Highlights of my week!

So this week, a lot of magical things happened to me, which means I have quite a few stories to tell you. 

Let’s start with the beginning, because Monday was pretty incredible. After a long day of classes and rehearsals, I walked with 3 other musicians across the street to the Interlochen Public Radio Station, where we had booked a studio to record one of my newest pieces: a 9 minute (not to mention rhythmically difficult) work for flute, clarinet, piano, vibes. First, I need to share how incredibly talented my musicians were. They had had the music for no more than a week and a half, and we only had about 5 hours to rehearse together. I’m so proud of how hard they worked and how quickly they pulled this off. They really are great. 

Anyway, even though this was by no means my first time in a studio, I’ll admit I was extremely nervous walking in. Rehearsals had been tough to schedule, and I was worried that my musicians would not be prepared, especially since I was still struggling to count the piano part I had written. Our first take, though not a complete disaster, made me a little worried moving forward. However, eventually we got what we needed and I sat in the control room to hear my piece for the first time as just a listener. 

It’s interesting when you switch from the role of the composer to the role of the performer to the role of the listener because you hear the music differently in each mindset. As a composer, I was listening to structure, theme and development, and interaction between the instruments. As a performer, let’s be honest I was just trying to make sure I counted the 7/16 measures right and I tried to avoid listening to everyone else unless I needed to. When I sat in the control room, though, it seemed as though my piece had finally come to life. It was an incredible experience for this piece to come together and communicate exactly what I had imagined a month ago when I started writing it. (Sidenote: you can listen to the recording here- http://soundcloud.com/reagan-casteel/whakaari)

My week would have been amazing if it had stopped there, but somehow it got even better. On Tuesday, the jazz and guitar students had the opportunity to work in a master class with Julian Lage, an amazing guitarist from California. He shared some really thoughtful words of wisdom with us, which I felt could be easily applied to much of my life. One of these thoughts was when he was telling us about his background and he mentioned that he had explored all kinds of guitar from blues to Indian classical to jazz.

“I got to a point where I wanted to do anything that would kick my butt,” he said, which really spoke to me because that’s kind of what I’ve done within music. Recently, I’ve been trying to figure out if that makes me unfocused or less talented at all of them than I could be if I just picked one. After hearing him say that, and then seeing him be successful in all of his focuses, I was extremely encouraged to keep finding things that challenge me and make me happy, and pursue all of them. 

On Wednesday, I had another awesome experience: turning pages for my piano teacher in a concert with clarinetist John Yeh of the Chicago Symphony. My favorite part of the evening was when Mr. Yeh premiered a new sonata for clarinet and piano by James Stephenson because it was really cool for me to listen as a composer, pianist, and a clarinetist to a difficult new work. 

Thursday came with a band concert, in which I was reminded of how lucky I am to be in such an amazing band. Even though playing alto clarinet is still a tricky thing for me, I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the middle of the ensemble and getting to hear my colleagues in the brass section play so well. One magical moment in particular for me was the beginning of the 6th movement of Carmina Burana, which starts with a brass feature. Sometimes I hear things in music that remind me why I love it, and this was one of those times because I felt what I call “my heart feeling” from sounds that were being created by my friends, which made it even more special.

Even after such an amazing week, Friday night was really the best. Our jazz combos had been scheduled to play on a concert with the percussion ensemble, but our drummer was gone all week, so we had no choice but to cancel the concert. We had worked really hard, and we were all a little disappointed that we wouldn’t get to play, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I spent all week emailing back and forth with our jazz instructor and the head of the Residence Life department trying to schedule a “Jazz Coffee House” instead of our concert. Difficult as that was, the whole event was even harder to put together because we still didn’t have a drummer. Earlier in the week, however, we got together as a combo and decided to write our own songs to play. One of the coolest things is when you sit down to play with people and you’re all musically on the same page. It was definitely a new thing for me to be creative with other people, but I enjoyed every minute of it. Even though I wasn’t super helpful (except for that one title and that one melody in the song we ended up cutting), it was still really neat for me to see other people and their creative processes. I also learned that I really like the modern, mellow kind of jazz that doesn’t necessarily need a drummer. Who knew?

The coffee house came off without a hitch, and I was super proud of the effort we put in to make sure our performance was not cancelled. And the best part is that people actually showed up!

Overall, this was in amazing week, and I’ve definitely been reflecting a lot on how thankful I am to be where I am with the people I have. I saw so many people this week who are 100% supportive of me and those around me and that’s a really valuable thing, especially in the arts. I definitely want to try to reciprocate that support because it really has meant a lot to me recently. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Make sure to eat lots of food!