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  • Writer's pictureisaacrsmith

Online Graduation, Plans for Summer

Updated: Jun 12, 2020

I never could have imagined a world in which I would have to participate in an online commencement ceremony. Funny how much I missed participating in a ceremony that I never much cared for under normal circumstances. Regardless of the circumstances, it is nice to be "official." I received my BM from the University of Northern Iowa in composition and theory, and a minor in jazz studies. What the piece of paper doesn't relate, however, is all of the relationships I formed, and all of the lessons I learned outside of the classroom, about the world at large and my own self.


Though the pandemic rages on, I continue to attempt to find ways to make myself busy. I am really missing making music with others, and I was particularly sad when Jazz Band One's recording session couldn't happen. Participating in one of their recording sessions was always something I had wanted to do throughout my undergraduate career. During this recording session, I had a composition and an arrangement slotted to be recorded, as well as a number of improvised solos. What I missed out on most, though, I think, was the closure. Some of my closest friends from college were in the band with me, and it sure would have been nice to have the album as proof of our time together.


These feelings in part inspired me to try and write something that could be recorded even under these social distancing regulations. I wrote a piece entitled Isolation for my jazz quintet that utilizes a lot of free improvisation, which we had been getting into quite a bit after Myra Melford's visit in February. I am not sure if the piece will work at all, but rather than using a tempos, I arranged the music based on actual time (seconds and minutes), and placed notes on the staff relative to the time they should take up. It was a great learning experience, and whether or not it actually results in a satisfying musical product, I think that I am glad I did it.


Another project I have been working on arose from a message I saw on Facebook. Leo Sussman was the flute player in the New Music Ensemble at the 2019 Atlantic Music Festival, and played the flute/piccolo part for the premiere of my piece Dichotomy. He posted around the start of the pandemic that he was looking for a project to pass the time, and wanted to record a series of solo flute pieces. I reached out to him and we began talking more details. I found out that he was envisioning a "Baroque Dance Suite," but with a modern interpretation. He asked different composers to write different movements of the dance suite, and he would record them all. I selected the Sarabande as my movement, and it has been a challenging project, as I attempt to merge the Baroque dance that was explored by Bach and his contemporaries with contemporary techniques, as explored by composers such as Toru Takemitsu. This, too, may or may not produce a satisfying musical product. I find myself thinking more and more, though, that pushing myself out of my comfort zone is really the only way to learn and grow as a composer. I think every composer misses on more pieces than they succeed on, so I figure these more experimental pieces will either be great successes, or great learning experiences. A win-win situation I would say, though I have to learn more patience, which is always something I have struggled with.


I also learned some exciting news regarding my piece, Three Etudes for Piano. The piece was selected as the winner of the National Federation of Music Clubs Marion Richter award! While this piece was fun to write, I did not quite expect it to have the success that it has in competitions. It is certainly gratifying to receive these awards, though I know the road ahead is still very long.


Other than the projects mentioned above, I plan on doing a big survey of 20th century music this summer. From Stravinsky to Boulez to Crumb and more, there are a lot of pieces that I feel I probably should know by now that I don't. I plan to do a couple listens to a lot of pieces, going for quantity over quality. Then, the pieces that I particularly like will receive more listens, and some in-depth score studying. I know there will always be more music to listen to, but I find that doing this active listening to the great composers of the 20th century is extremely enjoyable, as well as educational. Hopefully I will have a good status report at the end of the summer. By then we will be living in a new place too. T-minus 2 months until the wedding, and 2.5 months until we move to Louisville!


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