I approach all my writing in the same way – to write idiomatic music for the instrument and to understand who is playing the instrument and to write for them and their instrument. In chamber and solo settings, it is my practice to ask my performers what makes them tick, what they love about their instrument, about music, and what in particular they most look forward to in a score. I get some wonderfully unexpected responses such as sweeping melodies, the challenge of technical qualities, or sometimes someone might say something less general and super specific such as “please write me a long, slow glissando on the bassoon,” which I did in MultiSonics
for the (at the time) Principal Bassoon of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Mark Gaydon. Therefore, I approach brass ensembles in the same way. In Cross Sections
(2014), I wrote for solo trumpet and trombone with Brass Ensemble, as the ensemble was performing with their teachers. For the soloists, I used the ensemble writing to take the opportunity to give the ensemble moments of duo work with the solo trumpet or trombone – to interact musically with their teachers (Don Immel and Joel Brennan). This provided teaching moments in rehearsal, as well as a great sense of ownership from the Melbourne Conservatorium Brass Ensemble. They felt the piece was specifically composed for them. I love this way of working and consideration when creating.
Can you talk a little about your compositional process? Do you have a regular routine, or is your creation more spontaneous?
I describe my process as haphazard, but I get there in the end! I’d love to be able to spell out a definitive process but what I can tell you is most of my good ideas come from singing – such as the main theme in Punch
. I then spend time improvising around those themes. Once a composition is sketched out, most of the process is spent layering and orchestrating. The end result is never haphazard – far from it – so I’ve come to deeply trust my process over the years and spend less time worrying and more time delving deep. I value and use technique and craft + improvisation + creative intuition to compose.
What’s next on the horizon? Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
In the last 12 months my two 1-hour festival works Hidden Thoughts 1: Do I Matter?
and Hidden Thoughts 2: Return to Sender
have been performed. These works are taking me in a new direction which aligns well with who I am as a human and the audiences with which I wish to connect. In both cases, the audiences provided the text. In Do I Matter?
I surveyed women for their hidden thoughts asking what they had learned to be brave about and what they would like to be braver about. And Return To Sender uses text from letters written by Australians to asylum
seekers on Nauru and Manus Islands. The letters were returned to sender without being delivered or opened. I opened them and used the text to create a work that reflected the voice of Australia on this topic.
I have a couple of large works in the pipeline which I hope to be able to share with you soon! In the meantime, I’m working with emerging and established artists within Dinner for Breakfast in two mentoring programs: THRIVE
where I support musicians and artists to build vibrant, meaningful careers with impact on their terms.
– Tanner Cassidy
PhD Candidate, Music Theory, UC Santa Barbara