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!

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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!

On New Year’s Eve

Here we are at the end of yet another year.  It seems 2014 has flown by so quickly!  But it’s been a good year.  If I had to put my feelings at this moment into a single sentence, it would be this:  I had a ton of fun in 2014, and I am looking forward to a busy and very exciting 2015.

A number of years ago, I heard an interview with James Galway.  The interviewer was in a limo with Galway as he traveled to the Hollywood Bowl in preparation for his concert that evening.  What I remember vividly is the sheer joy and excitement in Galway’s voice as he exclaimed, “I still can’t believe I actually get paid to do what I love!”

That pretty much sums up this last year.  Make no mistake – I don’t command the kind of money that Galway gets (not yet!), but I do get paid to do what I love.  Some of the highlights include another residency with the band students at West Genessee Middle School, a collaboration with choreographer Cheryl Wilkins-Mitchell, and pieces on two different CDs, one with Samba Laranja and the other with Trio Casals.  And I’ve been been performing throughout the year as well.

It’s been busy, and it’s been a lot of work, but I have enjoyed every minute.  And it’s given me a running start to kick off 2015!

So, what is coming up in 2015, you ask?  Well, a re-designed website for one, with the ability to purchase either hard copies or downloads of my works.  Plus a couple of confirmed premieres, a residency in yet another school (my 5th one, if you’re counting), and you’ll even have the chance to watch me conduct one of my pieces.

One last bit of news – you’ll be hearing me over the airwaves again!  I have re-joined the team of professionals at WCNY-FM, and began dusting the cobwebs off my broadcasting skills just this week.  I’ll be on the air occasionally, doing fill-ins so those wonderful hosts have the opportunity to take a well-deserved break now and then.  I always enjoy spending time with the Classic FM listeners.

In case you want to keep up on the increasingly busy happenings around here, you’ve got a few options:

I’ll keep you updated with all the exciting things happening in 2015!

Before I go, let me give you my heart-felt wish for your new year to be filled with music and joy, as well as the chance to spend some time doing what you love.

Have a happy, healthy new year, everyone!

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!”

Rethinking the “Woman Composer” Label

Early last year, I wrote about being a “woman composer,” and what that meant to me.  I recognize that part of my viewpoint stems from my upbringing.  I’m the only girl in a family of 5 kids, and the expectations for me were on a par with the expectations for my brothers.  It was the value of my work that mattered, not my gender.

This week, I’ve come across two blog entries that are making me revisit this idea.  Kristin Kuster brings us “Taking Off My Pants,” and Amy Beth Kirsten declares that “The ‘Woman Composer’ is Dead.”  I strongly suggest you read both of them, so you can get a clear understanding of the viewpoint of each of these authors.

I’ve tended to shy away from “women-only” or “women-oriented” events and competitions.  As Ms. Kirsten points out, music should be chosen for its excellence, not the gender of the composer (or performer).  I want to be evaluated on a level playing field, and choosing to segregate myself by my gender seems counter-intuitive.

Reading her article further, I applaud her list of composers who “killed” the “woman composer.”  It is an impressive list (and notice how often Jennifer Higdon’s name appears).  Then I looked at a list of Pulitzer-winning composers over the years, and realized that, to my eye at least, women are still quite underrepresented.

On the hand, as Ms. Kuster says in her article, “Any composer’s success — no matter how we each define it — is never, not ever, all about the music.”  So many variables factor into one’s success.  For one, this is a community built on who you know – and who knows you.  In my experience, there are still plenty of people around – men and women – who carry a real gender bias in their dealings with all composers.

I guess what I’m saying is, there is a difference between the utopian view of what should be, and the reality of the world in which we live.

Of course we should be judging, choosing, and programming music based on the quality of the music alone.  In reality, those doing the programming tend to go to a familiar composer’s works first.  It takes a significant investment of time and money – both of which tend to be in short supply – to gather a multitude of unfamiliar works from lesser known (or unknown) composers, then read through each and every one in the hopes of finding an undiscovered diamond.

Another obstacle – and one that is completely gender-neutral, by the way – is access.  Composers have more control over their works by self-publishing, but publicity and distribution of new works becomes more fragmented.  Performers and artistic directors have a lot more places to look for new works, assuming they have more time to search.  Not to mention the uneven quality of the scores and recordings that are available – if you can find them.  Like it or not, it’s still easier to call the big publishing houses and say “what’s new?” and relegate both quality and quality control to them.

Personally, I want my work to be valued on its own merits.  But if I can’t get it heard, you’ll never know if you like it.  What these two articles have made me acknowledge is that, participating in women-centric musical events can give me access to distribution and recordings that I might not otherwise have.  And I’m OK with that now.

We have most certainly made great strides in the last 40 years, as Ms. Kirsten points out.  Frankly, though, that’s very small in proportion to the centuries of Western music composition.  We’ve come a long way, but we also have a long way left to go.