Hi! My name is Griffin Candey — I am a composer based in Michigan, and I'm really thrilled to be applying to Princeton University's PhD in Composition! My audio samples and scores are linked below, and my academic statement of purpose follows that. If you'd like to learn about my work beyond what's listed below, please visit my website, found here.
For a comprehensive look at my educational history and past commissions, you can find my résumé and curriculum vitae here.
Work samples are linked below in preferred order, with scores linked below each of the pieces' audio. You can begin all audio clips at the beginning — they're all pretty brief! If you have any questions or would like any further samples, please feel free to reach out to me.
Superior String Quartet
Danielle Simandl and Lauren Pulcipher, violins
Ria Hodgson, viola — Kelly Quesada, cello)
Revenge Body is part of a series of pieces I've been slowly adding to for a few years about youth — mostly, a more literal and messy depiction of youth. Most classic representations of youth in art portray a calm, joyful, and idyllic time, free of responsibilities or concerns — but, to those still in their youth, it is rarely calm and sparsely joyful. This piece is meant to capture some of the aimlessness and distress of youth, especially in uncertain times.
The title movement (Revenge Body) is a double-entendre. On one hand, it is my generation's term for the (unhealthy) act of getting particularly fit after the end of a relationship, literally only to spite your former partner. On another hand, the two words out of context spur an image of self-resolve: that the best way to silence those who dislike you is to unabashedly be yourself — your best revenge is to simply exist.
(movement III begins on page 9)
Alexandra Nowakowski, soprano
Robert Ainsley, piano
Fox Songs is a cycle for soprano that celebrates a single image through the lenses of multiple poets — poems by Jane Hirshfield and Caki Wilkinson, and a new poem that I commissioned from Anastasia Pennington-Flax, all using a fox as the central metaphor. The act is something like multiple painters painting the same still life, and the result is absolutely fascinating.
This first poem by Jane Hirshfield uses the fox as a metaphor for the things that we try to tuck away inside of us — the failures, the loss, the lusts, the doubts. It describes two people crossing a field and seeing three foxes, silent at the edge of the forest before they disappear into it, "as if they had never been." Hirshfield argues that, as much as we try to keep these things inside of us, we will always know that they're there — and those hidden things "know us for who [we are]."
Cathie Apple, flute — Milun Doskovic, clarinet — Jennifer Reason, piano Ben Prima, percussion — Amy Lindsey, violin —Tim Stanley, cello
Buckboard Charlie was commissioned by Citywater (of Sacramento, CA) to go alongside a series that they had commissioned the year prior for an anniversary of the National Parks, specifically asking me to write a piece about the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where I currently live. I leapt at the chance, because I love this place to death — its history is not unlike the rest of our country: natural beauty, the scars of industry, a lineage of a lot of hopeful immigrants aiming to build and find something meaningful.
The Upper Hand comes from the very Michigan thing that Michiganders do where they use their hands as a map for the state — the back of your left for the lower peninsula, and a sideways hand above it for the upper. This track is meant to embody the spirit of a very hearty, energetic, and proud group that live in a place and climate that doesn't always love us back.
(movement III begins on page 16)
I’m Griffin, a composer from Michigan and living in Michigan — from the mitten part, living in the other, northern part that people forget about (that isn’t Wisconsin and isn’t Canada, and also isn’t a lake, regardless of what some maps say.) I live here with my costume designer partner, Susan, and our one-eyed cat, Sandy. We (the two humans) like to hike, bake, and forage for mushrooms. On top of these things, I write music.
Both of my degrees are in vocal performance (BM ‘11 Michigan State University, and MM ‘13 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and that experience influences everything that I do, professionally. On one level, it means that I write quite a bit of vocal music, unsurprisingly (operas, art songs, choral-orchestral works,) although I write plenty outside of that, as well. On another level, it means that I bring a sense of physicality and breath to what I write because, as a vocalist, those things can’t be divorced from music-making. Vocalists learn preparation and release — that proper breath is the first step to proper execution. Vocalists learn that the moments they’re creating, musically and dramatically, do not simply come out of nowhere — that knowing the arc, where one comes from and where one is going, helps one know where to be now. In this, the music I write tends to mirror natural forms: human gesture, speech patterns, landscapes, dance.
Beyond all this, being a vocalist-composer means that I value communication more than almost anything else. As an intern at Glimmerglass, I heard David Lang speak about how music “doesn’t exist until someone hears it,” and that is as succinctly as I’ve heard it put. When creating, the core questions for me are: what is the message, why am I telling it, and how can I effectively communicate it? I don’t write a piece unless I have something to share with you, and I don’t share something unless I believe in it. A piece, as Lang said, doesn’t exist until you hear it — and if you help one of mine to exist, I want you to gain something from it. I want it to be more than an intellectual exercise. I want it to be a conversation.
Princeton, to me, is a place where that kind of communication thrives. Every piece from a Princeton composer that I’ve heard — faculty or student, wherever it falls stylistically — has shown undeniable intention: an enthusiasm for sharing experience, a desire to open audiences’ and peers’ eyes to new techniques and ideas and stories. There is an unquestionable amount of self in the work of these artists. They do not create out of nothing. They create to make something alive — alive in the world by being alive in the minds of others. There is a kind of unselfishness to this approach: the idea that sharing our art makes each piece more realized, more consummate.
Our field depend on that kind of openness and generosity, and Princeton has that in spades. The wealth of Princeton does not lie only in its incredible resources and opportunities, but in its community and the diversity of that community’s artists — all from different musical and socioeconomic backgrounds, and all of whom bring their own valuable voice to the table. Every member of such a community, regardless of their background, benefits from that kind of cross-pollination. It helps in expanding one’s musical inspiration, certainly, but also in understanding perspectives beyond our own — and that’s incredibly important to me. As I said above, I want what I do to be a conversation, and an important part of any conversation is knowing when to be quiet and listen.
I chatted with a few friends (Emma O’Halloran and Shelley Washington) about Princeton before I visited in November, and the thing that struck me was something that they both said independently of one another: that they had met some of the most important people in their lives at Princeton. That, to me, speaks to the heart of the place more than anything. For every composer’s future (in commissions and collaborations, as a writer or as an educator,) the currency of success is people. I don’t mean that simply in a capitalistic, “know the right people” sense: it means that the key to learning, to growth, to rebuilding communities — even to mental health — lies in the support and openness of others. As a graduate student at Princeton, I hope to further explore ideas in musical technique and fluency, of course, but none of that means anything if I don’t learn how to effectively use those skills to support those around me.
Because that’s the future of the thing: community and communication. Technical proficiency will not sustain our field. Pulitzers and Grawemeyers won’t sustain our field. Knowing how to support one another and to bring our voices to the communities that will benefit from them is the sustaining force of what we do — and as a graduate student at Princeton, I will not only have the space and the resources to explore these ideas, but the peers and mentorship to help make them a reality.
Thank you so much for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you all in the new year!