My first symphony gets its premiere this weekend, but one of the most rewarding parts of this process has already taken place. While writing my instrument parts, I love to work with the musicians who will play the music. When cooking up a new composition, I consider this my secret ingredient because I have quickly learned that if musicians really enjoy playing my music, the better the chance that audiences will love it too. This means that I put all of my focus on writing parts that are not awkward, and that are fun to play, and I rely on feedback from the musicians to guide me to this goal. Sometimes this feedback is general (“you might need a fourth percussionist”) and sometimes it is very technical (“have you considered sul pont for this passage?”)

The musicians of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra were wonderful to work with in preparation for their performance of my symphony this weekend. Jane Hyde is the harpist for this performance. In the video below she is demonstrating how her suggestion to a change in one part of the score makes the music fuller while also being more natural under the fingers:


An audience may not know that harpists often have to rewrite their music to match the realization of how they will execute a part, but it can give the player a huge advantage in projecting their best, most polished sound. Sometimes this involves changing the key in which the music is written (new enharmonic spellings), or changing which notes are played by which hands. If possible, I like to go even deeper to do some rewriting of passages with my musicians. Here is one of the many edits that Jane proposed to me in her helpful email exchanges that we shared. On the left you’ll see my original part for the opening of the first movement; on the right you’ll see Jane’s edits:

I always say that this kind of collaboration makes the music better and more successful. It involves setting your ego aside, as a composer, and remembering that you work for your musicians, not the other way around. If your musicians don’t absolutely love playing your music, there’s no way they can sell it to an audience and make you look good!


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