After another day of workshops, we found our way (as we do every night) to a microbrew pub called High Street. Tonight I found myself at a table with Sara, symposium director Robert Kyr, Chris Biggs, and a few other participants. We had a fantastic conversation about teaching peace and cultivating creativity instead of destruction. Robert Kyr leads powerfully by example through incredibly generous listening. It felt great acknowledging that and Sara articulated it perfectly.
Thursday, June 30, 2005
Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Today was our first day with the ensemble in residence, FIREWORKS. During the workshops, they spent thirty minutes on each piece, and today's workshop included my new composition, "three meditiations." The players really "got it" right away and did a super job. If I'd known that Taimur Sullivan was such a monster improviser, the piece would've given him more room to cut loose… Hopefully I'll be able to bring them to DC next year for an ACF concert?
Another stand-out piece from today's workshop session was "Poor Warty Bliggens" by Sara Graef, for bass and sax. The players nailed it right away and she got a great reading. It's a character piece, and the "character" is from a poem by Don Marquis, click here for the text: "warty bliggens, the toad"
[pictured: Taimur Sullivan, sax; Brian Coughlin, bass; Julian Molitz, percussion - photos by Sara Graef]
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Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Presentations of work by composer / participants continued… one stand-out of the group is Lembit Beecher. I realize that fame and fortune are not awarded on a merit-based system, but if they were we'd be hearing a lot about Lembit Beecher. If you ever have a chance to hear his music, don't miss it. Another participant who blew me away is Tony Lanman.
We had an afternoon session with Robert Levin. He's quite a talker, and a genius musician. Strangely, what I got out of the conversation (well, lecture would be more accurate) was a real sense of how my work totally doesn't fit in the classical music universe.
We've been enjoying several straight days of lunch at Café Yumm. Good stuff.
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Saturday, June 25, 2005
Our morning session was a meeting with María Guinand, the director of the Schola Cantorum de Caracas. She was equally as inspiring (maybe more-so?) as our previous meeting with Osvaldo Golijov. In addition to leading her own choral group, she's active in approximately five thousand other projects. I didn't write it all down, so I can't sum it up here… but she must be one of those people who manages to cram 50 hours into every single day. For much of the conversation, she spoke more about being human than music, which was great since she has an incredible perspective as well as a killer track record of unbelievable achievements. So, she was really able to speak in a tangible way about reaching long-term goals (she used the word "dreams" instead). This was just what I needed given my cynical, burnt-out, feelings towards my day-job with the local ACF Chapter. When we got into talking about music, she was no less inspiring, and gave us a glimpse into the technical processes involved in realizing Golijov's "Pasion."
Afternoon was spent with more presentations from participating composers, some humbling, some not so much. I also had a small group lesson with Robert Kyr, the symposium director and chair of the composition program here at the University of Oregon. He's very very encouraging, and is a great example of generous listening. He is somehow able to always be open to really hearing what other people are saying, and has a real gift for respecting a diversity of opinions. He's an interesting "cat" and I hope to have a chance for further conversation with him. I wish we had more time in the lesson, but I did get good feedback and I feel a bit more prepared for upcoming rehearsal with the Fireworks ensemble.
After dinner, it was more presentations. Again, some humbling, some less so. When that session was finally over, it was definitely time to return to the exploration of Oregon microbrews. I discovered that another participant, a composer from Los Angeles named Sara Graef, spent several summers working on a boat in Alaska researching humpback whales. She told me she was in DC recently for a National Marine Mammal Rescue Conference (that's probably not the right title…). Damn, I had no idea there was a Marine Mammal rescue conference in DC. How'd I miss it? I told her about my fondness for pinnipeds, and she actually knew the word "pinniped" already, and mentioned that one of her friends who also attended the conference specializes in pinniped rescues. I'm so jealous.
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Friday, June 24, 2005
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The second day of the symposium began with more presentations by participating composers. Humbling in many ways… I don't have time to make meaningful comments about most of the work I heard, plus it seems ridiculous to go into it since most readers are unlikely to ever have a chance to hear the music? Sad, but true. Anyway, I will mention one composer who kicked my ass to the city limits. John Mayrose is another composer/guitarist, and he is part of an ensemble called pulsoptional. Someday I'll be able to write fast music, and if I'm lucky it will sound like his. Check out his website, you can listen to his piece "trigger" there…
We spent the afternoon in a session with the guest composer, Osvaldo Golijov. He is in town for the performance of his enormous work, La Pasión según San Marcos (St. Mark Passion). Symposium participants got a real treat by having access to a rehearsal, a preview performance, and the big show – so we got to hear the piece live three times. It's quite incredible. There are lots of reviews online so I won't try to describe it, but I will mention that the Schola Cantorum de Caracas (a choir from Caracas, Venezuela) was incredible. The writing and performing added up to, no joke, the most incredible choral singing in the universe. The discussion with Golijov was wide-ranging, and totally inspiring. He has an incredibly healthy perspective about assimilating popular elements in so-called "art music." In fact, when he was asked, "Is it classical music?" He responded by asking, "What's classical?" Then he went on to make the distinction between "popular" and "classical" as residing in the presence of a transformative experience. I'm misquoting, but he basically suggested that what makes a "serious" work is that it changes the listener. You are different at the end of a piece then you were at the beginning, whereas with a pop song, for example, you're pretty much who you were three minutes before. I can easily think of a few exceptions (maybe I'll link to some later if I have time), but I think the gist of what he was saying was right on. It's not about style or genre, it's about content. He recently wrote a collection of songs for Dawn Upshaw, the recording will be released in September. He played some of them for us, and they were pretty incredible. I'm eager to see how that project will be received by critics… The ensemble includes accordion with live processing, and some laptop stuff – even drum loops. They are beautifully put together, and Upshaw's singing is truly wild.
At night, we attended the performance of La Pasion, as well as a post-concert party at the Hilton next to the concert hall. It was a pretty dry affair at first, so a few of us went to a nearby microbrewery instead, we stopped by the Hilton later and found that the percussionists from the concert had taken over the stage from the band, and were providing much more irresistible dance music. After the party, they returned to the University Inn (a slightly retro-fitted dorm where most of us are staying) and the party went on until the wee hours: drumming, singing, dancing… I think they taught us a lesson in how to enjoy life. No joke.
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Thursday, June 23, 2005
Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Today was day-one of the Oregon Bach Festival Composers Symposium at the University of Oregon in lovely Eugene, Oregon. It's a super cute college town. I arrived yesterday afternoon and quickly settled in... This morning was spent mostly on administrative details and orientation, but this afternoon we began "presentations." Each participating composer is asked to present some of their work with the group. I was happy to get mine out of the way today, so I don't have to be nervous about it anymore. I shared two pieces: "shut up and listen" and "vision, devotion, grace." They seemed to be well received; I got lots of positive feedback, especially about "shut up and listen." I think those two pieces give a good snapshot of my recent efforts towards combining improvisation and composition in small ensemble settings. I'm really looking forward to rehearsals with Fireworks on my new piece, "three meditations."
The composers attending the symposium are an incredibly diverse group, and I'm looking forward to hearing more of their music. There are participants from around the country, and even one composer who traveled from Brazil. I'm sure we'll be getting to know each other better over the next ten days...
Housing is provided at the University's Inn... kind of a cross between a dorm and a hotel. I have a roommate -- something I haven't experienced in a few years, but that seems to be working out just fine. I'm also delighted that the cafeteria provides vegan options at every meal, including soy milk for the coffee. Very nice!
I had a brief conversation with one of the staff people at the Inn... she asked me about my blue hair and I told her I did it so I wouldn't look like the oldest person at the Symposium. She made my day when she told me I looked like I was 23. Covering up the gray took off 10 years, can you believe it?
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Tuesday, June 14, 2005
The story of my last name goes like this:
When I got married the first time, my wife and I combined our last names and came up with the hybrid, "Matis." That worked out really well, until we split up. In August 2003, I re-married and changed my name back to my original family name, "Morris." Just to keep things extra confusing, I'm still using "Matis" as a stage name, since that's on my existing CD's and scores.
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