Flyover Process: From start to finish

Flyover Process: From start to finish

calendar icon27 Oct 2020    user iconBy Brian G Reetz

Gracie Fagan and India Enter
Gracie Fagan and India Enter

Awhile back and leading up to the Flyover II performance on November 17, I asked a composer in the composition studio if it would be okay for me to follow her on her process from the start of developing a piece to the end, the actual performance.

Flyover this semester is different because composers are writing pieces for just one performer due to COVID-19 so this also allows me to work more closely with a single performer. In this case, I’ve been messaging with composer Gracie Fagan and now her performer India Enter, who is a cellist. 

I hope to share with you how the piece first came into the head of Fagan, how she gets the process down on paper, how it is received by Enter, how the two of them work together and give and take on a piece and then how the final piece is put together and performed.

I hope to be a fly on the wall at times (socially distanced and with a mask on) and at other times engage them in conversations (same as above). I will be posting photos, videos and other items leading up to the final performance that will be live webcast. I will be adding to the web story throughout the process, as well as posting to Instagram and Twitter and the Flyover Facebook event page:

The beginning (Update October 28, 2020)

So how does a composed piece begin? What comes first? Do the sounds come into the composer’s head? Do the notes just flow onto the paper or in other cases, the computer? Does the composer see colors in place of sounds/notes? Is it a feeling? Is it about a good time, a bad time, a frustrating time, a peaceful time, a time of love, a time of despair?

For Fagan, she journals ideas and concepts. She mediates on it. Sometimes this process can go on for a week to a week and half and then the notes come to her later. She will also ruminate over a cup of tea as the idea forms in her mind.

But really, it’s also about connections for Fagan. As she said while I was with them on October 23rd, “For me, making connections is the best thing!” In this case, Fagan and Enter got together over zoom and also for coffee in early September. The two, both undergraduate students in the Glenn Korff School of Music, knew of each other but didn’t KNOW each other. It was at that meeting that Fagan learned about Enter’s additional creative outlet – as a creative painter.

So in this case, the actual composing of the piece came out of a time lapse of Enter’s painting of a landscape and the multifaceted process that goes into a painting from what to include, what not to include, layers and so much more. See one of the time-lapse videoes:

This is how the composition came to life in Fagan’s head. In this case, this was the beginning.

Bios (Update October 29, 2020)

Gracie Fagan Bio

Gracie Fagan is an up and coming new age composer and audio designer based in Lincoln, Nebraska. She is currently studying composition with Dr. Greg Simon at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Glenn Korff School of Music, with a minor in music technology. In addition to composition, Gracie studies trumpet performance with Dr. Darryl White. She enjoys playing as a member of the UNL Jazz Orchestra and her jazz combo, Cannonball. Being an active composition studio member, she is an involved member of the Flyover New Music committee, promoting new music in the greater community and executing premiers of new works with her colleagues. Outside of the studio, Gracie can be found doing service work for her music leadership fraternity, Kappa Kappa Psi, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and watching every movie she can find.

Gracie enjoys writing and collaborating with all types of ensembles. Some of her most notable works have been performed by electronics at Flyover concerts in 2020, by the Millard North High School Chamber Orchestra at the Nebraska All-State convention in 2018, the Millard North High School Junior Varsity Marching Band in 2018 and 2019, and The Red Keys acapella group. Gracie also made her film debut in the fall of 2020, with the premiere of the short film 'Boom Mike,' directed by Michaela Tonak.

India Enter Bio

India Enter was raised in Owatonna, MN, where she attended public schools and began playing the cello at the age of nine with their beginner program. Soon after, she began studying privately with Dr. Betsy Anderson, then Dr. Joseph Rodgers at Minnesota State University-Mankato. Since beginning the cello, India has been involved in orchestral and cello studies outside of school and private lessons. She has participated in local Symphonies and String Orchestras, a couple including Minnesota Youth Symphonies and Canon Valley Youth Orchestra. India has also performed in masterclasses, attended courses, and had private lessons with prominent cellists such as Richard Aaron, Hans Jenson, Tom Rosenberg, Tanya Remenikova, and Paul Katz. She has also attended several intensive summer festivals including Stringwood, Bravo!, International Cello Institute, and Saint Paul Chamber Music Institute. This summer, India attended the Cincinnati Young Artists’ Summer Cello Academy and Miami Classical Music Festival online, due to COVID-19. A favorite musical setting for India is in chamber ensembles. She has played in various small ensembles, whether that be through the Artaria Chamber Music School, University, or with close friends during break. This fall, India is attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for her third year. She has been working towards a BM in Cello Performance, studying under cello professor, Dr. Karen Becker.

A week ago (Update October 30, 2020)

A week ago (Friday, October 23 at 4 p.m.), in Room 110 of the Westbrook Music Building, the three of us got together for the first time, socially distanced and wearing masks. It was also the first time that India’s cello made an appearance as part of the process with the two of them together.

India: Do you want me to play what is here?
Gracie: Sure!

And India began to play what Gracie had written on the sheets of paper in front of her (see photo). After playing for a bit of time, there was a good give and take between the two of them – kind of like a do this or do that? The playing also incorporates what goes into the painting, remember, so the two of them were discussing not only the sounds but actions and expressiveness.

Gracie: Whatever you are comfortable with
Gracie: Make it a long, dramatic pull

There were also laughs and giggles between the two of them as they were clearly enjoying the experience with each other.

India: How fast is that part again?
India: That is so cool (she said after playing part of it)
India: I’m really excited

The give and take continued.

Gracie: Is there anything you absolutely hate?
India: Oh, there are some things that I miss…that you cut.

You can tell it’s a creative process between the two of them.

Gracie: I want it to be raw and honest.
India: I’m excited to have it and shape it and see what you want me to do different
India: The hardest parts are there parts (she says pointing at the sheets of music), but I love it
Gracie: I want it to be something that I believe in.

At that point I asked them a few different questions after mostly sitting nearly 30 feet away from them. Listen here to hear what I heard:

Gracie: We wanted to figure out how we were going to do it. I still have to toy around with it.
India: I appreciate how involved I am in it.

There were all smiles and plans for what the weeks ahead would be like for both of them.

Process of the Painting in Fagan's words (Updated November 3, 2020)

The process of the painting caused me to feel many emotions. I especially felt India’s frustration with the first draft of it when she painted it white and started over.

When I think about the relationship between musical gestures and emotions, I am drawn intensely to atonality, and lack of a sense of stability. In the concept of developing something from nothing, this lends itself well in the sense that there is no “place” to start from. This, for example, is why I chose to start the piece with a very uncommon harmonic trill, to symbolize that we are starting from a place that is underdeveloped. This gesture comes back in the second part of the piece as somewhere familiar, but then goes a completely different direction. Through the second part it comes back as just pure harmonics. My goal with this gesture was to give the listeners a little bit of unsteadiness while keeping familiarity. This is why it comes back, but seldom goes where the listener/viewer expects it. Thus, representing India’s process from “starting white” and calling back to this through the more stagnant parts of the process- her thinking and processing and deciding what to do next!

See another timelapse of Enter's painting:

I should mention, as the piece goes on and develops, it gets more and more “tonal” and stable. This represents the coming together of the painting and seeing the whole picture in a sense of stability with some ornamentation.

How Enter responded to the piece (Updated November 4, 2020)

Because of the different tempi, rhythms, textures, etc, I could easily hear the brushstrokes and formation of ideas. Now that I have the whole piece, I can hear my whole process through the eyes of Gracie! It has been interesting to see how we experienced the process differently in some ways, but I have enjoyed incorporating the art onto music. I haven’t played a piece with a story I am actually a piece of.

Watch this video of them working through the piece for the first time together:

Naming of the piece (Updated November 4, 2020)

The title was something I was putting off picking for a long time. I’m really bad with words and go back and forth between what I want to call projects.

With this piece, I wanted a title that would show that it tells a story, and also incorporated the element of the painting and perhaps of the cello.

One morning in a practice room in GKSOM, I was finishing writing part of the development of the piece and was pressed for the title. I needed it to submit the piece to be played on the next Flyover. So, I put a timer on for 2 minutes and brainstormed. I ended up sending three options to India to get her opinion, and “Through Brush and Bow” is what she selected!

Going Facebook Live (Updated November 6, 2020)

This afternoon we plan to go LIVE on Facebook to share the Flyover Process at around 4:30 p.m. We will be going through the final score and finalizing the piece completely. 

A question from Facebook Live (Updated November 10, 2020)

One of the viewers of the Facebook Live from Friday (you can still see it on the GKSOM Facebook page) asked of Fagan: How do you write for an instrument that you yourself do not play?

So, so much research! And lots of communication between myself and India. Lots of it was composed at a piano and then transferred to see if it could be played on the cello, then either adjusted or discarded to go into the piece. It’s a lot of reading and communication, with notes of me attempting to figure out how to play cello a little myself.

A question from Facebook Live (Updated November 11, 2020)

One of the viewers of the Facebook Live from Friday (you can still see it on the GKSOM Facebook page) asked: What has been the most inspiring part of this collaborative effort?

Both working so closely with Gracie and being able to connect art with music. This opportunity was unexpected but has been very rewarding. I’ve been able to understand a piece from many more angles by collaborating with the composer directly, playing the notes, and painting for/with the music.

Catching up with both (Updated November 12, 2020)

How is the final piece coming?

Gracie: It is all finished! It’s been done for about a week and a half

How do you feel about letting go of it?

Gracie: I’m ready to let it go. I’ve written what i can. I absolutely love seeing different artists creative interpretations of pieces that I create - art is interpreted, and I think that’s part of what makes it beautiful, because the same piece can mean so many different but valuable things to do many people.

How much time have you gotten to spend on it in the past few days?

India: I’ve been working on the piece with every snippet Gracie has given me. The final draft, I’ve spent several hours on it in practice, studio, and lessons.

Enter rehearsing (Updated November 16, 2020)

Here is a little snippet of India rehearing the piece over the weekend.


The night before and the day of (Update November 17, 2020)

So one more day, nervous?

Gracie: I’m excited! I usually do (get nervous), yeah. I don’t necessarily get nervous when I have piece premiere, but when I perform on trumpet, I do.

India: I’m much more excited than nervous for this performance!


Thanks so much for following along with me, Gracie and India on this journey for the premiere of Through Brush and Bow. The performance takes place tonight and here is the link to the webcast where you will also be able to see the final painting, displayed close to India.


Due to unforeseen circumstances (Updated November 19, 2020)

Due to unforeseen circumstances, the piece “Through Brush and Bow”, composed by Gracie Fagan and to be performed by India Enter, wasn't able to be premiered on the recent Flyover New Music Series event. The plan is for the performance to be rescheduled for the March 1, 2021 Flyover in Westbrook Recital Hall.