…since I’ve written a blog post; I practically had to dust this thing off! A lot has happened over these past couple of months, and an update is long overdue!
I’m writing to you from my new room in Centereach, NY. For those of you who don’t know where Centereach is, it’s on Long Island, about four miles from Stony Brook University, where I’ll be officially starting my PhD on Monday. Lately, I’ve been intimately familiar with every inch of those four miles; without a car or bike, I’ve been walking to school and back every day. It hasn’t been glamorous, but it is doing a good job of keeping me in shape, and makes me feel like I’m really earning my degree for the day.
My TA assignment is pretty damn incredible! I’m working under Margaret Schedel, teaching the lab portions of her class, Introduction to Media Technology. At first, I thought I would just be teaching Logic Pro to music kids, but it turns out that the class covers a bunch of different media technologies. I’ll be learning / teaching Photoshop, Dreamweaver/html, Logic Pro, and probably a video editor to fill everything out. By the time the dust clears, I’ll be a lean, mean, media-savvy machine! What’s great is that all this info seems tailor-made for my dissertation idea…more on that in time!
So far, Stony Brook seems like a much better place for me to be than Oregon. The attitude here for composers favors more radical experimentation, which was something that the Oregon Composition department didn’t seem to cultivate as readily (however, musicians like Brian McWhorter and Molly Barth absolutely cultivated more radical experimentation). I’ve got a great feeling about this place and the people I’ve met so far. It’ll be interesting to be one of the more conservative composers in the department for once; I’m hoping to really branch out in the next couple of years and explore some areas of composition/performance/art-making that I have previously left untouched due to other concerns. Granted, there are still some hum-drum things that I will have to get through. I am quite happy to be taking more piano lessons; despite the fact that I really don’t like just how bad I am at the piano, I’ve gotten much better since I started at Oregon, and I’m looking forward to continuing. I’m hoping that eventually I’ll cross over into being okay enough at it that it won’t be such a big deal anymore. It’s a pretty big priority of mine, as I know how valuable it is to have decent piano chops when it comes time to look for academic jobs.
In other news, I finished my Horn Trio for Lydia Van Dreel over the summer, and feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. As I told my friend Peter, I feel like I was able to say what I had been wanting to say in my master’s thesis in this trio. In both, I had wanted to write something that felt very attached to traditional music and genre, but use that as material to try and retell it in my own voice. I think that the trio very much succeeds where my master’s thesis fails. The reason for that is that I was much more close with the Brahms and the Ligeti Horn Trios than I was with any of the repertoire I was using for the basis of my thesis. I’m really looking forward to the premiere of the piece in the Spring!
One thing gets me about the Horn Trio and Neverland, and its their very conservative, very traditional tonality and narrative qualities. I have a difficult time reconciling them with the rest of the music I’ve written. Granted, even my less accessible music is more accessible than other composers’, but I find that any one piece that I write doesn’t quite seem to embody all the things I like about my music. Perhaps it’s a silly assumption, but I keep expecting to eventually settle into a style that will bring together everything that I like about music (even the more contradictory things) under one umbrella.
I’ve got a serious thing with the Romantic Style; it has a deep symbolism for me. When I hear it, it makes me think of “the real thing,” “legitimacy,” “pedigree.” For years, that feeling of “proper identity” is something that I’ve desperately wanted. It comes from a deep-seeded adolescent insecurity. It’s stupid, I realize, but it’s something that my subconscious self desperately wants.
A lot of people asked me why I didn’t just come up with my own style to write my thesis in, and why it borrows obviously from such a well-established style. The reason is that I felt (and maybe still feel, a little [or maybe a lot]) that I needed to paint myself next to the gods of classical music in order for me to see the glaring differences between them and me. I’ve always constructed my identity as an artist and defined myself by how I’m not like the great composers (not a pianist, not a child prodigy, etc.); I needed the comparison right there in the music to show how insecure and unsure of my identity I really am.
Neverland and the Horn Trio are both self-portraits, but despite the former’s scale, ambition, and bravura in places, the message gets lost in the details. I tried too hard. The Horn Trio really seems to have gotten it right in its reduced scale and directness. My artistic self is not cut from whole cloth the way that some composers’ selves are. I am very much constructed from chunks of recognizable materials, held together with knowing glances, nudges, and finger points. Embracing that may just be the way that I become able to establish my own voice, whatever that ends up being.