Hi, and thanks for coming to the website. I just wanted to let you know that it is currently being redesigned and hopefully the new site will be ready to launch sometime in the fall.
There may be occasional hiccups, so I appreciate your patience and understanding while I am making the transition.
As ever, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like to speak about something.
Hi, and thanks for coming to the website. I just wanted to let you know that it is currently being redesigned and hopefully the new site will be ready to launch sometime in the fall.
Standing for Something
As a Texas-Ex and former long-time (by my peripatetic measure) resident of Austin, it was quite something to behold the drama that unfolded around Texas Senate Bill 5 from across the pond.
When I was entering college, my two great passions were politics and music. In that order. Choosing a school in Philadelphia seemed ideal because it would leave me close and roughly equidistant to Washington, D.C., and New York City, allowing me to feed both parts of me.
Things – as is frequently the case – didn’t go to plan. Music won out and I didn’t spend much time in either of my two target cities. I rocked the heck out of a blue “Allyson Schwartz for Senate” do-rag for several years after doing some work for the campaign with the Young GoogleThePartyIfYouMusts. Mercifully, the internet was still a baby then and there aren’t pictures floating around.
Since then, I’ve had moments of connection that really ignited my political spirit animal (hopefully a phoenix). I still get positively blubbering when I think about the fact that my children are going to grow up with a much more inclusive society.
Senator Wendy Davis’s filibustering of Texas Senate Bill 5, paired with the dozens/hundreds/thousands (depending on who’s funding your news source) of opponents gathered at the Capitol hit me harder than any of them.
It was proof that – even if only for a moment – democracy could be a living, breathing thing and it could raise its ghost to intervene when the tide seemed unstoppable. Like a political stone guest from Don Giovanni, waiting to come and seize the “bad guy”, or the patronum that Harry was always expecting.
Once I got through the self-pity at having not been there to participate and the tears that rolled as I read through the accounts that had poured in while I slept, the kernel of a song idea came to me.
After work and until Emma got home, I wrote it and recorded it. It was something I knew needed to be done quickly. It wasn’t for me, it was for everyone to hold as they continue to tackle the similar difficulties.
After trying to think of a way to anonymously get the song out and circulating, I gave up and posted it to my SoundCloud account. I shared the link with anyone who I thought might be interested, and at the suggestion of my former pastor sent an e-mail to Senator Davis. Understandably, she may not ever have a chance to read that or hear the song.
But it’s crossed the point where I’ve begun to feel silly about sharing it because I don’t know whom to share it with, and as I mentioned in the last entry, I feel a bit ridiculous asking people to listen to my music anyway.
As of this moment (about 45 hours after posting), 243 people have listened to the song and 4 have downloaded it. While those numbers are small, they’re much bigger than anything else I’ve done.
I don’t want/care for any attention to be focused on me, and if a gajillion people were to listen, that would be really neat, but it wouldn’t have any bearing on me. The song exists because I had to DO something, and this was one of the few things of which I’m somewhat capable.
It’s been moving that other people have shared the song, and hopefully that can continue to happen so that those who might need to hear it, will. I can’t thank anyone enough for listening or sharing the song.
Below the embedded SoundCloud player featuring the song, Stand Up (Wendy’s Song), are the lyrics as well as a list of all the people I’m aware of who have engaged with the song.
With all the love one can muster.
Stand Up (Wendy’s Song)
They can take our lives
Take our freedom, too
Try to break us down
With ev’rything they do
They can turn back time
Say we’re bound to lose
But they can’t take our voices
They can’t silence who they choose
The hour is getting late
And there’s a line drawn in the sand
Have you heard? Down in Austin
They found the strength to stand
Are you gonna stand up
Or stand down?
‘Cause they’re taking all we have
Don’t believe it? Look around
Can we shout it loud enough
To shake the walls with sound?
Tell me are you gonna stand up
Or stand down?
They write all the rules
Break them as they like
Try to hold us down
And trample on our rights
There’s a changing wind
Growing stronger now
And they can’t fight the future
They can’t shut our voices out
Since Wendy told the Peters
“Sorry, boys, you’re lost in Neverland”
She stared them down in Austin
And found the strength to stand
Listed more or less in chronological order. There are more people that I don’t know than I do, and that’s amazing. So, thank you, you 90 people, for helping…245 to find the song. #StandWithWendy
Working With What You’ve Got
So, the fantasy I had about being greeted by the arts community of Britain as a liberator has not come to fruition. There were no flowers strewn across my pathway at any point in the past 9+ months, so I have been forced to accept that my intelligence was faulty.
After prolonged non-musical spells, I can become a bit grumpy. I’m very fortunate to have a wonderful job and a family nonpareil. We live at the beach, for crying out loud! But without music, I wither on the vine, or Instagram. Whatever.
There are a few concrete blocks that I’ve thrown out into the musical ether and they remain in the air, so one hopes for the best. But in the meantime, I’ve begun trying to figure out what I can do on my own to keep “active” in the evening hours or weekends when there’s free-ish time. As these are often short spells of time, it’s quite difficult to delve into proper composing.
My “process” always requires a degree of warm-up time, when I let the sound world of a piece wash over my brain so that I don’t have to think about it, I can just breathe it. Consequently, pop music and tinkering with Max patches/etc are the most readily accessible avenues for my creative AHNGST.
Self-promotion has never been a strength, and I feel awkward posting links and asking people to listen/share on various social media outlets. People are busy, or may just not be all that interested in my well-intentioned caterwauling. But in the absence of a stage, connections, and all the necessary gear, it’s the only way I have of trying to communicate with the world through music.
Perhaps it’s essential in this middleground (NO SCHENKER) phase to bite the bullet and not worry about it. Or maybe it’s foolish to keep flogging something I don’t realize is mal-y. Whatever may be right, or appropriate, forgive me if I lapse.
If you do find time to listen, thank you. It’s a few minutes of your life that you can’t get back. That’s a heavy commitment, so know that I appreciate every single word, “LIKE”, spin, or other metric of your acknowledgement that I exist and that I am making noise.
These are some of the songs that I’ve recorded lately. Drop me a line, leave a comment (somewhere), like, share, download, sauté. Most importantly, enjoy, and accept my happily unserious offerings.
More Heads Is Better
Hello all! There are some upcoming musical opportunities to which I’m going to be applying. The first, chronologically, is for an arts-in-health scheme. I’m over the specified age limit but I’m going to submit something anyway because there’s nothing to lose in doing so, and it’s not an opportunity where having the age limit makes a lot of sense anyway.
If they accept my submission and overlook my age, Eric Whitacre will be adjudicating, on the lookout for music that would indicate that a composer is capable of composing something to accompany the viewing of an existing work of art and which would have a soothing/healing aesthetic effect.
Dear readers, this is where I need your help. Below are four movements that I believe would make the case on my behalf. Which one do you think would be best to send, as I can only choose one?
If you have about 15 minutes and could listen to all four, then vote, I would very much appreciate it!
A billion thanks.
Let’s Party Like It’s 2013
The title of this post is a tribute to the blog of my social media acquaintance and in some abstract way member-of-peer-group*, Jenn Jolley.
She has taken rejection letters/e-mails – the very hard currency of being a composer in the current system of festivals, competitions, grants, and prizes – and turned them into a public exhibit that offers an avenue for self-reflection and commiseration. It’s wonderful, and you should read through the archives to get a sense of just how mad this world of writing music can be, and to see a sterling example of how to find levity in the frequently soul-crushing.
Anyway, I have passed the age at which most competitions consider me sufficiently young (and therefore possessed of remaining potential) to enter, so the pace at which I apply for things has slowed. As I started composing “late” and have done a lot of “real world” living, I didn’t have many pieces, or polished ones, to send. Then by the time I did, the adjudicators of early career accolades had put me out to pasture.
The scare quotes reflect much of my sentiment about these things, which are often not exactly political, but much more directly personal. I won’t get into much of it here, but you can read some rather apt and thoughtful reflections on this treadmill on Dennis Tobenski’s blog.
Composing is hard for a lot of reasons, and the occasional indulgence of recognition for one’s work can do a tremendous amount to nudge one onward despite the challenges and dispiriting travails. For the past 6 years (or so), I’ve liked the music that I’ve written. It says the things that I want to say, in the way that I want to say them. Imperfectly, yes, but true to my own headspace and I can always work to improve.
Even the maddest, however, think themselves sane. My composer and performer friends would often say very nice things about a piece after a performance. I pretend that I “won” two masterclasses with visiting composers. My teachers would occasionally forgive me for enough of my sins to tell me that for at least this phrase or that movement I had done well. Audience members might participate in the ritualized quasi-congratulatory mingling.
Yet there weren’t any external acknowledgments of the sort that pepper the C.V.s of those who are highly regarded and sought after. The misguided application for a music faculty position yielded Composer Fails #N to (N+25), and even the pieces about which I feel very strongly sit unplayed and unrecognized (apart from a lovely nomination).
My dissertation was intended to be a grand statement and something that could stand as a strong case for why I should be taken seriously in the composi-sphere. I nearly killed myself (ask Emma) trying to finish it and pull together a performance. It’s 28 minutes for an ensemble of 12 with projected visuals (I taught myself PowerPoint in the four days before the performance). Not a word of response to most inquiries about it, let alone any sort of institutional confirmation that I had succeeded in creating a moving and engrossing musical experience.
Pairing that anticlimax with an international move led to a longer than intended hiatus from composing. There are a few pieces that are in progress and that I’ve done some conceptual work/sketching for, but nothing that could be considered composing.
In October, I became aware of a project being undertaken by operamission and decided to give it a whirl. Then, between work work, trying to get settled into a new house, and trying to recover from a car accident, nothing happened after I wrote the lyric for the cabaret song. The deadline came and was graciously extended, giving me a chance to redeem myself.
Over December 30-31st, I did nothing but work on the song, needing to finish it before we began our festive celebrations. Of course, I’d done a lot of mental work on the melody in the intervening months, but nothing was put down to paper. It was a grind, but I finished and was pleased with the song. I submitted it 10 minutes before we left the house.
And One of the Guys was chosen as one of the winning songs. Due to scheduling conflicts, it was unable to be premiered at the appointed concert, though it should be performed sometime in the near future. Two songs from Dear Lieder were performed on the concert. They were sung by Heather Engebretson and Jennifer Peterson of operamission played piano.
There is an audio recording forthcoming, but if you just can’t wait and are willing to trade some of the sound quality for visuals, you can see them at the 10:00 mark of this recorded live stream.
A great start to 2013, and with a few other things currently up in the air, I hope it’s a sign of things to come. At my age and this phase of my “career”, balls must roll.
Laissez les bons ballons rouler, as they say.
*Jenn Jolley doesn’t really belong in my peer group. She has a proper job. Lots of awards. Lots of awesome music. Basically, this is just shameful coat-tailing on my part.
As is always the case, life gets in the way and time gets cut a bit short. So, I haven’t made a cover or tweaked the fonts as I would normally like. But this is my submission for operamission’s New Cabaret song contest. There were very few changes made in the text from the first draft, mainly to accommodate the setting.
Please take a look and listen and let me know what you think!
One of the Guys
Just a quick word here! I am still getting settled here in the UK, and while I have a couple of “projects” to work on, I came across the #NewCabaret song competition on twitter. The idea is that a composer/lyricist/singer team will collaborate openly on a song. Obviously, as a word nerd cabaret is a genre that appeals to me.
So, in a truly finger-crossed moment, I reached out to Mellissa Hughes (@MellissaHughes) to see if she would work with me for the #NewCabaret adventure. She is an incredible singer and I was very pleased that she accepted the invitation.
It’s still very early on and there are a lot of details to work out. Moreover, I’ll probably try a few different song ideas so that I can feel like I’ve come up with my best effort. Here’s my first draft of my first idea, entitled “One of the Guys”.
NB: I’d like to thank my friend Dr. Allison Wright (@wrightallison) for the conversation we’re having about gender issues in the song. This is probably something I’ll address in the future when it’s not late at night!
Let me know what you think
Playing Catch Up
Hello again, this will be brief. I passed my defense, and now I wait. I have updated the site, which basically entailed providing additional information in some places. But there are a couple of things to which I wanted to draw your attention at present, before I turn in:
- Added a recording of Urbs sine finibus urbium as performed by the City Limits Brass Quintet. They were phenomenal.
- Recently presented my dissertation and invited some wonderful guest speakers. I am hoping that this project will find some ongoing life, as the event went well and it is something different and potentially valuable for the community. Please explore …That the Children May Learn.
- The Contact page now actually allows people to contact me. Shocking, I know.
- The Links page now exists. I apologize for any omissions. At some point I will try to find a better way to organize it so that there will be less scrolling, but this will get you started.
- The Bio page has begun the painful transition to a more “professional” accounting of my travails. A short-form bio is now there as a placeholder and a longer one will be forthcoming.
That’s 40 minutes of music newly uploaded today for your listening pleasure, or to use as the basis of aural voodoo. Please enjoy, comment, link, share, and whatever you wish. The music doesn’t matter if nobody hears it.
More soon, hopefully.
It’s the End of My World As I Know It
Apart from a few minor aesthetic things, like the design of a title page for the score, and another round of proofreading, …That the Children May Learn, including the analytical paper, has been completed. There has been one rehearsal of the piece, and apart from the embarrassment of a few copying errors (which I suspect are somewhat inevitable in a project of this size, but no less unacceptable) and the contrapuntal complexity of the work, I think it went very well. As things wind up, I’ll be writing more here, and sharing any recordings that fall my way. I’m especially looking forward to sharing the recording from the City Limits Brass Quintet’s recital performance of the piece I wrote for them. They knocked it out of the park, and it was a lot of fun to listen to.
All that having been said, since the calendar appears to be hellbent on giving up days and falling forward to the end of my education, I’m struck with pangs of uncertainty about the future. What I do know is that my academic life as a student is drawing to inexorable closure. As part of the dissertation, one has the option of writing Acknowledgements in order to reflect on and commit to posterity a modest accounting of the dissertator or dissertatrix’s circumstances and gratitudes. Since nobody except for those who are obligated by committee membership is likely to ever read my dissertation, I wanted to share the Acknowledgements here, so that others might have a chance to note the sheer number of people it takes to carry someone through literally decades of musical life. As always, there are accidental omissions, spatial and temporal limitations, and the like, but this is what we’re rolling with.
Professor Dan Welcher has, in the specific, helped me to bring a massive, amorphous, and unconventional dissertation project into focus, with the result being a piece of music and engine for motivating public discussion about which I am tremendously proud. In the general, he has helped me to sharpen my clarity of musical thought and competency as a composer, frequently by drawing attention to flaws that pride, a misunderstanding of sunk costs, and poor oversight had allowed to remain on the written musical page. I offer abundant gratitude for these lessons, and the ones when I fell short and learned the importance of strict personal standards and accountability.
The members of my committee have each contributed substantially to my time at the University of Texas. Dr. Pinkston has stoked my interest in electronic and electroacoustic music and quite literally taught me everything that I know of them; Dr. Drott has gamely tolerated my incessant questioning of music-theoretical applications and interpretations, letting me play Theorist for a semester; Dr. Tusa taught perhaps the most engaging and intellectually stimulating course that I took during my studies; and Dr. O’Hare has been a warm and invigorating presence, being, as I, a man of diverse interests and experiences who is armed with an absolute distaste for the abuse of the written word. I thank you all kindly for your participation in this terminal exercise.
How I got here is another important matter. The musicians from whom I have learned are all a part of my make-up. Some played a more definable role than others. Were it not for Paul Shaghoian, I would likely have abandoned musical life long ago. If Gerald Levinson had not, in a brief moment in the weeks after my undergraduate recital, called me into his office to tell me that he thought I had enough of the unteachable gifts to justify being a composer, I would probably be shackled to my desk working unforgiving hours at a law firm. In no particular order, let it be known that the following hold a piece of my musical identity in their own: Virko Baley, Jorge Villavicencio-Grossmann, Yevgeniy Sharlat, Daniel Catán, Key Poulan, Lex Rozin, Joel Friedman, John Alston, Dave Loeb, Bruce Paulson, Larry Honda, Linda Berg, David Alvarado, Marshall Hawkins, Dan Gailey, Steve Owen, Erica Muhl, Ian Krouse, Jose Diaz, Rachel Aldrich, Kevin Gorman, Mykola Suk, Ed Hull, Jeff Hellmer, Brandon Fields, and many others.
Without the support and encouragement of my parents, I never would have known that music was a thing one could give the world, rather than simply taking it. The willingness to drive to lessons, auditions, and concerts; to put up with early morning drop-offs or late night pickups; to fundraise, sacrifice, or barter so that I could participate in camps and grand adventures throughout the United States and Europe…all of these are the things that a child took for granted and expected, but that an adult now appreciates for their full value. And, I have been blessed by other parents, who met me already a musician, and thereafter insisted upon enthusiastically embracing all the bizarre peculiarities that such a poor life choice produces. Mom, Dad, Mum, Dad, and Cindy: thank you.
Even the most intensely introverted and control-obsessed musician could not possibly develop without interacting with and benefiting from the input and generosity of others. So, I would like to express my appreciation for those with whom I have had the pleasure of sharing my musical experiences. Ethan, Hermes, Ian, Steve, Zacks, Lane, Pierce, Beth, Diana, Jack, City Limits Brass Quintet, Joe, Jessica, Julia, Danny, Frank, Cynthia, Nick, Todd, Brendon, Felipe, Jon, Francois, Chad, Ryan, Amy, Andrew, Mac, Mark, Megan, Phillip, Zoë, and more: y’all are the best.
Though I will be the one upon whom a degree is conferred when the dust settles, the honor really ought to be shared and transferable to those who have had to endure the past several years living with a sort of phantom me. A husband late to bed, out to a concert, or too exhausted to bear an adequate amount of domestic responsibility; a father too busy trying to meet a deadline to allow for something as simple as a trip to the park, or absent to complete this or that duty in a world from which children are barred. I have tried my best to avoid misrepresenting my allegiances and priorities, and my family has always been first in my heart. But intentions are sometimes as impotent as a prayer against time, and there is no way to know how our lives might have been transformed were I a better juggler. Emma Louise, Zoë Louise, and Ashby Jane Taylor Capps have all of my love and thanks, and they hold all of my hope. Having poured all into this, I look forward to giving all of me back to them, so that we might chase the wind, being blown by it no more.
There has sprung forth in the past week or so a renewed desire to examine the state of affairs for women composers. I haven’t had time to trace it to its original instigation, nor have I had a chance to read all of the thoughtful and compelling responses it has stirred in people. However, I would recommend the entries of Amy Beth Kirsten, Lisa Hirsch, and Rob Deemer as useful starting points. There are, of course, many others.
My interest was piqued, in part, due to the use of statistics as definitive arbiters of truth regarding gender equality in the field of music composition. This is far too complicated an issue for me to pretend that I could offer a weighty and meaningful statement on it. But the maths, and the statistics, and their contexts and meanings, those things are not outside of my hubristic grasp. So, I submitted the following, with some gross misunderstanding of how to use the html tagging, as a comment on Dr. Kirsten’s NewMusicBox opinion piece, and I hope that it illustrates some of the problems that arise when anything at all is stripped down to untethered statistics.
As a composer who happens to be male, I wouldn’t presume to make any comment on the experience of my female colleagues. The porcupine is too prickly. However, there are a couple of issues that have been raised that make me concerned about the way we regard these matters.
Firstly: There are certainly individuals in positions of power – whether they are highly lauded composers who teach at festivals, long-standing academic faculty, or judges for various prize competitions – who may hold offensive and sexist views, some even being so callous and insensitive as to openly express them. It is important to remember that many of the people in such positions are advanced in their careers, older, and rose to prominence in a time when such attitudes were standard form, even encouraged. Because these generations have not yet retired or been roundly penalized, they linger with the capacity to continue thoughtlessly regurgitating unfounded gender-based diatribes. That does not mean, however, that the situation isn’t improving. I hope that younger composers, poised to join faculties or to ascend the ranks, will bring an unbiased new order, and none of the young composers that I know has ever uttered such nonsense in my vicinity, so I have faith for the future. And though I would not dare to discount the trauma and violation suffered by those who have endured sexual harassment, it seems worthwhile to avoid letting the experiences of these composers and musicians stand as a damning commentary on the state of the entire field, just as such incidents when they occur in public schools do not reflect the condition everywhere else. The offenders should be called to account, as possible, and then we can help to motivate the macro-level turnover that will continue to displace these outmoded beliefs.
Secondly: Statistics are trouble. Always trouble. Wonderful music by living composers should be heard, and it often isn’t. If we view the matter as one in flux, with an increasing number of women choosing to pursue composition, then this implies that there is of necessity a certain lag time that will be borne out by a variety of statistical analyses. According to Lisa Hersch’s excellently written “Lend Me a Pick Ax”, as of 2008, approximately “30 percent of composition students in American colleges and conservatories” were women. For the 2006-2007 season, members of the League of American Orchestras programmed 160 works written from 1982-2007, and 19 were written by women (11.875 %).
- Re: counter)induction – 13/80 (16.25 %);
- Other Minds – 29/115 (25.2 %);
- Bang on a Can – 8/36 (22.2 %);
- Pulitzer Prize – 4/29 (updated to include Jennifer Higdon’s award: 13.8 %);
- Guggenheim Fellowships for Music Composition – 68/596 (updated to include 2009-2011, which happens to be the period when Dr. Kirsten herself received one: 11.4 %, with 10/34, or 29.4 % going to women in that window); also, since these awards are frequently given to jazz composers as well, there is further gender distortion related to the underrepresentation of females in jazz, which is not explicitly reflective of the “art music” world’s own travails.
It would seem that the rate of honoring female composers or taking on their works is catching up to their proportional representation in academic programs. Additionally, since the Pulitzer Prize is effectively a mid-late career honor, and the Guggenheim count extends back to 1925, these figures are heavily swayed by a disappointingly sexist past, but not indicative of an overwhelmingly ongoing anti-“woman composer” agenda. The same is true of orchestral programming. These groups are drawing on a repertoire that is hundreds of years old, and throughout most of that time, there were no women whose voices were heard. With such a preference for the “music of the dead”, as I like to call it, even if we were to grant living composers an absurdly inflated 40 % of the programming spots, taking the 30 % figure, that would translate to 12 % of orchestral programming for living female composers, in a perfectly gender-balanced, quality unconsidered world. Is that the goal? Things are changing, and change takes time. But it’s happening.