The Paterson Effect – No Powdered Wigs Allowed

Rob speaking at VYO January concert

It is difficult to put in words how much fun I’ve had during my amazing first year as the Music Alive Composer-in-Residence with VYOA! I am thrilled that the Vermont Youth Orchestra gave such a wonderful performance of my orchestral work Enlightened City on January 24th at the Flynn Center, but the best part of my residency—by far—has been meeting and working with such enthusiastic, talented and interesting musicians, including the staff—and luckily, I have two more years of coming to the Elley-Long Music Center to work with the VYOA! How awesome is that? This is what I live for.

A major part of my residency consists of outreach, whether visiting schools such as the Edmunds Middle School or organizations like the Colchester Rotary Club, or working with young composers through the Vermont MIDI Project. One interesting comment I received came from someone at the Rotary Club, who said, “Well, I have to admit, before hearing you speak, I thought to myself, oh great—a composer. This will be so boring. But you were really interesting! Nothing like what I thought you would be.”

Josh Morris, Nick Bonaccio, Rob Paterson, Tim Woos

This made me wonder: what did he think I would be like? That I would have a powdered, white wig, like in typical paintings of Mozart? Maybe he thought I would talk about “combinatorial hexachords”? I guess I can’t blame him. The thought of writing notes on a page seems so cerebral, doesn’t it? And I always joke that I should set up a composer cam, just so people can see how boring the act of composing looks. I think my mentioning that I do what everyone else does—go food shopping, mop the floor, change diapers, and so on—helped reenforce that composers are basically just like everyone else, except that they write music for a living.

This leads me to my main mission as a Composer-in-Residence, which is two-fold: First, talk to people about what it is like being a composer, and answer questions about what I do daily, how I survive, and so on. Second, and perhaps much more importantly—at least to me—is talking up the VYOA, and getting people to come to the concerts. Just like people who attend Little League games or school plays, everyone should attend VYOA concerts! Here is a perfect example of what mean: a few of my in-laws live in Vermont, and of course, I invited them to the concert. I also asked my sister-in-law Juliana and her husband Kevin to invite two friends. Keep in mind that their friends had never been to a VYOA concert, and aren’t musicians, relatives or have any affiliation with VYOA. For them, it was a first-time experience. Guess what? They loved it! They were blown away by how wonderful the performance was and how talented the kids are, and I have a feeling they might start regularly attending the concerts, just for the fun of it. So, what can we learn from this? Half the challenge is getting people in the door. If that happens, it is a LOT easier getting people to attend the second and third time, and make it a regular part of their lives.

This falls directly in line with some of my goals for the coming two years as the VYOA’s resident composer. I want to get to know everyone even more, and find out what they like, and their experiences. (I probably learn more from them than they learn from me!) I did get to know the very talented Nick Bonaccio, but he is a percussionist, and so am I, so that’s not fair! I want to get to know everyone, whether wind or brass players, violists, singers in the choral groups. In turn, I hope they will feel free to ask me anything they want. If nothing else, hopefully their experience of working with me will encourage them to work with other composers in the future.

Tim Woos performing at the Flynn Center in January

Next, I want to make it a goal to make sure all of the VYOA concerts are packed. Really packed! Every seat in the house! The energy at the last Flynn concert in January was amazing—especially the standing ovation for Tim Woos – who played the first movement of the Brahms Piano Concerto – it was very much deserved. The house was actually quite full, but I want it to be a standing room only crowd, with every single seat filled. How cool would that be? I want to help make that happen.

Finally, I want to write the best music possible for these musicians, whether I’m writing for the Vermont Youth Orchestra or the VYO Chorus. I want the students to feel excited about working with a composer. It is fun—and comforting—to play cherished classics by long dead masters, but to me, nothing is more exciting than performing music by living, breathing composers, whether the work was written by me, Erik Nielsen, Joshua Morris (a cellist in the orchestra who also composes) or your next door neighbor. I especially like premieres of new compositions: it takes a lot of courage to play a new work, but it’s not a sure thing, It could be great… or not! To me, that’s super exciting.

To everyone, it’s been a wonderful first year! I can’t wait until the Reveille! Music Festival this summer.

Rob Paterson, VYOA Music Alive Composer-in-Residence

Photos: Lisamarie Charlesworth, Cheryl Wiloughby & Jody Woos

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 and Meet The Composer.

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