Friday, November 25, 2016

Multi-tasking: Friend or Foe

It would seem that multi-tasking is the way of the 21st century. While most of us multi-task to some degree or another, there is an unforeseen drawback to keeping everything moving at the same time. As I’ve learned from my study of martial arts, when multi-tasking one runs the risk of not doing everything at  the same level of quality. The perception is that one is saving time…but at what cost? Simple mistakes are often made (e-mails, letters) and quality is often sacrificed. In fact, multi-tasking can result in readdressing some items that were not fully completed the first time. The adage “Haste makes waste” still rings true today…and for good reason. So what is an efficient alternative? Most of us have only become busier yet many seem to think we have endless time to complete tasks. Although it sounds like a slower alternative, the answer is to tackle each project one at a time with a completely focused effort. This means nothing else can occupy your mind (or your desk) except the task at hand. The reason why this may not have worked for many is that daily tasks are usually mixed with daydreaming, texts, phone calls, coffee breaks, etc. When you eliminate everything but the main event (so to speak), you will not only finish much quicker than when multi-tasking, but the quality of each effort will be considerably higher. I’ve adopted this approach from experiences at my karate dojo (Shoreikan), in which we’re taught to leave the world behind upon entering the dojo. This very act establishes the discipline needed to do one thing at a time with extreme efficiency and quality. I believe it has helped me to become a more focused student, artist and individual. Give it a try ;)

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Album Concept

One of the most significant albums to influence my conception of what an album experience should be is the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. I was fortunate to have parents that introduced me to the Beatles at a young age (although I was too young to really know exactly what I was hearing…that appreciation came much later). Throughout my life, I always returned to this particular album with the same feeling….as if I were going to a show (in the theatrical sense). Each track has its own color and story to tell and no matter how varied the instrumentation, everything sounds like it belongs together. In general, the Beatles never hesitated to mix instrumentation (and styles) within the same album (especially during the later years). In contrast, there has been a trend for several decades now in which artists release albums that feature the same instrumentation, same production……same sound. While this has its merits from a marketing standpoint, I’m personally much more attracted to the Beatles’ approach – especially when applied to my own music. Bear in mind that there can be drawbacks to an album with such diversity in style and production; record labels might be reluctant to sign an artist whose music doesn’t fit neatly into a marketable category…this is a real issue which I’ve experienced myself! Be that as it may, I’ll continue to search for the right situation for a future record label as I want to stay true to the creative freedom that I’ve enjoyed so much in the work of the Beatles. If I can come even a little close to creating a stimulating listening journey as the Beatles did in their various albums (a Magical Mystery Tour, if you will ;), then I’ll be that much closer to returning the gift that was given to me by one of the best bands of the 20th / 21st century.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Midi, Loops, Samples and More:

Composing with midi and sampled sounds has become an art in the 21st century. While some purists are opposed to the idea of using samples to represent an orchestra (or any acoustic setting), the current musical climate doesn’t always allow for other options. The opportunities to hear one’s music performed by a top level (or even moderately good) orchestra are frequently reserved for a select few – those who win highly competitive competitions as well as world-renowned composers and artists with personal ties to an orchestral committee. That said, if a composer really loves to write for the orchestra but doesn’t have the opportunity to do so, sample libraries offer a realistic alternative.
         In some ways, the lack of outlets for orchestral readings has encouraged and inspired composers to become adept at using midi. Personally, I’ve had great success using Quantum Leap’s East West Symphonic orchestra (Gold) along with various string patches from Omnisphere. However, the sources used are not as important as the ability to manipulate and combine sounds to achieve the feeling of a live orchestra. Sometimes it may be necessary to add a few live instruments to make the recording more realistic…especially since most sample libraries have some deficiencies with certain instruments in the way the sound speaks. Although you may need extra funds to do this, it’s certainly more affordable than hiring an orchestra :)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

“Marimba When"..............Leigh Howard Stevens

Every serious student of marimba is familiar with the pioneering 4-mallet technique of Leigh Howard Stevens. However, there’s a whole other side to this craft, which has to do with the translation of classical repertoire for the instrument.  Some of the greatest composers of the 19th century (and beyond) have been represented with absolute artistry in a CD entitled “Marimba When” – a collection of piano music by Debussy, Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Khachaturian as performed by Mr. Stevens.

The opening track, "Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” from Debussy’s “Children’s Corner” is a personal favorite of mine. The tempo was carefully chosen (a bit slower than normally performed on piano) to allow the notes to speak fully (considering the natural decay of the instrument). The dynamics on "The Snow is Dancing" (also Debussy) demonstrate extreme sensitivity and control along with the backdrop arpeggio against the chordal melody.

Another beautiful melody comes from Schumann’s "Untitled No.30" (from “Album for the Young”, Op.68). The tempo is much slower than what is commonly heard on piano but (here again) it works perfectly for marimba,  drawing attention to the slowly shifting harmony through extended rolls. The chordal accompaniment on "Remembrance" (also “Album for the Young”, Op.68) resonates for the perfect duration before changing chords. As is evident here, a player must listen to the natural characteristics of the marimba to determine performance choices that may not apply to the original instrument (i.e. piano).

Shifting gears slightly, Khachaturian’s "Ivan Can't Go Out today" (from “The Adventures of Ivan”) is driven by a triplet flow – impeccably executed! A final highlight includes "Ivan Goes to a Party" with a performance that really conveys the quality and depth of the instrument - especially the low notes that introduce the piece.

I highly recommend owning this CD if you’re a serious student of 4-mallet marimba. “Marimba When” demonstrates how a true understanding of classical repertoire can lead to the most musical and idiomatic translation for the instrument.

To purchase “Marimba When”, click below:

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Do it Now!

That movie you wanted to see, the road trip you wanted to take, that creative writing course you wanted to take, that composition or poem you wanted to write…..don’t wait until next month or next week…do it now! It’s pretty easy (and common) to postpone small pleasures in life in favor of tasks that “must get done”. However, sometimes the proverbial “to do” list consists of things that actually can wait. I find that I have more energy and focus to take care of the mundane tasks in life as long as I mix it up with what you might call “spiritual food”….the stuff that keeps you happy. Keep a balance…it’s something I remind myself to do regularly and thought it was worth sharing :)

Friday, January 3, 2014

Snowstorm:a good reason to compose…or just enjoy solitude

Yes, a snowstorm has arrived here in the Northeast. I have to admit, except for the travel difficulties, I love a good snowstorm. There is an introspective quality about the quiet landing of snow on the ground. It seems to calm the soul and pave the way for thoughts that we often don’t have time to consider. I find this to be a perfect opportunity to compose, write poetry or even meditate. It’s as if the weather itself dictates that you must stay inside and become one with your thoughts. That said, I invite you to grab a cup of hot cocoa, watch the snow fall and listen….even if it’s only to the sound of silence ;)

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Instant accessibility...Good or bad?

It would seem the ability to get in touch with each other any time, day or night, would be a good thing, right?  Instant accessibility…what could be better? How about the ability to have a conversation with someone for five minutes without constant interruption from a text alert or phone call? It seems that more and more people are quite content sitting next to each other while texting someone else….anything but face-to-face communication it would seem. As a result, it’s becoming increasing more difficult to have meaningful conversations as so many people are anxiously awaiting the next message, tweet or phone call (which, by the way, can almost always wait). Has a friend ever approached your for advice only to interrupt saying “hold on, I have a text” (or perhaps randomly check their phone while speaking with you)? Imagine that! …a  person asks YOU for help and then interrupts only to check a text (granted, sometimes we are waiting for a crucial call / message, but how often does that happen?).

As many are aware, this sort of behavior also carries into the music world. It’s becoming commonplace to attend concerts (and movies) only to see cell phones lighting up during performances (I’ve seen it many times at New York Philharmonic concerts – it’s quite disruptive).  To some, this may be an acceptable minor annoyance that comes with the advancement of technology; however, it’s possible that we may be sacrificing something along the way.  We may be missing out on the therapeutic and elevating experience that comes with all forms of art when we allow ourselves to become fully immersed in the subject at hand…..without interruption! Listening to an entire musical performance without checking for messages is almost unheard of these days. Music has the ability to elevate the soul and enrich one’s life…..but only if you let it! The concert experience is much like entering a temple with the sole intention of prayer – it’s a very sacred act that should not be disturbed. In the concert hall, the only requirement is that you listen. 

As an experiment, the next time you attend a concert, look to see how many people are listening vs. those who are texting or calling to convey what they are doing at that very moment. Regardless of your findings, I’d like to leave you with one parting thought:  Be in the moment! If you are enjoying something, allow yourself to continue enjoying it without interruption. You'll always have the opportunity to tell someone about it afterwards and actually have a more complete story to tell (or text, tweet, blog, etc.). And if you're speaking to a friend to give advice or listen to a story, give your full attention. That act, in and of itself, may be just the medicine they need!