WISE – A Formal Invitation

You are all invited to come join me for my WISE presentation, where I’ll be giving a 45 minute presentation on all the composing and conducting that I’ve done for the past semester.

  • Where: Ithaca High School orchestra room (located in the back of the Performing Arts Center)
  • When: June 11th, noon – 12:45pm
  • Who: Anyone is welcome!

And with that, the WISE posts must come to an end. The journey has been well worth every droplet of sweat spent, and it was a fantastic addition to my senior year of high school. I highly recommend the course to any movitavted future senior.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

WISE – Nearing the End

A quick update for these final stretches of the project:

  • The presentation preparation is well underway. I’ve had two mentor meetings discussing and refining the different parts of my presentation, which have been very helpful. However, the majority of the work still has yet to be done.
  • We had our first rehearsal for the brass chamber piece, read more about that here.
  • I just finished editing and exporting the final video recording of the orchestral piece as recorded by our high school orchestra. Come to my presentation to check it out!

WISE – When In Doubt, Compose More

If you have taken a look at my Timeline recently, you may have noticed the addition of a brass chamber group post-project opportunity. Five of my friends from band have graciously agreed to perform a small piece I wrote just for them at my presentation. The actual composing of the piece went by quite quickly, it’s a shame I didn’t get a chance to document the process. Instead, here’s a sneak peak at the score:

Can you guess what the title is from the last two letters that you see above?

Come listen to the live premiere of the piece at my presentation on June 11th at noon, in the Ithaca High School orchestra room!

WISE – Happy or Not, Here I Come

One of the main reasons I chose to take WISE, as I often tell, is because I loved the idea of doing music as schoolwork. Pursuing my passions and getting school credit along with it. For the first time ever, I could go into a course knowing I would be happy doing the work.

Now, as I near the end of this WISE journey, it’s time to ask myself the inevitable question. Have I enjoyed doing the work for WISE?

I recently read an article in class discussing the topic of happiness and how it is not something we can achieve by striving directly for it, but rather something we must achieve by throwing ourselves at difficult tasks and working hard to succeed. “The best moments in our lives,” says the article, “are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… the best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

When I look back, there were times during my project when I was getting by with very little work actually being done. These times, however, are far from the happiest times of my project. Instead, I associate moments of accomplishment, such as when I finished the very first draft of my orchestral piece, or moments of responsibility, as with when I led the rehearsals, to be the most enjoyable moments of my project thus far.

Of course the project hasn’t consisted of these gratifying emotions a 100% of the time. The article has a word for this inevitable back-and-forth sway in and out of happiness: flow. This concept of flow struck me as a very articulate way to describe such an intangible state of mind. Drawn in the form of a graph, flow is described to be the happiness achieve through the balance between the challenges faced and skills available. When the challenges are too great for your skills, you become anxious and there is no flow. If your challenges are too trivial for your skillset, you become bored and there is also a lack of flow. Only when the two are balanced do you achieve flow.

Surprisingly, such a concise and simple graph is quite an accurate model. To learn a musical instrument, for example, you must first push yourself to meet the challenge of playing music even without the skills to play that instrument. As your skills grow, you become more and more proficient. But you can’t keep throwing difficult challenges at yourself: you must take time to practice what you’ve learned until what was once difficult becomes easy. When you feel that your skills now outweigh your challenges, then you can tackle new challenges once more.

To bring myself back to the question above, I can now say for certain that I have experienced this “flow” within the course of my project. And as this article seems to suggest, that would mean that I have achieved happiness within my project as well.

WISE – Luke, the Harmonica Player

It’s one thing to be the very first presenter, no matter what the school project, but it’s another to have the entire WISE student body present for the presentation. Despite all this, Luke, a good friend of mine and a fellow WISE student, set the bar high for the presentations to come.

Each year, one WISE student volunteers to give their presentations in front of the entire WISE student body as an example to kick off the WISE presentation season. Luke gave his presentation about his experience learning to play the Harmonica in our school’s lecture hall, in order to accommodate the unusually large audience. It may seem as if the odds were stacked against him to perform well, but Luke, as I know personally, is a natural stage man and breezed through his presentation without a hitch.

His Google presentation was a nice compliment to his explanations, and as I expected he used the harmonica extensively to demonstrate the technique or melody to which he was referring. He led us through some history, music theory, techniques, inspirations/mentors, and even the construction and repair of a harmonica. He concluded the presentation with a blues performance, joined by guitarist Adam.

You see, I’m no stranger to good WISE presentations. I attended what I now know was a top notch WISE presentation by a friend of mine during my freshmen year. I often attribute that presentation as what convinced me to join WISE. Now, it’s my turn to put on a presentation of my own that will hopefully inspire others like me to join WISE.

WISE – The Second Rehearsal and Recording

It’s over!

No, not the project. The project’s a long way from over. But arguably the largest single part of my project has now been completed: the recording of my piece for string orchestra.

If there was one thing that I consider most important about what I got of this rehearsal/recording session was the fact that I ran a full 45 minute rehearsal entirely by myself. Our orchestra director chimed in with helpful tips here and there, but I was the one on the podium the entire time, at the center of attention of the entire orchestra.

It takes many years of specialized education and enduring dedication to be a music teacher. I got to experience a slice of how it feels during those 45 minutes. Standing in front of almost 70 of my peers, I asked a lot out of them. Even though the words that came out of my mouth may have been “violins, please play this measure in time,” or “violas, you can definitely be louder there,” what I was actually asking them to do was to give 100% of their effort to the task of making music together. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Without the orchestra’s patience, my preparation, and our mutual respect, we could not have produced a recording at the end of the 45 minutes.

The recording was in fact produced and I am currently in the stages of putting it together with the video of me conducting. For those of you who wish to hear the recording or see the video, come to my presentation on June 11th at noon! The venue is yet to be determined, but that is where I will be premiering the finished product.

In the meantime, I plan to have a MIDI-sampled version of the piece for people to listen to up here on my blog. Keep a look out for it, coming soon!

WISE – Comfort Zone (Part 2)

On my previous post about comfort zones I discussed parts of my project where I had stepped out of my comfort zone to grow. But there certainly has been a time in my project where the reverse was the case.

Proposing the composing project itself was partly motivated by the fact that composing was a part of my comfort zone. Although the vastly outweighing factor was that I wanted my project to be something I truly enjoy doing, that naturally meant that this activity would also fall within my comfort zone. I still decided to go ahead with the project because I knew that there were still many ways in which I could grow and learn musically.

Looking back now, I think it was the correct decision to make. The project has been quite enjoyable so far and I have managed to learn a variety of new things such as sonata form and string instrument techniques that I never would have bothered to learn on my own.

WISE – The First Rehearsal

It went well.

Not to be anticlimactic, but it really did. From the moment I declared the first draft of the string orchestra piece finished, I had started thinking about rehearsing the piece. Which measures would pose problematic to which players? Which sections are particularly hard? Where will they drag? Will my conducting be clear? Will I have to cue the basses there? All of these questions ran through my mind, and I scribbled them down on the first draft score.

Then I sent the piece into my mentor/orchestra director for her approval. She caught a few note errors that I had failed to catch, and warned me to keep an eye out for some specific things during rehearsal, many of which I had already anticipated.

The time came and I stepped up to the podium to rehearse the orchestra. The first few measures were a little tough, due to a combination of keeping tempo and the orchestra getting used to me as a conductor. But we soon locked in and things went smoothly from then on.

Difficult rhythms such as the duple-triple switch went surprisingly well, as did the dynamics of the forte sections. Some anticipated difficulties such as hearing the crisp bass line or the viola syncopation were present, along with some tuning issues in chromatic passages, but these are all things that can be fixed.

It’s not to say that there aren’t revisions to be made before the next rehearsal; I’m already hard at work on those changes. But the orchestra seemed to receive the piece quite well, and I’m looking forward to recording it.