As of Then is an experimental collaboration between UVM faculty and students in music composition, music performance, dance choreography and video production during Fall 2020. Faculty started the conversation by imagining structure and prompts to inspire creativity. Over the course of the semester students developed responses that were combined into a cohesive presentation that speaks to our world, our time, and our creative collaborative imagination.
Orchestra conductor Dr. Yutaka Kono wrote:
This massive collaborative piece is about all the ups and downs we went through in the year 2020, in which we all were put in a place to think about what is to be separate, together, and virtually together.
Each member of the orchestra recorded four separate recordings on their own, which totaled around 200. I combined them using Logic Pro X. Socially distanced dancers also videoed themselves, and they were combined by the editors of Film and Television Studies. The original composition was by Patricia Julien, the dancers were led by Paul Besaw and Selene Colburn, and the film editors were guided by Deb Ellis.
Dr. Patricia Julien spoke about her compositional process:
I spent a lot of initial time thinking about the many, many emotions I’ve experienced since the start of the pandemic. Professor Yutaka Kono had asked me to create a work that was directly of this period in history, and knowing that we are living through something that is affecting us deeply, I also wanted to write a piece that could potentially capture something about each individual player’s experiences. Toward that end, I wanted there to be choices and I wanted it to be not fully predetermined.
Professor Kono had also mentioned that he did not want to create another collage recording where students record themselves playing existing or classic repertoire and then the director assembles the recordings into the piece so that it basically matches an expected performance if it had been live. The coordinating of these individual performances and recordings requires a click track which is simply a reference track to help musicians synchronize their tempos and entrances. This made me think about ways in which that underlying coordinating track might be not a throw away element but instead a fully integral part of the piece.
So I set out to write a piece for orchestra and permanent accompaniment track. This would allow me to combine the sound of the acoustic instruments played by the musicians with sound effects and other sound design that I would create using electronic libraries and working with Logic Pro X as my DAW (digital audio workstation). I did use some acoustic material in the accompaniment track, too. I wanted the sound of a human voice for a middle section and for that recorded myself singing which I layered with playing flute and alto flute.
I mulled over ideas for a title and given Professor Kono’s instructions about writing something to reflect our current world circumstances thought about the expression “As of Now” but that didn’t seem to suggest anything about the events that brought us to this point. So I combined that with thinking about “then” as a way to acknowledge the recent past and chose As of Then as a working title for the piece. Titles feel meaningful to me and knowing that Dance students and faculty and Film and Television students and faculty would be involved, I hoped the title might evoke some ideas without being prescriptive. At an online meeting in late August, we decided to go with that title for our project as a whole.
The piece in its musical ideas (the melodies, harmonies, rhythms, and sound design) naturally reflect some of my personal experiences during this year—sorrow, worry, rage, despair. There is joy and hope there, too. In the spring of 2020, Spitfire Audio hosted a film scoring competition. In a remarkable partnership, HBO and the creators of Westworld allowed the use of a clip from that series so composers could create new scores. The companies involved engaged in a level of generosity that fortunately has not been an isolated case during these difficult days. Spitfire Audio received more than 2000 entries and my work was among those submissions. I didn’t win but enjoyed the process so much and was grateful for the distraction of having a music project to work on when all of my gigs and summer composition projects had been canceled. With As of Then, Professor Kono brought up the idea that, given the relatively late start to beginning an orchestral composition, perhaps I had some material that I could repurpose or finish developing for the purpose of this project. It occurred to me later that a few ideas from my Westworld/Spitfire entry might be just right—featuring a sense of drama but also imbued with gratitude. Bits of my Spitfire composition are sprinkled throughout As of Then.
In terms of its sections, here are some of the challenges I posed to the musicians. Their first entrance (after an opening descending sound effect) required thinking back to the start of the pandemic and the lockdowns in the US and elsewhere. If they felt some hope that there would be benefits during that period, such as time with loved ones, time to rest, or time to tackle personal projects, they are to play slow, long descending glissandi. If they felt trapped and anxious, they are to play short fast descending glissandi.
At another point, sustained notes, with some variation on when musicians might move to the next pitch, are meant to reflect how developments concerning COVID-19 were constantly shifting and changing, even during the relative stasis of the lockdown. Following that, I ask musicians to think of the seemingly endless cycle of television and print news updates on the single topic of the global pandemic. They are instructed to repeat a brief composed fragment indefinitely and then, when ready for a break from that repetition, move to a long sustained note.
A later section is one of seven melodies and is meant to reflect some of the ways people tried to find solace during the lockdowns. Each performer thinks about an activity that felt most comforting or was the greatest source for moments of joy and respite or escape and then plays the melody that identifies an activity that most closely matches their personal experience. For example, melody #1 is played if the musician welcomed a new dog or cat into their family.
There is also a section about the murder of George Floyd. It is a portion meant to be like a scream: extremely loud, ugly, and uncomfortable. The musicians follow various instructions, with wind players sustaining a fortissimo note until they run out of breath.
As of Then is designed to benefit from imprecise beginnings and endings to much of the performed material. Throughout, the sounds on the permanent accompaniment track are sonic landmarks to help musicians keep their place and to establish changes in tempo and mood. Although it was written to be performed and recorded individually, as most music making is still highly restricted due to requirements of physical distancing and wearing masks, it could also be performed live as an ensemble. In either case, the permanent accompaniment track is included as an essential component of the composition.
This was such a welcome project for me as a composer, and I’m deeply happy to be part of a larger endeavor that involves artists from several disciplines across UVM. I think Professor Yutaka Kono conceived of a brilliant idea and so graciously found a way to share it with colleagues and students. I’m excited to see and hear what the musicians, dancers, and film and television artists produce.
Patricia Julien, Composer/Professor of Music
Yutaka Kono, Director of Orchestra/Associate Professor of Music
Paul Besaw, Professor, Department of Theatre and Dance
Deb Ellis, Professor, Film & Television Studies Program
Film & Television Studies, FTS 141
Ty’lier Baker, Pat Brennan, Krys Brown, Chris Crowley, Alex De Luise, Harmony Edosomwan, Keaton Harper, Andrew Jerome, Liam Kinney, Hannah Kirkpatrick, Jessica McCarthy, Liam Perl, Casey Pope, Thomas Roberts, Aidan Seipke, Sabrina Vargas Bakas, Lilly Young
Dance, DNCE 160 and DNCE 260
Jacqueline Caefer, Claire Cook, Emma Carr, Emma DiBacco, Annabel Diestel, Priscilla Fudesco, Joshua Huffman, Zoey November, Gracie Powers, Chloe Schafer, Jennilee Stocker, Aspen Thornton
Music, UVM Symphony Orchestra, MUE 123
Flute: Steph Aurenz, Sky Gelsomini, Mackenzie Laverick, Maddie Orcutt
Oboe: Jordan Mitchell
Clarinet: Bailey Brown, Ginny Churchill
Bassoon: Cassandra Heleba, Jenna Ranson
Horn: Jocelyn Botelho, Ella Paulson (euphonium), Stephan Toljan
Trumpet: Remy Lepeak, Ben Payson
Percussion: Ally Dovano, Anna Kalfus, Luke Nawrocki
Violin I: Zachary Acosta, Asiat Ali, Rachel Conner, Jaffrey Hedegaard, Madlin McCarthy, Hannah Ritz (concertmaster)
Violin II: Elliot Gleich, Cayleigh Goss-Baker (principal), Amelia Koval, Taylor Murray, Maggie O'Neill, Laura Postigo, Rebecca Shames, Serena Zepeda
Viola: Alyssandra Calhoun (co-principal), Eryn Hieken, Avery Holmes, Sam Koskinen (co-principal), Rachel Malpass, Nicholas Schwartz, Emma Sekercan
Cello: Alex Amsden, Thea Bjornson, Marco Cepeda, Colin Desch, Will Gansle (co-principal), Hannah Koval, Sierra Hiner, Leonidas Pancic, Maya Romanik, Maddy Vaal, Simon Webber (co-principal)
Bass: Hannah Ace (principal), Art DeQuasie, Preston Murphy