A Quiet Saturday Afternoon

2015 10 04 Diane in the Studio1

Quiet time.  Time to think, reflect – and blog.  That’s something that’s been missing for a while.

Things at the radio station are going very well.  Just like any new endeavor, it’s taken a bit of time to settle into a routine.  Not to mention, as I get more comfortable (and folks around the office get to know me better), my responsibilities are expanding.

It’s been nearly a year since I stepped into the mid-day hosting spot on WCNY.  I’m finally comfortable enough to really call it my own now.  I’ve made a few changes, including a weekly hour of music “Fresh From the Wrapper,” where I feature works from CDs that we’ve just received in the station.  These are the newest classical music releases, some of which aren’t available for sale just yet, and I get to share them with our listeners.

Putting together a 2-hour Concert Hall every other week has been fun as well.  Morning host Bruce Paulsen and I divvy up the Concert Hall duties, hosting on alternating weeks.  It’s a great chance to present music from various venues and organizations here in Central New York, and wow, do we have some incredible talent cross our threshold!

I’m adding another responsibility at the station as well – a new program, which we hope to make available for syndication, called Feminine Fusion.  It features music created, performed, and inspired by women throughout history and into the present day.  Look for the first episode to air on WCNY in September.  It’s titled, “From Parlor … to Prize Winners” and features music composed by Clara Schumann, Libby Larsen, and more.  I’ll be providing a weekly blog update with program notes for each episode, so be sure to listen in if something piques your interest!

If you’re worried that the composition side of my world is being neglected, have no fear!  I wrote a very short work at the request of the Society for New Music based on the photography of Carrie Mae Weems.  The piece is called “Woman A/Part,” and it was premiered at the benefit gala this Spring.  There will be a repeat performance this summer at the Cazenovia Counterpoint Festival as well, and I can’t wait to hear it live.

I’m also taking a vacation from the radio station next week to put the final touches on my trombone concerto for Haim Avitsur.  My good friend Ovidiu Marinescu will be conducting the work (in Moscow in January – brrr!), and the CD will be coming out mid-2017.  I’m very excited about the piece, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

And, in true “glutton for punishment” style, I’ve picked up two new instruments for the summer.  I’m taking banjo lessons from the talented Nick Piccininni (all while enduring an endless array of banjo jokes from my friend, Bill Knowlton).  I’ve also bought an instrument I’ve wanted for some time now – a contrabass flute!  This particular flute was handmade by Jelle Hogenhuis, and I am having an absolute blast with it!  It arrived just after the CNY Flute Choir season ended, and I’m excited for the fall rehearsals to start up again.  I’ve also started working on a new flute choir piece that (fingers crossed) we can premiere next Spring.  I’ll keep you posted on that as well.

If you’ve read this far, well, thanks!  Now that we’re caught up again, I promise you’ll be getting more regular updates.  And if you have ideas or requests for my regular programming or the new Feminine Fusion show on Classic FM, drop me a note and let me know!

2016 Already?!?

Wow!  That year just flew by!  I can’t believe I’m sitting here, minutes before midnight, looking back on the whirlwind that was 2015.

I must confess that most of my previous “whirlwind years” have been primarily due to hardships – illness, financial struggles, and so on.  But this past year has been verrrrry different!

This year’s whirlwind has been almost entirely musical.

I was incredibly excited to head to the SAMMY awards with our producer Bob Halligan to accept the SAMMY for Samba Laranja‘s latest CD, Pathways.  Having a work on that CD, and being in the studio throughout the recording process was an amazing experience.

This year also marked the release of Moto Continuo, the Trio Casals CD that was a nearly a year in the making.  Trio Casals (Ovidiu Marinescu, Sylvia Ahramjian, and Anna Kislitsyna) recorded my “Three Songs” last year, and the start of this year included proofing and approving recordings, liner notes, artwork, and more.  Then came May, and we traveled to West Chester, PA and then New York City for the premieres – just a few days apart.  It was a lot of driving, but well worth it to hear these two fantastic performances.

I also had a couple of new works premiered, “Dyad” for flute and cello, and “Elemental Suite” for flute, viola, and piano (premiered at the Vision of Sound performance in November.)  A snippet of “Porch Music” was included in the American Composers Forum 40th anniversary “Chained Melody” video, and I conducted the full work several times in the spring for the Central New York Flute Choir annual spring concert series.  Not to mention, “Three Songs” has been getting quite of bit of airplay across the U.S., and even made it to broadcast in Spain!

This year also marked the release of my newly designed Pet Dragon Music website.  (You can read all about that process here.)  I will admit, I’ve fallen a touch behind in my updates in the last couple of months, but I promise, it’s all for very good – and very musical! – reasons.

And what kept me the busiest in the last quarter of 2015?  A full-time job as the new mid-day host on WCNY-FM here in Syracuse.  Believe me, after so many years as a full-time composer, taking on a second full-time job was not a decision made easily or lightly.  But, having ensured that I will continue to have enough time to compose and perform, I jumped in with both feet!  It has been a big adjustment – no more staying up until all hours of the night composing – but as we head into the new year, I’m finally well-settled into my new routine, and I’m full of new ideas!

With all this going on, I also wanted to let you know the many different ways you can keep up with my activities:

  • “Like” me on Facebook (This is where you’ll find out just about everything – upcoming concerts and events, new pieces, website updates, new blog posts, and more.)
  • Follow me on Twitter (where I tweet a bit of musical trivia while I’m on the air!)
  • Watch my website for monthly updates, including uploads of new pieces.
  • Listen to me on WCNY-FM weekdays from 10am to 2pm (Eastern time).  You can live-stream from the website, or through the “Tune-In” mobile app.
  • Keep an eye right here on WordPress for various and sundry musical musings.

So now, as I finish this little essay on this snowy New Year’s Day, I want to wish you and your loved ones a safe and happy 2016, and may your year be filled with music and joy.

Two Full Time Jobs?

Leaving the corporate world and entering college full-time to learn music composition at 40(-ish) years old was a huge lifestyle change.  And not an easy one.  I knew that working in the arts was not likely to be a highly profitable career move.  At the same time, I knew that music – both composing and performing – was my passion, and I felt compelled to pursue it to the best of my abilities.

That hasn’t been easy.  Part-way through my graduate degree, we had a significant setback in our household income (one of the risks of self-employment).  And when your income is cut in half, I’m sure you’ll understand the temptation to say, “Screw the music degree.  I’m going back to making money.”  Believe me, there was an awful lot of discussion and soul-searching in that challenging year.

At some point during that time, I saw an interview with Penn & Teller.  They – well, mostly Penn Jillette – talked about when they decided to truly make a go of their partnership.  They decided that, from that point on, they would not take any work outside their chosen field.  No unrelated “I’ll do this ‘until’ we start to make it” jobs.  That decision really resonated with me.  Working full-time as an administrator (or whatever) meant my musical ambitions would be at the mercy of the needs of my non-musical job.  So together, my husband and I decided to follow that example.  I would not take a job that was not musically-related, and we would make whatever sacrifices were necessary in order to allow me to pursue my music.

One of the most fun things to come out of that decision has been my role at WCNY-FM, the Classical Music station based here in Syracuse, NY.  For the better part of the last 6 years, I’ve been the “fill-in” host.  I always said I had perhaps the most fun job at the station.  I got to fill in at all hours of the day, weekdays and weekends, and learn how all the other hosts did their programming.  In some ways, it’s like a book editor – you get to know how the personality of each individual host by the idiosyncrasies of their programming.  During that time, I also did a lot of the weekend programming and hosting, which allowed me to explore and share my own sensibilities with our listeners.  Not to mention, I had plenty of flexibility, which allowed me to continue to compose and perform.

Well, starting August 26th, that’s going to change a bit!  Long-time mid-day host Bill Baker has decided to retire.  I’m terribly sad to see him go, as he has been a fixture at WCNY in both Radio and TV for many years.  BUT . . . I have been asked to step in as the new mid-day host!  I can’t wait to share my programming with a wider audience, not to mention the opportunity to bring you the Concert Hall (sharing those hosting duties with Bruce Paulsen), and some incredible interviews with the Live at Noon Series (including Matt Haimovitz, the Neave Trio, and Jeffrey Siegel, for starters!)

I must say, though, that before I said “YES!” to this exciting opportunity (and I promise you, it was a big, enthusiastic “YES!”) I took the time to think it through very carefully.  As much fun as it is to work at the station, I am, first and foremost, a full-time composer.  Part-time fill-in work is easy and fun – jump in, chat on the air, and zip home.  The responsibilities of a full-time position require more effort, for sure.  I had to think about what I am willing to give up, or not, to do this job.

First and foremost, I cannot give up composing.  That, more than anything, is the second greatest joy in my life (outside of my family).  Nor will I give up performing.  Working with Samba Laranja and the Central New York Flute Choir is waaaaaay too much fun to set aside, not to mention the individual and small group performance opportunities that continue to come my way.  On the other hand, being a host on WCNY-FM gives me the opportunity to immerse myself in an exceptional catalog of classical music every single day, including the newest releases hot off the presses.  Having access to such an incredible array of music, plus the opportunities to meet and converse with outstanding musicians and other professionals in the classical world?  As the commercial says:  PRICELESS!

That’s not to say there won’t be a bit of an adjustment period!  I don’t think I’ll be staying up until 6 or 7 am to work on the newest piece anymore.  (Unless you want to hear me snoring on the air!)  But I am confident that I’ll be able to balance both hosting and composing duties, and still have time to attend some concerts, or for the occasional trip to wine country, or just for some quality time with Dear Hubby and Benson the Dog.

So do me a favor.  Watch my Pet Dragon Music website for monthly updates on my compositional activities (and remember, you can listen to my works and purchase the scores from there as well).  Give me a “Like” on Facebook for more frequent updates on my various activities.  And if you like classical music trivia, follow me on Twitter – I’ll be sending out a daily tweet with an interesting tidbit about the music I’m playing on the radio!

Writing About Music . . .

Composing Away

. . . is like dancing about architecture.  (Martin Mull)

This quote has been rattling around in my mind quite frequently as of late.  You see, amidst all the activity that is composition, and all the activity that surrounds that work (classroom visits, site maintenance, recording and mixing, etc., etc., etc.,) comes the search for the next project.

As a new composer fresh out of grad school, I had the chance to ask a fellow composer for his insight into this full-time, freelancing career.  He gave me some valuable advice, including the hard truth that I couldn’t depend on any sort of linear progress in my career.  As nice as it would be for one opportunity to lead to the next, and the next, and then the next, that isn’t how it works.  You have to cast a web, the wider the better, and explore every little tug that you feel.  Some things will pan out, others won’t, but it’s pretty much a given that there will be very few direct lines between events.

So when I’m not busily composing away, I’m usually looking for the next chance to compose.  Lately, there seems to have been a spate of potential commissions popping up.  And what they all have in common is something I’ve come to dread:  The Proposal.

On the one hand, I get it.  These organizations will likely be getting quite an influx of applications for these various commissions, and in order to ensure the awardee best fits their goals is to learn as much about them in as compact a package as possible.

But “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  Trying to describe in words what is, at least for me, an emotional and rather intangible process is difficult, almost bordering on impossible.  Not to mention the fact that the listener’s visceral response to my music may be quite different than my own intention.

One of my earliest works garnered a huge compliment from a friend, who described one section of the work that moved him to great joy.  Yet the section he found joyous was one that was quite dark in my view.  Although my intention in the composition process was different, I realized that he wasn’t wrong in his interpretation.  Because he experienced the work through his senses, colored by his life experiences, it led him down a different path than I had taken.

This was a real learning experience for me, and I realized that once I set my music loose, I could no longer control how it was presented and perceived.  As a result, I have learned to keep my program notes quite spare and sparse, giving only a loose framework so listeners are free to hear the music on their own terms.  When I find myself reading program notes that are very complex and technical, incredibly detailed in what the composer expects the listener to hear and feel, I often become frustrated.  Ultimately, if I don’t “hear” the work exactly as the composer describes, I find myself struggling to simply accept what I am hearing without critiquing the composer’s intention.

This is even more difficult when the composer seems to have generated their program notes with the help of this.  (Go to enough new music concerts, and you’ll see these are not so far-fetched.)  I am simultaneously amazed and disheartened when I read a program note that reads almost like a page from my brother’s doctoral thesis on aeronautical engineering.

The manner in which composers present themselves and represent their works is what a potential commissioner has available to make their judgment.  While it would be nice to think they will go to every single composer’s site and listen to most of their catalog of music, it’s not practically feasible, especially when the applicant pool is very large.  But while you are reading through your proposals, sifting through the descriptions that range from mind-numbingly technical to vague, generic “oooh, pick me” pleas, I encourage you to keep in mind a couple of things.  First, I express myself and my soul in music because that’s a better, truer view of me than anything I could say in words.  And second, the ability to construct or deconstruct a work of art in a scientific manner doesn’t make it inherently better, or more solid, or more groundbreaking.  It’s whether it touches your soul that matters.

Because “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

My New Reality Show

I’ve often thought of pitching a reality show that follows a composer around in their day-to-day activities.  I mean a real reality show, with the person in the career they had long before the reality show started.  Something you know they’ll still be doing long after it ends.

Then I realize what the show would really be.  A lot of this…image

interspersed with a bit of that…image

not to mention…image

Of course, you’d also see some of this…image

followed by…image

Yeah.  The day-to-day reality of composing is not all that exciting to watch.  Although, truth be told, day-to-day life for most of us is pretty low key.

Still, there are exciting moments.  And some very busy weeks!  Take these last two weeks, for example.  I’ve been working with the 8th grade keyboard classes at Ed Smith School almost every day as part of a composition residency there.  This is an opportunity for these kids to help create a new piece for premiere in May.  Add to that a performance for a local charity organization (that ultimately led to a severe case of laryngitis for me), one at a semi-annual flute showcase, nine rehearsals, and one more performance (two sets) at another local elementary school just this morning.

And in between, of course, more of this…image

There are definitely a few more weeks of that coming up.  And then another whirlwind of activity in May!

But even without the whirlwinds, I think this show could really sell!  Just look at this program.

 

The Evolution of a Website

Pet Dragon Music Logo

Today is an exciting day.  Today marks the launch of the completely redesigned Pet Dragon Music website.  This update has been a lot of fun, because, for the first time, I worked with a designer.  All I needed to do was tell her what I wanted, and then it was up to Lisa Wright (of Wright Now Designs) to figure out how to make it work.  No more web designing for me!

Now, this latest update got me thinking about about the evolution of the site over the years.  I mean, I don’t think it’s a revelation to say that composers need a web presence.  There are lots of components to that presence nowadays – Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, WordPress, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, even MySpace in its day.  But those things are most often anchored around a website, and when I decided to launch Pet Dragon Music.com, a website was just about all that was available.  And as a student, I had no money to pay someone else to design it, so I had to do it all myself.  At the time, there were only a few WYSIWYG web design programs, and fewer free ones, so I learned some basic html coding and downloaded Netscape Composer.  And launched my website with my cute little cartoon dragon logo on a nice, peach-y background.

The original Pet Dragon

The original Pet Dragon

OK, I never claimed to be a visual artist.

All things considered, I was pretty pleased with the site, though.  Over the years, I made sure I kept it updated with current news, changed the background and layout a few times, learned how to stream my recordings.  I was pretty proud of myself.

I also continually worked on improving the site, streamlining it.  It started looking cleaner and more professional with each update.  But my design options, like my html skills, were pretty limited.

Then I bought a Mac – complete with iWeb.  That was actually a lot of fun.  I could play with the templates, change the look of my site pretty dramatically, and I didn’t have to delve into html coding. A little iWeb fun Not bad.  There were a couple of limitations I had to figure out how to work around, and a couple of others I couldn’t conquer, but all in all, I was happy with the look.  Until I realized how many sites I was seeing that looked the same as mine.  I started to recognize which iWeb template people were using.  In other words, I wasn’t unique any more. It was clear I was going to need help.

So I turned Lisa.  I knew that the first order of business was an update to my cute – but very cartoonish – Pet Dragon Logo.  So she created a fantastic design for me, and I took the opportunity to update my website once again.

What a difference that logo makes!

I also started looking around at new design options for the site.  One key component was the ability to sell my music, and the (now discontinued) iWeb templates I had didn’t easily lend themselves to any kind of storefront.  I checked out a number of services that could provide that storefront ability.

There are some decent options out there, and if you want to keep your design costs low, they are definitely a good way to go.  Ultimately, though, they are all based on templates.  Templates anyone else can make use of.  Templates that are only available if I change my web host, which I’m not interested in doing.  Templates I could only customize with some back-end hacking and html coding and – well, honestly, I’m really not interested in learning any more about website design.

What I really want is a site that is mine and mine alone.  A site that’s unique.  Cue another call to Lisa, who immediately got started on the brand new Pet Dragon Music website.  She created a site for me that is entirely unique.  It’s also the perfect balance between professional and fun that I never achieved on my own.  It gives me everything I wanted, and best of all, it was designed by a professional web designer who actually knows that they are doing!  I don’t have to code any more!

So I cordially invite you to head over to my new and improved Pet Dragon Music website!  Take a look around, listen to the music samples, maybe even buy a copy of something that excites you.  (And keep an eye out for the dragon tail as well…)  And while you’re at it, maybe take a moment to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, or right here on my WordPress blog.  You’ll never miss an exciting moment again!

On New Year’s Eve

Sylvia Ahramjian, Anna Kislitsyna, Diane Jones & Ovidiu Marinescu

Here we are at the end of yet another year.  It seems 2014 has flown by so quickly!  But it’s been a good year.  If I had to put my feelings at this moment into a single sentence, it would be this:  I had a ton of fun in 2014, and I am looking forward to a busy and very exciting 2015.

A number of years ago, I heard an interview with James Galway.  The interviewer was in a limo with Galway as he traveled to the Hollywood Bowl in preparation for his concert that evening.  What I remember vividly is the sheer joy and excitement in Galway’s voice as he exclaimed, “I still can’t believe I actually get paid to do what I love!”

That pretty much sums up this last year.  Make no mistake – I don’t command the kind of money that Galway gets (not yet!), but I do get paid to do what I love.  Some of the highlights include another residency with the band students at West Genessee Middle School, a collaboration with choreographer Cheryl Wilkins-Mitchell, and pieces on two different CDs, one with Samba Laranja and the other with Trio Casals.  And I’ve been been performing throughout the year as well.

It’s been busy, and it’s been a lot of work, but I have enjoyed every minute.  And it’s given me a running start to kick off 2015!

So, what is coming up in 2015, you ask?  Well, a re-designed website for one, with the ability to purchase either hard copies or downloads of my works.  Plus a couple of confirmed premieres, a residency in yet another school (my 5th one, if you’re counting), and you’ll even have the chance to watch me conduct one of my pieces.

One last bit of news – you’ll be hearing me over the airwaves again!  I have re-joined the team of professionals at WCNY-FM, and began dusting the cobwebs off my broadcasting skills just this week.  I’ll be on the air occasionally, doing fill-ins so those wonderful hosts have the opportunity to take a well-deserved break now and then.  I always enjoy spending time with the Classic FM listeners.

In case you want to keep up on the increasingly busy happenings around here, you’ve got a few options:

I’ll keep you updated with all the exciting things happening in 2015!

Before I go, let me give you my heart-felt wish for your new year to be filled with music and joy, as well as the chance to spend some time doing what you love.

Have a happy, healthy new year, everyone!