And one more thing...

There might be some personal nonsense in here, too...

Saturday, March 25, 2017

It is soooooo necessary to get the basic skills, because by the time you graduate, undergraduate or graduate, that field would have totally changed from your first day of school.

I didn't even go to graduation.

Creation is a drug I can't do without.

Alright, Mr. Demille, I'm ready for my close-up.

Well, I'm done.  Graduating with my Bachelor of Music in Composition 28 years late.  I didn't even finish my piece, and don't feel I've earned it with the music I've written for this class.  But I'm just desperate enough to take it.

This all should have happened in the Fall 2016 semester, but The Universe vetoed it.  A number of things happened to pull me from the work, principally the death of my mother in late September.  I spent a few weeks in Florida handling her affairs, and upon return the "day job" work had piled up and more estate issues needed handling.  My time and energy were sapped, and I feared that my chances were dashed.

But my prof, Dr. Robert Maggio, allowed me to take a "no-grade" for Fall, and to complete my course requirements in the first half of this semester.  He has been continually optimistic, supportive, insightful, and understanding, which made working on music possible when I got back from Florida.  The fact that he's allowed me to graduate without having finished the piece is astounding — I wouldn't have been so generous.

The piece I walked in with (a quintet ostensibly to enter in Third Sound's next Cuba competition) was replaced by something honoring my mother (sacred/poetic text for choir and large ensemble), and this was subsequently replaced by a smaller, more manageable piece (back to the quintet, plus a baritone voice on text from Walden; or, Life in the Woods).  This smallest work would have been a long-ish art song, but has "evolved" (read as "grown out of control") into a 13-14 minute piece in three contrasting sections.  I don't know exactly where or how I lost control of it, but there it is.  So far I've only written 2/3 of section one, 80% of section two, none of section three, and the stuff that's "done" is ... not awesome, IMO.  Moreover, since it's unfinished, I won't be able to get it performed as part of the usual senior end-of-semester recitals.  I deeply appreciate Dr. Maggio's confidence in me, but I don't think the work I've produced for him justifies it.

Ironically, it's only now that I can turn more time and attention to writing.  The estate affairs are largely wrapped up, and I've quit my consulting job.  I've still got to get my house ready for sale, but at least composing can claim more time every week.  And Dr. Maggio is willing to work with me for the remainder of the semester, despite being "finished".  Another reason he rules.

My goal for the remaining sessions is to concentrate on just one section, probably the first, and make it amazing.  This section is meant to feel very loose and arrhythmic, with an increasingly complex texture and dissonance as the singer and piano are overwhelmed by the flute, clarinet, violin, and cello, which represent the birds and other sounds Thoreau describes in Chapter 4, "Sounds".  I think the overall plan and arc are good, and the writing for piano and voice fairly effective for the most part so far.  Some of the material in the other instruments is salvageable, but it's not coming together as a work for ensemble.  I want it to become chaotic, but a "controlled chaos".  Dr. Maggio has very kindly described it as "sophisticated", but I know that my process has been intuitive and haphazard, lacking discretion and a concrete plan of action measure by measure.  It's more literally than figuratively chaos.  Not good.

So ... more hiatus from this blog, and the opera, as I try to get this work finished.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

It's Hiatus Time

I think any kind of hiatus one takes in an artistic journey is going to make a huge difference.  The pause will inform the choices that you make.

I have lost stories and many starts of novels before.  Not always as punishment for 'telling,' but more often as a result of something having gone cold and dead because of a hiatus.  Telling, you see, is the same as a hiatus.  It means you're not doing it.

Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods.  Wash your spirit clean.

Usher is on indefinite hiatus.  A dearth of libretti and librettists plus a surfeit of pragmatic concerns and responsibilities have utterly stalled this project.  It's not dead, it's merely resting.

I'm overjoyed to report that in February I wed my partner of six years, Michele.  So priorities at this point fall in very unartistic areas: readying my house for sale so I can move in with her, and getting certified in various aspects of web development to improve my career options (and income).  And in the immediate future there's planning/executing our post-wedding celebration, and going on our delayed honeymoon.  These should carry me into the summer, with little opportunity to forward Usher.  Not that much has happened in the past three months.

On the plus side, I'm taking my first step toward finishing my long, long-overdue undergrad degree.  I'm getting in touch with the current Department Chair of my Alma Mater to discuss options and how I might earn my diploma in the 2016-2017 academic year.  The degree is in Composition.  Though I'd prefer Usher be part of that process, it's likely not an appropriate project owing to its need for a libretto and sheer scale.  But maybe I could turn to another dream project of mine, a tone poem on The Conqueror Worm for full orchestra.  That'd be pretty sweet, too.  And maybe I'll even meet some students or faculty willing to discuss a libretto!

I'll continue posting updates as they occur.  Wish me luck!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Eureka? Eu-betcha!


~ State Motto of California

In the Original Unity of the First Thing lies the Secondary Cause of All Things, with the Germ of their Inevitable Annihilation.

~ from Eureka, Edgar Allan Poe

I recently attended the Philadelphia presentation of The Raven — A Poe Fest, put on by Lyric Fest.  The talent was excellent, rising above what was, IMHO, not very interesting material for the most part.  Though generally disappointed by the selected pieces, I did get three takeaways from the experience.

One:  There's a dearth of vocal music drawn directly and solely from Poe's words.  I hesitate to admit it, but I find Poe's poetry more a sledge than a stiletto; evocative, but unsubtle and superficial in its wringing of hands, akin to the exaggerated emoting of many silent films.  Some of it qualifies as doggerel.  Perhaps other composers felt the same and shunned setting the text.  Or, as suggested by Lyric Fest's Suzanne DuPlantis, his poems are already musical.  [Blog author looks at The Bells and rolls his eyes...]  In any case, Lyric Fest commissioned music for this very reason.  (For my money, Joel Puckett's The Greatest Evil — Six Years was the highlight of the program.)  I wish I'd known of the call for work — I'd throw my hat into that ring.  But this dearth is great news — it improves the odds that Poe-related work finds a stage.  Usher isn't the only Poe-inspired work I intend, so yea!

B:  There remains a wealth of Poe material, especially correspondence, of which I know nothing, all ripe for exploitation.  I've been looking to Poe's letters for inspiration and text to keep the libretto faithful.  I found enough material at The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore to construct what is arguably as authentic a letter from Usher as Poe moght have penned himself, as virtually every phrase has been lifted verbatim from Poe's personal correspondence.  But that well has been bled — most letters available on the site were about money and publishing, and I need far more text of the deeply personal variety.  Mr. Puckett's selected text was a fragment from a letter I've not seen, and damn if it wasn't exactly the "voice" I imagine for Usher's more melancholy moments.  I knew the material available at tEAPSoB isn't exhaustive, but I hadn't realized what I was missing.  Thank you, Mr. Puckett!
 So I jumped into Google with both hands to find additional sources.  There are some small private and public collections here and there, a few online, and a rare book or two of collected letters.  Guess it means a trip to the Free Library.  (No problem — I need to study some scores!)  But along the way I stumbled upon a work — a magnum opus, actually — which was also off my radar, despite it being what Poe (and others) considered the consummation of his talent and oeuvre: Eureka.  The quote above will without doubt find its way into Usher's words, as will more, I expect.  Seems I've been a victim of "Greatest Hits Syndrome", or GHS, ignorant of the larger Poe universe familiar to scholars and true devotées.  This, fortunately, can be remedied.

[EDIT: I've since discovered that the letter in question is indeed here, among others at tEAPSoB.  It appears I've not been diligent.  I must have faded after seeing so many succinct letters of inquiry and pleas for loans.  If you're interested in the text treated by Mr. Puckett, look for itemized point #10...]

III:  The combination of Philly Funsavers and Ticketleap is a ridiculous rip-off, scandalously so — in the parlance of South Philly, it's a disgrace, blatant false advertising.  Funsavers started with the "1/2 off" rate of $12.50, then wanted a $4.25 surcharge per ticket.  The math: that surcharge is 34% of the ask.  (A random search of other Funsavers offerings show similar surcharges, like $5 for a $17 ticket.  So no, this wasn't an isolated incident or restricted to this artist or venue.)  And I would have bought it anyway, not knowing better, but they stopped selling tickets at 9am on the day of the concert and I missed my window.  So I went to the Lyric Fest site, and found the original ticket price was $20, not $25.  In the end, the advertised half price ticket totaling $16.75 was 84% of the real deal, and at least 34% of that wouldn't go to the artists.  Gawds, I know I sound like a curmudgeon — but I'm right, consarnit, and they can expect a strongly-worded letter and threat of legal action!  Look.  If you're desperate to save a few dollars, use them or, ideally, look elsewhere.  But if you're more interested in both supporting the artists AND not supporting lousy businesses, avoid Philly Funsavers and, if you can, avoid Ticketleap.  Don't give these butt-munches your money.  (My apologies to anyone who eats butts and felt disparaged by the association.)

Now — to work!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Nothing Fancy, Just an Update

The human mind always makes progress, but it is a progress in spirals.

And, at least for now, the vector for that spiral is positive.

Still lacking a librettist and, unsurprisingly, a libretto, I'm trying to press on, forge ahead, make headway, go big guns, and similar clichés, until I can benefit from real poetic talent.
 The good news is that I'm making progress on the "overture".  This is Usher's letter to the narrator, intended to be a voice-over supported with lurid imagery like the credits of Gothic horror films (including swirling fogs and colors, paintings a la Night Gallery, et al), ending with the appearance of the title card just after the tenor sings the name "Roderick Usher".  I've decided to treat it as a recitative, perhaps more contoured than usual in a few places, but only to drive home Usher's mixed states of mind and his overwrought emotional condition.  The first three notes are a capella, a pair of ascending minor sixths into the tenor's upper register, to be sung with trepidation, the last note sustained a bit before falling off.  I hope this immediately sets the tone of things to come — we'll see.  I'm working solely on the melody; orchestration can wait until there's more text across the project.  The lack of libretto (and the framework it provides) is the major hold-up at this point.
 To that point, I've started the text for Scene I, in which the narrator makes his way to the house, and enters.  It's slow going.  What I've got is unsubtle (is opera subtle?), and will definitely need revision when my wordsmith comes along.
 Until then, I'm pressing that forge head waaay into a gun spiral.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Time Keeps on Slippin', Slippin', Slippin'...

An ounce of performance is worth pounds of promises.

The reason men oppose progress is not that they hate progress, but that they love inertia.

My life is a monument to procrastination, to the art of putting things off until later, or much later, or possibly never.

There's tons of creative people in television that have one failure after another, and they just step up higher.  I could never get over that.  When I had a failure, there was no such thing as just getting over it.

Turning pro is a mindset.  If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we're thinking like amateurs.  Amateurs don't show up.  Amateurs crap out.  Amateurs let adversity defeat them.  The pro thinks differently.  He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin', no matter what.


Despite numerous promises to myself that putting aside the libretto would mean progress, freeing me to look at the music and get some concrete thoughts down on paper (yes, I said paper)... it didn't happen in the past (mumble) weeks.  And I don't mean that I tried yet made no progress.  I mean I didn't try.  Not really.  Sure, I had some things going on — work; several home improvement contractor projects; someone bought my car; a 2-week vacation in beautiful St. John's, greater Newfoundland, and St. Pierre; humanely trapping raccoons and groundhogs living under my deck; writing up some gaming material for my friends interested in playing an old-school superhero RPG — but there was no reason for the procrastination.  Rather, there was no emotionally healthy reason.  It's fear: fear of writing crap, and especially crap lacking context.
 I have the same failing when composing as I have when writing fiction: the editing and criticism begin as soon as the writing starts.  Most authors advise that one "just write", even if it's junk, and save the editing for later.  Get the thoughts out, let the creativity and inspiration flow unhindered, like a cool mountain stream or erupting volcano or the tears when your pet snake eats your pet hamster.  It seems like solid advice, but I've yet to master this approach.
 I know the Usher story backward and forward, and have a fair notion of Roderick's character and mental state in each scene.  I have a few thematic and timbral ideas I'd like to explore.  Yet I find myself hung up on the lack of text, as though sketching music without it will prove a waste of time because that eventual text won't fit with the music, and I'll have to scrap it all and start anew.  Not to mention the assumption that non-contextual music will suck.
 I don't know when this started.  In my youth I wrote with abandon, trashing more than was ever seen or heard by anyone else, and sometimes I deliberately let terrible, terrible music slip through just to meet a deadline.  Now the thought of throwing notes at a page to see what sticks makes me sick, and a little angry, and the thought of anyone hearing work that isn't my best and "perfect" is, well, unthinkable.
 Virtually every artist in every medium has created shyte, even when mature and experienced.  Sometimes that shyte even gets seen/heard/read and subsequently criticized and remembered.  Some of those artists shrug it off, others lament these "failures" for the rest of their lives.  I would fall into the latter camp.  Failure of virtually any sort feels like an indictment of my overall value as a person, a stain on my soul, especially when the medium is a creative one and/or one I care about.  Such failure comes in two stripes — the doing badly, and the not doing at all.  Of the two, the second is not only easier but less traumatic, as it only exposes itself to those who knew I was considering the project, and even then it allows the wriggle room to believe (or claim) that the results probably would've been awesome.

If it seems I post often about procrastination, fear, and failure, it's probably because I do, they're so central to my creative world.  Writing about it doesn't seem to induce change, nor does talking about it, nor keeping it to myself.  Hmm.

The good news is that yesterday I started up again.  Haltingly, minimally, but a few notes went to paper, of which several I find don't suck.  Today, a few more will be penciled in.  I still have other work, responsibilities, and projects on the plate, but damn if that ain't the most productive I've been on this since June.