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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Mild Hoarding

I read an article recently that reported that last year, the top selling new classical album sold 189 copies...in total. Hilary Hahn, a classical superstar (as far as I'm concerned), didn't even break 100 in 2014. Now, I'm not going to hop on the "classical music is dying and here are the stats" bandwagon which, quite frankly, annoys the hell out of both myself and most of my friends. Essentially, everything I have been interested in my whole life has been on the verge of extinction according to the media and, believe it of not, all of it is still around. Miracle of Miracles! Classical music, musical theatre, art, etc. will never get to the level of main stream as a Taylor Swift or Bruno Mars (if that's what the kids are listening to) and to worry and fret over that is honestly a waist of time. Of course, the classical music world wants to get more people involved but it surely is not dying by any means. 

However, I will admit that there is a problem with classical music sales. I for one cannot remember the last time I actually BOUGHT a new album. I either buy used (80%) or download new stuff from my friends via the beauty of the Mac's AirDrop or Dropbox (20%). There is something ethically kind of off about five or six composers at a music festival sitting in a circle with their Macs open, sharing this and that for hours. However, I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy getting the John Adams Earbox (10 disc set) for free from across the composer powwow. Believe me, I would LOVE to purchase everything that's new on iTunes. This new recording of the New York Philharmonic doing the complete concertos and symphonies of Carl Nielsen is on point, but at $27.99 on iTunes (and $64.99 for a physical copy on Amazon), I just can't put that kind of money down. Call me cheap. Maybe new classical albums are like those Cambridge Companion Guides; very few people will buy it, but there is a niche market that will, so the price has to go up to meet some kind of supply and demand. (credit to my business professor father).  

This last February, my Mac got stolen which, for any millennial composer, is probably the worst thing that can happen. Besides recovering all my works but also losing some very important documents etc etc... I lost all of my iTunes music. It made me realize very quickly how ephemeral these music downloads are. My fear is that I (we) are building up these massive digital libraries that, in a decade, will turn out to be the 8-track of our generation. Something new will come along and POOF, our extensive music library is useless. Since February, I have done a lot more purchasing and collecting of used records and CD's. I think of these as relatively cheap insurance for my digital library. The music I want to OWN, I purchase on either CD or vinyl and the stuff I just want to peruse or take a musical gander at, I download from friends. Because of  this new collecting, I have some serious (maybe rare) finds! Really old John Adams records (like Shaker Loops sextet version), a couple Elliott Carter records, big Stravinsky box sets, etc. 

With this collecting, there is also a rather corny sense of musical lineage? For instance, I feel as though the person who sold their old Elliott Carter records in South Eastern Maine is 
A) a person I need to meet and have some serious conversation with... 
B) has loved and cared for this item and has now, in a way, passed it down to me. 
I feel it is now my responsibly to take care of this so that it will be passed to someone else in the future. It's kind of a beautiful thing.  

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Letter Writing

Steven Stucky, one of my favorite living composers, once said during a pre-concert talk (and I will paraphrase) that "we are never more stupid then when we are young and know everything." I have had the great fortune over the years to say a lot of radically stupid things around very intelligent people. I still manage to still put my foot in my mouth from time to time and always end up learning something after being promptly told I’m an idiot. For instance, telling a room full of my musician friends that Brahms and Tchaikovsky were probably the two worst composers was a pretty terrible thing to say (I will note that I was 17). I then dug deeper by saying that the two periods in music that really mattered were the Baroque and Modern. Once again, reference Dr. Stucky's quote above. Telling a bunch of young musicians whose main repertoire consists of the time in between the Baroque and Modern periods that their repertoire was essentially not important was plain stupid. After soon realizing what I moron I was, I made a point to listen to as much music as possible and not to simply dismiss something on the basis of the first 45 seconds of the piece. 

A few years later, I am happy to report that this experiment of sorts has worked and I think I'm better for nippin' it in the bud as early as I did. Learning the difference between something being good but not quite for me and just plain bad music has helped me discover loads of new stuff I never imagined I would enjoy. Now I must settle my relationship with Johannes (Brahms). The calumniation, as it is, with this relationship is my new piece Letter Writing that I am currently working on for clarinet Ian McKenzie. The work was commissioned to go along side the Brahms 2nd Clarinet Sonata, a work that even in my rebellious anti-Brahms phase was something I still took great inspiration from. 

I love writing pieces in the presence of other pieces. That is to say, creating a piece that will pair well with something classic gives me just enough room to be creative but with enough constraints to make the creativity possible. New music really can’t exist without some sort of influence from the past. Anyone that is, by their own definition, “free from influence” is lying. The way in which I extract raw musical materials from an older piece is by essentially taking great liberties with it. Charles Ives was a pretty intense example of somebody who really ripped apart the classical/Americana canon. The result can range from something humorous (finale of the Second Symphony) or moving (The Alcotts from the Concord Sonata) or meditative (Fourth Symphony). I don’t believe I go as far as Ives in my expansions or elaborations of preexisting music but I take influence of how he explores older music.

Letter Writing takes raw materials from both Brahms and Schumann. The title itself has to do with how this music is, in a way, in correspondence. The first third of the piece deals with Brahms by being rooted in strict, typical 19th century piano accompaniment and quotes bits of Brahms Fourth Symphony. The final third of the piece looks further back, by only a couple years, to Schumann and how his music laid influence for Brahms. I guess that this line of influence of musical correspondence ends with me, being the much lesser of the first two composers. In a way, it is incredibly humbling to work with the music of older composers. There is so much to learn from veteran composers, but that only happens after ending a young and stupid but knows everything phase. I think that phase is over, but I know ten years from now I will still look back at my young and stupid twenties. 

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