Well, the semester has finally come to a close. Concerts are all played, projects all turned in, finals taken, and jury performed. And now I'm on a plane: sitting in a chair, in the sky, on the internet. Technology is awesome. I'll be landing in Baltimore at around 9 PM tonight, and immediately start rehearsing with Medicine Lake for our CD release show tomorrow! Don't forget: 7:00, Recher Theater, Towson, Maryland. Tickets are $10, and we'll have CDs, T-shirts, and other merchandise at the show!
While I'm indulging in such shameless self promotion, I might as well also mention that I was recently selected as a finalist for the YouTube Symphony Orchestra! The audition this year included an improvisation portion--two improvised solo sections were built into the piece (Mothership by Mason Bates), and YouTube offered an audition for these sections open to all instrumentalists. I auditioned for the rhythmic improvisation section on vibraphone, and was selected as one of seventeen finalists! If you can spare the time, I would greatly appreciate your vote: you can cast your vote by clicking here.
I learned a whole lot this semester, but probably the most important thing I learned was that no matter how busy you get, it's possible. This semester was unlike anything I've ever dealt with before, and you better believe that I complained about it all the time. I'm sure Ji Hye (my teacher at KU) was sick of hearing about how busy I was by the end of the semester. Sorry for whining so much.
I had to make some choices in order to make it work, and perhaps the most frustrating of them was the balance between homework and practicing. Now, at this point, understand that doing things for fun was out of the question. I gave myself Friday and Saturday evenings (pretty late) as time to not do homework or practice so that I wouldn't lose my mind. Other than that, I felt bad for my blossoming video game collection, and the nice TV and sound system that my old roommate gave me. I barely touched any of them.
In a normal day, I could generally find time to practice at least 2 hours a day minimum--which would always happen from the hours of 8am to 10am , before my first classes. After this, I was generally able to find another hour or two throughout the day to practice, but my constantly shifting rehearsal, teaching, and concert schedule proved to make finding consistent hours difficult. I had to do the best I could.
However, my classes had a great deal of work attached to them as well. Each meeting had some sort of reading assignment attached to it, I had frequent writing assignments, and the final projects were quite large and involved a great deal of preparation. Thankfully I didn't have very many tests to worry about in either class, but when I did there was a fair amount of studying involved.
It was the midterm for my renaissance music history class that made me begin thinking about this a lot. I began studying for that midterm about, say, a week before the test. The day or two immediately preceding the exam, I spent almost all of my "free" time (which included practice hours) to studying for this midterm. I even cancelled my lesson for the week in order to prepare.
I got a perfect score on the midterm. 100%. All of that studying paid off. Except... I could have practiced and probably pulled off a B.
Don't get me wrong, I was ecstatic to see my score. Being at Peabody taught me how hard I need to work in order to make it in this industry, and I've certainly learned how to apply that to my academic studies. Learning about the history of music is hugely important to a music student. But, at the same time, I'm a percussionist. While it's great to know where the orchestra repertoire I study evolved from, I will rarely ever have to deal with renaissance music in my percussive career. Maybe if I transcribed a motet for marimba, sure... but since when was I going to be playing solo marimba renaissance transcriptions? Doesn't seem very likely.
So was it worth it to cancel my lesson and stop practicing so that I could get an A+ on my renaissance midterm? You tell me, I'd certainly be interested to open this question for discussion. The solution that I came up with was this:
I drove halfway across the country to study percussion with Ji Hye Jung. Not to be a musicologist.
I always thought the quote "don't let school get in the way of your education" was funny, but now it's hitting pretty close to home. I will still strive to get the best grades I can get in my academic coursework--but for now on, never again at the expense of my instrumental studies.
Well, I've been long overdue to make a post in this thing. A lot has happened, so I apologize. Here we go:
I spent the summer living in Baltimore, working at RadioShack, practicing, and getting ready for my grad school adventure in Kansas. I spent most of July working at a rock day camp called "DayJams", where I taught keyboards and coached bands comprised of 8-15 year olds. It was certainly exhausting, but still a wonderful experience. In addition to these things, I spent a great deal of time performing with my band, Medicine Lake. We're currently in the process of finishing an EP, which will be released at the Recher Theater in Towson, MD on December 11! Go see us!
The day I moved out of Baltimore, my car was broken into and my laptop, sound card, external hard drive, wireless keyboard/mouse, Wacom tablet, Seinheisser headphones, laptop mount/usb hub, and 8gb microSD card were stolen. Silly me for putting them all in the same backpack. My dad's backpack was also stolen, he lost a pair of prescription glasses and some books. Who was I to think I could live in Baltimore without sustaining some sort of loss!
Anyway, I live in Lawrence, Kansas now. I'm a grad student at Kansas University, studying percussion with Ji Hye Jung and working for both her and Dan Gailey (head of the jazz department) as a graduate teaching assistant. In addition to my own homework and practicing, my responsibilities include teaching private students, a percussion methods class, coaching a few jazz combos, and general clerical work. It is also exhausting--much more so than teaching 8-15 year olds how to play rock music. However, I do believe the rewards of this experience will far exceed the rewards of teaching at DayJams.
Lawrence is a really beautiful place. It's this weird isolated sort of oasis in the middle of Kansas... it seems to have everything. You get a street like Mass St. where the night life happens--bars, clubs, restaurants... people are always out. Then, you head to the opposite side of town and find yourself in complete suburban paradise--the type of place I would want to raise a kid. Head south and you're immersed in absolute commercial overload--Best Buy, WalMart, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, car dealers... pretty much everything. Of course, in the middle of all of this is Kansas University itself. Thanks to all the variety, Lawrence seems to be a really interesting cultural mix. You get plenty of liberal wierdos akin to what I lived with in Baltimore... but at the same time, plenty of the more grounded, conservative middle class that I'm so used to from living in West Hartford.
I really do enjoy studying at KU, despite how busy things are. Ji Hye is basically two people to me. During the day, she's 100% my teacher (and boss)--I get nervous for lessons, she kicks my ass and I really feel like I have to work hard for her if I want to be successful. Yet, we'll all go out somewhere and suddenly she's the same Ji Hye I was friends with at Peabody. It's really nice to have both Ji Hyes here, especially considering I basically up and left everything I had become familiar with to move out here to Kansas. If nothing else, it's one thread of consistency I have to hold on to. In fact, considering the theft of pretty much my entire electronic identity, it's one of the only.
Classwork is pretty demanding. They take musicology pretty seriously here, and it's really hard to keep up. I came to the frustrating realization here that I really don't have time enough to do as well in everything I'm responsible for as I am possibly capable of. If I want to excel in one discipline, something else is going to have to give. In other words: if I have to chose between necessary homework or necessary practicing, I have to chose practicing. Earlier in the semester, I didn't practice for about two days just to study for a midterm--which I aced. But I could've practiced and gotten a B+ on it. Hmm.
Yet, through all of the changes, one thing I'm still trying to hold on to is my participation with my band, Medicine Lake. Looking back at my previous entries, I don't think I've written much about them. Here's what's up:
Medicine Lake basically started over the summer for me, even though I had been rehearsing with them sporadicly throughout the school year. It wasn't until the summer we had our first big show, which was opening for another band at the Recher Theater in Towson.
I play keyboards and percussion for these guys--namely vibes, marimba, and malletkat (which for our live engagements generally plays the role of marimba), and sing back-up vocals. I've always wanted to be a rock star to some degree, and it's nice to really make that dream become a reality (to some degree). I also feel like it's a step closer to bridging the gap between the stigmas of classical music and rock music. It's not every day you hear vibes and marimba in a rock band, and the only reason I can do that is because I went to school for classical music. I just hope it's an idea that catches on to more people. As much as I love playing with them, it does make me realize how much music there is out there that I want to make. Playing jazz, playing in an orchestra, playing chamber music... I just hope I have opportunities in these worlds like I do with Medicine Lake.
We spent most of the summer recording an EP, and are going to be releasing it at a show on December 11 (also at the Recher Theater in Towson!). I've sacrificed both my fall and Thanksgiving breaks (as well as a great deal of money) to fly back to Baltimore just to rehearse with these guys. If you're in the Baltimore area then, come see us perform! The show starts at 7, tickets are $10 each (+3 at the door if you're under 21). If you can't make it, it's okay--that's why we're releasing the EP! I don't know how much we're charging for it yet, but it won't be that much. Let me know if you want to purchase either thing! I will hook you up!
A few weeks ago, a bunch of us drove through the night from Lawrence to Indianapolis to go to the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, aka PASIC. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience. Ji Hye was playing there, along with a doctoral percussion student at KU named Cory Hills. However, Peabody won the chamber music competition last year, so they were playing as well! Peabody ended up playing Threads, and (you guessed it,) Village Burial. It was great getting to support all my friends who were playing.
In addition to catching up with old friends (as well as making some new ones), I had the opportunity to play in a snare drum clinic with Joe Petrasek, one of the percussionists in the Kansas City Symphony Orchestra. Miguel, the other teaching assistant for Ji Hye, played too, as did two other people I hadn't met before. I ended up playing Scheherazade (third movement) and Shostakovitch 10 (second movement), while Miguel played the fourth movement of Scheherazade. There were many more people than I originally anticipated, which was a little unnerving, but it was a great experience overall. I hope that next time I go, I can play in more workshops like this one!
And here I am, back in Baltimore, spending Thanksgiving break getting ready for a show with Medicine Lake on Saturday. My family actually came here to celebrate Thanksgiving! We all ended up at my aunt's house, and by some fantastic coincidence, all of my mom's side of the family ended up there. It was great to be with everyone again, we very seldom have gatherings like that. This was also the first time I've seen my mom or sister since June, so getting to see them again is really nice. I have a lot of work left to do before this semester is done, and ended up spending a lot of my time here frantically trying to finish a 15-page research paper for my bibliography class that's due on Wednesday. Thankfully it's about video game music, so at least I get to enjoy working on it. Once that's done, I have a writing assignment and a transcription project to turn in for my renaissance music history class, a jury to play, and then a plane to catch back to Baltimore!
I don't know about you all, but I'm full of food. Hope you all have had a happy Thanksgiving (those of you who celebrate it)! Hopefully my next update will be quite a bit shorter--and sooner--than this one!
Well, this is the last one. At least, before Village Burial. I'm still not sure if I want to post that one. Maybe I will. But we're going to have a high quality video up soon, so we'll see...
Anyway, there's not much I can really say about learning this piece, simply because I didn't learn it. I guess I learned how to do it, but that skill wasn't learned at Peabody. I began improvising when I was really young--I think 4th grade was probably about when I started improvising, which is funny because that's also when I started studying percussion. However, I had a basic piano book that my dad used when he tried (and failed) to teach me piano, and using the little I learned from that book, I "wrote" my first piece (which was about the kids at school making fun of me, but that's a longer blog entry). Once I started taking piano lessons, I would always mess around with improvising, but to me it was nothing special. I thought I was "writing" music, which I guess I was--they were short, simple pieces that existed only for as long as I played them. I had no idea what I was doing was the same process that was used in jazz.
I got my first vibraphone in 8th or 9th grade, I can't exactly remember when. It was an old, beat up JenCo that my dad and I split the cost of. I mostly used it so I could practice the little bit of marimba I was learning in my drum set lessons, and so I could prepare the mallet parts in regionals and all-state auditions. When my dad told me I should start playing jazz, that didn't really take me much further than learning the heads to pieces like A Night in Tunisia straight out of the Real Book. I remember going to the improv class that the high school kids taught when I was in middle school, and trying to play a vibraphone solo. It was really bad, and I felt overwhelmed. I figured jazz wasn't something I would ever be very good at--trying to play the right scale to every chord just confused me! To me, "making it up as I went along" was much easier than "improvising".
It wasn't until I was in high school, and I was playing aux percussion in the what we called "Jazz II", which was the entry level jazz band in the high school. Basically, I played drum set on one or two charts, and played bongos and congas and other auxiliary instruments behind the drummer. However, every once and a while I would get a vibe chart to read, so I would get to play that. Near the beginning of the year, we played a chart called "Cubasa", in which the solo section was basically in F minor the whole time. I decided that playing scales on one chord was way easier than lots of chords like the blues form accosted me with, so I went home and started messing around in F minor. Next time we played it in jazz band, I asked if I could try a vibraphone solo.
It was a pretty big shock to me, as a 13 year old kid, to see my director and the rest of the band shocked with my solo. Nobody had any idea I could improvise, including me. So when my director said "Doug, I didn't know you could improvise," my response was "neither did I."
Basically, from that point on I decided that I was going to be a jazz vibes player. I figured out how to play over more than one chord at a time, and even put together my own jazz combo. I called it the "Blue Streak Jazz Combo". We were pretty bad, but it was fun. As I got older, I climbed up the ranks in the jazz bands. By my senior year, I was playing drum set in the top jazz band.
So, why did I go to school for classical music?
I think, in the end, I just had way too big of an ego. I thought I could waltz into any more school, be the best (or only, as it was in high school) jazz vibes player there, and even do classical music on the side. Instead, I discovered that classical music was a highly demanding world of detail and precision, and making that my focus was way more challenging and beneficial to me as a musician than being the big fish in a small pond again. Despite all the bumps in the road on the way, I was right--studying music that I wasn't making up on the spot forced me to explore lots of other sounds, colors, ideas... and made my arms move really well in the process (after nearly breaking them). It was exactly what I needed, and I'm so glad I decided to do it.
I hoped, in this improvisation, to express the relief of being done with Peabody, and perhaps what it was like to be a student at Peabody. I don't know how successful I was, especially considering there were definitely "mistakes"--or rather, chords and sounds I wasn't expecting to hear. But regardless, I was really happy with the way this one came out. Getting to close my program with an improv was basically the biggest sigh of relief I could perform!
Man, it's been a while since I last uploaded. Sorry about all the delay, things have gotten surprisingly busy here this summer. I did something I never thought I would do after college, and joined a band. We're called Medicine Lake, and we are two parts Peabody and one part Towson. I'm playing keyboards, vibes/marimba, and singing backup vocals with them. It's really, really fun.
Anyway, more on that later. The video I just posted tonight was probably the biggest musical challenge I had to face for this recital (or, at least tied with ...And Points North). Omar, by the late Franco Donatoni, is actually a collection of two pieces for solo vibraphone. I only learned the first of the two works--my classmate and colleague Candy Chiu (who is now studying up at Yale) played the second work on her recital last year, and it must have been equally hard (if not harder) than the one I played.
When I heard Candy's performance on the second work, I can't say I was that attracted to the piece. Nothing wrong with her performance, and I'm no person to critique the writing of Franco Donatoni--his music just isn't especially easy on the ears. When my teacher told me to start learning it, I had no idea what I would be getting myself into. Learning the notes to this piece was, much like ...And Points North, akin to learning another language. Where as most tonal (or rather, conventionally harmonized) music settles in my ear fairly quickly, I found myself on the same two measures of Omar after having had the music for a week. I had to really push myself hard, and force those notes into my brain. Even still, I was not able to commit the last two sections of the work to memory, and had to do the performance with the music in front of me.
As I spent time learning this music, the personality of the piece began to show. My teacher uses the word "schizophrenic" to describe this piece, and I wholeheartedly agree. In each section, it seemed like there were two different voices speaking at once--at times, almost as if they were arguing. This made me realize my role as the performer was even more challenging than simply trying to learn notes that didn't sit well in my head--I had to take this harsh, abrasive, and largely inaccessible music, and bring it to life by making the voices have their own characters, and personalities. I don't know if it made me like the music any more (it probably did, I'm an optimist), but it certainly gave me a whole new respect for the music.
In the end, yes, I wish I had it memorized. I've played the piece better than I performed it on my recital. But, given all of the circumstances involved, I'm pretty happy with how the performance went. Maybe someday soon, I'll be posting Omar II up here as well.
The first time I ever heard this piece was actually at a Yale Percussion Group concert--it was being performed by Eric Beach (who now plays in So Percussion), who was joined by Wayne Lin and Romie de Guise-Langlois (neither of whom I have had the pleasure of meeting). I really enjoyed the piece when I heard it, but at the time thought it was way too hard for me to ever play. Well, in the beginning of this past semester, I got a call from my teacher telling me that he would like me to pick up the project where Hye Jin Kim, a fellow percussionist who left to pursue work in Korea, had left off. Well, the violinist and clarinetist she worked with weren't into continuing the project as it turned out, so I went ahead and asked my friends Kathryn Kilian and Gleb Kanasevich if they wanted to join me. Kate and I were from the same town in Connecticut and have always had similar musical ideals, so playing with her has always been a pleasure. Gleb is one of the only new music buffs I know in the wind program at Peabody--but he's also a fantastic player and composer, so I was excited for an opportunity to work with them both.
I only really had a month--MAYBE a bit more--to put this piece together. Every piece on my program seemed to introduce a different challenge, and this one was "how well can you learn this under a close deadline". In fact, it was so close that I pretty much find this piece to blame for my relapse of tendinitis right before my recital. The marimba part, technically, is a beast. Well, the violin and clarinet parts certainly aren't any easier, but for me it really took a lot of muscle to play. It couldn't have been more than two weeks before showtime that we were playing through the whole piece for the first time.
That being said, I can't help but be just a little disappointed with this performance. I think I did the best I could, given the circumstances. I just wish those circumstances weren't there, and that I could've had, say, all year to prepare this, and not just a month. I also wish my hands were a little more marimba friendly--this piece has made me question the reality of my current marimba grip, and I'm still thinking of changing it from Stevens grip back to Burton grip, which is the grip I began on.
The piece is a really beautiful work, and I had a great experience working with Kate and Gleb and learning this piece. Kevin Puts, the composer, was actually sitting in the audience during my performance. Maybe I've set my standards too high when I was hoping my performance could be the best performance of his piece he's ever heard. I don't think I can shake that standard, though.
This piece came into my life only because I happened to mention to Bob (my teacher) that I had always wanted to do a theater piece. He decided to throw me straight into that world by not only assigning me to learn the piece ...And Points North by Stuart Saunders Smith, but by also putting it into my recital. Doing a theater piece had always been an exciting idea for me--when I was in middle school, I loved participating in my school's theater program, and in high school I had a great time making stupid movies with my friends, such as this one.
No matter where my acting skill was before I began this project, I had no idea what was in store for me. Smith's compositional language can only best be described as "intuitive"--it's got an improvisatory feel to it, but it's very precisely written. Learning the notes was sort of like learning another language--except I had to be able to come up with a pretty convincing speech in that language pretty soon. I felt the same way about learning Franco Donatoni's Omar.
However, as I learned the notes, the piece began to make sense to me... maybe even become a little personal. I started to understand the story that I hoped to tell, which I couldn't begin to understand until after I had every single note learned. I also needed to acquire every "instrument" before I could do this, which was a feat in itself. I never thought finding an aluminum washtub or Christmas tree stand could be so difficult, and making the wind chimes was an absolute nightmare. I ended up using a bunch of one dollar bottles of Irish whiskey (which made for some nice parties), as well as a whole bunch of beads and decorative glassware I purchased from a nearby craft store, Beadazzled. I must have spent over two hundred dollars on this piece, at least.
Once again, it was all worth it in the end. I have to say, this piece was, for me, the most fun to perform. I got to do a lot of things I don't normally get to do when I perform, and it was nice to be more of an entertainer than a musician for a little bit. It's a very neat phenomenon when you half to walk around as much as I did, and even at one point into the audience. The stage goes wherever you go. It's a nice feeling.
I don't remember exactly when the first time I heard this piece was... I believe it was my freshman year at Peabody. Either my freshman year or my sophomore year, but I would wager on it being my freshman year. Whatever. Regardless, the first person I ever heard perform this piece was actually the person I will be studying/working with next year, Ji Hye Jung. At this time, my understanding of music outside of the scope of classical tonality was pretty limited, and this was one of the pieces that left me mostly confused. Even then, though, I understood there was something profound about the piece. I just didn't know what.
My teacher put this piece on my recital program at the end of my fourth year at Peabody, and by then I understood the language of the piece much better. To put it as simply as I can, the piece is based on the octatonic scale--that is, a scale which is constructed of alternating whole steps and half steps. It's a mode of limited transposition, meaning that you only get three different transpositions of each scale. This being said, to call the piece "atonal" is simply inaccurate, which is what I did for years. It's not "atonal", it's just different than what I was used to.
The piece, as I presented it in my recital, was incomplete. I performed the first of two movements: "Dark and Heavy", or as my teacher calls it, the earth dance. The fire dance, also referred to as "Con Brio", is much more lively and technically demanding, while the first movement is much more emotionally demanding. I had prepared, and intended, to play both movements at my recital, but the program ended up being both longer and more physically draining than both my teacher and I had originally anticipated, and we decided to omit this movement from the performance. I would have loved to play it, but when it actually came time for me to perform this piece (the second to last piece on my program, not counting the "encore", Village Burial with Fire), I was exhausted--both emotionally and physically.
My exhaustion is very present to me in watching my performance now--I had a few memory slips I normally don't make, I played faster in general than I would've liked, my accuracy wasn't at it's best and I can tell my concentration was slipping. I'm still posting this for the sake of having my complete recital available to all those who couldn't make it, and it's been posted (way) out of order because I'm having some trouble extracting the earlier video. Even though it's definitely not the best performance I've given of this piece, it was the best I could do then. Hopefully, I'll have another opportunity to perform this piece someday, and hopefully that performance will exceed this one.
Well, this past Thursday was my recital. The few weeks leading up to it were brutal. I've never dealt with so much stress. I remember feeling... well, rather, I remember not feeling anything during those last two weeks or so. It was like I just didn't have room in my schedule to have emotions! All I had time to do was focus and practice.
Unfortunately, this past Monday (three days before my recital), my tendinitis flared up again in my right hand. It's still bothering me, although the massage and day off I enjoyed yesterday has helped a lot. If it had happened a month earlier, I would've had to stop playing... but my recital was so soon, I knew it would stay in the acute stage if I just barreled through it and went to therapy as soon as possible. Which is what I did.
But despite all of the negative energy prior to my performance, I really feel my recital was a huge success. It was a little scary in the beginning, though! My program was as follows:
And Legions Will Rise
...And Points North
Stuart Saunders Smith
Dances of Earth and Fire
(Movement 1: Con Brio)
Improvisation for Solo Vibraphone
Encore: Village Burial with Fire
Those of you familiar with the canon of contemporary percussion music might be thinking "wait, Village Burial was an encore? Are you kidding?" I will say, that was similar to what went through my head when my teacher suggested it. For an encore piece, it was by far the largest and most difficult setup we had to do.
Vic is following orders from behind a tremendous Village Burial setup.
While Village Burial took up pretty much the entire stage, I was setting up the actual bulk of my recital program on the floor. The marimba and vibraphone (as well as the electronics rig) was positioned stage left on the floor, which is where I played Electric Counterpoint, And Legions Will Rise, Omar I, and Dances of Earth and Fire. The rest of the floor was occupied by ...And Points North.
About 1/3rd of my ...And Points North setup.
...And Points North had quite a few technical difficulties, to say the least... Aside from my wind chime tree deciding it didn't want to stand anymore, the wind chimes got all tangled up in the process of transporting them to Peabody. I actually had a team that was dedicated to just untangling as many of them as possible while everyone else was setting up.
Kate (my violinist for And Legions Will Rise) and mom do their best to make these guys work.
Eventually, everything fell into place, and we were able to begin my recital at 8:40 pm, as opposed to 8:00 pm. While backstage, Bob (my teacher) and I decided to scratch the second movement of Dances of Earth and Fire from my program. As much as I wanted to play it, not only would I have been super exhausted by that point, but my recital would have gone on for way too long. We also removed the path of leaves from my ...And Points North setup for the same reason. It would've been really cool, but the cleanup would've added about 20 minutes to my program. I was very lucky to have not only a good sized audience, but a large audience that was willing to wait for all of this to get put together!
Overall, I was very pleased with how everything went! I was especially happy with Electric Counterpoint and ...And Points North. With both of these, I really felt I was completely attached to the music. ...And Points North was an experience I've never felt before--I felt like I had total control over the audience, and that they were just as involved with the piece as I was. I wish I had played parts of And Legions Will Rise better, especially considering the composer, Kevin Puts, was sitting in the audience. However, it was definitely the most emotionally satisfying performance we've had thus far. I'm really fortunate to have had the opportunity to play with the musicians who accompanied me (Kathryn Kilian on violin, Gleb Kanasevich on clarinet)--they are both super gifted and super dedicated.
I had a bit of a mallet mix-up before Omar I--I had put some of my mallets that I needed for it in my Village Burial setup. I let the audience know what was wrong, got my proper mallets, and played the piece fine. By this point I was beginning to get exhausted, so I was glad I was honest with the audience. If I had tried to play that piece with the wrong mallets, bad things would have happened, I'm sure.
I do wish my first movement of Dances of Earth and Fire had gone better. I was very glad I didn't play the second movement, though--if I was making as many mistakes as I was playing the first movement, the second would've been a nightmare. By this point, my brain was almost as taxed as my arms were. If I hadn't had a tendinitis flare-up, I might have been able to play the second movement. I was so mentally exhausted, however, I tend to believe it wouldn't have made much of a difference.
I ended my program with a free-form improvisation on vibraphone (in C minor-ish, of course) which, according to my cousin (and extraordinary camera man) Nick Piegari, sounded like a summary of my experience at Peabody. This is what I was hoping would happen, but I wasn't thinking about it at the time so it's pretty cool that it did for somebody.
Finally, Village Burial happened. And that's about all I'll say about it... it happened. It was a pretty casual performance--Bob invited the audience up to the stage to stand around it and watch it up close, and it was good practice for us before we have to play it for the Peabody Percussion Group concert tomorrow. A lot of things went wrong...but it was good that we got to have a "practice performance" of sorts.
And after that was done, I did this:
and then I did this:
My parents threw a pretty sweet reception for my at my apartment afterwards. They got me an awesome cake!
And now, I'm done. Well, technically I'm not done... I have the Peabody Percussion Group concert tomorrow at 4 pm, I have a Peabody Concert Orchestra concert on April 30th, I have to play on Crystal's recital on May 3rd... but as far as I'm concerned, I'm done. The PPG concert is the only thing I really need to use my arms a lot for (I'm playing on the Lou Harrison Concerto for Organwith Percussion Orchestra, as well as playing And Legions will Rise and Village Burial with Fire again). After that, I just need to rest, do the little bit of playing I need to do, and try to see my wonderful physical therapist David Schulman as much as I can (who is extra awesome for coming to my recital).
Oh yeah, this post has been long enough, but I'll close by letting you all know: I'm not going to Yale next year. I'm going to the University of Kansas to study with Ji Hye Jung, as well as work for both her and jazz department director Dan Gailey as a graduate teaching assistant. Not only is it full scholarship and teaching experience, but I'll be getting paid by the school too. This literally came out of nowhere, and was too good of a deal for me to pass up. Getting paid to go to grad school... that's pretty cool. At least, until I audition for Yale again.
Well, I got an email this morning titled "Yale Audition".
The bad news: I didn't get the spot.
The good news: Adam Rosenblatt did.
The other good news: I'm first on the wait list.
I knew from the beginning that if the audition was just between me and Adam, Adam would easily win. I would still do it anyway, and still hope for the best, but I knew that he had the advantage. It was the other seven people I was worried about.
There is still a chance for me to go to Yale. A few of the current returning Yale students are in the job circuit right now. If one of them wins a job, that means I'm going! Also, if my teacher is somehow able to convince the dean of Yale to take seven students for next year, I may also be able to join. The economy sucks, so therefore the endowment at Yale is pretty tight, and it would be fairly difficult to convince the dean to do something like that.
Regardless, I am unbelievably proud of Adam, and I'm also proud of myself for getting as far as I did. I'm keeping my fingers crossed--I've gotten pretty far, but it's not over yet!
At 10:45 am yesterday morning, the Yale percussion students helped me move all of my gear into the percussion studio to play what was definitely the most important audition of my life thus far. At around 8:30 pm yesterday, I was back in Baltimore, in the apartment I left looking exactly how I left it. Surreal to say the least.
All in all, I suppose I'm pretty happy about the way I played. I started with the first movement of Dances of Earth and Fire (so, just the earth), followed by Omar I, followed by a three minute free vibraphone improvisation, followed by sight-reading (which ended up being the preludes to the second and fifth Bach cello suites), followed by timpani: Carter's March, Mozart Symphony No. 39, Symphonic Metamorphosis, Burleske. From Timpani I moved to snare drum and played my Delécluse etude (No. 1) and just the first excerpt from Scheherazade, which was followed by my two keyboard excerpts (La Mer on glockenspiel and Exotic Birds on xylophone), and ended with (barely enough time for) about half of my theater/set-up piece, ...And Points North.
There were definitely things that I wish I had played better, but there were also things that I played much better than I was expecting. Of course, nerves played a huge factor in my audition, but I knew they would and did my best to prepare for it. I still wish that I could figure out a way to play snare drum without getting the shakes--snare drum is an instrument that I've worked very hard on improving, especially in the past year. It's very frustrating to work on something that hard, but lose about 50% of the work to shaking hands. Most of the practicing I did for this audition (as well as in general this year) was on snare drum.
There were nine total in the finals. I got the opportunity to meet and talk to most of them. Obviously, I already knew my Peabody comrade, Adam Rosenblatt--but other than us, people were coming from anywhere from Texas and Cleveland to China and Singapore. Everybody was really nice, and everybody was really good. When we were all sitting in the studio, taking our written exam/group interview, it sort of dawned on me: of the sixty-plus applicants who sent in tapes, Adam and I were invited to sit with seven of the best percussionists coming out of undergraduate school. For a few minutes, I literally could not believe I was sitting there with them.
As happy as I was with my audition, I really have no idea what's going to happen. Bob told us in our group interview that YSM is only looking to accept one, maybe two applicants. I had known this before, but being there with everybody really put it in perspective. There is literally a 1 in 9 chance that I will get in--maybe a 2 in 9 chance if I'm lucky. Everybody there was a different kind of musician, and everyone had something different to say.
I feel like, more than anything else, I wanted to show them that I was a musician before I was a percussionist. I didn't want them to think "what a good timpanist" or "what a good marimba player", or even "wow he's good at improvising" (which was a portion of the audition I think I was the only one to include). I wanted them to hear that more than anything else, in the core of all of my playing, I value making music over everything else. It doesn't matter what instrument I'm doing it on, or what setting I'm doing it in--making music was something that I was both fluent and fully invested in.
I find out before March 19th. While I was practicing at Yale, I felt strangely at ease. I felt really comfortable there, practicing fervently with all of my competition all around me, in their dirty basement studio. That place just reeked of real, down to earth hard work. I really felt like I could belong there.
Well, Magfest came and went, and as usual it was a blast. I bought a bunch of video games (Final Fantasy Anthologies, Final Fantasy Chronicles, and Final Fantasy 7!), had a bunch of great jams with people, and even had an extended vacation when a handful of OCR folks stayed at my place for an additional three days. It was a lot of fun!
But now that the fun is over with, I've spent most of this month working the hardest I ever have. Lots has happened, but to summarize:
My Yale audition is February 22nd
My recital is either March 10th/11th, or April 15th
I'm no longer enrolled as a student at Peabody, but am playing in orchestra in exchange for practice room usage.
Now that I have deadlines, I've basically spent every moment I have preparing for them in whatever ways I can. My hands have been the best they've been in a long time, and a 4 hour practice day is no longer a feat. I generally put in 3-5 hours of practice every day, depending on how much time I have. Sometimes my arms will give me some negative feedback, and I will have to rest--but for the most part they've done very well.
The only exception to this is my marimba playing, still. I'm having to practice with what my studio friend Adam Rosenblatt calls "Bastard Grip"--basically, Stevens grip in my left hand and Burton grip in my right. I want to be able to play with just Stevens grip, but right now my back two fingers and the muscles connected to them just can't provide the strength/support that I need to practice for a long time. So when I play marimba, about 75% of my practice is done with bastard grip--and the last 25% is done with matched Stevens.
The Yale deadline is fast approaching, and by February 22nd I need to play Donatoni's Omar, Klatzow's Dances of Earth and Fire, Delecluse's Etude No. 1 for snare drum, Carter's March for timpani, timpani excerpts from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, Strauss' Burleske, Mozart's Symphony No. 39, Hindemith's Symphonic Metamorphosis, snare drum excerpts from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, xylophone excerpts from Messiaen's Exotic Birds, and glockenspiel excerpts from Debussy's La Mer--with the option of also playing my first movement of Smith's ...And Points North and Cirone's Etude No. 32 if I want. Much of this list is on my A list--a.k.a, pieces/excerpts I know well. This would include all of the excerpts, as well as Delecluse 1. The Carter would definitely be on my B list--I know the piece and almost have it memorized, but it needs a lot of polish.
The two big pieces, Omar and Dances, are on my C list--I'm still learning the notes. Most of my work has been on these pieces, and by forcing myself to learn a set amount of notes daily, I'm finding it becomes easier and easier. As of today, I have a page and a half of Dances left to learn, and a few lines less than a very large page of Omar. I do think by this time next week, if I can keep my pace up, I will be done learning the notes to both pieces. I will definitely be done with Dances, but as challenging as Omar is to learn, I think I can do it.
This audition will be the single most important moment of my life thus far. So, lets do it!