Bach and beyond
Together Apart is the name of my newest composition, but it's also a way to describe how we're living these days. As soon as it became impossible to play live with others (unless you live with them), I started sketching out music designed to be played with latency and glitchy video conferencing-type connections. The idea was that even if you couldn't always see and/or hear your fellow musicians, the piece would still sound like it should, and there would be opportunities to rendezvous and stay on track, within parameters designed to be forgiving.
Of course, this is only worth anything if the intended audience can hear the aggregate result! That was beyond my tech capabilities -- and still is -- but Doug Jenkins of Portland Cello Project has found a way. In the photo below, you can see him in the computer screen, along with Diane Chaplin, Valdine Mishkin and myself. This is my view during our recent rehearsals. Yes! I said rehearsals! It was exhilarating to actually rehearse, and with two such extremely fine musicians. We could see and hear each other, three voices at the same time, and better than we actually needed to for the sake of pulling off the piece, which meant that we were able to feel that sense of musical interaction and communication for which we adore chamber music. Bliss.
The piece is non-metered and uses an aleatoric approach -- quite common these days in new classical music -- meaning that an element of chance is expected and unavoidable in performance. This has generally been used to introduce an element of chance or variability into the music, but I'm using it to allow for those things, due to the technical limitations of the online medium we're performing in these days. There are rhythms that are meant to be played in a relatively steady tempo, but if a player does something expressive with the time or if individual tempi vary, the design allows for that not to be a problem. There are periodic fermatas (holds) to serve as rendezvous points (visible at the very bottom of the music in the photo below), allowing for everyone to be caught up and ready for the next section, and it is always clear who has the material -- easily seen in the basic movements of the bow arm, as well as hearable -- that indicates the commencement of the next section.
My new notation software, Dorico, was ideal for this, since bar lines could be added only where I wanted them. Except for a few places where I manually shifted notes, they still line up vertically on the page (i.e. between the parts) in a manner that could be said to graphically represent their relationships in time. It's not a prerequisite for a successful performance that the players accurately realize the three parts in this way, since there is a lot of wiggle room baked in, but in our rehearsals, I noticed that we were often pretty well lined up! This is no doubt due to a couple of things: we were all using our computers with Ethernet (not WiFi), which reduces latency and increases reliability, and we are all three very good at keeping a steady tempo. Because we could hear each other, we were able to imitate the tempo, dynamic level and character of the first statement of each melody, and even make subtle adjustments along the way. That's chamber music! I don't mean to imply that we could hear and respond with anything like the same finesse and detail we could if we were in the same room, and the music (intentionally!) doesn't even have many of the elements that make something like a Beethoven string quartet require many, many hours of rehearsal. But, still...It was lovely to feel that sense of give and take, a little of that musical mind meld, that we are missing so much right now.
Even with Doug's tech wizardry and the investments and improvements the three of us have made in our own equipment, we're still at the mercy of the Internet, with all its vagaries, so I suppose there's no guarantee that we'll always be able to hear each other with so little in the way of lag and glitches. This piece, and any others constructed in a similar way, wouldn't suffer musically if there were some of those problems, but when it goes the way it did in our rehearsals, we can revel in the experience of making music truly together, even though we're physically so far apart.
The Portland Cello Project is doing a livestream every Tuesday at 6PM PDT, and I'm referring to the one for May 26, 2020. (There may be plans afoot to share to other platforms, I don't have any details to share about that.) There will be five solo pieces in addition to this cello trio. Each Cello Tuesdays installment is available after the livestream on PCP's Facebook page, and the past ones are well worth checking out! Here's a link.
Tomorrow, May 10, 2020, I'll be performing the last leg of this weekend's Mini-fest by the Siletz Bay Music Festival in collaboration with the Lincoln City Cultural Center. LCCC has been offering "Creative Quarantine" presentations to their community, and the partnership with SBMF is a natural extension of that activity, since many SBMF events are held in the excellent auditorium at the Cultural Center.
Following a 3:00 family performance -- not just for kids, but including performances by kids! -- by violist Miriam English Ward and her family, I'll present some of my favorites, chosen especially for the occasion. SBMF offers chamber music, jazz and orchestra concerts each summer, and a versatile mix is a point of pride for the festival. In addition to Bach and some jazz-inflected, Bach-inspired selections my program will include a setting of a poem by Ed Edmo, "Celilo Fishermen." Ed is a Native American writer and Traditional Storyteller, and the premiere of a section of our collaboration about Celilo Falls was to have premiered on one of the orchestra concerts at SBMF this summer, so it seems fitting that I share a smaller collaboration between the two of us with the SBMF audience. My program will be:
"Prelude" from Suite in C major by J.S. Bach
"Allemande" from Jazz Suite by Lucio Franco Amanti
Tango para Ilaria by Carter Brey
Celilo Fishermen by Nancy Ives
All-Things by Kenji Bunch
Somewhere Over the Rainbow, arr. Nancy Ives
I hope you can join me! 3:30 (or when the previous program is done) on Sunday, May 10, 2020, on the Lincoln City Cultural Center's Facebook page.