Daniel Wolfert Snapshot #9: Further Adventures in Composerland

In which Daniel attends the Society of Composer’s Conference and feels simultaneously terrified and relieved.

From March 7th to March 8th, amid the faltering late-winter weather of the Pacific Northwest, the Society of Composers – a professional society dedicated to the promotion, performance, understanding and dissemination of new and contemporary music – held their 2014 Region VIII Conference on the University of Puget Sound, featuring guest composers Steven Bryant and Joan Szymko.  While perhaps I should have prepared for this with bated breath, launching myself into any possible opportunity to assist with the conference, I most certainly did not, completely forgetting about the upcoming conference and being taken completely by surprise when it arrived.  Yet, magically, somehow, I stumbled into this weekend and managed to speak with both guest composers, Joan Szkymko and Steven Bryant, with the hope of stealing away just a smidge of their knowledge and wisdom.

Joan Szkymko was a tiny, silver haired woman of late middle age that wore brightly colored scarf and held a firm belief in the need for mature choral repertoire for all female chorus and enough energy to power the university alone.  Steven Bryant was a tall man in his 40s, with a somewhat sardonic sense of humor and a great deal of acclaim for his band and partially electronic works.  They were, of course, fascinating – and hilariously different – characters with a great deal to teach to the school ensembles performing their works, what with Joan Szymko teaching Adelphians and Dorians choirs how to approach her pieces and Steven Bryant doing Lord knows what to the bands performing his works (I wouldn’t know – I’m just a vocalist).

Regardless of my lack of knowledge concerning the university’s instrumental ensembles, I ended up at a Q+A held by my composition teacher, the brilliant and slightly unnerving Dr. Robert Hutchinson, as well as a little mingling shindig wherein all the composers and people that helped with the conference stood around near catered goodies.  Here is what I’ve learned:

-Have irons in many fires (money won’t come from composing; it may come from conducting or performing primarily)

-Self publishing is time consuming and is equivalent in many ways to a real job

-Use PDF-Pen-Pro to brand every page of a PDF document with your logo

-Writing for the educational market is one of the largest sources of income

-Earnings are primarily through commission, not through royalties

-Community performances of one’s work pay much better than university performance

Face-to-face contact and travelling to gigs are the greatest forms of publicity

-Morten Lauridson got his start at a Chorus of America Conference, just handing out his music

-The most important thing Joan Skyzmo learned about composing is asking “What if?”, and comes to music from an intuitive view, acting as a vehicle of the text and its expression, listening for what’s next

-Steven Bryant writes because he wants to recreate and capture the enthralling feeling of being wrapped inside a piece of music, and feels that composition is like a drug wherein, once the pieces fit together and the piece turns out as it needs to, the euphoria erases all the memories of struggle and disappointment


Although, let’s be real, I was mostly there for the free food.

But when I was speaking to these composers, just as when I first began studying composing under Dr. Hutchinson, the question that continually resurfaced was that of “Why do you want to be a composer?”  This, they and countless others have told me, is the most important question to ask myself at this stage in my life, as if I do not believe that composing is my ultimate calling, then it is not worth the struggle.  In all honesty, I cannot fully put into words why I want to be a composer.  It has something to do with some simultaneously compassionate and pretentious idea of giving others hope in the same way that other composer’s music has given me hope, and something to do with the joy of fitting together the elements of music into a piece like the parts of a puzzle, and something to do with bringing order and clarity to a chaotic world, but all together in a ridiculous jumble.  I can say this, however, despite how ridiculous and self-entitled it may seem: I was born to compose.  This is my purpose.  There is no choice.

And so, on this delightful and possibly misfortunate path down the road to Composerland, I have begun taking another step by applying for composition programs held over the summer, and in applying, I wrote and recorded what I consider my first two real pieces – awkward, fumblingly written, but undeniably there.  Here for your listening pleasure, you will find the following tracks:

1) “Remembered Music” – An art song for high voice and piano, here performed by sophomore soprano Lexa Hospenthal and junior pianist Brenda Miller, which was a setting of my favorite poem by 13th century Sufi poet Rumi:

Daniel Wolfert’s “Remembered Music”

2) “Fantasia for Two Flutes and Two Cellos” – A fantasia performed by freshman flautist Megan Reich, junior Whitney Reveyrand, sophomore cellist Anna Schierbeek, and junior cellist Bronwyn Hagerty, inspired by Arvo Part’s Silouan’s Song and the film scores of Alexandre Desplat:

Daniel Wolfert’s “Fantasia for Two Flutes and Two Cellos”

So, what’s the moral of the story?  If I’ve learned anything from this conference, it can be summed up in these three statements:

Follow your passions.

Play nice with others.


Is there anything else to life?  I don’t think so.  I know these things; I’m a composer.