Sound of Charlotte Blog

Nkeiru Okoye on Composing Charlotte Mecklenburg

Approaching a newly commissioned piece, I start by listening. I want the know everything:  What's the occasion, and what's the purpose behind it? What are the goals for the piece? What I'm doing by asking these questions is defining basic parameters: length and instrumentations the specific instruments you want to use.
 
But I'm also gathering background information that helps me to create a piece that works for the community. The more descriptive, the better. It helps me understand what's important, which helps sets up my mindset as I'm conceptualizing the piece.
 
With Charlotte Mecklenburg, my new piece for the Charlotte Symphony, a special request in this case was that all the music was to have been inspired by a residency, which meant that I wouldn't write a note or start thinking about concepts until I'd gotten acquainted with the city. 
 
During my four-day residency, I did just that. Enjoying great cuisine, visiting different neighborhoods, guided tours of exhibits at the Levine Museum of the New South, catching a panoramic view of the city through from way up in the Bank of America building. Meanwhile, the Symphony had arranged for me to meet and interview 12 people, from Hugh McColl to Dae-Lee, all of whom impacted the city in differing ways, and all provided answers to five questions that I'd created with the new piece in mind. The visit ended, with a live outdoor performance of the Charlotte Symphony.
 
After getting back, it was time to engage in two of my favorite activities, for starting new compositions brainstorming ideas and organizing them into digital scrapbooks. I compiled answers to my questionnaire and conversation notes and made a general plan of the composition based on the parameters and visit. A piece like this involved some research. By exploring Charlotte's history, cultures, and current events, I was establishing an expansive knowledge bank of ideas. 

Contributed by Nkeiru Okoye, composer.

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