Renowned flutist Claire Chase is coming to Northwestern! In fact, she is doing a series of residencies over the course of this school year. Now, why would a flutist would be of interest to me? Because she is a pioneer of new music and has invited the Northwestern composition studio to join forces with the Northwestern flute studio in writing new works for flute. I’m excited to be a part of this collaboration not only because it will be a new experience for me that will force me to work more closely with a musician than ever before, but because Claire Chase will essentially be a mentor for both studios throughout the process.
Seeing her talk about and perform the pieces she has so far commissioned as a part of her Density 2036 project was inspiring and captivating. Her command of the flute, the bass flute, and its extended techniques were extremely impressive. There was a question that was asked during the composition colloquium today that addressed her choice of “great, defining works” for flute throughout history: she was asked to define what “greatness” is in her opinion. While never answering the difficult question directly, she directed the question back at the person who asked it, who replied that greatness, to her, were the pieces of music that stood the test of time. This was why she was curious of Claire’s definition of “greatness” in the first place, or in other words, how does Claire know if a new piece of music is “great?”
The reply resounded within me: (paraphrased) “That’s not our job to decide. That’s history’s job. That’s the job of some future musicologist or the audience. We can be a part of that conversation, but it’s not our job to say what is great. It’s our job to make (new pieces).”
My immediate reaction was that of calmness, as if someone had told me they’d solved a problem I’ve been anxious about for years. Because in a way, she had. While my first and foremost incentive to compose is to serve as my emotional outlet, I’ve always wanted to make my music great. I mean, who doesn’t? Don’t all composer wish for their music to stand the test of time? But as history teaches us, many famous figures throughout the years have not known their fame; their works did not become known until after their passing. That’s all we can do. That’s all I can do. Just to make what music I can and hope for the best. It shouldn’t be about making the greatest piece of music in history, although that can be a noble goal to some.
I’m excited for Claire’s recital tomorrow, and needless to say, I can’t wait for her to come back for the rest of her residencies here.