As I have mentioned in previous posts, it seems that for the last 18 months of my life I have been thinking about one thing, and that is submitting a good portfolio to grad schools. I know how competitive graduate programs are, and as somebody who got a late start to composition, I felt like I was playing catch up a lot to try and assemble a portfolio and present myself in a respectable way to the graduate programs to which I applied.
I might still be playing catch up, but for the time being I feel a huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders, as I have submitted my last application for grad school, and I am done with them! Much of my Thanksgiving break was spent doing final edits on my scores, recordings, and personal statements, but by Thursday I could truly give thanks, because my applications were all in. I am extremely grateful to my teachers and recommenders for working with me over the last couple of months, and especially Dr. Swilley, who spent an enormous amount of time helping me with making sure my scores, CV, and personal statements looked good. Though I have only been working with him for a few months, it feels as if it has been much longer than that, as I have learned so much from him, and he has always been helpful with the many questions I throw his way.
The last couple months have been a constant grind, as mentioned in my last post, but now that I can take a step back and breathe a little bit, I have so many cool things to report about, and most of them happened in the first few weeks of November.
First of all, I had 3 recording projects to put together, and a 4th that kind of fell into my lap. My arrangements with the Iowa Composers Forum to record my piece Dichotomy didn't end up working out. Unfortunately, that left me to try and find my own performers to record an incredibly difficult piece for me. I have to say a huge thanks to Kim Abeyta (flute/piccolo), Glenn Zimmer (clarinet/bass clarinet), Abigail Moore (violin), Haley Nicholson (cello), Jenni LeGarde (piano), Mack Vos (percussion), and Meredith Tipping (conductor), who all graciously agreed to find rehearsal times and record the piece for me. Scheduling rehearsals was tremendously difficult, as could be expected for trying to work out the schedules of 8 different people during the months of October and November, but we found a couple of slots. In just 2 90-minute sessions, they gave me enough material where I could splice together a nice recording of the piece in its updated form, and they added a great bit to my graduate portfolio. They also all agreed to perform the piece at my senior recital next semester, which will be on March 4. I was not expecting them to help me out so much, but I am very thankful to each of them for making it work, and I am excited to see a live performance of the piece next semester.
Next was recording the piano etudes that I described in my September post. The pieces are not easy, and unfortunately I was not able to find a performer for them. Given that I did not have the time to work them up myself, I needed to find another solution. The answer came in the form of the Disklavier that UNI began renting last year. During my electronic music class there was a presentation on the Disklavier and I was thoroughly impressed. I talked to a few professors, and got it worked out so that I could hook up the Disklavier to my computer via a USB cord, and "play" the etudes that way. While it is still a computer, and thus works on MIDI signals, I could go into Logic Pro X and manually adjust the MIDI velocities for each note. Logic also has a "Humanize" function that slightly edits each note to make it sound less robotic. No human plays each note at exactly the same dynamic or duration, and through Logic, I was able to create a more human-like performance on an actual piano, rather than the samples on Sibelius. While I will continue to look for a live performer to play my etudes (or perhaps work them up myself), the Disklavier helped to give a reasonable performance of the work for my graduate portfolio.
I also had a recording session with my friend Andrey Floryanovich, to get a decent recording of my piece for saxophone entitled, Are You Sure? Originally, we had hoped Andrey could perform the work for his senior recital earlier this semester. It didn't work out, as he had a lot of extremely difficult music to work up for his recital, and this piece was equally as difficult. However, Andrey graciously offered to record the work for me after he had a couple of weeks to work on it. How he worked up the work in just 2 weeks I have no idea, as the recording we got turned out really well. He did a great job with the aleatoric sections that I mentioned in my earlier post, and he tackled the extended techniques with virtuosity and ease. He is yet another friend and colleague that went out of his way to make sure I could have the graduate portfolio that I wanted, and I am incredibly grateful to him for it.
Another opportunity that arose this semester was the UNI Student Percussion Competition that I mentioned in my last post. As part of this competition, the UNI faculty and one of their guest artists that was in residency for the week did read throughs of each piece submitted and recorded it. They would then offer suggestions to the composer on things that they could have written better, and also went back to play through sections that didn't go super well the first time. I was honored to receive first place in this competition with my piece Etude for Percussion Trio, and as such they also performed my work the next day as part of the Fall Percussion recital that they put on every year. This was a fantastic experience and a great opportunity to write for percussion. I was not expecting to include this piece in my portfolio, but because of this competition, I got a good recording of a piece that helps to diversify my portfolio.
Finally, on November 21, UNI's Jazz Band One (which I am happy to be part of) premiered my chart, The Bridge, for big band. The band did a great job working up a difficult chart, and the soloists sounded great on it. I am especially excited as we will include the chart on the annual Jazz Band One recording session in May, and I will have a professional recording of it.
After months of grinding that seemed like it would never end, I am so thankful to be done with applications. I am grateful to all of the many people who supported me and guided me through the last semester, and happy with the end product. The semester is not over yet, so I am not completely out of the woods yet, but I feel much happier and I am ready to finish out this Fall strong!