music critic of the local Champaign-Urbana The News Gazette, attended our “Messages to Gaia” Chamber Concert, and had very nice things to say about the event! My favorite part of his review is at the end, where Mr. Frayne identified my tastes in poetry for the upcoming Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra performance of Terra Nostra, my oratorio about the planet:
“From the friendly atmosphere of this charming concert, I am eager to hear Garrop’s oratorio “Terra Nostra,” a work that sets texts by some of the major poets of the English language: aside from Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelly, Lord Byron, Lord Alfred Tennyson, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Like her music, Garrop’s tastes in poetry lean romantic.”
You can read his full review at http://www.news-gazette.com/arts-entertainment/local/2018-09-16/john-frayne-eager-hear-more-composers-work.html
CUSO MUSIC ALIVE COMPOSERS INSTITUTE on Feb. 22-23, 2019
1/28/19 at 5 PM: Registration for Composers Institute
Optional Call for Scores Entries Due: 12/3/18, at 5:00 p.m.
In partnership with New Music USA and Music Alive to promote the creation and performance of new music and the mentoring of composers, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra will host a Composers Institute in Champaign, Illinois, on February 22 and 23, 2019. CUSO Music Director and Conductor Stephen Alltop, and Music Alive Composer-in-Residence Stacy Garrop invite college-level composing students and recently graduated composers who live within a 200-mile radius of Champaign-Urbana to participate. Enrollment is limited to a total of forty students. There is no fee to attend.
The goal of the Composers Institute is to give composers the skill sets and information needed to prepare for a professional composing career. Dr. Stacy Garrop, a nationally recognized composer and educator, will lead workshops on music business basics for composers, how to craft a multipronged online professional presence, and strategies for composing and dealing with writer’s block. Additional sessions will include a seminar with both Dr. Alltop and Dr. Garrop discussing how to navigate the relationship between conductors and composers, and in-depth workshops with CUSO harp and percussion principals on composing effectively for their instruments within an orchestral setting.
The Institute also includes optional participation in a Call for Scores, and invites interested composers to submit works of 3 to 10 minutes, which will be reviewed by Dr. Garrop and Dr. Alltop. The Institute will culminate in a reading session of two to four chosen works, workshopped by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra. Composers will receive archival audio recordings of the reading session of their work. All Institute participants are expected to attend the reading session and it will also be open to the public.
The Composers Institute is open to students who are currently enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate program (composition or performance students who compose), or composers who have graduated from such a program within the past two years, who are residents of Champaign-Urbana and the region that spans a 200-mile radius of Champaign, Illinois.
There is no fee to attend, nor any qualification or adjudication process for composers. To register, download the complete Music Alive Composers Institute Information and Registration Packet. Registrations must be received by 5:00 p.m. on Monday, January 28, 2019. Enrollment is limited to a total of forty students for each day. Composers who register for both days will be given priority on a first-come, first-served basis. One-day registrations will then be accepted for any available spaces and processed in registration-date order.
Call for Scores—Reading Session Submissions
Composers who wish to participate in the Call for Scores may submit a piece to be considered for the Composers Institute Reading Session on Saturday, February 23. Please see the Reading Session entry guidelines and the Reading Session Entry Form and Registration on pages 6 and 7 of the Music Alive Composers Institute Information and Registration Packet. The completed Reading Session Entry Form and Registration and the PDF of your full score must be received by 5:00 p.m. on December 3, 2018. Incomplete or late submissions will not be considered.
There is a section on the Entry Form that allows composers to indicate if they plan to attend the Composers Institute if their piece is not selected for the reading session. All composers whose pieces are being workshopped in the Reading Session are required to attend both days of the Institute. Hotel accommodations will be provided for the two to four chosen composers whose works will be read. CUSO Music Alive Composer-in-Residence Dr. Stacy Garrop will mentor the composers in January 2019 via Skype sessions to prepare their scores for the reading session.
To see the full schedule of Composer Institute activities, click here to be directed to the CUSO website.
The CUSO Composers Institute is made possible by funding from Music Alive. Major funding for Music Alive comes from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with additional support from The Aaron Copland Fund for Music, The Amphion Foundation, The ASCAP Foundation Bart Howard Fund, the Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trusts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
A SUCCESSFUL “MESSAGES FROM GAIA” CHAMBER CONCERT!
On Wednesday, Sept. 5th, the 2nd and final year of my Composer-in-Residence position with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra began with a fantastic chamber music concert! Titled “Messages from Gaia,” maestro Stephen Alltop, members of the Champaign Urbana Symphony Orchestra, soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg, and baritone Ryan de Ryke all gave wonderful performances of several of my earth-themed chamber works.
Why are we focusing on the planet? As you’ll see from CUSO’s 2018/19 season, this year’s theme is “Our World, Our Music.” We will be showcasing works that reflect upon and highlight different aspects of our planet earth. To get things started, our “Messages from Gaia” concert presented my Phoenix Rising for solo flute, my String Quartet No. 3: Gaia, and two arias from Terra Nostra, my oratorio that will be performed in its entirety on CUSO’s March 9th subscription concert.
Our concert began with flutist Amanda Pond delivering a sublime performance of my Phoenix Rising. This piece tells the story of the fictional bird that dies as an old bird in a bed of embers before being reborn as a young bird. Next, we heard Josefien Stoppelenburg sing a lovely rendition A child said, what is the grass? from Terra Nostra. This aria helps highlight one of the main goals of the oratorio, which links ourselves to the planet from which everything springs forth. The text for this aria was written by Walt Whitman, as was the text for the next aria, Smile O voluptuous cool-breathed earth! Ryan de Ryke sang this aria, which is a love song to the planet, with wonderful passion.
The final piece on the program was my 30-minute String Quartet No. 3: Gaia, which contains five movements. These movements explore Gaia over the course of a loose narrative, presenting Gaia’s musical “theme,” the birth of the planet, a celebratory dance of her creations, the agony of what modern day life is doing to her resources, and the hope that our blue green globe will forever spin peacefully throughout the universe. Our string quartet members, featuring violinists Maria Arrua and Aaron Jacobs, violist Robin Kearton, and cellist Barbara Hedlund, played the quartet with great exuberance.
Maestro Alltop conducted several of the works, and I emcee’ed the event. We had a wonderful turnout, and all enjoyed a reception with beef and chicken sliders afterward. We also utilized this moment to start a “Messages to Gaia” art and poetry project, which I’ll post more about soon.
Thank you to everyone who joined us, and I am thankful for the wonderful performances provided by all of our fabulous musicians! Stay tuned for our next earth-themed event, which will happen at Prairie Fruits Farm and Creamery on Sunday, September 23rd, 2-4 PM.
Exploring Creativity at the Danville Correctional Center
Are you anxious?
“Are you anxious?” asked one of the participants during a break in our 2-hour session. It was an understandable question – I was sitting in a classroom at the Danville Correctional Center in Danville, Illinois, giving a workshop on creativity to seven incarcerated men. I was there under the auspices of the University of Illinois’ Education Justice Project, running one of two sessions that I’ll be giving at the prison as part of my Composer-in-Residence position with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra. It certainly was a new situation for me, from passing though the several security checkpoints while carrying only a clear plastic bag with my belongings, to finding myself completely surrounded by male inmates and guards. It was also a warm and humid day in late June, and the air conditioner was temporarily out in the Vocational Building, which made for balmy conditions inside the classroom. So yes, I was certainly feeling the uniqueness of the situation. But I was also experiencing quite an adrenaline rush, the type I used to get from classroom teaching when I formerly taught at Roosevelt University and that I’ve not felt in quite awhile. It was exhilarating! I had walked into the prison, not knowing how the participants would respond to my workshop; halfway through it, they were energetically taking part in my lesson plan, and I felt a sense of community building as we delved into the creative process together.
My interest in bringing creativity into prisons has been growing for years. Music has the power to inspire and to empower, and learning to tap into one’s creativity can help people discover their potential in both musical and non-musical aspects of their lives. Why is this important? Because the United States, on average, incarcerates its population at five times the rate of most other countries throughout the world. According to www.prisonpolicy.com, we incarcerate 698 people for every 100,000; in comparison, England incarcerates 141 people per 100,000, Canada stands at 114 per 100,000 and Norway at 74 per 100,000. When we compare our numbers to those in countries with authoritarian or communist rule, civil unrest, or varying amounts of government instability, the U.S. is well ahead in the numbers too, with Cuba at 510 per 100,000, Rwanda at 434 per 100,000, and China at 118 per 100,000 (see these statistics and more at https://www.prisonpolicy.org/global/2018.html). In addition to our high incarceration numbers, we have another issue of how the prison population is being prepared for re-entry to society, and whether we are giving them needed skills and help so that they won’t end up back in the prison system. I’m a beginner in learning how learning how our country can tackle these issues, and as such, I am very interested in exploring what role I can serve in helping incarcerated men and women explore their fullest potential and successfully re-integrate back into society upon release.
Workshop, Part I
In the first hour, I led the participants through a discussion of how a composer composes. We started with the non-musical aspects, which involve using both subjectivity and objectivity to inform one’s choices, as well as making a steady stream of small decisions to ward off what I call the “two-headed dragon” of procrastination and perfectionism (I explore this concept in my Composer Inklings Blog #52: Procrastination & Perfectionism: Slaying the Two-Headed Dragon).
Next, I introduced basic music vocabulary that we used throughout the rest of the workshop: formal structure, tension/relaxation, pitch, rhythm, silence, color/timbre, dynamics, and so on. The participants immediately caught on to the idea of formal structure when I demonstrated how the tune Happy Birthday is constructed. We then applied our newly learned terminology by analyzing the text and formal structure of my choral piece Give Me Hunger (we listened to Chanticleer’s rendition of the piece). By the end of the first hour, the participants were grasping the concepts we had discussed thus far and asking great questions to further their understanding.
Workshop, Part II
The second hour proved to be very inspirational. I informed the group that we were going to create a piece using graphic notation, which we’d then perform ourselves. At that moment, they transformed into students you’d find in any classroom anywhere in the world – first, they were concerned and unsure of taking part, then they progressively warmed up to the idea, and eventually took ownership of the exercise. On the chalkboard, I drew a graph of a piece that started with relatively high tension and lots of chaos. About two-thirds of the way through the graph, there was a silence, followed by a quiet, orderly ending in which the participants could choose to whistle or hum. While the participants started off reserved in their vocal realizations of the piece, they eventually began making suggestions for improvements: what would happen if we start with the highest tension found in the piece? What does it sound like if you whistle and hum at the same time? What if the tension slowly winds down from chaos to order instead of having an instant drop in the tension level? We experimented, analyzed our results, loosened up, experimented some more, and made quite a boisterous commotion in the process.
Homework for next visit
The final order of business was the assigning of homework for my next visit. I’ll be returning to the Danville Correctional Center on September 26th, where we will have a 3-hour event called “Messages to Gaia.” The movements of my String Quartet No. 3: Gaia will performed (hopefully by live musicians if we can secure permission; otherwise, we will play a recording), as well as my solo woodwind piece Phoenix Rising. Between movements of these works, the participants will be reading texts from my oratorio Terra Nostra penned by Edna St. Vincent Millay, Wendell Berry, and Walt Whitman, among others. For the first part of the homework assignment, the participants each chose what readings they’d like to give at the September concert. For the second part, I informed them that everyone is to create something for our concert. This can be a piece of art, a poem or short story, their own graphic notation piece that they will teach the audience, or anything else they would like to do. The participants were a bit unsure of the assignment, so we talked about various options they could explore. They have a few months to work on their projects, and I am excited to see what they produce!
Thank you Rebecca Ginsburg, Director of the Education Justice Project, and René Francisco Poitevin, Director of EJP’s Academic Programs, for making arrangements for me to visit the prison, as well as David Sharpe, the Co-Coordinator of the Mindfulness EJP discussion group, and Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra’s Executive Director Gerri Kirchner for both accompanying me to the prison. Special thanks to David Sharpe for asking me in September 2017 if I’d be interested in doing some workshops within EJP as part of my orchestral residence; his inquiry has resulted in a meaningful experience for us all.
IT’S A WRAP ON YEAR 1 OF MY RESIDENCE!
I came to Champaign-Urbana twice in April, and after a flurry of activities, my first year of being Composer-in-Residence with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra is now complete! It has been a very exciting year, filled with great experiences in a range of places throughout the Champaign-Urbana region. What did I do during the year?
I visited lots of schools and organizations.
- 6 elementary and middle schools: CUSO brass and I ran an education session that taught students about the building blocks of music. The students heard the brass quintet play portions of my piece Legends of Olympus; then we talked about what elements are in a composer’s toolbox (melody, rhythm, silence, etc.). Next, they helped me compose a new movement about the Greek goddess Nike, which the quintet premiered at the end of the session. We visited Urbana Middle School, Westview Elementary School, Stratton Academy of the Arts, International Preparatory Academy, Dr. Preston Williams, Jr. Elementary School, and Lincoln Trail Elementary School.
- 3 high schools: I did a range of activities at the high schools. At St. Joseph Ogden High School, I gave sessions on how a composer composes and music business basics. At Urbana High School, I shared my composing process for my choral piece Give Me Hunger, as well as listened & gave feedback to choirs on their singing. At Champaign Central High School, I helped 170 marching band students learn about music basics, then constructed a group piece with their input for us to perform.
- 3 colleges: I visited the University of Illinois, Illinois State University, and Illinois Wesleyan University. At each school, I taught composition lessons and gave seminars on various topics (some about the music business, some on my own music, and one for the freshman class at ISU in how to get themselves prepared to make the most of their college experience). I also coached student musicians at all three universities who were learning my works. Each school also incorporated pieces of mine in their concert seasons.
- 3 visits to the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Champaign: Two of these visits were in correlation to the upcoming CUSO concerts, so I introduced my pieces that were to be performed. At the third, I gave a 90-minute presentation on how a composer composes music when writing for the voice.
- 2 visits to local organizations: I stopped by the Cunningham Children’s Home and the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, where I helped the participants learn about the creative process. At each location, we created compositions using graphic notation (i.e. shapes and words to reflect the types of sounds we should make).
CUSO and I ran a mentoring program for local composers.
- CUSO Overture Composition Competition and Reading Session: Stephen and I ran a competition for composers of any age to submit 3-minute overtures, written for orchestra. We selected five compositions from the entries, and had the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra rehearse these in a working session for the composers to hear their works. This event was open to the public. I started by interviewing each composer about his/her work, then Stephen led the orchestra in a rehearsal of the piece. Halfway through the event, we held a question & answer session with Stephen, the five composers, myself, and the audience so they could ask us anything about what they were seeing and hearing. We used microphones throughout the event so the audience could hear how Stephen, the composers, and I were fine-tuning the pieces during the reading process. Two of our participants, Roger Zare and Maya Benyas, were selected to have their overtures performed by CUSO on their subscription series in Krannert in April 2019.
Most exciting of all, CUSO performed my works.
- CUSO Chamber Concert: This event kicked off my residence last September. CUSO musicians played my Legends of Olympus (brass quintet) and Athena Triumphant (string quartet); additionally, soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg and maestro/pianist Stephen Alltop performed my We Real Cool and
- Performances with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra in their Krannert Concert Series: It was such a treat to hear CUSO perform movements from my Mythology Symphony in Foellinger Great Hall! What spectacular playing, matched by spectacular acoustics!
- Annual CUSO Youth Concerts: In April, Stephen and the orchestra performed my Blurrr in Krannert for students who came from all over the region.
It has been a very busy and fulfilling year. For my second and last year with CUSO, I am heading out in new directions. What will I be up to? You’ll find out soon! I’ll post again in June with the first activity of my second and final year of the residence.
Thank you so much to everyone that helped my first year be a smashing success!! Stephen Alltop, Gerri Kirchner, Matthew Wilshire, Alex McHattie, Barbara and Ron Hedlund, Darrell Hoemann, CUSO musicians, and all of the Champaign-Urbana community members and volunteers — I couldn’t have done this without you. Have a fantastic spring & summer!
ROUNDUP OF A BUSY RESIDENCE WEEK!
I had a wonderful residence week back at the end of February! Here’s a roundup of my activities:
CUSO Rehearsals and “Music of Destiny” Concert
CUSO performed three movements of my Mythology Symphony on their March 2nd concert. In preparation, I attended rehearsals on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings. These led to a wonderful concert in Foellinger Great Hall in the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois. The acoustics in this Hall are truly spectacular!
Educational Outreach at the International Prep Academy
The CUSO brass quintet and I gave a joint education program for students at the International Prep Academy. As we have done with three schools earlier this year, we introduced the brass instruments to the children, as well as components of composing. Then we wrote a group piece about Nike, the Greek goddess of speed and victory, interspersed with the quintet performing movements of my Legends of Olympus. The students were most curious to see the brass instruments up close!
Presentations at St. Joseph Ogden High School
CUSO trumpeter Robin Heltsley invited me to talk with her music students at St. Joseph Ogden High School. For one class, I gave a presentation on how a composer composes, and in the other, I went over various business aspects of having a music career. I’m always excited to talk with high school students, as I was their age when I first discovered composing in a music theory course taught at my high school.
Introduction of the Mythology Symphony at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute
Maestro Stephen Alltop regularly talks at OLLI prior to each CUSO concert to introduce the upcoming program. He invited me to introduce the three movements of my Mythology Symphony at OLLI. We had a delightful audience, and I look forward to returning in early April to OLLI to give a presentation on how a composer composes music (for information on how to attend, please visit OLLI’s website).
Composing Workshop at the Cunningham Children’s Home
The staff at Cunningham Children’s Home chose several of their students to take part in a composing workshop. First, I talked about the components that go into building a piece of music and shared the video of Chanticleer singing my choral work Give Me Hunger (click here to view). Then, we constructed our own piece about the Greek goddess Nike. We designed the piece to perform ourselves. The students and staff explored various sounds we could make with our voices and hands. We performed our piece, realized where we needed to make some adjustments, and then performed it again. It was a great group activity that engaged the students and adults alike!
CUSO Overture Reading Session
Last fall, we invited composers who live within a 200-mile radius to submit 3-minute overtures to us; we chose five works from all of the entries we received. On March 3rd, we gathered the five composers (Mark Rheaume, Roger Zare, Maya Benyas, Zhaoyu Zhang, and Kyle Shaw), CUSO musicians, Maestro Alltop, audience members, and myself at the Hilton Garden Inn. I introduced each composer to the audience with a short interview; then CUSO gave a first reading of the composer’s overture. This was followed by Maestro Alltop, the composer, and myself working to bring out various aspects of the music, as well as to problem-solve spots that needed some adjusting. We ended each composer’s session with another reading of their overture. Halfway through the event, we held a 15-minute question-and-answer session with the audience while the musicians took a brief break. After all five composers’ pieces were workshopped, the audience and orchestra cast their votes for their favorite works. Our two winners are Maya Benyas’ Fantasy House Overture and Roger Zare’s Strontium Red. Both winners received $500, and will have their pieces performed by CUSO on their April 2019 concert in Foellinger Great Hall. For more information on all five of our wonderful finalists, click here.
In all, this was one of the busiest weeks of my residence. Each activity brought home to me how music can be meaningfully integrated in our lives in ways both big and small. I look forward to returning to Champaign-Urbana in early April to take part in CUSO’s Youth Concerts, in which we explore The Composer’s Toolbox.
See you around Champaign-Urbana!
EDUCATIONAL EVENTS AT ELEMENTARY & MIDDLE SCHOOLS
In early February, I spent several days in the Champaign-Urbana region doing education outreach for schoolchildren as part of my Composer-in-Residence activities. A brass quintet consisting of members of the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra came with me to Urbana Middle School, Westview Elementary School, and Stratton Academy of the Arts (an elementary school). At each school, we presented an interactive program that engaged the students in the composing process while learning about Greek mythology.
First, the brass players introduced their instruments to the children via demonstrations and some historical background. Then, I introduced various musical parameters to the students. Basically, we explored what elements composers utilize to create and shape a composition. Now we got down to business! The students and I were to dream up a new movement to end my brass quintet. The movement focused on Nike, the goddess of strength, speed, and victory. The students brainstormed ideas for the story of our new movement; then I created a musical score using graphic notation. The brass quintet then “premiered” our new Nike movement while I conducted the musicians through the score. We concluded each class with a question-and-answer session. We took a group bow at Westview, and received wonderful thank you notes a day later from their students.
The CUSO brass performers and I will bring this event to three more schools in the upcoming months. I look forward to seeing what the students dream up next for Nike’s new movement!
NOVEMBER RESIDENCE WEEK WRAP UP
I had a very busy week in the Champaign-Urbana region! Here’s what I was up to:
Nov. 14 & 15: Illinois State University
I had a wonderful two-day residence at Illinois State University. Activities included three workshops (one for freshman music majors, another for a music business class, and a third on my own music), four 1-on-1 composition lessons with ISU’s graduate students, and a two-hour master class with ISU’s saxophone studio.
For the saxophone studio master class (pictured below), Dr. Paul Nolen, the saxophone professor, came up with a fantastic idea: he and three students divided up the movements of my Pieces of Sanity, so that each movement was performed by a different saxophonist (one student played two movements). This allowed me to work with more of the students and provide feedback on their performing. Lu Witzig served as our intrepid pianist for the whole piece. Everyone was very prepared and played their hearts out; we had a wonderful session!
Nov. 16: University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana
Last month, I spent a day at the university in which I taught two composition lessons and gave a seminar for composition majors that covered both the basics of the business of music for composers, as well as my own music. This time, I worked with Dr. Debra Richtmeyer’s saxophone studio. One of her student groups, the Anabru Saxophone Quartet (notice how the first word is “Urbana” spelled backwards!), performed the 2nd movement of my Flight of Icarus. The Quartet performed this dissonant movement with great gusto, and we had a very productive session in fine-tuning various spots. Then, I answered a few questions that the saxophonists had emailed me in advance (see my previous blog for what questions were asked). It was a fantastic experience!
After a quick lunch at the Espresso Royale next to the Music School, I taught two composition lessons. In one lesson, the undergraduate student brought in an opera she’s working on; in the other, the doctoral student and I spent the majority of the time discussing steps to take before and after graduating from college.
Nov. 17: Champaign Central High School
What do you do when you have 170 marching band students for one hour? You help them learn the basics of composing and then make music! We started by making a list of musical parameters on the board, taking inspiration from some of the pieces they’re currently playing (hat tip to Holst’s The Planets). Then we tried drawing some simple shapes a piece of music can take and applying some musical parameters to the shapes. Everyone took part in bringing our short pieces to life with lots of singing, shouting, whooping, and hollering. I ended the session by playing the wind ensemble version of my Pandora Undone, which we then analyzed together.
I’ll be back in February 2018 to work alongside CUSO brass players, who will be performing movements of my Legends of Olympus at Urbana Middle School, Westview Elementary School, and Stratton Elementary School. I’ll also be meeting with people about programs we’ll be running in the next year of my residence. Until then, happy holidays, everyone!
CUSO RESIDENCE WEEK: NOVEMBER 14-17
I’ll be back in the Champaign-Urbana region this week for several Composer-in-Residence educational activities. Here’s what I’m up to:
Tuesday, 11/14: Illinois State University
I’ll spend the day in the city of Normal, working with lots of music students who attend the university. First, I’ll give a talk called For Freshman Only, which I created especially for… you guessed it… freshmen music majors. We’ll go over establishing good working habits, learning to budget their time, writing their personal mission statements, and figuring out their short- and long-term goals.
Next, I’ll give a seminar for a music business class. I’ll be covering lots of aspects of running a career: developing offline networking skills, building a social media presence, creating email newsletters to promote one’s career, and crafting effective crowdfunding campaigns to fund musical projects.
Finally, I’ll present my own music for the university’s composition majors. One of the pieces I’ll talk about is my choral work Give Me Hunger. The poem (originally called At a Window) is by American poet Carl Sandburg, and is one of his few poems on the topic of love. There’s a great video that Chanticleer put online of a performance they gave in Russia, which I feature as part of my presentation; you can view it here.
Wednesday, 11/15: Illinois State University
Today, I’ll teach four one-on-one lessons with composition students. This will be followed by a saxophone studio master class, in which students of Dr. Paul Nolen will play movements of my Pieces of Sanity and I’ll work with them to fine tune their performance. If we have time left over, I’ll do a Q&A with the students.
Thursday, 11/16: University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana
I visited the University of Illinois back in October to teach several composition lessons and give a seminar for their student composers. Today, I’ll teach a few more composition lessons, as well as attend a saxophone master class that Dr. Debra Richtmeyer has arranged. Several of her students have been working on the second movement of my saxophone quartet Flight of Icarus that they’ll play for me and I’ll provide feedback. The saxophone students have also developed a list of questions that they would like me to address. Their questions cover a lot of ground: what is my approach to composing, and writing for the saxophone specifically; how do I go about writing a piece for a specific performer or group; what is the process of funding through grants, consortiums, and organizations; and what would like I performers to know or focus on when interpreting my music.
Friday, 11/17: Champaign Central High School
A marching band consisting of 170 students will be visiting the high school for an hour. The music faculty asked if I’d like to meet with these students. This is quite an intriguing and unusual challenge!
I’ll start by talking with the marching band students about what a composer does and how I got into composing, which I discovered while in high school. Then we will make a list of all the musical parameters that we can imagine; next, we’ll explore what happens when we combine various musical parameters in different combinations (they’re going to need to make some noise for this exercise – making various vocal sounds, clapping, foot stomping, etc.). Finally, we’ll listen to a musical piece or two, and analyze what we’ve heard based on our musical parameter discussion. Hopefully, they’ll have a better understanding of what a composer does by the end of our hour together.
This is going to be a busy week – I better bring snacks. And chocolate. See you soon, Champaign-Urbana!
ILLINOIS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY RESIDENCE WRAP UP
As part of my Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra’s Music Alive residence, I spent the past few days at Illinois Wesleyan University. I gave a seminar to composition students on the business of being a composer, taught composition lessons, and rehearsed my works with students and faculty. The highlight of the residence was their New Music Café concert, which featured music by living composers, with composers Marcos Lucas, Kyle Shaw, and myself in attendance. I was thrilled with the performances of my Tango Gardél (solo piano) and We Real Cool (soprano and piano). Many thanks to composer and pianist David Vayo for hosting me, and to everyone for a wonderful visit to Bloomington, Illinois!
BRIEF RESIDENCE AT ILLINOIS WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY
This week, I will return to the central Illinois region for a two-day residence at Illinois Wesleyan University! I will teach composition lessons and give a seminar to student composers about the business side of being a composer. Also, my Tango Gardél for solo piano (in homage to the Argentine singer Carlos Gardél) and We Real Cool for voice and piano (with text by Gwendolyn Brooks) will be featured on IWU’s New Music Café concert. The concert is on Thursday, Oct. 26th at 8 PM in Presser Hall’s Westbrook Auditorium. Admission is free. A press release about the concert is below. Come join us for a great evening of new music!
Blogging My CUSO Adventures!
I’m blogging about my Composer-in-Residence activities with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra through their website. To see the full range of my activities, check these blogs out!
Main page: https://cusymphony.org/blog/
Here are a few posts I’ve already put up on the page:
AUGUST 27, 2017
The Champaign Urbana Symphony Orchestra is sponsoring LEGENDS, a chamber concert featuring my music in my new position as the CUSO Music Alive Composer-in-Residence! My pieces will be performed by Stephen Alltop, Music Director & Conductor, CUSO Principal performers, and soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg. In the video, I talk about the works that are being programmed, […]
SEPTEMBER 12, 2017
On Wednesday, Sept. 6th, my Music Alive Composer-in-Residence activities had a wonderful kickoff event to welcome me to the community! Maestro Stephen Alltop, string and brass CUSO musicians, and soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg presented three of my works to a packed ballroom at the I Hotel in Champaign. We called the concert LEGENDS, which fit in […]
SEPTEMBER 14, 2017
Today, music critic John Frayne posted a wonderful review in The New Gazette of our Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra’s Sept. 6th LEGENDS Chamber Concert, in which Maestro Alltop and the CUSO musicians welcomed me to the community and performed several of my chamber works. Mr. Frayne enjoyed the concert! You can read his review by clicking […]
SEPTEMBER 24, 2017
After our Sept. 6th Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra’s LEGENDS Chamber Concert, in which I was officially welcomed to the Champaign-Urbana community in my new role as Composer-in-Residence of the orchestra, several inquisitive audience members asked me an assortment of questions. I realized shortly afterward that three particular questions came up quite frequently over the course of […]
SEPTEMBER 30, 2017
I’ll be in Champaign-Urbana from Tuesday, Oct. 3rd through Saturday, Oct. 7th for several Composer-in-Residence activities! Here’s what I’m up to: I’ll be teaching lessons to four composition majors. Then I’ll give an 80-minute seminar for all of their student composers on the business of being a composer, as well as play some of my […]
OCTOBER 9, 2017
I had a wonderful time in Champaign-Urbana this past week! I took lots of pictures while on the trip, several of which are below; these will give you a sense of what this first full week of my contained: University of Illinois – Champaign Urbana I spent a day teaching composition lessons to individual students, […]
Start and End Dates
09/01/2016 — 06/30/2019