This guest post comes to us from Joshua Shank, the Grand Prize winner of our 2007 Composers Competition, and a young composer with whom we were thrilled to work. Josh is an talented, dedicated musician, and has shared his experience participating in our annual competition. The deadline for the 2013 Composers Competition is fast approaching, and we encourage all young composers to apply. For more information, click here.
So there’s this stage when you’re a composer in your twenties where you go around and try to get people to perform your work. It’s not the funnest period in the life of a composer because it can sometimes feel like you’re pestering people to get your stuff out there (which you kind of are, in a way), but it’s just sort of a stop on a journey we all have to go through. Nobody has ever really heard of you at this stage, so one way to get your name in the proverbial game is to enter competitions sponsored by ensembles around the country which, if you win, gets you a performance (and hopefully a recording) of the work in question. I’ve entered dozens of these things over the years—successfully and unsuccessfully—and easily one of the most memorable ones was with the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus.
In 2006, I had the chance to collaborate with Michael Kerschner and the YNYC on a piece I wrote for them called “Sleeping Out: Full Moon.” The two most prominent memories I have of my interactions with the choir during my stay in New York have to do with either how impressed/grateful I was with the care they handled my work with…and also the time when I almost accidentally knocked over a very expensive digital recorder during a rehearsal (I was nervous and not looking where I was going…it was not my finest hour). That being said, in reflecting back on the experience I think there were two elements that made it so much fun: their performance and the setting.
The YNYC is an incredible ensemble. That may sound like hyperbole or as if I’m trying to be obsequious or something but—seriously, you guys—they are really, really good. This is compounded by the fact that they’re also a boatload of fun to hang around with (both inside and outside the rehearsal) and that combination of musicianship and friendship doesn’t always happen. However, when it does, it makes the process of collaboration that much sweeter and makes the connection you’ve forged together much tougher to sever when the project is over with.
One of the unique things about how the YNYC sets up their competition is that they commission more than one composer to write something for that particular concert. Getting to meet others who toil in the same proverbial vineyard is sort of a rare opportunity outside of the collegiate environment, so sharing the program with two colleagues—in my case it was the wonderful Daniel Nass and Jonathan Kolm—is something I was very appreciative of.
The other element which made my collaboration with the YNYC so memorable was the setting in which it took place. The arts scene in the five boroughs is obviously world-class but the city has many other things to offer to those who don’t call it home. The ensemble knows this and (wisely, I think) turns the composers loose to explore when they’re not needed for rehearsals and I was really grateful to be given the time to do this. Sometimes being a visiting composer means you get woefully over-scheduled and the trip ends up being exhausting rather than enriching. Not so with the YNYC.
All that being said, the brief time I had with the ensemble is an incredibly fond memory. Michael is brilliant in the way he can draw out a phrase or unify a vowel and the choir responds with a versatility that’s both rare and inspiring to listen to. Their sense of commitment to the music as well as to each other is on display from the first downbeat of rehearsal and I’m unbelievably grateful for having been given the chance to collaborate with them.
To paraphrase (and sort of adapt) a great American philosopher from the 1980s: “If you’re a composer and you haven’t applied for their competition yet I highly recommend it. It is so choice.”