Sunday, December 29, 2013

Happy New Year!

As 2013 draws to a close, I'm looking forward and back.  What happened this year?  What didn't?  What's in the works for next year?

For one thing, 2013 was the year I started this blog.  There are a lot of things I have to share that simply don't fit in a tiny FaceBook post.  That's as true now as it ever was.  One of my goals for next year will be to pick a better title; if you search "About Music" on Blogspot, you'll find a large number of blogs with similar titles.  I'll be looking for something a bit more poetic and descriptive, and will welcome suggestions.

My inaugural video went up on YouTube this year.  Hopefully there will be more, and better, to follow.

2013 was also the year of Moving Seven Ways, a set of seven short pieces for viola and claves.  They stay in first position throughout, which makes them good for intermediate students.  The viola part of one of them is entirely col legno, which will be challenging for those who haven't yet explored that technique extensively.

The number of my piano pieces inspired by poetry increased in 2013, with "G…ôlir", a response to a poem by Nigar Rafibeyli.  There will be more to come; I discovered many fine poets in 2013, both from Azerbaijan and other places, and several of those poems are prompting musical responses.

Scenes from a Fantasy Novel is not based on poetry, but it's a set of ten short pieces with titles inspired by fantasy-novel kinds of scenes.  Still some editing to be done, but basically ready to intrigue and delight.

Piano four hands is a genre I started exploring in 2013.  Most of the pieces I've produced so far have been pretty lightweight: a chorale prelude, and a set of variations on "The Spanish Lady's Love", to name two, but more substantial fare will likely follow.

My biggest disappointment of 2013 was not finishing the string quartet.  It's getting closer, but there's still work to be done.

I did get a short piece for saxophone quartet finished, this one a chorale prelude on "Nun danket alle Gott".  My avid saxophonist uncle finally has something of mine he can play with his friends!  This was extremely long overdue, and it's great to have it done.  More saxophone quartet music is planned, in one form or another.


Apart from composition, 2013 was the year of Audacity.  I've been using it for some time for small tasks such as converting between file formats, but this year I started digging in and actually moving things around.  I've been wanting to produce some CD's for awhile, and this is a substantial step in that direction.

Which brings me to next year.  On Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at the Bloomingdale School in Manhattan, 7:00 PM, a concert of my work will feature cellist Caroline Stinson, saxophonist Javier Oviedo, and me.  This is a concert of unaccompanied solo pieces, including Strength and Beauty, inspired by portraits by Li Ming Shun, for unaccompanied cello, Sonata No. 1 for unaccompanied tenor saxophone, and piano pieces inspired by the poetry of Andrew Kreider.

In mid-June, I'll perform in a concert in Goshen, Indiana, but right now don't have much information about what will be on the program.  It's likely it will include Scenes from a Fantasy Novel, maybe some of the Goldberg Variations, and perhaps some of the pieces being worked on for the CD mentioned below.  But I'd also like to do some things with musicians from Goshen, and plans for those are still up in the air.

The home-recording work is leading toward compilation of a CD, likely to include keyboard music of Frescobaldi, Froberger, and J.S. Bach; more news as it happens.

In terms of composition, it's long past time for the string quartet to be finished, but of course these things don't always happen on cue.  More saxophone quartet music, and more music for piano four hands are in the works, with plans also for some wind ensemble music and a string orchestra piece for a youth orchestra in Washington Heights.

My musician friends are certainly laughing at this point, because they know too well how easy it is to decide you want to do something ... and how difficult it is to actually get it done!

Good wishes to all for a safe, happy, and healthy New Year!


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Wikimedia Commons

One of my goals with this blog is to highlight underutilized resources that could be of benefit to musicians.  Today I'd like to write about a companion project of Wikipedia, and some opportunities for the right people to make a big difference ... maybe.

Wikimedia Commons is a huge collection of digital media (pictures, sound files, video, etc.) that are available for anyone to use, remix, and so on.  This doesn't mean there are no restrictions on using them, but the restrictions are considerably fewer than customary in this age of increasing digital rights management.  Most of the content is in the form of pictures, which is what is inspiring my post this morning.

One obvious thing this means for people looking for posters, CD booklet art, and so on, is a huge source of possibilities.  The data included with each file includes the specific restrictions that may apply to it; often this consists simply of crediting the artist/contributor, and releasing the copies/improvements under the same terms.  It's not clear to me whether, if you use a photo licensed as CC-BY-SA (Creative Commons, with attribution, share-alike) on the cover of your CD, you would have to release the entire booklet, the whole CD, or just the cover photo (the part containing the picture you used, with any modifications you made to it) under CC-BY-SA.  More information on Creative Commons licenses can be found here.  Note that I'm not a lawyer; if you want legal advice on the details of re-using other people's work, please get an appropriate professional to advise you.

Another intriguing possibility for musicians is contributing work.  The gallery for J.S. Bach contains recordings of a number of his works, but there are many gaps in the list.  Contributing a recording or two could be a way to market yourself to an audience that might not otherwise find you.  If you were the sole contributor, say, of recordings for most of the WTC Book II, you might gain some advantage from that.  Your user page can list your contributions, or whatever else it might be important for people to know; if you contribute a number of files, a category might be created for them.  I'm a bit wary, however.

For one thing, the point of Wikimedia Commons is educational, not promotional.  The kind of video you might want to release as an artist to showcase your abilities is not necessarily the kind of video you would make for educational purposes.  This is a bit of a judgment call, of course; there's a sense in which it's instructive to watch any performer in action.

Another consideration is cost.  If you are making recordings in your own home, using your own (relatively inexpensive) equipment, it may not matter so much to you whether you give away the results.  If you are recording in a studio at a cost of thousands of dollars, you'll want to think carefully about your return on anything you release.  If you decide to make a sample track available as a free download from your web site or through another online service, you would could remove it at any time.  You could set whatever restrictions you wanted on other people's re-use of your recording.

Not so Wikimedia Commons.  Once you've released something there, it's there for good.  If someone decides to use it in a way you detest, tough.  The recording you might release at the beginning of your career will remain there to haunt you at the pinnacle of your success.

Another possibility for a welcome contribution would be demonstrations of the capabilities of an instrument.  Someone who wants to hear what a violin sounds like (for example) can get a good basic idea from files like these, and there's less of a sense that you're giving away something of direct commercial value.  Demonstration videos showing a particular technique are another opportunity.  So are pictures showing the correct way to hold an instrument.

If you are a music educator, at any level, Wikimedia Commons is the place for you.  If you need a diagram showing the relationship of the keys on a keyboard to notes on a staff, find one here.
This is also a great place to contribute material you've developed that someone else might be able to use.  Because this material is freely available to anyone with an internet connection, your contribution will help teach people around the world.

If you simply want to watch and listen, there are things like these.

Happy holidays, regardless which ones you happen to celebrate!



Monday, September 30, 2013

Explorations

Yesterday, on a friend's recommendation, I visited composerscircle.com, a site that features a different (usually) living composer every day.  I'm not sure how long they have been operating; the online archive goes back to May 2012.  But it's an impressive site, and well worth the time to check out.

One thing that's impressed me is how wide the stylistic range is.  If you were hoping for guidance about any particular direction in which things might be headed, the only reasonable conclusion is they're going in all directions at once, which makes this a particularly exciting time to be writing.

Another thing that's impressive is the wide range of levels and backgrounds represented.  There are composers with major awards and performances by big-name ensembles, and there are composers who are just starting music school, not always at places with famous composition programs.  Most of the names are new to me, which means I'm going to be back; it's not possible or reasonable to expect to take it all in in one visit.  The quality is uniformly high.

The only slightly negative thing about the site is it's not very easy to browse; within a year you have to page forward or back month by month.  Be aware that every page will begin playing music or video immediately upon loading; you'll want to check your volume settings before navigating to the page.

Enjoy!




Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Connections

Music for me is about connecting with people.  But it isn't always straightforward.  The performer I had in mind while writing a piece may not be the person who finally picks it up and plays it.  Maybe it's the wrong kind of material for that performer, or maybe it's the wrong composer.  Or maybe it's just not the right time for that piece.

What has happened more than once, though, is that musicians I've met later, long after a piece was written, have turned out to be interested in what I've done, and as a result things I wrote years ago have been resurrected and performed.
My ideas about the whole process of working with a performer haven't always been accurate, either.  Mostly there haven't been a whole lot of questions about scores of mine; instead of the back-and-forth I expected, people who have played my music have often simply gone into the practice room, and emerged later with everything in place.

So composition isn't a great way to meet people in and of itself.  Going to concerts is better for that: you have a natural topic of conversation, and a shared experience, that helps break the ice.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Two recent pieces, and two concerts

I'll be playing in two concerts coming up, and since I'll be performing the same two pieces both times, I'd like to describe them.  These were written last year, for a performance given with Elkhart poet Andrew Kreider.  The pieces are responses to two of his poems, and I'll be reading each poem before the appropriate piece.

Pumping Iron is about a father and son lifting weights, and the ostinato in the bass mirrors the weights moving up and down.  A highly emotional dialogue takes place against this background, as the father and son deal with their changing relationship, and the son becomes able to compete with, and overcome, his father.

What Won't Wait is about rushing a mother to the hospital to give birth.  Here there's both a mad rush and a sense of inevitability; the child isn't unexpected, after all, and birth, whenever it happens, becomes the most important thing in the world.

Here are the concert details:

The New York Society for Ethical Culture's Building Fund benefit concert will include Alison Davy, Jon Liechty, Mila Milosevic, Javier Oviedo, and Gene Rohrer. The concert will take place at 2:30 PM in Ceremonial Hall on the 4th floor of the Society's building at 2 W. 64th St. in Manhattan. Tickets: $15 general, $10 seniors/students.

Alison Davy, soprano; Javier Oviedo,saxophone; and Gene Rohrer, piano will perform music by Lee Hoiby and Elliott Carter; Mila Milosevic will perform Serbian and Hungarian folk music, plus selections by Charles Gounod and Frederick Loewe.




 The Brooklyn New Music Collective will hold a concert at the Firehouse Space on May 31 at 8:00 PM. Tickets $15 general, $10 seniors/students.

Here's the program:
Sofia Gubaidulina – Chaconne – Michael Rose, piano
John Cook – Trumpet Concerto (III mvt) – Roger Lent, trumpet and John Cook, piano
Thomas Millioto – solo work (premiere) – Thomas Millioto, electric guitar
JBM Trio: Jen Baker, trombone; Ben Holmes, trumpet; Mary Ziegler Roberts, French horn– 2 pieces TBA
Ben Holmes, trumpet and Patrick Farrell, piano/accordian – 2 shorts TBA
Penderecki – 3 Miniatures – Neil Rynston, clarinet and Michael Rose, piano
Richard Cameron-Wolfe – solo clarinet piece – Neil Rynston, clarinet
Christine Moore, soprano – TBA
Sean Hickey – “Longitude” vla/pno; “Cursive” Klara Min, solo piano
Matthew Kajcienski – piano solo TBA – Miori Sugiyama, piano
Jon Liechty – “Pumping Iron” and “What Won’t Wait” – Jon Liechty, piano
Works by Libby Larsen – Michael Brofman piano, Charlotte Mundy soprano
“Refrain” by Yehudi Wyner and “Spy vs. Spy” by Michael Rose-  Beth Levin, piano

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Students for Free Culture Conference

I spent the day at a Students for Free Culture (soon to be Free Culture Foundation) conference.  Instead of writing about all the things that happened during the first day of the conference, it's more interesting to give a composer's-eye view of a few of the points.

For one thing, musicians and other artistic creators did not seem to be in evidence.  This was particularly glaring during a panel discussion regarding copyright reform.  For instance, Patricia Aufderheide, director of the Center for Social Media and professor at American University in Washington, D.C., spoke about the progress certain communities, such as documentary filmmakers and poets, have had in defining for themselves standards of fair use, which they have then been able to get the Copyright Tribunal to agree to recognize.  She referred to the Jacob's Pillow Dance Interactive web site, a comprehensive online collection of dance videos which would not have been possible without defined standards of fair use, and to a number of documentaries which had been stuck in never-never land until the documentary film-making community adopted a code of best practices for fair use.

Well and good.  This is not the same, however, as having a dancer, poet, photographer, or musician discuss the knotty questions of copyright as they pertain to creative work.  For instance, I often send PDFs of my music to performers I hope will play it, or at least look it over and send me some kind words.  If one of those performers passes it on to someone else who plays it (or who passes it on to someone else ...), I probably won't complain, because right now the performance is more important than whatever cash they might have paid me.  If someone uploads a video of that performance to YouTube, I probably won't complain if the performance is good.  If the performance isn't good, I might send a polite note to the poster asking that the video be removed, because I don't want to be represented by something that's not well-played!

A more established artist, however, might view the situation differently.  Someone who already has a number of fine YouTube videos, doesn't necessarily need another one.  Someone whose work is already being played regularly by top musicians around the world, and who is being paid for those performances, doesn't care so much if their work reaches one more player.  They have their audience; to them the compensation is more important.  Someone in that position could be excused for getting upset by the suggestion, or worse, the assumption, that no one should ever have to pay them to use their work.

There's also the case of the composer whose music is used, without permission or compensation, in a major motion picture, which goes on to make millions.  Certainly, exposure is worth something, but it does not pay for groceries or rent.  This actually did happen to one composer; eventually the studio did pay him something as a courtesy, but it's clear that someone else in that situation might not be so fortunate if the law didn't provide some remedy.

None of this was said during the panel.  While some of the issues were addressed during other talks, the absence of any creative artist stuck out as a major omission.   There are creators (e.g. Cory Doctorow) who have succeeded in releasing some of their work free for certain purposes and getting paid, and it would have been wonderful to hear one or more of them talk about what works for them.  It didn't happen here.

The afternoon keynote, by James Vasile, was more useful in that regard.  He gave a broad history of the impact of the development of cheap, accessible copying technology on several areas of endeavor, starting with computer games and going on to such things as movies, music, books, and web comics.  In each area, he outlined the initial responses of the industry in question (DRM, regulation, and so on), the failure of those measures, and the ways the industries have adapted to the situation.

Vasile went on to say that currently artists who are also entrepreneurs can make a decent living; the problem is for artists who are not entrepreneurs to make any living, and the current need is for services to take care of those tasks for them, in a way that allows them to continue their work.  These are good things to hear; they would have been even more powerful if there had been someone at the conference for whom they worked, who could have spoken first-hand, instead of second or third-hand.  My observation has been that the currently-available services often have predatory pricing attached; the people running the service will make money on every unit sold, but the prices offered are high enough to be unattractive even if the artist makes nothing.

None of this means that I'm against free or open culture as a concept, and in fact I've contributed to certain forms.  The issue is that a major discussion of issues affecting artistic creation and production is happening in the absence of artists and students of the arts.  Something's wrong with that.

This post edited on 4/21/2013 to add links and extend proper credit for some of the remarks.





Saturday, March 30, 2013

Is giving the secret to getting ahead?

Articles like this one about Adam Grant are fascinating.  Reading about human creativity is exciting in and of itself, but just as enjoyable is figuring out how the findings might relate to music.

One question concerns the difference between the unreservedly-generous people who end up successful and happy, and those who end up frustrated and burned out.  The former restrict their giving to others who give indiscriminately, and those who at least match the generosity they receive.  So the people who are unrestricted in their generosity are actually partly restricted in their generosity if they are successful?

As a composer, one of the primary questions is how to add value to a situation.  A new piece of music is often considered more of a burden than a gift; the words, "Here's a new piece for you!" are not always greeted with enthusiasm.  This is actually understandable; performers are busy people, and looking at a new piece takes time.  So the question is, how to find those situations in which new material is actually appreciated.

The no-brainers are the performers or ensembles who have actively advertised for material.  Your search engine is your friend, as are sites like NewMusicBox.org.  Your second most important source is the people you know, and here is where you can see the value of Adam Grant's approach.




Saturday, March 23, 2013

Barbara Sher

On the subject of doing what you love, one of my favorite givers-of-advice is Barbara Sher.

She's both practical and upbeat.  Her "Idea Party" is a place where people post what they'd love to do, and what's keeping them from doing it ... and offer each other suggestions and resources to get around the obstacles.  It's not unusual for me to find a solution there for a problem I didn't realize I was working on.  Or two, or three ...




Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Creativity Tools and Methods

Here is a link to a website about creativity.  I've heard Win Wenger speak twice, and each time he was inspiring.  First he collected many known means of boosting human creativity.  Then he applied them to the problem of coming up with improved means for boosting creativity.  They are posted here.

This is one of his methods specifically related to music.


To be major or minor (in music)?

But seriously ... once you're done groaning ...

Should young musicians headed for college or university be encouraged to major in music?

This is a question that's been bothering me.  After all, I did go to a good university, did major in music, got a master's degree, paid off my debt, and lived to write about it.  It's clear that there is nothing like a university music school to train a young artist, and it's also clear that university-level music study provides incredible advantages, some of which aren't obvious until you've been away from the university for some time.

But it's been a long time since I was a university student, and in the meantime the economy has changed.  Music school tuition has risen, wages have not.  For a good music school you are now looking at between $30,000 and $50,000 per year.  There aren't many entry-level music jobs that pay that well; in fact, there aren't that many entry-level jobs that pay that well, period.  So if you're borrowing any substantial fraction of that money, you have a problem.

Many have seen this as a reason to counsel students to major in "practical" things, such as finance, law, or medicine.  Once you have the resources, they argue, you can study whatever you want.  The argument did make some sense, at least up until 2008 when shockwaves went through the financial world.  Suddenly people who did major in finance, people who had good jobs and thought themselves secure, were out on the street.

I'm certainly not up-to-the-minute on the outlook for financial careers, nor do I want to dissuade any would-be finance majors.  But while the advice to major in something with obvious practical applications still has merit, as the list of viable career options shrinks the calculation changes.   Today's students are forced to take increasingly risky gambles that the degree they receive will, one day, allow them to pay off the cost of attaining it.  Those who lose the bet face financial ruin.

If you're going to have economic difficulties, would you rather be facing them as a result of having spent four years intensely involved with something you loved, or as a result of something you were doing only because you hoped it would make money for you ... but the money never came?


===
Since writing the above, I've realized that the situation is actually much more complex than I allowed for.  It's not an all-or-nothing decision, for one thing.   For another, there really aren't guarantees for anyone.  For a third, people change, and so can the pursuits they enjoy.







Monday, March 11, 2013

Bookstore find - amateur band guide

Recently I made a bookstore pilgrimage and came home with a treasure: The Amateur Band Guide and Aid to Leaders, by Edwin Franko Goldman, published in 1916 by Carl Fischer.  1916 was during World War I.  Charles Ives had recently written some of his most famous pieces; Arnold Schoenberg had written Pierrot Lunaire four years earlier.  John Philip Sousa was touring with his own band.  Charles Ives completed his Fourth Symphony during 1916; he had finished his second String Quartet a year earlier.

Goldman's book is a long way from all of these.  He doesn't mention very much actual music by name; what he does mention are waltzes, polkas, two-steps, marches, quicksteps, and so on.  He talks about having the band play chorales as an exercise; otherwise the only "classical" genre he mentions is the overture.

This, in other words, would have been the musical diet of a primary source of small-town entertainment during that time.  Here's how the band would have been organized, including sample by-laws, a suggested rehearsal schedule, some basic instructions on how to conduct, explanations of tuning and warm-up exercises, and a whole chapter describing, and listing the ranges of, a number of typical band instruments.  The ranges given are approximately those that would be considered appropriate for high-school performers today.  Goldman also discusses the care and maintenance of the various types of instruments, and has compiled a bibliography of tutors and exercise books. 

As musicians, we're aware of history in a special way.  The  past is never entirely dead, because we're always picking it up and re-creating it.  The wind and brass players who took part in the premiere of Ives's third symphony in 1946 probably learned from some of the material Goldman lists.  It's one thing to read about music and musicians of the past, it's another to play their music, and it's something else yet again to hold in your hand the same book they held.  What significance this all has for us today ... that's for us to decide.