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Opinion

Commissioned Composer Concert to feature extremely unique music

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April 8, 2015

Saturday, April 11, is the 49th Annual Commissioned Composer Concert, a consistently busy yet rewarding experience for the UW-River Falls music department.

Every year, the big event is planned and funded by the Commissioned Composer Project, an organization within the department made up of mostly music majors and led by percussion Instructor Patti Cudd. This year the department chose to bring in Mark Applebaum, a brilliant yet unconventional composer from Stanford University.

Saturday’s concert, like the Commissioned Composer Concerts in past years, will feature several of Applebaum’s pieces, including a world premiere of a piece commissioned for UWRF, titled “Clicktrack.” This concert will be a unique experience for the performers and audience alike, and you don’t want to miss it.

To the untrained ear, even to an ear who has been through all four semesters of music theory, Applebaum’s music does not sound like music at all; rather, it seems more like strange noises, gestures and yelling. However, according to the broad definition of music, organized sound, it is music, but it is leaving interpretation up to the performer instead of laying down every note for them.

Applebaum doesn’t write much in regular notation (quarter notes, eighth notes, rests, fermatas, slurs, etc.). Instead, it appears more as abstract drawings and designs, intricately placed on the page and left to the performer to decide exactly what it means.

While I cannot personally speak for every piece, I will be playing on two pieces: “Metaphysics” and the commissioned piece “Clicktrack,” which will both feature the New Music Ensemble. “Metaphysics” follows this unconventional notation. Initially I was confused by the piece and didn’t like it, because I don’t have a lot of experience improvising on flute; however, as the piece got going, I started to notice patterns and music-like artwork, and I was able to play with more ease.

Once performers are able to get used to this notation, they begin to appreciate a new freedom that they don’t have with conventional notation in band or orchestra.

“Clicktrack,” on the other hand, does not follow any kind of notation, it’s much different from any piece I have ever performed. The piece consists of 12 players. Each player has a player number and reads from a booklet corresponding to their number. Everyone plays their own unique set of instruments, and this set of instruments includes conventional percussion instruments such as congas, vibraphones and triangles; yet, it also includes items such as pens, paper, bottles, and even typewriters and hair dryers.

Instead of notation, the piece follows a poem, which is repeated several times in 30, 45 and 60-second increments. Only the players can hear this poem (each player is wearing headphones). Over various words of the poem are circle or square symbols, which will indicate which instrument to play and how many times during that particular word. Some words also have pictures under them, and those indicate different gestures that the players must make.

In addition, towards the end, various words in the poems will be outlined, in bold, or surrounded by treble clefs. These indicate that the player must whisper, speak, or sing that particular word. While the piece will no doubt seem sporadic to the audience, there is a very closely followed organization to it.

I have seen or been a part of the Commissioned Composer Concert every year since I was a freshman, and I can honestly say that this year sticks out to me. It has opened me to a whole new style of music, one where I’m allowed to play notes according to my own interpretation or make an instrument out of an old typewriter.

I think one of the biggest things to remember while playing or listening to music like this is just to have fun with it and make it your own. It’s not meant to be stressful or agonizing, it’s meant to open a new door and step out of the box.

Cristin Dempsey is an English major and music minor from Eagan, Minn. She enjoys writing, playing the flute and swimming. After college she would like to pursue a career as an editor.