Interplay 2021: Starlight, Star Bright

Obligatory selfie

One of the worst feelings in the world for a composer is when you take a risk on a new piece and watch it bomb in the first rehearsal because of a minor oversight.

And slightly worse than that is when something you never thought in a million years would pose any difficulty or complication turns out to be incredibly difficult and complicated.

And then, ever so slightly worse than that is when you’re driving down the highway to catch a ferry to a choir workshop in the middle of a freak weather event and the road floods behind you cutting off your way home. Don’t worry, I got home okay; late, but okay.

I’ve had my fair share of traumatic moments of discovery at a first rehearsal, which is why I’m always grateful for The Vancouver Chamber Choir’s Interplay workshops. These workshops are easily the best place to try out new ideas without the pressure of a catastrophic failure that lasts for the complete performance cycle of a new work.

In fact, in direct contrast to live performance, failures in a workshop environment are the best part about participating because they represent the opportunity to learn and grow without having to fail in front of an audience. The choir isn’t committed to  performance of the works being read so if some aspect of the piece doesn’t work the choir moves on and the composer either fixes it or tosses it aside. The more catastrophic the failure, the better I say!

I get so much out of these workshops. Growing as a composer can be a very painful process. They’re at a huge disadvantage because the cycle of learning (The start of the attempt to the actualization of the attempt) is so incredibly long. Performance organizations plan their seasons out a year in advance, at least. That means it can easily take a year before you hear the first note in a rehearsal – and that’s if you’re lucky. By shortening the amount of time between attempt and actualization, the VCC speeds up the learning cycle for the composer and contributes enormously to their growth.

Now about that new piece…

Starlight, Star Bright is a new work of mine that was conceived for treble chorus and quickly adapted for mixed choir in a flurry of deadline squashing and early morning bouts of caffeine. 

In the piece, the choir uses a simple textural twist to paint a sonic representation of shooting stars lighting up the sky. I definitely feel that, with this piece and my last one, that I’ve found a creative path for my imagination to walk that allows others to partake, as well. It’s fun to think up crazy ideas but far more satisfying when you can share them with others effectively.

Most of the writing, at its core, is in unison and I’m hoping to further simplify the way it’s written on the page to show that to the singers. It’s been a bit of a struggle. The choir IS divided into 8 parts but there are only about 4 bars of several hundred that actually have a true 8 part chord. It’s an awkward balancing act between having too little on the page to be of any practical use, and having so much that using the page is impractical.