The more I’ve composed, and the more I’ve taught music, the more I realize that there’s just so much interesting stuff out there to learn, a lot of which intersects with music composition. Psychology of creativity, business administration, critical theory, aesthetics, higher education administration–these are all things that sound terribly interesting.
Cassie’s work at NDSU affords me a half-tuition waiver, so this spring I decided to become a bison. An entire degree seemed like a bit much given the rest of my workload, but some of our graduate certificate offerings seemed like a good place to start. The most logical, I reasoned, was the graduate certificate in Publishing, which is offered through the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Science working through the North Dakota State University Press. Even though NDSU’s press is a literary press, the business side of things and the publishing process would be the same as it is in music publishing. After all, everything I know about publishing music is from 1) trial and error or 2) things I read on the internet.
I had to check my transcript, but even though I defended my dissertation in May of 2014, the last seated class I took was Dr. Ken Stephenson’s Bartok, Prokofiev, Chicago in the summer of 2013. So, seven years after being a student, here I am again, this time with experience from the other side of the classroom.
So we’re over halfway through: here’s how it’s going. For starters, it’s the first time I’ve been in a class in a while where I haven’t been in charge. This is great, in some ways it’s like a mini-vacation in the middle of the day. Make no mistake, it’s real work. But it’s nice to follow instead of leading for a bit.
XXXXX (Unpublished Manuscript of 380 pages which we’re editing).
XXXXX (Advance Review Copy of a book to be published in August at 210 pages which we’re proofing).
30 chapbooks of poetry for an acquisitions project.
It looks like a lot, but it doesn’t seem like a lot. Maybe part of it is because it’s real, actual work. These are live projects. The poetry acquisitions project will result in us picking one of those books of poetry to publish. The novel will be printed with my edits. The advance review copy needs someone to proofread it. Everything we do in class matters.
My graduate project for this class involves creating an online music publishing boot camp.
This has made me think of quite a few things, to come later.
As the semester
started, I hoped that things would be calmer than the fall, and thankfully in
most ways they are. In some ways, however, there’s more work. Here’s a list of
some of the things on my radar this spring, some moving into next fall and
At NDSU: I’m part of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences Course Curation Committee, which is looking at how to update/streamline some college requirements.
At NDSU: I’m continuing as a member of the NICE Faculty Fellows, which promotes and explores Entrepreneurship.
At NDSU: As part of the NICE center, I’m also helping out with the Civic Innovation Force, which will pair students with the City of Fargo to solve problems.
Through NICE I’ve happened to get involved with a project to promote nanotechnology by writing music about nanotechnology. It’s supported by an NSF grant.
I’m writing a piece
for the NDSU Clarinet Choir, which they’ll perform at ClarinetFest 2020 in
Reno, Nevada. Well, I mean, I’m not actually writing it this very minute, I’m
writing this blog post. But I have been writing it. Except when I haven’t been.
Which has been a lot.
This post isn’t so
much a list of excuses so much as it is an exploration into the creative
procrastination that goes into writing.
I didn’t want to
start the piece until January–I finished the percussion quartet in
mid-December, and wanted to take a break. By the time I ended up getting back
to Fargo and got settled in, it was already the 10th, with classes starting the
I had no idea what
the clarinet choir piece was going to look like, so the first several days of
writing were just bouncing ideas around. I ended up with this weird musical
line in my head, which reminded me of some song I heard in college, and I
wanted to make sure I wasn’t ripping it off. That resulted in several days of
trying to remember what that song was.
It ended up being
Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men. And the line stuck in my head ended up
resembling this not at all. Score one for me.
So that line I
heard, I still haven’t worked into the piece, because every time I start
thinking about where it could fit in, it merges with MacArthur Park. I had
never actually listened to the lyrics of MacArthur park until I listened
through trying to figure out where it fit in.
Part of this time
has been spent looking for other clarinet choir pieces.
There’s a lot of
transcriptions, but not a lot of pieces originally for clarinet choir. So
inspiration is scarce. The NDSU Clarinet Choir will be playing Schickele’s
Monochrome III and Curtis’s Klezmer Triptych, so I know what else is on the
And I almost know
how this piece is going to go too.
After two and a half years, I’m finally giving my first faculty recital at NDSU, featuring all music written in North Dakota.
The planned program is:
The Notes Between The Notes – My song cycle featuring poems by Jamie Parsley. Michelle Gelinske (who premiered the cycle nearly a year ago) wasn’t able to perform in February, so Dr. Kelly Burns, our new voice faculty member, will be performing the cycle with Dr. Amy Mercer.
Next up is the world premiere of Tape Piece, a tape piece featuring…tape sounds.
We’ll round out the evening with the world premiere of Calibrating the Moon, commissioned and premiered by Connor Challey, and featuring Dr. Tyler Wottrich on piano.
The recital poster also features North Dakota:
I hope to see you at Beckwith Recital Hall at NDSU, on February 10 at 7:30 PM!
Over the past month or so, three new pieces have shown up on the website. Together, they represent 40 minutes of new music.
So working backwards, Calibrating the Moon is a tuba sonata written for Connor Challey. No media or score (partially because it’s a commission, and partially because issuu has decided to start charging for embedded documents), but there’s a program note. This work will be premiered nearly next month at NDSU.
Also receiving its premiere next month is Tape Piece, which is a tape piece (like stereo fixed media) about and using tape (like scotch and duct). Unlike Calibrating the Moon it does have media. It’ll also receive its premiere next month, but given that it’s tape, you can hear it in all its glory right now if you’d like.
Finally comes Four Views of the Butterfly Effect, which is a commission from the MinusOne Quartet, and which was a pain to write. I’ll dive into an explanation of it a little later. No program note, score, OR media at the moment, because all I have are mock-ups.
I realized in
February or March of this year that I hadn’t been to any conferences during the
18-19 academic year. This bugged me. It’s hard to maintain a dialogue with
other composers when you’re sitting in your office all the time. Of course, the
Spring semester was filled with creating a composition lecture series for a
class, so at least I wasn’t just watching Netflix.
NYCEMF/ICMC was a blast, as always. I spent a bunch of time with Josh and Ioannis, and worked several concerts as technical staff. OU had a good showing this year, I think five of us had works through the conference. We spent more time in Greenwich Village this year (the conference moved from the lower east side to NYU), so I got my bakery fix at Mille-Feuille and spent way too little time at Strand Bookstore (I bought a volume of Ginsberg poetry).
I spent part of July in the mountains of Utah. The VU 3 Symposium for experimental, electronic, and improvised music was hosted in Park City, and it was an incredible experience I might write more about later. It was chock full of weird technical stuff, presented in a non-judgmental and non-hierarchical way. Not that normal conferences are necessarily judgy, I think that’s just my insecurity coming out.
Anyway, it was a validating and supportive group (reminding me a lot of the last CFAMC conference I attended), and nearly immediately after I returned home, I dove into revising a paper on creativity that I presented the next month at the Aspen Composers’ Conference (which was well-received). Because of all that, this summer was a season of creativity, spending a bunch of time around creative people, thinking about the creative process, how we teach creativity, and so on.
And then I have
airport downtime and I check Facebook. Jeez! Facebook! How little original
content there is on Facebook. Aside from the Ads. Or from pages I like. So much
of it is shared content. So little of it is thought-provoking.
I originally had a
listing of the top thirty or so posts, categorized by original vs. shared
content, if there was any commentary, things like that, but it just got to be
tedious. The simple point is that there was/is a vivid discrepancy between the
creativity at the conferences and the creativity (or lack thereof) in my
This has caused me
to look closer at the creative research I’m doing, and how I can better focus
on 1) presenting it to a wider audience, and 2) integrating more of it in my
It’s already July!?
It’s already halfway through the summer semester!
The spring semester
has been my busiest semester as a professor. Let’s recap:
I had a studio of 6
composers, 4 undergrads and 2 grads.
I mentored the Freshman
Theory II Composition Projects.
I oversaw the Sophomore
Theory IV Composition Projects.
I taught the bassoon part of
Woodwind Methods II.
I taught Music
Entrepreneurship (and wrote a course pack)
I oversaw Grad Theory
We took the wind symphony to
Budapest, Bratislava, and Prague.
And I was asked to join the
NDSU Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship (NICE) Faculty
I had a studio of 3 students
in Comp II and 2 students in Comp III.
I had one capstone advisee.
I taught Advanced Scoring and
I turned Comp I into a
lecture-based class, with 15 students.
I organized the 18th annual
VCSU Composers Concert.
At NoteForge/As a
I recorded and produced an
I wrote one and a half
I did some massive upgrades
I solved a lot of issues with
Some of these things
were successful due to my hard work. Some of these things were successful due
to my dumb luck. Some of these things could be greatly improved.
Turning Comp I at
VCSU into a lecture class was a ton of work. It was fun, and I learned a great
deal about video editing, but it took up way more time than I was expecting.
Luckily, with those videos in “maintenance mode” now, I’ll have some
tweaks but most of it can stand.
I built that class
around my ideas about the creative process, which I’m beginning to codify into
something tangible. I’m presenting a poster about the process at this year’s
I didn’t do a bunch
of conferences/festivals this year, mostly due to a focus on teaching since
VCSU was a new thing. I’m ramping up those things this summer, with a piece at
NYCEMF/ICMC last week and a presentation at the VU 3 Symposium in Park City, UT
I wrote a piece for
bass clarinet duet + piano, and I started on a tuba sonata that I’m really
enjoying, though it’s taking a while trying to find time to write. Which
reminds me–This semester I started booking dedicated creative time, so that
I’m in the studio working on composition-related things every morning until 10.
This worked…most of the time.
I picked up a
faculty fellowship in Entrepreneurship, and as a part of that I’ve spent a
bunch of time thinking about how to update NDSU’s Music Entrepreneurship class.
That’ll be it’s own separate post I’m sure.
My parents and I
watch a lot of procedural crime dramas. Law and Orders of all varieties, NCIS,
CSI, The Closer, and recently CK and I discovered Crossing Lines on Netflix.
But my parents are obsessed with Criminal Minds. It’s basically all they watch.
They’re either watching Criminal Minds or going to Menards.
In episode 8 of
season 3, shortly after Gideon is replaced by Rossi, Morgan and Rossi are
having a conversation in which both of them, at some point, utter the phrase
“I was giving you an opportunity for personal growth”. This has
become part of the Vanderburg lexicon, usually said in some sort of sarcastic
way. Or, whenever dealing with things is hard.
I’m writing this
percussion and saxophone piece. As it turns out, writing for multi-percussion
is really hard, in really stupid ways. Despite having a basic background in
percussion (go PBHS Drumline!), picking instruments was impossible. Where do I
start? In an instrument group that includes basically anything I can imagine
(and some things I can’t), how do I narrow down the number of instruments to
something that is both engaging and logistical?
A second issue deals
with the difficulty of the music. If I usually write rhythmic music, and
percussionists are all about rhythm, then I need to up my rhythm game and write
something nigh-impossible, right? Right?
The piece started out as a groove piece–like so much of my recent pieces (see also: Earmarks, Austerity, Joyride…). How do I keep from making this whole piece a groove piece? Or should it be?
Also, relying on
computer playback for things like “swirled superball mallet” isn’t
really a thing.
Most of these
problems are mental–It’s seemed like I’ve been trying to drink from a
firehose. Some of the problems have gone away by introducing boundaries. It’s
like Stravinsky said, “The more constraints one imposes, the more one
frees one’s self. And the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain
precision of execution.” This was often expressed in my graduate lessons
as “Give me limitations and I’ll give you the world”.
Some of these problems are solved by research–Steven Schick’s lecture “On the Bridge” helped tremendously, as did just listening to percussion things on YouTube.
Some of these
problems are being solved by technology. Recording samples that I want to use,
then dropping them into Pro Tools instead of using Sibelius, and then notating
Overall, it’s a fun
project–and an opportunity for personal growth.
The past three months have been full of change–and thankfully, writing. I've been adjusting to North Dakota (brr!), adjusting to NDSU (go bison!), adjusting to marriage (!!!), and finally finishing the saxophone piece. And playing more bassoon.>
This semester I'm teaching Music Entrepreneurship and Instrumental Arranging at NDSU, which has been fantastic! It's the perfect blend of classes I enjoy teaching and student engagement. Unfortunately, I was hired a little too close to the beginning of the semester to have a composition studio, but there is a healthy culture of creativity going on already (it reminds me a lot of Drury), so there's a lot of composing going on under the radar. Now I just have to tap into that.>
Oh and I'm playing bassoon in Wind Symphony. It's good to be playing again, even if all our music for the December concert is all fast Czech stuff that requires lots of practice.>
Saxophone Piece – Austerity>
It's finished, it's finished, it's finally finished! I think I learned more about how to write (or not write) in that piece than I have for a few years. There's no reason it should have taken that long. It's been shipped off to Andrew Allen at Midwestern State University, and hopefully we'll have it performed at NASA this spring.>
October was full of travel, starting out with the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers conference at Fresno Pacific University (which was terrifically fun and edifying and I hope I'll be back next year), and moving on to the NDSU Wind Symphony Tour of North Dakota (Jamestown, Mandan, Beulah, Bismarck, Minot, Bottineau, and Grand Forks), and then immediately to the last few days of the College Music Society national conference in San Antonio.>
…is in full swing, with this year's piece (tentatively) titled The Earth shall soon dissolve like snow. More on that later.>
After starting out the year doing a decent job of blog updating, I disappeared for like three months. Here's what happened:
Most of the beginning of May was spent grading. Three classes, 100 students, concert reports and final papers. There was lots of reading. After that, it was getting ready for a road trip with Cassie, driving Oklahoma->North Dakota->Montana->Missouri->Oklahoma->North Dakota. Part of this time was spent finalizing my move from Norman to Fargo. Part of this time was spent getting engaged.
Back in Fargo, Cassie and I moved all her stuff to our new apartment while preparing for the North Ambassadors of Music trip to Europe. Long days of band music, long nights of putting things away.
Then we went to Europe with 400 band kids. London, Paris, Crans-Montana Switzerland, Seefeld Austria, Rothenburg ob der Tauber Germany. I recorded a bunch of sounds, some of which are making an appearance in the Saxophone piece.
After returning to the US, Cassie flew down to Orlando for ICA, and I drove to Norman to pack all my things and get them to Fargo. By the first of August, everything was in the apartment at least, if not put away.
So, unfortunately, not a great deal of composing this summer–that is, until we get to August. But we have a few days before I give you the August updates.