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.


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.


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!”

Finding Stillness

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I am making a more dedicated effort toward listening.  I’m discovering (and re-discovering) a lot of works in my CD library, and in future postings I’ll be providing links to the various recordings I’ve enjoyed.

This week, though, I took some time to listen to the APM podcast of On Being, with Krista Tippett’s interview of acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton.  Recently, I’ve become very aware of just how pervasive and constant the assault of noise in my daily life has become.  It seemed appropriate that this interview came to my attention around the same time.

I’ve had some very interesting conversations with individuals who are keenly aware of just how much our man-made noises are encroaching on nature.  Composers Ed Ruchalski and Doug Quin spend a great deal of time recording the sounds of the world.  Ed uses ambient sound recordings for many of his compositions, and it has become more and more difficult to find areas without manmade and intrusive noises for his recordings.  There always seems to be a car or a plane passing at some point.  As for Doug, he has had the privilege of spending time in areas like Antarctica, where he truly can record (and experience) natural sonic events.  The sounds he catalogues are almost other-worldly at times, and I envy the stories he tells about his travels.

Some of the sound that surrounds me so pervasively is admittedly self-imposed.  We tend to leave the radio on overnight, and we are big movie watchers, so our evenings are spent with lots of sensory input.  But occasionally I am surprised by silence.  Like the time we turned off the window fan for the first time in several weeks, once the temperature dropped to a comfortable level.  I was sitting in the living room, fan off, radio off – and then the fridge shut off, and I realized just how perpetually noisy our home had become.

So there was quiet.  Real quiet.  And the insects were chirping outside, and the coyote pups started their group howls, trying to mimic their parents.  It was gorgeous.

Even in our rural setting, however, these quiet moments tend to be fleeting.  A couple of years ago, I was recording a film score in my home.  Just solo piano, but that meant recording in the living room (a grand piano is not readily portable).  As we have a road directly in front of the house, I waited until 1 am to start recording.  After more than two hours, I made the decision to make the best of what little I had, because I could not get one single uninterrupted take.  That late at night, not 5 minutes went by without a vehicle driving down our relatively rural road.

Now to get to the podcast.  I decided to listen to the extended and unedited recording, which runs about an hour and a half.  (If you would like to listen to the podcast, I’d suggest listening to the edited version – it is only 51 minutes, and includes recorded examples that were spliced in before airing.)  The podcast is not about music, but it is about finding those last few areas where you can find quiet.

Hempton tries very hard to make his case.  Sometimes successfully, sometimes not.  And occasionally, his line of reasoning seemed disjointed and rambling.  Then again, just to reiterate, I was listening to the unedited version.  The edited broadcast may be more concise and coherent.  In any case, it did succeed in making me consider even more carefully the invasive nature of noises in my daily life.

And so my hope is to be able to find more moments of quiet every day.  To take the time to shut down and listen carefully.  To separate the music from the noise, both inside and all around me.



Here are some links that might interest you:

On Being: Krista Tippett interviews acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton

Douglas Quin, composer, sound designer

Edward Ruchalski, composer


360 Degrees of Inspiration

I can see that the real joy in the coming year will be in discovery. While I am happy in the way my music already manifests, I don’t want to become stagnant, a one-trick pony whose music is instantly recognizable because you have heard the exact same line over and over again. Certainly a big part of this year will be opening my eyes, my mind, and my perceptions, trying to see my world afresh and anew.

So here I am, sitting in Starbucks, waiting for my car to be fixed at the shop next door. With Zippity-Doo-Dah playing over the stereo. Oh hey, now it’s Spike Jones with “Secluded Rendezvous.”

I’m having some trouble focusing on the organ line for my current piece at the moment.

Time then to look for other inspiration. Hmmm, chat with the barista, do a bit of people watching, cruise the web, ahh! Let’s see what’s new on the TED Talks site.

Wow. Talk about viewing your world with a new perspective. Here is a woman who has taken others’ perspectives . . . and her own . . . and turned them completely around. Please, do take a few minutes to watch here.

Will my music change the way you view your world? I don’t know. But I know I will work to change the way I view mine, and bring that new view to everything I do.

Thirteen in ’13

I’ve committed myself to a big project. I don’t have funding, I don’t have a commission, I’m not even sure how it will ultimately manifest itself. But this is something that’s been rattling around in my head for quite some time, and I realize I need to either fish or cut bait. So I’m fishing.

Before I tell you what the actual project entails, I thought you might like a little background. And if you don’t care, just skip to the last paragraph. I promise you won’t hurt my feelings.

Still here? Thanks!

If you’ve followed my blog at all, you’ll notice there is very little “personal” information on it. That’s intentional. You’re most likely interested in music, not what I had for dinner tonight, or how frustrated I am with so-and-so. To truly understand this project, though, I think a bit of personal background might be helpful. Not too much, mind you. It’s not a 1,600-page autobiography, and I don’t think you care about the name of my first crush. (Andy, if you really must know.) But a little bit about how I came into composing might be helpful. You can still skip to the end, if you want.

My life can basically be divided into “before” and “after.” “Before” I was a secretary (administrative assistant, if you prefer.) I was good at it, too. I did a bunch of other things on the road to that career, but basically everything came down to being a really good secretary. “After” is when I turned to music, to a new life as a composer. And the turning point, the point that marked the line between “before” and “after” was the death of my father.

Losing someone you love, someone who was so influential, can make you examine your own life very closely. It doesn’t always culminate in a dramatic change, although for me, that was definitely the case. With the support of my husband, I turned my back on the life I was expected to lead, and turned to a career in the arts. I started as a freshman music composition major at the tender age of 40, and loved each and every minute of my undergraduate life.

Then came graduate school. It should have been great. I got a full ride with a Billy Joel Fellowship, and had nothing to do except study and compose. But barely a month before I moved to New York to start school, my mother was hospitalized. I postponed my move by a couple of weeks to help her get settled back at home after her hospital stay, and then started my Master’s program. Mom was ill for the next three years, however, going in and out of the hospital fairly regularly. Though I was physically in classes, mentally I was, more often than not, hundreds of miles away with her. After I graduated I eventually moved in with her, giving her the 24-hour attention she needed.

She left this world in 2009.

To be clear, I wasn’t alone in caring for her. I have wonderful brothers, and an incredible husband, and (stereotypes to the contrary) a whole slew of loving, caring in-laws. I had plenty of physical and emotional support and companionship. But losing a parent is devastating, and I was adrift for a while after she died.

Now, here’s a little insight into my personality. While some artists deal with hardship by creating, others – me included – withdraw instead. After Mom died I got so far “in” my own head that I froze for a while, and really struggled to write. I took on a couple of commissions, and did well with them, but it was an incredible mental battle for me to complete them. I don’t do a lot of public whining and crying, pulling the whole sackcloth-and-ashes, “pity me, pity me” act. We all have problems in our lives, and we all have to deal with them in our own ways. But between you and me, dear reader, I was devastated beyond measure, beyond anything my friends and family realized. (Except my husband, and I am so thankful to have him!)

Things eventually started looking up, and I felt ready to pick up my life and move on again. Until my brother was diagnosed with cancer in early 2011. It was a horrible battle for him, and one that he lost in the spring of 2012. Although we were separated by great physical distance, we became closer in many ways, and my sister-in-law and I spent long, late hours on the phone together. (And still do.)

But, being who I am, my compositional mind locked up again. I’m not surprised by that, I don’t apologize for it, nor do I feel any shame or guilt. Losing a parent is one thing. Losing a brother is entirely different. Losing both in such a short time, in a word . . . sucks. Frankly, I think I’m entitled to some degree of devastation.

What this means in practical terms, however, is that my compositional activities have been at a minimum now for just about 6 years. And I’m realizing that there is a lot of music simmering away in my soul that is clamoring to be let out.

So that is what 2013 is all about – finding renewed life through my music. I’ve set my goal, and I’m declaring it publicly. My original thought was to complete a new piece each month for the next year, and put up a recording of it for everyone to listen. When I explained this to my husband, he thought it was a great idea, and said, “Why just 12? Why not make it 13 in ’13?” I figured, in for a penny, in for a pound. “13 in ’13” it is. So, dear reader, I’m making this commitment, to myself and to you . . . I can’t back out of it now. And I’ll blog along the way for anyone who might want to see how this year-long journey unfolds, too, which means if do I slack off, everyone will know.

Wish me luck!

So, Who’s Your Favorite Composer?

It’s a question I am often asked.  Tell someone you are a musician, or composer, or in any way affiliated with music, and inevitably that comes up.  I used to struggle with the answer, but now it just comes trippingly off of my tongue:  ME!

Yes, I know it sounds egotistical and a tad arrogant.  But think about it, really.  Do you honestly honestly – like absolutely everything that one composer has written?  Pop, jazz, blues, classical, whatever your taste, whoever you like, I’m sure you’ve come across at least one clunker from a composer you normally enjoy.  As for me, the only composer whose every work I like is, well, me.

I mean, if I don’t like everything that I write, why do I do this in the first place?

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not claiming to be the world’s greatest composer, living or dead.  Nor am I suggesting that you need to enjoy every single thing that I’ve written.  (Well, my husband says he does, but he can’t cook, so it behooves him to stay on my good side!)

What I am saying is that I find it very hard to claim any individual composer as my “favorite.”  There is always some work that just doesn’t reach me the way their other works do.

I’d really rather talk about which pieces I’m enjoying at the moment.  What is my favorite today.  Because even my enjoyment of an individual piece can change over time.  It may depend on my mood, or the environment in which I am listening at the moment, or simply the quality of the performance.  Or an event may happen that changes the way a piece affects me.  (Since my mother died, certain renditions of “Over the Rainbow” – a favorite of hers – send me into tears now.  Don’t get me started on Anne Akiko Meyers’ recording!)

I do have some works that I’ll never leave behind.  Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, Debussy’s Syrinx, Higdon’s Blue Cathedral, to name a few.  If I tried to write up a complete list, it would go on and on and on.  And I’m always “discovering” new pieces that become favorites, if only in the short term.

So here is my suggestion.  Let’s leave “who’s your favorite composer?” by the wayside, and instead ask “what’s your favorite piece today?”