Death. And gratitude. Two states you don’t necessarily pair together. (Also, got your attention, didn’t I?)
This particularly eventful past year reminds me that similar years in my life seem to contain a significant amount of death, and yet a lot of achievement.
The last such year was 2003 where there were three in a row, each one successively more personal and more devastating. Last year there were six, and while I was not connected to any of them even remotely as closely as the 2003 departed, the result has still been emotionally impactful.
Interestingly, both years saw major creative advancement for me. The earthquakes of 2003 forced me to face my status and aspirations as a not full-time musician, and address them. Fifteen years later, I find myself amazingly in me a place to consider some real personal achievements, made all the more precious when juxtaposed with loss.
Perhaps the most resounding death last year both directly and generally was that of Matt Marks, a wonderously spirited young composer based in Brooklyn. Matt tragically passed unexpectedly in mid-May, less than a week before the start of the 2018 New Music Gathering, of which he was one of the five founders. His death had the same impact for the overall event as it did personally for me: to relish and be grateful for the extraordinary camaraderie of new music practitioners who’ve connected and communed and supported and inspired and encouraged each other, both this year and in the past. To seize the day, chase the long-shot opportunity, embrace the far-fetched idea.
And as I look back on 2018, with its unusual share of turbulence, this gratitude encapsulates the last decade for me. The community of dedicated, generous, supportive artists I’ve connected and worked with in both the new concert music and theatrical worlds has been one of the great gifts of my recent life. That several of these folks were among this year’s departed makes my appreciation for this community all the greater. I’m particularly indebted to the New Music Gathering and Musochat worlds, who’ve done so much to connect me to the outside world, and without whose encouragement and stimulation my most recent creative achievements might not exist.
The trip to Edmonton for the Pinafore premiere allowed me to complete my Ruminations for solo piano, a rhapsody that I’ve been noodling with for over ten years. Sometimes, you just have to wait and let the material gestate until you’re at the right level of progression to formalize it.
This fall I had the delight of having Peal Off , inspired by the Gaudete Brass Quintet, officially commissioned and then premiered by them in Chicago amidst the festivities of the 2018 Midwest Clinic, as well as finalizing commissions for a viola duo for new music super-advocate Michael Hall and a choral setting of W.S. Graham’s “Listen. Put On Morning” for a group soon to be announced.
Under discussion are a medley arrangement for large symphonic concert band of a certain popular Broadway musical (no hints = no jinxes), and a piece for bass oboe and piano.
Capping it all off was the extreme honor of having my setting of A.E. Stallings‘ “Blackbird Etude” from my Opus 22 set of songs chosen by luminous mezzo-soprano and equal new music superadvocate Megan Ihnen for inclusion in the mezzo volume of the first anthology of new art song published by New Music Shelf (the distributors of my vocal and chamber music). The selection of the song by the this gorgeous, vibrant, spell binding singer and her subsequent performance of it with pianist Marianne Parker at the volume’s inauguration concert are another of this year’s capstones.
No less an achievement last year was my decision to depart the corporate world I’ve relied on for decades to provide me with the financial stability that is vital to my creative output. The time had come to fully take charge of my own destiny and start my own business as a virtual manager / coordinator / assistant / problem solver. I’ll have more to say about this in my next post in the context of being a 5-to-9 artist, but the first six months have seen a major improvement in my life overall.
Fifteen years ago it was a struggle not to buckle under the losses in my life. Today, I am inexpressibly grateful for the stratosphere of amazing people – too many to list here – that I’ve become connected to and what they’ve helped me achieve.