Ruminations on another semester

Well, i'm one year into DMA studies at UMKC. It's been a helluva year. I thought i'd sum up the finer points

1) i learned the power of beer. good beer. and cheap beer. beer i like and beer i don't like. i dislike more than i like still. having good microbreweries in town helps.

2) life is a popularity contest. And i'm miss congeniality

3) Fixing laptop hardware can be beyond my abilities. As my currently flickering screen proves.

4) I still seem to have a knack when it comes to working with younger students. Hopefully i don't break too many hearts.

5) Guilt is an emotion i feel, but not over things you'd expect. Playing video games = guilty. not calling my family on holidays ≠ guilty. Perhaps i am a bad person...

6) one can learn a great deal about composition through trial and error. And even more from your colleagues. Lessons fall ranks fourth behind having someone play your music

7) Art is inherently philosophical.

8) I can still play jazz. and, in fact, i can solo better than i have before. Quite astounding

9) having a good dentist is incredibly important. if you do not have a good dentist, or do not a have any dentist, then problems will arise.

10) not all Steak n' Shakes are 24 hours. seriously.

11) Lists are so 2001.

12) Missouri Department of Transportation and Illinois Department of Transportation are two of the worst maintenance services ever. 1.5 inches ≠ a blizzard. there shouldn't have been 1.5 inches of snow ON THE ROAD when it accumulated over 8 hours!

13) hidden chateaus may be the greatest invention ever.

14) life is neither simple nor easy.

15) relationships are even harder than that

16) life is worth living even when it's not

17) music is worth writing, even if there will be no performance

18) i love food

19) reaching even, easily divisible numbers is a bit of an obsession of mine

20) half of everything i say is BS in some fashion.



Yep, you read it write. lol. A recording of a piece of mine, "It Was Raining" performed by Sarah E. Fox, soprano, and myself on electronics, is included in the online edition of From The Well House

This is their first online magazine, and i think everyone did a good job. It was a crazy road getting the piece accepted. There was a large, not tactfully done by me, conversation about music copyright and how it differs from writing. In the end, everything was sorted out and we're all on the same page.

Check out the site, read the stories and check out all the different media. It's great to see such a wide spanning set of media. And always nice to get my music out to possibly another audience

and, of course, i had the smarts to include my webpage in my bio. w00t. oh man, i should update it! lol


Confession time

I always wanted to be a rockstar

I was so damn jealous of my brothers' band. I'd go to the shows, and even if there were only a handful of people, there was so much energy in those rooms.

The last band they had was "hardcore." That nice line between metal and punk. their demo CD kicked ass.

man, i was jealous. This was when i was in undergrad.

Previously my brothers had separate projects. and i was jealous of those. I was learning classical music, a big band geek, went into music ed. Thought conducting a HS band would be the closest to being a rockstar i'd ever get.

I was always so jealous. They both have much better ears than me. all the training i've had and my ears just don't get better. I can't play in that style. can't write in it either. lol.

but i've decided to. once i finish this overly serious Pierrot piece, and the trombone and wind ensemble concerto, i'm writing a hardcore piece

for voice, bass clarinet, guitar, percussion, and electronics.

and it will be badass.

There's still time to be a rockstar, even if it's with a trombone in hand...


What are we worth?

Ok, this is an incredibly hot topic, and i'm positive i'll take flack one way or the other on this...

First here, here's a link to a story about Sarah Chang and her "Detroit Dilemma"

The union asks Sarah Chang to not perform in Detroit until the labor strike is over.

I've gone through the DSO's site, read through all the articles. It seems the management really boned things over quite well. superbly in the past, reading through some of the things. It's obvious that the people on the management side are definitely not out for the best interest of the musicians. there are many things in the proposal that are just...well...wrong, such as provisions that actually make the playing environment unhealthy for instruments, and some unhealthy for the players (major cuts in health coverage, no pension, etc).

However, when i look at some of things the musicians were discussing, it really made me wonder...

What are we worth? as musicians, as artists, as people.

The current average "veteran" rate for the DSO is $104,650.

The median income in Detroit is around $28,000 (with sharp declines the last few years.)

the current average "veteran" rate for the NY Phil is $134,940

The median income in NYC is around $39,000

This, of course, doesn't tell the whole story, at all. There are tons of other things to consider, for sure...but when i saw those numbers, i got to thinking...

The average pay for an experienced surgeon in the US is between $150-260K a year

It really makes me wonder a great deal about America and how it works. Now, I'm not an expert on such things, but i've just been thinking...what am I worth? what are musicians worth?

In Detroit, the DSO musicians offered to take a 22% pay cut with annual raises for "cost of living." That puts the salary down to the $80K range or so. That, to me, seems like a fair salary. Management wanted to take it down about a third, to the $70K range. I still think that is a fair salary for an orchestral musician IN DETROIT.

why? the living is cheaper. The median cost of a house is around $108K in Detroit (all basic facts and figures taken from Census data...so, they've prolly fallen since 2006's mini census...)

In NYC, of course they're going to have to make more. Why? Have you ever looked for an apartment in NYC? well, here's a taste. Yeah, that's right, spending $2500 is CHEAP in manhattan. That one is on the upper west side, around 96th street. if you go into Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, LI, or NJ it's cheaper, of course, but still not cheap. You're still looking at a 1 BR costing you in the $1K range a month...

makes my $428 studio (which is bigger than most NYC 1 BRs by the way) look like a GREAT deal.

I understand, as a symphony, needing to be competitive to get the best players. But there is only so much a city can sustain. I think the 22% cut is gracious of the musicians and shows a certain practicality. Losing anything as far as health insurance and pension is borderline inhumane to me (but i think health insurance shouldn't cost even half what it does...and that health care is a RIGHT and therefore we should be able to get it without fear of bankruptcy, but, that's another rant...). It really makes me wonder...

I saw a fabulous piece of art for sale in a gallery. It was, basically, a Nerf Sword shoved into a bar stool, the kind with the handle hole in the middle. I thought it was great, i loved seeing the concept of line and space interpreted through these common items. i love the nod to "the sword in the stone." Thought it was fantastic.

The artist wanted $600 for the piece...I took a step back and looked. Yeah, it's awesome, but $600 awesome? how long did it take him to figure that out, conceptually? not long, i'd wager. And the cost of raw materials is low, prolly in the $40 range (cheaper than a really nice canvas!). Take out taxes, (a solid 25% usually) and the gallery fee (some galleries take up to 50%! WTF?!?!?), and maybe a bit more overhead for a "studio." So, he comes out around, say, $175. not bad for 15 minutes of work...

so why the cost? the years of practice? yeah, i get that...but then, a general practicing doctor, for a 15 minute visit, will charge about $150, 200, if he's getting insurance money (i knew some that charge $50 to people without insurance, or sometimes even less...). Let's say he takes $200 for his 15 minutes. after overhead (paying the nurse for her 15, plus the other staff, plus taxes) he prolly takes home about 40% or so, maybe...something like, $80-90 for his 15 minutes.

We can talk about "commodity." We can talk about rarity. but what is your time worth? what are you worth as a musician? as an artist...

When i freelance in KC doing audio, i charge around $25 an hour. I get SCOFFED at for charging that much. well...i do have plenty of experience, 3 years with a major company, 3 more doing recording work, and another 3-4 doing theater work before that. Pretty solid on the experience. Have a MM with an emphasis in that area...and i'm doing a DMA with an emphasis in the area. $25, even in KC, seems about right. if i'm working for a company, and i know they don't have the money, i'll go less. I've worked here for as little as $10 an hour, or even "an equal share" of what a band makes...

What if i were to go play trombone, solo, in an art gallery. what's that worth? what are those 4 hours worth. Well, honestly, i'd say $50/hr if i'm being a jerk. What about lessons? Well, $25 per half hour seems about right for a beginner, MS, even HS, but that may be high. i remember paying $10 per half hour for piano in Indiana...

I'm still trying to find my worth...In the grand scheme of the world, i do not believe I am worth as much as a doctor. Is the worth easy to figure out, in a straight linear fashion? no. But i don't think i'm "worth" more than many professions. I believe what i do is important, but i also realize that it is not as important as other things in my life.

I don't have an answer about Detroit. Now that i've read some more of the arguments, i'm not pro-management anymore (a lot of articles make the Symphony out to be bad guys, not wanting to take wage cuts...even others just make them seem like big jerks whining- and those are the ones written by PRO MUSICIAN BLOGS! lol). I'm not pro anyone. I think the musicians understand the disparity and what's happening in Detroit, so maybe they've got the inside track...

I don't have an answer as to my own worth. I'm not that big into money. I live simply...If i could make around $45K a year, i'd be so freaking happy. unless I'm in NYC, then i'm starving. LOL.

Still...what is a single piece of art worth? what is your time worth? let me know your thoughts. maybe they'll help me sort my own out


the BC Years

Subtitle- How to make the most out of your MM

Let me preface by saying this straight off- i loved Brooklyn College. The faculty there are top notch. i never in a million years would have become the musician i am today without those professors.

And now for the most important piece of advice ever for someone looking at MM programs in the academic areas (i won't speak on performance, as it's not my bag...)

You get what you put into the program.

Brooklyn College is a great school. There is one area that i did not like, and still do not like in some of my classes- combining undergrad and graduate students. I've had 2 classes at UMKC like this and almost all my classes at BC were like this. They get double listed as 400 level undergrad classes. In some cases, this isn't so bad- some specific topic type classes where the grad students may not have a leg up as far as understanding of the material. other classes, such as orchestration, must be insanely intimidating for those undergrads being surrounded by doctoral students waxing poetic and making comparisons to pieces they may never have heard of.

For teachers, this poses 2 problems. first off, you have to set-up 2 different sets of criteria and hold people in the same class to 2 separate grading levels. having taught (and am now teaching) i would find that horrendous. Also, you have the problem of "how do i get these undergrad students to participate?" Honestly, i think they get a ton out of listening to the grad students go on and on.

For a student, it poses another problem. As the teacher attempts to find that happy zone where he is challenging grad students but not losing undergrads, it often tapers a bit toward catering to the undergrads. And i don't mean this as an insult at all- they haven't had the time and experience often to have the same breadth of knowledge as a grad student. And they deserve to have that knowledge presented to them.

So, when you're presented with that situation, take it as 2 things- 1) a teaching moment. seriously. I do it quite often in class, but then i'm geared toward that. and 2) a chance for major personal growth.

in an MM, you're expected to write. a lot. you're held to a higher level (well, i wasn't held to a higher level than DPU but DPU is kinda crazy, i think...). Take the opportunity to really pick your professor's brain. Pick interesting topics. Take classes that interest you and you will want to do research. Send drafts to your prof, ask questions, go to office hours. You may not get to hit a lot of the subject matter in class, because they're going to be splitting the difference between two (or three) different levels of experience

Again, I loved BC. I wrote some awesome papers, did some awesome projects. almost all my classes were joint grad/undergrad, and i took it as chances to just sit in class and work on my projects. Yeah, i was that guy with my head in his laptop, clicking away, then saying a couple choice nuggets, then clicking away again. lol.

Anyway, i spent the time really working on projects. I wrote some major pieces, spent a large amount of time writing a 21 minute chamber opera. It was a solidly good time. There were some awesome papers that i was able to get amazing feedback regarding.

My MM was magical, not because it was NYC (i dislike NYC.) or because Brooklyn College is some ridiculous crazy bubble type school where everything happens in a vacuum. that may be what i loved the most- we all worked, we all lived. we did things in the city as much as or more than campus.

So, i'll sum it up in this way, when hitting the ground running for your MM

1) hopefully you did your research and picked a school where you have teachers in the areas that most interest you. Hook up with those teachers and get the most out of them as possible.

2) don't get caught up in the insanity. It's going to be a ton of work, especially at first. but you'll get accustomed. remember to eat, remember to sleep, and, for goodness sake, when you get sick (which you will) go to the campus health center!

3) If you haven't figured out general areas of research you like, now's the time to try out some hot topics and advanced theory. You don't have to decide upon your MM thesis right off the bat, but you should take a couple semesters to figure out what paths interest you, then hit them

4) plan for your doctorate, but don't let it get in the way. Seriously. I was planning on applying for my DMA right outta my masters. then, life happened. There was this thesis thing, and school, and work. Taking a little time off between MM and DMA/PhD isn't a bad thing at all. in fact most DMA students i know took a little time off.

Now, i would tell you about my amazing DMA quest, but, it goes like this...

I was living in Jersey. The job market was terrible. I lost what work i had and couldn't get any job. i ran out of money

I moved home. i got kicked out of the house because my dad was quite ill and definitely was not himself. So, i lived with friends, worked at a music store for minimum wage, and begged for a reprise from paying my loans (since i could barely afford to eat...). I was applying for DMAs, had the schools generally picked thanks to research and professors. The list wasn't overly large:

SUNY Buffalo, UMKC, Bowling Green State University, Princeton, Cornell. I ended up at UMKC because

1) i was in a bad situation and was desperate.
2) they had an opening in the spring.
3) i got in

Seriously. I took the first offer to get the hell outta dodge

However, i got DAMN lucky. UMKC was my top choice. talk about freakin lucky. beyond lucky...

Yeah, that wasn't as much of a fun story. and now, for lunch and KcEMA concert set-up!


It Gets Better


Ok, this is my "professional composition blog" but i have to post something about this cause it's really making me crazy...

I'm an ally, and have been for just about as long as I can remember. when i see the stories in the news and hear about all the bullying, violence, and suicides of young LGBT people, i get really upset.

I don't know what to say other than it's wrong. just plain freaking wrong.

I...I really don't know what to say. there are few subjects that really get me, but intolerance like this, especially right now against differing religions and LGBT really just "grind my gears." Throw in that i'm exhausted, and i'm now thinking back to all my LGBT friends through the years, and dealing with things like, oh, suggesting we go to a bar for karaoke and have him say "do you think i can go into a bar called the BUCKHORN dressed like this? I AM WEARING BELLBOTTOMS!" we all had a laugh, but it pissed me off then, and it pisses me off thinking about it.

What's worst for me is that, yes, it gets better. High school is easily the worst time. It gets better.

but there are places where even as adults, it's not safe

It's not safe to go if you're LGBT. Or you're a different race. or a different religion.

It's wrong. just...wrong. I wish i had more eloquence on this subject but i don't. i can't seem to channel it because, deep down, i just don't understand. i don't understand how anyone can hate without knowing a person. how anyone can just automatically dislike someone without knowing anything about them.

At least i'm in one of the more open majors, one of the more open society functions. Music is more open than many other callings in life. There are still places where work is needed, of course, but i'm proud to have so many friends from every walk of life.

who all love each other.

yeah, ok, maybe i'm getting sappy. strange for someone who is definitely characterized often as a jerk, but we all have our soft spots. I'm a jerk to everyone equally, after all. lol

I offer this: if anyone is reading this blog and needs to vent, needs to go off, needs to release their feelings, let me know. It Gets Better, especially if we're all going to help each other.

Ally for life


3 or more is a streak

You'd think there'd be continuity between the titles of my posts that are a series. but, no, i just don't do that. lol

Now we enter the more interesting point in my life: How i got into grad school.

There are tons of questions i'm sure people are DYING to know: what happened during my "lost" year, where did i apply, how did i choose where to apply, how i got into Brooklyn College (i may not have an answer for that one.), and why i chose Brooklyn College, in the end.

First off, I had applied to grad schools during my senior year at DPU. However, i was in and out of my mind, addled, stressed out, and basically going a more than a little crazy. So, i missed 2 deadlines of schools because i had them written down as the wrong deadlines. Yep, i swapped the dates for Brooklyn College and Bowling Green. Now, there was only a 2 week difference, but at the time, Bowling Green was higher on my list. could get an assitanceship, get things paid for, has a new music festival. seemed like a happening place. But, alas, it was due the 1st, Brooklyn the 15th. about the 4th i realized i had the wrong date for BG. But i thought that BG AND Brooklyn were the first. wrong again...see, brain addled

The other school was SUNY Stony Brook. They lost all my "supporting" materials. They had been signed for. I read the name of the person to the lady on the phone. She asked that i resend them (this was a month after the due date, of course.) I answered "Sorry, i don't have enough money to reprint, rebind, and resend all my scores overnight. Unless you want to cut me a check for your mistake, i can't do it. Also, i refuse to attend a school that looses my paperwork. I have dealt with this for 4 years, i will not continue to deal with it."

I was a dick. I admit it. And i don't care one little bit.

For the record, the three schools i looked at the most were Brooklyn College, Bowling Green, and SUNY Stony Brook. Brooklyn College came highly recommended by several people. Carlos thought it was a great school and wanted me to go study with Tania Leon. I met Kevin James (the composer/trombonist, not the comedian) who had also gotten his MM at Brooklyn College and highly recommended it. Two somewhat pivotal guys in my deciding to composer, telling me to go to BC? yeah, i'll put it on the list.

Bowling Green interested me because it was somewhat close to many of my friends, has a good reputation for new music, and seemed like a good program. the doctorate interested me more with its emphasis on contemporary music only. Still, it seemed like an interesting school. and the allure of a possible assistanceship was nice.

SUNY Stony Brook also came recommended by Carlos. I checked it out and listened to some music done by the faculty. Daniel Weymouth's music somewhat blew my mind, even though all i heard was Rare Events for Bass Clarinet and Tape. Still, after the debacle my senior year, i definitely was not going to apply again.

So, after not getting into grad school, mostly my own fault, i was going to drift for a year. I knew it was going to happen, and accepted it. My girlfriend at the time suggested we move to South Jersey and live at the beach. Well, i didn't have anything else going on and i had other skill sets i could try. I had previously worked as a lube tech and mechanics helper, i had done retail, and knew a thing or two about the production business and audio recording. Still, my (ex)girlfriend found a job months before me. LOL. just goes to show, ya just never know what'll happen.

I hooked up with a production company doing live events. I was a technician/driver. My job: Prep the order, load the order, drive it to the location, set it up, run it, tear it down, load it, unload it, check it. Seriously, i did everything except take the order. And, considering how much revising those orders went through I might as well have. the business did not have any sort of "inventory tracking." So, when we were out of something, i had to go upstairs, tell them, they had to call the client, and then figure out a substitute. yes, i'm serious...

Anyway, i cut my teeth doing lighting, sound, and video. I worked in a warehouse that had no AC and only had a few heated portions. I knew i wanted to go grad school.

So, i did research, looked at schools. I decided since i didn't do an undergrad in comp, the big names were out. Princeton, Yale, Cornell, Stanford were crossed off immediately. Brooklyn College was on the list with Bowling Green. I figured i should look for more options

That's when i found out Columbia College of Chicago was starting up a film scoring MFA. sounded AWESOME! i love film scores, love the whole process, and had been learning more about video and film the past year. I knew of Columbia because my oldest bro had gone there for a few years for a degree in audio recording.

I printed, bound, and sent off my meager portfolio to Columbia and Brooklyn College. I spaced on Bowling Green, as seemed to be a normal thing for me. My portfolio was...pathetic.

1) a piece for trombone and piano, incredibly tonal, a little rhythmic interest, i guess...Not bad for my second real piece, i guess. The piano writing had some amazing moments for sure

2) Aegean Straight Down for trombone, string orchestra, and timpani. It is...well...a fun little piece, i guess. I wrote it for the DPU Chamber Symphony's 2006 tour. The conductor felt bad because he had chosen a Haydn symphony as the large piece...so, for 25 minutes, i sat backstage and snored. He had suggested i learn an unaccompanied solo, like Mippy II or something, but Carlos suggested i write something. The conductor, Orcenith Smith, agreed, as long as it was relatively easy for the strings (we only had 2 weeks to put it together, after all.) It is...The basses hold an F

for 5 minutes


3) Two Gray Songs- two art songs with poetry by Kelsie Gray. It was my first foray into art song. I presented them in a masterclass with Jake Heggie. he hated them. i felt discouraged. Carlos loved them. I felt better. And, now i write for voice quite often. and i bet Jake Heggie would hate all my pieces. LOL

4) Things That Go Bump in the Night. It sounds like the title. seriously. I don't remember the instrumentation at all...

It wasn't much. looking back over, in retrospect, it wasn't bad. After meeting people from UMKC finishing their BM in Comp, i am surprised i got in ANYWHERE, but i met some amazing composers here. I went back over them over the summer, just as nostalgia, from the trombone quartet through my masters, and some of it wasn't bad at all. different from what i do now, but i can see it starting, in the piano parts to the piece for Trombone, and in Two Gray Songs...and some of the trombone licks in Aegean. Anyway, i digress...

That's what i sent out. Three pieces, all three were midi-realizations. i had no recordings, even though two had been performed. What i got back from Columbia College was "We like your music. We think you'll be a great composer. but you didn't submit any film music. do you have film skills at all? You're one of the strongest candidates musically, but think you're not a good fit for the program."

Yeah, they were right. lol. still, i was disheartened. But, somehow...

I got into Brooklyn College. I don't know how really. The faculty said it was my originality. They could tell i was willing to take giant leaps, try new things, go outside the box, even if the base skills weren't all there. I got the same answer from the folks at UMKC as well, actually. I always felt i just needed time, and i'd get better.

So, here are the nuggets to gleam out and some real advice

1) start planning early and be willing to take time off to find out where to go. There are millions of schools.

2) ask people in the know. This means your current professors, other students, friends, professional contacts, anyone anywhere. try and get some information!

3) GO VISIT! i didn't do this. I should have. if they know your face and know who you are, it'll go better. E-mail is great, phone calls are nice, but nothing beats showing up and shaking a hand!

the above three are very important. Many schools have a particular style. some teachers exist to create replicants of themselves stylistically. This can work if you want to write in that style. Get to know the programs. some are a lot more open and want varied backgrounds and interests (such as BC and UMKC). Others just want people "that fit." I am not judging either style, but obviously, one of them works much better for me as a student.

4) apply to multiple places, but don't have "fall-back schools." If you don't want to go there, DON'T GO THERE!

5) if you can, get a sample lesson with a teacher. don't go to a school "just because you like the teacher's music." Seriously. You can learn a great deal from people who have completely different styles and approaches than you. In fact, you may learn more. I hold to this. Some of the greatest advice I've gotten from composers whose music i don't particularly like.

6) be willing to move. it's nice staying in your safety zone, but, sometimes, there's just nothing there. take Indiana. There isn't a program in Indiana that suits me for composition. The closest is Bowling Green, really. Even the Chicago schools might not fit well, especially since Augusta Read Thomas is no longer at Northwestern.

7) don't give up. ever. If it's what you really want to do, DO IT! if you don't have the drive and determination to fight through a couple rejection letters than, well, you may not have the drive to make it all the way through.

being an artist, any type of artist, is not easy. It's not all sunshine and lollipops. Be prepared for that.

I loved the process. I switched production companies in Jersey right before my MM started, but i stayed with them for those 2 years doing audio for some amazing bands. I wrote a great deal of music at BC. I learned electronic music. I had known the software, done recording and editing before, knew live sound, but never used it for music. It was pretty awesome to go that direction.

but BC years are for later. for now, I am off! byebye


Sage advice from a fool, pt 2

The beginning of undergrad.

I will lump my undegrad into one short entry. there is some wisdom here, i think...

I entered college. I had a major, was declared from the get-go. Was gun-ho. I even practiced every once in a while I spent more time getting acclimated to the climate than i did studying.

Everything was going quite smoothly, actually. I was getting good grades, made Dean's list a few times. I enjoyed my classes, most of all my education classes. really felt like i had found my calling. It wasn't until half-way through my sophomore year things started to change.

It started with trombone. I hadn't practiced much, and it showed. There was no challenge to the music. I played Morceau Symphonique, some piece i've completely forgotten, and a couple sonatas by Galliard (originally for bassoon.). I hated them all. Got into a fight with my professor, Jim Beckel, about how i was playing "lame music" and i didn't practice "because i didn't need to." Yeah, i wasn't playing them to their fullest, but i was invested, so 80% was good enough.

He challenged me, said bring in a piece i worked up ON MY OWN, to prove i could handle harder literature. I worked my ass off on Concerto for Trombone by Launy Grohndal. I proved myself to my teacher. We started to get along much better after that. It was a big experience for me, and definitely in the relationship we shared. I didn't feel like he respected me as a performer. I know he didn't. and he didn't have any reason to. I didn't practice, didn't try. But i'm the type that NEEDS something to try. I don't always do things just because it's right. like practicing. i know i SHOULD all the time, but i don't.

Junior year, i was having doubts about my major. I was studying conducting more seriously and found out i had a knack for it. I was also writing music a little more seriously on the side. I hadn't ever done anything other than mess around, but for a final theory project, we had to write a piece. I wrote a trombone quartet. Beckel, after our butting heads and now new found understanding, programmed it. Yes, my true opus 1 was a trombone quartet written for a theory assignment. wanna fight about it? lol

People liked it. Genuinely liked it. So, i thought i could write on the side, work on my conducting...January, Junior year...

At DePauw they run a 4-1-4. during the "winter term" as they call it, there are fun classes on campus. i had previously taken a class over the Ring Cycle and one for performance and wellness. Now, i approached Prof Beckel, who is also a good composer, about doing a winter term with him. I would churn out a 5 minute piece for full orchestra.

I knew nothing, formally, of writing music beyond theory. That's...not much to go on. He drilled me hard. I learned about all sorts of forms of development, about counterpoint, fugue, orchestration. in 4 weeks. i wrote a 5 minute piece for orchestra.

It is now buried.

And my life changed forever.

I was urged to take composition...with some guy named Carlos Carrillo. at the same time i was taking 20th century history and theory. my mind was blown. I took in everything "new" i could find. I was voracious, listening to Strauss and Debussy to Schoenberg to John Cage to Morton Feldman to Bang on a Can. I had previously gone to talks by living composers. DePauw does a "composer's of the 21st century" series (though, sometimes the composers are really 21st century. Sorry Samuel Adler, but your time has definitely passed.)

It was all downhill from their. Carlos opened my world up. I grew more and more doubting of wanting to teach MS or HS band. I wanted to be a conductor. I wanted to be a composer. I wanted...

to go to grad school.

It all came to a head my senior year, with Elementary Methods, Materials, and Curriculums. It made me a chain smoker. I worked with kindergarten and 4th graders. it was hell. i snapped.

the last week i could, i quit my major. i had been having arguments about missing time to go to grad school audition days. Seems you can't miss more than a few days and pass student teaching. I pulled out. I got a general music degree. i wrote a piece for trombone and orchestra that went on a west coast tour with the DePauw Chamber Symphony.

I visited U Washington. I wanted to go get my MM in conducting. I met with the conductors and the grad students.

I changed my mind. It was nearly impossible. they expect you to have already been conducting to get in. Most people come in with 2-3 years of public school conducting. i didn't WANT TO CONDUCT HS! no one seemed to understand that. i wanted to be Daniel Baremboim, or Pierre Boulez, or Eugene Ormandy, or Michael Tilson Thomas...not a HS band director, and then hopefully get into conducting a college wind band. i wanted something BIG!

I applied to schools in composition. I either got rejected or had my materials lost...

but i knew what i wanted to do.

I still curse Carlos to this day. LOL. no, i thank him, continuously. He opened my eyes to such a wider world of music, beyond DePauw, beyond Indiana. he showed me the universe of sounds, introduced me to composers i never would have known otherwise. Feldman, Takemitsu, Lutoslowski, Fernyhough, Tania Leon. he had me reading books by Joseph Straus, Morton Feldman, John Cage. my eyes opened to this world. I studied the art, got into Robert Rauschenberg and Lichtenstein. I learned about Laurie Anderson, Yoko Ono (not the "Beatles" but her performance art) and other performance artists.

We all have that moment i think. The moment when, click, we know what it is we're meant to do. I never had that moment before. It was always a "well, i could stand to do this, i guess, if i have to choose." It clicked for me, my senior year, as i sat there on the porch drinking Mike's Hard Lemonade, chain smoking clove cigarettes, reading James Joyce. i wanted to be a creator. I wanted to teach, but not little kids, not high schoolers, but the world.

It was the pivotal moment. Then came the hard part- how to make it happen

Next time? how did i get into Brooklyn College, and what happened to my mind?


how'd i get here?

I have been inspired by 2 recent things to write a series on "how i got here." The first was the reminder that it's definitely the time of year people are sending off doctoral apps. We have a prospective doctoral student dropping by UMKC this week. Also, Speak Coffee has started a retrospective of her journey through the MFA process, starting with the application process. I don't have nearly the reader's she does (composers don't seem to keep as many active blogs...at least, none of my friends in the biz do.) but i figure i could offer a little wisdom.

Speak Coffee starts at her MFA process. I'm going to start with undergrad. why? because explaining my MM or DMA process to date wouldn't make sense without it. Most of you know this story, some of you may not. Dunno who reads this blog. lol.

I didn't come into this world knowing i was going to major in music. I played piano starting at a very young age, took lessons, hardly practiced. In late elementary school, i joined band, played trombone, because i accidently checked trombone instead of tuba. My family wasn't poor at the time, but we didn't have extra money floating around so i was supposed to play a "school" instrument. Alas, i checked the wrong box. heh

High school was a bore. I went to a small rural public school in Indiana. it didn't have all the fancy advantageous of bigger schools, or richer schools. The main form of music was the competitive marching band. In my time from 7th grade till 12th grade, i had 4 directors, and an assistant director. One director was a bit more influential than the rest. He had charisma oozing out of every pore. We all wanted to be music majors after hanging out with him.

At the same time, i did a lot of work for a community theater. It's a moderately successful group, the musicals tend to sell out a 500 seat auditorium at least one night of the run. not bad for a theater situated in a town of 6000 or so. It wasn't quite the draw then, but i still landed a major singing lead at 15 (Edward Rutledge in 1776. Yes, at 15 I sang "Molasses to Rum to Slaves." the archival camera, which patched audio directly from the board, actually shook when i hit the final high note. talk about clipping...). I was a theater brat. my mom has her BFA in theater design/acting/directing (yes, triple major. and almost a music minor, but didn't take theory.)

So, yeah, i didn't know what to do. I knew HS sucked, so i started looking forward to college. During my sophomore year i started planning. I was getting materials sent to me from all over the country. I clearly remember some of the schools i considered before i even nailed down a major: Claremont-McKenna, University of Miami (Fl.), John Hopkins/Peabody Conservatory, DePaul, DePauw, Lawrence University, Case Western Reserve, Carnegie Mellon, Tulane. Obviously, i had no idea what kind of school i wanted to attend or what i wanted to major in. That runs the gamut, i'd say. the only thing was a push away from major state schools and toward private schools. The question to most seniors at my school was "Purdue or IU?" i ran away...

After much soul searching, i decided upon Music over Chemistry. i still miss the feeling i got doing all those experiments, but i've replaced it with other types of experiments now. I narrowed down the schools even more- DePaul, DePauw, Lawrence, Peabody, U Miami. I sent applications to DePaul, DePauw, and Lawrence. Peabody's sat finished, waiting for me to do a recording. U Miami cost more than i was willing to spend (it was, at the time, $110 application fee.)

I didn't understand liberal arts education. I wanted my degree to be more specialized, actually learn SOMETHING rather than a little of everything. I never dreamed of going to grad school- to me a bachelors seemed terminal. I had no idea the difference between a conservatory and school of music and just a music department (my mom tried to explain that a conservatory is usually more hardcore.)

I auditioned at DePauw and Lawrence. my decision at the time was 100% based on money.

What did i learn from this?
1) Start looking at schools early even if you don't know what you want to major in. There are thousands of choices, and, depending where you are, your guidance counselors will be no help. this is especially true in music. The only people who can help are the ensemble directors/music teachers in your school, and they may not know that many programs. I know, i wouldn't have been able to tell students jack after i finished my undergrad degree.

2) Look based somewhat on where you want to live. Close to home? far far away from home? i can tell you, it's nice to have your mom be able to drive down for a concert, but have it be far enough away that it's a special trip. Gave me lots of freedom, but if i needed to get home for some reason, i could. not true anymore.

3) visit the schools. don't send a tape. go audition. do an overnight. talk to current students at ALL levels. find out as much info as possible

4) check your mail...it was in Decemeber, 2002, after i started at DePauw that i found the letter from DePaul. they had offered me a large sum of academic scholarship and wanted me to come audition. i don't regret my decision, but i do wonder a bit what would have happened at the other schools.

Thus shows my pre-undergrad years. It was a lot of indecision and fumbling around, wondering where to go and what i needed to do. There wasn't much help at my school, other than my band director giving me a few suggestions (of course, his alma mater first. lol).



It isn't often that i'm proud of a piece of art that i produce. It really isn't. I hold myself to very high standards, and there have only been a few times the product matched my vision well enough to consider it a success. "It Was Raining" goes does as a definite success. "Cake" is up there too.

today, i matched those guys with a technological marvel...

well, for me anyway.

I created a piece of hyperart. We all know hyperfiction, right? that wonderful thing my friend Jacob does that I am so jealous of. Hyperart is the use of the web specifically for artistic means.

That's not normally something i do. I use the internets to transmit info (such as this blog, or my website). I use it to watch videos, and keep in touch with friends. even to listen to music. Not to create pieces of art that can really only exist in a forum such as this...

It all stems from interactivity. I'm all about interactivity in art. In music, composers use tools like Max/MSP and Pd to write complicated pieces of electronics that interact with performers. Some composers even create patches (as the programs are called in Max and Pd) that are meant to be interacted with by anyone, not just a performer. But, it cannot reach the masses.

There are plenty of flash games bent around music. But, it's about the game, mostly. I think of something like Auditorium, which is really awesome (check it out here) but, yeah, it's about the game...not about the music. the player doesnt CREATE the music, just enables it to play. I like something more interactive, where, given some basic sounds, you can create your own piece.

I do not know flash. I find it quite useless. it's pretty, and good for games, but for webdesign, it's a nightmare. it's incredibly hard to update. html and java is bad enough (CMS is the way to go. basically, all these blogs are based on CMS...i digress). so, i went about building an interactive using only my know-how...which in web-design, isn't much. at all. but i did it...it works...

It's something anyone can play. multiple people can play at once, everyone can get a hold of and just click away. I'm proud of that. is it the most perfect design? no. but the concept is good, and the execution (considering the time-table) is decent. I'm happy with it.

You can write me and ask for the link. I haven't made it public yet. may never. But it made me happy, made me proud. I created something that anyone with internet access can interact with and create some (quite esoteric) music in a game like setting. Yeah, it's not as cool as what i saw some people working on in NYC, but it makes me happy.

and i made it look like a 5 y/o did it, which really makes me happy :)



when i hear Brahms, i sometimes wonder why we still listen to his music. Same with any number of composers. is it actually "timeless" or just kept alive by caretakers. Is music meant to be permanent or transient?

I've believed for the last few times in the impermanence of art, most specifically temporal arts such as music, theater, cinema, and dance. These arts happen through time (the argument for, say, literature, is that exists somewhat out of time. however, the following argument still pertains, in my opinion.) All art exists only in its performance/observance. That is to a say, music is not the score, but the performance, theater is not the book, but the performance. for those of more lasting quality without change; cinema, literature, poetry, visual art (though there is a sense of performance to poetry, it can exist without it, unlike music); it is in the moment of observance. In other words, the artwork may exist all the time, but it is not a work of art until viewed. It seems like an archaic view, something not existing till you see it, but there's a lot of philosophers going in this direction now. The world only exists through observation and since we make our own realities from this observation, then something cannot truly exist until we experience it. A bit of a funky theory, but i like.

this is always a good discussion point, the "what is art?" question and all the little bits that go into defining it. But what of the main question? Why do we still listen to Brahms, as, specifically, more than just a "historical" listening?

This all seems to lead back to another burning question: is my degree nothing more than a specialized history degree? is anything i do, including writing "new" music, nothing more than keeping past traditions alive? Am i the same as someone doing a civil war reenactment?

I'd like to think that we listen to Brahms because of some deep emotional attachment. But then, this leads into a whole new can of worms: the issue of emotion and music. I'm not going to touch that one with a ten foot laser pole. Still, is there a lasting quality that makes Brahms still somewhat "popular" with a segment of our society, even outside the music clique?

Is it the sweeping melodies? is it the sense of invention? i doubt it's his orchestration. his chamber works are much stronger to me. wait, hold on, coffee time...

mmm, there is something sublime about drinking coffee out of a mug you threw yourself...anyway

I've done this music thing for a while. historically i understand Brahms relevancy. At this point i would like to point out that you could insert ANY composer/musician/art form that is currently active for Brahms.

What is it about past traditions that we must keep alive? I'd like to think of it not as just "tradition." I'm a bit of a...well...the word escapes me, but i don't buy into tradition. My traditions are made in my own time (like composition and coffee at Muddy's) and are thrown out as i adapt (such as homework and cigarettes at China Buffet in Greencastle). I eat turkey at Thanksgiving, not so much out of tradition, but because i LOVE TURKEY and i can usually get a free one during that time due to spending enough money on groceries. And i'll have the time off to actually prepare it. Trust me, if i could roast an entire turkey (at least a breast) even faster (say, 30 minutes to an hour) and they were available year round (fresh ones. the frozen guys just don't do it for me.) i would eat turkey more often. I LOVE TURKEY

anyway, enough about my turkey gripes. Perhaps the answer to this is simple: Some people do feel some sort of attachment to this music. It doesn't take many. Some people actually enjoy listening to his symphonies. Do we need a deeper reason? well, if you MUST have more of a reason, then toss in the historical significance, a bit of "educating the masses to the Western heritage," maybe some "it improves cognitive function," or some other pseudo-science reason.

All this logic and philosophy leads to the first, simple answer. I'm not even sure i'm going to post this now, since i ran a circle, ended up with the easy answer, and am calling it a day.

Someone, multiple someones, like Brahms. Like him enough to buy a CD, go to the symphony, and clap and yell "Bravo!" that's enough to make it timeless, right? we may only truly experience art in the moment, but the memory is also strong. We can remember, reproduce in our minds, that big climax to Variations on a theme by Haydn, hear the massive doublings and hear the strings cascading, then rising again to end the piece.

There is no deep reason to me. I dont like Brahms symphonies, so i question the relevancy. But Brahms doesn't exist just for me. The music exists for everyone. at least Brahms wrote music people continue to like 110 years after his death.


To Precomp or not to Precomp

One of my friends here in town, a fellow composer, made quite the case against too much precomp over the weekend. He actually dislikes a famous composer for his large amount of precomp.

Ah, for those not in the know, i should explain precomp before hand. It's the plotting of the piece before you write it. It's figuring out form, melody, motives, rhythmic ideas, energy, orchestration, pitch, harmony, etc before ever putting a note on the page.

so, my friend made a rallying cry against going too deeply into precomp. His biggest attack was the music should be spontaneous and free-flowing, an extension of the composer. The composer should use his intuition, his feelings (the Force?), to figure out passages.

And i agree with that. Music should be an organic process of creation.


When my buddy was discussing the styles of precomp he is against, they were practically everything i just did with a piece. a piece that i had "intuited" the beginning and now was thoroughly stuck. As in La Brea Tar Pits stuck.

as in Groundhog's Day stuck.

So, after having what i called an intervention, I went and analyzed what i had written. broke that puppy down, looked at the big picture, the infinitesimal picture, pitch, rhythm, groupings, phrasings, form, energy, i overlaid several astrological charts and plotted my future, even took the sketches to the top of Mt. Fuji and conferred with the dragon regarding a certain sequence which spelled out a day that the astrological charts pinpointed as his day of reentry to this world.

And now i'm unstuck (the dragon was most helpful. as was Miss The Asha).

why did i get stuck? simple. i didnt have a clear enough picture of where the piece was going, how it needed to proceed. I had some notes written down, but obviously not what i needed.

I'm all for intuiting pieces, but process definitely has a place as well. I usually do things in a bit of a jumbled order. I'll do a small amount of pre-comp, get some ideas written down that are important (instrumentation, moods, usually some doodles in the margins, basic form). afterwards, i jump write in with both feet, get some really awesome lines, usually about a minute or so of music, then flounder around, throwing out page and page after page of music. finally, after the intense shedding process, i'll sit back down and pre-comp the rest of the piece much more hardcore. then, i'll take my rules, and intuit from there

That was the biggest point my friend rallied against: the creation of artificial rules. This was the first thing a comp professor taught me. why? Because, at least for me, my music will wander. Wander near and far, from my studio apartment in KC, to Mt. Fuji, to NYC, to Rigel 7, to Earth, 2014 with the Robotech Masters invading and the SDF-2 out of commission...

Music can't be a formless, shapeless thing moving from cool sound to cool sound. I feel a piece really needs connections for it to work. and, for some people, it's hard to create and maintain those connections without something over our heads saying "DUDE, YOU CAN'T GO THERE! THAT'S WHERE THE MAN-EATING BENGAL TIGER LIVES!!!" otherwise, i'd go there, lose a foot and a lot of blood, and get stuck in the jungle again. and need Miss The Asha there to pull me out, which is kinda awkward since i'm at least 2 of her, if not 3...however, i'm positive she would tame the Man-Eating Bengal Tiger and make it a lap cat...

anyway, i digress. Point being, i see nothing wrong with doing a large amount of precomp, setting up rules, limiting oneself. in fact, some composers need that restraint. and, trust me, it's not like we don't break those rules. I quite often do...it's just a point to help me stay focused, and then i can break the rules as i go. I remember one of my earliest "successful" pieces. It started out as a 12 tone exercise. probably the first third is solidly 12 tone. Then, i stopped doing it. I ran out of places to go, so i went elsewhere. I had no problem breaking the rules. But, it was nice having them at the beginning. it definitely helped define the piece at the time

Some people are able to intuit entire pieces. other need to do a large amount of precomp. Neither style is any reason to dislike the music. if you don't like the music, you don't like the music. you don't like how it sounds so "formulaic?" then you don't like tightly formed music, nothing wrong with that. but don't hate on the process just because it's not right for you. cause, watch out, someday you'll have a student. and he'll get stuck

in a forest

with a man-eating tiger

and he'll need to come up with a plan rather than "intuit" an answer

and you won't be able to help him

and he may lose a foot, and Miss The Ash may not be in the area to save him


a change in program

Ah, seems it has been far too long. I apologize. since my last post i struggled through borrowing money to pay bills, had an amazing birthday which included my bff Chris flying out for the weekend (always great to see her), getting offered a couple classes at KCKCC (one is set, one might not reach the minimum, and the third, well, i haven't heard from that area coordinator as of yet. so, i'll teach between 1-3 classes. heh), getting a scoring gig for a civil war musical (which the guy paid his deposit immediately. a very pleasant surprise), and, finally, got my website up and running.

visit www.johnchittum.com

have i written any music? well...no. and that's a large problem. a gigantic problem.

I'm way behind. One piece, tentatively titled Black Paper Moon (I am doing a series of pieces named using English lyrics from J-Rock songs) for Trombone and Organ, is due ASAP. i have several parts sketched, the overall idea, energy, form (poor word), and style figured out. it's just notes...but the notes won't come...

Dance of Disillusionment and Despair for Pierrot ensemble, has one movement finished and a second nearly finished. that seems good, except that's only 2 minutes of music. I am thinking of adding a couple instrumental movements...either as singer reading the line and then the instruments playing, or people just reading the lyrics. prolly just having them read the lyrics but not having anything sung. that trick only works once though...maybe twice.

my webpage was all consuming for a couple days. not sure i mentioned it on here before, but i spent a large chunk of the summer trying to learn Drupal. CMS seems like a system that i should really learn, as more and more developers head that direction. But, i had three months of Drupal, and while i learned the terminology (i get that it's based on nodes, and you can have different types of nodes. you can specify different content types beyond what it comes with, blah blah blah), I still don't understand how to get a page up and running. I was able to do some rudimentary work, got a link in place, moved some things around. but, yeah, i gave up.

The main reasons was for the final hiring interview with the Dean of Arts and Humanities at KCKCC, they wanted a full portfolio of anything i would be teaching. One class i may teach is Music and Multimedia which includes rudimentary web-design. Well, since i hadn't made a webpage since, oh, '03 or so, i decided i better do it.

The web has changed so much, but putting together a basic site that at least looks clean is still the same. that sort of surprised me. as did my ability to go in and edit the CSS without screwing it up, edit various html bits as needed (mainly things like meta-tags and sizes).

I have decided to leave this blog here rather than migrate it. I will change how it's pointed (right now it's just a link on the "links" page) but this is staying put. Might as well. Anyway, maybe i'll get cross-talk between the sites. that would be nice..

oh yeah


I should write some


That requires coffee...and possibly, a scone


1 outta 100

I'm taking a bit of a page from my all my writerly friends.

They have told me "if you send out 100 submissions, 1 will probably be accepted"

I felt that way about jobs, but, i'm starting to think finding a job is a lot more luck than perseverence. even if you're qualified and sending tons out, you're fighting that 100-1 ratio for applicants at every job it seems.

But, in submissions in my professional realm (sending out scores, auditioning for ensembles, etc) that's a different story. I'm really new to that market and so i'm pushing on. Still, it's been a rough summer for me. gigs falling through (i've learned to charge about 1/10 of what i'm actually worth professionally here. if i'd charge $1000 for an arranging job, charge $100. then, i might have a crack at it...), submissions rejected, and not winning auditions. throw on top the lack of a job, no money, having my car broken into, well, i prolly have a right to feel a little down...

But i don't really. My friends and family are being quite supportive. without that, maybe, i'd be done. But, instead, i'm taking a different approach.

I'm not working hard enough.

This summer is almost over and i don't have any new pieces written. why? there is no reason i shouldn't have written at least a couple major pieces by now. had the time.

So, it's time to man up even more. More submissions need to go out. put myself out there even more. Send my works around, get them torn apart, or maybe even accepted, and just keep on keeping on. i love doing this too much to quit. i won't waste the last 8 years of my life...

People put their faith in many different things: God, Allah, Buddah, money, the internet, other people.

I put my faith in myself first. Good thing will happen if i just work harder. just. work. harder.


writing for piano

Over the past 7 months, i've been to one masterclass on writing for piano, one piano performance masterclass, and spoken to many individuals on how to write for piano. some of the things i've heard have actually really upset me.

the reasons that the "advice" i've heard upsets me is because it really seems to narrow down what exactly piano literature should be. some of the things i've heard for "strong" solo piano writing:

1) uses the entire keyboard
2) makes use of extended techniques, especially playing inside the piano
3) does not have large amounts of direct repetition (say, playing the same chord, repeatedly, in sixteenth notes, for two measures.)
4) has all those things but is basically sight-readable "because pianist don't have time to sit down and work things out."
5) no large jumps (over a tenth or so), most especially during fast passages.

Ok, so the last one was a paraphrase and me getting irritated, however, it's not far off from what exactly was said.

now then, i understand some of these things. from a technical perspective, it is incredibly difficult (and sometimes impossible) to do a wide leap incredibly quickly. however, "quickly" is pretty relative. depending on the leap, passage, etc, i can nail about a 2 octave leap and back pretty quickly and with decent accuracy, and i'm not a good pianist. yes, the passage would need more work than say a straight scalar passage, but it's not unplayable. my passage was a set of running 16th notes at 8th equal 168. so, yeah, pretty darn quick. and it was a series of repeated chords with jumps every 5th note of 2 octaves. when i brought this before a pianist at a masterclass, she said it was "completely unplayable." however, i had another pianist basically play it down, complain a little bit, then practice and nail it on a regular basis.

this gets to what is my main gripe with this idea of "how to write well for piano." It dictates styles of composition. meaning this, if i want to write something highly repetitive and bombastic, say, like "Great Balls of Fire," i would get shot down immediately. or let's say i'm doing a pointilistic piece that is entirely about wide jumps and timbre changes. make sure it's nice and slow...Or, let's say i want to write a somewhat minimalist piece that only uses the middle 2 octaves of the piano.

every piece written for piano that people love does NOT use the whole range of the keyboard. i can think of many of Chopin's etudes that, since they focus primarily on one problem, limit things such as range. also, there are highly successful pieces that use a large amount of repetitive chords (say, Hammerklavier by Beethoven?).

as for playing inside the piano...well...at this point, it's rather cliche. it's cliche because of the attitude "it's not a modern piano piece without playing inside the piano." just like on all the other instruments, it's all about extended techniques. why?

for those that have heard my music, you know i'm far from "neo-classical" or "neo-romantic." I use extended techniques, my harmonic language is usually much closer to atonal than Tonal. in fact, i'm never Tonal, but i do work in free triadic harmonies on occasion. and yet i'm insulted when someone tells me "piano music is only good if you use the whole keyboard, play inside the piano, don't have banging repetition, and avoid large leaps." great, i'll just go write against Listz. and fail.

the best part was in the masterclass when the pianist asked me "did you even play this at a piano?" and i responded "Yeah. i've played for about 19 years, taken lessons for about 12 of those years. I can hack my way through the piece pretty well. and i am most definitely not a great pianist." After that, the session ended. I more or less pointed out that this pianist was a TERRIBLE sight-reader. i mean, really really bad sight reader (messed up a couple easy pieces people brought in). i don't care if you have multiple CDs, if you can't sight read, to offer to read pieces. when i did a masterclass on writing for trombone, i said "please send me files ahead of time for me to look at. don't expect me to sight read them day of, cause they won't sound very good."

ok, end rant. At the end of the day, if you have an artistic vision for a piece, and it isn't completely impossible (some things are, like, say, a 18 note chord played without the aid of a special device.) then go with it, and don't worry about what some people say. there are millions of pianists in this world, more than likely someone will like your piece and be willing to play it. if not, you may find someone professional enough to play it anyway.



Ok, it's been forever since i wrote. My past month hasn't been spent very productively either. lol.

I have been practicing piano on a more regular basis. It's little more than trying to get my fingers moving in the right directions again, get a little speed back. My main reason for doing this is to help me in composition, so i can play through my parts a bit easier. I've also been practicing doing score reductions by sight, very slowly, to get a feel for things.

I don't have a great deal of piano music with me. most of it seems to have been lost in various moves, my parent's house being redone and subsequent storage of things, and my own disregard for piano music over the last six years or so. The only full "serious' pieces i have on hand are J.S. Bach's French Suites. I played the Menuet from Suite III long ago, so i thought, hey, why not?

The first thing i had to do was go back over my dance suite info. It's been way too long since i've thought about the dance suites and i really wanted to make sure i had an idea of the character of each movement. I did some light reading on the dance suite movements, a bit about the evolution to Bach's suites, and a little bit about the French Suites. after i did that, i went into practicing. at first i just kinda ran through things as quickly as i could, to just kind of get the idea under my fingers, feel where things went. i wasn't paying attention to strict time, i was noticing where the passages i would be working hardcore would be, and getting a general idea for fingering.

I'm now to the real practicing stage, going nice and slow. I take things in little chunks, starting at the beginning, and slowly add more. I think i'll try a different approach after that and go backwards from the end, just to hear it differently.

but this isn't what the blog's really about...

I was practicing the first movement of Suite III, an Allemande. I had worked out some of the phrasing issues early on, as it seemed pretty straight forward. I was practicing for correct pitches and rhythms, but, one thing was nagging me. I knew Allemande's are generally somewhat grave in character and not speedy pieces (leave that for the Menuet on Crack and the Gigue). I couldn't seem to figure out a good tempo for it. It definitely didn't want to be slow. So, i did something i rarely do

I pulled out some recordings.

I've said before, i'm not a fan of learning music from recordings. I like being informed of practices, of course, but i don't like being judged by "Glenn Gould's interpretation." But, i was struggling a bit since i'm out of practice and i'm not in lessons, so, listening to half dozen or so recordings to get a general feel would be good.

I hit up youtube first, hoping for Glenn Gould actually. lol. the first thing i got was a video of what appeared to be a 16 y/o male playing the first movement. The video was actually shot right before he played it at a recital...

and, well, it wasn't bad. But, he definitely played it too fast. and there was no phrasing. it was a speed fest. No nuance, just GO! i decided to read the comments and there were TONS of positive comments "You are so good. blah blah blah." One guy attacked him for "not doing all the ornamentation." Happily, the pianist answered in a great way "By 'missed' you mean omitted, right?
In that case, there are very few ornaments that Bach actually wrote in the score. Most are inserted by the editor who has done research on Bach. I used an urtext edition. Listen to multiples recordings of the piece and you'll hear that there's a lot of variation in ornaments."

good answer kid, and Bravo to fight the power. I didn't like your approach, personally, but i defend your right to play it that way! and good for you to back it up.

As for me, i listened to a half dozen more with speeds varying from Dirge-like to Gigue-like. I was more than a little surprised, actually. there's interpretation then there is "whoa, that's a lot of different opinions!" It was actually amazing to me that Glenn Gould's recording may have been the fastest. I mean he really blazes through the piece. and only has about 2 ornaments the whole time because of it. I'm not a big fan of Glenn Gould's interpretations of pieces, other than for the pure enjoyment of listening to an amazing pianist with a very unique perspective.

It was an interesting exercise, especially since i was focusing mainly on just getting tempo ideas. In the end, i'm going to go with a moderate tempo. someplace in the middle seems about right. now, if i could play the Gigue as fast as Gould, that'd be hott



I've gotten quite annoyed by some people's (and companies') use of statistics. Like, a recent Cherrios ad

"Reports show that people that consume more whole grains are shown to have healthier body weight."


"94% of all readers have engaged in an historical event or activity within the past year. this is based on 65,000 respondents. Our goal is to target this demographic"

So, it begs HUGE questions, which, at its most basic is "why?"

Why are people consuming more whole grains shown to have healthier body weight?

Why are readers attending historical events?

and, with the second, what KINDS of events or activities?

These statistics are incredibly misleading. let's take, for instances, the first.

Why do they have healthier body weights? Well, whole grains tend to be much more filling, so, perhaps, they're eating fewer servings. Or, perhaps, it's because the whole grain foods, especially cereals, aren't always covered in sugar. or, is it because those focusing on eating whole grains are also equally focused on eating other healthier foods. will eating whole grain cereal make you healthier. nope, not by itself, at all.

the second, well...

Without answering the "what kind of events" how can any company really decide on a product? saying "they like the civil war and will spend money on it, regardless" is pretty ridiculous. are they buying may different dvd's (the main product of this company)? are they going to re-enactments? or are the going to, say in the case of professors that subscribed to the magazine the stats came from, going to a conference over the Civil War. without that sort of info, WHAT are they ACTUALLY spending money on, it's nearly impossible to decide on a product. you can't just say "Hey, it's Civil War, they'll love it!"

Also, as i've noticed with a lot of Civil War buffs i know, they tend to gravitate toward specific events, battles, figures. It's not "OOO, CIVIL WAR! Let's buy a DVD!" also, the company is not paying attention to other figures, like money actually made in dvd sales vs. other products, such as live performances. Take a look at the film industry. They don't make their money back on the show from DVD sales, they make it back at the BOX OFFICE!

also, there's another VERY important part to the second set of statistics. how many people are actually in the demographic? in other words, when you break it down, is your primary audience 100,000 people? 1 million people? 65,000 people? and then, how many would really be interested in your product from that demographic?

so, yeah, i'm growing tired of this misuse of statistics. They can contain a large amount of info, but, c'mon. I'm not stupid enough to go on something that only offers part of the story. I'm especially wary of statistics presented just as percentages. so, let's say 75% of my friends on facebook are fans of my artist page. that sounds pretty good. but what if i said i only had 100 friends on facebook? all of a sudden, i only have 75 fans. well...that's pretty lame.

so, statistics good. bad use of statistics REALLY REALLY BAD. rant over


educational paradigms

Today was my last day teaching CITS. it's been a good experience for the year, and i can't wait till next year.

That being said, i'm going to go in a slightly different direction with this post. The teacher was discussing how each year it is getting harder and harder for him to get students to do any work. This year's beginning group, he said, was one of the worst he's ever seen, and, as a whole, he has seen the program decline. In fact, he told me that the school in general has been in a steady state of decline over the past few years. The main culprit, in his estimation? Lack of work outside of school.

I'm not one to take up one side of a story and run with it as fact, however, this is not an isolated incident. I have heard of school districts where teachers are actually afraid to assign homework. What?!? SERIOUSLY?!? yep, it's true. One school, in particular, has had several teachers leave over the last few years completely based upon the threats of parents. Yep, parents are coming to this school, complaining that the teachers are giving far too much work, that the assignments are far beyond what any 6th grader could ever accomplish, and threaten the administrator and teacher with legal action.

OK, i'm not even positive what legal action could be taken. "My son/daughter says doing a 2 page book report on a grade level 6 book is far too difficult. I don't have time to help him/her, so i'm coming in and TELLING you that s/he is NOT going to do it. And if you fail him/her, i will sue you." I REALLY hope that this is a complete exaggeration, but i don't think it is in all cases.

Now then, i'm not saying that perhaps the parent does have a point. Maybe, just maybe, it is too much work. for me, as a 6th grader, i would have laughed my head off. I remember having to write a 500 word book report in 6th grade (this is about a page and a half to two pages, double spaced) and having HUGE problems summarizing the 350 page book in 500 words. Granted, i was reading something a little larger, but, seriously? and even if they don't hit 2 full pages, they won't get automatically failed.

There has been a continuing shift from teacher oriented to learner oriented learning. Basically, the mode of transmission, originally the teacher lecturing, has been moving toward giving students more free reign in deciding projects and assignments as well as assessment. This is supposed to give students more flexibility to work on projects that interest them, take advantage of their strengths, and hopefully produce better outcomes. But...is that the point?

Education's main purpose, to me, is to create life-long learners. I'm not concerned as much with outcomes assessment, or skill creation, or even knowledge transference. All those things are a part of education, but if we (teachers) cannot create learners that are able to learn on their own, and WANT to learn on their own, and have the ability to learn on their own, then we have failed. why? let's take a simple model:

a student is working in his English class, preparing a book report. The teacher is having all students write a report on the exact same book. unfortunately, this student did not like the book, and struggled to even finish it. He is a bright student, gotten mostly As and Bs throughout his career. The teacher has decided, seeing so many students "struggle" with the book, to go over it in class for about a week. the student, being grade oriented (he cannot play sports if he doesn't keep at least a 3.0 GPA) pays attention in the lectures and takes a few notes. Prepared with the notes from the teacher going through the book in class, he writes a 3 page book report that is, in fact, nothing more than a regurgitation of the notes. He checks it carefully for spelling and grammar, and turns in the report. The teacher awards the student at A because of the perfect spelling and grammar. The teacher agreed with the content, of course, because it was his own words rewritten in an eloquent manner. The student receives the A, is pleased, and goes on with his life.

Now, what's wrong with this picture? i can name a bunch of things, in my opinion. And whose fault is it? everyone involved. First, having everyone do a report on the same book, while a good exercise, always has the danger of having students thoroughly dislike the book. There is something to the "you have to learn to work through things you don't like," and i can appreciate that, however, if the point of the assignment is to get into a book and write a good paper, then it is not a good approach.

I'd say the teacher failed in these ways: 1) clear objectives were not giving for the assignment. Why is everyone reading the same book? What does he specifically want from the report? 2) instead of getting to the root of why the students are struggling, he assumes it is just too difficult of a book and walks them through it. how is the achieving his (unstated) goals? 3) giving a good grade based upon grammar alone trains students to expect that is how ALL papers will be graded. Again, this problem really goes back to #1, because how can he grade it in any other way without clearly defined goals for the assignment.

The student also failed in this assignment: 1) if anything was unclear, he should have asked for clarification. 2) when struggling with anything, asking questions is the way to approach the problem. how else can a problem be rectified?

i could keep going on and on, showing each failing i see at each level, from teacher to student, to parent, to administrator. In the end, education is a chain of ALL levels working together. And what's most important, again in my estimation, is creating a life-long self-sustaining learner. Once you're out in life, there isn't a teacher to hold your hand, or even, sometimes, a parent or friend to guide you through the process. If I want to learn a brand new piece of audio software, i may get lucky and know someone that has used it, but, more than likely, its me, the program, a 2000 page instruction manual, and a few tutorials. i better have a way of learning this program all on my own.

In the end, that is the greatest thing any student can learn. yes, the transmission of some specific knowledge is required to function in society (yes, red means stop and green means go. not knowing this is, well, a big problem...) as well as skill building (from mechanics to math to suitable typing and language skills) but if a student can never learn to be a student on his/her own, then life after high school will be nearly impossible, be it going onto college or entering the work force. It becomes a trial by fire, a sink or swim environment where people learn to learn or they lose quickly and fall back only on the skill they have accrued to this point.

Do i have an answer to the problem? no, not really. I'm becoming a fan of contractual learning, where students, teachers, and parents all get some input at some point. It's much like providing a syllabus with a few blanks that can be filled in. Open communication at all levels is also of huge importance, and making sure that the communication line is not garbled. Telling a student to tell his/her parent(s) about something isn't a great way to do things. Written communication is better, especially something that can be sent directly to the parent. I dunno, i still have a lot more questions than answers and am still working on identifying problems. Some of the problems are obvious, others are much more covert. maybe, by the time i'm 175, i'll have worked out something suitable.


college teaching experience

Well, i was a bit behind in getting it done, but in my Pedagogy of Composition class, i was required to teach at least a 20 minute session of an undergrad composition course. I got lucky in my late planning and got a chance to work with a beginning electronic music class.

it's been a little while since i last taught college students, and i've never formally taught electronic music. I spent a large amount of time working in labs and helping students with tech skills but that's a bit different. One thing i noticed about my teaching style was i first commented on the technical aspects. it was "i heard distortion here, i a bad edit here, blah blah blah." However, i tried to push on past that and focus on compositional ideas.

the time really flew and even though i have sketched notes of what i talked about it seems kinda cloudy in my head. I'm going to go ahead and blame the ash cloud over Europe from the eruption on Iceland. Most people are blaming it for things, why not blame it on my being brain dead? lol.

anyway, i had thoughts and they're gone. It was a good experience. Maybe i'll recall them better after i get some more caffeine in my system.


next to last week

Well, it's my penultimate week at UMKC (pre-finals, of course. not that i have any. thank you to the school gods for doctoral students not having to take written finals.). It was also my penultimate week teaching up at CITS. next week they are doing a concert of all their pieces. Ho boy, what a time...

This week we tried to get everyone to play through their pieces. Because of the disjointed schedule (as always seems to happen in elementary and secondary schools) it was obvious some of the students had put no more work into them since last time. With the final date closing in, we decided to comment mostly on "the little things."

Like having it written down...there are a few students that just seem to refuse to want to write it down. We (as in myself and the head teacher) have tried almost everything with these students. g'ah! one said "well, i have this idea in mind, it kinda goes like this (plays an interesting melodic fragment on his cello)." my answer "Great! write it down for me, and we can work together to flesh it out." he sits down, and proceeds to do nothing for the next 30 minutes while i listen to other people play. i come to him later and ask "So, do you need help getting that written down?" answer: "No, i can do it..." nothing still. When the head teacher approaches him, the student says "Oh, well, i hear it for cello, and, uh...maybe...violin? Oh, and piano. but i don't have a group..." The teacher's answer "well, i'll play violin, and we can ask to play piano. he takes lessons." the student gets quiet...and after a few minutes asks to go to the restroom...

At first i thought he was just having trouble writing it down...then i thought maybe he has some sort of learning disability. he might have some sort of hang up, either as a disability, or as just a different style of learner in general* or perhaps it's more of a social problem...or combination thereof.

Oh, btw, this is the same student that the teacher and i discussed may have Aspberger's. However, it's the new "Catch-all" disorder, with a lot of students that are just plain awkward getting stuck with a label. labels are such a nuisance...

Anyway, i'm starting to think he might just be lazy...his playing is the same way. When he's interested and he WANTS to play, its great. the rest of the time, it's just sloppy. I dunno. I refuse to just "give up" on a student. hopefully he'll come with SOMETHING next week, and i'll just take him in the corner and coax the rest out. But, i won't dictate what he plays. first off, that'd almost be cheating** and it wouldn't help develop his skills really. He can play. he CAN notate (i have seen him write notes on a page previously...just not for the "newest idea" he has.)

in other news with that class, a lot of students wrote very interesting music. but, wow, are they timid players. lol. Every comment was "what, i can't hear you play. play it louder! even if it's soft, play it louder!" i really tried to give them positive reinforcement and let them know the piece is good and that they're playing is good, so play it proudly! it's like pulling teeth getting these kids to feel self-worth

I never had that problem. nor most of my friends. we all thought we were hot shit in band. seriously, it was all about how awesome we were. we'd get in fights about who is the best player. At this school, even with the reinforcement from the teacher, and myself, they all just think they suck. g'ah!!! self-confidence!

the other note i kept saying was "well, you played it THIS way, but it's not written down. just write down what you did!" a lot of students asked "well, how do i write that?" and i gladly tell them. Usually half way through my sentence there is a little lightbulb that goes off as they recall how it was written in pieces they've played.

All in all, it's been an interesting experience with these kids. Hopefully they can come in next week and have their pieces more confidently in hand. There are a few that had fun with it but felt like their piece "sucked." i just ask "did you enjoy it? did you like writing music?" answer: "yes." reply: "well, it's just about practice. if you like it, keep doing it. the more you write, the better it will get! start with simple things, 20 measures or so for one instrument. and as you feel more confident, just write more and more!" i actually saw a couple students light up a bit with that idea. We all expect perfection, so it's good for someone "older and wiser" to tell you "it's quite alright if it sucks. just do it better next time! i remember when i wrote something terrible. it was last weekend..."

*I really thing it's a style of learner issue far more than learning disability. he definitely GETS it. there's not that "fog" as some students put it when describing a learning disability.
**I have helped a couple students write down what they were playing, but i didn't write it for them. and i'm more than willing to sit there and help him get it down, but he seems uninterested in that. Perhaps i should force the issue, but i don't see how that would really be beneficial at the end of the day...


Notes on teaching

So, a bit about my recent teaching.

The last couple times i've gone up to the middle school, it's been in "bad" situations. The first time was right before a concert. I volunteered to help coach a small ensemble. The concert was a "solo and ensemble" concert. I took a string quintet (3 violins, cello, bass) out into the hall and worked with them on their piece. Oh boy...

It was a difficult moment. There was no agreeing on a tempo. every time they attempted to start, it was a different tempo counted off differently. I took over counting off for them and rehearsing the sections. I attempted to get them to understand that chamber groups need to communicate a great deal more than a normal ensemble...watching them play, well...They were completely in their music. They weren't even looking at ME let alone at each other. the only one that really looked at me was the bass player, who, bless his heart, is trying really hard but is just behind the rest of the group (he started this year). I worked them for the hour, just on basic issues; playing rhythms correctly, tempo consistency, strong entrances. It was a difficult little session. They were all trying hard, but their attitude definitely got in the way. All but one of them had the "i know what i'm doing!" attitude and just kept making the same mistakes over and over, even with coaching.

I found their big problem to be that they were "playing" not "rehearsing." I remember when i was like this (it wasn't exactly long ago. heh). When does that magical light kick on regarding practice and rehearsal technique. I will admit, i was much better in chamber rehearsals than i was on practicing for a long time. I was more willing to work passages slowly, repeat sections till it was right, and do exercises to get our ears and minds together. Maybe it's because i always understood the necessity to get everyone on the same page and playing together. Individual practicing, a completely different story. I only recently got myself into good practice habits, and i often still have a tendency to just "sit and play" rather than "practice."

I don't know when that light kicks on, and i definitely think getting students to play in small ensembles from the beginning is important, but i had forgotten how difficult it can be.

Now, for note 2 on teaching. The next week i was in, it turned out to be standardized test week. Which means, of course, music and other "specials" or "electives" are unimportant. About 1/4 of the class was there. so, the teacher asked another favor of me; "can you take this bass player and give him a private lesson on these pieces? do you feel comfortable doing this?" I nodded, though i wish i had some prior warning so i could pop out my string techniques book (which i had just unpacked) and looked it over. I asked "it's 1, 2, 4 right?" Ah, fingerings!

So, i took our aspiring young bass player (who i mentioned had only been playing for about a year) to the back and worked a lesson. I had him play a passage and, sure enough, it was all "1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1" finger sliding all over the place, flailing to hit the notes. So, i had him write in fingerings. And practice them in front of me, slowly. I could tell he was playing a lot by hear, so i would play the passage for him first (using Pizzicato, cause i can't handle a bass bow. the weight is almost enough to break my wrist!) and then handed it back. I'm sure i got some fingerings incorrect (i'm no string player. really wish i had brought my string methods book...) but at least there were fingerings! The pieces were pretty difficult, all requiring lots of shifting (which is true of a lot of bass parts anyway. Not many notes available without shifting. heh). I tried to work out the best times to shift so he could get the notes.

We also worked on rhythm a lot. I really believe that with young players, rhythm is almost more important than pitch. so, we worked a great deal on the rhythms and the fingerings, relying on practice later to get the pitches down (if the right fingers go down at the right time, making sure they hit the right spot is almost the easy part. lol. ok, maybe not. lol).

Anyway, i think the little lesson helped. I really think the student could improve greatly with regular private instruction, but i am not the man to give it at all. If he was a brass player, pianist, even a singer or woodwind player, i could fake. Heck, even the other strings i am better with. Bass and i NEVER got along. lol. I can barely get the string down, can barely hold the bow. If i'm going to work with a string player, give me a viola. Sounds funny, i know, but the bow technique isn't bad for me, the fingers are good space apart (violin is too close. i feel like my fingers are on top of each other. I actually have to lift fingers out of the way to do half steps.). it's just comfortable for me.

But, it's still better if you find a string player. heh. I can coach on the big ideas, but the details of technique for a string player are a bit beyond me. It was easily my weakest point in techniques classes. Working with this orchestra has been good for me, for sure. teaching comp to such young students has been a fun challenge, as has working on my instrumental teaching skills from way back when. Ah, the good ole days.

And now, i'm going to go back to film scoring.