Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Recent Composition

Recently I've been hard at work on my piece for Fireworks called "Hyper Lassus" that's going to be premiered at the Oregon Bach Festival on July 2nd. I have to have the entire thing finished, including score and parts by May 31st (and I started it on May 10th), and even though I have a love/hate relationship with tight deadlines, the piece is actually coming very nicely. I've listened to as much of the group's recordings as I could, and they definitely have a direction towards lighter, more entertaining pieces, which is cool because I'm in the mood to do just that sort of thing. Nothing too "serious", but at the same time I don't want to write a piece of fluff (which I feel I could never let myself do anyway). The piece is essentially for rock band, and I'm writing a rock "piece". It's definitely treading a fine line, and at many moments in the piece it's really hard to say exactly what it is - is it concert music - is it rock - pop - metal - jazz? I think if just one person thinks this to themselves, I've succeeded with this piece on a certain level.

I'm actually taking some of that desire from the guest composer-in-residence that I'll be working closely with, Osvaldo Golijov. His "PasiĆ³n Segun San Marcos" does just that - it's really an impossibility to classify the piece into one specific genre, and I absolutely love music like that - I hope to achieve this with mine. I know that the first time I heard the piece, I was saying "What IS this???" the entire time - I want someone to say that about "Hyper Lassus" - hehe. Writing this piece produces a special feeling in me. I came into music school, in 1996 as a rock musician, and now, in my last year of school ten years later, I'm writing for rock band again, but this time with a world of experience and knowledge that I didn't have before.

I've also decided to do my doctoral composition recital in October, which leaves me with a lot of music to write this summer. In addition to "Hyper Lassus", I'm writing a new song cycle for guitarist Daniel Bolshoy and mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah, of which I have already completed one and a half songs (but had to stop to work on the rock band piece), and then I WILL complete this cimbalom and theorbo duet for John Astaire and Kevin Kishimoto that's been swimming around in my head for at least a year. After those are complete, I plan to write one more piano hommage - an Hommage to Mandy Morris. So, the projected program should look like this:

-Hommages for Piano
-Soliloquy for Fallen Leaves
-Unrequited Pop Songs
-Colors In Silence
-Hyper Lassus

That's about an hour of music, which is plenty. Hopefully the next few weeks will go as smoothly for "Hyper Lassus" as it's been going. I'm excited about it - FINALLY I get to rock out again!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

My Top Ten, All Time Desert Island CD's as of 05/10/2005

I was inspired by my recent viewing of one of my favorite movies to make out my top ten CD's of music that I would bring with me if I were stranded on a desert island. This list applies only to the time I post it, and will surely change soon after, at least partially. Also, these are in no particular order of rank.

  1. J.S. Bach - Lute Suites & Violin Sonatas and Partitas. What can I say, Bach is my favorite composer of all time, and these pieces are some of my favorites. It includes the Prelude, Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998 - one of the most under-appreciated and obscure works of Bach that, unfortunately only guitarists know because it was a work for lute. It has one of Bach's most incredible fugues that he ever wrote (in my opinion). I particularly love these recordings by guitarist Paul Galbraith, played on 8-string classical guitar. His transcriptions for guitar are thoughtful, historically informed, and musical.
  2. Louis Andriessen - De Staat. I HATED this piece the first time I heard it. For some reason, it was just something so different that my mind violently rejected it on the first hearing. I didn't hear it again for several years, but something made me go back and check it out again. During that second hearing, I cound't believe that I had rejected it so quickly, and I was quite disturbed by the fact that I did. I simply adore this piece with a passion. It contains the coolest writing for brass intruments I've ever heard, and I always wonder how many rehearsals it took to get it right - it must have been about a million.
  3. Dmitri Shostakovich - String Quartet No. 8. Another piece I can't live without. I discovered it through some samples on a metal album when I was still a teenager, and it's never gotten tiresome for me. It certainly appeals to my hardcore metal sensibilities, but also to my dark and delicate side. Shostakovich himself descibed its affect on him in this way: "The psuedo-tragedy of this quartet is such that, while I was composing it, the tears just kept streaming down like urine after a half-dozen beers." Wow.
  4. John Dowland - Lachrimae. Dowland is my second favorite composer after J.S. Bach. His Lachrimae pavans for viol consort are, in my opinion, one of the first and earliest examples of what would later evolve into the string quartet. The pieces themselves are reflections of Dowland - dark and sublime - ahead of his time. He was truly a romantic 250 years before the romantics.
  5. John Dowland - Works for Solo Lute. I can't live on the island without Dowland's works for lute. His fantasias and fancys show plucked string techniques that would not again be realized until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Again, way ahead of his time and brilliant.
  6. Dr. Dre - The Chronic. A brilliant and landmark album, and completely American. This album is uncompromising, and completely real, depicting a side and a culture of America that most Americans would rather not like to think about. It also pretty much invented theWest Coast style and spawned a new genre of rap. The slow, low and laid-back beats with the contrasting poly-rhythmic vocal fascinates me every time, and makes me proud that I come from the same musical culture that produced it.
  7. Meshuggah - Nothing. No one in the realm of popular music is doing more interesting or complex things, rhythmically speaking than Meshuggah. Starting within a death-metal framework, they push their music way out of the confines of that genre and into a world of its own. They are constantly evolving and pushing themselves to new heights, never getting complacent - just like any great artist is compelled to do.
  8. John Mayer - Room for Squares. John Mayer is one of the most talented song writers of our time. His lyrics are relevant, and always hit you right where it hurts - no matter who you are. His songs are also brilliantly written and always subtly changing right under your nose, always following the affect of the words. I think "Room for Squares" is one of the greatest pop albums ever written - yes I said it!
  9. Stevie Wonder - Songs in the Key of Life. Dude - if you don't know this album, you should be ashamed. Awesome songs, innovative and original. The arrangements themselves are on par with anything Duke Ellington ever did. Even though it's from 1976, it still sounds fresh today, and just about every R&B singer out there today owes their vocal style to Stevie.
  10. Perotin - Sacred Vocal Works. I was blown away when I heard this for the first time. It just sounded like nothing I had ever heard before, and this performance by the Hilliard Ensemble is absolutely incredible - it moves my soul. Perotin's works have also had a profound effect on my own music. Amazing, and transcendent work.

Monday, May 09, 2005

My Musical History - Part 1

I thought I would start this blog with a short look into my own musical history - what led me to music, and to where I am today.


I wish I could say that I started playing the piano or something when I was 3 years old, and mastered my first Mozart Sonata at age 5, but my life in music didn't start until much later. Since I was born into a non-musical family, I never really had the early opportunities that most people who become composers have. My family was more the typical, blue collar American middle-class family, and making me into a composer was, I'm sure, the furthest thing from my parents minds. Even though I didn't start music early, I do have a vivid memory of hearing part of a symphony (I was four or five, around 1978), but not the ending. I remember walking around our apartment in Houston, Texas, and creating endings for the piece in my head. I remember feeling frustrated, because to me, it seemed like there were an infinite number of possible endings, and I just kept going, never quite settling on one, definitive version. Unfortunately, my musical mind had to lay dormant for many years to come.

I never even considered playing an instrument until I was in fifth grade. Towards the end of the school year, the middle school band (from the school I would be attending the next year), played a concert at my school, and I was really captivated and excited by the music, and by the prospect of actually getting to PLAY music! I'd never even considered the possibility before, and I was overflowing with excitement at the possibilities. I immediately decided that I wanted to play the saxophone - I even remember telling my friend after school that I was going to play the "electric" saxophone - whatever that is.

The next year, I signed up for band and went with my Mom to the orientation session, where we would choose our instruments, etc. Well, we found out that we had to rent a saxophone from a local music company at our own expense, and since my parents were on a tight budget at the time, I was left with the instruments that the school would provide - essentially the instruments that were too expensive to rent. Since I also liked trombone at the time, the director told me I should play euphonium since it had the same range as the trombone. It wasn't as exciting as saxophone, but I didn't care - I was going to play in the band. My greatest memory from playing in band, was the very first day that we all played together as a band. He had us play a major chord, and I just couldn't believe how it sounded, and felt when we all played it. The feeling was just indescribable. But, the euphonium was not the most versatile of instruments, and the realities of puberty (trying to be cool) were starting to set in, so I decided that guitar would be a much better (and cooler) choice of instruments. I'd still like to go back in time and thank myself for the switch (no offense to euphonium players).


So, pretty much when I started High School, I was devoted to guitar and to rock music. When I was a Sophomore, I met another guitarist in my grade, and we started a garage band, and played all of the music we loved. This included Metallica, Megadeth, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Rush, King Crimson, etc. You'll notice - NO CLASSICAL MUSIC yet. Anyway, I played rock music throughout High School, and when I graduated, I started a "real" band with my friend Scott, and our drummer friend Mike. I started writing rock songs - I was 17 years old, and this was the first "composing" I had ever done in my life. I even have an example of a song I wrote during this time (1991) called Voyage of the Beagle - the songs lyrics were based on Charles Darwin's book of the same title - yeah - WAY too intellectual for rock music.

So anyway, we started playing gigs in Houston in 1991, and continued to play through 1994. We had a few personell changes along the way. In 1992, Mike left us, and we met a violinist named Heath who joined the band. Mike was replaced by Clark on drums, and we started to play cities outside of Houston. During this time, I was attending the University of Houston, majoring in television and film, but taking as many music classes as I could.

My first semester I took a music history class (more like an appreciation class) for non-music majors. At the time, this was all I could handle, since I had no familiarity with the music, nor could I read any music. The first piece we listened to was the fourth movement of Bartok's "Music for Percussion, Strings and Celesta". It simply blew my mind - I had just never heard anything like this before. Every single thing we listened to that semester I will never forget, and just fascinated me. Mendelsohn's "Overture to a Midsummer Night's Dream", Berlioz's "Fantastic Symphony", Vivaldi's "Variations on La Folia", Purcell's "Lament from Dido and Aeneas", J.S. Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 5", Brahms' "String Sextet No. 1".

Also that same year, I had bought the new album of Faith No More called "Angel Dust". There was a track on that album called "Malpractice" that featured a sample from Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet. I had no idea what it was, but I read the liner notes and found out. I bought the Kronos Quartet recording of the piece, and I was more blown away by it than any piece I heard in my class. I was also starting to write little "concert music" pieces for piano and string quartet and mixed ensembles - none of which I could get performed, but at this point it was more of a hobby because I had no clue what I was doing, and was teaching myself how to read and write music as I went along. This continued into 1994, when I decided that I had had it and wanted to go to music school so I could actually learn this music, and be immersed in it, all the time.

To be continued in Part 2...

My Musical History - Part 2


In the fall of 1994, I was in my fifth semester as a television/film major at the University of Houston. During the Summer, I quit my rock band because I wanted to do things musically that I simply couldn't do with my old high school buddies. As the fall semester progressed, I was getting more tired of all the classes I was taking and I didn't care about them in the least. I wanted to be a music major. Why, you may ask, did I just not be a music major in the first place?

Let me provide some perspective on my situation at the time. First off, as I said before, no one in my immediate, or extended family was a musician of any kind, nor did they have any experience or contact with anything in the arts. My family (including myself) just had no clue how a musician was supposed to make a living. Also at the time, the only person alive that knew about my potential was me. As far as anyone else knew, they had seen me play my guitar in my rock band a few times - nothing earth shattering there. So the notion of going to music school was going to be a hard sell to my parents - if not an impossible one. I was about to venture into completely uncharted and scary waters, completely alone.

But halfway through that fifth semester at UH, I simply couldn't take it anymore. One day, completely impulsively, I walked over to the main building after my class, and dropped all of my classes. I then walked over to the School of Music, and went into the office. I told the receptionist that I wanted to be a music major. She was nice, but needed to ask me some obliggatory questions. Question One - what do you want to major in - that was easy - composition. Question Two - What instrument do you play? "Guitar", I answered. "Oh I'm sorry, you can't go here", she answered. *silence* - "Uh....why?" - "Because we don't have a guitar program, and you have to study your instrument." "Holy shit."

I was pretty dismayed at first, but I was not beaten. I was way too determined at this point. So, I can't go to UH - I'll go someplace else. So, I go home that night, tell my Mom to sit down, and proceed to tell her what I did that day, and my intention to go to music school to become a composer. She took it....well....I mean, she cried, but she took it pretty well. So, now I had to figure out where I could go. My parents, not being rich, couldn't really afford to send me anywhere out of state, so I was stuck with two choices - the University of Texas in Austin, or North Texas University in Denton. Austin sounded way better to me, so I contacted them and asked what I needed to do to be admitted. They transferred me to the guitar prof. there, and he told me that I had to audition on classical guitar, and that he only accepted about 3 students a year out of maybe 30 applicants. Holy shit again. At this point, I had never touched a classical guitar, nor had I ever read any guitar music. But, I decided to go for it.

I began private classical guitar lessons with a teacher in Houston named Marc Garvin. I had met Marc a few years earlier when he was on a Houston Access television show that myself and some friends used to do called "The Only Funny Show On Access". It was kind of a late night talk show type format, and we had Marc on as a musical guest on our first show. This was now around March or April of 1995. I was also not in school, and working full time as an assistant manager at the now non-existent Blockbuster Music (a Hell I would wish upon no one). I studied with Marc until I would audition at the University of Texas in February - I had about 9 months to not only learn to read music and play classical guitar, but to work up the proper repertoire to audition with.

In July of 1995, I took a trip to Austin to meet with one of the composition professors there. I made an appointment to meet with Donald Grantham. I took in all I had done over the past few years, and he very nicely looked at all of it, and talked with me a great deal about what I wanted to do, etc. I told him my situation, and he seemed like he really wanted me to go there, so he said he would talk to the guitar prof. on my behalf. So - excellent meeting - I went back to Houston to practice.

In February of 1996, I went to Austin to audition for the guitar professor there, Adam Holzman. I was very nervous - I mean, this was my one shot. I had put everything into this one audition - I had no auditions anywhere else, and no kind of back-up plans to speak of. I remember the morning of the audition, I was driving my parents car (because it was more reliable than mine was), and on my way to campus, the front passenger side tire blew on the middle of a bridge. So, I go to the trunk to get the spare - no spare. So, I had to walk back a few miles to my cousin's place (which I was staying at) in my suit and carrying my guitar. I got back, borrowed her car (I just left my parents car on the bridge - didn't have time to do anything about it), and made it just in time for my audition. For some unknown reason, I wasn't nervous at all, and probably played the best I had ever played up to that point. I auditioned with some Sor studies, some Carcassi etudes and the Bouree from one of Bach's lute suites.

So now, I wait. It took a few months before I heard anything, but one day while I was working at Blockbuster Music, I got a call from my Mom. She said that an envelope had arrived from UT, and she wanted to know if she should open it and read it to me. I just stood there, in the backroom of the store, looked around at this environment that I was in and thought how much I hated my life at that moment, and then I told her to open the envelope and read it to me. She did, and when she said "You got in!", I can't describe the feeling I had - it was like I was just released from prison. Where there was a dead-end before, everything now opened up to endless possibility. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.

Welcome to my Music Blog!

Welcome one and all to my music blog! I have created this blog with the intention of sharing my thoughts, commentary, and opinions on music. This means, music in general, music in society, music in history, my own musical activities, the musical activities of my NewStyle colleagues, composers living and dead, etc. Many things I post about will be my own personal thoughts on music - if you disagree with anything I say then tell me so - don't be so quiet! I hope this blog will give the interested some insight into my musical thought, and perhaps more insight into my own music. Thanks for reading...