A publication from New Music USA
Updated: 1 hour 41 min ago
To say that Daniel Brewbaker had achieved a certain kind of legendary status in my mind before we even met is no exaggeration. Now, after his untimely death, while it is still too fresh for me to contemplate, I’m trying to remember everything I can about our friendship.
Living in Thailand offers me a simpler way of life than I had in America, and this simplicity has helped my composing and imagination grow into the spaces that used to be exhausted keeping up with a fast-paced life.
We wanted to use sexuality as the “in”: a topic that might intrigue a wider audience, maybe even get someone to attend their first opera. Getting people in the door is key.
In a motion that has been well practiced during the last week, I reach for the interior jacket pocket that holds my business cards. I’m pleased to find only one remaining.
Because I am in a different culture, I am learning just as much information as I am teaching.
Problematic gender messaging—in academia, the media, and the culture at large—can toxify the soil in which young musicians hope to grow their careers. Too many female composers drop out as a result. For the health, longevity, and diversity of the art form, we must do better.
For the first time in the BMI Student Composer Awards' 65 year history, a majority of the winners (5 of the 9) are female composers. In addition, Lara Poe, is the first woman ever to win the William Schuman Prize (awarded since 1992 for most outstanding score) and Sydney Wang, winner of the Carlos Surinach Prize (awarded since 1999 to the youngest winner of the competition), is only the second woman to be so honored.
For a week, we geeked out over performances we had attended, technique, our teachers, our “real jobs,” other projects we were starting, and what notation programs we used.
In Thailand, it is a very exciting time to be a composer because there is a lot of space for development. There have been several influential composers here, but contemporary music is still a relatively new idea.
While “federal government” is abstract in many parts of the country, here in D.C. it is very real. It is people and lives, flesh and blood. We know people working for the NIH, the NEA, NEH, the Smithsonian, and other government departments. And we certainly know many people in the arts, including many military musicians.
“I am becoming a better opera composer” is my brand, to borrow a word from the marketing world. While not my favorite term, The Brand provides a compass, an overarching explanation as to why I make my decisions regarding my work and how I advance plans that will hopefully lead to collaboration.
When the phone rang four years ago, I was asked if I would be interested in moving to Bangkok, Thailand to teach music theory and composition. I said yes. Even though I did not know precisely where I was going, I had to honor the important rule of my life: follow the music.
After college, I laid out a ten-year plan to develop the skills I thought I needed to write opera. Beginning with the voice, I wrote and sang choral music and art song, learning how singers thought and operated (no small feat). Next, I worked my way from solo instrumental pieces to chamber music to full orchestra, settings songs for voice and chamber instrumentation and simulating Puccini arias and duets along the way.
Since becoming a professional musician as a teenager in the late 1970s, Béla Fleck has redefined jazz and newgrass (a harmonically and rhythmically progressive off-shoot from bluegrass), collaborated with traditional musicians from India, China, and multiple nations in Africa, and has composed significant repertoire for chamber music ensembles and symphony orchestras. The only common ingredient in all these endeavors is the banjo.
In WTC 9/11, Steve Reich follows the repetitions and cyclical structures of minimalist and post-minimalist music, but applies a heavy editorial hand to his sources and their setting to construct an unambiguous emotional and affective narrative. Tim Rutherford-Johnson concludes his examination of memorial music with a piece that creates a sort of minimalist realism rather than an abstract space for contemplation.
Though my commitment to composing is as strong as ever, I’m starting to understand some of the ways that composers who are mothers intentionally and unintentionally get written out of new music.
A composer's style becomes distinctive not only because certain ideas are present in many of their compositions, but because that composer has made compelling artistic choices deliberately and repeatedly across their body of work. Rather than imitating old ideas or forcefully repurposing them into new pieces, we can view a creative lifetime as a chance to create our own musical vocabulary.
Tim Rutherford-Johnson continues his examination of memorial music with a deep dive into Michael Gordon’s The Sad Park: "a rare portrait of doubt, anger, anguish, and bafflement that stands apart from the calming tone of official memorial style."
Practitioners of serious music have often neglected to take their physical selves seriously. But in new music today, a focus on the body as performing subject is gaining momentum. Ready or not, Jessica Aszodi digs into The New Discipline.
I'd urge any other composer contemplating a full-time composing career to ask the same questions I considered: What work do you most enjoy doing? What work of yours have others already recognized as excellent? What medium or mediums stand out as the best fit for the ideas you feel compelled to express in your music?