College Auditions, Detroit, and Collaboration

Hey guys! It's been a while, and I am completely aware of this. In fact, I have been absent on purpose because I promised myself when I started this thingy that I would never post just because I felt like I had to. I only want to post if I feel like I have something somebody else should care about (or if something interesting happened to me, which you probably don't care about, but stories are fun so oh well).

BUT. I'm back! And I wanted to update everyone on what's going on!

First, I'll start with the thing that's on my mind 24/7: College Auditions. Over the course of the next 6 weeks or so, I'll be traveling to 9 schools for theory tests, interviews with the composition faculty and/or clarinet auditions (piano at one school). This will be an extremely stressful and busy time, but as a friend told me this week, "Really, all you've gotta do is share your music. You know you'll be fine as long as you focus on showing some really cool people what you love to play and what you love to write." For juniors and anyone younger: I WOULD NOT ADVISE APPLYING TO 10 SCHOOLS. It's stressful and expensive and I probably could have gotten away with applying to 4 or 5. However, I chose all of the schools I did because I could see myself being happy there, and now my auditions are only to see if the faculty feel the same way. One teacher told me to make sure I didn't apply anywhere I didn't actually want to go: don't have a backup just to have a backup. Have a couple schools that you would like to go to that are a little less competitive. I think I did a good job of choosing my schools, and I'm really excited to meet all the professors in the coming months.

That being said, preparing for a composition interview is not easy. After participating in a seminar with my other fellow senior composition majors here at school, I realized that there are basically two types of questions: Technical (why did you give this solo to the bassoon?) and Belief-Oriented (why do you want to be a composer? what are you trying to communicate with your music?). I also quickly realized in this seminar that some of us are more comfortable with one type than the other. I, personally, am much better at explaining my goals as a composer and where my inspiration comes from than why I chose a string of 8th notes in the 2nd violin part. This comes mostly from the fact that I am not as experienced as some of my peers, and a lot of my writing still comes from instinct and things I hear in my head. BUT. I don't think that puts me in a worse position as a composer at all. In fact, it just shows that I have room to hone my craft, which, in my opinion, is the whole point of college. So really, that just makes me super excited to keep learning, which hopefully puts me in a good place for my 238432985723948 interviews (okay it's just 9 but it seems like more).

For those who are wondering, in order of interview date, I've applied to: University of Louisville (Louisville, KY), Shenandoah University (Winchester, VA), Eastman Conservatory (Rochester, NY), Cincinnati Conservatory (Cincinnati, OH), University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI), Peabody Conservatory (Baltimore, MD), SUNY Fredonia (Fredonia, NY), Baylor University (Waco, TX), and Manhattan School of Music (New York, NY). I also applied to Northwestern in Evanston, IL, but they don't require composition interviews. Like I said before, especially for music majors, try to cut down your list to be a little (or a lot) shorter than mine. It'll save you a lot of stress and time and money and it'll probably add 12 years to your lifespan or something.

Moving on to something that has already happened, rather than something that's currently freaking me out, I want to tell you guys about my recent trip to Detroit in association with the Comparative Artists at my school. Comparative Arts, as explained by my roommate, is a major in which students get to be creative and build projects from the ground up. I always tell people about her annual project her freshman year, when she wrote and performed an original monologue along with her own set, costume, and lighting design. It's interdisciplinary, and really open to what each student wants to do with his or her creativity, which I think is really cool.

This year, they're putting on a show called "Boom! Mics, Music, and War", which examines the history of the microphone in cultural context (or, rather, examines history through the lens of the microphone). This is where I come in. The jazz combo is featured on a few tunes along with some dancers and singer-songwriters to portray the kinds of things were being broadcast throughout the 20th century. We all worked together for 2-3 hours a day for the past two weeks, and we finally had a run-through in Detroit this past Thursday, even though we will be performing the show again in February.

So, why Detroit? Not only was Detroit important because some of our collaborators are from the area, but the topic also had a strong connection to the city. I didn't realize is that Detroit was actually home to Emile Berliner, inventor of one of the first microphones, after he left Germany and the looming World War. Another thing I didn't realize was Detroit's historical situation.

Before World War II, Detroit was, of course, Motor City. However, during the war, they switched to manufacturing war equipment, and when the war was over, the car companies didn't come back. Instead, the city built for 4 million people was almost completely abandoned because everyone went elsewhere to look for work. For that reason, most of the buildings haven't even been touched in 50+ years. Sorry if this is boring, I don't really know why it's interesting to me because I hate history, but it was really cool to be able to basically travel back in time and see a city exactly the way it was back then.

ANYWAY, one thing that I really enjoyed about the project was the collaborative nature, which is what I want to talk about in this post. I'm not the first (and I certainly won't be the last) person to realize that I do not enjoy group work. I'm far too big picture oriented to be able to only do half of a project and leave the other half of my grade in someone else's hands. That being said, I think it has a huge role in the arts.

When I had my orchestra reading back in December, there were almost 100 students playing my piece. 3 conductors had looked at my score. 15 composers had proof read my parts. Hundreds of people made the instruments the musicians were using. Hundreds of people had taught those students at some point or another the skills they needed to be able to look at my descriptions of sound and create it. As a composer, it is sometimes too easy to think, "Wow, look at this piece I wrote. I did it," when in reality, that piece is nothing without all the other people to bring it to life. Probably thousands of people and thousands of hours of practice and thousands of dollars in instrument repair and school tuition went into making my piece sound exactly how it did, and by failing to acknowledge that collaboration, I run the risk of letting myself believe that I can do everything on my own. And we all know that's not true.

When I started off a college essay talking about my love for collaboration, quite a few of the people who edited my essays told me it sounded like crap. "You can't possibly actually like working with others. Nobody does," one such proof-reader told me. Let's be honest, I am the first person to suggest being that group of 1 in math class when my teacher realizes there's an odd number of people for the partner work she wanted to assign. However, in the arts collaboration is essential and shouldn't be taken for granted. Even though many of the people I mentioned in my orchestra example were indirect contributors to my project, 118 of them were not. They were all there. They all interacted directly with me and made my piece exactly what I wanted it to be. If there's one important thing I've learned in my past year or so as a composer it's that artistic endeavors are always better and more efficiently achieved when others are a part of it.