Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Hybrid Life: Balancing Careers in Music and Writing--a guest post for Foley Music and Arts

Ah, the joys of working from home.  Ah, the joys and challenges of finding a balance between duel careers in writing and music.  In this guest post for Chris Foley's Foley Music and Arts blog, I talk about how each career feeds the other and how the different languages of words and music allow me two separate avenues of communication.


7 Steps to Beating the Drudgery of Practicing--a guest post for Pianist Magazine

Repetitive practicing--it's an unavoidable part of every pianist's routine.  This article, written for Pianist Magazine, offers tips taken right out of my own daily struggle with the monotony of repetition.


Thursday, April 11, 2019

Companion Piece (for Morton Feldman) by Chester Biscardi

It has been said that composer Morton Feldman's music reflects the American obsession with emptiness and that a lonely, haunting tone runs through most of his music.  He loved the decay of sound.  When asked about his composition style,  Feldman once replied, "I don't push the sounds around."

In Companion Piece, Chester Biscardi pays homage to Feldman and his work, specifically Feldman's Extensions 3.  In this solo, you're introduced to the sound world of Feldman through the inimitable lens of Biscardi's music--a piece that enhances the inspiration but isn't overshadowed by it.

Biscardi, who knew Feldman personally, wrote this about the composer:  "I first met Morton Feldman in Buffalo in 1979.  His apartment was neat, sparse: a Steinway, a work table, a Rauschenberg on one wall, the now-famous Brown/Feldman cover from TIME Records on another, and many ancient Oriental, Turkish and Iroquois carpets.  He talked about his music and compositional techniques, which had as lasting an impact on me as did his intense passion for those carpets.  He encouraged me to get close to the floor and look at their textures, reliefs, orchestrations, what he called 'symmetry even through imperfection,' and explained how he was translating these impressions into the musical notes of the string quartet which he was writing."

Chester first introduced me to Companion Piece through a lecture recital he gave at Sarah Lawrence College, titled Morton Feldman & Chester Biscardi:  Music and Image (available on YouTube).  It hooked me immediately and I started learning it as soon as my piano was delivered to my home after my move to Wisconsin.  All my practicing of Companion Piece has been accompanied by the sound of the Fox River, which flows just outside my living room window, and the many birds that make that river their home.  In this recording you can hear some of the birds who chose to sing along to Biscardi's evocative notes. While learning the piece, I looked for 'symmetry even through imperfection' and listened deeply to the decay of sound.  In the notes I found patterns of unfamiliarity leading to moments of recognition, movement and stillness, warmth and detached coolness--in other words, a sound tour of the tapestry of real, beautiful, sometimes messy life.

This music is published by C.F. Peters Corporation.  To learn more about the piece and Chester Biscardi, visit his website, https://chesterbiscardi.com.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

How to Make a Professional Recording: 16 Tips

One of the most challenging and rewarding things I've done as a pianist is making a recording.  It took just one CD to shatter my romantic idea of the process. This article, published as a guest post for Melanie Spanswick's blog, is a list of sixteen important things I've learned from making four commercial CDs.  

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Don't Expect Applause--a Guest Post for "The Cross-Eyed Pianist"

Sometimes playing the piano is a glorious celebration of music and life; other times it's all about wrestling inner demons and self-doubt.  In this guest post for "The Cross-Eyed Pianist" I talk about the ways I work with the inevitable insecurities that come with being an artist in a hyper-critical world.


Monday, March 18, 2019

Music, Writing, and Life—a Guest Post for Melanie Spanswick’s Blog

I was honored to write a guest blog for composer/pianist/author Melanie Spanswick. She invited me to write about writing and music—in other words, about my creative life.


Friday, March 15, 2019

Silence: the Space Between the Notes

On Steens Mountain in Eastern Oregon, silence is a presence.  At the bottom of the mountain, in the little town of Frenchglen, diesel trucks and rustling cottonwood trees provide constant soundtrack; at the summit, wind is strong and loud enough to make conversation difficult.  Partway up the west side of the mountain—nestled into the crevices or arms of the mountain—is where the heart of the mountain’s silence is best heard.  In moments between animal scurries or foliage rustling, the silence is the strong, maternal enveloping presence that is like being hugged into the bosom of the mountain.  This is no sentimental “Mother’s Day” silence; this is tough love—a silence that will not lie to you or let you hide but hugs you close anyway. Sleeping in that silence is like coming home to a clay cradle, and from the mountain’s arms it seems possible to feel the curvature of the earth.
Actors know the power of the pregnant pause.  Artists understand the need for white space.  Some musicians play the notes; others play the space between the notes.  Masterful artists of any discipline think perhaps the notes or words or space are a way to express the silence and that sound and silence are simply mirror images of the same thing.  But then again, have any notes really ever expressed the nature of silence?  Can words or paint or sound ever do more than hint at the eternal silence that is the foundation of everything—the silence of earth and rock and empty space.  After all, the Earth is simply a spinning marble of clay in a sea of silence older than time.
We light a candle to banish the dark and we speak to dispel the silence.  We write symphonies and play concerts and make movies and write books. We trade goods and make products and move fast and travel far.  In the first world we are swaddled in light and sound; it is not surprising that most young children fear dark and quiet rooms.  All of us know that monsters lurk just beneath the surface of the web of activity we call normal life.  We’ve broken the speed of sound but barely scratched the surface of silence. Could it be that all any of our art and productivity amounts to is a scared “Is anybody out there?” whispered in moments when we enter those dark, silent rooms.

Maybe the best we can hope for is that in capturing a few words or notes, we can capture some essence of silence—like seeing a reflection of the moon in a bowl of water.  It may be just a few drops, but perhaps that is all we can tolerate; not many of us are brave enough to stare down the barrel of the anonymity of true silence, but we get as close as we dare.  We sit on the side of the mountain and feel kinship with the sound of the wind in the cottonwood trees or the call of birds.  We tolerate the tensions of silence when bracketed by notes, words, or animal rustles because those sounds remind us that even when the silence is scary, we never face it alone.