By Hannah Rice, Special to the Sybaritic Singer
“Go find some rocks!” shouted Carrie Mallonee, director of the Walden Creative Musicians Retreat, following a brief welcome. After gathering our rocks, all participants, faculty, and staff at the retreat performed “Rock Piece” by Pauline Oliveros. Grinning widely as we tapped our rocks together, we listened intently to the resulting rhythms as they echoed off the beautiful mountain scape in the distance. This opening unrestrained, exuberant moment of music-making embodies the atmosphere at Walden; it is an environment filled with inspiration, freedom, and creativity.
I attended this year’s festival (July 12-20, 2021) as a composer, excited to work with members of the International Contemporary Ensemble and composers from universities all over the country. Not only did D.J. Sparr, Alice Teyssier, and Mazz Swift perform my piece, “you’re not you,” beautifully, but the recording engineers sent out high-quality videos within a month of the festival’s completion.
While having the opportunity to work with the ensemble members on our original compositions was certainly reason enough to attend the retreat, the overall experience was equally enriching, largely due to the thought-provoking presentations and lectures led by the composer-in-residence, Marcos Balter. Balter’s music is incredibly intimate, personal, and evocative, and throughout his lecture, he discussed the importance of writing for “people, not instruments.” Unlocking this non-traditional, player-composer collaboration was vital to the development of Balter’s style, and the genuine, organic nature of it certainly comes through in everything he writes. His lecture sparked many conversations among the participants and resident artists, and we continued our rich discussions late into the evening by the fire.
These “fire-side chats” were some of the most rewarding and memorable moments I had during my time at Walden. Every night, the participants, composition staff, and resident artists all gathered to snack, drink, and chat by a fire pit. It is rare for young composers to have access to advice from Grammy-Award-winning composers, Fulbright Scholars, Yale graduates, and professional performers all in one conversation! The generous, encouraging, and utterly candid advice I received from these composers and resident artists was invaluable, and it was an experience unique to Walden.
While the lectures and discussions with fellow composers were beneficial, the daily classes and activities at Walden were also informative. I attended sessions such as “Gender in Music” and “Beat-Making.” Classes on Max, auditory illusions, orchestration, and more were also offered. Because the faculty were allowed to teach a subject of their own particular interest and expertise, they were all incredibly knowledgeable and excited about their courses and were more than willing to meet outside of the class to provide further information and continue discussions at the request of the participants. In addition, participants had the opportunity to sing in ensembles, including the chamber choir, which focused on premiering works by participant composers. As a vocal performance major, I was particularly excited about the many opportunities to sing, especially in the “vocal consort,” coached by Alice Teyssier.
Walden was by far the most rewarding summer experience I have ever had. The open, warm, and creative environment left me with inspiration for many years to come and genuinely stretched my mind. Months later, I still talk with many composers and participants from Walden who continue to enrich my life both musically and personally. I highly recommend this unique retreat to anyone who loves contemporary music, including those for whom music is an avocation.
Following my time at Walden, I attended the third session of the Atlantic Music Festival in Waterville, ME (July 26 – August 8). I looked forward to visiting yet another beautiful campus surrounded by mountains, greenery, and trails. In Maine, our days were filled with lectures, orchestra readings, and concerts. Because AMF has programs for both performers and composers, they offer composers the unique opportunity to write for the AMF orchestra. During the penultimate week of the festival, composers’ pieces are read and professionally recorded by the orchestra. I did not get the opportunity to write for the orchestra because, in order to do so, composers are required to attend the full, six-week program. However, hearing my colleagues’ works come to life, as well as the conductors’ and ensemble’s feedback on each piece, was just as valuable.
While the orchestra readings were certainly a highlight of the festival, working with the contemporary ensemble in residence was my favorite experience. The musicians were all skilled, passionate, and incredibly generous. Though they were playing concerts almost every other night, they dedicated more than the allotted time to the rehearsal of each composer’s piece, determined to bring each composer’s vision vividly to life. They premiered my piece, Prog for Pierrot, effortlessly and enthusiastically with very little rehearsal time. Not only were the contemporary ensemble members incredibly skilled, but so were the participant composers. I was blown away by the level of composition at this festival and continue to be inspired by the colleagues with whom I was able to connect.
Though I had a good experience at AMF, there are a few things I wish I had known prior to applying. Their website lists the composers who will be on faculty at the festival throughout the summer, including Martin Bresnick, Pierre Jalbert, Reicko Feuting, and more. However, the promotional materials did not make it clear that only certain composers will be there during each session. Since I attended the third and final session, many of the composers had already left prior to my arrival. As this was my last summer before applying to graduate programs, I was disappointed to find out that I would not get to meet many of the composers I had hoped to work with at AMF. Lack of communication about details like this was definitely a weak point of the festival and is something to be aware of if you are considering applying. However, I still had a great experience and gained many new connections and insights from AMF.
I also had the opportunity to attend and present my piece Free to Be at the New Music on the Bayou Festival (June 3-5) this summer, spearheaded by the magnificent Mel Mobley and Greg Lyons in Monroe, LA. This tuition-free festival consisted of three consecutive days of concerts, each more thrilling than the last. One of the main goals of this festival is to bring new music to the Louisiana community, specifically to the cities of Monroe, West Monroe, and Ruston. I was pleasantly surprised by how many people in these small, Louisiana communities came out to hear contemporary music. Following the concerts presented in various art galleries throughout the community, we had conversations with many community members who had never been exposed to contemporary music before. The open-minded and curious environment that Mel and Greg were able to foster at this festival was electrifying.
While engaging with the Louisiana community was an important part of this festival, interacting with the selected composers and discussing their works was even more rewarding. One of the most unique things about NMB is the variety of styles, influences, and backgrounds of each composer; I was able to interact with people teaching and composing all over the country who all focused on different styles of composition from improvisatory writing to electronic music to multimedia collaborations. The versatility of these composers cultivated an environment that was brimming with artistic innovation and enthusiasm; each day was a new musical adventure or discovery.
Following a year defined by musical isolation and the inability to hear live music in person, my summer experiences were all more rewarding than I can accurately describe. I continue to apply “tid-bits” I learned from the lectures and classes I attended this summer to my own music-making and to be challenged and encouraged by the myriad of insightful new works I had the privilege of hearing; I didn’t think it was possible to pack so much musical inspiration into one summer. If you are considering applying to summer programs or festivals in the future, I highly recommend these three. I left each with a reinvigorated passion for contemporary music and newly cultivated friendships that will last a lifetime.
Hannah Rice is a Louisiana-based composer and singer who enjoys exploring extremes through range, timbre, and contemporary techniques in both her compositions and performances. She is currently pursuing a dual degree in composition (with Dr. Mara Gibson) and vocal performance (with Dr. Lori Bade) at Louisiana State University. In 2021, her choral piece “Clara – To Fly a Plane” from Dear World will be published by Hal Leonard under the Craig Hella Johnson series. In addition, 4 of Hannah’s tracks have been published by APM Music’s sound library, MPATH, and included on volumes 4, 10 and 11 of the Phenomenal Women Series albums. She has won numerous calls for scores while at LSU, including the Atlantic Brass Call for Scores, Megan Ihnen and Darryl Hale Call for Scores, and the Constantidines New Music Ensemble Call for Scores for Carnegie Hall. Her piece, “Listen!” was recently broadcast on WPRB, NJ, “Viva La 21st Century.”