Monday, February 22, 2010

Marketing Contemporary Music (1)

More food for thought: Marketing Contemporary Music (article by Greg Sandow in the New York TImes; click link to view entire article).

The article's final paragraph seems to summarize the author's thesis:

Should we be trying to educate the classical music audience...? Why talk as if there's something wrong with it [contemporary classical music], as if it has a disease that needs curing? Instead, let's arouse it, excite it and draw new people to new kinds of artistic musical events. That way, even large institutions might renew themselves and heal the split between contemporary classical music and the rest of the arts.

What do you think?


If you like Mr. Sandow's writing, please check out some of the many links to his other articles on his home page.

"Audiences Hate Modern Classical Music Because Their Brains Cannot Cope"

According to an article in The Telegraph (UK), "audiences hate modern classical music because their brains cannot cope."

It's a provocative headline and an interesting point of view. Have a look at the article, and, if you feel so moved, please share your thoughts about it in the "comments" area below.   I will post a blog with my views next week.
  • Do you agree or disagree with points of view expressed in the article? 
  • Do audiences "hate" modern classical music? 
  • Who exactly are these "audiences" to which the article refers?   
  • Is it generally true that modern classical music is complex (and is therefore hard or even impossible to process for the brain)? 
  • If it is true that the brain cannot process highly-complex music, does that mean that we should aim to keep things simple when composing?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Re-Post: "Funky Flute Groove Experience"

[N.B. This blog entry is about 1.5 years old, from THURSDAY, AUGUST 07, 2008.  The reason I re-posted it here is that I recently learned that the site that hosted an older, inactive composition blog of mine was going to be shut down, and this was the only entry from that blog that had not already been transferred over to this one.]

This morning [AUGUST 07, 2008] I finished editing the guitar track to my most recent composition, Funky Flute Groove Experience.

The above link will take you to the programme note and recording of this piece, but a brief background is that I wrote it for Christine Gangelhoff (flutist) and electronics, to be performed at the most recent Newfoundland Sound Symposium (July, 2008). Christine and I had asked a local DJ/turntablist (DJ Russtafari) to be involved in this too, but we learned a few weeks before the performance that he had moved to Korea, and, incredibly, was not planning to commute back to St. John's for the performance! What was up with that?

Another part of the original plan was to have me play guitar on the piece, but, as the performance date got nearer, I started getting cold feet because (a) I don't perform much, (b) My confidence in my abilities as a guitarist is (deservedly) low, and (c) I was spending all my time composing the piece and had no time to learn a guitar part.

Christine, who had been expecting to perform FFGE as part of a trio (with DJ Russ and myself) called "Urban Sound Collective," was now facing the prospect of playing solely with the electronic accompaniment, and was a tad disappointed. Kind of hard to call yourself a collective when there's only one performer, I guess...

I therefore decided, in a moment of compassion/rashness, to follow through with my original plan and create a guitar part for the piece (which was otherwise about 95% finished), and to (eek!) perform it too. I second-guessed that decision a few times (which I guess means I third-, fourth-, and fifth-guessed it), but the good news is that it worked out okay; I am reasonably happy with the part I came up, and I wasn't nervous at all while playing it (probably because it was largely improvised, and the rest was memorized). And, as it turned out, we were able to find another DJ/turntablist in Deb Sinha, who was here for a performance during the Newfoundland Sound Symposium, who very graciously agreed to step in at the last minute and did a fine job. And so Urban Sound Collective was a trio after all, and all went well! Or, if "well" is overstating matters, then at least nobody was injured during the performance, and it has been my experience that one cannot ask for much more than that in life.

I guess the fact that I took a risk and didn't have it blow up in my face emboldened me to try recording the guitar part myself. I had never edited digital audio before (hard to believe, I know, in this day and age!) and so was apprehensive about the process; the fact that I was using a 10-year-old Mac G4 that crashes about twice a day did not inspire confidence. It took a couple of hours to get everything set up — I was temporarily stymied because I don't have a microphone preamp (necessary to boost the signal strength from 'mic level' to 'line level'). The microphone (used to pick up the guitar amplifier) had been connected directly to the digital audio processor (MOTU 2408MkII) but I couldn't figure out how to boost the signal (as I said, I was a complete novice at this!), so I routed it through my mixer and applied gain to the signal there. It took a ridiculous amount of time (the more time it took, the less inspired I felt), but once things were set up properly the process of recording was very straightforward.

I ended up spending hours recording and editing the guitar track — you can move individual notes a few milliseconds (or a lot of milliseconds) forwards or backwards until they are exactly where you want them, but it's a painstaking (and simultaneously amazing) process. I took several runs at the guitar solo (in the last two choruses of the minor blues that occurs around the middle) and the rhythm, quite frankly, is still a bit loose, but I eventually left it as is because it didn't feel too out of character for the piece.

Here is a recording:

DreamDance Picture

Postscript: I submitted this to, where it has received comments from members of that on-line community. Click here if you would like to read them.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Piano Project Deadline

For those who missed yesterday's class, the deadline for submitting your three pieces for solo piano (bound copy) is this coming Tuesday (February 16) at the start of class.

Wind Band Readings: April 7

Dr. Denise Grant has most generously offered us a reading session for your wind band compositions!  This will take place from 4:00 to 5:15 PM, April 7.

She feels that there will be sufficient time to read five different works (fifteen minutes per work).  This would consist of a reading with a few pauses as needed to fix problems, and a second reading straight through that would be recorded.

If more than five of you plan to write for band, we will need to figure out what to do about that!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Reflections on the Newfound Music Festival

Warning: Gushing Ahead!*

The seventh Newfound Music Festival is over, and my sense from having attended 8 of the daytime events on Thursday and 5 concerts is that it all went wonderfully well. I loved the mix of experiences that was offered — talks about technology, the round-table discussion on the importance of nurturing creativity in the classroom and how to go about doing so, the captivating and moving performances and engaging presentation of Dawn Avery (so mesmerizing that I lost track of time and, for the first time ever, was late picking up my kids after school...), hearing our SOCAN Foundation guest composer Derek Charke speak about sound ecology, his experiences of living in the far north, and the remarkable sounds he recorded there, as well as hearing Derek talk about and perform his own music so beautifully, the wide variety of ethnomusicology presentations, the other presentations on fascinating topics, as well as all the great music given great performances on both the student and evening concerts.

In my dream universe, there would be something akin to Newfound Music Day (the Thursday) once every month, or even every week! It'll never happen, but it sure would be sweet if if it did.

Part of the reason I like the diversity of experiences is simply that I like variety — although (or perhaps because) my area of specialization is composition, I am fascinated by the myriad of ways in which different people interact with music — but another reason is that it allows me to learn more about some of the work in which our students and faculty are engaged, which is always fascinating.

A final special mention goes to the students who performed or presented in the festival; I am an educator because I believe strongly in the value of education in helping individuals fulfill at least some of their potential, and so I was profoundly moved by the enthusiasm, technique, and conviction in the many performances and presentations I witnessed.

I asked students in my composition class for their thoughts/reflections on this year's festival, and here is what they had to say:
* Apologies to Derek Charke for appropriating my heading from the title of his composition, "Warning: Gustnadoes Ahead!"
Student Reflections:

I always enjoy Newfound Music day and the concerts that accompany it. This year was particularly enjoyable!  The two presentations that I chose to write about were "Inner Space/Outer Space", a presentation about the Sound Symposium, and Derek Charke's presentation on "Sound Ecology".

I am vaguely familiar with the Sound Symposium, and it was great to get an inside scoop of 2008's festival. I've attended several and even performed in some "Night Music" events at the Ship, which are sponsored by the Sound Symposium, so I knew that sound spontaneity, improv, and new approaches to music and art are the basic approaches involved. 2008 had a theme related to geographic locations, how they can affect sound, and the way we perceive it. Concepts such as a "sight-specific" piece (where the composition was intended to be executed at a certain place and certain time), and an individual's "sound biography" (referring to all the sounds one has heard in their lifetime, and the emotions and memories we then associate with such sounds) were new concepts to me. Watching several performers set up experiments of music in strange locations, or having pieces entirely dependant on the participation of the audience were interesting as well.

The idea of Sound Ecology was very intriguing to me as well. I've done a fair bit of processing and messing around with recorded guitars/percussion that I do at home, and in electronic music class last year, some other random noises I created... but capturing the wide array of sounds that occur in nature and using them as a basis for a composition was something I had never thought of. Taking the crunch of someone walking through hard snow and looping it to create a driving rhythm sounded amazing, and layering this all to a tape and then playing flute over it was something Derek did in some of the concerts.. GREAT STUFF!


The concert on Thursday evening was a great concert to go to, there was a variety of different instruments and there was a variety of musical styles played. The piece that struck me the most was Derek Charke's piece that he played himself. He played solo flute along with technology and a pre recorded track. This was not entirely a track though because he had something set up, so that when he played a certain pith it would trigger a pre determined set of notes to play at the same time. The technology has to do with a machine hearing a certain frequency from the instrument and then that frequency triggers something else to play the notes of the chord. There were also two other performers who played with a pre recorded track and I am starting to find out that when a good pre recorded track is created it can definitely not only support the solo player but it adds a whole new level to the composition. Some people think that it is not a big deal to play along with a track it's not the same musical experience playing with another person. I would agree with this statement but the art of the pre recorded track is in the countless of hours creating it and trying to create and accompaniment for the soloist.

Overall I have learned a lot from the concert on Thursday and Saturday the more ideas I am able to listen to, obviously my pallet of options for composing grows.


The Newfound music festival has come and past for another year and for me, it has definitely been the best yet. I don't know if it is because I am older, or if it is because I am learning to appreciate these festivals more and more but for me this year was definitely the best year so far. Thursday morning was definitely a big eye opener for myself. I got to see first hand, techniques of modern composers and how they take their ideas and manipulate them. For example the first session with Dr. Staniland showed a very modern way for creating music, using a looper. I have never done any work with a looper or max/msp but after this session it is easy to see where music is heading and the possibilities it has for creating music in this evolving world of technology. The topic of technology was almost a theme for the morning because guest composer Derek Charke also displayed some of his work on Thursday morning and it was easy to see that most of his work also involved technology. A lot of the work he showed us at this session had a pre recorded track to go along with a solo preform er or group. For example in his piece "gustandos" for solo flute, there is obviously a solo flute part but it is preformed with a pre made track specifically for that piece. This was definitely a huge eye opener because I was able to see where modern composers are in regards to what kind of elements composers now use to write. Another aw some aspect of this workshop was when he played "cirque de nord 3" for string quartet and "trio, for percussion" both play around with very interesting sounds from each respected family. In "cirque de nord 3" he shows us how he was able to arrange and capture traditional throat singing in a string quartet. The new bowing systems he created and the sounds that were produced were aw some and very intriguing. The "trio" was also very intriguing due to his choice of instruments. The Instruments he chose and the sounds he wanted worked very well and created a very cool effect. My favourite instrument that is required of a preform er for this piece is to put a bass drum head in front of a resonating instrument; like a harp, guitar or piano and then proceed to hit the head.

Overall this festival was very influential on me and I have learned some big and great tips for composing, but I also have picked up some small tips along the way which will definitely make me a better composer.


I thought this years Newfound music festival was great. Not only did I get several opportunities to perform new works, I was able to listen to a lot of contemporary music.

- The Friday night concert was great. This first half of the program was music from two of our composers at MUN, Clark Ross and Andrew Staniland. I really enjoyed both of these pieces. What stood out to me the most was the texture that Andrew was able to create through the use of sparse chords and "word painting" on the piano. The text was very clear and the piano was used a tool to emphasis what the character was feeling. Great!

- Saturday Night student composition concert was also a great success. Great crowd and everyone's music seemed to come across well in the concert hall. I was especially happy with the way that Tim interpreted my pieces. I thought he treated the colors very well.

- Late night Saturday concert featured music from the Americas. Great selection of pieces which contrasted very well with the rest of the festival.


So our first concert of the semester went over very well!!

It was really nice to hear everybody's two piano pieces in the PC Hall. I think that the show was a success because it didn't run to long, there were no awkward pauses in between performances, and the show was about 45 minutes long, which is perfect for a pre-show to an 8 o'clock concert! I think we had a good sized audience as well! I was half worried that we'd have trouble getting people to come, but with a facebook group, a poster (by yours truely), and word of mouth we were glad to see so many people! It's always better to have a bigger crowd than I small one.

I had a short meeting with Derek Charke on Friday, and that was very helpful! Just to get another professional opinion is always a great thing, and he offered many tips and suggestions that I think will really help shape my pieces better.


This years' Newfound Music Festival was very enjoyable, especially the final concert on Saturday night. I really loved Dawn Avery's performance, and after going to her workshop on Thursday it really helped me to better understand and appreciate what she does. Her talk on Thursday was very interesting, and I loved hearing how Native American music has influenced modern pieces. I found it really cool that she's using music of the past, present, and representations of the future in her music and presentations.

The Saturday night concert was awesome, and I was very impressed with all of the pieces. The 2nd set of percussion ones was my favourite, I think. I also liked the use of hand-clapping in the first piece. Dawn Avery's performance was also very enjoyable, and I loved her use of The Star-Spangled Banner. When she sang and played at the same time, that really impressed me because I find it really difficult to do and wish I could do it myself! I loved her use of pizzicato and singing at the same time, it made a really cool effect.

I thought that our own little recital was a big success! It was great to hear everyone's peices performed, and especially at such short notice. A big thank you to Justin for learning and performing mine!! I'm looking forward to the next one!


I had the pleasure of seeing 4 out of the 5 concerts that went on during the course of the Newfound Music Festival. All of them were very interesting. I was fortunate enough to get to play Jess Blenis's piece in one of the student recital which I thought went extremely well and sounded great. My favorite concert of the weekend was Saturday nights concert which was the last of the concerts for the weekend. The concert focused on music from the America's including Latin America and was very interesting exciting and defiantly got me taping my foot. The first songs in the program were my favorite and the second last piece was fantastic as well. Another very awesome concert was Thursday night's concert which I was able to be apart of by playing "the computer" in Derek Charks piece for Flute and Computer. The piece was really interesting and the program on the computer that he uses was really cool in how it manipulated sounds and such. Also his other piece Warning! Gustanados Ahead was amazing I love all the extended techniques for the flute. Over all the concerts were great I really enjoyed them. I unfortunately did not make any of the lectures as I was working the student recitals. Maybe next year!


First of all, I think the composition prelude concert went really well! It was really great to hear how the pieces we've written have grown and matured even over just a few weeks. I think the entire program, all put together, sounded really nice. And ending it off with a snappy ragtime was definitely the way to go.

I adored every piece on the Saturday night program. I really like that style of music, and hearing an entire program of it was really gratifying.

The first three pieces were really nifty, and set a great theme for the rest of the evening. I've never really listened to any great amount of this music, but we all know vaguely what it sound like, and it's the type of music you can listen to both intuitively and mindlessly- putting it on a completely elevated level of listening. The percussion pieces were remarkable simply because they looked as though they were difficult (heck, it's like playing a huge piano with sticks- and with two sticks in one hand!!) they sounded completely relaxed and groovy. The changing rhythms were great fun too, and every time one happened I found myself enjoyinh it all the more.

Carousel was really nifty- at times I could see where it got its name as it seemed to kind of wind down, but then it would go forward again and continue on. There is a great amount of flow in all of these pieces, I find- not like most music which has a beginning, a middle section and an end seperated by definite sections. It almost seems more organic to play music in this South American style, more fluid. I did like the return to this kind of style with the Ortega piece, which began with the chant, moved on to a somewhat improvisatory section before it returned to the chant. That was pretty darn nifty and toe-tappin'.

I think my favourite part of the entire evening was when Dawn Avery played -and sang!- her pieces from the North American Indian Cello Project. The last thing I had expected was for her to sing whil she played cello and her voice was so captivating and the words very profound. I wish I had a copy of the poem she based the second movement- about the medicine man- on, and, of course, a recording of it as well. Involving the audience was pretty nifty too!

The Kalimba and Brazilian set were enjoyable as well, especially when Jeff Dyer and Paul Bendza played/sang together. That was a really neat effect, to sing along with the clarinet, which made me realize just how much like a human voice the clarinet can sound. OH- and I decided that I really like the soprano saxomophone. Such a pretty tone!

Anyway, it was yet another night of great music, and another great Newfound Music Festival.


I really enjoyed the Newfound Music Festival this year, though I didn't get to attend nearly as much as I wanted to. I had planned on attending more of the sessions, but between being sick, working for one of the student recitals, going to the 1:00 one and having chamber music rehearsal, I did not get to see a lot. You can only hear so much from backstage, so I did not get to hear some of the really groovin' music played in the 11:00 concert, and immediately after my piece was played in the 1:00 concert I had to leave the auditorium to say goodbye to my friend who moved to BC on Friday, who had stopped in at the last minute to hear my piece.

I did get to two of the concerts, and I'm really glad that I did. I did not get to the one on Thursday night because the weather was really bad and I was sick (the combination of the two would've been REALLY pretty...Not.) but I got to go to the one on Friday and Saturday night.

So this blog will be about the one on Friday night!

I was very impressed with the variety of different pieces which were played. Of course, it was really great to hear music by two of our own- Clark Ross and Andrew Staniland- and by the guest composer, Derek Charke. There were a lot of surprising things in this concert, and my ear felt very satisfied with what it had heard. You know that feeling? It's marvellous when your ear has that nice sigh, as though it's just had a full, three-course meal and has unlatched its belt a notch. Now it's time for some hardcore napping and digestion!

Well, save the nap for later, maybe.

I really think "Shooting the Moon" is a good title for Clark's piece. There were several ponts during the piece when I heard a rhythm which caught my attention, and the octave-notes in the left hand really reminded me of the disco piece that Megan Warren had composed last year. I could easily hear both the disco and the jazz influence, and it's very satisfying even when all you get is a tiny snippet of music from a style you're listening for.

This was the first time I'd heard something by Andrew Staniland all the way through (we listened to the first movement of one of his pieces in orchestration and arranging) and want to hear more, so I can see where this fits into context and know what his style is like. That's how I like listening to music- I like to listen to several pieces by the same composer and get a better feel for not only the individual pieces as I listen to them in context, but by the overall style with which they've been written. There was a moment in the beginning of the second movement which was absolutely beautiful, and I found the majority of his music to be intelligent, edgy and captivating. I also think he represented the text really well with the music.

I also found the title of Derek Charke's pice very fitting. I've always liked the sound of hearing a performer play something with music playing in the background, and the melee of sounds and textures in his piece were both very mesmerizing. I kind of found myself wondering how one would notate that- do you write in the score what to listen for in the recording? Of course, as the composer, he would obviously know what to listen for, but all the same, for someone reading through the part the first time, how would they know when to play? One more note- he is a great flautist! Kudos for being able to both write and play beautiful music!

The piece by Onishi was really a treat to listen to, though as a string player who values both their bow and violin strings, by the end my mind was screaming "Oh noo!! Please don't break your strings!" and "You're definitely going to need your bow rehaired!" Bartok pizzicato always makes me cringe. I don't think I could do it if someone paid me to, not even if I borrowed a cheap violin. And I take great pride when I break one bow hair, and find it absolutely amazing- enviable, even- when people break four or five, but as a student who is clutching every penny dearly, I still kind of shudder when I think about getting a bow rehaired after playing just one piece.

All that rubbish aside, it was a lot of fun to listen to! I found there was always something going on, and I didn't know where to look or listen next- especially since they were seated so far apart, but that was what I liked about it. I liked hearing the music coming from remote parts of the auditorium. I'm an easy giggler, though, and had to really try not to giggle when either Aaron or Michelle made funny noises into their instruments. I loved the advanced techniques very much!

The Wuorinen piece is one I think I'd have to warm up to. I love the sound of classical guitar (any type of guitar, really) and was setting myself up to hear something tonal and classically pretty. I have to admit, whenever someone is introducing their piece and says '12 tone' my ear kind of pouts. I would love to see the music, go through it and analyze it, but that's because 12 tone music is beautiful on the page and somewhat...Strange to the ear. Like what Milton Babbit said in "Who cares if you listen." This isn't music to listen to, though that's what we do with it.

Good concert, though! Great variety of styles and instrumentations. :)


Newfound Music Festival was awesome as always this year!

The two I enjoyed most were:

1) The Saturday night concert- Dawn Avery (is that her name?) well, the cellist, was unreal! It was such a unique performance. I really loved the unique techniques she thought of and even using the anthem as an electric guitar-like sound was brilliant. Overall a really cool concert, groovy!

2) The Friday night concert- I highly enjoyed Andrew Staniland and Clark Ross's pieces.
Clark Ross's piece, I can remember last year in composition when the disco piece was written [by Meg Warren]. He took the best elements from that piece and wrote another piece (Shooting the moon?) that was incredible! I loved hearing the ascending disco line in the piano. I wasn't too sure about the saxophone imitation of that rising disco line, for about 2 bars, but thats just a matter of opinion! Overall it was incredible!!
Andrew Staniland's work in 4 movements really related to the type of writing that I tend to gravitate towards- Very sonorous and beautiful use of chords in his work! I really enjoyed listening to the change of character in each movement as well. I also really enjoyed the choice of text the piece was based on. It had some really interesting verses.

Thats my Newfound Music Blog!


My favorite time of the year (or at least one of them)has come and passed, the Newfound Music Festival. I don't know why I love it so much, I guess because I am able to witness different innovations and new processes that different composers use in creating new music. It really is a shame that music students aren't exposed to more of this kind of thing.

The biggest highlight of the festival for me were the first two sessions in the P.C. Hall, Andrew Staniland with his presentation on loopin and Max MSP, and Derek Charke's presentation on his composition.
I am a huge fan of manipulating live sounds. I am always trying to make new sounds with the use of technology (electric guitar/keyboards & using different effect pedals) and the computer program that Staniland presented seemed to give him total control of the way that he was able to manipulate the sounds made in the microphone. This was my first real brush with electro-acoustic music.

I was also really blown away by Derek Charke's composition with the influence of inuit throat songs. The amount of energy created by the extended techniques he uses in the quartet is absolutley incredible. It was funny to see how his inspirations for some of his composition doesn't come from say Debussy or Stravinsky, rather he found something that has never been done before, (maybe bartok is more the inspiration for this kind of thing).
It was really fun to hear these innovations performed in the concert on the second night. Hearing Charke's disturbances of carcadian rhythm was really cool. The way he incorperated the electroacoutic element to establish a mood was totally effective.

It was also really nice to hear other modern composers, two of our own, and the way in which it is all music from the past ten years, yet the styles were vastly different. This year the new found music festival made me feel very appreciative that I live in the time that I do, with the freedom to be totally creative and so many different tools and ressources right at my fingertips.


he Newfound music festival is one of the very few activities at mun more so intended for the composition faculty. Obviously it's something that everyone can all enjoy, but for us composers it really helps to see what new tactics are used for composition that can help us write on a different level. This year I managed to attend the thursday and saturday night concerts as well as the morning lectures in the PC hall.

The lectures that Derek Charke and Andrew Staniland presented on the topic of looping and recording were quite intriguing. I spend a lot of time fooling around with looping pedals and recording software to create pieces for 'pop' music, but have yet to attempt to write for anything like this. Using the looping device as an instrument certainly gives the composer a lot more options for composition. The art of real time looping and manipulating would definitely be an interesting concept to toy around with.

As for the concerts, I enjoyed Scott Godin's piece for electric guitar and recording (or two electric guitars) entitled 'Gwan' in particular from the thursday night's concert. Guitar is something that I play quite frequently (even more than my primary instrument to be quite honest) so I could take in the performance a lot easier. I also find myself stuck writing pieces that are more western pop oriented, so to see something that bridges this sort of genre with traditional elements was very enlightening.

The Saturday concert I found to be very enjoyable to watch all around. It was definitely a change of pace from a lot of the concerts that take place at the music and was very refreshing. Jeff Dyer is a personal friend of mine so it was really nice to see him performing again. Dawn Avery's pieces were also very relaxing to sit down and listen t after all the stress that the composition concert caused me.

Overall I really enjoyed this year's festival. In past years I never really took in as much as I did this year and now that I have I'm excited for next year's. Definitely something to look forward to.