Challenges

It continues to be a very busy time for, like, the last four years! It’s also been incredibly productive and transformative and at times it’s felt more like a roller coaster than anything else. I don’t particularly like roller coasters, but I do like how quickly the ride changes the energy. It’s hard to get stuck when you’re being tossed this way and that at unpredictable times.

Just this last week I had another rehearsal with the amazing early music ensemble Parthenia, who has commissioned my latest work Donne Songs Without Words, which they will premier next month. The piece is one of my choreographic scores, so the players are all moving while they play. It is VERY challenging and they are wonderfully game for the whole process. My challenge continues to be getting them all the materials they need to do the best they can. Things like making videotapes of the rehearsals and updated parts.  So the first time I tried to make a tape, we weren’t in a big enough room so I couldn’t get far enough back to get everyone in the shot. I also hadn’t yet figured out how to make the camera work before I got there, so I wasn’t confident that I could even make a recording. They didn’t have a videotaping class at the Conservatory. But this time we rehearsed in an amazing brownstone with 15 ft ceilings. There was plenty of room and I bought a tripod and read the manual – ah yes, the manual – and got everything working. Rehearsal was great but then it took me many hours over the weekend to figure out how to transfer the tape onto my computer. Oh, and now my backup drive is misbehaving so I’m not sure I have a backup, and on and on. Even though I should have been updating the score and parts, I ran out of time dinking around with all this other stuff. It’s important for us all to have it though, so worth the trouble.

I used the time that the video was transferring to practice for my upcoming tour with Philip Glass. Since retiring from his ensemble in 2004, I’ve been subbing in kind of regularly for the last 3 or so years. It’s great fun to play the music and go out on the road with them again, so I’m looking forward to this, but there is a LOT of music to practice. Some of it is new and some of it I haven’t played in more than 10 years. The biggest challenge is to get the chops back to play the music from the 70s, like excerpts from Einstein and Music In 12 Parts. That stuff is hard! And also really fun!

And on Friday night, the 30th, my new group, Ensemble 50 with Mary Rowell, violin, Jim Pugliese, percussion, and Kevin Norton, vibes with myself on piano, gave our first public performance on the Composers Now kickoff concert at The Cell. What an amazing group this is. We played a piece of Kevin’s called I Dig Facts Man, and opened with one of mine, Spice Mix 1. These pieces have a lot of improv in them, which is what this group does so well. And it all happens in the performance. Not that we don’t rehearse because we do, and we have to in order to be good, but the energy of the audience is what we need to really bring it. And we did. If there were photos or recordings made, I’ll post some here.

Oh, and two more rejection emails came last week, and I live to fight another day.

Once we understand that it’s a choice we have the power to change

Yesterday I had occassion to send the below to a fellow artist that wanted to use some music of mine to enhance the experience of their art in a video. I don’t need to post the whole exchange, but this seems so relevant to what I posted last week, that I thought a Part 2 was called for.

“You understand that not knowing you, or more to the point, not being nside your head, I cannot know what your intentions are. The question has to be asked of anyone wishing to make use of something that I’ve made and own. I’m not opposed to gratis uses, but it’s important to me that I have the opportunity to make that choice and that it not be made for me.

As far as money and prizes go, they only infest art if you let them. Personally I have nothing against either, nor do I care much about having prizes, in particular, which is a good thing since I’ve won very few. Money I need to make my life and work. Making music is my job, and I expect to be paid for it. I won’t apologize for that nor will I accept any argument that posits money as an inherent evil. Money has no intention in and of itself. People do. It’s all about the intention behind the work that makes it one’s best or not, in my view. All the other stuff is just noise to distract us from the fact that those who can’t make art feel powerless in the face of those who can. Long ago they created this myth that money was poison to creativity. Not all creativity, just the pure art forms. It’s a lie, but as a society, we’ve bought it hook line and sinker.

You will note that not all artists are poor. They still manage to make great art, at least some of the time.

Let’s wake up and stop the bullshit.

You couldn’t have known that I’ve been on this mission to purge the arts community as a whole of the myth that we shouldn’t have. We should. We deserve it. I’ve been on this mission for 20 years.”

I want to further add that we are all necessary and vital parts of our communities. Without each of us, the community would change and become something else. We should never try to be anything other than who we are because the valuable work that we do has more to do with our differences than with our similarities!

Thank you for being part of my community!

I want to change the way you think about money

Dear readers, it’s been a long time since I posted anything here. I’m sorry to have been out of the loop so long, but life took me in another direction for a while. 

I’m back, and refreshed, and ready to pick up where I left off, changing the way we think about ourselves and the ways we do business.

Let’s start with some things that I hear a lot. And they almost always have to do with money. I’m going to post these in bits, so that it’s more digestible.

No one makes any money as a composer. I can think of people who do: Philip Glass and Steve Reich, John Adams and John Luther Adams, to name a few. Ok, you may say, but they’re famous. No excuse. They may be famous but they are also composers making their living as a composer. And they weren’t always famous either. This is one of the biggest lies in our industry. People have and will continue to make money, and even become rich making music and art. But if you believe that you can’t make any money then you certainly will not. You have just closed the door to financial success making your art just because you don’t believe that it is possible.

People always ask me to do things for free. Well, as long as you keep saying yes to doing things for free then you will continue to be asked to do things for free. It is in and of itself a self-fulfilling prophesy. You could flip that around and substitute the word “free” for “money” and have a more sustainable result.

Classical music is dead. This is just a lie. Classical music is not dead. Plenty of people listen to and love classical music. I read/hear this misperception from people all the time. What is programming for the bottom line, rather than with creating an interesting and thought-provoking experience. Audiences want a more connected experience from classical music. They want to feel something and to feel a part of something. They are not interested in experiencing a relic of the early 20th century. People want to experience something that feels relevant to them. But they have also been trained to think that Classical music is dead, thanks to all the articles that have been written about that subject. There’s nothing like repeating something a bunch of times, especially in print and social media, etc, to make it true.

The music business is dead and no one makes any money anymore. 20th c. business models don’t work anymore. No one disputes that. But this does not mean that you can’t make money in music anymore.?I’m going to say this one more time. People have and will continue to make money, and even become rich, making music and art. But if you believe that you can’t make any money then you certainly will not. You have just closed the door to financial success making your art just because you don’t believe that it is possible.

Stay tuned for more, and Happy New Year!

A composer/performer’s life

August 26, 2013

It’s been a while since I’ve written for a number of reasons. Chief among them that I sprained my ankle while on vacation at the beach in Currituck, NC.

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Anyway, the bad ankle hasn’t stopped my getting together with musicians and playing. All month I’ve been rehearsing with Pat Irwin for our upcoming show at Spectrum on Sunday night, September 1. It’s so lovely the way our individual sounds blend. You don’t hear electric guitar and piano that often and while I was never worried that it wouldn’t be good, it’s very nice that it’s so beautiful.

Last week, I also got together with a very interesting trombone player, Ben Gerstein. We improvised, read music, talked about creating in general and then listened to music.I hadn’t done that in so many years and forgot how much fun it is.  He made some really amazing sounds, and the hair on my legs stood on end in one particularly quiet section. The way the sounds he was making combined with the piano resonance and sounds I was making was really special.  Thanks to Ben for sharing music in so many ways!

One of the best things I’ve done as a way to jump-start my career is to start to play with musicians that I admire but never worked with. This was the genesis of the Rétes collaboration series and I really recommend this to anyone who’s trying to find a niche for themselves.

Getting together and playing with people is a great way to share music and stretch out your chops at the same time. It’s such great fun and a really great way to build a new musical community of people who know your music and like to play it.

The next step?

I think it might be an ensemble. I’ll get back to you on that, but I feel like it’s time to start advocating for my generation of composer/performers and composers in general. I want to loll around in beautiful and interesting sound combinations that make my hair stand on end as much as possible!

Who’s in?

Realizations and Responses Part 1

Returning to NY in 2009 after 4 years abroad, I faced a pretty bleak landscape professionally. All my gigs had been taken over by others, which I had helped to facilitate in some instances and which I fully expected in the rest. What I had not expected was the radically altered landscape of the field.

When I left, the new music scene in New York City was on the rise, with more and more opportunities and more and more composers and performers creating those opportunities. That is still happening and that is amazing! We have a wonderfully vibrant and supportive scene of new music, for which I am really grateful. What is not so amazing though is that the audiences for many performances are made up only of a few friends, fellow composers and performers. For many, performance and composition fees have actually gone down. There are more venues, but fewer dollars. People seem to be willing to play and compose for next to nothing just for the opportunity to be heard, if only by their colleagues. I can relate to those desires intimately, but I cannot live if I succumb to them. No one can.

So what happened? And where is our audience?

First, I ask you to accept the idea that there IS an audience outside our group. It seems to me that what happened was we simply forgot about them.  How this happened is not easily explained, and I don’t profess to understand it entirely, but I do have some theories. First, I think that in part we can look to the over-saturation of information in general, so getting the word out is at once easier and more complicated than ever before. Before the internet, one had to pay design and printing costs to send out concert notices. You had to write and type press materials and put them in the mail. Now we depend on Facebook, email and the like for those things. Anyone with an internet connection can now act as a promoter of their own work. Again, this is easier, but the shear volume of invitations that most of us receive is so enormous that it’s hard for anyone we don’t know to get our attention. Where I used to receive 10 to 15 postcard concert announcements in the mail a month, now I get 20 – 30 event invitations from around the world a week. The thinking is, I imagine, “I have more than 2500 ‘friends’ on Facebook, so I can just use that as a way to engage my audience.”  And we perhaps think that we can always count on our peers, family and friends to show up. We hope that somehow we will get gigs in places that will draw an audience for us. The problem with that is that first, you have to get their attention and get booked, and then there is the additional problem that most venues no longer have a point of view. They are trying to make as much money as they can to stay in business.

The whole system seems broken to me. So how do we fix it? How do we find our audience?

For myself, I compose and perform music because I think it matters to the world that I do so. I also can’t imagine any other life for myself. Most, if not all, of us are in this category I imagine. For me, it doesn’t matter so much for my friends and colleagues to hear my music, although I am very pleased when they come, and I love working with as many different artists as I can. When I say that, it’s because my friends and colleagues already have a rich artistic life. I am creating music for those who are not really able to create it themselves, or those that feel a deep desire to connect to people like me. Artists – musicians and composers, dancers, visual artists, actors, etc – provide an emotional outlet, a balm on the soul, a respite from daily life, a means to understand. This work is essential to our health as a society. And the live experience is important on so many levels. First it is a gathering place where we humans come together and share an experience in real time. We connect to each other in important ways and build our communities in these ways. Further to that, we become an active part of any live performance as the energy in the space is exchanged, the sound waves bounce off our bodies and we all become a part of creating that sound experience. If one less person or one more person was present the sound would be different! In response to these realizations, my mission has recently become taking my music and live performance out into the world to places where I normally would not play – people’s homes.

I played my first house concert last month in Detroit, MI. Some of you reading here may have seen my posts on Facebook about that experience. If I had photos from that day, I’d post them here. It was a magical experience for me and for them. My hosts, the Wujeks were incredibly generous to invite me to perform in their home sight unseen, after only a phone call and checking out my website. They invited about 30 of their friends, I invited some people that I know out there too, and I’d guess that about 25 to 30 people came. Ed introduced me briefly and then I talked about my music in general, and explained a little about each piece before I played it. Ed wasn’t interested in hearing music that wasn’t mine, and he specifically asked for the wildest stuff I could play! – He studies boogie-woogie style piano and has a small grand in his beautiful living room. – The energy in the room was so warm, upbeat and inviting that I didn’t feel the usual nerves that I sometimes do. Not that I wasn’t nervous, because I was. The experience was already changing me.

What I learned was that it is incredibly important for me, and I believe for all of us as artists, to give our gift of music to everyone however we can and then allow them the opportunity to give something back to us. By allowing the Wujeks to invite their friends, for whom they gave the gift of my concert by acting as Presenter, all these people then showed their gratitude by giving money to me, in the time-honored tradition. The Wujeks got to feel the warmth and glow of providing a great experience to their friends and I got to feel the warmth and glow of giving a concert that was highly appreciated in every way. After I was finished playing, an impromptu Q&A started up and then many people wanted to ask me further questions on various related topics as we shared the food and drink the Wujek’s offered.

My sense was that these people were not going to come to a concert hall, at least not yet. They almost universally claimed ignorance of music, which I think they overstated, but they were clearly fascinated by what I was doing. Some said they had never heard a live piano performance before! Hopefully they will be interested in the idea and go out to a concert hall, but it may be that this is they way they want to experience music. Perhaps this is the way that is most meaningful for them right now?

There is an audience out there, happily. However, they don’t know how to get to us, so we have to go out and find them. Currently, they won’t go to the concert hall, so we have to go to them. And after such a success, I started working out how to replicate the experience in other places almost immediately by talking with people who seem like likely candidates. Ultimately, I envision a network of house-concert venues around the world with each home-owner becoming a kind of curator. At least in the beginning, I am happy to facilitate this process by paving the way with my own concerts, hopefully sharing information with others who are already doing this, and together creating a network of venues with built-in audiences of curious people hungry for a visceral, new-music experience.

If anyone reading this is interested in hosting a concert or knows someone who might be interested in hosting a concert, please let me know! By the same token, if anyone is interested in playing a house concert, let me know and I’ll start a database.

It is vitally important for the arts to engage people outside their purview. I believe that until we do that, we will, as a group, continue to lose ground economically because we are not participating in the world at large directly enough. This is kind of a new realization for me, and so I’m still figuring out how to address this most fully for myself, but the first step I took was a massive success!

Stay tuned to read about the other avenues I am actively working.

Why now?

Recently, Bill Doerrfeld wrote an article in New Music Box about ageism, http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/ageism-in-composer-opportunities/  In it, he raised some very interesting points that got a lot of feedback, inspiring me to start writing myself. In this blog I’ll be addressing some issues from that article, and in a way that I think has the most potential to initiate positive change in the world, as I myself foment positive change in my own career and approach to life. I’ll also talk about my own work and whatever issues come up that impact it, which is basically everything. So to start, here’s a bit about me and how I am feeling at the moment.

I’m in my mid-fifties, and I suppose people would say that I’ve hit mid-career as a composer and pianist. It’s very odd and feels somehow “middlin’” all around, like this is supposed to be the less interesting part of my career. I just had the image of baking a cake, where at the beginning you put together all the ingredients and blend them, the start of one’s career, if you will allow me this baking analogy,  then you put the cake in the oven and bake it, which would be the mid-career part (watching and waiting for the ingredients you started with to come together in a hidden environment), and then you get to eat the cake – mmmm delicious – which is the end of the career. This “baking” part is where it can feel a little invisible to the wider world. You are no longer the flavor of the month, if you ever had that distinction, and no one is quite ready to celebrate your life’s work because you are still making work, presumably.

Then there’s the part about being a woman in my mid-fifties. Mid-life holds an equally dismal place in our minds, no matter how hard AARP tries to spin it. The very FACT of AARP is depressing to me on so many levels, and denial is pervasive, in my life anyway. And then there’s the invisibility factor.

I am told that as a middle-aged woman that I am invisible from now on. Now I am twice as invisible! Problem is, I don’t feel at all invisible. I don’t feel old or middle anything. In fact, I probably felt older when I was young, if that makes any sense at all. The weight of the world felt heavy on me and when I could legitimately be called a young composer, I wasn’t composing music yet! Started at 30, so I’d already aged out of those ASCAP and BMI awards. In other words, these categories all ring false to me somehow.

Life changed for me at 30, when I began composing and was a full-time freelancer. But this blog isn’t about my life story, this blog is about the state of things now, in my field of new music composition and performance. And I hope you will feel inspired to join me and make this monologue a dialogue!

Wunderkammern: The Private Life of Objects

for chamber ensemble (2014). This through-composed feature-length film score was composed for the film by Erika Suderburg of the same name. Live version available Fall of 2015.

Improvisations 1

 for solo piano and Wonder Suit, a set of 6 pieces improvised on lines of poetry (2014) Premiered at Musical Ecologies series 2014 and released as a digital download by the same name in 2014. No score is available, but the electronic tracks are.

Everybody Keep Calm

for 3 players covering ranges low to high (2013) 6:00 – 10:00 Premiered on Rétes series at Spectrum NYC 2013 by Mary Rowell, Kevin Norton and the composer.

Spice Mixes 1 – 3

for a flexible ensemble of between 2 and 6 players (2013 – 14) 4:00 – 8:00 Mixes 1 and 2 were premiered at Spectrum NYC 2013 by Jim Pugliese and the composer. Spice Mix 3 will be premiered by Ensemble 50 on the Composers Now Festival, January 30, 2015.