Timbre: soft, sweet, with brightness of modern piano accents shaved off; Key: G-flat/F-Sharp, with pentatonic undertones, hints of 7ths, and a 9th finish; Prevailing tonal gestures: scale degree 6 to 5, exhaling on 3 over a plagal sigh, and pentatonic affirmation, as if sanctioned by a higher power. Working Title for the sonic environment: Don't Panic, Relax, We'll Take it from Here.
Consent culture thrives in societies that celebrate a person's ability to mean Yes when they speak it. In this video, sex researcher Dr. Lindsay Doe addresses a boy struggling to live within that culture. Her words to him are instructive.
If you had to complete the sentence, "Consent culture thrives . . . ," how would you? I invite you to let me know in comments. I invite you to let others know too!
March is National Nutrition Month, and to celebrate I am focusing more on what, how, and why I eat. A year ago my wife and I started taking wellness, physical fitness and exercise more seriously. It's been a wonderful journey thus far. We've been playing within a wonderful community of like-minded people aspiring to better themselves, enjoying what the poet Donald Hall calls "the joys of the body and creation." In this case, we've been working at creating what our friend Jill calls the best versions of ourselves. It is a fun effort, and an ongoing, lifelong adventure.
While my exercise habits have improved over the course of the last year, however, my eating habits are still kind of chaotic. If anything, I think they may be worse now than before I started working out regularly, because now I'm under the pretense that whatever crap I eat I can later work off. But, like a movie director that too often says "we'll fix it in post [production]" when something isn't working during filming, there is only so much bad behavior (or bacon-crusted pizza) that one can later melt away in a spin class.
A quick Google search of "nutrition" this morning brought me to The Nutrition Source, a site administered by Harvard University's School of Public Health. With so much misinformation out there, I found it reassuring to consult a site that isn't trying to sell me a quick-fix pill or fad diet. And as I peruse the pages, it is becoming clearer to me that cultivating good eating habits is often a decidedly unglamorous endeavor; there are no tricks or gimmicks involved. For me it is a matter of connecting regularly with real food, with whole food--with food that engages the senses instead of assaulting them.
Andrea and I participate in Community Supported Agriculture through our support of the Three Sisters Farm, a local and organic source for our vegetables. We're lucky that we live in a place that allows us to eat locally. While I remain mildly suspect about the benefits of organic vs. conventional farming (click here for a summary of why), I'd be a fool not to recognize the virtues of eating whole food grown close to home. The challenge for me now is to eat *all* of it without feeling like I need to have some sort of fancy recipe to really enjoy it. I really don't want to let any of our farm share go to waste simply because I didn't know what to pair beet greens with!
So this morning, as I was packing my lunch, I grabbed a fistful of leafy greens from the fridge and put them in a ziplock bag. And during my lunch, I washed them off and ate them. No dressing. No oils or expensive vinegars. And it was wonderful! It was really nice to eat good food the way I eat crappy, processed food: by grabbing a handful of it, and stuffing my face full of it!! So liberating!!
So Happy Nutrition Month Everyone! May it serve as a gentle reminder for each of us to be a bit more mindful of what, how, and why we eat the way we do. I'm going to have some fun this month, and I hope you do as well!
I'm honored this year to perform my song cycle "Quilting" at Cal State L.A.'s "Claiming Freedom" Symposium on Thursday, February 5th. "Claiming Freedom" celebrates a great constellation of milestones in the fight for civil rights and human rights in the United States: the fiftieth anniversary of the Freedom Summer, Freedom Schools, the Free Speech Movement, Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, as well as the one hundred fiftieth anniversary of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Many of these events took place in Los Angeles, and I'm so glad that Cal State L.A.'s department of English is marking the city's important role in furthering these causes, and using arts as an instrument to remember them.
As we bear witness to the matrix of injustice and disenfranchisement that still marks racial and gender bias here at home more recently, it is important to place our work now within this larger narrative, or what Dr. King might call a longer "arc of history, [that] bends toward justice."
More information can be found about the "Claiming Freedom" Symposium via the link below. Countertenor Darryl Taylor will perform "Quilting" (settings of Countee Cullen's poetry) with me at 6:30pm on Thursday, February 5th in Cal State L.A.'s Music Hall. It promises to be a festive evening of poetry and music, and I hope you can join us!
I've got Good Friday on my heart, its sobering and ecstatic, cathartic release. We get it all backwards when fetishizing Jesus' pain at crucifixion. The passion of the saints is so vast, and for all of us, no matter how one names the multiverse. dukkha. It says, over again and always, "show up for your life."
My newest celebrity crush is the Brahms Intermezzo in A Major, op. 118 no.2. Creating fingerings for this piece is like meeting a person you've long admired for a first date: so much excitement, interest, and anticipation. As I mark the music, I feel like the piece has a story to tell me. . . and that I'm learning that story--slowly, steadily.
Spring is surely in the air.
Please join me for a concert by my friends, flutist Gary Woodward and oboist Catherine Del Russo. They'll perform my wind quintet "Macy loves Rashawn," along with work by the ever-inventive Bevan Manson, on Monday 3 March at 7:30pm in Bird Studio, on the campus of Occidental College. It'd be great to see you there!
Join me tonight on KPFK-FM: 90.7 FM or www.kpfk.org, Pacifica Radio, as we pay musical tribute to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Music of Passion, abundance, fragility, joie de vivre, wonder. Happy Birthday Francis POULENC, born on this day in 1899.
(this photo is from a visit to his grave from May, 2000)
And a very HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all!!
I've been thinking about Elliot Smith in advance of the ten-year anniversary of his death. This is a song I made about him a couple years ago. Here's hoping that his life and work stay with us. Here's hoping that those who struggle with the wonder of this world find a way to stay with it, and choose to stay with it--again and again.
In this insightful op-ed for the New York Times, composer Kristin Kuster takes on the denial and self negation that, for her, too often accompanies classical composition's masculinizing discourse. Kristin is one of the bravest people I know, and a composer whose work changes the air it touches. I'm glad to call her friend.
Once you hear the music of singer/composer Laura Mvula, it cannot be unheard. Once you see her, she cannot be unseen. Laura Mvula queers fading notions of who has the right to be called composer, of who has the goodwill and moral clarity to impart wisdom and be wholly heard. The comparisons to Nina Simone are obvious enough, but there is a generosity to this music--an egalitarianism that both edifies and enlightens. Listen to this.
their sound, a rushing water
to my eyes. My eyes!
If ever you wondered about the educational benefit of homemade internet videos uploaded to sites like Youtube, and the real wonder they can bring to the intersection of disciplines like mathematics and music, look no further than "mathemusician" Victoria Hart, or Vi Hart as she's known online.
Vi Hart's work is impossible to classify. One minute she's drawing elephants to illustrate the sums of infinite series; the next she's turning candied fruit into mobius strips, cutting them into thirds, and making Borromean knots. The videos move pretty quickly, and are always as goofy as they are edifying. The opening sentence of her video on the proper technique for eating candied buttons, for instance, brings unusual academic gravitas to the question: "The topic of candied button eating styles has been covered by Mr. Randall XKCD, but I'd like to expand his categorization to include a few more nerdy styles."
Underneath it all, Vi Hart is a philosopher in discourse with the static ineptitude of standard K-12 math curricula, musical learning, and indeed the very fabric of our imagination. (Many of her videos begin with some variation on the theme of ennui, something like, "so you're me, and you're sitting in math class and you're bored out of your skull by a topic that could be really interesting were it not for the totally boring and uninspired way it is being taught, so you start to doodle.")
Fun, constantly searching, devilishly inquisitive, and with a quick-silver wit, Vi Hart's latest video explores the wonder in early post-tonal theory, crazy geometrical shapes, the self-defeating stupidity of current copyright law in the digital age (a topic close to my heart), and, to quote physicist Brian Cox, "the right laws of physics." Cox continues, "they're beautifully balanced. If the weak force had been a little bit different, then carbon and oxygen wouldn't be stable in the hearts of stars." And, I would add, we wouldn't have the musical variations that end the video below. I've had two of my former students send me this link in as many days, so I had to share it with you.
So thank you, Vi Hart! Find and subscribe to her channel on youtube, and consider supporting the folks like her, whose eclectic thinking isn't "outside the box," but beyond it in the best possible ways.
Ok, so, yesterday, you remember how excited I was to share an astonishing new arrangement of Igor Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps with you? You remember how musically compelling I found the work, how ingenious I thought the arrangement was, and how blown away I was by the fact that it was performed from memory, and without a conductor? You remember how I had a bet with my wife that the video would reach a million views by 5/25 of this year? Well yeah, that's not going to happen. Why? Because music publisher Boosey & Hawkes, in a signature move of absolute ineptitude, demanded the video of the performance be pulled from youtube.
The uproar among composers, arrangers, musicians, and music-lovers alike has been swift and unforgiving, with consensus revolving around the question, "What sort of backwards thinking would prompt some clueless executive to act against the interests of classical music in general, and Le Sacre in particular?" The reason for the publisher's move seems to involve, as best as I can tell, a conformity to the letter of the law regarding public dissemination of unlicensed arrangements. My point is that there are many, many ways for B&H to have better handled this.
Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of social media knows that momentum counts for a lot in sharing your music online. So even if Eastman Sax Project and B&H get this behind them (which I hope they do), damage has already been done. This snafu represents what so many of us find wholly dysfunctional in the music publishing business. If B&H were in any way forward-thinking, they would recognize that the sort of publicity generated from excitement over this performance cannot be purchased at any price, and encourage the public dissemination of arrangements like this, while working behind the scenes to ensure that the best interests of the composer, their estate, and the company are met. Instead, actions like this show how publishers such as B&H have absolutely no interest working towards the furthering of their composers, or the music under their care. Composer John Mackey notes how countless highschool saxophonists would be set alight with enthusiasm over Stravinsky and The Rite if they could see and hear this arrangement online. It could inspire a whole new generation of musicians to aspire to ESP's quality of performance. Instead, they get static. Pathetic.
Three years ago Eastman bassoonists arranged a medley of Lady Gaga's hit songs and posted it online without incident, garnering a whole new fan base for her, and their ensemble (Breaking Winds). But the minute you arrange and publicize a seminal work by Igor Stravinsky, the publisher pulls the video. REALLY?! So Gaga's publishers get it, but not Stravinsky's?! Unacceptable.
I hope this crap gets resolved soon. I will leave up the link in the nascent hope that this situation is promptly resolved. And if it isn't, than I will still leave up the post, and the link that accompanies it, as a reminder of what could have been were it not for the shortsightedness of a few in power to stymie the interest and amazement that Le Sacre still garners a century after its premiere.
This. Is. Astonishing.
Le Sacre du Printemps celebrates 100 years of shocking the world at the end of this May, and it's hard to find a more fitting tribute to its lasting contribution to arts and culture than the dedication and musicality of this performance by the Eastman Sax Project, or ESP. Their playing would have been noteworthy enough just considering the ingenuity of the arrangement by saxophonist and ESP member Dannel Espinoza, but this extraordinary effort becomes truly epic when you see that the sax ensemble is playing the entire piece from memory. Are you freakin' KIDDING ME?!
There's something else. You know you're listening to a good performance of an arrangement when the instruments take on the properties--the musical qualities--of the instruments from the original score. Such is the case here, as with the opening of the work, or the English horn and alto flute excerpts from "Ritual Action of the Ancestors" towards the end of the piece.
Many musicians (and music-lovers of all sorts) remember the first time they listened to Igor Stravinsky's musical invocation of pagan Russia for Diaghliev's Ballet Russe. As a teen, I was as frightened as I was compelled by the work; I would never be the same. This arrangement, true to that spirit of grit and intrepid artistry, has also left me changed for the better.
I have a bet with my wife Andrea that their youtube video of the performance will reach a least a million views in two weeks. It certainly deserves to.
next post: thoughts from the Michigan Philharmonic's "Koncert for Kids"!
Techno music was a constant in my house growing up. It was ubiquitous in southeast Michigan in the mid-80s, and set aside a place in my musical memory that now relates strongly with what I know and how I know it. (The music one listens to as a teenager has a way of doing that.) So to hear the synthetic timbres of Detroit Techno (evidenced here) superimposed upon a polyrhythmic, restless lyric demanding greater existential awareness is a rare gift.
There are certainly other musical influences that inform the multimodal work of the Los Angeles based duo KNOWER, but the song "Around" places me back in the basement where my big brother's stereo equipment was blasting works from the Belleville 3. It also, however, has another story wrapped up within it: a song that speaks from the forbidden and frustrated arcs that constitute modern awareness of, and adjacency to, the world around us.
And still, this music is so joyful! The fordian setting of the verses, with its factory 3/4 6/4 time, is in marked and sensuous contrast to the music underlying the chorus. As such the chorus, ebullient, places the lyrical machinations of our days around a wondrous sound-world of life that is at once within us, and just beyond us. I claim there is Lacanian jouissance in this placement, a kind of "+" or unconstituted upgrade to the music from the basement in the 80s. Where they go next is anyone's guess.
KNOWER is a great band precisely because "they know not what they do."
William Bolcom has long been a national treasure, in part, because he speaks truth to power. His pointed wit and encyclopedic musical knowledge were part of what made me want to be a composer in the first place. Growing up in Ann Arbor, I thought all composers were like him. If only.
This is what musical citizenship sounds like.
Greetings from Carmel, California! Andrea is here for a conference, and, as the dates for her trip coincided with my spring holiday, I'm glad I could tag along. California's central coast is really the best of both worlds, with both the sun from the south of the state and the milder temperatures of the north. It's a nice place to wind down. We haven't yet run into Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood used to be the mayor of the town), but I'm keeping my eyes peeled.
The Deubner-Fauchet duo finished their Los Angeles residency at Occidental with a wonderful concert that included the premiere of my work for Brett, Cadenza & Aria. The work is technically demanding and emotionally taxing, but the duo performed it in a way that made it worthwhile for the audience. For this and so much more, I remain grateful to them for their commitment to the piece. Thank you Brett and Thank you Caroline! Pics of Murphy on the coast to come!
p.s. Here's a YouTube video where I talk some about the impetus of the work. This was at Brett's request, but it may be good to do more of these for future works. What do you think?
The Deubner-Fauchet duo has had a wonderful two days here at Oxy, and cap off their residency tonight with a concert in Bird Studio at 7:30pm. It's been such a joy watching them work. They premiered four compositions by Oxy student-composers Thursday afternoon, providing feedback during a dynamic and engaged public workshop. I especially liked that the duo requested scores of the student works be projected as the pieces were played. This allowed for the audience to follow along, bringing them into the rehearsal process. It's always a delight when professional musicians like Brett and Caroline make their prodigious talents accessible to students, and they've done just that for the students here.
Prior to their premiering the work at Cal State L.A., I had the chance yesterday to hear my commission from Brett, Cadenza & Aria for the first time. I'm so grateful that they've put in the time and effort to make such a challenging work sound effortless. And it was really nice to hear Caroline on piano; she plays the piece with a wonderful sensitivity that on the surface may seem to belie her strength and power as a pianist. Upon close listening however, one can't help but notice that such subtlety requires a strong and determined musical mind.
These words, and the sentiments behind them, would be hyperbolic were it not for the many hours of time and effort musicians like Brett and Caroline put into shaping a phrase, or contextualizing that phrase within a piece; if they did not stand on stage after stage with bright and sharp lights on them and demonstrate their determination, time and again, to shape a musical experience from scratches and scraps on a page. But the fact of the matter is there were some harrowing moments that led to the good of the past two days, and I know that I'm grateful for their journey with Cadenza & Aria, and with all the works on tonight's program. Their musical journeys help affirm and shape my own.
This talk represents a fundamental paradigm shift in the way musical artists and listeners interact. Interactions between celebrities and their "lowly" listeners are being left behind with other outdated and a-functional sensibilities of the Romantic Era. Palmer moves us right into the matrix of thriving in the Digital age.
"Wear your mask & practice social distancing. Together, we can defeat Covid 19!"
"Literacy in Music & Arts is one of your vital links to global citizenship!"
"Be sure to support the arts in *your* community!"