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.

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!

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!

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.”

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.