As you might remember, I'm embarking on a commissioning and recording project with the goal of changing how people think about the snare drum. After the premiere of her wonderfully creative Heart.Throb last month in Lawrence, I sat down with Nina Young to talk about how she approached writing for the snare drum. I'm looking forward to recording her piece soon, but in the meantime, you can watch some of our conversation, which quickly devolved into an extended improvisation on her Marvin.
Blue Skin of the Sea, commissioned in 2014 by a consortium of percussionists organized by myself, takes a closer look at the “skin” of the marimba by exploring what Tonia calls the “intimate, horizontal world of marimba bars” and the way the instrument’s sound seems to float several feet above the instrument. At the same time, Tonia uses the distinctive way the marimba’s sound is created to steer the work’s large-scale structure, creating a gradual timbral transformation from soft/resonant to dry/brittle and back again. The 1st and last movements emerge from the 5th partial above the marimba’s lowest C with a wiggling grace, while the 4th is a combination of the Hawaiian lullaby “Pupu Hinuhinu” (“Shiny Shells”), ragtime xylophone, and a tuning ditty used by “a classroom full of fourth graders strumming tiny toy ukuleles in not quite unison.” The 3rd movement (“Curiouser”) is a rustle-y interlude. The 2nd movement—the piece's musical center—is a flabbergastingly unique world of melodic scrapes.
Blue Skin fuses inspiration, form, musical content, and performance practice in a unique and poetic manner. In my opinion, it’s one of the most creative marimba pieces in recent memory, and certainly one of the most expressive works I’ve commissioned. Hope you enjoy!
So happy for Alex Weiser’s new album, just released on Cantaloupe Music.
Alex sets Yiddish and English poems with beauty, grace, and poignancy. I was proud to be able to contribute a little bit of vibraphone and glockenspiel, and to be part of such an amazing ensemble : Eliza Bagg (voice), Lee Dionne (piano), andPlay (Maya Bennardo and Hannah Levinson, and Hannah Collins (cello)
Alex wrote a nice blog post about the album’s genesis HERE. This project hits home for me. It combines study of archival texts, personal cultural history, and new work which rethinks historical ideas. Alex is the perfect composer to tackle these texts, and the disc is really amazing.
At the same time, being on a Cantaloupe release has been a dream of mine for many years, since my first year at the Bang on a Can Summer Festival, when I realized all my favorite music was being released by one record company. As always, it was a privilege to record at Oktaven Audio.
Listen and purchase here, or below:
Josh Quillen’s Concert Honesty podcast has inspired me for some time. His long-form conversations elicit greater understanding and deeper connections, and really highlight the value of simply speaking with someone in person.
At the same time, Josh’s generous, humble, and diligent persona really seem to draw out his guests’ first principles, sitting somewhere between therapy and an informational interview.
I had a wonderful time chatting with Josh about doubt, perfectionism, learning new skills, and the importance of studying Spanish. We also talked about long-distance musical projects, and what’s up with Unsnared Drum, New Morse Code, etc. Take a listen!
The semester here at KU has just started, but things are already in full swing, with some projects about which I’m very passionate coming to culmination in the next few weeks.
It all began last night with Victoria Botero’s Cecilia series and a program devoted to the music of Susan Kander. Hannah and I reprised *dwb* (driving while black), a one woman opera about the perils of teaching your son to drive in a country where driving while black could be lethal. dwb was one of our New Morse Connections projects, and I'm excited to keep sharing this work.
I also joined Jacob Ashworth and Victoria for the premiere of Eavesdropping, a setting of some of Michelle Boisseau’s evocative and powerful poetry. Boisseau, a KC-based poet and UMKC faculty member, passed away suddenly, and Susan was commissioned as a remembrance.
These are two gripping settings of texts and powerful pieces. Victoria (in Eavesdropping) and Roberta Gumbel (in dwb) are giving phenomenal performances, and I’m happy to be chiming in with a larger than normal assortment of instruments, including a spinning saw blade, amplified water, as well as the usual suspects. For more information, here’s a a great feature on the project by KC Studio, and a story from KCUR.
(Plus, the venue is total Mike-bait. The 1900 Building is the most modern mid-century modern building in KC, and a great place for those who appreciate modernist chair design, and who may or may not own books with titles such as "1000 chairs".)
Next week is another big percussive week in KS. We’ll be hosting superhuman composer/steel pan player Andy Akiho for a week of percussive activities culminating in a KU Percussion Group show at the Lied Center here on the KU campus. It’s unusual for a percussion group to be featured on our university’s concert series, and we’re really excited to make the most of the opportunity.
Andy’s music has become essential repertoire for percussionists, and we are excited to spend some time on a wide variety of his output. We’ll be featuring some of Andy’s recent chamber music, as well as his big steel band piece Alloy. I’ll play a few duos with Andy, and then he’ll join a combo of faculty and students for some of his Synesthesia pieces and no oNe To kNOW one. If you can’t make it out to Lawrence on the 31st, the show will be live-streamed here.
After that, it’s time for KU’s inaugural Wunsch New Music Festival. We do a lot of contemporary music at KU, but we haven’t had a dedicated new music festival until now. This February we’ll four amazing composers: Amy Kirsten, Tonia Ko, Hannah Lash, and Nina Young. We’ll be featuring their chamber and solo music in performances from our KU faculty February 13th and 14th, as well as pre-concert talks, presentations, and more.
Those of you reading closely might notice these are the four composers working on my Unsnared Drum project. Eek! I’m very excited to present three of these works during the festival. I can’t wait to share these pieces with the world, and continue to try and change how people think about and play one of my favorite instruments.
Then, it’s off to St. Louis to join the Missouri Chamber Music Festival for their Hannah Lash portrait concert. I’ll be playing Hannah’s snare drum solo Start, as well as her Folk Songs, on a program featuring Schumann’s Waldszenen, Hannah’s Frayed, and the Debussy flute, harp, viola sonata. If you’re nearby, come for the open rehearsal February February 16th, and stay for the concert February 17th (and support the snare drum!)
Finally, last year, I was fortunate to spend a few days at the Lansing Correctional Facility with Sarah Frisof, Ingrid Stölzel, and Hannah Collins. We worked with some of the (already really amazingly musical) inmates on composing a piece as a group. You can read more about the program here. For the workshops, Ingrid wrote a beautiful piece based on the Whitman poem “The Voice of the Rain," which we recorded at KU.