2017 In Review


A seemingly random day to celebrate the Earth revolving around the sun is a great opportunity to slow down and take time to remember events in the last year that shape the people we are becoming.




The year started out leading a “J-Term” project at the high school in which I teach. The project was to teach the kids “IMPROVESTRA” and it was a wild success. I’m not used to having to teach people how to improvise so, it was a huge learning curve for myself. The kids rose to the challenge and even took turns leading the group in full scale improvisations. This has got me thinking a lot about writing some sort of book or set of videos about how to improvise and grasp the concept of improvising.

I also got asked to help conduct a small triangle choir (the instrument, not the shape) in a Marcos Balter composition at the Ordway. The SPCO has been good about commissioning new music and Marcos is a fabulous composer from New York. He wrote a programatic piece about the life of the God Pan, and had Claire Chase playing every flute imaginable; surrounding her throughout the venue were little choirs of instrument groups: ocarinas, triangles, singing water glasses, etc. This was a great experience for me to be apart of such a beautiful piece of music with some incredible professionals. Maybe one day I will be flying all over and hearing my music played by different ensembles.

Lastly, I’ve included a video of my arrangement of “Precious Lord” for Martin Luther King’s Birthday:





This was my favorite month of the year, which is not often how I feel about February in Minneapolis, but after working for two years plus to finally finish my bassoon concerto, my year couldn’t get much sweeter. I have a lot to learn about composition and the expression that comes with writing music unhindered by lack of knowledge, but looking back on this performance is something I can hold on to for a little while as a great accomplishment that will push me towards more and better writing.


Bassoon Concerto Poster

Here is the program:


Here is a link to the video if you’d like to listen:




In March, my girlfriend Christine and I went on a trip out to Denver and met up with an old friend, Shanna. Traveling with a partner is a sure fire way to know if you are meant to be together long term and we clicked perfectly.

Syrup in Denver

I also started a new residency with IMPROVESTRA at Surly Brewing Company every second Monday of the month, to replace the once great Potted Meet Mondays. This only lasted a year, but it was good and taught us a lot.

There was a second and final performance of the concerto but I began taking on other projects finally.  I wrote an all female choir arrangement to accompany Elliott Blaufuss’ song “Nothin’ Left To Do But Love” but it never got recorded. Here is the original song:





April was not a very exciting time but I did a lot of writing and I began a summer long expedition of lowering my handicap in golf. I was shooting around the low 90’s in the beginning of the summer and my goal was to break 80. This is just a beautiful twilight hour on the 18th hole of Columbia Golf Course.

Golfing at Columbia.JPG




May was uneventful as well but filled with different kinds of memories. I started putting all of my scores on Youtube as a way of promoting my music.

The biggest change was my first year of teaching at a high school was over. The seniors graduated and I was forced to say goodbye to some students that I had become very close with and that I admired very much. We had our final concert with the orchestra where we played the second movement of Prokofiev’s 5th symphony; this is still one of my favorite pieces of music.

Dan Zamzow also left our house and me as a roommate. Dan and I lived together for about 3 years and still is one of my best friends. He has a way of thinking outside of the box and getting me to consider different perspectives about any situation. I went back and looked at all my Facebook memories with Dan and there are a lot: we did a Tedx talk, we have played probably 30 gigs, we’ve watched football, we went to Toronto, we’ve done podcasts, we’ve been on the radio, we’ve done stage plays, and the list goes on. This is probably my favorite memory:



Lastly, I traveled to Palm Springs and got to watch my cousin Liz Dinapoli marry the man of her dreams: Josh Rose. I was reunited with Gina and Emerson and had some good realizations about my life. If I want more freedom in my life, I will have to make a little more money; If I truly desire that kind of freedom, I should have a higher education so that more teaching jobs are applicable to me. My newest life calling has been made clear: I want to teach music composition at a University level and continue to write for better and better orchestras.


At some point this month, I joined my buddy’s brewery team and started supporting my golf habit with a little hard work. I became a beertender at Headflyer Brewery.

headflyer logo






June I golfed a lot and enjoyed my first real month of freedom from work. Both my church gig and my teaching gig pay me year round but I get the summers off. So, life was really good.

That month as bigger for more reasons though. This month Scott Bergmann and I released an album that we had been working on for about two years: Dreamcatcher. This album was the culmination of so many people’s hard work. I am more proud of this album than almost any other project, excluding of course my own concert works. My favorite track is probably “Leafboat” but a lot of people tell me “Dreamcatcher” is their favorite.






The month started off by IMPROVESTRA going up to Door County Brewing Company and playing the opening of their new brewery and spending some time on the “beach”.

July was full of trips and fun. Christine and I went to Chicago for the fourth of July to visit some of her family and then we went to Northern California to visit some of my family. We stayed in a family’s home in Gualala on the coast of California with my Dad, Stepmom and Brothers. We went into Santa Cruz and spent more time with Emerson and I got to show Christine an old place I used to eat breakfast, “Paula’s”. The cook and owner recognized me after 11 years and we sat and ate with my uncle Rob.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.




This month, things started to wind down and become a little more normal. I finally hit my goal in golf of breaking 80. In fact I broke it 3 times but the last time was early in August with a low of 78.

Also this month, Sarah Koster got married to the love of her life, Steve Wilk. It was a great time at a really cool venue and it was the first marriage that Christine and I attended together, which had us talking of course. Michael Holloway and Mickey Mangan, two of my oldest and best friends came to visit for the wedding and we shared it all together.




September brought even more regularity as I began my second year as a high school teacher of music.



Brian Just and I collaborated on some of his songs for his album and they were released with a huge show at the Turf Club in Minneapolis on the ninth. IMPROVESTRA got to play a couple of sets before Brian and then opened his set with an all acoustic performance of one of his songs with my arrangement.


This was a night to remember. I felt an extreme amount of love coming from every player and audience member at that show. Nights like these leave me very happy to do what I do.




This was a cool month for me. I was treated by Christine to a lovely birthday at a pizza farm, some lovely food at Travail and some quality time with good friends trying to get out of an escape room full of riddles.

I also took some initiative and started my own website full of my compositions and some educational videos in music. I think I’m getting closer to making some of these improvisational education videos.


Screen Shot 2017-12-30 at 8.58.54 PM.png

There was, of course, some halloween fun to be had as a squirrel.





November was filled with Thanksgiving visits from my cousin Brandon and his family and trips to Iowa to visit his twin sister Brooke, as well as more IMPROVESTRA gigs.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


One of my favorite memories from this month was visiting Andrew Thoreen’s cabin in Ponsford, MN where I originally went for six weeks to write my Bassoon concerto. This was my first trip back there and I was accompanied by Andrew himself. This was a time of great writing and reflection on what is important in my life. A time when everything is quiet, possibly more quiet then I would like.

But the biggest part of this month was my application to a school for a Master’s in composition. After months of talking with some professors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (currently ranked the third best performing arts school in the world), I decided this was the only place I was going to try and attend. We will see what the future holds and if there will be more applications next year.

Screen Shot 2017-11-29 at 4.29.27 PM




December started off in a scary way. My dog Spaghetti got into something he shouldn’t have and began shaking and seizing. He was treated quickly but the vet left me with a huge bill. Thankfully, my neighborhood of friends and family pitched in and through crowd funding donations of about $10 a piece, the bill was paid off in a couple of days. I am beyond grateful for the friends and community I have here and around the world.

On a more positive note, Josh Misner and I completed the final mix of a piece I wrote for string orchestra, “Contained”. Josh played most of the string parts with a little help from Eric Solberg, Cory Grossman, Erica Burton and company. Josh used this piece to show off his new studio and recording abilities. I am proud to say that this piece steps in a new direction for me and was a leap of faith. It came together very nicely but regardless, I feel a new type of expression with this music. I hope you all can enjoy the complexity of emotion in this piece.



My alma mater, McNally Smith College of Music closed it’s doors this month as well. This is not a huge shock to anyone but a devastating blow to the Minneapolis/St. Paul musical community none the less. The school treated the students and the faculty unfairly in this situation. I am not excited to see how the musical community evolves from here.

Finally, I capped off the year by traveling to Scotland to visit the school I applied to earlier this year. I met up with my old roommate and friend, Paul Jennings and met a lot of folk that Paul considers family. I got to talk to some professors from the school in person and they seem very excited by my music and what I could bring to the school.




This year has been maybe a little more mundane than previous years in terms of output and ingenuity but I have made some great connections. I’ve lost some friends and learned more about myself than maybe every before. Growth and a strong value system is very important to me as well as setting strong and specific boundaries for myself. If I have one wish, it would be that more people take an active role in the music around them. My final thoughts are this:

I write music because I love to and I believe in it’s power to move people. However, people seem to be complacent about music recently, and it’s my belief that because of the incredible over-saturation of music in our everyday life, it doesn’t seem to hold as much weight as it once did. For me, music is special when I know the person who created it. There is a lot of cool music on the radio and throughout the world, but if someone I know created something special to them and it has merit, I get an incredible feeling from knowing I can call or text that person and ask them about specific parts. I know that makes their day and it certainly makes my day when it’s done to me. You cannot compliment me more than listening to the music I create and talking with me about it or using it during an emotional part of your life. Please keep this in mind if you have musicians in your life.

Thank you for reading.



The Intent of Art


I had a conversation with a close friend of mine the other day (5/30/2015) about the intent of art and what makes a music “product” for consumption and who consumes it. This was what he wrote on the subject and I thought it was appropriate to share with you.

It seems that it’s not as much of even the music that I play but the conviction of it, and how much I and the band believe what we’re doing. Sure you need the other sides – marketing, playing the right rooms. Yes the product needs to be there, but you can sell a lot, and it could go many different ways and be equally successful.

When the Intent of Art Changes


                           In regards to the current recording methods and process of modern popular music, I feel that we have lost honesty and integrity in the art, among many other truths. What happens when the intent of art changes? When that initial spark of inspiration is fanned by a wad of cash? When you have time and time again to pick apart a MOMENT, it doesn’t work. When you try to make something perfect through unnatural means, it doesn’t work. Those things don’t work in life or nature and they don’t work in music and art.

In the earlier days of recording you had to get tune down in all one take, without many edits and fixes.   In this manner, you capture the fluidity of a sentiment, the whole story so to say, and if it’s a real talent, the story will be interesting. That story could change from one take to the next, it could change drastically in the course of a day, but whatever it was it would be captured fully and honestly.

“I went to the live show and they sounded terrible”. Why is this statement so prevalent? There are some real-deal, straight to the heart talents out there and they, of course, set the bar. When everyone else without as much to give want to sound great and sell records like the talents do, they are forced to find a way other than the natural one. Those people now have the means to do it, with pro tools, auto-tune, and beat detective. Even many of those who are so gifted use these crutches because it has become such a standard. Though in my eyes much more is lost than gained. More is lost in the actual process and what it meant to record to tape. The great care that went into finding the right song and players, Rehearsing the arrangement (and not in different parts of the country), and then that special moment that no one can explain when all take in one breath together and begin to play, in the same room…together. As we move further away from this direction the natural progression is for us to be less appreciative of those more naturally musical and artistic people, as a society. The singers and storytellers. The people who pass it all on.

All this said, I still believe that people can feel when it is truly from the heart and when someone knocks their Fucking socks off with a breathtaking, emoting voice or brings tears by way of a haunting melody. But if there is less and less of real art being pursued, displayed, and represented in the public forums, will it continue to disappear further? Or at least lose the grit and salvation of humanity realized, because the world has changed? Will it continue the purpose of art and represent exactly what has happened to society, and it’s me who doesn’t like my surroundings? As humans I don’t think we’ve changed much in the last bit of our development, our needs are close to the same, maybe more worries, maybe not. But if we keep buying what they’re selling, soon we’ll have tainted the fertile soil of creation, and that which does grow will never be the same. But everyday many artists are born, and they are already hardwired to challenge all that exists and will exist in their time, for that is a cornerstone of art itself

-Mixers only look at screens now

-People recorded so they could have more and wouldn’t have to go to a club or to that city or town to see a specific person

-it doesn’t sound like that when you perform live so why would you want to give the people a misrepresentation of who you are

Here is the score I have been mesmerized by recently. Alan Hovhaness Symphony No. 2


2014 In Review


Here we are again, looking back on a year of battles won and lost. Looking back on a year always includes a bit of deception for me, at least as far as my memory of time goes. The one thing I took from looking back on this year was how my perception was so skewed. I had a couple of rough patches and I let myself remember those as the definitive times of the year, and further let it define my attitude towards all of 2015. The reality is that I have gone through a lot of ups and downs and experiences this year. To judge them at all is not only incorrect but also not very healthy.

I hosted far more events with live music then every before. I wrote more music consistently, and with a higher level of musicianship. I took a lot of chances and let a lot of opportunities slip past me. I conducted more frequently than ever before, and I realized some things about myself and my values that give me solace and a sense of empowerment. So, here it is: my life in 2015 with all it’s ups and downs without judgement.



I hosted my first of 3 improv gigs at Aster Cafe and started a house band of my own original tunes, “Velma” with Nelson Devereaux (Flute/Ten. Sax), Ben Kelly (Bass), & Andy Fleeser (Rhodes) for a Zombie-themed bar called “Donny Dirks Zombie Den”.

This was really liberating for me as a composer and organizer because I was able to get great musicians to play a bunch of weird experimental music I was writing. The genres I was given by the owner of the bar were: 70s porn/50s Vegas Lounge/80s Horror film. The residency didn’t last long for one reason or another but we had a great time.

This was also the month a lot of friends went up to Kevin Dorsey’s cabin to celebrate Todd Smith’s bachelor party. We played a lot of ping pong and had a lot of great eye opening conversations that eventually led me to breaking up with my girlfriend of a year and a half.


ChelseaIMG_1993 and I broke up on good terms after deciding we were better off as friends. This was a hard decision but definitely an important one for me.

After only two seasons in the Minnesota Flag Football league, I took my team to the Championship and won! We finished the season 8-4 and took home a memorial shirt along with our new Jerseys. “Cool Ranch” made a name for itself.

I spent a lot of time writing a couple arrangements for LA Buckner’s recital and Potted Meet Mondays as he was the featured musical guest in February. Martin Dosh showed up to that one, and we had quite a large turnout for only our third event. These are quiet months in Minneapolis.


IMG_2112This month I sold my first house as a Real Estate agent of Keller Williams to my friend Madelynn. She and I were both happy and everything went smoothly. I think we both have a special place in each other’s lives because of this and the last two years of friendship. I value our relationship greatly.

I also wrote and conducted all the music for the very first episode of Ben Kelly’s live variety show called, “Bear & the Barrel”. In March I couldn’t have realized the extent of what I was going to learn from doing 4 of these shows this year but it marks my life so far as being the largest professional gig in my career. Over the course of four shows I wrote 38 arrangements for every genre of music, some live underscore and 4 live film scores (2 of which were improvised using both written “gestures” and hand signals I created). From the research I’ve done, I have yet to come across any evidence that a partially or completely improvised film score has been created for a live audience, using a conductor. What a monumental shift in what I thought I was capable of achieving.

A picture of the main theme I wrote for the show is shown on the right. It’s in the style of Count Basie and orchestrated how Sammy Nestico might have done.


In April I was independently hired for another Chris Jopp film called, “Motion Poem”. The film is about some of the different Psychological thoughts on humans and their patterns. It has a little bit of an existentialist twist to it which was fun to bring out in the music. This marks a special film score for me for two reasons: First, it’s one of the only times I’ve mixed live instruments with electronic instruments and techniques and secondly, it was the first time I’ve recorded a film score that had guided improvisation for the players. I wrote out some chord changes and gestures for part of the score and let them come up with what they heard based on some background tracks I created previously. The effect was marvelous. Later this year, the music would be used for a live play in Los Angeles created by a middle school friend of mine by the name of Jessica Richmond. I’ve attached a YouTube link to the film and a Soundcloud link to the score:

I also asked long standing friend and bassoonist, Trent Jacobs to be a featured artist for Potted Meet Mondays. The result was I sketched out the first and second movement to an electric bassoon concerto that involves both improvised conducting and more improvising that normal for the bassoonist.

IMG_2120I was asked by an old professor, Sean McMahon to host a master’s class on film scoring and the result was my realization for my love for teaching as well as being featured on Charlie McCarron’s podcast, “Composer Quest”. I have copied the link below.


If that wasn’t enough, I also cowrote an original score to my second live theater show for Theater In The Round. All in all, it was a busy month.


IMG_2019May was far less eventful musically but emotionally it was charged. My cousin and best friend Brandon came to visit me in Minnesota and we drove down to Iowa to visit his twin sister Brooke. I don’t know how healthy or open minded I would be if it weren’t for Brandon and Brooke. We have been through a lot of things together both bad and good and although all three of us are supremely different in our every day decisions, I can’t imagine two people who know me better. After the ups and downs in the first part of 2015 and his trip out to Minnesota, it was obvious that Brandon has been the Yang to my Yin. This was a special trip indeed.

This month I also got close to a new friend and roommate, Eli Elstad. We stayed up many nights talking about personality traits and chess tactics. I will always look back on these memories with great fondness. I don’t know when circumstances will align again and this will be possible so I will never forget it.


IMG_2520Brandon’s trip ended early in June with a bike pub crawl. Maybe 12 of us rented NiceRide bikes and took them to six different bars where there were docking stations outside. After a drink, we would hop on the bikes again and head to the next bar. Nothing could be cooler than my best friend becoming family with all my friends in Minnesota.

Ben and I also undertook our second year of Gossip Orchestra in the Northern Spark Festival. Gossip Orchestra was our way of getting non musicians involved in the creation and spontaneity of Improvised music: 12 musicians set up in a circle (with a gap at one side as an entrance). Each musician has a button and a light set up in front of them and an iPad is set up in the center of the circle. Viewers are allowed to enter the circle 1 or 2 at a time and push the buttons in front of the musicians which turns on the light and tells them to start improvising. The iPad at the center has 9 squares on it with different colors. All colors are linked to a word that guides the “flavor” of the improvisation but only the musicians know what the words are. When a color is tapped, all lights in front of musicians that are on turn to that color, and the result is a change in the improvised style. We played all night from midnight to 6am. My fingers were sore from hitting the keys.


IMG_2655July marked the second Bear & the Barrel show and my mom came to visit me. I don’t know if it was the pressure of the second show, or having my mom there with so much going on, or maybe the reality of not having Chelsea in my everyday life hitting me, but July was a really hard month for me. Maybe the hardest month I’ve had. I hit some low points and at one point thought about some dark solutions. Todd and I had many talks as well as with my mom and others. I wrote some of my most idiomatic work and invented a notation style for doing partially improvised live film scores. It was extremely successful.

IMG_2648The end of the month capped off with Ben and I donating a week to East Side City Arts Council- Art Mobile. We went around to different parks and taught kids about music, how to build a kazoo and generally marched around banging things together.
After this month I decided I needed to make a change in my lifestyle and I gave up smoking pot. This had been pretty habitual for me since I was 21 and although the effects weren’t immediate, the result has been life changing. Having depressants in my life on a regular basis doesn’t do me well as I am easily susceptible to negative thoughts. The rest of the year got progressively easier after this huge decision. I’m grateful to my friends for supporting me on this.


IMG_2769August, I didn’t write very much music but I got to conduct Brian Lenz’s musical for the Fringe Festival, “Pandora’s Box”. This is the most conducting of one show I’ve ever done and I was very pleased with the outcome both of the music and harnessing my skills as a leader and communicator.

Much to my mother’s dismay, I also got another tattoo. In fact, my first color tattoo. Of my original concept David O’Donnell of Broken Hearts Tattoo Club gave me a very beautiful and illustrative image of a living “tree-boy” on the outside of my left calf. It was a six hour sit and the last two hours were not pleasant but the outcome was magnificent.

As if to say, the world isn’t as hard as you think it is, I got a job teaching middle schoolers private composition lessons. They came in one at a time in two hour sessions with the lyrics and basic idea of a song that I was to transform and expand upon to their liking. This was amazing musically and developmentally for both me and the kids but one little girl changed me. In asking her the song she wrote about her sister with Cerebral Palsy, this little girl felt comfortable enough with me to divulge some very personal information on how she came to appreciate her sister so much. Five years ago (almost to the day) she was 8 years old, when she witnessed her mother and father’s death by her father’s own hand. This brave 8 year old climbed on top of her sister and covered her eyes while reaching for the phone and dialing 9-1-1.

She told me that experience made her grateful to have her sister and appreciative of life. I took to not complaining as a lifestyle.


IMG_2646In September I got hired by my college piano teacher Leah Siltberg to be the conductor of handbells and choir at First Christian Church in Uptown. This is a blessing since it is so hard to get these jobs with no prior experience. For the first time in my life I am getting paid monthly to be a musician who leads other musicians. There couldn’t be a better job for me at this point in my life.

This month Bill and I restructured Potted Meet Mondays to make it more sustainable with a bigger crew of workers and said goodbye to Chelsea as a member of our staff. These are big changes for PMM but we have a lot of confidence in what the next couple of years will bring to our organization. September was memorialized by having an all string Improvestra. What a sound that was!

I wrote a lot of music this month and bought myself a bike getting ready to turn 30.


IMG_2933I turned 30 years old and organized a 30 mile bike ride with friends. At certain points along the way, I told stories of that age in my life that corresponded to the mile we were biking. Also, I asked friends to write me letters of advice for my fourth decade. Those who weren’t able to bike with me would be posted at different points on the route and hand off the letter and wish us well. After the ride, a lot of people met at my place and helped make pizzas and a bonfire. We drank and told stories all night. It was the perfect way to kick off the decade and say goodbye to the last.

George Krikes and King Washington came into town while they were on tour every weekend in October and November. They were the featured musical artist for Potted Meet Mondays and my relationship with George became a bond that won’t break under any circumstances.

IMG_3035Our 3rd episode of Bear & the Barrel was a halloween show and it featured some of my favorite music from Ben Kelly and for sure my favorite film of the four episodes. I wrote Danny Elfman like music to a horror comedy called “Melonheads”. The music was slap-stick, horrifying, driving and extremely colorful. I wrote a lot of Bi-tonal music with weird modulations and movements. It has been my favorite music to date. The main theme, I stole from Mahler 3 and in the opening I put it against a modulated version of another section in Mahler 3 creating a Mahler on Mahler collage of sound with a hint of me in the orchestration. I like to think of myself in this period of my life as a smahler Mahler :-).

I got a little better at chess openings and was Finn (from the cartoon Adventure Time) for Halloween. Life had definitely improved since the second episode of Bear & the Barrel.


IMG_3012I took in a cat from outside Madelynn’s house and named her Ding. I think she is a long haired siamese around 4 or 5. She is sweet as can be and loves to be held over my shoulder and sit on my Rhodes while I write music. My dog is enamored and they both sleep on my bed whether I’m on it or not.

Improvestra started gigging out more and opened for King Washington at the Turf Club and closed out an art gallery for Gamut. I got a new music student from New York who is a prolific song writer named Elizabeth Ziman.

I started the “Gin & Stout Chess Club” with some buddies and for the first two months ever, financially leaned on music alone. Starting to feel very confident in myself and my abilities. I am comfortable being who I am. I started dating again after a couple of failed attempts.

Snow fell for the first time since last winter and I am really looking forward to the final episode of Bear & the Barrel in December.


282280Bear & the Barrel’s last episode was a hit! We sold out every show and the incredible Coffee Pot Orchestra was the only force in supporting Brian Just. The film score was a little bit of Randy Newman and a lot of cliche but went off without a hitch. I wrote 8 arrangements and a 7 min film score in 7 days. I feel confident that I can do anything I want musically.

Potted Meet Mondays celebrated it’s 1 year anniversary! What a journey that has been. I’ve written at least one arrangement every month for that (13 in all). I couldn’t be happier with how I am making my stance in the twin cities and in the music community.

I started a hashtag called #mugaday for the month of January where I auction off a unique mug everyday on Facebook to the first person to show me a receipt that they donated ANY amount of money to ANY charity.

I got my first Chess student online and started playing in some online tournaments. My uncle Dan came out and visited me for about 4 days. We had a blast talking about Grandpa and music and telling each other jokes. I am finally able to have deep meaningful conversations about the abstract and practical implications of music with Dan. I got a notification regarding the foreclosure of the house I live in and have made movements towards buying it.

In Conclusion & Goals:

I am excited to start the new year and have a feeling it might hold the start to a couple of new relationships.

Non-specific goals I have include: Donating more time to those in need and promoting charitable work; building stronger, longer lasting relationships with people who deserve my love and time; working on becoming a more complete version of myself mentally, physically and emotionally as well as accepting my natural traits and tendencies instead of trying to be something I can’t be for the sake of someone else. I would also like to spend more time being organized, consistent & cherishing important memories.

More specific goals I have include: Recording my first album of my own tunes; recording at least 15 other works (hopefully for Brian Just and Scott Bergman); doing 4 film scores; continuing to expand Potted Meet Mondays; take on more music and chess students; visit 2 new places (Austin for sure), be open to new possibilities; and finally, to let myself be okay with NOT taking on projects or other people’s problems.

This is an exciting time in my life and I’m ready to take on the more difficult challenges that adulthood holds. Thank you for reading.

Song a Week (1/27/14)

Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 is especially special to me after it was the topic of a final paper in a class titled “Piano Music of the 19th Century” created by Michael Holloway, Josh Bourdon and I and taught by Linda Chachiolades.

It’s my belief that it paints the picture of a story written by Adam Mickiewicz named, “Konrad Wallenrod”. The story is meant to inspire the uprising in Poland regarding the partitioning of the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth.

The music follows the story and the emotion of the main character almost flawlessly.


Artistry and Craftsmanship

In every musicians life he will have many discussions about his “artistry” and what it means to be an artist. In music school, there are often questions or concerns on learning archaic styles or practices of music. This seems like a contextual problem to me. Let me see if I can shed a little light.

Recently I spoke with a composition student of mine who put up some defenses regarding the music he writes. From his point of view, I stifle his creativity by limiting what he can do. So I ask my student about the reason for his defenses.

“Do you feel like I am infringing on your creativity?”

“Yeah I guess I do.” He says, “How am I supposed to say what I need to say with all of these rules and margins?”

I think about this quietly for a while and then respond with another question. “How difficult would it be to explain the complex feeling you get when your wife engages in conversation with a good-looking man? Her eyes fix on his and she is connecting with him mentally. Jealousy is an easy answer but how does jealousy feel? How would you describe the feeling of jealousy?” Knowing my student’s weakness and insecurities, this is a difficult and emotionally charged question.

He is immediately and visually upset and with his mouth slightly parted, his eyes search the ground as if following a ‘connect the dot’ pattern that isn’t there. He is trying to hold back his feelings and understand them simultaneously. After a moment he responds, “I’m not sure. It’s difficult to understand that feeling. It’s a lot like anger but the way it makes me feel is hard to put into words.”

“It’s almost as if the English language isn’t enough, or maybe, if you don’t mind, you don’t have enough understanding of the language to express yourself correctly.” I ask him, “If you have spoken English everyday for 29 years and were taught correct usage of English in school, then why is it so difficult to express these regularly occurring feelings?”  I answer myself, “Because the artistry of expression is the most difficult craft to master, especially through a disjunct and awkward medium like the English language. Now imagine a language that is intangible and primarily based in emotion and perception. The risk-reward factor is much higher. We, as composers and creators of music, have the ability to make people feel how we feel and understand the nuances in such complicated emotions as jealousy, but with their own comprehension.”

Finally I answer his question, “I put barriers around your composition to focus your energy towards content in the lesson plan in hopes that you harness each tool. This will one day give you the ability to build a mansion with your extended language. That is the work of a craftsman, and hopefully one day someone will look at your work and see the artistry.”

As I grow older, I understand my grandfather’s teachings and in turn, more and more I understand him. I wish he were here.

What’s In A Name?

Talking with Todd Smith today about names for the new generation we are on the forefront of creating. It seems kind of strange to think that we are, as a people, generally responsible for naming the people destined to take over. I guess thinking of those “people” as adults is tripping up my perspective.

He told me they (he and Jacy) have already decided as a couple that Everett will be the name of their first-born son, assuming they have one. It’s a good name for a boy, Everett “Rhett” Mitchell Smith. I like the name Cotton Ferguson to continue my lineage. I think it has a certain amount of charisma. It’s an older style of name, which I like because it pays homage to an older generation of good, hard-working men and women. Cotton Ferguson starts at the back of the mouth with a soft but powerful “K” sound and closes on a tongued consonant that acts like a springboard into the last name.

“Name” as food for thought.  

Song a Week (1/20/14)

Today’s song is brought to you by my friend and ex-roommate Todd Smith: Thundercats, “Is It Love?” took me a while to appreciate. It does have an instant grove and nice feeling but I don’t tend to rely on that. This song also has that “artsy” feel that takes me a while to enjoy. Not an easily comprehendible melody, more abstract ideas but still simple. I grew to love it, especially the melody in the chorus. The lyrics are nice how they describe a destitute lover that regrets holding on so tight. When you love someone, you have to trust that they will love you back without holding them down. So here ya go: