civil disagreement

meaning, i am having quite the interesting discussion with a person i respect as a musician. it's interesting, as we have many similar and differing views. for every piece we agree on, there is one we disagree. such is humanity

but a statement made is sticking with me more than others, bouncing around, resounding in my being.

when speaking of art, i said " I fight for my dreams, but accept people are not, on a whole good. in fact, most are selfish creatures...* Doesn't mean I'm not out there every day playing, writing, creating, and trying to make it happen. I just start myself from a harder selling point; "this person doesn't give a crap about what i do...how do i make him/her care?"

the answer" It is not your job to change their mind...do what you passionately believe in while evolving on your journey."

That is a statement i cannot believe in. why?

Because it is my job. It is the job of everyone in the arts. It is the job of everyone in every field. Why should anyone support you if you do not try and get them to support you?

for instance, let's say i put on a concert. I do a little advertising: facebook event, post it on my website, throw up a poster where I'm doing the concert, maybe a few more around town. twenty or so people show up. I know every single person in the crowd. they are my friends...I charged $10 at the door, and they paid, to support me. that's great.

but i didn't reach a single person. that's not an "audience." It's my friends donating to me. they're supporting me because they are my friends. this is not a sustainable audience. this isn't presenting any idea to anyone.

it's preaching to the choir

The arts do not exist in a vacuum. I live in society. As it changes, I change. Society is a living, breathing organism of it's own. I won't sit in my dark empty concert hall consoled by the fact that I'm "the greatest composer ever and one of the best trombonists of this century!" if no one knows it. It's like the Onion article, 97-Year-Old Dies Unaware of Being Violin Prodigy

At the same time, i was having a conversation with another friend that said "Artists are their own brand" (paraphrase as i closed the conversation). Meaning, the only way for an artist to succeed is to put him/herself out there, do the leg work, present their ideas, build an image, build up a group of people that will follow them, touch some lives, bring out new ideas.

Talk about getting both ends at the same time, right?

How i replied to the first conversation is the only answer I really have:

If we can't change their minds, the arts will die. It is part of our jobs as artists to do more than be self-referential. If all i do is sit, practice my craft, get better, it is nothing. If i give a concert and 20 people show up, something is wrong.

All it takes to change a ind is presenting the material. take 15 minutes to try and help someone understand your perspective. you may not change their minds, but if you never try, then you'll be happy with your 20 audience members and be done. and if i wasn't willing to present my ideas, to let you see my side, to "try and change your mind," we'd never have this conversation. And no one would see it, no one would know that we even think about these things.

I will not go quietly into the night, sitting in my empty concert hall. you may call it idealism, but music can change the world.  the arts are society. I will live in it, breathe in it, and present my views of it...it is being an artist...we do not live in a vacuum...

it's not force...it's trying to reach people. if you don't believe you can change their minds, why bother trying to reach them? it's accepting the 20 people as enough. I see a world of people that don't care because they don't know {what i do}. So I'm going to go out, present what i do, not "force" anyone to listen, but give them the opportunity {to hear the music i create}. If i sit in White Hall (concert hall at UMKC) that will not happen. it's not force, it's presentation. it's not accepting the norm, but seeing what we could do...

without that, there is no evolution

And yes, I still respect the person with whom this conversation has happened. He is a fantastic man that does more for "new music" than huge portions of classical music society. I just don't want it to stop, to reach complacency. This man does far more than even I for my own art...it's as a large group of musicians I worry, and as a larger society.

There is always more that can be done...

i am young and idealistic, after all.


And as the final statement in our discussion, stated by my esteemed colleague "THE ARTS MATTER!!!!!!!!"

and, of course, i "liked" the statement. We are, of course, on the same page. prolly more a rant from a single statement not meant to trouble me so. but getting me to think isn't hard and always good.

*Yes, i am a pessimist.


Black House Kick Ass Brigade

Oopes, I mean Black House Improvisors' Collective

This is how we do it in KC. Raw, passionate, in your face, with tons of originality. Of the groups I've played with over the years, this is the group of which I am most proud. 

Of course, be polite. all the music is copyrighted, after all. Hunter Long is offering it up as advertisement so people come out to our next shows. So, if you're in KC, hit up one of our shows at the end of the workshop Next one comes in December


/EDIT/ There's a new "core" group of Black House! check out the typepad site for more info. Great to see these news works getting continued life!


oh those little festivals

I spent my weekend in the clutches of EMM (Electronic Music Midwest). It was the first large festival i've ever attended. I've been a part of smaller regional type festivals (Exchange of Midwest College Composer, International Electroacoustic Music Festival, CUNY New Music Festival), but nothing as wide reaching as EMM. in the Spring, i will be attending SEAMUS (Society for Electro-Acoustic Music in the United States), another large festival.

I felt like a light weight. I only hit 7 out of 9 concerts. yep, i skipped 2. One was an afternoon concert when i really just needed a break, the other a morning concert directly prior to my own piece being performed.

In the end, I am quite music'ed out. heh. It was nice to go to a series of electronic concerts and NOT be working in some fashion. I worked a fair amount of IEAMF concerts, work extensively with KcEMA, and was in charge of all tech of EMC2. on top of that, i run electronics for Musica Nova, the new music ensemble, UMKC Composers' Guild concerts, and freelance around town.

I want to quit freelancing.

If i never see a microphone again, i'll be happy.

After this conference, i dunno...i'm shaken...there was music i liked

there was music i did not like

I found Joanna Demers to be correct in her discussion about aesthetics of electronic music about 80% of the time.

I disagree with Joanna Demers and her sentiments regarding electronic music

this is leading me to a lot of questions...questions that need answered


delusions of grandeur

ah, the smell of fall is in the air. which means there's all sorts of musical memories floating around

Fall is the season for H.S. marching band

Fall is the time prospectives prepare for auditions. DMA prospy's are cleaning up portfolios for their first round of submissions. Undergrad seniors are considering MM's, starting to do the paper work, and realizing they're gonna get screwed by their workload...and then considering taking a year off.

undergrad seniors are getting together apps to send off, thinking about audition material for the spring...

oh, who am I kidding? 17/18 y/os aren't thinking that hard about it yet. They're too busy with fall activities (sports, marching band, all those AP classes...).

But, deep down, they're all thinking about music.

Which brings me to the real point of this post.

Music brings in people from all different paths. There are those wishing to perform, those wishing to teach...usually in the beginning it's just those two. in some places lucky enough to be a near a conservatory with an active youth program, will be thinking about composition or other academic areas. But, usually, that comes a bit later.

Most of us can point to an experience or a person that sent us down our path at every level. For some it's just the inexorable journey toward a doctorate; the grim acceptance that to make it in the professional "classical" world you need that slip of paper. for others, it was a band/orchestra/choir director. Others it was a fabulous private lesson teacher. Maybe it was having a visiting woodwind quintet step in and give a  performance and talk about music, or the local conservatory's graduate string quartet dropping by to drum up interest in a school.

Or...maybe...just maybe...

it was that infernal radio/ipod/internet radio

Secretly, i think we all have the same reason for getting into music...

I call it "The Rock Star Syndrome."

We'd listen to our favorite bands from HS and think "I wanna do that!" We try and start garage bands, but realize that trombone, piano, flute, and a horn player picking up his/her dad's bass and fumbling around does not make a very "metal" sounding group. on top of that, the lyrics sucked and Bach just kept creeping in...

We try to learn guitar, and talk to some non-band/orchestra/choir friends about being in a garage band. Maybe some of your friends started one and you pitched being the keyboard played cause "i've got a Clavinova at home! Sounds just like a real piano!" of course, they want a Dave Smith Poly Evolver, or maybe a Micro Korg...and most certainly think you're not "cool" enough for the band.

We all just wanted to be rock/rap/pop/soul/metal/country/not-classical stars.

we didn't want to be on PBS, we wanted to be on MTV/VH1/BET. we didn't want to be on Decca or Naxos or even Nonesuch records. We wanted to be on Roadrunner, Columbia, or Epic records.

but it wasn't in the cards. It wasn't what we were meant for

Still, we love the lights. love the attention. We wanted to entertain, have fun, bring the joy to others...be in the spotlight. Even as educators, we loved to be the conductor, the person up front, getting the attention. We try to hide it, but we still love the rush that comes after that first down-beat, the kick of leading a group in a single activity, the taste of power, and the amazing release after the final cutoff of a "kick ass totally metal concert of Holst!"

and we still listen to our favorite songs/bands. There is plotting of doing an arrangement of "Waterfalls" for the pep band, incorporating death metal into your next symphony, or drafting a paper about Britney Spears and the loss of self to corporate America, or analyzing the use of gesture carried structure in the works of Radiohead or Daft Punk

in the end, no matter what level of education we are, not matter the original path, the heroes/heroines, the years of arduous study of history/theory/technique/pedagogy/conducting/performance/composition, the complaining about work load, looking for jobs, all the concerts/presentations/backslashes

we all just wish we were rock stars

well, at least i do


What to do...

I am sitting here with the "Join" page to BMI standing open. I just closed ASCAP's page after discussing the issue with a few of my composerly friends. But...i just don't know what to do.

I've read all the material on BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC. How they all pay out is basically the same, the math just, well...doesn't quite add up completely. Nothing ever does, does it? I question whether or not people are fairly represented.

I also don't believe in a great deal of the licensing idea. I don't understand why i can't negotiate it all myself...And i'm confused that even as I "pay to play," I somehow make royalties. So, the bar pays royalties, and i get those royalties, but I pay them for the right to play, making $1 for every $10 they bring in...but then they're paying...wait, huh?

Exactly. The whole business just continues to make no sense to me, no matter how i try to rap my head around it.

But that's not the question. At the end of the day, i look at my calendar and...I have at least 3 performances this semester. I'll prolly end up snagging 1 more somewhere, i'm sure. While it's not like i'm getting huge play, if i can get 10 performances in the next "school" year, August to August, that'd be amazing. 

And, if i join one of these groups, i'll make some money doing it. Not a lot, but i'll make money.

So, what do I do? I'm morally opposed to so much of it. I don't make the art for the money. But...if i could make an extra few hundred bucks...why not? 

So, i really need opinions peeps. BMI, ASCAP, SESAC, or keep it as it is?

not to mention i should really build a "store" or something to "buy" music. gawd...really?


Ah, Music Appreciation

How i have missed thee.

I've now taught 5 different courses, some technical (Music Applications for Computers/Intro to Music Tech I), some creative (Digital Audio and MIDI courses), but the pure fun of music appreciation just can't be matched.

As a music lover and educator, it's nearly the perfect circumstances. In college, Music Appreciation can usually fulfill a "gen ed" requirement. At Brooklyn College, they have "Core Curriculum" requirements that are split into a couple different courses you can take to fulfill. Music Appreciation is one of a few. The same is true at KCKCC.

Why does that create a nice environment? These students don't have to be there. Granted, their options are limited, but if they had no interest in music, there are other areas. of course there are other considerations- it may have been the only class the fits their schedule. Maybe it's the "least of all the evils" and the student still hates music.

Those are all possibilities.

But in any case, it's not like teaching English 101 (or whatever Comp I is). I've had many a friend teach that course. It's a requirement at almost every university. You either take it or pass out of it, but there is no way around the subject coming up. the question becomes how to get the required information to students while engaging them in a class that almost all do not want to be in.

I've got a better starting point. The students want to learn something about music. On top of that, a solid portion of the country enjoys listening to music. Maybe not Western Art Music, but music in general.

It's a bit easier to grab a crowd that wanders in with a little interest.

Oh, Music Appreciation, how i've missed you. Watching students puzzle over the question of "What is music?...Because, of course, we can't learn about a subject until we know what it is we are studying."

To watch everyone tap their feet and clap their hands and realize that it isn't some magic secret- it's just learning new words for what they already felt.

To see the looks of horror the first time you play Penderecki, or the screams of "This isn't music!" when i put on Cage's 4'33...and the ensuing discussion of the importance of questioning preconceptions of music and art. I'm sure some of my students get annoyed when they see my half grin, trying to force back a laugh, as they struggle with questions that too many musicians never even ask themselves.

And to see their eyes light up as math, physics, sociology, psychology, physiology, biology, etymology, semiotics, literature, history, and any other subject they could imagine is brought into the fold

And this is just what i do in the first two weeks

just wait till we hit organum


webpage sadness removed

So, it pays to wait, it appears.

I refused to renew my subscription for $34.99 a year at my old place. I put in for a transfer from another company. cost $9.99

It said it'd only take 48 hours

5 days later, I hadn't received an email. they email the admin to "ok" the transfer. Obviously, i am listed as the admin.

This morning, i got an email from my old provider saying "only $7.99 to renew for a year now!" I checked it out.

Yep, they marked it from $34.99 to $7.99! wtf? Even better?

5 years for $34.99.

needless to say, i now have my domain name for 5 years.

and the other service? i can hardly believe this part...they canceled the transfer and refunded me! WHOA! GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE?!? NO WAY!!!

so, even though i didn't end up using them, namecheap.com, i give you a quick shout-out for having good customer service. nicely done.


they say it's self-created stress...

So, for any that didn't know, I was a smoker

i would like to stress was

i haven't lit up in over a month. and, tonight was the first time since the first week of quitting that i have wanted a cigarette

They say that it's self-induced stress- that the reason for the "release from the stress, the calming sensation" is that you're going through withdrawal. Except, i didn't have that issue...or at least it didn't seem like it.

Even when i smoked a great deal, i didn't smoke every day. Sometimes, i'd go over a week without smoking. the main reason for the most recent quit was, well, not health related at all. it's called "being poor." and i didn't get cravings. I wasn't edgy or twitchy. The last month, other than some major snafus while trying to move, has actually been pretty damn good.

I haven't felt stressed at all.

Now, as i sit in my room, taking in the sauna that it is (the vent is in basically a short hallway pointing at the walls. GOOD JOB ON THE DESIGN DUMMY!), i want a cigarette. Why? The semester starts tomorrow. Both classes i teach meet tomorrow, and in one i actually have to lecture (gotta love those 3 hour classes). maybe that's it?

but i don't feel stressed. one of the classes i have taught for 2 semesters already. the other is a Digital Audio class at UMKC, and i had already pre-planned a great deal of what to do over the last couple months.

maybe it was the person i'd like to talk to more that popped on chat for 15 minutes an didn't say hello...I always have been stupid about emotions, even when i know it's completely ridiculous. What can i say, i'm an emotional guy...

Maybe it's the fact i'm sitting here, classes are about to start, and i haven't written any music since, oh...April. maybe?

Whatever it is, i don't even own a pack at the moment, so it doesn't matter. I'll fight the craving...

But i don't think it's from an addiction.

well, at least not a nicotine addiction


webpage sadness

So, my webpage is down. why?

cause the website i registered my domain name thru wanted $35 to renew.

so, yeah, that's INSANE.

So, no webpage for a bit. I'll get it up and running sometime, i hope

in other news, the new school year begins soon. All sorts of fun stuff. for those wondering, my class schedule is:

UMKC 235- Techniques of Electronic Music I- Digital Audio, Fall
UMKC 236- Techniques of Electronic Music II- MIDI and Synthesis, Spring
UMKC 33X- Topics in Electronic Music- Beginning Programming, Spring

KCKCC 110- Intro to Computer Music Applications, Fall and Spring
KCKCC 230- Music and Multimedia (though the name is changing), Spring

Advanced Counterpoint- Baroque Era, Fall
Aesthetics and Analysis of Electronic Music, Fall

Tentative Spring:
19th Century Nationalism or Music 1900-1945
Comp Lessons

oh what a year this is shaping up to be.


the right of an artist to make a scene

There's quite a bit of hoopla around the cover art to Steve Reich's new album, WTC 9/11

for those unfamiliar with the cover, here's the cover release link

go through the comments for a bit and you'll see the wide ranging discussion- from using a tragic event to market an album, to discussion of how the image itself just looks tacky, to fighting for the artists right to use whatever material they want

Sequenza21 also posted the cover. the responses were equally broad there, from support to shame.

even Slate critic Seth Colter Walls jumped on this one, but from a "unique perspective"- someone who has...wait for it...ACTUALLY HEARD THE MUSIC! astounding...

the big one is that Robert Hurwitz, president of Nonesuch, had his own reply.

i waited a bit to let my own thoughts be heard on the matter. in fact, if you couldn't tell, i basically took the summer off. but here's my 2 cents

first, this is not a commercialization of a tragedy, nor using an image to market a piece. This is an image chosen by a panel of people, the composer, the cover artists, the president of Nonesuch, that they felt best described the work.

second, i think that, as far as art goes, it's pretty lame. I agree with those stating that it looks like a beginner dropping a quick sepia filter on a photo to make it look all creepy. The original stock photo isn't of great quality, so some doctoring would probably need done.

third, there's a group saying "no one should use these images" and "it's too soon to look at anything this tragic." there are even those that cry out from far reaches of the US that "this is a personal tragedy and they are being taken advantage of."

ok, the comments from people that were THERE saying "this is a bit much for me." I GET that. I had a friend once, a former NYC firefighter, one of the first FDNY units to respond. His job was communications, so he stayed at the truck as his unit raced in to help people. He still gets flashbacks of watching the towers fall on his unit. For those people, the image may be too much. The music would probably be even more disturbing for them. And they have damn good reason.

Mr. "I watched the whole thing from my TV in Midwest USA, and i went to NYC once and saw the towers," you sir, don't have that attachment. if you DO have that attachment, it is false. It was made for you by the media. Sorry man. I'm pretty good at sympathy, but there are things i cannot comprehend. I cannot comprehend what it was like to go through the Holocaust. I can never understand the pain of child birth (kidney stones almost made me pass out. how the hell does a child come out?!? AND HOW DO WOMEN NOT JUST PASS OUT!!! That, my friends, is BALLS.)

I cannot comprehend what happened that day to the people there. Steve Reich felt personal pain. His apartment is nearby, his son, daughter in law, and granddaughter were in his apartment while Mr. Reich was in Vermont. There was no phone service. Finally, his neighbors, their family, and his family, were able to evacuate to Vermont.

I cannot comprehend this. I have no possible frame of reference. All i can say is "goddamn...that is freaking astounding. and you faced it, years later, and wrote a piece? a piece as haunting as your experience? well...shit..."

For all you bleeding hearts out there, you can't understand. and yet you tell a man who has been through it that his image is in poor taste because you are offended. I'm sorry, i don't buy it.

In the end, it's an artistic choice. someone once said "art is a mirror." I think it's attributed to Shakespeare, but i remember it from Joseph Campbell. It is a mirror; a mirror that reflects the observer. Why don't people like this image? What are they really rallying against?

Personally, i don't like the image, but from an "artistic" point of view. I'm with the group that says "that's a bad sepia filter giving it the archetypical post-apocalyptic feel. it's heavy handed." While some of Reich's music can be a bit heavy handed (his phasing pieces feel that way to me) others treat everything much more delicately (Different Trains, for instance). That's my issue with the cover art- it's just not as engaging. I think Walls had some great ideas in his article for Slate (especially the off the hook telephone.)

My friend Lizz had an even more disturbing thought- "what if the image had been a drawing by his granddaughter about the day? what she saw, what she thought?"

THAT disturbed me without even seeing the image. it could have been just swirls meant to depict the clouds of dust and i'd still cry. that is visceral. It's not a disconnected image of a plane about to crash and take it all down with a bad sepia filter. It's not an image we've seen every day. it's an image drawn ten years after the fact. granted, i believe his granddaughter was 1, so there probably isn't any real memory, but, it would be disturbing, no?

In the end, the piece of music is undoubtedly far more visceral, disturbing, emotional than the image ever could be. 95% people would listen to it and discount it cause "i don't get it" instead of just listening, being a part of the experience. Then again, when i played "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima" for my music appreciation classes, even without telling them the name of the piece, they were disturbed. (i do find that funny, since that wasn't the original title.)

as artists, we don't have to back down to make something acceptable to PC audiences. I'm surprised my tape piece "Beijing 2008" hasn't hit some of the same types of attacks. It's pretty straight forwardly calling the anti-immigration stance in America one step from the same kind of crackdown that occurred in Tibet just prior to the Olympics. And yet no one has really said anything.

because it's music and i didn't come right out and say that in the music. and Reich dealing with this event through music is more than permissible. And yet, an image doing the same thing is not? where do we draw the line? What are we allowed to do when stating something artistically? don't be direct? don't be blunt? only abstract expression need apply?

I say the cover art is lame art, but as an expression, Steve Reich believes it goes with the music. If you don't like it, don't buy it.

Then again, when going through the comments, most people commenting (some even said "i've never heard of Steve Reich, but i think...") wouldn't have bought the album anyway. so, screw'em. Grow some balls, face the tragedy head on instead of burying it in the past, and listen to one man's story about the event and the image that he felt helped tell the story. maybe the idea is the view out the apartment window that day.
Maybe we're supposed to be disturbed


in response to...

This post is in response to 2 things, a review by my friend Chris Robinson on David Gibson's latest CD (read here) and the resulting discussion on tromboneforum.org, read here

An open letter to Chris Robinson:

You got some names going on that forum man. When Doug Elliott chimes in, you know things got real. Man, i was gonna buy a Doug Elliott mouthpiece...

Anyway, I couldn't agree more. Like i said before, one of my grump points is trombone players attempting to sound like J.J. Johnson. Smooth beyond all smooth, thin and bright tone. part of it is the instrument itself. straight horns tend to be a bit brighter, and it's easy to get a laser tone when trying to play out on them. on my horn, when i play loudly, it has a huge amount of edge to it (actually, mine is too far the opposite direction. anything above about a mf starts getting nasty...a little TOO soon. lol). On straight horns played in the higher registers, it just bets bright and thin to the point of being like a wailing baby. That's one of the biggest problems with the instrument- in a solo situation trying to play over everyone, we'll push it and we've killed 7 people in the crowd with a laser shooting from our horn.

It's one reason i have recently shied away from using my straight horn. i HAVE a jazz straight horn. It sits in the corner, comes out at least once a year, gets cleaned, then put back. I HATE my orchestral horn for various reasons, but one thing i like about it, is i can't get a laser tone out of it. Even in the high registers, it leans towards nasty and gritty. I might keep it around just to play jazz, just because of that nasty quality...and i can pump out mid to mid-low and make it sound like a bass trombones tone when they're really pumping the low stuff.

The best compliment i've gotten on my playing actually happened yesterday. I was just trying to play some high stuff while everyone was chatting, and Stanton Kessler stopped and said "what was that?" and i turned and said "me." his answer "that sounded like a French Horn." that, to me, is a great compliment. It means I was able to, in the high range where on all instruments it can get a little thin, keep a nice full, round, dark tone...the sort of tone that when you push it gets that brassy edge a French Horn has, not a baby killing laser beam.

I also completely agree with Doug Elliott when he says "What "we" are missing is quality, in a lot of ways. I'll probably get flamed for this, but as I see it, trombonists in general have accepted mediocrity as the norm."

couldn't agree more. We're a lazy bunch. Seriously. I am NO exception, either. My practice habits this summer went to 2-3 hours daily to an hour daily to an hour every few days. and that's me concentrating on practicing! i dunno how many trombone friends i've had who would rather get drunk, sit at a piano, and sing Billy Joel than practice trombone. and we've accepted it.

We've got this complex. We'll listen to (for classical) Alessi, Christian Lindberg, Mark Lawrence and say "eh, i'll never play like that. why bother?" We'll hear those classic jazz solos, J.J., Curtis Fuller, Slide Hampton, Jiggs Wigham, and Kai Winding and say "we'll never solo like that, why bother." I'll admit that i don't spend my time learning changes or practicing my soloing like i spend my time learning avant-garde modern trombone solos...and that means it gets little to no time.

It's a double-edged sword. i complain, as a trombone player, that there isn't much good music being written for the trombone. the parts are lame, the solos are few and far between (in classical lit and jazz improv), and no one is even asking if i would like a piece written for me these days...why?

We don't put ourselves out there. I think partly the greats got overshadowed- J.J.'s biggest years of success were in the Bop era, and then into the Time of Miles (as i like to call it...). even though he was playing actively, put out records, and had great press...We all remember Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, we remember Miles and Trane...the giants lived on, and the ogres just got overshadowed (same reason we remember Wagner over Meyerbeer...even though Meyerbeer had much more play time during his lifetime.).

The only answer is to get out there and change the perception. So, yeah, I agree with you in a million ways. And believe, as Doug Elliott inferred, the stigma is our own creation. Somehow, as trombone players, we get lazy. We reach a certain level of proficiency and call it good. we get a gig and call it a day. there are obvious exceptions, Ryan Heinlein and myself are both at least trying to break the mold a bit, i'd say...he's more active than me in the Jazz scene, but i'm trying to do the same type of thing in the classical scene (where the same problems exist...). Maybe our generation will fix it. maybe, maybe not. Who knows, but it is a problem that needs addressed. And, maybe, now that I'm older, i can do my part to break the cycle, rather than perpetuate it.


so easy...

to forget why we started this journey.

Last night threw an amazing party. Made Siracha Curry Burgers and other grilled meats. Made potato salad. All the food was well received. There was drinking.

Everyone in attendance last night is a composer.

We held a score burning. It was amazing that the other composers were more reticent to burn their scores.

I burned the conductors score used in the first performance of Dance of Disillusionment and Despair as well as the first editing copy.

They're both useless now, as I revised it again before sending it off for competitions.

Woke up late, haven't done anything today. Saw my good friend Scott Blasco had posted a video to his piece Four Songs from the Caucasian Chalk Circle. (you can view it here.) It is a fantastic piece.

Listening to Scott's music reminds me of why I got started down this crazy path. not the bit from undergrad where I was kinda writing, met Carlos, and he showed me the path in composition. not my Masters where i really put it together.

Not even HS, when i had to decide what college I wanted to attend and what major I would be.

Nope, back further. Back watching Der Ring des Nibelungen for the first time with my dad. Sitting at the piano struggling with simple etudes, just wanting to play from the different random volumes of piano pieces we had laying around.

Neither of my parents were "professional" musicians. My mom had piano lessons through HS and flute lessons through college. Almost had a music minor, but really just wanted to play for fun, so didn't do all the theory work needed. My dad was a guitarist and bass player for various bands, though none ever got past being much of a bar band.

I didn't take it seriously till halfway through college. But i've always loved music. Not passively in the "i want to just sit around listening," but i wanted to create music. First, as a player, now as a composer (and sometimes a performer.).

Scott's music is simple and beautiful. Not to say it doesn't have it's complexities and doesn't hold my attention. Far from it. However, there isn't a "hidden agenda" one must first learn before enjoying his music. I don't have to listen and realize "Oh, this is an inverted double mensuration canon!" to get joy from a piece. (Sorry Jeff. I know your love of the inverted double mensuration canon. I love it too. but it is in no way simple and straight forward. lol)

It's something I miss, that simple beauty of a piece. You lay 4 of your 5 cards on the table and it looks like you have 2 pair. That's a good enough hand to win many a game. For those that pay attention, saw how the game unfolded, and catch that wry smile on your face, they know you've got another Jack in your hand, and it's a full house.

That's Scott's music. everyone can see the two pair. If you pay attention, you realize he's got a full-house.

My music is like playing Texas Hold'em and waiting for the river to pull out a winning hand. And no one ever sees what i'm holding till the end...

Sometimes I forget why I got into this whole mess..."Rainbow Connection" on an inexpensive upright, the fun and difficulty of memorizing 10 pieces for a competition, sitting in my bedroom with a cheap Casio keyboard writing short songs with their various patches and recording them with the little two track record function and recording it to a cheap tape deck.

I'm too complicated now. Not sure that'll ever change. I'm jealous of my friends that have success in singer/song-writer style work (guys like Greg Gagnon and his folk/country/blues persona Graham Gregory.).

I think it's time to get back to those roots. remember why I got into this mess. Thank you, Scott Blasco, for reminding me again.


Notational issues

I just finished getting all the notes put into Sibelius on my latest piece, K.A.H!. It was quite a session toward the end, to try and work it out.

the biggest issue is just how many techniques used in the piece.* The issue became "How do i notate these things quickly?"

Without having Stuart Dempster's book from the 70s on trombone (which i've yet to see. I know it exists. maybe UMKC has it in the library. haven't checked here.) I came up with my ways to tell the trombone player what to do.

The piece goes through several different techniques, standard playing, multiphonics (and some singing), playing on the mouthpiece, free buzzing, non-pitched vocal techniques, use of trigger positions to change timbre, etc. Some of the techniques are more standardly notated- multiphonics are often done as diamond notes for the sung pitches. But how about the others techniques?

Well, no one seems to like the trombone, cause there isn't much about how to write these things. When I look at certain scores that use the techniques, most are aleatoric in nature or just write out every single little thing. words words words, so many words...when you're moving around quarter equals 132, words aren't going to cut it.

so, what's eloquent? Different noteheads, of course! How else would one do it? i took some standard- like diamonds for multiphonics- and then used squares, triangles, arrows, Xs, anything I had lying around.

It makes the score quite pretty actually, all these different noteheads strewn around. And, as a performer, seeing the initial notehead with a definition along with it in a legend at the beginning is perfectly acceptable. Seeing words everywhere just clutters up the page.

Also, why does my hand smell so funny? i really have no idea, just does. I blame the enchiladas

by an by, Turkey and Black Bean Enchiladas with Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout? Quite a tasty way to end a Saturday


Crazy kinda year

Oh man, what a crazy kinda year.

I've had some good performances and worked my ace off. Helped plan and run a successful (if i don't say so myself) small festival over 2 days. we had 4 concerts, i teched all of them. The final piece on the final concert was the premier of "most of" Dance of Disillusionment and Despair. It was performed wonderfully by the group here in KC.

On May 1st, 7pm, Baruch College, I'll have the premier of the entire work. I've been working with Whitney George and Sarah E. Fox and a host of players in NYC, most of whom I actually know (crazy, right?). I'm excited to hear the whole work, even if it is using a 4 1/3 octave marimba and not a 5 octave. Oh well, that's how the cookie crumbles.

I also made my KC debut with It Was Raining, sponsored on a concert by KcEMA, and performed by Bonnie Lander. We had almost no rehearsal time, but had quite the performance. I actually should have the recording fixed up nicely in the first part of the summer.

Made my KC conducting debut as well. Andrew Cole didn't make it easy on me, but i owned up to the challenge. The piece, Three Dances for the Digital Era, is unrelenting to say the least. Think i lost 10lbs just that evening.

All in all, it's been one crazy year. But i think the work is paying off. People are starting to take some notice. Hear the music, see me around. I've gotten a couple people asking for pieces.

like I said at the end of conducting Andrew's piece "I'll take that...great work"



2 days, 4 concerts

one concert down, so if you're just seeing this, my bad

Come join the FUN! EMCC, hosted this year by University of Missouri Kansas City, 3 concerts today, all free, all in White Recital Hall, PAC, 4949 Cherry Street, KC, MO


Come hear a large work by moi on concert IV, 7:30pm.

Selections from Dance of Disillusionment and Despair.


What's in a bio?

First off, before i get this discussion rolling, this is not an attack on the program office involved. They are a very traditional establishment and i accept that. They produce quite nice programs that are edited quite well. This is just a difference of opinion on what makes a biography, not any sort of attack. Just so happens my view is quite different.

So, i know i've discussed my views on bios before on this blog. Today, i received an "edited" version of a bio i sent to a festival. This is what I sent:

John Chittum drinks water, but could probably stand to do so with more frequency. He is a composer, multi-media artist, sound engineer, and occasionally plays trombone. He has had works performed all over the universe, including EM-NY's IEAMF, DePauw Univeristy's Chamber Orchestra's 2006 West Coast Tour, and the anthem to Rigel 7's "Intermorphic Games 2009 (Earth Year)." His music has been described as “microtonal post-neo-litho-mini- Max/Msp-moderno-anticonservative-primitavisitic concert music and film scores.” When not writing music, John enjoys wrapping speakers in foil so the government (any and all) cannot steal his music, staring at blank walls, and working with UMKC's Composer's in the School program, and teaching at KCKCC (CCKCCKCKCCC), and UMKC (CCKCCCKC), helping to teach the next generation of poor starving artists. He has a fine leather bound degree from DePauw University in a box somewhere, an MM from Brooklyn College in an envelope on his desk, and is attempting one more "because i couldn't get a real job" at University of Missouri Kansas City. John also has a sense of humor, laughs a great deal, and refuses to take life too seriously. He’s known for being “the kind of guy who will watch 8 hours of Futurama and read Proust at the same time.”

and yes, that final quote is a quote. It's actually from Russel Thorpe who authored an amazing bio about me for the Black House Improvisors' Collective. Absolutely amazing.

I expected edits. Oh yes, indeed i did. The program office here is very traditional. They've been known to edit professor's bios if they mention things that are too "out there." If you read this blog, you've probably noticed i'm not exactly a strict tradition guy. Well, this is the bio that came out of this...

"John Chittum is a composer, multimedia artist, sound engineer and occasional trombonist. His works have been performed at EM-NY’s International Electro-Acoustic Music festivals and the 2006 West Coast Tour of DePauw University’s Chamber Orchestra. When not writing music, Chittum enjoys working with UMKC’s Composers in the School program and teaching at the Kansas City Kansas Community College and UMKC. He holds degrees from DePauw University and Brooklyn College and is currently a doctoral student at UMKC."

well then, that took all the fun out of it...and it became just a meaningless list of accomplishments. Yep...pretty boring. and it says nothing about me. nothing

This bio, when i read it, tells me nothing. So, he's had performances and he teaches, has a couple degrees, and does all sorts of shit. Who cares? That doesn't mean anything. The bio i sent really tells you who I am. You read that, you know EXACTLY who John Chittum is. The edited version has absolutely no life to it at all. I definitely would have preferred they just say "this is unacceptable. Please write something more traditional."

In light of the massive edits that sucked the soul out of the bio and left only factoids, i wrote a new bio to send them. i hope this revision goes in

"John Chittum (1984) is a composer, educator, multi-media artist, trombonist, and audio engineer. As a composer he has had pieces performed across the US with groups such as Remarkable Theater Brigade, DePauw University Chamber Orchestra, and in association with KcEMA. As an educator, John has taught audio engineering courses at Kansas City Kansas Community College and University of Missouri-Kansas City, music appreciation at Brooklyn College, music appreciation through the S.T.A.R. program associated with Brooklyn College, and as a Composers-In-The-Schools fellow at UMKC. John still actively performs on trombone, most recently playing with Black House Improvisors' Collective and is planning a trombone and electronics concert for 2012. Working mostly as a monitor engineer for Concert Quality Sound, John has enjoyed experiences with L.L. Cool J, The Trammps, The Blue Notes, Chubby Checker, and Tony Orlando. In the electro-acoustic scene, John has worked as a lead engineer and system technician for the International Electroacoustic Music Festival (IEAMF), KcEMA, The Composers Guild at UMKC, and Musica Nova. While John has many varied musical experiences that have influenced his work, his non-musical experiences, such as driving a large delivery truck in Philadelphia, traversing long distances in his 1995 Jeep Cherokee without a stereo, his regular trips to the Atlantic City and Ocean City, NJ beaches, and his forays into culinary experimentation, are of equal importance in his musical development."

At least that one still has some of the whimsey, and, let's face, if you want me to LIST ACCOMPLISHMENTS, BRING IT ON! I've got a few. I'll name drop, i'll put down professional credit, whatever. However, it's the final sentence, now couched in more formal writing, that still says more than anything...

and, knowing the office, there's a chance it gets cut.

So, here's the question: what are people's takes on bios? should they stick to tradition or break the mold? What says more about a person; a list of accomplishments or a something really composed in their own style? For those that know me (and read this blog), which of the three really does tell you about John Chittum?

This is NOT a knock on this office. I know they are traditionalists and i took a chance sending the zany bio. I do wish they had just asked for another rather than editing it though. I am capable of writing a traditional bio, just dislike to use it unless I am required. But, they do mean well and produce fantastic looking programs

which reminds me, i need to send them a program for the Guild concert in April.



First off, i've hit 1000 views. doesn't seem like that large a number, but when i started this back in...um...whenever i started it, i never thought that'd happen. or that i'd start averaging over 100 views a month. thanks all. i do wonder how many of you really exist. lol

The trombone concerto has been tabled for the moment. Got a phone call from a buddy of mine demanding i finally finish SOMETHING for him by May. he preferred it be an unaccompanied piece. Aight, i can do that. bye bye concerto which has given me acid reflux. Hello unaccompanied trombone solo!

It's title is K.A.H! I don't normally hit titles first, but this was a must. I'm also a huge fan of acronym names. This one is a double homage- first, to the greatest robot ever fictionally created; Bender. secondly, written in solidarity with everyone else getting royally screwed by the government in the US. Solidarity with Wisconsin in their fight to actually be able to collectively bargain their whole contract, not just their wage (i'm sure they'll lose all benefits soon "to save money." Austerity is BS.). Written in solidarity with those in Michigan that face the possibility of losing local government entirely ("oh, a 3rd party firm decides your town is in a crisis? I (the governor) shall appoint a person in charge of said town, dissolve the government, and give this person totalitarian rule of your town till the 'financial crisis' is over. Bye bye local government, voting, and all public workers!" I do hope they keep one cop around, maybe a fire engine...maybe...).

You can decipher what K.A.H! stands for. I've given a large hint

Later i'll post on content. It led to quite the disagreement. The suggestion was made that i use material from this in my concerto. my answer "that's not really going to work..." this led to about a 15 minute discussion that seriously just went in circles. I hold to my opinion, as it also stems from how i feel about large ensembles (unwieldy cumbersome beasts with coordination issues.). when your theme/basic material is so hard that an elite soloist has difficulty then transferring that to a large ensemble seems...well, pretty damn hard.

especially when you open with multiphonics through a harmon mute. lol


we pause for these brief announcements

Ah, spring is nearing. the sun is shining today after another couple weeks of miserable weather. I can already feel my energy starting to pick up a bit. It's amazing what a little sun and some warmth can do for you.

Now, if only i could get my mind working creatively. Like now. On Monday's I have an open slot from about 1-5. for the first chunk i often answer emails as many roll in Monday morning. after that, it's free time. And i spent mine watching Onion videos.

I think i might have to table the trombone concerto for awhile. Sometimes the best way to make progress on something is to not work on it. Take it out of my bag, set it down somewhere, and let it sit, move onto a different project.

I've been working in CSound a great deal this semester. Learning from a "master" is pretty amazing. To get a project from James Mobberley and work through it as a class is pretty outstanding. I've also learned where the holes are in my knowledge of digital audio and programming. Editing is a huge problem for me, so misplaced numbers, commas, words (things like writing "go to" instead of "goto" for conditionals has been a major problem...) just destroy my world. Hopefully, I'll move much quicker eventually.

Finally, I'm toying with going back and revising "Cake." Upon a review of it about a month ago, i was...disturbed...there's a lot of really poor writing. a lot of things in the piano that were meant to be orchestrated (something that never happened.) Vocal lines that lead nowhere and have nothing to them...At the same time, independently, Eileen Wiedbrauk, the writer of the wonderful text, was also toying with rewriting "Cake." heh. It's amazing what a few years away from a piece and a few more years of knowledge do to you. So, perhaps, there will be a "Cake v.2." i'd be game...


Holy Wild Performances, Batman!

For the first time in my "composerly" career, i have performances lined up.

And not performances where i'm pulling everything together to do at an "end of the year" concert by the comp department for the comp department. Nope...all three are about one step up :)

I'm still nailing down all the specific specifics, but the piece is accepted, so if all goes well, i'll have 3 performances over 2 months. with real groups.

groups i don't have to fully form myself. performers who can rehearse without me.

and, in other news, i'm playing with UMKC's RAT ensemble as a part of the Zerospace Conference on Friday night, working on KcEMA's "Back to the Source Code" concert at La Esquina, Saturday, and generally working myself into a frenzy.

Finally feeling all that hard work paying off!


Milton Babbitt, take 2

First, this is one of the most lovingly created and introspective biographies i have ever seen. Considering it clocks in at just over an hour for a 94 year life, that's really saying something...


In memorial of Milton Babbitt, I am taking "Milton Babbitt listening, day 2." I original did one the weekend of his death, and am now undertaking a second.

I am listening to most of the same exact pieces and albums i hit the first time.

Babbitt was a staggering genius. His works are comical, powerful, thoughtful, and thought-provoking. They are brain food.

My brain does not always "get" them. But i don't think it's Babbitt's fault. I really believe it's my fault. I'm listening incorrectly. I'm listening to him the same way i'd listen to Mozart, Beethoven, or any number of other composers throughout the ages. I'm listening for repetition, for form, for sign-posts, for a motive or theme...These do not exist as such in Babbitt.

His music is not about repetition in a strict sense. So while my ears still "don't get it" even if my mind can look at a work and perceive its structure, it doesn't mean i dislike Babbitt. I dislike Babbitt because i cannot be Babbitt. He was a genius extraordinaire. His music is deep, incredibly deep. It isn't something you put on in the background and "enjoy." This isn't music for someone who is not invested in music.

Babbitt didn't write what he thought people wanted to hear. I think he wrote what people should hear. and just like our mom's telling us "don't eat the pizza right away, it's still a little too hot," but we all did it anyway as kids and got burned. As is his music. There is beauty there, and whimsy. And slowly, i'm getting to the point of hearing it.

As one person states in the documentary "It touches my brain, and makes me think. And then through my brain it touches my heart..." (openly paraphrased from a bad memory...).

It is an odd path, reaching the heart through the brain. But then i jump with joy (literally) when i program sounds that get named "Reginald" and identified with a stodgy old Englishman with a cane and hat, opening his mouth, and these random gliding tones pop out of his mouth...so obviously my heart can be reached through my brain.

Perhaps we should all give Milton another try. and then a dozen more. And really listen. That's what i'm doing.

RIP Milton Babbitt


getting stuck again

So, as has become a general theme in my compositional life, i am, again, full of commas.

wait, no, that's not it


I'm stuck. Got about halfway through a movement, thought it was pretty good. Took it into the Dragon, and was shown various errors. Mostly pacing errors, a little bit of weak orchestration and rhythmic development. Nothing major. Since showing the piece (a fledgling little trombone concerto) at the beginning of the semester, I've done a fairly good job re-orchestrating portions, changing up the pacing a bit (basically giving a lot more room to breathe, longer calms with short high paced moments of action.), and did a little re-orchestrating. at last, i reached the point where i had finished the previous semester.

and stopped.

Confused, bewildered, full of "wtf." every day, i'd look at the score, go over all my past work, take copious notes. I drew form pictures, picked out developed themes i like, pushed around the notes of the different collections, inverted, retrograded, mirrored, made fun shapes...hell, i even toyed with making a tonnetz of the three pitch derivatives i used at the beginning.

And i'm still stuck. Usually running through all this sort of busy-work, breaking things down, moving things around, analyzing what i've done, tossing tons of material on paper and sorting through things...usually this pops me outta my funk. I redid my formal plan based on what has already happened (compared to the original plan. those never last.). I did some Theory of Maxima. (which i thought i had blogged about, and appears i have not. hmmmm....well...later...)

I took these things to the Dragon. His suggestion: write differently. Ok ok, that is really glib. What was suggested was to work out the solo line and work in short score. Then, move onto orchestration.

We all work differently. For some, melody is king and most important. for others it is the rhythm or the form. Me, it's all about timbre.

I come up with basic melodic ideas and themes at the onset. These usually remain pretty set, no matter what. From there, it's about developing those couple ideas extensively. When i come up with a variation, i almost always have an instrument in mind. working in short score has never made sense to me. The one time i've done it was with my opera, written as a piano score first with the idea to orchestrate later.

too bad i wrote it for piano at that point. whoops. turned into a pretty crazy hard piano part, but it's definitely piano-centered. i orchestrated one movement for the original intended orchestration (string quartet, flute, piano, percussion...and i think a brass of some kind. i don't remember). It's alright. but the piano is better.

Still, I am stuck. Quite stuck. So, even though it is pretty much counter to how i normally work, i will try it. I will work on it hard this week. Because i need as many tools as possible when i'm no longer in a place where i can take a piece into a lesson. Need every single different trick possible to get outta funks and write the best music i can.

And, who knows, maybe i'll do it better this time.