2010 Minnesota Orchestra Composer Institute Blog: Days 1 & 2

Well after a ridiculous flight surrounded by at least six obnoxious children, I’m finally here in Minnesota! Wang Jie, David Weaver, Ben Phelps, Narong Prangcharoen, Clint Needham, Polina Nazaykinskaya, and I all got in around 5 on Sunday and met Aaron Jay Kernis and Lilly Schwartz at Orchestra Hall. We all introduced ourselves over Indian food, and listened to each other’s music. It was a fairly relaxed evening, but we went over the schedule for the week, and I can already tell that last night was the only relaxed part of the experience.

Monday started at 9:00 a.m. in the Green Room. We met with Craig Carnahan and John Nuechterlein, CEO of American Composers Forum. It was absolutely fantastic to meet with them; they are so dedicated to new music and are continuing to get it played all over the country.

After sharing a breakfast of bagels and coffee, we moved on to the next seminar for the day: public speaking! Our coach, Ms. Shawn Judge, had us giving one minute (and no more) presentations about our work. None of us were at all prepared for this… We should’ve been, given that we knew about the public speaking portion of the Institute for weeks, but we still weren’t. It was a fairly painful experience, at least I thought so. I kind of have an eye contact problem. I actually wear sunglasses indoors most of the time, simply because I get very uncomfortable looking people in the eye. So naturally this was one of the most important parts of the seminar. We were all doing a little better by the end though, so kudos to Shawn for getting that done.

Once the terror of public speaking was over, we moved on to engraving and part editing with Bill Holab. Earlier in the summer we had all sent Bill PDFs of our parts and scores for him to look at. Bill is a master engraver and copyist, so he had a lot to teach us about part making and score design. He had gone through all of our scores and refigured awkwardly written sections, which was great to see. Sometimes music can look perfect—especially when you work so hard on it—but once Bill reworked my score I realized that there were several things I had no idea were even wrong. My favorite fact of the day, “Never abbreviate the word Tuba.” What’s the point? It’s short and it will always fit on the page.

The final seminar of the day was with the concertmaster and principal violist of the Minnesota Orchestra. With them we went over what not to do in upper strings part writing. Personally, I think it would be a more enriching experience if they played through their parts and stopped to show awkward passages, but there was a lot to be said and not a lot of time to say it. It was a learning experience, regardless, and many thanks to them for taking time out of their busy schedules to go over the tedium of correct notation with us.

After all the seminars were over for the day, we went out to a tequila bar in downtown Minneapolis. Not a bad way to end a Monday.

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