Archive for December, 2010

Symphonic, and other, voyages

Friday, December 24th, 2010

[IMAGE] another rainbow
Three musical shots taken at my writing desk: Finian’s journey to the pot o’ gold…


…click to listen:

…about the music

Quite the voyage.

Well, my week in Chicago was fabulous and productive, filled with incredibly wonderful people day and night (and another visit to the thrilling Art Institute collection). Over the last few months I’ve been juggling a lot of diverse projects simultaneously, and my meetings this past week reflected many of them while my brain just did its feeble best to keep up. It happens that several of my patrons, clients, commissioners, and all-around kind people who pat me on the head for the music that haplessly spews from it, are either based in Chicago, or were there just as I was for the huge Midwest Clinic. It was all I could do to keep my chamber music, electronic music, solo music, educational music and symphonic wind band music straight.

When a composer discusses a piece with someone, particularly if that someone has had a hand in bringing those notes into the air as either patron or player, it’s awfully helpful to remember what the music actually looks and sounds like. One moment amidst the conference din, a musician enthusiastically declared to me how much he liked playing something to which he referred as “that piece with the cool stuff.” To which I gratefully mumbled back something about “the paper.” At which he shook his head at me quizzically and said something about “key clicks.” To which I replied something about “low flutes.” To which he protested, since he was a euphonium player. At which point I finally deduced which piece was “that piece.” Sigh.

Each piece is a beloved child, but they’re all running loose around the house, wreaking one level of havoc or another. Some works have recently been premiered and upcoming performances tug at my hem for attention; other commissions are newly delivered and published with imminent premieres, and yet others are in the process of being written. As with a good book, I’m riveted to find out exactly how they end. People often say, “I can’t wait to see it!”, to which my immediate and bemused response is, “yeah, me too!”. Obviously, I wouldn’t have it any other way or I wouldn’t have gotten myself into this fine mess.

So I was busy enough that I barely noticed the low low low temperatures or the fact that static electricity does some really fascinating things to long straight hair in the winter. Remember, I haven’t lived in winter since I was 21 and that was, like, y’know, 57 years ago. But I certainly make a lot of visits to winter in the name of music-making. This year: Minneapolis, Chicago, Columbus, New York, Baltimore (it still counts!). And last winter was no different, as I whined in this post.

[IMAGE] Coast range
…Mother Abbess’s mountains to climb– ev’ry one of ‘em…

Well folks, The Universe, in all it’s groovy, Universe-like power, must have heard me whine. Out of the blue, within weeks of me making a conscious note-to-self that read, “Alex: next year, try to line up WARM weather gigs in winter, would ya?!”, I received an email from a lovely fellow in Chicago named Eric Stassen, who had read a comment I had posted on a music blog called Adaptistration about attracting people to the symphony, and clicked on my name (no doubt wondering, “who’s he?”). Despite having never met me (or possibly thanks to it), after reading some of what I have to say about art and audiences, he invited me to be the composer-in-residence of the very first classical music cruise. It takes place on Celebrity Cruise’s ship Mercury, which he has arranged for a remarkable trip called Symphonic Voyages, that sails from (and with any luck, back to) Baltimore to…

the Caribbean.
Five Eastern Caribbean islands, to be exact.

Wow. I already live in a seaside paradise; to be hired to spend 12 days working in one, on a ship filled with music lovers and… are you ready for this?: a 50-piece orchestra, conductor, and soloists… is beyond awesome. There will be sea-faring performances of two of my largest and, not surprisingly, water-themed chamber works: a string quintet titled Current Events, and a dectet for strings and winds titled Archipelago. Steve Robinson of Chicago’s classical music station WFMT was kind enough to do a one-hour interview with Eric a couple of weeks ago, during which he broadcast the live premiere of Archipelago, performed by Chicago’s Fifth House ensemble.

See that nice graphic on the right side bar? The one with the big ship? Yup. That’s it. Picture me with a camera or binoculars, standing on the deck wearing SPF 246 and a big goofy grin. If you’re curious about the wonderful musicians and the schedule, click; it’s a very nice website. My favorite part is the page titled Community: not only will I be invested in leading the charge and taking down the fourth wall between the audience and the performers, but we’re inviting passengers to bring their instruments! Flash mob jamming on the Atlantic. Just think of the possibilities…

I’m told the ship is nearly sold out, but if you happen to be free between January 3-15, could use a little natural vitamin D, fresh ocean air and live music, and wanna hang out with me and a lot of very fun musicians, there’s still room. Meanwhile, I’m going to try to blog from the ship, as the very first Composer-in-Flotation. Fair seas! And, E-flats!

[IMAGE] Oystercatchers and gull
… and Bud Frump’s way of succeeding in business without really trying: just show up and stand around!

Spyin’ on the lions

Thursday, December 9th, 2010

[IMAGE] Green point
Warning: objects in photo sound louder than they appear…

[IMAGE] Steller sea lions

…click to listen:

…about the music

Roar, groan and moan…

I admit it: I am a wildlife paparazza. Giddily obsessed by my surroundings even at the eleventh hour of a deadline, I find myself unstoppably drawn to my camera whenever I see, or hear, something fascinating. And to me, just about all of it is fascinating. My favorite studio companion (ok, next to Smudge, who will become even more favorite once he learns to extract parts from scores), is my telescope. With a variety of eyepieces I can zero in on the action and hover, mesmerized, for far too long. And then of course, I’m compelled to get my camera to see if I can capture what I’m seeing to share it with you.

Some people over-eat. I over-gaze.

I did purchase a camera mount for the scope, but since this is a perfectly nice but low-on-the-astronomical totem pole model refractor, the weight of the mount plus the camera send the scope tipping up, which, while perhaps a nifty film technique, is not particularly helpful when one is attempting to take a still picture. Thus, I have a silly habit of standing on my tiptoes, carefully holding the smaller of my cameras against the eyepiece and moving it just so, until I can block out enough light and get it to focus on the subject at hand (which is always a lot further away than my hand). I am a ridiculously goofy composer. And a fairly short one, too.

I’ll keep trying for better, closer shots––especially an action pic of a male Steller sea lion thrashing in the water with a large squid clamped in his jaws, slapping him in the face with various tentacles. You now know why I neither have nor need TV reception. But for the moment, here are a few glimpses of the scene across the water (where the rainbow ends in the first pic is where the 1 ton, 9-foot long critters are resting). In place of my usual Shapiro-created musical offering, I thought you’d enjoy the music that has been accompanying me as I work late at night: that of the Steller colony itself, over 30 of them, hauled out on the rocks nearby. I recorded this on my iPhone a few nights ago, and you’ll hear the water and the bumps of wind along with the featured vocalists. As I type these words, I’m enjoying yet another free concert. And you can bet that my sonic pilfering abilities may be put to use in a future piece with this and other similar tracks I’ve snagged. Hey, they’ve got quite the rhythmic sense.

I often say it’s amazing I get any work done at all. But work, I do––I think I’ve delivered seven pieces, new ones and adaptations, in the past four months. I’m guessing that this place is more than a little inspiring, despite the endless, sometimes very loud, and always fascinating distractions.

[IMAGE] Steller sea lions
ah, nothing like the shade of a dayboard beacon for romance.

[IMAGE] Steller sea lions
A raft of ‘em, often seen with their flippers up in the air…

[IMAGE] Steller sea lions
lunch time… today’s menu: fish!

[IMAGE] gulls
…for the gulls, too!