Learning Contemporary (New) Music

Posted In: Performing

  • Participant
    Kirsten Agresta Copely on #185710

    Hi Harpists!

    I’m opening up this forum to discuss practice techniques for learning Contemporary or New Music. Share your thoughts on how to tackle a piece that changes meter each measure, is difficult to follow even with a recording, or in general how YOU go about preparing a difficult new music score.

    Participant
    Gretchen Cover on #185712

    Kirsten, I play with a professional Cuban guitarist who is also teaches at the university level. I’ve learned more about rhythm, timing and contemporary technique from him than any lessons or other playing experience I’ve had. I just let him “yell” at me until I get things right:) Our practices are always teachable moments for me. I guess what I am saying is to seek out someone who knows more than you to share ideas and be a coach – it does not have to be a harpist.

    Participant
    Kirsten Agresta Copely on #185713

    Hi Gretchen! Thanks for your feedback! I’m not necessarily looking for guidance myself, but since I recently became a core member of a Contemporary Music Ensemble, I thought it would be great to start sharing our experiences with New Music with each other! It’s often a scary undertaking for many. I’m currently working on Jonathan Harvey’s “Valley of Aosta” which is written with two harps, one tuned a 1/4 tone below 440. It’s probably the most abstract of any work I’ve done.

    Your work with the Cuban guitarist sounds wonderful! I’d love to hear some of your performances.

    Participant
    Gretchen Cover on #185714

    Kristen, You may want to contact harpist Bridget Kibbey. She is a champion of contemporary music and has commissioned a number of new works.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #185787

    Kirsten has been playing professionally for many years. I suspect she has done far more than Bridget Kibbey has yet to do.

    I noticed when looking at the famous Sequenza, by Luciano Berio, that if I simply picked a metronome tempo such as 60 to the quarter-note, that I could easily convert his proportional notation into standard rhythmic notation that made it far clearer and much easier to comprehend. One should always question the notation and whether it could be clearer, as it really influences the difficulty of a piece. I recently edited the first movement of the Tailleferre Sonate, in part to clarify the notation, and it became so much more organized and sensible than how it looks as printed.

    Participant
    Gretchen Cover on #185791

    Saul, I am very well aware of Kirsten’s very accomplished harp playing. I am just suggesting she connect with Bridget because of their mutual interest in contemporary music. I don’t think it was necessary to the thread to compare Bridget and Kirsten.

    Participant
    Kirsten Agresta Copely on #185793

    Saul and Gretchen, thank you both for your kind comments and goodness, I don’t wish to be compared to or belittle any of my esteemed colleagues with this thread!

    I discovered while working on my latest new music challenge, that the position of the pedal markings became very important for me. A previous harpist had written them in above the line, where many prefer them. But due to the fast tempi, I chose to re-mark them all within the measures for easier l. to r. reading.

    Participant
    Gretchen Cover on #185794

    I have all my pedal markings in between the staffs. I put the note, i.e. C# in the place I will make the pedal changes. Some I put in ( ) to remind myself they may be coming up or quickly on the next page. I think the most important tool I have is my iPad recorder. It is my truth machine.

    I’ve also found quite a few places where I make note changes. I just finished going through a piece in which I changed all the Db to C#. I think there is a lot of trial and error in modern compositions. You have to be creative sometimes to make things work on the harp.

    Participant
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #185802

    I stick to keeping them below the system with the pedal markings, so between the staves is clear for dynamics and tempo changes, unless there is no room. The middle area can get so cluttered, some parts end up unreadable.
    Gretchen, it did read to me like you were vaunting Ms. Kibbey over Ms. Agresta, hence I felt a need to correct the impression. It’s just a matter of syntax.

    Participant
    Elizabeth Volpé Bligh on #185829

    I start by making my own copy, so that I can use white-out for edits and enharmonic re-spellings. I use enharmonics or edit out unnecessary notes if it is too chromatic at too fast a tempo. If the composer is alive, I contact them to get a score, ask questions, or suggest some edits. Sometimes I re-beam things to make them easier to read, or move things into a different clef, or re-distribute the parts between the hands. I figure out the rhythm before I start looking at the notes. I practise the pedals separately if there is a lot of “choreography”. If there are two harp parts, sometimes I will re-distribute the parts. For new music, I try to get the parts earlier than the usual two weeks we get in the orchestra.

    Spectator
    diane-michaels on #185830

    Like Elizabeth, I find sections, if not the whole piece often need to be rewritten. The time I spend typing them into finale is like practicing – I’m thinking about the notes, etc…. Sometimes, just replacing a mess of a score with a very precisely written part, where there are no extraneous markings, no indecipherable notes, everything’s lined up makes the next practice session feel as if I had spent twice the time it took me to type practicing.

    Of course, at the moment, I have a new work, neatly typed without any markings from previous harpists sitting on my desk, waiting for me to put in my own pedal changes. I guess I won’t be able to blame the way it appears on the page if I find it a tad challenging to learn!

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