The Composition Game

I was recently asked to participate in a pilot program connecting me with an artist of the same discipline to work with me and coach me achieve an important next step in my career. My peer mentor and I talked about using music composition as a way of stretching out to meet some artistic goals. The other goal was to get me to work around my writer’s block.

The game was to set aside an hour every day for the month of July to compose and explore ideas. There is no restriction about what I need to write, nor barriers to whom I was writing music for. The only stipulation was to set aside time to write music. By the end of the month, I would share with my coach about my process and some of the work created.

There was no stipulation that I would share any of this work publically, but I guess I need to put something out into the world. In any case here is one of the drafts I came up with. (forgive the MIDI sounds) This piece could still be orchestrated for any number of ensembles.

All of the pieces I started during this game used a 12 tone matrix. I gave myself this obstacle as a structure to help foster ideas.

 

Give these two a listen…

Toward the end of the school year, a few of us were sharing cool music and videos of performances we thought were really cool. Even after the end of the school year, I find myself looking up these videos and listening to some of these performances. Here are two that stood out and are still blowing me away.

Jacob Collier performing a version of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” and Nora Jones in a tear-jerking tribute to Chris Cornell of Soundgarden performing “Black Hole Sun” shortly after his death. Both fantastic performances.

Rabbit Hole and then Jennifer Hudson…

Sometimes I start listening to music and looking up different videos, just to see if I find something new and interesting. This time I landed on Jennifer Hudson. I must have listened to this about five or six times. Her inflections and phrasing are simple and beautiful. The kind of music making that makes me rethink the use of space within a line. Give it a listen and see for yourself.

Things Students Say and Drizzical

After watching my colleague work herself silly conducting, planning and teaching the all-school musical, I came to a stark realization. The end of the school year can make us feel crazy like everything is closing up on all of us, students, teachers, and administrators. I’ve been especially loopy lately and so have my advisory students.

In a conversation with them today, we discussed some of our favorite musical genres and the artist we associated with those genres. For example, I mentioned classical music with Missy Mizzoli and Igor Stravinsky, jazz music with Charles Mingus, rap music with J Cole. At least those are the folks I’m listening to these days.

One of my students said they love broadway-musicals and they also love Drake. Another student took that and said, “I guess you’ll love it if Drake made a Broadway-musical….oh, oh it would be a Drizzical.”

And then we all laughed. But seriously…Drake, what’s up with that Drizzical?

Identity and Representation

Little over a month ago I ran into a former student at a performance. As we caught up with one another, he mentioned conversations or topics we had explored a few times years ago. We discussed the idea of what it feels like when you feel like you don’t really, fully, belong where you are. Certain interests, that make us unique, can make us stand out, and sometimes, feel alone.  These interests may authentically line up with who you are as a person in the present, but at the same time, the expectation of who you are or should be professionally, or as a representation of a gender, culture, or race, is in conflict with your authentic self.

The example of this mix match in identity for me is being a Dominican man from the Bronx, who plays the trumpet, and specifically specializes in classical music. When I’m in NYC, I’m Dominican. When I’m in the DR, I’m American. Everywhere else in America, I’m African American, or for short, black (I’m also bald :)). The good news is that I am okay with all of these labels. In fact, I hold them as badges of honor. I can be all of these things at once while being a musician, and more importantly, being myself. Of course, there are expectations and responsibilities that come with these labels. Being a musician, who looks like me, comes with its own set of assumptions; for example, I hear, “you must play jazz or meringue, or salsa music” or, “you have a Doctorate in music?”, or, “really, you went to Yale?  Oh, for music.”  I love jazz, blues, and Latin music, but lately, if you were to pull the Bose headphones off of my ears, you’d find me listening to South African house music, rap, and John Dowland.  Not quite what one typically would expect.  Okay, maybe the rap music.

My former student, now my friend and colleague, teaches in a place where few people look like him; I can relate. He doesn’t see many folks who have the same intense love for music that he does, but yet he continues to find ways of connecting people, and helping his community see past typical stereotypes. He’s young, so I hope he keeps a positive attitude and stays resilient.  More than ever, we need teachers like him to teach in places where the teacher stands out from the typical normal.  That’s how we learn.