Box Not Found

clarinet & violin

Composer Spotlight: Ian Wiese

We met Ian when he came to our very first performance as a duo (#BNFintroduction). He was very excited about our instrument combination and was very excited about the possibility of writing a piece for us. He very patiently waited for us to decide what we wanted our future programs to be, and once we had our #BNFstories idea, we presented it to him and he agreed to be a part of the project!

Make sure to join us on our upcoming performances, where we’ll be premiering Ian’s piece: What a Fast Little Engine! Scenes from ‘Choo-Choo’. Our concerts will take place on November 4th, 4pm at the Cafe at the Somerville Armory and November 9th, 6pm at The Cornelia Street Cafe in NYC.


1. Do you tell stories through music?

I think all music tells a story of some kind. “Story” doesn’t always correlate with the word “narrative.” “Story” can be completely literal, like my What a Fast Little Engine!: Scenes from ‘Choo-Choo’ where the original book is roughly retold. “Story” can be the progression of a composer over time, where he or she is in the compositional journey (early, mid, late period, etc.). “Story” can even mean grappling with our place in music history and what came before us, like my recent Contrafact, septet after Purcell. I realize answer is a very roundabout way of saying “yes,” but I feel it’s important to understand that “story” is everything that music is and can be when it comes from a person. I do it. Bach does it. Brahms does it. Beethoven does it. Any composer ever does it in his or her own unique way. We’re all people. We all tell our stories through music. Music is the story of us, as people and artists, rendered in real time by someone who brings their own story to ours, creating a dual narrative of composer and performer speaking to the audience. It’s ever evolving and ever changing, reactive and reflective of us at different moments and thoughts. That’s really what gives music life: the stories we add to it and tell through it.


2. How would you compare storytelling to composition?

As I said in the above question, the act of composing and the act of storytelling are very much intertwined. Whether or not the word “story” becomes synonymous with the word “narrative” is subjective, but every piece of music tells a story about the composer, and every performance tells a story about the performer. Storytelling, as in telling a narrative through words and in some cases pictures, might differ in the medium of delivery, but at the core is very much in line with composition. As a composer, I have to convey a journey without telling it, relying solely on musical affect (though I do use a few words in my piece for Box Not Found to add to that affectation). Storytelling adds in the words en masse, the only major difference between storytelling and music composition. Both tell a narrative in this case. One uses words, the other sounds.


3. Can you tell us a little about the story you chose for your piece?

Choo-Choo: The Story of a Little Engine Who Ran Away is the first children’s book written and illustrated by Massachusetts-born author Virginia Lee Burton (she lived for many years in Gloucester). Published during the waning years of the Great Depression, it tells the story of Choo-Choo, a steam engine who decides that, rather than be bogged down with coaches full of passengers to bring into the big city, she would rather fly down the tracks fast by herself and wow all the onlookers. She leaves her engineer, fireman, and conductor behind, but rather than getting what she wants, she instead loses her tender and runs out of steam in a long forgotten branch line, left all alone with no one to come to her aid. Her engineer, fireman, and conductor of course do rescue her, and she learns a valuable lesson about loving those who take care of her and not to give into delusions of grandeur.


4. Why is this story important to you?

When I was young, I was very much into trains. As a result, this book greatly appealed to me. Believe it or not, long before I was able to read, I had memorized this book. I remember checking out a copy of with a cassette tape audiobook from my local library. The last few pages were torn off, but the cassette worked fine, and I played it over and over. I memorized the words from pace of the audio book, and a few days later I could recite the entire thing cover to cover. I’d say that’s pretty important to me. I grew up on this story; I had it embedded into my memory. I can’t recite it any longer, but it always stuck with me. Years later, when I first entered undergraduate and heard that Eric Whitacre was setting Goodnight Moon for a commission consortium, I thought it was a good idea to set Choo-Choo. I can safely say now that no, it was not, but it stuck with me long enough to create this piece for Box Not Found.


5. Could you give us three of your favorite story books?

Excluding Choo-Choo, I would definitely say that The Railway Series by Reverend W. Awdry is among my favorites. If you recognize the name Reverend W. Awdry, you might know the internationally beloved Thomas the Tank Engine franchise he helped create; the franchise is an adaptation of The Railway Series focusing on its most popular character, running to this day. I also greatly enjoyed one of Mrs. Lee Burton’s other stories, the more famous Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel. It is very much in the same vein as Choo-Choo, though less direct in its moral. The last of the three is an oddball story titled The Caboose Who Got Loose by Bill Peet. It tells the story of Katy Caboose, who doesn’t like being last on the train and longs for quiet peace. One day, she uncouples from her train, careens down a mountainside track, leaps off a curve, and lands in a tree. There, she gets her peace and quiet from nature. It definitely is an unusual story, but I remember it fondly. Suffice to say, though, I really liked trains when I was a kid.

Composer Spotlight: Ariel Friedman

We are so excited to be presenting our program, Box Not Found: Stories, with you all so soon! Stories is a program we hope will give you a very close understanding of our featured composers, and of course, a pleasant new music experience.

For this post, we have the pleasure of introducing you to Ariel Friedman. Natalie first met her during her time as a member of the Semiosis Quartet. Natalie really enjoyed playing with her, and she became quite fond of her care for detail, her baking skills, and her impeccable apartment beautifully decorated with all sorts of plants. Eventually, we came to realize she is not just an amazing cellist, but that she is also a composer! We spoke about a potential collaboration with BNF for this program and she accepted.

We will be premiering her piece “Joshua Fit the Battle” on Sunday, November 4th at 4pm in the Cafe at the Somerville Armory. We will also be performing this work later in the week on Friday, November 9th at 6pm at The Cornelia Street Cafe in NYC.

I hope the this discussion with Ariel gives you a glimpse of how wonderful she and her music are!

edit 2 - Version 2.jpg

1- Do you tell stories through music? 

As both a composer and songwriter, I aim to weave something beyond just notes into my music. Sometimes this is a story and other times it is a gesture toward another piece of music or a poem. I am especially drawn to cross-artistic forms of music: poems inspired by paintings, music inspired by poems, pieces that tell a story, compositions that span both folk and classical idioms. These juxtapositions help me to understand the ways that I approach art and expression, which are not limited to a single medium. I compose in the same way that I approach two of my favorite hobbies, sewing and baking: for me, turning seemingly disparate ingredients into a new whole is an act of devotion. I believe that I compose to extrapolate or distill meaning into something that I can wrap my head around. I get really excited when I uncover something I didn’t previously notice in a poem or a pre-existing piece. Usually the process of uncovering comes from the act of composing itself, not from some revelation before I start working. It is this process that drives me to keep writing.

2- How would you compare storytelling to composition? 

Both are acts of creation and engagement. Stories and pieces of music can be born from the writer’s imagination or retold from an existing story. I love that both types of art offer themselves selflessly to the listener/reader, thus allowing that person to reflect on the piece or story within the context of their own lives. 

3- Can you tell us a little bit about the story you chose for your piece? 

In 1961, my father was 10 and lost his older sister, Linda, to kidney failure. The pain was so great and there was no support for grieving families at the time, so his parents—my grandparents—removed all evidence that she had ever lived. A year later they had a “replacement child,” my uncle, who did not learn about Linda until he was a teenager and found a box of get-well cards in the attic addressed to a sister he never knew he had.

About a year ago, my father and his two brothers decided to bring their sister back into the light by creating a memorial award in her name. (More info on Linda and the award can be found here).

I grew up with photos of Linda in the house and have always known this story, but when the memorial award was set up, I wanted to retell her family’s story in my own way. I wrote a Pecha Kucha poem—a series of short vignettes—based on this story and more recently, turned it into a piece of music for Box Not Found. 

4- Why is this story important to you? 

It is my family’s history and I believe it is so important to know where we come from—to air out the past through openness, honesty, art, and discussion, and to create our own present and future, standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. 

5- Could you give us 3 of your favorite story books? 

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger

The Lupine Lady by Barbara Cooney