Ever since moving to Philadelphia, I’ve been a fan of the PRISM Quartet. Aside from saxophone quartet being one of my favorite textures, the group’s ferocious devotion to new music, collaboration, and discovery with unapologetic integrity is worthy of true admiration.

When I learned about the “Unlocking Your Inner Composer Workshop” series through a local arts radio show that I help produce, I was filled with excitement at the opportunity to work with the PRISM Quartet and special guest Tyshawn Sorey. I couldn’t believe my luck: the workshops were held at a library that is within walking distance of my house, and I was available to attend all of the offered dates (a requirement). The whole premise was built on inclusion: the workshops welcomed any level of experience, and to be sure that no one would be turned away, there was no fee to attend.

Over the course of three sessions, we soaked in as much as we could to write a one minute piece for the ensemble (a miniature). Tyshawn and the quartet taught us about idiomatic writing for each instrument, extended techniques, and gave examples of non-traditional notation so that no one had to feel obligated or intimidated to write a formally notated piece.

The third workshop was a recital of all pieces from our class, and the results were wonderful. The pieces were all so different and I truly enjoyed each one. Hearing all pieces back to back exemplified the varied routes that creativity can take. Sure, formal written notation is a fine way to convey a musical idea, but certainly not the only way. Some composers wrote instructions as to what they wanted to hear, others wrote a theme and allowed the ensemble to improvise over the theme. One person recorded themselves singing a simple melody, then played it back for the ensemble to learn and build upon. I’ve often felt that one of the signs of true artistry is being able to fully communicate an idea, and these workshops were a great exploration of that notion.

For my little piece, I tried to utilize the colors available through the ensemble. I wrote two contrasting mini-pieces within my mini-piece: one with a more impressionistic feel, and the flip side was more aggressive and direct. While I am so grateful for being able to play and record music for a living, one downside to this lifestyle is that it’s difficult to find time to work on my own music that isn’t attached to any project. These workshops reignited my inner composer, and reminded me how important it is to keep writing for myself. The whole experience was an honor and privilege to be a part of, and huge thanks to the PRISM Quartet for putting it all together.

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