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.

Two Full Time Jobs?

Leaving the corporate world and entering college full-time to learn music composition at 40(-ish) years old was a huge lifestyle change.  And not an easy one.  I knew that working in the arts was not likely to be a highly profitable career move.  At the same time, I knew that music – both composing and performing – was my passion, and I felt compelled to pursue it to the best of my abilities.

That hasn’t been easy.  Part-way through my graduate degree, we had a significant setback in our household income (one of the risks of self-employment).  And when your income is cut in half, I’m sure you’ll understand the temptation to say, “Screw the music degree.  I’m going back to making money.”  Believe me, there was an awful lot of discussion and soul-searching in that challenging year.

At some point during that time, I saw an interview with Penn & Teller.  They – well, mostly Penn Jillette – talked about when they decided to truly make a go of their partnership.  They decided that, from that point on, they would not take any work outside their chosen field.  No unrelated “I’ll do this ‘until’ we start to make it” jobs.  That decision really resonated with me.  Working full-time as an administrator (or whatever) meant my musical ambitions would be at the mercy of the needs of my non-musical job.  So together, my husband and I decided to follow that example.  I would not take a job that was not musically-related, and we would make whatever sacrifices were necessary in order to allow me to pursue my music.

One of the most fun things to come out of that decision has been my role at WCNY-FM, the Classical Music station based here in Syracuse, NY.  For the better part of the last 6 years, I’ve been the “fill-in” host.  I always said I had perhaps the most fun job at the station.  I got to fill in at all hours of the day, weekdays and weekends, and learn how all the other hosts did their programming.  In some ways, it’s like a book editor – you get to know how the personality of each individual host by the idiosyncrasies of their programming.  During that time, I also did a lot of the weekend programming and hosting, which allowed me to explore and share my own sensibilities with our listeners.  Not to mention, I had plenty of flexibility, which allowed me to continue to compose and perform.

Well, starting August 26th, that’s going to change a bit!  Long-time mid-day host Bill Baker has decided to retire.  I’m terribly sad to see him go, as he has been a fixture at WCNY in both Radio and TV for many years.  BUT . . . I have been asked to step in as the new mid-day host!  I can’t wait to share my programming with a wider audience, not to mention the opportunity to bring you the Concert Hall (sharing those hosting duties with Bruce Paulsen), and some incredible interviews with the Live at Noon Series (including Matt Haimovitz, the Neave Trio, and Jeffrey Siegel, for starters!)

I must say, though, that before I said “YES!” to this exciting opportunity (and I promise you, it was a big, enthusiastic “YES!”) I took the time to think it through very carefully.  As much fun as it is to work at the station, I am, first and foremost, a full-time composer.  Part-time fill-in work is easy and fun – jump in, chat on the air, and zip home.  The responsibilities of a full-time position require more effort, for sure.  I had to think about what I am willing to give up, or not, to do this job.

First and foremost, I cannot give up composing.  That, more than anything, is the second greatest joy in my life (outside of my family).  Nor will I give up performing.  Working with Samba Laranja and the Central New York Flute Choir is waaaaaay too much fun to set aside, not to mention the individual and small group performance opportunities that continue to come my way.  On the other hand, being a host on WCNY-FM gives me the opportunity to immerse myself in an exceptional catalog of classical music every single day, including the newest releases hot off the presses.  Having access to such an incredible array of music, plus the opportunities to meet and converse with outstanding musicians and other professionals in the classical world?  As the commercial says:  PRICELESS!

That’s not to say there won’t be a bit of an adjustment period!  I don’t think I’ll be staying up until 6 or 7 am to work on the newest piece anymore.  (Unless you want to hear me snoring on the air!)  But I am confident that I’ll be able to balance both hosting and composing duties, and still have time to attend some concerts, or for the occasional trip to wine country, or just for some quality time with Dear Hubby and Benson the Dog.

So do me a favor.  Watch my Pet Dragon Music website for monthly updates on my compositional activities (and remember, you can listen to my works and purchase the scores from there as well).  Give me a “Like” on Facebook for more frequent updates on my various activities.  And if you like classical music trivia, follow me on Twitter – I’ll be sending out a daily tweet with an interesting tidbit about the music I’m playing on the radio!

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.

 

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.

The Year So Far

Why so long between posts?  Well, it’s been a busy 2014 so far, and it’s looking to get busier!

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to participate in some great collaborations so far this year.  In March, Rob Bridge and Jennifer Vacanti shared their percussion skills in premiering “Rhythmody” for Vision of Sound.  They gave three performances, accompanying the dancers of Cheryl Wilkins-Mitchell’s studio, and I was fortunate to be there for all of it.

Meanwhile, I had my second opportunity to work with the students at West Genesee Middle School.  Again, I collaborated with the 8th grade band students to compose a brand new work, which they premiered earlier this month.  I have to say, this is one of my favorite collaborations!  Martha Grener, the wonderfully talented band director, is a joy to work with, and she encourages enthusiasm and welcomes all input from her students.  Once again, we left the naming of the work to the students, who revealed the title at the premiere performance.  What a great performance of “The Hour of the Raven.”

I also had the chance to spend quite a bit of time in the studio, working on the next Samba Laranja CD (due out this fall).  My world drumming piece, “Travels,” will be included in this release, and I am very grateful to Josh and Dr. Elisa Dekaney for giving me the opportunity to compose for this ensemble once again.

In the midst of all of this – yet another CD in the works!  Ovidiu Marinescu of Trio Casals contacted me early this year to ask for a new piece.  They are recording a new CD for PARMA Recordings, and my newly composed “Three Songs” will be a part of it!  We are all set for a July recording session, with the CD release and live tour set for next year.  (Ahem – look for my Kickstarter campaign very soon!)

As for the “next thing” – I have several pieces in the works, and will update you on those as time passes.  I am also working on the last few details before offering my works for direct sale on my website.

Get Up And Dance!

Often, when I give you a post about a performance, I’ll include a photo for you.  Especially during Cazenovia Counterpoint.  But not today.  I was far too busy up on stage with my fellow musicians!

Samba Laranja is the Brazilian Ensemble at Syracuse University, and during the school year we have anywhere from 35 to nearly 50 participants.  Over the summer, though, our performances are given by a small but mighty crew of long-term members.  Last night it was myself, Brian Ludwig, Rosie Rion, and Josh and Elisa Dekaney, who lead the ensemble.

We had a perfect night for music!  A gentle breeze blew in off of Cazenovia Lake as an enthusiastic crowd gathered on the lawn.  Everyone was settled in, ready to sit back and let the music wash over them.  Then we started in with the Samba Reggae, and sitting quietly was out of the question!  Everyone started smiling, clapping, and getting up to dance.  (Check out the music on the Samba Laranja MySpace page – you’ll have a hard time sitting still!)  And the dancing hardly stopped all night.  We had couples dancing salsa and samba, kids dancing in groups (with one enthusiastic group joining us on stage for a number), and tons of folks clapping and chair dancing. By the final Samba Funk, we had a line of 25 or 30 folks dancing all over the park.

Also included on the program were some indigenous songs, some Brazilian pop music, and my original choro.  I don’t know that I’ve seen so many people up and dancing at one of these concerts before.  If you were there, I thank you for your incredible enthusiasm and support.  And if not, keep an eye on this website for upcoming performances from both Samba Laranja and Josh Dekaney.  You won’t regret it.

 

Edit:  My friend Steve took some great pics!  Here are a few for you to enjoy:

Samba Laranja Performs

 

The crowd dances to Samba Laranja!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diane, Rosie & Brian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Josh & Elisa

Hi-Ho, The Travelling Life

So, my last week has included the following:

  • Staffing the Society for New Music booth at the Solvay High School Career Fair, (thanks for the company, Paola);
  • A performance by Samba Laranja at Cayuga Community College;
  • Traveling from Central New York to Pennsylvania (just south of Philadelphia) to hear a talented young cellist, Kaylee Black, performing my piece Charm Bracelet at the West Chester University 2nd Annual Festival of Women Composers;
  • Another Samba Laranja performance, this one at the Wynwood of Manlius Assistive Living Center;
  • Attending the world premiere of the new opera Eleanor Roosevelt by Persis Parshall Vehar

Not to mention my regular weekend shifts at WCNY, the ordinary day-to-day routine.  Oh yeah!  Don’t forget about taking time to compose!

Rest assured, I’m not complaining, not for a second.  Being a full-time composer allows me the time to do all of these things, and thoroughly enjoy them.  I get to mingle with incredibly talented performers and composers (thank you again, Persis, for our chat yesterday!), and being able to immerse myself completely in music with so many different audiences and performers keeps the compositional ideas flowing, sometimes faster than I can keep up with them.

So as I sit by the bay window, watching the chickadees busily fussing with their nest in the bright sun, and working on my next piece, I just wanted to take a moment to wish you a happy spring, exciting travels, and music, music, and more music!