Freezing-in-Residence: Composer Rob Paterson Spends a January Week in Vermont

My recent residency week was a roller coaster ride of mostly wonderful, amazing and fun experiences. I arrived on Sunday afternoon, and experienced one of the coldest days (in some places it was 28 degrees below zero!) in Vermont in recent memory. Everyone warned me: “Bundle up!” “Bring your fleeces!” “It’s going to be very cold!” (You know it’s serious when a Vermonter says that.) I grew up in Buffalo, and even lived in Burlington back in the 90s, so I thought I knew cold, but nothing prepared me for that day. It was absolutely freezing! Luckily it quickly warmed up to “normal” Vermont cold (read: shorts weather for Vermonters).

On Sunday, I heard the orchestra rehearse my Suite for String Orchestra. After a rough start, it sounded pretty good at the performance at Harwood Union High School (still a few rough edges, but not bad), and significantly better at the VYO Winter Concert at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts that Sunday.

The week was a whirlwind of activity. I was interviewed by Ellen Gurwitz for the online Stone Soup Radio show, as well as by Cheryl Wiloughby for Vermont Public Radio. Both interviews were great ways to reach larger Vermont audiences than I can at concerts or by visiting specific populations.

I also visited Winooski High School and Harwood Union High School. At Harwood Union High School, I met with two different classes. The jazz instructor was in the audience and he was so into my music and what I addressed in the first class that he invited his entire big band for the second class, so I spoke to a huge room full of students. They all asked great questions, and seemed excited by my telling them what it’s like to make a living doing something you love. We also talked about technology, and how distracting Facebook and email can be.

At Winooski High School, I met with a few different classes taught by Cathy Mander-Adam. Her beginning piano class consisted entirely of ELL (English Language Learning) students who are part of Vermont’s Refugee Resettlement Program. These students are from all over the world, from countries as diverse as Thailand, India and Africa. Watching them connect – and facilitating this connection – through creating a short piano composition was a fabulous experience.

Between classes, Cathy told me a heartbreaking story. Before arriving in the U.S., some of these students had never heard music before as it had largely been banned in their particular villages and towns. Many of these students are experiencing music for the first time, right here in Vermont. I think many of us live privileged lives without even realizing it. We think of music as a normal part of our everyday existence, but there are places in the world where people are simply not so lucky. I hope the Vermont music community realizes what an important role it plays in offering students the experience of music. Music is something we should never take for granted.

At the University of Vermont, I gave a lecture entitled “How to Make It As a Musician: Twelve Secrets to Success I Never Learned in College” for the UVM music department. Also at UVM, I was interviewed by Daniel Lynch on UVMtv, UVM’s student-run television station. I also attended many meetings with VYOA and other collaborating organizations.

A highlight of my week was making dinner for Katherine Kjelleren and her family. At the VYOA online auction in November they bid on and won my offer of preparing a vegan dinner in their home. I commend them for trusting that I would make them something that actually tastes good!  I love to cook and have been vegan for almost twenty years, and I am actually working on a recipe book so I am well-prepared for a fun job like this. The menu consisted of a Thai Red Curry dish, Chinese Tofu and Black Bean sauce and stir-fried bok choy. We spent a few hours talking while I cooked so I got acquainted with her sons Kameron (a VYO tuba player) and Thomas, who plays trumpet. My primary interaction with individual VYO musicians has been from afar, while they are on stage rehearsing, so it is especially nice to have a chance to engage one-on-one. I hope I’ll have more chances to interact with the orchestral musicians in a more personal way next summer at Reveille! I also hope they may feel freer to approach me as I continue to residency work next season.

The Flynn concert was a bittersweet experience. Post-concert, I attended a going away reception for Ronald Braunstein and Caroline Whiddon. I’ve known Caroline for twenty-three years and she is a good friend of mine. In addition, I enjoyed the time I spent working with Maestro Braunstein. Looking forward, I’m eager to work with Jeffrey Domoto, the music director designate and with Randy Rowland, the interim executive director.

Finally, I’m especially excited about working with Jeffrey Buettner and the VYO Chorus this April when they premiere my new choral work. Entitled Did You Hear?, I wrote it specifically for this choir, with their input, and it contains theatrical elements and includes allusions to Twitter via Tweeting sopranos – among other things! I’ll be working with the Chorus during April 4 – 9 as they put the finishing touches on their presentation of the piece. I look forward to seeing you there!

Rob Paterson, Music Alive Composer-in-Residence
Robert Paterson is the Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with the VYOA. Music Alive is a national residency program of the League of American Orchestras & Meet the Composer.

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