So for the first few weeks of July, I ventured to Orford Quebec for 2 weeks of music at the ‘Orford Arts Academy‘. It is a center for emerging artists like myself to go hone our skills with professionals who visit the academy and lead many workshops. This year for the 2nd time running, composer Ana Sokolovic of the University of Montreal was there to lead the proceedings. 8 young composers, including myself, traveled to Orford (located near Mount Orford in the beautiful national park) to receive mentoring by Ana and have a piece of ours performed. This piece was to be written in advance of the festival for a chamber ensemble of 4 to play.
To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from a summer retreat in Quebec surrounded by people I did not know. All of which added to the pressure of having to create a piece that will be performed AND assessed by musical professionals and peers. Additionally, I was worried everyone might speak french.
Thankfully, the last statement was not found to be true. People spoke french in Orford but they were generally friendly and spoke English when others did not understand French. It was also one of the most productive trips I’ve undertaken in a long time, which is the reason why I chose to feature my experiences in my first ever blog post!!
I am so blessed to be able to go to Orford. As I reflect on my trip, I understand that it was the relationships that I formed that made it really special for me. Our group of around 12 composers and performers were truly a joy to be around and everyone got along well with each other (in my mind anyways). Throughout the 2 weeks, I got to know my peers well through presentations of our portfolios and the rehearsals of our works. Although it was rough for some of us (I got sick during my birthday), group morale was generally high.
What I appreciated most about Orford was its laid back setting. Musicians tend to be found practicing 24 hours a day and a lot of people go to Orford for that reason. You sleep, eat, practice, eat, practice some more, swat flies, and sleep. Oh, and did I mention the food was great? One of the other reasons for going to Orford is that you get fed regularly. That’s the most important element for success in my opinion.
Orford allowed me to practice being creative without having to stress out about it. It is very different from school, where most of us have to juggle academic commitments with writing good music. Here at Orford, we were focused on creating music and just having fun! Ana made sure that we were occupied though by handing out regular assignments, which were meant to stretch our writing abilities. Among other tasks, we were asked to 1) create a piece for solo violin on1 string and 2) write a piece for table, pencil, and paper. The results from the group were extremely diverse, and it was a great learning experience for me to hear my piece performed immediately after its composition. I wrote a theatrical/musical miniature as a solution for task #2 which was interesting for me as I never thought I would incorporate theatre in my music. Here is the score for my piece.
The real highlight though for most of us was having our ‘pre-composed’ piece for chamber ensemble performed in a professional setting. The performers were a real pleasure to work with and they enthusiastically shared their many critical insights on writing for their respective instruments during the workshop. As a pianist myself, I often write difficult parts for the instrument. I didn’t think that my writing for this piece was too difficult, but alas it didn’t come together as I hoped for, even with pianist extraordinaire Illya Filshtinskiy at the helm. Here is a look at the piano solo that caused some difficulty for the ensemble. I won’t go into detail about the piece here, but you can sure check out recordings and scores of my piece “Rondo for Piano Trio and Flute” here.
A big thank you to Ana for her insight in hosting the workshop, and secondly to all my performers (Illya, Katha, Noemie, Audrey) who made the concert happen. To all the composers in Orford, I look forward to hearing your works and many successes in the near future!!