Where has the time gone?

I firmly believe that cultivating discipline and routine yields a stronger result than motivation. Motivation is that flaky friend that doesn’t really commit to plans until just before the hang; don’t rely on motivation. Working out, practicing your instrument/honing your craft, taking time to read, taking time to be outdoors, eating healthy, calling your parents on a regular basis, are all activities that can be greatly enhanced by creating a regiment of discipline into your daily/weekly lives. In contrast, it’s easy for said habits to fall by the wayside if they are not prioritized into your life’s routine.

When you do rely on motivation, however, you can make a lot of quick changes (but don’t expect them to stay consistent over time!). For instance, updating my website is something I am quite terrible at, but the prospect of a new masterclass, workshop, job, etc. can often motivate me to update. Of course, my web designing skills are next-to-terrible, which means that last week’s domain/server malfunction was probably my fault. In my defense, the case had to be escalated to my web hosting company’s higher-ups to restore the previous version of my website!  Three lessons learned:

  1. There is a reason I hired someone to create my initial website.  Any aesthetic changes really should be outsourced.
  2. The technology for creating websites is really phenomenal (weebly, wix, etc.).
  3. It’s time to upgrade to a .com address

While my server was down and I was waiting several days for the hosts to restore my website to its original state, I experimented with several prototypes for a new look.  Of course, I’ll be hiring out this project in the near future (in conjunction with my .com site upgrade), but it is fun to window shop.  Anyway, as is oft the case when i update my website, I thought of this old blog (“Colloquial Musings”), and I waxed nostalgic on how much I enjoyed blogging, and how I wish I could be motivated to find the time to blog again.  When I clicked on my blog, I realized it had been five years since my last post.  FIVE years?  Where has the time gone (roll credits!)?  So here we are.

Step one, wiggle your big toe.  The running will come later.

For me, blogging is something that brings me joy, but past iterations of my blogging soul have always relied on the motivation of acquiring joy to produce entries.  So, for the last few months of 2017, I am going to try to cultivate discipline in my blogging.

Assuredly most readers of this blog will know my backstory, though perhaps there may be a few stragglers in the future.  So, just in case, I’m a musician specializing in orchestra conducting and collaborative piano, with an affinity for board games, video games, current affairs, and cooking/fine eats.  I hope to blog about a wide range of topics, beyond music-centric posts.  It is my sincere belief that music is an expression of two truths:  who we are as a society/culture, and who we are in a greater sense of transcendence between generations.  It’s really profound that we can find bone flutes that are thousands of years old, and see that ancient civilizations sought to utilize music in a functional way in their societies.  To that end, I think expression of music as an artist is a summation of one’s life experiences, successes, failures, joys, sorrows, and other quirks and oddities along the way.  If we understand a person beyond the artistry, it provides depth to expression by an artist.

There are two basic approaches to being an artist in the 21st century, the age of Facebook, the age of Commander-in-Chief-Tweets, and the age of Infinite-Information-at-your-Fingertips.  The first approach is to play it “safe”: carefully craft your image, post about upcoming performances, events, be sure to stand in everyone’s good graces, avoid being offensive, and be ensured that your personal life does not affect your career in a negative way.  Honestly, this has been my approach for the last several years, and I think it has generally served me well.  The other approach is to air one’s thoughts and expressions of the world out, as an advocate for the culture in which we live, that a musical voice is a vehicle to promote social progress – this is a bolder road, and I applaud those who use their presence to try to make the world a better place.  At the end of the day, I want this blog to help me take small steps towards this bolder path, because I think in some small way the sincerity of my artistry can be enhanced through my whims expressed.  After all, what’s the point of being a musician if not to perpetually seek a greater sense of truth in our art?

I look forward to sharing upcoming projects with you all, rambling about random interests, and sharing thoughts and beliefs about music and society, with the hopes of becoming a better artist and individual.  Thanks for making it through this lengthy post, and I hope it won’t be another five years before the next one :).

-aat

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Hangover Cures and Quick Links

I think that I’ve found the perfect cure for hangovers: conducting concerts. Every time I’ve conducted a concert, no matter the physical or emotional state of being I am in (exhaustion, illness, angry, sad), I have a renewed sense of energy, and my body is always back to par (at least momentarily). If the adrenaline can cure all of these things, why not a hangover? Shall we experiment some time?

This was a crazy weekend. In addition to all of my music gigs, I also spend about 30 hours in an office job for CSU’s Department of Music, Theatre, & Dance. My latest project was oversight for approximately 160 auditioning students this weekend. When I began the office job in January, all of the files were chaotically organized into countless spreadsheets. For any of you who have ever had an office job, you know fully well how much room there is for error when copying and pasting information from sheet to sheet. Or how easy it is to forget to change the sixth spreadsheet when you manually changed the first five. Next year, this will all be in a database. Muah-haha.

My youth orchestra concert went fabulously. It’s amazing how much these young musicians grow from concert to concert. Thinking about the cringe-worthy first rehearsal, it’s nice to hear a polished product. We’ve got one more to go, and then year two recruiting. In a lot of ways, I think the first year (affectionately dubbed SURVIVAL MODE) is not nearly as important as the second year (which I think we shall call DEFINE YOURSELF YEAR). If we can double our first year numbers, we will be in pretty good shape; when all’s said and done, I think we have that capacity. A gentleman came up to our Executive Director after the concert, blown away at the emotional maturity from the musicians during their transcription of the Lauridsen O Magnum Mysterium. What a beautiful piece. It is the perfect illustration of beautiful dissonances in many of the cluster chords used. V7 chords with tonic thrown in for mix – what beautiful colors.

I’ll have to spend some time evolving my thinking on using popular music for youth ensembles – the experiment seemed to be pretty successful.

This week should be less action-packed than the last two abominable eighty hour work weeks. Thank goodness for small favors.

A couple of links:

Adele, the human brain, and the appoggiatura:

http://www.npr.org/2012/02/13/146818461/the-ballad-of-the-tearful-why-some-songs-make-you-cry

A chronological survey of the opening chords to Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony: truly fascinating. Tuning pitch, recording quality, articulation and note length, tempo, the space between the first two chords. It’s amazing how many unique and different things create a composite of this wonderful thing we call interpretation.

http://youtu.be/xb24c77zJ64

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Then and now…

The life of a musician, particularly one at the student level, is often a frustrating daily venture of practicing and incremental, perhaps imperceptible,  development.  Too often, at least personally, one gets frustrated at the routine of technique development for the exact reason of not being able to track development.  Only after a long period of time, in reflection, does one see the value of dedication and consistency.  Having the opportunity to work on Beethoven 9 this week has provided many challenges and offered the chance for self reflection.  I conducted excerpts of Beethoven 9 at the Bard Conductor’s Institute back in 2007, when I was quite the undergraduate.  I put a comparison video up between then and now.  It’s a good feeling to know that, over time, you are doing something right, and steps forward are being taken, even if they’re  not discernible on a daily basis.


Cheers for Fridays.

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How to tell a story – conducting indulgences, lesson 1

I think if I ever teach a seminar or college in course, the first month of classes will involve gesture based emotions and story telling.  While a wealth of music throughout the centuries has been written for its serious academic and formulaic properties, owing nothing to external influences, all music has the potential to be affective to any individual.  I think this is one of the defining elements of what separates the perception of “music” and “noise”.  For more about that, please see my essay “Towards a Definition of Music”.  In either case, there exists an abundance of repertoire that does draw from external references: poetry, literature, paintings, personal relationships, personal crises, other composers, events in history, mythology, cultures and heritage, to name several.  These influences may be trivial, subtle, over-the-top, profoundly hidden ala the Hemingway iceberg, or blatantly professed in a superficial manner.  Even more profoundly invigorating is the notion that a composer’s intentions may align separately from the performer’s perception which may strike a different resonance in that of the listener.  This is what makes great music “great”.  I think this applies to all of the arts.

In any case, as a conductor, the ultimate responsibility of music performance lies in that of ensemble preparation, guiding interpretation, and communicating with performers and the audience.  The interpretation of a work offers the most flexibility for personal touch.  Certainly there are schools of thought that dictate the amount of liberty a conductor has in this endeavor; while we currently exist in a fairly restricted environment for conductor interpretation, there have been periods of extreme flexibility (which I believe we will be entering again in the next 15-20 years).  In any case, it is the conductor’s duty to navigate the ensemble and listener through any given work, creating points of contrast through carefully chosen phrasing, sensitivity to musical color and texture, and moderation of pacing in regards to tempo choices, etc.  What these strict elements of musical terminology essentially mean for the non listener can be summarized as being told a story.

That’s what music essentially is – well, a bulk majority of it – it’s a journey from start to finish.  Through lyrics, through motivic ideas, and so forth, the listener is presented with a fleeting thought that is in turn explored and considered.  The aggregate of these thoughts and musings comprises the work as a whole.  A great composer takes care that every note, every episode, every idea, fits intricately within a larger framework.  As a conductor, the ability to make these formal structures seem visceral in the shape of a story provides the foundation for which music is listened to.  Without this direction, the conductor is not a visionary.  He is nothing more than a traffic cop.

On a personal note of enlightenment, I am working on Beethoven 9 next week with the CSU Symphony Orchestra.  The way I’ve been approaching Beethoven 9 has been from a very technical perspective, with critical eyes towards harmonic progressions, key areas, formal structures, orchestration, motivic development, and theme areas.  What I had forgotten in my month of preparation, only to be realized about 3:00 this morning when I couldn’t sleep, was that I have to tell a story.  That it’s okay if I miss a cue (at least one of secondary importance) at the expense of truly communicating with my ensemble to collaborate a story for an audience.  The german augmented sixth chord before the recaptiulation of the first movement is not nearly as important as the tension of sound, pushing forth to the angered motive breaking out of its shell to release its wrath of frustration.

Lesson one for conducting, know the correlations between the written note and its ability to inspire stories through sound.  Tell a story.

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Easter Greetings: Festivals, Practicing, and Chamber Music, oh my!

For those of you readers who didn’t see my facebook status update (or I didn’t tell personally), I was accepted on Thursday into the Round Rock International Conducting Workshop!  It’s kind of an interesting story how all of this panned out.

On Tuesday or Wednesday (I believe Tuesday), I received an early e-mail from my conducting teacher Wes Kenney with a forwarded message about this workshop.  Apparently there were two last minute cancellations, so they were reopening up the applications for two more (the workshop wanted exactly 12 particpants, which it stated well before these cancellations).  Luckily, since e-mail is synced to my phone, I got the link almost instantly.  The workshop will take place May 16-22 in Austin, Texas.  The timing couldn’t be any more perfect – I arrive into Texas on May 14th, have a graduation at Angelo State University (my alma mater) on the 15th, and a church gig early morning on the 16th.  So I decided to apply.  I sent an e-mail to the info address with links to my website and youtube page.  They seem to have liked my stuff (the Corigliano was mentioned specifically), and I was told I’d be hearing back in a few days.

Thursday, I got the official e-mail (along with one other individual), and a notice to respond quickly because there was quite a waiting list behind me if I chose not to go.  In a non-competitive way, it’s always a great feeling to know that somebody higher up in your field appreciated what you did enough to give you the opportunity to work with them.  So, as soon as I come up with tuition money, I’ll be gearing up for what should be a wonderful week with Peter Bay (Austin Symphony), Silas Nathaniel Huff (Astoria Symphony and Manhattan School of Music), and the Round Rock Symphony.  The repertoire for the program will include Corilianus Overture (Beethoven), Die Zauberflöte Overture (Mozart), and Dvorak New World Symphony (No. 9, published as No. 5, referred to by Dvořák as no. 8….strange?).

A quick tangent, the numbering of certain symphonies is such a bizarre and complicated situation that it’s irrelevant to give numbers.  This can be really frustrating, particularly for those symphonies without common nicknames.  All right, moving forwad.  One more tangent: I can’t decide if it’s worth copying and pasting certain letters to get the correct diacritic markings or not.  More on this later.

Today’s practicing goals: memorizing a Bach prelude and fugue that I’ve been working on for about three weeks, starting the Schumann a minor piano concerto cadenza (first movement), and do some metronome work with Waldstein.

As far as chamber music goes, I think I was only going to comment on how chamber music as an entity is certainly a comparatively weak area of repertoire knowledge for me.  One of the greatest things about being at Colorado State is the abundance of chamber music recitals that occur here.  My knowledge of the repertoire has grown immensely in just one short year.  For example, my love for Schubert has grown exponentially this year, after being exposed to his chamber music (whereas previously I was familiar with his symphonic writings and lieder primarily).  The Bb Major Trio for violin, cello, and piano?  Heaven.  I hear Brahms in a slightly different light after being exposed to new works.  And so on.  I think chamber music repertory is an absolute must for any budding conductor, or musician for that matter.  As a conductor, it’s extremely noteworthy to see now chamber musicians utilize nonverbal communication without a gesture based system.  This can certainly be transferred over into the conducting idiom, offering yet another tool in our arsenal of nonverbal communications alongside with gesture-based phrasing and articulation.  Plus, it offers such a great alternative window of perspective of a composer in a more intimate setting.

All right, Happy Easter, Passover, or whatever suits you, everyone.  I’m off to practice.

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