Coming Together, Fall 2020

Dear PUO, present and future,

Full of good intentions, I had planned to send this out about a week ago. I’m glad something held me back, in light of President Eisgruber’s message last Friday. I am deeply disappointed that we will not be together, but I must admit, I’m not surprised. Tragedy might have ensued had you come back. And now we know exactly what we’re dealing with, as lousy as that reality may be.

The challenge is now (and always has been) how to build a sense of musical community without live ensembles in the same room. What we cannot do is rehearse together, live, even in subsets; so, here is a partial listing of what can do.

Auditions

As announced before, no returning students will have to audition. To restore your membership, all you need to do is sign up here. I do need for you to tell me that you’re in, and participation in our activities will be required for membership in PUO. As always, members will still be entitled to the 50% lesson subsidy.

New students

I would like for potential new members to submit a short video (~5 minutes) on this form by September 4, 2020. A passage or two from any piece of your choice that displays some contrast will do — there will be no orchestral excerpts this year. If you submitted a recording for the Arts Supplement, you may re-send that. When the new members are admitted, we’ll start things off with Zoom meetings.

The Music

The major performance project will be to assemble a virtual performance of Steve Reich’s The Desert Music (I’ve talked about this before). A magnificent 45’ setting of texts by William Carlos Williams, its “minimal” style makes it possible to record using click tracks and previously laid down instrumental tracks. There are recordings of the work on Spotify — I recommend the recording conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas. As you will hear, it is a big piece, with plenty for everyone. I cannot imagine being able to do it in less than the whole term. All members will participate; everybody plays.

A required part of PUO will be some guided listening sessions that will happen in regular PUO time. Ruth Ochs and I have discussed looking at some composers of the African diaspora. There will be a short introduction, then we will listen, and discuss. Some of this music can be placed alongside canonic repertory that may have served as an inspiration (such as Antonin Dvorak and Florence Price). Since we cannot play this music, it’s important today that we start a listening exploration to discover what we are — and what we have been — missing.

I will also invite some high-profile visitors to Zoom with us. Even the biggest names will have some time on their hands.

Software Development Update

Testing is still going on by our terrific audio engineers to find that magical low-latency platform that might enable small groups to work together live. All know that time is short. Updates will be shared as they happen.

Sō Percussion

I am excited to share a late-breaking ensemble opportunity from Sō Percussion, our resident chamber (percussion) ensemble. Here’s the description from Sō:

Princeton Remote Ensemble

Guided by members of Sō Percussion, Princeton Remote Ensemble is dedicated to exploring the possibilities of remote musical collaboration by exploring music that allows for flexibility in instrumentation and realization.

The group will meet once a week to develop new audio/video pieces designed to be realized through remote collaboration. Students will collaborate using Soundtrap or other software that they are comfortable using. Composer/creators and performers are both welcomed in the ensemble, and students will be matched based on their interests or skills with particular instruments and/or software. Ability to read music notation is not required.  

Creators who typically work solo are also welcome to join the ensemble, but will be asked to open their work to some form of collaboration with fellow musicians through participation in the ensemble.

Students will produce their own recordings and videos for use in a closing marathon stream at the end of the semester. Guest artists will help with production techniques and familiarity with the realization of flexible instrumentation repertoire.

Some examples of possible repertoire include:

  • Julius Eastman: Stay On It
  • Finola Merivale: Falling Flames
  • Jason Treuting: Go Placidly With Haste
  • Terry Riley: In C

Schedule:

  • Full group meets Tuesdays 6:30-8:30pm
  • Individual sub-groups will be expected to meet outside of full group time

And here’s a video of some of the marathon that came out of their work this summer, with only percussionists. All live-streamed.

This is the kind of thing that Sō is very good at. Not just executing, but creating.

Finally, you will hear from our very fine Co-Presidents, David Basili and Jeremy Cha, who are planning some informal events, like chamber music jams, games, etc. I hope we’ll know our faces by the end of then term, if not our feet!

That’s more than enough for one post. PLEASE WATCH orchestra.princeton.edu for upcoming developments, and logistical matters. Send questions! I have far from every answer but will give it a shot.

Finally, I am so sorry that this has fallen on yougeneration. You will be shaped by this, and some of what comes out of this will be positive, as hard as that is to see now. I won’t tell you to be strong, because you already are. And what you do now will be admired by your successors.

More soon. Please be mindful, and take care of yourselves and your families.

Michael Pratt