I was recently asked to be a guest blogger on Polyphonic.org – the national forum for orchestral musicians.  Below is my first blog post that you can find on www.polyphonic.org:
 
Composer’s Corner with Jake Runestad

It is a pleasure to be a guest blogger on Polyphonic.org and I am excited to share a behind-the-scenes look at my latest project: Dreams of the Fallen, an exciting new work for orchestra, chorus, and solo piano commissioned by a consortium of orchestras, private sector donors, and acclaimed pianist Jeffrey Biegel – a champion of new music.  With each of my posts, I plan to discuss an aspect of composing a new work: from the planning stages through to the premiere.

Project Beginnings

When Jeffrey approached me about this commission, we immediately began a discussion about a theme for the work.  We explored a few ideas but nothing really stuck with me and so I retreated into my introspective-composer-state (a trait of any self-respecting composer type…) and began to rack my brain to find the perfect answer.  After years of utilizing this brain-racking technique, I have found that a great idea often appears after allowing my subconscious mind to process a question or a topic. Unfortunately, the timing of the epiphany may or may not be in my schedule’s favor.

As I was waiting for the “ah-ha” moment, I went about life as normal: working away on other commissions, catching up on emails, fulfilling score orders, checking Facebook…and while partaking in the highly-academic, latter activity, I came across a video about men and women from the U.S.A. who had served in Iraq and returned home with severe cases of PTSD.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), is an anxiety disorder resulting from a psychologically traumatic experience and can be exhibited as “flashback episodes, nightmares, emotional numbing, difficulty concentrating, hyper-vigilance, repeated upsetting memories of the event,” and more.1 I was incredibly moved by their stories and began to think more deeply about the experience of war and its impact on an individual; not only while one is in the thick of it, but also once one is removed from it and attempts to assimilate back into everyday life. These lasting impacts change a veteran’s (and anyone else who has had an intensely traumatic experience) day-to-day feelings and societal interactions and have for hundreds of years.


NY Times: The Hard Road Back

Click here for videos about returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan:

 


After hearing these stories, I was hooked.  I could not stop thinking about what life must be like to have seen what some of our soldiers have seen, to come home and constantly be on edge for fear of being killed, and to have flashbacks of explosions and other traumatic experiences. I decided that these are stories that need to be told and I would like to tell them through music.

Instrumentation

The instrumentation of solo piano, large chorus, and orchestra is massive.  The sheer number of performers and musical power that this ensemble can put forth demands a topic to match its weight. While there are very few pieces in the repertoire for this instrumentation (Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy and William Bolcom’s Prometheus being two of them), I found it to be perfect for this theme. The choir provides contextual information through the singing of words while the experiencer of war, represented by the solo piano, provides an emotional response to the sung text. The almost limitless timbral and textural possibilities of the orchestra create the sonic landscape as we are taken through the various stages of the war experience.

Dreams of the Fallen
 


I am both excited and intimidated by this new work.  The topic is heavy, the instrumentation is epic, and it demands great respect from all of the parties involved. However, I already know that it will be one of the most important works that I will write and for that, I know I am fulfilling my duty as an artist.

Stay tuned for my next entry as I begin to discuss the title, “Dreams of the Fallen,” and how and why I selected the texts by acclaimed poet and Iraq War veteran Brian Turner.

Be the change,
 
 
Jake Runestad