Sunday, March 9, 2008

I am exceedingly busy

So on Thursday I had work/rehearsals straight from 9am-9pm and was late to a rehearsal because I had to eat a sandwich because I hadn't eaten anything that day. Oi. Then I was up until midnight working on my scholarship application. Friday was a bit less ridiculous, I actually had a lunch hour, an hour break, and I only rehearsed from 10am until 7pm. So not nearly as bad...

So the things that are taking up all my time are these:

*Work: they still make me tea and they always have cakes. It may not be a terribly stimulating job, but I do like the cakes.

*London Contemporary Dance Project: our dress rehearsal/performance is on Monday in the Music hall at GSMD. Our real performances will be in a week in a half at The Place which is the performing hall for the LCD School and they have proper lighting and all that so it will look cooler there. The rehearsals have been really interesting though- the ones on Thursday were in the largest room in the practice annex where I used to have percussion class with Neville way back in the first term. The ceiling is really low there so it was fairly amusing watching some of the tall dancers stretch my placing their hands on the ceiling. Not really conducive to high jumps...

The rehearsals today (Sunday) were in the music hall (and with costumes!) and that was nice because it was easier to watch the dancers and see what it was actually going to look like. There have been a bunch of scheduling issues though which means that over the past week there have been five different pianists. Not ideal, but it was nice to see some of the pianists that I've talked to before but don't see frequently.

I really like the other musicians our the little band. There is Pedro the Portuguese percussionist, Jose the (also Portuguese?) blond flautist (he can be pompous, but always has his heart in the right place and once I got enough sleep and food in me I discovered that he is actually hilarious even though at first I just sort of wanted to kick him.), Ellie the super cool saxophonist- I want to work with her some more I think she is really neat, Andreas the accordionist, and Naomi who is a very good pianist but clearly even busier than I am. We're a good bunch.

It has been nice to work with the dancers and choreographers but it has also been frustrating because the little glimpses that I see of the dances that I am playing for (3 of 5) look really good and I want to watch them! But I am playing and need to look intently at the music otherwise I will get horribly lost and they will have to stop dancing anyway.

*Composition class- I love and adore composition class. Fraser Trainer, the tutor for this particular little module, had had us writing backbones for pieces. A backbone is an element of a piece that is pre composed. It can be a couple of chords, a few rhythmic lines, a melodic shape, whatever. We have been writing two line rhythmic backbones. The assignment was to write a pair of rhythmic lines that went together and were between 5 and 8 bars long. Then we brought them to the group and had 20-30 minutes to put notes to the rhythms, arrange the ensemble, and create a structure that could be no more than 4 times around the backbone. So a very short piece of music- usually under two minutes when we were through. But even though they were short pieces they had to be fully thought out and realized.

Because they were rhythmic backbones the immediate reaction all of us had was to write something that was rhythmically interesting and/or complicated. I wrote one like that first and then I remembered that pretty much everything that the Baltimore Consort does is based on a backbone of sorts. The dance music of the renaissance was rarely (if ever, don't quote me on any of this) written out in an orchestrated or arranged sort of way. I know that Mark frequently has the renaissance ensemble at school do a whole piece made up of variations on an 8 bar melody. You can change the instrumentation, you can change the register, the ornamentation, the harmony, etc. And while frequently renaissance music is rhythmically interesting, a lot of time that is not where the interest comes from.

So I decided to run with that and I wrote a very simple pattern in 3 (6 8th notes, 3 quarter notes, one dotted half note- repeat.) for the top line and basically a drone for the bottom line. I found I was humming it to myself though so I drew a squiggle representing what shape the notes I was singing took. (A spiky little mountain range sort of squiggle)

When I got up to lead I made Emma chose the notes for the melody with no instruction other than the squiggle. I didn't want to determine what sort of key we were in or even what sort of mood-I just wanted to see what she would come up with while still following my mountain range squiggle. Heather and Tara- our cellists- have this odd ability to play exactly the same note without trying to- so I had them close their eyes and play the drone bit. They came up with a very pleasant harmony that was totally coincidental. Jo gets this great atmospheric sound from blowing through her tuba and then depressing the valves but without getting a pitch so it is this rattly/airy sound- so I had her do that intermittently and then I had Caroline and Kate do trills in thirds on their flute and oboe respectively.

It ended up sounding like a placid theme song for a vaguely threatening children's cartoon show from Korea. I was very proud of it.

*MapMaking project- we are finally getting started with this project in a practical sort of way. We have now had two sessions where all the the musicians involved (the 9 of us first year leadership students, a few composers, and a few assorted other instrumentalists) play together specifically works that the composers are trying out on us for the project. It has been sort of vaguely interesting- but at this point in the year and especially with all of the work that we have been doing with the composition class and our creative ensemble (Oh, we have a name now! We're "Nine Lives" 'cause there are nine of us, you know.) it is a little boring to just sit there and do whatever someone else tells you to do without having any sort of creative input.

The 9 of us (well slightly less than that due to illness and other engagements, but it was supposed to be all nine of us) went out for drinks on Saturday because we decided that we always work really hard with each other and that what we really needed was time just to hang out. Of course we ended up discussing what we've been working on and we've decided to stage a coup with the MapMaking project and bring our own ideas in because all of us (certainly me) are very interested in actually being involved creatively with this project as opposed to being essentially the hired band for other people's ideas. Just so not appealing any longer.

*Creative Ensemble- we, Nine Lives that is, keep volunteering ourselves for gigs that require us to write more material which requires us to create extra rehearsals for ourselves. This makes us busy and tired. What we're working on right now (a piece called "sixty-one") is based on a 60 beat cycle and variations therein. If you have 60 beats you can have units of 3,4,5, and 6 (I suppose also 10 and 20, but we're not dealing with that). So we are playing with that concept and working on making a piece that is much more static (especially dynamically) than what we usually write. Usually our pieces end up being a giant crescendo with lots of crunchy chords and while that can be neat- we're all getting a bit tired of it. So it has been fun to work in this other way but it does require a lot of counting, a lot of remembering, and just basically a lot of focus- because it you get off by one beat you can't get back on... (doo doo dooooo- sounds like a tag line for a horror movie about a renegade roller coaster)


nortonmiddaugh said...

Just when you thought it was safe to go to the amusement park -- Thrills! Chills! Death! Are YOU willing to ride?

nortonmiddaugh said...

I really like the concept of a "backbone." That's cool.