Claire Chase Residency

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.

Video Games Live

I had known the existence of Video Games Live for years, but I had no idea that I could watch a full show on YouTube! Needless to say, I watched the whole thing straight through the moment my friend linked it to me. My favorites? Christopher Tin’s music from Civilization, the classics like Super Mario, and of course, Martin O’Donnell’s legendary Halo soundtrack.

America – Imagine Dragons

It’s one of those songs that keeps you from hitting that skip button because of the eight bars that just sound so right. And so you keep coming back to it and eventually you realize you’ve grown to love the whole song.

I’m a huge fan of Imagine Dragons, but I hadn’t heard their earlier album (nor have most people), on which this song appears. If you enjoyed their recent chart-topping album, it’s worth checking out.

Lack of Composing

Some people get this feeling if they haven’t worked out in a while. Some people get it when they haven’t read a captivating novel lately. For some, it’s the lack of a good bike ride or run. For everyone, it’s a something a little different, but everyone sometimes gets that feeling of emptiness in your life, when you haven’t had time to do something you really love.

Maybe it’s because it’s my emotional outlet, but I always feel it when I haven’t composed it a while. The thought of “oh, it’s been too long since I wrote music” inevitably creeps up on me anytime that I’ve been away from my keyboard for too long, whether there are other distractions in my life or not.

For one, I think it’s a good thing; it tells me that 1) I have an emotional outlet, and 2) I enjoy doing something enough to miss it subconsciously.

Well, time to find some inspiration.

My Alma Mater’s New Alma Mater

A good friend of mine and a recent graduate of my high school composed a new alma mater for the high school as his WISE project (That’s right, it’s the same program that I myself completed a year ago!). I had heard about his project when I visited the high school during my winter break, and I was very excited to hear that he was taking on this much-needed musical update, mentored by the much-praised new choir director. You can check out an interview with Michael, the composer, done by the Ithaca Journal here.

It’s truly great to see my high school get an alma mater, and one composed by a friend at that. I’ve always known that our high school lacked in the spirit department, and after a year at a Big Ten university (not to mention being part of the marching band), it was quite evident that this was certainly true. While I couldn’t expect a public high school to have the same amount of school spirit as a world-renowned higher educational, Division I institution, I’ve always thought that our high school could take better steps to better our school unity. A new alma mater is a huge step in that direction, and I’m very happy to see it done by capable hands.

DCI 2014 Tour Premier

I can’t believe I almost decided not to go to this.

For half the price of a normal DCI event ticket, two of my musician friends and I (one of which is a fellow marcher and the other being a percussionist) went to watch the DIC 2014 Tour Premier at the local cinemas. And boy was it a show!

For those of you who don’t know, Drum Core International is to marching bands as NFL is to football. In fact, their tagline is “Marching Music’s Major League.” If you’re ever been impressed by a college marching band’s performance (You’ve most likely seen some Ohio State Marching Band’s videos floating around on YouTube) or been part of a marching band in your life, DCI is something you should not skip on checking out. Each summer, these drum corps from around the country put on some spectacular shows that only become more and more creative as the years go on.

This season premier showed many of the top-level corps performing at a very high level, especially considering the early stage of the season. I was very happy to see that my favorite corp, the Cadets, went home with the 1st place title with their incredible show built around the music of Aaron Copland (especially Lincoln Portrait, a piece that lies close to my heart) and the legacy of U.S. presidents. My props for creativity goes to the Bluecoats, for their interesting use of the concept of “Tilt” to produce a strange yet extremely visually intriguing show. Carolina Crown and Phantom Regiment, a few of the old favorites, also put on spectacular shows.

I’m planning on attending another nearby show, this time to see it live. The setlist on this event looks just as good as the season premier, and to say I’m excited would be a huge understatement.

And in the distant future, my own marching season looms… but until I am called once more to band camp in August, I’ll enjoy DCI from the bleachers.

The Dual Degree Journey

Now, when I graduate from Northwestern University four (that’s right: four, not three) years from now, I’ll have two pieces of paper to frame, not one.

This means that not only will I have to pay an absurdly large sum of money for an extra year, but I’ll also have to spend twice as much money on diploma frames than most of my fellow graduates.

As you may have figured out by now, I was accepted into the dual degree program in Music Composition and Physics. This means I’ll be receiving a BM in Composition and BA in Physics when I graduate. And as pretentious and cynical as I may have sounded, I am truly grateful for the opportunity that this dual degree program gives me. In fact, grateful is an understatement; the magnitude of it all hasn’t hit me yet. I still wake up in the morning and have trouble believing I’m a “music major.”

And the quotes matter. Not so long ago, being a “music major” was something that I thought would instill some great change inside my very soul and would make me feel like a musician to the core. But nothing has changed. Does that mean I’ve been a “real musician” all this time? Next year, I’ll be taking all the courses that every single “real music major” doing their BM would take. Now, this field of study is no longer something that I revered in high school as an untouchable honor. Back then, I was certain I couldn’t be a music major. To be one you had to be able to push yourself to practice every day. You had to be disciplined, you had to manage your time well, and you had to have musical skills that left your peers in the dirt. I didn’t qualify for any of that. The words “music major” didn’t even sit in the same shelf with words like “physics” or “engineering” or “business.” Those two words, even though I didn’t quite realize it at the time, were being crowned and given their own throne in some corner of my brain.

But here I am, now a real music major. There aren’t any quotes around that phrase, nor are there any myths about not being good enough or it being something that’s not for me. I am a music major, and apparently, some qualified and experienced faculty in one of the most prestigious musical institutions in the world think I’ve got at least half a shot at being a decent composer.

You bet your firstborn child that I’ll put forth every inch of effort I have within me to not let them down.

Leaps and Bounds (Stories from Northwestern, Part 5)

It seems my thirst for musical growth cannot be quenched.

I began the year as an excited freshman student, eager to take in all the knowledge that this prestigious institution had to offer. By the end of my first fall quarter, I had declared a physics major and a music composition minor.

But it turned out to be that a minor simply didn’t cut it. I wasn’t getting the rigorous musical education that I had hoped I would get alongside my physics education. In particular, the music theory , keyboard, and aural skills classes were out of my reach, which I knew would be crucial to improving my compositions. So I applied for the BA in Music with a concentration in composition.

With the help of the wonderful Undergraduate Assistant Dean of Music, I sent in a portfolio to be reviewed by the composition faculty. The portfolio was accepted and I was happy to be able to start taking music major courses in the Bienen School of Music.

That didn’t last long either. I guess I saw this coming a long ways off, just as you know you have to do your laundry at some point as you watch your laundry hamper fill up. What tipped me over the edge, however, was a short conversation at work with a friend of mine who is a sophomore Composition major. I asked him a few questions about the BM degree and from his answers, I decided that it was doable if I planned to follow the five-year dual degree track. I realized that this was something I’ve wanted all along, I’ve just been denying to myself the reality of having a chance at achieving it, just as I too often do to myself.

So now, as the spring quarter overwhelms me with its workload, I’m tackling the task of building yet another portfolio. But this one’s special. I’m putting in more care and more effort than I ever have to any application or portfolio previously. I think this just naturally stems from how much I want to be accepted into this program.

All I can do now is put my best foot forward and see what happens.