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Double Bar Line!

This is the first blog of six Andrew Staniland will write for Soundstreams as our TD SoundMakers.ca online composer in residence.

Andrew has been teaching composition in a variety of capacities for almost 15 years, including his current faculty position a Memorial University. Outside the classroom, his work has been performed and broadcast in over 35 countries and praised as “alternately beautiful and terrifying” by the New Yorker. He is the recipient of top prizes in the SOCAN young composers competition and the 2004 Karen Keiser Prize in Canadian Music, along with previously serving as an affiliate composer to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Andrew also performs as a guitarist and works with new media, computers and electronics.

Double bar line! The Encount3rs commission from the National Arts Centre Orchestra is complete. My resulting work, Phi, is 30 minutes in length and scored for full orchestra with electronics used in the final movement. The score is now in the hands of choreographer Jean Grand-Maître.

Perhaps the most amazingly unusual aspect of this commission is NACO’s commitment to giving artists their very best shot at success. All three composers involved in the event were given two full orchestral rehearsals, spaced out by several months, before settling on a final score. In my experience, this kind of commitment totally unheard of, probably due to cost and time commitments. (Let’s face it , contemporary music is not exactly known for lucrative ticket sales.) NACO’s new focus on creation is remarkable and we will all revel in the wonderful art that results.

As I have written in my previous NACO Creative Blogs, I have immensely enjoyed composing the ballet, and while my work is done, I look forward to the adventure of seeing the ballet come together with video, lighting, and choreography. Since sending the final score and parts, I have been thinking about these double bar line moments, the end of the composition process, and how it compares to other teleological goals in life.

It is hard to define ‘the end’ of the composition process. When someone declares #doublebarline, it might mean: the end of the major creative decisions, the end of score preparations, the end of making individual parts, or the end of the final edit. Perhaps the end is when the piece finally comes alive in performance, leaving the imagined world into the real world witnessed by peers and audience alike. Whatever it means, the double bar line is an event that we composers often see celebrated:










But of course, it is worth reflecting that the purpose of composing music is not to get to the end. It is not, at least for me or anyone I know, some unpleasant process to be endured for promise of an end. I must admit the most joy and pleasure to be found is in the process, not necessarily the end. Sure there is a satisfaction knowing that you met a deadline, and a sense of professional security knowing you can move on to the next commission on time (my teacher Gary Kulesha once told me if you can a) deliver a score on time, and b) not embarrass anyone, you can be a successful composer). Perhaps the end is the moment when the work can be shared. But it is simply one moment, the last moment, on the creative journey. After all, who reads books to get to the end? Who works to get to retirement, goes to school to just to graduate, or goes on a trip just to get home again? It is the journey that must be savoured, because, after all,  every piece ends the same way and all double bar lines sound the same. As a composer I try to be mindful of this and remember that the joy of creation is not a finish line to reach for.

I leave you with British philosopher Alan Watts, speaking of ends, music, and life:


For more blogs about the composition of Andrew’s  ballet, visit: http://andrewstaniland.com/naco-ballet-creative-blog/

Read our Q and A with Andrew about his residency here.

To learn more about Soundmakers or to create your own work, visit SoundMakers.ca

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