Assembling an anthem, with assistance from Whitman
July 3, 2017
"An Die Musik" premiered in Fredonia
December 4, 2017
December 28, 2018
As this year comes to a close, I'd like to share a few highlights from the past twelve months. I was fortunate to have some really exciting creative experiences this year - opportunities to collaborate with some dear friends and write some works that mean a great deal to me, as well as do some new, exciting things in my teaching.
JANUARY: My 6th semester of teaching at American University kicks off. In addition to the usual tasks of teaching musicianship, composition, and some GenEd offerings (including a course on the shows of Sondheim), this semester I was able to offer a new course - an upper-level theory elective of my own design titled "Styles of Music Since 1900". Designed for the upperclassmen music majors, this course involves a bit of analysis, a bit of historical context, and lots of diving into scores, recordings and readings from the epoch of repertoire I love the most. The class culminated in presentations by the students, who offered terrific insights on works such as Wolfe's Anthracite Fields, Reich's Tehillim, Lang's death speaks and many more. Definitely the most enjoyable class I've had the privilege to teach.
FEBRUARY: Made a quick trip up to Fredonia for a 40th anniversary reunion of the Ethos New Music Society. Since 1977, Ethos has made a name for itself as an incubator of creating and presenting new music. I count myself very, very lucky to have been a participant in this group throughout my undergrad and master's degree years at SUNY Fredonia, under the peerless guidance and mentorship of Dr. Donald Bohlen. The reunion weekend made for a delightful opportunity to meet up with fellow Ethos alums (some of whom are currently on the Fredonia music faculty) and reminisce about the good old days.
(L-R: SD, Andrew Martin Smith, DJ Brady, Donald Bohlen, Jamie Leigh Sampson, Michael Bies)
MARCH: Soprano Hillary LaBonte and the Bowling Green New Music Ensemble present the premiere of Tenebrae, a setting of three poems by the American poet Denise Levertov (1923 - 1997). I composed this work mostly in the fall-winter of 2017, and consider it a significant experience of development in my creative work.
Hillary is an incredible performer, writer, and powerful advocate for new music. I wanted to write her something that showcased not only her tremendous vocal talents, but also her stalwart, intuitive capacity for evoking drama, pathos, and humanity in performance and interpretation. As such, Tenebrae is very much a response to the volatile, bellicose and sadly inhumane spirit of our world in the past few years. You can hear Hillary perform the entire work, and read more about it, here. Continued thanks to her and conductor Christopher Dietz for a stunning performance.
MAY: Occasion for another very personal work - although, happily, with a much more optimistic face. I was asked by my friend Kathryn Toolan to compose a work for her middle school choir. It just so happens that Kathryn teaches in the same school district on Long Island as a poet with whom I frequently collaborate. It also just so happens that this poet is my brother, Cory.
(L to R: Ken Meyer, Cory Doyle, Kathryn Toolan, SD, and members of the Mount Sinai Middle School choir)
Cory and I created a new work for three-part choir called These Forever Days, and the choir presented a skillful, moving premiere performance. Not wanting to miss out on the sibling-collaborative spirit, Kathryn asked me to add an obligato guitar part, which was played beautifully by her brother, Syracuse University guitar prof Kenneth Meyer. (Did I mention all four of us are Fredonia alums?!) It was a truly fulfilling experience to meet and work with the Mt. Sinai students - they were fun, enthusiastic collaborators and they seemed excited to get to ask both composer and poet questions about the creative process. Many thanks to Kathryn not only for having the idea of putting this all together, but for leading her ensemble in such a terrific performance of a tricky new piece.
JUNE: Spent the first week at the June in Buffalo festival at University of Buffalo, New York. Heard lots of great new music, and was fortunate to participate in masterclasses with composers Hans Thomalla, Roger Reynolds, Louis Karchin, Hilda Paredes, and John Harbison. Courtney Orlando of Alarm Will Sound and Ensemble Signal performed the newly-revised version of my solo violin work regarding "Reconciliation Elegy", based on the masterwork painting by Robert Motherwell, and I'm still reeling from her thrilling performance. More info about the work here.
SEPTEMBER: Another academic year begins–my fourth at AU, and by my count the twelfth year I find myself on the other side of the college classroom desk. Teaching was the usual fare, but spent most of my prep time researching and organizing a new course for the AU General Education program (its new iteration is called AU CORE). The course, called a "Complex Problems" class, is intended to introduce first-year students to university-level inquiry via an enduring issue of some kind, requiring analysis and dissemination of multiple, diverse viewpoints and engaging with varied modes of information. So, come January 2019, nineteen freshman will be enrolled in a new class called "No Such Thing As Pop/Classical!", which will ask them to confront whether or not genre distinctions matter to the 21st century listener. I'm excited (and daunted!) by this new pedagogical challenge, but am looking forward to thrilling, enriching classroom experiences where the old adage of 'the teacher learning as much as the student' will no doubt ring true again.
CODA: (a quick editorial) One thing I left out of the chronology, but cannot leave unmentioned, dates to the end of March. I was so thrilled to stand among so many colleagues and friends in a performance of Bach's Johannes-Passion for the Baltimore Bach Marathon at St. David's Episcopal Church, Roland Park. My good buddy Doug Buchanan led the performance with his trademark sensitivity and intellectual refinement. The concert season in the Baltimore area is robust, but this performance was indeed special–something that all those involved seemed to comment on after the performance.
During our dress rehearsal, Doug took a moment to provide some personal insight into the meaning, both musical and rhetorical, of the final chorale of the Passion (heard in the video above). He spoke of his travels to Bach's church in Leipzig and how it impacted his understanding of the more cryptic parts of this massive work. He was moved. We were moved. For me, it was a reminder that, no matter what the surface details of the music may convey, the act of music-making itself–whereby people come together, friends or strangers, and participate in a unique, abstract communion of sounds and feelings– this act is an important act. In a time where such activities, juxtaposed against the harsher realities of the world around us, may seem frivolous or indulgent, I come back to this short chorale as a touchstone for the honesty, the agency, the urgency, the cogency, and the legitimacy of the creative enterprise. It matters now more than ever, provided we center the creative actas our impetus, rather than ourselves or our hopes for personal or political gain. As ever, I offer the words of Leoš Janáček:
Do not toil for recognition but always do all that you can so that the field allotted to you may prosper.
May all our fields continue to prosper, in the coming new year and beyond. Thanks for reading and listening~