I am getting ready to leave for performances in Cincinnati and Manhattan, KS and thought I'd write a bit about working with performers. For me, working with performers is what it is all about. It is so nice to hear what you have notated on paper come to life. But it also can be frustrating. A friend of mine just had a piece premiered at the Kennedy Center and the musicians rehearsed it for the first time for one hour on the day of the concert. While the musicians got the gist of the piece, he was not pleased with the performance.
To avoid this type of rush performance, when I write a piece for someone, they are requested to send me a rehearsal recording at least two weeks prior to the performance. That way, I know they are rehearsing it and there is time for me to have feedback that can be incorporated into the performance. It doesn't always happen as the group in Cincinnati had scheduling problems so they are working to put the piece together this week. I have heard a recording of one of the movements. It was fine, but under tempo. I have confidence in this group so it should be a fine performance.
I'd like to share the correspondence I've had with two other performer as it illustrates the kind of collaboration that often goes on between composer and performer.
The first is with Dr. Steven Maxwell, director of the Kansas State University Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble. Steve sent me a rehearsal recording and these were my comments:
The package arrived yesterday. Thanks for sending the music and recording. In general, your group is doing a good job with Suit Suite, but I have several suggestions.
First of all, the style of all the movements are fine. The only exception is in Hearts where unless there is an accent or staccato, the articulation is legato or slurred. M. 77 & 79 are examples (no accents). The accents are fine in 78 & 80. Also Diamonds sounds dance-like but it would sound even more like rich people dancing in oblivion of the poverty around them if it could go faster.
The other general comment is about balance. I don't know if mic placement caused the tuba 3 to predominate, but he/she needs to blend with the ensemble better. Only when that part has an obvious melodic line like in Hearts at 62-66 should that part stand out.
I wrote the piece so that everyone has an opportunity to rest. What this causes is various sub ensembles within the 6 parts. Those sub ensembles need to be in perfect balance. Sometimes the lead voices are too soft other times the middle voices. Maybe making your students aware of the sub ensembles and balancing a few of them will help them hear this concept.
The ritards could be more in all places that they occur.
The flutter tongue effect could be more menacing.
Can the 1st euph trill at the end?
The 1st euph had rhythm problems in 81-82. Also 221 through the end, whenever there is a F-Gb the 1st euph is trying to play an Ab.
At 156 euph 2 & 3 should sound like one long line even though each has rest the overlap should help, but it needs to be balanced.
It sounds like there is one on a part for this piece and not the 13 piece ensemble. Is that correct?
I am looking forward to hearing the piece in person and working with your students.
As you can see, there is a lot to be done. I would hate to make these changes at the dress rehearsal.
The second is with Meggie Aube, marimbist at the University of Iowa. First her email then my comments.
I'm sorry for taking so long to write back to you again. I recorded the 1st and 2nd movements on a small recorder in a practice room, so they aren't very good, but I wanted you to hear the changes me and my teachers wanted to make. The only thing I changed about the 1st movement is I am playing everything down an octave. I think it sounds much better to be in that range of the marimba and it sounds more soloistic. Not much is changed in the 2nd movement. I doubled the octave in measures 30-31 and measures 34-37. My teacher accidently converted the take that wasn't so good on this movement so unfortunately there are several mistakes. Please give me any comments you have about these recordings even thought they aren't as good as I would like. I will try to have recordings of the other two movements to you by the end of next week. Thanks for being to patient with me, I just wish I wasn't so busy!
Thanks for sending the recordings. I have a few comments about both movements:
Puerto Barrios - This is a bustling city on the Caribbean and I tried to capture the energy and syncopation of Caribbean music. I had in mind a strict tempo (almost dance-like) rather than the rubato that you are doing. What you are doing sounds very musical if it was another piece. The same comment goes regarding down the octave. You will have a chance for that part of the marimba in the 3rd movement. Because this movement is Caribbean influenced, it needs to sound bright, so I like it in the register it was written in. As a result of the need to keep a strict tempo, it sounds like the repeated sixteenth notes in m. 2 are not possible. Can we change the 1st 2 sixteenth notes to an eighth rest and the second 2 sixteenth notes to an eighth note? In M. 14, the leap in the right hand creates a break. Can you play the first beat up an octave so that it can be smoother? The same is true in M. 42. The gliss at the end didn't seem to work. Are you doing the gliss with the left mallet and striking the last chord with the right? The gliss should go 2 octaves from G to G and crescendo if possible.
Tikai - This movement really worked well and you captured most of what I wanted. Are you taking M 4 and M 65 down an octave? If so, I prefer then up with the other parts of the bird call. Make sure you wait out the full rest in M. 19 & 20. The silence is part of the music. M. 30-31, the notes are Bb to D. I didn't hear the change of pitch. In these measures and 34 - 36 where you are doubling at the octave, the sound is fine, but we need to hear the foot stomp clearly. It may be because you are in a practice room, but I hardly heard it. This may be a spot that gets adjusted according to the venue. If the foot stomp gets covered up, you may want to go back to not doubling at the octave. The 5/8 section needs to drive forward. It seems to hesitate rhythmically. If it is hard to do technically, try leaving off the left hand on the first beat of the measure.
I'm looking forward to your teacher and your reaction to my suggestions. I am not a marimba player so I rely on your judgment. As a composer, I can only explain what I have in mind. I'm looking forward to the April performance and to hearing a recording of the other movements.
I hope all this illustrates what goes into getting that ideal performance. I am fortunate to be writing for such fine musicians and cherish the collaborative efforts.
Performers and composers, please share your experiences and I'll post them on this blog. We can all learn from each other.