Two Years and Counting

It’s coming up on two years now, since I took over as the mid-day host at WCNY.  A lot has happened, and I thought it was probably a good time to sit down for a bit and take stock of how things are going.


Things are great!

I walk into the radio station every morning with a smile on my face.  I get to run my grubby little hands through literally hundreds of thousands of recordings, spanning more than 600 years of music, and share that with our listeners every single day!  How amazing is that?  Every time I turn on the microphone, I think of the listener who has essentially invited me into their life for a bit.  We get to share this experience of music together. 

I’m also having a blast with interviews.  I’m averaging an interview a week, many of them including performances.  (I just had the entire cast from the Syracuse Summer Theatre in the studios last week!)  I’ve talked to local and national musicians and presenters, and folks are regularly telling me how much they appreciate the time I spend with them.  I’m also running the board and co-hosting two shows with Leo Rayhill at the station, a Classic Sinatra show, and Leo Rayhill’s Sounds of Jazz.  Leo is incredible!  At nearly 90 years old, he has the most amazing collection of music and stories spanning decades of broadcasting.  It is an honor and priviledge to spend a couple of hours with him every week.

I’m getting lots of new music music in every week, and I take an hour of air time every Thursday to play from those new CDs, usually before they’ve even been entered into our database.  And my own music collection is growing by leaps and bounds, as I keep buying new pieces to use for Feminine Fusion, the weekly program highlighting the accomplishments of women in the classical music world.  It’s hard to believe that I’m just a few short weeks away from the one-year anniversary of that program.

On the compositional front, this has been a particularly good time as well.  I transcribed (with a bit of arranging) J.C. Dist, the piece by Jelle Hogenhuis for contrabass flute and flute choir.  And I got to play the solo part for the premiere with the Central New York Flute Choir – what a blast!  I also finished up “Dreamcatcher,” a trombone concerto that Haim Avitsur recorded for his newest CD release, Neue Kraft Fühlend.  I spent President’s Day skyping to Moscow for the recording session, with Ovidiu Marinescu conducting the New Russia State Symphony Orchestra.  I just got my copies of the CD about a week ago, and I am absolutely thrilled with the final product.  But the compositions don’t stop there!  I finally had my chance to expand “Woman A/Part” to a full 8-minute piece, which Trio Casals premiered last week.  That is slated to be recorded in October, and will be released next May on the Navona label on the third CD in the Moto series.  

Wait!  There’s more?  Yes, there is!  I’m currently working on a flute trio (untitled at the moment) that we expect to include on the upcoming Samba Laranja CD, due out within the next year as well.  We recorded several pieces for that CD this past spring, and will be recording the rest of it this fall.

All in all, a pretty good couple of years.  If I’m honest, though, I will admit that getting up and going to work for someone else 5 days a week is not my favorite thing to do.  I miss the flexibility of having composing be my only real commitment, and being able to stay up until the wee small hours of the morning working on music.  Frankly, balancing composing, rehearsing and performing, errands, household chores, and recreation with the time spent at the radio station can be a challenge.  But the pros definitely outweigh the cons, and I hope I can continue to lead this wonderful and very full life for many years to come.

So, dear readers, that hopefully brings you up to date on my most recent adventures.  Over the next several months I hope to highlight some of my works here, and give you some insights into how they came to be.  Keep your eyes out for that, and don’t forget to visit my website, Facebook page, or the “Buy CDs” page on this blog as well.

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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!  

A Quiet Saturday Afternoon

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.

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.

Funding New Music

This Kickstarter campaign for my Three Songs recording and performance has me thinking a LOT about money recently.  (Surprised?  Didn’t think so.)  As of this post, I have 23 backers, and I truly can’t thank them enough for showing their support and belief in this project.

I’ve also had LOTS of folks sharing, and talking, and giving me moral support.  Which is appreciated.  But what I need is backers.

If every backer pledged $25 – that’s another 168 backers.

With 6 days to go.

That’s a pretty big climb.

I’m not discouraged.  I have faith that people really do want to hear new classical music, live and recorded.  And I’m trying every way I can think of to spread the word.  (Short of hiring a skywriter – if I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t be asking you to pitch in, would I?)

It has forced me to think more creatively, though.  Not only about this CD project, but about marketing myself in general.  Because composers (like so many artists) are earning less and less through their music.  According to this article, “composers are producing more for less money, while also having to find other means of generating a significant income.”

I’ve been brainstorming, trying to come up with creative ways to combat that.  And you’ll see more things here, and on my website and Facebook pages, as I work on getting more music out there.

But for now – and the rest of this week – I’ll be focusing on my CD release.  And asking you to help.

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)