Ok, so the idea of an 'annual' commission went out of the window just a little -- I blame life for getting in the way. However, I've been waiting for an opportunity to have another work written, and for several reasons, now seems like the right time for something new.
I've spent this past year enjoying a new and amazing miracle (my daughter), all while observing the new balance of life and work. The joys and sacrifices have gone both ways. During this extremely happy time, my heart burns for those who have suffered such uncountable loss, either at home (like those in the south who are so often stricken by tornados and floods) or abroad (like those in Japan who experienced the devastation of earthquakes and tsunami). And the loss is ongoing.
Sometimes it can feel wrong to have so much joy in my heart when others have so little. We all have joys and sorrows -- it doesn't have to take a natural disaster to bring sadness and loss into one's life, and believe me, I've had my share of both. Yet, this time, as I experience for myself the complexities of grappling with such mixed emotion, I look at my little one, at the news screen, and back at my daughter and realize there is something bittersweet. Something stretching my heart -- I realize that these things come hand in hand. I need to grieve life in order to celebrate it. I need to celebrate in order to grieve.
I want to live alongside with my brothers in the world (known and unknown). I choose to do it through my craft because that is what I've got. I want to express the heart -- joys and sufferings -- of humanity with my own heart and abilities, however frail.
This is why in June of this year, I chose to commission a new work. For some reason it was obvious from inception that Jeremy Allen should write the work.
As with the last commission, Mercury Retrograde (for string quartet), I haven't given Jeremy too many parameters for the new piece, because I want to see what he comes up with on his own... I already know I love what he does. However, I do know that the piece will be for solo violin and I'll see the final draft sometime in December 2011. Unlike MR, this new piece will be one movement. I've given Jeremy a few words to think about as he writes: the stages of grief, seasons, and a book from the Bible, Ecclesiastes.
I've got the first two pages on my stand right now, and I look forward to sharing those and more with you in the coming weeks.
Lots of people have been asking to hear music from the November 2009 concert, so I've uploaded the first of a few clips here... enjoy!
Here's the last movement of Mercury Retrograde, performed by yours truly with the other members of the Mauthe String Quartet. This is a live recording of the world premiere. I love the imagery of Jeremy Allen's writing -- and make sure you listen to the end. You'll hear Bekah's impromptu fork hitting the strings. Yes, I did say FORK. (She wasn't too far off; Jeremy originally asked for a spoon... can you tell the difference?)
There's something about the creative process that I find truly irresistible. The opportunity to paint, play, write, sculpt, or set into motion those thoughts and inspirations that cannot be expressed in the normal context of the day-to-day is, each and every time, a once in a lifetime thing. And watching others in the process is just as fun for me as to do it myself ... I get to stand on the outside and look in on the process from beginning to end. I can learn what the artist learns, perhaps even observe something about the artist that few already know. The artist may even make a decision to go in a certain direction based on something I say.
This kind of discovery (in observation of the artist) is also once in a lifetime. What would it have been like to be with Beethoven as he wrote and performed the Kreutzer Sonata for the first time? What kind of experience would it have been to see Picasso develop his cubist style? Someone was there to watch, encourage and support those greats. The names of all but the most famous supporters may be lost over history, but the care and influence of all remain in the works and trends left behind by the artists.
This is why I asked composer Jeremy Allen to write a piece for me. Not only am I supporting what he does and giving you an opportunity to get to know him and his work, but I am supporting who he is and who he is going to become. And, on a practical note, I'm helping him put food on the table for his one year-old son and lovely wife Jenna-Claire. Not a bad thing. Artists of all kinds do need food in order to do what they do. We should feed them, right?
Naturally, speaking as an artist, I wholeheartedly agree with myself. I have been so blessed to have had many support me in word or deed over the past (*ahem*) years and while I cannot ever thank those people enough, I know that my duty is to press on to greater things, to honor those who have helped and to honor my gifts and especially to honor the One who gave them to me.
I digress. This article is not about me, rather, it's about Jeremy Allen, the guy whom you really want to get to know. If you aren't already aware, I'm premiering his piece Mercury Retrograde on November 22 with the other members of the Mauthe String Quartet. You should come. And give a donation if you can. That will support Jeremy, myself, Banchinda, and the rest of the Mauthe Quartet.
At any rate, I promised you the conclusion to our interview, and here it is. Even though some of the questions are very specific toward composing or music, I feel that what Jeremy says can be applied to anyone in any field (we call these people normal in our line of work...). Enjoy!
Jeremy, what are you most looking forward to on this project?
Working with an awesome group of players who let me try anything I want!
Anything (musically or otherwise) you're encountering for the first time?
Yes. Being free from graduate school and becoming a freelance composer. The opportunities are more numerous than I expected, but it is indeed a different world and takes time to build on those opportunities.
If you could do anything with your gifts, what would it be (either long or short-term)?
I truly feel like I can do anything with my gifts. I guess the only answer I have for you is, “wait and see.”
Any advice you can give to fellow musicians out there?
There are no limits, and no one is born with anything “extra.” Work for what you want to do, and you will get there. And play new music!!!
Advice to young budding composers about to take the plunge?
There is something to learn from every piece of music you will ever hear (sometimes especially if you don’t like the music). If you are always listening, you will always be learning how to be a better composer.
You live here in Cleveland with your wife and son, right? What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Hanging out with my family at Edgewater Park, walking through Little Italy, or relaxing at home with homemade pizza, ice cream and friends (part of our family, too). There’s nothing like family.
What's in your i-pod lineup/ cd player right now?
I think there is an Arvo Part CD stuck in my nonfunctional CD player in my gloriously dirty minivan right now.
Check out the Calendar for more information about the premiere performance of Jeremy Allen's work for string quartet, Mercury Retrograde.
Thanks for reading!
Jeremy Allen, an Iowa native, and I know each other from the beginning days of Cleveland-based new-music ensemble FiveOne.
Starting in the spring of 2007, we met for coffee weekly with Mike Bratt and John Thompson (former and current Artistic Directors, respectively) to dream, discuss, and devise ways to bring a new-music ensemble into Cleveland. It has been a long road, with many successes and some failures, but I’ve been thankful for the time I have had to spend with these three inspired gentlemen, and to have such a generous platform for creativity. While my time as a member of FiveOne will soon come to a close, I am excited to see what the future holds for this group, and for Jeremy as one of the founding members.
I have had the privilege to get to know Jeremy’s music and a bit about his life over the past few years. One of the reasons I chose him as my first commission was because I respect him as a person as much as I love his music. In fact, knowing a bit of his story (we find this in mainstream culture), has really contributed to my appreciation of Jeremy’s music. If you ever get the chance, listen to Twende, a piece he wrote for FiveOne, and then ask him what it’s all about. It will break your heart.
I would like to dedicate this first installment of Tune In to an email interview I did with Jeremy. I’ve left it unedited so that you receive the full benefit of his generosity in sharing with all of us.
How did you get into music?
I remember dancing to Michael Jackson, the Doobie Brothers, Bobby McFerrin and the occasional Van Halen track when I was a wee lad. There are 8mm home movies of me dancing right in front of the speaker with my huge diaper on. Making up boogie-woogie tunes on the piano when I was about 4 or 5 is another of my earliest musical memories. Both my older sisters were playing the piano by that time, and my parents started me into lessons at age 6. From there, let’s face it, ending up as a musician was inevitable.
Why did you choose composting? (jk. composing.)
Composing is the best job in the world, and I am firmly convinced of this fact. What better job than to create sounds that have never been heard before, potentially changing lives in the process? Also, I am among a group of few very lucky composers who get to have our music played by world-class performers. I love listening to new things, trying new things, figuring out how to solve problems and create new forms, and, most of all, communicating to both performers and listeners that which cannot be communicated with words. It’s amazing, and every musician should try it at some point.
You'll be working with the Mauthe Quartet as you compose Mercury Retrograde -- Will this be your first string quartet? What other kinds of works have you done in the past, and how will this be similar or different?
Although I have written for string quartet before, this will be my first “full-scale” string quartet. I have heard other composers say how intimidating it is to write a string quartet in light of the already stellar (and abundant) collection of repertory for the ensemble, but I refuse to be afraid. I am simply approaching it as a group of instruments with its own unique challenges and opportunities…just like I approach writing for any other ensemble. I want to create beauty and cosmos through this piece, and learn from it in the process.
What kinds of things are you considering musically?
Oh, you know... I’ve been considering doowop-doowah, diddle-deeeee-qwabaaang, and chikadoodadiddle. Along with twaaahaaahaaatwaahaaaa, zigazigazigaziga.
Now I am sensing that you meant...something...else...
How do you hope listeners and musicians will be impacted by your music?
In ways that stir an interest in new music; in ways that inspire them to be better teachers, firemen, business owners, and parents; in ways that draw them to good art; in ways that create hope; in ways that are unique and belong only to them. I want to create music worth listening to, and worth remembering, and I can only hope that it changes lives for the better.
Stay tuned for the conclusion of this two-part spotlight on composer Jeremy Allen. Also check out his website at www.allencomposer.com
Thanks for reading!
I'm Erica Ward, formerly