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.