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Silas Durocher Talks About Composing

New College of Florida News. Sarasota, FL. November 2010.

(November 22, 2010) When the sun sets on February 12, 2011, the Sarasota Orchestra will perform a program of mostly new music in celebration of the College’s 50th Anniversary. The finale – to be followed by fireworks over the bay and a birthday cake — will be a brand new, commissioned work by New College alumnus Silas Durocher, who graduated in 2007 with a concentration in music. Midway through the creative process, the young composer shared his thoughts on the honor of this commission, his connections to the local music scene and how New College influenced his career as a musician.

Silas DurocherThe concert takes place on the New College Bayfront at 7 pm and is free and open to the public. For details, call 941-487-4888 or visit 50th.ncf.edu.

Q: How did you feel when you found out that New College was going to commission one of your pieces to celebrate its 50th anniversary?

A: Naturally, I was thrilled to hear about the commission. As a composer, any chance to work with an orchestra like Sarasota’s is an incredible opportunity, and as a New College alum, I’m very excited to be part of this big celebration. I was a bit nervous at first about the idea of 1,000 of my fellow alums making up the audience, but as I worked on the piece, I became more and more confident that I should just do my thing… New College has always been supportive of that. Now that I’ve embraced that, I couldn’t imagine a better audience.

Q: How long will the piece be? Who are the solo musicians? Tell us a little about it.

A: The composition will be about 6-7 minutes, and is scored for a full orchestra plus an ensemble of five solo musicians. The soloists–chamber rock ensemble, Silas Durocher and Everybody Knows–is the same group that I performed with at my thesis concert and at New Music New College–we also recorded an album, Thesis Statement, with Bud Snyder in Sarasota. The ensemble consists of Bharat Chandra (principal musician, Sarasota Orchestra) on clarinet, Sasha von Dassow (Musicians Out of the Box String Quartet) on cello, John Miller (principal musician, Sarasota Orchestra) on upright bass, Garret Dawson (Dickey Betts Band) on drum set, and myself on electric guitar.

Stylistically, this piece is very funky. I’m excited about it because the music is much more honest and unforgivingly “me” than some previous efforts. The orchestra will be pushed into new territory, with the Everybody Knows ensemble leading the way. Though I believe the piece will be enjoyed by standard orchestral concert-goers, it is indeed written with New College at heart. The fierce independence and confidence that is typical of New College students has most certainly been evident in my compositional process for this work. So yes, this piece is contemporary classical music. And yes, this piece is rock n’ roll. And yes, this piece is funkier than a mosquito’s tweeter.

Silas DurocherQ: What is your “process” for composing; how do you approach it? How would you characterize your musical genre?

A: I’m always writing music–always coming up with fragments of ideas, riffs, melodies. When it comes time to get serious about working on a specific composition, there are usually one or two ideas that have been developing in my head and in my hands that stand out above the rest. At that point I just dive in. I consider various options for instrumentation, different approaches to developing the initial idea, what I want my audience to experience, etc. But mostly I just try to write music that I would like to listen to, and then keep my fingers crossed that other people have similar taste. My hands are on the guitar constantly during this process. I set aside large chunks of time to work… I hit my peak creative productivity several hours in. There are a lot of 12 hour days of composing. Nothing could make me happier.

My musical genre is always changing depending on what I’m listening to and who I’m playing with. I’m very influenced by other musicians that excite me. The vast majority of my inspiration comes from other music. But in large part, especially with my compositional work, I like to explore the world between “classical” music and “popular music,” namely funk and rock n’ roll.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your history with the orchestra.

A: I first worked with some of the Sarasota Orchestra members as a composition student at New College. My first project was working with the wind quintet from the orchestra, which is where I met Bharat. The following year I worked with the brass quintet. And I was always going to the orchestra performances, and especially their chamber concerts (which were free or very cheap for students!). Then for my senior thesis I put together an ensemble that included Bharat and John Miller from the orchestra. I recorded an album with this group, and Leif Bjaland showed up for our CD release concert. Turns out he had a really good time. He asked me if I had written any orchestral music… I told him that I hadn’t but I’d be happy to write something for him. He took me up on that with a commission that the Sarasota Orchestra performed in February 2009.

It was an incredible learning experience. While I’m proud of many elements of that composition, there are a lot of things I wish I’d done differently. So I’m tremendously excited to have another chance to work with the SO, to push the boundaries further than I did the first time around, to rock a little harder.

Silas DurocherQ: What are you doing, musically, right now?

A: I’m touring and recording with an all original band called Soulgrass Rebellion (www.soulgrassrebellion.com), which plays reggae, rock n’ roll, soul music, ska… lots of styles I have loved for a long time. We have a blast writing music and playing shows together, and we’re in the process of making our first full-length album. I’m also working on some other compositions, and I recently saw the completion of a project with Sarasota’s Musicians Out of the Box String Quartet. MOB commissioned me to compose a piece for their recently released CD of music for children. The composition is based on three poems by e.e. cummings and is scored for string quartet and a speaker.

Q: How did your New College experience inform your decision to become a professional musician and composer?

A: I had already committed my life to music before coming to New College, but my time there gave me an incredible number of tools with which to approach the creative process. My time in class and in tutorials was invaluable, as was my experience playing with Stone Soup, my college band. That time opened my eyes to new styles of music and educated me on theory and composition. Before I was studying music academically, I was casually considering dropping out of college after my first year because I wanted to just pursue music. So I decided to have a chat with the music professor, who I hadn’t yet met. After a lengthy conversation with Steve Miles we decided that I wouldn’t drop out, that I would pursue music at New College, and that I would learn the necessary skills to write the funkiest orchestral piece the world has ever heard. And we’re sticking to that plan.

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