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Reflections from a Composer and Perpetual Tinkerer

In April the second annual Soundstreams Emerging Composer Workshop brought six talented composers from across Canada and abroad together in Toronto for an intensive ten-day workshop. The composers spent full days working with our international visiting guest mentor, Ye Xiaogang from China, one of Toronto’s favorite composers, Juliet Palmer, and a handful of other guests that Soundstreams brought to the workshop.

We were very glad to have Jason join us; his thoughtful and unique approaches and collaborative spirit were a great influence on the workshop environment. Jason is also the recent recipient of the 2014 Toronto Emerging Composer Award, awarded by the Canadian Music Centre. I asked him to reflect upon his workshop experience, and share some of what went on behind the scenes this year.

As a composer and perpetual experimenter/tinkerer, the very intensive Soundstreams’ Emerging Composers’ Workshop was a wonderful opportunity to fill my day front to back with music and exploration. When Ben asked me to reflect on an aspect of the workshop, the workaholic in me immediately conjured the meat of the ten days: rehearsals. I love rehearsals. Of course on further reflection, my experiences with the other composers (we lived in a house together!), working with Juliet Palmer and Ye Xiaogang, and all of the activities organized for us were all meaningful, memorable, and formative experiences not to be diminished but being buried in long days of rehearsals is something that I could do ad infinitum.

JasonDoell_CecilaQuartet

Beyond hearing my work materialize, these vigorous rehearsals with the Cecilia String Quartet fed my general hankering for intensely focused examinations of sound. In rehearsals, I listen differently… and I recognize this as an opportunity to gain more insight into my own processes through the perspicaciousness of the performers or the uniqueness of the other composers’ voices who may also be involved in the process. All of this was true (and then some) with the Cecilia String Quartet and the other five workshop composers.

Min, Sarah, Rachel and Caitlin are incredibly focused, dedicated, resourceful, penetrating, percipient, caring, generous, thoughtful, playful, and talented individuals. It was an honour not only to work with them for as long as we did but also to be privy to their inside jokes an receive their guidance (and timbits). They were so easy to work with that we even developed our own small inside jokes (I’m still waiting for you to make good on your threats Min!). 

From rehearsals with Shuying, André, Tova, Alec, and Nick, I got to witness a diversity of approaches so widely disparate that when they were placed side by each, I was reminded that possibilities are endless. I was inspired by all of the imagination present! André and Alec through their wildly divergent compositional approaches gave me a deeper understanding of string/bow techniques. Because of a delicate approach to my piece, I was truly blown away by how Shuying, in her work, showed me that pizzicato could be so ferocious. Tova and Nick, again through incredibly differing styles, reminded me of what it means to hold music in your body, of the kinetic-ness of sound. These are just but a few of the nuggets panned from their golden rivers. 

Cecilia Quartet at Emerging Composer Workshop

All of these lessons, I may not have absorbed had it not been for the extensive rehearsals organized for this workshop. You see, first listens are hard for me, so performances aren't my ideal listening experience. Usually, I don’t like music on the first listen because I’m a harsh critic. I identify the tropes, dismiss perceived triteness, and criticize lack of imagination and safe choices. This is my problem and it’s a big one. So, rehearsals afford me an opportunity to listen repeatedly, and with different ears, to works that I would normally only get one crack at. 

You can explore more of Jason's music on Soundcloud.

 

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