David Froom: Trusting the Connections
The musical life of composer David Froom is steeped in a sense of community. In the course of our conversation, he referred often to the musical activities of his friends and colleagues, and recalled words of advice from former teachers and mentors. At one point he stopped and acknowledged, “I’m mentioning my friends again! But that’s how it works; if you’re friends with someone whose music you respect, you want to share it.”
A native of California, Froom completed his early musical studies on the West Coast at UC Berkeley and University of Southern California, and then migrated to the East Coast, where he ultimately ended up staying. After earning a doctorate at Columbia University, he eventually landed at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (about 65 miles southeast of D.C.) where he is professor and chair of the music department.
Living outside of a major urban area can be challenging for musicians, and while Froom admits to some initial struggles, he has tended his musical garden well, developing a strong community of musicians and music-making opportunities. As a self-described extrovert who derives energy and inspiration from the company of other composers and musicians, he has created a support system of musical friends and colleagues in the Washington, D.C. and Baltimore area, as well as in his St. Mary’s City, Maryland home. Included in this group is the resident ensemble of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, The 21st Century Consort, for which he has written numerous works and made several recordings. However, perhaps the most enthusiastic contemporary music community has developed in his own backyard, through the popular summertime River Concert Series. Run by music director Jeffrey Silberschlag conducting the Chesapeake Orchestra (a fully professional union orchestra), the series is held on the grounds of St. Mary’s College and is funded by the surrounding community. Drawing over 5,000 people per concert, the River Concert Series features numerous premieres of contemporary orchestra works by composers such as Chen Yi, Kenji Bunch, and Scott Wheeler as well as Froom.
What catches the ear in Froom’s music is the ebullient energy that translates even in the slowest of passages, beautifully fluid melodies, and a sense of rhythmic propulsion that keeps the listener wondering what will come next. The music is completely “serious” in regard to its construction, but it also has a glow of whimsy and humor that can’t be denied.
Froom cites as major inspirations Roger Sessions (“A composer that people need to pay a lot more attention to”) and Arnold Schoenberg, and he speaks about his experiences studying with Schoenberg scholar (and Schoenberg student) Patricia Carpenter.
I learned what it was that Schoenberg saw in Beethoven, and drew from, which was this idea of the motive as a unifying force that controls small and large scale harmony and melody, and the piece setting out an initial idea and developing it. It’s the link between the Schoenbergian twelve-tone system and tonal music. I deeply admire the system as a means for creating motivic and harmonic unity. It’s a way of thinking that I find very attractive.
Although Froom has never written a twelve-tone composition, he found in Schoenberg’s music connections to his own creative process.
This was also something I got from Schoenberg’s writings; he proceeded pretty much intuitively and then he’d go back and check what he’d done…and when he found the connections he has this lovely line where he would say that discovering a connection is like a gift from the Supreme Commander. What it said to me is that he would put it down before he understood how it connected, and just simply trust his ear—that his ear would tell him that there is a connection.
While one might not immediately perceive such affection for Schoenberg in Froom’s catalog of chamber, vocal, and orchestra music, what does translate is the concept of motivic unity, and of musical material that is deeply connected in compelling ways. The music often takes surprising twists and turns, yet nonetheless makes sense—in both cerebral and emotional terms—from beginning to end. Indeed, one of Froom’s main goals is to create music that is, in the words of Roger Sessions, “inevitable without being predictable.”