Alarm Will Sound Discusses Steve Reich

In preparation for our visit to the Community Music School, and for a workshop designed for beginning and early intermediate students on the characteristics of Steve Reich’s music, I polled my colleagues in Alarm Will Sound. They were asked to share some their earliest memories of his music and of course, their favorite pieces. Here’s what they had to say:

Courtney Orlando: violin, voice, accordion

What is your favorite piece to listen to by Steve Reich?
I have two favorites:  Tehillim (for voices and mixed instruments) and Sextet (for percussion and keyboards).  Each is a multi-movement work, and the contrast between the movements is what makes these pieces so interesting to me.  They go from being incredibly joyous to extremely subdued in seconds.  It’s very striking!

What is your favorite piece to play by Steve Reich?
Again, I have a few favorites:  Music for 18 Musicians is really fantastic in its variation and breadth, and Triple Quartet is so energetic and fun.  However, I think my favorite overall is Daniel Variations.  The subject matter is the execution of the journalist Daniel Pearl.  It’s beautiful and heartbreaking to listen to, and so moving to play.

What was your first experience with his music?
The first pieces of his that I heard were his early tape piece, Coming Out, and his string quartet, Different Trains, which also has a pre-recorded component.  The first piece I played was The Desert Music, which was also the first piece I recorded (with AWS).

If you could ask him one question today, what would it be?
Even though I’m a violinist, I would ask him why he writes such difficult cello parts.  He writes in a very high register for the cello, and I’ve heard numerous cellists comment (read “complain”) about it.  I’m guessing he just wants that specific timbre, which is a very unique timbre – quite nasal and piercing.  It would be different than simply writing those parts for viola, which would sound much more mellow and nondescript.

Do you have any stories to share?
My favorite Steve story is from my very first performance of Tehillim, at which he was running the sound board.  At a certain point in the piece, the strings were playing long tones – nothing really all that interesting.  But for some reason, Steve decided to turn me WAY up in the mix – I was MUCH louder than everything else that was going on.  I thought he must have made a mistake, but when I looked up at him, he gave me two thumbs up.  He obviously really wanted to hear that specific line right then.


Caleb Burhans: violin, viola, voice, guitar, composition

What is your favorite piece to listen to by Steve Reich?
I think my favorite piece is probably Music for 18 Musicians. it’s such an important piece and it also motivates me to enjoy life or just clean my apartment.

What is your favorite piece to play by Steve Reich?
That’s a tough one since I feel like a lot of his vibe exists in all of his pieces. I’d have to say either Tehillim or Music for 18 Musicians. I’ve played and sung both, respectively, many times and it continues to be the most uplifting musical experience I’ve ever had.

What was your first experience with his music?
I was 13 when I first heard The Desert Music. I didn’t like it and honestly, didn’t give it much a chance. it wasn’t until I was 17 when I first heard Tehillim and was totally hooked. it’s also the first piece of his I ever had the privilege of playing as well as the first recording I ever did. when the hallelujah comes in at the end of the last movement, for me, it’s the most transcendent moment in music and it gives me goosebumps every time.

If you could ask him one question today, what would it be?
What’s up with the baseball cap? (I’ve known him for 14 years and have never once seen him without his black baseball cap)

Do you have any stories to share?
Steve doesn’t use a ton of dynamics in his music. one thing he’s said a number of times is that, in his music mf doesn’t mean mezzo forte. it means matter of fact. I like that a lot and feel that it sums up Steve’s vibe quite nicely.


Stefen Freund: cello, composition

What is your favorite piece to listen to by Steve Reich?
Hearing Piano Phase live.

What is your favorite piece to play by Steve Reich?
Radio Rewrite

What was your first experience with his music?
I remember listening to the Desert Music on a cross-country road trip once. That was a really bad idea because it put me to sleep.

If you could ask him one question today, what would it be?
What was it like to be downtown on 9/11?


Christa Robinson: oboes

What is your favorite piece to listen to by Steve Reich?
Electric Counterpoint

What is your favorite piece to play by Steve Reich?
Three Genesis Settings from the Cave, especially the 2nd movement, Birth of Isaac

What was your first experience with his music?
The album with Pat Metheny playing Electric Counterpoint, and Kronos Quartet playing Different Trains was constantly being play by someone or another on my dorm floor during my freshman year at Eastman.  I couldn’t help but be interested in hearing more.  I grew quickly to LOVE it!

If you could ask him one question today, what would it be?
What is your favorite piece to listen to?


Bill Kalinkos: clarinets, saxophones

What is your favorite piece to listen to by Steve Reich?
Tehillim

What is your favorite piece to play by Steve Reich
Music for 18 Musicians

What was your first experience with his music
I think it was playing Clapping Music when I was in middle school.


Elisabeth Stimpert: clarinets, saxophones

What is your favorite piece to listen to by Steve Reich?
Tehillim

What is your favorite piece to play by Steve Reich?
That’s a toss-up between Tehillim and Music for 18.  But I also have a great affection for Clapping Music, which I teach to my first-semester aural skills students every year.  It’s so much fun to see the light-bulbs go on over their heads as they figure out how to navigate the groove of that piece.

What was your first experience with his music?
My first memorable experience with Reich was performing Music for 18 at Eastman with Ossia.  By the end of the concert, it was really music for 17 1/2, because one of the cellists got sick and wandered off stage and collapsed.  That was one of the first times I had played large-scale chamber music where the players were responsible for cues and communication without a conductor and it kind of blew my mind.

If you could ask him one question today, what would it be?
What’s under that baseball hat, anyway?


Michael Parker Harley: bassoon, voice, keyboards

What is your favorite piece to listen to by Steve Reich?
Music for 18 Musicians.  It’s such a big, beautiful piece and creates a really special world of sound all its own.

What is your favorite piece to play by Steve Reich?
I enjoyed Tehillim very much — especially because it’s maybe his only piece that uses bassoon!

What was your first experience with his music?
I first heard one of his early pieces that uses phasing – I think “It’s Gonna Rain” — in school, studying contemporary music, and remember thinking it was really weird!  though I liked the idea of it — he recorded a preacher on the sidewalk outside and then used that tape running at different speeds against itself.

If you could ask him one question today, what would it be?
Who is the living composer you most admire, and why?


Michael Clayville: trombone

What is your favorite piece to listen to by Steve Reich?
Music for 18 Musicians

What is your favorite piece to play by Steve Reich?
City Life, it’s the only piece of his I’ve been able to play!  He doesn’t have very many brass parts unfortunately.

What was your first experience with his music?
My first experience with his music didn’t really involve hearing his music… it was the concert he gave at Eastman (around 1999?), the audience was so big that it stretched out into the main hall of the school. It was nearly impossible to even get into the school with the huge crowd. The amount of people there made me interested in his music and got me listening.

If you could ask him one question today, what would it be?
Why don’t you write more brass parts? 😉


Jason Price: trumpet

What is your favorite piece to listen to by Steve Reich?
Definitely Electric Counterpoint with Pat Metheny. I put that on all the time and I’m a big fan from back in the day when I worshiped Pat Metheney! Maybe Different Trains as a second.

What is your favorite piece to play by Steve Reich?
Only Music for Large Ensembles involves my instrument, so that would have to be it!

What was your first experience with his music?
Different Trains came out when I was a freshman in college and I was totally obsessed with it! It completely spoke to me! Still gets to me.

If you could ask him one question today, what would it be?
I would ask him what his interest in paired instrumentation is. As a twin I’d ask him what his interest in paired instruments is – I’m interested in pairs of things.


Chris Thompson: percussion

What is your favorite piece to listen to by Steve Reich?
Electric Counterpoint

What is your favorite piece to play by Steve Reich?
City Life, especially the first movement.

What was your first experience with his music?
Six Marimbas, in percussion ensemble my sophomore year of college. We were totally perplexed, and playing it probably at about half tempo. I had never done anything like it. In my curiosity to figure out who this guy was, I went to Tower Records and bought the Steve Reich CD with the coolest looking cover, which happened to be the iconic Kronos Quartet/Pat Methany recording of Different Trains and Electric Counterpoint. I’ve listened to that record hundreds of times.

If you could ask him one question today, what would it be?
It would probably be something boring about New York real estate in the 60s and 70s

Do you have any stories to share?
Steve is super iconic in our world and we are naturally pretty nervous every time we get to work with him directly. One time just before he was scheduled to show up, we happened to be having a pathetically bad rehearsal of the piece of his we were all least prepared for. The focus sucked, stupid mistakes were happening everywhere, stuff was falling apart, it was really tense. So when Steve walked in earlier than expected, it was like the entire ensemble held its breath: we were pretty sure it was about to be a bloodbath.  Yet somehow the sudden pressure caused us to completely turn it around, and we white-knuckled our way through a full run of the piece and managed to make all work. Steve seemed happy. It felt like a miracle.  From that day on, we’ve had a life-sized cardboard cutout of Steve in front of us at every rehearsal.


Alan Pierson: artistic director, conductor

What is your favorite piece to listen to by Steve Reich?
Tehillim

What is your favorite piece to play by Steve Reich?
Tehillim!

What was your first experience with his music?
Tehillim! It was played for me by a teacher at a summer program at Northwestern the summer after my senior year in high school.

Do you have any stories to share
I love that, while composing Tehillim, he recorded himself singing all the vocal parts. I so want to hear it.

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