Andrea Vos-Rochefort

Clarinetist and Teaching Artist

"that exploratory and inventive mode of perception"

Berio's Sequenza IXa:

Many of my friends and colleagues often ask me, in perplexed or bemused tones, "You really do enjoy playing contemporary music?" The answer is I do. And it has a lot to do with Berio's characterization of the necessity and value of counterpoint in his work:  "that exploratory and inventive mode of perception to which the mind resorts when dealing with several processes at once." It is about putting old wine in new skins. His perspective and his pieces have played a pivotal role in how I relate to new music and let's be honest, Berio is no longer AS contemporary as he was. This is natural. But I have also lived with his piece for a while now and I love it just as much as I did. I decided to compare it with another important work for clarinet in a recent paper, "Patterns of Change: Using Associative Formal Analysis and Rough-Contour Recognition to Assess Similarities in Construction of Reich’s New York Counterpoint and Berio’s Sequenza IXa for Solo Clarinet." I found it especially interesting how both composers found unique ways to address the challenge of writing solo works for instruments, especially monodic ones. Here is the abstract from my paper: 

Solo instrumental works have enjoyed a special prominence in the repertoire since the christening of J. S. Bach’s violin partitas and cello suites; however, monodic instruments such as the clarinet have faced greater difficulties establishing themselves in this genre. In 1980, Luciano Berio addressed this deficit with his long-standing project, the Sequenzas, solo compositions for flute, clarinet, trumpet, accordion, harp, voice, piano, trombone, viola, oboe, and violin. Berio implied that the “Sequenzas for solo instruments are intended to set out and melodically develop an essentially harmonic discourse and to suggest, particularly in the case of the monodic instruments, a polyphonic mode of listening.”1 It would seem that Steve Reich followed in his teacher’s footsteps with Vermont Counterpoint, Electric Counterpoint, and New York Counterpoint, a work for eleven clarinets and bass clarinet or amplified clarinet and tape. It is possible to find meaningful connections between Berio and Reich’s methods of composition using specific or rough contour analysis and examining all parameters of composition (pitch class sets, patterns, dynamics, and rhythms).

In my paper, I go on to discuss how Berio described his own works as having “various unifying elements, some planned, others not. The most obvious and external one is virtuosity...a virtuoso these days has to be a musician capable of moving within a broad historical perspective and of resolving the tension between the creativity of yesterday and today. My own Sequenzas are always written with this sort of interpreter in mind, whose virtuosity is above all, a virtuosity of knowledge.” Each Sequenza features a contrapuntal relation between one or more harmonic fields, elevating melodies to the level of harmonic discourse. Reich's answer to the creativity of yesterday and today is housed in a more immediate sense as he creates polyphony using phasing and pre-recorded elements. Osmond-Smith suggests that "polyphony should be understood in a metaphorical sense, as the exposition and superposition of differing modes of action and instrumental characteristics" and I argue this applies to both instances. The transformational processes Reich applies to his own music extend beyond the scope of infinite canon or simple phasing. 

But how do we explain these processes to the average concert-goer? I stumbled upon a solution inspired by a color-coded wine menu at a restaurant named Abigail Street. As artists, we can help audience members enter "that exploratory and inventive mode of perception" if we give them a point of entry.

 Just last week, I put on a workshop with concert:nova discussing "that exploratory and inventive mode of perception" specifically through the lens of synesthesia. People often feel estranged from a work when they cannot forge connections or find firm relatable ground. We challenged new listeners to approach the Sequenzas of Berio and to think of them in terms of color or timbre. We paired each Sequenza with a wine and discussed the role of color on a sommelier's educated palate and how it can relate to tone color or timbre in musical spheres. Berio's Sequenzas are an excellent way for new listeners to experiment with listening as they showcase individual instruments and explore every nook and cranny of their sound using traditional and extended techniques. We also discussed saturation in color and how Berio uses levels of maximum, medium, and minimum tension to propel his work. For example, "the level of maximum tension... within the temporal dimension is produced by moments of maximum speed in articulation and moments of maximum duration of sounds, the medium level is always established by a neutral distribution of fairly long notes and fairly rapid articulations, and the minimum level entails silence, or a tendency to silence." By the end of the evening, twenty eight out of thirty patrons had listened to Luciano Berio's music for the first time and the enthusiasm was contagious. Mission accomplished. 

If you are curious, find a full draft of my paper at <https://uc.academia.edu/AndreaVosRochefort>

Keep the channel open.

People often comment about tenacity, especially in the last two weeks as we watch the Olympics. In performance disciplines where so much hangs in the balance and four years of work can seem to disappear in mere seconds, it is easy to get discouraged. Our identity and self-worth often become intertwined with our performance and how it is received. Furthermore, artists always seek to present that most precious kernel of themselves, their personal interpretation, to be judged by others. How do you keep going? How do you put in the work every day? How do you take risks against incredible odds? How do you offer up your soul or your hopes and dreams again and again regardless of how they are received? My favorite source of inspiration comes from Martha Graham, an incredible dancer and choreographer. She said:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open." 

Thank you Martha :)

 

Be Your Best Possible Coach

In the performance world, we typically focus on performance....but there is another side to the process. While it may seem that everyone is running around pursuing names: names of schools, names of teachers, names of experiences to put on their resume, what truly counts is internal growth. This means finding the right teachers who teach you to ask the right questions and find plausible answers, who give you the tools to constantly ask for more, and who instill in you that sense of quiet dissatisfaction that every artist lives with. The teachers that teach you how to teach yourself. This internal process is the "finished" product of the schools, the teachers, and the experiences and it is so important to respect this. Yes, jobs are nice and they do pay the rent, but it is this internal process that will assure the trajectory of your career, keep you motivated, open you to wonder and accomplishment, and comfort you when you feel like you know nothing. 

But you must be your best possible coach. You must constantly search for answers and suggestions on the back side of every criticism and you must build yourself up. Set impossible goals, yes, but also set five possible goals for an "impossible" one that will each get you one step closer. Work hard and dream wildly but eliminate unhelpful words from your vocabulary. In my personal case, those words are "should have", "should be", "would have", and "would be." Accept that trajectories of personally designed aircrafts are not necessarily straight up. Accept your personal trajectory and as a good pilot, constantly know where you want to go and how you can best achieve that. If you are wasting time thinking about where you should be, you are not spending enough time thinking about where you are and where you are going. 

As your own coach/pilot, organization and motivation are imperative and it is equally important to get to know yourself and better understand how to motivate yourself. The following is taken from a doctoral paper I wrote titled, "The Psychology of Performance and its Implications for Deliberate Practice."

"Motivation, much like a spindly plant directing shoots towards the sun, is comprised of direction of effort and intensity of effort, and in the context of sport is often interpreted as being trait, situation, or interaction centered. A more generalized approach is found in Edward Deci and Michael Ryan’s theory of self-determination which proposes three general sources of motivation: the need to feel competent and create a sense of identity, to be autonomous, and to create a sense of belonging or social connectedness. These categories also apply to achievement motivation as defined by Murray, “a person’s efforts to master a task, achieve excellence, overcome obstacles, perform better than others, and take pride in exercising talent.”

In individual learning situations, it is essential to understand how motivation functions and specifically how personality traits can be manipulated to exponentially increase your learning rate. It is important to understand intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and to correctly apply the most effective tactic based on the personality, situation, and interaction involved. Amotivation or a lack of self-determination can signify that an individual feels incompetent and is frustrated by a lack of control. Achievement motivation develops from the autonomous stage where the individual focuses on mastery of their environment, passes through a social comparison stage inviting competition with others, and ends in the integrated stage focusing on self-improvement and competition but seeking autonomy and self-determination. If the individual is unable to establish any control of their situation or progress, it is necessary to review goal-setting in order to establish an environment in which they might succeed. 

    A sense of progress must always remain central to the learning environment and can be established through the manipulation of and adherence to clearly stated and carefully crafted goal-setting. Goals create a sense of direction providing motivation and goal-setting is “an extremely powerful technique for enhancing performance, but it must be implemented correctly” Goal setting principles set forth by researchers such as David Gould are intended to guide individual practice as goals are primarily personal and also situational. That said, it is important to set specific goals that are quantifiable and measurable to create a sense of achievement, to set moderately difficult but realistic goals in order to build self-confidence and avoid frustration, to set long-term and short-term goals that are preferably linked, to set performance and process goals to flesh out and better achieve outcome goals, to set both practice and competition goals and thereby recognize the difference, to record goals for accountability, to develop goal achievement strategies while considering personality and motivation as factors, to foster and support a goal commitment, and finally, to provide evaluation and feedback on the goal process. In designing goals, it is helpful to use the SMARTS acronym outlined by Smith in his research: specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, timely, and self-determined. It is important, especially for musicians and other artists, to continue to use goal-setting in an autonomous style as the purpose of performance mentorship is for the student to become self-sufficient and continue to grow and progress without a teacher. It can be helpful to make a commitment to guiding one’s own progress as a teacher would guide a student— carefully plotting realistic goals and stressing achievement in a stair step style."

So, what are your goals? How have you been teaching yourself lately? 

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