This has been a busy and exciting week, my second with VYOA, and my first opportunity to hear the VYO play one of my pieces. This past Sunday I heard them rehearse Enlightened City for the first time. I am amazed at how much progress they made – they’ve only had the music for one week! There are a few parts that need work, but I have no doubt that everything will come together by January 24 for their Winter Concert at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts.
This week I am also visiting a few schools and being interviewed for a few different newspaper articles and television shows. What I really hope is that through all of this outreach, more people will come to the concerts to see what an amazing organization the VYOA is, and to hear great music being performed by kids from their own communities.
One of my favorite experiences this week has been peeking in on the sectionals at the Elley-Long Music Center with conductor Andrew Massey. In particular, I spent some time with wind players who were coached by Rachael Elliott and brass and percussion players coached by Jason Whitcomb. Jason let me rehearse my piece with the players, which I really enjoyed. It was great to tell Mitchel Logan in the trombone section to play louder (what trombonist doesn’t want to play louder?), and to encourage all the percussionists to hold their instruments up high so they can be seen (and, what percussion player doesn’t want to be seen and heard?). Percussion is such a spectacle, and it’s always more fun when the audience can actually see what instruments are producing those interesting sounds in the back of the orchestra.
Sally Bruce is doing a wonderful job with the violin solo, as are the principal players, most of whom have exposed solos throughout the entire piece. In a way, this piece is like a mini concerto for orchestra with a moment for every principal player to shine. My role in being here is to encourage the soloists to come out more when they are in the spotlight, and to help the rest of the players to really listen, so they know when they should be in a foreground, middle or background.
Luckily for me, Maestro Massey is doing an excellent job helping the players learn the music. It is always more difficult working on a new piece with an orchestra – meaning, not a work by the likes of Beethoven, Brahms and Mahler – but you would not know it with Massey, who is treating my piece with the same care and passion that he treats the war horses on the upcoming programs. I keep reminding him to pretend I am one of the dead composers, and we laugh about that! Even the best conductors sometimes defer to composers more than they need to, but Mr. Massy is so seasoned that I really trust him to take the reins and really go for it.
Likewise for the players, sometimes having the composer looking over your shoulder can be a little intimidating, but I hope everyone is starting to feel free to have fun and make music (after they learn the notes, of course!), and feel the same kind of passion they would with a piece by someone who is long gone. Not that I want them to forget I am there. In fact, I want them to feel free to talk to me anytime but it’s so much more fun when I hear their personalities shine through.
All of this leads me to one of my favorite parts of working with VYO: there is an electric energy that younger players bring to a piece of music that older players sometimes lack. To see how excited the VYO members are to be together, playing music, having fun with their friends and learning something new; this is what I live for.
Rob Paterson, VYOA Music Alive Composer-in-Residence
Photo: Daniel Dottavio
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.