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Saturday, March 16, 2013

Not a productive week. But neat anyway.

I scrapped a whole section of music in Ayn earlier this week because I decided it sounded stupid. The thought of rewriting left me despondent, so this has not been the most productive week, Ayn-wise. Annoying. I'm very anxious to complete it, but I when I get like this, I can't turn the inspiration on like a tap. The whole thing is not quite half done (in short score). Not quite. If I can get it half done by the end of this month, I'll be ... on the way to being happy with myself. Really, I should have had half of it done by the end of last semester, but my seasonal depression was a lumbering inspiration-eating bear that refused to hibernate for most of past few months.

Things that were neat about this week:

Thanks to a tip on a blog post by Michael Swanwick, I bought an original illustration from Tess Kissinger, and since they live only about 15 blocks away from us, we got to pick it up in person and meet her and Bob Walters. The famed paleoartists let Matt and I hang out for a bit in their sweet two-storey backyard studio, which is basically a geek paradise full of dinosaur models and casts, and also battle armor, and a drumkit, and science fiction art, and a cat. We couldn't stop yakking to each other, so we're going back for brunch soon.

Here's Tess's illustration, along with a couple of postcards showcasing a mural they did for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, replete with dinodoodles by Bob.

Stuff from Bob Walters and Tess Kissinger

And Matt in a helmet with Tess and Bob:

  Matt in a helmet with Tess and Bob

Another cool discovery: a new Facebook friend alerted me to the existence of a new venture called Choral Tracks, started by a singer who was a member of Chanticleer when they performed the West Coast premiere of What do you think I fought for at Omaha Beach? last year. He charges extremely reasonable rates to create live-sung renditions of choral music, with which you can do exactly as you please (unlike the backward Musicians' Union, who are stuck in an era when recorded music was a lucrative commodity rather than a promotional tool). Hello. Exactly what I need for new choral compositions, since I'm not convinced EW Symphonic Choirs is worth it, and also I'd rather have demos sung by a human being on principle.

Social networking for the win. Not just good for promoting; also good for having useful services promoted to you. I will report in a few weeks when the recording is done.

This evening, I'll be playing my viola in concert for the first time in well over a year with the Penn Symphony. I've had eight hours of orchestra rehearsal and sectionals this week, which is far more playing than this slacker is used to doing, as evidenced by my aching left shoulder, but oddly enough, even as I was groaning to go home at the end of last night's dress rehearsal, I was thinking very seriously about how much I enjoy this, and how maybe I should keep this up. God, I love viola. Viola is the shit. Maybe I wouldn't love it so much if I had turned out to be a violist instead of a composer, but every time I come back to it, I feel so grateful that I play it, and for everything the viola has taught me about music. I've played violin, and I've played cello, and they are not nearly as satisfying. There's a reason why so many of the best composers preferred viola (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Dvorak, Schubert, Respighi, Vaughan-Williams, etc.); the best harmony and orchestration lessons I ever got were in viola sections -- and come to think of it, I'd wager that the further back I sit, the better I learn, because the violists in the back desk are literally right in the middle of the orchestra, weaving their inner harmonies into the texture while hearing everything else from all sides.

Penn Symphony at 8PM, Irvine Auditorium.

I'm still sitting on news items I can't reveal yet.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Eat, Compose, Love

Bless me, Blogger, for I have sinned. It has been two months since my last entry.

Right this instant I am exhausted.

At long last, for about a month now, I have had only one project on my plate: Ayn. I have been on this earth for nearly 33 years, and this singularity of purpose is unprecedented. But for some stupid reason, I feel more tired for it. Perhaps, with less noise, I am able to feel the accumulated weariness for the first time. In any case, I'm making progress on the opera — slow progress, but progress nevertheless — but when the notes come out sounding like garbage because my brain has run out of juice for the day, I find myself totally confused and lost by the lack of other items on my to-do list. I pace around mindlessly like a broken Roomba. I don't think I've ever dealt with feeling like this before. It's an experiment.

A couple of old projects have managed to demand my attention recently, however. The most notable news is that Tesla's Pigeon will be performed in New York City next month, thanks to this wildly successful ongoing kickstarter campaign I launched ten days ago:

It's a little overwhelming to receive so much support from friends near and far — and even a few total strangers. And since the campaign also introduces my current project publicly, the pressure is on for Ayn. I have expectations to fulfill, theirs and mine.

Meanwhile, the Tesla's Pigeon concert will be at 7:30PM on April 22 at Christ & Saint Stephens Church. I'll post more about it closer to the date.

Then, exactly a week later, Jess and the Curtis Symphony will record my orchestration of Tesla's Pigeon, which I was feverishly arranging when I wrote my last blog entry. I'm pretty excited to hear it played, even if it does create some non-Ayn noise in my head. I spent rather too much time in January learning how to bind books so I could make a hardcover score, which kicks some serious arse over the spiral binding that is the standard:

Matt (with the flu) opens my very first hardcover bound score - Tesla's Pigeon for soprano and orchestra

^^ These are also available as a reward on the Kickstarter campaign.

This afternoon, the Kennett Symphony Orchestra and Children's Chorus will give the second of two children's concerts featuring my brand spanking new revision of Jack and the Beanstalk at my alma mater West Chester University; last summer, I tore into the first edition, ripped out and abridged some movements, interpolated some new songs (including the most ridiculously catchy number I've ever written in my life, "These Beans"), added some lyrics to existing instrumental melodies, and rearranged the whole thing for chamber orchestra. It's shorter, but I think it's way better. Judging from the post-performance reactions last week, the kids seem to enjoy it, which is about the best compliment a composer can get; kids that young are unabashedly honest, and they're difficult to fool. Of course, everyone is nuts over "These Beans," but unfortunately, I can't let you hear a recording because of the stipulations of the Musician's Union. I might have some choice words on that matter in a later post.

Captain Samuels Speaks to the Sea! made its UK debut in February at the Two Rivers Festival, the first time any piece of mine has been performed over the pond as far as I know. I am surprisingly proud of that piece. I started listening to it the other day and found myself quite liking it, and I played it all the way through, good heavens. I know that sounds a bit batty, but I don't do much playback of my finished pieces because I start to pick at them and want to change them, and I'd rather write new stuff.

On a non-musical note, last month Matt and I got the results of our DNA test from 23andMe. If you have $99 to spare, I highly recommend it; fascinating stuff, especially for someone like me descended from immigrants who tend to leave the past behind and have no interest in genealogy. As far as recent ethnic background is concerned, I didn't find out anything I didn't already know: my mother is a Chinese as they come, and my father is as Greek as they come. The only surprise was 2% Italian heritage on my father's side, which really isn't all that surprising at all. Of more interest is the data from further back: I have 3.1% Neanderthal DNA, which puts me in the 98th percentile. I thought this was pretty badass until Matt looked at his DNA profile: he has 3.2% Neanderthal DNA, placing him in the 99th percentile. That's about as close as we come to being related.