I hope you’ll come to Meet the Composer night at Hebrew College on June 6 and meet Osnat Netzer who wrote Sound the Great Shofar. If you are as fascinated as I am by the creative process, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to find out how a new musical composition is created.
I first met Osnat when she interviewed me as a member of Koleinu. Instead of writing about any old Jewish thing, Osnat wanted to write a piece that actually reflected who we are as a Jewish community chorus. After all, we are Koleinu, which means our voices, and she wanted our voices to be reflected in the music she composed for us.
Then the process reversed. I interviewed Osnat for Koleinu’s blog. I was curious to find out how she composed and wondered if what she did was more or less a matter of simply writing down the music she heard in her head. What is it like to be able to do that?
Improvising came naturally to Osnat. She started playing around on the piano when she was 8 years old, making up improvisations and songs. She remembered what she wrote, although she didn’t yet know how to write music. That came later. Once she learned about music notation and theory, writing music was just an extension of what she was already doing.
Having been a choral accompanist for many years, choral music is something Osnat knows well and enjoys writing. You’ll hear that mastery in her compositions. When composing vocal music, she already has the text to work with; the words present their own rhythms. She memorizes them and records herself singing them. (No more complaining about memorizing words, Koleinu singers.)
Maybe what fascinated me most was that she forms the material in her mind before she starts writing and works from what she calls the road map. The first thing she knew about Sound the Great Shofar was the piano vamp. Then, she planned the “B material” (the Hafachta section), knowing some of the harmonies she wanted to use. From there, she mapped the entire structure of the piece. That mapping process fascinated me because as a fiction writer, I rarely know where I’m going when I start to write. I asked her if Bach composed from a road map, since his work is so highly structured, and she said it was. Bach is her favorite composer.
If you are reluctant to try new music, there’s no need to fear. Sound the Great Shofar obeys the rules of writing choral music; it is not dissonant, although Osnat does write dissonant music. She didn’t simplify it to fit the abilities of a community chorus, and she doesn’t worry that we will perform it in a way that differs from her conception of the music. She wrote it for us, and now it is ours to do with as we wish. Most important of all, she wants us to own the music. After all, now it is our piece. Koleinu will make it shine.
“Writing it was fun,” Osnat said several times during the course of our conversation. She worked on it from 7 in the morning until 10 at night over the Thanksgiving holiday. “Learning it is fun, too,” I told her. We are discovering its many layers and marveling at its beauty.
I hope to see you on June 6 and then again at the June 10 performance of Sound the Great Shofar. You will be excited by what you hear.
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