Blog: Learning to Look Up

4/20/11 - Learning to Look Up

Last night I attended the final dance rehearsal before tech week for Cradling Persephone. This was my first time ever attending a dance rehearsal, and will be my first collaboration with a choreographer. I wrote the piece two months ago and generally tend to forget the minute details of the work after enough time has elapsed - thankfully I found that I wasn't ashamed of any large portion of the piece, and I believe it does hold together quite nicely. Since this was a new experience for me it was slightly overwhelming, not to mention that we were in the rehearsal space and literally four feet away from people jumping and running about for nine minutes. One idea kept repeating itself in my head during the rehearsal, inspiring this post and hopefully adding a little something to my musical outlook.

My musical origins are in the band world - specifically the horn section, offbeats and all. One mantra of conductors in any musical ensemble seems to be a variation of "Eyes up! Look up here! Watch me, not the music!" In contrast with ensemble playing, composing is a very solitary profession. Composers spend a vast amount of time staring down at manuscript pages, either writing or hoping for something to magically appear. With all of the worry over writing the "right" notes, deadlines, refilling coffee cups and rampant procrastination, I find that I spend a lot of time looking down rather than up. This also applies to premieres of my own works - I tend to not look directly at the performers but somewhere else in the hall so that I may focus on the sound and reflect on the piece rather than be distracted by page turns or that hideous outfit the bassoon player chose to wear*.

At the dance rehearsal I had exactly the opposite effect of a normal premiere - I kept losing focus on the music and wanted to watch what the dancers were doing both individually and as part of the ensemble. Any time I started to focus on the music I kept hearing some conductor from the past yell "LOOK UP!" and I would re-focus on what was happening on stage. It was an extremely refreshing experience and I found that I didn't so much care about that one measure where the transition could have been better or the span of 5 measures that I loathed but kept due to the deadline constraints. I am going to try and "look up" much more often, both during the compositional process and certainly the next time I hear one of my pieces performed live. Hopefully this approach will result in better musical expression and also heighten both the audience and my own enjoyment of my work!

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* - Random example, dear bassoonists. I am not thinking of any specific fashion faux pas by any of my colleagues.