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.

 

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.

Color and Classical Music In December

theatre-audience_3133209b-800x305Sometimes I look out into the audience when I perform music. I don’t mean to take an subconscious pole of the demographics of the audience, but it’s hard not to notice. The picture above isn’t what I usually see, in fact the picture below is more of the reality of I tend to notice. Often I am the only person of color in the room, and after 20 years of holiday performances I started to wonder about those numbers.

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I didn’t grow up going to classical music concerts, especially not during the holidays. So why and how I came to the place where I love classical music and am a performer of this music is a mystery to me. Either way this is the common ground under which the audience and I share community.

Prince and 4 Square

I’m Getting Old and We Lost An Icon

from http://www.in2it.org.nz/games/four-square/
from http://www.in2it.org

This week I spent time stretching before going out to do recess duty with middle school kids. Why do you ask, well that’s simple I tried playing “four square” with my students. Anyhow, it’s clear I don’t move like I used to…I’ve been limping since Tuesday.

Today I learned that Prince is no longer with us. Thanking him will be the job of everyone who loved…LOVE the music he created. 1401x788-prince-extralarge_1412016787658So I will continue to admire him as an artist and continue to use his music as fodder for funk/pop/hip-hop music education. However, I found myself sitting with some students and I eventually ask them the question “Do you know who Prince is?” The reply was no…I think my parents do.

At that point I came to accept once and for all that I am an “old” person. But enough about me, lets talk about Prince and how I’ve used his music in the past in my classes.

One of the tools I use, which was a gift given to us by Prince is his song Musicology. Just the names he drops in this song gives my students a jumping off point for exploration into american popular music. Then there’s learning about him and all his accomplishments.

 

Music and Spaces

imagesRecently I played a concert in concert recital hall. The space was very intimate and the concert was around mid-day. At first I thought this was an odd time for a chamber music concert featuring the Stravinsky Octet and a few other works for the era. Odd until I listened to the New York Times Popcast: Jazz’s Takeover of Hallowed Museum Spaces. 

imgresPart of the discussion dealt with the classification of what jazz music is and how artist explore new sounds, spaces, and the integration of many forms of arts. One of the artist in question was Jason Moran. A fantastic jazz pianist and now Artistic Director for Jazz at The Kennedy Center.

Song Exploder Podcast

A few days ago I found a new podcast to add to my rotation. And apparently, I love this podcast! Song Exploder is hosted by Hrishikesha5eMUALj_400x400 Hriway and it’s super interesting if you are into deconstructing modern songs.

I downloaded 3 episodes which included artist I admire and listen to often. I was blown away with the interviews and then felt more invested in following Björk, Tune-Yards and Open Mike Eagle.

Here are some links to those episodes on the Song Exploder Soundcloud page. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.SongExploder60-600x298

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