A Week of Thoughts in Three Sondheim Lyrics

1. “Slightly Rearranged”

Tonight is my last night in North Carolina for awhile. North Carolina has been my home for my entire life and functions as the tree trunk to all my 23 years of memories. Besides it’s insane politics, this place currently has and always will have a special place in my heart. Tomorrow morning, I head up to Bloomington Indiana to begin my graduate studies in music composition at Indiana University. I have (and I assume most people have as well) a fear of change. Fear of the domino effect that ensues when one thing changes, fear of losing people, etc. Being in my early twenties, I move around a lot to “further my career” by which I mean to logically move to the next step. From Greensboro for my undergraduate work, to Raleigh for my first public school teaching job, and now to Bloomington for graduate school. I long for the day when I won’t have to think about packing and settle down somewhere. 

Ultimately, my focus gears towards the things that stay the same. Oddly enough, NPR is my consistent through line to making change a little more familiar. Hear me out, being able to hear the Morning Edition theme wake me up and listen to Steve Inskeep read the news while I sip my morning coffee is just enough of the nostalgic bliss I need to feel comfortable in a new environment. Needless to say, without getting too preachy or “The More You Know”-y, the more I move the more I realize that nothing really changes all that much. My family stays the same, my relationships, friendships, etc. Also my Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
 

2. “…But then what if he knew who I am when I know that I'm not what he thinks that he wants?”

As artists, we, for a fact, know our own work better than anyone ever will. We are there from initial conception to birth to adolescence (performance?) and maybe even to death (pulling a work from the catalogue). Each work takes a great deal of emotional and mental work, accessing both the left and right side of the brain to full capacity. This being said, we also know every aspect of the piece that just plain doesn’t work. We know the passages that we finally shrugged off and said “it will be what it will be” and clicked print. Most people (with the exception of a few who won’t admit it) are their own worst critic. 

Since I’ve been writing music, I’ve had this nagging critical voice in my head that of course pokes it’s head out when the writing process is in full swing…but also has begun to show up when I should been happy. Whenever I received any sort of praise or achieved any sort of long/short term goal, I believed it was a fluke or a mistake. In one way or another, it’s that feeling of when you cheat at something on a small or large scale. You get a little panic-y and glance around to see if anyone caught you. In my case, I am waiting for someone to find me after a concert or during a lesson, take me aside, and tell me… ‘I know you don’t have a clue.’ But of course, we know ourselves better than anyone. We know what we struggle with day in and day out. My aural skills are not nearly as strong as my knowledge of music history or theory and to me, that comes through clear as day in my music. I myself know this better than anyone and deep down inside, I’m waiting for someone to hear my music and find out that I indeed don’t deserve to be doing what I’m doing.

My dream and goal in high school was to go to a good graduate school and, now that I am (in my view of things), it is a blessing that is now causing me a great deal of anxiety. It is the answer, or peek of an answer, to the question “what happens when you get what you want”? Is everything really solved once you get the things you want in life? The imposter complex says that when you get what you want…you don’t deserve it. It is difficult to take a step forward when everything tells you to take two steps back. 

It took until this year for me to finally find out that this so-called imposter complex was an actual mental process. It is defined as ‘a concept describing high-achieving individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”’. Even though it feels like a bit of a humble brag to define myself as a ‘high achieving individual’, it helps to know that this is a common thought pattern. I’m not quite sure what this means though…taking this major step is going to happen in a little over 12 hours and I haven’t a clue what’s going to happen. But, as many people have done before me, I’m going to go and work as if I know what I’m doing…because I’m beginning to figure out what I’m doing.

3. “Move On, Stop worrying where you’re going, Move On”

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Movin' On Up

A couple quick updates from LIFE™. 

1. This summer, I will be back at what feels like my home away from home or enlarged Mahler Hut, the Brevard Music Center up in the North Carolina mountains. I'm going back as the composition studio's Teaching Assistant which includes making sure the new music ensemble runs as smoothly as summer festival new music ensembles can...

2. Very excited to head up to Bloomington, Indiana to begin my master's degree in composition this August at Indiana University. For the past 5 years or so, I've had this Clark Kent/Superman relationship to composing. By day, I was teaching (or learning to teach) music at the K-12 level and by night, I was composing with the spare time I had accumulated. These next two years are especially exciting for the simple fact that composing and learning to compose will be my main focus instead of having to juggle it with a bunch of other things.  I've also had this special place in my heart for composers that just seem to be "learned"; John Harbision talking about studying every Bach cantata or Elliott Carter talking about Boulanger's counterpoint lessons. Those stories have always excited me simply because, not formally studying myself, I have immensely looked up to composers (and people from other fields) who have gotten the most out of an education. 

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Everything Old is New Again

This past month, I have had several encounters and interactions with what has become a mythicized subgroup of the concert going population. This special league of individuals are oftenthe topic of much discussion and controversy and whether one speaks to a general manager of a large artistic institution or a young computer music grad student, one will get an ear full of how to handle this clique. I speak, of course, about the aging subscriber; the person that folklore tells us will only enjoy a concert of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony on the second half with Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in D on the first or will settle with either Bohème or Carmen at the opera. This person is politically liberal but “likes things the way they were”. This patron goes to the symphony, opera, or chamber music concert to relax and rewind from the stresses of what I’m only assuming is retirement. This person gets audibly upset and frustrated when the Beethoven and Mendelssohn is preceded with a ten-minute piece from the last half century. In my mind, this person is more rare to find then the artistic planners, general managers, graduate music students, and classical music critics say they are.

Every year around this time the major orchestras, opera houses, and presenting institutions release their new seasons. I am personally one of those people that refreshes the Met website up until noon when the brand spankin’ new productions are announced. This year, and the last few years now that I think about it, there has been this pretty intense discussion about how much new music and how much music by women is being programmed each year. Simply, women composers need to be performed more often. The sad truth is that they are also lumped into the new music category which makes their music that much harder to get on a program. My goal as a current educator is to show equal parts new music and old music as well as music by men and music by women. A first grade girl once told me that girl’s cannot be composers because they aren’t as good as boys. Of course this broke my heart and I essentially tossed out the curriculum that day and spent the class listening to works by women composers and watching concerts with women conductors. Let’s blur the any type of boundary now…

Let me tackle the old vs. new music thing. The critics of “THE (capital THE) ESTABLISHMENT” believe that the people listed above are the problem and are stifling progress. But as a composer who would love a commission, I too would like to hear some dead guy music at the symphony. The music written today is both indebted to and inspired by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and forward. I personally love being on a concert with “THE CANON” than on a new music ghetto of sorts. My music personally feels right in that context and some of my peers music (which I love and have loads of respect for) might work best on a program of all new music. 

A couple months ago, I was at the Met and saw L’amour de loin. It made my heart happy to see/hear three things:

1. The number of young people was insane. They. Were. Everywhere. 

2. The number of people in the house. It was a full house which I had yet to see at the Met over the years.

3. The number of people described above that loved the music and found it MELODIC! Thank God of course it is and that to me is some progress!

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Talking About Dancing

I just wrapped up a six week stint composing at the Brevard Music Center up in the mountains of North Carolina. The program is intense in the sense that one has to write a lot of music in a very short amount of time. I think is is good overall to sort of view composing as both a job in which you have to clock in some hours everyday as well as an artistic discovery process. Of course, "inspiration" doesn't come everyday while working but I feel as though composers have to supplement that void with whatever the compositional equivalent of scales and etudes are (the Piston Counterpoint and Harmony exercises are my go to). Being around instrumentalists who work on fundamentals intensely everyday made me look back at what I do as a composer. I think we as composers need to focus on "craft" more. 

Anyway, I came out of the Brevard experience with two new pieces; Elysian Fields and Nijinsky Dances. The latter of the two was a piece that's been swirling in my mind for awhile now and has a great deal to do with the Music Center itself. After seeing a performance of Stravinsky's Petrushka in 2012, I wanted to write a big ole flashy dance overture. What came out was a piece that starts with a wink wink nudge nudge to Russian overtures that then veers off into a sort of ghostly atmosphere where fragments of famous ballets emerge and disappear. The rest of the piece combines both Russian overture music with quasi pop/rock/modern dance rhythms. There is a great recording of the piece by the Brevard Sinfonia with David Dzubay conducting on the Nijinsky Dances page. 

I will wrap up by saying that the best part about attending these festivals, especially Brevard, is that you get to meet, interact, and work with high caliber composers. I have met so many talented and all around great people here. There are links to many of their websites in the "etc." page of the website. Check out their music and play it!        

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