Yes, that is a picture of a giant Gummy Bear. Over the weekend, some friends and I went down to Baltimore, MD for the 2014 ACDA Eastern Division Conference! It was a great time as usual, meeting lots of new friends and reconnecting with old ones. We also had the opportunity to hear some incredible speakers, listen to some tantalizingly talented ensembles, and check out a couple of local hotspots. I can't recommend going to these conferences high enough to anyone interested in choral music. Well worth the money and travel.
Before delving into the juicy details of the conference, I just want to get some composerly things out of the way. I've finished the first movement of the Fingertanz for Clarinet and Piano. You can get a taste of that here. The piece is pretty hard (surprise-surprise) for both the pianist and the 'nettist. Currently persuing getting a faculty member to perform it. We'll see how that pans out. The movement is based on the Viennese Trichord (a tritone followed by a perfect fourth or vice-versa). There are also a few fancy color-trills in there. Anyway, the whole piece is called Eternity in Bloom, and more info about it will be posted to the piece's music page as it becomes available.
Okay. Onward to Baltimore!
For anyone who's not totally sure where Baltimore is (or Maryland for that matter, I don't judge), I've stuck a fancy map right here to help you out.
Because of inclement weather—a blizzard that actually caused delays at the school, a rare occurrence in Ithaca—we left not at 10am on Wednesday morning, but at 4am on Thursday morning. Suffice it to say we were extremely tired the first day, and we unfortunately missed the workshop our choral director Dr. Janet Galván was giving. Still, we made it in time for several concerts, including one by the illustrious Seraphic Fire. They sang about two hours-worth of Monteverdi with incredible musicality, vocal endurance, and attention to performance practice. The singers employed tons of vocal embellishments specific to the late Renaissance, many of which I'd never heard before. They also had a small period-ensemble consisting of continuo organs, lutes, and violas da gamba of varying sizes.
Turned out to be great! I met a whole host of new people—students from Syracuse and Westminster—and caught up with some old friends—Kevin Schneider from Central Connecticut State University, and Dr. Amanda Quist from Westminster. There was also an open bar there, so that was nice. Had couple of glasses of some decent Cab (really earthy and woody if I remember correctly), the depressant effects of which combined with the exhaustion of the day eventually led me back to my hotel room bed where I slept like a proverbial infant.
"...They don't have Kinkos in Baltimore?"
I had no excuse.
So I spent the days leading up to the conference carefully preparing the score, printing it, binding it, filling out forms, writing text usage disclaimers, writing program notes, etc. Friday morning, I found the closest post office—about ten blocks away—and began my trek to mail my materials. Along with fellow composers Adriel Miles and Emily Gaggiano, we headed north and eventually found the post office—a beautiful specimen of Brutalist architecture (wish I had a picture for you). We found our way inside, and luckily it was a pretty slow day. The man at the front counter was extremely helpful, and—despite BMI requiring the mail to be certified and for there to be return receipt forms on both the sending and return envelope—the process of mailing everything was relatively painless.
In short: Baltimore Post Office is pro. Would go again.
It was love at first sight for us, and we sat down for a splendidly relaxing lunch. I think I got some sort of cured meat sandwich with an olive spread? Don't really remember exactly what it was. But the portion was huge! Ended up taking half of it home to eat later that evening.
The group then decided to attend the next concert session at Old St. Paul's Church. If you ever have the chance to attend an ACDA conference, make sure you go to as many concert sessions as you can. Not only is it a great way to hear what other composers are doing,—a real treat if one of the ensembles is premiering a work—but you also get to hear different styles of choirs who value different aspects of the music they sing.
I'm gonna go on a quick tangent here...
There is not only one right way of doing things when it comes to choral directing (despite what your teacher may want you to think), just as there is not one right way to compose music. There are certain techniques that work extremely well in certain situations, and certain techniques that generally don't produce desirable sound, but there is no one-right-way-and-everything-else-is-wrong. So I encourage you, both as a conductor and composer, to go out and listen to as many groups as you can, and then choose for yourself what aspects of each ensemble you value most. You need a teacher to help you grow your aesthetic. You don't need one to define your aesthetic. And as an artist in general, I think it's extremely important for one to trust one's instincts when it comes to taste. Your taste is what got you into this game. Just because a student's choir sounds a certain way, or his teacher teacher tells him choirs should sound a certain way, that doesn't invalidate the way other intelligent musicians do things. So, in other words, I think young musicians should not be afraid to think for themselves. I would implore young musicians to go these concerts, and listen to the various groups with an critical yet open (two sides of the same coin when you think about it) mind.
Here's a picture of some cool stained-glass artwork at Old St. Paul's (thanks, Instagram)!
After the concert "sesh," we headed back to the hotel to check out some of the exhibits that were on display. If you've never been to an ACDA conference before, they basically have a bunch of organizations with booths all in one big room, promoting whatever it is they're selling. These groups include music publishers who hand out free octavi, music distributers, grad schools with notable conducting programs, organizations that allow you to perform abroad, organizations (like DCINY) that help you conduct in prominent venues, manufacturers of choral paraphernalia such as batons and black folders, the list goes on.
I decided to head on over to a booth selling all sorts of choral scores and books, from enormous volumes of definitive translations of Latin texts to simple choral octavi. After wandering around browsing the various shelves and bins, I hit the mother load: two cardboard boxes, emblazoned with the word "imported."
Yes, imported choral music. After looking through shelves and shelves of very same-y, saccharine American choral music (that's not to say all American choral music is this way. There are certain composers that have a very unique voice. But lately, a lot of popular American contemporary choral music has become somewhat sterile to me), I could barely contain my excitement in seeing music that was was written away from all of that. It was extremely refreshing, and I immediately purchased several scores, which I'll be studying over the next few weeks.
For the curious, they are (in no particular order) "On Leaving" by Galina Grigorjeva, "The Dazzled Eye Lost Its Speech" by Rytis Mažulis, "Summer Rain" by Toivo Tulev, and "Aufführn / Act up" by Manfred Länger. Some really cool pieces! Later that evening Adriel and I, plus an incredibly talented Music Education student named Hannah Abrams, had a little sight-singing party in our room, attempting to read through the various pieces we'd all purchased.
Later that evening, the whole group headed to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to see the honor choirs perform. The highlight of the afternoon was an incredibly fresh and edgy piece by conductor/composer Jing Ling-Tam entitled "Yang Guan Farewell." I'm looking forward to hearing more performances of this work in years to come!
To wrap up the evening, Hannah, Adriel, and I, plus a great friend of ours named Justin Ka'upu, decided to treat ourselves to a gourmet dinner as a send off as we finished the conference. For students with our budget, "gourmet" meant The Cheesecake Factory. Moreover, going to The Cheesecake Factory has been a kind of unintentional tradition throughout the years of ACDA conferences. There was kind of a long wait for a table that night, so we headed into this little mall area while we waited. We ended up stumbling upon this incredible candy shop called IT'SUGAR!
After the excitement died down and our buzzer went off, letting us know our table was ready, we took our seats in The Cheesecake Factory. I opened the menu and pretty much knew what I was having immediately: Four. Cheese. Pasta. That plus some delicious sweet potato fries and a glass of Chianti made for a great finish to a great trip. Ironically, I didn't have any cheesecake. I was too full. But I kept the leftovers for once I got home. Hopefully, the conference next year (in Salt Lake City) will be close to another Cheesecake Factory, so we can keep the tradition going strong! We shall see!
I'll leave you with an gallery of some other photos I took on the trip, as well as an extremely melodramatic shot of me looking wistfully into the future as we depart the City of Baltimore. If you look close enough, you can almost see a tear....