Friday, October 14, 2011

ACME and Airplanes

Tonight I saw a wonderful concert by the Arizona Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME). Pieces and performances were consistently outstanding, but among the works were two classics, Boulez's Dérive and Crumb's Eleven Echoes of Autumn. In addition to my primary reaction — bliss — the concert got me thinking.

A good piece of contemporary art music is like an airplane: it is evidence of the glorious and almost-unbelievably-complex heights people can reach when they aren't devoting all their energies to killing each other. A popular song is like a bike; maybe a techno a groove is a motorcycle. Some people (the Beatles come most immediately to mind, but of course there are many others) have created cars that have endured and become classics in their own right. But art music aims higher.

Think of a symphonic work as a jetliner. Instead of two makers, Boeing and Airbus, here there are thousands. Each one feels a little different, takes you to a different place. Composers try to outdo each other in amenities, meals, and build quality. I think of a big John Adams piece, for instance, as an intercontinental cruiser. It is exquisitely comfortable, features soft-touch interior surfaces, and is polished to a beautiful sheen. And we've all boarded a plane made by one of his competitors — or admirers. They tend to feel plastic-y and decidedly store-brand. But Adams will take you somewhere entirely different from Crumb. And Boulez wants to show you how the machinery and technology works.

In the end, the most important thing is that you are transported to the other side. And what marvelous creations Boulez and Crumb have provided for the journey.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Life Lately

I went to a good show last night: the CD release party for the Sugar Thieves. The Dry River Yacht Club played too (what? violin and cello in a rock band?) and artists painted while the bands played. It was a good show (these are not your average slacker bands — these are seriously talented people), and it was great to get out and see people make something other than money.

I'm grateful, then, to be going to London soon for the Festival Chorus to premiere my Three Wandsworth Songs. In a way, I feel disconnected from the part of me that makes music, that is open to experience, that is unexamined. I think this trip will go a long way toward helping me remember what that feels like.

I'll need to, because as soon as I get back, I'll be hunkering down to work on a new piano piece. I was recently awarded a Renee B. Fisher Composer Award, which is a commission to write a work for their 2012 piano competition. I've started some scratchings, but I'm not sure I trust them yet.

In other news, Teriann and I essentially took off the month of May from life in general to paint/renovate our townhouse (more on this, with pictures, later). We got so burned out on it, in fact, that once we moved in at the end of the month, we didn't really spend any time unpacking or making it a home. We've spent June with friends and family, and frantically trying to get ready for our London trip. Once we're back, though, that will be way we spend our evenings, and I expect to have it done within a couple weeks. Housewarming party at the end of July, perhaps?

Thursday, April 7, 2011


OK, so I really meant "catch-up", but don't you think it just makes a better title this way? Tasty, too.

I haven't been in hiatus — quite the opposite, in fact, I've been busy! In the first three months of the new year, I've composed three new works (one of which was premiered early this month — more on that later) and begun teaching at Paradise Valley Community College. I'm enjoying the teaching and the college itself has a great vibe. I'm glad I managed to wedge my foot in the door.

Budget Woes

I'm now convinced that a large part of the peace I felt in the UK had to do with the distance I put between myself and American politics. Now that the distance has disappeared, I find myself worrying and puzzling at levels not felt since the W years. Congress has reduced itself to a farce (the tragically misguided Tea Party is pushing back on a comically inept and inarticulate left), and Obama has started, or continued, his re-election shift to the center (sure, we can afford another war and to extend the Bush tax cuts another two years, right?).

The flashpoint is the latest tempest in a pot of budget tea: shutting the government down over millions when there are, in fact, trillions that need to be discussed. The whole argument is completely devoid of any kind of reason. That is, until I heard this on NPR today:

Give it a listen. It is, for a moment, cathartic and refreshing: here are two people, Alan Simpson, a prominent Republican, and Kent Conrad, Democratic chair of the Senate Budget Committee, talking sense. They appear to have used reason and logic in coming to their conclusions without forgetting respect for those they don't agree with, compassion for those less fortunate, and a healthy does of common sense.

But the implications — I've decided in my pessimism — are actually pretty terrifying: sadly they spend more time talking about why their plan won't be adopted than they do about the plan itself. Congress has made an absolute farce of itself, where no one seems capable of steering away from the worst possible outcome. This latest battle is largely due, of course, to the Tea Party, who has even taken Speaker Boehner hostage: he now won't even take the $33 billion deal he originally asked for. They dare not peek into the defense budget, but funding for the National Endowment for the Arts must go. It's enough to raise a guy's blood pressure. This guy's.

A Proposition

Now, it's no secret I love NPR. Many conservatives have espoused the viewpoint that if NPR (and for that matter, arts organizations of any kind) is so great, let the free market handle it, and people will donate generously.

To those people, I offer a proposition. If military spending is so vital, so necessary, and so rewarding, then let the free market take care of that, too. Surely people will recognize how much paying for weapons of mass destruction enriches their lives, and the coffers of Lockheed Martin will overflow with the generous outpourings of average Americans. Halliburton, too, would see its true potential reached if only it could loosen the shackles of government support, right?

The truth is that the conservatives want to compel citizens to pay for things that make life awful, like cruise missiles, while eliminating public support for the things that make the world a little less awful, like healthcare and culture.

Some, including myself, may have a different vision of what government should be.

I'll leave you... with this.