Writing About Music . . .

. . . is like dancing about architecture.  (Martin Mull)

This quote has been rattling around in my mind quite frequently as of late.  You see, amidst all the activity that is composition, and all the activity that surrounds that work (classroom visits, site maintenance, recording and mixing, etc., etc., etc.,) comes the search for the next project.

As a new composer fresh out of grad school, I had the chance to ask a fellow composer for his insight into this full-time, freelancing career.  He gave me some valuable advice, including the hard truth that I couldn’t depend on any sort of linear progress in my career.  As nice as it would be for one opportunity to lead to the next, and the next, and then the next, that isn’t how it works.  You have to cast a web, the wider the better, and explore every little tug that you feel.  Some things will pan out, others won’t, but it’s pretty much a given that there will be very few direct lines between events.

So when I’m not busily composing away, I’m usually looking for the next chance to compose.  Lately, there seems to have been a spate of potential commissions popping up.  And what they all have in common is something I’ve come to dread:  The Proposal.

On the one hand, I get it.  These organizations will likely be getting quite an influx of applications for these various commissions, and in order to ensure the awardee best fits their goals is to learn as much about them in as compact a package as possible.

But “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”  Trying to describe in words what is, at least for me, an emotional and rather intangible process is difficult, almost bordering on impossible.  Not to mention the fact that the listener’s visceral response to my music may be quite different than my own intention.

One of my earliest works garnered a huge compliment from a friend, who described one section of the work that moved him to great joy.  Yet the section he found joyous was one that was quite dark in my view.  Although my intention in the composition process was different, I realized that he wasn’t wrong in his interpretation.  Because he experienced the work through his senses, colored by his life experiences, it led him down a different path than I had taken.

This was a real learning experience for me, and I realized that once I set my music loose, I could no longer control how it was presented and perceived.  As a result, I have learned to keep my program notes quite spare and sparse, giving only a loose framework so listeners are free to hear the music on their own terms.  When I find myself reading program notes that are very complex and technical, incredibly detailed in what the composer expects the listener to hear and feel, I often become frustrated.  Ultimately, if I don’t “hear” the work exactly as the composer describes, I find myself struggling to simply accept what I am hearing without critiquing the composer’s intention.

This is even more difficult when the composer seems to have generated their program notes with the help of this.  (Go to enough new music concerts, and you’ll see these are not so far-fetched.)  I am simultaneously amazed and disheartened when I read a program note that reads almost like a page from my brother’s doctoral thesis on aeronautical engineering.

The manner in which composers present themselves and represent their works is what a potential commissioner has available to make their judgment.  While it would be nice to think they will go to every single composer’s site and listen to most of their catalog of music, it’s not practically feasible, especially when the applicant pool is very large.  But while you are reading through your proposals, sifting through the descriptions that range from mind-numbingly technical to vague, generic “oooh, pick me” pleas, I encourage you to keep in mind a couple of things.  First, I express myself and my soul in music because that’s a better, truer view of me than anything I could say in words.  And second, the ability to construct or deconstruct a work of art in a scientific manner doesn’t make it inherently better, or more solid, or more groundbreaking.  It’s whether it touches your soul that matters.

Because “writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”

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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!”

A Kickstarter Summary

It’s official.  My Kickstarter campaign did not get funded.

Needless to say, I’m disappointed.  And poorer in the end, of course, since I’ll be paying for it all myself now.  But what I really am is incredibly disheartened.

I realize I’ve never been a social guru.  I was never part of the “popular” crowd in school.  I don’t post my breakfast, lunch, dinner, random bathroom thoughts and such on social media every day.  Nevertheless, I saw myself as generally well-liked and relatively well-connected.  Apparently, though, my connections don’t translate effectively into crowdsourcing.

Before I go any further, I want to give a very big thank you to everyone who did back me.  Your support – and more importantly, your belief in my music – means a great deal to me.

And that’s what I am holding onto right now.  The knowledge that I have friends and family who really do believe in me, and are willing to support me as best they can.

But you know what’s really disheartening?

This.

Some guy jokingly asks for $10 to make potato salad, and winds up with over $55,000 in his pocket.  That’s more than I made in a year at my last full-time job.

Potato salad, for $*&#()@ sake!

I tried to raise just a tenth of that – to pay for recording, mastering, production, distribution, and TWO live performances – and couldn’t even break $1,500.

I won’t get into a discussion of what makes a crowdsourced project “funding-worthy,” because that’s the whole point of crowdsourcing, right?  The public picks and chooses what they want to support.  If they want to pay for someone’s potato salad, or pirate pancake skillet, or meat soap, more power to ‘em.  And statistically, only 44% of Kickstarter projects get funded, so it’s not as though I’m in the minority.

I think sometimes, though, folks lose perspective on what they’re being asked to fund.  You know, every project up on Kickstarter is required to produce something tangible, in my case, a CD and a live performance experience.  Backers aren’t buying my groceries or paying my rent, they are buying my music.  Whether it’s a digital download, or a CD purchase, it is a tangible, real product, with significant, quantifiable costs.  So maybe the folks who pledged $110 for potato salad could have knocked it down to $100, and backed my project for the other 10 bucks.  Then they could have listened to my piece while they snacked on their bite of potato salad.

In reality, though, the broader issue is even more complicated.  When my friend, Ovidiu, put out his Kickstarter to fund a recording of the complete Bach ‘cello Suites (with PARMA as well), he raised over $8,000, pretty handily.  My project included him as a performer, and PARMA as a partner – and tanked.  So what did his Bach CD have in common with potato salad?

People know what they’re getting.

People know what potato salad should taste like.  And people know what the Bach ‘cello suites should sound like.  And they already know whether they like these things or not.

But new classical music?  That requires . . . courage.  It requires the listener to be willing to take a chance that they will like what they hear.  Or maybe not.  And it’s that “maybe not” part that keeps people away.  That makes people decide that they “don’t like” new music, without even listening to it.  Better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t.

Well, maybe not better.  But certainly easier.

Which presents me with a challenge.  Tempting though it is to just sit around, disheartened and disappointed, it’s not going to be very helpful.  No, I need to rise to the challenge, I need to find creative ways to disseminate my music to a broader audience, and hopefully encourage people to open their ears and their hearts and – potentially – their wallets.

Because I would like to be able to truly say that I make a living as a full-time composer.  Maybe it’s a pipe dream in the current day and age, but I want to at least try.

Wish me luck.