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…)
154 Entries

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.

2 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.
2 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.
2 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.

2 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

2 years ago | |
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Well, we knew this was coming, right?

And…I'm not on this list.
2 years ago | |
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The Fiati Five
Sorry about the delay folks: I've kind of been in meetings all week. Anyway, remember those videos I promised a while ago? I'm a little late on that. Here are a couple of them performing my wind trio "Ma fin est mon commencement, est mon commencement."

(This is before I realized I could shoot horizontally…)
(And this is after. That was an improvement.)
2 years ago | |
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It's that time of year again where I realize I have to start acting like a Responsible Adult—you know, stop my partying and boozing and start going to bed and waking up at decent hours, all because the days are getting shorter and I need to return to my academic engagement in less than two weeks.

And part of my Responsible Adult duties involve watching over my composer progeny.

The Bachelor of Music Composition degree at Ohio Wesleyan University is in its toddler stages. It's small but needs to grow, and it is my job as a Responsible Adult to feed it and make sure I don't stunt its growth.

As part of this process, the head-of-department and I decided to provide an intro to composition class where freshman and non-composition majors can be introduced to writing music. I am thrilled about this—I had an intro to composition class at USC my freshman year, and I like the concept. Sometimes freshmen aren't ready to have one-on-one composition lessons with their professor. And, many times composition teachers are repeating the same concepts quite a few times a day, often instructing them what instruments go where or the importance of using a ruler.

I also have the challenge of creating a good composition program with limited resources. I do not teach at a conservatory: I teach at a private co-ed liberal arts college. I will never be able to bring in the resources that Juilliard, Eastman, or NEC has to offer to their composition students, especially due to my ma-and-pa-sized budget. However, I know what I do have: a strong liberal-arts institution that prides themselves on offering Theory-to-Practice Grants and Travel-Learning Courses, good music faculty, an internship for my composition students through the Central Ohio Symphony, and the opportunity for visiting chamber groups to workshop my student's pieces through the Performing Arts Series. (That's right, Conundrum is coming to town and reading my students' works.) I know we're not the Yankees or Red Socks, but the Tampa Bay Rays are not a bad team, right?

Stay tuned: I will be posting more on this process.
2 years ago | |
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So here is something I should have posted earlier—way earlier. I visited Middle Tennessee State University and lectured and joint-recitaled with my friend Spencer Lambright, a composer I met way back in 2008 at the Composer-Conductor program at Bard College's Conductor's Institute.
Do you want proof of this? Here's a picture.
Man, that picture is old.
I was quite excited to meet up with Spencer since he's an all-around good guy and a great orchestrator.
We had a good time merging our electro-accoustic offerings at both MTSU and OWU,1 and I met saxophonist Paula Van Goes, cellist Chrissy Kim (thanks for performing my piece!), and *I finally got to meet Dave Sartor!*
Press Play on tour!
And normally I'd post videos and pictures of my trip, but unfortunately the video files are happily tucked away in some messy pile I have growing on my academic work desk, so unfortunately, I have to procure those at a later time.
In the meantime, I will discuss one aspect of my trip—the Hot Brown Sandwich.

On my way to Murfreesboro I stopped in Louisville to partake of this tasty concoction. This sandwich is something that you'd expect to find on your road trip, except it is fancy. It was originated at the historic Brown Hotel, and when I drove up to the place, I thought Siri pulled one of those fast ones on me.

I felt a little underdressed entering the hotel, but thankfully the server put me at ease. "Are you here for the Hot Brown?" Yes'm.

After my first bite, I couldn't figure out why we Americans don't have this for Thanksgiving dinner. It has turkey (along with a smooth comforting Mornay sauce), Texas toast, bacon, tomato, Pecorino Romano cheese, and bacon. Considering this began as a late-night food, wouldn't this pair perfectly with football?

Anyway, those are my thoughts. Here's the recipe.
  1. Spencer and Paula took the trek up north to perform Delaware. Ohio.

2 years ago | |
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Hat tip to Owen Davis, meme extraordinaire.

(I'm going to cling to this like you would not believe…)
2 years ago | |
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