And the Calendar Takes Another Turn

I admit, I’ve been neglecting my blog.  It’s been an incredibly busy year, and I haven’t had a lot of time to reflect.  But it’s New Year’s Day, and I’m fighting the start of a cold, so it seems the perfect opportunity to take it easy and catch up on a few things.  Including the blog.

There has been a lot of music this year.  I’ve (finally) turned over the trombone concerto to Haim and Ovidiu.  It’s called “Dreamcatcher,” and although it is technically a single movement, it has three very distinct and different sections.  They’ll be travelling to Moscow in a couple of weeks to record most of the works for the upcoming CD, and I can’t wait to hear it.  I won’t be travelling with them, but I will be at the recording session via Skype, so it’ll definitely be a new experience for me!

Now that the score and parts are completed and handed over, I can admit that it was a daunting project for me!  This was my first foray into orchestral composition, and it was a little overwhelming at times.  But I did work my way through it, and I am very proud of the result.  I’m ready and eager to take on more large-scale works, so bring ’em on!

As for other works from this year, I already talked about “Elemental Suite” and “Woman A/Part” in a previous post.  I’m hoping to revisit “Woman A/Part” again this year, in order to expand it into something much more substantial.  I’m also in the midst of transcribing a work for Contrabass Flute with Flute Choir called “J.C. Dist” by Jelle Hogenhuis, who made my contrabass flute, as well as working on another flute choir work with a contrabass solo.  If all goes well, we’ll work on those for the spring concerts with the Central New York Flute Choir.

I’m also very excited that Trio Casals has included “Three Songs” into some of their programming, and have plans to include it on at least 2 more concerts.  You can hear it in Lewes, DE in March, and in Cazenovia, NY in July.  (Details on dates, times, and venues are all available at my website.)

I’m also in the early planning stages of a collaborative project that I’m very excited about.  We’re not ready to present any details about it yet, but I will absolutely keep you up to date as things progress.  

And what else has kept me so busy?  Well, working a 40 hour week at the radio station, of course.  After so many years of absolute freedom in dictating my own schedule, it’s been an adjustment.  But I love going to work every day, getting my hands deep into so much classical music, hearing new releases of new and old works.  I’ve also discovered that I really love doing interviews!  I’m bringing in folks almost every single week to talk about their work in the arts, and sometimes give us a short performance.  It is an absolute blast getting to chat with so many artists, both local and national!  And working on my weekly show, Feminine Fusion, has been absolutely incredible!  It’s going well, and getting very good responses from listeners.  And I’m learning so much about other women in the classical music world, and their achievements and struggles.  It’s giving me a whole new level of respect for those who have led the way in the arts community.

Let’s not forget performing, either.  I’m still a regular member of Samba Laranja, and the Central New York Flute Choir.  And, at the moment, I’m also filling in as second flute with the Onondaga Civic Symphony Orchestra, for their February concerts.  And I still translate and run the supertitle slides for the Syracuse Opera Company.  Add in the non-musical activities that I hope to do this year (dog agility, regular rides on my trike, cheering/heckling my husband during his cyclecross races, just to name a few) and it’s definitely going to be a busy 2017!

So, before I wrap up this entry, let me give you my sincere hope that your 2017 is filled with music and joy!  

When Things Come Together

It’s an exciting time!  Rehearsals for the 2014-15 concert season have started, the Brazilian ensemble has had two performances in the last week, with two more scheduled for this week.  The flute choir repertoire is set after our reading session last week, and rehearsals start in earnest next week.

And CDs!

Last night I got a copy of the (nearly) final master for the upcoming Samba Laranja CD, featuring my work, Travels.  I am so privileged to have been involved not only in the recording of Travels, but in both performing and giving artistic input on the rest of the CD as well.  The last CD won a SAMMY – and honestly, this one is sounding even better.

Which has raised my excitement level for the new Trio Casals CD as well!  I’m working closely with the sound engineers at PARMA right now, to get Three Songs sounding just perfect.  (Not a difficult job, really, given the incredible performances by Trio Casals!)  Now I realize what a difference it will make when I can hear it in context with the rest of the CD.  I’m even more excited to hear the full master!

It’s also exciting – and a bit nervewracking – to watch the Indiegogo funding campaign.  With just 18 days left, I haven’t quite hit the 20% funding mark.  So here it is, another request for you to check out the campaign and make your contribution.  Then share it with your friends and family, and ask them to support it as well.

Trio Casals: Sylvia Ahramjian, violin, Anna Kislitsyna, piano, & Ovidiu Marinescu, 'cello

Trio Casals: Sylvia Ahramjian, violin, Anna Kislitsyna, piano, & Ovidiu Marinescu, ‘cello

 

Still not sure if you want to support a new and untried work?  That’s understandable.  And so I encourage you to read this article from Minnesota Public Radio.

Three Songs Re-launch

I love September.  In many ways, it feels like a re-birth to me.  Rehearsals start up again for Samba Laranja and the CNY Flute Choir.  The concert season begins in earnest for most music and arts organizations.  Days are breezy, nights are wonderfully cool, leaves are showing the first signs of turning.  It’s as though everyone and everything is pausing just enough to catch a deep breath.

Sure, August ended on a low note.  But I took my own deep breath last weekend, and now I feel re-energized and ready to push ahead once more.

That’s why I’ve launched another campaign to raise funds for my Three Songs, this time on Indiegogo.  Once again, I’m starting from scratch, but I am much more confident this time around.  I’ve learned a lot, and I expect I’ll be better able to spread the word to not only the folks who tried to back me the last time (and hopefully will renew that backing!), but to an even broader audience. 

I’ve said it before, and it’s not news – making new music available to a broad audience takes resources – monetary resources.  Recording, publishing, performers and performance spaces, publicity – all of this comes at a cost.  No matter how frugal I am, it won’t happen for free, especially considering this is much more than a simple CD release.  The enhanced CD includes extra digital content (scores, liner notes, interviews), and the whole process culminates in two live performances, one in New York and the other in Philadelphia.  Believe me, every single dollar is being stretched to its limit!

As for the actually fundraising, this time around I’m concentrating even more on sharing my music with you.  I’ve added several music videos to my Vimeo page for you.  And I’ve given you a little more insight into the inspiration behind the Three Songs in my Indiegogo video, in the hopes it will inspire you to fund these Three Songs

I’ll also be giving you more blog and Facebook entries, and I would love to hear from you with any questions or thoughts you may have.  The smallest funding level is just $1, which means our conversation can start with, “Thank you so much for your support!”

Learning How to Ask

I discovered something during my time in public radio.  I’m pretty good at begging for money!

Twice a year we had a pledge drive, and teamed up in pairs to ask our listeners to pledge their support to the station.  We had hourly goals, and almost every time, whether I was the host or the “pledge buddy,” we’d meet our goal.  Even though I’ve left the station, I still go back twice a year to help at pledge time.  At this point, I’m the only non-employee still “buddy-ing” on the air, so I must be doing something they like!

Asking for money to support someone else is surprisingly easy.  Support classical music on public radio, support cancer research, support your local animal shelter.  But what happens if I ask for money for myself?

I squirm, I apologize, I expect to be turned down.  I feel inadequate, as though I shouldn’t even be asking.

In all honesty, though, getting your music heard takes resources, and the most valuable resource is money.  As a composer, money is what allows me to fairly compensate musicians, to reserve recording space, to publish scores (or hire someone to do these things), and bring in enough income to allow me the time to compose.

This has been a good year for me so far.  I have two very different works coming out on two separate CDs, and the time I’ve spent in the recording studio on each of them has been phenomenal.

It’s also helped me learn how to ask.  I’ve always been so thrilled (and a little surprised) that anyone is performing my music, that I tend to take whatever they give me.  But this time around, I’m listening to each piece critically, and asking the performers to give me a little more of this, or a little less of that.  And I’ve discovered that it not only makes for a better performance, but strengthens the composer/musician relationship as we explore the nuances of the work together.

All of this has given me the confidence to ask just a little bit more.  While one of the CDs this year is being completely funded by the performing ensemble, the other is a collaborative work.  I’ve written a new piano trio for Trio Casals called Three Songs.  The CD is a collection of works, and is being coordinated through PARMA Recordings.  They have a team of talented people who bring so much to the table, which means it is well worth the price to bring an enhanced CD out with national distribution.  Frankly, they have much better resources, and can do far more for me than I could ever do on my own.

So, to help me cover the cost of my share, I’ve jumped in with both feet and started a Kickstarter campaign.  After asking on behalf of others for many years, I’m finally comfortable asking for myself.

There are two things in particular that I like about Kickstarter.  The first is that it’s all or nothing funding.  If the goal is met, the project is funded, and if not, well, no one will be out any money at all.  The second thing is that you’re funding something specific – full production of an enhanced CD, and two live performances.  And in return, I am able to give you something tangible – my music, in several forms.

And now, I’m asking you to help me.  Check out the Kickstarter campaign.  If you can’t contribute financially (and let’s face it, money is tight for all of us!), you can still help by spreading the word to your family and friends.

(In case you missed it earlier – here’s the link to the Kickstarter campaign.  Share and enjoy!  https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1763978672/three-songs-for-trio-casals)

The Year So Far

Why so long between posts?  Well, it’s been a busy 2014 so far, and it’s looking to get busier!

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to participate in some great collaborations so far this year.  In March, Rob Bridge and Jennifer Vacanti shared their percussion skills in premiering “Rhythmody” for Vision of Sound.  They gave three performances, accompanying the dancers of Cheryl Wilkins-Mitchell’s studio, and I was fortunate to be there for all of it.

Meanwhile, I had my second opportunity to work with the students at West Genesee Middle School.  Again, I collaborated with the 8th grade band students to compose a brand new work, which they premiered earlier this month.  I have to say, this is one of my favorite collaborations!  Martha Grener, the wonderfully talented band director, is a joy to work with, and she encourages enthusiasm and welcomes all input from her students.  Once again, we left the naming of the work to the students, who revealed the title at the premiere performance.  What a great performance of “The Hour of the Raven.”

I also had the chance to spend quite a bit of time in the studio, working on the next Samba Laranja CD (due out this fall).  My world drumming piece, “Travels,” will be included in this release, and I am very grateful to Josh and Dr. Elisa Dekaney for giving me the opportunity to compose for this ensemble once again.

In the midst of all of this – yet another CD in the works!  Ovidiu Marinescu of Trio Casals contacted me early this year to ask for a new piece.  They are recording a new CD for PARMA Recordings, and my newly composed “Three Songs” will be a part of it!  We are all set for a July recording session, with the CD release and live tour set for next year.  (Ahem – look for my Kickstarter campaign very soon!)

As for the “next thing” – I have several pieces in the works, and will update you on those as time passes.  I am also working on the last few details before offering my works for direct sale on my website.

Defining “Music”

I took a class my sophomore year of college on “World Music.”  The first question the professor asked the class was “What is music?”  What a discussion that turned out to be!

You would think that would be an easy question, right?  I mean, we all know what “music” is, don’t we?

After that discussion, I’m not so sure we do.

Take the Islamic call to prayer, for example.  Absolutely beautiful!  But, in my understanding, according to doctrine it is not considered music.  It is chant, it is expression of a religion, but it is not music.  To a non-practitioner, however, it sounds quite musical.

Of course, there is also the John Cage school of thought – that everything is, or can be considered, music.  His most well-known example of this, of course, is 4′ 33″.  Everything heard during the performance becomes the music.

Then we have this work from John Stump.  Absolutely unplayable, but, in fact, accurately notated.  Although it was intended as satire, it begs the question: must a work be heard in order to be considered music?  Or is notation sufficient?  (Are you beginning to realize the complexity of that oh-so-simple question, “what is music?”)

And once we define “music,” how are we to categorize it?  In Western music, there is a lot of borrowing, sharing, and paraphrasing which serves to blur the lines between one genre and the next.

As to what has brought up this line of thought right now, I was recently asked by someone if I consider a pop song that has been arranged into a large orchestral work to be “classical music.”  Contrariwise, if an opera singer records a pop song, does that suddenly become a classical work?  (“And now, Dame Joan Sutherland sings Rod Stewart!”  Thanks for that image, Robin Williams!)  I mean, if I re-arranged the national anthem with slide guitar and sang it with a Tennessee accent, would it be a country song?

While we can point to characteristics of Western music that put it into categories such as “Renaissance,” “Baroque,” “Classical” or “Romantic,” when it comes to 20th and 21st century works, all bets are off.  The rules have been thrown out the window, and the range of music is far-reaching.  (That’s why I’m not crazy about the term “Contemporary Classical.”  It seems a throwback of sorts.)

So, does the national anthem become a country song?  Or just a bad arrangement?  Is the orchestral arrangement of Chubby Checker’s “Twist Again” as effective as the original?  Is “Beatles Baroque” clever or just annoying?  Is “Billy the Kid” better with 2 pianos or full orchestra?

Lots of questions.  And frankly, I don’t have any answers for you.

By the way, at the end of the semester in our World Music class, the only thing we did agree on is that we couldn’t agree on an acceptable definition of “music.”

THAT’S How to Perform Electronic Music!

First and foremost, a huge CONGRATULATIONS to my friend Chris Cresswell for a great concert.  This was Chris’ degree recital, and he put together an outstanding program.  The music was wonderful, the performers did a great job, and the program flowed very well.

I could rave about each piece on the concert, but I want to use Chris’ success as a way to point out something very important.  Included in the program was a work for baritone saxophone and electronics.  Normally, when I see a piece on a program listed as “with electronics,” I cringe.

I have lost count of the number of programs where I have shifted uncomfortably as the composer fusses and fiddles with wires, laptops, microphones, and anything else on the stage.  I’ve seen it happen during the first performance, and the fiftieth.  I’ve seen it with student composers and established professionals.  I’ve seen composers jumping on and off the stage apron to get to their equipment in the pit.  I saw one performance with the composer sitting in a folding chair next to the pianist, laptop on his knees, head down – I didn’t know if he was performing, or just cruising the internet.  And if one more person stops the performance so they can reset and re-start, I might just scream.  Or walk out.

It makes me crazy!  Using electronics in a piece is no excuse for wasting the time of your audience and your performer.  It shouldn’t take any longer to set up a work with electronics than it does for any other piece.  Set the stage, take a quick second to tune, and then start the piece.

Which is EXACTLY what Chris did!  Hooray!!

Chris had his laptop all set up, his mixer, the speaker, the mic – all he had to do is hand the instrument mic to the soloist, who clipped it onto her sax.  And then they began the piece.  Chris was seated in front of the stage (essentially in the pit), so he and the performer could easily see each other and communicate.  The rest was transparent.

From the audience’s perspective, it was no fuss, no muss.  Just a well written, well executed performance.

C’mon, composers!  We are far enough along with our technical advances to expect this kind of seamless performance every time.  And I’ll give you just two words to tell you how to get it.

TECH REHEARSAL!

You absolutely must run through the piece – ALL THE WAY – enough times to ensure it is smooth and seamless.  Don’t get partway there and call it good.  No orchestra practices the first eight measures of a piece and figures it’s good enough for performance.

I’m not saying that things will never go wrong.  Things happen.  But not the things that have been rehearsed.  Lights burn out?  Music blows off the music stand?  Violin string snaps?  Audience member trips and knocks your laptop to the floor?  Yeah, these things happen, and you can’t avoid them.  But the mic not working because you didn’t check it before the start of the performance?  Shame on you!

Technology can be tricky when it is new, but frankly, this technology has been around long enough that it should be transparent to the audience by now.  Musical theater used to rely on the vocal power of the likes of Ethel Merman to be heard over the pit musicians, and now it is all done electronically, sometimes with the musicians in a completely separate room.  Many (too many) pop musicians rely on electronic manipulation to run their (over-produced) live shows – auto-tune, pre-recorded orchestral tracks, extra backing vocals.  For Pete’s sake, the lone guy with the guitar who sings at Greasewood Flats has the technology to add backing harmonies to his live vocals in real time!

So let’s get with the program!  An electronic music work is like a magic act.  The audience wants to be awed and impressed, and in the end, they don’t really want to know how it’s done.

 

Edit:  Chris has posted this video on YouTube of the premiere.  Enjoy!