Repertoire Notes: Twenty Thousand Folds by Devon Tipp

Young composer Devon Tipp (also known as Devon Yasamune Toyotomi) writes about his experiences at the rarescale 10th Anniversary Competition
“My first trip to London” - what a simple sentence fragment, don’t you think? Let’s add some other items I didn’t mention: you’re a shortlisted finalist for your first composition contest AND it’s your first trip to London. Between jetlag from visiting Finland just two days prior and my general inability to navigate any city, I was fairly nervous.

I was one of five shortlisted student composers for rarescale’s 10th Anniversary Composition Competition. When I composed “20,000 Folds” for the competition, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting involved in. I knew about Kingma’s microtonal flute from studying with my late composition teacher Dean Drummond, but I’d never written a single microtonal piece for flute, let alone microtonal alto flute. This thought alone was enticing enough to enter the competition. This was also my first experience writing for guitar and I wanted to see if I could make the twenty four tones on the alto flute compatible with the guitar (which works best in twelve tone equal temperament because of the frets.)

I did not know what to expect when walking into the student workshop. Additionally, I was very excited to hear what the other student composers had written. I often wonder what other kinds of music I am competing with whenever I enter a composition contest. For the first time, I would get to hear the other compositions I was shortlisted with, and they would not just be words on a page. The other composers were William Hunt, Barry O’Halpin Azlee Babar and Montgomery Sadler. They were refreshing to listen to and I learned a great deal about writing for the Kingma System flute, and flute in general. One particularly useful comment Carla Rees made about flute technique was that it takes more air to play flute than is does the tuba. The alto flute and bass flutes require even more air than the standard concert flute.

Getting to hear and see the interaction between the composers and the performers was really fascinating. With each piece, the composers would give some information about the piece and about themselves. The performers then took the information about the pieces, clarify and then offer advice if necessary. What I found most enjoyable was that not a single piece sounded like the other. Five very different pieces all in one day. Three months later, I am astounded at how I still moved by the master class.

Getting to know the other finalists was the most invigorating part of my trip. Being able to attach voices and faces to the other compositions was so refreshing – I could leave knowing that any of us could have won the competition and deserved it. Their backgrounds were as interesting as their compositions. They ranged from theremin players to multi media artists. Such experiences are few and far between and I am so grateful that I could participate. I wish that the workshop competition were a more common phenomena – it’s puts faces to names which we might view as competition, when in fact they are much more than that: these names are our colleagues and future collaborators. The workshop humanized the competition and took the stress and terror out of the word “competition.”

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