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Ryan Manchester » Reflections on Newspaper Blackout Poems
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Reflections on Newspaper Blackout Poems

December 14th, 2010

Seth Boustead of Access Contemporary Music asked me to write about my experience composing for them and working with Austin Kleon. Below is the post I wrote for the Access Contemporary blog.

I recently had the honor of composing a piece for the Newspaper Blackout Poetry concert on December 6th. The concert was unique for me as well as ACM. For me, it was the first time to work closely with a poet and the first time for me to travel to a premiere. For ACM, it was the first time the program featured member composers exclusively.
Compositionally, it was the first time in a while that I used a key signature to compose. Deriving pitch material from spectrally analyzing the sound of a Tibetan singing bowl, I arrived at a key signature present in the under tones of the bowl’s fundamental. One aspect I wanted to capture was the role of the voices and piano, such as having the piano help the singers in more chromatic sections while still sounding musical. Overlapping gestures in the voices and piano helped to fulfill this idea and help develop the musical ideas before bringing in the text.
While setting the text, I worked closely with Austin Kleon through email to manipulate the words in order to help establish the musical nature, which in turn helped to convey the tone or mood I perceived from the poetry. I think he will agree once he hears the piece that the music amplifies the impression the words have on the reader.
I was also fortunate enough to be able to travel to Chicago from New York for the premiere. Traveling is generally exciting, but traveling for a world premiere of your work goes beyond excitement. It was a relaxing stay as everything related to the music was taken care of by Seth and ACM. I met up with Seth one night for a drink and had a good time before having one final rehearsal the next day. While in rehearsal, I received excellent feedback from the singers about their favorite parts in the piece and things of that nature. In performance, I could tell that all three of them had a connection with the piece because their performance was a sensitive, convicted interpretation.
To top off an excellent premiere, the concert was reviewed favorably in Chicago Classical Review.
Overall, the experience from writing the piece with freedom to try new things to hearing it performed with excellence to meeting other member composers in ACM was an unforgettable one. I hope to be involved in more concerts like this in the future.

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