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!


Funding New Music

This Kickstarter campaign for my Three Songs recording and performance has me thinking a LOT about money recently.  (Surprised?  Didn’t think so.)  As of this post, I have 23 backers, and I truly can’t thank them enough for showing their support and belief in this project.

I’ve also had LOTS of folks sharing, and talking, and giving me moral support.  Which is appreciated.  But what I need is backers.

If every backer pledged $25 – that’s another 168 backers.

With 6 days to go.

That’s a pretty big climb.

I’m not discouraged.  I have faith that people really do want to hear new classical music, live and recorded.  And I’m trying every way I can think of to spread the word.  (Short of hiring a skywriter – if I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t be asking you to pitch in, would I?)

It has forced me to think more creatively, though.  Not only about this CD project, but about marketing myself in general.  Because composers (like so many artists) are earning less and less through their music.  According to this article, “composers are producing more for less money, while also having to find other means of generating a significant income.”

I’ve been brainstorming, trying to come up with creative ways to combat that.  And you’ll see more things here, and on my website and Facebook pages, as I work on getting more music out there.

But for now – and the rest of this week – I’ll be focusing on my CD release.  And asking you to help.

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.

Welcoming the New Year

Like so many others do at this time of year, I am taking some time to reflect back on the last 12 months, and to look ahead to the coming months and years.  I have to say that, despite a few shortcomings, I am pleased with 2013, and very excited about 2014.

Admittedly, this whole “Thirteen in ’13” thing didn’t pan out quite the way I had planned.  I am truly disappointed that I haven’t given you 13 completed works over the course of the year.  That being said, it doesn’t mean I haven’t been working.  I’ve gone “fishing” a lot, and I have more than 13 sketches of new pieces to work on and flesh out.  (I guess that just means my “Thirteen in ’13” could be considered as “held in a private collection” for the moment.)

Of those finished works, I am especially pleased with Kelly Covert’s performance of “Iago” this past summer.  I describe this as “a short work, in honor of a life cut short,” which I wrote in memory of my late brother (“Iago” is Welsh for “James”).  Kelly gave a beautiful performance, and captured the soul of the work perfectly.

2013 also provided the opportunity to take a few breaths and get “centered” again, as it were.  Y’know how sometimes things just fall perfectly into place?  That’s exactly how I feel tonight.  Composing every day, enjoying time with family, spending time with friends, and performing around the area – as this year draws to a close, I am content in how all of those things have finally come into balance.  As 2014 begins, I feel energized and ready to enjoy boundless opportunities.

And the opportunities are already manifesting.  I have two confirmed premieres for this coming Spring, a couple of collaborative projects, some repeat performances, at least one workshop, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll hear more of my music coming up on a couple of new CDs!

So, as we count down to the midnight hour on this New Year’s eve, I wish you all health, love, happiness, and music to delight you throughout the coming year!

A Great Workshop!

Yesterday afternoon I had the privilege of spending a couple of hours with 9 students enrolled in the visual, theater and dance programs at the Creative Arts Academy here in Syracuse.  Given as part of a Meet the Composer grant I’ve received, it was exciting to spend time with these talented young artists and performers.

We started with some rhythmic moving and clapping, to illustrate just how well we can communicate without using words.  So much of the arts is filled with non-verbal communication, so it is important to think about what we are – or are not – saying with our art.

Much of our time together, however, was spent listening to various pieces (some of mine, but some Mozart, Elgar and Suruí Indian music as well).  We talked at length, but didn’t concern ourselves with what each piece was “about.”  Instead, we focussed on how each piece made us feel, what thoughts or images came to mind as we listened.  We discussed the similarities of the different disciplines, and how everything we did could touch our audiences in unexpected ways.

We also talked briefly about the realities of making a living in the arts.  Most of us for whom art is a full-time job are not making boatloads of money.  We try our best to make a living doing what we love to do, what we are compelled to do.  And those who are dependable, prepared, and deliver on promises made, tend to have the longest careers.  They may not be “famous,” but they become known within arts circles, and are the ones called upon again and again to deliver on what they do so well.

So I send a very big “Thank You” to the students over at the Creative Arts Academy for a great afternoon, and to Tamar Smithers and Kheli Willetts at the Community Folk Art Center, and Neva Pilgrim at the Society for New Music, for setting up this workshop.

If It Serves the Music

I just delivered a piece written for the 2012 Vision of Sound program.  It’s written for violin and piano, and is a fairly sparse work.  Choreographer Cheryl Wilkins-Mitchell has been listening to it, and is incredibly enthusiastic.  I can’t wait to see how she brings it to life with dance.

But this piece got me to thinking about how contemporary classical music is (sometimes) evaluated.

I hear a lot of works that are incredibly complex, that nearly overwhelm both performer and listener with the technical gymnastics the composer requires.  I know of at least one performer who has sworn never to take on another piece that a particular young composer* writes, because those pieces are literally impossible to play.  Some composers seem to pull the extended technique book for an instrument off of their shelf, open it up, and say, “Oooh, I have to do this!  And this looks neat!  And wow!  I’ve gotta try that!”  The piece becomes a jumbled mess of random techniques, rather than a cohesive work.

Most of the time, I see this in less experienced composers (usually still in school, or just out of it).  But there are a few established composers who have yet to escape this trap.

I think, too, the value of a work is sometimes inflated if it seems exceptionally difficult to perform.  The harder it is to play, the better it must be.  Especially if it has been commissioned.  The arts are struggling enough – we don’t dare waste our monies on something that sounds too simple, right?

Well, I’m not so sure about that.  I love the things that extended techniques can bring to a piece.  (Just check out Michael Lowenstern.)  Some of my own works (Porch Music and Caged for example) are rife with extended techniques and non-standard notation.  But in these instances, the techniques serve the music.

That is because, in my (not so humble) opinion, what is first and most important is the music.  When I compose, I try to communicate with the performer and the listener.  And like an author who can choose just the right turn of phrase to touch the heart and mind of the reader, finding just the right musical line and sonic framework can move an audience.

Sometimes you need extended techniques to do just that.  Other times, the simplest line is more effective.  Listen to Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im spiegel.  Can you be more simple – or more moving – than that?

I’ve been frustrated on occasion when, at a concert, so-called “experts” practically wet themselves over the cacophonous work that sounds incomprehensible, while brushing aside the lyrical work that was, in their minds, too simple.  Oftentimes, however, the audience members leave the performance talking about how deeply the “simple” piece touched them.

In my mind, all things serve the music.  If a simple, single line with a gentle arpeggio underneath communicates what the composer intended, then that is a successful work.  If extended techniques and electronics are needed, then use them well.  But remember, the music cannot – must not – become subordinate to the technique.

All things serve the music.



* I don’t want to name names here.

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