190. enormity

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Ohmygoodness, has it really been fifty-one days since I last updated this blog? That’s terribly delinquent.

My world as of late has been consumed with stress, worry, anxiety, and the like. A few weeks ago my therapist asked me what’s been keeping me going. I replied that the thought of graduate school, studying music again, and having a real career in music (as supposed to the state of meager subsistence I’ve been in since graduating from college in 2004) has prevented me from being totally consumed by depression.

At the end of last month I submitted my first grad school application, this one to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. At the end of this month, I’ll be submitting two more applications, these to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Southern California. Of these three, my top picks are Eastman and the University of Michigan. USC would be a great opportunity as well, but I’m more an East Coast kinda guy than West.

The process of writing statements of purpose got me thinking a lot about my past, and since I don’t have much else to write about, I thought I’d discuss some of the music that has been most influential to me. I don’t talk about music that much here, probably because LGBT issues and atheism have been such dominating forces the last few years.

One of the first pieces of music I can remember is Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. My parents had a recording with Mia Farrow narrating that we’d listen to in the car or around the house. My early tendencies toward neoclassicism probably started here.

My early ventures into composition were largely shaped by exposure to Classical music. The first piece I ever wrote was a minuet that I composed shortly after learning to read music. One of the pieces in my lesson book was an arrangement of the menuet from Act 1, Scene 2 of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. I’d seen a production on television and skipped ahead in the book to learn it and probably drove my family crazy by playing it over and over.

After my family moved to Minnesota in 1993, we found both a church and a library to call home. In my piano lessons, I was studying a lot of Baroque music, and I probably checked out the library’s entire collection by the time I finished high school. By then, I’d listened to everything Bach ever wrote, plus a good deal of Handel, Corelli, Purcell, Domenico Scarlatti, and Purcell.

My love of Bach and the Baroque though was firmly established around age 10 when I went with my dad to an orchestra concert where they played the first of the Brandenburg concertos.

When we left the concert, I asked my dad for a recording of the complete Brandenburgs, which I still own. I was obsessed from that point on. Throughout high school I studied everything of Bach’s I could find, which were my first lessons in orchestration and counterpoint.

I also adored Mozart. My first opera was Le nozze di Figaro, and it remains my favorite to this day. A seminal moment in my composition career is at the end of Le nozze, when the Countess sings: “Più dolcile io sono, e dico di sì.” It’s ridiculously simple: a G major chord in first inversion, to C major, to d minor, to e minor. It took my breath away the first time, and still does.

Everything changed when I heard Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps. Considering the majority of my listening up until that point, it almost felt like checking out pornography. I knew that it was supposed to be dissonant and that it had caused a riot in Paris in 1913, and that I should be familiar with it as a musician, but I didn’t know what to expect.

Rite of Spring literally turned my entire world upside down. It was violent, dissonant, chaotic, and unfamiliar—and I loved it. I listened to it straight through two of three times that first day. Then I discovered Prokofiev’s adult music through his seventh piano sonata; Béla Bartók; Alban Berg; Paul Hindemith; Steve Reich; Francis Poulenc; Maurice Ravel; Samuel Barber; Benjamin Britten; John Adams; and probably most importantly, György Ligeti, whose music I heard in the film 2001: a space odyssey. And I almost abandoned writing tonal music completely.

About midway through college, after hearing repeatedly from colleagues and teachers that they preferred to hear my “nicer,” tonal work, I reversed course and delved into what my friends affectionately refer to as my “Tallis and Tavener” phase.

I got back into Henry Purcell after hearing a piece from King Arthur used at the end of Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s The Miser. I also heard an incredible “completion” of his anthem, Hear my prayer, O lord, by Swedish composer Sven-David Sandström in 2002. I actually include a chord from the penultimate bar of the anthem—a G major chord with an added fourth—in all of my own music.

I’m also still obsessed with the funeral sentences from Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary.

My voice teacher in college specialized in Baroque music, and I discovered Monterverdi’s L’Orfeo. My piece for double brass choir, Elisabethan Musicke, is an homage to the opening.

I also got very interested in Stephen Sondheim and Kurt Weill, and in writing music for theater… especially music incorporated into productions. I don’t remember at what point, but I realized that why I liked Mozart so much was that all of his music seemed to have dramatic links, and the music I enjoyed writing the most also had extra-musical links and was spatially oriented.

Moral of story? At age 30, I’m finally figuring out who I am, personally and artistically. I’ve tried on different styles and have found what works for now. I also know there’s more to work on, and that’s what I intend to pursue in graduate school.

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