Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute Day 2 & 3 – Samantha Boshnack

Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute – Day 2 & 3
by Samantha Boshnack

Back again, Jazz Composers Orchestra Institute continues on at full speed.  Again, there are so many ideas circulating, so much exposure to music, theory, and information that is all very new to me.  I’m going to give a run down of some things I thought particularly interesting.  Again, my words are gross over-simplifications of the topics and I am unable to cover everything without writing all night.    
Day 2 started off with a lecture from Anne LeBaron on the 20thCentury orchestra.  It was a fascinating look at how composers came from what was before while codifying their own ideas – something I think we are all striving trying to do.  We analyzed scores from Stravinsky, Varese, Messaien, and Takemitsu, examining who influenced them and what they developed that was new.
Nicole Mitchell presented on her work and experience.  She is an incredible flautist and composer.  She has a deep improvising background (she is the co-president of AACM in Chicago) and has begun to tackle the world of contemporary classical music composition with great success.  Nicole spoke about how she puts her own flute techniques onto the paper.  There is such a rich oral tradition in jazz; it is a challenge to try to notate all of the crazy techniques and rhythms that an improviser will play naturally.  She spoke on directions in African American Art; outlining that artists can be present focused, past focused, and future focused.  By being visionary and future focused African American musicians have created new worlds and new opportunities for themselves.  I thought to myself (as someone who thinks about gender roles in the music world a lot) that the same is true for women.  I am excited that there are many other female jazz composers at this institute and have enjoyed learning their experiences and stories.
Alvin Singleton gave us a fascinating look at his solo works.  He began writing solo pieces when he learned that it is easier to “write for your friends” (so true).  As one can imagine solo writing is very hard to pull off – Singleton had us all enthralled by these pieces.  I loved the refreshing emphasis he put on following one’s intuition in composing.  This may be because I rely on it so heavily, but I also think music is so spiritual and on another plane, that it’s nice to think not every composer needs to know a ton of technique and theory to write something important. 
Anthony Davis presented his opera “Amistad” to us.  It was amazing.  I’ve always been a fan of opera.  He showed us how composing an opera let’s you create a whole world unto itself.  When asked if he knows as he’s writing where the opera is leading to musically, he said, “I’d rather discover it.”  Apparently, Wagner always wrote the climax first and then wrote the rest.  An interesting image he created was of Ellington writing opera for instruments – each member of his band was a character in the story.  It may be a new way I try to look at the members of my bands – except hopefully with less drama then an opera. 
Today, George Lewis presented some of his beautiful compositions employing new music techniques (quarter tones, etc.), improvisation and electronics.  I loved when he said that music comes from communities.  If you want to do something weird and new the first thing you have to do is go and find people to do it with you.  I feel so fortunate to be at this institute and feel I have so much I will bring back to my community in Seattle.     

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