Concert-tastic March

Remember that time two years ago when I went to a bunch of concerts in the month of April and called it, “Concert-tastic April?” Well, March 2018 has absolutely put that to shame. It has been an amazing month for concerts in the Twin Cities! I’m still dealing with plenty of FOMO for the ones I missed, but I do have to squeeze laundry and sleep in at some point, right?

(I realize there are still two days left in March, but I won’t be attending any other concerts this month)

Okay, friends, here’s a summary of Concert-tastic March 2018:

  • March 1: I’m With Her at the Fitzgerald – UGH, their harmonies are so tight. They played three encores, and I still didn’t want it to end. Seriously, check out their new album and go hear them live if you can!
  • March 2: 113 Collective Festival – Honestly… I wasn’t super impressed by most of the pieces on this program. However, I was a huge fan of Tiffany Skidmore’s piece that involved laying chainmail over piano strings. It created a really cool sound! The others, I felt, could have used a bit more editing. Or maybe I’m just getting old-fashioned now, who knows…
  • March 3: Live from Here with Chris Thile, feat. Caitlyn Smith and Väsen – LFH is always such a blast! I always leave the show with a huge grin on my face. I especially enjoyed Väsen (Scandinavian folk music, how shocking that it was my favorite part…)
  • March 4: SPCO feat. Martin Fröst – It was a double-Mozart program, but it was nice and light for a Sunday afternoon show. Also, Fröst’s control of dynamics and silky tone on the clarinet are glorious.
  • March 13: Accordo performing to silent movies (presented by the Schubert Club) – These shows are always cheesy in a fun way. The Cinderella film was equally dark and charming, with a score that fit perfectly. The Buster Keaton film was a delight, and every time I glanced down at the musicians, it looked like they were having an absolute blast performing to it!
  • March 14: Liquid Music Series feat. Nathalie Joachim performing Fanm d’Ayiti – This whole work was beautiful. The work celebrates past and present female musicians of Haiti, and Joachim included sound clips of interviews with these women. And by celebrates, I mean really celebrates – Joachim encouraged us all to join her in a dance party during the last piece!
  • March 22: Zeitgeist Early Music Festival, works by Julius Eastman – What an absolute treat to finally hear works by Julius Eastman live! Unfortunately, I could only make this one day of the festival, but it was amazing. I loved Zeitgeist’s interpretation of Buddha, which has a score with very little direction, and there doesn’t seem to be any recording of it with Eastman’s blessing that survives (if one resurfaces, though, I’d love to hear it).
  • March 27: Schubert Club Mix Series feat. Colin Currie – Solo percussion recitals are always super fun, and this concert absolutely blew my mind. The program was pretty perfect for me, including works by Xenakis and Stockhausen, as well as some composers whose works I really need to check out!

I also squeezed in some time to attend a play that a friend of mine directed (Rocket Man at Crane Theater, if you’re reading this before April 1 when it closes!), as well as have an Irish jam session on mandolin with friends who play mandolin and fiddle for St. Patrick’s Day! Of course, I also worked on The Song Cycle That Was Promised (yes, that’s still its title), which is almost finished! I had been shooting for an April finish, and with only one and a half songs to write, I could actually stay on track, assuming the inspiration well keeps flowing. Get ready for some atonal silliness about dog memes and dating apps.

Katie’s Concert List 2017

Happy New Year! Every year I keep track of all of the concerts I attend so that at the end of the year I can sit back and think about all of the good music I am so fortunate to be able to experience here in the Twin Cities. In 2017 I attended over 30 concerts, so, without further ado, here’s my list:

Jan. 6: Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) feat. Pekka Kuusisto
Jan. 8: Schubert Club presents Gil Shaham performing Bach solo violin suites
Jan. 14: Steven Hobert and Issam Rafea jam session (piano/accordion and oud) at Studio Z
Jan. 21: SPCO Beethoven/5 premiere of Sally Beamish’s City Stanzas
Feb. 3: imPulse at Lake Monster Brewing
Feb. 4: SPCO feat. Claire Chase
Feb. 12: Schubert Club Music in the Parks Series: Danish String Quartet
Feb. 18: Live from Here with Chris Thile, feat. the Avett Brothers and Jesca Hoop
Feb. 19: Premiere of Adam Conrad’s bassoon concerto, The American Defense
Mar. 11: SPCO Liquid Music Series: Sarah Kirkland Snider’s Unremembered
Mar. 14: Accordo at Icehouse
Apr. 15: Dessa with Minnesota Orchestra
Apr. 28: Mu Daiko
May 5: SPCO feat. Pekka Kuusisto
May 13: Live from Here with Chris Thile feat. Josh Ritter and Jon Batiste
May 13: SPCO feat. Pekka Kuusisto, Gabriel Kahane, and Sam Amidon
June 16: Minnesota Orchestra performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, “Resurrection”
July 21: Live from Here with Chris Thile live script reading (I’m counting it as a concert because he was taking requests in between scripts)
Sept. 22: SPCO Beethoven/5 premiere of Salvatore Sciarrino’s Piano Concerto
Sept. 29: Miss Myra and the Moonshiners at Rummage
Oct. 5: SPCO Happy Hour Concert
Oct. 7: Live from Here with Chris Thile feat. Chris Stapleton
Oct. 7: MPR Block Party (I caught the sets by Dessa and Chris Thile)
Oct. 12: Schubert Club Mix: The Alehouse Sessions with Barokksolistene
Oct. 14: Live from Here with Chris Thile feat. Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Margaret Glaspy
Oct. 19: El Asopao Benefit Concert for Puerto Rico
Oct. 21: Live from Here with Chris Thile feat. Randy Newman and Margo Price
Oct. 22: Sphinx Virtuosi
Oct. 26: SPCO Liquid Music Series: Patricia Kopatchinskaja performing Luigi Nono’s La Lontananza Nostaligica Utopica Futura
Oct. 27: SPCO feat. Patricia Kopatchinskaja performing Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire
Nov. 12: SPCO feat. Pekka Kuusisto
Nov. 14: Nautilus Rough Cuts
Nov. 15: SPCO feat. Pekka Kuusisto and Zachary Cohen at the Turf Club
Nov. 16: SPCO Liquid Music Series: Emily Wells’ The World Is Too ___ For You
Dec. 1: SPCO feat. Francisco Fullana performing Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3
Dec. 11: JT’s Jazz Implosion at Icehouse
Dec. 16: Joyann Parker at Hood and Ladder

Phew, that’s all of them! I don’t even know how I can pick a favorite, since they were all pretty amazing. Here’s to more amazing live music in 2018!

My Favorite Music of 2017

This year was hard for most of us for a variety of reasons, but it was a great year for music. So great that I didn’t even get to every genre I normally listen to, because I was so excited about these albums that I barely listened to anything else! I also went on a Piedmont Blues binge over the summer, which meant catching up on over a hundred years’ worth of music, so not exactly the latest releases. Anyway, I know there were acclaimed albums that came out that I still haven’t listened to yet which would probably be on this list, but I’ll get to them eventually.

In a chaotic year such as this, my ear tended to gravitate toward simplicity, which is why all of these albums are acoustic bluegrass/folk/jazz? (what are genres, anyway – but it’s clear that this year I definitely had a “type,” so to speak).

Danish String Quartet, “Last Leaf”

Last year I fell in love with “Woodworks,” the DSQ’s collection of Scandinavian folk tunes and folk-inspired works arranged for string quartet, after my neighbor introduced me to it. This year they dropped their second collection, “Last Leaf,” and it is divine. My apartment-mates and I listened to it the day it came out by sitting in a candle-lit room and sipping wine, which is THE BEST way to listen to it. We’re also currently maybe a little too obsessed with hygge these days, anyway, so it’s perfect for these dark, chilly Minnesota winter nights. Here’s an original work from the album by quartet violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sørensen, “Shine You No More;” it will definitely warm you up on a cold day like today!

Rhiannon Giddens, “Freedom Highway”

I have such a musical crush on Rhiannon Giddens and her perfect voice, so I was super stoked for her new solo album. It serves as a musical history of the ongoing Civil Rights Movement in America, and it is incredibly timely for today (especially “Better Get It Right the First Time“). And, of course, there are mandolins AND banjos, so how could I not love it? She was awarded a MacArthur “Genius Grant” this year, which she 100% deserves. I’m so excited to see where she goes next as she continues exploring music from African American history and bringing it into the present.

Chris Thile and Brad Mehldau, self-titled

Jazz piano and mandolin is a weird combination, and I love it. This album definitely shows Chris Thile’s versatility as a genre-hopper; he even gets a little croony on “I Cover the Waterfront,” and it’s delightful. I love when two musicians from totally different genres have a jam session and make magic! iTunes touts this album as a jazz album, but it’s got a cover of an Irish folk tune, some original works, and some folksy stuff in addition to jazz. My favorite song from this album is the cover of Gillian Welch’s “Scarlet Town.”

Julian Lage & Chris Eldridge, “Mount Royal”

This album is so delightful. It’s the perfect Saturday morning acoustic jam to bask in while sipping your tea and eating your eggs (or whatever you do for breakfast on weekends). Since I tend to gravitate toward mandos and banjos as a sonic aesthetic, I didn’t think I would fall in love with an album that’s just two dudes and two guitars, but it absolutely brings out my inner “summer on the front porch in the country” vibe. This was also apparently my top-listened-to album on Spotify, which makes sense because I listen to it constantly. The critics seem to agree with me, since it’s been nominated for a Grammy. Here’s “Rygar,” probably my favorite track from the album (but it was hard to choose!).

Noam Pikelny, “Waveland”

And here’s my favorite album of 2017! I’ve listened to this album more times than I can count. It’s just a dude and his banjo, but sometimes, you need the simplicity of just a dude and his banjo to get through the stress of the current political climate. The opening title track, “Waveland,” is so transcendent that you almost forget it’s a banjo playing. It’s also fun to hear him play a few different kinds of banjos! This album had what is quite possibly the best promo for an album that I’ve ever seen. Finally, if you need anymore convincing, this album is also nominated for a Grammy!

Come back tomorrow for my review of all of the concerts I attended in 2017. Spoiler alert: it was about twice as many concerts as 2016…

Concert Etiquette and Diversity

I’ve been having several conversations these days with friends and coworkers about the state of classical music and diversity. There are a million things related to this topic (classical music is still really white, programming is still largely music by dead white men, many orchestras charge ticket prices that most young adults, parents, and people stuck in a lower social class can’t afford, etc.), but one thing I’ve been thinking about lately is concert etiquette. Concert etiquette is what I guess turns a lot of people off from attending classical music concerts (besides cost). There’s this idea that classical music is really stuffy, and when you think about it… it kind of is. Most concerts in other genres expect noisy audiences, clapping when you like something, and coming and going as you need to. Not so with classical concerts. The vast majority of classical concerts expect audiences to be quiet, only clap at the very end of the piece, and you better not leave during the middle of a piece!

There are times when it’s nice to have a quiet audience, such as during an especially quiet or dramatic part of a piece. However, I have to agree with Chris Thile on this one: why can’t we cheer when the horns nail a really awesome part of a Mahler symphony? In jazz and bluegrass (and probably other genres), you expect people to clap after each solo. There have definitely been moments when I’ve done a quiet “yes!” *fist bump the air* when a soloist does something cool, or there’s the time I chuckled softly during Haydn’s Clock symphony because I thought his scoring in the second movement was hilarious (seriously, click the link and listen. It’s ridiculous.). I got stern looks for those, but I doubt the performers would have noticed (I sit way up in the balcony, after all), and my faint outbursts were related to the music. As in, I was clearly paying attention to the music itself, not letting my mind wander. Bruh, I have a music degree. Keep your judgy face to yourself.

Now these are just my mild complaints of looks directed toward me, being a 20-something white person with a bachelor’s degree in music. Those were nothing compared to something I witnessed during a Sphinx Virtuosi concert last month, and this next anecdote is what prompted me to write a blog post. Usually, the Ordway is packed with white people, but at the Sphinx concert, the audience was probably at least half people of color, which was awesome to see. If you haven’t heard Sphinx Virtuosi in concert before, do it, because they are amazing. Anyway, this audience was super excited for this concert, and they clapped very enthusiastically after each movement. At one point, someone couldn’t even wait until the end of the movement – they just started clapping in the middle of the piece. I didn’t really care, and the musicians certainly didn’t seem to care, but oh, the older white woman sitting near me. She was not happy. Every time people clapped, she would turn around and glare at everyone, and then shake her head. It was obvious that she didn’t seem to care too much about the amazing music happening on stage, because oh, those rude people in the audience clapping between each movement! *gasp*

Hon, you gotta chill. Here’s my philosophy on this: if people are clapping between each movement, it’s probably because they don’t know about this weird tradition we have that really only dates back to the end of the 19th century or so. That means there’s a good chance they’re probably first-timers at an orchestra concert. That’s AWESOME! You can’t complain about struggling to get a new audience and then complain when the new audience members don’t automatically know the culture. This doesn’t even have anything to do with music education. I grew up in a musical family and didn’t learn that you weren’t supposed to clap in between movements until I was at a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concert, probably in late middle school (a few years after I’d started playing an instrument), and I started clapping after the first movement of whatever symphony they were playing, because it just made sense. It wasn’t until I got a weird look from my mom that I realized that wasn’t “okay.” And yes, there are some pieces where’s it’s nice to have that silence in between movements (slow Mahler for sure), but Mozart or Haydn? Who cares. Clapping in between movements was standard back in their day – sometimes, if the audience really liked something, they’d demand a second run-through of a movement or section. Like I mentioned before, in the long history of Western classical music, this tradition is only a little over a hundred years old. I’ve attended a bunch of more “informal” chamber concerts at coffee shops and art museums where you’ll even have people chatting in the background. This is the way it was in Mozart’s day, and it feels right to me to have Mozart or Haydn in a casual setting, where people clap whenever they are moved to do so.

It’s great when the administrative side of an organization is working to bring in new audiences, but in order for this to be successful, we need current audiences to chill. If you really want to make sure that your program is quiet and that audiences wait until the end to clap, then just make an announcement before the concert. They do this sometimes at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra when they have a program that interweaves other pieces throughout a larger piece, and it’s not weird.

To quote my friends in the Lux String Quartet, “this music is for everyone.” In order for that to be a reality, and not just an idea we mention when we want to make ourselves feel better about our minimal attempts at diversifying classical music, then we need to make sure that it truly is for everyone to be able to enjoy, and not just for the usual audiences who have been using the same etiquette for only a little over a century. Trust me, Haydn is a lot more fun when you let yourself get a little rowdy.

The Song Cycle That Was Promised

Guess what, y’all. I’m actually writing the song cycle. Like writing the text, too.

The plan is to make it as weird as possible, and it’s going to be about Internet culture in 2017. That way, I actually have to write it in a decent amount of time, before the jokes all become irrelevant. For example, there will be a song about dog memes that includes the phrase, “boop of the snoot.”

Yeah. We’re doing this.

In lieu of writing a new novel for NaNoWriMo this year, I will be touching up my sci-fi two-parter and writing this song cycle. The goal is to finish it in December for an early 2018 performance, assuming I can decide on the instrumentation by then (piano and voice isn’t weird enough). I’m excited that a friend of mine who loves new music and is a super talented singer is willing to perform this thing. I think she was sold on the dog memes.

Ahh, it’s been so long since I last wrote a ridiculous piece.


Happy Birthday, Shosty

Let me tell you how much I love the music of Dmitri Shostakovich: sometimes on dark, cold evenings, I like to headbang to String Quartet No. 8 while sitting in my living room. Like, actually. It contains one of the greatest drops in classical music history.

My first introduction to Shostakovich was when my youth orchestra performed his second piano concerto, when I was 16. It was one of the more memorable concerts of my life: I loved the piece, of course, but the dress rehearsal had been abysmal. None of us knew if we’d be able to pull the piece off at the concert without becoming a trainwreck (especially that 7/8 section in the last movement). However, the impossible happened, and our performance at the concert wound up being nearly flawless. It was such a miraculous event that we all made black T-shirts with hot pink print that said, “I survived the Shostakovich,” which apparently I still have:

Still one of the greatest achievements of my youth orchestra experience.

In college, I fell in love with Shosty all over again after listening to a few pieces for music history classes (Symphony No. 5, of course, and String Quartet No. 8). I was especially drawn to the string quartets, and after watching a riveting performance of his ninth string quartet by the Artaria String Quartet in the summer of 2011, I decided I needed more. A friend gave me his copy of a recording of the complete string quartets of Shostakovich performed by the Emerson String Quartet, and I spent the particularly angsty first semester of my junior year of college jamming to the album and watching the snow fall over the rural Minnesota landscape outside of my dorm room window to cope with my feels. After deciding that taking an upper level post-tonal music theory class wasn’t enough theory for me, I ended up doing an independent study analysis of String Quartet No. 9 during the second semester of my junior year. Twenty-one pages of analysis later, I was still in love. I bought a phone case that said DSCH and had a picture of his iconic glasses, which I had for years before that phone finally died. I blame Shostakovich for the fact that I’ve written two string quartets now, even though I’m not a string player (a friend of mine once told me that she could hear the Shostakovich influence in The Phoenix… I’ll take it). These days I’ll take any chance I can get to hear the string quartets in recital – most recently, it was Accordo performing No. 4 at Icehouse, a bar in Minneapolis, which was such a lovely setting!

Shostakovich’s life is so fascinating to me. I still have quite a bit of reading left to do about his life before Stalin (although from what I’ve read in his bio so far, he sounds like he was kind of a diva as a young man), but as a composer, I’m constantly struck by the struggle he went through under the censorship of Soviet Russia. There are conflicting theories as to whether or not he secretly hated the U.S.S.R., but regardless of how he felt, the string quartets (which were subject to less scrutiny than the symphonies), are so dark. Yes, he reused a lot of his own themes over and over again (I had a long discussion about this with one of my theory professors over a few pints of beer in a small pub once), but it never bothers me. I always grin when I hear the DSCH motive poking out of somewhere unexpected.

I’m currently sipping tea and listening to String Quartet No. 10 while watching the grey, chilly, early autumn weather outside my apartment. It’s so delightfully perfect.

Happy 111th birthday to you, Shosty! Thanks for all of the music and inspiration.

On Music Tastes and Judging Others’ Tastes

There’s been an interesting article floating around my Facebook feed over the last couple weeks or so that I highly recommend checking out. It discusses the subconscious classist and racist influences from history and continuing now that make people say they love “every type of music except country and rap.” There weren’t any major arguments that exploded when I shared it on my personal Facebook page, but I saw a few other friends share it and find themselves in the middle of some heated discussions. It’s made me sit back and reflect on how I talk about music as a self-proclaimed music snob.

I think anyone who studies music these days, especially popular music trends, would tell you that the lines between genres are far more blurred than they were fifty years ago. Musicians are taking elements of various styles that they like to make their own thing. An unfortunate side effect of this, of course, is a fair amount of cultural appropriation, but that is a topic for another post. The point I’m trying to make for now is that it’s silly to say that you hate one entire genre of music, because chances are that genre has about a dozen sub-genres, and at least one of those sub-genres will fit your music tastes. For example, I realized I can’t say that I hate country music anymore, because I love Dolly Parton, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and you could count ALL of the bluegrass I listen to (these links will basically give you the standard Katie’s Saturday morning playlist, by the way – if you had showed this to me ten years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that this is what I jam out to now). What I don’t enjoy listening to is the mainstream pop country that often dominates the radio waves in rural America, but even then, there will likely be exceptions. I’ve grown far more open-minded over the years after I realized I was in love with bluegrass.

Ugh, seriously, Dolly Parton is a gem. I’m ashamed at how long it took for me to get into her music.

Taken a few months after the moment I realized I was in love with bluegrass.

Another trend I see popping up on the social media feeds is the occasional meme that boils down to, “I’m cooler than you because I don’t like Beyoncé/The Beatles/Taylor Swift/insert other popular musical act here.” I’m all about being counter-cultural, but this irks me for multiple reasons:

  1. Unless your distaste for a musical act has to do with who the musician is as a person or about the content of their music (i.e. Elvis stole all of his hits from black musicians, Taylor Swift’s brand of feminism is problematic, etc.), you’re not cooler than anyone else because you hate that musician. While you’re judging the kids these days for liking Bruno Mars, someone else is probably about to post about how they think your favorite musician David Bowie was overrated.
  2. Music taste is an intensely personal thing for everyone. Beyoncé’s Lemonade album was incredibly important to the black community. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony reminds me of a powerful music history lecture I heard in undergrad. My parents love the Billy Joel song that was playing when they got engaged. Just like you have a reason for hating something popular, your neighbor might have a reason for loving that thing that goes beyond what chords the musician used.
  3. All pop music is terrible when it comes down to it. You might think you’re cool because post memes about how much you hate Despacito, but if you’re in my generation, you grew up jamming out to the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls at the roller skating rink. We’re not cool, y’all. We’re really not. (quick note: I unashamedly still love 90s boy bands and I regret nothing)
  4. Let people enjoy things. I feel like this could apply to multiple aspects of what people do for fun, but seriously, just chill. As I said above, unless your dislike of the musician has to do with something other than the music itself, just… chill.

Finally, I feel like there’s this perception that classically-trained musicians only listen to classical music, and that composer only listen to new, avant-garde music. That may be true for a few musicians, but definitely not all. Remember at the beginning of this post when I talked about how musicians today are pulling influences from a variety of genres? I know an orchestral cellist who loves old-school hip-hop, a heavy metal guitarist who loves bluegrass, and one of my composition professors in undergrad once spent the first five minutes of a composition lesson gushing about how much he loves Gangnam Style. Don’t be afraid to admit liking music that might not fit your “image.”

I’m writing this article while listening to old-school Panic! At The Disco, by the way. I’m a classically-trained oboist and composer planning a semi-atonal song cycle, and here I am jamming out to emo rock from 2005. I’m definitely not allowed to judge anyone for music taste anymore.

It’s Finished! IT’S DONE!

My piano sonata is finally finished! In what was probably an appropriate twist of fate, I finished it on the evening of July 4th, right as the official fireworks were starting up over the Mississippi and various nearby lakes of Minneapolis. I’ve been working on it for a little over a year now, but the majority of the work happened between the election and now. When you start writing a piece with the concept of the loss of innocence, it seems only natural that it turns into one of your main forms of therapy during a time of political turmoil.

Piano Sonata Double Bar
The end of 16 minutes of emotional ups and downs.

Now it’s been sent off to the friend I originally planned to write it for during a conversation two years ago that started with, “Do you have any piano sonatas I could look at?” and has ended with a sixteen-minute-long meditation on growing up in the 21st century. It’s out of my hands for the first time, like sending your angsty child off to college.

The piano sonata is finished, and for once I don’t actually know what I want to write next. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing an oboe sonata for years (you know, the instrument I actually play but never write for…). I have also come up with vague concepts for a song cycle. Considering that I’ve never really written for voice before, that would be a good challenge (and there are a million talented vocalists here in the Twin Cities, where choral music reigns). But that means I have to find a libretto, and I don’t even know where to start with that. I guess that is the luxury of having a full-time job unrelated to composition – I can really write whatever I want, since I don’t have to rely on commissions for income. The downside is that I never have deadlines, and I have to carve out time to write in between working and making dinner and trying to get eight hours of sleep a night so that I can deal with Twin Cities rush hour traffic in the morning (insert daily rant about zipper merging).

Finishing the piano sonata is one of the most rewarding double bars I’ve reached since I finished my first string quartet back in 2012. It helps when you already have a performer and potential premiere opportunity lined up, I suppose. Unlike with my second string quartet, I know people will be hearing this piano sonata some time later this year. I’m sure I will be more intimidated by that thought later on, but at the moment it’s very exciting for a composer who’s been taking her sweet time getting her music out there.

For now, it’s time to take a brief break from writing music so that I can go back to playing it. It’s been over two months since I was in a regular habit of practicing oboe, and I casually fiddle around on my mandolin (pun intended) about once every few weeks. It will also feel nice being at a social function and not having the “you should be writing” guilt in the back of my brain.

But one questions remains: does the piano sonata have a title yet?


Of course not.

Music In Our Schools Month (belated)

We’re now in the beginning of April, but for those who weren’t aware, March is Music In Our Schools Month. MIOSM celebrates the role music education plays in the lives of students and serves as a time of advocacy for music in schools. With looming cuts in funding for both the arts and public schools, now is an incredibly important time to be advocating for music education. Studies are constantly pointing to the benefits of music and the arts being included in a child’s education, yet the arts are still one of the first things to be cut when a school is facing budget issues. Skimping out on arts to save money is a disservice to your students, and just like with meat, trimming out too much “fat” can end up drying up your school culturally.

I’ll give a few examples from my own personal experience with music education. Even if I hadn’t decided to go to college for music, I still would have benefited greatly from music as a kid and teenager. My closest friends in high school were the ones I made in band, choir, and theater (and I was one of those kids who was involved in everything, including student government and two sports). Starting in sixth grade and continuing on through college, we had to do most of the set up for our own concerts. That means putting together risers and setting up chairs and stands for up to 90 people. If that doesn’t give you a work ethic, then try the time I put into practicing my instrument every day. When I first started on flute in fourth grade, I practiced for 15 minutes every day. My parents bribed me to practice with the promise of taking me out for sushi, but I found that I actually liked playing and was able to motivate myself before long. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was practicing for up to an hour a day, sometimes more if I had the time.

The level of teamwork that comes from being in a musical ensemble in school is something that can’t be matched by many other activities. You might have the occasional solo, but otherwise, everyone is working together to create a full sound. You end up bonding with your fellow ensemble members through post-concert hangouts and long hours in a bus going to contests or tours. Oh, and speaking of tours, my musical experiences in school took me on trips to New York City, Florida, Southern California, and several adventures in Hershey Park, PA. This led me to more band tours in college that took me to various parts of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, Virginia, DC, Nebraska, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana… Music is the reason I have been to most of the fifty states. Think of those students growing up in a rural town in Kansas who might not otherwise have a chance to visit our nation’s capital other than through band tour? Even growing up in suburban Maryland, many kids in my school’s band had never been west of the Mississippi until we went to California on tour. Or think of the elderly in assisted living who get a bright spot in their day when they get to hear a choir that came all the way to Florida from Baltimore. These kinds of experiences are essential for creating a well-rounded teenager who has likely seen more of the world than their non-musical peers.

Finally, music provides a way to reach out to students who might not otherwise care about school and aren’t into sports. For example, I learned about mariachi programs in schools with large Hispanic populations from a few conferences I’ve worked at, and hearing stories of how successful they have been for first-generation students dealing with a dual cultural identity in this country absolutely warms my little heart. Check out this segment on Rancho High School’s mariachi program if you want to smile!

We need to continue to fight for music in our schools for the sake of our children. Cutting the arts is a lazy move and sacrifices too much in a child’s development for the sake of saving money. While we need to work on making sure our public school systems stay funded, this is also an issue that faces private schools (this was my entire life growing up – my high school’s theater productions happened in the wrestling room because there was no stage), so if your kid is attending private school, consider making a donation (if possible) that goes towards the school music program. If your kid participates in a musical ensemble in school and goes on to be a professional musician, awesome! But even if they don’t grow up to be full-time musicians, the benefits of their musical education will help them in so many ways.

Writing Your Feels

People who know me in real life know that I’m generally a pretty positive, upbeat person. However, I am also pretty in touch with my emotions. I’m not much of a crier, but I definitely spent a whole day feeling down after seeing the last Hobbit movie because of all of the sad character deaths (it wasn’t even that great of a movie), and don’t even get me started about the genre of stories/movies/video games I jokingly refer to as “Things That Ruined My Life,” because I still get emotional when I think about them (like the ending to Final Fantasy X). This also tends to play out with more serious situations, such as the events of the recent election…

So for someone who can be a giant bundle of emotions, it’s been an interesting challenge to write this piano sonata. The vast majority of the music I’ve written before is either happy in the end or depicts something in a more intellectual way. And then I started writing Piano Sonata No. 1, which is an exploration of coming of age in the 21st century (among other things). It’s a bit dark, and I’ve found that my usual composing snack has switched from beer to dark chocolate out of necessity (writing a sad piece while drinking beer was just making me feel sadder). I usually write for 1-2 hours at a time, and after up to two hours of expressing some intense emotion, I really need something light to take my mind out of that place so I can go on functioning as a human in society (which is why there is now usually a dark chocolate bar of some sort from the local co-op on my desk at all times and an endless supply of candles in my apartment).

I’m guessing that for some composers, this isn’t a new thing. Plenty of composers have come before whose music is highly emotional, and they’ve had their own ways of dealing with intense emotion (some probably in healthier ways than others). Writing music, or really creating any sort of art, that is an expression of an intense emotion you are feeling can be as taxing as it is therapeutic. On one hand, you’re letting all of those feelings go into your art, but on the other hand, you’re requiring that you face those emotions in the first place. That can be a huge challenge for some people who have been pushing their emotions aside in an attempt to look “normal” or “adjusted.”

I think that being in touch with your emotions and expressing them in a healthy manner is important. Keeping them bottled up inside is so much harder on a person in the long run (I know this from experience – I tried it in high school). The helplessness, anger, fear, etc. that I have been feeling since the election have all been channeled into this piano sonata, along with the feelings I had when I first started writing it back in April 2016 (oops it’s been almost a year now, hasn’t it…). It helps on the days where I feel like I can’t do anything, and it makes me feel more empowered on the days when I can do something.

I guess what I’m really trying to get down to here is, use your art to let out the feelings you’re having, whether they be positive or negative. But be careful about letting it take too much of a hold on you when you have to snap out of that intense creative time and go on with your life. Have that chocolate bar or candles or whatever you need ready to go after you have spent some quality time with your feels.