How to Improve Creativity In Music Part 5: Multimedia Programs
Welcome to part 5 of improving your creativity in music! We have covered quite the range of cultures and now I'm thrilled to give you the inside scoop on ETHEL's newest project called Circus-Wandering City. This is one of my most favorite programs of all time. It's super fun, entertaining, and represents a new direction for classical performances.
Circus- Wandering City combines stunning images and films from the Ringling Museum’s unmatched archives, intricate projection mapping, and original music composed by members of the quartet. The music and projections illuminate and reveal a 21st century take on a larger-than-life performing culture of global traditions and origins, while celebrating the wonderment and excitement of one of America’s most iconographic popular culture experiences.
So how does this project expand artistic development?
All my life I was trained to translate a composers intent. I study a composers style and acknowledge directions like notes and dynamics. It's really fun and ultimately what I still do for a living. However, in this program we have created our own music which is doing it old school like Bach who composed and performed his works. For me personally, this task was challenging because I am the only one with pretty much zero composition experience. Fortunately, I had the help of my colleagues, one who was even nominated for a Grammy in composition, to tackle this obstacle.
Throughout this process, I faced massive creative and technical challenges. I would experience writers block for days and would be forced to start from scratch again. Just like all previous skills I developed, it forced me to create some sort of process. I learned to be flexible in my approach, but for starters, just get a solid concept and overview of what I was going for before diving in.
Ultimately, creating music gave me new insights and exposed me to the composers perspective. We can study composers all we want, but we won't truly understand their perspective if we don't try it ourselves. By no means am I a master composer now, but by merely completing works, it gave me a deeper understanding of improvising, structure, and musical language.
The other and probably most relevant impact it had on me was the feeling of absolute ownership of the music. I wasn't playing Mozart, I was playing Cory. When you play your own music, you can't make a mistake and you know exactly what to aim for (relatively speaking).
Theater and Dance
Every time I went to my classmates dance concerts and theater productions, I always left in awe. Theater and dance have always moved and inspired me to look for ways to incorporate certain aspects into the classical concert. With Circus- Wandering City, it was the perfect chance. Thanks to director Grant Mcdonald, we emphasize staging, lighting, choreography, costumes, story line, and set design. Sound familiar? Well that's because it's similar to opera! To me, there is nothing more inspiring then taking the best of what other performance arts offer and trying to incorporate it into my performance. After watching something like this, how can you not be inspired to expand your use of choreography and staging?
If performing my instrument wasn't hard enough already, ETHEL loves to sing and play at the same time. It adds a beautiful color and makes the show more dynamic. Kip Jones, the other violinist in ETHEL is a master at this and it's one of his claims to fame. Anyway, for me I wasn't ever really a trained singer. I sang in a choir for a little but nothing compared to my training in violin.
So here I was trying to sing and play at the same time and wow, what a terrible result. The moment I focused on my singing, I played like I was in pre-college again. The moment I focused on violin, my voice sounded like a tone deaf drunk person singing karaoke. To improve, I began doing a couple exercises like singing scales as I played them to match the voice and violin. After hours of practicing that skill, I could execute it decently. When I listen back to the concert recordings I still have a long way to go, but it's at least a step in the right direction.
After my experience of singing and playing at the same time, you might think it's not worth it. However, singing forced me to be that much more automatic with my violin skills. Without singing, I could focus on the sound of my violin and everything would be fine. However, since I had to focus on singing, my sound quality and intonation had to be so engrained in my muscle memory that I didn't have to think about it. Yes, that made me practice more but the payoff is so rewarding.
Memorization is standard for solo repertoire in classical music but not really for orchestra or chamber music. It makes sense that it is like this because it's really hard to remember so much repertoire especially when the repertoire changes every week and certain figures might be repetitive. However, in this program, we will be touring it for a couple years and find it much more practical and beneficial to memorize it.
Memorization not only allows us to be free from sheet music, but the opportunity to create amazing communication on stage. Instead of looking down at our music with our peripheral vision on our fellow peers, we can look into each others eyes and jam the whole piece! Now to get here, we need to rehearse a lot, do a lot of personal practice, and review, but memorizing repertoire is simply liberating. The audience can see and feel the music on a deeper level because you're that much more engaging. Check out the Aurora Orchestra. Look how beautiful it is to perform for memory.
Often times in our training, we are isolated in our practice rooms working on our individual obstacles. This is great, but we must not forget about joining a team. In every professional field, the best things are always created by multiple people and classical music is no different. Now you may be out there alone performing Bach, but you still have to give credit and work with your teacher, manager, presenter, marketing team, and supporters.
With regards to creating a program such as Circus- Wandering City, ETHEL had big dreams and knew it had to reach out to other disciplines to empower the creative process. The program features direction and projections by Grant McDonald, scenic design by Jason Ardizzone-West, costume design by Beth Goldberg, lighting design by Bradley King and sound design by Stowe Nelson.
With professionals in each of these categories, it allows ETHEL to focus on our musical strengths, while simultaneously incorporating different performance aspects to create a program like no other. A production of this magnitude simply cannot be created without a team effort and ETHEL is honored to collaborate with all of them!
So, in conclusion, get your team spirit on and create something bigger than yourself.
Partaking in this process has made me think about so many different ways of performing. It has been an extremely entertaining, creative, and awesome experience with tons of fails but also epic realizations. As ETHEL creates more productions, we will take away many lessons from this process and improve upon them. However, after years of investment in time and energy, sometimes you just gotta step back and appreciate what you created.
Hope to see you at a show!