Back to back events in June – the workshop of scenes from the Moxley/Wiemann opera UNTIL THE WAR IS OVER, and traveling to teach at the Cortona Sessions for New Music in Cortona, Italy. More of both of those later, but for now, some pictures (thanks to Tom Mikotowicz for the workshop photography):
So, starting to work on a new version of the Jet-Pack piece for soloist (me) and electronics, which I’ll be playing at a few venues next season. Which means I have to drag some equipment around to various places this summer to try out the logistics, but it’s still a fun piece to work on. The trick will be to get the tech down to a manageable, and portable, situation. I may need a longer mic attachment.
In between work sessions on this new setting of Miriam Gamble’s poem, I’ll also be involved in the workshop of some scenes from UNTIL THE WAR IS OVER (a joint project with poet Jennifer Moxley) at UMaine next month. The public performance will feature musicians from Boston and Bangor in our very intimate Black Box space in the School of Performing Arts.
The very next day, Davy and I are off to Italy to teach at the Cortona New Music Session. We’re looking forward, as we’ve heard good things from previous sessions, and we have many friends among the performers and fellows at the festival. We hope that the cats will not punish us too much for leaving them for a while.
With the big up and down’s in temperature over the past few weeks, it’s been hard to know what to expect for my regular commute. But, as things have turned out, my regular commute isn’t happening much this month, due to gigs in Maine and “away.” So the difficult driving job is more Davy’s concern this month – he’ll be coming up to Bangor tomorrow after spending today clearing out the mostly unexpected snowfall of Feb. 5th. The snow is coming down quickly as I write this, even though here in Bangor we’re weren’t supposed to be in on the action for this storm.
Davy will get here in time to hear the UMaine faculty concert where Phillip Silver and I will premiere a new work by Paul Schoenfield – the 2nd Sonatina for Klezmer Clarinet and Piano. The piece was commissioned by a group of clarinet players and their friends, a Clarinet Collective, a couple of years ago, and regional premieres began happening last fall from other Collective members. This February was the earliest I could schedule the Maine premiere for my contribution to the Collective, but I think the extra time with the piece will serve us well. For both of us playing, it’s a fun 10 minutes of music – lots of klezmer references with metrical games throughout.
Last weekend I also stayed in Maine, for the performance of “Astonishing,” the School of Performing Arts fundraiser this year, and for the UMaine Humanities Center’s Pecha Kucha event. Curated by Liam Riordan, and run by Bangor’s own Pecha Kucha obsessive Gibran Graham, a host of people showed up at CoeSpace downtown, and made the space feel like summer in spite of the spitting snow outside. Lots of people, pretty warm in the room:
There were 8 of us presenting our 6 minute 40 second stories-with-slides: in my case, stories-with-slides-and-music. There were colleagues from UMaine as well as artists from the area that I hadn’t met before. Because of the relatively unfamiliar format for all of the speakers, we dress-rehearsed beforehand, which lead most of us to change our tactics a bit when it came to the public event – mainly a process of editing for impact, and editing for keeping up with the slides’ timing. I chose to speak about the ongoing project with Jennifer, our chamber opera UNTIL THE WAR IS OVER, and used the preparation for this event to get back into planning for the workshop of scenes 1 and 4 this June in Hauck Auditorium.
Next up – working on taxes with Davy (we did start, at least with the paper receipts – now we move to the online collection of stuff we’ve paid for this year) and then on to West Virginia to hear a performance of “The Only Color I have” at Marshall University. Will there be snow there, leftover from the January blizzard?
Also next up – getting some materials ready for the Back Cove Contemporary Music Festival’s concerts in honor of Elliott Schwartz, the long-time champion of new music in Maine and beyond – just a few of the events planned throughout the year for Elliott’s 80th birthday. More info to come on those April events, with the hope that by April the snow will have stopped for a while.
By this time last year, we’d already had tree damage to the Bangor house due to record snow fall. So, I am thankful (on this day of Thanksgiving) that this year I was able to get where I needed to get to without having to shovel the car out first.
And I did have to get to a variety of places this month in addition to my regular commute. First, to Brooklyn, to hear Ensemble mise-en play my new piece for the first time. That the group has its own rehearsal and concert space in Bushwick is a real advantage for these players, all very busy freelance performers and specialists in contemporary music. And fittingly for the neighborhood, there’s gourmet grilled cheese nearby.
The Brooklyn concert featured some pretty intense music from a bunch of New England composers, although my own contribution aimed at comedy more than anything else: the piece is based on Miriam Gamble’s poem “Introducing the Nissan Jet-pack,” and uses various kinds of machine sounds both from the live performers and from accompanying electronic sounds.
Some of the comedy didn’t quite play – I will need to do some editing on the piece to get the proportions correct, and to get more info to the players on the overall mood. By the time the piece was done again in Maine, I think the feel was better, and the larger space made the sound mix a little cleaner. Recording the work is also tricky, given the various sound sources and the use of some spoken text. This recording, from the dress rehearsal, is the best take I have for the vocoder sounds in the ending:
The trip in between these performances took place in Hartford, with the Hartford Opera Theater‘s New in November event. Six scenes selected from 6 different operas were put together in a couple of weeks, with some basic staging and piano accompaniment. Each scene had its own team of performers, stage director, conductor and pianist, all of whom had to work at maximum efficiency to get the scene on stage.
Contrast the figuring-out-what’s-happening next photo from the dress rehearsal..
with the look of the scene excerpted from “Until the War is Over”(libretto by Jennifer Moxley) ..
and you get a sense of what needed to happen in just one afternoon. The whole company was a pleasure to work with, and I hope to have video of the scene soon to share.
While the whole extended trip was memorable and eventful, I am also glad that it all got done before the season changed and the push to the end of the semester started. Also glad that the slow leak in my front tires didn’t prevent me from doing the extra driving, and that Subaru found and fixed the problem without fuss.
And now, this week in Bangor weather:
We’ve finalized the program order for our four concerts in mid-October in Orono. I’ll be performing four pieces, along with my UMaine colleagues Marcia Gronewold Sly, Liz Downing, and Ginger Yang Hwalek.
All privacy issues aside, GPS is a great thing.
I spent almost all of the past weekend driving around New England, usually on rural roads, sometimes in the rain, sometimes in the dark, all in the service of what is essentially pretty non-mainstream music. Which is not what one would expect to be doing in your basic middle-of-nowhere..
A few years back, Davy met a young European composer at a festival in NYC, and when Davy mentioned that he preferred doing his composing outside of the city, the visiting musician barked at him “Art is Urban!” This particular musician would have been confused by my travels this weekend.
First, I had to deliver a small synthesizer to ensemble mise-en, a Brooklyn group that was in residence at I-Park, at the edge of a state park in Connecticut.
This particular synth, with a full-featured vocoder, was probably small enough to ship to the group (see above), but then I wouldn’t have been able to walk the pianist through the patches, etc., in person. So, before the school year’s schedule could make travel more difficult, I put the address of I-Park into my GPS system and off I went to meet the group’s director, Moon Young Ha, in the wilds of CT.
The I-Park campus was fairly well camouflaged, but after being directed only about half a mile off by the GPS, I found the nicely appointed studies, and was able to show off the synth using the ensemble’s own sound system. The pianist now has a few months to get used to speaking parts of the poem “Introducing the Nissan Jet-Pack” (by Miriam Gamble) into the vocoder’s microphone while playing the piano part in my piece for the ensemble’s November concert. (The piece is a musical setting of Miriam’s entire poem, with the various instrumentalists speaking at different times against both acoustic textures and some electronic accompaniments.) Yumi Suehiro, the pianist, tried out the vocoder while I was there, and I think she’ll be having a good time practicing her part.
It looked like the residency at I-Park was a good deal for the ensemble and the composers working with them at the studios, though Moon explained that getting to the facility from NYC was a little tricky. With the ensemble having to get from subway-to-train-to-car with all the rehearsal gear, there was a fair bit of problem-solving going on at either end of the residency. But, while at I-Park, everyone could focus on the rehearsal process for the project at hand with few distractions. Unless you count a nice walking/hiking environment as a distraction.
The GPS had no trouble getting me back to Maynard in good time, as the rain had stopped by then. It turned out to be an excellent driving afternoon, with all of the road construction crews having left because of the earlier weather.
The very next day, I traveled back to Maine, but instead of going directly to Bangor, I went off to participate in Leslie Ross’s first Sound Improv Festival at her place in Penobscot, Maine (not far from Blue Hill). There was an impressive group of musicians, mostly from Maine but with a few Bostonians and New Yorkers mixed in, playing for each other and a pretty good-sized audience for, again, the middle of nowhere.
Leslie is building her own workspace, concert space, and community from the ground up after leaving New York’s ever-rising rents behind. It was impressive to see and hear everyone there, and I had a particularly good time playing in a duo with Boston reed player Steve Norton. One audience member came up to me after that and said “the last thing I expected to hear in rural Maine was a bass clarinet duet.”
So, maybe art isn’t always urban.
However, driving home from Leslie’s, I was very grateful for the light of my GPS unit as I drove on the time roads away from Penobscot in the dark and fog. Middle-of-nowhere is fine, but going to and from these rural musical outposts requires reliable maps.
The internet thinks my husband would be enticed by a reasonably priced security system, with an iPhone app and that cool black new-tech look. The internet is correct.
We now have access to our home even when out of town, and get regular “activity” updates on our phones, our iPads, our emails, really everywhere. Of course, some of the “activity” is kind of small scale.
We got alerts about this lighting change in the dining room this very morning. Granted, seeing it on a loop is kind of hypnotic, but I imagine that the whole experience will pale soon. It will become “the tech that cried wolf.” But at least Davy can check on things like the power going out (or, can he?).
Not that I’m against technology – I’ve been editing the new piece for ensemble mise-en, which has not only some prerecorded electronic sounds, but also a vocoder for the pianist to use. Based on a poem by Miriam Gamble, “Introducing the Nissan Jet-Pack,” the tech sounds fall into place fairly naturally, I think. We’ll see how tricky it is to put together, with the necessary cueing and all, when the piece gets played in November in Brooklyn.
I’ve also been editing some demo tracks from the opera I’ve been working on with Jennifer Moxley. The recording sessions we had in May went very well, and I’ve been adding the electronic tracks impost, as they say. As with the mise-en piece, in real life there may be more or may be less of the electronic sounds. Everything will depend in the venue and placement of the sound system, who will be assigned the sound cues, etc. For now, the demo track has a bit less electronica than I originally planned, but the editing process has made me more aware of having the singers remain front and center. We hope to be able have these scenes workshopped in Maine next summer, so this was a good prep for that theatrical version.
The last bit of tech that’s part of this summer is a set of speakers that I (not the internet) enticed Davy into purchasing – a Sonos system, which was demonstrated to me by Jennifer Moxley. Thankfully, this technology does not send alerts.
So, now we’re really into winter. Which means some snow days. And although the beginning of the semester has featured lots of administrative tasks, these are just about under control. Which means that when we have snow days from now on, I can get working for real on a new piece, with my snazzy new gear that Davy got me. (See above – synth/vocoder with new speakers)
The piece will performed at an “acoustic+” concert by the ensemble mis en in Brooklyn. I’ve known the director of the group for a few years now, as I played in a piece of his at a festival in France. He’s a very good musician, with lots of organizational as well as musical skills, so I’m looking forward to writing for and working with his group. The piece will feature both an accompanying prerecorded part along with some live vocoder processing of the instrumentalists. Right now, I’m just playing with the vocoder myself, adapting patches and carving out the basic harmonic materials. The underlying structure will be a setting of a poem by Miriam Gamble titled “Introducing the Nissan Jet-pack” – parts of the poem will be heard as part of the prerecorded sounds, and some will be spoken by members of the ensemble. So, lots of possibilities for text-painting, as well as lots of logistical planning. But fun planning. Especially on snow days.
What about the rest of autumn?
Anyway, since the last post, the Vermont camp has been closed up, all of our outdoor furniture has been put away in Massachusetts, and the garage in Bangor has been reviewed for some patching before the long winter really takes over. I had thought I was doing this last task early enough in the year, but today could prove me wrong.
The fall season has certainly felt jam-packed, continuing on from the VSO Made-in-Vermont tour (and its Green Room appearances) to more driving to other concerts. I played in a full orchestra for the first time in a while, and then subbed in the SPA production of Little Shop in the pit, also for the first time in years. I had forgotten about the counting-many-bars-of-rests that is part and parcel of large ensemble playing, but this was really a minor distraction compared to the whole musical experience of being part of a big sound. It was particularly enjoyable to play with a mix of fellow faculty, students and recent UMaine grads on both occasions, all of whom were cheerful and sunny in what were perhaps less-than-ideal surroundings.
The next part of the semester features less clarinet playing on the schedule, but lots of concerts to attend and record. There are upcoming premieres of a few songs of mine on a couple of these concerts – one set of songs on poems by Rosalie Calabrese, and one single song on an old (really old) text by Robert, the Earl of Essex (When Silly Bees Could Speak). I am hoping that all of the performers involved in these concerts have the same good driving fortune I have had lately (particularly the performers driving up to Orono from NYC). We can also hope that the snow from today’s storm goes away quickly enough that we have a chance to forget about that kind of weather for a few more weeks. Or, for at least enough time for me make sure the Subaru and its tire treads are ready for the next few months.