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Jessica Rudman: Putting Sibelius | Ultimate to Work

Composers today need to be highly adaptable. Even within one genre of music—such as modern symphonic, choral, or operatic work—a composer may need to apply their unique approach to melody, harmony, and color to myriad types of ensembles and players of varying abilities.

When a popular theatrical work is adapted for a middle-school chorus, for example, orchestrators and arrangers work hard to highlight the right phrases and assign parts in a way that students can master quickly. When a film or television score is arranged for a jazz ensemble, a great deal of care goes into the consideration of which lines will be carried by which instruments.

Similarly, composers often find themselves repurposing their own music for different situations. Dr. Jessica Rudman writes music for choral, opera, chamber, band and orchestral ensembles in a style that is unmistakably modern, while also building on traditional themes and timbres. Her choral pieces push the boundaries of harmonic structure, while her operatic work stretches the musical experience to cover themes such as domestic violence in Trigger (which recalls a true event) and navigating a male-dominated career in Marie Curie Learns to Swim.

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Jennifer Sgroe performs "Trigger", Photo credit: Kim Bova

The composer talked with us about her experience working with a lot of styles and arrangements, including rich detail about how she creates and re-creates her music.

Building a career as a composer, it's important to get lots of performances. It helps to be comfortable writing for musicians of all skill levels and to be open to creating versions of your work for different ensembles.

Dr. Jessica Rudman, Composer, Theorist, and Teacher

Sibelius | Ultimate helps Rudman create music for a variety of ensembles, as well as for players with different backgrounds. “When I’m writing a piece, I work closely with the directors of the ensembles, and it helps to know the skill level of the players, what they like to do, what they are really good at, and what they might want me to stay away from. I also show sketches and drafts to those directors, and sometimes need to make significant changes during the composing process: for example adding or removing parts for members of the ensemble. This is where it is important to use software that easily lets me adapt mid-composing.”

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Excerpt from Marie Curie Learns to Swim

I use [Sibelius | Ultimate] because I often need to quickly orchestrate pieces for different types of ensembles and levels of performers.

Dr. Jessica Rudman, Composer, Theorist, and Teacher

Working with students in particular means using Sibelius | Ultimate to change parts and revise complex passages, which is quickly done through the multi-edit selections, updating several staves or phrases at once. With so many changes happening during the composing process, it is vital that the score and parts remain identical. “Sibelius helps to ensure that the scores and the parts match up perfectly.”

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Excerpt from First Praise

“Recently, I worked on four commissions. They were all different, depending on the theme of the concert, the ensemble, and the length of the pieces. One piece was a bassoon and piano duo. One was a concert band piece for students in several grades. There was a song cycle for a vocalist with clarinet, cello and piano. And one was a collaboration with the Hartford Opera Theater and Hartford Independent Chamber Orchestra.”

“For the Hartford Opera Theater, I collaborated with Kendra Preston Leonard, who is a musician, a scholar of music history, and also a poet. The opera is called Marie Curie Learns to Swim, and draws parallels between Curie’s learning to swim with her daughter and the challenges facing a female scientist in a profession where men dominate.”

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Mark Womack and Elizabeth Hayes in Marie Curie Learns to Swim, Photo credit: Kim Bova

I wrote the opera for four singers with Pierrot ensemble plus percussion. It was originally one act, but now we’re expanding the work to two acts with an intermission. This type of change is profound, because it involves restructuring the text and the music.

Dr. Jessica Rudman, Composer, Theorist, and Teacher

Rudman relies on the versatility of Sibelius | Ultimate to alter an existing work for many reasons. “After premiering the one-act version, we’re able to consider the audience’s reactions to see how they responded to the music and where they needed more explanation of the character’s motivations. This helps us figure out where to add more details and what can be tightened up to help the story come across better and make the music more compelling. Sibelius can handle all of that.”

Sibelius | Ultimate also makes it easy to create different versions of a score. For opera, composers often need to create a piano version of the score for rehearsal purposes, in addition to their orchestrated version (or versions).

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Excerpt from Marie Curie Learns to Swim

Choral music is another area where it's very important to have multiple arrangements of a piece: for instance having versions for treble choir, mixed choir, and male choir. This allows more groups to potentially perform the music.

Dr. Jessica Rudman, Composer, Theorist, and Teacher

In rehearsals, the Sibelius | Ultimate playback feature, as well as the ability to integrate with Pro Tools, can be helpful. “Rewire is really useful for working with Sibelius and Pro Tools together. When I was composing my opera, I needed to make a realistic mock-up for the singers to use when practicing. Some of the sounds in the percussion part were not available as samples, so I used ProTools to record myself playing the instruments. Rewire allowed me to easily combine those audio recordings with the MIDI playback from Sibelius.”

I regularly send work out for score calls, and sometimes serve as a reviewer or a judge for competitions. This helps because I see how composers present their music, and how the music looks is often a factor.

Dr. Jessica Rudman, Composer, Theorist, and Teacher

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Excerpt from Foundling

One way for composers to get their work performed or commissioned is to enter calls for scores, which are hosted by schools and performing arts organizations all over the world. Decisions in these opportunities are usually based on a submitted score and recording, which must be of high quality. “Because adjudicators are busy professional musicians and a single opportunity can get hundreds of applications, they often don’t have a lot of time to spend with each application. They need to make a decision quickly based on the score and recording. The music has to look professional and ready to play.”

Rudman received her Masters in Music Composition at the University of Hartford's Hartt School, and her Doctorate in Composition from the CUNY Graduate Center. In addition to her work as a composer, she continues to teach music composition through the Hartt School Community Division, which provides courses for students of any age and experience.

For composers just starting a career or those established in the field—whether for film, concerts, education, new music, experimental, or all of the above—adaptability is crucial. Jessica Rudman is not starting out, but also not staying put. She continues to find new performances and opportunities that challenge her and build on her experiences.

“If you look at composers like John Adams, Jennifer Higdon, Joan Tower, they’ve always grown throughout their careers. I think we are always trying to grow.”

To listen to Dr. Rudman’s compositions, visit her SoundCloud playlist:

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