Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Katy Perry Vacuum

Sometimes I really love being out of the pop-culture loop for a while, because I'll hear a song that is kind of catchy and cute, and wonder who it is, and it turns out to be some huge sensation of six months ago that I completely missed. The good thing of ignoring some trends is being able to find music amusing without being supersaturated by it everywhere. Cases in point: most of Katy Perry's existence, and cover songs from Glee. I'm thinking to myself, this is kind of a fun arrangement! Or, neato, this song sounds like a good summer song, one-song dance party time! But really, that song happened way back in May, and it's almost October. Or it happened in May of 2010 and I really missed it. I was probably on a glacier somewhere, not knowing a thing about new music besides Icelandic jazz and Eurovision. Still not really that bothered. There's always the youtubes.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday, September 16, 2011

S, M, L, XL schools

I realized the other day that I have attended four universities, all of different sizes! Small, medium, large, and extra large. And here are some size-queen thoughts about college.

Small schools like my undergrad are so great. For me at least, I like the homey feeling where most everyone you need to know, knows you back, and you get personal attention. I know it's not for everybody, but I highly recommend a small-school experience. Vassar was a great school for this. It was an arboretum, it had teeny-tiny teacher-student ratios, and on-campus housing all four years. It's also a bubble, for better or worse- sheltering students so they can learn, but then again they never get out into the surrounding community unless they really make the effort.

While at Vassar I took a semester in Edinburgh, Scotland, and studied some music at their 'state' university there. I'd call this a large school, as I never saw most other departments and felt pretty anonymous, but then I was also plopped down in a foreign country so I felt generally anonymous. Payment for class was somehow done the same way since the middle ages, where basically every single student in the university formed a giant thousand-plus person queue to hand one lady a check or a credit card. However, there was something redeeming about a university within the urban setting, you could just walk outside the music building to a café next door! And my 'meal plan' was more than generous in the nearby cafeteria, so I was able to feed some homeless people on my extra lunches.

Moving right along, I went to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, which is more like a Large School but feels like a Medium School. It was relatively self-contained, but the music/arts building was grand and I felt very important being able to learn there. The spaces I worked in and had class were also small and kept to few students, so it maintained a medium-size environment. Though I can't say the same thing for their bigger departments like computer science, where I don't know if I'd ever meet all the students in my own department.

Currently I'm in Boulder, Colorado, whose university is like the destructive goatweed that someone thought was a good idea to plant along the highway. The university is a giant-XL-supersized megalomaniac and taking over everything in its path. During some football games, there are so many people and cars and bicycles that the streets are closed and the libraries close, and I avoid campus altogether. It is almost too big to walk across (though you could do it, if you had all afternoon) and there are bus routes that cut through the campuses. I don't think I'll ever step foot in 95% of the buildings there. During the first weeks of school, the university bookstore set up temporary cash registers and a queue for book pick-up; there were 35 cashout stalls to be corralled into. But the pros of this 30K student body are in the infrastructure of the campus; there are tried-and-tested plans for transportation, dining, electronic systems that really do work for people's benefit and efficiency. I get emails for every book i check out from the library. And each department is sort of its own separate entity; I almost forget that I am not just at the College of Music but part of this city of students. Comforting as well is while many of the other students at CU are here basically just to ski and snowboard, and 'oh wait, I guess I have to take this quiz ugh'; the music students are as hard-working as ever, and are more likely than my tiny undergrad to escape out of the safe walls of campus and into the big world. And once they get out into town, they find conveniently close to campus boundaries: the marijuana dispensaries.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Orchestral recordings of works

My man Nico Muhly has a great entry on the impossibility of getting recordings from orchestras who have played composer's works. For all the composers I know out there, I know they have experienced the same frustrations! Check it out at http://nicomuhly.com/news/2011/i-want-to-get-specific/.
I had a similar experience when the Pittsburgh Symphony did a reading of my work for orchestra, Lake Mývatn. The result of the reading was that I learned a lot, but there was no possibility to take a recording home with me to share with my parents, to discuss with the other composers, or to learn from it.

The catch with the Pittsburgh Symphony is an ironic one- they make a high-quality recording of the reading session that you can go to the administrative offices and listen to, but they will not let a reading session of this nature out into the public for any means, no copies made, etc. I sort of wanted to drag my whole composition seminar to this tiny listening station and make the staff really annoyed at us all standing around listening to my piece one by one. But it's not the admin staff's fault. Like Nico said, and others have commented on, the musicians' union that creates these strongholds on music dissemination does it for the musicians' own good, and sooner or later something will/should/must change, we just have to figure out how to do it and how to make a compromise with larger rule-making organizations that govern orchestras.
Much like other composers, I'm less interested in the orchestra world now and all of its bureacraZy and more focused on writing music for real people in real places and listened to in a non-cutthroat setting. I have little desire to have my works scoffed at or eye-rolled by 60 professional musicians, some of whom care a lot about my work, but some who'd rather never play a note of music that was written after 1905.

Now that I'm a few years and projects beyond my first work for orchestra, I can evaluate what I got out of the project. I had two performances of the piece, the professional playing and the student-orchestra performance. Interestingly, probably due to more rehearsal time, the student version of my piece actually had a lot more heart, and it was the one I enjoyed hearing more. Technically imperfect, a little under tempo, but very colorful.

The Pittsburgh Symphony's version was technically precise, but a bit cold. I could set that aside and listen to the professionals play the music. But then something went horribly awry during the 'performance' of the piece. During my reading, some of the members of the double-bass section had some kind of tiff going with the composer in residence or the conductor at the time, and basically ignored his direction for 'just slightly louder than ppp' and instead played fff. This pissed the conductor (and the composer) off, and they had to stop the piece mid-performance. Then the conductor basically told the bass section they were acting like children, scolded them, gave a big sigh, and the piece started again, but lost its magic, its continuity. Still, polite golf applause at the end for a good work.

When you are a professional player, you are getting paid for playing. I expect you to treat me with some dignity as I am a lowly student who won a competition, I am a good composer! And I have my year's worth of work on the line, being played just 1.5 times for about fifteen minutes, and that's my prize. Oh, and I do get some snacks afterward, thank goodness because I was about to pass out from nervous anxiety.

I do not appreciate having my hard work being taken so lightly that performers would purposefully mis-play the music and the conductor has to stop and scold them. As much as I think the PSO is one of the best orchestras I've heard, I haven't forgotten that about that moment, and how angry I felt. Thankfully that was one hair-pulling experience around a slew of other chamber music performances that were so personal, so cared-for by the performers, that I mostly remember only the best moments. I've heard the PSO play other students' works nearly flawlessly and think sometimes, why did that moment have to happen to me? But it seems pretty inconsequential in the scope of other works and recognitions (hello, year in Iceland) that I've gotten since.

That is my rant about orchestral bureaucracy, better left for its own post and not in Nico's comment section. I'm going to go work on my percussion quartet now.

Friday, September 02, 2011

The Origin of the Sun and Moon is here!

After much hard work and anticipation, my second album (actually my first solo album, the first was a duo album) has just arrived! The Origin of the Sun and Moon was written in Iceland this past year on a Fulbright Fellowship. The album is a collaboration with Mark Mangini, a writer and poet from Pittsburgh, PA. Mark sent me texts that I would use for musical inspiration, and then I sent him back sonic responses. He'd send me more text in response to that music; this went back and forth for the whole year. The album is a document of our working process as well as a diary of my year in Iceland, sounds and music I recorded on my travels, and helpful and inspiring people I met throughout the year. There are 11 tracks (well, possibly more...if you buy or download it there is definitely a surprise at the end!) and beautiful photography throughout, and Mark's texts for each piece really shine. It's crazy to see all the albums in one box, lined up together!

You can buy securely and easily online from my website HERE in regular CD format, digital download, or a fancy limited edition. You can listen to all the music online before you buy.

Or, you can even send me an email and we'll do it the old-fashioned way involving checks, mailing addresses, and homing pidgeons with tiny leg straps carrying CDs to your open windows. Don't I wish. That method of delivery would definitely be in the limited edition package if I could afford it.

At the very least, do go and 'like' my bandcamp page, which posts to your facebook.

Hope you like the music!