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Kirsten Broberg

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

Luke: So, why do you think it's important for composers and guitarists and musicians in general to collaborate for writing new music?


Broberg: I think it’s always a good idea to collaborate with live human musicians for whatever you're writing, whether it’s for a solo instrument or for an ensemble or orchestra or for choir or voice and actually work with people on that. If you're writing a solo violin piece, I think it's great to work with a violinist on that piece; if you’re working on a guitar piece, then definitely work with a guitarist. These people know their instruments very, very well. You might be going for a certain effect and you can't quite accomplish it the way you want to if you don't know the instrument as well as somebody who actually knows and plays it. I’ve written some guitar music and I’ve written certain chords before and I wanted those particular notes in the chord but it was really uncomfortable or wasn't that idiomatic. The guitarist then suggested a chord with the exact same notes but in a different order. We would make some of those decisions together and end up with something that's more idiomatic to the instrument, that feels better, and that’s going to flow better because it's more comfortable and all of those things. I think any time you want to write something virtuosic, working with a musician is a great way of getting there and doing it in a way that’s comfortable for the instrument. That's something that I think works really well is to always collaborate with people. I always tell my students, “composition teachers will teach you things and lessons and help you out, but your real teachers are going to be the musicians that you collaborate with in your life. They really are going to be your best teachers.”


Luke: I totally agree in my short experience as just starting out as a composer and I think you kind of touched on this a little bit, but what's specifically the most gratifying thing for you when you write to the guitar?


Broberg: I think guitar has so many wonderful timbres that you can create and also different envelope shapes. For my Dreamcast Cycle for a female voice, electric guitar, piano, prepared piano, strings, and percussion, there are lots of different timbres and harmonics and things like that but we also explore envelopes shapes. We use an E-bow to create some long-sustained tones. Also, the solo guitar piece in the middle of a cycle starts with a strum guitar but then it moves to bowed electric guitar at the end. There’s actually scordatura for that movement: there’s these two guitars, one with a normal tuning for most of it, then when it gets to the next piece, it takes up with the one with scordatura with a lot of open strings to create these six-note chords that have a lot of sonority and density.


Luke: That’s something that I think all of the composers I've interviewed so far have answered very similarly, which was the different timbres and textures you can get from the guitar, so I'm excited to see what everybody does this go-round with the symposium. How do you personally approach a new piece, whether it is a commission, collaboration, or personal project?


Broberg: I usually start with a concept or a strong, clear idea that I'm going to evoke or something that tells a story, like a programmatic nature to the piece. Or, if it's about some sort of philosophical concept or it could just be something simple like ‘it's going to transform from this mood or character to that and then to this to that.’ I’m working on an orchestra piece and it’s going to start with darkness and then move towards light. That’s the concept, then I start hearing tidbits in my head and that sort of thing and then I usually have a pretty clear idea in my head of what the piece is going to do. Then I go to the piano, because I find it very natural there to sort of solidify the notes, the rhythms, and the pacing. Lately, I've been working really hard on trusting and relying on my intuition to decide how long I should sit with an idea, how many times can you repeat it, how much repetition should there be each time I bring something back. I just really have to trust myself as a musician to make those decisions and I find the piano is the right place for me to make those decisions. Then, I’ll jot ideas down on paper and start putting it into notation software. I never start with notation software for me, because I'm not very natural or very musical on the computer. I much prefer listening in my head or at the piano or something with some sketch paper. I don’t like feeling restricted by the grid of one time signature or certain meter. Going to start a piece in notation software is something I never do.


Luke: Definitely! One of the first things my composition teacher told me my freshman year was to write everything by hand for the solo piece. At the time, I really didn't understand that, but now that I've gotten older it makes a lot more sense. Sometimes when you open up Sibelius, everything rushes out of your head you have to get it down on paper first.


Broberg: I have a colleague who says, ‘you know when someone is starting out composing and notation software is when all of their pieces are in 4/4 and quarter notes equal 60’ because that's the default in Sibelius.


Luke: Yep, there was a class I took freshman year where the teacher said that when he opened new pieces, he wouldn't look at it any more if it started in 4/4 with quarter note equals 60 and the first dynamic marking was mezzo-piano. But anyways, I know you were involved last year at the Twisted Spruce Symposium, but to what degree?


Broberg: I was on the panel for judging the collaboration pairs contest last year.


Luke: Thank you for clarifying. That brings me to the last question: what was the most exciting thing, in your opinion, about this Symposium last year?


Broberg: I love the collaborative aspect of it and I think collaboration is really important. It was really interesting to see the different projects and how some composers worked more on their own and then handed it to the guitarist afterwards and some had a really integrated approach. That was something we talked about as judges, which was how different methods gave different results in the various pieces. I think there were various prizes for best piece composed and also an award for best collaboration. It was really interesting to have this discussion to see what seemed more collaborative and what really contributed to the project and stuff like that. That was one of the most interesting things about that contest I would say.


Luke: I'm glad to hear it! I'm certainly excited to be involved this year! Do you have anything you would like to add or any tips as someone who judged last year that you would like to let everybody know about or anything like that for the competition this year?


Broberg: That’s a really good question and I've been thinking about contests a lot lately, especially with students of mine who write a piece and send it to a contest and then they are disappointed if they don't win and that sort of thing. I would say to just be really authentic to yourself and be really honest with yourself about what kind of music you want to write, and write the piece you want to write. Stand behind every note that you're composing like, ‘ I'm putting this note there for this reason. I want that one and I want this note to go with it and I want this color, this text, or this strong, clear idea. You should really believe in what you're doing. Don't write for other people, don't write to win a contest because it will never be fulfilling. If you write a piece where you really stand behind and you feel it is an honest expression of yourself as an artist, it doesn't matter if you win or lose because you feel good about that piece. Then, if you submit a piece that you feel that way about and feel very good about and you win, it feels better than something where you were trying to satisfy a criteria or judging panel. If you win by doing it that way, that's a good feeling but it doesn't feel the same as something that you wrote a piece that you really care about. My advice is to write a piece you care about and if you win, that’s wonderful. If not, you have a piece that you care about and you feel like you were really honest and composing.


Luke: That's definitely a great way to approach it! Thank you so much for your time!

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