is an audible demarcation of time.
Just as visual artists work in space, musicians work
Cindy McTee's latest composition, an eight-minute overture
commissioned by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, pays homage to that fact.
is an exploration of how musical time shapes a composition," says the
University of North Texas Regents Professor of composition.
The piece begins slowly, as if in a holding place.
Then a pulse emerges, takes control and provides the driving force behind
a sustained, highly energized second section.
this section, the music frequently moves in circular patterns, or ostinatos,
making it possible to suspend time and continue a forward progression.
This is possible because musical time is not like ordinary
clock time, according to McTee.
"It is more like the kind of time experienced when
reading a story. It's almost imaginary repeating,
reversing, accelerating, decelerating, and possibly stopping," she says.
just as an author develops a character, McTee develops patterns of sound,
moving them forward and backward. But in Timepiece
she's not telling a specific story. She's sharing the passing of time.
"Part of the joy of listening to this piece is identifying
patterns and following them through their development," she says.
first heard Timepiece
in February during the Dallas Symphony Orchestra's Centennial Celebration.
It was met with favorable reviews:
"With crosscuttings of time signatures, little rhythmic
gestures were dovetailed and set scrambling one after another. The piece
was exhilarating, and cleverly wrought," wrote Scott Cantrell of the Dallas
The Dallas Symphony Orchestra will perform Timepiece
again in Birmingham, England, while on tour this fall, and in New York's
Carnegie Hall in February. In March its conductor, Andrew Litton, will
perform the piece with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
In addition, the College Band Directors' National Association
commissioned McTee to write the wind version of Timepiece.
It will be debuted by the UNT Wind Symphony during the association's 2001
conference in February.
During the spring semester she will be on professional
leave writing her first symphony, which was commissioned by the National
Symphony Orchestra for its 2001-02 season and European tour.
"I'm in a feeding mode for that piece," McTee says,
referencing the start of her creative process.
"I'm reading, listening, sketching. I'm trying to eliminate
the clutter to make mental space for work," she says.
McTee composes, she spends half her time working on computer, developing
sounds and patterns.
Her computer is networked to an electronic keyboard
(which is used for input) and synthesizers (which are used for output),
allowing her to hear what she is composing.
The other half of her time is spent in silence on her
couch with a notebook and pencil.
is just as important to me as sound," she says.
In that silence she imagines sound.
But even in her head she cannot always hear exactly
what she is composing.
Her primary teacher, respected Polish composer Krzysztof
Penderecki, told her to compose slightly beyond what she could hear.
"There is a fine line between composing responsibly
and taking risks, composing to grow," she says. "If I could hear everything
I was writing, I wouldn't be growing as a composer."
So, on her computers and in the silence, McTee develops
the material sounds
to work with for a particular composition.
also develops a theory of what she wants to do with that material.
Much of her recent thinking about music is informed
by the writings of Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung, who felt that creative
energy springs from the tension between the oppositions of thought and
feeling, of mind and body, of objectivity and subjectivity.
Jung's concept manifests itself in McTee's music through
the integration and reconciliation of opposing elements.
Once her materials are ready, McTee aligns the details
of the piece, juxtaposing her pitch worlds (dissonance, consonance) and
rhythmic patterns to find a balance.
is actually very similar to what a scientist does," she says. "We develop
a theory and then we test the theory until we have a final product that
either works or not."
Albert Einstein, who once said, "After a certain level
of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics,
plasticity and form," would probably agree.
However, McTee says she never really knows if her composition
works until she hears it played for the first time.
"My computers are sophisticated, but they are not really
capable of emulating an actual orchestra," she says. "The first rehearsal
is always scary."
the Dallas Symphony Orchestra first rehearsed the piece on Tuesday before
a Thursday performance.
"It was in pretty good shape," she says. "I was pleased
with what I heard, for the most part. And what I didn't like I fixed before
the next day's rehearsal."
knew what to expect from a premiere, because during the nearly four years
she spent with Penderecki one
in Poland and three at Yale she
attended many of his rehearsals.
learned much more than music from him," she says. "He showed me what it
was like to be a composer the
struggle, the responsibility and the enormous pressure, as well as the
also learned the value of having a supportive teacher. "His frequent encouragement
of my work did much to bolster my confidence."
Today, she tries to do the same for her students.
"Young people have their hands on the pulse of something
vibrant and energizing," she says. "I encourage them to use that in their
work and to take risks."
In doing so, she keeps her own creativity fresh.
"I learn more from my students than from anywhere else,"
she says. "In trying to guide them, I have to constantly evaluate my own
McTee says beyond rejuvenating her creativity and continuing
her own education, she has found an additional value to teaching her art
"I'm not dependent on my art to live, so I'm freer
to be truly creative," she says.
Thus universities, the places where ideas are shared
and learned, have become an even more critical part of our societal fabric
as patrons of the arts, according to McTee.
"A university is a place where an artist can find support
without having to compromise personal style and expression."