Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Death and Transfiguration

I'm sorry I didn't post much at all since my last update in May.  I had a wonderful time in Germany and would love to go into detail about it, but right now, I can't.

It is with a heavy heart that I post this.  One of my closest friends, and the friend with whom I collaborated in the video I posted earlier in the year, Viridian, has tragically passed away.  Early in the morning hours of Saturday, September 8, 2012, Doug B. Horak took his own life.  His obituary can be read here.

Doug was one of my closest friends, and somebody who I was excited to see succeed in his field.  He was a fantastic talent with many skills, and was achieving one triumph after another.  Unbeknownst to most of his friends, however, he was suffering from depression.  I can only assume it was this lurking darkness that pushed him to make his decision.

In a strange turn of events, I've just started an artist diploma at the Yale School of Music.  I'm glad Doug decided to stay with us long enough to wait for me to come home and help me move in and get settled.  However, losing him has had an irreversible effect on me.  Doug left us one day after classes started, and three days after my birthday.  I can't imagine I'll ever be able to reflect on this particular period of time fondly, and celebrating my own birthday will never quite be the same.

I miss you, Doug.  I wish there was something I could have done to help.  We all do.  I wish you came over Saturday night, like we had planned.  I wish I could watch you create amazing art in your final year at Savannah School of Art and Design.  I wish I could look forward to our next collaboration.  Now, all I can do is enjoy the art you left us, and be glad that we shared the experiences we did.

Rest in peace, my friend.  I wish you had made a different choice, but I respect it because it was yours.  I just hope you enjoyed our friendship as much as I did.

See you in another life, brother.

Monday, June 11, 2012


After a wonderful few weeks in Connecticut, I'm back in Kansas--packing up my things to prepare to move out and getting ready for my trip to Germany this Friday.  This month has been a particularly productive one for me, and I wanted to share all of the things I've gotten done.

First of all, you may have noticed the design of this blog has changed a bit.  I've integrated it into my website, which was one of the big projects I finished while home.  You can check that out here:

I was also able to finish editing the video and audio for many projects I had recorded/filmed.  This includes the KU Jazz Combo's last concert:

My cover/arrangement of Laura Shigihara's "Everything's Alright:"

Kanako Chikami's and my recording of Peter Klatzow's "Variations on the Theme of Paganini:"

And Joseph Schwantner's "Velocities:"

In addition to these recording projects, I was also asked to do the music for a short film that my good friend Doug Horak was directing, titled "Viridian:"

Viridian from Harshit Desai on Vimeo.

All of the music above (and much more) can also be heard on my SoundCloud page, which I've also revamped.

I've got a few more projects on the way as well--not only did I play on Brian Scarborough's upcoming album, I also did video for it as well (which I will edit and upload once the recording is done!).  I'm also planning on recording Andy Akiho's "Stop Speaking" sometime soon, in order to get better visuals on the snare drum part and a better balanced recording between the snare drum and the digital playback.  I'll also be working more on my website and professional image in general--hopefully with more pictures by Jānis Porietis and a proper set of business cards to go with it.

I'm super excited to be going back to Germany--I'll be there for a long time, but I'm looking forward to playing great music, eating delicious food, and drinking delicious beer.  Before I go, I'll leave you all with one last fruit of this month's activity--I did a lot of work, but I had time to do some play as well :)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

2.B.A. Master

Props to anybody who can catch the reference in the post title.

Ok--it was a long, hard journey, but I finally did it.  I can finally say I am a Master. Of. Music.

School never really got easier.  Okay, I take that back--it got easier as soon as my recital was over with.  But up until that point, it started hard and only got harder.  It amazes me that this level of work is, in many cases, the bare minimum required to be a professional percussionist. It amazes me that this degree, for many of my percussion comrades, is not the final degree one pursues.  I may decide to pursue another degree down the road.  Who knows.

I will say, however, that Kansas University and Ji Hye Jung enormously exceeded my expectations.  I guess you can consider this my public thank you letter to the University of Kansas.  Never did I expect one of the most important influences on my career, musicianship, and personal life to be in the middle of the Midwest, in a state that two years ago, I would have trouble finding on a map.  The opportunities and funding presented to me by the university, coupled by the fantastic instruction I received from all of my professors (not just Ji Hye), left a lasting impact on my confidence and leadership skills, and really helped me shine a light down the previously dark tunnel of my career.  Especially in the last year of my studies, my musicology professor turned classical and romantic era music history from a surface level review of past events into a study of patterns and insightful reflections that finally bridged the gap between what I want to do with my career and how that relates to all of the music that's happened before me.  I had my first experience playing in a upper-level wind ensemble (as opposed to the entry-level wind ensemble at Peabody) and got to watch my professor receive a standing ovation after performing a concerto with us at the brand-new Kauffman Center in Kansas City.  I never thought I would love playing in an orchestra in which half the string section were volunteering non-music majors, but the passion of the director made me have no choice but to love the music we were playing as much as he did.  And for the first time since high school, I finally feel like a real jazz player again. I moved past my greatest concerns in jazz being keeping the form and catching all the chord changes to much deeper pondering of the greater picture of a performance and the relationship between my ego and my instrument.

Of course, the person who had the single greatest impact on me was the person who brought me to Kansas, Ji Hye Jung.  I'm even a little hesitant to try to type anything, because I don't really know if I can adequately put into words how much gratitude I have.  Ji Hye went far and beyond what her job required of her to do for me.  She didn't just teach me, she developed me: not only as a musician, but as a professional and as a person.  She was harder on me than anyone has ever been when I needed to hear it, but was still sensitive enough to help me through my most vulnerable moments with care and understanding.  It was as if making me a better musician just wasn't enough for her, and I don't know many other teachers who are willing to invest the amount of time and energy it takes to completely change somebody's life. For that, I'm deeply indebted.  I really don't know how to repay this level of generosity... I guess I can only hope that I can do for somebody else what she's done for me.
This summer, I will be returning to Germany for my second (and most likely final) run of the Neue Eutiner Festspiele.  I had a great time last year, and am looking forward to going back.  I don't know too much about it now, but I'm optimistic that this year will offer many new opportunities for me. In the mean time, I'll be spending a good bit of time working on my professional front (such as the design updates to this blog!), including hopefully getting an actual website up and running.  I've also got a number of musical projects I'm working on--most recently, I've finished uploading all of the videos I can (minus one that has technical difficulties) from my recital, as well as all of the videos of the KU Jazz Combo I performance at the Lawrence Arts Center this spring. I've done recording sessions for Peter Klatzow's Variations on a Theme by Paganini and Joseph Schwantner's Velocities since my recital that I hope to have edited and uploaded soon, as well as video for Brian Scarborough's second album recording project.  I'm also working on my first film score! It's a very short film, but I'm happy to finally collaborate with Doug Horak for the first time in many years.

From here on out, I really intend to try to update more often.  Now that school is over, I'll have a lot more time to think, and with time to think comes time to write.  Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or YouTube to keep up with my updates.

Once again, thank you KU.  I had no idea how big of an impact you would have on me. Special thanks to Ji Hye Jung, of course, as well as Dan Gailey, David Neely, Paul Popiel, and Alicia Levin for being a big part of my transformation here--I couldn't have done it without you.  I never thought I'd say it (and I still feel really uncomfortable saying it), but I guess I'll just get it over with:

Rock chalk.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The future

In getting ready for my recital, my mind has also been swirling with thoughts about the future of the music industry.  My guess is that it's a combination of not being in school, constantly running around to get things done, and trying to cram as much practicing into every day as possible--regardless, it's been making my head spin.  Tom Burritt, professor of percussion at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as the maintainer of the percussion-centered community drumchattr, posted a question essentially asking if we, as percussionists, are finally becoming the driving force of contemporary music.

I posted a pretty long-winded response, addressing his question but also proposing many of my own observations and hypotheses.  It was a long enough response that I figured it warranted it's own blog entry.  So without further ado, here it is:


I think one of the most fascinating areas of "musicology," if you could call it that, is the analysis of the present musical climate and the speculation of what's to come. The points you've brought up and the questions you've asked, while pertaining to percussion, also reflect some serious speculation about the future of the industry as a whole.

When I started grad school, I ranked "deficient" in every period of musicology--from the middle ages to 20th century. I'm actually pretty thankful about this, because the level of concentrated study I had to do in order to keep up really helped guide my own views and goals as a musician. I guess the one thing I was left with overall is that nothing in music changes without a reason. Without the significant changes to society, the economy, and most importantly, technology, music would not have evolved much at all. As I finish my last semester of musicology, I finally feel like everything is coming together to create a logical historical narrative--one from which I can use to speculate the next chapter.

I think, in a few decades from now, musicologists will begin to start placing the date in which "20th-century period music" ends and "21st-century period music" begins, and my best guess would be to place it somewhere between 1980 and 2010. At the ripe age of 24, it's not really easy for me to confidently define a musical period as ending before I was born, but the criteria that I'm using is the shift from the dominant compositional innovations pertaining to experimentalism and re-definition of music (through innovators like Schoenberg, Cage, Reich, Ives, and others who leveled the playing field on what music and art can be) to composers of music for mass media consumption--composers like John Williams, for example.

What happened in the period of time I offered was the explosion of communicative technology--in 1980, you sent letters, worried about long distance phone call charges, and listened to music in analog formats only. By 2010, internet speeds fast enough to video chat with someone in another country were commonplace, concerns about long distance charges were replaced by concerns over how much data your smartphone was eating, and music was immediately available all the time through YouTube, iTunes, and other streaming sources and online marketplaces. This is also responsible for the new preference for eclecticism we see in young listeners today--so many different styles of music are immediately available, having a playlist skip from hip-hop to bebop to dubstep isn't really that shocking anymore.

Because of the way media has permeated into our lives, through movies, television, video games, and other things, the music connected to this media plays an important social role as well. When my 17 year old sister hang out with her friends, I always notice how whatever they listen to depends on the group she's with. Just like how our movies and tv shows use music to establish an atmosphere, we do this with our everyday lives. With the wide variety of styles immediately available to us, this has never been easier.

So how does the success of a percussionist in contemporary music reflect this? In society today, once again responding to technology, there's an expectation of versatility and immediate convenience. We expect our phones to take pictures, we expect our video game systems to play movies, and we expect our computers to do everything. This level of convenience is beginning to become expected, and is why digitally-produced music is slowly replacing live recorded music in our media. That all being said, live performances still play an important role in society, and composers and producers alike still rely on performers.

Percussionists, by default, are extremely versatile. Nowadays, a percussionist has to be proficient at mallet instruments, drumming, timpani playing, and anything else thrown our way. The expectation of playing anything thrown at us--whether actually percussive or not--has been integrated into our path of study. We are, in many ways, the "smartphone" of an instrumental ensemble. I think composers trust percussionists more, in this regard, to be able to keep up with the rapidly rising expectation of convenience and immediacy through this versatility. So yes, we serve as strictly "color and texture" less frequently now, because composers are realizing the advantages to working with musicians who can be color, texture, melody, harmony, and groove--and switch between roles quickly.

I think the other circumstance that sets us apart is that our tradition is simply much younger than other instruments. Violins have a long timeline, spanning hundreds of years, in which their instrument has developed, and in which their greatest repertoire has been written. Percussion, however, has a much shorter timeline, and most of our important repertoire was written in the last 100 years. Percussionists don't have as much trouble "adjusting" to contemporary music because we're already used to playing it. For this reason, we're already more willing to play in various settings and styles, appealing to the "new eclecticism" I alluded to above. I think So Percussion is a great example of this--they aren't afraid of mixing classically rooted compositional techniques with a popular aesthetic. I think their collaborations with Dan Deacon and Matmos are prime examples of this, and the minimalist-pop style of Jason Treuting's compositions are really beginning to define the sound of this group.

Whoops, I didn't mean to write an essay here, but these things that you've brought up are things that I think about a lot. It is an exciting time to be a percussionist, but it's an exciting time for music in general. Music's role in society is changing in a big way; I think we all need to take advantage of what our discipline has provided us to keep up with these changes so that we don't get left in the dust, clinging to a tradition of music that may very well be reserved for the textbooks soon.


I'm particularly interested in this idea of "new eclecticism;" the more I think about it, the more I want to shape my career around that concept.  Thoughts?

Monday, January 23, 2012

No More School

I think it's only fair to share this, considering it's been such a major recurring theme in my blog entries:

I've decided not to audition for Yale or Curtis this year.

This winter break was a really productive one for me.  In addition to practicing a lot, I got to perform quite a bit as well.  My parents and I played the midnight mass at Saint Joseph's Cathedral in Hartford on Christmas Eve--the very first gig where all three of us were playing together.  A few weeks later, I went down to MAGfest in D.C.  Not only did I have a blast, but I met a bunch of new composers and made connections I hadn't thought possible to make at MAGfest before.  Once that was done, I prepared for my show with Medicine Lake--as usual, it was awesome. And then I came back here.

I had kind of forgotten that I had an ensemble audition for school, so I frantically crammed for that audition.  As my schedule filled up, my heart sank--I was back in school, back in academia.  And what did I have to look forward to?  Getting ready to audition for more school.

It didn't take long for me to realize that what I wanted to get ready for was my career.  I was no long excited about the idea of going to Yale, or Curtis, or any other prestigious school where I would work my butt off and get really good.  Why?  Because I've been working my butt off and getting really good, and quite frankly, I'm getting tired of it.  But to actually reap the rewards--to actually be hired and get paid and be respected as a professional musician, and not a student with potential... this is why I've worked this hard in the first place.  This is what I want now.

This semester is now a lot more exciting for me.  I feel like next year has unlimited potential.  Anything can happen, but I have to work for it.  My priorities this semester will shift from preparing an audition to finishing my degree and finding work.

I am still auditioning for New England Conservatory's Contemporary Improvisation program--mainly because it's something I've never had before, and preparing for it will also be preparing me for the direction of work that I'm interested in.  There are a few main things I'm interested in pursuing right now:  teaching, gigging (with any type of ensemble), and doing "studio" work.  By studio work, I don't mean move to LA and try to be successful in the big recording studios (though, that might something I try down the road).  I'm more interested in collecting the appropriate equipment to have my own personal recording studio, and record myself for independent composers' projects. This is what I will focus on when I audition for NEC.

I've started a project today, in pursuit of this goal.  What if someone contacted me, needing music for something on short notice?  Would my improvisational chops be strong enough to spit out a fitting work in a day's time?  To practice this, as well as start to build a library of music, I've starting what I'm dubbing (for now) my "Improvised Soundtrack" project.  Basically, every day (or as close to this as I can), I'm going to improvise a short theme that could be used as background music in a piece of media--a movie, tv show, video game, commercial, whatever.  I might do just marimba, just vibraphone, maybe some percussion, maybe even a combination of all of them, if I have the time.  I did the first installment of this today:

I think I am headed in the right direction--and I'm really excited about this semester because of it.