Kenley Kristofferson

Composer. Teacher. Writer. Voice Actor.

Tag: composing

Music Ed Monday – Keep on Keepin’ On

In a really wonderful turn of events, I won a competition this past month! My very first one!

It was the 2015 Canadian Band Association Composition Competition (*whew!*) and my piece for concert band “The Meeting Place” took home the prize.  I really like that tune, and so do a lot of my students – more than many of my other ones, actually.

The funny thing about that particular piece is that I’ve had a really hard time finding a publisher, which freed it up to compete, but it made me feel self-conscious about the work.  Maybe it wasn’t as strong as I thought it was.  Maybe the structure or the voicing needs more work.  Maybe I need to rewrite some parts…

Then I thought back on it: I already rewrote the parts, actually.  The commissioner’s (Alexis Silver’s) band had some pretty beefy instrumentation, so I standardized the score and parts after the premiere; like condensing the six percussion parts into three, for example.  Then we recorded it and it works – it all works, so what was in the way?

If the piece is winning competitions, the reality is that nothing might be in the way. Maybe it just didn’t make the cut in that particular round of publishing submissions, but you’ve got to keep on keepin’ on.  I needed to keep resubmitting it and, finally, it’s getting picked up by a new publishing house in the US (which I can’t say too too much about yet!), but it might still be sitting on my desk had I not kept on.

The same is true with the CBA Competition: This is the third time I’ve entered it.  It would’ve been very easy to quit after the first try, but there are so many factors that go into getting work submitted and getting it accepted.  The first time I entered was after I wrote Filum Vitae and I didn’t win, though I later learned that it was between Filum and the eventual winner, Christiaan Venter’s Rocky Mountain Lullaby.  At the time, all I knew was that I didn’t win.  Not the end of the world, but still not a great feeling.

The second time I entered was with Prairie Wedding and it got an honourable mention, which was a nice feeling, but it still didn’t win.  That being said, it did get some pieces sold and I made some good connections, which rings true to what composer Eric Whitacre says about competitions: You should do them for a myriad of important reasons, but you probably won’t win, and he’s right.

There are so many lessons in losing something, far more than you’ll ever learn if you win.  I’ve thrown my hat in the ring for jobs I wasn’t qualified for or competitions with some pretty big players and it’s taught me one really important lesson: It’s not no, it’s not yet.

For example, I applied for the Composer in Residence job with our local symphony and, as you might have guessed, I didn’t get it.  I didn’t make it past the first round.  However, it got my music into their hands and now I get some smaller gigs with them like arranging or work with schools.  While that’s not a commission for writing a symphony, that’s a heck of a lot more than I was doing with them before.  Maybe with more orchestra work under my belt and, you know, a Master’s degree, maybe I can break into that scene in 5-10 years.

That is, unless I don’t apply for it again, because I didn’t get it once, so why would I get it later?

I’m being facetious, that’s a terrible argument, but a common one.  I ran into one of my former students who’s studying music in university, getting ready for an audition to get into the Performance program there.  She said “I’ll do my best, but if I don’t get in then I’ll probably quit, because it would be so demoralizing.” After two years of crazy practicing and wild success, she might quit if she doesn’t get into this one thing the first time.  To me, that is absolutely crazy, but it happens all the time and to all sorts of people.

Think about all of the people who write a story, send it to one publisher, get rejected, then never write again.  Think about that person who wants a job in finance, applies for the job, doesn’t get it, then works in a job beneath their qualifications and spirals downward thinking about what could’ve been.

It’s so common because rejection is hard, it really is, but it’s how you deal with it that’s important.  Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was rejected not once, not twice, but twelve times in a row.  Imagine a world if she gave up – I don’t want to!

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Even as Robert Galbrath, her Cuckoo’s Calling was still rejected by publishers.

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Yes, J. K. Rowling, go take a writing course…

The important thing is persistence, to keep on keepin’ on.  When you put yourself out there, there are a variety of factors that aren’t in your control, the only one in your control is whether or not you put yourself out there.  That doesn’t mean you’ll be 100% successful, but doing nothing guarantees you’ll be 100% unsuccessful.

The best way to not get into music school is to not even apply.  An audition doesn’t mean you’ll get in, but with some preparation, you just might.

The best way to not date that really awesome person you like is to never, ever speak to them.  You might try and they might not go for you, but they might just be surprised by how wonderful of a person you are.

The best way not to have a successful show is make sure you don’t tell anyone about it.  Or, consider telling people about the show and then being super happy that they came.

Put yourself out there and if you don’t achieve your goal, figure out what you can do differently and try it again.  Rinse and repeat until you get it 🙂

Let’s have a great week.
-K

 

 

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Music Ed Monday – The Year of No

If-Things-Arent-Adding-Up-In-Your-Life-Start-Subtracting

A few years ago, two of my very good friends made a New Year’s Resolution to say yes to anyone invited them out to something, hoping to embark on some new adventures and live a little more.

“Want to go out for drinks?” Yes.

“Want to go snowboarding next weekend?” Yes.

“Want to come to the beach in fifteen minutes?” Yes. Yes. Yes.

And so on, and they had many wonderful excursions and made a ton of great memories.  They were tired, but it was worth it.

For any of you who know me personally, you know that every year of my life has been a “Year of Yes.” It doesn’t take much to get to me to come out, take a job, help out, or anything like that.  It’s usually good, but it takes away something that I recently discovered that I really enjoy: Leisure time.

This winter break, I didn’t work as hard as I needed to.  I just couldn’t.  I still got to the piano most days, sent away drafts, proofread scores, and sent/responded to emails, but I started this break so tired.  Not the tired from a weekend of partying, but the tired that comes from pushing yourself for months without a respite, which I often (read: always) do to myself.

930c66aa87575148b8ad0d28586f1d89This is the last year of that.  I’m still absolutely going to finish what I’ve started, but if new work comes my way that I’m not 110% thrilled about, I’m just not going to take it.  Am I still going to keep writing and taking some new work? Absolutely, but not all of it.  Not because I don’t like the extra money (because I really, really do), but because I rediscovered how much I like going on dates with my wife, hanging at friends’ houses, watching movies, playing video games, doing puzzles, reading books, unwinding at my parents’ house, going for coffee with my dad, and/or getting up in the morning and feeling like a functional human being.

“Wow, I’m feeling shaky and it’s only my second cup of coffee.” YES.  THAT’S BECAUSE YOU RESTED AND THEN YOU SLEPT.

“Wow, I can’t believe it’s 10:30 and my eyes are still open.”  LIKE A NORMAL PERSON.

This is connected to a much larger complex relationship that I have with my own productivity, self-esteem, and personal value, but that’s for a different post.

This is the year that I stop caring so much about how much work I’ve done and focus more on doing the things I want to do.  Also, because I didn’t slave away quite as hard this break, I got some of my best composing done in a long time.  There’s a big difference between “hitting the piano to work” and “hitting the piano to write,” and I was saying the former a whole lot more than the latter this year.  This is the year that changes.

When I told my wife, she just smiled and said “I’ll believe it when I see it.”  Me too, me too…

Icelandic Folk Song Suite – PREMIERE!

The Winnipeg Wind Ensemble is premiering my new work, “Icelandic Folk Song Suite,” on May 3rd and 4th! Hope you can make it out!

The May 3rd premiere takes place at Gimli High School in my hometown of Gimli, MB, Canada.  They will be joined by the Gimli High School Senior Concert Band, which is really crazy because that’s the band I grew up in.  For me, it’s a day comprised of my musical upbringing – from concert band to composing.  I’m super grateful for everyone who’s making that day possible.

The May 4th premiere is in Jubilee Place at MBCI in Winnipeg, MB on Music Monday (which is also cool).  That building is such a terrific venue and we’re recording it that evening – again, so grateful for the WWE for recording it.  Full of grate.

Here’s the poster! Hope you can make it out!

-K

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Horus Heresy: Drop Assault Released!

Long live the emperor, Drop Assault is released for iOS today.  You can pick it up here.

horusheresyiconPut together by the teams at Complex Games and Crooz, this Clash-of-Clans-style mobile game has been such a great experience for me.  I’ve always wanted to work on a dark and gritty game with an epic orchestral score and I finally got to do it with this game.

And what a game it is.  The controls are tight, there’s so much care and detail in the environment and so much attention to the Warhammer 40,000 lore.  The graphics are really clean (but certainly not lacking in detail) and the animations are really smooth.  There are no rough edges anywhere in the experience.

Here’s the trailer, to get you started:

Musically, it was a really big job, even though it was only 8 minutes or so. Because of the grandness of the universe, the score demanded a breadth that I don’t think is found in most mobile games.  That’s not to say that it sounds as grand as film music, which I like on its own, but this score still needed to feel like it was for a game and I tried to keep that at the front of my mind and the edge of my pencil.  Movie universes are nice, but there’s a depth that’s lost because of the forced progression of the narrative and scene structure – you can’t just hang out in a movie scene like you can in a game.  The music of Drop Assault still has the structure and design of a game soundtrack and that’s super important to me.

The music is mostly orchestral, but featuring extended percussion like a tom ensemble, taiko drums, shakers or tam and gong.  Because the universe is so mechanical, I had the urge to put chains and gears in it, but I thought it might be overkill with the SFX (which are awesome, btw).  In many of the big pieces, the low strings drive the ostinato, so finding the right string ensemble was key.  The one that I ended up using has 24 sampled celli and 8 sampled double basses, which is about two-to-three times a normal orchestral low string section.  That’s not to say that there still isn’t ample non-string writing – there’s a lot of epic brass and moving woodwind lines too.  This game is one of those few times where I really wanted to use every spice in the spice rack.

I talk about the music further in this developer diary entry from Complex Games:

I’m really proud of this game (and its music, to be honest) and I hope that you all pick it up and give it a go!

-K

Sabbatical Week 2 Roundup!

Another big week on the sabbatical:

Seeing as I got to the end of Movement IV of the Icelandic Folk Song Suite, I spent most of my work on this patching up holes in the music.  I worked the transitions a lot and figured out how they’re going to work, patching up the last one just tonight (which is still a bit of a mess).

I’m definitely at the last 10% of the piece, which is often the most time-consuming.  I’ve had this piece in my head for so long that, for much of it, I couldn’t get it down fast enough.  I knew exactly where everything was going to go and how it was going to fit – well, most of it anyway.  Now it’s the real nitty gritty.

Here’s what else transpired this week:

– I also got down some earlier choral sketches, but I’m not sure if I’m going to keep them.  I like them, but we’ll see where it goes.

– Anticipating the WSO‘s Nordic Festival, Peter Johnson from the Lögberg-Heimskringla wrote an article about me and my musical development.  It was centred around high school band, video games, and how I learned to write music.  I’m really pleased with it and I hope that you pick up a paper to read it!

– I started some upcoming video game work, but nothing new to show.  In fact, I don’t even think I can show it anyway.

– I had to rewrite some Drop Assault music because it didn’t pass the top rung of the ladder with the head company and the timeline was super tight, so Tuesday was a 15-hour day and impeded some progress on the following days.  Clearly, I am not 18 anymore and can’t work like I used to.

– Speaking of Drop Assault, I’m doing a development diary for the music that I wrapped up this week.  There will be some video, an interview portion, and a supplementary blog post on the “Combat” music.  It should be up reasonably soon.

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– And this is one of the most important ones: I put together the event for the Morgun premiere with the WSO.  It’s going to be spectacular.  If you’d like to come, all of the details are on the event page:

https://www.facebook.com/events/754205461293112/

That’s it for this week!
-K

Prairie Wedding is Available!

Prairie Wedding COVER

Happy Easter!

The day is here! Prairie Wedding is published and available for purchase! You can find it at the Daehn Publications website! (or your favourite local music dealer!)

It feels like so long ago that I submitted it for the 2012 CBA Composition Competition and here we are, halfway through 2014 and it’s finally in print.  I don’t mean that in a critical way – that’s just how long things take in the arts, especially when publication is involved.

I am so, so, so grateful to Larry Daehn for taking a risk on my and publishing BOTH Filum Vitae and Prairie Wedding.  Seriously, what a great human being.

Below is a recording by the ever-awesome Cleveland Symphonic Winds under the direction of Loras John Schissel.

Its song, so sweet, compels me…

This past month, something that I always felt inside was confirmed:

The world is craving emotional classical music about our place in the natural universe.

We Are Stars is getting published, Filum Vitae is in submission (but has generally been well-received) and, perhaps most surprisingly, Cosmos has been shared by prominent astronomers, is being featured by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Vancouver) and has connected with thousands of people.

Literally thousands.  We’re almost at 13,000 views.

There is a hole that needs to be filled in people’s hearts that is filled with an awe and beauty of the natural world.  I know it because I have it too.

Whatever connects with us is often what comes out best.  So, I know that there are more like me now.  I always knew, but there’s still that shred of doubt that always lingered.  I want to say that it doesn’t matter if no one gets it, but I think that it matters to me.  It matters if you are sending a message into the air or sky or universe and no one is receiving it.  My music resonates with me and I want it to connect with people like it connects with me.

Here is a snapshot of one of my next pieces.  Here’s the text:

We are wanderers
in a darkened sky.
We are wanderers
to the stars.

We are travellers
through the veil of night.
We are travellers
to the stars.

The horizon softly calls.
I hear it in my heart.
Its song, so sweet, compels me
to cast my light into the dark.

This is the beginning.  More to come 🙂

Kenley

10,000

24 days ago, I uploaded the “Cosmos” choral suite to Soundcloud, hoping that people would listen to it and feel a resonance between the music and themselves.

The response has been more than I ever could have imagined.

Today, the suite hit 10,000 views 🙂

Thank you.

Thank you for giving it a shot.

Thank you for writing about it, if you did.

Thank you for re-posting/retweeting it, if you did.

Thank you for telling a friend, if you did.

Clearly, many people did – that’s how this happens 🙂

A special thanks to Phil Plait and Joe Hanson, who posted on their wildly popular blogs and twitter accounts to share the music.

After the weekend, I’m going to post some of my favourite comments and get started on the “Conception to Completion” entry for “Cosmos.”

Even though we’ve hit 10,000, please keep listening, sharing, and even getting into contact with me.  Here is the link if you want to listen/share!

http://soundcloud.com/kenley-kristofferson/cosmos

I really appreciate every listen that’s gone toward my work.

My best and have a great long weekend!
Kenley

Coffee with Composers – Matthew Patton

On Friday, I had a really thought-provoking conversation with Winnipeg composer Matthew Patton.

Matthew was the Artistic Associate with the New Music Festival that just happened a few weeks back.  In other words, he’s the guy who got the headlining Icelandic composers to come to Winnipeg.  That’s a great feat, but he’s no slouch as a composer himself.

He studied Composition at Manhattan University and took some time with John Corigliano.  He’s worked with world-class choreographers (like Paul Taylor for their production called Speaking in Tongues) and been played in Lincoln Centre in New York City.  He’s worked with filmmaker Guy Maddin on multiple occasions and in multiple projects.

I feel very privileged to have coffee with this man and I’ll let you in on a few of our discussions.

One was about understanding.  We didn’t entirely agree, but that’s okay – in fact, that’s better because then my thoughts are challenged.  He says that there’s a sense of compulsion in the audience member’s ear when they don’t quite get it.  There’s a sense of mystery and that mystery is intriguing.  As a huge fan of Lost during its run, I agree, even though I want my audience to understand what I’m telling them they don’t dismiss what I’m trying to say because they “don’t get it.”

The more that I think about it, the more I agree with him.  The need to find out is what drives us forward and maybe we can build that suspense into our music.

This isn’t to say that his music is unspecific or amorphous, because it’s actually the opposite of both of those things.  This was another great talk that we had.  He asked: What are you trying to do? And I told him that I’ve been into science and that I want to write about how beautiful the natural world is when we get it.  But he kept wanting me to be more specific and dig deeper until I realized that maybe I didn’t know exactly what I wanted or how to get there.

“Be specific,” he says.  So now I’m really thinking about getting the specificity of my ideas through the music.  For example, if I’m trying to write about nature for an instrumental group (meaning “no text”), how am I going to convey that to the audience so that they understand my meaning? Specifically.

We talked for about 90 minutes and it was very insightful.  I am very thankful for his time.

In an email the next day, he wrote this to me:

To me, the most important thing in all of music is to have something to say.  And to have something to say you must LIVE so I suggest to anyone go out and experience every single thing in the whole world!!  The people that I admire most as artists are always the people that I admire most as people.

I love that last line.

Happy weekend, see you Monday!
Kenley

As the Ink Dries on “Filum Vitae…”

I have this weird obsession with posterity – not just my own, but anyone’s.

I don’t want anything to be lost.

I wrote, directed and voice acted in a radio play called “The Constant” and just the other week, I found my notebook with its sketches from early 2008.  I completely forgot that I had it.  In its faded, smudged pages, I found the outline for each of the 10 episodes (which we shortened to seven), what was motivating the characters, their behaviour and how it would move the plot along… all of those things.   When I opened the notebook, it was so smeared that I could barely read it, it was the curse of my love of pencils.  Thankfully, I finished the work, typed up the scripts and put it out, but the sketches are what really interest me… especially notes in the margins, or notes to other actors.

That’s one thread of this, now allow me to begin another:

This past summer, I read Eric Whitacre‘s blog series “Advice to the Emerging Composer” and one thing that he talks about is the love of the “workshop.”  He means the pads of paper, the sound of the scratching lead as it transcribes his thoughts, the rubbing of the eraser and the shavings it leaves all over his desk, his pants and the floor.  You see, I love that too.  I love the reading the writer’s notes on the story, or the cartoons sprawled along the top of the page.

As I opened the notebook from “The Constant,” the notes were almost unreadable and, while I love getting everything down on paper before it goes into something special, there was nothing I could do.  See, those two threads came together 🙂

If I wanted my scores to survive, I have to do one of two things: Abandon the pencil-and-paper and do it all digitally OR ink the manuscript…

… I chose the latter.

The check-and-balance built into using pencil and paper is my favourite, because you play every line by hand at the piano, scribble it down and see if it works harmonically.  When you sequence it, you may be right on or maybe you won’t, but either way you know.  Also, inked scores are beautiful.

After two weeks, I finished! Here are some shots of the completed, handwritten score!

Oh yeah, and here’s how it sounds 🙂 (reasonably important!)

Thanks for reading!
Kenley