Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fisk University Concert

Back in 2007, I met Dr. Gary Nash (Professor of Music at Fisk University) on myspace.com. Our mutual friend, composer Arlene Sierra, was the connecting point. Dr. Nash is a renowned instructor and composer, and invited me to be a guest artist and composer for the annual Fisk Jazz Ensemble Spring Concert. Every year since 2003, Dr. Nash has invited various performing artists to participate in the concert, and he asked me to participate in the 2010 concert. Of course, I was honored and enthusiastically accepted Dr. Nash’s invitation! Over the following 2 years, I thought about composing for the ensemble, but made no actual effort to compose. I assumed that it would be best to wait until I knew the actual instrumentation of the ensemble and to throw myself into the act of composing for the specific instruments. In other words, I procrastinated…

January 2010 came and went faster than I could have imagined, and still, I had nothing to present to Dr. Nash. Dr. Nash had been gently nudging me to submit music, and I had every intention to do it…but procrastination is a strong and seductive excuse for insecurity. After all, I hadn’t composed instrumental music since high school! Could I actually do this, and do a good job on the orchestration? Gulp!!

February 2010…Ok, I better get to work on this! Back in March 2009, I performed in a concert of music performed and composed by a group of fantastic women musicians. I wrote a piece called “Alone” for this event. I based the tune on a pretty piano motif that happens to be in 7/4 (I had been playing music from Romania all week that was in 7/4, so that’s where my head was). I created the melody with the intention of singing the song, but never developed more than a hook lyric. So for this event, the piece was performed as mostly instrumental, but with lyrics in the hook. I decided that this piece would be one of the works I’d present to Dr. Nash, so I sent him the score and exhaled. Ok, one down!

In early March 2010, I knew that I could no longer delay sending more music to Dr. Nash. I sat at the piano one night after dinner (which, in my case, is around 1am, as I always eat very late at night) and played out my feelings. I was in a somewhat melancholy mood and the melody I created reflected this. The resulting tune is “Prelude + Resignation”. The "Prelude" is written in 3/4 time and the “Resignation” in 4/4 time, a nod to the 7/4 time of “Alone”. This piece has a dreamy quality to it, and is actually my favorite of the group. The melody is played by flute and piano, and eventually, I may add lyrics to this piece as well.

A week before the concert, I kept having a nagging feeling that my work was not complete, and that I should present 3, not 2, works of music for the concert. But the music had not yet revealed itself to me. One night, that week before the concert, I had been listening to Thelonious Monk and Sergei Prokofiev, and went to the piano with an idea: blending the angular rhythms and melodies of Monk with those of Prokofiev in a swinging, simple tune. And voila! A new tune was born. Imperturbable is my favorite word at the moment. How awesome (and mature) would it be to be imperturbable, no matter what? Cut off and stuck in traffic? No biggie. Financial woes? So what? Can’t think of anything to write as the final piece in a major concert that’s coming up soon?? Ahem…you get it.

So, I named my new piece "Imperturbable". I was thrilled! I now had 3 pieces to perform for the concert. I immediately emailed the new tune and updates to the previous tunes to Dr. Nash, crossing my fingers that he wouldn’t say “too late”. He didn’t…

Early Wednesday morning, I flew from San Francisco to Nashville, arriving mid afternoon to some of the most perfect weather I could have hoped for. After checking into my hotel, I accompanied Dr. Nash to the dress rehearsal with the ensemble, which included myself on piano, Dr. Nash on clarinet, Jon Lauterer on drums, Jonathan Hart Price on bass, Stuart Naylor on trumpet, and students Adrian on saxophone and Karis on flute. The rehearsal went relatively well, especially considering I had no idea whether or not my scores were adequate for the other instruments. No one complained, so I guess they were ok!

Thursday afternoon, I was the guest speaker for a music business class at Fisk. I spoke about my life as a musician, offered advice to the students, answered questions and played a couple of classical pieces and one of my songs, “Faith of a Child” for the gathered audience. The students seemed to enjoy my talk, and I had a great time talking about what it’s like to be a working musician.

Then came Thurdsay night! Concert time! The first half of the concert featured a variety of music, including songs by Michael Jackson. My works were after the intermission. We started with my piece “Imperturbable” (which means “ Unshakably calm and collected”, in case you were wondering), followed by "Prelude + Resignation" and then “Alone”. The audience was on their feet and cheering loudly after the performance. All I could do was smile. Thanks to Dr. Nash and everyone who played my music for a job well done!

Next on my agenda, figuring out the direction of and FINALLY completing my CD project. Here I go….

In the mean time, here's some of the video from the concert:

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Disney World via Make-A-Wish

Last week I was given the opportunity to join my niece in receiving her wish from Make-A-Wish Foundation to visit Disney World! As many of you know, Naomi is a survivor of Leukemia, and as a survivor, it was suggested that she wait at least a year beyond being in remission before enjoying her wish so that she could have an optimal experience. My sister asked me to join her, our mother and the kids in Florida, and despite my hectic schedule, I couldn't imagine not taking part in Naomi's wish.

I flew to Florida two days before everyone else (the flights were cheaper leaving on a Thursday), and hoped to find a space to practice for my upcoming concert. I was happy to discover that the friend who graciously housed me for 2 days lives very close to a piano store! The owner, Teresa Foster, was friendly and kind, and didn't hesitate a bit when I asked if I could use one of her pianos to practice. Thank God for her generosity. I was so grateful for those practice hours to review my music. If you're in Jacksonville, FL, go see Teresa at Teresa's Piano Gallery and buy your piano from her!

I did manage some down time, visiting the Jacksonville Beach and taking a leisurely walk with friends on the rough sand. My feet got a de-facto pedicure...ouch! lol The little rocks digging into my feet didn't deter me from taking in the beauty of the ocean. After 2 days in Jacksonville, my friend, her daughters and I drove to Orlando to meet my family. We waited, and waited, and waited, and finally Naomi came skipping down the exit hallway at the airport with a huge grin,
ready to start her adventure.

We left the airport, drove a short distance and checked into the Give Kids the World Village, a magical resort built specifically for children who are or have been dealing with a debilitating disease or health condition. Everything about the village is stunning, from the playful colors on the Wonderland-esque buildings, to the genuine kindness, patience and love displayed by the staff and countless volunteers from around the world. The children were in awe, as were we adults. It's built so that the children who are too sick to enjoy the theme parks can still have a great time. Read all about GKTW on their website.

Photos from the village:

Saturday night was orientation for the parents, and a party for the kids: hula hoops, dancing to music kids like, bowling games, jump ropes, etc. My sister came back from orientation in a daze, utterly overwhelmed with amazement. We did our best to go to bed early despite the excitement, because the days ahead were going to be packed full of fun!

Sunday - Universal Studios. We arrived at the park just before noon (so much for trying to get there early - have you ever tried wrangling 8 people into being out the door early?? Sigh...) My mom had a couple of falls recently, and had to use a wheelchair, but thanks to our being escorted to the FRONT of every line for rides, shows, character photos, etc., she had a great time along with the rest of us. My nephew is a ride fanatic like me, so we were ride buddies. The faster, the more G-forces, the better! We managed to hit almost every ride in BOTH parks and wore ourselves fully out. However, the buzz was strong enough that we stayed up far too late Sunday night. Before falling asleep I noticed that Naomi's face was hot. Uh-oh...Yep. Fever. We gave her some tylenol to cut the fever and prayed for the best. By morning, Naomi said she felt better, so we went forward with our plans.

Monday - Disney Animal Kingdom. This particular Disney park didn't offer an escort to the front of the line, but we were allowed to enter the Fast Pass lanes, which made the wait significantly less than other folks standing in the regular lines, but slowed down our pace enough that we could only see this one park. But we had a blast! We did a safari, rode several rides, and the kids were invited to dance with the cast in the Lion King performance.

We had planned to head back to the village for dinner (3 meals per day per person are provided at the village - gratis), take a nap and then head back to the Magic Kingdom. I've always heard that it's amazing at night. But alas, Naomi was feeling terrible. Nina took her to the clinic and the diagnosis came back: strep throat! That meant that Naomi had to stay in bed all day on Tuesday. Since the fatigue had hit my mother particularly hard (the long flight, sitting all day in a wheel chair, etc.), it was decided that she'd stay at the villa with Naomi while my sister, nephew and I went to Disney Hollywood and Epcot. It was fun, but we missed Naomi and mom...

After lunch at Epcot, I had to go to the airport and fly home. I was only able to spend 3 days with the family because I had a concert on Wednesday at noon with soprano,
Dr. Candace Johnson, at UC Berkeley's Hertz Hall. Considering my lack of sleep, jet lag, and insufficient practice time (thanks to being a kid again in Orlando!), the performance went very well. I so love playing "Classical" music.

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to witness Naomi's joy in meeting her most beloved characters, being escorted to the front of every line for rides, participating in a theatrical presentation of the Lion King and just having a grand time. I'll never forget the smiles on the kids faces. Magical...