Thursday, December 20, 2012

In the Bleak Midwinter - voice, horn, ukulele, sleigh bells, piano

Dear friends near and far,

We wish you peace and joy this season and in the year to come. In lieu of a Christmas card, we share a song we've been working on late at night for the past few weeks. In the Bleak Midwinter (by Christina Rossetti and Gustav Holst), arranged with a dash of Antonín Dvořák, for piano, French horn, ukulele, sleigh bells, and voice. Arrangement, performances, and third verse lyrics by Scarlet K. Recorded and mixed by Alex. This is SK's first arrangement and AK's first venture in music production.

What we have we give you; we hope you'll listen and enjoy:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year,
Brooklyn, NY / December 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Grey Lady's Bent Ears

For lack of a better outlet, I point my personal songwriting blog to a matter of classical music business today.

Classical music critic Norman Lebrecht leaked news via his blog on Monday that fellow critic Allan Kozinn, who's been writing for The New York Times for the past 35 years, has been reassigned from his position as staff reviewer to the position of general cultural reporter. Citing internal politics, the reassignment was called a "demotion" and a General Cultural Outcry has ensued.

On a road trip at the time, I could contribute little from the passenger seat of our Subaru but I have a few observations, having worked closely with the Times' classical team as a pitching publicist in recent years.

The Times classical staff is arranged thusly: James "Jim" Oestreich (Classical Music Editor) assigns coverage and contributes essays and reviews, usually regarding music written before 1950. He is extraordinarily busy. Anthony "Tony" Tommasini (Head Classical Critic) negotiates coverage with Jim and specializes in opera/vocal music (usually written before 1900). Then there was Allan Kozinn, whose area of expertise covered standard repertoire (the older, more established works for those readers who are not in our little world) but whose knowledge of 20th and 21st century music is nearly encyclopedic, and who can write with equal passion and authority on The Beatles, John Cage, and C.P.E. Bach. Enter the free-lancers: Steve Smith (Music Editor of Time Out New York), whose knowledge of and curiosity about contemporary music parallels Allan's but he has far less autonomy over his assignments, let alone time; Vivien Schweitzer, whose area of expertise is piano music; and Zachary "Zack" Woolfe, who, like Tony, specializes in vocal music, especially opera.

OK. If Allan, who reportedly averaged (!) 5 concert reviews a week over 35 years, is removed, then the Times classical department is left with two staffers + three free-lancers. And the range of specialization is then traditional orchestral/chamber music (Jim), opera (Tony), opera (Zack), piano (Vivien), contemporary music of 20th + 21st centuries (Steve). What's curious to me is this: Does our city's "paper of record" need two specialists in opera and only a part-time contributor for 100+ years of contemporary music, spanning multiple epochs? From what I see, this staffing does not accurately reflect the cultural landscape which the paper of record is attempting to record.

Currently in NYC we have two major opera companies, neither of which has been delivering significant productions at breakneck pace. As a matter of fact, there have been numerous articles lamenting how very behind-the-times and inadequate NYC's big opera companies are compared to those around the world. Beyond that, Times has noted a very lively collection of upstart organizations presenting high-quality and/or grassroots opera/theatre works on a smaller scale. (Full disclosure: I work for one of them.) But even so, the Times to this point has seemed more transfixed by big houses, anyway. So?

Meanwhile, we are in a golden age of contemporary music in NYC. Composers and young performers are literally flocking to the city from all over the country, forming labels, collectives, ensembles, bands, festivals, and audiences at places like Roulette, Issue Project Room, (le) Poisson Rouge, Rockwood Music Hall. I almost can't get above 14th Street for all of the music happening below it and across the river. Brooklyn is some kind of independent musical capital of the world right now but are we seeing that reflected in our paper of record? Perhaps on the pop side, but with classical Allan has been the staffer who knows the current artists and who can contextualize this movement with 35 years of experience on the ground. Even with Allan, to me the balance of coverage happening Uptown versus Downtown (let alone across the river) hasn't seemed to be reflective of the current times. How much more so now that he's off the beat? Can one part-time free-lancer (Steve) really be the one only with his ear to the ground for 100+ years of music, including this current movement, while holding down the fort at Time Out? Or will the Gray Lady's ears become lopsided?

All of that said, I will also say this: I long for music writing that transcends the preview/review grind. From the perspective of a reader and also of one who pitches stories, I can attest that there are very few opportunities for a good story in print outlets. (Mark Swed? Anne Midgette?) Even if a critic is interested in the conversation at hand, writing an actual story (trend, news, or otherwise) rather than filling a review assignment amounts to working overtime. It's a critic's extra credit. Without the time and space for critics to start meaningful conversations in "official" print outlets, such conversations have largely moved onto legitimate blogs and webzines (George Grella The Big City, Frank J. Oteri NewMusicBox, Alex Ross The Rest Is Noise, Thomas Deneuville I Care If You Listen) and social media. I've read far more interesting insights and witnessed far more challenging discussions about the current state of contemporary/classical affairs via colleagues on Twitter and Facebook, or even on the personal blogs of such amateurs as myself. But with social media there is no lasting historical record. As far as having such discussions with the vast majority of staff critics who might have much knowledge and insight to offer? For me it's mostly off the record over lunch, or in an unprintable email. Too bad for all of us.

If Allan's new position as general cultural reporter fills that void Can I be optimistic? there might actually be interesting stories to read in a print daily about classical music, and set in broad cultural context.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Stranger to Blue Water / Grandma Doesn't Wear Underpants

This one's for my grandma, Etta "Deloris" Whitlatch Hoyt, who passed away on Friday, June 29, 2012. She is survived by my grandfather, Marvin Junior Hoyt ("Pap"), in whose loving arms she died.

Deloris and Marvin met when she was 15 and he was 16. They married at 16/17 and had their first of four children, my mother, at 17/18. They would have been married for 66 years next month. (You know what they say about the secret to a long marriage? Don't get a divorce.)

Perhaps most people think of warm, soft grandmas who smell of cookies. That is my mom. But my grandma was "ornery." She loved roller coasters. Hated dogs but fed ours under the table just to drive my mother crazy. A diehard Pepsi fan, she drove across the Ohio border to buy her "pop" because she insisted it was fizzier there, and she told several of her offspring that she wanted a Pepsi can set on her grave. When I was ten she told me that there was no need for women to wear underwear to bed (because they'd just come right off anyway). An elder's wife in the fundamentalist Church of Christ sect, she sat silently in the back pew during worship and passed out Teaberry and Cloves gum to her grateful, naughty grandchildren.

Up until her sudden passing, she walked 5-10 "mile" a day, rain or shine, and she didn't want company. (Though I often forced my way in.) She was a private woman. She did not enjoy crowds or meeting new people. A true mountaineer, she gardened and baked while my grandfather hunted. (I once saw him shoot at a meddling groundhog out the window of his bedroom.) She canned more quarts of tomatoes, green beans, and garlic dill pickles than she and my grandfather could eat in a year. They raised pigs. When I was very little, I asked her where the pigs had gone and she pointed to my ham sandwich and said "You're eating them." (Horrified.)

Every year my family would drive seven hours to Moundsville, West Virginia, to visit. It was almost heavenly to cross the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River while singing along to "Take Me Home, Country Roads." There's one line that strikes me every time I hear it:

All my memories gathered 'round her
Miner's lady, stranger to blue water

Up until the age of about 60, my grandmother was a stranger to blue water. It was a trip to Virginia to visit my family that first brought Deloris to the big blue ocean, and she was smitten. It was the off-season, in October, when we walked along the beach and she helped me sneakily take off my shoes and socks to wade in the chilling water, against my mother's wishes.

I have some regrets. I never got to can with her. She kept telling me to hurry up and have babies so she could meet them. I don't know how to make her killer Amazin' Raisin Cake. I was racing along the highway to see her when she passed, so I didn't get to say good-bye. She and my Pap didn't come to my wedding, and I'm pretty sure it's because we had dancing and alcohol at the reception (though it wasn't compulsory!). I don't even know if she ever watched the fantastic wedding video Alex made to commemorate the occasion. I had also wanted her to come see New York City but she told me I was crazy, though I know she lay in bed at night listening to the news from NYC. She'd probably have hated the crowds. But it was always impossible to know with Grandma. She could have loved the Subway. She was unpredictable. Mercurial even.

For example, she did not want singing or music of any kind at her funeral. It was a closed casket, per her request, but I privately sang a few lines at her coffin anyway, in her own ornery spirit. And now, to really get her goat, I've recorded this old Church of Christ hymn in her honor. It was written in 1945, the year Deloris and Marvin met.

It's me x 3 + ukulele. Stick around for the second chorus, although Grandma probably wouldn't have.

If We Never Meet Again (by Albert E. Brumley)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Does anybody know what a song looks like?

Here's the thing: I read music. And this is how I was trained: first sight, then sound.

This is unnatural, most would say, because as human children, even in this age of extreme literacy, we learn languages first by hearing them then much later by reading/writing them. But this is how music is taught in American schools. You learn the building blocks of clefs and noteheads and staves and accents then you sound it all out. And if you grow up and major in music (yes!) and study composition (never occurred to me!), a huge part of your development as a composer comes from analyzing and studying full scores. Say you love the music of John Adams, you contact Boosey & Hawkes for a "perusal" score of City Noir and maybe throw in some pieces by Stravinsky, Bernstein, and Carter for good measure. Then you study them. Hard. Like: "I love the sound he gets in this passage -- what instruments was he using? How are they spaced? In what inversions are the chords? How about the harmonic progression? How did he accomplish this feeling of grandeur here? That feeling of loss, diminution?" You study lots and lots of lots of works by lots and lots of composers. And you practice using some of their techniques to help express the music you want to express. This is how we learn.

I am in the process of writing an album. Fully orchestrated. Of my own songs. And I realize that I'm frustrated because I've never actually seen the kind of music I want to write. I don't know what an orchestrated song looks like on paper. (And those dumbed down piano/vocal fake books from Colony don't count.) It feels like I've got blinders on, or I'm just groping in the dark. No wonder! I'm a visual gal trying to bridge into an aural tradition.

So here's my wish list. Pop publishers, I am placing my order for perusal scores right now. I want to see the full original instrumental arrangements or transcriptions of the following albums:

1. Paul Simon Rhythm of the Saints
2. Paul Simon Graceland
3. Vampire Weekend self-titled
4. Rufus Wainwright Poses
5. Sufjan Stevens The Age of Adz 
6. Sarah McLachlan Fumbling Toward Ecstasy
7. Ben Folds Songs for Silverman
8. Sufjan Stevens Come On Feel the Illinoise! 
9. Death Cab for Cutie Plans
10. The Decemberists The Hazards of Love
11. Feist Let It Die
12. Damien Rice O
13. Stevie Wonder Songs in the Key of Life 
14. Joni Mitchell Blue
15. MGMT Oracular Spectacular
16. Mumford and Sons Sigh No More
17. Muse Black Holes and Revelations
18. Nickel Creek self-titled
19. Oscar D'Leon Lloraras
20. The Shins Wincing the Night Away
21. Gorillaz Demon Days
22. Indigo Girls Swamp Ophelia
23. Tori Amos Boys for Pele
24. Alison Krauss & Union Station New Favorite
25. Ani DiFranco Up Up Up Up Up Up

I wish I could have these to study all summer. What would you want to study?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Away with me.

For 10 days I shut down my PR engine, locked myself out of social media, and played. An extended artist's staycation if you will, stocking the pond via serious acts of whimsy.

And here is why la vita è bella in New York City: the first night of my sabbatical began with Amanda F. Palmer throwing a spontaneous free street party in walking distance from my apartment, complete with reconstructed circus organ, people on stilts, giants, children, and women in panties being tied into rope swings (Look: I'm sure there's a name for this but I'm not going to punch it into Google, ok?).

As for the next night, if your ballerina singer illustrator graphic designer friend who just finished her MBA at Notre Dame calls out of the blue and asks if you want to go see a sold out Radiohead show, you say yes. In a moment designed to make me spazz in my seat, Thom Yorke quoted Steve Reich's "It's Gonna Rain" between tunes at the Prudential Center's Friday show. Then: post-show thunderstorm, running barefoot in the pouring rain, all girls' sleepover in Jersey City, wine, hallelujah.

[Lesser known fact: In 2008 Steve Reich expressed interest in writing for rock band configuration (keyboard, drumset, guitars, etc.) so I suggested maybe writing something for an existing rock band, namely Radiohead. Reich hadn't heard of Radiohead (!) so I giddily made him a mix tape, including 2+2=5. He really dug it, so I contacted Radiohead with the idea, and Reich began composing excerpts for the band to look over. After evaluating the excerpts, Jonny wrote back and determined that, while some of the band members are fluent music readers, others aren't, so they respectfully recused themselves from the project and the Bang on a Can All-Stars agreed to take it on. The resulting piece? 2x5. From what I understand, a new piece from Reich is even more directly inspired by Radiohead, premiering next spring in London.]

Saturday: met Ted Hearne's nephew along with Music at First's Will and Meg at the Mantra Percussion show. Sunday: sang in two ensembles and full choir for PSUMC's "Choir Sunday," learned some music history via Pam McAllister's hymn-sing sermon. A church couple rushed me at choir rehearsal to say how excited they were to see my name on Gabriel Kahane's blog, after seeing February House and becoming instamegafans. With my husband and my best friend's boy, biked to the ferry to Governer's Island, the island, had "ice cream," and biked back. Monday: moped through a rainy day that was supposed to be berry-picking. Felt very sorry for self. Tuesday: had lunch with a wise lady-neighbor, wrote a song-and-a-half (yay! the point!),  had a good voice lesson with Wendy Parr, a solid Brooklyn Wind Symphony rehearsal, and was asked to join a new brass band which I will do if I can somehow borrow or acquire a tenor horn.

Wednesday: Saw four guys in suspendered highwaters with pastel button-downs, bow ties, and horse heads racing each other down the beach at Coney Island (sideshow or hipster?), rode the Wonder Wheel (oh my Jesus the swinging cars), and got a back sunburn (frown of irresponsibility).

Then I blew town to play piano and sing in my niece's wedding on my parents' retirement farm. Yes, there were some old stand-bys but I did sneak in Debussy's Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum as the Recessional. Though I began piano lessons at 7, French horn at 11, and acquired a University degree in music, I'm fairly certain this was the first time that my relatives had heard me play or sing. No lies.

The wedding was gorgeous, another niece learned to turn pages, it's not every nuclear family that can sing a cappella quartets, and it would've been a quintet had my bass brother not been on toddler duty. Also: during the ceremony the neighbors across the holler started a super massive bon fire and blared Alice in Chains Man in the Box right in time with the final prayer. So that was a scream.
                                                                                                                                                                                       Post-wedding barefoot dance party with nieces, failed attempt to find hiking in the middle of the mountains (HOW), trumpet/horn duets with aforementioned toddler-chasing bass-voiced brother.

Meanwhile, the L magazine counted this coming Saturday's Brooklyn Wind Symphony "European Vacation" concert as one of the 20 Things You Must See And Do This Summer. June 16, 2 pm.

FREE. Like marching to the creek with your nieces and nephews. Or dancing so hard at your toddler nephew that he falls prostrate on the ground and weeps. (cc: husband)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Song alert: Microbiology

Here's the next addition to the "rough draft recording" collection: Microbiology. Written in early 2010 and polished up last week, recorded in a couple of live takes tonight. With Garage, you know, with a grain of salt please. Thanks and xoxo to Alaska for the set-up, adjustments.

I was originally hearing this with some Stan Getz-ish fuffffy saxophone and light drumset action but I'm not so sure now. Here you go, Bruce Springsteen. My answer to I'm On Fire.

Monday, April 30, 2012


THIS, Ben Folds, is the it.

is what I've been talking about. THIS is what I've been doing on this blog. Ben Folds posted a note on Facebook (??) answering the questions aspiring artists ask him about how to "make it." It's so good, it's worth reading all the way through but here's a teeny excerpt on the section entitled...


Finding your Voice takes a lot of frustrating time. That's a painful period that all artists go through, sometimes more than once. I think that most artists don't want to admit that period ever existed. We all like to pretend we came out special and it all just magically happened. You will eventually find that it takes no effort to just be yourself, but the road to that place can be long and rough. The truth is that most artists would not want you to see the evolution of their Voice. It would be very embarrassing. Imitating your heroes, trying on ill advised affectations. It's all part of the trip. It's why all those Before They Were Stars footage is so cringe worthy. Nobody wants to be seen in that light and so successful musicians do the new generation a disservice by denying their shady artistic past. I for one, will do my best to cover my tracks because I don't want anyone seeing that sh*t!
This blog is my road map. My inspirational treasure map for any of those who might come behind me. Perhaps it could be crazy or professionally suicidal to allow the world to view my flipping, my flopping, my muddling months and years of finding my own voice, of finding my own sound, of becoming an active artist with successful shows and albums. Perhaps there are those friends or colleagues or passing readers who listen to these "rough draft scratch recordings" or read my naked ramblings and feel uncomfortable or embarrassed for me, thinking I just "don't have it" and I "shouldn't quit [my] day job" and all the other know-it-all things we say when somebody else does something that disturbs our own illusions of stability and security and propriety.

But I am a smarty-pants and I do not think so. I know that I will get there and I know the music will be good. And I believe that I am telling stories and writing songs that other people will take comfort or joy in and call home: something I have dreamed about for as long as I can remember. And when that time comes I want the world to know how messy and confusing and terrifying it was to get there. And maybe there will be just one person who, also messy and scared and confused, will see this map and recognize it and take courage to move forward to write that book, make that album, go to art school, launch that company, take on that social justice mission.



(End mixed metaphor. Now read Ben Folds' entire post because it is razor sharp. Hat tip to Those Little Details for the link.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Greenwood Cemetery 4/10/12

i will grow old 
and grow apart from all that's dear to me
i will grow old
i will grow old

sickness and death will surely come to me
i will go on
i will go on

in the sun
there is nothing that is done
(earth and sun)

here, i have made huge mistakes
i haven't been all that i could be
i've fought, hidden, and lied
i haven't seen what's right before me

i am subject to illness, to blind spots
and blind sides
i fall heir to all of this even to forgiveness

i do not know
that there'll be golden gates or glassy sea
if there'll be hands, or face, to welcome me
i'll be alone and will not know

that dawn will break
fearless as the heart leveled after an earthquake

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

RIP Earl Scruggs: Who Will Sing for Me?

I am so sorry to learn of Earl Scruggs' passing.

Feeling particularly blue this evening, I had just come downstairs to work on a hymn I've been trying to finish when I saw the update on Facebook. It prompted me to pull out some tunes and, in doing so,  I realize that what I love about bluegrass and Southern gospel is that they make me feel both at home and homesick at the same time. That feeling drives my desire to sing, to make a song my home, to put that longing into music.

May I sing for you, Mr. Scruggs? I keep trying.

Oft I sing for my friends
When death's cold hand I see
But when I am called
Who will sing one song for me

I wonder who will sing for me 
When I'm called to the cross that silent sea
Who will sing for me

When friends have gathered 'round
And look down on me
Will they turn and walk away
Or will they sing one song for me

So I'll sing until the end
And helpful try to be
Assured that some friends 
Will sing one song for me

Monday, March 19, 2012

NPR's 50 Failed First Impressions


NPR's 50 Failed First Impressions.

"Debut albums are strange beasts. Some rocket artists to a lofty level of stardom that never seems to wane, making a permanent mark on the world of music. Others manage to attain a devoted cult status, but take years, maybe even decades, to do so. Even more go overshadowed by material the artist will eventually release. And there's just no calculating the countless number of debut LPs and EPs that get swept under the rug every year.

"Even though some artists just get it right the first time around, this mix is devoted to the ignored and under-appreciated debut. ..."

Let's say I'm a trained ballerina

Let's say I'm a trained ballerina (I'm not). If I then want to be a good salsa dancer, I take 6 months of classes, I ask questions, I watch others do it, I practice and get feedback from my dance partners. In all of this I develop my own skill and mastery of the style.

As a musician, my background is in classical. But I want to write music and perform as a singer-songwriter. So,  I approach songwriting and performing the same way. I want to develop my own vocal style, so I am taking lessons from a vocal coach who specializes in working with songwriters. I want to make use of orchestral instruments in my arrangements, so I am studying arranging/composition. I want to incorporate my French horn playing in my songs, so I'm busting out the Kopprasch etudes. I want to incorporate dance into my performance, so I'm brushing up on various dance styles. I want my songs to be heavy on percussion, so I'm studying drumline cadences and meeting with percussionists. I have no experience commanding a stage or a microphone as a solo artist, so I am starting to play open mics. I am miles away from where I want to be and I have a ton of work to do. This blog keeps me accountable and tracks the process.

In the contemporary classical world, there has been a notable rise (or rebirth) of the composer/performer in recent years. For the second year in a row the annual MATA Festival of new music by "young" composers from all over the world [full disclosure: I am MATA's publicist] will feature a composer/performer night called "Responsible Parties." (Performance on Thursday, April 19; roundtable discussion with said responsible parties the next morning, Friday, April 20.)

It's not exactly singer-songwriter fare. They've got video constructions, music for sheet metal, music for piano wire installation, part of an opera. Crazy interesting stuff. Often there's no singing at all = not songs. Lesley, Kate, and Matt's pieces are sung, so on that level are songs, written by song-writers.

Jacob Cooper, Triptych: II. Black or White
Cecilia Lopez, Mechanical Music for Sheet Metal
Kate Soper, Only the words themselves mean what they say
Lesley Flanigan, Snow
Matt Marks, sneak preview of The Little Death: Vol. 2 with Mellissa Hughes
Eli Keszler, Cold Pin

Still, within this greater movement there are those who more closely resemble singer-songwriters in that the music is primarily a) sung b) by the person who wrote it: Corey Dargel, Gabriel Kahane, to name a couple. Shara Worden fronts the band My Brightest Diamond as singer/songwriter but has moved into the world of composition.

One thing I've observed in my role as a publicist is that music which crosses multiple genre lines will, as a result, be received and evaluated by multiple and distinct sets of values, expectations, and reference points.

Case study: My Brightest Diamond released All Things Will Unwind in collaboration with yMusic [for whom I handled press via New Amsterdam Records] a few months back. ATWU is both an album by a songwriter-led-band (in indie rock terms) and a collection of short pieces for chamber ensemble with voice (in classical terms), and it was reviewed accordingly depending on the writer/outlet.

Sample review:  My Brightest Diamond
All Things Will Unwind
Peter Zimmerman,  Glide magazine (Peter has a classical/choral background)

Primary values/expectations by which "contemporary classical" music is measured:
  • Separation of composer and performer is usually the standard. (Unimportant/unexpected that the two be merged.)
  • Composer
    • Musical innovation / experimentation / originality (composition)
      • structure/form
      • texture
      • color
      • rhythm
      • harmony 
      • media/instrumentation
    • Reference points: Western classical canon of repertoire (development from Gregorian chant -->  Bach --> Mozart --> Mahler --> Reich --> contemporary movements/trends
  • Performer
    • Technical proficiency
    • Mastery of performance practice by style/period
    • Infusion of personal interpretation
    • Reference points: Past performers (e.g. Horowitz for piano); past recordings (comparison against "definitive" recording of specific works)

Sample review:
My Brightest Diamond
All Things Will Unwind
Amanda Petrusich, Pitchfork magazine

Primary values/expectations by which singer-songwriters/bands are measured:

  • Overall listener experience/mood trumps technical proficiency
  • Many elements of structure are (largely) assumed.
    • It's a song. Has words.
    • Melody is primary vehicle, voice is primary instrument.
    • Melody-dominated homophony. Instruments as ornamentation, accompaniment, setting of mood.
    • Short pieces (3 minutes); longer is significant.
  • Personal expression, authenticity trump "proper" technique.
    • Distinctive voice is imperative.
    • Story-telling (theirs or others)
    • Intimacy
    • Lyric-driven
  • Stage presence, persona.
    • Visual style, brand.
    • Use/command of microphone assumed.
  • Songwriter/band as icon, singing soundtrack for others lives. What does it sound like to be me/us now?
  • Reference points: Past artists (i. e. for songwriters -  Billie Holiday --> Woodie Guthrie --> Bob Dylan --> Joni Mitchell --> Sufjan Stevens), current rock trends.

All of this said, as artists should we care? I often hear from artists that genres and labels are super annoying, only for marketing, for people with tiny minds, or that they don't matter at all. "I write whatever I want," etc. Yes! Write that music! Write music because you have to! But what about performance practice? What about the ballerina who wants to be a successful salsa dancer? Does style/genre/label not matter then? If you're dancing salsa, does it matter to the audience or reviewers that you are accomplished en pointe, or does it only matter whether or not you 'bring it' with your salsa? And if you merge those two and become a salsa-rina, what will be your reference points and measures of success?

And music critics, how do you approach music that draws from multiple traditions, or that falls between genre lines? By what criteria and reference points and values do you measure that music? If you're reviewing a classically-infused album for a rock outlet, do you hold the album to rock or classical standards? Both? Meet halfway? If a rock musician composes a symphony, does it matter that s/he is one of the best rock artists of all time? Or does it only matter whether the symphony holds its own by classical standards? And if a conservatory-trained artist releases a singer-songwriter album, does it matter to you or the audience that that person can achieve great technical heights as a classical musician? Or does it only matter whether the album rocks?

[House rules are in effect. Be opinionated, be sincere, be civil.]

Saturday, March 10, 2012

lyrics: you're a rescue

do you want
some proof above your head
or sand below
whipping wind around instead?

you're a rescue
neck deep in water when i found you
you're a rescue
surrender nothing to get through

/ / / / / / / / / / / / / / / 

when the scenery came down 
I lost all four walls and ground

when the scenery came down
I lost all four walls and ground

- sk 2009

Monday, February 6, 2012

I wish I wish I wish I was born a man

Martha Wainwright, as interviewed for the music issue of The Believer:
BLVR: Are you recording as you're writing?

MW: No, I can't stand the sound of my own voice. I can't stand listening back to it. I think it's devastating. Once I think the song is coming together I'll think, OK, let's try it from the top. I perform it for myself, from beginning to end, to make sure that it makes sense, if its' pleasing, or if it has an arc, or whatever. I'm performing it for myself, and I'm listening to myself do it in the room, to know whether it's complete or not. But I don't record it, because when I have recorded, I've listened back and been disappointed by what I've heard.

SK: She has one of my favorite voices. Let that be a lesson to us all.

Oh I wish I wish I wish I was born a man / So I could learn how to stand up for myself / Like those guys with guitars / I've been watching in bars / Who've been stamping their feet to a different beat
To a different beat / To a different beat

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Incredibly Upbeat Stick-Figure Progress Montage You've Been Waiting For

Well, I haven't posted a new song in three months. And, lest ye think I've come to a stand-still: "ARRR, but no! A busy wee lass I have been!", says the Scottish Pirate (?).

The fact is, there's a lot going on behind the scenes. In My Imagination, a Spotsylvania's Marching Knights live show involves a full band with multiple instrumentalists, drummers, dancing, shouting, choral-ography, the whole bit. So, not only do I need to write the lyrics and music for the songs, I need learn how to arrange them, sing them, play piano/ukulele/horn in them, gather and rehearse a band for them, dance [some of] them, and not be afraid of them.

To tell the story of what I've been up to, enter The Incredibly Upbeat Stick-Figure Progress Montage You've Been Waiting For! But first! Turn on your speakers and PRESS PLAY to enjoy the upbeat montage music!

[Click image to enlarge.]

Kudos to anyone who can translate my heiroglyphs into action points. I'll start: 1. Take dance classes.

Monday, January 16, 2012


(from, via Thomas Deneuville)

This is profoundly intelligent.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how being a musician prepared me for Real Life. And I've been feeling pretty good because I realized a couple of weeks ago, when practicing my fourth horn part for the Brooklyn Wind Symphony, that I still remember how to learn. I think that may be the #1 thing that I learned from my years of musical training: how to learn. Slow it down as much as necessary in order to play it successfully, break it into pieces and master each fragment, combine one fragment you've mastered with the next and master that grouping, continue to add until you have the whole phrase. Subdivide and synthesize. It is better to do it accurately than to do it quickly. The process felt so good as I plodded away in the basement with metronome tocking.

Another thing I'd posit is that learning a musical instrument builds up a tolerance for inadequacy and failure and a faith in subsequent success. Meaning: the visceral and lifelong embodiment of the knowledge that inability + practice = success. Perhaps it even lowers the frustration boiling point in an individual.

Can you tolerate frustration? Can you tolerate not being able to do something long enough to master it and find fulfillment? Does anybody else out there feel like musical training helps with this?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Matt Torrey's & The Pickleback Band

Says the band director to the wind symphony: "Hey everybody, after rehearsal we all go over to Matt Torrey's bar." [He points to the principal percussionist.]

I have joined the Brooklyn Wind Symphony. For 11 years, such an ensemble did not interest me but then, this season, a change. I'd been trying to get back into horn playing but with work, songwriting, life, etc., I kept letting it go. What better way to keep my chops in decent shape than to join an ensemble, right? And how nice that P.J., a tubist from undergrad, had moved to NYC and was playing in the band.

What I'd forgotten or underestimated or simply not anticipated was just how friendly a community of musicians can be. I approached Grand Street High School wearing my horn backpack, and before I'd even crossed the street from the L station, three musicians had introduced themselves to me and one had asked me to join a brass quintet. I entered the halls of the school to that age-old warm-up cacaphony and numerous passersby smiled at me as they sucked on reeds and assembled their instruments.

My 8-years-in-NYC-default-response was: Why is everybody being so nice? What gives?

I was immediately processed, shuffled over to the principal hornist for evaluation, handed music for 4th horn, and seated last chair. (FAIR.) The principal, having taken a large chunk of years off of the horn earlier in life, didn't have to hear me play to know that my chops would need the lowest part possible to convalesce.

Within minutes we were reading Blue Lake Overture, Symphony No. 2, Elegy, and Incantation and Dance, for the all John Barnes Chance concert honoring what would have been his 80th birthday. As band-y as band can get. And there I sat, next to the saxophones, like the band kid I've always been.

At Matt Torrey's after rehearsal, I learned that my fellow 4th hornist studied at the University of Miami when I was living there for my first years of teaching and we'd run with the same crowd but never met. Another fellow hornist asked me why I decided to start playing again. I told her that I realized a couple of years ago that my husband and my friends in Miami and New York had never heard me play music that they didn't know me as a musician and it felt very strange to me. Her response was better than any words I'd put on it:
I know! It's such a part of identity, isn't it? Like, you walk around knowing yourself to be a hornist, even if you haven't played in months or years! I joined the band a year ago and it was such a relief, like I'd immediately found my people: the band kids.
It was about then that a round of about 25 signature "pickleback" shots were ordered and distributed a shot of Old Crow bourbon chased with a shot of McClure's spicy pickle brine and I was officially initiated into the pickleback band. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Call Your Girlfriend (I found percussion)

Tell her not to get upset, second guessing everything you said and done.

Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend" arranged and performed here by Erato for three female voices and table percussion (empty cottage cheese containers, if I understand correctly). Hat tip to Thomas Deneuville for this one.

This is a great idea, and it reminds me of my conundrum regarding how to handle my acappella + percussion songs like My Father Was A Barber. Percussion is critical to the sound I'm trying to build, so I've been fretting this whole time over how I can get together with enough percussionists and write out complicated arrangements. But another answer is for me to grab some found instruments from around the house and start making my own noises. It's not like I don't do that already, but for some reason I hadn't really thought about fully embracing found percussion in my recordings.

Give your reasons, say it's not her fault.