I did not anticipate, at the age of 60, to be working this hard and loving it so very much.
If any of you didn’t know, I completed my BA in May 2013, and entered grad school as a candidate for Master of Music Composition. I’m taking four courses for 12 credits.
Music History and Research 501. This course starts with the rise of songs in the late middle ages. We’ve gone through the French chansonniers and the Italian madrigalists and are currently delving into the world of not the first but certainly the most celebrated of the very early operas, Monteverdi’s Orfeo. I’m finding composition techniques all over the page in our reading! And I’m going that extra mile by reading the recommended history book as well. That’s only part of the course. The other part is learning how to do research on a topic and form understandings and get a sense of what might be important to someone, and then write about it, cogently, originally, after having read a certain amount of scholarly literature on the subject. No small feat, and it takes a great deal of time. One’s process must be meticulous and documented. The teacher is very good – the very picture of a proper, highly intelligent and highly productive professor. He’s a stickler for detail and gives wonderful strategies to get the work done – and done properly. We’ve gotten only one paper back so far so I have no idea how I’m doing! It’s a four credit course.
I flunked the theory placement exam – horribly. So the graduate committee has required me to retread Theory III – the third of the four-course theory sequence. And I have no trouble at all with retreading this course. The last time I was in theory class was in 1984. But it is going very well – for the most part. I’ll have to study hard for the exams, but I’m sure I’ll get through. I have only to pass the exams – not get an A. And it’s an audit course with no credit.
The third course is Graduate Composition. It’s a four credit course and consists of a one-on-one hour-long meeting every week. The professor is amazing. And he’s guiding me into learning my creative process. I’m not exactly sure what that process is yet, but it’s starting to come into focus. The project for this semester is to write a piece for full orchestra. We’re each going to get a live orchestral reading of the score in early December – very exciting! This is my first excursion into composing for a large force and it has been daunting. But Prof. Davis is very good at pointing out how things can be improved – and why they need to be changed. And so far, he’s been right every time.
The fourth course is Graduate Composition Seminar. There are five of us and we meet for an hour each week. We are doing close readings of various orchestral passages, picking them apart in detail and discussing those details. We sometimes disagree about why a particular detail works, but, because it is a matter of interpretation the discussion is a most excellent opportunity to not only give voice to our creative thought, but to listen to and learn from the creative thoughts of others. And there are allusions to other orchestral works, thoughts about how the general conversation might relate to some historical event, as well as to what was going on in the world at the time the composition was written – in a musical sense, and speculation on how political and events of State (wars) might have influenced the composer. Well, most of that goes on in my own head at the time, but I really do also pay close attention to the discussion. Add to all of that Prof. Davis’ ability to point out the details that raise the piece above very good to excellent and sublime. Composition and orchestration are two creative crafts that require a lot of sweat and thought and an occasional hint of inspiration. And – even with the latest and greatest music notation software – they both take a lot of time.
The fifth course is a three hour independent study that we named Instrumentation. I wrote a lot of music over the summer, but, even though that group of works have merits, they’re not always particularly idiomatic for the instrument. So, for this course, I’m taking my own music to various professors in the department, and asking them point blank if my music is or is not idiomatic for the instrument. In some cases I already know the answer, but the meeting delivers far more than if the music isn’t idiomatic or not. The fact is that pretty much anything the professor says has value. One professor practically gushed over the pieces we looked at, and another was very professionally detached while wielding a scalpel to the piece. And the insights gained from both are all valuable to mastering this craft of composition. Poor bloody ribbons of music all over the floor. What I learn in these meetings is incorporated immediately into the evolving creative process. And after the meeting I write a report to Prof. Davis and email it to him along with a copy of the music discussed. And then we discuss it a little during my private session, and will have a few other meetings as the semester continues.
So all of this takes about 70 hours a week. I am not complaining – rather, I love every minute of it! I’m exactly where I should be, and consider myself a very happy camper.
Cheers! Back to work!