…are in Hartford this Thursday, Carrie Koffman and the Hartt Saxophone Studio are performing my piece for 14 Saxophones, Say Nothing. (Nice website, by the way!) They will also be performing it at the North American Saxophone Alliance conference in March. Here’s a recording of what they’re playing:
[haiku url=”http://dl.dropbox.com/u/15375722/Say%20Nothing.mp3″ title=”Say Nothing”]
Carrie has asked me to give some insight into the compositional process behind this piece, and I figured that I might as well turn this into a blog post. The piece, as you’ll hear, is made up of a lot (a lot!) of seemingly random stuff. There is a “mock” classical piece, some imitation film noir blues, giant clusters of rippling sound, and lots and lots of talking, screaming, and name calling. The text in this piece is a mixture of conversations that I overheard while sitting in the school library, some silly in-jokes to professors at the Hartt School (particularly toward theory professor Ira Braus, who I think would be the only person who’d be laughing through most of this piece!), as well as references to the Wadsworth Atheneum, where I was told by my professors to seek inspiration (particularly with Rauschenberg’s Retroactive I, from which I first decided to start juxtaposing seemingly unrelated materials together (along with the important influence of Berio’s Sinfonia, which has influenced all of my work in one way or another ever since I heard it back in 2001; there’s even references to that piece in the text of Say Nothing). There’s even a cut-up love letter that I had written in the winter of 2003 to a girlfriend who was cheating on me at the exact same time I was writing it to her.
What brings these disparate bits together is a core issue that most of my work has dealt with: impotence and illegitimacy. As a younger composer (and even now, in certain ways), I have always been afraid of the fact that I wasn’t a pure composer, whatever that would mean. For a long time, I assumed that pure composers were all amazing pianists (something that I’ll wrestle with for the rest of my life! This idea comes out in the references in my music to more Romantic stylings; I have always struggled in the shadow of the composer as romantic piano genius) who were all working for years longer than I had, and had exposure to all the art and culture that was out of my reach growing up in New Hampshire. I spent my years in Hartford “catching up” to these imaginary other composers, and grew quite a chip on my shoulder about it over the years. I have never felt quite legitimate as a composer, compared to my colleagues. Perhaps it’s due to to the fact that the only “legitimate” composers have been dead for at least a century, and we revere them as gods. Who knows.
Say Nothing was, for me, a desperate attempt to try and use these neuroses to break free of them. Did it work? No, but it made me realize a lot about who I was and who I wanted to be as an artist. This piece, in terms of number of performances (due in no small part to Carrie!) is by far my most popular piece. That I was told never to write anything like it again when I got to Oregon is disappointing; what’s more disappointing is that I listened to them. These days, I am trying to bring my music back in the direction of this piece, armed with the new tools that I learned in Oregon (along with some new experiences and “cured” neuroses [both fixed and compressed!]).
I’m really excited that Carrie has championed this piece since its creation, and am grateful for all of her hard work, and for the hard work of the Hartt Saxophone Studio!