New Stuff

I am now a (semi)-published composer! My piece B'rit from 2013 is now available from Murphy Music Press. The great thing about Murphy Music is that they keep the graphic design or "look" of the score and parts instead of what most (band) publishers do which is slap a corny stock photo of musical instruments on the cover. I do wish they put more information about the piece on their website BUT you can read more information about the piece here

On the topic of stuff moving, I moved! I'm now in a much larger apartment with plenty of space to put my books and records and miscellany. (That is indeed Morning Joe on the tube...what else?) 

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Two Cents

There is a pretty harsh review out there from John Allison writing for The Telegraph of London. The reviewed person in question is Eric Whitacre, a composer about which I (and apparently John Allison) share particularly strong feelings. The concert functioned as a sort of "Eric Whitacre and Friends" type of mixtape concert featuring Jonathan Newman, Gershwin, Copland, and a heaping helping of Eric Whitacre, the man himself. One of my problems with Eric Whitacre is the way in which he deems a piece "new". The BBC Proms program which was conducted by Whitacre contained four Eric Whitacre pieces, two of which exist in other versions than the one presented at the Proms. In a similar vain, the Minnesota Orchestra put on an "Eric Whitacre and Friends" concert in May which consisted of three Whitacre pieces, two of which where premieres of new versions. So here is the process of a new version of a Whitacre piece; let's take arguably his most well known work Lux Aurumque. The piece was commissioned for SATB, then transcribed as a new version for TTBB, later a new version for wind ensemble, then a new version for string orchestra, and then finally the newest version for full orchestra. The original version works fine and so does the TTBB version, but after a while, the notion must appear that a single piece cannot work wonderfully for every type of ensemble. I have always felt that more than any other composer Eric Whitacre is a single man industry (Eric Whitacre Inc.™). It feels as though a piece gets written and stretched to its limits by being reworked for every kind of ensemble. I, of course, have no problem with a composer making money and being popular, but the way in which old pieces are put through the mill and come out as a new versions for several kinds of ensembles seems a little like a disingenuous act. (And for God's sake, he has a merchandise section of this store and not for CD's and scores. I'm talking T-SHIRTS! Rightly or wrongly, the dude is a freaking rock star

To address John Allison's review, certain words and phrases were written that are pretty harsh. Referring to Whitacre are a "slick yet hollow package" and describing his new work Deep Field as "sonic paint drying" as well as comparing his new(ish) work Equus to "a well known equine waste product". Pretty rough stuff. And as it happens in 2015, people take to Facebook, Twitter, whatever to post there two cents (mine happens to be this Squarespace website). On my own Facebook New Feed, Travis Cross, director of bands at UCLA, posted in response to the Whitacre review...

"comments by composition students who revel in snarky new-music reviews, because they obviously think themselves too good for work that is created sincerely and loved by thousands of others"

There is nothing wrong with being popular and loved by thousands of others. The other composers represented on Whitacre's BBC program, Copland and Gershwin, were/are wildly popular and each have a catalog of works which have been put into the canon and have/will continue to have long and happy lives. The issue with Eric Whitacre is once again in the BRAND that is Eric Whitacre. Being as popular as Whitacre is, he has had the rare opportunity to travel around the world giving talks about his music. This leads me to my pet peeve with Eric Whitacre which is how he is able to mystify the compositional process. In his talks, Whitacre expands the mystification of composing far beyond the already romanticized notion people have of writing music. His talks closely resemble the stock images one gets Googling the word composing. The room is dimly lit, the composer ponders over the piano for the right notes, and then YES! The piece has been created by some divine spirit channeling through a mere mortal. When giving a talk about Deep Field with the Minnesota Orchestra, Whitacre played several themes from the piece on a keyboard. When describing the first theme, Whitacre says "[this theme] has really deep meaning for me, the top of a Lydian chord. It's something I've been haunted by since I started composing (maybe even before then)." Playing the third theme (La-Ti-Do-Re nothing wrong with simplicity), he describes that "it sounds aspirational. It sounded to me like what I imagined an innocent boy reaching up...endlessly reaching up". *swoon*. Everything seems a little over the top and very mystical. The number of times phrases such as "deeply emotional", "moved to tears", "the music lives deep within my soul"  and so on rise up in his talks reminds me somewhat of televangelists who share their emotions nakedly but seem have a current of manipulation running under the surface. 

In an interview with a local Arizona PBS station, a reporter asked a question which basically boiled down to how commissions work (quote "Do you know if the music is going to be a choral piece or a wind piece or a film score?"). Many composers have been asked this question during interviews and the answer is always something along the lines of 'here is how a commission works'. However, Whitacre answers with "No. I don't always know. I can be quite surprised with where the music goes". It is reminiscent of that moment in the film Yankee Doodle Dandy where George M. Cohan is worrying about the keyboard, trying to find the right notes for the song "Over There". THEN, suddenly it comes to him and he plays the entirety of the song right then and there.

There is nothing wrong with Whitacre's music. Composers find their niche and their sound and very often steal from themselves. Nothing wrong with that. However, I feel as though with this amazing public image Eric Whitacre has (probably the most public figure of classical music next to Dudamel), he is give the audience exactly what they want to hear, not so much with the music, but definitely with how he talks about the music. Many composers give talks like the one Whitacre gave at the Minnesota Orchestra, but those always feel much more genuine and, dare I say it, more humble. Whitacre has a wonderful platform, but the way in which he uses this platform never fails to make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end (and not in the good Whitacre Cluster Chord™ way).

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Off The Presses

So the summer is coming to an end and this one has been particularly busy. A bunch of pieces had to be finished/written this summer whilst traveling from Maine to Tennessee to Washington DC and back again. I've come out on the other side with four (4!) new pieces plus a bizarre work in progress score for a production Sophie Treadwell's Machinal. Four of the five pieces are being performed/premiered this Fall so go out and lend an ear. No audio is up yet, but you can read my rambling program notes to build up anticipation. The fifth piece, Freedom Songs, which was written for the Carnage Middle School Symphonic Band is slated to be premiered in the Spring. 

Also, some good news! My pieces for wind ensemble are now available for purchase THROUGH this website. In both the Contact and the wind ensemble pages, there is a direct link to the "store" where you can buy scores and parts. It works just like Amazon now; enter in the delivery address and payment method and I ZIP the parts to your door (via the wonderful USPS)!

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Copland Baggage

Aaron Copland seems to be one of those composers that inspires composers to start composing. A bunch of my friends who write music have cited Copland's music as a main driving force towards their own realization to start writing music. My own Copland baggage is basically inline with what I just described. I watched an episode of the sadly short lived PBS program Keeping Score which was, in essence, Michael Tilson Thomas's Young (14 and up) People’s Concert. Where Leonard Bernstein was suave, handsome, and an everyman who just happens to be the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, MTT (Michael Tilson Thomas) was a tad awkward and jittery about the musical concepts he was presenting. This is not to say that it was a bad show. I for one liked that Keeping Score went much more in-depth about a single piece of music for the hour rather than the three or four pieces in the Young People’s Concerts which were, by definition, for young people. 

There was an episode of Keeping Score which dealt with the music of Aaron Copland. Since the death of Bernstein, MTT along with Leonard Slatkin have taken up the reins on being THE interpreters of Copland’s music. To completely contradict my last paragraph, this was the one (1) episode that covered several pieces over Copland’s career. In a way, one has to cover the entirety of his career because, like Stravinsky, Copland’s music changed dramatically several times but always kept something that could be described as Coplandesque (compare/look at the Orchestral Variations to Quiet City to Connotations for Orchestra). I watched this episode when I was 14 (+/- a year) and instantly became obsessed with Copland. I ran out to Barnes and Noble and bought the Bernstein w/ NY Phil Copland Album because that’s where one had to go to purchase a physical CD (re: my post from June about being a pain in the ass about digital downloads). 

The problem with first loves (in terms of music, books, movies, etc.) is that we toss them aside as passé once we find something more complex or more mature or more generally interesting. When I was middle school aged, I saw Forest Gump on T.V. and it instantly became my favorite film. It was long, it won some Oscars, it had some deep subject matter, it had historical elements I recognized. In short, I felt as though I had found my mature intellectualism by watching and enjoying a lengthy, emotional film. As I got older, I found that there were a bunch of other movies that do the same thing and they did it better. Forest Gump is no longer interesting. This same situation happened with Copland. His music is sooo easy to grasp and it’s even played at Summer Pops concerts (the bain of the classical universe). People like Elliott Carter are composing at the same time as Copland and Carter’s music is something I can learn from. Copland is no longer interesting. 

Jump to the day after the recording of 1491, a piece I wrote for the Atlantic Music Festival. I got a call from a friend who had just listened to the piece who started the conversation off with “I can really hear your Copland influence in the opening section”. Stream of consciousness: 

    What? Aaron Copland? I’m trying to be the musical equivalent of Joyce or David Foster Wallace and you say See Spot Run? Is my music is open 5th with some melodic material thrown in?! Wait. I liked Copland. That’s actually some good music. Is my Copland influence so deep that I just have it with out consciously thinking about it? 

                (Total thought time: 2 secs.) 

Right then and there, I realized how important Copland was important to me. 

Last night, I sat down and listened to Appalachian Spring. I just recently bought a new turntable and stereo and thoroughly enjoyed listening to some populist Copland. Even though Billy the Kid, Rodeo, Quiet City, the symphonies, and Appalachian Spring may not be as harmonically and rhythmically complex as the music of Carter, it is brilliantly structured and orchestrated as well as some great contrapuntal examples thrown in as well.  To make this rambling a little more universal and coherent, I think people need to become aware of early influences and embrace them. I grew up on the American Songbook and Broadway musicals and even though my music does not naturally function in those mediums, that music undoubtedly laid the ground work for every influence that came after. Like it or not, the early obsessions in our lives pave the way towards our current and future interests, careers, and hobbies. The specifics of which early influences in particular guide our interests are not so clear, but they are ever present subconsciously. This wrap-up seems a little too Danny Tanner sitting on the bed giving life advice to his daughters. So be it. Let’s grab some burgers and a milkshake, kids. What do ya say? 

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Food for Thought

Two days ago, in the opinion section of the New York Times, there was a beautifully written essay from the British neurologist Oliver Sacks. This is, in a way, a companion to his first essay written in February about his diagnosis of terminal cancer. I'm not going to write too much about the op-ed itself because Dr. Sacks does a much better job articulating his own feelings than I do. However, I will say that these two essays look at death with a universal, secular, and most importantly hopeful perspective. It looks at the everyday beauties in life and how to grasp and acknowledge these moments. Needless to say, the acknowledging is the most difficult aspect to fully realize on a day by day basis. Reading these op-ed's do reaffirm how to go about the day (singular) and will, with time, change how I at least see the world long term. (which is why I have them printed and posted on the wall above my computer).         

link to article (July 24, 2015) 

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