Mild Hoarding

I read an article recently that reported that last year, the top selling new classical album sold 189 copies...in total. Hilary Hahn, a classical superstar (as far as I'm concerned), didn't even break 100 in 2014. Now, I'm not going to hop on the "classical music is dying and here are the stats" bandwagon which, quite frankly, annoys the hell out of both myself and most of my friends. Essentially, everything I have been interested in my whole life has been on the verge of extinction according to the media and, believe it of not, all of it is still around. Miracle of Miracles! Classical music, musical theatre, art, etc. will never get to the level of main stream as a Taylor Swift or Bruno Mars (if that's what the kids are listening to) and to worry and fret over that is honestly a waist of time. Of course, the classical music world wants to get more people involved but it surely is not dying by any means. 

However, I will admit that there is a problem with classical music sales. I for one cannot remember the last time I actually BOUGHT a new album. I either buy used (80%) or download new stuff from my friends via the beauty of the Mac's AirDrop or Dropbox (20%). There is something ethically kind of off about five or six composers at a music festival sitting in a circle with their Macs open, sharing this and that for hours. However, I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy getting the John Adams Earbox (10 disc set) for free from across the composer powwow. Believe me, I would LOVE to purchase everything that's new on iTunes. This new recording of the New York Philharmonic doing the complete concertos and symphonies of Carl Nielsen is on point, but at $27.99 on iTunes (and $64.99 for a physical copy on Amazon), I just can't put that kind of money down. Call me cheap. Maybe new classical albums are like those Cambridge Companion Guides; very few people will buy it, but there is a niche market that will, so the price has to go up to meet some kind of supply and demand. (credit to my business professor father).  

This last February, my Mac got stolen which, for any millennial composer, is probably the worst thing that can happen. Besides recovering all my works but also losing some very important documents etc etc... I lost all of my iTunes music. It made me realize very quickly how ephemeral these music downloads are. My fear is that I (we) are building up these massive digital libraries that, in a decade, will turn out to be the 8-track of our generation. Something new will come along and POOF, our extensive music library is useless. Since February, I have done a lot more purchasing and collecting of used records and CD's. I think of these as relatively cheap insurance for my digital library. The music I want to OWN, I purchase on either CD or vinyl and the stuff I just want to peruse or take a musical gander at, I download from friends. Because of  this new collecting, I have some serious (maybe rare) finds! Really old John Adams records (like Shaker Loops sextet version), a couple Elliott Carter records, big Stravinsky box sets, etc. 

With this collecting, there is also a rather corny sense of musical lineage? For instance, I feel as though the person who sold their old Elliott Carter records in South Eastern Maine is 
A) a person I need to meet and have some serious conversation with... 
B) has loved and cared for this item and has now, in a way, passed it down to me. 
I feel it is now my responsibly to take care of this so that it will be passed to someone else in the future. It's kind of a beautiful thing.  

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Letter Writing

Steven Stucky, one of my favorite living composers, once said during a pre-concert talk (and I will paraphrase) that "we are never more stupid then when we are young and know everything." I have had the great fortune over the years to say a lot of radically stupid things around very intelligent people. I still manage to still put my foot in my mouth from time to time and always end up learning something after being promptly told I’m an idiot. For instance, telling a room full of my musician friends that Brahms and Tchaikovsky were probably the two worst composers was a pretty terrible thing to say (I will note that I was 17). I then dug deeper by saying that the two periods in music that really mattered were the Baroque and Modern. Once again, reference Dr. Stucky's quote above. Telling a bunch of young musicians whose main repertoire consists of the time in between the Baroque and Modern periods that their repertoire was essentially not important was plain stupid. After soon realizing what I moron I was, I made a point to listen to as much music as possible and not to simply dismiss something on the basis of the first 45 seconds of the piece. 

A few years later, I am happy to report that this experiment of sorts has worked and I think I'm better for nippin' it in the bud as early as I did. Learning the difference between something being good but not quite for me and just plain bad music has helped me discover loads of new stuff I never imagined I would enjoy. Now I must settle my relationship with Johannes (Brahms). The calumniation, as it is, with this relationship is my new piece Letter Writing that I am currently working on for clarinet Ian McKenzie. The work was commissioned to go along side the Brahms 2nd Clarinet Sonata, a work that even in my rebellious anti-Brahms phase was something I still took great inspiration from. 

I love writing pieces in the presence of other pieces. That is to say, creating a piece that will pair well with something classic gives me just enough room to be creative but with enough constraints to make the creativity possible. New music really can’t exist without some sort of influence from the past. Anyone that is, by their own definition, “free from influence” is lying. The way in which I extract raw musical materials from an older piece is by essentially taking great liberties with it. Charles Ives was a pretty intense example of somebody who really ripped apart the classical/Americana canon. The result can range from something humorous (finale of the Second Symphony) or moving (The Alcotts from the Concord Sonata) or meditative (Fourth Symphony). I don’t believe I go as far as Ives in my expansions or elaborations of preexisting music but I take influence of how he explores older music.

Letter Writing takes raw materials from both Brahms and Schumann. The title itself has to do with how this music is, in a way, in correspondence. The first third of the piece deals with Brahms by being rooted in strict, typical 19th century piano accompaniment and quotes bits of Brahms Fourth Symphony. The final third of the piece looks further back, by only a couple years, to Schumann and how his music laid influence for Brahms. I guess that this line of influence of musical correspondence ends with me, being the much lesser of the first two composers. In a way, it is incredibly humbling to work with the music of older composers. There is so much to learn from veteran composers, but that only happens after ending a young and stupid but knows everything phase. I think that phase is over, but I know ten years from now I will still look back at my young and stupid twenties. 

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housekeeping

As frequent perusers of this website might have noticed (i.e. mom and dad), the format and general design has changed quite a bit. As far as I know, everything from the old website has transferred to this new and improved one. However, if there is something you are looking for and it doesn't appear to be here, as always, please feel free to email me (rrankinmusic@gmail.com) and I will sort things out ASAP. 

On a different note, some really talented people are recording my Clarinet Quartet on Memorial Day. I'm super excited to see this piece finally come together and a recording will be up and running on inter-webs soon after! 

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eye-hand

I've been going through a bit of writers block recently. Like creative writing or art, one cannot merely sit down and make IT happen. I have been sitting down and waiting and waiting.

So I'm writing this orchestra piece for the Atlantic Music Festival and I am scaling this one down. B'rit was HUGE so I'm gearing this thing towards chamber orchestra. When writing something, I try to listen to as much music as possible that has been written for (insert ensemble). The pieces I really looked at intensely were Sean Shepherd's These Particular Circumstances, John Adams' Chamber Symphony, and some fantastically insane Elliot Carter things. For some reason this did not do the trick (even though I love listening to all of these chamber orchestra works). I thought about an up tempo concert opener, re-orchestrating an earlier piece, Ives-like hymns, a work based on spinning gestures.

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Britten: 100

I didn't initially like Britten the first time I heard his music. When I was about 15, I was obsessed with learning as much classical music repertoire as possible. Having grown up in a household where Broadway musicals and the American Songbook were the tunes blasting from an old stereo, I wanted to dive into orchestral music as...an outsider. I listened to Peter Grimes for the first time and as a pre-Glee obsessive musical theatre teenager, I thought the recitative lines where so strange. It sounded almost like morris code with the words "Grimes" and "crime" thrown in every so often to advance the plot. I dismissed the whole thing and went on to another composer. It wasn't really until a conversation I had my senior year of high school that made me rethink Britten.

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