Wednesday, June 27, 2012

in a composition hole don't try to talk to me

I'm trying to wrest myself away from an arrangement I'm doing of one of my pieces. The reason I'm always putting off composing is that when I start, it takes up everything. All my physical space, all my mental space, all my energy ... I forget to eat and sleep, I don't want to talk to anyone, and even when I'm forced to pull back (as I'm forcing myself to now, for my own health), all I can really think about is how I need to get this composition finished.

You know what? I don't care how bad MIDI instruments sound (and WOW have they come a long way since I ditched writing music on paper 16 years ago), I freaking love playback. No amount of sneering from composers who think we young 'uns rely too much on it will counteract the inherent coolness of being able to say, "Hey, slave robot orchestra inside my computer, now play this! Wait, now try THIS!"

Yeah, I guess I could still compose without playback, but I'm really bad at remembering to put in accidentals, probably because I grew up singing fixed do. And besides, the less pressure I put on my underslept malnourished brain, the longer I can go without sleeping or eating. Win-win.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Tesla's Pigeon takes flight

Wait, maybe that headline isn't cheesy enough.

Judges coo over Tesla's Pigeon
Audiences flock to hear Tesla's Pigeon
Composer a-flutter at song cycle's success
Tesla's Pigeon not just a load of guano

Visit the Tesla's Pigeon microsite
for further information, artwork,
merchandise and more.

I'm excited to report that Tesla's Pigeon has won the National Association of Teachers of Singing 2012 Art Song Composition Award. This week, they're flying me down to Orlando's Renaissance Hotel at Sea World for the NATS 52nd National Conference to collect the prize and see a live performance of the song cycle at a recital on Saturday, June 30, at 3:30PM. Matt's coming too -- I picked up a South West Airlines credit card a couple of months ago, preloaded with enough points to seat him next to me for free. I'm so happy that this piece is getting some recognition; I believed in it enough to hire the marvelous, gorgeous, adorable soprano Jessica Lennick and the dashingly talented and accomplished pianist Tim Ribchester -- both of whom are always my first choice for anything involving voice and keyboard -- to record it last year (available on bandcamp, as well as Amazon and iTunes), and aside from the glory of winning, it's a relief to finally be able to break even on that enterprise.

Aside: This isn't the first decent prize I have won in a competition that levies an entrance fee. I sort of feel obliged to put that out there because I have read more than one opinion article from composers jaded by the competition circuit who categorically denounce entrance fees and advise other composers to never pay to enter competitions because they themselves have invested small fortunes over the course of their careers with no payoff. Indeed, most competition listings provided by services such as the American Composers Forum or the American Music Center clearly demarcate or separate contests with fees to facilitate composers with this attitude. Community discussion about entry fees reached fever pitch back in 2010 when Eighth Blackbird (whom I adore) launched its first competition; they decided to remove the imposed $50 entry fee after a storm of criticism. I was right on the fence about that one. I think if they had originally charged $20 or $30, there wouldn't have been an outcry, but -- I think because of the existence of the $50 bill, an annoying denomination that businesses often refuse to accept -- psychologically, $50 feels even more exorbitant than it is. And make no mistake, it is exorbitant. But I'm not anti-fee in general. I think it takes a lot of time and effort to run a competition, and a lot of the small private organizations that run them wouldn't be able to offer any prize money without fees. At least for me, the presence of fees causes me to filter my entries. Is this composition really worth the $100 I might spend sending it out to a few contests? Does it have a chance, or is it one of those pieces that probably nobody in the world is going to like as much as I do*? Plus, of course, I can't speak out against fees with any verisimilitude because I've made quite the return on my investment. Is it worth entering composition contests with fees? Well, yeah, sure it is, if you win.

Tesla's Pigeon will hopefully get some attention the following weekend as well: July 7 through 9, I have been invited to take part in the Tesla birthday celebrations and conference organized by the Nikola Tesla Club here in Philadelphia, so I'll be selling CD's, scores, and the remaining silkscreen prints in addition to my speaking and hosting duties. If you're interested in checking out the event (and you should be), I highly recommend the Divine Hand Ensemble concert on the evening of July 7. Divine Hand are a Theremin + strings ensemble I befriended two Tesla's birthdays ago; I interviewed each member of the group on camera last year for a documentary about their inception called 21st Century Classical Music, which I believe is scheduled for broadcast later this year (more details when I have them). Here's an excerpt about their annual Halloween concert, featuring music from the Ghostbusters score by Elmer Bernstein:

So come hear some Theremin arrangements and originals, and say hello and maybe pick up a Tesla's Pigeon CD (even though CD's are practically artifacts at this point) or silkscreen print from me after the show (or, you know, get one now online by clicking on those links):

Awards Ceremony & Concert
Featuring: The Divine Hand Ensemble

R.U.B.A. Hall
414 Green Street, Philadelphia
Tickets $12

*I love those pieces. I send them out sometimes, but nobody or hardly anybody is interested in playing them, so they mostly just sit in a drawer. I get them out every now and then and say to them, "I love you. Don't let rejection get you down. I wrote you because you are cool and you'll always be cool to me." I am a great mother.

Back from our epic roadtrop!

And finally finished blogging about the whole thing. Only took me two weeks back in Philly to get around to writing the last few entries. Read all about it at

I will blog more soon. I have much to say involving Tesla and tattoos. BTW, Mr. Matt still has blog entries to write and photos to upload, so if you've read everything, don't give up on yet.