It's funny how ones attention can be brought to a subject and then suddenly made aware of a wider interest in the issues surrounding it. When this happens one experiences a convergence of scrutiny that perhaps is more illusion than reality. Regardless, this convergence brings a subject to the forefront of your mind.
For me the subject was military bands and it began a few weeks ago when I had a conversation with an acquaintance in the Air Force Band. In brief, I left that conversation with a sense that playing in the AFB was what we call "a sweet gig". Not only does the Air Force keep their musicians well--something akin to a 18th century royal patron--but they also hire composers, arrangers, etc. to write new music for their large variety of bands. Anyway, this man was about my age and was living a great musical life and I was glad for him.
The 'convergence' began yesterday when I heard an article on NPR
about the cost of military bands. This article then revealed a recent debate in the Washington Post, by columnist Walter Pincus
. With Defense Secretary Robert Gates looking for areas to cut in military spending
, military bands are likely targets. The cost of the combined bands runs into the millions of dollars--it's unclear exactly how much. It's also unclear exactly what percentage of military spending goes towards its musical programs.
I think most people will agree that these bands should not be done away with, so I won't bother going down that path. The debate is whether the programs should be cut and by how much. I can't help but feel very defensive because the issue comes down to the fact that once again a musical program is in the awkward position of defending its value to society. I find it sad that music often finds itself on the defense in a country that insists on justifying a thing's existence by its financial contribution to society. I guess that is the nature of capitalism.
Last night I began my new post as pianist for the local jazz band, Swing Memories. It is directed by an 85-year old tenor sax player named "Skeets" who has a personality as lively and pointed as his playing. The group is filled with other musicians across the age spectrum, although I am the youngest. Really, age was irrelevant: they're a fantastic group of musicians and I'm honored to be playing with them. However it's the shoes that I'm filling that humbles me the most. The man I was recruited to replace was 95 years old (!) and had been playing with the band for as long as it had been around (it was formed in the 1980s). I can only imagine how fantastic he was, since I never had the pleasure of meeting him before I took over. Even so I heard lots of great things about him.
Last night I was given a box several inches thick. It was such a big box that I naively asked, "What's in here?" The drummer, a very easy-going guy named Steve laughed and said, "Your music." I was nonplused; I un-did the clasps and slid the lid off and revealed a massive stack of chord charts. This was their repertoire: each piece numbered and indexed from 1 - 2061. If that wasn't enough, Skeets handed me a stack of new pieces that they were going to sight-read that night. Fair enough: I was sight-reading all of it.
Despite this daunting introduction I felt like the rehearsal went well. There were definitely a few times that I really felt in the groove with them. Then there were a few times that I got lost interpreting the hand-written notes of my predecessor, but I always found my way back in the end. They have a great sound and it was a joy to contribute to that sound and slip into their groove like an old shoe (even though I'm a 'new' shoe). What's more is that they were all really friendly and welcoming to me, and they made me feel right at home.
I almost had this one posted last week, but it kept growing and expanding and... well, it's done now and I'm pretty happy with it. I still have other pieces in the pipeline and I'm pretty happy with the pace of my productions. Also I have a second album started, but it's not quite ready to lift the curtain on it. Anyway, there's more stuff coming soon.
On a related note, it's been about five weeks since I started this web site and I really am pleased with the way it's turning out. Thanks to everyone who gave me ideas and comments! And, of course, keep them coming.
Last Thursday Anali and I attended the opening night of the Phoenix Symphony Orchestra's 2010 season. Because of my busy schedule, it had been some time since we've been able to attend concerts regularly. Before I dedicated my life to teaching at BASIS, we attended concerts all the time, including the full PSO and AZ Opera seasons. Then as school duties took over, our attendance dwindled little by little over the years until we were left being lucky to attend just a handful of concerts a year. (And, no, my own concerts didn't count). Now, however, we plan on once again making regular concert attendance a larger part of our lives. We missed it and we're glad it's back.
One of my favorite sensations of concert attendance, especially when watching an orchestra, is the pre-concert warmup. There is a unique aural sensation only found when sitting in an audience and listening to the mixture of the different instruments as they go about their pre-concert routines. Some of them are warming up with scales, some are playing passages from the night's repertoire, and some are simply playing whatever they feel like (that's usually what I do). And, mingled with that quasi-tonal cacophony is the undercurrent of conversation from all of the concert goers. The sound is musical, in its own way.
Then there is the moment when the concert is about to begin and the room is hushed, the lights dim and a calm and stillness settles over the crowd. I love all of this, and years ago I likened the experience to that of going to church. Not only is there something reverential about the setting, but the routine of it is comforting and satisfying.
The end of the concert, too, has it's own routine. People stand, they clap, they cheer (bravo!) and, in general, they show their appreciation to the many people that devoted their time and talents for our pleasure. This is proper and fitting. The musicians expend a great deal of effort in their performance and the audience expends an equal amount of effort in showing their thanks.
Yet, this past Thursday, I saw that there are quite a few people that do not see it that way. They cannot be bothered to applaud, and they made a beeline directly for the exits as soon as the music stopped. Let me clarify--I'm not talking about a few people, but a LOT. What drives them to be so disrespectful? Are they are more concerned with getting to the parking lot to avoid traffic? Are they are more concerned with getting home than with showing their appreciation for what has been accomplished for their pleasure? I guess there is something extremely consumeristic about this; they have paid for a service and once the service is received they feel no obligation to do anything further.
I can see this issue from many angles, but I'm interested in what others have to say. What are your thoughts on concert etiquette? Is it old-fashioned beyond use? Why is it different for other kinds of music & media? Am I unfairly judging these people?
Okay, I've posted some MP3s of MIDI recordings of the first two pieces in my album. Anyone who doesn't want, or can't install, Scorch and only wants to listen to the compositions can listen to these and get a pretty decent idea of what the real thing will sound like. I've also added a Scorch Help page with the few problems I've had reported to me.
Just in case you were wondering, Sibelius Scorch is an industry standard. It's used by John Rutter
, Pat Metheny
, Leonard Slatkin
, Steve Reich
, Michael Kamen
, Lalo Schifrin
, Michael Tilson Thomas
, and many more. Even Ray Charles used Sibelius before he died. I met Robert Sheldon
(famous band composer) at a conference and he befriended me simply because I was a knowledgable Sibelius user. Anyway, if it's good enough for these guys, it's good enough for me.
And, of course, if you can't get it to work on your computer, check my Scorch Help page
and see if I can suggest something that helps.
I posted a new duet for my guitar and flute album today. I made a conscious choice to make it a more challenging piece. (In particular I wanted to have some fast stuff to play). Also, I want to make sure that there's some decent variety in the album.
Aside from working on this album, I have two ideas for other albums that I want to start. I don't want to mention what they are yet, suffice to say that I want to have some very different kinds of projects simultaneously 'in the oven' so that I can channel different creative energies in different ways. For example, if I don't feel like working on a guitar piece one day, I'll work on a piano piece. Or, if I don't feel like working with a hymn tune I can work on something else.
And, also, I am interested in preparing some MIDI MP3 files that give a better aural experience than Scorch provides. I have a bit to learn to accomplish this, but I'm working on it. As soon as I am satisfied with the results I'll post those audio files (MP3s) along with the Scorch files to listen to.
Okay, I've been thinking for some time about new ways of presenting my music on the Internet and this is one idea that I've come up with: Online Albums, where the composition process is visible and even slightly interactive. I knew I wanted to write a set of compositions for guitar and flute, since I have a ready venue, audience and musicians at hand. Shades of Silver and String
is the result and I'm excited to get started on this project.
I have plans for a second Online Album, which I hope to post and work on simultaneously with Shades. It will be of a significantly different format than the first, giving me two separate avenues of composition over the next few weeks.
As always, let me know what you think with an email or a comment.
What's your opinion on the use of the Auto-Tune in vocal performance and recording? How does it differ from other musical technologies and why is it more controversial?
If you're not quite sure what it is, read a link or two and then come back to express your opinion.
I'd like to know what people think of this, but I'm going to refrain from stating my opinion until the conversation gets started.
I've posted a new guitar & flute duet titled "Beauty of the Earth". I enjoyed writing it: it's a gorgeous melody and I've done some fun, 'noodly' things on the guitar part. I'll be performing it at St. Mark's on Oct. 31st with Elaine, one of the flute players in the band. I've got more duets coming, so stay tuned.
Oh, by the way, it turns out that I *can* get Scorch to work, despite the folks at Weebly telling me that I couldn't. Suffice to say that I found a creative solution to a shortcoming of Weebly's hosting service. However, I've noticed that Scorch doesn't work in Chrome or in Safari. I'd be interested to see if anyone else using those browsers is able to view/listen to the files in Scorch. Otherwise Firefox works. I'd bet that IE works, but I need to boot up Anali's computer and try it out just to make sure. Anyway, the only two pieces I have posted using Scorch at this time are the duet mentioned above and the Haydn quartet. So try those two links out and let me know if you are able to view them.
And last, if you take a look at the Media page, you'll see I've rearranged some things and I've even posted a piece of music for sale. I want to test the sales functionality out on an MP3 file and the rock version of Mighty Fortress seemed like a good enough candidate. I plan on offering other digital files for sale too--pdfs of my compositions and other mp3s. Once I get more items up for sale, I'll rearrange the Media page for easier navigation.
As always, I appreciate your comments and thoughts. Feel free to email me instead if you'd rather not make your comments publicly.
(Update: Scorch works in Safari if you make sure it loads in "32-bit mode". Command-I the Safari icon in the Applications folder and check the appropriate box.)
Due to the holiday on Monday, I feel like I've been playing catch-up all week. I haven't done a lot with the site, although I added a calendar to the front page. I'm not certain if that's where it will stay, but I think it's a necessary part. If you have an opinion on where the calendar should be, feel free to share it with me.
I'm almost ready to post some new compositions. In fact, there are some flute/guitar pieces that will be up very soon. I'll have at least one of them up by Friday. My good friend, Chuck, is a flutist that has been bugging me to write some new music for some time. It's also much more satisfying to compose when I know that I can get a performance.
One thing that I'm still working on is how to present the music on the website. I'd really like to use Sibelius Scorch, if possible. However, I'm still working out how to incorporate that HTML into the site. Otherwise, I can continue to use the document viewer. Scorch is superior, however, because it allows MIDI playback as well as some other functionality.
I haven't done much with recording this week, although I did do a few takes of a Bach Prelude on guitar yesterday. I am so very fond of Bach that I want to get as close as I can to a certain sound. That means when I am working on it, I spend a lot of time hunched up and holding the guitar's sound-hole up to a microphone while wearing a pair of headphones. Maybe that's why my neck has been sore...