We spent a whole day “stealing a moment…” with Mark Ford!

After spending only a few hours in Mark Ford’s presence, it became crystal clear why my percussion instructor reveres him so much. Ignoring the fact that Ford is a former teacher of my instructor, Ford is also extremely talented at his craft and super sensitive with it.

Approaching him is not hard to do. The man is incredibly gentle and humble, though he’s considered to be a marimba virtuoso (most likely in the ranks with Keiko Abe). The insight he provides to music performance and artistic expression is out of this world. I have not heard so detailed and simple-to-follow suggestions so eloquently stated by someone of Ford’s caliber. (That statement is not meant to insult my percussion instructors, former or present.)

Tonight, UAB’s Percussion Ensemble had a two-hour concert, Mark Ford as our special guest. During the concert, Ford stealing a moment… and Tiger DanceThe former is an original composition that is quite interesting when performed. Honestly, it isn’t quite my cup of tea, but I can appreciate the work for what it is. I don’t think I shall be adding it to my repertoire. Whatever new piece he played at the beginning of the masterclass will definitely be added to my repertoire, though.

Ford is quite the interesting character. Full of vitality, he knows how to engage an audience and keep it interested. I found his analogies, mannerisms, and body language to be interesting, welcoming, and calm. During the masterclass, I did think he could be a little nit-picky; however, it was definitely warranted by what he heard and saw from the student performers.

Ford’s compositional style is interesting. While he has composed some great works, I haven’t quite become a fan of his music; contrarily, I’m not saying that I hate his music! The man writes great music! It just doesn’t seem to appeal to my ears as much as works by other composers. Maybe that is the case, because my percussion instructor had us play through his method book for marimba. I remember not being excited about playing quite a few pieces from that book, though I enjoyed watching the instructional DVD that came with the method book; however, whatever solo he played this morning at the start of the masterclass, is definitely one I’d like to learn. As of now, it’s unfinished. I’m patiently (and eagerly) waiting for its release.

Overall, the experience of having Mark Ford as a guest artist and teacher was definitely a golden opportunity. I dare say that many don’t get the chance to enjoy what he has to offer (I’m pretty sure he’s in high demand!). I hope our paths cross again soon; I’d love to soak up some more of his words of wisdom. If not that, I’d love to see him perform again. I found his performances today and tonight to be thoroughly engaging and intriguing.

Concerts: being on stage

This past weekend, I performed in two concerts with the UAB Steel Band and Symphony Band.

Being on stage and looking out into the audience can be quite daunting or exhilarating. It tends to be both for me. There I am on stage about to perform or already performing and there are many pairs of eyes watching me. (It almost gives life to “Big Brother is watching you”.)

This past weekend, I experienced both feelings. The intimidation came and went several times throughout the concert. In Sousa’s march, it came when my woodblock “solo” came and I was the only percussionist playing. In Zdechlik’s piece, it came when I crashed one quarter note early in the 5/4 measure before a 4/4 measure. Though I survived both incidents and didn’t let my mistakes show on my face, I still knew I messed up along with the other performers.

The exhilaration came in Boysen’s Fantasy on a Theme by Sousa and in Swearingen’s Within These Hallowed Halls. When Boysen’s piece hit the climax near the end of the piece and the xylo and upper woodwinds have those sixteenth and thirty-secondth note runs, I felt energetic! I played my part in time with the woodwinds and the conductor. Trying to get the tempo solid was a major issue in rehearsal, so I’m glad we nailed it in performance. In Swearingen’s piece, the exhilaration came with the final chord. Though the conductor modified the ending slightly, I thought the last chord was great. (In my head, I imagined Holst’s chord at the end of Chaconne from First Suite in Eb. It didn’t sound anything like that fantastic chord, though the final chord of Swearingen’s piece was still great.)

Amazingly, I didn’t think about ten gazillion trillion billion things when performing! I was so relaxed (and prepared) which is most likely why the performance at both concerts was so good!

During the Steel Band concert, the only time the intimidation came was when I played Double Seconds on Chorando Se Foi. The lighting of the recital hall made the steel drums look so weird and it sort of threw me for a loop; however, the performance was still very good. I adjusted and recovered so well and for that, I pat myself on the back! I’m so looking forward to played in UAB’s Steel Band again! Thanks, Dr. Fambrough, for the opportunity!

Now, that’s my insight on concerts from either the audience’s perspective or the performer’s perspective. If there are fellow musicians who’d like to provide feedback to my posts, go right ahead. I enjoy feedback and constructive criticism.

Concerts: being in the audience

As an active composer, musician, and student, I attend and perform in a ton of concerts!

The experience as an audience member is much different from that as a performer.

Honestly, being in the audience is a better experience! You are able to get lost in the music without having to worry about tempo, rhythm, intonation, harmony, accents, articulation, blending, and all other aspects of music performance.

Being in the audience allows you to just listen to the music: its contour, its ebbs and flows, its climaxes, etc. I absolutely love being granted that opportunity.

While I do love performing, it can be quite challenging to constantly have to think about so many aspects at one time. One classic example of this situation is performance juries. I walk into the room alone and play the repertoire on which I’ve been working in front of a panel of UAB Department of Music faculty. I am graded on how well I perform the pieces I play for the panel.

This situation is not only one that makes lots of music students nervous, but it also requires the performer to think about everything in the music. Even the slightest mistake is noticeable in a solo performance.

With the above said, nothing beats the adrenaline rush you feel when you perform well. (I learned this from my experience with DCI/WGI/SCGC Championships and my two years of experience with DSIP.) It’s absolutely amazing to me when the performance is outstanding and the crowd feels the energy of the performers!

After all, who wants to attend a boring concert?

Though being in the audience doesn’t require thinking about all musical aspects, it requires you to focus your attention on one thing: the performance. As an active member of the arts, I find it extremely disrespectful to enter/leave the venue in the middle of a piece. There is certain concert etiquette the audience is expected to follow when attending a concert, and it changes with the nature of the concert. At a Paramore concert, it’s okay to be loud and belt out lyrics at the top of your lungs; at an Alabama Symphony Orchestra concert it’s not okay at all.

People should know the difference and should act accordingly. (My rant is over now.)

Another benefit of being in the audience is the fact you get to see others’ reactions to the music or performance. You might see someone nodding his head or tapping his foot. Those small movements to the music are so intriguing to me as it shows the audience’s involvement with the music though the audience isn’t performing the music. Being “on-stage,” I’m not always afforded that opportunity as I must focus on the conductor and the sheet music simultaneously.

In the next post, I shall describe more about what it’s like to be on stage and performing. That post, like this one, shall be interesting.

Not quite what I expected!

Unfortunately, MOONLIGHT had to take a back seat and be revised some more; therefore, it was not submitted to A/B Duo. I trust my music theory professor, and he didn’t think it was quite ready/finished and needed to be expanded some more.

With that said, MOONLIGHT has been transferred to my current projects list (soon to be made a page on here). Also, on the list is a choral work, entitled Songs about Birmingham written as a response to a call for scores with the deadline of April 28, 2014.

Other new repertoire on which I’m currently working include Chorando Se FoiJump in the LineThe Fairest of the Fair, and Within These Hallowed Halls.

As you can see, I’ve got a lot of repertoire to practice and eventually perform; plus, I’ve got pieces to compose and add to my catalog of published works. It will be quite time-consuming.

Also, Prayer by Gipson has also taken a back seat and most likely will not be revisited until Fall 2014. MOONLIGHT will be revisited Summer 2014 along with Songs about Birmingham. New works I hope to add to my list of repertoire include Michael Burritt’s The Offering and Takatsugu Muramatsu’s Land.

Here’s a condensed version of what’s stated in the above paragraphs:

New projects:

  • MOONLIGHT for flute & vibraphone (Summer 2014)
  • Songs about Birmingham for SATB choir (Summer 2014)

New repertoire:

  • Chorando Se Foi (Spring 2014)
  • The Fairest of the Fair (Spring 2014)
  • Within These Hallowed Halls (Spring 2014)
  • Jump in the Line (Spring 2014)
  • The Offering (Summer 2014)
  • Land (Summer 2014)
  • Prayer (Fall 2014)*
  • Distant Light (Fall 2014)*

* = tentative; subject to change

My response to A/B Duo’s call for scores

Being a huge fan of Ivan Trevino, I regularly visit his site to see updates on new commissions or projects he has going. That’s where I discovered A/B Duo. They recorded the four-movement work by Trevino entitled Things We Dream About. One the duo’s blog, I noticed they sent out a call for scores that were scored for flute and vibraphone or drumset.

The call is one looking for existing pieces; however, I had no existing piece, so I decided to compose a new piece for A/B Duo to premiere. The piece is entitled MOONLIGHT, and I’m excited to see where it goes. I really hope they perform it on their “Happy Hour” program. Hopefully, this piece fits said criteria. The submission deadline is this coming Monday. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss my piece with both my music theory and percussion instructors and gain their insight on what to do.

I guess the worst thing that could happen is that A/B Duo won’t program my piece into their concert. That would mean that I spent about an hour composing MOONLIGHT for nothing. I don’t know what my future holds, but I’m definitely eager to find out; moreover, I’ll definitely post a follow-up to this one and reveal how everything played out.

Until that time arrives, feel free to check out this YouTube video of A/B Duo perform the fourth movement of Trevino’s Things We Dream About.

Practice, the essential element to success

I’m quite pleased with my results this week in my performance.

Because I’ve spent substantial amounts of time in the practice room, my performance has improved.

Practice is quite an interesting and inevitable phenomenon for anyone. It’s not exclusive to musicians. Without practice, one can never achieve professionalism and will always be stuck in mediocrity (and, subsequently, disappointment).

As stated in an earlier post, I’m working on Yellow After The Rain and 15 by Mitchell Peters. I’ve had to spend quite some time practicing these two solos.

What makes the marimba solo challenging, is the interval and chordal changes. The metric modulations aren’t too difficult. Neither are the patterns, permutations, or dynamic shifts. When practicing the marimba solo, I’ve noticed that “blocking out the chords” is most helpful. You’ll waste much less time if you can get the chordal changes down and then go back and learn the rhythms, permutations, and dynamics. Also, always practice at a slow tempo and accelerate. And always practice with a metronome. Metronomes are a musician’s friends.

What makes the snare solo challenging is the rudiments mixed with dynamic shifts. Plus, snare is my weakness. I’m a much more proficient marimbist than I am a drummer. Thus, I’m not well-rounded. My professor is working to change that and I’ve learned to trust him and his methods, even when I don’t really “connect the dots” between his lectures and the practical applications. I’ve learned to receive his instruction with an open mind and humble heart, instead of with fierce aversion. I definitely need to spend more time working on rudiments so that I can play the snare solo successfully.

This segues into proficiency. Every semester, I must pass proficiency on both keyboard and snare. Here is only a few criteria that must be met:

  • All major and minor scales and arpeggios, sometimes adding green, blues, and chromatic scales
  • The 40 PAS snare drum rudiments, sometimes adding hybrid rudiments
  • Stick control: sixteenth/triplet accent patterns, sixteenth/triplet timing
  • Scales in thirds (CE, DF, EG, etc. in CM for example), triplets (CDE, DEF, EFG, etc.), and sixteenths (CDEF, DEFG, EFGA, etc.)

Again, this list is not all the criteria, but you can see how much I have to do to pass. Honestly, I still don’t really understand why our professor has this requirement for Applied Lessons: Percussion, but I know I need to do it. It’s the only way to become a better musician and attain techniques and skills I don’t have (if I don’t want to spend a fortune in private lessons with Keiko Abe or some other marimbist virtuoso).

Practice is definitely a good thing! Sometimes, I hate it and other times, I love it. Practice leads to preparation. Preparation leads to opportunity. Opportunity leads to experience. Experience leads to professionalism. At least, that’s how I think about it.

The more time one spends in practice, the more prepared he will be. That way when opportunity knocks on the door, he will be able to answer the door boldly. The more opportunities he takes, the more experience he receives. The more experience he receives, the more professional he becomes. Think about it. Professionals in any field are very experienced, have taken advantage of many opportunities, are well prepared, and took a lot of time to practice and get better.

I want to be one of those people! I love jumping on opportunities and being prepared when they come! I want more experience! I want to be professional! Therefore, practice is the essential element to success, wow, do I have to do tons of it!

One (budding) composer talking about another (adept) composer

Okay; can we just take a moment to discuss a very prominent, contemporary composer? Sure, we can!

Before I reveal this person’s identity, let me just say that this person sure knows how to compose some of the most emotionally evocative “classical” music! If you don’t believe me, lend your ears to OctoberSleep, or The Seal Lullaby; then you’ll see why I make that statement.

If you are a band or choir student, then you know about whom I shall write in this post just from the titles listed above. If not, then shame on you! Ladies and gentleman, applaud composer, conductor, and lecturer, Eric Whitacre!

Eric Whitacre is such a phenomenal composer! The way he writes his music definitely makes him “stick out like a sore thumb.” Okay, that might just be true for me.

Being a part of UAB Symphony Band, I’ve played snippets of October and played all of Sleep. Plus, I’ve heard all of The Seal Lullaby during one of UAB’s Honor Band festivals. Also, if anyone follows DCI at all, Mt. Juliet High School performed October as their 2012 program.

In my six years of actively noting and discovering composers, Eric Whitacre is among the many that stand out (like Danny Elfman, Randy Newman, Alan Menken, Samuel Hazo, John Mackey, David Holsinger, John Williams, Aaron Zigman, Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson-Williams, John Powell, James Curnow, Robert W. Smith, etc.). I cannot say that when first discovering Whitacre’s music I became an instant fan. Contrarily, that does not indicate that I hated it or disliked it. I only thought it was interesting and quite different from what I’ve heard in my years of being an active student, composer, and musician.

I’m actually glad that Dr. Samuels exposed me to Eric Whitacre. Where I live, Eric Whitacre is not well-known (which is a downright shame because his Virtual Choir has received international attention from at least 108 countries). The well-known composers that are heard often are Alfreed Reed, Robert W. Smith, James Curnow, John Philip Sousa, and John Williams (and maybe even David Holsinger, and of course Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, Bach, and so on).

As a verdant composer analyzing how successful composers write, I’ve become very fond of Whitacre’s style – which is a recurring discussion topic in Music Theory II with Dr. Price – and hope to one day emulate it in one of my pieces. I don’t want to be a carbon copy of Eric Whitacre; neither do I want my piece to be a carbon copy of one of his pieces. However, I would like to borrow some of his techniques and incorporate them so that when someone hears my piece they recognize that my music is alluding to Whitacre’s style.

Very recently, I discovered Virtual Choir 4: Fly to Paradise and thought it was well-written (from a lyricist’s perspective), well-sung, and well-composed (Is that a word?). Eric Whitacre never disappoints! And from what I’ve read, VC5 looks like it will be Alleluiaa piece of Whitacre’s with which I’ve not had the opportunity to make an acquaintance.

So far, the reviews posted in the VC forum are good:

Yes. A hundred thousand times over, yes. Alleluia is such a beautiful an incredible piece. I sometimes just listen to it on repeat because I can’t get enough of it. To perform it with the VC would be such an honor and an amazing experience. - posted by emily24760

I will be the first to send in my video. I simply adore alleluia. I listen this song a million time every day. Someone should pitch this idea to ERIC!!!!!!!! - posted by erau_2013

I would absolutely love love love to sing Alleluia as a VC 5 . it has to be my # 1 favourite of all Eric’s gorgeous compositions. I listened to it just the other day as I was painting (now that is Bliss..) – posted by SaltSpring

From the very moment I heard this song, even the first 30 seconds of the piece, I have wanted so desperately to have the opportunity to sing this piece. So a thousand times yes. – posted by lariel9

I would definitely get involved. That song is absolutely gorgeous. Eric, if you are reading this, I want to make it crystal clear that you can get started on “Alleluia” right away! – posted by TimFromGrottomatic

Absolutely!!! When do we begin?!?!?!?!?!?!? – posted by dioshy

These are only a few of the positive comments from the forum when a member, ryan256, posed the question, What if: VC5 is Alleluia. Will you sing?

Mr. Whitacre, if you read this, I’d say go for it, tiger! It seems that your VC members would love to sing Alleluia regardless of their religious preferences. Personally, I’d sing in VC5 (if I could sing well), because the previous four have been fantastic, especially VC2: Sleep.

Getting back to the post’s topic now, I can’t express how much I am glad that I discovered Eric Whitacre. Once again, I thank Dr. Samuels for choosing to play October and Sleep. I definitely look forward to whatever new composition Whitacre writes next for any ensemble, whether choral, instrumental/orchestral, or even for film, as I know it will definitely be spectacular.

Well, that’s all I have to say about Mr. Whitacre and his works and projects. To find out more, go to ericwhitacre.com!

A New Discovery: Cashmere Cat

Finally, I post a blog about Cashmere Cat! And I must correct myself as I misspoke earlier!

Cashmere Cat is not a band; it is the pseudonym of Norwegian musician, producer, and turntablist, Magnus August Høiberg.

Anyway, thanks to Rebecca Jurgens, owner of Rebecca Jurgens Videography, I discovered Cashmere Cat. I clicked on a link to his Mirror Maru YouTube video. I haven’t listened to the whole track, though. (In fact, I’m doing that right now and will critique it later in this post.)

I thought “Cashmere Cat” was an interesting name for an artist (not a band) and so I decided to research more on the artist. By “research,” I mean “listen to the artist’s music,” which is exactly how I came to be enamored with Kiss Kiss.

Visiting my previous host’s site, I discovered Kiss Kiss. I would’ve just passed over it had it not said that Cashmere Cat was the artist. Intrigued, I clicked the play button and lended my ears to the track. Boy, I’m glad I did! Of course, you know what happened! I fell instantly in love with the song and now play it regularly whenever I want to dance.

Kiss Kiss is weirdly interesting! It intrigues me how Magnus decided to construct the song. I don’t have much to say about, since I’m not an expert on EDM, so just listen to it for yourself and you’ll understand why it’s “weirdly interesting.” Mirror Maru, on the other hand, is the opposite. Having mixed roots in classical and contemporary music, Mirror Maru is a conspicuous contrast to Kiss KissI’m still trying to discern which I like better of the two, though both are quite well-composed. (I’m pretty sure I just made up that word just hoping that it would make sense. Hm? Okay.)

I encourage anyone to visit Cashmere Cat’s SoundCloud and listen to the Mirror Maru EP, where he will find Mirror Maru and Kiss Kiss among the four tracks on the EP. If one is looking to expand his music library, he should try listening to this artist. I’d say he is definitely different than most EDM artists out there. Once again, I’m no expert on EDM, so do your own research!

In conclusion, I’ll definitely keep tabs on Cashmere Cat to see what new beat he drops! So far, I’ve liked his work; thus, have I no qualms about what’s to come in the future. Hats off to Magnus for giving America a taste of what Norway has to offer! Ser deg senere! (Apparently, this Norwegian phrase means See you later! in English. Google Translate better be right.)

In search of something new – revisited

Earlier, I posted a blog about being on a hunt for new music.

Well, here’s how the hunt ended.

As I predicted, I ended up with a piece that wasn’t in the list of pieces I’d choose to learn. My percussion instructor handed me two new pieces by Mitchell Peters.

I’m familiar with Yellow After The Rain, but not with 15 from Intermediate Snare Drum Studies. I thought his choice of Yellow After The Rain was really interesting. I enjoy listening to this solo Peters composed, though I wouldn’t necessarily choose to learn it and add it to my repertoire. However, I was – and still am – very enthused about learning it and performing it for my performance jury this semester.

Yellow After The Rain grabs my interest because of the following:

  • its distinct sound

(Then again, doesn’t every composition sound distinct from any other?) This composition easily reminds me of a playful dance children do while playing a game. That is the imagery this composition paints.

  • its metric modulations (between 3/4, 4/4, and 5/4)

There’s something about modulations – metric, rhythmic, key, etc. – that cause them to just grab my attention. I’ve even played with modulations in my own compositions.

  • its length

This composition covers five pages! My approach to learning this piece will definitely have to be different. I’m used to learning etudes/solos that have been two to four pages long. The performance time is about three minutes, which is something I find quite interesting.

Besides these two new pieces by Mitchell Peters, I also found a second marimba solo, Prayer, by Richard Gipson. I just found it in my school’s library and decided that it would be a cool side project to work on when I’m not working on Yellow After The Rain. I showed my instructor the piece and he didn’t object to me learning it, so I viewed that as a small victory. I ended up with a piece I picked that possibly might be the next solo on which I work once I’ve successfully learned and polished Yellow After The Rain.

As time progresses, I shall provide more updates. To view any of the current repertoire on which I’m working, view the “Current Projects” on my List of Repertoire. I’m actually learning a lot of pieces this semester between Symphony Band, Percussion Ensemble, Steel Band, and Applied Lessons. It’s a lot of work, though I can manage all of it well.

In conclusion, the hunt ended well and successfully. I’m really looking forward to learning both of my new marimba solos and my new snare solo! I always enjoy working on new, challenging music as it keeps my brain active and engaged! So what’s the moral of this story? Though you might not always find that for which you were looking, you might just find something else that is good that makes for a serendipitous discovery. I must admit that I surprised myself that I wasn’t disappointed at not getting assigned one of the pieces in the list of new pieces I’d like to learn. Anyway, the hunt is over and now a new goal is in mind: to learn three new solos!

Top 5 Tracks

In my everlasting search of new music, I’ve found five songs that I consider part of my top five tracks to which I absolutely love listening. Without further ado, here they are!

1. The Monster (feat. Rihanna) by Eminem

This duo has sucessfully done it again – this time better than before! EmiRi has done it again releasing another hit. Love the Way You Lie was a great hit back when it was released in June 2010. Now, EmiRi has done it again with the release of The Monster. I absolutely love the fact that EmiRi came back together and produced another great hit!

Listen to it here!

2. Human by Daughter

Talk about music that’s ethereal and evocative.  I recently found this song by Daughter (sometime in October 2013?) and have fallen in love with it ever since. Released on Daughter’s album If You Leave in April 2013, Human became an instant favorite after seeing this video. Absolutely loved the music and lyrics of this song the first time I heard it. It’s definitely worth a listen, though it’s so different than most of today’s music.

Listen to it here!

3. XO by Beyoncé

Though typically not a fan of Beyoncé’s music, I’ve grown to really enjoy this song from her self-titled, fifth studio album. The song is very sweet and has meaningful lyrics which are accompanied by an interesting beat. Beyoncé’s vocals are also soothing in this song – but that’s the norm, right? I have jammed to this song each time it has played on the radio, and I shall continue to do so.

Listen to it here!

4. All of Me by John Legend

Written as a wedding song, Legend’s All of Me is truly a beautiful and awe-inspiring song. When I first discovered this new song on 98.7 KISS FM, I definitely didn’t like it. I’m glad I still listened to it. As I continued listening to this song, I grew to really enjoy it and not want it to end.  This song is perfect for a wedding compilation CD if you’re looking for tracks to compile for a “wedding mix.”

Listen to it here!

5. Counting Stars by OneRepublic

I’ve always enjoyed OneRepublic’s music, and this song is no exception! I absolutely love the introduction to this song and how it transitions to the upbeat and catchy tune that one usually finds in OneRepublic’s music. I’d like to say that it features lots of electronic dance music (EDM), but I could be wrong. To me, it has that kind of vibe to it. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the song. OneRepublic is still going strong and doesn’t seem to be getting out of the game anytime soon.

Listen to it here!

Conclusion:

Well, there are my Top 5 Tracks at the moment. I think they are diverse and branch into different genres and show my eclectic tastes in music that I proclaim to have. I strongly encourage anyone to check out these songs. I’m sure you’ll find at least one that you really like.

Note: I did not forget about Cashmere Cat or Flume. I’ll blog about these two bands soon.