New Recording!

Hey all! As my first year in grad school winds to a close, I’m super pumped to share a recording from one of the big projects I’ll be working on in my second year. Defiant, Majestic, and Beautiful is a theatrical song cycle about people who face transmisogyny, ranging from advice on dissociation to an ode to salt. I performed the finale — a prophetic vision of a possible future — at a cabaret last week, and there’s a video recording of it! Watch it below, or click on over to YouTube for performer information and the complete lyrics.

Music Monday: LeBaron: After a Dammit to Hell

Let’s be real, this was pretty much inevitable. Music Mondays very deliberately don’t have a theme or central organizing principle (beyond being music I like), but still, there are patterns. Twentieth–Century works, works a little off the beaten path, bassoon features — these are all things I’ve come back to again and again. So how better to wrap up the last Music Monday with an off–the–beaten–path work for solo bassoon from late in the most recent century?

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So You Want To Write A Song

Composition is a mysterious thing. I mean this in the typical artsy sense of “I don’t actually know the precise mechanism by which things ‘come to me’ when I’m composing”, but also in the sense that I don’t think most non-composers know what we do when we disappear into a practice room for hours at a time. To be sure, some of it really is just staring into space and trying to imagine something musically compelling, but some of it’s considerably more plodding, methodical, and mundane. It’s art, sure, but that doesn’t mean there’s no reason to the rhymes. So today I want to open up the hood and give you a peek into my compositional process.

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Music Monday: Ginastera: Harp Concerto

Going by the ones I know, at least, harpists aren’t overly thrilled with their repertoire. Admittedly, my harping acquaintances are heavily biased towards the ones who apply to new music–friendly festivals, but still, the point stands: There’s an awful lot of frivolous harp music out there (much of it, unsurprisingly, French), and while one or two pieces like that can be a nice change of pace, at a certain point, you want something with a little more crunch and substance. And that’s where composers come in.

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Recital Recap (Thoughts on Success)

My recital wasn’t perfect.

This isn’t surprising. I haven’t counted exactly, but I had several thousand notes to play, and there are a lot of ways a note can come out wrong. It can be the wrong note, or out of tune, or not attacked cleanly, or left cleanly, or the wrong length, or not well blended with the notes on either side . . . and that’s not even getting into issues of phrasing and making compelling musical shapes. Playing a note correctly involves an intricate coordination of fingers, breath, and tiny muscles in the mouth, and a minor change in any of those can lead to failure.

So yeah, I made some mistakes. Some of them I noticed in real time as I was playing, and others I’m sure I’ll discover as I spend time with the recordings. In many ways, this is what classical training is: a relentless honing of one’s ability to ferret out mistakes and correct them. I’ve had a lot of that training, and I’d like to think I’m at least halfway decent at said ferreting out and fixing. I have a running list of areas for improvement in my playing, and I’m sure some of those will be reinforced by listening to this recital.

But I think it’s important to note that fixing everything on that list isn’t really a goal I have. It’s very easy to equate technical perfection with musical success, but I think that’s wrong. I don’t make music to show off my technical prowess. I make music to make people feel things.

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The Road Ahead

Given my impending recital and then cross-country move, my blogging schedule is about to become wildly erratic, so instead of putting out Yet Another Take on the Orlando shooting (let’s be real, there are already more than enough white voices involved in that conversation anyway), I want to outline what my plans are as far as the blog goes so that we’re all on the same page and no one is surprised by a lack of Content they were expecting.

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Music Monday: Gardner: Perseids

As much as I like many aspects of city living — the density, the hustle and bustle, the major cultural institutions, just to name a few — there are other aspects of it I’m less fond of. Like many kids, I was fascinated by space growing up, and loved to go stargazing whenever I could. I don’t really remember if I had many opportunities in Columbia, but Amherst is rural enough that finding a sky free from the worst of the light pollution isn’t terribly difficult, and the UMass stone circle (not quite as imposing as Stonehenge, but constructed along similar principles) was basically walking distance from my house, so I have many memories of summer evenings spent staring heavenwards.

Rather unsurprisingly, Los Angeles is . . . not like that. I’ve definitely seen stars here, but only the brightest of them, and even then not reliably. The fainter tracings of nebulae and the dusty sweep of the Milky Way are all blotted utterly from view. I’ll probably be living in cities for the rest of my life. I may well have seen the majority of all the stars I will ever see in my life. So pieces about stars and stargazing have a special resonance for me, tinged with nostalgia both for the past and for an imagined future.

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Can You Pass an Ideological Turing Test?

I get into a lot of fights on the internet. This is not surprising: I have Strong Opinions about many things, and, having changed my own views after reading certain arguments on numerous occasions, I’m a big believer in the power of discussion to change hearts and minds. The internet and people both being what they are, these fights aren’t always the most civil affairs, and sometimes the rhetorical intensity escalates alarmingly. When it does, there’s one thing I try to do that frequently seems to steer things back towards calmer waters: I try to pass the pertinent Ideological Turing Test.

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Music Monday: Yano: Oboe Concerto

You know, as good as I like to think my musical memory is, sometimes things happen that really make me question it. Take today’s piece: I was absolutely over the moon for Marco Aurélio Yano’s oboe concerto in high school, and then I completely forgot about its existence until a brief notice in the most recent issue of The Double Reed* about the impending publication of the piano reduction reminded me of how many feelings I had about it. So, of course, I rushed off to listen to it again, and all of those feelings came rushing back.

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Some Pointers for Concert Logistics

I have never been shy about my opinions on the logistics of running a concert. I think they’re tremendously important, and also often overlooked, with the result that many classical music concerts are considerably more tedious than they need to be, a state of affairs that does nobody any favors. Like it or not, presentation matters. Concert presenters who don’t take these details into account come across as disorganized and inadequately prepared. My frustration is amplified, I think, by the amount of time I’ve spent in the theatrical world. As anyone who’s done a play or musical can tell you, the rehearsal process devotes a lot of time to hammering out logistical details like set changes and lighting cues, a hammering out that’s almost never been done for the classical concerts I’ve been a part of. Granted, the logistics for classical concerts are usually less daunting — most string quartet performances don’t call for hundreds of light and sound cues along with various large pieces of scenery flying in and out from above, after all — but that makes it all the more irritating to see them muffed again and again and again.

Some time ago, after listening to me gripe about a concert that was particularly bad at this, a composer friend of mine asked if I wouldn’t be willing to put together some kind of checklist or document that outlines specific things that concert presenters should keep in mind when hashing out the logistics of putting on a show. This is that document.

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OFAN Mini: Reviews

I’ve always had a lot of thoughts about concerts. It kind of goes with the territory of being a composer/performer — when you spend so many of your waking hours picking apart your own playing and writing, it’s pretty hard not to do the same to others. For the most part, I kept those thoughts to myself, or at most talked about them with whoever I happened to see the concert with. That was fine as far as it went, but that wasn’t very far; when your thoughts just disappear into memory, it’s hard to build on them or notice larger patterns.

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Music Monday: Montgomery: Source Code

One of the things I find most interesting about other performer-composers is seeing their different approaches to writing for their own instrument. I’ve always been hesitant about writing for solo bassoon (other than a few bits of juvenilia, Rotational Games was the first solo piece I wrote for it), but many performer-composers write primarily or even exclusively for the instrument(s) they play. Jessie Montgomery falls more in the latter camp. Introduced to the violin at the age of four, her first compositions grew out of her improvisations, and most of her works are for string instruments in various combinations. She’s gradually been expanding her comfort zone — she recently earned a Master’s in composition and film scoring from New York University, and her second work for full orchestra will be premièred sometime next month.

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Old Friends And New

My first few months in LA were lonely. I moved out here to take the job I currently have as a music archivist, but none of my friends were moving with me, and since I work in a room by myself with a bunch of old sheet music, I don’t exactly have a cohort of coworkers to bond with. I tried out for a spot in a youth orchestra towards the end of that first summer, but I didn’t win the audition, so playing bassoon — which in college was a great way to branch out and meet new people — became, like composing, something I would have to do by myself, in the solitude of my apartment. There were weeks where the only times I used my voice were singing along with the car stereo on my ten-minute commute and saying “hi” and “thanks” to cashiers in grocery stores.

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Music Monday: Cuong: Moth

Unsurprisingly, my first exposure to Viet Cuong had nothing to do with nocturnal lepidopterans. Instead, it was in the fall of 2010 when the Yale Concert Band played his Ziggurat, complete with a custom animation projected behind us that, for some reason, involved flying bicycles. At the time, Cuong was finishing up a Master’s of Music degree at the Peabody Conservatory (where he also did his undergraduate studies) and preparing to begin an MFA in Composition at Princeton, where he’s currently pursuing his Doctorate. Despite still being in school, he’s accumulated a truly staggering number of awards and performances — on all six permanently inhabited continents, according to his webpage — and I’m honestly kind of surprised I haven’t encountered more of his works. (The YCB played another of his band pieces, Sound and Smoke, in 2012.) I’m sure that will change going forward; he’s an excellent composer and his fame is only going to continue to grow.

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The Scaffolding of Theory

My favorite internet comment of all time was one I saw way back in middle school, or possibly my first year of high school. It was in a music discussion forum the name of which I am too lazy to recall, and it read simply “Remember everyone! Music theory is a theory and not a fact!”, as tho someone somewhere out there was taking a valiant stand against the forces of analysis in favor of some kind of sonic creationism.

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Music Monday: Flanigan: Glacier

For most composers and audio engineers, speaker feedback is something to be ardently avoided. Not so for Lesley Flanigan, who builds her own assemblages of speakers, electronics, and wood, then carefully layers feedback from them to build hazy, beautiful soundscapes that often incorporate her own voice. She can do all this live in real time, and many of her works were conceived as site-specific installations for various museums and performing spaces, putting her somewhere in the nebulous overlapping regions of electronic composition, noise music, and performance art.

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Some Distractions

This has been a tough week. Trump’s victory in Indiana and Kasich and Cruz’s subsequent exits from the race have set the stage for one of our two main political parties to nominate a demagogue with worryingly fascistic tendencies and the open support of white supremacists as their candidate for President of the United States. I have nothing to say about this that hasn’t been said already with more eloquence and knowledge of political theory and history, but it’s loomed large in my mind all the same, draining my ability to sustain thought on other things. In addition, I’ve also been battering my head against several personal downers that, while thankfully not rising to the same level of threat to our polity, I still have no desire to discuss anywhere outside the confines of my private diary. So this week, instead of my usual essay, I’m going to share some of the media I’ve been consuming of late to help take my mind off things.

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