Tuesday, December 10, 2013

(we should often reflect on this)

i will grow old
i will grow old and grow

apart from all that's dear to me

i will grow old

in the end
there will be no one
next to me

age will happen
even to me
i will gain illness
and, looking back,

will finally see what it is to be so well
and free

i have made huge mistakes

i have been ungrateful

i have been

i have given everything
i have
and everything
i am

to manipulate the truth

i fall heir to all of this
even to forgiveness

(we should often reflect on this)

in the end
i will lose
everyone and
i will lose
especially my way
that dawn will break
fearless as the heart
after an earthquake

- SK, 2011-13

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Live from Brooklyn! (See also: Clapping Methodists)

Because the music minister is a feminist peace activist and poet who is generally rad, I was invited to perform one of my new songs, "Yesterday I Do," at the Methodist Church this morning. Joining me were Leila (LEE-la) Whitley (voice) and Amy Holderness (guitar, voice). I wasn't able to scrounge up trombones, an upright bass, or a drummer for this but I think we held it down pretty nicely with just a guitar. Video caught by Alaska.

Also: clapping Methodists. And: sharing a microphone with a tall tall tree.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

We Notice That It Is Small

Via James Madison University Professor of Tuba and Euphonium Kevin Stees.
 “When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as "rootless and stemless." We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don't condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.”
― W. Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Album Has Been Written + MP3 Tour (10 Songs)

Give me four weeks and I'll finish an album.

I'd never had a dedicated writing break and, after passing through the pit of despair, I discovered how I work, hit a stride, and finished writing my first collection of ten songs. They are currently wobbly-legged and stumbling around with their eyes half closed but you can check them all out here. I'll even give you a tour.

Note: The purpose of these scratch recordings is for use in recruiting a band. The performance and recording quality are low. That's what rehearsal (with a band) is for.

Seeking: a guitar/mandolin/banjo doubler, an upright bassist, a fiddler, a clarinetist, and a drummer. Qualifications: Must dig my tunes, be down to rehearse, and be able to improvise/create a killer part from nothing but a set of chords and some artistic direction.

1. A Texas two-step with mariachi trombones (courtesy Victoria Langford and Brian Herrick).

 2. A ballad.

3. A rigorous bluegrass showdown. Everybody takes a solo.

 4. Rockabilly meets MalagueƱa, maybe with a hint of surfer rock. Needs trumpet!

5. My answer to Springsteen's "I'm On Fire."

6. Americana band, drum cadence, banjo, lots of harmony. Stick around for the waltz lullaby at the end.

7. Ukulele, cicadas, late summer at night.

8. For the full band, kind of a slow polka.

9. The Blues.

10. A bluegrass ballad/prayer. Engineering courtesy of Alex G. Knight. Mix courtesy of Mark Corbin of CorbinSound. Guitar/mandolin/fiddle courtesty of Matt Gelfer. Harmonies courtesy of Rachel Zylstra and Gretchen Poole.

Once the band is together, we'll work out a marching-band-meets-bluegrass arrangement of "Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy."

Then we'll record revised editions of each song with full band.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"All right, give me, uh, give me a Tab."

"A tab? Can't give ya a tab, unless ya order something.

Day 7 of I.S.A. and I can prove this by playing a fingerstyle ukulele arrangement of "Twinkle Twinkle" at about 65-bpm. I also joined the weekly Old Time jam at the Lowlands on Monday, strumming a D chord on upbeats for about 65 minutes straight. There were occasional G's, C's, and A's but the major forearm and fingertip strength was tested on that endless D.

Still, in terms of difficulty, upbeat strumming doesn't hold a candle to Mel Bay's Learn to Play Fingerstyle Solos for Ukulele method, edited by Mark Kailana Nelson. It's good stuff. Had me reading tablature in two days! I will definitely make use of these budding uke skills in my songs.

Progress today: An hour on the ukulele, an hour practicing Joplin rags and montuno figures on the piano, two hours playing horn during quintet rehearsal. An hour at the gym, plus an hour listening/studying the piano parts to my favorite salsa tunes.

The two things I haven't done yet are 1) sing and 2) write/edit a song. Ergh.

It takes courage to steal fire from the gods. Tomorrow we climb.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Einstein on the Field

In response to "Ligeti at the 50-yard line," posted by Alex Ross on TheRestIsNoise.com.

Eight and a half years ago I dashed through the pouring rain to an 8:30 a.m. breakfast interview in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, wearing a full suit and closed-toe heels. Across the table from me was Jenny Bilfield, then President of Boosey & Hawkes, whom I'd never met before, wearing stylish sweatpants and a matching hoodie. (She was kind enough to meet me on a weekend, knowing that my employer at the time did not offer lunch breaks or PTO.) What I remember most about that interview, apart from our discussion of the blurred lines between personal and professional life in the music business, was her question about my background with composers.

Well, I had to plead a certain level of ignorance regarding the Boosey roster. But I was quick to answer, without understanding how anomalous this was, that the commissioning of composers was commonplace throughout my public school and university music education. My first experience was at the age of 13, when my middle school band director commissioned a piece from a local composer for our eighth grade band to play at our final concert. My high school band director brought in an established composer, Robert W. Smith, to work with our symphonic band on one of his pieces. And my university band director frequently commissioned pieces, notably including a piece written by one of our contemporaries, Brian Balmages, who was a composition grad student at the time and who has gone on to lead a successful compositional career. As far as I knew, composers were people who lived nearby and showed up to rehearsal wearing khaki shorts.

I did have experience with some Boosey composers --  I had played John Adams's Short Ride in a Fast Machine on a friend's conducting recital, and plenty of Stravinsky, some Prokofieff, Bernstein and Copland (of course). A percussionist friend had played me Reich once. And of course I knew (R.) Strauss, Bartok, and Rachmaninoff from recordings and possibly from playing in my university orchestra. But as I scrolled through the hundreds of names on the website I couldn't find most of the composers who loomed large in my wind band-directed education. And I wondered why that was.

Where were Persichetti, Gordon Jacob, Malcolm Arnold, John Barnes Chance, Maslanka, Stamp, Ticheli, Grainger? This was my first time encountering the ravine that divides (c)omposers of "educational literature" from Composers of The Canon. Also conspicuous in their absence were the jazz, songbook, and Broadway composers I loved to sing along with and the [film + tv] composers I knew via my innate French hornist's affection for Hollywood scores -- Newman, Williams, Horner, Elfman.

Of course, Boosey is only one publisher (and they do, or at least did, curate a series of high level band pieces, titled Windepedence). But over the past several years working in the classical music business -- and specifically with contemporary composers -- I have been surprised at how seemingly irrelevant all of those names -- along with the entire wind band tradition and repertory -- are in this line of work. It's largely a matter of sociological infrastructure, I suppose. Wind bands are a relatively new type of ensemble, the offspring of military bands, and therefore have always played "new music" for lack of an existing canon. They found a home in the American education system, and therefore music written for them is considered "educational" as opposed to "classical" or "serious." Arrangements of orchestral works are programmed from time to time but the market is driven by annual band conferences where directors convene State- or Nationwide to attend reading sessions and select fresh repertoire for the coming school year. In this world, it is a fundamental reality that top ensembles and programs distinguish themselves by playing hot new pieces by hot new composers. And the students in these programs are often jazzed about "this crazy part" in a new piece that they get to learn. Tackling an especially bizarre, loud, or challenging new passage is what makes it fun.

What my rural home county didn't have was an orchestra program, and my parents didn't listen to classical music, so I wasn't attuned to the great tradition of playing "Masterworks" (read: only music written by dead mentally-disturbed slutty megalomaniacal European demigods). My first experience playing in an orchestra was in college, and the string program was significantly weaker than the wind and percussion programs, so most of rehearsal was spent watching the conductor help the violins get it together while our horns became the icy cold temperature of institutional air-conditioning. Still, there was some amount of repertoire crossover. In both wind ensemble and orchestra we played Hindemith, Milhaud, Vaughn Williams, Holst,  Respighi (Pines! of! Rome!). Respectable company.

But the classical music business is largely disconnected from all of this, driven by opera companies and orchestras with celebrity singers and soloists (piano and string - almost never wind! hiss!), playing revered pieces of music by dead idiots savants. In this world, playing "new music" by active composers, who show up to rehearsal wearing shorts, is somewhat of a novelty and very often a hard sell. (Except to those for whom it is a booming counterculture [my neck of the business], where innovation and individuation are exalted above all, or to those organizations with especially "adventurous" mission statements.) Why is that? Playing new music is an "adventure" but it's one that band students of all ages take every day. Are young string students not playing literature commissioned by local/popular composers the way band students are? Are they all just playing watered down arrangements of Old Faithfuls of the repertory, and are lessons/rehearsals wholly focused on adopting ancient performance practice? Is that why there's such resistance to playing today's music in the orchestra world? Or is it because of ticket sales? For better or for worse, I might say that the primary purpose of wind band repertoire is to be played rather than heard, and ticket sales are not vital to a successful school band. So I can see where this might allow a certain freedom in terms of programming.

Perhaps it is partially for these reasons that composers on the "classical" career track, who'd hope for their music to be accepted into this strict canon and heard by these often-sneering ears, don't consider writing for wind band. Perhaps they fear being pegged and stigmatized as not being "serious" composers. And perhaps it's the same set of reasons that drives many wind band composers away from this classical track, staying close to existing university contacts and networks, writing useful music for adoring students and respected band directors.

All of this to say, it is drum corps season. A proud former mellophonist, I drove to Allentown, PA, this past Sunday for my annual dose of drumlines in the distance and slamming walls of brass: the DCI Tour of Champions Eastern Classic. I had previously read Alex Ross's recent blog post about what he called "drum-corps modernism" -- the inclusion of pieces by such composers as Ligeti, John Adams, Philip Glass -- in DCI shows. But why single out only certain names/pieces as "modern" when only one piece on the entire line-up was written before the 20th century (1896) and the majority of featured composers are alive and kicking? To me, it's not news that bands are playing modern music. What's notable to me is that these programs present a characteristically omnivorous display of composers across classical, jazz, film, band, Broadway, and songwriting traditions.

Here's a rundown of Sunday's line-up:

Carolina Crown: E=mc2
Richard Strauss (classical, deceased)
Philip Glass (classical)
Paul Lovatt-Cooper (band)
Bertrand Moren (band)

Santa Clara Vanguard: Les Miserables
Claude-Michel Schoenberg, Alain Boublil (Broadway)

Phantom Regiment: Triumphant Journey
Craig Armstrong (film)
Bernard Herrmann (film)
Benjamin Britten (classical, deceased)
Edward Elgar (classical, deceased)
Schostakovich (classical, deceased)

The Cavaliers: Secret Society
Hans Zimmer (film)
John Mackey (band)
Drew Shanefield (band)
Michael Giacchino (film)

Blue Devils: The re:Rite of Spring
Stravinsky (classical)
Darryl Brenzel (classical/jazz)
Don Sebesky (musical theatre, film, classical)

Bluecoats: ...to look for America
Simon & Garfunkel (songwriter)
Rufus Wainwright (songwriter)
Leonard Cohen (songwriter, deceased)
Steve Reich (classical)
Duke Ellington (jazz, deceased)
Stravinsky (classical, deceased)
Steven Bryant (band)

The Cadets: Side by Side
Samuel Barber (classical, deceased)

Attention Composers
: Here lies work.

And Attention Team Classical: If you are looking for adventurous audiences, you'll find them wearing pit crew sweatshirts in stadiums across the country or wearing plumes and cumberbunds on the marching field. They have been there for decades.

Meanwhile, behold the below and swoon.





Monday, August 5, 2013

Independent Study August (ISA)

"...in what we'll be doing there is no one right answer, not even a right way or wrong way to do it. ...By now the good students may be feeling lost. ...without rules to follow they're not sure how to proceed." - Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk

Independent study. Because I know how to teach school and I know how to be a full-time music student, that's how I'm thinking of the entire month of August. A self-granted, self-funded songwriting residency in my own home. Curriculum and objectives determined by me. How will I know if I'm doing it right? Because I'm doing it.

August Coursework
  • VOICE: Strengthen tone across registers. Continue to develop personal style and sound.
  • SONGWRITING: Finish key songs. Add 9 finished songs to the existing 6 for a total of 15 completed songs.
  • UKULELE: Acquire basic strumming and picking facility in keys of C, D, G, and A major. Acquire ability to read basic tablature and chord boxes.
  • HORN: Trade in old horn for new horn. Maintain and expand range, recover double-tonguing accuracy.
  • PIANO: Learn a collection of stride, ragtime, and salsa tunes for inclusion of figures in song arrangements.
  • ARRANGING: Create lead sheets for each of 15 songs, find collaborating arranger to flesh out orchestration ideas. Study recordings/scores of hymns, bluegrass, songwriters, salsa, marching band, in order to steal all of the best ideas.
  • RECORDING: Create a scratch mp3 of each of the 9 finished songs and post to Soundcloud.
  • JAMMING: Participate in bluegrass jams, attend bluegrass/folk/Latin brass shows. Find a string section. Jam with drummer. Play in brass quintet.
  • DANCE: Five hours of movement a week minimum across a host of selected activities including hip-hop and salsa.
Accomplishment is measured in colorful drawings. Specifically, this construction paper incentive chart which will collect tally marks throughout the process.

Illustrator credit goes to Alaska.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Neil Patrick Harris

"There’s a kid in the middle of nowhere living for Tony performances
Singing and flipping along with the Pippins and Wickeds and Kinkys Matildas and Mormonses
So we might reassure that kid
And do something to spur that kid
Cause I promise you all of us up here tonight
We were that kid."

That is all.

Monday, April 29, 2013

James Rhodes: Find What You Love And Let It Kill You

"I didn't play the piano for 10 years. A decade of slow death by greed working in the City, chasing something that never existed in the first place (security, self-worth, Don Draper albeit a few inches shorter and a few women fewer). And only when the pain of not doing it got greater than the imagined pain of doing it did I somehow find the balls to pursue what I really wanted and had been obsessed by since the age of seven – to be a concert pianist."


Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Plus-One's New Music Wish List

Over the past seven years, Alaska has been my good-spirited +1 for many an experimental music concert. Finally, after years of absorbing the "new music" scene, he has come up with his wish list for an ideal program. I share it here; any composers want to make this significant other's dreams come true?


Concert opener for man in cheap bear suit with ursalogical tape. [3'30"]

Four movement song cycle (SSA) based on text setting of "Lunchables" ingredients label. [15']

Duet for bassoon and oysters with live electronics. [8']

Solo for closed piano and two hands with no rests. [ 9'06"]

"Traffic" for brass, boats, trains, bicycles, airplanes, automobiles, and multi-media. [13']


"Disdain" for rhythmically crossed arms, stamped feet, voice. [2']

Tone poem on Shiitake mushrooms for saxophone, electric organ, flute, triangle, recorder. [40']


(I think he's getting the hang of this.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Edie Brickell and Steve Martin at the Apple Store (Soho)

Tonight, thanks to the good eye of my dear friend Punjabi Tuba, I was able to catch second row seats to a free chat + salon concert from Edie Brickell and Steve Martin at the Soho Apple Store. The duo is promoting its first collaborative album, Love Has Come For You (Rounder Records).

My, are they easy to watch on stage. So relaxed, so comfortable, so inviting. Naturally because, have-you-met-me? I asked them about the process of making the album and Steve was kind enough to give me a thorough answer. Get this:

  1. Steve conjured all of the music first with his banjo and sent Edie recordings by iPhone. Unusual.
  2. Edie put lyrics and stories on top of the changes, recorded the results with Garage Band, sent them back to Steve.
  3. When they had thirteen songs, they brought those rough "iPhone demos" to producer Peter Asher, who took care of the rest: corralling Esperanza Spalding, Waddy Wachtel, Sara and Sean Watkins, and the Steep Canyon Rangers to flesh out the arrangements.
  4. None of this music was ever written down.

Steve Martin said that he spent the first half of his career in turmoil but when he finally accepted that his creativity wasn't going to go away he was able to enjoy it.

Edie added her own two cents: "When the images come just trust them and put them into words and sing." Easy.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to Approach Press (If You Wish to Be Successful)

"I hope you can step up and give us some publicity [for our show that opens in four days]."
I don't make a habit of talking PR shop on my songwriting blog but Ronni Reich recently shared the above "pitch" she received, and I thought I'd take this opportunity as a teachable moment. That pitch exemplifies a few common misconceptions many folks have about interfacing with press, so here are some pro tips for how to properly orient oneself:
 1. A journalist's responsibility is to her audience, not to you. It does not matter how important, interesting, or relevant something is to you (or to your client!); it matters how important, interesting, and relevant something is to her audience/the world, and most specifically to her editor. Those curatorial decisions are hers to make and that is why you are contacting her.

Make the best case for why the project/story might be of interest to her/her outlet and equip her with all of the info she needs to make that case to her editor.
2. A journalist doesn't "give you publicity." If you want to make a journalist cringe, approach her as if you're asking a sleazy favor or as if she owes you something. There is an entire code of ethics devoted to this. You are not asking for help or for a favor, and you are certainly not passive-aggressively demanding what's owed you.

Respectfully ask for (and thank her for) her consideration.
3. Timing is everything. They call it "news" for a reason: it's timely. It happens in cycles and on deadlines. Different outlets book or close content on different timelines but we're talking months/weeks ahead for arts coverage, not days. And certainly never after the fact. ("We released an album last fall, will you review it?" = That's not news. "We have a Festival next week, will you cover it? = Booked already. Not a chance.) A great project pitched too late = no story at all. Period.
Know the production schedule of the outlet you're pitching. Be early, be on time.
4. In general, follow the Golden Rule. If you want a journalist to read/watch/listen to your work, then you need to read/watch/listen to hers first. Give her the careful consideration, attention, and respect you would like to receive in return. Pay attention to her interests, preferences, style, columns. In the age of Google, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, there is no excuse for being uninformed when making contact with a journalist.
Read/watch/listen to a journalist's work before making contact and pitch her (or refrain from pitching her) accordingly. All the time. Every single time.
Obviously, this isn't everything. PR is a full-time job and a field of specialty in itself. Don't have time to keep up with thousands of media contacts' personal preferences, deadlines, schedules, outlets, and recent work? That's why you hire a publicist! But these are my quick late-night offerings, for the win, for the world. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Step Five: Don't you know that the time has arrived?

In which a person comes on board.

It has been ages, dear Knights,  and a progress report is due. Over the past many months, I have done the following:

And the grand finale is a case of right person, wrong time. For the past 2-3 years, I have been looking for a drummer for SMK. For the sound I have in my head, I must must have a percussionist. Without one I've been spinning in circles. I have posted Craigslist ads, I have asked friends and colleagues, including a certain grade 'A' percussionist who was willing but who felt her lack of drumset specialization precluded her from joining. Since then, however, she has been banging on found percussion (which, for my vision, is the best kind of all!) and therefore:
  • As of last week, I am collaborating with this lovely perc pro who, in about 15 minutes, was able to intuit and execute exactly what I'd been carrying around in my head all this time. Easy. And we are playing the Bar 4 open mic on Tuesday, April 23. #LWatCDR.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ouch, the Onion. Ouch.

FACT: I have not written a song in ten (10) months.

OTHER FACT: It's not because I haven't tried, it's because all of my best energy and creativity and brainpower is spent elsewhere, so when I sit down to write I have positively nothing to say.

But wow, the Onion, sock it to me. Now I'll drag my sad ass to bed without having written anything and also feeling every second of my precious life ticking away. So thanks.


My advice? Just find the thing you enjoy doing more than anything else, your one true passion, and do it for the rest of your life on nights and weekends when you’re exhausted and cranky and just want to go to bed.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

fallen away

fallen away?
but maybe that's just it
there's some fiery pit
that burns because all
your casting out
made it

Saturday, February 9, 2013

when you leave me (first)

when you leave me
first i do not

trace your still-warm spaces (indentations, marks, empty) on a circuitous route

i may unwittingly prepare
for a long

storing substitutes in heavy pockets

i may hibernate

retreat to sleep under goosefeather fluff (the high as low as pillowed downs and just the window's light come in)

i may move

or do the thing that's closest, like whatever my hand finds to touch (the loads of dishes, someone else's stuff)

i may
get stuck

that pile of papers, the messages, the clothes (whose job it was not mine to fold)
even the piano

i may eat
feeling unsatisfied

if I
am lucky I may

see something

a seed catalog with pink azaleas, seafoam nail polish, lavender bath salts, periwinkle stockings
that island candle I made a few weeks ago

and I will light it

I leave you
when my voice breaks
the sound barrier

- sk, 2/9/13

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

the grand canyon (winewood dr)

like the clay
we used to get from that
abandoned rural construction pit
the rusty powdered ground
that pounded 'round our cotton Keds
the walls, big enough to fit
our tallest and most ballooned schemes
and how the massive concave bend pulled
our spinning bikes down in
and, skilled with sufficient speed,
barely pushed us up again

then afterward how that wet reddish muck
became the clods, the shoes
the pastels and chalks and rouges
whose soft edges I'd scrape
against every last pavement
or house
or office space
to home
whatever that is

-sk 1/22/13

Monday, January 21, 2013

poem: pond water

you take my hand against the animal
hot and damp
bristling up my thin wrist

plunged beneath
the murky pond water
glows browngreen and warm
gliding fast among
life-sized frogs
we dart and chase like
fat minnows

you admire the swell and lift of
my swabbed hair

the wedding will come soon

- sk 1/21/13