Entry #5 – Trom. Concerto – Jennifer Higdon

September 12

Well, a full 6 weeks have gone by since I last got a chance to work
on the trombone concerto. It’s not usual to have this kind of gap in a
composing process, but sometimes, as with all folks, there are
life-interuptions that take up time and prevent long and thoughtful
composing time. It’s one of the things that everyone has to deal with,
but for a composer, it’s a spooky proposition, because you don’t want
to loose the “groove” of the piece…

In my case, several things came into play during the 6-week
absence…construction in my house, which necessitated contractors
breaking through the wall in my studio to access pipes. Also, I needed
to take a little bit of time to work on a choral work for another
group; sometimes with musicians who are less experienced than a group
such as the Pittsburgh Symphony, music needs to be delivered much
earlier in terms of the actual premiere of a piece…. so that groups can
have enough time to learn the music. If I had been writing for the
Pittsburgh Symphony, it wouldn’t need to be in the musician’s hands a
full 7 months before the premiere. But in this particular choral work,
the singers are college-age and not so experienced with putting
together pieces of music.

Also during this 6-week sabbatical from the trombone concerto, I’ve
been doing press to get ready for the season for various concerts and
I’ve had the premiere of an Oboe Concerto. Not to mention, school has
started and I had to get my composition students started on their
respective projects for the year.

So here I come to Sept. 12th, ready to resume work on Pittsburgh’s
Concerto. Which brings up some serious concerns…will I remember what I
was doing, and will the ideas flow as smoothly? Will the new ideas flow
easily into the previous composing? Will I remember anything that I was
thinking a whole 6 weeks ago? The one really big advantage to having
this gap of time is the fact that I can now revisit this work in a
fresh light, a little closer to what a first-time listener might come
to the piece with. Sometimes, for a composer, the amount of time you
spend going over ideas in your head can alter your perspective of time
to the point where it is hard to get a fresh impression. With so much
time off, I can actually look at the music, play it through in my head,
and see how the piece flows from idea to idea and through the landscape
of the sound world.

Fortunately, as I start doing this on this “re-start” day, the ideas
begin to flow quickly. I’ve also been trying to decide the ultimate
form of the piece. I had been thinking slow-fast-fastest, followed by
slow-fast-fastest. Each of these sections would have their own thematic
materials and would look like this if laid out in an analysis class:
A-B-C-A-B-C. At one point in the process I thought of moving the slow
section to the 2nd B and actually wrote some music that way (so that
the form would look like A-B-C-B-A-C), but I’m not convinced that it
works (I often will write several versions and then discard those that
I think don’t work).

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