Drama Queen

The past two weeks have been bubbling with rehearsals for an imminent performance of my music in New York, and everything is sounding really good! As I have written about elsewhere, working with performers is one of my very favorite parts of the compositional process—not only is it incredibly refreshing to emerge from the semi-solitary confinement of creating a new thing, but it is also totally interesting and wonderful to hear performers connecting with a piece of music and adding their own personalities to the mix.

This run of rehearsals has gotten me thinking really hard about musical interpretation, and about what sort of mood or ambience a work projects. Of course there are copious dynamic markings, phrasing indications, and instructions about how to play this or that within a score, but additional direction really helps the music come to life. Although I’ve known it for years, given that I’m very interested in rhythmic contrast and musical gesture, I think I am understanding in a deeper way that my music needs to be played with drama. There are times when playing something a little “cool” or “detached” is completely appropriate to a piece of music, but I rarely have moments like that in my work. Rather, I think the music benefits from an infusion of, well, passion. It makes the lines connect, the structure pop, and while each listener is going to take something different from the message, I can feel confident that the message is actually getting to them. Ultimately that extra intensity has to come from the performer. I am extremely fortunate to have amazing musicians in my life who really understand the music. When I tell them: “Try playing this section with three times more drama than you think you need to—then it will translate just right for the audience,” the look on their faces when they do and say, “Ooooh, we get it!” is priceless. Mission accomplished.

When a performer plays a Beethoven score, s/he comes to the music with a clear idea of how it is to be performed. And have you ever attended a classical chamber music concert that includes a composition by Astor Piazzolla at the end of the program? Piazzolla is definitely served up with a very particular dose of panache (I think that a lot of contemporary classical music would be vastly improved if it were played as if it were written by Piazzolla, but that’s for another essay) that makes it uniquely his music, tango or no tango. One of the greatest things about new music is simply that it’s new, and there are no preconceptions about how it’s supposed to be performed. That unpredictability can be unsettling for some performers, and having the composer available for insight and advice can really help shape the musical language of the composition. That is where the process of discovery comes in—an adventurous dialogue between composer and performer.

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