Summer 2017: Fresh Inc. Festival and The Walden School Creative Musician’s Retreat

I’ve spent the past few weeks among fellow musicians in Kenosha, Wisconsin and Dublin, New Hampshire. After two weeks in Wisconsin for Fifth House Ensemble’s Fresh Inc. Festival, I made my way to New Hampshire for The Walden School Creative Musicians Retreat. Both programs were uniquely valuable, and I’m kicking off my blog by writing about my experiences.

Fresh Inc. Festival

As a young composer, attending summer music programs has been a necessary supplement to my musical and personal growth. Fresh Inc. was essentially a “business boot camp” for performers and composers, covering entrepreneurial and professional skills such as public speaking, community outreach, educational engagement, and portfolio building. I left Fresh Inc. with a newfound sense of control over my career as a composer.  Envisioning a future in the arts can be scary, but the tools, skills, and resources workshopped at Fresh Inc. have made a career in music seem less daunting. Here are four things I learned/discovered/decided at Fresh Inc.:

1. A career in music will always be about people and relationships.

Above all else, this is why I continue to have a passion for music. The interconnectedness of the music community gives me a sense of fulfillment because when I create a work of music, it is never about me; it is about who helped me create the music and the space it provides for others. Almost every presentation, workshop, and discussion at Fresh Inc. reinforced the importance of relationships as we build careers in music.

2. People who pursue the extraordinary will often have lives that are anything but ordinary.

This statement was made by Fifth House Ensemble’s executive director and flutist Melissa Snoza in a discussion about work-life balance. As artists, our lives rarely follow the path of college→graduate→get a full-time job in music. Rather, making a living will involve managing a variety of endeavors (directly and indirectly related to music) and gradually eliminating the ones that don’t drive toward our ultimate career goal until we’ve reached a place of financial stability and creative enrichment. I realized that even though these life-paths aren’t “normal” in the traditional sense, they can still be manageable and fulfilling.

3. I want my music to be a unified experience for listeners.

I learned a lot from the piece I wrote for Fresh Inc., and I’ve reflected on why I felt it was a success. From the early stages of the compositional process, I focused on writing music in which the proportions, sounds, and performers’ interactions were all telling the same story. When brainstorming how I would introduce the piece at its premiere, I chose to write semi-poetic prose that set the tone for the musical experience rather than explaining what I thought the piece was about or the writing process. In this case, crafting both the musical (form, pitch material, texture, etc.) and non-musical (title, introduction, program notes, stage presentation, etc.) characteristics reinforced the experience for the audience. Through my time at Fresh Inc. I realized that this unification is something I value highly in music.

4. I will be taking a year off from school before pursuing graduate studies in composition.

When I arrived at Fresh Inc., I had been avoiding deciding if I would be applying for grad school this fall. I had always assumed that I would continue to grad school immediately after undergrad, but throughout this past year I began to question if this was the best decision when I allowed myself to think about how valuable time away from school could be (for personal, creative, and professional reasons). Attending Fresh Inc. helped me make this decision because it was a space where I was forced to think about what I want from my life and how to get there.

The Walden School’s Creative Musicians Retreat

This was my second year as a participant at the Creative Musicians Retreat. After the enriching experiences I had last year, I knew attending the program again would mean another week of musical discovery and growing friendships.

The CMR is a unique summer program because of how it’s structured and the individuals who are there. Even though most of the participants are composers, the CMR welcomes people in all stages of their musical careers as well as people who don’t pursue music full-time. Through the CMR, I got to know a retired podiatrist, folk musicians, a cabaret singer, and a singer-songwriter in addition to the other student (and non-student) musicians. I have yet to attend a program that tailors its activities and curriculum to such a wide range of ages, musical styles, and educational backgrounds.

One of the ways that the CMR successfully creates an environment for all its participants is through community building via singing. All participants, faculty, and staff are encouraged to sing in the chorus—even those with no choral experience or vocal training (like me!). The daily chorus rehearsals became a time when everyone came together to make music, and it was beautiful. Throughout the week, we rehearsed four pieces: Maurice Duruflé’s “Kyrie eleison” (from Requiem, Op. 9), Vicente Chavarria’s arrangement of “Follow the Drinking Gourd,” William Byrd’s “Ave verum corpus,” and Pauline Oliveros’s “Wind Horse.” For the final chorus meeting, we met in a nearby church and sang all four pieces. Especially during the structured listening-responding-creating improvisation of “Wind Horse,” I felt in touch with those around me. The chorus fostered meaningful, musical connections between people of various backgrounds and experiences, once again enforcing the idea that music will always be about people and relationships.

In addition to community building, the CMR is meaningful to so many people because it allows each participant to adapt their schedule to their interests. Participants are free to choose from a variety of week-long seminars on topics ranging from musicianship pedagogy to electronic music. One seminar I took was Osnat Netzer’s “Move Your Sound: Approaching Music Kinetically,” an introduction to the relationships between time, physicality, energy, motion, and texture in music. I was fascinated by how spectromorphological analysis—a technique typically used when analyzing electronic music—could be used to talk about everything from Beethoven to Hosokawa.

Now that I’m home…

I left Fresh Inc. with a massive to-do list of tasks/projects to complete in order to take the next steps of my compositional career (including building this website!). In addition to tackling those items, I’ll begin writing my first piece for orchestra (which I’ll submit in the fall to BGSU’s Toledo Symphony Orchestra reading session) and sketching out a few other pieces. I’ll also be working at the library, gardening, taking walks, reading, listening to music/score studying, doing crossword puzzles, and preparing for my last year at BGSU.

A view from the top of Mount Monadnock (Dublin, New Hampshire)


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