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Opus in Progressionem

Updates on music composition projects by Debra J. Lynn

Month

July 2017

Recording Sessions 8-10 Complete!

This past week, Robert Lynn recorded the 2nd and 3rd movements of “Proxemics,” my fiendishly difficult piece for unaccompanied cello.  Lila Hammer and Pamela Haynes also recorded all of “Manchester Sonata” for clarinet and piano.

All of the pieces slated for the final 9 or 10 recording sessions require pretty advanced-level musicians.  One of the reasons these sessions were scheduled later in the summer, was to allow extra time for these performers to prepare.  I am pleased with the results so far.  This has been quite an exciting journey, and I am humbled again and again by the dedication of these musicians who bring such personal integrity to the process.  It would be so much easier to invest less of themselves. I’m a far cry from Beethoven or Mozart, after all.  But, their hours of rehearsal and close attention to detail prove the high priority they have placed on this project, and I am deeply moved.

Haley (my student assistant and recording engineer), who is a composition major herself, asked me “Is it hard for you to listen to people play your music? Do you ever dislike their interpretation?”  I thought that was an excellent question.  My response wasn’t very profound in the moment, but upon further reflection — this is what I have to say (hopefully Haley will see this): I love writing for people I know, because I can imagine with a fair amount of accuracy how they will interpret a particular phrase or musical gesture. I make every effort to write music that will cater to their individual strengths (pyro-technics, tone quality, expression, articulation, range, tessitura, etc.) while also writing pieces they will appreciate and enjoy learning and performing.  If I stick to that formula, I am seldom disappointed.  My next job is to be sure I notate the music in such a way that parameters are clear without stifling the passion, enthusiasm, and interpretation of whoever endeavors to perform it.  Creating music is only half of the composer’s job.  The other half (sometimes more than half) is notating what you hear in a way that draws out the performance you want, and yet prevents the performance you don’t want.

I feel very honored to know people who inspire me to create music especially for them. Photos of some of those special people are below.

Lila Hammer records Manchester Sonata
Lila says of my work, “There’s always that one measure, that’s just a little tougher than everything else.” I think she was looking at one of those measures when I snapped this picture!
Haley Neilson, my hard-working recording engineer
This gal put has put in some long hours! I’ve been very impressed with Haley’s work this summer.
Recording Session #9
Recording sessions can be really stressful, so it’s important to take some laughing breaks now and then.
Recording Session #9
Lila Hammer recording Manchester Sonata

Manchester Sonata

I love hearing Dr. Pamela Haynes practice my compositions. She is a consummate artist, who leaves no detail unattended while layering in her own musical expression and interpretation. The best performers become part of the creative process and lift the composer’s notes off the page with sensitivity and integrity. Mere compositions are nothing unless human musicians breathe life into them.

Lila Hammer records Manchester Sonata
Lila says of my work, “There’s always that one measure, that’s just a little tougher than everything else.” I think she was looking at one of those measures when I snapped this picture!
Recording Session #9
Lila Hammer and Pamela Haynes, recording Manchester Sonata
Recording Session #9
Recording sessions can be really stressful, so it’s important to take some laughing breaks now and then.
Recording Session #9
Lila Hammer recording Manchester Sonata

7 Recording Sessions Down, 8 to Go!

We’re basically halfway finished with our recording sessions! We’ve recorded 8 out of 9 choral pieces, 2 handbell arrangements, 1 flute solo (3 movements), and the first movement of “Proxemics” for cello.  Pictured above is Robert Lynn, the Shoeless Joe of cellists, in one of last week’s recording sessions.

This week’s schedule includes movement 2 of “Proxemics” for cello, and Manchester Sonata for clarinet and piano, featuring Lila Hammer and Pamela Haynes.

All that remains is one more choral piece, a trumpet sonata, the finale to “Proxemics,” a three-movement song cycle for voice and piano, and a chamber piece for soprano, tenor, cello, and piano.  Our final recording session is slated for August 14 — so the end is near!

Haley should have some completed recordings for me to post soon, so stay tuned!

 

Flutes and Handbells!

Recording Session Three is now complete! We had a wonderful recording session with our 11-member ad hoc handbell ensemble (Debra’s Ding-A-Lings) and 2 flutists.

The session began with Ann Donner playing “Italian Dance Suite,” a three-movement piece for unaccompanied flute.  Afterwards, Haley (recording engineer) scooped up all her equipment and we headed over to Manchester Church of the Brethren to record two handbell arrangements: “Wondrous Love” (with flutist Kathy Davis), and “Ride On, King Jesus.” We finished up 30 minutes ahead of schedule, which is never a bad thing.  You can see the concentration on everyone’s faces in the pics below.  Recording can be nerve-wracking and difficult, but everyone did great! I am so thankful to each of these people for their hard work and generosity.  I’ve mentioned our flutists, Ann and Kathy, but I want to be sure to acknowledge these terrific bell ringers: Audri Fuentes, Julie Garber, Katherine Haff, Lila Hammer, Kenzie Hare, Jeff Hunn, Robert Lynn, Michael Rueff, Laura Stone, Jake Svay, and Becky Unger.  (see photos below — click on specific images to make them larger)

Next up is my insanely difficult unaccompanied cello solo entitled “Proxemics” and two choral pieces: “Prayer for Renewal” and “Three Responsories for Tenebrae.”  Stay tuned for further updates!

Writing for Piano

I am painstakingly piecing together piano reductions of my orchestra scores for “A Family Portrait.”  My goal is to have all of this done by August 1st.  Although the piano reductions are not intended for performance, they give crucial harmonic and textural information to the singers as they rehearse and prepare for their first orchestra rehearsal.  Piano reductions are weird because it’s as much a process of deciding what to leave out, as what to put in.  Once you decide what to include, you then have to be sure it is playable.  It’s tricky and time-consuming.

Even though I am a pretty decent pianist and have played for nearly 50 years, I still feel very intimidated when I write for piano. I’ve played a lot of cumbersome things and thought, “obviously this composer didn’t know much about piano.”  I do not want to be that composer. I often write piano parts that are just a bit beyond my playing level, but even working through the music under tempo, I can find and fix most of the awkward passages.  Still, for me, writing piano parts requires more concentration and discernment than writing for any other instrument.  Not only do you have to consider the hands, but there are the darned pedal markings to worry about, too! *sigh*

It is extremely helpful for all composers to have trusted colleagues who will play through their works and give honest, constructive feedback.  I have two such pianists in my life right now, and I am so grateful for them.  Thanks Pam and Alan for your suggestions, affirmation, and all around good humor.  Brace yourselves. I’m going to have more music for you to sight-read very soon.

Well, I’d better get back to work. These reductions are not going to write themselves.

Two Choral Recording Sessions Finished!

I am very pleased to report that our choral recording sessions have been going very well. A huge thank you to Haley Neilson, Tim Reed, and Grant Ebert for help with the first two sessions. We have been able to complete our work well within the allotted time frame (Time = $), and our musicians are really bringing their A-game!  With only two rehearsals they were able to perfect four choral works and make significant headway on three others.  Our amazing summer choir is made up of the following people:

  • Sopranos: Debbie Chinworth, Kathy Fry-Miller, Lila Hammer, Kenzie Hare, Angelina Jung, and Judy Myers-Walls
  • Altos: Sandy Funk, Julie Garber, Katherine Haff, Haley Neilson, Mykayla Neilson, and Laura Stone
  • Tenors: Paul Fry-Miller, Steve Hammer, Clayton Marcum, Jake Svay, and Jeremy Williams
  • Basses: Grant Ebert, Matt Grothouse, Andrew Haff, Michael Rueff, and Orion Toepfer

Special Thanks to Dr. Pamela Haynes (piano), Thomas Hall (baritone solo), Kira Lace Hawkins (alto solo), and Mykayla Neilson (trumpet) for their diligent preparation, artistry, and pyro-technic virtuosity!

Additionally — the Il Quattro Men’s quartet (Matt, Clayton, Jake, and Michael — all noted above) did a wonderful job with my “Star-Spangled Banner” arrangement, and “Thomas: after seeing the wounds” featuring George Donner on oboe.

Up next (July 7): “Italian Dance Suite” (flute solo), and two handbell arrangements “Ride On, King Jesus” and “Wondrous Love” (with flute obbligato).  Stay tuned for further updates and postings of our recordings, coming soon!

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