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UC College-Conservatory of Music Alum Making Music with 'Music Under Construction'

CCM grad Rick Arnest’s compositions premiered recently in Venice and Prague. Sometimes he gets to travel as widely as his music.

Date: 3/12/2008
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Other Contact: Katie Rankin Syroney
Other Contact Phone: (513) 556-9484
UC ingot To say that music is someone’s life is cliché. But it really is true for Rick Arnest. His bio begins, “Richard Arnest has been writing music forever (less about six years).”

CCM Alum Rick Arnest
(Photo by Rich Sofranko)

Six years? Come on! What was he waiting for? OK, so he got off to a late start. But he has more than made up for lost time.

Arnest received his master’s degree in composition from CCM in 1986. He previously earned a bachelor’s in music (composition with concentrations in flute, early music performance and theater arts) from the University of Hawaii in 1972. He has been a Management Fellow for the National Endowment for the Arts, the Woodwind Coordinator for the Arkansas Governor’s School and an artist in residence in Arkansas, Ohio and Oklahoma. Arnest is a member of ASCAP, the American Composers Forum, the American Federation of Musicians and the American Music Center.

As if his own credentials haven't been around the map, listen to where his music has been!

Recording Liquescence at the Palazzo Albrizzi in Venice
Recording Liquescence at the Palazzo Albrizzi in Venice

“Flutist Enzo Caroli and the Orchestra Sinfonica Adriatica performed Liquescence, for flute and strings, three times in northern Italy and released it on CD — it can be heard on 21st Century Flute Concertos,” Arnest begins.


For the 20-minute, six-movement Haworth Suite, recorded in May 2007 by the Czech Radio Philharmonic, Arnest took an orchestration out of Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Arnest describes it as “Folk songs and dances from a Yorkshire that never existed, in a style that could only be twenty-first century American.” Part of the development of the piece included several days in Yorkshire, England, immersing himself in the life and environment of the Brontë family.

Haworth Suite was named part of the “Masterworks of the New Era” project for 2007 by ERM Media, to be released fall 2008. For the recording of Haworth Suite, Arnest applied for a grant from the Copland Fund for Music. For an orchestra to record one of his pieces costs Arnest $485 per minute.

“Still, that’s one-quarter to one-eighth of what a record label pays,” he adds.

In May 2007, the Cincinnati Camerata performed Arnest’s setting of Dylan Thomas’ 1952 poem Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night for wind quintet and chorus. The same month saw the premiere of Between Two Hills, his choral setting of a poem by Carl Sandburg, performed by the Carolina Concert Choir. The group also performed the work at Piccolo Spoleto in Charleston, SC.

Chiese Serenissime, a sonata for flute, oboe and piano, premiered in Venice in February 2007. Its movements were named after the churches in Venice. He describes the work as “self-consciously baroque — it’s intended to be retro.”

His work has even been heard at a Cincinnati Reds game with his 2005 arrangement of the Star Spangled Banner for string quartet.

Has he always operated at such a fast tempo?

“I put everything ‘under a blanket,’ so to speak, for a long time,” he says. “It wasn’t until 2003 that I really returned my focus to writing music.”

In March 2008, Flute World features Arnest’s The Queen of Air and Darkness (based on O'Carolan's Fairy Queen) in their online newsletter. They previously named him their Featured Composer in 2006.

Arnest’s compositions are being noticed, too. Liquescence won the first EPICMusic competition and was favorably reviewed in the journal of the National Flute Association. Arnest is a regular recipient of the ASCAPLUS award

In addition to creating what he calls “sundry stuff,” Arnest has performed with diverse groups and currently sings with the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus and the Cathedral choir of St. Peter in Chains.

He worked in IT for years. Now, when asked, Arnest says simply, “I am a composer.” Coincidentally — or perhaps not, given his interests in music and computers, it was a software program that brought him back to music. He says that Finale has changed his composing process. He composes directly into it now. “I can score at the same rate I think of the notes, and can hear back what I write immediately,” he says.

An experienced vocal and instrumental performer and composer, he is also uses his talents to nurture other musicians. His organization, “Music Under Construction,” an “incubator for musicians,” presently manages the Cincinnati Camerata composition competition. His own incubation temperature is definitely set on high.

Arnest also uses his talents to contribute to the community. In addition to volunteering to sing with many area choruses — usually with his wife, Nancy — he has donated commissions to help select nonprofit organizations. For example, his Present of Time, for piano quartet, benefitted Caracole House in the 2006 Covington Rotary auction. The commission for Between Two Hills supported the Cincinnati May Festival.

He has learned that opportunity sometimes dictates the instruments for which he composes. 

“Though I don’t consider myself an electroacoustic composer, I have successfully submitted music to Robert Voisey’s 60x60 CD project.” 681818 was broadcast, used as background for video and dance projects, and performed internationally in 2007. My Radiance Indwelling appears to await the same fate in 2008.

Many of Arnest’s tunes are “singable,” something that performers and audiences appreciate. As a flutist, himself, he says that he always thinks about breathing — something crucial to singers – and to music generally. “Nonwind instrumentalists don’t have to breathe in time to play,” he points out, “but the good ones always do.”

“I’m always trying to use an instrument to subtly cue the pitch,” he points out. “In fact, a current work-in-progress actually uses two pitch pipes as part of the music.”

“Singing is really good for me. Bob [Porco, Director of Choruses for the May Festival] is as delightful a choral instructor as you will ever find.” In 2006 one of Arnest’s choral arrangements, Yorkshire Wassail, was premiered by the May Festival at their annual CarolFest. Arnest got a taste of his own…music.

“I was sitting there trying to sing what I had written,” he says, smiling. “I didn’t know what the performance sounded like until I heard a reference recording later.”

Arnest is accustomed to marking up choral scores while he’s singing them. “Bob tells us to do it, and I take him at his literal word.” He admits that the chorus librarian is challenged when he returns his music after concerts.

“She needs someone with a big eraser.”

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