Life in Alto Clef Blog

New Music Monday – Evan Williams

It’s New Music Monday again! I’m currently in Texas so, it is still Monday here even if it’s Tuesday EST. This week I’ll be sharing a piece by Wisconsin-based composer, Evan Williams.

I was lucky enough to meet Evan at the 2013 fresh inc festival in Kenosha, WI, for which this week’s featured piece was composed. GRIME is written for what Fifth House Ensemble refers to as the “real string quartet”–violin, viola, ‘cello, and double bass. In addition to being performed at fresh inc, GRIME was performed at the Grand Finale of Make Music Chicago 2013. There are some very neat timbral effects throughout the piece, using the acoustic instruments to emulate the sounds of a distorted electric guitar.

In addition to composing, Williams is also a conductor and an all-around wonderful person. Check out the recording of GRIME below, and be sure to check out the links below the embedded player for even more of Evan Williams!

More of Evan Williams:

New Music Monday – Elainie Lillios

Happy Monday, all! This week I’m excited to share a piece by Ohio-based composer, Elainie Lillios.

I’ve had the privilege of operating the electronics on three separate recitals for her flute and electronics piece, Sleep’s Undulating Tide. The piece is based upon a poem by Margaret Atwood, Variations on the Word Sleep. In addition to playing in the typical manner, the flutist also sings and recites fragments of text taken from the poem. The result is a stunning soundscape that makes uses of both pre-recorded sounds and live-processing.

The Max patch is also beautifully constructed, and it was one of the most intuitive Max interfaces I’ve ever worked with. (For comparison, I performed electronics for a concert where neither I nor the performer were entirely sure what the patch was supposed to do, let alone how it was supposed to be operated. Lillios’s piece was on the same recital, and those two pieces were as different as night-and-day in effectiveness and ease of operation.)

This really is a cool piece, and any flutists interested in expanding into the realm of flute and electronics should consider programming this piece. Without any further ado, here is a video of Lindsey Goodman performing Elainie Lillio’s Sleep’s Undulating Tide.

More of Elainie Lillios:
Elainie Lillios discusses Sleep’s Undulating Tide

New Music Monday – Rachel Whelan

This week’s New Music Monday features music by Rachel Whelan!

In addition to composing, Rachel is also a flutist and she is also assistant director of Treefalls: New Music Series (501c3) in Spartanburg, SC, which is dedicated to the presentation of contemporary chamber music written by living, active composers.

The piece featured this week, mountain • water • traveler (山水客), is a three-movement flute sonata based on Whelan’s experience in an open-air teahouse in Maokong, Taipei, Taiwan. Each movement makes reference to each of the three characters in the teahouse’s name: 山, 水, and 客. The first movement, 山 (mountain) draws inspiration from the stunning mountain-top view from the tea house. 水 (water) refers to both the misty mountain rain and pouring of water to prepare tea. The final movement, 客 (traveler) draws from the many possible interpretations of the character, that could mean traveler, customer, guest, or visitor, depicting how Whelan “made [her] way through in this lovely little island as a traveler, open to the joy and wonderment that travel and adventure can bring.”


More of Rachel Whelan:
Treefalls: Contemporary Chamber Music Series

New Music Monday – Stacy Garrop

This week’s New Music Monday features music by Chicago-based composer, Stacy Garrop!

The piece I have selected is her “Frammenti,” which is a set of five movements where each movement elaborates one or more musical fragments. I am particularly fond of the second movement for it’s compelling use of silences in the opening coupled with the outward pitch expansion from a tutti unison. (I also have a completely biased fondness for viola features, which this movement has!) The entire set is excellent, and Fifth House Ensemble performs it very well in the recording below.

Stacy Garrop additionally maintains a blog, Inklings, which is a treasure trove of advice and suggestions for professional development as composers.

More of Stacy Garrop:
Inklings Blog

New Music Monday – Emily Cooley

This week’s New Music Monday features music by Philadelphia-based composer, Emily Cooley!

Her String Quartet No. 1, “Etched” was premiered by the JACK Quartet in 2011, and was also selected for the 2012 PARMA Recordings Anthology of music and as the winner for the 2012 Tribeca New Music Young Composers Competition. It is a cool piece that makes effective use of many of the colors of the string quartet. I have a particular fondness for string harmonics, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that I find the use of artificial harmonics appealing.

In addition to being a composer, Emily is the co-founder of the New York City-based presenting organization Kettle Corn New Music, which is definitely worth checking out.

More of Emily Cooley:
Kettle Corn New Music

New Music Monday – Quinn Dizon

I apologize for the short hiatus from New Music Monday! Throwing together an orchestra, being a grad student, and teaching were all vying for my time this month, and something had to give. But enough excuses! Let’s hear some music!

Today’s piece is “Concertante” by D.C.-area-based composer Quinn Dizon. In addition to being a composer, Quinn is also a conductor, having earned masters degrees in Composition and Orchestral Conducting from the University of Louisville before continuing onto the University of Maryland for his doctorate. This piece was composed for the UMD University Orchestra to be performed on a concert featuring Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Enjoy!


More of Quinn Dizon:

New Music Monday – Jabez Co

Welcome to the Halloween edition of New Music Monday! In honor of the day, I present a piece that I feel fits the Halloween spirit: the Jabberwock by Jabez Co.

The piece sets the poem “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, which comes from Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Although the poem is often viewed as non-sense, a very dramatic story can be unpacked from the invented language. Co’s setting of the text maintains some of the whimsy often associated with the poem (Hello–flute, viola, harp, bass, and mezzo-soprano? That’s at least kind of odd. But wait until you hear the ‘trumpet sounds’ from the flute too!), but he also infuses it with a sense of drama that helps make more sense out of the gibberish.

Streaming audio of the whole piece is below, as are links to social media, etc.

More of Jabez Co:

New Music Monday – Jennifer Jolley

For the second iteration of New Music Monday, I present Spielzeug Straßenbahn by Jennifer Jolley! With Baroque music being close to my heart, it is not all that surprising that a piece that re-imagines Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 stood out to me. There’s also something about the fusion of Baroque and Post-Minimalist idioms that just works. (Also, have I mentioned I love harpsichord?)

In addition to composing, Jolley maintains a blog where she shares her adventures in composing, including her successes and failures. I particularly appreciate the humor and honesty with which she shares the many “Composer Fails” it takes any artist before the next “Composer Win.”

Streaming audio of the whole piece is below, are are links to social media, Jolley’s website, and her blog.

More of Jennifer Jolley:
Why Compose When You Can Blog?

New Music Monday – Ash Stemke

After figuring out some technical difficulties with my website hosting, I am back in business and now I can finally get back to making blog posts with greater frequency! Today I am staring a series that I hope to continue on a weekly basis, which I am calling “New Music Monday.” (#NMM?) What I hope to do with this series is highlight a piece by a living composer that I find interesting.

To kick off this series, I present Emergent for string quartet by Ash Stemke. Ash is a first year doctoral composition student at Florida State, and Emergent was recently performed on a recital at FSU along with other new graduate student composers. As a string player and as a composer particularly interested in formal structure, this piece in particular stood out to me from the concert. I especially enjoyed his use of artificial harmonics to create an “otherworldly chorale” affect. Check out the piece below, and feel free to follow him on social media. Links are also below!

More of Ash Stemke:

Be Kind

Happy Leap Day! I apologize for my long hiatus from blogging! Between school and struggling with my website’s server, this blog fell by the wayside. But no longer, thanks to a bout of insomnia!

Last night while (unsuccessfully) attempting to fall asleep, I found myself thinking about graduate school audition season. This past Friday, prospective graduate students in Composition and Music Theory arrived at FSU for their interviews, which included lunch and dinner with current graduate students. So you could say the subject was fresh on my mind.

I began reflecting upon my own experience interviewing for graduate programs–both last year, and in 2013 for masters programs. And of course, I found myself fixating on some of the negative aspects of my previous interviews. For example, the instance when my interview and another composition applicant’s interview were scheduled at the exact same time, causing my interview to be delayed and creating a conflict with the only time I could do skills assessment for the teaching assistantship interview. I remember feeling incredibly disappointed with how I performed as a result of being flustered. I remembered interviews where the questions posed by faculty were not meant to get to know me better as an applicant or to assess my experience, but were themselves negative judgements framed as (rhetorical) questions. And then I started to remember guest composer lessons and masterclasses with a similar twinge of schadenfreude. Like the masterclass where the only feedback provided to a peer was a 10-minute lecture that it was her fault that student performers did not perform the written dynamics. Or the lesson where I was told I shouldn’t be in a graduate program simply for not being fond of Messiaen’s music.

The latter feedback was particularly frustrating because it was neither kind nor constructive. In my insomnia, I latched onto that particular frustration and started to realize a lack of kindness was a problem that bothered me not just in my own small circle of personal experience, but in society at large as well. The Trump campaign for example with its Islamophobic and anti-immigrant platform condones unjustifiable violence against human beings without showing the compassion to recognize them as humans.  I think we forget too often that other people are people too and that they have feelings too. It’s not a reason to give false compliments or pander, but it is a reason to show more compassion. Which brought me to remembering a Plato quote: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

While I don’t expect everyone in the world to suddenly hold hands in a circle and sing “Kumbaya,” I can attest that the best teachers (even those that aren’t teachers by occupation) I have encountered exhibit compassion and kindness without pandering for the sake of seeming nice. I do, however, find myself even more resolved to continue to lead by example, and I hope that it makes a difference.