Composing for a Moving Target: The Growth and Attrition of TwtrSymphony

With the genesis of a project there are always numerous people excited by the new idea and wanting to participate. As projects stabilize, some of the initial enthusiasm is lost resulting in natural growing pains and attrition. TwtrSymphony, like all new projects is a bit of a moving target as we negotiate the stabilization process.

Trying to compose a symphony for an orchestra in the throes of genesis has been challenging!

TwtrSymphony is a living organism, growing, changing and maturing, made up of musicians who have their own very busy lives. Often the most talented musicians are also those most in demand. So, when musicians already playing in established orchestras, or with solo careers in their own right, inquire about playing with TwtrSymphony, we're over-joyed at the prospect. However, we must also be realistic. TwtrSymphony, by nature of Remote Session recording and tight deadlines, is not for everyone.

As we negotiated the audition process, it became apparent we were going to have fluctuating numbers. We grew rapidly during our first month when chatter was constant and excitement was high. From my post as Music Director and composer, it was necessary to try and find a specific number of musicians to create a steady ensemble and give me some idea of whom I would be composing for. The auditions gave us a set number of people, capable of playing to a standard and fulfilling the technical requirements of recording and I felt confident enough to start composing the first movement.

As a musician (trombone), I hate getting an orchestra part with 50+ measures of rest, three measures of playing, followed by another huge rest. In these cases it feels like more of my time is spent waiting than playing. Worse is a part that is integral to the harmonies of the piece but so monotonous as to put me to sleep (or cause me to loose count as to what measure we are on). In writing music for TwtrSymphony, I wanted to write parts that each musician could look at and say, "Wow, that looks fun to play." Then, when the music is finished, they could actually hear the role their part plays, not be buried under tons of duplicate parts. What this means is each part is unique, individual, with moments where it stands out.

I succeeded in writing music I would want to play. However, the musicians who jumped on board TwtrSymphony are extremely busy --many of them managing their own very active professional careers. For some, even though they were keenly interested, their personal schedules just didn't allow adding one more activity to the pile. In a few cases, even though I'd written a part specifically for a musician, playing with us wasn't in the stars. The result was some parts in the first couple of movements that didn't get recorded. Some obvious holes existed in the music which needed fixed.

Over the course of the past couple of months we have had numerous requests from other musicians asking to join our ranks. Initially I didn't allow these new musicians to join up as I wanted to keep the numbers stable. But as musicians needed to pull out, I began to realize that I needed to be more flexible. New musicians were a necessity and we put a call out for some of the more difficult roles to fill. The unique demands of our format mean that we won't be maintaining a standard roster of unchanging musicians, but rather a flexible group of highly talented individuals who will participate as time allows. I think this can be very freeing for us as an ensemble if we embrace it.

Right now we're standing at fifty-six musicians. The final two movements are composed, and out with the musicians. Almost all the recordings are in for the first two movements and in the hands of our sound engineer. As a composer, the fluctuating reality of our organization opens up a whole new avenue of thought - an either/or approach to orchestration. In many ways TwtrSymphony will be an embodiment of the art of improvisation. Appropriate for an ensemble born out of social media and the dreams of musicians scattered across the globe.


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