Monday, May 15, 2017

Is your music too difficult to play?


For several years now I’ve discovered that much of the music I compose is difficult to perform…..at least that’s what I’m told. I didn’t think this would be the case as it’s not especially difficult on a reading level; however, having the luxury of working with some of the top instrumentalists in New York City, I realize from their feedback that the execution of my music is not always easy….in fact it’s hard. This brings up a valid concern…if the music you compose is too challenging, will it limit performance opportunities? It's very possible; however, a good piece will eventually find its way to the concert stage and capable musicians will take on the challenge. While I am currently trying to strike a balance in my own music moving forward, I don't feel the need to modify difficult pieces as long as I’m genuine about what I wish to express. I can remember being told by past teachers that every note, chord and phrase must be written with intention……and THAT is what should serve as the criteria for what you keep and what you throw out! That said, I have never approached a composition with the sole intention of challenging a player. When it happens, it’s always a pure byproduct of an intentional idea. Music should come from your inner voice ….even if the result pushes the performance envelope.
           This brings me to a more supportive point on this subject, which is best expressed by the premiere of Stravinsky’s Right of Spring in Paris on May 20th, 1913 - a performance which apparently upset many audience members with its strangled bassoon melody and outrageous choreography. Writing for the bassoon so high in the register, as Stravinsky did, was simply unheard of….it was not idiomatic for the bassoon. Of course, this piece is now part of the standard orchestral repertoire and considered mild in the context of 21st century works. While I wouldn’t suggest pondering the fate of your composition (wasted energy), I do recommend spending time and attention pursuing those difficult ideas as long as they are genuine and physically possible to play. Although some will wrestle with your music (in both performance and listening), a really great piece may become part of the standard repertoire as did the Rite of Spring. The level of playing will continue to develop and evolve over time. So don’t worry if your music is ahead of the curve……….eventually the playing level will catch up or even surpass your difficult creative ideas! 😀

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 ;)