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A Rare Treat: Collaborating with Professional Mentors

Last week, specially selected composers and vocalists had the opportunity to work with two stellar professional musicians: Dawn Upshaw and Donnacha Dennehy. Like many of Carnegie Hall's professional programs, the workshop made a big impact on the participants' lives. Shawn Jaeger, an award-winning emerging composer, shares his experience below. Visit our professional programs section to learn more or apply for a 2011–2012 Professional Training Workshop.

As a young composer, I'm used to working on a piece in isolation, attending a single rehearsal the day before the concert, then doing my best to savor the premiere, as it's often the last time I’ll hear that work again live! Last week, though, I participated in an exciting Weill Music Institute Professional Training Workshop that upended everything about this typical scenario.

For one, there was no isolation: I collaborated with two wonderful singers—sharing recordings, texts, and sketches with them—and received feedback from two wonderful mentors, soprano Dawn Upshaw and composer Donnacha Dennehy. There was an entire week of rehearsals, and I participated in every one!  Finally, the Weill Music Institute organized a Neighborhood Concert in addition to the premiere in Zankel Hall because they believed in giving my piece a life on stage.

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Shawn Jaeger in workshop. Photo: Stephanie Berger.  

Beyond all this, I had the privilege to work with mentors and musicians who put themselves fully into my music. Often, in rhythmically challenging music—as mine is—a merely accurate performance is considered a success. But right away, Dawn pushed the singers and the ensemble to get past the rhythms and shape the long line. This was hard for me to accept initially, being the creator of those intricate rhythms, although I soon realized that Dawn’s foresight was inspired—and the culminating performances much stronger for it. On several occasions, the performers realized my intentions more fully than I did.  To take one example, I had written a humming passage for one of my singers, Margot Rood, that didn’t quite work. She realized the intent was to sound like she was singing to herself, and by mixing a few wordless vocalises (a skill drill) into the humming, she made the passage sound wonderfully intimate and natural.

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Shawn Jaeger premieres Letters Made with Gold at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Stephanie Berger.

To have mentors and performers that devote this level of care and intention to one’s music is a rare treat, and I was honored and humbled to have worked with them. It was a highlight of my creative life.

—Shawn Jaeger


Dawn Upshaw and Donnacha Dennehy Professional Training Workshop
Apply to participate in a 2011-2012 Professional Training Workshop

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