Doing things around snowstorms..

Last week, I, along with 7 other UMaine faculty and 4 students, managed to play a recital, in spite of the fact that the University was closed for parts of two days just before the event. This is kind of a deal for us, since many faculty live on the coast, or commute long distances (like myself – see title of this blog). So traveling to the rehearsal/gig can be as difficult as playing the rehearsal/gig. Plus, the faculty had just experienced weather-related challenges when our Pierrot lunaire performance was postponed by that cute storm Nemo in February. (Faculty at our sister campus in Gorham had a similar Pierrot Experience with last week’s storm  –  just ask Dan Sonenberg.)

So, it was a relief that the concert went off as scheduled, since we were hosting a guest composer (and my former teacher) Peter Westergaard. He was able to make the final rehearsal and performance of his new trio for clarinet, ‘cello and piano, All Odds. This was the only piece on that evening’s program that had NOT changed since the original planning last spring. Back then, it was going to be a clarinet-piano show with one trio piece, but the “new” Paul Schoenfield piece turned out not to exist quite yet (we hope to play that sometime in 2014). Then, as I mentioned,  UMaine’s Pierrot got postponed twice, essentially, so rehearsals for that were still going on in January. Adding more rehearsals for clarinet-piano got sort of tricky. Then, a faculty/student group that was working on a Scott Wheeler piece wound up with no available concert date on which to perform, in part because of all of the scheduling weirdness.

Finally, we went with a program of contemporary music by composers whose names begin with “w” – Westergaard, Wheeler, Weir (a clarinet-piano piece, oldest piece on the concert) and Wiemann. My piece was the last addition to the program – the faculty singers that were originally scheduled to perform my songs next year decided that they would ramp up their rehearsal plans, and do a premiere this semester before repeating the work in the fall. For which I was really grateful – here’s the last movement, on Sarah Manguso’s poem “The Rider,” for soprano, mezzo-soprano and flute:

“The Rider” Soundcloud clip

The Westergaard visit (Peter and his wife Barbara) tuned out great, although moving around parking lots that had not been plowed made for some high level strategizing. They were impressed with the non-pretentious-ness of Orono (particularly Pat’s Pizza) and with the still dominating amounts of still-white snow. And with local beer – microbrews being an important part of the local culture. Unless you’re my husband and want to order a Bloody Mary for photo contrast while hosting other people drinking beer:


Can I hold my clarinet while I host this concert?

65593_10151543125830466_398440388_n  So, I’m now on my way back to Maine after helping out Gina and Yael with the ACA concerts in New York this week. I didn’t have many real responsibilities for these shows, besides welcoming the audience (blah, blah, please turn off your cellphones,,,etc.), and hosting the panel discussions at the end of each concert. I knew some of the people speaking, and you can see in the panel photo here that I’m standing behind my teacher, Peter Westergaard, who seems relatively happy to be there (compared to everyone else, anyway). I was surprised at how many audience types stayed for the discussions on both nights, but I do have to credit Davy for my opening line on the second night: “My husband suggested that I start this discussion by asking ‘so, how did you all get so good-looking?’ ”

So, running the panel was kind of like teaching, but doing it on a concert stage was a little weird. I’m more used to doing this kind of thing right before I play a piece – and I had just done this last week when the UMaine faculty played Pierrot lunaire on our weather-delayed concert. Then, I got to exhort the audience to “go get the translations!” when it became clear that no one had picked up the program handout of the texts. It’s kind of fun to see people move quickly when you ask them to. And doing this while you’re holding an instrument alongside other people holding instruments makes for a better impression – the audience assumes that you’re not going to talk forever, since you’ve just warmed up to play.

As it turns out, the panelists in New York made pretty pithy comments, and there was some laughter during both presentations, so there were pleasant endings to both evenings. And, I can go back to my hosting-while holding-an-instrument role in a concert coming up next month. Then, on another UMaine faculty concert, Phillip, Noreen and I will premiere a new piece by, of all people, Peter Westergaard.


The older person’s obligatory software update rant (with parenthetical asides)

So, I’ve been working on a new version of a string quartet-with-optional-video piece for the Portland Chamber Music Festival that looks like it will be played in May. Which is great, because it makes me look critically at a long piece of mine that was probably too tricky to really work in its original form, save some music that I still like, and edit some video that needed severe trimming. But, the software changes that have gone on since 2004, when I wrote the first version, have made for much frustration. Frustration that I have often seen in my elders as they work through technological shifts.

This doesn’t really surprise me, as I’m now an elder person too. But the shifts also seem to take my students off guard as well, which makes me think that the people making technology have a very idiosyncratic idea of how people use stuff.


I am not one of those people that gets upset when Facebook changes something. Timeline was fine by me, although the whole idea of having a timeline of your whole life seems to be aimed at someone who’s, say, 17 years old, and hasn’t had much of a timeline yet. The iTunes change didn’t bother me much, mainly since I had given up on Playlists eons ago. (My long drives tend to be artist-driven, so to speak. Today’s drive from Maine featured Marshall Crenshaw exclusively, mainly his first classic album. Highly recommended. I mean, this guy has an acoustic album called I’ve Suffered for My Art..Now It’s Your Turn.) The change to having-as-many-graphics-on-the-page-as-possible in iTunes didn’t mess me up, mainly because I don’t use iTunes to, you know, work.

I do use Finale. And Final Cut. And, back in the day (that is, until last year) Peak. But then I had to change to Logic when Peak disappeared. And get used to the Mass Mover being gone from Finale. And hear from my Sibelius-using students about shifting from Sibelius 6 to version 7 – where, again, the amount of graphics in the tool bar actually gets in the way of the amount of screen devoted to the actual score…

ImageBut the biggest thing has been the move from the last year’s Final Cut to this year’s Final Cut Pro (granted, now it’s less expensive to get the Pro version – I had used the Express version, which suited me fine.) All of the tools that I used on a daily basis in Final Cut are now, at least in the default view, hidden among several layers of glossy black screen areas, sometimes with new names (I have to “share,” not “export,” really?), sometimes with accompanying annoying sound effects. And why would I want to choose a “theme” for my video…I’m not making Powerpoint presentations.

It took half an hour to put a fade on the main clip from the string quartet piece I’ve been editing…ImageThis screen shot shows the eventual successful fade inserted. But on my way there, I thought, hmm, maybe iMovie will be easier for this whole edit-and-crossfade stuff…I mean, I’m not shifting colors or anything…

ImageBut, where’s the timeline? Why do I need all of these thumbnails? And why is the software pretending to be helpful by saying “drag stuff here” and not being helpful anywhere else? 

I had heard about the major Final Cut changes last year, and had delayed doing anything until I had to change laptops. I had hoped that, but now, updates would have happened in response to people freaking out. But no, people just rant, like me, and adapt.

But I still think that the software developers are all excited about the “ooooh, shiny” new displays to the point that actually getting stuff done with the software is beside the point. And I know that this sounds just like my elders (“I had to actually learn html…I think Score is much more useful from a publishing point of view than anything with MIDI playback…I used a real electric eraser…you used to have to prove you could make a splice in electronic music courses..”).

Which makes it really appropriate to use Marshall Crenshaw as a reference in this post. Kind of like retro-squared. 


What to do, what to do..

It’s now that part of the year in which Davy and I remind ourselves that we “just need to get through to Thanksgiving.” Which we have, almost. Lots of traveling and worrying about the weather have happened, including worrying about friends in really bad weather. Now, we are looking forward to doing stuff on projects that were put aside for a bit.

This includes a small project of mine with a real deadline – I need to make a tour arrangement of one of the movements of my Mass. The UMaine University Singers are taking the Sanctus on tour next spring (they just premiered the Kyrie last weekend), and while they will use the original instrumentation on campus (2 clarinets, bass clarinet and piano, with me on bass clarinet), the clarinet trio won’t be able to go away with them for a week in March on their way to NYC. So, what to do to replace the clarinets? What do we have around the house?

  Yes, we have melodicas.

Actually, we only had three of these when the idea crossed my mind – this after attempting to write a 4-hand arrangement of the Sanctus and realizing that this would not work, ever. When I asked to try one of Davy’s melodicas that he’d bought for various pieces of his (just google them, really), he was very enthusiastic about the idea, but insisted that I needed “my own” instruments for my work. Hence, my Christmas presents have arrived early.

And after Thanksgiving, I get to demo the melodica and bass melodica (yes, both…why wouldn’t you have both?) for the students that will be playing these things on tour alongside Laura Artesani on the piano. I foresee much amusement, but also some nice sustained chords.

Back from NYC..

So, we drove back from Brooklyn, where we saw a few friends, many of whom had gotten lost on the way to our gig. For now, I’ve put a track of Geoff playing the solo piece of mine called “Two Bits” (which in part sounds like me trying to do Davy-piano writing) on Soundcloud. More later, after we enjoy not being in the car.

It’s a small world, after all (especially for musicians)..

With the concert season now fully up and running, I’m in the midst of rehearsing with all kinds of musicians, from people whom I work with on a daily basis at UMaine to people that I’ve never played with before. But this particular fall I’m performing with some people who go way back, so to speak, to graduate school even. Like Eric Thomas, whom I’ve known since free-lancing in Boston in the 80’s, who is conducting our UMaine Pierrot performance, “guesting” from Colby College. Eric and my husband went to NEC together, and there’s a picture of Eric playing clarinet in Davy’s piece on the NEC Commencement concert in 1980 on our wall here at home (see above – Davy is playing the piano). It’s great to be conducted by someone who knows Pierrot from having played it himself, and I’m looking forward to the couple of concerts we have scheduled for the piece.

I’m also rehearsing with old friends Geoff and Maria for the Brooklyn concert coming up, which gives me excuses to stay in New York more than usual this month. After that, I’ll be performing “Star Theatre” at the Electroacoustic Barn Dance in Fredericksburg, which was organized by Mark Synder.  I haven’t known Mark  for as long as the other people in this post, but I did meet  him when he was still a grad student in Memphis, running around organizing a festival there. Both of us wound up getting into pieces-with-video at the same time, and it’s good to see how active he is now. Now we both hope that the travel from Maine to West Virginia is relatively trouble-free.

and the concert season begins..

Here we are, September 1st, and already many plans have to be made for rehearsals and travel plans finalized for gigs, etc. Luckily, the first real concert event at UMaine that I’m involved in this fall is really someone else’s show – my former student Juraj Kojs, will be lecturing and performing a concert that he curated in honor of the Cage Centennial. Here’s some basic info on his UMaine events:

The last time I really saw Juraj, he was a fellowship composer at the Wellesley Composers Conference, and he came to a picnic at our house during the festival. At said picnic, he took part in an eating contest  with other composition students Hillary Zipper and Seung-Ah.
And Juraj won. I don’t think we had any food left in the house afterwards.

Practice, practice

Have been learning the clarinet part to Pierrot lunaire over the past year, as some of the UMaine faculty have been performing bits of this piece over the last few months,  and getting ready to do the whole thing this season during the work’s 100th year of existence. It is, of course, really concentrated, everything going by in an instant, so I don’t know that anyone ever gets “comfortable” with the lines or ensemble rhythms. So, practicing these movements seems different from practicing the other works for this season, even newish ones like Judith Weir’s Sketches from a Bagpiper’s Album (which is challenging from other, more long-term, points of view, including high register control). But basically, I have a lot of notes to get down.

Plus, I’ll be playing a concert at The Firehouse Space in Brooklyn on Oct. 20th, with friends Geoff Burleson and Maria Tegzes. So I’m also practicing my own music, some of which I didn’t really imagine myself playing when I wrote it. Which is nicely different from how things usually go, though it does mean yet more notes to learn. Here are some of the pieces for the Firehouse concert:

Sharp Nostalgia, for bass clarinet and piano

The Primary Tool is Soup, for soprano, piano and DVD

The Star Theatre, for clarinet, piano and DVD (there’s a demo performance of this one here)