Notes on a Commission: Gary Schocker’s In Arkadia for Horn and Harp

In my Summer Plans post last week I mentioned the upcoming premiere of In Arkadia, a new work for horn and harp by Gary Schocker. Harpist Jaymee Haefner and I recently had our first rehearsal for the performance, which is scheduled for August 3 at the 47th International Horn Symposium in Los Angeles, CA. After hearing the work with both parts, we’re even more excited about performing it. I think it will be received very well, and become a substantial addition to the repertoire for these two instruments. Here’s a bit of background on the commissioning process for In Arkadia.

In December of 2012, I collaborated with Dr. Haefner, who teaches harp at the University of North Texas, for a recording of Jan Koetsier’s Sonata for Horn and Harp. We enjoyed performing and recording the piece very much, and in the fall of 2013 began discussing plans to commission a multi-movement work for horn and harp. Here are some of the criteria that we developed in the course of those early discussions.

  • Multiple movements, 10-15 minutes in length
  • Accessible, though not necessarily traditional
  • Commission a well-known composer who understands how to write for both harp and horn

Based on these general guidelines, we began the process of contacting various composers who might be a good fit. Our funding was not yet confirmed, but Jaymee and I did have a rough idea of the budget we would be working with. One name that kept coming up was Gary Schocker, an internationally known composer and flutist. A colleague of mine had worked with Mr. Schocker before, and he came highly recommended. He has composed extensively for harp, and also has a few compositions for horn. This turned out to be an important issue, because a few of the composers we contacted stated that they were simply not comfortable writing for the harp. It didn’t take long for us to decide that Gary was the right person for the job. The next step, funding the project!

There are many ways to fund commissions and other creative projects: crowd-sourcing (Kickstarter, GoFundMe, etc.), external grants (state level, national level, other organizations), internal grants (university), consortia, or a combination of the above. In our case, we funded In Arkadia with two grants, one from the International Horn Society’s Meir Rimon Commissioning Assistance Fund, and another from the University of Louisiana at Monroe. Both grants required a written application, including a detailed description of the project and a budget. If you are interested in your own commissioning project, see the end of this article for more information and suggestions on getting started.

After securing funding for the project, Mr. Schocker began composing. He worked incredibly fast, and both Jaymee and I had ample opportunity to offer input and suggestions. The result is a beautiful, atmospheric piece. It is tonal/modal, with hints of impressionism. The horn writing is quite nice, playable, but not without some challenges (which I like). Here are the movement titles.

In Arkadia for Horn and Harp, Gary Schocker (b. 1959)
1. Dryads Dance
2. Nyctimus
3. Kallisto
4. Cynaethus
5. Lycaon

Mr. Schocker also provided the following program notes.

In Arkadia was titled, as is my usual way, after the piece was written. I don’t intentionally try to turn literary or visual ideas into sound, rather I take what the music suggests when written and then find words to describe the tone.

In Arkadia. Here is the land of Pan and the place is free of any humans,ahh. There is a central myth about King Lykaon who served his dead son to Zeus (who was not amused), but the music does not try to recreate that gory story. Rather the names of various characters  have a sound which go with corresponding movements.

The harp is a new love of mine, and having been harping now for several years has informed my writing for the instrument. Never having played the horn I rely entirely on my experience as a flutist, my ear, and guidance from James. ~Gary Schocker

I also asked Mr. Schocker for permission to share a few clips from our recent rehearsal, and he generously agreed. Here are two short clips from the third and fifth movements of In Arkadia. Both recordings are live and unedited, although I added a small amount of reverb to the files since we were not rehearsing in a concert hall.

Movement 3

Movement 5

After hearing the recording of our rehearsal, Gary had some wonderful suggestions, as well as a few minor changes to the score. This is one of the great things about working with living composers – if they don’t like something, they can just change it! Commissioning a new work is a great experience, and something I am definitely interested in doing again.

To finish out this article, here are some suggestions and resources for commissioning compositions.

Further Reading

Other Thoughts on Commissioning a Composition

  • Decide what you want, and with whom you want to work. The more details you have in hand about your proposed commission, the better positioned you will be to find interested composers and secure funding.
  • Seek out funding in a variety of places, crowd-sourcing (Kickstarter, GoFundMe, etc.), external grants (state level, national level, other organizations), internal grants (university), and consortia.
  • For grant applications and other funding opportunities, be able to clearly and concisely explain why your project requires funding. Will the proposed work create or explore a previously under-recognized repertory? Will it bring together various disciplines (artistic or otherwise)? Above all, be excited about your project, and learn how to communicate that excitement in both written and verbal terms.
  • During the composition process, stay in contact with the commissioned composer. Offer to help by trying out new ideas and recording them for the composer to listen to. Make constructive comments about what you think does and does not work for your instrument.
  • Once the composition is completed, premiere it! Apply to perform at a regional, national, or international conference. Share information about your project and get others excited about it.
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