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.



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!

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.

Many Thanks for a Great Premiere!

The West Genesee Middle School 8th Grade Band had their concert last night (combined with the WG High School Symphonic Band).  Wow Oh Wow!  The students did a fantastic job with the premiere!

This has been a challenge for them.  In order for them to get a clear idea of the composition process, they had several versions of the piece to read through and work on before the final product.  And when you factor in missing rehearsals for snow days (Syracuse had it’s 4th snowiest season this year, winning the Golden Snowball Award for the 9th year in a row), these students had to step up like the pros do, and learn quickly.

And learn they did.  They came through with flying colors, and the comments from parents and visiting musicians were enthusiastic and positive.

As I mentioned before, the titling of the piece was left to the students, and they announced the title last night.  The story behind the piece is an ordinary day in the life of any one of the students.  Suddenly, a disaster strikes, and everything collapses around them.  But slowly people emerge, and join together once again to rebuild.  (A prescient story, considering the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan.)

The students decided to title the work Doomsday, and went on to dedicate the work and the concert to the people of Japan as they work towards recovery.  In talking to the band director after the concert, I learned that it was entirely the students’ idea to make that dedication.  She was very moved when they brought the idea to her.

So I leave you with the following:

To the parents of these young musicians:  Be proud of your children, not only for the work they have done in creating and performing this piece, but in their consideration for the well-being of other world citizens.

To Mrs. Grener, the WGMS 8th Grade Band Director:  Thank you for the opportunity to work with you and your students.  My heart warms every time I walk into your band room and I am greeted with such enthusiasm and joy.

Finally, to the students Musicians of the West Genesee Middle School 8th Grade Band:  Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you . . . for a wonderful, well-constructed story, fantastic ideas to write about, and a great performance.  You should all be very proud!


Another Premiere! And the title is . . .

Something is happening tomorrow that hasn’t happened to me before.  The West Genesee Middle School Band is premiering a new piece, one that I’ve been working on with them throughout the school year.

If you check out some of my older posts (here and here) you’ll get some idea of the fun we’ve had so far.  And it all culminates in the premiere on Tuesday night!  Yes, I’ve had premieres before, and even premieres by a middle school band.  So what makes this time so different?

This time, I don’t know the title.  Honestly, I have no idea.

When we first started meeting, the students came up with the storyline for the piece, and I’ve worked with the students and their director to bring it to its final form.  I’ve heard a couple of rehearsals, and (despite missing time for some snow days), the band is sounding very good.  And since the storyline for the piece was given to me by the members of the band, it seemed only fitting that they should get to name the piece.

So, tomorrow night, at the concert, the students will announce the name of their world premiere work, and I’ll find out what it is at the same time as the rest of the audience.

How cool is that!?!  It’s definitely a first for me, and I can’t wait to find out!

Squee! – Why we need Arts in the Schools

If you read my earlier post or my website, you know that I’m working with the 8th grade band at a local middle school.  It has been an absolute joy!  The band director has been wonderfully communicative, giving me great feedback on each revision of the score to be sure it is just right for her students.  She and I are absolutely committed to making this a great experience for the entire group.  The students have the final revision in their hands and are rehearsing right now.

What thrills me the most, however, is the incredible enthusiasm of these young musicians.  At the last rehearsal I attended, one of the students entered the room at the start of class, saw I was there, let out a squee of joy, and ran to get her instrument.  What a welcome!  They began to read the piece, and got more and more excited with the new revisions.  “Oh, how cool!”  “I’ve got chills!”  “This is neat!”  Comments that made my day.

We also have a very special treat lined up for the concert.  Several musicians from the Society for New Music will be performing, and then will join the students in their world premiere performance.

Because music isn’t just the “extra class” you take in school.  Music is an integral part of our lives.  Not only for those who make it their careers, but for everyone who listens, who attends concerts, who encourages their own children and grandchildren to participate.

More importantly, we need arts in the schools because it gives students the chance to have a “Squee!” moment.

Music On The Wall

A while ago, I tossed out a quick sentence about putting some music “up on the wall.”  I promised that I would give you a post to let you know just what that meant – and here it is!

Every composer is unique, and each has their own preferred way of working.  I can’t tell you how others work, or what you “should” (or worse, “must”) do in order to bring your ideas to life.  All I can tell you is what works for me.  And here it is:

The Process of Composition

Yes, those scribbles mean something to me!

Pretty much every piece I write winds up tacked up onto a wall.  Several times, in several versions, as a matter of fact.  By laying out the entire piece on a big, blank surface, I can literally step back and take a look at the entire piece, from beginning to end, and have a much clearer idea of how it is progressing.

Usually the first thing that goes “up on the wall” is a long, blank page (or several pages, more often than not.)  And across those pages, I draw a horizontal line.  This marks the piece, from beginning to end.  Then I put up a few vertical hash marks, so I can easily keep track of various points (usually quarters or thirds).  Timing doesn’t matter just yet – the piece will keep its proportion, no matter the length.  Then, I scribble.  Do I think the piece should rise from beginning to end?  Or rise and fall . . . and rise again?  Sometimes, the piece even looks like a fish (stop laughing!)  It’s never a pretty sketch.  If it were, I’d be a painter, not a composer.  But it’s good enough for me to understand what I’m striving to achieve.

That sketch stays up on the wall while I’m actually composing and notating.  The final piece doesn’t always match the initial sketch, but having it where I can see it helps me to stay focused.

Just as important as that cheesy line sketch (at least, to me) is periodically putting the actual score up on the wall.  It is far too easy for me to get caught up in a very small part of the score, whether it is hand written, or notated in a software program.  Sitting at a table, or staring at a computer screen, I can only see a limited number of bars, or at best, a few pages.  Anything out of my sight has to be tracked through memory, which can sometimes play tricks.  I think I’ve overdone something that I could really still expand.  Or I put “this” closer to “that” without realizing it.

By spreading the score out, and looking at it as a whole, I can see the ebb and flow of the score.  Places that are dense and busy stand out dramatically, as do very open spaces.  More often than not, the basic shape of the score mirrors the line sketch.  (Yes, I know the picture contradicts that, but it’s just bits and pieces I put up for an example, not a complete piece).  Then I grab the colored pencil, scribble some cryptic notes on the score that are probably incomprehensible to anyone but me, and start revising the score, adding a bit here, thinning a bit there, tossing it back up on the wall for another look.

How many times does a piece go on the wall?  As many as it takes.  No, I’m not trying to be snippy.  Each piece has a life of its own.  Some go together quickly and easily, and others are a long, hard road.  More importantly, I don’t try to force a piece to fit a certain way, simply because my first sketch went “there.”  Just as a sculptor chisels away at the stone until the “figure within” is revealed, music takes on a life of its own, and I do my best to follow where it leads me.