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:

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