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!  

The Evolution of a Website

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!

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!

Another Premiere! And the title is . . .

Something is happening tomorrow that hasn’t happened to me before.  The West Genesee Middle School Band is premiering a new piece, one that I’ve been working on with them throughout the school year.

If you check out some of my older posts (here and here) you’ll get some idea of the fun we’ve had so far.  And it all culminates in the premiere on Tuesday night!  Yes, I’ve had premieres before, and even premieres by a middle school band.  So what makes this time so different?

This time, I don’t know the title.  Honestly, I have no idea.

When we first started meeting, the students came up with the storyline for the piece, and I’ve worked with the students and their director to bring it to its final form.  I’ve heard a couple of rehearsals, and (despite missing time for some snow days), the band is sounding very good.  And since the storyline for the piece was given to me by the members of the band, it seemed only fitting that they should get to name the piece.

So, tomorrow night, at the concert, the students will announce the name of their world premiere work, and I’ll find out what it is at the same time as the rest of the audience.

How cool is that!?!  It’s definitely a first for me, and I can’t wait to find out!

Squee! – Why we need Arts in the Schools

If you read my earlier post or my website, you know that I’m working with the 8th grade band at a local middle school.  It has been an absolute joy!  The band director has been wonderfully communicative, giving me great feedback on each revision of the score to be sure it is just right for her students.  She and I are absolutely committed to making this a great experience for the entire group.  The students have the final revision in their hands and are rehearsing right now.

What thrills me the most, however, is the incredible enthusiasm of these young musicians.  At the last rehearsal I attended, one of the students entered the room at the start of class, saw I was there, let out a squee of joy, and ran to get her instrument.  What a welcome!  They began to read the piece, and got more and more excited with the new revisions.  “Oh, how cool!”  “I’ve got chills!”  “This is neat!”  Comments that made my day.

We also have a very special treat lined up for the concert.  Several musicians from the Society for New Music will be performing, and then will join the students in their world premiere performance.

Because music isn’t just the “extra class” you take in school.  Music is an integral part of our lives.  Not only for those who make it their careers, but for everyone who listens, who attends concerts, who encourages their own children and grandchildren to participate.

More importantly, we need arts in the schools because it gives students the chance to have a “Squee!” moment.

A Common Ground for Music

If you’ve looked on my website recently, you’ll know that I have a work due for premiere in January, 2011 by an outstanding group, Melomanie.  They had the opening performance of their season last night at the Blue Ball Barn in Wilmington, DE, joined by guest artists Christof Richter, violin, and Chris Braddock, guitar/mandolin, and it was a fantastic evening!  The food was delicious, the wine tasting just lovely, and of course, it was a great night of music.

What I love about Melomanie, and what makes them (to the best of my knowledge) unique, is that they pair Baroque music with new compositions at every single concert.  Last night was a perfect example of the programs they present.  Here is what they played:

Paris Quartet No. 1 in D Major by Georg Philip Telemann (1738)
Pavane-Variations by Ingrid Arauco (2009)
Mountain Songs for flute & guitar, by Robert Beaser (1985)
Sonata in G Major for viola da gamba & obbligato harpsichord by J.S. Bach (approx. 1740)
Pluck for octave mandolin & harpsichord by Chris Braddock (2009)

Quite a time span, eh?  And each and every work was played with enthusiasm, energy, and obvious joy.  Any semblance of stuffiness was left at the door.  The audience was seated cafe-style, up close to the performers, mingling with each other and the performers before and after the event, and during the break.  Too often when you attend a concert of early music, it can be stand-offish, almost unapproachable.  But Telemann and Bach were very much alive and in the room with us last evening.

As for the new works, part of the fun is the pairing of both modern and baroque instruments.  Balance is key, since Baroque instruments have very different acoustics than their modern counterparts.  But Arauco and Braddock did an outstanding job combining them in both of their works.  In particular, Braddock’s Pluck neatly wove the plucked mandolin and the harpsichord together, creating almost a folk-music feel to the piece.  It was great to look around the room and see how the audience was absolutely caught up in the experience.

When Melomanie decided to add new compositions to their programming years ago, it was a risky move.  Would the audiences who came to hear period music on period instruments be open to new music?  Well, they were and they are.  Wholeheartedly and unabashedly.  Which, in my mind, proves that what an audience really wants to hear is music.  Good music, well presented, with no apologies for when it was composed.

I have my work cut out for me as I continue to work on FireDance.  The compositions commissioned in the past are of the highest caliber, as are this group of musicians.  Still, I have wanted to write a modern piece for Baroque instruments ever since I was in the Collegium Musicum during my undergraduate years at the University of Delaware.  I am thrilled to finally have that opportunity!

If you want to hear Melomanie, and are not in the Delaware area, they have a CD of music by Telemann, and another CD of contemporary works coming out in 2011.  In addition, Melomanie flutist and co-founder Kimberly Reighley and flutist Tom Moore also have a CD of Telemann flute duets.  I own both of the Telemann CDs, and highly recommend them.  As for the new CD, you can bet I’ll have my copy as soon as it is released!

Brazilian Music at Fayetteville Library!

Samba Laranja, the Brazilian Ensemble under the direction of Josh and Elisa Dekaney, will be playing this coming Tuesday, August 4 at the Fayetteville Free Library.  Come on by at 7:30 pm and hear drumming, singing, and loads of fun!

Choro Samba Laranja, which I wrote for this group last year, will also be on the program.  Choros are the Brazilian precursor to Samba, and are very improvisational (much like New Orleans jazz).  This particular performance will be just for flute and pandeiro, instead of the original quartet arrangement.  It is also fast and furious.  You’ll be tapping your toes and humming the tune by the time you leave!

If you’re in the area, stop on by and hear us.  We’d love to see you there!