“It’s an attempt to grow”: Casey Crescenzo on composing his symphony
It isn’t all that shocking to hear that CASEY CRESCENZO is writing a symphony. Everything he’s done from The Receiving End Of Sirens through THE DEAR HUNTER evokes a certain amount of orchestral maneuvering (not to mention his penchant for ambitious musical endeavors like the 36-song rock opera The Color Spectrum), so a symphony seems like a natural progression. Thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign, Crescenzo will travel to the Czech Republic in November to hear his first symphony performed by the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra. Never mind writing it: He told us the hardest part is already over.
Interview: Tim Karan
When did you start to have an appreciation for symphonic music?
My parents were musicians and I grew up around classical music, but I was always very intimidated by it. When the Receiving End Of Sirens were recording [2005’s Between The Heart And The Synapse], we were in a studio connected to a bigger room where an orchestra was recording. I had a backdoor to that room, and I shuffled in a mic and bootlegged everything they were doing so I could cut it up, turn it into samples and drop in as different notes. That was really when I first felt a connection between the more grandiose rock I was a part of and a place for that sort of instrumentation. As the years have gone on, little by little, I’ve been able to do more and more. But this is a giant leap for me to go from sprinkling it into my music to making it the focus of its own project.
Can you read staff music?
I can’t, but I’ve learned enough of that language to arrange in it. If somebody put a piece of music in front of me, I wouldn’t be able to sight-read it to save my life.
So how do you write a symphony?
I’m sketching it all out on piano first. I use a notation program that you can play into and make it right for the instrument you’re writing for. When I have the idea, melody or rhythm and it seems right, I play it into the software with a MIDI controller and then refine. That way I’m able to work seamlessly between what I hear and what I want to hear.
You really don’t set many easy goals for yourself, do you?
[Laughs.] I dunno. I know it takes a lot more work and attention to do something like a symphony, but writing songs is the thing I’m lucky enough to do. If all it means is that I have to work hard at doing it, that’s fine. The challenge is what makes it so fun.
Was crowdfunding always part of the plan?
No. I was immediately very against crowdfunding because I’ve always felt really weird about it. But because I had no other way to do it, it really was as simple as if the audience wants to hear it, they’ll back it. It’s something really different that can’t happen any other way. I feel like that’s the criteria that any crowdfunded project needs to meet in order to be genuine and legitimate.
The pledges came in pretty fast, didn’t they?
Incredibly, surprisingly fast. I remember thinking, “If it gets to 15 percent on the first day, that’ll make me really happy.” Then on the first day, it got to 65 percent. I was completely floored. It was like a wave of overwhelming inspiration and anxiety. It wasn’t so much like, “Oh shit, now I have to write a symphony” as it was, “Oh shit, now I need to make this the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Are you listening to any specific conductors for inspiration?
I was listening to a lot of Claude Debussy and George Gershwin–romantic stuff, because that’s really the type of symphonic music I’d like to write. But it’s the same with when I’m making an album: When I start writing, I have to kind of push aside influences that could creep in.
Will the storyline involve any plotlines or characters introduced by the Dear Hunter?
No, it’ll stand on its own. The piano represents this central male character, and each of the four movements represents a different lover of his. Within each of the movements, there are different attractions, flirtations, intimacy and everything that comes with romance until the fourth movement, which will be like the culmination of his idea of a true love.
Will fans pick up musical elements they recognize?
I hope the voice I’ve cultivated shines through very clear. This isn’t an attempt to redefine myself; it’s just an attempt to grow. I think there will definitely be many trace elements of what I’ve done in the past.
When do you expect to finish?
I have to be finished by November 7, but I work quickly when I’m inspired. I’m hoping to have a first draft of the entire thing finished within the next month, then I’ll go back and forth with the conductor to correct any notation errors I’ve made. That way, once it gets to the orchestra, it’ll be flawless as far as making sure what I want played is accurately represented on the page.
So you’ll be hearing it performed for the first time when it’s being recorded?
Yeah, I’ll be in tears, no question about it. It’ll be completely overwhelming. The fact that so many people are interested in it has hit me already. But the dream-come-true aspect of sitting in a 250-year-old symphony hall and hearing a piece of music I’ve written performed by an orchestra? That won’t hit me until I’m sitting there. alt