Welcoming the New Year

Like so many others do at this time of year, I am taking some time to reflect back on the last 12 months, and to look ahead to the coming months and years.  I have to say that, despite a few shortcomings, I am pleased with 2013, and very excited about 2014.

Admittedly, this whole “Thirteen in ’13” thing didn’t pan out quite the way I had planned.  I am truly disappointed that I haven’t given you 13 completed works over the course of the year.  That being said, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been working.  I’ve gone “fishing” a lot, and I have more than 13 sketches of new pieces to work on and flesh out.  (I guess that just means my “Thirteen in ’13” could be considered as “held in a private collection” for the moment.)

Of those finished works, I am especially pleased with Kelly Covert’s performance of “Iago” this past summer.  I describe this as “a short work, in honor of a life cut short,” which I wrote in memory of my late brother (“Iago” is Welsh for “James”).  Kelly gave a beautiful performance, and captured the soul of the work perfectly.

2013 also provided the opportunity to take a few breaths and get “centered” again, as it were.  Y’know how sometimes things just fall perfectly into place?  That’s exactly how I feel tonight.  Composing every day, enjoying time with family, spending time with friends, and performing around the area – as this year draws to a close, I am content in how all of those things have finally come into balance.  As 2014 begins, I feel energized and ready to enjoy boundless opportunities.

And the opportunities are already manifesting.  I have two confirmed premieres for this coming Spring, a couple of collaborative projects, some repeat performances, at least one workshop, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear more of my music coming up on a couple of new CDs!

So, as we count down to the midnight hour on this New Year’s eve, I wish you all health, love, happiness, and music to delight you throughout the coming year!

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The Thousand Mile Journey

“The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.” 

 

This somewhat different translation of the familiar quote from Lao-tzu resonates with me deeply, moreso than the familiar one.  I think that is, in large part, because I have taken several “thousand mile journeys” in my life.  I have, for countless reasons, put my journey on hold over the years.  Does that make this one journey with detours?  Or an entirely new journey with each “restart?”

Which begs the (guilt-fueled) questions . . . did I actually complete the “last” thousand mile journey?  Am I just repeatedly hitting an imaginary “reset” button?  Have I simply failed, and given up?  Even worse, did I just not try hard enough?

How many “first steps” can one person take?

Part of this musing is due to a recent, and significant, change I have made.  As much as I love the job, I have stepped away from my role at WCNY-FM in order to truly devote 100% of my time and energy to composing.  The last time I was able to do this was the (far too brief) summer of 2005.  That was hands-down the most energized, creative period I have had as a composer.  Since then, various and sundry circumstances (illnesses, injuries, financial challenges – and self-doubt, if I am truthful) have stolen too much of my time and attention.  And as much fun as it has been at Classic FM, it too tends to steal me away from my compositional activities.

But honestly, am I just hitting “reset” again?

This particular translation of Lao-tzu has changed my perspective.  I realize I am not stepping off into a new journey at all.  Rather, this is my opportunity to pause, to breathe, to achieve a stillness that will help me focus on the next “thousand miles” with clear intention.

Every new composition can potentially be seen as a new journey (a microcosm of the macrocosm, if you will).  Starting from nothing, from stillness, it can take many twists and turns, often unexpected, before finally returning to stillness.  And from that stillness emerges the next piece.  And the next.  In a sense, this year will ultimately give rise to 13 “thousand mile journeys.”

So no, this is not a reset.  Nor is it starting over.  It is just the moment taken to rediscover the stillness beneath my feet, before traversing the next thousand miles.

 

Well, That Was a Slow Start!

So.  Ahem.

I’m behind.

For those folks who know me . . . ok, so you’re not surprised.

Fortunately, since the deadlines I have declared this year are self-imposed, this is not a major problem.  Still, I am not particularly happy that I have slipped already.

One of my composer friends posted this chart on his Facebook page.

"The Creative Process for Composers"

“The Creative Process for Composers”

Yeah, this is pretty much me.  In college, most of the 2 hours before my composition lesson was spent furiously writing so I’d have something to show my professor.  And I’m not the only one.  My classmates were frequently sitting next to me doing the same thing.

That behavior doesn’t stop in college, either.  A couple of years ago, a composer I know was commissioned to write a large and involved piece.  He was given over a year to do it, and when I heard the end product, I thought to myself, “This isn’t finished!”  He left huge gaps of silence in the piece (it accompanied a film), and told the audience it was intentional.  What he neglected to mention is that he didn’t actually start composing until 3 weeks before the premiere, and he just ran out of time.

I confess, I tend to push things to the limit when it comes to deadlines.  By the same token, I always get the work done.

I’ve always labeled myself a procrastinator, but I recently came across this article which, I think, is a much better description of my process.

I am not so much a procrastinator, as an incubator.

Although I may not have pen to paper every single day, my mind is, in fact, working on a composition – or two – almost constantly.  Once I start writing a piece out, it comes in a long stream, beginning to end almost without break.  It brings to mind that line from Amadeus:  “It’s all right here, in my noodle.  The rest is just scribbling and bibbling.”  (My husband has recognized this trait, and occasionally quotes Amadeus at me.)

At the moment, I have three works tripping around in my head.  Tonight, I wrote out a good 2-½ minutes of a solo flute work in the space of 10 or 15 minutes.  I’ll probably have it all set down by the end of the weekend.  But it has been rolling around in my head for quite some time already.  The next work is also rattling around my brain, but isn’t quite ready for pencil and paper.  It’s close, but not quite there yet.  (One of my professors talked about composing as “fishing.”  But that’s another entry.)

So yes, I am behind.  But only a bit.  By the end of this month, I’m pretty sure I’ll have 3 works down on paper, though, which puts me back on track.  And, although I haven’t written down much in these last couple of months, I have been composing.

In my mind.

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.

Just Another New Year

It’s that introspective time of year yet again, time to look back at what has shaped us over the last year, and what we are looking forward to in the year ahead.  Although my plans for the coming year have been gearing up for a while now, I thought I’d take a moment to share a few musings with you on this first day of 2013.

This past year has certainly been eventful.  Losing my brother to cancer in the Spring was . . . awful, to say the least.  I’ve also been putting in tons of extra time at the radio station for most of the year, covering one of our announcers who went on extended leave, while helping coordinate the digitization of our entire CD library and auditing the library database.

I’ve been a little busy.

But the vacant shift has now been permanently filled, and I updated the final CD last week (13,000 CDs and over 40,000 77,000 individual works).  And I’ve reduced my on-air schedule to just Sundays, so I have more time available on Saturdays to spend with family and friends.

Basically, the frantic note that has been pretty much a constant throughout this last year has faded, and I have a nice, clean slate for 2013.  I have time . . . time to compose, time to spend with family, time to explore new places and revisit some favorite locales.  My mind is already teeming with music crying out for release, and new pieces are getting sketched out.  This coming year is already shaping up nicely!

What’s left – for now – is my New Year’s wish for you, dear reader:  May the coming year be filled with music and joy, may you cherish the time you spend with friends and family, and may the hills and valleys along the road ahead be gently rolling ones.

Where To Start?

It’s daunting.  Thirteen new pieces to finish in just one year.  But, as the saying goes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Of course, they never talk about which direction to choose.

Tricky.

The most important part of this project for me is producing good quality compositions.  Striving to complete thirteen works is ambitious, but if I get back into the habit of “fishing” every day, I am confident I will reach this goal.  Still, it needs to begin somewhere.

So I’ve narrowed my starting choices down to two.  The first is a work for organ and saxophone.  That’s going to take some intensive work, for a couple of reasons.  It’s a combination I haven’t specifically written for before, and I don’t have any sketches in my notebook that quite fit what I want.  But I do have a good idea of where I want to go with it.  Think Arvo Pärt’s “Spiegel im spiegel” or Carl Vine’s “Threnody” for starters.  Pure emotion laid out for the listener.

Also in the running is a Brazilian choro for flute choir.  I’ve discovered a real love for this style of music.  I’ve written, arranged, and played a bunch of them, and they are great fun on all accounts.  The big advantage is that a choro is very specific in its form, so once I have my first theme, it should flow in a pretty straightforward manner from there.

More important, because of the very different nature of these two pieces, I think I can actually work on them simultaneously.  It’s rather like deciding what music you want to listen to today.  Tough day?  Something introspective might be good.  Ready for a fun night out?  Time for some dance music.  So I’ll work on the piece that best suits my mood on any given day.

FootstepsSo here I am.

On your mark . . .

Get set . . .

 

 

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!