Violin and Clarinet Duet – Proclamation

November 13th, 2010

I’ve learned to never force music into the box I originally intended it to be put into, but this violin and clarinet duet took that concept to a new level for me. My original plan was to write a sacred work for violin and saxophone for my friend and I to play during communion services. Typically, communion has two musical segments; one for each communion element. So, I wanted the work to be two movements with each being less than two minutes long. The first movement came together very naturally and very quickly, but then life happened and I never got around to writing the second movement. When I finally got a chance to work on it again, I realized that there was no good musical reason to add a second movement. I also realized that the only reason I was using the saxophone was because I sound my best on it. Clarinet blends with violin much more naturally (although I attribute this partly to traditional bias) and the very simple part I had written for it makes more sense with a simpler sound. I rewrote the piece for violin and clarinet thinking I would just have my wife play it instead (although I ended up recording it since we weren’t married yet and she was 650 miles away at the time). So I started with a two movement work for violin and saxophone to be used for communion and ended up with a one movement work for violin and clarinet to be used for who knows what.

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The recording process was another matter. I had most of the Purpose project squared away with only this piece left to record. I got off my night shift at 6:00am on Sunday morning and set to work on laying down the clarinet track so that Eva could come and add her part that afternoon. I armed the four microphones I was using and combined several takes to form a satisfactory performance. Before I remembered that I hadn’t saved my progress, the power went out and I was forced to try again and ended up with a significantly better sound (and I still made it to church on time). That afternoon I got all the takes I needed from Eva and finally went to bed (I’d been up since Saturday afternoon). On Monday I woke up only to discover that all of the files for the violin’s tracks had been scattered beyond repair. I was only able to salvage the files from one microphone resulting in a very thin sound. But just for kicks, I tried muting 3 of the four clarinet recordings so that they would both sound thin and be able to blend. To my surprise I liked the result very much. It certainly wasn’t the pristine audio quality I wanted for the Purpose project, but there was an irresistible authenticity in the sound that spoke with an innocence and a sincerity that I could not have possibly come up with intentionally. Instead of redoing the recording, I decided to sit on the idea of using what I had. When I tried listening to the CD in its entirety to see whether or not the transitions worked, I finally decided that this authentic and unrefined sound perfectly captured the reason I made the CD.

From the very first note, everything about this CD is polished and seemingly flawless in the aspects of performance, composition and engineering. Except for a few minor details, I could not have made this project any better even if more resources had been available to me. The first six tracks work together to communicate to the listener that life has value, meaning, and purpose and it is a wonderful gift from God that is worth your time to seek and understand. But what does all this look like? Where does it lead? It leads us to the feet of Jesus with nothing to offer but our love and authentic awe and worship. How would I depict this musically? I pick up an instrument I can’t play well enough to impress anyone with and play Amazing Grace with a sister in Christ Jesus. No virtuosic technique. No polished well-mastered recording. Not even a terribly original composition. Just two people showing authentic and sincere adoration for their creator through sound. A simple “I love you” to the creator of the universe. The very essence of the purpose of life.

Soprano Saxophone and Piano Duet – Hide and Seek

September 6th, 2010

I had a very difficult time finishing soprano saxophone and piano duet. It began as a simple exercise in exploring orchestrational possibilities in jazz chords while applying percussion techniques on the keyboard. Adding a line for the saxophone simply seemed like the thing to do at the time, and it made it possible for me to have a live instrument for the presentation of my final project in the class I wrote it for. So I wrote the first two minutes of this piece with no intent outside of making pretty sounds. But I liked the sounds so much that I felt the need to turn them into a coherent musical exposition. After being stuck on the piece for about six months, I finally decided that the only way I was going to finish it was to make up an ending that worked and polish it until it was good.

This sample is taken from my album, Purpose. Click here for more information.

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Sample Score

I don’t have a sense of closure when a piece doesn’t seem to have any meaning outside of itself. So even when I had all but finished the piece I still couldn’t leave it alone because I didn’t understand what it meant. And yet I had already named the piece “Hide and Seek” simply because of the way it sounded. It seemed to be trying to go somewhere profound, but became sad when it couldn’t get there. Then it returned to searching for that profound place, this time without being concerned about the result.

The sound reminded me of my childhood games of hide and seek when I would be entertained by looking for my friends that had hidden from me. It was enjoyable not because I found them, but because I found them through a process of searching for them. But sometimes they would hide so well that I would grow weary of looking for them. But it would then be all the more exciting when I found them. But the purpose of the game wasn’t to find but to seek. So becoming irritated because I couldn’t find my friend was silly since all that should have resulted was enjoying the game longer.

While applying this concept to life itself, and thinking about the music in the context of the Purpose project, I finally realized that this piece is about searching for the purpose of life. Many people (myself included) become frustrated when attempting to work out the reason God put them on the earth. While there is the obvious Sunday school answer of “serving, worshipping, knowing, and glorifying God”, very few people are satisfied with that answer and justifiably so. Knowing and glorifying God is an infinitely broad description of our purpose since God is an infinite being. Saying that really means to do what we were doing all along but for a different reason and maybe throwing in a few religious practices to remind you of that reason. But as dissatisfying as the answer may be, it’s still the correct one. However, I’ve taken it a step further with this piece.

The beauty coupled with tension throughout the first fast section recounts the beauty of life in the midst of seeking the reason for our existence and being disillusioned by the answer we find. This results in a discontentment because without knowing the details of why we were put on this earth we have no idea of what to expect from life. So as we move into the slow section we wonder in vain why we exist and therefore what we should be doing with our lives. But in the midst of this anxiety, we find that beauty remains inherent all around us, even throughout our pain. This brings us to the second fast section in which the sounds that were harsh in the beginning have been reinterpreted and are beautiful. Nothing has changed but our reason for perceiving. We’ve realized that we exist for the sake of seeking the answer to the question of our existence. God put us here to ask questions and seek answers. Since God is throughout all aspects of creation, this ends up meaning that God put us here in order to seek Him. We still haven’t moved beyond the broad Sunday school answer, but this realization has satisfied me and justified my life and work.

Purpose hides and so we seek it. But along the way we find beauty and realize that the purpose of life is the process of searching for it.

Purpose release

July 29th, 2010

Purpose CD Baby, hard copies

Sample Purpose (click)

It’s been a long journey putting this new project together.  Now that I’ve had a chance to sit back and see how it has turned out I am confident that it was certainly worth the effort.  I’d like to take a moment now to help you understand what I’m hoping people will take away from it at the surface level:

This has been a challenging year for me (emotionally) because I’ve deeply questioned the value of my life pursuit in music, the value of my faith in God (which has become stronger than ever), and the value of my very existence.  This project is the result of that questioning. As you listen, search for the questions I’ve been asking in the music. Don’t look for the answers because they’re not there; The composer hasn’t found them.

A technical note: There are lengthy transitions between some of the tracks that are meant to bring the project cohesion.  Listen to them as part of the project.

I hope you enjoy it on the surface level.  I’m looking forward to helping you dig deeper into it soon.  Thank you so much for your continued support.

Purpose hides and so we seek it. But somewhere on the way we find beauty and realize that the purpose of life is the process of searching for it.

Special thanks to my freinds Cassie and Eva for their help with recording this CD.  Buy it so that they can get paid!

Where Is New Classical Music On-line?

June 8th, 2009

A major problem that I am encountering as I am attempting to get into the music industry is that the more obscure composers are extremely difficult to discover.  It’s so bad that it is nearly impossible to discover a new composer without having already heard the name outside of the internet.  And when a composer’s website is found, there are no links going to more composers that the composer is associated with.  In order for our ancient and ever developing craft to not be completely overrun by popular music, it has to be easier for consumers to find us.

Allow me to demonstrate the classical community’s deficiency in on-line promotion with an experiment I did that you all can conduct yourselves.  Since I am also interested in rock bands, I decided to type “rock bands” into google.  Instantly, a site came up that had all of the more popular rock bands listed by genre and country.  I looked through the 64 genres, and quickly clicked on hard core since I am intensely interested in Underoath.  I then clicked on a random band (Every Time I Die), liked it, and plan to check them out further once I have a significant source of income.  I was connected with a new group of artists within minutes and didn’t need more than a basic knowledge of what I was looking for.

I then typed in “Classical composers” and quickly became frustrated with finding the type of classical music I was looking for.  First of all, the classical music I enjoy the most is what is being written right now.  The first link that I clicked on seemed more like a museum celebrating birthdays, dying days, historic musical events, and the occasional announcement of the performances of pieces that were written over 100 years ago.  But I came to the site looking for new music to sample, buy, and listen to, not to become more educated about Prokofiev.  I quickly revised my google search to “contemporary classical composers” knowing that it was the only way that I was going to find what I was looking for (keep in mind, the average music consumer would not know that the word contemporary is significant).  Knowing that wikipedia didn’t have what I was looking for, I clicked the third link and found more dead people.  I clicked the fourth link and had no idea how to go about looking through the site (did I mention that all of these sites are the most boring and flat looking things I have ever seen?).  I clicked the next link and found a site for reviewing a few things I may have been looking for, but didn’t find any new music to sample or buy.  No matter how many links I clicked, I either came to dead people, random samples of music I hated, or unattractive pages that were in complete disarray and ignorant of my generation’s needs for categorized music.

The same problem occurs in iTunes.  When you type “contemporary classical” all that you encounter is a couple of popular classical-lite artists such as Josh Groban, followed almost immediately by pop singers accompanied by orchestras. If you only type “classical” your search results in dead composers.  There are a few exceptions such as Yoshimatsu, who is under “classical,” but his name must be searched for and recognized amidst the dead that come up with him.  The average consumer will not have the knowledge to click his name and will never experience the joy that I do when listening to the second movement of his saxophone concerto.

It is unacceptable that the first sites to come up in a search for modern or living composers are sites dedicated to the continuance of 250, 100, or even 25 year old work.  Because of this, classical music has been driven underground so far that even interested people like myself can’t find new music in this important genre that they enjoy listening to without spending hours looking for it.  Since our music is completely underground (at least to the perspective of this educated composer) and has been for some time, the music industry is continuing to evolve without us and drive us deeper into the ground.  Our dead will not sustain the classical discipline for much longer and if we continue to only promote work that is far removed from our time, our way of creating new music will die.  If we don’t do something soon then the only thing that will keep our educational programs (Collegiate and public) and our disciplined way of creating music going will be government programs that exist only to keep great art from extinction.  Our way to creating music will be confined to a museum.  

What is our solution then?  Perhaps we need to keep music education programs going in our schools or be sure that community performances are being promoted in their areas. This was fine marketing for the 1950’s, but today people look for music on the internet and become confused when some other search pattern is suggested (including myself).  Our solution lies on-line.  It is to find our living composers, unite them, categorize them and their music making it easy for their audience for connect with them.  This is the exact reason that popular music (in the broader sense) is evolving and classical music has become obscure.  I propose an attractive on-line presence that has all living and educated composers and performers in one place categorized by genera, subgenera, location, instrumentation, etc.  This would not take the place of on-line retailers or publishers, but rather make them more effective.  It would be thousands of names and compositions that a consumer could click on and be directed to the best place for them to go sample that music and purchase it. 

The goal:  If a composer has 4,000 people who buy cd’s and scores every time they become available, then that composer will make a living of around $60,000 a year give or take.  If this could take place on a massive worldwide level, there would be a lot more experienced composers writing music and appealing to more people and thousands of fantastic projects would be generated each year.  Then the truly remarkable work would surface and become popular as the lesser composers (4,000 fans to one composer) would be doing their job and promoting the best of us by means of earned appreciation.  This promotion of truly great work would happen due to the nature of google and its favor of sites with multiple links going to it.  Each composer would have to support the work of their favorite living composers by reviewing their work and linking to their sites.  This would not only promote great art effortlessly, but would also educate vast audiences.  This is the ultimate goal that all composers should be seeking in their professions.

(If you’re curious, by my estimate America alone could have up to 75,000 people making livings with nothing but composition.  And that’s assuming everyone only likes one composer and that these composers only write music without doing anything else.)

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