Composer's Toolbox

a blog for the composers and audiences of today's music.

Month: September 2012

Sound and Silence: Bridging Classical and Pop for Middle and High School Musicians

Calling all Hartford area music teachers!  If you have students who you think would enjoy playing popular music arrangements on their instruments, please consider this ensemble.  I’m going to be arranging popular songs specifically for the needs of this group, and it looks like it’ll be a blast:

  • We’re holding auditions on Thursday, October 11th, at 5:30pm at Sound Crossing Studio in East Windsor.
  • Based on the instruments we register, I’ll be arranging popular music tunes from the present and past (from Beatles to Zeppelin to you name it).
  • I’ll lead the ensemble through rehearsals on Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:30pm at the studio, building sight-reading skills, ensemble skills, confidence in playing with other musicians, and much more.
  • We will have a final performance at the yearly studio benefit.
  • Plus, this is designed to be energizing for young players; I will be listening to each ensemble member’s needs and desires (especially regarding repertoire).

Here’s the official write-up:

Sound & Silence, a performance ensemble focused on performing rock and pop arrangements, will be holding registration and placement auditions on Thursday October 11th at 5:30pm. Instrumentalists of all musical backgrounds are welcome to audition including string players, woodwind & brass players, guitarists, pianists and percussionists. This group gives students the opportunity to gain valuable ensemble and performance skills, while learning and performing new and exciting music arranged specifically to fit the interest and abilities of the students.

Auditions: Thursday October 11th, 2012 @ 5:30pm
Open to: string, brass, woodwind, guitar, bass, piano & drum players!
Audition requirements: one song of student’s choice and sight reading
Session runs: October 25th, 2012 through February 7th, 2013
Rehearsals: Thursdays 5:30-6:30pm
Cost: $150

The ensemble is held at:

Sound Crossing Studio
143 Bridge St. East Windsor, CT 06088 • (860) 758-7707 •

Happy practicing!


The Current State of Affairs in Classical Music – My Summary

So, the old model of music is decaying.

Symphony orchestras, record labels, universities–they seem to be declining.  The reasons for this are multitudinous, and arguable.  Don’t get me wrong–there are many exceptions to this state of decline, but as I hear of strike after strike, financial woe after woe, I thought I’d type up what seems to be my summary of the efforts to mitigate this situation:

The goal: to make a living off of music–ideally solely “art” music and its direct activities.

Prerequisites: a large amount of money that can be distributed to the musicians for their activities (the finances of this economy).

Where does the money come from?  people making money in their jobs and services outside of music.

How does the money come to the musicians?  the people who earn the money pay the musicians for music and music services/activities.

Why do the people pay the musicians?  The people pay them because they like, desire, and find relevant, the art that the musicians create.

How do musicians achieve this new way:  make music with which outside people will want to be involved.

What if people don’t like the music that musicians make?

    Can we convince the people otherwise?

          If you believe yes, then: market, promote, educate*.

          If you believe no, then: conform to what the people want, or give up trying to make money from  music.

*This is where the new model comes in.  The old model has been doing this for a long time, but we need to evolve the old model to something that works better at marketing, promoting, and educating (with the ultimate goal of making more music, getting it heard, and ensuring that musicians can make a living on music and its direct activities).

What can we do that the old model hasn’t done, and upon what can we innovate?

Some ideas:

  • Technology’s use
  • Social structure/empowerment/education
  • Going smaller, not bigger
  • Slimming down the administration

What are some of the characteristics of the new model:

  • Educate the youth: open minds and the potential for future growth make this a long-term asset that must be utilized.
  • Take advantage of technology: take current technologies (eg. streaming of music, digital downloads, widespread internet access worldwide, mobile device proliferation) and exploit them to generate revenue for musicians.
  • Musicians as administrators: musicians take control of their own careers, and eliminate the middlemen (eg. administrators in ensembles, promotion directly by the musicians, recruitment of talent done by the musicians in an organization)–be democratic amongst musicians in doing all of the work to sustain yourselves in an ensemble, and do it yourself in all the capacities in which you serve (eg. as a soloist, composer, audio technician, etc.).
  • Challenge the power: every musician must be an advocate for music, or the whole structure will fail (weakest link in the chain breaks the chain under stress)–we need strong lobbying, fundraising, advocacy, and political sway.  Become politically involved in promoting music.
  • Look at ourselves and re-examine our musical DNA: find ways to connect our musical DNA with the DNA of the people listening–compromise without giving up all merit on our end and without being stoic to the people who are paying for our music (eg. new concert venues, embracing new media of presentation, merging popular and art music more).
  • Silence is for music, loudness is for making sure we can have silence: don’t back down from any fight over music’s future; be loud, proud, and confident of music’s essential role in society and human life, as one of the pinnacles of great local, national, and worldwide societies.  Through being loud advocates we can promote our music, no matter how quiet the art itself is.
  • Communication is key: don’t do everything in a corner; talk with other musicians across vast spans of artistic and geographic areas.  Utilize the tools of the information age to communicate and organize with musicians worldwide.  Never be afraid to share ideas.

The time is now to fight for music’s viability!

This is much easier said than done, but saying it is a way to start.

What do you think of this synopsis?  Is it accurate?


Discipline: Can Art Be Rushed? (Tool #39)

This is a topic that sometimes comes up in collaborative efforts where one party in the collaboration lags behind, sometimes holding up the other parties: Can you “rush” art?  Here’s my answer:

Art requires time.  It requires alone time, thinking time, warm-up time, creation time, and even cool-down time.  It’s like going for a really long bike ride: you generally plan the route, memorize it as much as you can, spend some time before the ride warming up, do the actual ride, and cool-down afterwards.  It’s true that this process takes a lot of time–I generally only compose if I know I have 2-3 hours available to work uninterrupted.  For a funny extended version of this, watch this video of John Cleese:

BUT, I argue heavily, art requires discipline.  It is more practical than inspirational, in my opinion–I think it’s 9 parts hard work and 1 part inspiration.  Surely, art requires a lot of time, but one has to make the time for art.  Clear out your schedule, wake up early or stay up late, do fewer other things or reduce the time it takes to do them–in other words, do whatever it takes to give yourself that “art” time.  You’ve undoubtedly heard of “me” time, “on-the-clock” time at work, etc.  Make “art” time another sense of time.

By being disciplined, you can give yourself the time you need to meet deadlines (or at least get closer to meeting them), get a good, quality product by not having to rush through the creative process, and not annoy your collaborators.  I understand that everyone is as busy as ever in this age, but priorities need to be set, discipline built, and quality “art” time made.  And the best part about making this time is that “art” time is, most of the time, “you” time.  So, the discipline rewards itself eventually as you get better at your craft and do more of it with that made time.

What do you think of that Cleese video near the top, by the way?

Happy composing,


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