Event 4- I'm kinda of a regular

Following the amazing eighth blackbird concert on Thursday (Nov 8th, 2012), I had two more engagements. I was a last minute add to the Kansas City Electronic Music and Arts Alliance program Perceptions/Reality. As always I welcomed a chance to work with my friends at KcEMA. Now that I am less involved, it was nice; just walk in, sound check, and eat some wonderful Mexican food. The venue, La Esquina, is in the Crossroads district and on Southwest Boulevard by La Esquina is an abundance of fantastic Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants. My piece I Do Good at Grammar was performed by the esteemed Brad Van Wick. Brad isn't known as a vocalist, but the piece isn't exactly vocally demanding. On the contrary, it's much more about acting.

The performance was good, but not well attended. We were up against eighth blackbirds solo show at UMKC, so a fair bit of our regular crowd was gone. While the crowd was small, they were responsive, and were treated to the show being free. Too bad there wasn't a larger crowd, as the show was fantastic.

While the night was full of great music and great performances, including works by a new ensemble of old friends, The Ensemble of Irreproducible Outcomes, with David D. McIntire (head-hog at irritablehedgehog ), Brian Padavic, and Ryan Oldham; Teri Quinn and Eli Hougland, two former students of mine (Teri even premiered a piece started in my class. woo!); and great playing by Eric Honour. But, for me, the real winner was Joseph Post.

Post comes to KcEMA by way of the "popular" scene. And boy was it a breath of fresh air. Now, I love EA concert. Even more so when different mediums can be incorporated- the night had fixed media, video, interactive, and instrument plus fixed. And the styles were somewhat varied. But the world of house, dance, trance, dub, etc are never really represented. Alluded to, perhaps, but not represented.

Post brought that. He improvised over a set form, using software (i neglected to ask which. woops) running into a custom analog synth. Post pieced it together from synthesizers.com, and did a great job putting together a setup that creates great sounds for his music.

Things are faded a bit from my mind, but I was so freakin' happy to have something with a solid beat, nice timbres, and an eclectic form. So many nods to so many different styles of "popular" electronic music, from drumstep to ambient. Great to see him at a concert that, dare I say, can get a little too serious...of course, that's one reason I Do Good at Grammar exists. heh

And Post brought friends, that heard new music. And he heard the music, and enjoyed the night. So, hopefully, there can be more crossover between our not really different, but somehow "exclusive" clubs.

And then I had to go to a high roller party hosted by the Kansas City Friends of Chamber Music. Not my usual scene, but everyone was nice, had a couple good conversations, then quietly snuck out. It was nice to toast off the week with a few glasses of champagne.


Event 3- when the birds flew into town

I've done the production manager thing before. Contacted venues, gotten gear lists together, driven a 24' box truck, gone to rehearsals, heck i've even judged competitions before.

But nothing compared to when eighth blackbird came to town.

For those not in the know, check out the about on their page and catch the part where they've won a couple Grammy's (no. 73, a couple down the list, for 2012). They are the premier chamber ensemble in the nation, possibly world. Complete beasts.

I mean their playing. They're all delightful people. I had several great conversations with various members, including a fairly long one with Lisa Kaplan as I showed her cross campus.

Oh, the event! right. Through the Barr Institute at UMKC, eighth blackbird presented various masterclasses for the past year, a concert of music of their choice, and then one other project. The other project was put out as a submission to the conservatory at large. Groups, or individuals, could write proposals.

When eighth blackbird had come to town in April, I was talking to a local museum about hosting a series of concerts through the conservatory. We were in the final stages of putting together quite the idea- a commissioning project where each semester 5 students would be chosen to compose site specific pieces based upon art on display. And the goal was to have a "resident ensemble," maybe start with the university new music ensemble, Musica Nova, then see who would be game. Pretty frackin' cool right? Well, this idea got brought up during a large conversation with 8bb that somehow became them asking questions about what the composers organization on campus did. They loved the idea, the novel concept, the cultural link, and Matthew Duvall said "that's the kind of concert that if someone pitched it to us, we'd consider it." Being an opportunist, I said "Hey, so, we've got this concert we're planning in the fall, and I heard you'd be around..." It was a good laugh.

The this project proposal came around.

And I was flat out told "John, you have to submit that project. but spruce it up a bit." So I did. Instead of just 8bb playing the pieces, I pitched it as a "side-by-side" where UMKC student performers would get to work with 8bb, prepare brand new music submitted by composition students, and we'd hold a concert at the museum. Dance was even added in collaboration, so they get to say they've worked with 8bb (though I'm not sure how important that is to dance. Hopefully really important).

It was accepted. and I thought "woo! venue is already in! I won't have to do anything for this at all. Maybe they'll have me collect the scores or something."

Oh man...was I wrong.

So, long story made medium, the original venue had some issues. There was some turn over, all our efforts were lost in the shuffle, and come August, no venue. Well, shit. We were hell bent on the concert being off campus, so I set to work. Sadly, I couldn't find a "free" place, but I got a decent deal on a space for an all day rental (we had no idea at the time of booking how much time, so i said quote all day, we'll pay all day, and you'll prolly come out ahead. Fast way to get a yes). Alright, great...then came me being the middle man to get everything paid for. If you've never had to deal with that in a university (or other really large company) then I pray you never do. If it wasn't for great administrators, and certain higher ups covering my ass, I would have lost it

Ok, ok, we've got a venue! it's booked! Reception? uh uh uh...ok, held off as long as we could...No! We'll just go to a bar afterwards. we'll all be tired anyway, and we will need to get everything put away. Ok, great. Piano? SHIT, PIANO! WE NEED A PIANO!!!! WHY IS IT IN FOUR WEEKS AND I FORGOT TO EVEN GET A PIANO?!?!?!?!

To be fair, by this time about 5 people were involved in various fashions with ordering, coordinating, etc, and none of us remembered piano. Ok, no big deal, piano received. Great, how do we get equipment to the place? I suggested a 14' truck. Oh, good, someone else is driving...

Wait, what, he can't drive? Ok, fine, that's fine. OH, it's a 24' truck? well...shit...at least it's automatic. one less thing to worry about.

So here I am, night before, tired as balls, can't sleep. Have to be up at 7 to be at rehearsal (just in case, I was at almost all the rehearsals). Get there, drinking coffee, ok, I'll get the truck, load it...

And then the day went normally. Loaded a truck, drove it downtown, set-up stuff, drove truck back, got some lunch. The, uh, normal people in the venue complained about the noise...yeah, Stamos' piece is hella loud after all. But we did SAY from the beginning "rehearsals start at 2, show at 5:30." Guess that didn't make it throughout the company. Alright, fun. We're here, we paid, not much can be done.

Show is beyond packed. Standing room only, and we're in there like sardines. John Corigliano is in the audience, in town to begin his Barr Laureate status. And here I am, hopping up in front of everyone. Little sleep, only a couple weeks after comps, during which I was dealing with every pitfall possible in getting this concert to happen. I'm sure I looked like hell.

Then the concert happened. It was fantastic. 8bb and all the conservatory students played the hell out of the pieces.

In the aftermath, even more great news. Hey, remember that $4K you asked for, and proposed that since it's a project effecting at least 4 different student groups, that'd only be $1K a piece? Yeah, we decided it's really only for 1 group, and we're giving you a total of $1780. Oh, no no no, not for this one project...for the year. Yep, you're actually getting less than every other year. Have a great year!

But, ya know what? the concert was awesome. 8bb was awesome. The food afterwards was delicious

And, I learned I can still back a 24' box truck down a narrow alley without trying


Event 2- The Art of Revision

At 28, I've written more than a few papers. Short essays, long research papers, reviews, fiction, plays, poems; you name it and I've probably dabbled in it. I'm fairly competent; my grammar is generally acceptable, spelling pretty good, my research is top notch, and I try to be at least somewhat interesting. Good enough to "High Pass" my comprehensive exams research essay. Good enough to present at conferences, and maybe get published. Not so good as to get a book picked up by a publisher.

Editing, however, has always been a weak point. It's been a main area of focus over the last two years. It's an art. David Mamet answered the question "what do you do?" with "I shave syllables." In essence, that's what most writers do. Not so much the case with me until about a year ago, when I did 5 revisions on a 12 page research paper. This was completely unheard of at the time.

But nothing touched doing my Fulbright application. The process really started going in August, ramping up through September till crunch time in October. From the end of August till I submitted the app in mid-October, editing my Fulbright essays was a nightly endeavor.

The total writing was 3 pages.

My personal essay was alright from the beginning. I still managed 8 revisions. There was shaving to be done, phrases to tighten, words to cut, and always the small grammar errors here and there. But the story was there and somewhat compelling, if one could call my life compelling.

The research proposal was another matter. 2 pages that would grab the reader, give them all the pertinent information, list a methodology, and layout a timeline. Alright, I can do the last three, but grabbing the attention of the reader? I figured the idea would be enough for that: Travel to Sweden, interview heavy metal and death metal musicians specifically about the use of folklore and folk melodies, and any connections to political and social messages in the music. Use that info to help write an opera, all the while using the resources at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. Sounds interesting, right?

I revised that puppy 12 times by the end. This was easily a record for me. Even by the end, I wasn't all that confident in my work. It's a beastly amount of work, finding that balance between interesting and "academic." I feel like I had a more free style younger in life, but was forced into a more academic style of writing. And here I am applying for a prestigious academic fellowship, and I'm being told "Be more interesting! You sound too academic!" Who would have thought?

But it was an amazing process. I'm not expecting good news on the Fulbright. If I don't receive one, it doesn't diminish what I took away in the process: learning to juggle edits from multiple sources, examining the nuance caused by simple grammar changes, learning the style dictated by grants and fellowships, and seeing the massive amount of support needed to succeed in such an endeavor.

Whether I get one or not, the process was definitely worth the time

And all this was made all the more challenging considering I turned it in during my comprehensive exam, while also planning a concert with eighth blackbird. Easy to concentrate.


Event 1- Doctoral Comprehensive Exams

all doctoral students in every discipline dread their comprehensive exam. It's a major point in your degree, a make it or break it test. If you pass, you're "home free" to work on research and finish your dissertation (and any random courses you've got left). If you fail, well...you get multiple chances.

My DMA Comps was made up of 4 parts- a take home repertory essay, a drop the needle listening test, a "drop the score" theory exam, and major area questions. The test took my two weeks to complete. In those two weeks, I spent about 52 hours just taking the test. This doesn't include the 2 hours a night i spent "studying" for the listening exam.

the take home essay is, really, a full blown research paper. You're given a choice of topics Friday morning, and then have till Monday morning to turn in a 2500 word paper with bibliography, footnotes,  and title page. The 5 topics given were varied, and I think just about anyone taking the exam could find something they wouldn't mind spending time with. For me, I chose a question about the influence of 3 librettists of composers. Each pair had to be active collaborators and be from different time periods. If you know anything about me, then you know that this is right up my alley. As soon as I saw the question, I knew the pairings, though my brain totally died on the name of the librettist that did late Verdi. D'uh, Arrigo Boito, composer of one of my favourite operas, Mephistofele. So, I pumped that puppy out with time to spare. The other pairings were equally obvious- Da Ponte and Mozart, and Weill and Brecht. Turned it in Sunday night around 8, after a third revision. To do better, I would have needed a couple days off to get "fresh eyes."

The listening and theory were on the same day. For  the listening, everyone taking the test crowds into a large computer lab, plugs in headphones, and at the drop of 9am, the listening appear on blackboard. You then have three hours to identify nine examples- time period, genre, possible composer, and a couple paragraphs of style characteristics. The examples were drop the needle (meaning it starts anywhere in the piece), could be from any time period, by any composer...And judging from their choices, don't really have to be "representative" of a time period. You're given roughly 1-2 minutes of each excerpt.

A random test that includes all Western art music ever composed. There's no real way to study for it, just practice listening in general. I went to a couple sessions on that and felt more than comfortable with it. Then I read my Grout...namely the beginning through Renaissance. Once we hit common practice I'm fairly confident.

And boy, I thought I bombed that test. damn...completely insane. Nothing really prepares you for this...well...

Unless you had music history with Matthew Balensuela. Then you're fine. Luckily, I did...

After the listening, the proctor gives you a choice of scores to analyze, compare, and contrast. the range was again bountiful. I think there were 6 pairings to choose from? man, it's hazy. I chose a "new music" pairing, Xenakis Mists and Crumb Processional.

There were some particular bits we were told to look at, namely the use of time in the piece, as well as pitch content. Three hours to do the analysis and compare and contrast isn't much time at all. Both pieces were 10 pages long, so I went for a quick overview, tried to find some sort of major pitch structure, and then how they used the structures to define different time scalings. If i hadn't known basic background theory of each composer to begin with, I would have been screwed. Luckily, both were semi-straight forward pieces representative of Xenakis and Crumbs general style. I was definitely hurried like crazy, but I was able to pump out around the 5 pages they asked for and give some decent discussion.

The area-questions are what most people are used to- you have a panel, they submit up to 6 hours of questions, and you answer them. I decided on a varied group, Dr. Jim Mobberley for Composition, Dr. Reynold Simpson for Comp/Theory, and Dr. William Everett for musicology. Hell, if i have to answer questions, i might as well be entertained.

I tackled Dr. Everett first, since I felt like he'd be the wild-card. A few short questions were great: "describe your music in 20 seconds to a non-musician," and "describe your music in 20 seconds to a musician." I took him at his word, and each answer was about a third to a half of a page (general reading time is 1-1.5 minutes per page). Heck, i even timed myself, just to be sure.

The other two questions revolved around music, politics, and nationalism. I did a small amount of research for each. mainly, if i had to look up a bit, i cited it. I can never remember the furiant rhythm. heh. All in all, not a bad set of questions.

Dr. Simpson's questions were a series of "you should know this verbatim OR know exactly where to find it." I tried each question without looking it up then found the resource and listed things off if I felt behind. The only one that was a bit of challenge for "off the top of my head" was "find all the trichord subsets and pentachord supersets of this tetrachord." I missed a subset and superset from my own work. Thankfully i knew exactly where to look this up.

As for Dr. Mobberley, two questions, deep thinking about my future. Wouldn't expect anything less from the guru himself.

Area questions are "cake," in as much as they tend to cover what you've actually STUDIED in school. Yeah, i said it. I've got bones with the system, and generally think we should limit a comprehensive exam to just area questions. Just stipulate that you must have one faculty from theory, one from history/musicology, and one from your major area (so, theory has to have 2 theory, performance would have their private instructor). Then make the questions open ended- no time limit, etc, just have to coordinate with the comp head (that you choose). So, if a history professor demands that you right a rep essay in a weekend, no problem. With technology, I don't see this as a problem, as timing "tests" is cake. 

This all took my 52 hours (18 for area, roughly 28 for the take home, and 6 hours for the listening/theory). Do i feel smart because of it? that I somehow proved I learned all my lessons?

Nope, not at all.

Did I pass? Yep, even "High Pass" on the repertory essay.

Do I care? only that I now can just work on a dissertation and be test free.

All this, while finishing a Fulbright app (which i turned in between take home and listening/theory) and spending what seemed like endless hours organizing a concert (which included judging pieces the weekend i did the take home essay), and, ya know, taking classes and teaching. Life.

But that's another story...


What a couple months...

I disappeared for a while. For good reasons, I promise. It's been a crazy month...well, a bit over a month. The basic break down

1) Doctoral Comprehensive Exam- This ate 2 weeks of my life in early October, plus a few weeks prior studying

2) Fulbright application- Turned this puppy in DURING my comps. Yep, I finished my 48 hour essay, had a week of studying for my comprehensive listening test (meaning any piece from any time period, drop the needle style) ahead of me...and what did I do instead? Spent hours almost every night editing and rewriting a Fulbright proposal.

3) eight blackbird side-by-side concert- I organized this bad boy: Found the space, took all the submissions and organized sending them out, did initial judging of each selection (21 entries, done in one night), found the space, negotiated price of space and dealt with logistics, attended rehearsals, helped show 8bb around to all their various coachings (man, their schedule was NUTS!), loaded all the equipment and moved it to the space in a 24' box truck, set it up, tore it down, and then drank...This was a huge project that took lots of help from faculty and students (Shout-out to Joseph Kern for all his work with Musica Nova!)

Won't be doing that again for quite some time!

4) concert with KcEMA at La Esquina, Perceptions and Realities...this was an "easy" one

5) Installed an interactive installation designed with Bobby Zokaites called "The Machine the Sneetches Built," ran the opening, and had to set-up all the tech each morning, then chilled in the gallery in case anyone had questions. This was another huge opportunity thanks to ArtSounds, UMKC Conservatory, UMKC Community Music and Dance Academy, Kansas City Art Institute, and Charlotte Street. It was a resounding success in the community, especially on opening night! There will be photos and video up soon, hopefully.

So, I've been busy. All of these things deserve their own blogposts, and I think I'll get on that. Thanksgiving break starts tonight after we tear down The Machine, so maybe I'll write a bunch and time the posts, or something fancy like that. I mean, that can't be any harder than dealing with WiiMotes


Love at first sounding

If you don't know this track, listen to it now, become its friend, ask it on a date, treat it with respect, grow close, watch a sunrise on the beach, visit MJ's grave, plant some flowers and light a candle, return back to your place for a special night, exchange smiling glances, remember each others favourite coffee orders, take a surprise trip to Costa Rica, etch your name in tree, watch it grow as you walk down the park holding hands, visit the tapirs at the zoo, nudge heads on cold nights, and lay down to sleep under that same tree, after a few years ask it to marry you, and know your life has been made infinitely better just by spending a little over nine minutes on youtube.


and relive that feeling over and over again, surrounded by wildflowers and stars.

I don't pitch albums too often. This is probably the first video I've posted on here. And the Vijay Iyer Trio deserve the kudos.

Props to you, Vijay Iyer, Stephan Crump, and Marcus Gilmore.


What's going to put me over the top!!!

I found!

I used to say "give me a nice pencil sharpener, and I'll write an unforgettable piece!"

but found the pencil sharpener wasn't enough. So there had to be something else, some other piece of gear holding me back.

So I said "If I only had Logic PRO! No more Express, I need the full version!"

And I got a piece published. But I found myself wanting more. Still didn't have the big win, needed another big festival, huge conference

So I wrote a paper and presented it at EMS12 in Sweden. And I was still left wanting.

Then i figured it out. Even with all these online submissions popping up, I needed a way to market myself better. The website redesign is alright, workable, livable. The scores look as good as ever (now with prices!). but the recordings? They sound pretty good, but the look! The look was way off!

After searching for a couple weeks, I found my answer. Yep, that's right.

All I need now to put me over the edge is a Lightscribe enabled external CD/DVD player. Now I'm finally ready for the big time! Bring on the Pulitzer committee!

Ok, yeah, might be a little soon for that, but, c'mon, it is pretty damn schnazzy. I gave it a hard problem, a really nice picture with all sorts of different contrasts, and some text over top. And it handled it admirably. Some of the best money I've spent in a while.

And there was the even more practical matter that my macbook pro's optical drive has gone out. Might as well upgrade if I'm replacing anyway.


at what cost?

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is back to work, opening this weekend with old stand-by's Bolero, and La Mer and 20th century guru Olivier Messiaen's Poemes pour Mi.

Full details of the contract aren't out, but here's some of the breakdown from the press release:

  • Graduated 5 year plan
  • Pay drops initially 32% (!!!!) to a base wage of $53,000, rising up to $70,000 (10% pay cut) by year 5
  • first 2 seasons will have 8 less weeks (37-38 weeks). After that, 38-42 weeks will be scheduled. this is down from the 45.5 weeks scheduled before
  • 74 full time musicians, no layoffs (original offer had 5 involuntary layoffs)
  • Benefits are kept and most pension benefits (no specifics)
The lack of specifics and pension benefits (what is "most?") makes it hard to figure this out.

Considering the original proposal from the symphony society, and their amended October proposal (side by side in the symphony society's press release) it doesn't look terrible. The society really low-balled to begin with, and forced the lockout. And there's one tid-bit tucked in the "joint" press-release that irked me 

"As a key ingredient to the success of a five-year contract, the ISO and musicians agreed to a 
short-term contract in order to put the musicians back to work immediately and to permit the 
$5 million in funding from new donors to be secured"

When I first read this, I thought- "Shit, people were donating, to the musicians, and it can't be used till the contract is signed." Then I remembered something from an earlier press release from the musicians. Drop down to the bottom:

"The termination clause proposed by the Society would be triggered if it could not raise $5 
million by March 31, 2013 in donations from donors who had not made any contributions to the 
Society or its related Foundation during the last two years."

Termination clause? $5 million new donations? OH, that's what the press release meant!

That they can now try and get $5 million in new donations by March 2013, or else they can renegotiate the last 2 years of the contract!

SO, if the management doesn't do it's job--the musicians have proven they aren't the problem with their benefit concerts playing to packed houses with standing ovations--then management gets a do over. All while they still don't have a CEO, development director, or marketing director? So, it looks like this will repeat itself in a few years.

It's a rough contract, but the musicians did well to keep benefits and pension. They gave the salary figure, so I'm guessing the musicians already decided that it was an acceptable sacrifice.

But 32%? Imagine if you lost 32% of your salary, right now. If I did, I'd be in trouble. I don't make much as it is, but if I lose almost 1/3 of my net salary, well...let's just say eating would be difficult.

At what cost is the symphony back in business? Honestly, I don't think the base pay is far off from what I think it should be, but it's the manner in which it was achieved that worries me. An instant drop off and a slow climb, with a possibility of losing all this work in a few years if someone else doesn't do their job. The musicians did what they needed to, but was it too much?

What would you do in that situation, especially considering the lay of the land in classical music these days? Is the cost too high, the initial jump too perilous?

What would you sacrifice to continue to have your art?


A rally against...

"unrehearsed" readings.

ah, i can hear the composers and performers starting to rally against me, pitchforks raised!

"Any performance or reading is good for the composer!"

Is it? I've heard two recently that were...how should I put it...a disservice to both the composer and the ensemble. The players came in underprepared--I'm pretty sure they were sight-reading--and the performance sounded...bad. very bad. both times, I was fortunate to have the score in front of me because without it, there's a good chance I would have had no idea what was happening.

both performances were plagued with basic errors--rhythms, missing repeats, poor intonation, missing dynamic markings entirely, and lots of missed notes--as well as the ensemble issues you would expect in an "unrehearsed" reading.

Now, maybe I'm approaching this incorrectly. Maybe my ideals as a performer are different. Yes, I say performer, not composer. I like to compare an unrehearsed reading to what happens at the first rehearsal in any ensemble.

Professional performers, how many of you step into your first rehearsal without looking over the part, identifying the difficult passages, putting in at least a minimal amount of practice, and come prepared to play?

How many of you look at it for the first time at the rehearsal?

Now, I haven't gigged much--most of my gigs come from many years past--but in every pit I played in, every sub job I've gotten, I made sure when I stepped in to the first rehearsal or, if I'm "lucky," the performance without a rehearsal, I've looked at my part. I've more than looked at my part, I've listened to the piece, looked through a score if I can get one, and marked that puppy up.

As a conductor, the last time i premiered a piece was a while ago. It had tons of mixed meters, all sorts of rhythmic issues, dynamic changes, etc. When i walked into my first rehearsal, I was not sight reading that score, because if I had been, i would have lost all cred with the performers. and since I was stepping in front of performers whom have never seen my conduct, i definitely needed that cred.

These two readings I saw recently, i don't think the performers did that. As a composer, this means I will shy away from them. It speaks to a lack of professionalism.

But maybe i'm wrong. maybe an unrehearsed reading MEANS sight-reading. In which case, you better be a damn good sight reader, and let people know upfront that you're sight-reading. As a performer, it's a disservice to yourself. As a trombone player, if I step in to play a piece, and I'm sight reading, and there's a sudden range jump, I will crack the note. I may not completely miss it (ok, right now I'd probably miss it), but i will crack it. I won't be reading far enough ahead to see it and prep myself. I'll see it and say "oh shit, Bb coming up...go!!!" So, if I get a part, I'm looking through it, even if it's just an hour before rehearsal. I've definitely done that, my "warm-up" consisting mainly of reading through parts.

But it's also a major disservice to the composer. You go in, you've got high hopes. YOUR PIECE IS GOING TO BE PLAYED!!! HOLY SHIT!!!! It's a big deal for those of us who don't get tons of performances. and then, the group steps up--you sent them the parts three, maybe four weeks ago. in the email, you say "let me know if you have any questions." You attached an mp3 of the MIDI "realization" from Sibelius (ever so real, isn't it?), and a study score. The first thing said to you:

"Oh, this has repeats? Hm, that'll be harder to read..."

Your heart sinks immediately. You now know that player did not look at his/her part in the preceding three weeks. Maybe s/he was busy. Of course, they're being paid $3K by the university for the reading, so you'd think they'd at least take a couple minutes out of the day to look it over.

The ensemble hedged their bet and have a conductor--it's only for 4 players, but since it's "unrehearsed" they want to stick together.

And the conductor complains you didn't put conducting marks, lines and triangles, in the score but 2+2+3 instead. You start to open your mouth and say "well, it's not meant to be conducted, i just put it as a courtesy to the players...and it means the same thing..." but you bite your tongue.

Your hopes are sinking fast, and they hit the first chord

out of tune

by the fourth measure, a player, who has a lightly syncopated 16th note rhythm, is already off from the group. By the end of the piece, you've stopped looking at your score, and you're wondering if there's a drink special at the local bar, and how many shots you can do before retching. and you're happy your mom didn't come.

After the reading, you go through the score with a fine tooth comb- what did I do wrong? What was unclear? Should I remove all the repeats, does that make it too hard? Maybe this cello line isn't playable...you consider everything the players said because they are, after all, professionals.

And the recording is rubbish. can't send it out for more readings or competitions.

You spend three days editing feverishly before you see your teacher. S/he was at the reading, but you ran out quickly enough that no one could catch your ire/sadness/repulsion/physical illness. You nervously tap on the door, and enter. First thing out of your teacher's mouth?

"Don't put your faith in that reading. they were obviously unprepared, hadn't looked at the parts, didn't even stay focused in the reading. I'm sorry you had to go through that. Please say you didn't change the whole score..."

Too late...

This is why I'm against these readings. Is it good to hear your piece played by live performers?

Hell yes.

But not in this format. If the players take it seriously, and plenty do (man, I'm looking forward to the eighth blackbird readings at UMKC. Damn straight they're not going to flub ANYTHING), then it can be a great experience. But, i'm seeing a disturbing trend of players that think too highly of themselves. They think "i've played Carter, i can play anything. Nothing these students write will challenge me..." then they are met with their nemesis of extended double tongued passages and sudden 2 octave leaps. And the performers get defensive "well, that's too hard..." but, you know full well it's not too hard, or "unidiomatic" or whatever you can say. No, you bombed it. And the composer knows it too.

And so do all the highly trained musicians in the room.

But you know who doesn't? all the middle musicians and general audience. Ya know what they think? that the piece sucks. Hell, maybe it does suck, but no one can really tell.

Maybe I'm just in a bad mood, but this bugs me. And, no, neither piece was my own. And it was different ensembles, in different cities, at different times. and there are great readings- the Prism quartet put together a freakin' clinic on how these should be handled, and i'm positive the eight blackbird readings will be ridiculously amazing. But it's so disheartening to see good friends win great opportunities, and get nothing but neurosis out of the experience.

and as musicians, we all have too much neurosis as is.


another one bites the dust...

When last I wrote about all the strikes, I mentioned Minnesota was up next on the chopping block. And here they are, locked out. They face a similar dilemma as what struck Detroit- not just normal costs, but they started a costly building process, got donations to cover it, but many are calling into question if they should have done a fierce campaign for that over building up their general fund. I don't have enough info to make a decision, but generally I feel like building any operating funds is more important, unless the building is in really bad shape.

And it looks like Atlanta took a deal. from the intro reading, it looks bad. It looks like musicians took a 16.5% pay cut from the base starting salary. What that means for veteran players, i don't know. And top management brass, who were making in excess of $300,000, took roughly a 6% decrease (that's 6% total, not from each person, so however that works out). They also decided to leave vacant posts vacant, not give backpay, and make no alterations to anyone else's pay. They also cut 10 weeks from the season, cut 5 full time positions, and require payment into benefits (which means the pay cut is, in reality, more than 16.5%, depending on how much they pay in). Yep, good deal. Here are details from the management press release

Atlanta musicians gave in too early. But there isn't a safety net for musicians. Management across the country is betting, hoping, that musicians will cave. And it looks like they are.

These are major problems- everything facing the orchestras effects all classical musicians. Hell, it effects all musicians. These fights decide what people feel the arts are worth, as a society.

Whether or not I am an orchestral musician doesn't matter. Whether or not I'll ever WRITE for orchestra doesn't matter. My opinion of the orchestra being little more than museum matters slightly, since I view it as one of the issues they face. But even that doesn't matter as far as being a reason to not look at the problem. It's something we need, as a society of musicians, classical, pop, or jazz, have to examine.

And that's the issue.

Since these lockouts have begun, I've never heard anyone say anything in my music course.

The teacher hasn't said anything.

When i brought it up to some students, they had no idea any orchestra was locked out. How can you, as a violinist getting a doctorate, actively looking for audition opportunities, not know?

I'm seeing the Ivory tower acutely these days- little music students locking themselves in their practice rooms, in their studios, in their classrooms, blind to the world changing around them.

We need to talk about it, keep talking about it, everyone in this wide society in music. We need to talk about why these groups are having the financial problems- identify the problems, see what their answers are, analyze their answers and come up with our own. Because while there are unique challenges to groups that large, some of the issues translate to a single person, just trying to make a name for himself.


Silence in the halls

A third symphony joined the ranks of the silenced- Chicago Symphony Orchestra went on strike this weekend. And, as always, both sides are telling wildly different tales- management's statement says they are going to give modest (as in $20 per musician per year) increase to salary while having musicians pay more on their health insurance (and other benefits). But the story seemed off, with an incredibly high average salary shown ($173, 000? really?) and an absurdly low amount paid for health coverage in general (5% cited, with an increase to 12%). They also berate the orchestra for wanting to many days off.

Chicago Symphony Musicians on the other hand are saying something quite different. How about not including the principle players, concertmaster, and musical director in your average salary. Those 12 people can really push it up, especially considering, say, the concertmaster can make upwards of 5x what a section player makes. Check out this out from '08/'09 filings. That does kinda skew things a bit. And don't even ask about musical directors...OY!

For those not in the know, the other two orchestras with empty halls are Indianapolis and Atlanta. Minnesota Orchestra is also in talks right now that are heading in the direction of Indianapolis and Atlanta.

In Indianapolis and Atlanta we are seeing pretty draconian methods- sharp cuts to pay meant to take hold immediately, sudden increases in cost of benefits, slashing the season, and cutting musicians. Indianapolis is even negotiating WITHOUT A CEO! Yep, still doing the CEO search after the abrupt departure in February. They waited till around July to do the search. Even more than that, I wonder what a major business professional might say about what's happening in Indy? Oh wait, one did give an opinion.

Here's a  FAQ about the Atlanta situation. but it doesn't seem to tell the whole tale, which comes in bits and pieces. The HuffPost did a little bit of almost reporting on this one.

So, what's this all mean? Three orchestras out, maybe one (or two with St. Paul also looking bad?)

I remember writing about the Detroit strike ever so long ago, looking at "what are we worth?" Honestly, i look at what orchestra musicians make, and i'm still astounded. Yes, i know how much work they've put in, how hard the auditions are, how much instruments cost, etc. Just because i chose not to do the circuit and am now a composer instead of a trombonist doesn't mean I didn't learn the lessons- the stress injuries (my right wrist is pretty much ruined from poor piano technique for too many years), the instrument costs (trombones are cheap. I could only spend $5K on a new setup plus regular cleaning/maintenance costs at around $200 a pop every few months. love how cheap my instrument is compared to, oh, i dunno, one of theses! woo, there goes $1.7 million!), and everything else that comes with the gig.

BUT, this isn't about that. It's really not. Think of it this way- what would happen if your boss stepped up to you and say "starting tomorrow, i'm cutting your pay by 33%. We've got to cut overhead, and this is how it's going to be."

Would you be able to pay the rent this month? feed your kids? fix your car?

The answer is probably not. What if he told you "Over the next 2 years, to save money, i'm going to have to cut salaries by 33%. But i'm gonna do it 2% a month till it hits 33%. Then, after a year, if the money is coming in, I'll start bumping it back up 2% at a time."

That'd still suck balls, but if it was a job you loved in a place that was in dire straights, you'd be willing to make it work. And with the gradual shift, you could plan, make allowances, etc.

33% pay cut is still insane. Seriously, 33%? I think about losing 33% of my meager living (around $19K) and i freak out. Could i live on around $13K? Maybe, but i'm used to being poor as shit.

And the bigger problem is negotiating in good faith. It seems like a lot of these situations arose not because of the musicians. Are the musicians performing badly? Are they not bring in tickets (in Chicago they had ticket sales increases!)?

Really, this letter says it all. The musicians are the players, and if you want to cut paying the players...You get the Kansas City Royals vs. the New York Yankees. Who's gonna win?

And do we want symphonies full of AAA squads?

And, after all that, ya know what's even sadder to me? When I walked into a class at a major conservatory, there were people who didn't even know this was happening...That is even sadder than all these negotiations and shows one of the biggest failings of musicians- sitting in a bubble, thinking nothing can affect them.


Something I'm afraid of...

I was forwarded a blog post a couple days ago. It was quite provocative- the first half attacking some of the institutional sexism in place in theater, the coda illustrating what happens exactly when a female speaks out- smacked down with a "this is how it is" and flabbergasted.

The show quoted, Peter and the Starcatcher, is one I would undoubtedly not have wanted to see in the first place. And it's even more likely not one that I would ever write.

This writing thing is new to me. I've just "finished" my first 10 minute play, with revisions and workshopping. It's in the hands of a director and there will undoubtedly be more revisions. The cast is 2 males.

I've seen what the author is talking about first hand, not just in theater but in music as well. This shooting down sexism, saying "oh it's ok because of 'x,' " the tossing it off as a joke. It's always there though, under the surface. There's the conversations in music, the dislike of the all female, or all gay, or all whatever festivals. We talk like it excludes these groups from the mainstream events, that it's "ok to leave them off this concert, because there's a concert over here just for them." Separate is never equal. But also the victim-blaming, "Well, if s/he was just a better composer/writer/actor then we wouldn't even have to talk about this." It's there, a part of many arts...

But that's not what I'm afraid of.

I asked myself after reading this "how can i help change this?" the obvious answer is write strong female characters.

That's what i'm afraid of.

Why? Because I know many strong amazing women. Women who have started businesses, that attended N.O.W. conferences, that help organize unions to fight for workers rights. I've known women who have taken jobs and don't want a family, and women that have turned down high paying jobs to start a family, women who've organized everything themselves and made careers from the ground up while raising a family. I've seen women have to fight for their basic rights (again!) and watch videos of strong women inspiring young girls to not be held down by stereotypes.

And i'm scared to death I won't be able to capture any of that.

My last 2 vocal pieces have been premiered by Sarah E. Fox, a fantastic soprano. The most recent, I asked a friend of mine, Jacob Garbe, to write the text...and to make it somewhat gender neutral. I think the tone is close, still a bit masculine, but much less so than what I'm capable of writing. The older piece I decided that I wanted to set poetry by a female- i was sick of hearing songs for soprano that had an obvious masculine tone to them.

Now, I'm writing my own plays and possibly writing my own libretto (still holding out hope for a collaborator!). And I sit here thinking of great ideas for strong female leads, and I sketch a little dialogue, and it's definitely weak compared to my male characters.

All I can do is practice. Hopefully, I can grow to write a strong, convincing female lead. But I wonder how many men have this problem? There's the mantra "write what you know." And i think it's pretty obvious many men do not understand women in any way shape or form.

The way for me, personally, to fight these issues, is to become a better writer. Because, if I don't, I'll only contribute to the problem while bemoaning "oh, i just can't write convincing female characters." And that's a pretty horrible excuse to perpetuate a problem.


How to improve your mood

My roommate and I got into quite the discussion this evening. We were discussing some pedagogical ideas for his new mentee, someone who has admitted to "having trouble coming up with original ideas" and whose music (that i've heard, which isn't much) is strongly rooted in early Romantic style. What started out as brainstorming ideas (giving him crazy examples, getting him to write a piece without using standard notation, making him write something for my roommate who is a fine cellist, etc) turned into "well, what's this student been missing to want/need this at this point in his degree?" This led to "Well, we can design a composition degree that's awesome! at least better than what we had" (NOTE- I do not have an undergrad degree in composition. Mine was technically a BMA in general music, but it's 7/8's an ed degree...so I compared it to what the general music degree was designed for at DePauw, which I thought was a great starting point).

Because I'm insanely confident, being a master of all things pedagogical, here it is!

  • Theory I-IV 3cr each (Should span 17th century counterpoint basics, 18th century counterpoint basics, tonality and vertical harmony, and 20th century techniques)
  • Aural skills I-IV 3cr each (same as above)
  • History Overview I-II (early through romantic) 3cr each
  • 20th Century history 3cr
  • Intro to Seminar Research topics 3cr (think a research style class, but focused on a seminar topic instead of disassociated from anything)
  • Conducting I 3cr
  • Orchestration 3cr
  • Instrumentation (choice of 2, Woodwind, Brass, Strings. If playing one of those families, must take other 2 families) 3cr each
  • Primary Instrument I-IV 3cr each
  • Comp (8 semesters) 3cr each (final semester is prepping a concert)
  • Keyboard I-IV 1cr each (Until proficiency is passed. if passed early, fill in credits elsewhere. If not passed after 4 semester, can transfer into private piano for 1cr until passing)
  • Class Voice 1cr
  • Large Ensemble (6 semesters, credits not counted into total)
  • Small Ensemble (6 semesters, credits not counted into total)
  • Recital Attendance (every semester, 12 recitals)
  • Counterpoint I-II (17th/18th/19th and Contemporary) 3cr each
  • Techniques of Electronic Music I- Digital Audio 3 cr
  • Intro to Writing/English Comp I 3 cr
  • Foreign Language I-II (Fr, It, Ger) 3 cr each
  • 24 credits of liberal arts/area of concentration (tracks would include Electronic Music, Literature, Science, Computer Science, etc.)
By my count, this comes to around 131 credit hours, or about 16.375 credits per semester (not counting ensembles, of course)

There are some oddities: The intro to Seminar Research is a class my roommate and I have never encountered, but after a heated discussion about seminar classes in undergrad, decided the hybrid was an interesting choice. I conceded my "TONS OF SEMINARS!!!" to his "NO ONE DOES THAT!!!"

The instrumentation class is my idea- it's based on the ed style "techniques" classes, but instead of focusing on pedagogy, it's a survey of families including learning basic playing technique of each along with basic writing skills for them. I found my techniques classes invaluable as I got further into orchestration- having picked up a clarinet, i know what it's like to do some of those leaps, or thanks to learning a little cello, i can "bow" passages and understand how the phrasing won't work how I want it to. All from basic classes. Totally worth it.

We limited primary instrument to 6 semesters due to senior year being hardcore prep for a senior composition recital of around 1 hour of music. That more than makes up for not being in those lessons

The 1 Techniques of EA Music i fought for. It's important to get composers at least introduced to the hardware and software for working creatively. Then they can fill out an area of concentration in EA Music (maybe I'll make that later? LOL). I still like the idea of EA Comp degree, but that's for later. LOL. it would also give students an intro to editing, which is hugely important in a practical manner.

And the not really liberal arts? It comes down to classes. Ever seen "Physics for Presidents?" or "Intro to Ecological Ideas?" Yeah, BS classes for people to fulfill their credits. I see the trend and I say "why not make students focus on an another area?" Theoretically, I think it will better serve students than the low-end "use this to fulfill your credit" type course.

Though, at our highly esteemed Theoretical Conservatory of Awesomesauce, no such classes would exist. It's fun to dream...

So, thoughts? What do people think about this collection of classes and break up of things? What's missing? What's not focused on enough? GIMME SOME LOVE!!!


In Honor of John Cage

  • Tension, release, but not release into a nice major chord, but a bursting forth f the built up energy.
  • Talk about magical wisdom. It's all about how we listen, what we listen for in a conversation. The other quote I grabbed from Ethan Iverson giving a great discussion of why competitions aren't great for art: especially a performance competition of Jazz.
  • Well it means quote 1 sticks into quote 2. If I listen to all the wrong parts of what I'm being told, it means I compromise the idea of quote 2- I write for a judge. If it gets me an award, then it's worth it." Listen to the part that says "Write the best music you can, get a nice recording, and send it out. So listen to the whole sentence, and work for your love of what you do.
  • • 8 premieres (yeah, that's right, i wrote one piece that wasn't a commission. go figure. 1 international paper presentation
  • "work must contain a song from "
  • I also performed on 4 more pieces during the course of the night. I've been going through the recordings, cleaning them up, etc. It's still pretty stressful hearing your music performed, whether for an audience of 5 or 500. 2 days after the performance, i worked on the recordings a bit. Nick Howell's solo on Hunter Long's "This Self-Imposed Abyss" sounded good to me then, but i was busy counting and playing backgrounds. We play a lot louder in concert and lose some of the dynamic contrast we worked hard on in rehearsal.
  • 4. Some was a nervous, forward pushing energy; some was a relaxed, focused energy. Most performers strive for the focused energy, but something can be said for the nervous pushing energy. LOL. Over the past month or so, I've been slowly updating my website, CV, list of compositions, etc.
  • I've sat in my fair share of coffee shops. A pleasant conversation would ensue, then we'd part ways. Russell Kirsch.
  • The first is about the performers relationship to music, especially the process of learning a new piece. It's something I've hit on before (repeatedly, forcibly) in conversation- complex pieces are rewarding endeavors, and there is much to be gained by focusing on learning the piece. The next couple are about listening. Well done, Brian Ferneyhough.
  • "We need more audience for jazz, and the way to get that audience is not to play jazz correctly. Iverson also tosses in a little dig against competitions in the classical world, at least in sense that they don't work well.
  • • Kick-off Concert for ArtSounds
  • So far, I've done well with submitting.
  • "Only accepting pieces of 1-4 performers"
  • "No piece over 15 minutes will be accepted"
  • "Pieces under 10 minutes will be given preference"
  • Put stuff up as it comes in, even if you're busy.
  • • A piece "broadcast" as a part of an online edition of a literary magazine
  • • 5 commissions
  • • A commission and release by a record label
  • Took a very long train ride a couple days ago. First was meeting a man named Chris. Ligeti String Quartet 2, Ferneyhough String Quartets 2, 3, and 4. I've always disliked pieces starting with grand pauses. Pitch, rhythm, timbre/orchestration, energy. Man, does Ligeti nail nervous. the rhythm speeds up, the dynamic ebbs and flows, but never above quiet.
  • After writing two new pieces this summer, I've started up a third. The first two played with new (to me) pitch organization systems. Ferneyhough, Brian and Boros, James. Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 28, No.2 (Summer, 1990) p 6-50.
  • "works must be influenced by "
  • So, where's the creativity? Are composers meant to just create pieces for these performance opportunities? I just described a solid 3/4 of the submissions I've seen. Toss in spending a nice chunk of change just to submit, and, well...it's a little depressing.
  • I've submitted a piece that's mostly improv, and while the call doesn't say "no improvisation," that's one of the subtexts in many calls. And i've spent $30 so far.
  • If I do that well, I have a better chance of winning. Of course, if you're pushing for your own path, it's hard to find that competition.
  • I'm playing the game now. I'll keep playing the game, while doing my own thing outside of it (i've got 2 performances lined up in town).
  • Marvin Hamlisch was a different breed of masterclass presenter. Hamlisch wasn't afraid to state his opinion of a piece, drive right to the heart of the matter. Hamlisch's musical output was prodigious. He was decorated, worked as a pops conductor, and accomplished great things for musical theater. Hamlisch will be missed for his musical works and his conducting. Fare the well Marvin Hamlisch
  • Rhythm starts slow, speeds up, burst forth. Simplicity- a straight forward idea executed perfectly.
  • 9/1/12

    Don't get so down

    This year I made the resolution to do more submissions. So far, I've done well with submitting.

    but i'm batting a .000 for acceptance.

    This should get me down, but it doesn't really. I've done alright with getting submissions out, but I'm still only about 0/8 or so. Something else gets me down more...

    "No piece over 15 minutes will be accepted"

    "Pieces under 10 minutes will be given preference"

    "Only accepting pieces of 1-4 performers"

    "work must contain a song from "

    "works must be influenced by "

    So, where's the creativity? Are composers meant to just create pieces for these performance opportunities? I just described a solid 3/4 of the submissions I've seen. not to mention another big turn off:

    "there will be a <$10-$50> processing fee."

    This depresses me. What i consider to be my finest work is a piece for 7 performers (flute, clarinet, violin, cello, percussion, piano, and voice) and comes in between 16-18 minutes, depending on the performance. the piece is either too long (most call for 15 minute max) or too many performers (i've seen up to 5, mostly the 1-4, but not often 7) and definitely a combination of the above. Toss in spending a nice chunk of change just to submit, and, well...it's a little depressing.

    Still, I've sent 3 submissions over the last 24 hours, and I'm looking to do more. I left out 2 movements of Dance of Disillusionment and Despair, bringing it down to right around 15 minutes. I think the piece suffers for it, but that's the magic number. I've submitted a piece that's mostly improv, and while the call doesn't say "no improvisation," that's one of the subtexts in many calls. And i've spent $30 so far.

    I'm playing the game now. And it's not paying off very well. I'll keep playing the game, while doing my own thing outside of it (i've got 2 performances lined up in town).

    I'd rather see more openness in calls. I understand programming issues. I've curated a fair number of concerts myself, handled calls, etc. and it still makes me sad, as a composer, to think that to get my music performed more than the 1 or 2 performances I make happen, that my works will sit in a cabinet and grow dusty.

    But the game hasn't won yet. And, who knows, maybe I'll come out on top, after sending out as many submissions as possible. I've heard from a writer friend of mine that sending large amounts (can't even think of a number...) of submissions on a single piece and getting tons of rejections is normal. You just keep sending.

    Well, I'll just keep sending then. 


    two quotes from distinctly different lands

    Today I ran across two quotes that seemed to sum up two of my great feelings in life:The first was a sign off shout from GOOMF! If you don't know GOOMF!, it's an Onion Sports Network parody of Face-Off from ESPN. And it's magical. Really magical. The cast off shout of record:

    "Your parents either told you horrible lies, or you chose to listen to all the wrong parts of sentences."

    Talk about magical wisdom. It's true, isn't it? It's all about how we listen, what we listen for in a conversation. We all perceive things differently, and are willing to toss out anything that doesn't go along with our preconceived ideas. 

    The other quote I grabbed from Ethan Iverson giving a great discussion of why competitions aren't great for art: especially a performance competition of Jazz. 

    "We need more audience for jazz, and the way to get that audience is not to play jazz correctly. The way to get that audience is to make essential new music."

    Man, he just really nailed that one on the head, didn't he. Iverson also tosses in a little dig against competitions in the classical world, at least in sense that they don't work well.

    The largest truth comes in the idea of writing or playing for someone else. You know so-and-so is a judge. S/he likes this particular style. If I do that well, I have a better chance of winning. In the classical world, you can browse winners of competitions and see the aesthetic leanings of the competition, be it traditional, complexity, post-minimalist, whatever. Maybe that means "only submit to competitions where your style fits." Of course, if you're pushing for your own path, it's hard to find that competition. 

    So what's that mean? Well it means quote 1 sticks into quote 2. A lot of people tell you that you have to be successful. Success is dictated in many ways. I've gotten advice lately that while my CV is strong, it's lacking one big thing- a named award. If I listen to all the wrong parts of what I'm being told, it means I compromise the idea of quote 2- I write for a judge. I look to see winners, and say "well, I can write in a really complex style. If it gets me an award, then it's worth it." Will winning that award suddenly make me "successful?" Will I now, undoubtedly, get a job wherever I want? N'ah, it'll make some nice introductions, give me a couple more opportunities, but I can do that without the competition.

    That's listening to the wrong part. Listen to the part that says "Write the best music you can, get a nice recording, and send it out. Everywhere." And still submit. Because you never really know what'll happen. Music is highly subjective, and if you resonate with just one person, all of a sudden you've got an award.

    And because if you start listening to all the wrong parts of sentences, you'll start to lose yourself, and when you lose yourself, you've lost a deep connection to what you're doing. Then creation halts.

    So listen to the whole sentence, and work for your love of what you do.


    unbridled simplicity

    Took a very long train ride a couple days ago. It ended up being 9.5 hours on the train instead of 6.5. A crane had fallen across the tracks outside Chicago.

    Finding things to do on long trips is always a pain. At least on Amtrak, there are outlets. Electrical ones, I mean, not just outlets to relieve tedium. Two things happened on this trip that reminded me of the wonders of simplicity.

    First was meeting a man named Chris. He was now retired, taking a train trip to visit his kids in California. He was meeting some in Albuquerque and camping in New Mexico before heading to SoCal and camping there. We discussed many things- he was one of those types that had a million jobs: a part-time luthier in NYC living with 2 flamenco guitarists and another luthier; a youth counselor heading several small town organizations outside San Fran; making posters and doing advertising for theaters. We talked about throwing TVs off buildings, lighting pianos on fire, and coming up with a class called "Music and Pyrotechnics."

    We sat staring at the still scenery in the observation car having this conversation. I had a beer, he had what i assumed was a jack and coke, since it was in a glass and no can in sight. They called his dinner reservation, and he thanked me for the conversation. Chris said he felt reinvigorated- he was retired, but still spry and wily, and needed something to pass the time. He was thinking of going back to some of his old posters, ideas from the 60s for bands like the Santana Blues Band (before it was just Santana) and sprucing them up, making them animated gifs or short films. Chris thanked me for being creative, and passing that spirit onto someone that needed reminded of how you can turn anything into art, be creative with anything, even a train sitting still thanks to a fallen crane.

    It made me appreciate a simple conversation with a stranger, an activity I often avoid.

    The second experience happened later, sitting in my seat as the sun started to set. I was tired of reading- had already gone through 200 pages or so that day in a novel by C.J. Cherryh. Good trilogy, but after reading 700 pages in the last 4 days, i was shot.

    So i turned on compy and flipped to the scores I had loaded on my computer. Ligeti String Quartet 2, Ferneyhough String Quartets 2, 3, and 4. I decided to start with the Ligeti- might as well go in chronological order.

    It starts with a grand pause. I've always disliked pieces starting with grand pauses. From there, i started taking it apart. Pitch, rhythm, timbre/orchestration, energy. What i found all at once surprised me and didn't surprise me.

    Ligeti SQ 2, Mvt 1- Allegro Nervoso. Man, does Ligeti nail nervous. and it's simple, dastardly simple. Ligeti moves from a range of a major second to a perfect fifth, each part moves from playing one note to playing three or four. the rhythm speeds up, the dynamic ebbs and flows, but never above quiet.

    The energy sits, there, but not there. You feel a pull, like toward the center of a turn, but something moves opposite. The only comparison i came up with is centrifugal force, in one way reactive, and in another false. There is motion, a sort of swirling type, moving thanks to the tremolo always applied and the speeding of rhythm and expansion of pitch. Then, suddenly, after only a minute or so of music, it bursts out, hitting a moment where all 12 equal tempered pitches are present (13 notes in vln 1, 11 in vln2...the missing note from vln 2 played twice in vln 1. no coincidence, too contrived). It's the water flying from the bucket...only to be caught by the next nervous energy moment.

    Back and forth, building energy that goes nowhere, suddenly releasing it. Tension, release, but not release into a nice major chord, but a bursting forth f the built up energy.

    It's simple, really. 3 pitches, to 5, to 12, and shrink it back down to the 3. Pitch contour is static, then back and forth in a small area, then large sweeps. Rhythm starts slow, speeds up, burst forth. register and spectral content change from harmonics, high, whispy, sine wave like to mid register, full tone, strong. and then all back again.

    So simple, so straight forward...so wonderfully executed.

    Simplicity- a straight forward idea executed perfectly.

    Simplicity- a talk with a stranger that is invigorating.

    Not a bad trip, considering the long delay.


    Death of brutal honesty

    Marvin Hamlisch died last week, 8/6/2012, at the age of 68 due to a brief illness. I'm late to the party in saying fare well to a legendary man.

    I met Hamlisch once, at a masterclass. The folks at Brooklyn College arranged for Hamlisch to listen to scenes from a recently minted set of short operas by BC students, including a scene from Cake. I believe we performed the second scene, even though I asked for the aria to be performed.

    Honestly, I don't remember much of what was said to me or the other students. But I do remember one major character trait of Mr. Hamlisch- brutal honesty. Almost to the level of devastating. I can't remember the exact words, but I do remember him explaining how he was going to be frank, possibly brutal, because we needed to hear these things as composers.

    And he was correct. 100% correct in fact.

    Marvin Hamlisch was a different breed of masterclass presenter. Often in a masterclass, the "master" tip-toes around ideas, asks a few questions, and doesn't add much to the conversation. Hamlisch wasn't afraid to state his opinion of a piece, drive right to the heart of the matter. I respected it then, I respect it now.

    Hamlisch's musical output was prodigious. He was decorated, worked as a pops conductor, and accomplished great things for musical theater. In one sitting, I could tell he had a great musical mind, and used it to create what he enjoyed the most- musical theater.

    Hamlisch will be missed for his musical works and his conducting. Even more so, I will miss him for being one of a slowly disappearing breed- a man unafraid to challenge young composers, say he thinks a composition is total shit, and explain why he thinks it's total shit. He was a man that was honest enough to tell me I sucked, which led me not to despair, but to sit down and figure out really deeply WHY I sucked.

    Cheers to you Mr. Marvin Hamlisch, the only man who has had the balls to tell me my music was inferior and shouldn't be performed as it stands. You were right, though I would have liked your opinions on my last work. Maybe, just maybe, I could have piqued your interest. Perhaps you'll have chance to listen now that you're not so busy.

    Fare the well Marvin Hamlisch


    Random People can be Amazing

    I've sat in my fair share of coffee shops. The now-defunct Muddy's by UMKC's was a mainstay for me. Strangers sitting nearby and asking what i'm doing as I was hunched over staff paper wasn't all that uncommon. A pleasant conversation would ensue, then we'd part ways. But nothing this awesome ever happened to me


    Russell Kirsch.


    I ran into Simon Emmerson as I left the bathroom, but we were in attendance at a conference together...And I'd seen him multiple times. That was a fluke in timing.

    This is unbelievable.

    and remember:

    "Nothing is witheld from us which we have conceived to do."


    "Do things that have never been done before."

    If you can dream it, you can do it. And you should.


    Several Days Later

    Friday was the premiere of 2 new pieces by me, All Things are Not Equal and You Can't See the Stars in the City (you can here recordings from the rehearsals here.) Street Cleaning was also performed, with me doing a great impression of a methed up hobo...but only after putting the audience to ease with a soft spoken introduction where i was more humble than usual. It's all about the stage presence.

    I also performed on 4 more pieces during the course of the night. And lent a helpful hand by recording the concert with some fancy gear. I've been going through the recordings, cleaning them up, etc. Should have it done in short order.

    The day following the performance, i was tired. It's still pretty stressful hearing your music performed, whether for an audience of 5 or 500. We didn't have either of those numbers (my guess would be the 40-60 range, which was less than i thought would be there, after we blew out La Esquina a year ago...) and, of course, it was a bit nerve wracking. Actually, I was much more afraid of La Esquina getting packed in like sardines, which happened a year ago. I'm claustrophobic, so even the thought of the small space packed to the brim had be uncomfortable.

    2 days after the performance, i worked on the recordings a bit. They sound surprisingly good. A little mixing voodoo and they'll be golden. Listening to the recordings a couple days later was nice, as I was able to remove more of the subjectivity of the performance.

    And let me say a couple things about the performance, objectively:

    1. there are some killer solos. Nick Howell's solo on Hunter Long's "This Self-Imposed Abyss" sounded good to me then, but i was busy counting and playing backgrounds. on the recording, it blew me away. Fantastic
    2. The group, overall, sounded pretty balanced
    3. We play a lot louder in concert and lose some of the dynamic contrast we worked hard on in rehearsal. 
    4. There was a lot of energy, a mixed sort of energy. Some was a nervous, forward pushing energy; some was a relaxed, focused energy. Most performers strive for the focused energy, but something can be said for the nervous pushing energy. It made Street Cleaning more raw than usual, which was fun.
    5. There are always things to work on. Recordings don't lie too much. well, they do on tone colour, but not much else. I didn't play any major lines really, so I can't critique my playing- my "soloing" on Street Cleaning was just kinda, well, it was what it was. LOL. i wasn't trying to play a beautiful solo, more a "character" solo...which I think I did well enough. 
    Overall, a special thanks to Black House Collective for the opportunity. A special thanks to Eli Hougland and Stamos Martin  for coming in just to play 2 tunes.

    And, of course, thanks to all that showed up!

    Oh, and this. "Now this is the plan. Get your ass to Mars." YAY SCIENCE!!!


    I wish my hair was as awesome...

    As Mark Applebaum's

    I don't usually like Ted Talks. Most are benign, easy listening versions of good talks. And, honestly, this talk isn't all that different.

    But it serves as great reminders to let your creativity be what it wants to be. As a composer, it's easy to get bogged down in some ideas- performability, standard notation, preconceived conventions (usually based on genre), fear (of new things, of not being good enough, of making something people won't like, of making something uninteresting, of breaking the piano, of pissing off the concertmaster)

    So take it as a reminder about being an artist- do what your artistic idea has you do. And be entertained by just how "crazy" Mark Applebaum is.

    And I will admit it here- I really wanted to go to Stanford. It was my top choice of schools for my doctorate. My life placed me at UMKC for many reasons, and I do not regret being here...But every time I see what's happening at Stanford, I know, deep down, that it's where I probably would have fit in the best. UMKC has been great to me, no question. I've learned a great deal here. It's a case of the "grass is always greener on the other side."

    So, lesson 2? Take your time and apply everywhere you're thinking about for grad schools, or else you WILL get that "greener on the other side" shit stuck in your brain.

    Enjoy a manic Mark Applebaum



    Professional Updating

    Over the past month or so, I've been slowly updating my website, CV, list of compositions, etc.

    First off, let me say don't wait as long as I did. Some of the stuff has been sitting since last MAY! Oi...

    Second, it has made me take stock of everything I've done so far...especially recently.

    I've had over the last 2 or so years:

    • 5 commissions
    • 8 premieres (yeah, that's right, i wrote one piece that wasn't a commission. go figure. LOL)
    • 1 international paper presentation
    • A commission and release by a record label
    • 12 concerts of works (with at least 2 more lined up this year)
    • A public presentation of a recording
    • A piece "broadcast" as a part of an online edition of a literary magazine

    Not too shabby. The line-up for the fall includes

    • Collaboration and Installation as a part of ArtSounds
    • Kick-off Concert for ArtSounds
    • more commission requests than I can easily handle
    • publication of a paper (just need to work on the formatting and send it off)
    So, I'm not into the major world yet, getting 20+ performances a year, but last year I pushed it up nicely. 

    The only thing to really take away from this is- don't wait to update your CV and website. Because, if you're growing more active, you'll just accumulate more things, and then when people ask you for a link for listening and you say "oh, jeez, um...i've got a recording on here somewhere..." it looks bad. Put stuff up as it comes in, even if you're busy.

    Cause letting everyone else know you're busy makes you get even more busy

    the cycle of busy, let it roll, let it roll


    Ferneyhough and Me

    After writing two new pieces this summer, I've started up a third. The first two played with new (to me) pitch organization systems. The first, All Things are Not Equal, focused primarily on a spectralist approach, the second, You Can't See the Stars in the City, combined spectralism with quintal, quartal, and several fibonacci style generated scales. In the second, with it's several different scales/chords, i assigned each a number and moved through them sequentially, in a quasi-tonal style.

    Both songs are "jazz." All Things derives the spectral content from the opening  chord in the guitar. Below this pitch content, i have a repetitive bass groove (focusing on the fundamentals of the chord) that switches speed and style about 60% through the piece. Stars is an interesting reinterpretation of Naima, a jazz ballad, "reharmonized."

    For the third piece, what i'm envisioning is much more complex yet possibly more elegant. I'm struggling greatly with pitch organization (as I always do), and, as such, I went looking for some help. Being on a bit of a Brian Ferneyhough kick, I dug up some articles, interviews, etc with/by Ferneyhough.

    The below quotes are all from
            Ferneyhough, Brian and Boros, James. "Shattering the Vessels of Received Wisdom." Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 28, No.2 (Summer, 1990) p 6-50.

    The first is about the performers relationship to music, especially the process of learning a new piece. It's something I've hit on before (repeatedly, forcibly) in conversation- complex pieces are rewarding endeavors, and there is much to be gained by focusing on learning the piece. In the attempt, a performer unfolds the truest nature of the piece...
    I believe that one should never start from the global effect, but rather allow it to emerge synthetically as a result of the confluence of other compositional considerations. This seems to me the sole way to legitimize, to ground sonoric innovation; everything else is bon gout. For example, there have been several quite well-known flutists who have refused to take my Unity Capsule (1975) into their repertoire with the argument that it is not worth the amount of time and effort required, since "similar" sounds can be improvised or else notated much more simply (perhaps graphically). There is no way that I can see to persuade such individuals that the approach to learning the work is an essential polyphonic strand in the final result. Only the experience of actually attempting it can--perhaps--achieve that...(7)
    The next couple are about listening. The first describes a feeling I often get listening to Ferneyhough- just as I grasp a relationship, Ferneyhough has moved on, speeding through ideas at several different speeds. It's like watching Indy Car (I am from Indiana, after all...the 500 is a part of my life, whether I want it to or not). But imagine if there was an Indy Car race, at the same time as Nascar, at the same time as a drag race in the center of the track. Three races, three different speeds, three different levels of perception. It isn't easy to understand all the events at once, but the end product is one of constant motion, of energy pushing forward to brief moments of stasis that hit me like slow-mo in a Christopher Nolan film...
    One thing that makes this music perhaps more difficult than some is not so much its actual density, but rather the slight disbalance I tend to build into the relationship of time-flow to complexity of individual semantically coherent units. This gives the listener the sensation of always being "behind" the flow of events, of running to catch up, as it were. Some might assume this to be a negative state of affairs; I simply utilize it as one more tool for energizing the sonic flow, for modifying its perpectival characteristics. (10)

    Finally, a quote that explains how I feel about my own pieces! As I've told many friends- you may not "get" everything on a single pass, in fact I never expect that of anyone. But you can choose things to focus on, and, in that, choose an interesting path through the music. This creates a unique experience for every listener.
    Some composers positively expect that the audience be essentially passive, whilst still others treat the public rather paternalistically. My own attitude is to suggest to the ear sequential bundles of possible paths through the labyrinth--paths, that is, which are mapped out in the synchronization of the simultaneous processual layers with a view to encouraging the risky undertaking of instantaneously selecting between them. (10) 

    It's always good to be reminded of these things. No, I haven't gotten the information I was looking for, yet, but even these reminders give me a little renewed hope as I try to dredge through similar ideas. And if the information is enlightening, it doesn't matter if it was the information I wanted- it's the information I needed at this exact moment.

    Well done, Brian Ferneyhough. Even in your words, a labyrinth is presented, and I'm taking that risky leap.



    humans are meant to create, to dream, to do more than buy useless shit and sit around all day
    this is not existence

    some days, that inspires me. maybe, through my music, i can inspire that feeling in others. that there's something more to this shit. that beauty isn't a pornstar, that music isn't a recording, that there's more out there than what the TV and internet tell you

    other days, i'm defeated, that not only my chosen profession, but my very life is deemed worthless by society; because it can't be bought and sold; because it exists in a single instant and can't be held onto. since i'm not a commodity, i'm worthless

    right now, i'm in the middle, just moving along. But at least I'm trying. even on days i feel defeated, i try. Because if i don't at least try, then there really is no existence

    Q: I really want to do something meaningful, but what even defines that? If no one cares, then obviously it isn't
    A: it's amazing, but, often times, someone cares, maybe one, maybe ten, maybe 500, maybe the country or the world...

    but, i dunno...most days i'm happy if i can reach one person. i accept that in teaching
    not everyone in my class will get a lot out of the classes, but if i can reach one student a semester, not even one per class, just one student a semester then at least someone is a little better for it.
    This doesn't mean that I don't do my best for every single student. On the contrary, I have to do my best for every student, or else no one would get anything from any class.

    it's funny that i accept it more in teaching than in my art. My friends give me positive reinforcement. my bff will listen to it and be positive (she's a damn good sport!). Sometimes there's a bit of an audience. But do i accept that i reach at least one person with every piece I write? Do I EXPECT to reach one person with every piece? or every performance?

    No, i lack the confidence in my art it seems. But, I TRY. I put my soul into every creation, from the shortest song written on a straw wrapped and left in a restaurant, to a 17 minute song cycle, to this blog post. Because if i don't, then i've proven the nay-sayers correct- I am worthless and i do nothing meaningful.

    Life is more than this...more than the laptop on which I'm typing, more than the studio monitors and audio interface pumping Entombed, more than my crappy Jeep, than the job I hope for after i finish my doctorate so I can pay my loans, more than the sum of every single piece of money and matter.

    We, as humans, can do so much more.

    So, go, create. Write a song, paint a picture, design a new car engine, sing along with the birds, and do whatever your soul tells you to do. It's about time we listen...


    new release

    Latest piece, Putney Chutney, has been released by Irritable Hedgehog! You can find it here.

    This is a fantastic label with lots of great music out already. Be sure to check out the entire site, not just my own little ditty.

    Special thanks to David McIntire for giving me the opportunity!


    Listening to Timbre

    Over on a blog run by friend Scott Spiegelberg, the topic of composing with timbre came up. I'm a sucker for these conversations, so i lept in. In my comment I pointed out a couple interesting texts by electronic composers and mentioned a listening list.

    Rather than post in his comments, i decided to post my short list (extremely short list) of some pieces that focus on timbre as a compositional method.

    Basic ground rules were: Timbre had to be a major form of organization; one piece/album per composer (with one notable exception); give a nice cross-section of works both acoustic and electronic

    some caveats: this is definitely a short list. it's missing all sorts of pieces by all sorts of composers. No noise musicians, no techno/house/ambient, not any "pop" at all really. not even the minimalists like Mikel Rouse (mainly cause I have no idea what I'd list of his...LOL). And, yes, there's a predilection of pieces by friends. But it's a thing we do, so why not?

    Please add your own in the comments!

    -Atmospheres- Ligeti
    -From Me Flows What You Call Time- Toru Takemitsu
    -Pente- Dennis Smalley
    -Unsound Objects- Jonty Harrison
    -Amerique- Varese
    -Tongues of Fire- Trevor Wishart
    -Stimmung- Stockhausen
    -Inner Time II- Radulescu
    -Les espaces acoustique- Grisey
    -La Creation du Monde- Bernard Parmegiani
    -De Natura Sonorum- Parmegiani 
    -2012 Stories- Paul Rudy (i think he's up to five or six discs in the series. "In Lake'ch" is the first, and quite powerful. He also performs with these live, and it's amazing.)
    -Requien- Michel Chion
    -Beneath the Forest Floor (off "Transformations")- Hildegarde Westerkamp
    -Riverrun- Barry Truax (really need to listen to the 8 channel version)
    -Time, Motion, and Memory- John Young
    -Metastasis- Xenakis (though it was hard to choose just one!)
    -I Am Sitting in a Room- Alvin Lucier
    -The Light that Fills the World- John Luther Adams
    -Ethers- Tristan Murail
    -unhurried, untitled- David McIntire
    -With my Eyes Shut- Jason Bolte (really, anything by Jason is amazing, but this piece in particular is astounding. Also, the it's in just intonation…makes those seemingly not too difficult clarinet lines tough…especially all those pesky held notes he put in there!)
    -Bubolz Walk- Andrew Seager Cole (again, you can just sit on his site and listen away, but i'll go with his latest tape piece as an example)


    I'm going to Stockholm, beeches!

    I know i don't drop by often and update- I was never much suited to blogging. But, in case there are those that hit this site, either through my webpage or elsewhere: I have been accepted to present my paper "Synthesis of Performer and Instrument: Analytical Issues in Interactive Multimedia and Christopher Burn’s 'Sawtooth'" at the Electroacoustic Music Students (EMS) conference 2012 being held in Stockholm, Sweden. talk about a number of firsts- first major conference presentation, first time traveling abroad alone, first time visiting Sweden, and first time finding and writing grants. This will be quite the interesting trip, to say the least. Five days of papers, a couple concerts, and other evening activities, hobnobbing with some of the top writers, composers, critics, and academics in the field, and drinking Bellman Vodka. maybe i'll live blog? n'ah, i think all of my passer-bys on this page know that'll never happen.