Musical Ear: March, 22nd 2012

Today I stumbled upon a list of 202 female composers on NewMusicBox.  As a female composer myself, it was very encouraging to know that there’s such a growing group of role models out there.  In fact, as I perused the list, I started thinking about how many living female composers I could think of.  I’m ashamed to say that my list comes to Laurie Andersen, Joan Tower, Libby Larsen, and Jennifer Higdon.  If you ask me to think of female singer/songwriters or female clarinetists, I can give you a much longer list. 🙂

How many female composers can you name?

Anyway, here’s a great piece I found by a female composer I just learned about, Carol Barnett.  It’s a string quartet based on Jewish folk songs with a very modern influence.


Musical Ear: February 11th, 2012

As part of my efforts to talk about new music I’m listening to, let me mention a music group that has changed my life.

The Piano Guys.

If you haven’t heard of this dynamic group of musicians (piano, cello, etc), arrangers, and sound editors, RUN to YouTube and listen to every single one of their arrangements and mash-ups right now.  It WILL change your life.

Steven Sharp Nelson is an amazing cellist performing exciting sounds with his acoustic and electro-acoustic instruments.  Nelson uses two five string cellos, one with a higher string and one with a lower string, and can play almost the full range of an orchestra when his tracks are layered.  He even dons Jedi costumes and uses a light-saber bow for one video, solos with a very talented Youth Orchestra in another, and also plays on the top of huge rock structure! How much cooler can you get?!

Jon Schmidt is a composer and phenomenal pianist I’ve been following for a few years.  My little sister plays some of his piano music quite a lot and it’s always a joy to listen to.  However, watching Schmidt in these Piano Guys videos has truly inspired me to work on my own piano skills these past few months.  I may never  have the virtuosic piano chops or the beautiful ability to compose/arrange music like he does, but I can strive for it.  In reaching to become a star of a musician like this man, even if I never make it I’ll still improve my art.

The most recent Piano Guys video I saw this week was “Beethoven’s 5 Secrets.”  Not only is it a serenely beautiful arrangement of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony with a pop song by OneRepublic, it features a very talented Youth Orchestra.  I’m not sure if it’s the music, the performance, or these kids but my heart melts with tears every time I watch it.  The classical music lover in me swoons.  The composer in me is in awe. The teacher in me screams, “THIS is the kind of thing I need to do to inspire my future students!!” and “I can only hope to have students so talented someday!”

Check out a few of The Piano Guys’ videos:

Beethoven’s 5 Secrets — Caution: This one may make your heart stop from epic beauty, bliss, and pure inspiration

Cello Wars: the Phantom Cellist

Coldplay – “Paradise” (“Peponi),” an instrumental parody using African elements

New works

Since my last post last year (oops!) so much has happened.  I’ve finished a whopping three pieces, all of which are multi-movement.  I’ve even had one read by the new music group at MSU and another performed on a Graduate Premiere’s concert.

New pieces:

A piece for violin quartet and percussion (name currently with-held)

“Isolated Reveries” for Unaccompanied Bb Clarinet

A piece for SATB choir and piano (name currently with-held)

If all goes well with the editing process this weekend, I hope to enter 1-2 of my pieces composed here at MSU into the Michigan State University Honor’s Competition.  The winning pieces in the categories of band, choir, or new music ensemble will be pieces performed next year.

I’m hoping that the judge will at least give comments to all the entries. I really look forward to helpful advice and constructive criticism in order to help these pieces grow.  There’s still things in each of them I’m not completely satisfied with.  However, I know that they are as complete as I can possibly make them with the skills I have today.  I’ve put my sweat, tears, and (in the cases of paper cuts…) blood into these works.  Long, late hours or early mornings have gone into the creation of each moment of music.

No matter what the outcome of the competition, I’m keeping this quote in mind:

I know that these are some of the best pieces I’ve written to date.  They show a level of thought and technique I never thought I’d develop.  To me I feel like I’ve already accomplished something.  The greatest thing I could hope for is to receive comments for improvement and that one day people will willingly want to play  my music.

If you want to play my music, feel free to let me know.  Contact me for more information.  I hope to get the “music” tab of my site up and running again soon, so keep your eyes peeled!

Musical Ear: September 3, 2011

After reading the blog of composer/violinist/violist Sakura Dixon, I got the idea to make some of my music musings about the “cool stuff I’m listening to,” as she says. In this way, I can share with others my excitement of experiencing the new, amazing music I find.

This week, in doing score study for the String and Percussion piece I’m writing, I stumbled upon Elliot Carter’s “8 Pieces for Four Timpani.” I had a library score for it and, thanks to YouTube, I found a mass of wonderful performances of all the movements. (There are some really amazing percussionists out there!) It’s not to be played as a suite, and I think it would be draining on any professional percussionist’s endurance to do so. The piece does not seem easy, with its compound rhythms that literally create new tempos and its use of extended timpani technique. However, the effect is truly amazing. Carter manages to elicit different colors through use of various mallets/sticks, hitting the drumhead on various places of the drum, calling for timpani mutes, and demanding various stroke styles within the same riff. One of the most intriguing movements is the one entitled “March,” in which the player imitates two different performers by playing one mallet/stick the normal way and using the butt of the other mallet. The way it’s notated, it really does look like two separate lines layered over one another to create very interesting counterpoint between the two.

Disclaimer: A lot of Carter’s music is really weird and hard to get your mind around. However, this “8 Pieces for Four Timpani” is truly amazing and must be heard by percussionists or anyone writing for timpani. In fact, I’ve started mentioning it to all my percussionist friends, and I’m hoping they’ll play it soon!

One in, one out

Last week I finally finished the trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano. I decided to go with the title, “Mood Ring” to reflect the changing timbres of the piece. I was able to finish up the editing and get it to the players this past weekend. It feels wonderful to finish a piece, and even better when you have people who want to play it ready to go.

Now I’m revisiting a piece I started last semester. It’s for string quartet and percussion. I managed to pare the percussion parts down from 4 people to 2, due to the fact that they can double up on instruments throughout the piece. Plus, I cut out some of the larger instruments I didn’t really need, and knew it would cause a hassle to procure; ex: bass drum, vibes, etc.

Have I mentioned how much I love the guiro? They're not just for elementary music classrooms. 🙂
The percussion instruments I’m using so far include timpani, cow bell, wood blocks, high hat, marimba, and possibly a guiro in the third movement.

While I’ve taken a long break from the arduous work I was doing on the first movement, ideas for the third and second movements are crowding my brain. Now, to find time around school, teaching, and house work to get all these ideas down!!

First trio for violin, clarinet and piano

I just recently finished the first draft of my first trio for violin, clarinet, and piano. It was a great experience writing it; I was able to unleash my creativity and write without boundaries.

I’m writing this piece for the Trio Moderno under the commission of its clarinetist, Michelle Lewandowski. Her only requirement was that she wanted it to sound, “pretty,” unlike “a lot of that weird new music.” Being a hopeless Neo-Romantic, I was happy to please! It’s fun to write music that’s more tonal and calm than some of the things I’m writing these days.

On Monday I unveiled the first draft to Trio Moderno’s clarinetist and pianist with warm, excited acceptance. With a few revisions to the ending, it should be good to go. I can’t wait to work on it with them, and (as many digitally notating composers yearn to) hear it on real instruments!!

The only thing is…what do we call it? My husband suggested something about “vampires” due to a particularly haunting riff in the middle section. Due to the changing colors but recycling of rhythmic motives, I’m thinking something more about “mood changes.” Thoughts?

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