TWO // BGSU’s 40th New Music Festival

 
Allison Davis, conductor, and me, following the performance of  EL CHUPACABRA  by the Bowling Green State University Wind Symphony at BGSU’s 40th New Music Festival (October 17, 2019). Photograph by Stephen Hennessey.

Allison Davis, conductor, and me, following the performance of EL CHUPACABRA by the Bowling Green State University Wind Symphony at BGSU’s 40th New Music Festival (October 17, 2019). Photograph by Stephen Hennessey.

Earlier this month, from October 16-19, I had the opportunity to head back to Bowling Green, Ohio, to attend BGSU’s 40th Annual New Music Festival. I had attended twice already while I was a student, but this time I had the honor of attending as a guest composer.

Last December, my piece EL CHUPACABRA won the composition division of Bowling Green State University’s Concerto Competition, which meant that it would be performed at the 40th Annual New Music Festival, by the BGSU Wind Symphony!

If you know what the New Music Festival is like, you know. But if you aren’t familiar— it’s a marathon three-day festival, featuring all kinds of new music, wonderful people from all over, and inspiring conversations about music and our art. In fact, it’s almost two weeks later and I’m still riding an inspirational-high from all that happened.

This whole thing is hosted by the MidAmerican Center for Contemporary Music and directed by the incredible Kurt Doles. It’s a massive event that has brought in many important composers in its forty years. From the festival website:

This annual event celebrates the contemporary arts through concerts, panels, art exhibitions, seminars, master classes and papers. Begun in 1980, the festival has hosted John Adams, John Luther Adams, Samuel Adler, Milton Babbitt, William Bolcom, Anthony Braxton, John Cage, Chen Yi, John Corigliano, George Crumb, Mario Davidovsky, Anthony Davis, Dai Fujikura, Philip Glass, John Harbison, Lou Harrison, Jennifer Higdon, Karel Husa, Aaron Jay Kernis, Joan La Barbara, David Lang, Paul Lansky, George Lewis, Steven Mackey, Robert Morris, Pauline Oliveros, Shulamit Ran, Bernard Rands, Terry Riley, Christopher Rouse, Frederic Rzewski, Gunther Schuller, Joseph Schwantner, Bright Sheng, Sarah Kirkland Snider, Steven Stucky, Morton Subotnick, Joan Tower, Vladimir Ussachevsky and more than 400 other guest composers and musicians.

The featured guest this year was composer, conductor, and clarinetist Evan Ziporyn—his music is great, I’d definitely recommend some of his bass clarinet works, like “Tsmindao Ghmerto.” Being at the festival this time was especially-magical because I wasn’t there as a student. To be able to attend all of the concerts, and go out afterwards, but not then still have homework to do?? I’m grateful. 🙂

All of that, plus! My music was a part of it! The BGSU Wind Symphony, conducted by Allison Davis, did an absolutely phenomenal job at the performance. It was clear that both Allison and the ensemble had put in some serious work. They performed my piece along with a piece by Nico Muhly, and then premiered a drum set concerto by Evan Ziporyn. It was a high-energy concert, that was a lot of fun to listen to.

I hope to be able to attend more of these festivals in the future!

Also, side note, if you’re a composer: the call for scores that is held each year for the festival should definitely be on your radar. It changes each year, but you can find information about the call for scores here. Be sure to check it out, and add it to your calendar, reminders, or whatever you use to keep track of these things!

Thank you for reading! Also, be sure to follow me on social media and subscribe to my mailing list to stay updated! In case you haven’t heard EL CHUPACABRA, here’s an older recording of the PLU Wind Ensemble. You can also find more info about the piece by clicking the button below! -EJG



 

ONE // Shoreline Residency

 

Group photo after the premiere, with the combined Kellogg and Einstein Middle School Wind Ensembles, and (center-left to center-right) Mariko Lane, Emilio González, and Alec Wilmart. Photograph by Tom Chin.

How did it start? As a composer, some of my favorite and most meaningful experiences have happened in the classroom or rehearsal room, working with students on my music.

So I was pretty pumped last year when Alec Wilmart, the band director at Kellogg Middle School, reached out to me about commissioning a new work for concert band and having me come work with his students in Shoreline, Washington. This project soon expanded to include Mariko Lane and her students at Einstein Middle School, and Alec applied for (and received!) a grant from the Shoreline Public Schools Foundation to cover the costs.

The plan was for me to compose a piece for the two combined middle school bands to perform, and then I would work with the students in rehearsals a few days before the concert. With that all sorted out (!!) I started work on what would become TAHOMA—which I’ll be sharing more about in a separate blog post later.

I’ve gotta be honest, doing all of this, while finishing my masters and all of my other responsibilities, on top of life stuff was A LOT, but I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with all of these wonderful people. It was an inspiring time for me, getting to watch those musicians and their directors bring my music to life in rehearsals leading up to the concert this last April. I am still blown away by how beautifully Alec, Mariko, and the combined bands performed that night.

I had no words after the performance was done, which also marked the end of my residency. Both bands were incredibly professional and played with such a high-level of musicianship that I had no idea what to say. Thank you? Didn’t seem like enough, but I said it many, many times, to whichever performers I could make eye contact with… fantastic job, wonderful, congratulations, amazing— I probably said it all, but still, none of it seems like high-enough praise.

Now that I’ve had some time to relax and take a breath, I felt like sharing more about this experience:


(Left to right) Mariko Lane, me, and Alec Wilmart in awe after the performance of TAHOMA. Photograph by Forest Graff.

What was it like? I had already completed and delivered the piece, and then in mid-April I flew back to Washington for a few days. I would be spending time with the students in band rehearsals, Q&A sessions, and a combined rehearsal before the concert premiere.

Being able to work face-to-face in rehearsals with the students is always fun. You never know what they’re going to say, or how they’re going to react, but the time spent together is always well worth it! Being physically present in the room is valuable, as I’m able to encourage players who might need to play out a bit, etc.

We of course had multiple Q&A sessions for the students during the various rehearsals, but being in the room also makes me available to the students that might not feel comfortable asking questions in front of the entire group. Hanging out in between rehearsals lets me answer those questions that might not otherwise have been answered, which is important to me.

And then there was the concert! The culmination of months of work. I love having the opportunity to see a piece through, from start to finish, with the same group. There is something very inspiring, as a composer, in watching the performers take your music and really bring it to life. Having the opportunity to experience that with all 91 kids was especially immense.

On top of that, to be sharing the experience with their parents, families, and community was special. Hearing afterwards from students and adults alike that they were able to connect with the piece meant a lot. It gave me that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you know you’re doing the right thing— it’s a little addicting.


Me talking with the Einstein Middle School Wind Ensemble and Concert Band students. Photograph by Mariko Lane.

Why is this work important? I believe that as you learn more, it is your responsibility to help educate others less privileged. For me, that means using the education I’m privileged to have received to uplift my community. I want to bring this to as many students as I can, but with a focus on young musicians of color.

I am constantly working to be the representation I wish I would’ve had 15 years ago as a young percussionist—as a white-passing, light-brown kid playing in band. And so I will continue to compose music inspired by the various themes and concepts I come across as I work to decolonize my identity and explore my own indigenous roots. Creating this way is empowering to me, and I believe it can be for others too.

I find this work incredibly rewarding. Young musicians of color deserve to see themselves proudly represented both in the thematic material of the pieces they’re playing and in the composers whose music they’re performing. I believe that the future depends on people of color collectively reclaiming their identities, and I believe that I can best help that happen through the composition and dissemination of classical music that subverts the colonizer.

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Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Please let me know what you thought! Also, if you haven’t already: be sure to follow me on social media and enter your email below, to receive emails about new blog posts!

Friends, I want to know: how do you give back to your communities? Why? Is there more we could collectively be doing?

Comment below, I’d love to start a discussion. - EJG