Saturday, May 22, 2010

And Legions Will Rise

The first time I ever heard this piece was actually at a Yale Percussion Group concert--it was being performed by Eric Beach (who now plays in So Percussion), who was joined by Wayne Lin and Romie de Guise-Langlois (neither of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting). I really enjoyed the piece when I heard it, but at the time thought it was way too hard for me to ever play. Well, in the beginning of this past semester, I got a call from my teacher telling me that he would like me to pick up the project where Hye Jin Kim, a fellow percussionist who left to pursue work in Korea, had left off. Well, the violinist and clarinetist she worked with weren't into continuing the project as it turned out, so I went ahead and asked my friends Kathryn Kilian and Gleb Kanasevich if they wanted to join me. Kate and I were from the same town in Connecticut and have always had similar musical ideals, so playing with her has always been a pleasure. Gleb is one of the only new music buffs I know in the wind program at Peabody--but he's also a fantastic player and composer, so I was excited for an opportunity to work with them both.

I only really had a month--MAYBE a bit more--to put this piece together. Every piece on my program seemed to introduce a different challenge, and this one was "how well can you learn this under a close deadline". In fact, it was so close that I pretty much find this piece to blame for my relapse of tendinitis right before my recital. The marimba part, technically, is a beast. Well, the violin and clarinet parts certainly aren't any easier, but for me it really took a lot of muscle to play. It couldn't have been more than two weeks before showtime that we were playing through the whole piece for the first time.

That being said, I can't help but be just a little disappointed with this performance. I think I did the best I could, given the circumstances. I just wish those circumstances weren't there, and that I could've had, say, all year to prepare this, and not just a month. I also wish my hands were a little more marimba friendly--this piece has made me question the reality of my current marimba grip, and I'm still thinking of changing it from Stevens grip back to Burton grip, which is the grip I began on.

The piece is a really beautiful work, and I had a great experience working with Kate and Gleb and learning this piece. Kevin Puts, the composer, was actually sitting in the audience during my performance. Maybe I've set my standards too high when I was hoping my performance could be the best performance of his piece he's ever heard. I don't think I can shake that standard, though.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

...And Points North

This piece came into my life only because I happened to mention to Bob (my teacher) that I had always wanted to do a theater piece. He decided to throw me straight into that world by not only assigning me to learn the piece ...And Points North by Stuart Saunders Smith, but by also putting it into my recital. Doing a theater piece had always been an exciting idea for me--when I was in middle school, I loved participating in my school's theater program, and in high school I had a great time making stupid movies with my friends, such as this one.

No matter where my acting skill was before I began this project, I had no idea what was in store for me. Smith's compositional language can only best be described as "intuitive"--it's got an improvisatory feel to it, but it's very precisely written. Learning the notes was sort of like learning another language--except I had to be able to come up with a pretty convincing speech in that language pretty soon. I felt the same way about learning Franco Donatoni's Omar.

However, as I learned the notes, the piece began to make sense to me... maybe even become a little personal. I started to understand the story that I hoped to tell, which I couldn't begin to understand until after I had every single note learned. I also needed to acquire every "instrument" before I could do this, which was a feat in itself. I never thought finding an aluminum washtub or Christmas tree stand could be so difficult, and making the wind chimes was an absolute nightmare. I ended up using a bunch of one dollar bottles of Irish whiskey (which made for some nice parties), as well as a whole bunch of beads and decorative glassware I purchased from a nearby craft store, Beadazzled. I must have spent over two hundred dollars on this piece, at least.

Once again, it was all worth it in the end. I have to say, this piece was, for me, the most fun to perform. I got to do a lot of things I don't normally get to do when I perform, and it was nice to be more of an entertainer than a musician for a little bit. It's a very neat phenomenon when you half to walk around as much as I did, and even at one point into the audience. The stage goes wherever you go. It's a nice feeling.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Dances of Earth and Fire

I don't remember exactly when the first time I heard this piece was... I believe it was my freshman year at Peabody. Either my freshman year or my sophomore year, but I would wager on it being my freshman year. Whatever. Regardless, the first person I ever heard perform this piece was actually the person I will be studying/working with next year, Ji Hye Jung. At this time, my understanding of music outside of the scope of classical tonality was pretty limited, and this was one of the pieces that left me mostly confused. Even then, though, I understood there was something profound about the piece. I just didn't know what.

My teacher put this piece on my recital program at the end of my fourth year at Peabody, and by then I understood the language of the piece much better. To put it as simply as I can, the piece is based on the octatonic scale--that is, a scale which is constructed of alternating whole steps and half steps. It's a mode of limited transposition, meaning that you only get three different transpositions of each scale. This being said, to call the piece "atonal" is simply inaccurate, which is what I did for years. It's not "atonal", it's just different than what I was used to.

The piece, as I presented it in my recital, was incomplete. I performed the first of two movements: "Dark and Heavy", or as my teacher calls it, the earth dance. The fire dance, also referred to as "Con Brio", is much more lively and technically demanding, while the first movement is much more emotionally demanding. I had prepared, and intended, to play both movements at my recital, but the program ended up being both longer and more physically draining than both my teacher and I had originally anticipated, and we decided to omit this movement from the performance. I would have loved to play it, but when it actually came time for me to perform this piece (the second to last piece on my program, not counting the "encore", Village Burial with Fire), I was exhausted--both emotionally and physically.

My exhaustion is very present to me in watching my performance now--I had a few memory slips I normally don't make, I played faster in general than I would've liked, my accuracy wasn't at it's best and I can tell my concentration was slipping. I'm still posting this for the sake of having my complete recital available to all those who couldn't make it, and it's been posted (way) out of order because I'm having some trouble extracting the earlier video. Even though it's definitely not the best performance I've given of this piece, it was the best I could do then. Hopefully, I'll have another opportunity to perform this piece someday, and hopefully that performance will exceed this one.