Brett Wery is a woodwind professor at Schenectady County Community College who doesn’t get all the time he’d like to compose. So last year, when he was thinking about what he wanted to do on a sabbatical, his first thought was a composition project.
But the project had to meet certain guidelines, and he had to compete with other faculty seeking their own sabbatical projects.
“The college gives either two one-semester sabbaticals or one two-semester sabbatical,” Wery said. “The project had to involve the community in outreach, and it had to benefit the college community. I submitted my idea last spring to the committee.”
Wery soon got approval for a one-semester sabbatical, and the results of his project can be heard Thursday.
His project was to involve 12 area student musicians who played flute, clarinet or saxophone. The students would work in quartets on music from a classical repertoire during a weeklong session in August. At the end of that session, they gave Wery ideas on what they wanted him to compose for the quartets, and he spent the fall months writing the pieces.
The August session included lectures on chamber music, practice techniques and listening sessions on works by Haydn through Stockhausen.
Having their say
Wery’s first task was to find the players.
Brett Wery’s Project
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
WHERE: Taylor Auditorium, Schenectady County Community College
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 381-1234; email@example.com
“I canvassed band directors and private teachers and got teacher recommendations,” Wery said. “Some came from All-County or my Capital Region Wind Ensemble connections, and some played with the Empire State Youth Orchestra. Some were invited because I knew their playing, and others auditioned.”
He chose 10 high school musicians and two students from SCCC. They are flutes: Brittany Feuerstein (Niskayuna), Lauren Brooksby (Burnt Hills), Graham Wolfe (Ravena) and Alex Dumont (Shaker); clarinets: Erica Lockrow (Columbia), Emily Buckley Crist (Ravena), Alessandra Shellard (Niskayuna) and Elizabeth Tetlak (Schalmont); and saxophones: Tea Mottolese (Emma Willard), Ryan Perrotte (Ravena), Jake Benninger (SCCC) and Martin Stone (SCCC).
“After I had the quartets set, I did the summer camp every day,” Wery said. “We rehearsed the repertoire, and I lectured on music. The students came up with a plan for their three pieces to include form, rhythm, harmonic pallet and a theme.”
The four flutists wanted their piece to reflect what happened at the Boston Marathon. The four clarinetists wanted world music, with each movement reflecting different nationalities all tied to the same musical theme. The four saxophonists wanted a Latin dance suite.
“We hashed out the details, and they gave me my marching orders,” Wery said, laughing. “The project allowed me to do nothing but write every day. It was intense. It was great. Just knowing that the music would be performed was huge.”
He consulted with Dana Wilson, a noted composer of wind chamber music who teaches at Ithaca College, and she assisted musically — especially teaching him when to call a piece done — and showed him how to better organize composition lessons for aspiring composers, he said.
Wery finished his pieces by November. Camp had given him an idea of the students’ facility, but he still wanted to push them a bit and not tailor the parts to individual talents, he said.
There were perks to each commission. In the flute work, “A Tough and Resilient Town,” each of the three movements’ titles came from newspaper headlines. While the first movement was festive and the finale very resolved, Wery said he jumped at the chance to write atonal harmonies for the second movement, which focused on the actual bombing. The quartet was difficult to write because it required more sophisticated harmony, was busier and also used a piccolo and an alto flute.
“The movements are very contrasting with a lot of symbolism,” said flutist Brooksby. “The parts trade off, and we do percussive techniques like flutter tonguing and key pops.”
She especially liked working with the other flutists, whom she hadn’t met before, and learning to play music without needing a conductor.
“It was an intense environment. There was a lot to learn,” Brooksby said.
For the clarinet piece, “Four World Variants,” Wery enjoyed the research to create Japanese-like tone clusters, African drumming techniques, a European fugue and an exotically colored baccanale from the New World. Lockrow said she loved working with Wery and seeing how their piece was created.
“It was so much fun,” she said.
“Latin Dance for Saxophones” was the toughest commission, Wery said, because he had to get the rhythms just right and tasty to create the Latin waltz, tango and passé dobles.
The students will record the quartets later for the college archives, and Wery will begin promoting the pieces.
“They’re good for college groups,” he said. “What’s exciting is the clarinet quartet will get a second hearing at the clarinet conference in Baton Rouge [Louisiana] later this year. It already has legs.”
Would he do all this again?
“The kids were a joy to work with,” he said. “They were the cream of the crop and very responsible, worked hard and had supportive parents. I think the kids loved the pieces. They seemed really into them and that they came close to what they wanted. And I’m a much better teacher.”