In your role as Composer Fellow, you’ve joined Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte at a number of HPO concerts and events in the community. You’ve acted as a composer mentor at Saltfleet Secondary School through our Adopt-a-School program, lead an activity at our Family Concert, performed in our Community Recital, spoke at our Talk & Tea events and more. What has been your favourite HPO event in the community thus far, and why?
It’s a bit of a whirlwind when I look back at the long list of HPO events that I’ve participated in over the past five months! I’ve enjoyed them all in different ways, but I think on a personal level, I’ve especially appreciated my time working with the students at Saltfleet Secondary School through the Adopt-a-School program.
During my time at high school in Hamilton, I was very fortunate to participate in a similar program that the HPO was running at the time, where myself and three peers were mentored by Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte. It’s been fun to see the students going through their first compositional experience. I’m reminded of how exciting and new everything was for me at that stage. Seeing that sense of discovery and eagerness to explore has made it a fulfilling and somewhat nostalgic project for me to be involved in, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to work with these talented young composers.
What has been the most surprising or unexpected experience you’ve had shadowing the role of Composer-in-Residence at events in the community?
During the Bach Festival in January, the HPO held their annual Community Recital. This is a really great afternoon where amateur musicians in the community are able to prepare a piece of music and perform in front of a welcoming and supportive audience.
Not wanting to miss out on the fun, I dusted off my violin and prepared a couple movements from one of Bach’s Sonatas for violin and piano, performing alongside my longtime duet partner, my mother! Just as we were preparing to go up to the front of audience to perform our piece, Abigail Richardson-Schulte – who was hosting the event – announced that there was a last-minute addition to the programme. Up to the front arrived a young boy, around five years old, who sat down at the piano and gave a fantastic performance of solo work by J.S. Bach. It was a wonderful moment of being simultaneously astonished by how talented this young guy was, while also being mildly intimidated about having to perform immediately after him – tough act to follow!
Tell us more about your role as composer mentor to students at Saltfleet Secondary School. What have the students been up to this year?
Starting last autumn, Abigail Richardson-Schulte began mentoring four music students at Saltfleet Secondary School, preparing them for the final goal of writing new works for their school wind ensemble. My involvement began with them in early-March when I joined for one of their regular meetings where the students share their progress with each other and receive feedback and guidance on their work.
At this point in the project, the young composers were beginning to flesh out sketches and drafts for the full wind ensemble. My role was primarily in helping them dive into the world of music notation and formatting (for the non-musicians reading: think of this process as the spelling and grammar equivalent of music composition with lots of small details and rules, and lots of editing). Up until that point, much of their work was still at the “pencil-and-paper” stage, and they had to quickly become experts in how to use the (often complicated) music notation software necessary for making clean and professional looking sheet music for their pieces.
Those who know me well know that I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to this field of work, so I was quite excited to help guide them through this process and help show them what the expectations and procedures would be from a professional composer.
You’ve been fortunate to work closely with both Abigail Richardson-Schulte and Music Director Gemma New in the creation of your new piece for our Intimate & Immersive series. What will you take away from your experiences with Abigail and Gemma regarding working as a professional in the orchestral world?
It’s been fantastic getting to work so closely with both Abigail Richardson-Schulte and Gemma New throughout this fellowship, and having the opportunity to dig deep into the various aspects of their respective work.
With Abigail, the most eye-opening thing was seeing what the full scale of a composer’s role can be within the community and an organization. On top of her work of actually writing music, she is constantly out in the community presenting talks, hosting performances and lectures, working with students-You name it, she’s doing it. I was also able to gain insight into crucial professional development topics such as the grant application process for project funding and career path options for a professional composer. This side of a composer’s life is rarely taught or even mentioned when you’re studying composition in school, and yet it can easily make up the majority of a composer’s workload and is vital for maintaining a healthy career in the arts.
On the other side of things, I had the rare opportunity to shadow Gemma and get an in-depth view of the orchestral rehearsal process. I learned about how she studies and prepares music for performance. As a composer, this insight into the intricate workings of an orchestra is hugely revelatory and allowed me to more fully understand the work involved in being a performer. As well, learning about Gemma’s process allowed me to reevaluate my own work and creative process, and consider what aspects of a piece a conductor may be focusing on when looking at my own music.
What do you feel have been the most valuable professional experiences that you’ve gained so far as Composer Fellow?
One of the most challenging, yet rewarding, aspects of being Composer Fellow has been getting to present and perform in front of large groups of people. As someone who, if left to my own devices, would happily never stand in front of a crowd, it’s been incredibly helpful to be put in situations where I need to speak and present to a larger audience. As I’ve done more and more over the last months, I’ve become more comfortable and confident in those situations and learned to move past the initial anxiety of it and actually begin enjoying the experiences. Because of this, I’ve been able to develop my ability to engage with a broader community and communicate about the work that I’m passionate about.
The Composer Fellowship is generously sponsored by the RBC Emerging Artists Project.