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Beside the obvious benefits of a no-doubt-fantastic performance with a top ensemble, Metropolitan‘s premiere this Fall with the Chicago Youth Symphony provided the necessity to tackle its long-overdue revisions over which I had been torturing myself for over a year. The reading session with the American Composers Orchestra last year, while ultimately fruitful and a great experience, proved that the piece was fraught with a sense of danger (not always a bad thing). But what made more of an impression than the reading itself were the meetings afterwards. These post-game conferences were nail-biting affairs where all the composers involved sat around a table armed with scores and opinions, and while always fair-minded and supportive, proceeded to pick apart almost every single solitary aspect of whatever work was in question. Not always what you’d call an ego-boost. In my particular thrashing, my notation of certain cross-rhythm beamings were put to serious question, as were particular time signature choices, and my percussion battery construct of shared “stations”. Scary and drastic measures were introduced into the discussion: “Double every value. Make all semi-quavers into quavers.” … “Re-distribute the percussion parts” … Etc.

The proposed revisions ranged from the mundane to the extreme, and despite the fact that I thought the piece worked quite well, after that conference my sense of the work’s success was muddled beyond reason. I understood everyone’s point about the cross-rhythm notation, but I felt strongly about how what I chose to do (complicated, don’t ask, see the score if you insist, somewhere ’round m.135) was a more truthful (forgive the adjective) way of notating what I intended, and that tampering with it, while conceivably making it easier to read, wouldn’t necessarily make it easier to play, and would start pulling the threads of the piece apart, at least for me.

Meanwhile the percussion section was having none of the shared “stations” and so it was expressed that all percussion music in the work needed to be redistributed differently. Daunting, and infuriating, considering how much time I put into carefully working out the percussion initially.

The comments on the meter changes I understood. I had several groupings of 3 16th-notes tagged onto the end of what would be a simple meter under normal circumstances, in various phrases. The addition of the tag made for some complex meters (ie. 11/16 as 4+4+3), and made counting more difficult than it already was.

Oh, and everyone hated the title.

Paralysis ensued. Confronted with revision options ranging from “put a dynamic at the end of that crescendo” to “re-beam and re-measure the entire piece”, I went home and proceeded to do none of them. I solicited more opinions from friends and colleagues over the course of weeks, then months, and of course, received the same range of options, leaving me exactly where I was before. I mean, I’ve been out of school for 10 years—I’m just not used to people telling me how to write anymore. I didn’t know who to believe … Was the piece solid, only needing the typical corrections that crop up in the complex life of an orchestral work, or was it fatally flawed, and needed to be re-thought?

Eventually I forced a close friend of mine whose musical opinion means the world to me in front of the stereo to hear a rendering from the reading session, and armed with a score, he said simply that he completely understood what I wanted with the beaming, that he had conducted along with the meters without incident, and that he couldn’t comprehend what the big deal was.

And that was it. After a year of self-torture and lost sleep it clicked like a tumbler snapping in a lock. I understood that it didn’t matter. I had a piece here, possibly needing some revisions, but ultimately, it was a piece, my piece, put together the way I wanted, and not the way others thought it should. That simple, and obvious epiphany, took a year to work out.

So here’s what changed:

• The title. Hip+Now became Metropolitan.
• An exposed piccolo solo I’ve always really liked but which didn’t sound as well as I thought it could have was brought up an octave, with some various octave displacements along the way.
• I re-metered all 9/16 measures (subdivided as 2+2+2+3) to a 3/8 followed by a 3/16.
• I re-metered all 11/16 measures (subdivided as 4+4+3) to a 2/4 followed by a 3/16.
• I added what I hope are some helpful notations to the complicated-beaming section, without actually changing the beaming itself.
• I re-barred the last 3 measures to include that same 3/16 kicker at the end, and inserted 4 more 16ths in the final measures before that, to counteract what I always felt was a slight abruptness in the penultimate bar.

And that’s about it. I ran these revisions by the CYSO director, and got an enthusiastic thumbs up. I was relieved of a year’s-worth of pressure, the piece got the working-over it needed, and I felt like I owned the sucker again. Parts were corrected and re-printed, and the sun came out.

Let the 3/16 bars fly.

Metropolitan premieres November 13, 2005, with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Allen Tinkham, in Chicago’s Orchestra Hall.

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