On Saturday, March 24, 2018, YNYC’s Mixed and Women’s Ensembles will perform ‘Only All of Us’ featuring world premiere works for double chorus from our Competition for Young Composers.
We are pleased to introduce our next of three finalists for YNYC’s 2018 Competition for Young Composers, Casey Rule!
Composition for YNYC: The Rocky Road to Dublin
Casey Rule is a “programmer by day and musician by night”, working as a Wall Street software engineer, leading the technology team for a growing ed-tech start up, serving as the business and technical director of NoteNova Publishing, singing and conducting with the Choral Composer-Conductor Collective, and writing music when he’s not writing code. Among his awards for composition are the 2012 Singing City Prize for Young Composers, the Musical Chairs Chamber Ensemble’s 2014 Composer Search, the 2014 ACDA-PA Choral Composition Competition, the Ithaca College Thirty-Sixth Annual Choral Composition Contest, and The Esoterics 2016 POLYPHONOS Choral Composition Competition. Rule graduated from Lehigh University where he studied computer science, music composition, and conducting, earning an Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts and Sciences.
What is a personal sanctuary for you?
I really struggled with how to answer this question. If I were to take a broader interpretation of the word “sanctuary” as simply referring to an environment in which I feel most at ease, I suppose I would describe my sanctuary as any opportunity I have to unplugged from the constant barrage of phone calls, emails, texts, social media notifications, etc. A cabin in the woods with no internet, no cell service, and mailing address sounds like a sanctuary to me…at least hypothetically; in reality, I may find that isolation more difficult to endure than I realize now.
But given the context of the question, I think the real answer is that this isn’t really a question for me to answer in the first place. The word “sanctuary” implies that the world outside of that sanctuary is hostile or dangerous for you in some way, and, if I’m being honest, as a straight, cisgender, male, Christian, able-bodied, white American who grew up in a relatively safe community with good schools and supportive parents, I’ve genuinely never known what it feels like to need a sanctuary in a meaningful way, and I probably never will.
Where did your family immigrate from?
My mother’s mother’s family is Pennsylvania Dutch, “German” immigrants who came to America before Germany was a country. My mother’s father’s family came from English.
My father’s side of the family is largely English, Scottish and Irish. “Rule” is an Anglo-Scottish last name derived from the Rule Water river in the south of Scotland.
What relationship do you see between music and community?
For me, music is an inherently communicative and interactive process for which the lines between composer, performer, and audience are intentionally blurred. As a composer, my role in creating a new piece of music is actually pretty small when compared to the total combined effort that goes into the final product. My role is really limited to what can be written on pieces of paper, but that’s only a small fraction of the actual piece of music. The vast majority is made of all the stuff that isn’t in the score but is carefully constructed from the combined artistry and creativity of the director and performers. Furthermore, the performer’s interpretation of the piece and the audience’s experience of the piece rely heavily on the cultural and artistic context in which the piece exists. A piece music is never complete outside of the context of the community who interprets, realizes, and experiences it.
One of the things that has always drawn me to choral composition specifically is how community is built into the art form itself. There is something both powerfully universal and deeply personal about using your own voice as your instrument. There is a certain vulnerability and intimacy in singing that makes the relationship between a choir and their audience unique from other types of musical performances—not necessarily better or worse, but beautifully distinct.
What role does music play in telling people’s stories?
When I was told that the theme for this concert would be immigration, I specifically wanted to approach this piece as a folk-song arrangement rather than an original composition. Folk music is a genre that is strongly associated with immigrant and diaspora populations, as it is often one of the primary ways in which displaced groups of people retain their distinct cultural identity, even while adapting and assimilating into the surrounding culture of their new home. One of the most common formats for vocal folk music from traditions all over the world is storytelling; specifically telling the story of an individual or group of individuals whose experience is understood to represent a universally relatable experience within that culture at the time of its conception. For this reason, folksong often serves both an archival and social function for immigrant populations.
I’ve found that there is an often unspoken assumption in the composition community that arrangement is an implicitly lesser artform than composition. I suspect that this distinction is largely drawn from composition being seen as an act of personal expression in which a composer is fully responsible for the musical success of a piece, whereas a composer can never really claim full credit for an arrangement. However, the idea of a piece of music being something that a composer can write in isolation and own relies on Eurocentric sensibilities that are far from universal. To be clear, I’m not saying this approach is inherently better or worse; as a classically-trained composer with a passion for harmonic analysis and score engraving, I’m certainly not knocking the Western composition tradition; but I do reject the assumption that ownership and originality are fundamental components of compositional artistry.
Part of what makes folk-song such a ubiquitous and powerful story-telling format is that it is sort of inherently “open-source”. A song only becomes a “folk-song” in the first place because it speaks to a large enough group of people that they feel compelled to repeat it and adapt it and pass it on; in other words, a folk-song exists because people feel that it, in some way, tells their story as well, either personally, culturally, or more universally.
Which composers best communicate cultural or historical stories?
Given my classical training and my personal affinity for folk music, my first instinct is to think of the Western composers I admire for championing folk-song adaption as an artform—composers like Bartok, Smetana, Dvořák, Holst, Vaughan Williams and Ives—as well as composers who specifically sought to draw heavily the cultural or historical musical tradition—Copeland, Bernstein, Stravinsky, etc. That said, there are many musical traditions around the world for which the idea of music being the product of a single composer is totally foreign. In these traditions, “composition” is an inherently iterative or improvisatory community-based process; to be a “composer” is sort of a nonsensical profession. I think it’s no coincidence that these musical traditions tend to focus heavily on cultural and historical themes and have served as some of the most powerful conduits for the preservation of cultural identity.
So, with this broader understanding of the what it means to be a “composer”, I would say that the composers who best communicate cultural or historical stories, whether or not they are remembered by name, are those who embrace the idea that composition need not be idealized as an act of individual expression, but can be valued just as highly as a contribution to a larger community of music making.