Art Talk: The Tallahassee Composer’s Orchestra

by Tim Storhoff

All artists have a different creative process as their work moves from conception to fruition. Composers, particularly those writing for orchestra, face a unique set of challenges in bringing their creations to life. Even established composers have trouble hearing their pieces performed, bringing Pulitzer Prize winning composer Kevin Puts to write, “Every composition student is told never to write a long piece for orchestra because it will never be played. This is good advice.” While orchestras experiment with ways to reach new audiences, they still primarily perform selections from the classical music canon that has developed over the last 100+ years and mostly features dead, white, male European composers.

Throughout Florida, our universities are training the next generation of composers who all hope to hear their works move from the written page or computer screen to the concert hall. In Tallahassee, some of these composers have rallied musicians with a passion for contemporary music to guarantee that new pieces will be heard. In anticipation of the Tallahassee Composer’s Orchestra’s debut concert on Monday, November 25, I chatted with composer/conductor and orchestra co-founder Jamie Whitmarsh about the group and their upcoming performance.

Tallahassee Composer's OrchestraDCA: Jamie, this seems like a great project that will benefit not just the Tallahassee music community but promising young composers more broadly. Where did the idea for the Tallahassee Composer’s Orchestra come from?
JW: The TCO began last spring when Joshua Burel and I were hanging out and talking about composition related topics. Somehow it evolved to where we were both quite optimistic about assembling a group from the ground up to perform new music. Additionally, from the beginning we were both in agreement about programming Daniel Nelson’s Clarinet Concerto. So we knew fairly early on that this wouldn’t necessarily just be a concert of music by Tallahassee composers, since Nelson currently lives in Europe.

DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs really believes in the importance of supporting individual artists, since they create the works that fill our galleries and performance halls. Previous recipients of our Individual Artist Fellowship for music composition have used their awards to support the performance of their work, but putting an ensemble together is not easy. What challenges have you faced while forming the TCO?
JW: There is always a chance that something like this could have problems getting off the ground. Assembling a 50+ piece orchestra from scratch is no small task! I think there were a couple of advantages we had going into this. One advantage that helped us recruit was that Josh and I had performed with or worked in some capacity with many of the performers in the group. Additionally, we are very much in the trenches with these performers. For instance, Josh is the concertmaster and I am performing the solo part on Joseph Craven’s Concerto for Tenor Pan in C. So there is definitely an attitude between Josh and myself that we don’t want to ask our performers to do anything we wouldn’t do.

DCA: Florida has produced a number of successful composers, and this concert will be featuring pieces by yourself and Joshua Burel who are currently local. Are there any Florida composers you’ve come to admire or who have influenced your work? 
JW: Since I’m from Oklahoma, I’m not as familiar with the composition culture in the lower half of Florida as I might be in a few years. I have certainly enjoyed working with Ladislav Kubik and the rest of the composition faculty at FSU. Clifton Callender’s Metamorphoses is a great piece. Working with Dr. Zwiilch is great as well; being able to form that relationship over time has been beneficial.

The Tallahassee Composers Orchestra rehearsing the Concerto for Tenor Pan in C. Photo by Bryan McNamara.

Jamie Whitmarsh leads the Tallahassee Composer’s Orchestra in rehearsing the Concerto for Tenor Pan in C. Photo by Bryan McNamara.

DCA: What can you tell me about the pieces that will be performed on Monday night?
JW: The concert opens with Crooked Sketch by Joshua Burel. It runs around 3 and a half minutes, and is designed to be a flashy concert opener. Following that will be my piece For Many Chairs (my crow some funny). If you were to pronounce the title several different ways, the nature of the piece might reveal itself a bit. The piece that will close the first half is Joseph Craven’s Concerto for Tenor Pan in C. For this performance, Joseph will be flying in to conduct the orchestra, as I am performing the solo part. The second half will begin with Joshua Burel’s work Incomplete (six), a fifteen minute work exploring the nature of Man’s incompleteness without God. Closing the concert will be Daniel Nelson’s Clarinet Concerto, with the solo part being performed by Lisa Kachouee. This piece is fantastic and will surely be a crowd pleaser!

DCA: After the group’s debut on Monday night, where do you see the Tallahassee Composer’s Orchestra going in the future?
JW: It is hard to say right now where the TCO may go in the future. Certainly the vibe in rehearsals is that this is something that should continue, and the performers all seem quite enthused. What form any potential future projects take is still anyone’s guess. Since we draw heavily from the student population at FSU, there is certainly a concern about overtaxing the performers or distracting them from their studies. At the same time, if this were established to be something that occurs annually, then performers could know that ahead of time and set aside room in their schedules. In the future, we’d like to see TCO concerts split the program between two works from Tallahassee based composers and two works from composers outside the area. We certainly believe a group like this is valuable and hope it will continue to premiere new works and expose listeners to more of the great composers working today.

The Tallahassee Composer’s Orchestra debut concert will be in the Opperman Music Hall on Florida State University’s campus at 8:00 PM on Monday, November 25. The concert is free and open to the public.

Art Talk: Division Intern Katherine Laursen

by Tim Storhoff

Division intern Katherine Laursen. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

Division intern Katherine Laursen. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

Katherine Laursen joined the team at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs at the end of August as an intern for the 2013-2014 school year. Born and raised in Dunedin, Florida, Katherine graduated with honors from the Florida State University with a Bachelor of Music Education in 2005 and a Masters of Music Education in 2011. She taught in the Pinellas County Schools for six years: first as the Assistant Director of Band and Chorus at Largo High School for three years and then as the Director of Chorus and Strings at Dunedin Highland Middle School. Katherine has been a member of the Festival Singers of Florida since its formation in 2008 and has previously been a member of groups including the Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, the Zielinski Singers, Opera Tampa, and Tapped In, a professional tap company. In addition to all of that, she is also actively involved in the Scottish dance community, is a staff singer and Chorister Assistant at St. John’s Episcopal Church, and has another internship at the Tallahassee Ballet. Currently, she is working on her MA in Arts Administration at the Florida State University. I recently asked Katherine about her artistic background and her thoughts on the importance of the arts in Florida.

DCA: What are some of the earliest arts experiences you can remember?

Katherine: My earliest memory has to be from when I was around 4 years old. I remember dancing around in my bathing suit and Sunday school tights to Kiss Me, Kate, my favorite musical at the time. I grew up in a house filled with music. My great-uncle worked for MGM, so we would watch every movie musical he worked on. My parents realized they couldn’t wait any longer, so they enrolled me in ballet at Patricia Ann Dance Studio in Dunedin, FL. They couldn’t have known then what a great home it would become for me.

DCA: What made you decide on a career in the arts?

Katherine: Growing up whenever I was dancing, singing, playing, writing or making something, I knew who I was. I would spend hours at the dance studio only to come home to practice my flute. I wrote poem after poem in my journals. In the summers, my parents sent me to the Dunedin Fine Arts Center for classes, Writer’s Camp or the Florida Dance Festival multi-week intensives. When I got older, I added theater and voice to my experience. It was only in my senior year of high school that I chose voice as my main area of study. I continued to study dance and flute and my teaching experiences led me to add guitar, color-guard and viola to my arsenal. With the arts, you are never done learning and growing. I can’t imagine my life without the arts, so it makes perfect sense that my goal is to provide access to the arts to everyone who wants it.

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Katherine dancing with other members of Tapped In, Inc. during an event in Tampa in 2011. Photo submitted and used by permission of Katherine Laursen.

DCA: While your arts background is largely in music, you’ll be working with arts more broadly here at the Division of Cultural Affairs.  What are some of your artistic interests outside of musical performance?

Katherine: My connections to the arts originally came from dance. I always make my way back to ballet because I feel the most connected to who I am there. Ballet has been in my life since my first memories, so I believe it’s connected to every part of who I am now. When I go back to dance class, even as an adult, the world disappears and everything is focused on the beauty of the art. Because of this connection, I am able to carry that passion and focus into all other aspects of art in my life. I discovered my love for music in dance class. I discovered my love of design and color through costumes and lighting. Dance is beautiful, but it is enhanced and complimented by all of the arts and that relationship goes both ways.

DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida.”  What do you think when you hear that phrase?  Why do you believe arts and culture matter to our state?

Katherine: I know that I cannot separate the arts from their impact on my life. In that same way, I don’t think that you can separate the culture of Florida from its impact on building our state economically and otherwise. There is so much to be said for loving where you live. As a Florida native, I have grown up watching my state find its identity. When people feel a part of the place they live, they are more likely to contribute to making it better. Incorporating the diverse culture of our state is a challenge, but how lucky are we as Floridians to have such a plethora of arts and culture to embrace?

Inside the DCA: An Intern’s Perspective

by Bob Evans

Bob Evans, former intern and current staff member.

Bob Evans, former intern and current staff member at the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs.

I have this theory. The kids who dream about growing up and becoming astronauts, ballerinas, or other such fantastic professions usually end up as accountants or telecommunications network engineers. Not to say that those aren’t fantastic jobs, but to the average American eight-year-old, it’s much more accessible to imagine space or the stage. But the kids who shoot for, say, architecture or constitutional law might end up being astronauts, ballerinas, or…arts administrators?

Ok, it’s a little trite, as far as theories go.

All this to say I never would have pictured myself as a musician, let alone an arts administrator, let alone working for Florida’s state arts agency. I moved to Tallahassee to pursue an arts administration degree in the Florida State University’s College of Music, and, along the way, I somehow impressed someone enough to be invited to join the Division of Cultural Affairs as an intern.

I’ll be the first to admit to pretending I know more about the various branches and tendrils of state and local government than I actually do (with apologies to my dear, sweet, high school AP Government teacher). I understood that a state arts agency was typically a grant-making organization, but I had no clue how it functioned under the purview of state government. After seven months here at the DCA, I can assuredly say that it is just as complicated as expected but more wonderful than I could have imagined.

My duties include running for coffee, picking up dry cleaning, driving people to the airport…no, that’s wrong! All throughout my internship, I’ve been treated like a staff member, and given just as many responsibilities. I’ve worked with the Florida Artists Hall of Fame and seen firsthand the wealth of artists that promote and preserve Florida’s culture. I’ve helped organize Florida’s Poetry Out Loud contest, under the guidance of the recently retired Ken Crawford. This program, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, encourages high school students to memorize and recite poetry by truly great poets. These students learn how to perform on stage, and by memorizing a poem, they internalize it, which is such an under-appreciated skill in today’s world of instant access. Along with my brilliant colleague Tim Storhoff, I co-author a monthly review of arts and culture events in Florida, titled “Culture in Florida” after the motto “Culture Builds Florida,” which we post at the end of each month on this very blog (shameless plug: check out March).

Florida Division of Cultural Affairs staff members in front of the Brokaw-McDougall House on Halloween.

Florida Division of Cultural Affairs staff members in front of the Brokaw-McDougall House on Halloween.

By far, the most heartening part of the job is reviewing reports where an individual or organization has received a grant of just a few thousand dollars and created inventive programming that is not only artistically resonant but engaging to a community. In those moments, when I realize what we’re doing at the DCA is directly impacting someone’s quality of life, I’m sure that this is what it’s all about. That’s the it.

Recently, due to my keenly honed ability to be in the right place at the right time, I was offered a part-time position working with Individual Artist Fellowships here at the Division. I can’t believe my luck! I’m getting paid to do what I love, and this blog post gets a happy ending after all.

Art Talk: Division Intern Bob Evans

by Tim Storhoff

Bob Evans joined the Division of Cultural Affairs team at the end of August. Originally from Coxsackie, New York, Bob studied bassoon performance and music education at the University of South Carolina. He came to Florida State University in 2011 to pursue a Master’s degree in Arts Administration. As the Division intern through the spring, Bob will have the opportunity to participate in many of our different programs. He has already been working with Poetry Out Loud, the Florida Artists Hall of Fame, and some of our grant programs. I recently spoke with Bob about his background in the arts and the importance of the arts for the state of Florida.

Bob Evans with his bassoon. Photo submitted and used by permission of Bob Evans.

DCA: What are some of the earliest arts experiences you can remember?
Bob: I don’t remember many specific arts experiences in my childhood. I feel like they were so ingrained into everyday life for me that maybe I just took them for granted. My father is a painter who idolizes Dalí, so I recall many of his prints in our house, and everyone in my family sings well, even if it’s just with the radio.

In terms of a significant arts experience, I don’t recall anything sticking out until I was about 14. I’d been playing bassoon for a year and made it into a local youth orchestra. I was pretty nervous before that first rehearsal because I had never played in an ensemble with strings before, so I wasn’t sure what it would be like. We started with Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Great Gate of Kiev” from Pictures at an Exhibition. I knew in that moment that I’d never be the same. That feeling of frisson when I heard those opening bars was what propelled me into a musical career. Of course, it was immediately dampened by my inability to read tenor clef and my complete lack of technical facility, but, thankfully, positive reinforcement trumps negative reinforcement.

DCA: You’re actively pursuing a degree in Arts Administration. What made you decide on a career in the arts?
Bob: Why does anyone decide on a career in the arts? The arts are important. They’re a basic human need essential for survival just as much as food, water, and shelter. Look at the creation of visual art and music in concentration camps during the Holocaust where, while fighting for their lives, people still produced powerful, meaningful art. I often think about that whenever I feel like I’m losing focus.

DCA: The Division of Cultural Affairs believes in the motto “Culture Builds Florida.” What do you think when you hear that phrase? Why do you believe arts and culture are important to our state?
Bob: I love hearing Culture Builds Florida! I wish we could adopt a “Culture Builds America” slogan. Imagine THAT on some bumper stickers! Culture Builds Florida says so much about what the arts can mean for a willing society. I know that in Florida, so much revenue comes from the arts: a single dollar’s investment can mean a return of 5 dollars! It’s amazing, but the trick is getting people to realize it. That’s another reason that I chose this career path. The arts mean business, not just here in Florida, but around the nation. I want to work to make sure that’s the case for a long time.

Cultural Conversation: Heather Stuyverson

by Jennifer Hoesing

Today’s post is an interview with our talented new intern, Heather Stuyverson. Heather is pursuing a Master’s degree in arts administration at the Florida State University College of Music. Why did Heather choose an arts administration career? Read on to find out.

Heather Stuyverson wears many hats. Among them - rocking the Stratocaster. (photo submitted)

How long have you been involved in arts and culture?

The arts have been a part of my life ever since I was in my mother’s womb.  My mother –a ballet teacher 30 years of her life– taught dance while she was pregnant with me. At three years old my mother put me in dance classes and my experience with the arts began.  I continued to dance throughout my childhood, but it was until I was seven I discovered my true artistic passion, music.

The instrument that drew me to music was the guitar.  Throughout my life I have played various genres on the guitar, but I mainly focused on studying the genres of classical and jazz guitar during my studies as an undergraduate at The Florida State University College of Music.  In 2006, after completing a Bachelors of Arts in Commercial Music, I worked at a prominent studio in Nashville, TN and had an amazing experience in learning the process of the music industry.  Four years later, I decided to return to FSU to pursue a Masters in Arts Administration and to dedicate my career to working for non-profit arts organizations.

Today my continued involvement with the arts includes completing my masters degree, serving as the house manager for all of the Florida State University School of Dance performances, serving on FSU’s Friends of Dance board, working at the FSU College of Music Admissions office, working as an intern for the Division of Cultural affairs, teaching guitar to seven private students, and performing around town as a guitarist in various settings.

Why have you chosen arts administration as a career path?

The arts have helped shape me into the person I am today.  Whether it is an undeniable musical progression, a dance sequence, or a color scheme in a painting, the arts strike a chord within my soul.  They have impacted me to not only see life from different perspectives but they have also enhanced and broadened my views on life.

Yet when I observe my peers it seems the arts do not have the same impact on their lives.  My friends seem to have a lack of interest in attending a symphony, theater or dance performance.  Because of this I often wonder, “Is the concert arts audience dying and specifically, is it dying within my generation?”

In today’s culture, it seems to me that popular artists are reaching their audiences in ways that other artists are not.  I think there is somewhat of an emotional disconnect occurring within our culture in regards to specific art forms. In light this disconnect, I chose to pursue a career in arts administration first because of my passion for the arts, and second because of my desire to broaden the arts audience. 

What do you think arts and culture contribute to Florida?

The arts and culture industry contribute to the State of Florida both intrinsically and extrinsically.  I often think about how our world is painted in color and not black and white.  There is an indisputable beauty that surrounds us everyday in the nature of our world.  I believe arts and culture only enhance that beauty of our world and furthermore our state.  They help us identify who we are as individuals and who we are as Floridians.  The arts and culture help bring communities together and are monumental in the education of our children.

It’s also important for business-minded individuals to see how arts and culture contribute to Florida’s economy. The question is often raised, “Why should we invest in the arts over investing in something more practical?” It has been researched and proven that for every $1 that is invested in the arts, $5 is invested back into the economy of Florida.  That is a 500% return on investment!  As well, the arts and culture industry in Florida is the third largest industry in our state.  Thus arts and culture are creating jobs and furthermore attracting tourists to Florida.

What is the single greatest contribution of arts and culture to your community?

Although Tallahassee is considered a small town compared to some of Florida’s more metropolitan areas, we still have a wealth of amazing local arts organizations, universities who are known for the arts and an incredible local arts agency.  As a Tallahassee-born-and-raised girl, I have seen how the arts and culture build relationships right here in this community.  I believe that’s the single greatest contribution.  The arts bring people together and they unify community members under one purpose.  Relationships between art teachers and students, community chorus members, fellow actors in a play, just to name a few, are invaluable and only strengthen a community.

Who’s your favorite artist or musician?

How could I choose just one?  The musicians that have been the most influential to me as an artist are Ana Vidovic (classical guitarist), Pat Metheny (jazz guitarist), Alex Fox (flamenco guitarist), Dianna Krall (jazz artist) and Alison Krauss (as an all-around musician).