Composers' Forum

Music Composers Unite!

Hello everyone-

I could tell you about my various careers as clarinetist, pianist, and composer, when I performed up and down the Eastern seaboard of the United States and had my music premiered around the world.  But I'd rather tell you about two things that changed my life and have continued to define my musical world.

About twenty-five years ago I was standing in line at Lowes, when a 90 year old composer came on the wide screen t.v. above the check out counter.  He was practically in tears, as he heard his music played for the first time.  He had been composing all his life, but had never had a piece performed.  For his 90th birthday his family hired an orchestra to play some of his pieces.  There I was at Lowes, the tears streaming down my face, folks in line urging me to move on, when I made a promise to myself - Every deserving composer in my world would have his/her music performed.  I would devote myself to the composers and performers and to bringing their music to life and to a wider audience.

A few years later I bought Olivier Messiaen's book "The Technique of My Musical Language" which became my prized possession.  I spent all my waking hours poring over this book, written by one of the most generous and original composers of the 20th century.  Word got out about this rather strange woman who was always studying Messiaen on the village green, and talking about Messiaen to anyone who would listen, and giving Messiaen CDs to everyone she knew.  The next thing I knew the most incredibly talented and eager students were knocking on my door. 

Now, twenty years later, my composition studio is the most joyous and creative place imaginable.  Here's an example.  We were working on ear training and music dictation.  The point was to think of a piece that "everybody knows" and write it down.  The three students were brothers, aged 6, 8 and 10.  They are violinists and violists as well as composers.  I suggested "Mary Had a Little Lamb".  They had never heard of it.  "How about 'Are You Sleeping, Brother John'?"  Blank looks.  I tried every nursery rhyme, jazz standard, hymn, campfire song I could think of.  They didn't know any of them.  "Well, what is a song that everyone knows?"  I asked.  "The Bach Double," said the 10 year old.  "Everybody knows that."  And the three brothers started singing it, in parts, then grabbed pencils and staff paper and started transcribing it.  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vesrqFeq9rU

Welcome to my world, where music and magic and magnificence are always weaving new tapestries!

Here's an article about writing a piece for a Composers Forum competition several years ago:
http://musicwiz.club/julie-harris-la-premiere/

And here's more about my studio: 
https://harmonia.club/

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Ray, you weren't involved in a "small way", you were involved in a "huge way".  In fact, you were the very life and soul of that production and we'll never forgot what a great job you did.

For those who don't know what we're talking about, several years ago one of my students wrote a choral piece called "June", which was recorded by a newly created Virtual Choir.   CF members in Finland and Berkeley CA sang some of the parts, and my students and local university singers sang other parts.  Ray was our sound engineer. He took individual lines, sent to him as separate files from singers all over the world, mixed them with a Finale background into a unified whole.  We presented this recording at a public concert as our very first international performance premiere. It was a fabulous project!

You can hear it in the attached mp3 and see the score also attached.

Thanks again, Ray!

-- Julie

Biggles said:

Yes Julie and it was an absolute pleasure for me being involved in a small way by mixing a piece written and performed by your student. More power to you going forward.

Ray
Attachments:

Hi Julie,

Thanks for joining us. You're quite the story teller. I enjoyed your piece The Singing Lesson immensely. I look forward to your continued presence here.

Such delightful news about you and the Composers Forum! It was a thrill for me when one of your contests provided me the opportunity to hear a small piece of mine played. It's good to "see" you!

A few years later I bought Olivier Messiaen's book "The Technique of My Musical Language" which became my prized possession.  I spent all my waking hours poring over this book, written by one of the most generous and original composers of the 20th century....... Word got out about this rather strange woman who was always studying Messiaen on the village green, and talking about Messiaen to anyone.......


Hi Strange woman...

What is your favourite Messiaen work? Some of mine are the Vingt Regards,  Poemes pour Mi, Turangalila, Les Offrandes oubliees...etc, etc. Have you discovered Dutilleux yet?

From a strange man....:-)

Thanks, Steve.  I hope we will all continue to make this Forum a very special place!

Steve Chandler said:

Hi Julie,

Thanks for joining us. You're quite the story teller. I enjoyed your piece The Singing Lesson immensely. I look forward to your continued presence here.

Janet!

I remember your piece well - a fanfare for horn that was very exciting.  The audience loved it!  Wasn't it modal?  It's been about four years or more so I don't know if I'm remembering correctly, but I remember how much we all enjoyed hearing it.

It's really good to "see" you again, too.  Here we all are, after all these years.  ;-)

Janet Spangenberg said:

Such delightful news about you and the Composers Forum! It was a thrill for me when one of your contests provided me the opportunity to hear a small piece of mine played. It's good to "see" you!

Hello fellow "strange" one!  It's so good to meet another Messiaen lover. 

I guess my favorite has to be Poemes Pour Mi - especially the version with Dawn Upshaw and Gilbert Kalish.  "Le Collier" is one of the most played pieces in my studio.  Even the little kids eat up the polytonality, especially when they see the two superimposed keys of E major and Eb major.  Who would have thought "dissonance" could be so beautiful?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHHW5jaaH1g

I also love Turangalila, although I can never remember how to spell it (!) and Visions of the Amen.  But I think even more than those, I love his opera St Francoise - especially the sermon to the birds and the angel and the voice of God - and Vingt Regards and his last piece, Éclairs sur l'au-delà.

I love the way he returned to the Poemes Pour Mi harmonies in the Eclairs, as if his musical life had gone full circle.  I also love the fact that even while he was dying he shared with all of us the music he was already hearing from the hereafter.  Another thing I love is that after all his explorations of unique and new harmonies, he returned to a C major chord for the voice of God in St Francoise.  My students love this story, and are totally intrigued by the Ondes Martentot.

Uh oh, you've opened the floodgates.  Let me stop now before I get too carried away.

Oh, and yes, I know a few flute pieces by Dutilleux - what else would you recommend?

See you later, Mike!



Mike Hewer said:

A few years later I bought Olivier Messiaen's book "The Technique of My Musical Language" which became my prized possession.  I spent all my waking hours poring over this book, written by one of the most generous and original composers of the 20th century....... Word got out about this rather strange woman who was always studying Messiaen on the village green, and talking about Messiaen to anyone.......


Hi Strange woman...

What is your favourite Messiaen work? Some of mine are the Vingt Regards,  Poemes pour Mi, Turangalila, Les Offrandes oubliees...etc, etc. Have you discovered Dutilleux yet?

From a strange man....:-)

Thank you, Dave.  Your note means a lot.  ;-)  I look forward to many future collaborations.

Dave Dexter said:

Oho! So Julie's sharing the captain's chair here. Well - based on an admittedly relatively recent awareness of you, and this post alone, there couldn't be many better choices.

Hi Jule -

Thank you for helping to revive this forum. Your expertise and work in support of serious music is admirable and also appreciated.

I also am happy to see that you are a Messiaen fan. We all love the great old masters; can you list some other composers of "new" or "dissonant" music that you would recommend for us?

HI Julie--

Thanks so much for sharing!

--and many thanks, along with Gav, for reviving this forum. You're both doing a GREAT job:)

Thanks Bob https://soundcloud.com/bob-morabito

Julie,

Upshaws Le Collier is gorgeous. I love the fact that your little students are into this, there is hope for modern (even though this is old!) music.

I once saw a bit of the opera on TV but do not know that (yet), but I do have and love Eclairs (although the chocolate variety get stuck in my teeth). Going back to his early years, I also love L'Ascension, especially the orchestrated version with those sumptuous, soaring string harmonies in the last mvt.

As for Dutilleux  I can't recommend him highly enough - he is the natural successor to Messiaen in my view. If you get in the mood, try his Violin concerto or the cello concerto. A must is his string 4tet 'Ainsi La Nuit', or perhaps The Shadows of Time and his 2 symphonies. His output is not vast, but for me each work has that french penchant for quality precision and seduction.

mikehewer.com


Julie Harris said:

Hello fellow "strange" one!  It's so good to meet another Messiaen lover. 

I guess my favorite has to be Poemes Pour Mi - especially the version with Dawn Upshaw and Gilbert Kalish.  "Le Collier" is one of the most played pieces in my studio.  Even the little kids eat up the polytonality, especially when they see the two superimposed keys of E major and Eb major.  Who would have thought "dissonance" could be so beautiful?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHHW5jaaH1g

I also love Turangalila, although I can never remember how to spell it (!) and Visions of the Amen.  But I think even more than those, I love his opera St Francoise - especially the sermon to the birds and the angel and the voice of God - and Vingt Regards and his last piece, Éclairs sur l'au-delà.

I love the way he returned to the Poemes Pour Mi harmonies in the Eclairs, as if his musical life had gone full circle.  I also love the fact that even while he was dying he shared with all of us the music he was already hearing from the hereafter.  Another thing I love is that after all his explorations of unique and new harmonies, he returned to a C major chord for the voice of God in St Francoise.  My students love this story, and are totally intrigued by the Ondes Martentot.

Uh oh, you've opened the floodgates.  Let me stop now before I get too carried away.

Oh, and yes, I know a few flute pieces by Dutilleux - what else would you recommend?

See you later, Mike!



Mike Hewer said:

A few years later I bought Olivier Messiaen's book "The Technique of My Musical Language" which became my prized possession.  I spent all my waking hours poring over this book, written by one of the most generous and original composers of the 20th century....... Word got out about this rather strange woman who was always studying Messiaen on the village green, and talking about Messiaen to anyone.......


Hi Strange woman...

What is your favourite Messiaen work? Some of mine are the Vingt Regards,  Poemes pour Mi, Turangalila, Les Offrandes oubliees...etc, etc. Have you discovered Dutilleux yet?

From a strange man....:-)

Hello Ingo-

Thanks for your kind words!

My list of "Essential Listening" would take an entire lifetime to hear it all, as it has indeed taken most of my past 50 years!  I tend to fall in love with a piece or a composer and then spend months or years delving deeper into it.  You probably know most of the composers and pieces I love most.  In fact you probably know more than I do, since I tend to go deep rather than wide.

I wonder if you know Per Nørgård?  A dozen or so years ago he was my passion.  I studied everything of his I could find, especially the first movement of his Third Symphony.  One of the highlights of my life so far was the day the score for the Nørgård Third arrived in the mail.  Oversize and definitely over my budget, nevertheless I had to have it, so right now it has its own special table since no shelf or music stand can hold it.  It's all hand drawn and gorgeous.  Sometimes I even let someone touch it.  ;-)

Here's a pretty good recording. Be sure and listen with headphones and/or a good sound system.  Much is lost on a tablet or, heaven help us, a phone.  I have it on CD, played through an extensive Sound Canvas and the sound is much different.  He has built his harmonies on a partial series of natural harmonics, his rhythms on the Golden Mean or Golden Section and his melodies on his "infinity series".  I find the result rich, accessible, powerful and elemental, almost as if the earth herself is singing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY0F8D6lIkA

The story of the creation of Nørgård's Third almost had me moving to Denmark!  While he was writing it, he had constant access to the Danish orchestra and chorus, to try out new ideas and sections.  These experiments were also televised!  So the entire country watched him write the symphony and even gave feedback.  Evidently most of Denmark was following every note with bated breath.  There were even cartoons with characters asking each other "What note in the infinity series is he up to this week?" or "How about those trombones!"  I cannot imagine my North Carolina neighbors sitting breathless in front of a tv watching a symphony being written.  But maybe they just haven't had the opportunity!!  ;-)

Anyone from Denmark, please correct me if I have the story wrong!  But that's what I heard ....

His "Voyage into the Golden Screen", after a brief introduction, is the purest example of his infinity series.  I've enjoyed experimenting with his different techniques and some of my mathematically-oriented students adore them!  In the Golden Screen, he has each instrument playing the infinity series at different tempos, so we get a kaleidoscope of related sound, culminating each section with a clear delineating chime.  Enjoy!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ipA85X1chc

There used to be an incredibly wonderful website where all his techniques were explained and illustrated, with many musical examples.  It seems to be gone now.  What a loss.  I wish I had written some articles about his techniques while I still fully understood them!  Now I'm not as adept as I was when I was studying him night and day.  Oh well, we still have all his music.


Ingo Lee said:

Hi Jule -

Thank you for helping to revive this forum. Your expertise and work in support of serious music is admirable and also appreciated.

I also am happy to see that you are a Messiaen fan. We all love the great old masters; can you list some other composers of "new" or "dissonant" music that you would recommend for us?

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