Translating Music at Bucknell through Newspeak

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Last Wednesday and Thursday, the critically acclaimed “indie classical” ensemble Newspeak had a two-day residency at Bucknell University, hosting various workshops and a performance that were free and open to the public. I had the chance to work with them for a little while during this time, and I learned a lot as a composer and performer, as did those who also joined in on the experience. Newspeak consists of 8 musicians whose instruments include: voice, violin, cello, electronics, drum set, percussion (all types), piano, synth, clarinets, and the bass. If that’s not a unique set of instruments for an ensemble, I don’t what is. Here’s a small sample of their sound.

Sweet Light Crude

Old Friends with Large Weapons (for Michael Lear)

Another interesting aspect of the ensemble is that they perform pieces by all different composers instead of just one or themselves.

I attended their workshop for composers on Wednesday where I and five other students had our own compositions performed by the ensemble right there in front of us. We had started writing these pieces back in late November and it was amazing to suddenly see them come to life as they sight-read the pieces like they were nothing. The workshop centered on having a more real-world experience of being a composer and working with an ensemble to rehearse a new piece. It was amazing to work with such experienced musicians, and we all learned some valuable lessons.  One of the most important things we learned was that every aspect of the piece should be as clear as possible so that the performers can get to rehearsing the piece as quickly as possible and so that they don’t have to take any time out of the rehearsal in order to clarify things. The ensemble gave immediate feedback on the work and we were able to witness the rehearsal process of an actual professional ensemble.

Later in the day on Wednesday, I attended a discussion with the ensemble where they talked about having a life of playing and working in an ensemble and what they do outside the ensemble. Although the ensemble has a very dark, rock yet classical vibe to it, you’d be surprised to learn that most of its members come from rather accomplished classical musical backgrounds. The schools they’ve attended range from the Julliard School, to the Yale School of Music to the Manus School of Music, and some of the other best music conservatories in the nation. All of the members of the ensemble are all very busy and perform in different ensembles or have other administrative positions for arts organizations. For example, David T. Little, the head of the ensemble, also works as one of the professors of composition at the Shenandoah Conservatory at Shenandoah University in Virginia.

After their performance of their program “in the indifferent brutality” in the Natalie Rooke Recital Hall, I asked one of the audience members, Eliot Puplett ’16, what he thought of their performance:

I found their performance style very arrogant and while I thought that although some pieces were interesting, it was all only in one style and very long. When they did the lighter pieces, I wish there was more of it. However, if they come back, I’ll see them off ."

While I have mixed feelings about them myself, I must say that I really appreciate the experience that I gained from their residency. Check out their newest album Soldier Songs on their Soundcloud page.

 

 

*photo credit: Nicole Bakeman ‘16