Classical Music Buzz > why compose when you can blog?
why compose when you can blog?
Jennifer Jolley
a blog about my attempts at composing (or not composing…)
141 Entries
I decided at the last minute to enter another comp comp where I crampose a piece of music in five hours based on an assigned instrumentation and a secret musical ingredient. It seems like fun, right? A fun challenge. A challenge where I wear robot boots and write something mega-cool and receive a mega-awesome performance and they basically just put me in space and let me fly around in cool poses.

Am I asking for a challenge?!1

I should ask myself why I keep entering these competitions, since it seems like I only produce my best work (or any work, for that matter) when I have a ridiculously short amount of time to complete a project. And then my insecure composer self wonders if I'd write better music if I actually took the time to think through my material.

Oh well. I've been selected as a finalist to participate in this year's Iron Composer contest to be held at Baldwin-Wallace College on September 6. The concert (which will be held that evening at 8 p.m. EST) will be broadcast locally on WCLV 104.9 FM.

Also: Cleveland.2

1. Challenge and fighting and
Fighting the challenge tonight.
Everybody's fighting for the
Challenge of the fighting and the
Challenge and fighting and
Fighting the challenge tonight.

2. “We'd All Like to Flee to the Cleve.”
1 year ago | |
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I am STILL buzzing with excitement about Homer Bailey's no-hitter against the Giants on Tuesday night. It actually happened! Nothing jinxed it! Like, during the game, you never want to call a no-hitter because you feel you may curse it, and you always worry about silly things ruining said potential no-hitter (like the replay of Marty Brennaman's calling Homer Bailey's other no-hitter from last year against the Pirates during the freaking seventh inning) until you're witnessing the top of the ninth inning and you realize that OH MY GOODNESS THE NO-HITTER MAY HAPPEN.

And then it does and it's so flipping incredible because statistically you're never going to see one live again. And then you hang out with your friends afterward and keep gushing about that incredible sports moment and you're still wearing that same Reds t-shirt for the next few days because of that game.

Well, okay, you're not wearing all the time, I mean, I'm totally going to wash it sometime this week. Really. It's going to happen.

So, anyway, Italy.

I was in Campania (outside of Salerno) in mid-June as one of the composers-in-residence at a new chamber music festival founded by my friends Regina Compton and Melanie Lahti. Chamber Music Campania is a cross-disciplinary summer music festival in southern Italy. A resident wind quintet lived there during the whole three-week festival curating concerts, rehearsing, and performing in different unconventional venues, which I thought was pretty cool. As the resident composer, a subset of the wind quintet played a wind trio of mine the week I was there. Here's a scrapbook.

This is the bed and breakfast the resident quintet and I stayed in.
Seriously, this was the back of the property.

The door to C'era Una Volta (the place of residence)
This is a volcano pizza (that's what we were told). We actually visited this pizzeria twice.
We went to the main part of Campania. Pretty.
Here's a poster advertising the concert on Friday in Campania. Posters written in Italian make the concerts that much more exciting. It's true.
Oh yeah, and the quintet performed there too.
What I most liked about the festival were the planned (and sometimes spontaneous) conversations we had about current musical performances and the contemporary issues the modern musician faces. Like, how do we attract more audiences to come to concerts? How do we make them fell more at ease? A list of their discussions can be found here (and I'm sad I missed the discussion about current collegiate music curriculum).
Anyway, I hope to post video soon of the performances.

1 year ago | |
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Hello! I am back from Chamber Music Campania (which is still going on, so I am way jealous of my wind quintet peers) where I was composer-in-residence for one week livin' up the fantastic glutenous glamorous life of southern Italian sun, relaxation, and gargantuan plates of food. Did you know southern Italians put red pepper chili flakes in their olive oil? Amaze-balls. Did you know their regional pasta sauces made from peas or chickpeas are divine? They are. And because of this, my pants and lap belt and seat belt made my pleasantly plump self slightly uncomfortable.

Well, that's not the only thing that has made me uncomfortable.

Just two days after I return, I am greeted with this news. (“The…the N-word? Uh, which one did she use 'cause I know it wasn't ‘non-fat.' BOOM!" —John Oliver)
Many of my friends have asked me what I think of this comedic land mine, and even what will happen to the future my Paula Deen opera and if a potential opera franchise/ring cycle will come of it.

Well, I'll be honest—I initially wasn't thinking about my nano Zeitoper's future. I was thinking of the women who brilliantly created the role of Paula Deen. Have you met Christine Danielle Lyons? That girl can sing. And she's a sweetheart. And here she is backstage at a NANOWorks show in Lexington Kentucky (as part of LexArts) about to reprise her role.

I know what you're thinking. Here she looks SO happy and excited in this photo. And I was too. My co-founder and I knew that we had to fly her in for this performance because her portrayal of Paula Deen was so spot-on at the Atlanta Opera 24-Hour Opera Project premiere (and memorized in twelve hours nonetheless!). How was Christine given the opportunity to play Paula? My guess (since my librettist Vynnie Meli and I were excluded from the casting process) was that she was the best person for the role. She had the right voice type, acting chops, and Southern-diction (since Christine also hails from Georgia).

Of course, everything is fun and games when writing an opera about Paula, until you realize your larger-than-life main character is probably racist toward the woman who created that role. Interestingly enough, three out of the four women who have performed this role are women of color.1

Does this matter? A few months ago I believed anyone can play Paula: her character transcends race. Now I wonder—can anyone play Paula now?

The future of Krispy Kremes and Butter Queens is unknown. I had already planned to stop production of the opera after the Fringe Festival run since it had been performed in Cincinnati quite a number of times. If others want to produce the opera (in other cities), I am certainly not opposed to additional performances, although I wonder who would want to see the show at this moment.
I also don't know if I will write a sequel to this saga. (Look at all the fodder Paula has given to The Daily Show. There is so much…material…) Maybe you think my operas are ripped from the headlines, but they're not: I deem them as works of historical fiction (or pure fiction). The last time I checked, Paula Deen never choked and died from a Krispy Kreme, and I don't know of any college freshman who was able to buy a house with student loans and no money down.

Anyway, if any of you guys can figure out how to make racism funny in operatic form, let me know. Right now I don't think it is.
1. On a side note, holy cow, I never thought that four women would perform this role. Talk about being highly fortunate and blessed.
1 year ago | |
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Greetings from outside-of-Salerno, Italy, where I'm taking a much needed working vacation1 after NANOWorks' run of THE BUBBLE and Other Displays of Moral Turpitude at the Cincinnati Fringe Festival.


Normally I'd be all a-glow gushing about the world premiere of my opera about the housing bubble, but I'm just so freaking happy that my partner/co-founder/librettist/all-around-fantastic-person and I produced four nano-productions and had them performed five times. And it all came together. And we survived it. And the house is still standing.

Let me tell you—producing your own opera series (at a Fringe festival) is an experience in which the learning curve is rather steep. I have learned quite a bit from this experience,2 and I've also learned how to deal with reviews from critics who have no musical background.

I have to admit, I was a little bit naïve about the process: I thought that the local music critics would attend my show (I mean, I did email them about it and they should have been aware of the performances), but they never came. Instead, all of the (freelance) theatre critics appeared since they were assigned to attend all of the Cincinnati Fringe shows. Is that why the music critics never attended? Did they assume their theatre colleagues would have the same background as them and understand the opera genre?

I'm not sure. What I did learn was that the theatre crowd can be hostile to opera, mainly because most believe that it's long, foreign, and mainly sung in Italian. And I also got the impression that some did not want to be there, which was quite sad and disappointing to me. In this review, for example, I was slightly confused about the line "Once into the flow, however, I saw fewer yawns in the audience." The opening night audience was the best we've had as a company.3

In this other review/blog post, I appreciate that this writer admitted that he had only seen a handful of operas. And, I learned through his review that theatre-goers probably want to feel emotionally connected to their characters onstage. Since the operas I produced were about really really really really really bad people, I didn't think the audience would have connected to the characters.4

The last review was probably the most balanced in that the critic actually researched our fledgling company. He had good things to say about our production, he pointed out that our stage direction was lacking (which, considering that we're not really stage directors, makes sense, although I wish he mentioned how we could fix it), but he mentioned that one of my singers had poor diction (which is NOT true!). I wish I could talk to all these theatre critics and explain that female operatic voices are harder to understand. (I mean, sung text is harder to understand than spoken text.)

Anyway, I did learn quite a bit from this production, and I now know who my Fringe audience is. I can now attune my productions to sustain their attention and interest. I believe opera can learn a bit from the theatre kids, and in turn, we can show them that opera is fun and exciting.


So, I'm the composer-in-residence this week at Chamber Music Campania! My woodwind trio Ma fin est mon commencement, est mon commencement5 will be performed in Varano this weekend. The musicians are stellar, and I can't wait to hear my piece (in rehearsal) this afternoon.

1. More on that later.
2. As in, how to do it better next time.
3. I mean, they were a highly lubricated audience, ergo they were not yawning.
4. Like I totally related to buying a house with my student loans. Ever.
5. Let it be known that I have now abandoned extensive titles. You're welcome.
1 year ago | |
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The NANOWorks crew
"Newcomers are mistaken if they think grand opera is the only true opera." I agree with Alex Ross, and he proceeds to point out that quite a few chamber opera companies have sprung up in New York City. There have also been a couple other chamber opera companies that have been popping up throughout the country, and I am quite encouraged by these small upstarts. I think there comes a point when creative people (whether they be composers, writers, performers, et cetera) realize that they need to take performance opportunities into their own hands and create them. For me personally, this is always what I try to do because (1) Joan Tower told me and my fellow composers over a decade ago to do just this and (2) I realized my performance opportunities weren't going to necessarily happen via winning composition competitions.
On this note, I want to mention New Fangled Opera again because they are doing more or less what I am doing: starting their own opera company because they want to create performance opportunities for composers and singers and whomever else is involved in creating Gesamtkunstwerk. They have their first 2013 Festival on June 7th and 8th in New Orleans, and they're trying to raise money for the show. Please contribute if you can: they are not only performing my infamous opera about Paula Deen and the afterlife, but they're also performing Timothy Brown's An Accidental Affair (which was literally written the same time I was writing Krispy Kremes and Butter Queens in the room next to mine), and Charles Halka's Layover, an opera that NANOWorks has produced and will perform one more time at the 2013 Cincinnati Fringe Festival.

And speaking of the Fringe had better come if you can make it! I promise it will be a good show. I'm not saying this because, yes, this is probably the last time you will see and hear Paula choke on a doughnut and die onstage in Cincinnati, but also because the performers are working their butts off. I want to thank Tyler Catlin and Liz Remizowski, our musical director and piano maven for conducing rehearsals *for every show* and the tireless singers and performers who have come along for the ride.

The showtimes are:
Wednesday, May 29 at 8:45 p.m.Friday, May 31 at 7:00 p.m.Sunday, June 2 at 7:30 p.m.Tuesday, June 4 at 8:15 p.m.Thursday, June 6 at 7:00 p.m.

1 year ago | |
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On a personal note, I accomplished something I wanted to do since I was twelve years old: earn a doctorate in something.
Did I want to be a scholar? Yes, but I don't think I completely grasped what that meant. Did I think I could teach everyone at that level? Oh yes. Did I think I would know everything by that point? Most certainly. And did my young Republican self want to earn a doctorate because I would make way more money than the average high school graduate? You betcha.1
Anyway, I finally earned my degree last year in August, and now I have the ceremony to go with it.

Now back to grading.———1. Yes, times have changed.
1 year ago | |
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Yes Dennis, that is your cat.
Not related to composer FAILs but somewhat related, kudos to Caroline Shaw for winning the Pulitzer Prize in Music for her "Partita for 8 Voices." I am DIGGING it (minus the random Spotify ads), and I want to hear it live someday. According to the NPR Deceptive Cadence blog, "[Shaw] noted that she sent in the piece for Pulitzer consideration — not that she thought that there was much chance of winning, but because she wanted more recognition for Roomful of Teeth's work."

So guess what we're all going to do? Submit our stuff! Might as well.

And on that note:

And life goes on.
1 year ago | |
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Before I start, I wanted to give a shout-out to Spencer Lambright, Chrissy Kim, Paula Van Goes, Nancy Gamso, and volunteer performers (for the "Press Play" piece) at the Middle Tennessee State University and Ohio Wesleyan University concerts on Wednesday and Saturday. What a fun crazy electronic music show! I can't thank all of you guys enough! (And for those who missed out, hopefully I'll have video of the show posted soon.)

And, before I show you said video of said excerpt ofTHE BUBBLE, I also wanted to put in a plug about the Performance and Time Arts April Fundraising Extravaganza. I mean, this show will be off the hook, and Kari Olson will be adding movement to "Ticket Punch" of Speilzeug Straßenbahn fame. (Who am I kidding? This piece isn't famous. Yet.) Advance tickets (or in other words, cheaper tickets) are available by clicking here.

So, here is the first scene of THE BUBBLE, which was workshopped at the Performance and Time Arts Series on March 9, 2013. Dashiell Waterbury as THE DEAN, M. Andrew Jones as THE BANKER, and Karen Wissel Shiota as THE DITZ. THE BUBBLE will be a 25 minute opera by NANOWorks founders Kendall A and Jennifer Jolley about the build-up of the U.S. housing market before its devastating collapse. In it, a college co-ed called simply "The Ditz" —an unspoken role played by a dancer—literally stumbles into the purchase of a house with nothing more than her student loan money. The four supporting male singers represent various parts of the easy lending establishment that created the bubble, and become a sort of bankershop quartet as the dancer's character, gets put through their paces. The comedy is ribald (a metaphor for the base, unthinking greed of the times) and meant to be reminiscent of Vaudeville or silent film era slapstick. With Tyler Catlin, music director; Liz Remizowski, piano maven.

——— And…speaking of opera…have you purchased your early-bird tickets for a HUGE NANOWorks production coming up May 3rd and 4th? (Because on April 27th, prices go up.) There are a few more treats and surprises. (In other words, it's my way of saying, "There's always money in the banana stand." Well, I guess I really don't have money in the banana stand (nor do I have a banana stand), but there will be a surprise.)
1 year ago | |
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A few weeks ago I was excitedly and meticulously planning my trip to Chicago—I was having a premiere of Speilzeug Straßenbahn at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and what girl would not be thrilled?

I had my entire trip mapped out: I booked a hotel and rental car, ordered a new dress and new boots online, and I was ready to hit the road as soon as I was done teaching my composition lesson for that day.

However, two days before my Chicago debut I received this email:
"Hi Jennifer, I wanted to let you know straight away that in discussion with the MCA it has been decided to reschedule this weeks concerts for another date. The MCA are totally committed to the project, as am I, and we will figure out another time when they can happen. Sorry if this causes any inconvenience and I look forward to presenting your work in the future."
I was in shock. I just told my students an hour prior to reading that email that their classes were canceled due to my being out-of-town for this performance. Did I lie to them? I mean, they probably read about my new piece in their school's electronic newsletter. A preview piece was even published in the Chicago Sun-Times. For a split second, I was wondering if I made up this whole premiere in my head—because why would anyone ask me to write a piece for them when Anna Clyne, Elbio Barilari, David Fulmer, Jason Seed, and Christopher Theofanidis were on the same bill?

Alas, not everything has gone to waste. Yes, I am still waiting for the premiere of this piece (which may not happen until next year), but my pop-cultural 1980s muse, who suggested I incorporate the Mr. Rodgers' Neighborhood Trolley Theme in this work, also gave me this brilliant idea.

Yes, my tweet was facetious at the time, but after I received that upsetting email, I was no longer joking. I fired up my GarageBand application, converted my MIDI files to Magical 8bit Plugin instruments, and created this monster.
Well, this monster will get its premiere: it will be paired with original movement by Kari Olson at the Performance and Time Arts series Friday April 19 and Saturday April 20 at 8 p.m.

Will I eventually compare-and-contrast the differences between the chiptune and Baroque ensemble versions? Possibly. Maybe I'll comment on the modern-instrument version too.

Other news.

1. I leave TODAY for a joint recital with über-cool composer Spencer Lambright at Middle Tennessee State University. ROADTRIP. (And yes, I'm taking my tape recorders with me.) If you can't make it down to (outside of) Nashville, I'm doing the same show at Ohio Wesleyan University. I'll keep you posted.

2. Did I also mention NANOWorks has a huge compilation of productions coming up May 3 and 4? I'll be blogging about this, but you can buy DISCOUNTED tickets here. If you're in the Cincinnati area and you love me, you will buy tickets. Also, there will be a surprise from yours truly.
1 year ago | |
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So yay, Krispy Kremes and Butter Queens was accepted into a festival! I think this is a first!

I'm excited that I'm on the same bill as Veronica Krausas (who was a grad student at USC when I was an undergrad there) and Charles Halka, which, coincidentally enough, is an opera that NANOWorks has premiered and produced. In fact, I may chime in and state that NANOWorks has produced two of the short operas that New Fangled Opera will have as part of their festival, which will take place June 7th and 8th in New Orleans.
(Can I also give a shout-out to Chris and Shelley Burton for founding a new opera company in New Orleans dedicated to performing and producing new works?! Rock on.)
The only bad news is that I cannot make this performance because NANOWorks will be producing something at the same time. I am not allowed to announce anything yet, but I will keep you posted. (Oh, and I'm missing a trip to NOLA.)
And speaking of NANOWorks, our first full-evening production compiled of short new operas twenty-five minutes or less will be taking place on May 3rd and 4th. The program includes a regional premiere of Douglas Pew's new opera A Game of Hearts, Halka's "Layover," as well as a couple more treats and surprises. Tickets are now on sale.
Click here for tickets to the May 3rd show (Terrace Park).
Click here for tickets to the May 4th show (Cincinnati).
1 year ago | |
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