Ethos Collective reading session

I was very happy about how my piece went at the reading session today.  The players seemed to be at least somewhat enthusiastic about it, although it’s hard to judge when everyone is concentrating so much.  Having been on the “other side of the stands” for such reading of new music, I know how taxing it is to read through and workshop even one piece, let alone eight.  I really enjoy the work of these musicians and I’m stoked to be a part of their expanding repertoire.  There were lots of great ideas among the other scores too and it was great to be immersed in a variety of sound worlds throughout the session.

This event is part of Vancouver Pro Musica’s Sonic Boom Festival happening this weekend.  I’m going to take in the concert tomorrow evening, which features the Turning Point Ensemble.

My partner, Marion, discovered a bunch of “call for scores” opportunities today and I’m going to consider several of these very seriously.  I’ll write about those later when I get more details and come up with a plan of attack.  For one, I can submit my current quartet, A Convergence of Perspectives, which I’ve just put the finishing touches on.  Another will likely be for flute and trombone with percussion, since a duo has requested a piece that includes an “interactive” element intended primarily for students and I’m thinking various small percussion instruments and possibly a narrator reciting a poem or something.  Also, I want to write a chamber orchestra piece and I think I have some materials already that I can use.  Nothing like deadlines to keep one focused!


Some Funky Gatras

A “gatra” is the basic four-beat unit of much traditional Javanese gamelan music, which I’ve been studying since January.

I started working on a composition for some gamelan players along with violin, alto sax and drum set.  I’ve decided to call it Some Funky Gatras.

My primary intention is to create a hybrid composition, which acknowledges and incorporates the gamelan tradition but includes non-gamelan elements.  To this end, I’ve composed a “core melody” (called “balungan”) to use as the structural basis, as is common in the tradition and composed another melody – or series of riffs – in a funky, jazzy style to go along with it.  The “gatras” will be organized in straight-ahead 4/4 time and, hopefully, I can create some ambiguity as to where the strong beat is, since in Western 4/4 the strong beat is naturally on beat one but in gamelan music the strong beat is on beat four, and even stronger at the end of an eight-beat phrase.  An essential component for me was to create a funky rhythm that accents the fourth beat of the bar, in addition to beat one.  Also, I necessarily had to choose the “slendro” tuning as this is analogous to our pentatonic scale (as opposed to “pelog” tuning, for which we have no workable equivalent in equal temperament).  Although the pentatonic scale works well for many different flavours of tunes, including funk and jazz, some adjustment will be needed to tune to the slendro instruments.  I’ve chosen violin and sax because they can both bend tones easily and they happen to be readily available among the musicians I’m working with.

My gamelan group had its first public presentation last week in a community gamelan workshop open to the public.  I got quite nervous for our main piece, which is quite an elaborate and difficult piece to play well, and on which we still have quite a bit of polishing work to do before our main performance on April 17th.  Since it was an informal presentation, audience members were seated on the floor, which is where the musicians play.  For this main piece, I play bonang panerus, which is placed at the front of the ensemble.  It was a little off-putting to be playing and have audience members sitting so close, especially when I’m not quite as confident as I’d like to be with my part!  I’m sure the final performance will feel more comfortable as well as sounding more polished.

Ethos Collective piece is accepted

Great news! My piece Alternate Takes has been accepted in the Vancouver Pro Musica call for scores on behalf of Ethos Collective.

The reading session is on March 28th as part of the Sonic Boom Festival.  The concert will take place on May 24th.  I hope my acceptance is just the beginning of a fruitful relationship with this fantastic group.  I could see myself writing a lot of stuff for them, if they are down with it.

Also, through this activity I’ve become a member of VPM, which means more involvement in the local music community.

All very exciting!

Crunch time

It’s been quite hectic over the past couple weeks.  This past Thursday I finished the first draft of my new quartet, A Convergence of Perspectives (for clarinet, bassoon, trombone and percussion) and had it read by an ad hoc crew of professional musicians.  It didn’t go so well and I learned a hard lesson about having my percussion parts big enough to be read comfortably (since the percussionist is further away from his stand than the other players, and has more written instructions to deal with in moving from instrument to instrument).

A week prior, on Friday, March 6th, I submitted a new score in response to a call for submissions by Vancouver Pro Musica on behalf of Ethos Collective, a recently-formed, six-member ensemble that specializes in music that incorporates improvisation.  My piece, Alternate Takes, is for “open instrumentation” but ideally for 3-4 melodic instruments, at least one chordal instrument, and two percussionists.  I should find out soon whether the score is accepted for a public reading session on March 28th and a concert performance in May.

Another pressing project has been preparation for an upcoming gamelan performance in which I’m playing an instrument called the bonang panerus.  It has been a challenge to master the intricate and unfamiliar musical territory, especially given limited rehearsal time and limited access to the instruments for personal practice.

Finally, work for a sponsored arts presentation this summer has been ongoing, with the initial priorities being an audition in April, sketching out the structure and scenes, and generating some workable musical ideas.

A vacation after the April audition and before the intense work gets going in May will be most welcome!

Knowledge and creativity

Knowledge is power.  We’ve heard it said.  However, I’ve always thought this saying to be well off the mark.

Wisdom is power.  Knowledge is just knowledge. One can be wise – and act wisely – with a little knowledge. Conversely, one can have vast amounts of knowledge and still make dumb decisions (like, based on greed, for example).

It is a similar case with creativity.  Knowledge is, of course, an important contributor to creativity.  The more you know, the more you can be creative. Knowledge often has a cyclic relationship with curiosity – each can stimulate or enhance the other – and curiosity goes hand in hand with creativity.

But knowledge is not creative ability itself.  One can be creative with little knowledge.  Do you know how to play a few notes on an instrument? You can be creative.  I preach this to my students and I live it.  I don’t wait for knowledge to allow myself to be creative.  You could say “I’m going to learn about this first; then I’m going to be creative.”  You can make a habit of this way of thinking and never create anything.

Creativity is like wisdom.  It makes good practice in spite of the degree of knowledge.

And like wisdom, creativity is power.