A profile of CCE's First Annual Climber Commission recipient: Jarron Carlson.
The Conductors' Collective at Escalante is excited to announce the creation of our annual Climber Commission. Each year, the Collective and our resident ensemble, 67hundred, will commission a new work which will be a part of the seminar repertoire for participants at the Retreat and performed by 67hundred on their annual tour the following fall. The commission will alternate each year between a choral and chamber orchestra/winds piece. Conductors learn immensely from studying new music, particularly music for which there are no recordings, which makes their score study more introspective and detailed; this is another aspect of the program that sets the CCE Retreat apart.
We aim to award the Climber Commission to emerging composers with exceptional promise and integrity from the regions surrounding Escalante––those whose artistic trajectories have been shaped by their experience in places of natural beauty. The commissioned composer will be in residence at the appropriate Retreat to observe, advise, counsel our participants, and witness the premiere performance of their new work in Singing Canyon.
This year, we are thrilled to award our first annual Climber Commission to Jarron Carlson, a native of Salt Lake City who studies composition at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Jarron is writing a choral piece with texts by Everett Ruess, a "vagabond for beauty" who wandered the deserts of Escalante and wrote extensively about his absolute surrender to the beauty of the place. We recently interviewed Jarron about his journey and approach to composition.
CCE: We understand that you were fascinated with classical music from an early age and displayed an intellectual curiosity about music long before college. Can you tell us what led you to your love for music, and how this made you want to become a musician and composer?
JC: Since I was very young, I have been fascinated with creation and the creative process. Some of my earliest memories are of me playing in sand boxes or on beaches constructing little castles and making up stories about them. Later, I loved video games like Minecraft or Roblox in which you could construct whatever you imagined. I remember that my first dream career was actually in architecture. Then, around the time I was 10 or 11 years old, before I even started taking piano lessons, I started to wonder about creating my own music. I would log on to a free online notation program and essentially arrange notes randomly until my ears were satisfied. When I was 12 years old, my mother encouraged me to start taking piano lessons. However, I didn’t start taking my lessons or music in general seriously until high school. In my freshman year, I really submerged myself into the world of music. Following our final choral showcase, I decided that I needed to dedicate my life to creating music. Soon after, my high school chamber choir commissioned a piece from me. The experience of having one of your own works performed in public for the first time is utterly indescribable. To know that sounds that came almost exclusively from your own imagination are bringing people together for a shared experience––even just for a moment––is a truly magical feeling. That creation of community, combined with the sheer joy music-making brings me, is why I am a musician.
CCE: What's it like being in a conservatory environment at the San Francisco Conservatory? What are some of the challenges and benefits?
JC: I enjoy my time at SFCM immensely. I thrive on being surrounded by other people passionate about the same thing I am. It makes it easy to collaborate with other artists, build a strong professional network, and make like-minded friends. However, due to the intensive nature of conservatories, it can be hard to find time to interact with other forms of art and to educate yourself in disciplines outside of music. So, I try to spend as much of my free time reading and exploring San Francisco as I am able. San Francisco is a city filled with art. When you have free time, you’re never more than twenty minutes away from an exhibition or some kind of art event.
CCE: What is your favorite medium or ensemble for which to compose and why?
JC: Right now, my main compositional passion is without a doubt vocal music. I love the human voice as an instrument for a few reasons. First, it is my opinion that no other instrument can match its expressive potential. Second, the marriage of music and text creates magic. Last, I adore the diversity of sound that vocalists bring to the table. Sure, violins or cellos or clarinets vary slightly in timbre from each other. However, no two human voices sound the same. Every singer’s voice is completely their own and distinct from any other.
CCE: When writing choral music, what sorts of subjects and texts appeal to you and why?
JC: I tend to choose texts that are sort-of allegorical or have a sense of grandeur and employ themes of compassion or community. I’m almost certain that I tend to find music more easily in these texts because the power of music to inspire compassion and community is one of the main reasons I am a musician.This is also an effect of choral singing in general; the coming together of people to create harmony with one another creates community naturally.
CCE: Growing up in Utah, you were surrounded by natural beauty. Did this provide artistic inspiration for you, and if so, in what ways? How do you think others can grow artistically from places of natural beauty?
JC: Yes, absolutely. I’m often told that my music almost activates a visual sense. I think this probably comes from my early attempts on the piano to conjure up images of the natural world (especially the mountains or bodies of water) and my love for madrigalisms. If you seek to surround yourself with places of natural beauty regularly, I believe some of the magic that radiates from those places will leak into your art. There’s also something to be learned from the clarity and simplicity of nature’s logic and the unaffected way in which it presents itself. In fact, that might be where most of the beauty comes from. Nature is never trying hard to impress. It just creates and recreates endlessly.
CCE: You've been asked to set text by Everett Ruess for this commission. Talk to us about how his story and poetry has spoken to you, and how it's guided your composition.
JC: I really want to capture the sense of exploration and wonder within Ruess’ poetry in my setting. Even if you didn’t know anything about him, I think these themes would come through rather clearly. All of his poems have a kind of child-like wonder for the natural world in them. His language is unpretentious and simple but with fantastic imagery. I hope to preserve and emphasize the imagery while still keeping the piece simple and organic.
Conductors who join us for our choral retreat will have the opportunity to study Jarron's newly-composed work and work with him one-on-one. Applications are open here; those who apply before 1/1/20 will receive 10% off their tuition.
Come join us in the vast and beautiful Utah desert to experience what inspires us!