Sunday, August 22, 2010

sing a cappella wah-oo-oo

One thing that does not come up often in the course of my NYC life is the fact that I grew up in a congregationalist Christian sect that falls, culturally speaking, somewhere between Mennonite and Independent Baptist. Some of the prime markers of this subculture are attendance at 3 church services a week, lace doilies on the heads of some women, a hemline that falls no higher than the knee, no "mixed bathing" (that's girls and guys swimming together, for the uninitiated), no alcohol, no cigarettes, no swearing, certainly no drugs, no dancing (yes, fine, like Footloose), and, perhaps most significantly for this discussion, no instrumental music in worship. That's right, instrumental use is a derogatory term in this community—a scandalizing accusation even. (About the only worse thing you can call somebody is a Baptist. GASP.)

If your mind is blown, let me spin this around for you: church - sings - a cappella - WAH-OO-OO. If you follow no other link this week, please click this one and allow the group "Acappella" to summarize the doctrine in peppy doo-wop style. (If the churches of Christ had a TV show this would be their theme song.)

Now, I realize that this is most unusual. Let me rephrase that: I realize now that this is most unusual. But when I was 5, it didn't occur to me that all the other kindergartners probably weren't actively singing 4-part a cappella harmony from shape note hymnals on a tri-weekly basis. Eh bien, tant pis. Their loss, really. Looking back, it is no wonder my opportunistic band director all but drop-kicked me into a French horn case in 6th grade. Ears!, he thought. Such magnificent ears! While I don't have perfect pitch, I'm a mean sight-singer with serious pitch memory after all those years of reading hymns. Other less musically-useful skills include the ability to recite the books of the Bible in rapid succession without pause, and the ability to know immediately when someone is misquoting/misattributing any Biblical text to suit their own political purposes.

Still, these are my origins. And I may have become a bleeding-heart moderate with a taste for tequila and a nutso passion for salsa-dancing, but to this day I have found no greater experience this side of heaven than harmonious a cappella singing. A couple of years ago I came across this passage from Julia Cameron's The Artists Way that finally brought everything (literally) home for me:

If the demand to be original still troubles you, remember this: each of us is our own country, an interesting place to visit. It is the accurate mapping out of our own creative interests that invites the term original. We are the origin of our art, its homeland. Viewed this way, originality is the process of remaining true to ourselves.

So I invoke the Alabama church camp where I and hundreds of other preteens sat lakeside in the pitch dark that summer, singing hours of hymns from memory, accompanied only by the mesmerizing chanting of cicadas. And I recall the hayrides and bonfires with churchfolk, where men, women, and children of all ages watched the fire crackle and sang: "Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia."

And on nights like this I open my Hymns for Worship songbook, surround myself with the memory of these voices, and I sing, and I sing, and I sing.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Why I Am Leaving Boosey & Hawkes

It has been a most adventurous 5 1/2 years but Friday, September 3 marks my last day as an employee of classical, jazz, and avant-garde music publisher Boosey & Hawkes.

I don't believe I'll ever find another workplace where CEOs are farewelled with staff productions of Meredith Monk's PANDA CHANT II, where it is decided before singing HAPPY BIRTHDAY in which composer's style it will be performed (Carter! No, Del Tredici!), where upper management consistently supports innovation not only in the artists represented but in its own staff, where I very occasionally get the opportunity to tell Steve Reich what to do and he listens, or where I might routinely mistake a piece of music for hard-hat construction on another floor (usually something from Steven Mackey or the Universal catalogues...).

Perhaps it is for these reasons that I'm not going to another workplace. It has been my long-term goal to go free-lance as a music publicist. At the same time, one thing I learned in my experience at Boosey is that I love collaboration. I mean...LOVE it. Therefore I have decided to team up with another Brooklyn-based publicist who is the yin to my yang. I'll soon be taking on select clients and projects, providing creative strategy and full-service PR to artists and organizations.

I hope this more modular business will also allow me to infuse more time into music-making of my own, rounding out my lifestyle and making me a better everything. (The French horn calls, after all, and so do the pen, the voice, and the piano.)

As I prepare for my departure, I'd like to take a moment to thank my colleagues at B&H for teaching me to listen intelligently and open-mindedly to sounds in order to hear them for what they are rather than for what they are not, and for never responding to crazy ideas by asking Um, why?? but rather by asking Hey, why not?

Good night, composers. Good night, stars. The next adventure awaits; I hope to see you there.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Big Decision Flow Chart

August, die she must?

I've been making some big decisions lately and anybody who's worked with me knows that I love flow charts. Flow charts with bright colors and fun shapes...flow charts that tell you what to do with a press release...flow charts that help you determine the instrumentation of your next piece...flow charts made with imagery inspired by Lucky Charms that tell you whether or not You Have News (sometimes people really don't have news) it is only appropriate that in making life's big decisions I would have a corresponding Big Decision Flow Chart.

And here it is:

Virginia's Big Decision Flow Chart
(click image to enlarge)

And as for the news? I have consulted previous flow chart to determine that I Do Have News. More on that soon.