Posts Tagged ‘Dianna Anderson’


Thursday, August 24th, 2017

All summer, I kept meaning to post something–I was somewhat lazy, but a few things happened, so here is an update.

I’ve started and finished two pieces since May.  My new work for Galo Arboledo is On a Clear Night You Can See Forever for violin and piano, and is an ode to the Shafran Planetarium at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.  We are hoping to premiere the piece in the Museum on a Cleveland Composers Guild concert on November 26, but we’re still awaiting the decision of the program committee on that.  The piece is a fantasy that explores the wonders of the Universe, starting close to home with the aurora, and zooming out to the ultimate panorama.  More updates on this piece in the near future!

I’m also ready to send copies of my first big band piece to Ed Michaels, who will premiere it with Lakeland Jazz Impact this year.  Appropriately, the title is Maximum Impact.  I’m always pleased when my work can intersect with my job in some way.  Jazz Impact has a storied history, and is the only high school honors jazz band in Northeast Ohio.

A big first for me was conducting the Resonanz production of Ravel’s L’Enfant et les sortileges.  I can now call myself an opera conductor.  Even just conducting a piano-vocal arrangement was an amazing challenge, and while I felt some trepidation, I’m glad that I took it on.  I’m also pleased to be working with a group that is bringing serious music to Lake County, where, outside the schools, there isn’t enough.

The Lakeland Civic Orchestra will start up on Monday.  I’m excited to see our group again, and it looks like a good season ahead.  We are starting our season with a concert on November 5 that includes Massenet’s Ballet Music from Le Cid, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, and Alice Mary Smith’s The Masque of Pandora.  It is always hard to choose music for the orchestra–nothing too easy, nothing too hard, and always the knowledge that whatever I pick we have to live with for a few months while we prepare it.  Sam Rotburg, violin faculty at Baldwin Wallace University, approached me with the idea of the Beethoven Triple a couple of years ago, and that is now coming to fruition.  His wife and colleague Sungyeun Kim will play piano, and Chauncey Arecet will play cello.  The Massenet is a piece I first encountered in college in a band transcription, and when I was playing the CD in the car recently, Noah reminded me that he had heard it in a cartoon, as well.  The odd duck, then, is the Smith.  A composer who deserves to be better known, certainly.  I resolved this season to begin to make more of an effort to include music by under-represented voices in our concerts, after I realized that Jennifer Jolley’s Ferry Crossing was the first piece by a female composer that we had played in the five years that I have conducted the group.  The challenge, then, is that we are not a new music ensemble, so I need to educate myself and find repertoire by female composers and composers of color of the past.  Hence, Alice Mary Smith.  Since her style is close to Mendelssohn, she will fit nicely into what we do, and I’m excited to give the local premiere of this piece.  If the Cleveland Orchestra won’t do any better than it has in programming diversely, the Lakeland Civic Orchestra can lead the way.

We had a wonderful trip in June to Dearborn, Michigan to see the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.  It was great family time, as we stayed at “the pink hotel” and absorbed some of the history of our nation.  The Henry Ford is really a Smithsonian West in many ways, and Noah was especially excited about seeing the chair Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated.  I’m moved that my kids were able to sit in the same bus that Rosa Parks was arrested in, and a little stunned that the exhibit on consumer technology now includes things I had in my house as a high schooler.  We also lived more history at Hale Farm and Village here in Cleveland, when we attended their Civil War reenactment earlier this month.  Noah has developed in interest in this, and he was fascinated by it, of course.  My first orchestra conducting gig was conducting artillery reenactors for the 1812 Overture, but I had never been to an encampment like this.  The tough part of it all, is trying to explain why people do this–not only to my son, but also to my sister-in-law Connie and her two nieces, who were visiting from Germany.

I also took Becky to see Billy Joel perform at Progressive Field in July.  I’m glad we went, but the musician in me found it too loud.  I can’t imagine a concert by a group meant to be loud.  He only sings hits now, of course, since he hasn’t had a new album in 15 years.  He threw in a couple of deep cuts, but mostly, everyone got to hear what they came to hear.  One of my favorite sights of the evening was a man wearing a Fantasies and Delusions t-shirt.  That is a true Billy Joel fan, and having had my music on the same program as some of those pieces (thanks, Avguste Antonov), it’s fun to know that I’m artistically connected to such a big name.  I’ve always loved his music, even before I realized it was his music, and I’m glad I had a chance to see him while he is still performing.  Not bad for my first stadium concert.

Now fall semester looms.  Noah is back in school, everyone who has visited has visited, and it’s time to open the folder called Compositions Fall 2017.  Ahead of me are a trio for piano, violin, and trumpet for Troika Melange; a piece for soprano and jazz trio for Carrie Hennessey; and possibly some songs for a connection from Resonanz.  Dianna Anderson has agreed to premiere Sisters in Stone, but we haven’t figured out when; I would like to do it at the High Museum of Art, since the statues that inspired it come from there.  I would like to get Twenty Views of the Trombone out there as well.  I hope to present it at Lakeland and in some other college venues this year.  I’m also hoping to return to the CMS circuit, since their Great Lakes Regional conference is in Columbus, and I wouldn’t have to spend my entire travel budget on one trip.  I had a great opportunity to reconnect with Nancy Joy, who commissioned South Africa, my horn and marimba piece which is just about my greatest hit.  She is planning to record the work sometime this year, which will be another boost for that surprise success.

Where did the summer go?

Being Here, Not Being There

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

Last Sunday, October 12, was a big day for my music.  Here in Cleveland, Liliana Garlisi gave the first performance in Ohio of the complete Starry Wanderers on a concert of the Cleveland Composers Guild.  And, in St. Louis, Avguste Antonov was the soloist in the world premiere of my piano concerto, with the University City Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Leon Burke.  Both concerts happened more or less simultaneously, and while I was glad to be here in Cleveland for Liliana’s fantastic performance, missing the concert in St. Louis stung a bit.

The good news first.  Liliana gave an amazing reading, from memory, of Starry Wanderers.  As a composer, the feeling of having someone take a piece that seriously is second-to-none.  Dianna Anderson, who gave the premiere of Starry Wanderers and my piano sonata, has treated my work in the same way, as though she were playing Beethoven or Scriabin rather than the work of a relatively obscure Midwesterner.  I now consider myself fortunate to have collaborated with three pianists who bring that kind of musicianship to the table.

During Lilian’s performance, a child who had been brought to the concert began to fuss, and let’s just say that it won’t be a pristine recording.  A colleague at the concert expressed her dismay in an email later this week, and while I appreciate her sentiment on behalf of Liliana and myself, I personally think that it’s wrong.

I teach students every day who don’t buy into the “pristine concert hall” experience.  In fact, it is one of the factors they find most intimidating when they attend concerts as required.  In our kid-friendly world, how can we expect that people won’t bring their children to something that children have every right to experience?  I was fortunate to grow up in a time and place where schoolchildren were regularly exposed to such things–the Columbus Symphony Orchestra gave a concert at my high school twice while I was there–but with budgets and grants increasingly less available, this just doesn’t happen as often.

If someone wants to come to a concert on which my piece is being played, and the only way that they can do so is to bring their young child, then let them come.  The point of a concert is not to make the perfect recording — if that is what is required, then the dress rehearsal should be recorded, or a studio session scheduled.  I put my music before the public so as many people as possible can experience it in the way it was intended to be heard–played by a living person in front of a living audience.  I would no more ask my audience not to breathe.  I would love to know that my music elicits audible responses from time to time–laughs, gasps, sighs, cries, whatever.  And if that recording is so important, than whoever listens to it will have affirmation that it is, in fact, a live recording rather than a studio recording with applause edited in at the end.

The St. Louis performance went well, so I’m told.  It was frustrating that a piece I had been thinking about for twenty years, and spent most of 2013 writing, was premiered without my being present.  I talked with Leon Burke over the phone, and he also tried to have me listen in on a rehearsal over his cell phone.  This was frustrating, because as I followed the score, I could almost hear my piece through the distortion, if I really squinted my ears.  I held on until the end of the run-through, so that I could take a moment to thank the players, but there wasn’t really much that I could tell them.  I’ve seen pictures of the performance on the Internet, and the concert was recorded and videoed, so hopefully I will have those artifacts–again, the recording is crucial, but is not the piece itself.  I wasn’t there because the funding was there from the orchestra to bring me out, and the composition business has done well this year, but there was no money for a plane ticket.  As a younger, single man, I would have hopped in the car and driven the eight hours, and probably driven back immediately after the concert so that I wouldn’t miss class on Monday morning, but I have responsibilities now.  I had been hoping for a second performance in Pennsylvania this year, but that doesn’t seem like it will materialize, so at this point, there is a major work of mine that has been premiered, but that I haven’t heard, except as a ghost of itself through a cell phone.  Avguste, having taken the time to learn the piece, is now behind it, and hopes to play it again in 2015-2016, but nothing firm has been committed.  The irony is that usually I take a performance that goes on without me as a sign that I’m making progress as a composer, but it has happened only rarely for a premiere.  The last time a piece was premiered without me, though, was in 2009, when my flight to North Dakota was cancelled, and I missed Dianna Anderson’s premiere of Starry Wanderers, which has gone on to be a relatively important piece, and was the start of a significant collaboration with my former teacher.  Perhaps, then, there are more and better things in store for this concerto.

Glenn Gould: Fifty Years of Solitude

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

Fifty years ago today, April 10, 1964, Canadian pianist Glenn Gould gave his last public performance.

Sometime around twenty years ago, I discovered Glenn Gould, first through Evan Eisenberg’s book The Recording Angel, and later, and more importantly, through Francois Girard’s film Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, which my father and I went to see at the Drexel Theatre in Columbus on its first release, sometime in late 1993 or early 1994.  Coincidentally, I’ve been showing this film to my music appreciation students this week.  I love it for my own reasons, of course, but I love the way it (and Gould’s story) portrays the eternal triangle of composer-performer-audience, and shows that this triangle is perhaps not as eternal as we once thought it.

I also love that it’s a grown-up movie.  It isn’t a romantic comedy, and there are no explosions, which right away make it very different from what my students are accustomed to seeing.  On the other hand, the movie’s structure as a set of short vignettes, no more than about five minutes long each, is perfect for the way that many of them have encountered media–through YouTube clips, Vine videos, and the like.  It deals with genius, with the plans our parents set into motion for us, with what an intelligent person does when he can no longer tolerate the path of his life, it deals with the consequences of personal decisions, and it deals with death.  And it’s funny.  Very funny, on a couple of occasions.

But more importantly, trying to explain Gould to my students every semester makes me rethink why he was so important to me in the first place.  So here’s what I have this time around.

In 1993 and 1994, I was excited about going to college, and I didn’t only consider going as a music major.  I prepared my own audition repertoire, and when I took auditions, I hadn’t had a regular private trombone teacher in two years.  I practiced, and I played, and I began to study music theory.  I had some experience on piano to fall back upon, and I had started to compose a little.  I would eventually complete a trombone concerto as my senior thesis, without much guidance other than my own reading and listening.  It wasn’t particularly good, and I wasn’t a standout candidate for conservatory.  I’m still amazed that Tony Chipurn took me into his studio at CCM because I had a lot of catching up to do in terms of my technique, although I was just fine in theory and history classes.

It has been said that it is a mistake to make a career of music if one has other options, and I certainly did.  If I had really understood the differences in the educational approaches of different schools, I might have made a very different decision.  I also might have made a very different decision if I hadn’t known about Glenn Gould.

I learned about Glenn Gould the man before I ever heard Glenn Gould the pianist.  What struck me was his personality, both as displayed in Girard’s film and in Otto Friederich’s Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations.  A musician, yes, but a true intellectual.  A man of staggering intellect.  And a man whose personality seemed to fit my own–exacting, idealistic, introverted, yet brilliant (I thought quite a bit of myself), uncompromising (at eighteen, I hadn’t had much to compromise over).  Seeing a potential future self in Gould, I could begin to see a future as a musician.  Composer?  Perhaps.  Band director?  If necessary.  I’m not completely sure what I wanted from my years at CCM when I got there, except to immerse myself in this musical world and somehow come out transfigured, shining-faced, prepared to be audacious, brilliant, uncompromising.

Almost the first thing I did on arriving in Cincinnati was find my way to the listening center in the music library, and have the attendant–Ben Rydell–put on Gould’s 1955 Goldberg Variations.  My first hearing, the first music I heard as a college student.  Even though it is the 1981 recording of that piece that I have played again and again after finally receiving it for Christmas that year, the notes of Gould’s breakthrough record were what bracketed my time in college.  My idea of what Bach could be was transformed, of course, and when I took piano lessons with Dianna Anderson, I drove her nuts trying to play Bach the way Gould did, but it was more than that.  I genuinely attempted to channel Gould, in my young, awkward, deliberately boisterous way, at once musical, literary, philosophical.  Those who were there may remember some of it, the heart-on-the-sleeve, Young Werther-type who walked around Cincinnati that year, reveling in the freedom to simply be a student of music, to keep my own hours, to determine for myself just how much solitude I needed (perhaps it was because my birth cohort is relatively small, but it seemed that there were any number of places for a person to be alone on that campus).

What does Gould mean for my students, then?  I wish I could get them to think more deeply about it–they aren’t always in that habit.  I think that Gould is the precursor of the postmodern performer–after all, he quit performing three years before the Beatles did.  There are any number of popular music stars today, particularly in techno and EDM, who only give lip service to the idea of public performance.  Is playing a set of recorded music a public performance?  Not in any kind of traditional sense, but I think Glenn Gould would have appreciated it.  While “artists” (and my students use this word more frequently than “musician” to describe musical performers) may appear before the public, many do not truly perform their music before the public, preferring to lip synch instead.  YouTube is filled with mashups–the result of the public doing just what Gould imagined–creating performances out of existing material.  In a sense, we have arrived at Gould’s future.

The world of Glenn Gould recedes from us a little more each year–I noticed this particularly on this week’s viewing’s of Thirty Two Short Films, with its typewriters, phone booths, and newspaper stock prices.  In 1993, only ten years on, things were not so different–after all, Gould’s second reading of the Goldberg Variations was recorded digitally and released on CD.  Now I find myself explaining some of the technology to the students, alongside with the idea that a man might then (as now) devote his entire life to performing the music of someone else.  This in particular baffles my students, who think of a “song”  (always a song) as being linked with a specific performer rather than a composer or songwriter.  I try to imagine what Gould and his producers were doing–making the first recordings which have withstood the test of time and changes of medium, and I see that if it hadn’t been Gould to quit the stage, it would have been someone.

And yet, the man fascinates me, and I think will continue to do so until I am older than he was at his death when I was only six years old.

Congratulations on fifty years of solitude, Mr. Gould.

On the Road Again: Minneapolis and Rock Island

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

It’s been a crazy two weeks, with the bulk of it spent out of town, and too much of it spent away from my family, but it’s also good to get out and share insights and work with colleagues, and both of these trips allowed that.

First was the national conference of the College Music Society in Minneapolis.  I had never been to the Twin Cities before, and I didn’t see a great deal of Minneapolis, but what I saw I liked.  I was there to present a poster session on my research into rhythm–what I call quintuplous meters and their notation.  When I found out that I would be giving a poster of my research instead of a large-group presentation, I was a little disappointed, but in fact, I discovered that the poster format was perfect–instead of giving my talk to everyone at once, I could answer questions one-on-one, tailoring my approach to the individual person.  I probably had about as many one-to-one conversations standing there by my poster as there would have been people at my session, and I think everyone went away with their questions answered.

The other great part of the conference was the informal exchange of ideas.  I feel that I’ve spent mine and the university’s money well if I come away from a conference energized and ready to try something back home that I’ve learned about in a session or discussed with colleagues.  The persistent problem that kept coming up with my music theory and composition colleagues who teach at smaller schools is that more and more music majors arrive as freshmen needing the equivalent of what we call at OPSU “Fundamentals of Music.”  They simply are often not ready for Music Theory I.  At OPSU, we have been offering Music Fundamentals during the summer term, but most students who plan to take Theory I in the fall don’t end up taking Fundamentals in the summer first.  The ones who do are generally more successful in Theory I, and the one’s who don’t, but should hold the class back as I spend more time than is probably necessary “reviewing” (i.e., exposing students for the first time in many cases) scales, key signatures, triads and the notation of rhythm.  It turns out that we are not the only school with this problem, and I have brought the dialogue back to OPSU with the suggestion that all incoming music majors take Fundamentals of Music in the fall semester unless they can pass a test showing that they know the material.  Theory I would then be offered in the Spring, with Theory II as a mandatory summer class for all first-year music majors.  Still in the thinking stages, but with the vast array of subjects (ever-growing) that falls into the music theory sequence, I think students would be better for it.

I went to Minneapolis not really knowing anybody, although I expected to run into a few acquaintances.  Nolan Stolz had the poster next to mine, and it was good to finally meet him in person (and to get his feedback on my poster).  Alex Nohai-Seaman and I met through the Roommate Finder for the conference, and I am glad we did.  It was good to see Jason Bahr again, and to hear his choral piece performed on a stupendous concert.  I played a piece for Bonnie Miksch way back in my Cincinnati days, and it was nice to reconnect.  Jay Batzner gave excellent and insightful advice, and I want to learn more about being a human from him.  Rachel Ware had the poster behind mine, and I think our conversations in Minneapolis will lead to a collaboration down the road, so I’m very excited for that to happen.

Four days in Goodwell, then, and a drive to Garden City to catch the Amtrak, although not before having dinner with Jim McAllister, which is always a pleasure.  At this conference, the Society of Composers Region V Conference at Augustana College, I was able to room with an old friend, Dan Perttu.  As usual, some interesting music, some more difficult to listen to, played well by the Augustana students and faculty, along with invited guests.  The highlight for me was finally hearing a live performance of Starry Wanderers by Dianna Anderson.  Dianna was a master’s student at Cincinnati when I was there, and I was assigned to her studio for private piano lessons.  I wish I’d practiced more, because there was clearly much more for me to learn from her!  Her interpretation, as at the premiere that I missed last year, was the type that takes what I think is a pretty good piece and makes it better.  She brings it to life in a way that makes me proud to have written the piece.  On top of that, she is still the kind and down-to-earth person I remember from the mid-1990s.  If you have a chance to hear her play, do it.  If she is your teacher, learn well.

As always, it was good to see familiar faces, as well as a slew of new ones.  At my paper presentation on Saturday morning, I was thrilled to see flutist Kimberlee Goodman in the audience, whom I haven’t seen since we were at Ohio State.  Her performance of Jennifer Merkowitz’ Phyllotaxis was inspired, and since she asked me to send scores, I hope she can bring her talent to bear on my music in the near future.

A train ride home (I hope Amtrak finds my hat when the train gets to LA), and I’m back, but just as soon, Becky and Noah are off to see off her family at the Amarillo airport.  Perhaps this week, the Saunders’ will actually see some of each other…