Archive for the ‘ Uncategorized ’ Category

Mizzou New Music Initiative in the news

The Mizzou New Music Initiative has been in the news for several reasons in recent weeks. Here’s a recap of some recent coverage:

Last week’s announcement of the Sinquefield Charitable Foundation’s $1.4 million gift to the Initiative was a featured story on the University’s news service, and in Mizzou magazine and Mizzou Weekly.  Local coverage included stories in the Daily Tribune, Missourian and Maneater, and on KBIA and KOMU.

The gift also was covered in other publications around the state, including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Business Journal, and the Associated Press story about it was picked up by dozens of media outlets around the country.

The previous week, the Missouri Composers Orchestra Project (MOCOP) concert on March 9 was spotlighted in an article by Aarik Danielsen for the Columbia Daily Tribune, and this year’s MOCOP High School division winner Dustin Dunn was featured in his hometown paper in Ironton.

In other news, if you missed the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s recent town hall meeting,  at which the SLSO announced that they’ll perform new works next season by Mizzou’s Stephanie Berg and former Mizzou International Composers Festival resident composer Patrick Harlin,  you can watch it online at the website of cable network HEC-TV.

Finally, our congratulations also go out to Patrick Harlin for being awarded a 2013 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Mizzou New Music Ensemble to perform works by Muñiz, Kellogg, Colagiovanni, and Makler on Sunday, March 3 at Whitmore Recital Hall

The Mizzou New Music Ensemble (pictured) will present the third concert of their 2012-13 season at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, March 3 in Whitmore Recital Hall, 135 Fine Arts Building on the University of Missouri campus. Admission is free for Mizzou students, $5 suggested donation for the general public.

The program will include the world premiere of “Duende,” a new piece by Spanish-American composer Jorge Muñiz. Inspired by the sounds and traditions of Flamenco, “Duende” was commissioned specifically for the Mizzou New Music Ensemble. Muñiz, an associate professor of music composition and theory at Indiana University South Bend, currently is teaching at Central Methodist University in Fayette, MO.

The concert also will include two pieces written by Mizzou freshman composition students. “Winter Reflections” by Benedetto Colagiovanni is an exploration of jazz rhythms and harmonies, while “Reflections” by Trey Makler is an introspective work featuring solo sections for each instrument in the Ensemble.

The MNME will complete the program by performing the third and fourth movements of Daniel Kellogg’s Divinum Mysterium . Commissioned in 2000 by the chamber ensemble eighth blackbird, the five-movement work is based on the 13th century chant melody “Divinum Mysterium.”

The Ensemble is playing different parts of the work at each of their concerts this year in preparation for a full performance during the 2013 Mizzou International Composers Festival. Kellogg, an associate professor of music at the University of Colorado, will be one of the guest composers for the Festival.

The six-member Mizzou New Music Ensemble is made up of University of Missouri graduate students and recent alumni under the direction of Stefan Freund, a cellist, composer and associate professor. They serve as the repertory group for the Mizzou New Music Initiative, an array of programs intended to position the University of Missouri School of Music as a leading center in the areas of composition and new music.

The Ensemble’s members for the 2012-13 season are Rachel AuBuchon, piano; Stephanie Berg, clarinets; Mary Jamerson, flute; Katherine Jones, violin; Ian McClaflin, percussion; and Matthew Pierce, cello. As the repertory group for the Initiative, they work with faculty, students and visiting composers, and give public performances on campus and in the community.

Patrick Clark on the YES Academy Concerts: 11 July 2012–Composers; Duhok, Iraq

Assuming the reaction of an audience is a barometer of the success of a concert, the closing concerts for the YES Academy 2012 in Duhok hit their intended marks quite well. As the inaugural composition teacher for the Academy I had a vested interest in the concert of works by the student composers and so it will be my main focus here.

One might have done well to bring earplugs to this concert, but not because the music was so loud. Rather because the applause was overwhelming. Of course the whistles of support by students are the most deadly of sounds, second only to the piccolo playing fortissimo at close range, and the air was filled with these at the final cadences of each composition.

The program included the works of seven young Iraqi composers and all were charged with the sounds and rhythms of the local traditional music. I may even find myself influenced in my own future compositions by the snake-charming lines of strings in octaves (most pieces were written for a string quartet plus any available complement—two and three to part). These pieces found their appeal through the recognizable conventions so often heard in Middle Eastern music. If we, from the West, might expect more experimentation in composition, and place a premium on originality, we must understand that the sense of community here in Iraq is yet a more highly valued attribute. It is also what can make a brand new arrangement by a homegrown YES Academy student of something familiar at times more appealing than a masterpiece by a composer from the West. But one should not forget that a great favorite of American audiences is Aaron Copland’s treatment of the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts” in Appalachian Spring.

The word “cocktail” came up several times after the program. I suppose it is something like a box of Whitman’s chocolates: you know something of the genre of taste, but the exact flavor is unpredictable—and that is why they can be more exciting than the morsel you already know.


Patrick Clark – Day Eight: The Finish Line

The Finish Line: 9 July, 2012; Day Eight; Duhok, Iraq

I am at the end of the eighth day of teaching composition, theory and music history with the American Voices YES Academy in Duhok, Iraq. I am most proud to report that seven of my ten composition students have crossed the finish line with completed short pieces for anywhere from four to seven players. The proof is on camera and digital audio as several volunteers for the program recorded our first reading and rehearsal session for these pieces.

The generous string faculty allowed no fewer than three compositions to be read in their String Orchestra rehearsal time between yesterday and today. Meeting the challenge of such goodwill, string, wind, and piano students gave two hours (again, after their Orchestra rehearsal) to a very successful reading session after dinner earlier this evening.

The offerings by these seven aspiring composers exceeded even my already high hopes. I work with the students individually every other day to see the progress of the pieces and insure they meet the standards necessary for players to read them without issue. Of course I do my best in offering suggestions for strengthening the material and form. I hear them often through the obtuse Finale computer notation software, and spend time at the keyboard checking the counterpoint.

What surprises me even to this day is how much more vivid and clever the sounds are when made by real instruments! There is some principle—it must be in the science of aesthetics, recorded somewhere—that we humans find some profound thrill in all things alive, and especially those that are new. It has something to do with observing anything younger than oneself, that it always seems to have an edge of the special. That is what new music is and that is what I heard tonight. The players must have also—at least they didn’t complain about two hours of the unfamiliar along with the problem-solving that comes with the package. Okay, I’ll just say it: Here comes the next generation of Iraqi composers.

It is now 11:00 pm here. I must meet with Marc Thayer, Director of String Orchestras, and tell him “Yes, I’ve got a program of new, very new, music by young Iraqi composers! Where can we fit this into the final concert schedule?” After that meeting I had better get to preparing my history and theory lessons for tomorrow—my alarm will wake me at 6:30 a.m. in the morning. Just the usual schedule but with a bit of added satisfaction.


Patrick Clark on Day Seven in Duhok, Iraq

Day Seven, American Voices YES Academy, Duhok, Iraq

My composers have been moved by the spirit. Following yesterday’s reading of two student works by the String Orchestra, four of the remaining eight composers arrived in this morning’s class with beautifully finished scores and parts. I was caught off guard not expecting such a furious commitment overnight. I scrambled to assemble two student string quartets and some added auxiliaries (clarinets and piano) and arrange a reading and rehearsal session from 7:30 to 10:00 pm tomorrow night. I am expecting a similar phenomenon of productivity to swamp me with newly-completed works tomorrow morning.

As I pursued players for readings I happened upon an impromptu rehearsal formed by one of my students, Rebin Salar Sebir, with wind players who will augment his quartet tomorrow night. The entrepreneurial edge is coming naturally to Rebin. He has recognized early on that only hard work and self-motivation can lead to the sounds he has written being realized.

I have emphasized the importance of beautiful and accurate parts in winning over performers. It seems to have been effective and the players are enthusiastic when rehearsing the new sounds, madly counting and showing an attention that is sharper even than provoked by the familiar literature. So this is also the beginning of building the bridges with players who will, hopefully, be forever sympathetic to playing new works. Next is getting audiences to suspend their disbelief so willingly for new music as they do for the classics.

Not only has the event of an actual reading with real musicians(!) stimulated the creative impulse among my students, but also the daily confrontation with new scores and recordings that I present each day. We have listened critically, with scores, to works by many of the vanguard twentieth-century composers including John Adams, George Crumb, Michael Colgrass, John Cage, Steve Reich, Oliver Messiaen, Toru Takemitsu, Thelonious Monk, Bela Bartok, Claude Debussy, and Igor Stravinsky.

Of the ten students in my class, only the last three names were of any familiarity, and those only vaguely. Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, Anton Webern, Morton Feldman, Gyorgy Ligeti, Philip Glass, Luciano Berio and Bruno Mantovani remain on deck to be introduced. This is a watershed of exposure to these Middle Easterners that I couldn’t possibly have predicted.

Please trust, gentle reader, that I do not exaggerate when I tell you that they are overflowing with excitement at hearing, and seeing, the works of these composers. A cacophony in the classroom of the three local Iraqi languages follows as each piece ends. I often let this go on for a good stretch as I believe that one understands only as far as one is able to articulate the thoughts, and they must be free to articulate to one another as I hope they will, musically, in their future compositions.

Exposure is the missing link here in Iraq. The Russian cultural influence refracted much of the West here some 20 years ago but it is long gone. These students do not know the literature of music in the twentieth-century, let alone the twenty-first. One cannot stand tall without some giant shoulders upon which to stand.

I am told several times a day that only one hour of time in our American Voices classrooms exceeds a month of their typical musical education here. It is apparent that this might in fact be true. The intelligence is razor sharp, the interest and enthusiasm is something I’ve never imagined—the potential of the Iraqi musician seems measurable precisely by the availability of information. I wish I had more time…


Patrick Clark’s Observations & Fruit of Effort

Observations: 5 July, 2012; Day Five; Duhok, Iraq

I’m in a mosaic of Turkish and Kurdish music, most of which I hear in the back of taxis. It would be terribly awful pop music to me if it didn’t sound so exotic. Iraqi music videos are hysterically bad and remind me of American shampoo commercials. The students are really unbelievably appreciative of every single thing I say or do — its weird! They thank me at the end of every sentence I speak, and even in between if I happen to pause momentarily. Their appetite for information is fierce, especially in composition; they’ve hardly heard anything at all from the last 50 years in music outside of their own country except for, oddly, Yanni and Kenny-G (the “Thomas Kincaids of music”). So it is, I suppose, kind of like people from behind the iron curtain after the end of the Cold War just nutty about absorbing anything new. They line up at the door for “lessons” of any kind and politely ask just to sit in the room while I work with other students.

Yesterday in class I played a recording of one of my own compositions: a piece written for, and performed by, Leo Saguiguit on soprano saxophone. A student later asked me for a saxophone lesson. I said I didn’t play saxophone. He didn’t mind, he still wanted a saxophone lesson. Small crowds gather around me when I’m in trivial conversations with other students in the hallway (and it is worth noting that few even understand English).

I’ve reported examples of the foregoing in previous entries and yet these things are so primary and consistent to my daily experiences here that I am compelled to write them again. It is a morale boost, but I’m too jaded from the general world of apathy to believe this kind of enthusiasm could ever be found anywhere else. Unfortunately, the food really sucks, really. I don’t know how they could be this inept with cuisine. Of the last fourteen meals I have had, thirteen have been chicken, rice, flatbread, and tomato soup. I miss the french fries at the Heidelberg in Columbia now. Ketchup sounds tasty.

They are the most cordial people you can imagine and quite the model for how we all should treat each other. Strange, I think few people would have expected Kurds and other Iraqis to be anything like this. They drive like mad and, as my well-travelled roommate Paul Rockower has speculated, do so because their nascent automobile culture developed in the span of only a handful of years from a bicycle culture where one just rides, straight and boldly, toward one’s goal, swerving only at the last instant if necessary to avoid any obstacles. It honestly looks like bumper cars out in the streets only they are very considerate to never come any closer than an inch or two from any other car at high or low speeds. I have seen not a trace of animosity from any of these people toward anyone at all, even their fellow drivers.

It is fun, it is funny, it is a pleasure to be in northern Iraq and I wish you were here. I am being only mildly facetious in saying that you should plan your next vacation in beautiful Duhok! Everyone you meet will invite you to their home where, I understand, if you compliment anything in their house, they will insist that you take it home with you packed neatly in a box. The students have taken me out a couple of times in the evenings and refuse to allow me to pay for anything.

Quite by accident I’ve found myself in an idyllic academic environment and I hope these students might find themselves someday in American Universities so that they can demonstrate the true elegance of engagement with learning as it can be. Here, they haven’t the slightest idea what reasonable facilities, or even daily meals, are. And yet it is working, really, just fine, so long as there are teachers.

Fruit of Effort: 7 July, 2012; Day Six; Duhok, Iraq

I have two especially hard-working students in my composition class; Mohammed Zeki and Jumaah Fawzi Hashem. We have a 30-minute one-on-one meeting almost every other day and the focus of these two students on what I tell them is laser- sharp. It would seem to a passive observer that I was relating the most esoteric of compositional secrets to them during our sessions, and they take vigilant notes.

By the next morning each recommendation I made the previous day has been integrated into their compositions and the fruit of this work was displayed today in the top string orchestra rehearsal as director Marc Thayer generously allowed me to have one hour of the orchestra’s rehearsal time to read these brand new works.

An original work by Mohammed Zeki cleverly incorporates some of the traditional conventions of Kurdish music into a compelling dance in 6/8 that transforms into what one might call a funky rhythmic bacchanal for the closing section. We worked closely on detail and the result was a pleasure for all to hear and, often most important to the message of music, an engaging experience for the players. The orchestra displayed a genuine sympathy to realizing the piece of music they read and heard for the very first time.

Idiomatic writing for musical instruments is the rhetorical key to revealing content, and a high mark was hit with Mohammed’s composition. Not less important to the success of encouraging a composer is the reaction of not only the players, but the audience, which today was the members of the Academy’s second string orchestra and American Voices string faculty. Mohammed was thrilled to hear his work and I suspect that he may have not heard much of his music played before this afternoon. A success has been achieved and I predict this has secured the certain continuation of Mohammed’s efforts to attain ever-higher quality in future compositions.

Jumaah Hashem’s work, “For Someone” (an English title although he speaks hardly a word of English), displayed a deep expressivity in its rich but generally soft and sensitive counterpoint. A vague feeling of Barber’s Adagio lurks within the ever-unfolding stepwise lines that move in a quasi-archaic modal fabric.

It required continual admonishment on my part as conductor to prevent the orchestra from succumbing to the temptation of the implied crescendo of the work as a whole. But its power resides in resisting this temptation and we managed to achieve this by the final full take. One is moved inside as if something needed to surge and release, but could not find its outlet. Jumaah’s music displays a deep expressivity that often touches, momentarily, the profound. What is yet more impressive is that his dedication is such that he writes each revision of the score, and finally each part, by his own hand—a lost art in the age of computer notation.

These two composers are only the first of a total of ten composers I am teaching here. They have arrived, in only one week, at the finish line with completed scores, parts, and a realization of their efforts with a string orchestra. There remain eight more composers who have been moved by hearing today the actual results that are possible. I believe we will produce ten new works by ten young composers in this American Voices program in Duhok Iraq—we have, after all, yet another week to go.


Patrick Clark YES Academy Iraq Report

Patrick David Clark teaching music students at American Voices' YES Academy in Iraq

Day Three: Tuesday, July 3 – Duhok University, Iraq

Today in composition class, my ten students and I listened to Claude Debussy’s Voiles from the first book of Préludes. “What is the scale that Debussy is using in the first part of this piece?” I asked.

A general perplexity prevailed until I explained Debussy’s trademark whole-tone scale and played it up and down the piano like a harp and the generally reticent Jumaah declared it to be “magic.”

Indeed every analysis we make in class reveals magic to these Iraqi students. They are up front in confessing that they’ve never looked at music in this investigative manner and never realized that such structures exist beneath the sounds.

As is turns out, they’ve heard very few of the masterpieces of Western music. I asked if they knew Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and am excited to report that they haven’t—I’m excited because I will have the pleasure of presenting this steamroller to an uninitiated audience tomorrow. I can only hope for a riot (“If that’s a bassoon, then I’m a baboon!” -Saint-Saens at the Rite’s première in Paris, 1913).

I’m hearing everything fresh again myself—a kind of Spring of the senses—because there is a mood of excitement around the University. In the taxis the drivers subversively turn up the radio for the Americans in the backseat, giving us a dose of the exotic sounds of their native instruments: the saz, zurna, and santur. The serpentine timbres and affective decorations are as intoxicating to me as the whole-tone scales are to the Iraqi students. I’m learning how to absorb again, and perhaps growing younger in the process.


Patrick David Clark reporting from Iraq

Orientation: Friday, June 29 –  Duhok, Iraq

It is hot and dry in Duhok. I am in the Hotel Mondeal and a wedding celebration is taking place in the lobby below my room. Sounds and smells subtly spice the night air in northern Iraq.

I had the pleasure of meeting two veteran students of the American Voices annual summer program in Iraq this evening: clarinetist Dilan Muhammed, 21, 5th year, and cellist Bashdar Karim, 19, also in his 5th year. Both of these students receive the instruction available in the country through the Institute of Fine Arts, Department of Music in Iraq.

Apparently they continue to place a remarkably high value in their brief two weeks with the American Voices faculty each summer. “It was the first time I had ever seen a serious wind ensemble or full jazz band,” says Dilan of his first year.

It is also the emphasis by American Voices on instrumental technique and literature which exceeds that of the locally available instruction that brings them back. Both have developed their capabilities to play most recently in a Kurdish orchestra visiting Vienna, and the Sulimany Symphony Orchestra inside Iraq.

“So,” I asked, “do you want to be professional musicians?” “Yes. It is my dream.” These words, spoken by Bashdar, rang as authentic as any sound I’ve ever heard—these are among the most committed students I have met.

The diplomacy goes two directions I quickly discovered as they began to teach me of the idiosyncrasies of tuning in Kurdish music. This has long been a fascination of mine. I now know something of the use of the Phrygian mode with its raised third scale degree, and have confirmed that the second scale-degree is indeed raised also, ever so slightly, to produce one of the most haunting and particularly Middle-Eastern sounds in all of music.

Bringing in their instruments, Dilan and Bashdar sang and played their native strains, memorized as a cultural stamp, for me in my hotel room, an audience of one. I begin teaching theory and composition on Monday but for now they are wrapping me around their finger as I look forward to learning more tomorrow.

Teaching, Day One: Sunday, July 1 – Duhok University

To fully appreciate the pleasure of teaching Iraqi music students, one must imagine the following: a music professor walks across the commons finding him- or herself peacefully, but relentlessly, assaulted by young college-aged students asking questions like, “Can you tell me about the Dorian scale professor? And the Phrygian?…” “Can you please teach me contra-point sir?” “Who, Dr., invented modern notation?”

Several gather behind the bold inquisitor to hear how the American teacher will respond. Everyone hangs on every word and any pause is an opportunity to say “Thank you, thank you.”

Now imagine that I’m not making this up—all day long and a teacher has little time for any break in the pattern to have a drink of water. It is a dangerously high boost of self-worth but no less a realization of the responsibility attached to teaching. The moral of this story is, Iraqi students have a voracious appetite for learning and a teacher must be ready.

Facilities are the problem that anyone might have predicted. There are pianos being moved by enthusiastic quintets of students through hallways, messengers delivering news of a broken air-conditioner, perplexed faces and hand-gestures in every direction and one need not enquire because that would only slow one’s own errand pursuing a special power supply that, word on the street is, Ari Kawa can get for you.

Funny thing is that this all adds to the camaraderie that makes the program work. It is here among Iraqis, Kurds, Arabs, Americans, and even Spanish, somehow, all for one and one for all.