Today, I am here to give you an update on how my time as a freelance composer has been so far. I will also give some advice to those who are about to dive into the world outside of the comfortable academic circle.

I jumped out of the academic lifestyle last May when I graduated with a masters degree in music composition at Michigan State University. At the beginning, I managed to work on three composition projects: euphonium sonata with piano, clarinet/percussion duo, and a grade IV band piece (eventually adding a project for percussion trio in December). While this was all exciting and fun, life quickly became quite stressful and unsatisfying. Although I was no longer bound to the assignments/projects that was required in school, I had to find a way to manage my schedule so I could compose effectively while working for my Dad and teaching at Jackson College. This resulted in me being very exhausted, making my projects much slower in the composition process. I even had to postpone a project because of how overwhelmed I was. In addition, I was also applying for graduate school for DMA studies and summer festivals.

As time went on, things started to look up for me little by little. I have been able to write more and more music for some of my projects. I completed two composition interviews at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, which I felt quite content with, as well as feeling extremely excited about their composition program! I am teaching at Jackson College with a booming roster of 29 students (slightly more than double my class size last semester!) Throughout this school year, I have been able to travel around the country to meet some of the finest composers for advice on my portfolio as well as my path as a composer. More recently, I have been selected as 1 of 16 composers to study abroad in Croatia for two weeks. So while my experience so far has been mixed, I am truly enjoying my experience as a freelance composer!

Now, for the excited emerging composer/performer/theorist/whatever your “weapon of choice” is, I will give you some useful advice that I have used and learned from many people who have also experienced this moment. Credit for advice goes to Ricardo Lorenz, Carter Pann, David Maslanka, my Dad, and other articles that I have found online.

1. Always be driven to compose music. Many composers have made this suggestion to me and I will do the same for you. No matter what you have on your to-do list, always make sure you are creating music in some way, shape, or form. Even if there are no deadlines/goals, make a goal, make a deadline. It will help you push further and give you some excitement for more projects as well as maintaining the habit of writing.

2. Build and keep up connections/networking. This was a difficult step for me since I have always been a shy person. The key point is to think of everyone as equals. Every composer, from a Michael Goodman to a John Adams, is a human being. We might think highly of Adams, but to the public, he is nothing more than a person. As long as you have that type of mindset, you will have no problem approaching composers and performers unless they are trying to ignore you.

3. Collaborate through symbiotic collaboration. Ricardo Lorenz taught our composition seminar last spring about the process of symbiotic collaboration, which in my opinion should be the new standard of collaborations and commissions. Although I can not go on a large-scale explanation on the concept of symbiotic collaboration, I will say that through this process, you will not only write a piece, but you will learn a lot about a specific instrument/voice, the strengths/weaknesses of a particular musician and most importantly learn about each other. I composed Dialectics with Genevieve Beaulieu and we both loved the collaboration! Do this as much as possible! You will not regret it! (More information on symbiotic collaboration.) Link by Tom Childs.

4. Expect more failures than successes. This step has been and will always be an issue for me, since I consider myself to be a perfectionist. When it comes to jobs, competitions, commissions, graduate school, the chances of succeeding are lower than what we expect. When you are denied a job or a college, it is not an indicator that you are a horrible musician, but rather it either did not meet the panel’s interest or there was not enough room to add anymore people to a studio. Such a frustrating process. Instead of hiding in a corner and moping about your failures, take a look at the failed goal, look at it with glaring eyes and fight back. Failures will help you become determined since you will have something to prove to others the next time you apply.

5. Collaborate with music programs from the K-12 system. Although many composers, including myself, shun at the idea of writing music for the K-12 system, it is a great way to get your name out to the music world; especially if you want to make good money. Also, the public schools are always more than happy to work with composers.

6. Attend as many concerts as possible (specifically new music concerts or concerts with new music). Through this school year, I have been to more concerts and recitals than I ever been to through the six years at MSU. This is great for many reasons. As a composer, you will always learn new things through concerts. In addition, it is an excellent way of making connections with composers, performers, and others associated with the musical business. Two examples: I have been to Ann Arbor for many concerts within the past three months. Specifically the Midwest Composers Symposium and the Willo Collective. At the symposium, I met several composers from Michigan who had outstanding pieces as well as great personalities. I also learned about the overall musical language of each college. At the time, I was quite impressed by the originality each work, which made me challenge myself. I decided to challenge myself by breaking many boundaries to write anything possible. No apologies whatsoever! The Willo Collective Concert, which was at the Yellow Barn, gave me more reasons why I would love to write more works for percussion as well as experimenting with dance.

7. Work on other skills involving your career. These can include teaching, recording services, performing, publishing, conducting, music business, and other venues related to music.

8. Apply to graduate schools? It depends on what you are looking for. If you want to teach composition, then by all means, apply for a masters and a doctoral program. If you do not want to teach, it is not necessary to earn any graduate degrees. For the non-teachers, the only benefit of having a masters degree is that it will give you more time to learn more about writing. Personally, I’m applying for a doctoral program since when I do get a job, I will be able to use the said college as a vehicle to perform my pieces as often as possible while helping young eager composers become better communicators. In general, the goal for composers is to not be a teacher with a job. It’s too limited, too short, and it shows that composing is only a secondary chore and not your main focus. A realistic goal is to live life as a professional composer who inspires to become what he/she truly wants to be while maintaining a decent/fantastic financial lifestyle like teaching.

9. Publicize yourself with confidence. Musicians have to grow a strong skin when it comes to putting yourself out to the small but competitive musical world. It takes a lot of energy and patience, but there will be a moment when something will click. It was not until last year when I had about eleven interested musicians who wanted to play my music. (ten for The Two Siblings and one for Dialectics).

10. Take as much time as possible to reach your goals. What is the rush? Although many people have made this suggestion to me, Lorenz, Pann, and my Dad have emphasized this reason to me through their experiences while away from school (Pann took one year off from Michigan, while Lorenz took five years off before going to Chicago to study with Shulamit Ran). It is normal to feel jealous, angry, and stressed during the first year because everything is so much different from when you were in school. While some people want to get out of school, I feel the exact way when it comes to going back to school! The main thing to point out is that there is no rush whatsoever when it comes to education. Unless an apocalypse occurs, the degree will not go anywhere. Going to college is not a race and neither is art. Music in particular takes many hours to perfect and rushing things will ruin that concept. So enjoy yourself and do what feels right for you.

As the summer break is winding down to the final minutes, I’d like to reflect the many events that have happened over the summer.

  • I worked for my Dad from Day 1 of the summer break until yesterday. I am very glad that I not only earned some cash, but I was able to help the family as well.
  • I was able to collaborate with Gretchen Renshaw, University of Arkansas euphonium performance masters student, on Fantonium. Unfortunately, I have not been able to double-check this piece in a while since I had work and a few other obligations in the way.
  • I finished Concert Etudes #1 for piano, began working on the saxophone/euphonium duet, and making progress on the woodwind trio.
  • Despite not having much progress on composing new works, I was able to arrange a piece for the Jackson Symphony Orchestra. The performance was well received and JSO director Stephen Osmond told me that the JSO will definitely consider me for any future projects.

Now, this school year will be my first year as a masters student!

I am looking forward to the many opportunities that will come up. I’m also looking forward to studying with Dr. Ricardo Lorenz, who will help me with whatever is necessary to become a successful composer, musician, person, and product!

I hope that all of you had a great summer and have a great school year!

Two days ago was a huge milestone that I walked over; I graduated from Michigan State University! I am now an MSU Alumnus, though I will return to MSU for studying Masters of Music Composition under Dr. Ricardo Lorenz. I am looking forward to the new chapter that awaits me at the end of August!

Now, Compositions!

I am very close to finishing Concert Etudes #1 for solo piano, which  is a set of six etudes that represents a certain motive. Each etude plays with a motivic idea and tries to expand it based on the properties represented by ONLY the initial motive.

For instance: Etude I. involves two pitches: G# and A; an interval of a minor 2nd. Etude II. focuses on the E Major/Dominant 7th chord. Etude III. is a battle between Bb Major and Bb minor. Etude IV. is based on three pitches: E,F,G. Etude V. is based on five pitches and the dotted eighth sixteenth rhythm, and finally Etude VI. focuses on the control of the pedal. In addition, I was inspired by John Corigliano’s Etude Fantasy when writing Etude VI.

The second piece I’ve been working on during the semester is a trio for flute (doubles on piccolo), clarinet (doubles on bass clarinet), and cello. I’m currently working on the 2nd movement of this piece. The first movement focuses within the treble clef range where all three instruments can feature different timbres while phasing out from one another.

Shortly after a successful performance of the Concerto for Saxophone, I’ve began the process of orchestrating the piano accompaniment for wind ensemble (2,2,Eb,3,Bass, no saxophones, 2,4,3,1,1, double bass, percussion (the instrumentation is not official at this time)). I will let you know later how this project is going.

My goal for this summer is to write a piece for voice and piano. All I have written so far were works for instrumental music and to begin writing a piece for voice is quite scary. Despite this project sounding a bit difficult, I am looking forward to the challenge and I will let you know how this project is going.
Have a great summer! (if not, have a great week!)

During the fall semester of 2010, I learned something that has grab my interest for quite sometime. I took MUS 422 20th century European and American Music Literature which was taught by Dr. Ricardo Lorenz, Associate Professor of Composition. One of the last and perhaps the most crucial topics in the class was the comparison and trend between modernism and postmodernism.

Modernism had been experimented from the end of World War I to the 1960s. During that time, the composer’s goal was to compose music by experimenting with pitches, rhythms, timbres, colors, shapes, textures, etc. Art became highly elitist as well as the concept of abandoning the past and embrace a better future.

Postmodernisn occurred when Modernism became the entrenched norm in artistic, intellectual and academic circles. Modernism is seen as the Status Quo; DEAD. Postmodernism is a look back to former rejected traditions seems inevitable. Along with a reevaluation of tradition comes a reevaluation of art’s expressive potential. The art object is valued for its semantic potential to provide commentary and critique. Art is re-contextualized and becomes highly manneristic and populist.

Postmodernism gets very complicated since it can be categorized into two sub-categories: reaction postmodernism and resistance postmodernism.

Reaction postmodernism is where the composers completely abandons the techniques of modernism and brings back the traditional history. Ex: Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland? Resistance postmodernism is where the composers faces the techniques of modernism head on and critiques the traditional/modernism. Ex: Frank Zappa, Fredric Rzewski, John Corigliano, and Luciano Berio.

The problem in our society today, is although postmodernism is occurring as of now, we really do not know where music is heading. It’s a mysterious question that will be answered through time. If anything, this topic helped me find out my form of writing: resistance postmodernism. In today’s society, it is impossible to say you write romanticism music, since that music started and ended in the 19th century, though you COULD say that you incorporate the techniques of romanticism in your piece, but that’s another topic.

My point is that we do not have the privilege to say that our music is classical music, baroque music, romantic music, or modernism. Postmodernism is a very versatile type of music in which numerous compositions fit in that category.