As 2018 comes to a close, I’m spending time reflecting on some of my professional endeavors from the past year. Among the greatest joys in my musical year has been getting so many opportunities to create new works for performers and ensembles who want to add something new to their repertoire. Just this past year, I’ve had the pleasure of working with a slew of folks in three different time zones. Each collaboration has been incredibly rewarding for me, and I’m pleased to announce I’m now accepting commissions for 2019 and 2020.
Hi! This isn’t an interview, and you’re not really here (though where you’re reading this, technically you’re here and I’m not), so I can’t ask you to sit down or offer you a glass of water. You won’t be getting a job today, but you do care about this outcome. Maybe you paid money to be here, to put your work in front of me, or maybe you didn’t. Maybe I offered to look at it and consider it for free. Either way, you’ve left me alone with your work to decide if I’m going to use it or not.
Honestly, performers can have a really hard time choosing grad schools.
I say that as a composer and composer-performer who’s always had way too many things to think about when it came to school choices. During my undergrad auditions, I managed to piss off an interviewer at a school that will remain unnamed because I insisted on continuing to play my instrument as I continued my composing. (They didn’t accept me. This was not a surprise.) Yet as I’m starting to look toward the final semester of my MFA, it stymies me that so many teachers request or insist that their students focus on one thing and one thing only. I was incredibly lucky at Arizona State to have not one but four composition teachers who supported my performative endeavors, and that streak has continued at CalArts. But as my performance-major friends look at grad schools and doctoral programs, often they’re only focused on one thing: the teacher.
Earlier this week I had the pleasure of reading a post from my friend and colleague, Nico Bejarano, on cultivating acceptance of new music in a professional world that can at times seem dead set on only playing the repertoire already elevated to the echelon of “the classics.” (A comment my mentor Jody Rockmaker once made on my counterpoint homework, here taken wildly out of context, comes to mind: “Get your ears out of the nineteenth century!”) I concur with many of Nico’s sentiments, and I encourage you to check out his post here. I also wanted to take a few moments to address many of those same ideas from the perspective of someone who’s spent a long time being a composer first and a performer second.
Nico talks at length in his article about how the availability and mass consumption of recorded music has diluted audiences’ tastes down to an aural experience that prizes the familiar over all else. It’s an apt correlation; however, I argue that the demographic most affected by this oversaturation of Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler isn’t our concertgoing audience—it’s the armies of performers rising through the ranks of schools and orchestras that treat new music as an afterthought. These folks are used to cross-referencing recordings of the symphonies they’re performing that semester. They endlessly study their favorite soloists’ versions of their solo rep. And they lose the ability (or maybe the imagination) to look at a piece of unfamiliar music and bring it to life in their mind.
As we move into the fall semester (or quarter, if you’re weird like that), I’m happy to announce I’m accepting commissions for Fall 2018 and Spring 2019. I’ve had a fantastic time working with individuals and groups this year, including the Spring View Middle School Jazz Band, Failsafe Duo, Willis Dotson, John Pisaro and Ian Stahl, and Oakwood Brass. That said, something I’ve come to realize is a lot of my friends, peers, and colleagues are interested in commissioning new works but don’t necessarily know how to approach the process. I can’t and won’t speak for all composers, but these are the most important things to know if you’re interested in working with me.
DCI Championships are this weekend. It’s a fact most current and former band kids can’t escape—social media lights up with profile pictures from when everyone you’ve ever known marched in the Blue Devils, the handful of friends who are on staff or on tour with a corps are super excited, and everyone who wants to see the shows at their best without flying to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis flocks to the movies to watch the live stream of the quarterfinals.
This year, following a season or two of not keeping up with the activity, I joined them. I sat in the same place for five hours (plus bathroom breaks) and munched on entirely-too-unhealthy popcorn and rooted for Vanguard (and Crown, and The Academy, and . . . you get my point). And since I hadn’t been to a show in a couple years, it was a lot of fun. I’ll always have massive respect for my friends who march and tech for these groups, but I’ve also realized that as much as I like DCI, I’ll never again adore it as much as I used to.
Panel discussions, at music festivals or elsewhere, are a great way to ask a variety of questions that might not fall under normal “how do I play this” or “what do I need to work on” categories. During my time at the Rafael Méndez Brass Institute this summer, I had the pleasure of attending several such panels. My partner, John, was along for the ride with me, and we both enjoyed getting each other’s take on the day’s discussion. The first day’s panel was about building a sustainable practice schedule, but as it progressed it expanded into performing and personal wellbeing, too. Toward the end the panel, one of our colleagues raised his hand and asked if the panelists had any tips about balancing work and life.
Before I go on, let’s be clear—that’s a great question and one that plagues many musicians at various stages of their careers. It’s one I’ve contemplated asking on various occasions. However, the direction the panel took the question caught me a little off guard. They talked at length about how it’s an extensive process to get your partner to accept your musicality and all the commitments that come with it (especially the practice schedules). They shared anecdotes about taking their horns on their honeymoons. They treated musicianship like something your partner has to accept about you, and that’s true—except when your partner is also a musician.
Hello, friends! I hope this finds you well.
I’ve spent much of the past week reflecting on my experiences at the Rafael Méndez Brass Institute and getting back into the daily grind. I had such a great time getting to know everyone at RMBI, but it’s dawned on me that as someone who actively identifies as both a composer and a performer, I don’t talk as coherently about my creative practice as many of my new friends do. To be completely honest, I’m a little envious—from the outside looking in, it seems nice to be able to start by saying “I do this” and then getting more specific instead of explaining that you do two or three or five different things and having to elaborate on each one. I’ve also realized that I haven’t at any point sat down and written out how I describe and view my own work. (Grad school application essays don’t count.)
Generally, I dismiss myself pretty quickly. I tell people that I try to marry traditional technique and tonality with experimental idioms, and that’s true. Making weird things accessible to audiences regardless of their musical background is and always will be a priority. Even still, there’s so much more to my writing and performing than “it sounds a little weird but also sort of normal.” There are facets of my creativity I haven’t talked about very much. So this post has two objectives: to introduce myself a little more thoroughly to my friends (new and old, musicians and non-musicians) and help define for myself how I frame my creative practice.
A week has come and gone, and one cancelled flight and many phone calls later, I’m in the air headed home from the Rafael Méndez Brass Institute. RMBI brings together a veritable army of instructors, students, auditionees, performers, and a couple amazing collaborative pianists for a week of brass-related shenanigans. I didn’t want to post too much about my expectations going into the festival, so for the most part I’ve kept quiet online. However, now that I’ve made it out the other side, I thought I’d compile a list of the festival’s greatest hits (and misses) for anyone who’s considering attending next year. As always, these opinions are my own, and I’m always cognizant of the fact that as a musician whose focus is largely on contemporary performance, my experience differs from my peers’. But here are my biggest pros and cons of RMBI 2018:
Over the past year, CalArts has allowed me to learn at my own pace while providing countless opportunities I wouldn’t get elsewhere. That said, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Like every school, CalArts has serious downsides it needs to address. I can’t speak as much to programs and events outside the music school, but even within HASOM (the Herb Alpert School of Music), there are significant issues that require more management than students or faculty are capable of providing individually. And sometimes, the administration’s what’s causing the problems. So buckle in, everyone. This one’s long.
Let’s start with my favorite part of every school: the Title IX office.