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Ruby Fulton: Interview

rubyI recently spoke to Ruby Fulton about her background and her new work, you & me, written for Wild Rumpus. The piece is receiving its premiere on Friday, September 5, 2014 at Old First Concerts in San Francisco. More information on Ruby’s work can be found on her website: – Sophie Huet, Wild Rumpus development director

Can you tell me about your background as a musician and how you got into composition?

I started off as a string player playing the violin since I was a little kid in a small town in northwest Iowa. I had a band in high school, and we wrote music, so we were writing, but that didn’t even occur to me as a career path until I went to Boston University and studied violin. I had to take a theory class and I really really liked it. I hadn’t really done music theory before but it was a lot of fun. I had a cool teacher who encouraged me a lot and, one thing led to another, I started to compose. My first piece was a violin duo I performed with my teacher, which was really cool. I remember he came down and played in the Composers Forum, and everyone was like, “Oh my God! Yuri Mazurkevich is here playing violin!” I didn’t know that was weird, I just asked him.

By the end of college, I was pretty committed to being a composer, so then I went to the San Francisco Conservatory, and I studied with Eli Armer and a little with Dan Becker. That was cool. From there to Peabody, and that’s where I am now – Baltimore.

Are you still studying at Peabody?

No, I got my doctorate there in 2009. Now I teach at the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Virginia. I teach there and I teach a little at a lot of different places. I also teach violin.

For the piece you wrote for us, the fundamentals that we saw in the reading session didn’t change so much to the final piece, but how did the reading session and what you heard influence where you took the piece afterwards?

There were a couple really important things. First of all the trombone part was really really high. I guess I knew it was high – I’m a brass player too, but it was kind of a composer faux-pas to realize that really doesn’t work. I thought about taking it down an octave, but that was not the voicing that I wanted. The whole layer that evolves but stays steady, that ended up shifting down. That triggered some other changes. There’s two main layers – a steadier thing, and then the one that’s really erratic. I think one of the big changes after the reading session was, sinking it down, and then letting the erratic line start to infect the steady line a little bit. The grace notes came in as this element of something that’s not quite right, and the piano as it builds started to get some dissonant notes that didn’t quite fit. And then there’s a point in the middle where they switch and the steady people start playing the more chaotic material. It helps so much to hear it with real instruments, and it was really nice to be able to hear you guys play that even though it was not everybody was there.

Can you talk about where you got the idea for this piece, or how it came together?

Basically, this music is about the interaction of two really different things, and how over time the evolution of both those things over time kind of collides and influences the other part. Two layers, one layer being steady, and the other layer being chaotic and jamming those two things together and seeing what happens. For me it was musically interesting to start off with those two things and actually not know what going to happen. For instance, I didn’t know the layers were going to switch places part way through the piece. It’s a dramatic moment in the music. I didn’t plan that out, it just made sense at the time. That’s one of the things I love about composing, you can work through things, or set up a scenario and see what happens.

I’m imagining those little brick things that you set up in rows and you just push one and watch it expand.

Exactly. Set something up and put it into motion and see what happens. It’s kind of a minimalist approach, although the music isn’t really minimalist because it’s kind of dense.

It’s a really great piece – I’m really looking forward to it. I also wanted to talk a little about Rhymes with Opera, because I know you are one of the artistic directors.

Rhymes with Opera is a five-person collective. We do all brand-new opera type music, experimental vocal music. There’s three singers and two composers, me and my friend George Lam, are the co-artistic directors. It’s a bit like Wild Rumpus, actually, because you have the composer-directors too, and the performers. We just do new pieces written for our group. In November, we are doing a Dolly Parton show with an opera based on some Dolly Parton super-fans – those are the main characters, and their lives and how they interact. We’re previewing that piece and then also getting some people to come in and do Dolly Parton covers. It’s a show featuring Dolly and things about Dolly. And then next summer our friend Anna Meadors is working on a new piece, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Coffee and Cigarettes, it’s like short vignettes that aren’t really about anything, but people sitting around talking over coffee and it’s kind of dark. She’s working on an opera in the spirit of that. We also recently now have Rhymes with Orchestra, a chamber ensemble. So we’ve expanded and those are with the same people, the family is growing.

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