Saturday, July 03, 2021

For the purpose of this newsletter, it's June 33nd


Hello hello! If you're getting this newsletter for the first time and you don't know why, it's probably because you bought some music of mine on Bandcamp in the last year—unsubscribe if you hate it, I won't be mad! It's been a whole eight weeks since my last newsletter because as you can probably tell from the photo above, my archaeological pursuit kicked into high gear again and stole any spare time I might have had in between composing too much music. If anyone has any tips on balancing life as a freelance composer with life as a citizen archaeologist, both of which seem to be full-time jobs (plus overtime), I am open to suggestions. I do have some good news to report on this front: later this month, I will be bringing on an managerial assistant and possibly also an intern or two as well to help with the load, but of course that will mean the schedule will be even worse for a while because I'll have to figure out how to organize myself enough to delegate. Thank you everyone for your patience!

I'll talk about the new archaeology exploits further down—first let's blast through all the music news.


If you've been subscribed for a while, you might remember a couple paragraphs I wrote somewhere in the middle of the pandemic about how criminal it is that classical music doesn't center composition as a core practice. Over the following months, I honed that rant as a guest speaker in countless Zoom classrooms to the point where I figured it was time to create a definitive version. After I uploaded this, it got shared around a fair bit—not just in classical music circles, but also among jazz musicians and even coders. Take a squiz if you haven't already, and maybe share with your music educator friends:
The most intensive part of editing this video was creating the captions (in a former life, I was a TV closed captioner, so busting out those skills again was quite the throwback), but it was worth it to make it more accessible, and to let you play it muted if you prefer, just in case anyone out there hates listening to the sound of my voice as much as the occasional misogynist Apple Podcasts reviewer lol


Apparently a slew of performers in Britain has been programming my music the last couple of weeks, which is very frustrating because there is an ocean and an ongoing pandemic standing in the way of my attendance. A couple of these performances are available for you to watch/listen to after the fact though:

            -   The BBC Singers (!!!) conducted by Nicholas Chalmers performed Halcyon Days at the Nevill Holt Opera June Festival, and a recording of the concert was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 (!!!) this week. Tune in here (the whole concert is great, but if you're pressed for time, Halcyon Days kicks off at 1:47:30):  

            -   At a church you might have heard of called St Martin-in-the-Fields (!!!), Anna Lapwood (!!!) conducted St Martin's Voices in a gorgeous program "Upon your Heart," which contained the aforementioned Halcyon Days and O Oriens. You can purchase tickets to watch online for £10 until August 31:


A few newsletters ago I posted a mysterious photo from a recording session in a church, and now I can reveal the purpose: Opera Philadelphia recorded one of the choruses from the Gonzales Cantata, "Loyalty Over Judgment" for their annual Organ Stops concert, part of their 2021-2022 season. COVID isn't done yet, so the concert won't be live, but Opera Philly has been pioneering the concept of a digital opera channel and producing gorgeous content for everyone to experience from the comfort of their own homes, anywhere in the world. The Organ Stops concert will go live on July 16; you can purchase a subscription to the Opera Philadelphia channel for $9.99 per month or $99 per year; it's more than worth it to support all the work they've been doing pushing this art form forward into the 21st century. Whet your appetite with this trailer: 
The Opera Philadelphia Chorus will headline “Organ Day” which will feature music by Verdi, Wagner, and a number of modern composers including Hannah Kendall, Melissa Dunphy, Marcus DeLoach, and David Hurd.


Earlier this year, I completed a choral sea shanty for the choir at Mizzou: Sailing Away (sheet music available at that link) uses text by late 19th-century poet Isabel Grimes Richey (born 1858 in Lancaster, MO). Of course, I was a little bit inspired by the TikTok sea shanty craze—but also excuse me and FYI, I've written sea shanty influenced music before, TRENDS SCHMENDS. Listen to the premiere of Sailing Away by the University of Missouri University Singers, conducted by R. Paul Crabb, below:
Sailing Away begins around 23 minutes in if you're pressed for time...


At the last choral conference I attended—ACDA East in Rochester NY right before the pandemic shutdown—I heard a choir from Central Bucks High School West sing. I was bowled over by their concert, and when it was done, I beelined for the conductor and basically threw myself at them, wide-eyed and hungry for a commission. So I'm thrilled to report that this year, I wrote them a new work for TTBB chorus with (spoiler) surprise solo soprano, When the Time Comes. This song uses text from an interview with Ruth Bader Ginsburg (with kind permission from her surviving relatives), and I can't release the sheet music yet, but I'm so happy to show you this recording from the choir's end-of-semester concert: 
When the Time Comes, sung by the Central Bucks High School-West Mens Choir and soloist Sierra Safran, Joseph Ohrt conducting.


Santa Monica College Choir and Chorosynthesis recently released a new online concert "Righting Our Wrongs," featuring three student compositions and the second performance of my multi-movement work Amendment: Righting Our Wrongs, commissioned by the Votes for Women Consortium and premiered under the co-direction of Jeremiah Selvey and Wendy Moy. (NB the score for this work is not yet publicly available to give all the choirs in the consortium the chance to premiere the work.)
Soprano Dana Varga and violist Drew Ricciardi gave a cracking live performance of my arrangement of the Bob Dylan song Farewell, Angelina
Soprano Noelle McMurtry created two stunning films featuring my music for a larger capstone project at Peabody, and I'm excited to share them with you. With cinematography from Elizabeth van Os and direction/audio engineering from Caroline Miller—who both sang in IN Series's film of the Gonzales Cantata last year—I'm of the firm opinion that this is how music films should be done! Take note! Here's June (poetry by Lauren Rile Smith, a line of which formed the title of the entire capstone project, "I take the long way there").
And here's another take on Farewell, Angelina, with Flavia Pajaro-van de Stadt on viola.
Another fabulous music film was created by violinist Barbora Kolářová and filmmaker Marc Webster for the May TURN UP Festival: this time for Theme and Variables: Scallops and Bollocks for Tea. I love how irreverent this is—and also how masterfully performed!
Have I mentioned lately that dancers are amazing? The National Arts Diversity Integration Association brought together choreographers and composers for Opus Illuminate: ACFA 2021, and one of the works featured was June #1. It's magical, you have to check it out. Also please consider donating to NADIA; all donations will go to supporting the incredible artists, production costs, and venues.


            -   Super special! Little Shadow Productions paired me with the extraordinary musician Dawn Avery for a conversation in their "Share The Mic Mondays" series. Dawn is warm and smart and fascinating and we literally could have talked for hours—I feel like we only just scratched the surface here. We share so many themes in our work even though we come from very different backgrounds, and there was so much to explore.

            -   I also did an interview with Concord Women's Chorus about a work I wrote for them, Grown Wild (coming soon), along with poet Melissa Apperson. I can't wait to see these enthusiastic and thoughtful singers at the live premiere down the line.


            -   What are you doing April 9, 2022? Will you be anywhere near NYC? Yes, I know that's a long way in the future, but I'm just saying, I'm scheduled to make my Carnegie Hall debut... 

            -   Oh, will you be on the other side of the country next spring? No worries, Bay Choral Guild has you covered, you can go listen to something I wrote there instead...

            -   Earlier this year, Aural Compass filmed a riveting concert performance: "Before Body Meet Earth," which features a new piano-vocal arrangement of my song for baritone Black Thunder (lyrics by Luke Stromberg, originally written for Network for New Music for baritone and piano trio). If you missed the live stream, never fear: they will be releasing the video of the concert in the fall. For a little taste and some insight, watch this quick interview between singers CodyRay Caho and Chelsea Fingal DeSouza:


            -   Austen Wilson has been blogging for ChoralNet, and he's written two posts that discuss my work with the choir PhilHarmonia. Read Modulating/Adjusting to a New Era: Transitions in Music, Part 1 and Part 2.

            -   At last year's National Puppetry Conference at the O'Neill, I was hugely honored to contribute music to a piece by Katayoun Amir-Aslani about sexual assault at Gettysburg College. Katayoun's story, and that of fellow surviver Shannon Keeler, was recently picked up by Associated Press, leading to the possibility of justice for both of them. It frankly sucks that some victims need to get national press to pressure authorities to act in a rape case, despite the existence of witnesses, evidence, and a confession, and I'm so angry on their behalf.

            -   This past month, I did sound design for a LIVE THEATRE SHOW, WHAAAAT. It's true: Pass Over by Antoinette Nwandu  was staged at Hawthorne Park here in Philly in a co-production by Theater Exile and Theatre in the X, led by one of my favorite directors to work with in the whole wide world, Ozzie Jones (who, incidentally, is keen to direct an opera, and I've made it my life's mission to do everything I can to help him achieve that goal because he would be FIRE at directing an opera. FIRE. If you are looking for a director, get in touch, he is worth his weight in gold.) Anyway, the show got this nice write-up that mentions my sound design in American Theatre magazine, woot!


There's a part of me that's really irritated by the timing of this, because after a year of cleaning, sorting, and assembling, I had almost finished processing all the finds from our last privy dig (our South Privy), and was on the verge of reclaiming my kitchen counters for their intended purpose. But there was nothing I could do to postpone the action when construction started on an empty lot between our building and I-95, and the foundation pit exposed two 7-foot-diameter brick-lined privies plainly visible from our back deck. This lot is owned by the architect that designed our building, so we had full permission to dig—but not to delay construction, which meant we had to move as quickly as possible. Of course, because the privy gods (demons?) have the cruelest senses of humor, this happened during a week when Matt was traveling for work, which meant we were already one digger down for some of the window of time we had to excavate.

On the first night, privy diggers Michael and Tom (whom we interviewed on The Boghouse) came over to help, and a test pit revealed that, indeed, at least one of the privies was chock-full of artifacts from the second half of the 18th century. On the second night, with Matt out of town, Kevin the farmer (who helped us dig another privy on our block a couple years ago) took his place and attacked the other privy, a hellacious pit full of heavy clay, containing a glut of interesting bottles and ceramics from the late 18th-century through to the late 19th-century. In a surprise twist, Tom (whom I swear has some kind of mystical ability when it comes to finding pits) found two more privies nearby: a wood-lined shorter privy that didn't contain very much, and a 4-foot-diameter pit in the middle of the site which I guessed correctly would be solidly mid-18th century, about the same vintage as the lower half of our South Privy. We dug down more than ten feet, finishing near midnight, and my pandemic-softened body was all but paralyzed with fatigue and pain the next day.

By the weekend we had rallied the troops: Matt came home, Duncan (a trained archaeologist who also helped with our South Privy dig) rocked up with his son, Michael brought his son Louis, and I put the call out to other interested parties (including local news anchor Sarah Bloomquist and her family, a couple of archaeologists who work at the Museum of the American Revolution and the National Park Service, and even one of my composition students, Adah!) and we all descended on the pits. Long story short: we have hundreds more pounds of dirty sherds to process in the coming months, and I've lost the use of my kitchen counters again.

But it's worth it. Even a preliminary survey of the multiple tubs of sherds has yielded some really exciting artifacts, including unique redware, delft, ceramics and glass that refer to well-known historical figures of the 1700s, and a handful of Native American trade beads. Stay tuned. And again, thanks for your patience. I'm so tired!


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