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…)
159 Entries

This week I should probably chat about my lovely trip down to North Carolina where I saw white squirrels and waterfalls and Miller Asbill and his students, but unfortunately I need to postpone that blog post and substitute it with another blog post I should have written two weeks ago. Why? Regrettably I either need to be grading that pile of orchestration projects or thinking about OWU's Music Day or not be watching a silly science fiction drama on Netflix.

So, here is the film entitled Highway Hearing, produced by Dow Chemicals, about this local community and its debate to construct an interstate highway close by their town. The debate gets heated (many townsfolk are against it) until a Miss Helen Rathburn speaks up and encourage everyone to think how the interstate will benefit their children. Because only a woman can be sensitive and caring enough to think of the wee ones.

4 years ago |
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Greetings from Charlotte, North Carolina where I will be attending a music theory nerd conference for the first time as a professor person and meeting up with Miller Asbill and his students at Brevard College. I am quite excited to meet Miller since we've been talking about a future project for, oh, I dunno, about a year now and I'm thrilled that this project is finally going to happen.

Since this week I'm on the road (or on a plane), I was going to share with you some YouTube videos about driving the Interstate except that I attended a fantastic recital at Memorial Hall featuring Kelley O’Connor, Jessica Rivera, and Robert Spano this past weekend as part of the Constella Festival in Cincinnati.

I was lucky enough to be sitting next to my laptop when I was asked to turn pages for the recital, and yes, I probably should have been grading orchestration projects instead, but I kind of wanted to peruse new song cycles first-hand and listen to these women sing. Let me tell you—it was awe-inspiring.

And by “awe-inspiring,” I realized I needed to Up My Game.

Do you ever have moments when you're sitting next to someone and think, “Dang, I should be practicing piano daily if I want to play like that.” And you can't use the “I'm ridiculously busy” excuse because the guy next to you is also a conductor of a major orchestra and composes in his spare time. And then you ponder how you can do all that and actually function in life, therefore wondering if adding nicotine to your Beethovenian ritual of counting coffee beans will do the trick.

OR, do you ever think, "Why on earth did I stop taking voice lessons? I could be singing such cool rep in a fancy dress and have a grand time." And then you remember the time when you did take voice lessons and your teacher made you speak like Mickey Mouse to raise your soft palate or something like that, and how embarrassing it was when your teacher turned to your composer-accompanist friend and said, "Why Andy, that's an interesting shade of red you have there." And immediately your friend bolts out of the studio to tell the rest of your composer friends The Embarrassing Thing that just happened.

OR, have you ever listened to this mezzo-soprano and piano opera by David Bruce entitled That Time with You? And you yearn to hear the music and poetic imagery again so much that you're willing to find a bootleg score and recording because maybe—just maybe—you might be able to write a song cycle in ten years as captivating and meaningful as this one?

I'm going to go attend a theory conference now…

4 years ago |
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Last week I was at the Bowling Green New Music Festival where I caught up with friends, new music, and found myself at a fantastic place called Insomnia Cookies that had this amazing peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich. You know, the ice cream cookie sandwich had been my go-to snack almost every time I went to a Dodger game in the late 1990s/early 2000s…
I digress.
This year, instead of scanning the programs I crammed in my purse like last year, I thought I'd share some YouTube clips or recordings of pieces I enjoyed (if I could find them).

George Lewis's Anthem

(This was probably my favorite piece of the festival.)
And…that's all I could find online. Maybe videos of the other pieces I enjoyed will eventually pop up? Until then, I suppose I'll keep the programs in my purse?

4 years ago |
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Today I'll be attending the 34th Annual Bowling Green New Music Festival where I hope to soak in a whole bunch of new music and have a good time just like last year. So, considering that I'll be traveling up the I-75 for a bit,1 this post won't be long but it will show you (1) the video from Sunday's performance and (2) the link to this awesome review written by Mary Ellyn Hutton. (Why, yes I did quote Beethoven!)

———1. So guess what? I completed the I-71! It happened! It was delightful and everything I hoped it would be.
4 years ago |
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There are two things on my mind right now. One is a performance of THE BUBBLE, which will be performed this Sunday evening as part of Classical Revolution Cincinnati's Constella Edition event. Performances by the Price Hill String Quartet, Il Troubadore Klingon Music Project and the Allan Pray Ensemble will be in order. Yes, there will be a Klingon opera, so um, phasers set to stunning and what not.
If you want to preview THE BUBBLE, click here. (Yes, there's a video up! Yes, that took forever!) If you want to read a copy of the libretto, click here: you can see what I had to work with. Wait a minute. Strike that. Reverse it. You probably should read the libretto first then see the opera to understand what is going on.
The second thing on my mind is The Postseason. It is October, after all.
Sometimes when people discover that (1) I like operas and (2) I like baseball, they unfortunately conflate the two. "Have you thought about writing a baseball opera? You should write a baseball opera!" I always shake my head. I could never write an opera about baseball because, let's be honest—it's never really about baseball.
If I were to write an opera about baseball, I'd probably use with permission a story that a screenwriting friend of mine penned about a kid who lost both the Brooklyn Dodgers and his father and his determination to move out to LA to see them play their first game. Will this opera be short? No. Will it be funny? Nope. And, chances are, this opera will not be about baseball.

4 years ago |
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Let me get this straight—we're three days into October, the government shuts down, New York City Opera announced it will closeOsmo Vänskä quits, Aaron Jay Kernis resigns, and Dean Douglas Lowry died.

I guess this is why The New Yorker dubs this as "Classical Music's Hell Week." Oy.

This doom and gloom won't last forever, but this economic restructuring is sure going through a painfully uncomfortable phase.

4 years ago |
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I feel like there are many weeks where I don't exactly know what I'm going to talk about on my blog, or worse—when I know exactly what I want to talk about but I don't. have. any. freaking. time. to take the gray matter from my white-noise-filled brain and translate it into decent prose.
Like, this week I think I finally came up with a decent idea for a piece, and it's going to be about the Interstate Highway System, and movements are going to be titled after specific routes, and I realized *I drive the (I-)711 all the freaking time* from Exit 3 to Exit 104B (or starting from Exit 8B) and it's flat and boring and lonely, and how on earth am I supposed to take my flat, boring, and lonely drive and make it all rosy and lovable for everyone to read?
And then I figured out that holy cow, I think I've driven almost the entire 71!2 I started in Louisville (when traveling from Murfreesboro, TN) and traveled as far north as almost-Cleveland. 
WOW. I need to complete this Interstate! I am so close to doing so! Maybe I should drive to Cleveland!

And then I see this rejection letter and think, thank goodness—I really don't have time to write a blog post.
Or drive to Cleveland.
———1. If you're wondering if I actually do have a Californian accent, I do: I never say the "I" before the interstate route. Why? Why bother, I ask.2. Obviously not in one sitting.3. Yes, I know that basing a piece on the Internet Highway System has been totally done before. I get that. I'm still working on it.
4 years ago |
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Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa wait a minute here: these are becoming a bit more frequent.

It seems as though Krispy Kremes and Butter Queens is now my most-performed piece. EVER. I'm also not going to read into the fact that I've spent less time composing this opera than other works of mine, and that these other works are performed...not as frequently.
What if this continues? What if more people pick up this tiny opera??What if it keeps getting performed??? What if this opera wins all the things???? What if I stop receiving rejection letters????? How on earth will my blog exist without those infamous rejection letters??????

Okay, that's crazy talk. I promise I'll stop using multiple question marks for emphasis and gifs of Zooey Deschanel since those are the characteristics of a Tumblr blog. Because who on earth would have a Tumblr blog? Lame I say.
4 years ago |
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So I'm back after a wonderful weekend in almost-Cleveland participating in the 2013 Iron Composer Competition. I'd like to count this as a road trip, but I didn't travel that far (only two hours north on the 71) and I didn't have time to try Spudnut donuts or Bucci's (dang it Bucci's, why were you closed at lunchtime?!), but I was far enough away to realize the Redlegs were not on television. (I wonder how Drew Stubbs is working out for The Tribe.)

The event was mostly a blur, so I'll do my best to summarize the long weekend.

I noticed that the event was publicized extraordinarily well.

And on Thursday, all of us (Can, Jakub, Chris, and David) were asked to participate in a Finalist Forum where we presented our music to young impressionable minds.

I'm so thankful we did this: I didn't have time to stalk the other composers online, and frankly I would rather meet the composers in person first and then hear what they have to say about their music.
The next morning we were brought into Gamble Auditorium and were told what instrumentation we were writing for. Surprise, we were all going to write for brass trio which included a…double bell trumpet.


Joe Drew, one of the directors of Analog Arts (and the Iron Composer competition) asked us if we were ready for our secret ingredient. Er, I thought that was our secret ingredient.

The secret ingredient was…audience participation. I drew card #5, which was foot tapping.
I had no idea that "audience participation" would be the secret ingredient. I didn't know how I would control the audience. I didn't know how I could make foot tapping interesting while trying to control said audience. I didn't know if said foot-tapping would be heard in that theater since I saw inklings of carpeting. I freaked out. And, in fact, I probably froze for the next hour. So, I went with my first instinct because I had to. I knew The Meters had a tune called "Hand Clapping Song," and even though I did not have to make the audience clap their hands, I could make them tap their feet.

While we composers were waiting to have our scores tallied, one of the audience members asked us if we learned anything about our composer selves during this comp comp. I certainly have.

After writing the piece, I realized I had absolutely no time to think about my concept, and that threw me. In fact, this is how my compositional style has changed over the past few years: before I would sit down and instantly scribble some notes on blank staves; now I spend great amounts of time thinking about why I compose a particular piece of music, whom I'm composing it for, and what I need to say. Thinking in this way has made me a stronger person and a better composer, and now I'm able to fathom why I write music. I write music because I express myself perfectly through this beautiful abstract medium—and I exist wonderfully in this way.

So, I created a little ditty. It's not the most articulate or deeply philosophical piece I've written. And I admit I'm slightly disappointed that I couldn't produce anything better. But I wrote a fun tune. And the audience liked it, so I didn't go home empty-handed.

I placed the Audience Favorite award (clock) on my desk. I need to clean my desk…
I want to say to all my new composer friends that I'm honored I participated in this competition with you guys and it was fun getting to know you all. And congrats to Jakub!

Now that the competition is over, I will now focus my competitive energies on my fantasy baseball team. (Come on Asdrubal Cabrera, my other shortstop has been sucking.)

Also: Cleveland.

4 years ago |
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The NANOWorks crew. Thanks guys!
Greetings from a Starbucks in Strongsville Ohio, where I'm trying to catch up on emails and blogging. If you're in the Cleveland area, I'll be quickly presenting my music at Baldwin Wallace University sometime around 5:30 p.m. today. Oh, and I'll actually be writing a piece tomorrow. Supposedly.


Last Monday NANOWorks sponsored a libretto development for Doug Pew and Dara Weinberg's (Part I and III) of A GAME OF HEARTS. Why? Dara was in town from Poland!!!

But really, we want to help them, and this is an opera NANOWorks may want to produce (in serials) in the future. So, don't fret short-attention-span opera lovers (myself included), we will still stick to our mission statement.

There aren't very many libretto development opportunities, which is a crying shame since writers need to hear how their work is shaping. If a composer doesn't have a good libretto to work with, how do you expect a composer to write a good opera?

I'll also put this in perspective, from the librettists' point of view.
"I've told many people that writing an opera libretto is unlike any other creative writing endeavor. There are aspects of poetry and aspects of playwriting, but if you lean too heavily in either of those directions you are bound to fail. You can't have the staged action show nearly as much as you can in screenwriting, but you can't come close to the expository sections you can get away with in writing novels or short stories. You have to convey just as much story and art in about one third the word count you've allotted in playwriting. So you can't be married to your words, or to your self esteem, your ego, if you want to successfully pair with a composer and get your story across.
Being a librettist is possibly the most challenging while at the same time being the lease rewarding (in terms of fortune or fame) creative writing craft, which probably goes a long way to explaining why there are so few librettists around. Yet despite the immense challenge of crafting a libretto, as a writer, you're typically faced with far fewer opportunities to hone your piece in advance. The feedback writers get in workshops for novels or plays just doesn't exist for librettists outside a couple of rare opportunities."
—Kendall A
And, check this: according to Dara, "'Play development' is a common thing in the theater world—if "libretto development readings" became a more frequent occurrence,…I think it would be a wonderful thing."

NANOWorks does hope to sponsor more of these small, close-knit libretto development events since it helps the writers (and composers!) so much. Also, they're a ton of fun.

From left to right: Jill Phillips, Allan Palacios Chan, Esther Kang, Stacey Sands, Dara Weinberg, Doug Pew

4 years ago |
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