Playing the Big Room

Having finished the first draft of a piece I’ve been working on since the early summer, I’m now embarking on my second pass so that I’ll be able to send the conductor a draft I feel good about by the end of the calendar year. Ordinarily, the second draft is when I make the piece more of what the first draft suggests. This time, however, a piece of crucial information surfaced after the first draft was complete but before the second got swinging: The venue, which I’d thought would be a large repurposed rehearsal room, will instead be a thousand-seat concert hall.

I’m not entirely sure why that development has brought about such a realignment in the way I’m approaching my second draft. As much as I’d like to think we’ll fill the hall, that would take an Olympic long jump of faith; I’m thinking more about the sound of the performance in such a large space. One of the core assumptions of Western concert music is that pieces can be performed more than once by a variety of interpreters and in a variety of venues; nevertheless, the only performance I can be sure this piece will receive is the premiere, and having already had one disappointingly small-sounding piece played in this very hall, I’m not keen to make the same mistake again.

What’s sort of exciting, though, is that taking into account this new set of acoustic criteria has prodded me into reconsidering a number of other aspects of the piece. There are a lot of moving parts to consider–repositioning one or two to make the piece sound better in the room has revealed a whole decision-tree of changes to other components that would have all manner of ramifications, not only in how the piece sounds but also in what happens in it. I wish I’d found out about this change of venue earlier so that I’d have more time to tinker, but at any rate I’m grateful for the new possibilities afforded by this unexpected news.

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