Music, She Wrote… On Saturday night, I participated in a concert of original music performed by female composers and musicians. A few weeks ago, I was invited by the director of the Oakland Public Conservatory to participate in a their second annual celebration of Women Composers, "Music, She Wrote". The other performers and composers in the ensemble were:
India Cooke - violin
Kelly Fasman – drums
Karen Horner - bass
Branice McKenzie – vocal
Sandy Poindexter - violin
Angela Wellman - trombone
Yehudit - violin
It sounded like a wonderful concept, and so I signed on. Week after week, trying to gather each of the musicians together for this volunteer effort (a fundraiser for OPC’s wonderful program of offering music instruction to Oakland’s youth) was proving to be problematic. All of us are active performers, teachers, and composers, with schedules that would possibly be defined as overwhelming, except for the fact that we all manage to handle them! Finally, the week before the concert, everyone came together for a rehearsal on Tuesday. Thanks to some world-class creative procrastination, I waited until the last minute to compose a work specifically for the gathered ensemble: piano, bass, drums, 3 violins, trombone and voice. I came up with the foundation of my piece (a rhythm section groove and violin support), hastily notated my music using music software as quickly as I could before shifting gears to teach my piano and voice students. I only had about 90 minutes of time to prepare my score, and managed to print out something legible!
The rehearsal that evening was a bit bumpy, partly because some of us (…ok, me…) didn’t have completed or accurate scores of our pieces, but we got through it. I was enthusiastic and excited about the music we’d be performing. On Saturday, I was still struggling with coming up with a confirmed melody for one of my compositions. We had all agreed to meet at the Conservatory at 6pm for a run through. At 5:15 lightening struck, and EUREKA! I created a melody. No lyrics, but a melody that I actually love and a general concept of the song…in case I write lyrics at some point. I headed to the Conservatory and we did a quick run through of the music, each of us professional enough not to be worried by anything musical and 8:20 or so (maybe it was a weeee bit later) started the performance.
First, we performed a piece by Karen Horner, “House Spirit”, a lovely ode to the birth of her daughter in 6/8 time, with African rhythms. Next, “Ra Storm” by India Cooke. I have very little experience with free jazz, but India is a master of the idiom. Not only did she create a composition that was clear, evocative and exciting, but her musical leadership focused our sound in creating an incredible musical journey. “HJ”, a piece by Angela Wellman in dedication to her friend, the reknowed musician and Oakland music educator, Helena Jack, was next on the program. Reminiscent of a McCoy Tyner waltz, “HJ” was solidly in the jazz tradition yet expansive and healing in its intent and performance. The violinists took a break on Branice McKenzie’s first piece, “Shelter”, a charming R&B / Samba with lyrics reminding the listener to look inside one’s self for “shelter” from life’s storms.
Sandy Poindexter ’s pieces both infused the night with Latin rhythms. Her first piece, “In The Stars”, was a nod to celestial themed entertainment (she specifically named Star Trek as an inspiration!). Yehudit and the violinists opened Yehudit’s “Song of Praise, Song of Peace” with a beautiful trio, joined at the repeat of the theme by the trombone, and then further developed with the rhythm section into a form of the blues. The final piece of the first half of the program was my hastily composed tune “Alone” (title is tentative). I was inspired to write a song in 7/4 time, and am quite pleased with the piece, though it’s still a work in progress. I tend to compose in popular music forms, and this song is no different. I was utterly thrilled to hear the piece performed live and am sure I will record it at some point.
During intermission, several of the performers offered their CDs for sale. Please visit their websites (links provided above!) and support these fine musicians by buying their CDs! You will not be disappointed!
The second half of the program opened with Angela’s ballad “Who Will Speak for the Children”. Angela’s dedication to musical education, to supporting children and youth in Oakland and beyond is perfectly conveyed in this lovely piece. In keeping with the spirit of children, next I performed my song “Faith of a Child” with the rhythm section. I wrote this song in honor of my niece Naomi’s triumph over leukemia. I had hoped that Naomi could have performed the song with me (we’ve performed as a duo – me on piano and singing, and Naomi dancing), but she was already booked to perform at a fundraiser in another city. At 6 years old, she’s already in demand as a performer! For the next piece, I took a break! Yehudit composed her piece “Blue-per” for non-chordal instruments, so I sat back and enjoyed this fun bluesy romp! Then came “Sun”, another piece by India. This was one of my favorite pieces of the night. Another example of free jazz, India and I played this piece as a duo. Despite my inexperience in free jazz, I followed India’s instruction to play with “big ears and a big heart” and I think it worked brilliantly!
After “Sun” set, we moved into “The Prince To Another Land”, a piece that Sandy dedicated to a friend of hers (whom it appeared that everyone in the ensemble knew except for me). The piece opened with a beautiful melody, played in a rubato (somewhat freely) style, and then moved into a Mambo which grew in intensity over time. Branice then came back to the stage to sing her gorgeous song “I Can’t Remember”, another of my favorites. She composed this piece for a film featuring Gregory Hines. The song was not selected for the film, but should have been! To close the program, we performed two grooving, bluesy pieces. First, Karen’s “What Goes Around”, which she composed for young students, and Angela’s “Well Jack”, which she composed with her friend Helena Jack, who is currently dealing with a serious illness. It was a great way to end a night of amazing music. I personally enjoyed performing everyone’s music, and am grateful to the other ladies for having performed so beautifully on my pieces! I’m sure we’ll be organizing another performance of “Music, She Wrote”. If you missed this one, I implore you not to miss it again! It really was great.