The Wild Rumpus Starts

The idea for Wild Rumpus got started one summer at a music festival, a three-week summer camp for composers and performers of new music hosted at a museum for contemporary art. Every day, we had master classes or rehearsals, put on three concerts a day, and kept on playing/writing/hanging out late into the night.

I loved the abandon of the whole project: you’d sign up on a clipboard for a recital you’d hold three days later, in any of the galleries in that incredible space. You could write a piece (feverishly, in the middle of the night) for the first couple weeks and have it performed in the third. You’d be making music outside the neighborhood bar at midnight, or in the hallways at the gallery, or on your way to dinner. And not all the music was great, not all of it was even good, but the message was unmistakable: Try it out. See if it works. Try something else. Don’t be afraid. Do it do it do it.

It was exactly what I needed to hear right at that moment. It had been a rough couple of years since I’d gotten my masters, and I’d been feeling really uncertain of my next step. The sort of subterranean doubts that can accompany composing—nobody cares about your music, there’s no way for you to make a living—had grown worse since leaving school. I didn’t know any musicians where I was, and I didn’t have any performances lined up. I developed writer’s block for a year and a half. And then personal stuff came up, huge personal stuff, that ground life to a halt for a while. I don’t even remember why I thought of applying to that festival. When I got in, I couldn’t believe it. It was like something wonderful had happened to this composer who was really an elaborate fiction, this composer who happened to look like me and share my name.

But I went. I sang Meredith Monk. I played gamelan and samba. I went to three concerts a day. I sketched stuff and got feedback from my friends. I sketched some more. I talked about my music and that of my friends. I stayed up late. And my life was different. I was different. By the time we were having our workshop on starting your own new music group, I sat there and thought: Hm. I was making music again, and I started dreaming about ways to keep that momentum, ways to keep experimenting and discovering with other people who love new music. It stayed in my head for a long time. Until now, specifically, five years later, having lucked into meeting brilliant performers and composers who wanted to do this, too.

Wild Rumpus is a new music group dedicated to work by young/emerging composers, composers who are developing their craft and their careers. More importantly, it’s about developing music in collaboration with composers. We want to be an experimental laboratory for new music, a space to play and try stuff out and see what happens.

As a composer, I think there are practical reasons why this is a good thing. They go something like this:

  • It’s an inspiration thing. When composers write for somebody specific, that person’s personality and style of playing inspire them. And when they get to exchange ideas with a performer, that dialogue usually leads to totally different discoveries that they might not have found alone.
  • It’s a skill thing. When composers try stuff out with players while they write, they can quickly and easily figure out what works and what doesn’t in terms of practicality. Testing before you ship is a good idea in any discipline.
  • Taken together, I believe that this kind of work can help support early-career composers not just by giving them a performance and a recording, but by giving them a chance to learn and grow while they write for us.

There’s another way of putting it. When I first started thinking about the thing that’s now Wild Rumpus, I was thinking of this:
Try it out. See if it works. Try something else. Don’t be afraid. Do it do it do it.

We hope to help with that. I hope you’ll come check us out.

2 responses to “The Wild Rumpus Starts”

  1. Janet says:

    Jen, you rock.

    Can’t wait to see Wild Rumpus take off! Come tour Australia sometime, ok?

  2. Rio says:

    Jen! This is fantastic! Great article, and I hope to hear some great music. Wanna write something for cello? 😉

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