Krisztina Der, Music Performance and Musicology
“Arranging for Unconventional Ensembles”
Given that unconventional ensembles represent a substantial performance mode in today's world of classical musicianship, knowledge and practical application of orchestral reduction and arrangement are extremely valuable skills for the aspiring professional musician. To this end, this research project seeks to study musical arrangements created for unconventional ensembles for the insights they provide into this artistic craft, and to put these techniques into practice by arranging Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály’s opera Háry János for a specific 'unconventional' ensemble of UMBC music majors. This study will include Stravinsky’s reduction of his own work Histoire du soldat, the King’s Singers’ reduction and transcription of Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, and Truman Harris’ reduction and transcription of Verdi’s La forza del destino. Additionally, by arranging Kodály’s little-known opera, this project aims to fulfil the historical purpose of arrangements (or transcriptions) as one of the chief means to make known the music of notable composers where a literal performance cannot take place.
How did you find out that you could do research in your field as an undergraduate?
I was oblivious to even the idea of conducting research in music, when I heard about the opportunity for undergraduate research at Welcome Week of my freshman year. Immediately, I began brainstorming ideas for a project. Later, I was able to talk to upperclassmen working on their own URA projects in music and became even more excited about the prospect of researching as an undergraduate!
What does it mean to do "research" in music?
Research in music is wonderfully complex in that there are so many ways to approach it! Music has its historical, sociological aspects to be studied but also has mathematical and scientific (physical, psychological) qualities open for exploration. Moreover, perhaps most uniquely to this field, there is the practical performance realm of music. It is the culmination of these three things that makes music such a fascinating and beautiful field to study.
How did you decide on your research project?
My goal, from the beginning of the URA application process, was to form a research topic which resulted in some form of artistic expression. I had many ideas that I brought to my advisor, Dr. Joseph Morin, who helped me sift through them for diamonds in the rough. On the journey toward writing a solid proposal, I came to several dead-ends in my research. Eventually, Dr. Morin and I stumbled upon musical compositions which could serve as models for a unique arranging project (performable material). Needless to say I was very excited and began work straight away!
What were you most excited about in regard to this project?
My URA project had to do with taking music written for orchestra and arranging it for an unconventional group of five musicians – not a traditional ensemble (such as a piano quintet or a woodwind quintet) – employing instruments that are not commonly grouped together. What made the project even more special was that I chose to arrange a largely unfamiliar piece of music from the orchestral literature, Zoltán Kodály's Háry János Suite, in order to help acquaint my audience with the idea of the original. This process of reduction was used frequently in the time before recordings widely were unavailable. Inviting a full orchestra to your living room was a ridiculous idea unless you were an aristocrat, so works would be reduced in efforts to bring the music to the people. Another special element of this research project involved replicating the sound of a unique instrument Kodály calls for in his work: the Hungarian hammer dulcimer, called the cimbalom.
Who did you seek out as a faculty mentor? How did you know that would be the right person?
Dr. Morin is the head of the Musicology program at UMBC. Since I had an artistic idea to pursue from a research perspective it was only natural that I turn to Dr. Morin for his advice. Furthermore, I knew from past experience that Dr. Morin would be willing to discuss my research ideas, support my goals, and share my enthusiasm for the subject of my study. Later, when I realized my research would also likely involve actual arranging, I turned to Dr. Linda Dusman, a professor of composition and instrumentation at UMBC, for her guidance in what was a largely unknown territory for me.
What courses or other experiences prepared you for this research project?
While I have a very musical background and have dabbled in arranging before, I had never before studied the constrained art or formally arranged a piece of music. That said, my work drew a great deal upon music theory classes I had taken prior to my research project.
What methods or activities were involved in your research?
My summer was filled with research: score comparisons and analysis, books on instrumentation, a meeting or two with both Dr. Morin and Dr. Dusman. In arranging, I found myself on vastly new turf. To aid me in this aspect of my research, I took a special projects class during the fall semester with Dr. Dusman in which we solely focused on studying instrumentation. She also took time during this class to give me advice regarding my evolving arrangement. During UMBC's Live Wire New music festival, I had the opportunity to participate in a master class with Italian composer and professor of composition at the Conservatorio “G.Nicolini” (Piacenza, Italy) Caterina Calderoni, in which she lectured on her own process in reducing and arranging Puccini's opera Tosca. Finally, after recruiting musicians to assist me, the work was rehearsed four to five times before its premiere performance.
What was the hardest part of your research?
The hardest part of the process was the actual arranging. Arranging a piece of music is kind of like asking a visual artist to replicate the Mona Lisa at a different scale, using different mediums and different colors--but still replicating, being true to the ideas Di Vinci conveyed by the original. It's all a puzzle, but a worthwhile puzzle, as not everyone can go to the Louvre and see the original for themselves.
Does your research connect back to the courses you are taking?
The research didn't connect back to any particular course per se. However, the project had to do with arranging music; I am a musician. Given that unconventional ensembles are becoming increasingly common with last-minute gigs and the often limited resources musicians have, arranging is an extremely valuable skill for a musician to be comfortable with. Moreover, I've discovered that though the arranging process may seem confined to literally replicating the original work, an amazing arrangement requires lots of creativity!
I learned an invaluable amount from this experience! All of this, and a million other things: how to coordinate an ensemble's rehearsal schedule (a tricky task in itself!), how to find opportunities for the work to be performed, how a double bass is played exactly, that the interiors of grand pianos are all different, and so on.
What else were you involved in on campus during the time you worked on your research?
Musically, I was performing with WindStroke, a flute and harp duo I formed with harpist Aimee Raechel. I was also preparing to solo with the UMBC Orchestra at the time, in addition to working on an exciting project in collaboration with the UMBC Theater Department (the fruits of which can be heard in the podcast of Susanna Centlivre's The Basset Table.
What are your plans for after UMBC?
I plan to attend graduate school, where I look forward to continue pursuing opportunities for performance, teaching, creative research, and multimedia artwork.
What advice do you have for other undergraduate about the research opportunities at UMBC?
Find a faculty mentor who is willing and excited to help you refine your ideas, and get started on that URA Application as soon as possible!
Read more in the September 27th issue of The Retriever Weekly.