Life as a composer during the corona virus pandemic did not change that much for me. As a university professor, I am assured of a steady salary, with my time commitment to teaching still very much the same (and I quite enjoy the virtual lectures). The cancellation of concerts has made quite an impact on my life, however. The Akron New Music Festival was cancelled (I am the director, and was ready to feature myself as composer, pianist, and conductor), as was a piano duo/duet concert with several friends at the University of Akron, plus a trip to Nevada for the International Clarinet Association. Add to that all the concerts I would have attended as audience member, and suddenly I had much more time on my hands for composition!
Of course, there is an aspect to composition that fits in perfectly with social distancing – one needs to be alone! Notwithstanding the very necessary interaction with musicians ahead of the process (it’s best to have a really good idea of who is going to play the piece, what they like, how they sound, what sort of person they are), and once it’s ready (rehearsing, fine tuning, etc.), there is still large expanses of time that must be spent uninterrupted. With that in mind, I returned to some sketches made in February (when I was supposed to be practicing) and developed them into a fully worked out composition. The performers in mind are two colleagues at my university, an oboeist (Jack Harel) and a bassoonist (Cynthia Cioffari), and the piece is a trio for oboe, bassoon, and piano, for me to play with them. The occasion is the celebration of the Jack’s upcoming promotion to Full Professor of Practice, a title shared by Cynthia and myself. So it’s our chance to welcome him into our little club, as it were.
The very necessary research before beginning this “stay-at-home” project was already half done – I know my players pretty well, and played with them and written for them before, and have a sense for their personalities and tastes. The other half of preparation is knowing the repertoire for the ensemble (essential to the composers art – not to make mistakes already made, or invent wheels already invented) – so I bathed my ears in music for oboe, bassoon, and piano – works by Poulenc, Françaix, Glinka, Dring, Previn, etc. – and then launched into the work of creating the next addition to this ensemble’s beautiful tradition.
The last page of Plastic Ocean - a new work for oboe, bassoon, and piano, written during the corona virus stay-at-home, but taking inspiration from a different global challenge: our struggles with waste removal.