Thursday, November 29, 2007

America is Listening

This is too strange- I was listening to an a capella version of Paul Simon's song America (sung by the Vassar Devils, if you were curious) and it was the last song on the CD. As I was about to get up and put in another CD, a car zoomed by outside with its windows down and it was blasting the original of the same song. And it was just ending as well. Now, am I crazy, or is this a weird coincidence? They're popular songs, sure, but certainly there's more common things to be playing. Right? Like 'Toxic'. Or 'Hey Ya'. Or everyone's favorite, 'Beer Barrel Polka'.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dawn Upshaw

The world-renowned soprano Dawn Upshaw gave a Master Class to voice students (and others) at CMU this afternoon. Along with insightful comments for the vocalists, like thoughts about diction, phrasing, emotion, and motivation, she also let it be known that she was frustrated with the recital hall's lighting, so we all moved to the recital hall across the hall.
I also really appreciated the fact that Ms. Upshaw stressed the importance of the composer's intentions, that 'we' (being composers) write music for a reason, down to each little slur and hairpin crescendo. She also joked that she just doesn't choose to work with anyone anymore who doesn't have good reasons for the way they write their music. She mentioned in a Q & A that when she prepares for a performance, she'll research the history of the piece (even if it's a tiny art song, let alone her premiers of 4-hour operas), learn about the composer, study the basic harmonic structure of the song, listen to recordings, and translate every word of the text, or write it all out to internalize it, and then ponder how to communicate this work's meaning to the audience. This all happens before she begins to sing one single note.
But most importantly, Ms. Upshaw brought a surprising amount of energy to the room, to the audience, and to the singers baring their all (only to be criticized, and then built back up again). She didn't have to move much, but her voice was eloquent and thoughtful, well-spoken (well, I would hope so), and her body had a certain energy to it when she would illustrate a point that I think only comes from years of loving music and knowing it inside and out. I don't ever want to be in a German diction contest with this woman, either.
On a visual note, I think Ms. U was wearing this same necklace this afternoon as this picture, courtesy of wikipedia. Cue the fashionista voice: Girl, I could make you some jewelry that would pop the eyes out of those grey-haired Met Opera grannies. You jus' gimme a call, mmkay? This one's a little too quiet for you. I'm thinking lots of feathers and baubles as big as your operatic fists. The diva must have the perfect necklace to boot.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving Hand Turkeys

Happy Thanksgiving holiday to those American readers out there. (Happy Thanksgiving wishes to all those who don't have the holiday too! I know it seems like you're missing out but I'm sure Guy Fawkes day and Boxing Day are fun for you too, and I don't do anything special on your holidays.) I'm looking forward to time with my family, friends, and a real piano. Now go trace your hand on a piece of paper as if it were a turkey, or perhaps make it all abstract, with just a hint of beak. Also, be sure to stuff your face full of canned cranberry sauce- those ridges make it taste better somehow.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

These Things, They Are All But(t) Words

I debated whether this would be appropriate for my dear readers. I'm not usually a terrible vulgar person, and I try to keep my posts somewhat educational (a music review here, a collage there) but this idea was too good to pass up, so if you're easily offended, move on.
We all know of the pants with 'PRINCESS' on the butts, or even 'bitch', 'sexy', and others. But I think we could really pump up the volume on this cliched fashion. I just know the corporations could make some big bucks on these ideas for sweatpants/gym shorts letterings, so these are so totally copyright moi. If I see 'The Fact That I Have Words Here is a Feminist Discourse Which Empowers Me' as sewed-on letters to the next Abercrombie pants I'm gonna be furious. (That one's a little hard to read in this image, it's a lot of letters to sew on.) Here are a few ideas for re-envisioned words on the behinds of all the sorority girls you know and love.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

All the New News and Pittsburgh Symphony Reading!

There's been so much new news that has come to be in November, it's almost hard to remember it all. But luckily it's all been good news, and all exciting adventures.
The biggest news is that I finished my orchestra piece, Lake Myvatn. It's about 8 minutes and 20 seconds long (one movement) and 144 measures. A gross of measures, if you will. Not very many, compared to most orchestral pieces, but it does more more slowly. I'm excited to hear all the celeste and crotale sounds, and the intense brass and string sections. The Carnegie-Mellon Philharmonic will be playing it in the Spring.
But in reality, that's not really the biggest news. I thought it was, but then I heard something two days ago. The biggest biggest news is that John Corigliano, the Composer of the Year for the Pittsburgh Symphony's Composer, chose my piece (and 3 other local grad students from surrounding colleges) to be read by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. The PSO is top-notch. And I am so delighted. There won't be a formal concert, but the Symphony will rehearse my piece and ask me questions, and I'll be able to ask them questions, and get feedback about what worked, and what I can do more effectively. I am bummed that my friend Matt didn't get picked- I think he has great ideas and I would have been happy to see him get a reading as well...but it's still good to win. The reading will happen sometime in March. I was expecting the decision sometime around Spring as well, so this came so suddenly. Hooray!

Other news in brief: Pre-Halloween festivities caused Sally and me to dress up and Sally wore My Little Ponies in her hair. I wore teeny tiny shorts and a clip-on tie from 5th grade. I can't believe I hadn't posted this picture yet.It's also an explosion of yellow outside my treehouse door, and more colors of strange neon translucence await me on my walk every day.

Such a shame that the photos don't even do the colors justice, as the remainder of the bright leaves here are quite electrifying, practically enveloping one in a bath of color.

I'm also designing things! The School of Music let me design an invitation for a fancypants piano concert they're giving for the CMU elite, and I also designed three different (and fabulous) graphic posters for the Student Composer's Concert tomorrow night.
I'm taking a Communication Design Fundamentals course next semester, and I'm really excited about learning about design for realz, and not just faking it. Then again, some good ideas come from working with what you've got...
Like taking a spool of wire and some beads from a Claire's bracelet that you found on the ground and combining it with some gaudy chandelier drops and you can have a really fantastic sculptural necklace. I also reclaimed a wool sweater by spray-painting on fleur-de-lis stencils and adding a vintage patch to cover a hole. It sadly did not get accepted into the craft book I entered it into, but I did get it back so I can wear it around. And sew up the holes that I missed the first time. Which makes me wonder why Goodwill missed this one (or a memo to Goodwill: there is a mouse in your building.)

And last but certainly not to be the least, is that I now have a real website!
Check out and listen to some music samples, check out a couple collages, read about me (just not too carefully, the texts still need some editing), and then commission me to write you some music, of course. I do it all! And by all, I just mean some of the artsy fartsy stuff, and no sports at all, and certainly nothing having to do with any real business skills, which hasn't made me any money yet but it does get me all the ladies. And by all the ladies I mean the friends I already had, and we talk about graphic design, the periodic table of elements, and why no one wants to wear my sculptural necklace made of chandelier pendants out in public. In fact, though I've been exceedingly happy about all my design endeavors, I've been steadily losing money. But soon enough, my friends.
Soon enough.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Freaky Friday Marine Life

Oh, to be krill! Says the plankton. Oh, to be plankton! Says the krill. They look pretty despondent. But one day the planets were aligned, and ZAP!
Still no match for that baleen whale!!!
(This was an excuse for me to draw happy cartoon sea organisms. I care not what they look like in real life, so long as they're happy.)

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Furnace men

It is a prerequisite if you are a furnace repairman to have a mullet, and to smoke inside other people's apartments. You must also be able to describe the quality of the titties on all the girls who live in the building.

Concert for Peace

Last night I was invited to play a few of my art songs for the opening concert in a World Peace Conference in Pittsburgh. I was nervous at first as I only knew the organizer, Emily Pinkerton and her husband Patrick. And technically I know them through a friend, so I'm more like a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend. But I was put at ease by the warm applause from the audience. I played a few art songs which normally don't have much of a venue- they're text settings of poems (usually short) and some are pretty melancholic. I also played my recomposition of Fleetwood Mac's 'Don't Stop' and ended with an appropriate Jane Tyson Clement art song. Later at the reception, a man told me that he met Jane Clement 30 years ago! His son now lives at the community where Clement lived. It can be a very small world.
The opening songs were by the folk orchestra from the UU Church in Shadyside, where Emily directs the group in their monthly concert. Highlights included a real live autoharp player, and a guy blowing into a jug. He was really serious about it, so it was effective. Especially in a folk orchestra.
After my set, I had the pleasure of hearing Heather Kropf. She's a singer-songwriter and I listened to her latest album, which is phenomenal! There are a couple stand-out soul and jazz tracks with muted trumpet, which can compete with any major-label artist today. The quality of that recording blows me away. Her piano style is simple yet effective, with hints of jazz and Kate Bush, and she mentioned the Joni Mitchell streak through her poetic lyrics. She even asked me if she could learn two of my songs! How could I say no? Also, how can I get better at writing songs with lyrics that don't blow.
Emily concluded the evening with a few solo nylon-strung guitar songs in Spanish, and a folk music set of banjo, guitar, and bass, all songs she composed. The banjo was so mellow and warm, though, and not the plinkety-plunk banjo I'm used to hearing in bluegrass (which I love in its own right, of course). It smoothed out the songs, which perfectly incorporated Emily's light, Alison-Krauss-y voice into one solid instrument. The pieces in Spanish were a particular highlight for me; I never get to hear nylon-strung guitars, which are incredibly beautiful, and Emily's songs for them brought out her South American influences (and Ph.D. in ethnomusicology) while still keeping her own voice, which sings about 'landscapes as metaphor for human emotion'.
I think that this concert was one of the most memorable things I've heard in Pittsburgh, and I've heard quite a bit so far. Hearing folk music live reminds me that while I'm usually in classical music world all day, there's a huge world out there, full of talent and genuine appreciation for music in all its genres. There are classical musicians who love to get down with their fiddles. Pop musicians who are smart enough to sing about Hestia, the goddess of the hearth. I don't know what I do. Take words and textures and melodies and give them a new life? And how can I not thank an appreciative audience? Perhaps that appreciation for all kinds of musical expression is a small particle of help for world peace. I'm thankful to be a part of that.