"YOU CAN'T ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU WA-ANT!"
December 13, 2013, 06:16 AM posted by Maria Choban
So aptly put by The Rolling Stones.
What do I want?
So aptly asked by Socrates.
I am an adrenaline junky and I get off on the new, the exciting, the uncomfortable. In my recent article for Oregon Arts Watch covering Classical Revolution PDX, this would make me a Futurist.
But I LOVE library literature . . . . . IF I can express it in my usually proscribed way, avoiding stale but legal interpretations handed down by master teachers for generations. I think Bach is an explosive killer, I think Mendelssohn's c minor piano trio is death metal and requires Lenny Bernstein sensibilities to bring it off. I think Ravel's piano trio is so sexual that if I'm not wet when I finish playing it, I haven't done my job - for me or for my audience!
I lash out at fear based controlling people. Guess what? My father is a fear based narcissist.
I suppose it might look like I lashed out in my article Futurists and Librarians on Oregon Arts Watch chronicling CRPDX's year - 2013. I'd like to think I worked through some of the issues socratically (asking the questions internally, answering them in the article). YOU be the judge! Please leave a comment (or 2!) on the site.
Futurists and Librarians on Oregon Arts Watch
November 30, 2013, 10:58 AM posted by Maria Choban
I'm making no headway. This conversation started badly: "What is the most important thing about music?" I didn't ask that leading question but I am on the receiving end.
"um . . . . . . . . . . " (me)
"AUDITORY!! IT'S AUDITORY!!!!" (my father explodes, answering his own leading question)
Okay, that's sane - which I wasn't expecting. I was going to answer my usual "I'm not a mind reader! And your question can only be answered subjectively!!!"
Now we're mired in the nitty-gritty of what makes GOOD music.
When I argue this with my boyfriend I'm on the other side, my dad's side. When I'm arguing this with my dad, I take my boyfriend's side. The world's a funny place.
"Dad, there is no good or bad. There is only stuff You like and stuff You don't."
"Maria, you ignorant slut!" (no, he didn't say that; and although he uses a cell phone way better than me, his pop culture references stop at pre-WW2 Packards) "Music is the means by which we soothe our minds, our beings! The means by which we . . ."
"Dad" I interrupt, "that's very Asian of you and certainly it's one opinion, but music is wayyyyyyy more than that to wayyyyyyyy more people."
"Oh Maria, you can hear a pin drop in the audience when Vilja is played and sung during The Merry Widow" (an opera by Franz Lehar).
"Yes! for That audience! It's narcissism to think what you feel will be felt by everyone, that it's a universal truth!"
"EVERYONE FEELS LIKE THAT ABOUT VILJA!!!!!!!!"
CRAZY JANE MISBEHAVES
November 19, 2013, 05:09 AM posted by Maria Choban
I've never been a fan of female composers. Yet I am at an all-female-composers concert. Oddly, I'm not grousing, but only because I'm also a natural cheerleader and a lot of my acquaintances are on that stage or behind the scenes having written pieces or worked their asses off or still working their asses off to make this concert the success that it is.
Still, in my experience, pieces written by females, Clara Schumann or Jewel or . . . . . . usually meander; I leave the building, mentally writing the shopping list for the trip to the store afterward or growing more restless and resentful or clicking to the next song on my mp3 player.
I have not been hooked, no frisson. The emotional content stays on the surface or is not present at all. Often, a lot of care is taken in writing these compositions; carefully creating props but without ever diving into the guts of stuff like anger, sex, violence, victorious ebullience, etc. And frankly, the writing needs a good editor in most cases. (Actually, this is the case with ALL composers. Funny how this step is a given in the text writing world but a taboo in music writing).
Something is shifting, however. I'm not automatically defaulting to "she's just a girl" when I hear meandering unorganized detached impulsive-sounding musings composed by females -- in large part because of Cascadia Composers and my close-up exposure to the creatives of both genders.
Clara Schumann Is an example of a female composer who is Not gifted.
In The Wedding Diaries, she over and over states that she's a miserable composer, writing only to quell her husband's nagging to get her to write. She's clear-sighted about her strengths and her weaknesses. She knows she's a terrific pianist/performer and she critiques and writes about others' performances with self-assurance and acerbic wit. And I agree with her assessments of her gifts and weaknesses.
But then there's Ruth Crawford Seeger. I love her stuff! She too had an in-house editor/instructor in her husband, Charles Seeger. But she also has something more: the ability (willingness) to boldly go into areas considered the milieu of males -- muscularity, anger, visceral gutty writing that evokes feeling from me rather than observation (of how pretty or how well crafted a phrase, or the converse).
Back in the audience at Crazy Jane Misbehaves, Cascadia Composers' all-female composer concert I was at Friday evening, I wait for the technical difficulties to be resolved by a rock&roll looking roadie in a yellow beanie and black long-sleeved-tee and a woman in a blue fuzzy animal costume. Bonnie Miksch, the woman in the costume, is also the composer of the piece she's about to perform. The stage goes dark and Miksch, who has retreated backstage, makes her formal entrance for Solstice for voice, electronics, didgeridoo and computer realized recording.
There is one spot of light and it's on the only performer on stage. If anyone saw the movie When Harry Met Sally and remembers the orgasm scene Meg Ryan, the actress, portrayed hysterically in the restaurant, this was Nothing like that!
This was sex at its finest. No silly porn, no silly, period.
Miksch wove great female recorded orgasmic vocals over looped pitches, singing along with her own text and giving the greatest blow-job I've ever seen on the didgeridoo! OH! AND she undulates like a motherfucking sex goddess!!!!!!!!!!!!! In the words of Mick Jagger, "She'd make a dead man cum."
I turned to my boyfriend after the piece was over, exhausted, trembling, but still excited and whispered hoarsely, "I'd fuck that!"
And I'm straight!
Bonnie Miksch onstage at Crazy Jane Misbehaves
Miksch's was the most graphic example on the concert of females delving into previously male territory in an emotionally immersed, visceral non-campy way. But she wasn't the only one. Emyli Poltorak built an effective climax to anger with her Alpha Beta for vocals, clarinet, cello - vocalist Jeffrey Evans screaming "GOVERN - MENTAL!!!!" and tearing his hair out. And she did this in a round-about way, teasing us en route with luscious middle-eastern modal meanderings that did not feel lost and wandering.
Martha Bryan, billed as soprano but is so much more, sold everything she touched with the conviction of a sexy, no-nonsense dominatrix. She reminded me of my grandmother - lots of humor, no histrionics, people running to do her bidding with a subtle crook of her finger. Bryan's voice is really capable, but it's her acting that sets her apart. She really thinks about her parts beyond just getting everything on the page, choreographing her movements to not just her own music lines, but to the phrases in the other instruments! Her ensemble work was tight, mirroring the players in both pieces. I readily followed her crooked finger through all her performances Friday evening.
Martha Bryan onstage at Crazy Jane Misbehaves
It was a night of females stretching and in doing so, connecting with conviction and panache. The audience was well taken care of, something I'm always attuned to. A presenter from another organization was in the audience and I just about wept while she updated me on her various series, over and over again saying "My audience felt . . . I asked my audience. . ." whenever she'd bring up a particular show or different tactic she'd tried. MY AUDIENCE. We write or create, we put ourselves on stage, or interpret, for you, for me, the audience. And I felt that the Crazy Janes embodied the movement in this direction Friday night.
From the solid pieces curated for variety, from the visceral content to the visceral performances, from the careful attention to entertaining concert attire (my favorite -- the three performers in Alpha Beta: clarinetist in black and white spotted tight pants and top, cellist in tight plaid pants and white top, vocalist in tie-dye pants and white top with a whacky necktie writhing like a snake), to the sexy stockinged stage legs which made the set changes much more bearable, this was a concert put on for us, the audience.
Yes, I would have preferred a shorter concert. Yes, I would have culled pieces and sent the rest back to be shortened. Yes, I would have re-ordered the program. But this applies to darn near every show I attend regardless of composers' gender.
I am impressed with the role models in this group, setting examples of visceral immersion, delving into what was once taboo territory for female composers, perhaps even leading to a friendly public rivalry with their male counterparts? I love the idea of Crazy Jane. I'd love to see a two day festival where perhaps this gentle rivalry can help push composers of Both genders even further out of their restricted comfort zones. I definitely want to be in That audience, in on That action!!
Crazy Jane and Mad Max?
November 08, 2013, 01:22 PM posted by Maria Choban
Halloween was over but fear was in the air even before last Sunday's ClassicalRevolutionPDX jam began at The Waypost. Held on the first Sunday of every month, music revolutionaries gather to boldly go where they've never gone before. Newbies attend their first classical music gathering ever, not-so-newbies drag their high school instruments out of the closet and timidly ask a pianist to accompany them, tentative composers approach instrumentalists and bare their compositions on stage in front of the god Antonio (who oversees Sunday night's shenanigans from behind the bar) and everyone, and then there's the extra twist. . . . . wait for it at the end.
Why do we do it? I think because fear is a natural tester. Fear's permutations are the dragons we slay in order to feel good about ourselves; in order to progress past wanting to be taken care of, moving on to asking and receiving what we want and need, finally becoming fully fledged citizens of a community, erasing our own egos in preference of hopefully having some broader perspective to help aid the progress of the community (civilization). Think Herculean Tasks or the movie Saw.
The great thing about CRPDX is that it provides a supportive and exciting, encouraging atmosphere that lets everyone overcome their fears simply by going for it without fear of being judged by the wrong standards.
Rumor has it that these two vixens got shushed at The Waypost Sunday night
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
Here's what I smelled in the air Sunday night:
Fear of divulging weakness.
Fear of not being accepted.
Fear of being found out that one is an imposter, or not good enough.
Fear of the unknown and not having the right answer.
Fear of the new, of leaving one's comfort zone.
Fear of change.
I'll begin with my fear of divulging weakness, exacerbated with the second act which was delightful! I had no idea our linchpin violinist, Mike Hsu, who doubles on chin-cello, is also a fantastic pianist, surprising me when he sensitively accompanied Jennifer Woodall on clarinet with NOT violin (as I assumed) but on piano, playing Portland composer Brent Weaver's Lament from the Four Vocalises originally for soprano and piano, transcribed later for saxophone and piano, later adapted for clarinet and piano, which was the version we heard Sunday night. What a moving performance! I play only one instrument and I work like HELL to sound like anything! I am in awe of these gods who can play very very well several instruments. I am especially stunned when my expectations are exceeded. I think Mike told me he played remedial piano, I had no idea he played remedial piano so well! Perhaps Mike's is a subset of my fear, steeling himself to play his second instrument in public in front of people for whom piano is their first instrument -- scary when one is good at one thing, throwing himself into a situation where he might feel less than.
Mike Hsu on viola (!)
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
I definitely feel lacking in the complete-musician department. "dunno much about musicology, dunno much instrumentology. . . . " I am also a shitty sight-reader and I try to keep this a secret, deferring to other fabulous pianists in attendance whenever anyone approaches me to accompany them at these jams. I do NOT want to trash their evening with my weakness, nor do I want to appear less than the small god that I think I am.
Mike Hsu (piano) and Jennifer Woodall (clarinet) playing Lament by Brent Weaver
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
As The Universe would have it, I followed Lament by Brent Weaver sight-reading an early Mendelssohn piano quartet WITHOUT the aid of Valium disguised as Boneyard Ale! -- lest you think we imbibed orgiastically all night long on all new local composition played brilliantly as modeled by Woodall and Hsu. In my defense, I was taken completely by surprise when another linchpin of these whacky marvelous nights, Ginny Feldman, violinist who also doubles on piano (and CAN sight-read brilliantly), side-swiped me seconds into our ravenous clapping for the Weaver piece, challenging me to play the Mendelssohn even as she had lined me up several days earlier to sight-read through a Beethoven piano trio that same evening. Two library works in one night for me! Sight-reading!!! There was no time for a panic attack. There was no time to develop a disastrous cramp in my hand, requiring me to sit out the rest of the evening. Thank god the rest of the band was brilliant and as supportive as the Schumann piano quintet band I sat in with last year; Ginny Feldman - violin, Grace Young - viola, Mike Hsu - chin-cello (viola with strings tuned one octave lower to match the cello register).
Maria Choban sight-reading Mendelssohn's second piano quartet.
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
On to the fear of not being accepted. A young beat-boxer who had never attended a classical music event was sitting in the audience. Dreadlocked, eyes closed through many of the pieces, I finally had a chance to introduce myself and get his back-story. He was there because a friend told him about the revolution. I asked if he'd perform and he said his friend mentioned it was only classical. Ummmmmm. . . . . . . ostinato cool rhythms, with quick phase changes. . . . . . . . can you say "Minimalism" ??!!!!??????? Not only did Jonah Lee take the stage beat-boxing, but the don, Corbellioni, joined him, improvising on cello! It began rather disjointedly as both figured out how to collaborate while still keeping their own parts moving forward. About halfway through Jonah turned to face the don and started listening and accompanying his lines. Magic!!!!!!! I asked Jonah to come back in December so that I could do the same with him but with a written piece - perhaps a downtempo version of Bach's c minor Prelude, perhaps a medley of library classics, perhaps with a chamber piece. Anyone wanna join me?
Fear of the unknown and not having the right answer. Pauline Oliveros' Quintessence for four instruments and/or vocalists to be determined by the performers was practiced, rehearsed and performed in one take! Mitchell Falconer's vocals stole the show. Who Knew????? I want to hear him perform Neurotic and Lonely from Gabriel Kahane's Craigslist Lieder. But the real story is about the four type-A performers on stage and the preparation work they did to present a piece by a legend in the field of Deep Listening. Within our own four little boxes (I was one of the four type-A's), we obsessed over the directions Oliveros provided as the score. So filled with integrity and fear of letting down Oliveros and her score, it took Jonah in his performance with Christopher Corbell to show us what Deep Listening might actually mean: Getting outside our selves.
Fear of the new, of leaving one's comfort zone. This one happens so often at CRPDX jams that I almost take it for granted: Musicians I've never seen before showing up, venturing outside their comfortable environments - maybe piano meet-up groups, maybe just their own houses, nervous, exceeding their and everyone's expectations. Kela Parker wowed me with her own untitled work, jazz inspired, Fantasia-like but with clear direction. Shlomo Farber braved a performance of Bach's Prelude and Fugue in F Major. Ann Something (I never caught her last name, darnit) played an eye-popping Petrarch Sonnet #4 by Liszt.
Ann playing Liszt's Petrarch Sonnet #4
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
Fear of being found out that one is an imposter, or not good enough. This mostly applies to the autodidacts, the self-taught, the enormous talents who feel less than because they don't have the years of formal training that might allow the Wizard of Oz to bestow upon them the medal of Musician. I develop crushes on those who exhibit this fear and deal with it like assassins In Bruge. My piano partner in Tomas Svoboda's Suite for piano 4-hands is a great example. Mitchell Falconer is wisely scared spitless of the third movement, which I've seen trashed horribly in concert. Mitchell and I didn't do it much justice the first two times we took it out for its public spin. I've watched Mitchell shake even in rehearsals and persevere. This movement is so complex and brutally violent that it makes the sacrificial dance from Stravinksy's Rite of Spring seem like It's a Small World After All from Disneyland.
At Sunday's jam, I hung back, never pressing Mitchell to take the stage with this third movement of Svoboda's suite, waiting for him to call the shot. Usually we go on at the height of crowd. We both love annihilating the audience, true assassin hearts that we have. This time it almost seemed like we wouldn't play it, and I had offered this option to Mitchell at the prior rehearsal, that we could wait until the December jam to roll it out. Late late into the evening, toward the very end when the crowd had thinned noticeably, Mitchell looked at me with resolve. This performance wasn't about the piece. This performance was about helping my partner batter the terror of this piece. I love being "where no one has gone before." I love being part of the support system in this situation as well. There will be plenty of times for me to play this like I'm Salome in Richard Strauss's opera. Sunday night I had to rein myself in, be a coldly calm assassin, shepherd the new assassin in this rite.
It went brilliantly! To see Mitchell come through this with a clean kill, a grin on his face I've probably seen only once before when he nailed For Cornelius (by Alvin Curran) one of the first times I heard/saw him play, was an American Express moment.
I do new scary things because I hold role models like Mitchell close, like a picture in a locket. If they can do it, so can I. I see this over and over at these jams with others who take courage from examples they see/hear on stage and then take the stage themselves. Like Josh Kreydatus, one of my favorite new composers, a freshly minted Portlander from San-Francisco. I've watched him over the course of about a year work on his fear of performing. Sunday was a triumph! I got to hear him play one of his compositions Lucifugous ("Avoiding Light," in tribute to setting the clocks back one hour) and finish the show with a convincing idiosyncratic interpretation of the second movement from Beethoven's Pathetique sonata. Lucifugous starts off Satie-like in its mood and pacing with Danny Elfman-style harmonies and progressions. When he tightens up the second half and writes it all down, I want to play it. Kreydatus has a gift for UN-cloying lyricism with quirky but accessible harmonic progressions.
Fear of change. One third of the evening was devoted to known repertoire works. I mention this because at a special State of the CRPDX Union meeting held before the jam, it was for the second time mentioned that we ought to devote a consecrated block of time to performing/reading library literature at the jams. I am against this NOT because I don't care for library literature. Y'all know how I feel about Bach (if you don't, read this. I intend to be his bitch in the afterlife!). I further think that Mendelssohn's c minor piano trio is an underrated work of meth-madness.
Ginny Feldman (violin), Mike Hsu (chin-cello), Maria Choban (piano) in Beethoven's piano trio op.11
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
What I am against is the hierarchical imposition of RULES on a democratic organization. If y'all want more library literature at the jams, it's in your control. BRING IT ON!!!!! No one's stopping anyone from playing library lit. If anyone wants to play it, just bring the music and the players to the party. Don't make the organization the parent. If I (who LOVE the explosion of new local composition) bitch, BITCH BACK AT ME - PUBLICLY!!! I don't think I'm bitching. There's a difference between me articulating my heart-stopping fear at sight-reading (which happens to mostly be library literature in these situations) and being obstinate about hearing/playing this literature (which I don't think I am being). Face your fears like Josh, Jonah, Mitchell, Ann, Shlomo and maybe even me. This fear that CRPDX is changing does not mean we lose library literature. It means we learn to ask for what we want and to delight when others do so, enjoying a much broader mix. To boldly go. SO GO FOR IT!
David Binnig (trumpet), Maria Choban (piano), Christopher Corbell (cello), Mitchell Falconer (vocals) in Pauline Oliveros' Quintessence
Photo by Gary Stallsworth
THE STATE OF THE UNION
November 01, 2013, 03:38 PM posted by Maria Choban
"It's a story they tell in the border country, where Massachusetts joins Vermont and New Hampshire.
Yes, Dan'l Webster's dead -- or, at least, they buried him. But every time there's a thunderstorm around Marshfield, they say you can hear his rolling voice in the hollows of the sky. And they say that if you go to his grave and speak loud and clear, "Dan'l Webster -- Dan'l Webster!" the ground'll begin to shiver and the trees begin to shake. And after a while you'll hear a deep voice saying, "Neighbor, how stands the Union?" Then you better answer the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed, one and indivisible, or he's liable to rear right out of the ground. At least, that's what I was told when I was a youngster." The Devil and Daniel Webster -- Stephen Vincent Benet (1937)
Happily, I would not have to lie to Dan'l Webster. The union of alt.classical, decidedly democratic versus the old hierarchical symphony models, stands strong and united, albeit small. But small was the state of the micro beer-brewing industry 20 years ago and look where we are today.
Inclusive and democratic by nature, I giggle with warmth when I see exclusive markets open up and the tattooed young are eagerly discussing the use of floral tasting hops with my previously "Budweiser-only!" beer drinking ex husband, the contra-dance community is infiltrating the stodgy argentine tango community and injecting some much needed fun and lightness, folks I've never seen at traditional classical music concerts -- much younger/counter culture -- are engaging with the performers/composers as though their listening experience mattered (vs. deferential hierarchical reverence). And the result so far seems to be bigger audiences with broader, more democratic-demanding (entitled) demographics in at least these three observed areas.
I believe in unity and community and all that jazz. I have lots of respected friends within the classical music community that constantly espouse this mantra, constantly reminding the community to support classical music by attending as many events as possible, as though we're a scrum of 5 year olds chasing concerts around town like a soccer ball on the playing field. But the state of the union and its democratic growth will not thrive on the shoulders of the exclusive (and tired) few. Once again, I loved the broad demographic at Classical RevolutionPDX's "Decomposers Night" at the previously porn theater, The Star. Underground and gritty with alt.classical CRPDX opening the evening's events for Myrrh Larsen's band who followed AND collaborated with CRPDX, in turn followed by the goth act Church of Hive, I saw goth bunny suits in the audience, I saw the young, the energetic explorers of the new.
Apart from hearing a brilliantly curated show, scouted from amongst NOT the usual suspects -- again, throwing the net further afield (best performances of newly minted music this season!), I heard gasps from the audience as the aerialist, Petra Delarocha, wove a sensitive if death-defying act with Jason O'Neill-Butler's Sandman (2013) -- written for this show!!! Lest you think it was the visuals that made this show work, the hugest response with whistles and yells came for Kate Petak's abridged arrangement of Andre Caplet's Conte Fantastique (1924) with a wicked in every sense of the word harp part played thusly by Petak. NOTHING backed this, just the balls and brawn and intensity of Kate Petak on harp, Chris Fotinakis and Sharon Cannon on violins, Grace Young, viola and Owen Hoffman-Smith on cello. A friend of mine leaned over and whispered that it reminded him of Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for harp;
only if Ravel had taken a couple hits of acid and then witnessed a Jack-the-Ripper slaughter! Petak tortured the harp strings, pulling and plucking as though the victim was still alive.
Every piece on this program was thoughtfully presented, like a beautifully hung art-show (or . . . :-) for the enjoyment of the audience, the people. And while I would have arranged the program differently and coached the performers to take a cue from the violist, Grace Young, who ate up the stage with her unpretentious but captivating stage presence . . . BACKED BY SOLID CHOPS AND PREPARATION, I cannot quibble with the content and the preparation.
I will, however, quibble that live shows must deal better with the transition between acts. Perhaps setting up two areas on the stage so that while one act performs the other sets up? Behind an easily moveable portable screen? The loss of momentum between acts really works against live shows. CRPDX is choosing to partially attack this problem with really witty MC's like Sam Mowry at Decomposers Night and Leo Daedalus at the Summer Showcase 2013, who work hard to maintain the momentum of the show by keeping us the audience engaged and laughing.
I am amused by the results from how well both Cascadia Composers and Classical Revolution PDX actually listen to suggestions AND IMPLEMENT! I noticed at the last Cascadia concert just how well these composers have learned to think about the experience and enjoyment of the audience with how they program a concert, in what order the pieces are performed, and the very engaging program notes. All these changes are populist because they put the priority on entertaining a wide variety of people, not just insiders. I noticed at Classical Rev's Decomposers Night the high caliber (smart and enjoyable) repertoire married with tight performances. Both groups are on a steep learning curve raising their standards in previously weak areas. Both are succeeding.
Classical Revolution PDX also throws its name and growing muscle behind other alt.classical acts like Ashia and the Bison Rouge, Beth Karp and The Golem project, Caitlin Mathes and the Weill'd Wild West show. CRPDX is starting to become the central clearinghouse for other alt.classical acts, trying new stuff, attracting new audiences to their own shows. What a great role for the organization, making it more valuable to the community than just its original role. What a great way of building new audience -- encouraging creators/performers to be unique, sharing news of their events, expanding awareness amongst creators, audience, (burgeoning) institutions of what constitutes the brave new classical AND EMBRACING IT!
But let's not any of us stop at the mutual backscratching. Let's continue looking outward, attracting and building a new audience and sharing.
The Union stands as she NEVER stood, rock-bottomed and copper-sheathed. . .
Boldly going where successful democratic movements have always gone -- To The People!
THOSE WHACKY CASCADIANS
October 22, 2013, 06:48 AM posted by Maria Choban
As I was leaving a Cascadia Composers concert last Friday night, one of the composers, Dan Brugh, whose piece Fantasia for clarinet and tape was my favorite on the program that evening, came running after me. Brugh works at a large sheet music store and heard that I had recently blasted a roomful of piano teachers for their unhealthy relationship with piano method books . . . . . which FILL the side wall of Brugh's store. "You're gonna put me out of a job!" Dan quipped good naturedly but with evident concern. Not so good naturedly, I retorted, "You mean an entire talented consortium of Cascadia Composers cannot come up with enough original fun and smart music for piano students to supplant that idiotic mindless drivel that drives away once interested future musicians????!!!??????"
I am not a mindless Portland-centric locavore. I still prefer Berkeley's Peet's French roast coffee, Beaverton's Giovanni's Pizza, Rebetika from actual Greeks in Greece.
Having followed Cascadia Composers concerts if not from their inception at least from their toddler years, I am blown away by their learning curve WHILE STILL MAINTAINING AN ENABLING STRUCTURE. There are no gatekeepers here. The founder, Dave Bernstein, along with the founding board imprinted Acceptance For All across members' foreheads. Programs, which include only music by composers from this region, are not juried for "Best." They are selected by a panel based on what would make up an enjoyable show for a general audience. And this is important because this consortium has elected to charge admission for a general audience attending.
Friday night's concert continued this pattern with an added bonus: Entertaining Program Notes!!! With few exceptions, there was no traditional mindless bullshit, possibly entertaining only to other academics; no analytical shit, no history of music schools, music awards or dropped names, but instead, SHORT, SWEET AND TO THE POINT! While a couple of entries adhered to the old world model, clearly the trend is toward smart, entertaining notes that engage us -- the general audience -- rather than dull copy-and-paste CVs aimed at an academic in-group.
My favorite composer bio in the program notes was Portland State student Charles Copeland's quoted below:
"Charles Copeland bears no relation to Aaron Copland. Charles Copeland spells his surname slightly differently than Aaron Copland. Charles Copeland has performed Aaron Copland's music on piano before. Aaron Copland has no idea who Charles Copeland is. Charles Copeland is still alive. Aaron Copland is still dead. Charles Copeland likes Aaron Copland's music. Aaron Copland will never hear Charles Copeland's music. Charles Copeland's life overlapped with Aaron Copeland's life for five years. Charles Copeland has a big nose. So did Aaron Copland."
My favorite program note describing a piece was also, coincidentally, about my favorite piece on the program:
"The Fantasia for B flat Clarinet and Tape is a virtuoso piece written for clarinetist Justin Bulava. The sounds used on the tape are mostly from a fan and a squeaky floor I recorded in a restroom."
I tend to hate anything with tape because I cannot detect what makes these pieces ensemble works. They often sound so disparate and unwoven. Dan's piece was truly chamber music and luscious: a pitched near chorale, with the musically manipulated fan and squeaky floor-board duetting with the mellifluous clarinet, played by Justin Bulava.
My instinct about Cascadia Composers keeps proving right on with every concert I attend. Over time they've hired more conscientious players and the quality really shines through in the performances. But although Cascadia pays performers well, it needs to give those good performers more time to learn the pieces. The last Cascadia concert I attended in March, six months ago, had better all around performances of equally well chosen and well programmed stellar pieces, but given the last minute securing of the brass quintet this time (because two previously arranged brass quintets bowed out) I can understand the very ragged performance, which probably played against my liking Liz Nedela's piece. There was probably nothing that could make me like Michael Johanson's derivative academic brass quintet composition.
I had goosebumps hearing Monica Ohuchi's very expressive but NOT saccharine playing of Mark Vigil's atonal and rhythmically propulsive (but also melodic - nearly hummable!) Fantasy for Piano #1. At the prior Cascadia Concert I attended, I felt the same about Catherine Olson singing Jeff Winslow's Alone on the Prairie or the Metropolitan Saxophone Quartet with drum set playing Paul Safar's Frogs at Dusk.
And while I love it when my instinct proves right on (and it usually does), my point is that as these concerts become more and more attuned to pleasing an audience, I also want to see larger and more general audience in the audience. How?
$20 general admission is too high and while CC does have a graduated scale, I'd love to see all of this under "Suggested Donation." I feel this will enable a younger and/or less affluent audience to expand their horizons from ClassicalRevolutionPDX jams to include Cascadia concerts, which happen at least 7 times a year and are on my not-to-be-missed concert attending calendar.
I'd like to see cross-pollination: CC performances at ClassicalRevolutionPDX jams. There are three jams per month; use them to hone the performances and to advertise the upcoming CC show in front of a younger exuberant audience, thirsty for new music, that I don't (yet) see at CC. BTW, quite a few of us take advantage of CRPDX in this way -- throwing our acts in front of visceral, engaged general audience to see where we stand before we go back to the drawing board. This audience knows it's a part of the development of our performance, giving us feedback beyond just praise.
A partnership has already begun between the two groups because quite a few ClassicalRevolutionaries are also composers and members of Cascadia. This seems like a potential partnership with a future, unlike "In Good Hands," a yearly concert in partnership with the Oregon Music Teachers Association where Cascadians wrote pieces for students of these teachers and they were performed by these students in concert. This stopped happening due to OMTA obstinance. I have three of the pieces submitted by three of the composers for the last "In Good Hands" -- David Bernstein, Ted Clifford and Jeff Winslow -- that never happened. THEY'RE TERRIFIC! so terrific I want to include them in a future MC Hammered Klavier concert!! Get Cascadians into the hands of eager young players EARLY!
The number of composers I liked at the first CC concert I attended (one) compared to the numbers I'm now liking (60 percent of the last two programs) has proven to me that this group understands writing for an audience whether sitting in the seats listening or even better -- the audience that can't wait to get their hands on scores to play them after they hear them!!! I want to see scores sold at these concerts and I want to see an entire wall at music stores devoted to Cascadian scores. I want to see music teachers as excited as ADHD me about these pieces because I am a good cross section of young students and if I'm excited, chances are good so will my students and theirs.
I'm not rabidly locavore. I am rabidly anti-drivel. And the stuff coming out of Cascadia lately is not only NOT drivel, it's some of the most consistently entertaining stuff of concert evenings I've been lucky to experience. I want Cascadia to give more music lovers the chance to share those experiences.
THE SEX PISTOLS
October 15, 2013, 09:43 AM posted by Maria Choban
I have a soft spot for punk rock. I have a softer spot for The Sex Pistols. Last night I watched a documentary leading up to and covering their album Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols - one of the Classic Album docs available for viewing on Netflix.
Apart from the fantastically edited back-and-forths among all the players (including sound engineers and managers and. . .) which spliced hilarious contradictory remembrances and insights back-to-back such as Dave Goodman the brilliant sound engineer for the Pistols touting Steve Jones the guitarist as the tightest rhythm guitar player in rock and roll, then cut to Jones saying that Chris Spedding (sound engineer and guitarist) played all his parts (even backstage at shows!) because he couldn't play! (Jones - a self-deprecating but tough man who fucking shreds his instrument). I was blown away by the intricate nuances that all add up to a huge impact.
I knew The Pistols liked each other about as much as The Emerson Quartet (not much). But I had no idea that this extended to why we have this potent revolutionary rift in music. Glen Matlock, SP bassist, was a Beatles fan. Steve Jones, rhythm guitarist, was not. Matlock is showing us in this doc how he built God Save the Queen. Cut to Jones who fucking HATES how Matlock built GStQ, quipping that it sounded like Love Me Do rather than a call to get rid of the fucking royals already! Jones is always harping on Matlock "always showing me Beatles chords." It's this magic tension amongst these boys that fuels the already fulminating English lower class anger. Sid Vicious, interestingly and properly given NO exposure in this film, actually contributed to the denouement of this band. Not only could he not play, the engineers had to figure out a way to create a bass sound without him actually being present audibly.
Vicious' inability to be anything except the reality show version of Trainspotting actually led to what we now hear as The Sex Pistols sound - thanks to Steve Jones who was cajoled to try playing a bass part, a desperate last resort. The result was a rhythm guitar part played an octave lower and BOOM! The Sex Pistols sound is born!
I knew The Pistols tapped into a societal anger bordering on civil war but I'd never seen footage of what this looked like (you'll have to watch the movie as I can't find any youtube clips panning the English audience). Unlike any other rock concert where panning over the audience nets me a view of rollicking cut-loose catharsis, Sex Pistol concerts netted me a view of twisted angry faces in the mob that cannot really be described as an audience. No wonder they were banned on the air and on the ground! There is a feedback loop from Johnny Rotten to the mob and back, a desperation fanning hotter anger all the way around.
I knew The Pistols were smart but I was unprepared for how smart. Behind the aegis of a brilliant manager, Malcolm McLaren, an entire revolution (admittedly grasping the zeitgeist of an English proletariat angry with a class system that seemed to have become an entrenched caste system) was sculpted and articulated for . . . . . well . . . . me! And you, and the rest of the punk rockers who imitated this carnal snarling sincere spewing. It doesn't get any rawer than The Pistols. And I like raw!
Arrested for having the bollocks to hold a concert on a boat when they were banned on land - ON THE QUEEN'S BIRTHDAY JUBILEE!, defended successfully by Richard Branson with whom they signed (because EMI, who dropped The Pistols, was about as dim as Columbia before Clive Davis) for the right to retain freedom of speech with "Bollocks" in the title of their album, threatened by the royalist defending yayhoo English for lyrics like "God Save the Queen and her Fascist Regime!", I now give you Problems. Check out who posted the video.
Description and Lyrics from youtube site:
Uploaded on Jun 20, 2009
Complete Sex Pistols Video Collection.
Studio version from the LP Never Mind The Bollocks released 1977.
Posted by John Lydon
Too many problems
Why I am here
Dont need to be
Because you're all too clear
And I can see there's something wrong with you
But what do you expect me to do
At least I gotta know what I wanna be
Don't come to me if you need pity
Are you lonely
You got no one
You got your body in suspension
That's no problem
The problem is you
Eat your heart out on a plastic tray
You don't do what you want and you'll fade away
You won't find me working nine to five
It's too much fun being alive
I'm using my feet for my human machine
You won't find me living for the screen
Are you lonely
All needs catered
You got your brains dehydrated
The problem is you
And whatcha gonna do
I a death trip
But I ain't automatic
You won't find me just staying static
Don't you give me any order
To people like me there is no order
Bet you thought you had it all worked out
Bet you thought you knew what I was about
Bet you thought you solved all your problem
But you are the problem
The problem is you
And whatcha gonna do
With your problem
I'll leave that to you
The problem is you
You got a problem
Whatcha gonna do
You're going to a doctor
Gonna take you away
They'll take you away
And they'll throw away the key
They don't want you and they don't want me
You got a problem
The problem is you
What you gonna do
Have you got a problem
Have you got a problem
SHOT IN THE DARK
October 12, 2013, 08:16 AM posted by Maria Choban
Henry Pleasants' book The Agony of Modern Music (1955, out of print) arrived in the mail yesterday. A CIA spy who sandwiched that career on either side with writing and reviewing classical music, I totally understand how as a spy he remained unscathed (living to a ripe old age of 89) if he aimed his gun as sharply and accurately as he did his pen.
I am in the middle - NO! I am at the beginning of writing a rather long and involved article about what I thought was to be a book review for Oregon ArtsWatch - NOT on Pleasants' book but rather on a graphically lovely book detailing solutions for drawing audience to classical music. I've been at the beginning of writing this article for over a year!
You know what? Greg Sandow was NOT the first (in around 1993) to publicly identify the problem of declining audience and holding open discourses trying to find possible solutions.
This has been my problem - not being able to satisfy myself that I've found the genesis, that I have enough information, that I've read enough sharp cookies who have dealt experientially with this issue.
Bigger names than me have shot off their mouths :-)
YOU KNOW WHAT'S SEXY?
October 08, 2013, 06:47 AM posted by Maria Choban
After a horrible winter which lasted most of September, with storm after storm keeping me inside because I melt in the rain, summer finally arrived last Sunday. I grabbed my partner and my new obsession - frisbee - and we started off on our little hike to Kaiser Woods. The trails were bursting with kids, bikes, dogs, squirrels, couples, singles, gangs, oldsters, youngsters, no cats (and I have seen cats out walking these trails). The forest was lovely, but coming back to the miniature meadow to throw the frisbee, I forgot all about nature, wanting less self-reflection or whatever couples talk about and more "GIMME THE BALL!!!!!" Thankfully, my partner who reintroduced me to frisbee felt the same.
After about 10 throws I'm invited to try another throw. I'm eager because I'm feeling pretty much in control of the primary throw and can more or less control it and tweak it to get it to do pretty much what I want most of the time. I cannot seem to grasp the new throw though. It involves a snap of the wrist with the frisbee perpendicular to the ground and in the midst of the snap the wrist pronates open to release the disc such that it flies in a boomerang curve from outside in - a draw. Very cute and very easy - or so my partner assures me. After a frustrating 50 or so attempts I finally ask him to stand right behind me, take my arm and hand and sculpt the motion for me about 100 times in a row.
You know what's sexy??? Having parts of my body manipulated by someone who knows what he's doing, feeling his breath caress my ear as he talks me through the odd throwing motion while guiding my arm and wrist.
Time got away from us in that 70 degree summer day, chasing discs, making every dog who walked by, straining on his/her leash, jealous. When I finally got home I raced in to shower so that I could be at The Waypost no more than an hour late or one-third of the way through the evening.
You know what's sexy??? A place so crowded people are sitting on the tables! Standing room is three-deep at the back.
I'm watching the demographic even out. This time, more of the crowd is older and I like that - a more inclusive feel. More than half the audience is still young and counter-culture but it's nice to see the older denizens of classical music venturing into these haunts and looking like they feel totally relaxed, at home, like a classic-rock concert where parents and their kids and grand-kids collectively share the love.
Portland has imprinted its version of Classical Revolution with Local Composers and you know what's sexy??? That The Waypost is jammed packed with listeners eager to hear the latest greatest piece by any one of these locals.
You know what else is sexy? Hearing a local composer play, sing, conduct, be in the audience at this event. You know what's doubly sexy? When said composer plays not only her/his own piece but underscores the continuity of this genre BASED ON FORM NOT CHRONOLOGY by playing one of their faves from the past and this happened with composers Megan McGeorge and Jedadiah Bernards - more later.
My evening began with Flora Sussely singing a poignant piece Ordinary Things, her own poetry set to music by composer David Leetch. The last line: "I found a pin and remembered your shirt in my hand". David Leetch followed her, braving a stint at singing his own piece set to a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson. Leetch, a composer, is also a guitarist. I blame don Corbellioni for role modeling this new found bravery where established performers venture into vulnerable uncharted territory in front of packed houses, trying stuff they've never done before. The don frequently relinquishes his comfort zone as a guitarist for the cello which he began learning one year ago. This has led to others attempting feats wayyyy out of their comfort zone - like me sight-reading.
So, David Leetch followed the who's-gonna-follow-that?!? voice of Sussely and offered us this apologia: "I have something to admit to you that I've never admitted before. . . . . I'm actually a tenor". A heckler responded "Thank Goodness you're in Portland!"
You know what's sexy? A great accompanist. And both Flora and David shared Ann Young, who duetted rather than receding into the background (like Gerald Moore receding in Fischer-Dieskau's recording of Schubert's Winterreise)
Four performers took the stage playing something from the past and something from a local composer: Flora Sussely, Mitchell Falconer, Megan McGeorge and Jedadiah Bernards. Two of these performers were composers and each played one of their own compositions. I'll say it again: THAT'S SEXY!!!
Megan McGeorge, founder of Piano!PushPlay! and singer/songwriter played a piano solo piece by Francois Couperin followed by one of her original songs, accompanying herself on the piano as she sang. Jedadiah Bernards stylized Satie's Gnossienne #1, following it with one of his three piano odes to a rose - part of his ballet Portland Journals. The 7/8 meter in his ode does not dance like a Greek Kalamatianos (Greek grapevine dance), instead, it broods with rainy Portland chords in 9ths, 11ths - or just plain clusters. It wanders about in unorthodox but satisfying progressions returning, meandering off again, kind of like Wagner's modulations but way less planned/methodical and way more intuitive and cool - my favorite performance of the evening. Mitchell Falconer followed this pattern of adhering to the continuum by playing obscure piano pieces by Erik Satie followed by Jeff Winslow's Hijinks from his four movement work Ghosts and Machines.
A gorgeous piece by John Tavener arranged for soprano, trumpet and looping pedal - I'm not a Tavener fan but this elicited a collective sigh from the audience when the piece ended, from me included; an adorable dreadlocked fiddler with a killer smile and nerdy glasses, holding his instrument like a country fiddler sawing away on Orange Blossom Special, entirely self-taught both on his instrument and as a composer, playing two of his own works with a deep rich NON-scratchy pitch-perfect tone; a duo improvising - one reading a poem by Allen Ginsberg the other at the piano sensitively accompanying - it worked!
Patrick McCulley on sax presented his newest composition written around his newly acquired technique, multiphonics (the ability to blow one pitch and have another simultaneously sound). I pictured a boa constrictor emerging from a basket as the sax chromatically coaxed the duetting parallel fifths (multiphonic sounding below) here there and everywhere, sax visually moving to the right or left, dragging the snake along.
Beth Karp gave us a taste of her composed piano solo sound track to the early silent film The Golem. The Waypost now has a permanent movie screen making multi-media presentations like slide shows or films with live music accompaniments feasible.
You know what's sexy??? Two panthers on stage playing Halverson's arrangement for violin and viola of Bach's Passacaglia originally for organ. Charith Premawardhana, violist and founder of the very first Classical Revolution (out of San Francisco's Revolution Cafe) stopped in to view Portland's shenanigans at The Waypost on Sunday. When he and Mike Hsu, violinist and composer, took the stage announcing they would play this Halverson arrangement I'm not sure I expected much more than a marginally passable read through of this bravura piece. What I got was a visual floor show backed by two virtuoso players. I fall squarely in the camp that Art IS Entertainment! This does NOT mean that I think Art must be dumbed down; it means that Art must work HARDER to grab our attention in the audience AND TO HOLD IT while intricate intelligent and moving complex ideas are presented. Charith and Mike epitomized this. I loved watching both of them move, particularly Charith who does move like a cat stalking the notes on the page when he plays. I loved that their chops are so well honed. It gave me chills to watch them dance around each other in order to get gasps of face time on that nearly illegible tiny score. Their sound was balls out, pitch perfect, going for broke at break neck speeds!
One of the reasons I do enjoy The Waypost jams so much is that performers get the chance to practice their entertainment chops - beyond just their playing-the-piece-perfectly chops. The audience here expects a show not a dead iteration (for which they can stay at home, streaming it over spotify, youtube, whatever). And performers take the opportunity to practice those chops. David Leetch in his debut as a tenor this evening made the most of the stage as a novice entertainer, charming us with his very different role and obviously taking chances at hamming it up (in a serious way as well as light-hearted).
But Wait! There's More!!
Flora Sussely jumped out of her chair, waving her arm like a first-grader who knows the answer to the question, begging for teacher to call on her, with five minutes to closing. She belted an aria from Verdi's La Forza del Destino eliciting from the don "And NO ONE'S going to follow that!"
You know what's sexy??? A stunning entertainer having just sung the piss out of a huge dramatic creepy aria, seeing she's caused a riot in the audience with her performance, jumping up and down clapping her hands in glee, a big grin on her face. Yup, she knew the right answer to the question "How do you end a show like tonight's?"
Photo by Gene Newell
Back In The Building
Gifts from three kings
American Piano Duets