I look forward to working with fellow Vocalist and Composer Dennis Tobenski for the first time on the Imaginary Timescapes performance. He comes highly recommended for his skills as a tenor—including by the NY Times’ Anthony Tommasini, who called him a “dynamic vocalist.”—which will be his contribution to the concert, as he will sing in the vocal quartet.
As one would expect of a composer-performer, Dennis focuses primarily on performing works of the 21st and late 20th centuries. Asked about how his experience as a composer influences or helps him as a singer, he insisted it was mostly the other way around: “Certainly, being a composer allows me to approach the music that I sing with an intimacy that I don’t know that I would have otherwise. Also, I tend to be a bit more….dare I admit….critical as a singer than I might otherwise be about scansion, text setting, and (un)prepared entrances. But I think that my training as a singer has influenced the way that I write much more significantly.”
Dennis is a prolific composer of acoustic new music that bears the influence of pop and Broadway, yet is rooted firmly in the tradition of concert music. Unlike most composers of concert music, however, Dennis has embraced the business side of music as well. As Dennis explains, “Over the past few years, I’ve become fascinated with the business aspects of having a composing career. It started innocently enough: being hired as the assistant to a now-former teacher, overhearing his business-related phone conversations, filing his correspondence and commissioning agreements. What started as a way to make a few bucks planted the seeds that would become a full-blown obsession with contracts, copyright, and creative forms of fundraising and commission-seeking. As I’ve learned more and more, friends and colleagues have started asking my advice on business matters (none was as shocked as I!), and several insisted that I start writing everything down.”
Dennis continues, “Since I also love blogging and social media, I decided to write a book—humbly titled The Composer’s Guide to Doing Business—modeled on Kristine Katherine Rusch’s The Freelancer’s Guide, which was published chapter-by-chapter in blog form, then compiled into a book. As with Ms. Rusch’s book, there’s a real need for such information to be collected in one place where composers can come to learn and to realize that they can have a real career writing music—that there are tangible steps that they can take to turn their passion on which they’ve spent so much time honing their craft into a way to start supporting themselves. I think there’s a lot of frustration—particularly among younger composers—over the waning number of opportunities and sources of funding, and I’m trying to show that there are creative, interesting ways to create your own opportunities (much as you’re doing with this concert!).”
Look out for an EP recording of Dennis’ a cappella choral works with the ISU Madrigal Singers, which will be released in 2013 by his own label Tobenski Music Press. You can also check out his music at http://dennistobenski.com.
(Originally published 12/14/12)