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6 Questions to Composer John Plant

Composer / pianist John Plant was born in Yonkers, New York in 1945, and studied composition at Middlebury College with George Todd, and at McGill University with Bruce Mather and Charles Palmer. His music reflects his fascination with literature, languages and the human voice. The voice of Jocelyne Fleury inspired a series of settings of Lorca, E.E. Cummings, Sappho, Ungaretti, St. John of the Cross and others, for various ensembles ranging from piano trio to full orchestra. Recent works include an opera, The Shadowy Waters; Babel is a Blessing, eight songs in eight languages; and settings of Elizabeth Bishop's poems “Sandpiper” and “Sunday, 4 A.M.” for soprano Suzie LeBlanc.  His operatic ballad I Will Fly Like a Bird, on the death of Robert Dziekanski, will be premiered at the 2012 Scotia Festival in Halifax. He taught composition, music history, and music fundamentals for dancers at Concordia University from 1993–2008.

[1] Briefly describe your musical / sound art background and education, formal and informal.

Formal: studies in composition with George Todd at Middlebury 1965–67, with Bruce Mather and Charles Palmer at McGill 1969–71; vocal training with Dina Narici and Jocelyne Fleury. Informal: voracious continual devouring of scores, recordings and books since early adolescence.

[2] Could you briefly describe your current musical activities, private, within the community, and public?

Have just moved to Halifax (May 2008) with my wife, mezzo-soprano Jocelyne Fleury. Jeri Brown introduced us to cellist Ifan Williams, thanks to whom we made our entry into Halifax musical life. So far, we have given a concert with Ifan and violinist Jennifer Jones, and a voice-piano recital under the aegis of Janice Jackson’s Vocalypse series. A new version of my setting of Elizabeth Bishop’s Sandpiper, for voice, clarinet, string quartet and piano, has just been premiered at this year’s Scotia Festival. I will fly like a bird, an hour-long operatic ballad about the Robert Dziekanski tragedy, to a text by J.A. Wainwright, will be performed at the 2012 Festival.

At home, when not composing, I am working on Brahms’ Three Intermezzi, op. 117, and a few other works. Also, we instituted a “Tea and Discoveries” series for our small rural community, in which we present operas, concerts, science programs and the like on DVD, with tea and discussion at half-time; this year we plan to include Tan Dun’s wonderful opera Tea in our series; this is our justification for having a 60" television!

[3] Please briefly describe your uses of technologies in your creative life. You may want to include a short description of the equipment and software / services you use (number of computers, phones, scanners, Facebook, Skype etc.).

I use Finale 2011 in my composition (Mac OSX 10.6.4). I always work initially with pencil, paper and eraser. After an initial draft, I go back and forth between Finale and pencil. I prefer Speedy Entry, so I use a now rather ancient dummy keyboard (Roland PC‑200).

As a composer who works with texts, I find Word indispensable though often frustrating; Finale seems more conceived with my needs in mind than Word does! It should be added that surviving the frustrations engendered by technology is probably excellent training along the path to enlightenment, and should be warmly recommended to prospective saints.

I also download scores regularly from Sheet Music Archive, and recordings from eMusic, iTunes and (more recently) I am beginning to use Facebook to encounter other composers and dialogue with them.

[4] How do you feel that the use of these technologies has contributed to those areas of your creative life where you employ them? You may also wish to comment on those that you don’t use (and the reasons).

Finale: In addition to enabling me to give the score precisely the appearance I want it to have, it is an invaluable proofreading tool, and it certainly simplifies preparation of parts. The ability to transform a score into a pdf file is extremely useful, and will become more so as this becomes the predominant way of sharing scores. The 2011 version includes some welcome improvements, particularly as regards the showing or hiding of empty staves.

Emusic, since it is so cheap, is a splendid way to sample new music; I’ve just had my first experience with, and it was a very seductive one (because of the very high sound quality).

[5] Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Skype, Twitter, Blogs … are part of the lingua franca of the students I meet every year. Are there ways for the older generation to use these technologies to communicate our values to those who were born after (about) 1988?

I have found myself conducting interesting conversations on Facebook, with former students as well as with contemporaries and colleagues of all ages. The conversations can be stimulating, or frustratingly fragmentary. Facebook conversations invariably involve YouTube at some point in the dialogue. I find YouTube amazing, a sort of technological Alice’s Restaurant (“You can get anything you want… excepting Alice”) — I am too crusty, hidebound and Luddite to even contemplate using Twitter, and I trust I will get through this life without ever having recourse to an iPhone or a Blackberry. but time will tell.

I do enjoy blogs (I find Nico Muhly’s particularly stimulating), and am in grave danger of entering the blogosphere myself. My setting of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Sandpiper” as sung by Suzie LeBlanc is on YouTube and MySpace, and I will certainly be adding more as I become more at home with the medium. I am contemplating a website of my own, but this project is still safely on the contemplative side of the fence.

As for communication of values, it seems to be a two-way street. The danger — on all sides — is always that spontaneous and sometimes intemperate responses may outbalance more considered, meditated, thoughtful ones.

[6] Open area commentary.

[No response submitted.]

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