Residency, ramifications

I was in (rather: ON) Long Island this past week doing a sort of mini-residency.  It involved a bunch of things: conducting an all-county orchestra, working with a high school band on the piece that I had composed for them, and teaching a theory class at said high school and talking with some of the students there about various careers in music, etc.

Which was all great fun, and there’s certainly nothing more rewarding than working with enthusiastic, talented young people.  The rarest pleasure among the bunch was getting to work with a large ensemble in a collaborative environment – which basically never happens.  Band’s sort of where it’s at these days – even John Corigliano is writing articles about how much more rewarding it is for him to partake in residencies on college campuses for 2 or 3 weeks at a time and work with near professional-level students who are enthusiastic about his own music instead of writing for the New York Philharmonic who expect every piece to come as a ready-made masterwork and flatter them at the same time.

And I think he’s really got a point.  I’ll just say it: as a conductor, and especially as a composer, much of one’s time spent working with orchestras is geared towards making sure that musicians can remain lazy and uncreative.  I’m lucky, or maybe just picky, but more likely lucky, to work with really generous and engaged collaborators.  And I try my darndest to make sure that people get their money and time’s worth when they work with me, and to pay them fair wages when I hire them.  But professional orchestra rehearsals tend to be kind of the worst.  And I’ve heard very good orchestras play very good pieces totally half-assedly because the writing for their individual instruments doesn’t match up to their idea of greatness, even if the whole blows away the sum of its parts.

So, basically, Long Island was a cool place to spend a week, bands can actually sound really pretty if you write for them correctly, and it’s a shame that our musical culture doesn’t foster more creativity amongst professional musicians working in the trenches, but I suppose it just makes the ones who are genuinely interested in making art together all that much cooler.