This is my last blog entry as Music Alive! composer in residence with the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association.
It has been an amazing three years, and I will miss everyone so much. This was an experience of a lifetime, the kind that composers live for.
Some of my favorite moments happened at Reveille, VYOA’s summer program. Although I was only in residence a few weeks each year, most of my time was spent in rehearsals or traveling around the state to visit schools, so this was one of the few times I really had a chance to interact with the VYO musicians on a personal level. Since the musicians live on campus, I think they were a little more relaxed. This allowed for some great conversations, especially in the Elley-Long hallway, which seems to be one of the easiest places to strike up a conversation. There’s something cozy and magical about the Elley-Long Music Center that makes you want to socialize, or at least makes it easy just hang out and talk.
One aspect of a residency that makes working with a youth orchestra incredibly difficult is the amount of change-over. With a professional orchestra, there is a lot of consistency, since players often stay with an orchestra for many years, if not their entire careers. With a youth orchestra, one year you might have a great group of trumpet players, but maybe there are very few violists. Each year will be completely different, which makes developing a new orchestral work incredibly challenging. As a composer, you want to cater the piece to the orchestra as much as you can, and really capitalize on what’s great about the ensemble that given year. Incorporating the idiosyncrasies of the ensemble also gives the piece personality on a technical level, and even composers like Mozart would write pieces with great parts for certain players that happened to be around at the time.
Aside from the musicians themselves, anyone who is involved with VYOA knows that there were administrative changes these last three years. However, through it all, everyone was incredibly supportive and friendly, and I am really glad I had the pleasure of working with Jeffrey Domoto and Rosina Cannizzaro at the end, and Jeffrey Buettner for the entire three years, as well as Lisamarie, Art, Mia and Liza.
An interesting aside: Rosina and her husband Nic lived right next door to Victoria and I while we were in school at Indiana University, and we even did gigs and had pot luck dinners, so I was very happy when I found out she was (and they were) moving to Vermont to work with VYOA. This just goes to show that friendships you make when you are in school can and often do become lasting friendships later in life. It’s so great to leave VYOA knowing it’s in such great hands.
I also really enjoyed working with the choir. One fascinating aspect of working with singers, particularly in the rehearsal room, is that because there’s no stage acting as a virtual wall, or instruments each musician can hide behind, it is much easier to make eye contact. To see their facial expressions and watch them smile when something funny occurred was really amazing. One of my favorite moments was when Jeff Buettner asked them what they thought of the choral movements of A New Eaarth. Their descriptions were incredibly evocative—even more detailed than what I was thinking while composing these pieces! This was one of those moments when I wish I had a video camera or recorded what they said.
Another highlight of working with the choir on Did You Hear?, a piece with text by writer-librettist David Cote that explored the themes of rumors and gossip. The choir members suggested these themes, so we really felt like this piece was truly theirs. It is quite theatrical, and really unlike almost every other choir work out there. David and I were so moved by their enthusiasm and performance that we plan on writing more pieces that incorporate theatrical elements, if we can find the right choral groups to work with. In essence, we want to create a new genre, and we have the Vermont Youth Orchestra Chorus members and Jeffrey Buettner to thank for inspiring us.
My residency culminated in a final project, A New Eaarth, for orchestra, chorus and narrator that centered on the issue of climate change. The fact that we were able to snag noted environmentalist, educator and author Bill McKibben to narrate, and have everything work out, with the difficulties in scheduling around such a busy environmental icon, was a minor miracle. It was amazing how everyone pulled together, especially since the piece was literally hot off the press. I was emailing parts to Jeff Domoto right before (and even during) the rehearsals, and parts were being delivered to the players and immediately rehearsed. Everything turned out incredibly well, and although the piece was quite substantial, the musicians really pulled it together as a whole. I received so many positive and moving comments about the piece and the entire concert that I was almost overwhelmed.
As I have said all along during my three years with VYOA, this experience was really about giving the musicians an opportunity to work closely with a living composer, and to go out in the community and really promote VYOA to the entire state. I hope this experience will end up being as fulfilling for all of the musicians and everyone else as it was for me. It was an incredible three years that I will never forget.
Robert Paterson, VYOA Composer-in-Residence, 2009-2012