Reflections on my US composition residency

Charlotte New Music Festival Blog: Part III



It’s amazing (or perhaps a little depressing?) how quickly I’ve fallen back into my daily routine after spending a month in a foreign country. The harsh reality of switching from eating out most nights to cooking for myself once more is hitting hard – although my wallet is much happier as a result of this.

My recent adventures throughout the United States were a result of being accepted into a two-week composition program at the Charlotte New Music Festival, an experience I found incredibly rewarding and worthwhile.

In my last CutCommon blog, I provided insight into my daily activities as a participant composer at the Charlotte New Music Festival. Now, by sharing some of my highlights of the festival, I hope I can illuminate the value of young composers embarking on similar international opportunities.

The obligatory festival selfie


The ability of the CNMF organisers to convince professional ensembles, invested in the performance of new music, to participate in the festival was a standout quality of the composition program. The opportunity to write for established ensembles was a driving force behind my decision to apply for CNMF. Identifying who you want to compose for – be it professional musicians or student musicians – should be an important factor when applying for similar opportunities. As I found at the festival, even just rehearsing with a professional ensemble can give you different and valuable perspectives on your composition.

For me, the experience of working with the Beo String Quartet was the best thing about the festival. Beo performed a miniature I had composed for two violins and viola, and never have I had a group of musicians take such ownership of a performance of my work. In the 15-minute period I was allocated to rehearse my piece with Beo, I was put at ease not only by the proficiency of each member as an instrumentalist, but by each member’s eagerness to understand the colours I was trying to envision and create. The musicians of Beo invested themselves in effectively communicating the parts, and producing the sounds I had notated in order to ensure the best possible performance of the composition. They didn’t disappoint.

The Beo String Quartet performing my composition at the festival


Beo was joined at the festival by three other ensembles in residence: Loadbang, Duo Zonda, and Out of Bounds Ensemble. The wonderful sense of community fostered at CNMF meant that our time spent with the resident ensembles wasn’t just limited to rehearsals, performances, and seminars. Going out for Mexican with Loadbang, or singing karaoke with Beo became unexpected and enjoyable moments of the festival (I sang Walk on the Wild Side, if you were interested to know). In these moments, everyone could easily forgo formalities and just indulge in sharing the American summer with new people.

Meeting new people formed the core of my enjoyment of the festival. Whether chatting in the dormitory lodgings, debating during a car trip, or laughing with a beer in hand at one of Charlotte’s lovely craft breweries; it was easy to appreciate the drive and passion each CNMF composer had for their music and professional development. Being surrounded by these sorts of people can help you realise your own drive, and voice what is important to you moving forward as a creative – an incredibly valuable realisation I gained from the festival.

Since returning, my mind has been abuzz with new ideas and creative exploits, which I am more inspired than ever to follow

Long conversations with my new American counterparts allowed me understand some of what’s involved with new music in America, and solidify what I intend to achieve back here in Australia. Since returning, my mind has been abuzz with new ideas and creative exploits, which I am more inspired than ever to follow. Gaining this reinvigorated mindset is something I didn’t necessarily predict to come from CNMF. However, allowing my expectations to be exceeded certainly became part of my experience.

When I applied for CNMF, I was mostly interested in two things: getting my compositions performed by professional ensembles, and seeing where I stand as a composer in an international context. For me, these were enough to justify travelling to the USA. But what I got on top of this was meeting heaps of interesting young composers I now consider friends, gaining new perspectives on how to approach my professional development, and finding a reinvigorated desire to contribute what I can to new music in Melbourne. And not forgetting to mention: outside the festival, I gained the valuable life experience of spending a few weeks travelling and immersing myself in new cities and towns in an interesting country.

Don’t let any experience slip you by

All I can say to composers interested in applying for similar international opportunities is: identify what you want in a festival and, if you’re lucky enough to be accepted, don’t let any experience slip you by. Meet all the people you can, share your music with all the people you can, experience all the new music you can. And, finally, the festival doesn’t have to be the start and end of your international adventure. You’ll surprise yourself with how much you will gain.

Lewis with Jason Neukom (left) and Sean Neukom (right)


Lewis’ participation in the 2017 Charlotte New Music Festival was supported by the Barbara Bishop Hewitt Scholarship and the State Government of Victoria through a Creative Victoria Music Works Quick Response Grant.


Images supplied.

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