When one thinks of a piece of music being “commissioned,” one is apt to think of money changing hands (to the composer’s advantage). For an unknown such as I, being paid to write music is quite the rarity. More often, I am asked to write a piece, with the intangible return of, the promise of a performance. At times, that promise is made good, and then some.
A year-ish ago, when my friend, veteran flutist Peter H. Bloom, asked me to write a piece for his trio, Ensemble Aubade (playing the instruments of the celebrated Debussy Sonata for flute, viola & harp), I knew (a) that I could write a technically challenging piece, and (b) that it would indeed see multiple performances.
– even more performances, thanks to their suggestion that the new piece be written such, that the harp part could be executed on a piano. The Ensemble often tours, and some of the venues to which they travel do not have a harp readily available.
Well, this is all ancient history, in a sense, because I wrote the piece (and its piano adaptation) last summer. The Ensemble were planning to perform it in November, so when serious rehearsal was under way I was invited to attend a late-ish rehearsal, in part so that I could answer a couple of questions. There was a suggestion or two (cast a couple of flute notes an octave higher, here; modify the attack of the viola notes, there). There were a couple of typos in the MS. (a C-flat which needed to be C-natural, an incorrectly marked metronome marking, e.g.)
I took note of all the emendations which I should need to make in the score. I did not do the work just then, because the date of the première of Oxygen Footprint was the same weekend as (a) the première of The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth for ten players (which I was going to conduct), and (b) that season’s pair of Triad concerts.
Therefore, I had not made the changes to the score, before papers got shuffled, and my notes went I knew not where.
Ensemble Aubade took the (piano version of the) piece on their tour of the Midwest in April of this year, and also played it as part of a May Henningmusick event in Somerville, Mass. When I learnt that they would play the harp version in Vermont this month, I marked my calendar. That concert was this past Sunday, and it went beautifully. One downstream beauty (as it were) is, that the occasion drew the attention of my publisher (who had already created a catalogue number for the piece), and at a time when he has some capacity. So I got e-mail from him yesterday saying that he needs the Sibelius files of both versions, to make them available ASAP. (A composer likes it, and likes it very much, when the publisher says “available ASAP.”)
It so happened that I carried with me into the office a sack full of stuff to sort (because, yes, I had gotten tired of seeing this sack taking up space in a corner). While sorting this stuff, what should I find, but the three-ring binder with the score of The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth (from which I had conducted in November, and tucked into the pocket of the back cover of the binder, my list of emendations for the score of Oxygen Footprint.
Really: I had “just happened” to have the pile of stuff – in which I had ‘lost’ these crucial notes – with me, and I had found this sheet, at the time that e-mail from my publisher came in saying, “send me the Sibelius files instanter.”
So directly I arrived home yesterday – I rested my eyes, actually . . . I lay down, closed my eyes, and listened to the Sibelius (the composer) Fourth Symphony – and once I had thus taken a little rest, I fired up Sibelius (the music notation software) to make the necessary changes, and sent them along to my publisher.
Last night (past my bedtime) he sent a PDF to proof, and this morning I sent in my list of corrigenda.