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Gavin's Underground

Salty Cricket Composers Collective

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2014-02-18 -
One of the more prolific concert sessions working in Utah today is the Salty Cricket Composers Collective, working to bring the works of local composers to the forefront with highly skilled musicians. Usually holding four concerts in a calendar year, the organization puts together groups of musicians who can tackle any range from chamber to classical, give them an entire concert composed by a currently living resident of Utah, and bring to life works that have never been heard before to audiences who thrive on bold new compositions. Today we chat with two of the founders of the series about their history so far and where they're headed as a group. (Pictures courtesy of Salty Cricket.)

Crystal Young-Otterstrom & Ryan Taylor
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Gavin: Hey Crystal and Ryan, first thing, tell u s a little bit about yourselves.

Ryan: I work from home as well, doing an odd assortment of things related to my interests. I manage a number of music-related websites focused on art music, choral music, children's music, Christmas music, ukulele and other things. I've authored an ukulele curriculum for schools and a number of ukulele titles on Amazon. I direct the American Fork Children's Choir and am the associate conductor for the Timpanogos chorale. I'd like to do more singing and songwriting; I did my degrees in vocal performance and music composition.

Crystal: I am a work-from-home mom and small business owner. I run Foursight Partners LLC, a full-service marketing, communications, research, and event planning firm with three other partners. We primarily work with nonprofits. I also sit on a butt-load of boards and am involved in way too much. My degrees are in Music Theory, Composition, and Musicology though.

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Gavin: What got you interested in classical music and themes growing up?

Crystal: I started playing piano and violin as a young kid but it wasn't until I started voice lessons at 13 that I really fell in love with classical music. I didn't fall in love with modern music until college though. That's another story.

Ryan: My mum and dad were both clarinetists and my father directed middle school bands. There was no end of classical music, movie soundtracks, jazz and musicals spinning on the record player at our house. One of my dad's favorite things was to go to the swap meet at Golden West collage in Huntington Beach and pick up used LPs for a dime or fifty cents. Later on I grew a pretty intense interest in popular and alternative music on the radio.

Gavin: You both attended BYU and took musical courses, what made you choose BYU and what was your time like there?

Ryan: BYU was where my parents went, I never really considered any other schools seriously. I wanted to be involved in sacred music and after serving a mission had an idea for an opera about Abinadi from the Book of Mormon. BYU produced that opera just after I graduated.

Crystal: I primarily chose BYU because I could dual major between Economics and Music and I'm a nerd like that. It was a great education. I became a democrat at BYU. I don't think I would have felt free to explore my political ideology if I had gotten my bachelor's degree anywhere else. I actually started out a voice major but fell in love with and switched to Music Theory my sophomore year. I still have the economics minor though. The composition program at BYU is incredibly edgy and experimental. It was great for me. It is also soundly based in counterpoint. When I went out east for my master's at Queens College (Aaron Copland School of Music), I was in a class with a lot of Julliard grads. I and the two other BYU students were WAY better prepared creatively and academically than our peers. We were aware of way more edgy music techniques and had a knowledge of harmony and counterpoint that they didn't have. Of course, to be successful at BYU you have to find your niche of friends like you. Otherwise all the smiley people and bumpits drive you crazy.

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Gavin: How did the idea for Salty Cricket come about?

Crystal: I can answer too. We actually kept talking about it whenever we ran into each other when I moved back to Utah. We were at BYU at the same time and the only two singer/composers (at the time). I think it was a Vivace event at Utah Symphony | Utah Opera where we both said, "let's do it!" Both universities have a wealth of opportunities for composers, but once you've graduated and you're not faculty, there aren't a lot of venues for you to perform. We think we are filling a very unique niche.

Ryan: Crystal said it well, we just kept talking about it until we finally said, "Let's do it!" I'd heard of some other composer collectives, but I think we came up with something unique, a collective based on geography that we hoped to help establish more of a local art music scene.

Gavin: What was it like putting the program together and figuring out how to plan it?

Ryan: I've done a lot of concert organizing, so that part wasn't a concern. I think the hardest part of organizing was non-profit application. Thank heaven for Rick Mortenson, our resident lawyer/composer, who put most of that together.

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Gavin: How was it for you finding composers and musicians to join the program when you first started?

Crystal: It's never been hard finding composers. We know plenty and we meet more all the time. It's a small world. We used to use amateur musicians initially for cost reasons but we are much more satisfied with the performance level of the Utah Symphony musicians we've been hiring the last few years so that's primarily what we go with now.

Ryan: A bit of networking and some calls for scores and that was it, plenty of music for the first few concerts.

Gavin: What were the first few performances like and how was it establishing yourselves in the performance arts community?

Ryan: We had one concert in the first year that was so absolutely atrocious. We'd hired a local string quartet to perform and it seemed like they'd barely looked at the music. I'm so glad for Crystal's USUO connections, because now we only use symphony players for our concerts and are never disappointed.

Crystal: Honestly I feel like we're always establishing ourselves in the community. Building an audience has been pretty difficult. Aside from the handful of composers who live in Utah, it's been pretty hard getting people to attend. We even can't get all of the composers to come if they don't have a piece on the program sometimes. Modern classical music is awesome people! Prove how cool you are and check out new music. Our concerts are really cool.

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Gavin: How do you usually put together a season and what do you look for when it comes to venues to display these shows?

Crystal: We typically follow a formula of one made-up ensemble, one traditional ensemble, Melange (which is mostly electronic or mixed media), and Broadway Bound (opera and musical theatre scenes). This season we've renamed Broadway Bound as Belt Canto to reflect that it is both opera and musical theatre. We also did a Composers Showcase last year in which the composers performed their own works for the Ladies Literary Club's 100th anniversary (LLC is our venue). We liked that concert so much, that we're adding it to Melange. So Melange in 2014 will be a mix of electronic/mixed media and acoustic pieces showcasing the composers as performers. As far as the two chamber concerts go, usually what the traditional and made-up ensembles will each be is a board decision. This year we surveyed our composers and picked the two most popular.

Ryan: This year we asked the composers on our lists what they'd like to do and went from there. As far as venues go, we've had a few. I've been really happy with the Ladies Literary Society that we've used in the last year. It fits our needs really well.

Gavin: What do you look for when searching out for local composers and the kind of material you want to highlight in a season?

Crystal: We send out a call for scores for the specific ensembles we're doing. We learned early one that we couldn't afford just putting out a call for scores generally and putting a million different ensembles together so we stick with one ensemble per concert. We used to have to scramble to get scores (especially for the made-up ensembles, composers would have to make up scores), but now we usually get more pieces than we can program. As to which pieces we choose is a decision between the board and our performers. The performers get a big weigh-in as to what they want to perform.

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Gavin: For musicians who want to get involved, how do they approach you to join Salty Cricket, and what kind of experience do you look for?

Crystal: Sign up at our website! Or send an email to crystal@saltycricket.org and indicate that you are a performer or a composer. We're interested in all levels of compositional skill. If you're a performer looking to gig with us, send me some samples of you playing.

Gavin: Aside your own performances, you get involved with other organizations to provide music. What inspired that and who have you worked with in the past?

Crystal: Everybody. I sit on a lot of boards and a lot of my clients are also musical organizations. I just believe that art will save the world and think it's worthy to get involved. I'm also involved in a lot of political organizations as well.

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Gavin: What do you have on tap for the 2014 season?

Crystal: We just uploaded it to our website! saltycricket.org. Coming up first is a concert for string quartet PLUS optional didjeridu! That's going to be awesome. We're also doing the combined Melange/Composers Showcase, Belt Canto (the new name for Broadway Bound), and our made-up ensemble is an evening of works for flute/viola/and harp

Gavin: Salty Cricket has been going strong for over five years. Where do you hope to be in the next five?

Crystal: We really want to raise more money to be able to do more advertising. Our biggest goal right now though is to fundraiser enough to do a concert for orchestra. We're also working on a choral concert.

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Gavin: What can we expect from both of you and the collective over the rest of the year?

Crystal: Lots of crazy cool music that is sometimes experimental, sometimes traditional, and always interesting.

Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Crystal: Season tickets are UBER cheap! We also offer 50% off all tickets if purchased before the day of the show. It's a steal.


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