Kenley Kristofferson

Composer.

Tag: Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

Music Ed Monday – The Quest for Beer at the Orchestra

Back in Summer of 2015, I was asked by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra if I could do an arrangement of a pop song for a divisional choir and the orchestra.  Every other year, the River East Transcona School Division hires out the orchestra to play with their choir.  This was an enormous opportunity, so of course I said yes, then got it done on time and on budget (which is a super important part of composing).

Several months passed until, finally, it premiered last week.  In fact, it came up so quickly that it almost slipped by me.  Everything at my school has been so crazy that it’s taken a lot of time and effort to just keep all the plates spinning.  Between teaching and writing, there’s been a lot going on.

That morning, I asked about tickets and it was decided there would be some comps at the door.  I left school at 5:00, grabbed a sub, then headed down to the concert hall, where there were gaggles of kids everywhere, but a noticeable absence of tickets at the box office.  Someone let me inside and apologized profusely (the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall staff is exceptionally kind all the time) and I just smiled and said “so long as there’s beer, everything will be just fine.”  The clerk laughed and said there’s always beer at the concert hall.

But there wasn’t this time.  The divisional concert was a school event, so obviously there would be no beer.  Not the end of the world, but beer at the concert hall is just the best.  Really.

wso1

Going to the symphony is less fancy than it used to be, but it’s still fancy.  There’s a formality when going to the biggest hall in the province to see the very best musicians we have play that night.  Even though they played my piece Morgun last year, I’ve always felt like I was never at that level.  I studied with the now-principal trombone of the ensemble and I was terrible.  I really clawed my way to the finish line of my music degree, which had an extra year of lessons because I failed the first year of euphonium.  Failed, not “got a C,” which might as well be a failure for lessons.  I literally failed the playing portion of music school.  For various other reasons, my university failures were the best thing that ever happened to me, but the sense of inadequacy followed me for my entire professional music career (and still does, from time to time).

When the WSO played my piece the first time, I felt like such an imposter.  I was some schmuck who got commissioned to write something, like a one time shot.  They certainly didn’t make me feel that way – they were amazing to me, but I had this narrative spinning in my head.  It was all old baggage from university.  When they asked me again, I couldn’t even believe it, but I knew deep down that I needed to accept the job.

winnipeg-symphony-orchestra-saskatoon_13045727548917

Back to last week:

My piece closed the night and the conductor of the orchestra, Julian Pellicano, thanked the parents and staff of the division, as well as the symphony, and introduced the piece.  He described the piece, then ended by saying that it was arranged by local, yet world-renowned composer Kenley Kristofferson which, while not exactly true, was cool because I was the only arranger he mentioned the entire night.

The orchestra and the choir killed it during their performance.  The kids were into it, the audience dug it, and the performers really nailed the piece.  It was so inspiring that, at the end of it, I thought that the only thing that could’ve made the night better was a beer.

A voice in the back of my mind told me that maybe, just maybe, they’d have beer backstage, but the voice in my mind was clear: You aren’t good enough to go backstage at the symphony.  But the more I thought about it rationally, the more I realized that I wrote the last tune of the night, this is the second time I arranged for the ensemble, and I knew so many performers through university or band camps or whatever.  And hey, the worst that could happen is nothing, right?

So I descended the stairs and slipped through the backstage door and into the hallway, where I hugged and shook hands with some of the RETSD teachers I knew and talked shop for a few minutes.  Then the VP of Artistic Operations stopped me (with a beer in his hand) and smiled as he congratulated me on tonight’s piece.  We talked more shop for a while, then told me about some potential new work on the horizon.  I couldn’t even believe he remembered my name, let alone (maybe) offering me new work! And as he said the next few words, a smile stretched across my face: “Why don’t you come into the green room for a beer?”

And I did and it was packed with both WSO and RETSD folk.  I saw the backstage manager and she remembered me from last year and so did the production manager.  Then Julian came up and we high-fived and laughed throughout the night.  Clearly, the story in my head was not the same as the story that was playing out in front of me, and only one of them can be true.  And guess what, it’s the one in front of you all the time.

Eric Whitacre (one of my favourite composers) once said to music students that “nobody ever asked about his GPA after he graduated,” the important thing is that he got there.  The older I get, the more true that it’s becoming.  We don’t all take the same road to get there sometimes.  Some roads are smoother, some roads have more ups than downs, while others have more downs than ups.  Some people got to practice traversing the road before they actually had to start the adventure and that’s okay too.  We don’t all get to the end the same way, but the important thing is that we get there.

And sometimes at the end, there’s a free beer in the green room.

-K

Sabbatical Roundup – Highlights

Today is the last day of my sabbatical.  Who would’ve thought 150 days would blow by so quickly?

It’s been a very productive five months, though, and I thought that I’d share some of my favourite events and projects from my sabbatical time.

1) Premiering Morgun with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra

photo (15)

There is something very surreal about getting to work with some of the best musicians in your community.  Writing something for the WSO has always been something of an unattainable goal in my musical life.  I always sensed that they were on a different level than I am (and they really are), but a select few people with the right connections took a risk on me and, before I knew it, I had the commission – paid for and all.

While the premiere was amazing, I’ll never forget the moment that they started rehearsing it.  Both the conductor and the ensemble were in plain clothes and only Matthew Patton (composer and curator of the Winnipeg New Music Festival, which all of you should attend), Peter Johnson (editor of the Lögberg Heimskringla newspaper), Vikingur Ólafsson (the amazing Icelandic pianist with whom I had the privilege of sharing the concert) and I were in the hall.  When the strings started stacking the harmony through those opening measures, there was a feeling of awe and beauty like I’ve never felt before.

I’ll write more about the experience later on because there’s just so much to say.  It is quite surprising where music takes you.  Here are some pictures from the premiere!

Morgun4

Morgun1

Morgun2

Morgun5

Morgun6

2) Meeting Maddy’s Mom

During the summer, I was asked to write a piece to commemorate the life of Madison Fleming, a 10th-grader from Olds, AB who had died suddenly just after school had been dismissed for the summer.  While the research was emotional, I was hardly prepared to walk into this girl’s home and sit with her Mom, Pam.

I wrote about the experience in Olds in an earlier post, but I didn’t write about meeting Pam – I’m not sure why, I just didn’t.  Her house was beautiful and well-kept and she greeted us at the door.  She had a friend with her and they were clearly talking about Maddy before Karri (the band teacher and commissioner) and I arrived, but she still smiled as she led us inside.

While looking at pictures and hearing stories, it was clear that the family was so happy and fulfilled before Maddy died.  While she was a fighter, she had her whole family behind her and they cherished every moment.  When you see pictures of the family at the lake or at her baseball game, there was a sense that no time was ever wasted, but instead was genuinely spent together.

Pam is a profoundly kind person and you know as soon as you see her.  She just brings an energy of warmth wherever she goes and I think about her family often.  It is quite surprising where music takes you.  #Kindnessmatters

3) Banff!

It took me a few weeks to really realize how transformative my time at the Banff Centre really was.  I worked so hard, I was exhausted, I was bitchy in the middle of it, but it was so worth it.  I met some incredible human beings, some wonderful musicians, and I got to work full-time on music for an ensemble for which I’d never written before.

Some of the people I got to meet:

FullSizeRender (2)

Sammy, Kelsey, Abby and Neil

FullSizeRender (1)

These lovely ladies, Kelsey and Jodi

IMG_2371

Here’s Abby, Jodi and Kenna, as well as Team Australia (Jessica and Xina, who are some of my very favourites)

And so many others too! Including the wonderful Sarah Slean, who is also one of my very, very favourite human beings.

IMG_2357

And here’s where we were…

IMG_2226

4) The Release of Horus Heresy: Drop Assault

I’ve worked on very few contracts/commissions that actually scare me – DuckTales: Scrooge’s Loot, The Matters of Kindness – but Drop Assault was definitely one of them.

I play Dungeons & Dragons with someone who is very serious about the Warhammer 40K universe, but particularly the Horus Heresy origin story of it.  When I found out that Complex Games had gotten the rights to make a game set in that universe, I was hoping that I could write for it and, thankfully, I was the guy.

horusheresyicon

The advance for the contract was almost-entirely spent on upgrading my instrument libraries.  I knew that what I had wasn’t good enough for a game of that scope and depth, so I took inventory of what I needed and went up from there.

That being said, I’m super proud of the game and I’m quite pleased with the score.  We worked really hard on it and it took many resubmissions to get it right, but we definitely got it.  You can pick it up here if you want to check it out!

5) Finishing the “Icelandic Folk Song Suite”

It was the hardest thing I ever wrote – and by “hardest,” I mean the most technically complicated and harmonically complex.  It’s Level 5 (second hardest level in Concert Band music), four movements and eleven minutes long.  I had it kicking around in my head for about a year, but I knew that I had to get it down, I just needed the time…

And it took about six solid months.  Granted, I didn’t work on it every day, but it was always there writing itself in my head as I was doing other things.

It premieres on May 4th, 2015 by the Winnipeg Wind Ensemble.  Going to be a wild good time!

__________________________________

There is so much more I could write about (getting published in The Teacher, for example), but there’s something to be said for just having the time and energy to do things right.  Not to be rushed to finish a commission or a game contract, but just having the time to make it as great as it can be.

I am so grateful to my school and school division for allowing me to take one semester to write.

Now back to the classroom 🙂

-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.

Morgunbanner

 

– 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

Morgun – *WORLD PREMIERE!*

I am so excited to announce, in conjunction with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba the WORLD PREMIERE of my work for Symphony Orchestra, Morgun.

It premieres on October 31st, 2014 at 8:00pm at the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

photo (15)

(that’s not me, we just look weirdly alike)

“Morgun” is Icelandic for “morning” and, when I was approached to write a piece as part of the 125th anniversary of the Icelandic Festival, I knew that its heart would be morning.  Perhaps the first morning after the settlers arrived, perhaps “morning” as a metaphor for the start of something new.  At its heart, it was the start of something new.

Growing up in Gimli, MB (the home of the festival) and being Icelandic, the story of the settlers coming over from Iceland in the mid-1800s has always been a part of my being.  Both sets of grandparents spoke Icelandic fluently and I grew up hearing it.; at Christmas, there was never a shortage of pönnukökur or vinatarta, and we were always in town for the festival (but usually working for most of it, being a local and all).

When I was approached by Janice Arnason to compose a piece for the 125th, I was elated.  Janice was last year’s president of the festival as well as my elementary music teacher, piano teacher, and Grade 6 LA/SS teacher – this is how small towns work 🙂 Anyway, I feel immense gratitude that she would ask me to commit something so important and meaningful to the culture of our town.  Even though I’ve worked games for some pretty big franchises, I only have three things published for actual ensembles of live human beings, so I’m still a bit green to professional writing, if you look at it objectively.

But that’s part of growth: If you work really hard, do good work, and are an easy person to work with, people you respect will take risks on you.  This is how it works – someone needs to take a risk on you, and the beauty of a small town is that it’s easy to take a calculated risk because the people you respect have known you your entire life.

In short, I am grateful.  To some degree, I am also lucky, but working hard can help you load the dice.  Like measured risk, it’s measured luck, but I am always grateful when it actually works out 🙂

I’ll post more about the process later on!

Kenley