Something to Hunt

Since the fall, I have had the pleasure of working with ÆPEX Contemporary Performance to produce and present a concert of music by living, diverse composers. I am the only “white” male composer on the program. This concert is today and you should either come or live stream it.

I present two arguments for supporting this project. 1.) diversity across experiences is more important than ever, and 2.) your ear needs to be challenged, and this music will challenge you.

Diversity.

In this political climate, diversity is a subject that keeps coming up. Regardless of your political leanings, the world is getting smaller and more mixed up. To assume you can avoid interactions with someone outside of your race, religion, socio-economic class, etc.- is to live in a bubble. Future generations need to be able to handle this, and this starts now. Part of the awareness of diversity comes from intentional inclusion. For my line of work, this is intentional inclusion within the arts. 

If we want the arts to continue–meaning we have a continuation of audience, and a continuation of creators and performers–then we must cultivate artists that reflect the population around us. If we want contemporary classical music to reach more people, let’s start by presenting an actual snapshot of the people making this music. It’s not just white dudes, despite the majority of composer you will find as the “composer of the day” at the Society of Composers, and other such traditional organizations.

Our concert Something to Hunt features two women composers, an African American composer, a Mexican composer, and myself, the white male composer. We are not always defined by our gender and race, but statistics (and my day to day work interactions) show that we still move through our world with a white-male-dominated lens. Simply presenting and purposefully showcasing a diverse group of artists gives the audience a real slice of who makes up the classical contemporary music scene. It also gives future generations the ability to see themselves doing these things.

Your Ears Need to be Challenged.

Like any art form, the sounds of new music will most often challenge the ear. Tonight’s concert is no exception. The opening piece by Matthew Evan Taylor is a duet for saxophone and bass clarinet, boisterous and groovy, and will disrupt your evening. Follow that with a piece for solo violist by composer and friend Cassandra Kaczor.  Then the most harmonic and soothing pieces appear on the program, the world premiere of my “glass studies” for solo piano. Consider this my gift to your ears. After intermission, we reach into the mind of Edgar Barroso who begins his piece with the instrumentalists’ making noise with anything BUT their instruments. Gestures and shapes abound, but it’s not your normal listening experience. The program will end with Ashley Fure’s “Something to Hunt,” a piece that is far more interested in timbre and effect than anything pertaining to melody and harmony.

Most of the time, we go out to be entertained. This program will do that, as the sounds you hear are so unusual they will captivate, but they never labor on. However, tonight’s program will also invite you to contemplate the titles, the sounds, and the meaning of what you are listening to and why you are here. This exercise of questioning is just as important as breathing, and will hopefully allow you to create an inner dialogue with yourself–dancing around the sounds you like and the sounds you don’t and why.

Tickets here. [K-College Faculty & Students Free, Students $5, $10 all other]

8pm, Dalton Theater, Kalamazoo College. 

Live-streamed here: ÆPEX Contemporary Performance

and if tech goes well here: Adam Schumaker’s YouTube

 

Advertisements

Go Fund Yourself

I recently released my first guest blog with The Portfolio Composer. It’s about making your own opportunities and it’s specific to composers and musicians. You can read it here.

The conversation surrounding how to make it as an artist- 5-9, freelance, or something in between- is never ending. It is always changing. It’s also something you don’t do alone. Talk to you friends, colleagues, mentors. Learn what they are doing, how they do it, and what they did.

I am always up for conversation surround this topic. If there is one take home, other than my clever title, here it is:

Don’t sit and wait for opportunities to come. Don’t just apply for competitions and jobs and await your application results.

Get out there, be active, and make things happen on your own terms.

Talking about Live Streaming

You should be live streaming.

This is why I spent an hour talking with composer Garrett Hope, mastermind behind the Portfolio Composer Podcast, about the subject. Music and video work so well together, and it has never been easier. There is no excuse for not streaming your work.

The podcast discusses some of the technical nature of live streaming from my personal experiences streaming with phones, YouTube, Facebook Live, and Livestream. The podcast, episode 171, is right here. You can also find it on your podcast app.

Here’s an example of my live streaming work for my own compositions:

THE BEST THING EVER

And here’s an example of live streaming through my work at the Gilmore Keyboard Festival:

Zlata Chochieva, Chopin Etudes, Op. 25

I’ll write an in-depth, slightly technical blog about live streaming soon, but in the meantime, enjoy the podcast and feel free to hit me up with questions.

Dear (Music) Students

Dear (music) students,

I bet this semester will be filled with hours of practicing, too many required courses (like music theory), and many hours of self-doubt, wondering how these activities will lead to a job. Well, I bring you this encouraging message: “they won’t.”

All of these things we want you to do will not necessarily lead to a job. They may not lead you to your “breakthrough.” A college degree and all of its promises will not always guarantee your success.

I have taught in higher education as an adjunct, part-time, and visiting instructor for almost 10 years. I absolutely believe in the college experience. I dream of going back to finish my doctorate because I simply love learning. I know that a society that is willing to seek information, critically think, and grow–will be a better society–and I want to be part of that.

However, at some point, those who gave us guidance became confused. Although the future was uncertain, a degree, any degree, was the path to success. In some ways, it still can be, but the notion that “degree = job” is a fading reality. At its best, “degree = job” was a pleasant correlation rather than a causation (Yes, some degrees in medicine, sciences, and engineering are required for the job, but I am speaking to the arts and humanities today!)

Once you forego the belief that your academic success will land you a job, you can create your own successful and rewarding life. Yes, it is still important to go to class, get the best grade you can, study long, and work hard. These experiences are rewarding in and of themselves but also contribute to your future success as an employee, a business owner, a creator, and a thoughtful, caring human. But outside of the academic grind… there is so much more you should be doing right now.

Embrace your peers and colleagues. These people will be your friends for a long time. They will also be your network to learn from, collaborate with, lift up, and support.

Seek help and support from your professors. It’s our job to help and teach. Asking for help opens up a line of communication that can get you on the right track academically, or lead you to insights and opportunities not found in the classroom.

Experience opportunities outside of school. It’s too easy to say “I have homework” instead of going to a concert. Get outside of the classroom and the studying to experience the world around you. See and be with visual art. Go experience theater and live music. Eat different food. Volunteer. Do something new every week, at least! Experiencing the world around you will lead to more opportunities, and more knowledge about potential paths to take.

Start projects outside of class. If you are interested in something, chase it. You will never have more time or resources to do this than while you are in school. Crazy, right? Start a business. Release an album. Get gigs and play shows. Blog. Begin the momentum for your future work and gain some valuable, practical skills while you are at it.

Be the person you want to be when you graduate, and when that idea changes (because it will), bravely change your course. Taking the time to reflect in college is especially crucial. If your writing classes haven’t pushed you to do so, write in a journal. Write honestly and write often. Put a pen to paper and get physical with it. Discover yourself through careful reflection. Write down goals, observations, failures, and plans. Especially write down your dreams.

Once you know yourself better, you can give more honestly and determine what “success” means to you. Only then can you craft a life that is yours.

And that is what this time is about. The courses are your canvases. The ideas gathered are your paints. The conversations, discussions, activities, and experiences are the dreams upon which you paint your reality. Whether you are aware or not, your painting, your composition, is taking form as your college experience unfolds.

Take a moment to see what picture appears before the paint dries.

-Adam

 

 

 

 

 

how to be a composer 3): don’t wait for inspiration

As a high schooler who wrote songs for his ska band, I relied on inspiration to compose my songs. You all know the feeling… something inspires you to create and you are filled with a surplus of motivation and ideas. It feels good, it all sounds right, and then, as if someone snuffed out your flame, it ENDS in a fizzle.

When I was writing pop/punk/ska songs, I would get a verse and a chorus and then the inspiration-flame would burn out. Afterwards, I was stuck for weeks, sometimes months, with the second-verse cursethe inability to continue writing the song once you wrote the first verse and chorus.

So I waited for inspiration to come–like it was a random wind that blew my direction once in a blue moon to bestow upon me all of the good ideas I was looking for.

I was held hostage by my limited understanding of what “inspiration” actually was.

Understanding Inspiration

This is the first definition of inspiration:

“the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative”

Songwriters, composers, creators–we are first wooed by inspiration’s touch–as if it is a gift given to us that stimulates our creative juices. We understand it as something that happens to us.

Don’t wait for inspiration. It may be the generative gift that started your creative process, but it is misunderstood. Instead of something you have to wait for, inspiration is always out there, waiting for you to grab it and get to work.

Take a look at the second definition of “inspiration:”

“the drawing in of breath; inhalation.”

When you contemplate the physical act of breathing, by the definition above, you realize that “inspiration” is something you are in control of. YOU determine when it begins and when it ends.

By choosing to “draw in a breath” you are taking the fresh air and making something with it. You are actively reaching out and grabbing that inspiration for your creative use.

Sounds easy, right? Of course it’s not. So let’s talk technical.

Practicing Inspiration

As a composer of music, when musical ideas “come” to us, we have to be ready with the mindset and the tools. We have to write ideas down (words, music notation), record them, orchestrate them, understand the music theory behind them, etc. All of those activities require years and years of study and practice. When you build those skills, your ability to record, notate, and manipulate your inspired ideas becomes greater. Your capacity to document musical ideas increases but only because you practiced the skills necessary to do so.

If you are beginning your creative journey, it is important to start composing as a daily habit. Or at least an every-other-day routine.

I am a big proponent of the project-based life–so I often start composing with a specific goal in mind. Simply put: pick an ensemble and have a general vision of the scope of your project. If you are just beginning or need a palate cleanse, start with a solo instrument like piano, or any other unaccompanied solo instrument, or a simple duet.

Once your instrumentation is set, give yourself a simple task like one of the following:

  1. compose a melody with an antecedent and consequent phrase.
  2. construct a chord progression or harmonic rhythm
  3. build a series of textures that can be overlaid on a chord progression, separately or together
  4. write a two part free counterpoint
  5. etc.

Continuing the use of simple tasks (self prescribed assignments) can extend beyond the start of the piece into the construction and completion of complex music. I often look at it as a binary decision. Every time I am confronted with an option, I turn it into a “yes” or “no” question. I answer it, and then I move on. This forces you to not linger on decisions and to simply move forward. Once you get past the initial frustrations of starting and continuing, composing becomes easier.

Editing with Inspiration

Editing. No one likes it (usually) but this is where the magic happens. Here’s a funny thought: you don’t need to be inspired to edit your music.  The first thing you do need to do though, is avoid the playback button on your software at all costs. STOP listening to what you have done as a means of considering what will come next or what to change. Instead, audiate through what you have composed, or where you left off, and move forward with new material. Once you can break your habit of constant playback (what I refer to as “playback disease”), you can really get into the editing process.

Here’s what I suggest: Audiate through your piece and as you go, make a list of concerns, ideas, edits, suggestions, experiments to try, etc. Write these down somehow. Once you have made it through, simply go through your list and complete the tasks you assigned yourself. These may be things like:

  1. add dynamics to m. 25-37
  2. orchestrate a building crescendo by adding instrumental layers
  3. add two more measures between m. 101 and 102
  4. clarify the chord progression in m. 42
  5. etc.

or less specifically:

  1. why does the B section sound bad?
  2. does the last recap need more percussion?
  3. what would Philip Glass do instead?

By doing this, you create a dialog with yourself that strengthens your inspiration and your ability to compose. These “edit lists” can even generate new ideas, new epiphanies, and foster growth in your ability to “draw-in” inspired ideas.

So don’t wait. Practice your inspiration and watch it cultivate and grow!

What is The BEST THING EVER?

Apparently, everything is #thebestthingever. One of the most ubiquitous hashtags out there, #thebestthingever is a celebration of well, everything, and nothing, all at once.

It is a burrito. A generation. A fleeting joy captured on Instagram a billion times. It is Josh Groban singing Donald Trump tweets.

It is also my next song cycle. Seriously, I know. Composed from the poetry of Laura Theobald’s same title book, THE BEST THING EVER is a post-minimalist pop-expressionist electronically-misted twenty-seven-and-a-half minute work exploring us and our phones. (Are you reading this on your phone?)

This poetry is unusual and groundbreaking because it was written using only the iPhone’s predictive text software–so it has Laura’s voice as expressed through her text message and status update patterns, filtered through her poetic abilities and Siri’s intelligible but slightly-off sentence construction. Our soprano, Jessica Louise Coe, will be singing to/in/with her iPhone throughout the cycle. If you come to the concert on March 30, you will also be welcome to be on your phone (just keep it silent for now, please). If you don’t live nearby you can watch the performance on your phone, streamed through some service yet to be determined.

There is also a preview & lecture event on March 29 from 11:00 to 11:50 am, EST at Kalamazoo College’s Light Fine Arts Building. This too, will be streamed to your devices via Facebook live (direct from my phone).

So make sure you “like” Adam Schumaker (that’s me) on the Facebook. You can do that by clicking my name right there. Yep. That’s it.

The song cycle is scored for a “Pierrot lunaire” ensemble, which will be performed by the new music ensemble What Is Noise–a decentralized group of renegade professors and artists who secretly convene upon a city to disseminate new music propaganda. Or in this case, some Stucky, McLoskey, and THE BEST THING EVER.

So come check it out:

The BEST THING EVER

March 30, 2017

7:30 pm

Dalton Theater at Kalamazoo College