Sunday, August 31, 2014

Examples gross as earth exhort me: witness this one-person Hamlet I'm doing for the Philly Fringe

In a little under a week, I'll officially be treading the boards again as a Shakespearean actor, but with a twist: I'll be performing in South African playwright Robin Malan's one-person adaptation of Hamlet, quirkily renamed iHamlet, in the Philadelphia Fringe Festival.

Hamlet has a habit of showing up in my life at strangely synchronicitous times.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A sampling of work from the O'Neill: Red Fox / White Fox

I am pleased to report that thanks to all that blathering in my last blog post, more than one choir director has expressed an interest in programming It's strange about stars... at some point in the future, so I am hopeful that, even if I don't have any luck with the Twin Cities Women's Chorus competition, it will get a premiere some day soon. This is good, because I would be disappointed if something I've written that I actually like was left by the wayside.

Also: by request, I have arranged it as a viola quartet, for those of you out there lucky enough to know four or more violists: download the score and parts here. I suppooooose theoretically you could also play it with up to three violin parts, but where's the fun in that.

While I'm in a sharing mood, I figure I should give you a taste of some of the musical products of the O'Neill 2014 National Puppetry Conference last month. The following tracks were created for the amazing and mesmerizing and extremely crush-worthy duo Red Fox / White Fox, aka Jordan Morley and Lisi Stoessel. Here they are performing their participant piece with live music created during improvisations in rehearsals with the very talented Diana Sussman (here on melodica):

Red Fox | White Fox @ the O'Neill Puppetry Conference 2014 from Jordan Morley on Vimeo.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

L-O-L-A Lola la-la-la-la Lola; or What is my culture?

I started writing this post at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut last month, where I was the very happy music composition director for the 2014 National Puppetry Conference, surrounded by dozens of deliciously creative and crafty people. For eight days, I found myself with more energy and confidence than I had felt in a very long time — a common effect of the O'Neill — although that boost might also have been left over from a sudden storm of inspiration and discovery I had a few days before I left Philly, after months of compositional drought.

Performing (on my new Luis & Clark viola) at the O'Neill showcase. Photo by Richard Termine.

Frustrated with Ayn that week, I decided I might as well set myself a short composition exercise to help open the sluices, the sort of thing I used to do back when I was in coursework. The task: to write a short and relatively easy work for SSAA chorus in response to a competition call from the Twin Cities Women's Choir. The deadline: three days. Step one: find a decent text.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Happy birthday, Mr. Tesla

It's Nikola Tesla's 158th birthday! Along with all the other celebrations and million-dollar donations to museums in his honor, what better day to post the audio and photos from the performance of Tesla's Pigeon by the Secret Opera in New York City recently:

Tesla's Pigeon was sung in this performance by soprano Chelsea Feltman, accompanied by Joseph Yungen. Photos here are by Amanda Aulicino:

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The worst part of composing

Everyone has their own damn hell to push through, but here's mine: after months, nay, years, of feeling creatively kind of constipated (refer to multiple posts about depression on this very blog), I go back to a theme I smeared on the page maybe a year ago, and I hate it. It's supposed to be a twisted love theme. It's shit. It's a turd that I have tried multiple times to polish, but all it does is smear into ever more bland and messy stains. I decide to scrap the entire theme and do the whole damn thing over, which is going to affect a bunch of other moments and scenes, but whatever; they're all shit, contaminated by the stink of this stupid theme. They all need to be rewritten. In fact, most of the scenes in question need to be written, never mind the re-, so who cares; I may as well start over. After hours of staring at the newly blank staves while too afraid to move, I finally write a different theme. I think it's better, but I'm not sure. I worry that I'm second guessing this brand new theme. But then, I was second guessing myself by scrapping and rewriting the original theme, so actually, this is at least the third guess. I'm starting to think everything is a damn guess, and none of the guesses are close to the mark.

Sometimes I really wish I could trust myself. But if I do, and the result is a giant smear of excrement, well, that won't do at all, will it?

In conclusion, I hate everything.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Have I mentioned lately how badly I want to be Peter Maxwell Davies' friend?

Click here to watch from 14:15 ...

Peter Maxwell Davies The Lighthouse Part 2

I took the liberty of transcribing the lyrics:

O my love I yearn for you,
Your hair of gold, your eyes so blue.
O that you held me in your arms.
I am transported by your charms.

In a meadow sweet, in a secret valley,
Resting on my staff, I muse and tarry.
Fast I come to where to where my love doth lie,
And all my senses sense defy.

From my sleep, so deep, so long,

by the cock crowing loud,
I am aroused.
My dream is flown.

O my love I dream of you
in a meadow sweet
from my sleep, from my sleep

Your hair of gold
in a secret valley
so deep, so deep

Your eyes so blue
resting on my staff
so long
I muse and tarry

Oh that you held me
by the cock
in your arms
I come
crowing loud, crowing loud

I am transported
to where my love doth lie
I am aroused
by your charms, by your charms
and all my senses sense defy
My dream is flown

It's been a long time since I laughed that hard in an opera. Oh, Peter Maxwell Davies. I am so sure we would be friends.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Perform disturbing gender experiments on yourself

I've written before on this blog about being a woman composer. In case it isn't blindingly obvious to everyone who stops by, I'm a proud feminist, and being part of the struggle for equal rights and equal respect for people of different genders, races, and sexualities is one of the things I am proud and happy to do with my life.

Something that has always bugged me is the way the Western human brain, as it's currently encultured, is pretty bad at judging quantitative equality. In smaller words: our society is so geared towards white men that we have trouble noticing when minorities are underrepresented. Most of us can look at, for example, a room full of American Congressmen and not feel particularly concerned that it is only 18% female.

This has been reported most recently thanks to the efforts of Geena Davis (who is the fucking bomb). She has established a whole institute devoted to gender in media whose job it is to point out uncomfortable truths such as: only one-third of speaking roles in films are for female characters. So for every woman speaking, there are two men. One of the statistics she highlights is particularly fascinating:
Crowd scenes [in films] are only 17% female; one study found that men have come to perceive that 17% ratio as 50/50.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I sometimes feel that women in music are lost in a sea of men (with brown hair and glasses). I feel a responsibility to be more visible to set an example and make up for the fact that there are so few women writing new art music. The trailing edge of that visible sword is that once the number of women reaches about 17%, a lot of observers—who aren't actually counting, but just looking—will think that equality has been reached. No more to be done here! Women have all the representation they need now, right?

Are you a comfortable feminist? Feel like scaring yourself a little? Next time you find some kind of gender-neutral "list" of people, scan it and try to decide what the percentage of women to men is. I came across this silly list "49 Creative Geniuses Who Use Blogging to Promote Their Art" on the horribly named website "" [shudder]. Hey, it was linked on a Reddit forum; I was curious who had been included.

I scanned through the list very quickly, taking particular note of the musicians. But when I reached the end, I suddenly thought of the statistics on female representation and perception and saw an opportunity to test myself.

Stop. Don't look at the list again for a minute. Did you feel that women were well represented? Yes, I thought to myself. It ... it seemed pretty even, didn't it? I began dreaming up a theory that perhaps women, being members of traditionally the more social gender and the gender which, at least when I was a kid, was prone to keeping diaries, were on equal footing when it came to blogging about their experiences as artists. Certainly, I read blogs by just as many women as men, don't I? Don't I? Amanda Palmer! That's who I immediately think of when I consider artists who have used their blogs to connect with their audiences. She was on the list, of course. And there were lots of other women there too, from many different disciplines. There were even some women of color. The leading picture was even a ... clown woman with a megaphone (that's an analysis for another day). So it must have been fairly close to even.

OK, time to tally. No cheating.

There were actually 50 people on the list, since one of the entries was a husband-wife team.

Number of women: 18.
Number of men: 32.

SHIT. My heart = on the floor.

It's not quite a 1:2 ratio, but it's close enough.

I am a feminist who considers herself aware of issues of female underrepresentation. But I'm also part of a culture where I have internalized this warped perception, where I see a pie divided into two-thirds and one-third, and I think it's split right down the middle.

Everyone should do this. You have to catch yourself after you look at a crowd, though, to make sure you aren't subconsciously counting. Do it so you understand how far we have to go.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Modern art gives me IDEAS

Last week, before we attended Waiting for Godot, we walked up to 53rd Street to grab some delicious street food from Halal Guys (so freaking cheap and great) and bumped into MoMa. There was a banner hanging outside for a Magritte exhibition that caught my eye because Godot and Magritte have bowler hats in common. It had been quite a few years since we'd been to MoMa—so many, in fact, that we weren't even sure if we had definitely been there, or if we were confusing it with a modern wing of the Met or some other art museum.

We also noticed that there's a Fogo de Chão right across the street. I'm pretty much always in the mood for Fogo de Chão. This calls for a second Manhattan date.

So we made a reservation for dinner, and yesterday, we drove up to NYC for the second Sunday in a row to take advantage of free parking and discover if we had been to MoMa before (yes, we had, but who needs an excuse to go again?). Unfortunatelyyyyyyy, the Magritte exhibition closed last Monday! Sadface. But looking through the glass doors of the roped-off gallery, we could see that they hadn't quite finished packing it away, which was honestly pretty interesting in its own way.

One of the things I love most about modern art is that it always gives me design ideas that I can use around my house. For example, after seeing the white paintings at the Guggenheim, Matt and I went all Rauschenberg in our living room:

A lot of people don't find modern art (or modern music) very accessible, but for DIY, it's a godsend. Hey, that design looks cool, and I can totally copy it, at least until I become a multimillionaire and can afford to support more artists by buying their stuff (unless they're dead, in which case they don't really need my support).

Here are the works I saw during this trip to MoMa that tasted ripe with DIY inspiration.

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Bébé Marie), early 1940s

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Hôtel Beau-Séjour), 1954

I saw these and immediately thought, OMG, I need to make some sweet dioramas/shadow boxes to hang on the wall, stat. Then I came home and read this post from user nickyskye on Metafilter:
[...] I was introduced to Cornell when I was 11. The person who introduced me had been told by a renowned art collector that "Joseph likes quiche lorraine and little girls". I was taken out to his place, 37-08 Utopia Parkway, Flushing in 1965 with that person, who had also purchased a quiche lorraine for the occasion, in case I wasn't a suitable offering. She wanted his art and I was going to be the bait used to procure it...
And now I feel a bit ill. Still. Dioramas.

Mondrian (duh), Broadway Boogie Woogie, 1942-43
Two words: Lego recreation.

Donald Judd, Untitled (Stack), 1967
Mmm, I can totally make a smaller-scale version of this by ombre-painting some Ikea Lack wall shelves. Total cost: maybe $70.

Here is something that might be my new favorite thing at MoMa (it was just installed last year):

If you want to see the video by itself, you can view it on YouTube, but I kind of loved watching it with the noise of the MoMa cafe close by and people walking past and little children meowing at the screen, so I've posted the crappy video I shot. This makes me want to make little films of all our cats and write some piano music for the soundtracks. And then project them looping on all our walls, all the time.

Speaking of cats, this sculpture reminded me of two of ours, Nairobi and Inky, who play-wrestle with each other constantly.

Maria Martins, The Impossible, III, 1946

While I'm veering off topic, I also want to mention the exhibition about women's influence on applied design and art that yielded some great feminist stuff like this:

...and this AMAZING music video, which caught our attention as soon as we were within earshot because you can sing Down In It to that beat all day. (Hrmmm!) Once we were within eyeshot, we were like, HEY that platinum-wigged lead singer kind of looks like me. (Crazy trivia: she is now a real estate agent in Austin.)

Finally, this piece brings this post and our consecutive weekend dates full circle.
Clearly, this man is waiting for Godot (even though he predates Godot by more than thirty years):

Elie Madelman, Man in the Open Air, c.1915

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Samuel Beckett is dead, which is good

On Sunday, Matt and I drove up to Manhattan to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Waiting for Godot. We paid a rather obscene amount of money to sit second row house left (I find that theater blocking tends to favor downstage right in many productions, so it was a deliberate choice) and it was worth every penny. I love those two men. I love them. I want to be their friend so badly, but I would never, because I'm not worthy.

I'd also love to be in Godot one day, a fact not lost on my many acting students, male and female, whom I have forced to read Godot with me. Frankly I don't think any of the characters require a male actor, but I especially identify with Didi, who as far as I am concerned, might as well be a woman.

Or maybe I watched too much Hunter growing up.
Of course, Godot's cast is traditionally comprised only of men. Fun fact! Beckett was totally an asshole about this. In 1988, when a Dutch theater company wanted to mount an all-female production, Beckett responded by instituting a ban on all productions of his plays in The Netherlands. Can you fucking imagine. He was especially cranky about women playing Didi, who frequently leaves the stage to urinate, because, as he puts it, "women don't have prostates."

Dear Dead Samuel Beckett: as a woman who has pissed razors every five minutes as a sufferer of countless urinary tract infections (far more common in women than men), as a woman who has seen how childbirth affects continence in so many women, including, for example, my own mother: FUCK. YOU.

If I didn't love the actual play so much, and Beckett weren't dead, I would probably be angrier about this, but as it is, I think the best revenge might be to just ignore the creator's stupidity and take his creation beyond its restricted intention.

I would hop back on the boards for Didi. Also Richard III and Mark Antony, in case anyone is wondering.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Being depressed: a really boring non-epic saga about a really boring problem

As I've mentioned on this blog a couple of times, I suffer from depression.


Really, it is, though. It is fucking boring and annoying. I suppose one expects depression to be a little more dramatic than it is. But what I have is not even slightly dramatic. For example, I am able to be base-line functional most of the time. I am not suicidal. I suppose I have had thoughts about simply "not existing" occasionally, but that is a very passive thought and a long way from suicide. (I can understand how some people suddenly become suicidal when starting depression meds and passivity yields to activity, however.) Also, I don't do things like self-medicate with alcohol or illegal drugs, I don't have psychotic breaks (one time I had a weird and very brief dissociative episode, but that might be a PTSD thing), and I haven't yet become a hoarder.

Here are some things that my depression has caused:
  • anhedonia, oh god, so much shitty, shitty anhedonia
  • feeling like I'm thinking through a fog
  • headaches
  • hating nearly everything I have ever composed
  • hearing something I have composed that I do like, and being convinced that I have no idea how I did it and will never write like that again
  • sleeping/waking inertia i.e. sleeping for 15 hours sometimes because I can't be bothered waking up; staying awake until 5AM sometimes because I can't be bothered going to bed
  • not being able to read more than 10 pages of a book at a time without falling asleep
  • exhaustion after any kind of social interaction
  • not wanting to talk to anyone, even nice people
  • not wanting to answer any e-mails, even good ones
  • horrible anxiety when compelled to engage in unpleasant communication
  • horrible anxiety when compelled to make a decision, even about unimportant things
  • not wanting to leave the house
  • sitting in my underwear watching bad television for days on end
  • getting overly emotional about bad television while being unable to feel anything about my actual life
  • realizing that all my depressive symptoms are irrational and indicative of something being wrong with me, and loathing myself for being unable to think in a way that isn't irrational and wrong
Here are some things I have done in an attempt to get better:
  • Prozac (awful, nearly cost me my marriage)
  • therapy (helpful, I really like my therapist, though the depression persists)
  • meditation/yoga (not helpful; kept falling asleep)
  • Wellbutrin (speedy as hell and helpful at first, although it caused me to lose 10% of my body weight despite shoveling cheeseburgers and lard pastries into my mouth in between venti caramel macchiatos with whipped cream; then it kind of stopped working so well and the anhedonia came back)
  • vitamins (all the vitamins, but especially D and fish oil; no tangible effect at all)
  • gluten-free diet (no physical or mental effect, except I missed bread too much)
  • light therapy (fairly helpful)
  • Cymbalta (is it working? I honestly have no idea)
  • removed NuvaRing and went off any hormonal birth control for the first time in 16 years (may be helping, not 100% sure yet)
Recently I realized the "not wanting to leave the house" symptom has led to me becoming the most skinny-fat person in America, especially since I am ABD and internet-savvy and thus don't actually have to leave my house, ever. So I am thinking about taking up kung fu again. (I used to do it a long time ago in Harrisburg before I got overwhelmed and quit in a sort of cowardly way when my dad died. Probably a depression precursor or something.)

A few weeks ago, I messaged my friend who is going to a kung fu place near me. Writing a message = huge step. Today, I visited the kung fu place while Matt and I were in Chinatown for lunch. I know, crazy; I left the house. They weren't open, but I am pretty proud of myself for going up to the door and looking at the photos posted outside. What an achievement. My ultimate goal is to one day walk in while they are open and speak to the sifu about attending. I have a lot of anxiety about that. It's a depression thing. I guess. I hate myself.

Here's to 2014!

This is what I looked like when I did kung fu years ago.
Just looking at this makes me feel kind of hopeless.