Viewing entries tagged


Insecurities and the day my give-a-damn broke

My degree is in music history. I’ve never studied music composition with anyone, but I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a few masterclasses with composers whose music I admire: Ken Ueno, Judith Lang Zaimont, and David Maslanka. I do a shit ton of score study and listening. It’s the way I’ve taught myself to compose. I wrote my first piece of music in March of 2000. I was 23. Three years prior, I decided I wanted to be a composer upon hearing the Rascher Saxophone Quartet recording of Xas by Iannis Xenakis. I didn’t know that sounds like that existed. Or could exist. It still took me a couple years before I really began putting thoughts and ideas down on paper.

I’ve always had my insecurities. We all have our shit. Some hide it better than others, but we all have it. Never having a comp teacher made me feel insecure every time I finished a piece and every time I had a work performed. I feel like I’ve missed out on something, like I’m behind and playing catch-up. Even if it was a work that had been performed multiple times. I always felt there was something that other composers ‘got’ that I didn’t about music.

Fast forward more than a decade to 2012.

Beginning around New Year’s Day 2012, I started feeling ill. It felt like my usual: sinus infection and/or bronchitis. My doctors began treating me for those issues. By April, I’d had 9 different antibiotics and was not improving. My doctors said I was fine.

I spent most of May in bed, unable to get out of bed most days, much less go to work. I began to get angry. I started calling new doctors just trying to find someone who could find out what the hell was going on. In June, I was not as exhausted, but still more tired than I had ever been. I began having chest pains. The new doctor tested me for many things. We tried a few things with varying results, but something was still ‘off’.

On June 17, 2012, I had a CT scan of my chest. They injected the dye and it made me feel funny and I couldn’t leave afterward for 20 minutes because of the fear of an allergic reaction.

The nurse called my name and told me that I couldn’t leave. No explanation was given. I thought I must have squirmed or something and they had to re do it. Crap ass. I heard the nurse talking on the phone and my name was mentioned a few times. She eventually called me over and handed me the phone. She’d been talking to my doctor.

He told me I had multiple pulmonary embolli (blood clots) in both lungs. Not just one or two clots. Multiple. In each lung. Thankfully, at the time I was clueless at how serious pulmonary embolli were. Over the next 5 days, my symptoms subsided thanks to being injected with my weight in blood thinners and other meds. It began to sink in just how serious my condition really was. It began to sink in how lucky I was to still be breathing and that one of the clots didn’t work its way to my brain. How lucky I was to be able to return home to my wife and son after five days. In the two adjacent hospital rooms there were two people much worse off than me.

I was fortunate.

In the following weeks, my health didn’t improve. The chest pains reduced but the fatigue and joint pain never went away, but I started composing again. I began new pieces as always with my normal insecurities and trepidation. I would always worry if the music I was trying to write was ‘too weird’ sometimes I would pull back the reins. I would censure myself as I would compose. Then the thought occurred to me, “I’m currently unable to work, and no one is listening to my music anyway, and I nearly died”.

So I said fuck it.
Fuck it. My give-a-damn was officially broken.

I was going to start writing my music as weird as I wanted. I was going to write whatever I wanted. It was freeing.

But my new mantra (not that I had an old mantra) became:
‘There are billions of people on this planet not listening to my music and not performing my music every damn day. One more person not playing or listening to my music doesn’t really hurt my feelings.’

Every time a performance falls through or a commission falls through I just think of that and compose something else. I still have some of the same insecurities but they’ve lessened. I still get nervous as I finish a piece and at performances.

I consider myself in a very unique position. I’m still sickly. Chronically ill. My diagnoses are Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Depression, Atrial Fibrillation, and several others. I’m unable to work. I’ve unsuccessfully tried part time work since this has happened. Most days I’m too tired to cook dinner for my family, which I did daily before this illness. Running errands such as quick trips to the pharmacy or grocery store take longer and are incredibly exhausting. I can’t usually cook dinner on a day where I’ve also run errands. I’m currently waiting on a hearing for Social Security Disability.

It’s a real pisser, yet I consider myself in a unique but fortunate position. I can write music however I want. If anyone dislikes it, oh well, I move on. Not my problem. My composing pace is slow and there are long stretches where I can’t compose.

I’ve written my best music since my give-a-damn broke. My artistic process has changed out of necessity. The way I handle and develop musical material has changed.

So I feel I’m fortunate,
and I get to see my son when he gets off the bus everyday.


St. Paul & the Broken Bones

St. Paul & the Broken Bones singing "Call Me".

They are a fantastic band out of Birmingham, AL.

Pierre Boulez on composition. Inspiring talk from Pierre Boulez where he gives insight into his compositional process. He discusses his piano work Incises and how he expands different elements to create his magnificent Sur Incises.

Some of you have probably seen this before but i happened to stumble across it this morning and wanted to share it.

Keep it real.

Social Networking FTW

This weekend I get to meet my friend, Wendy Richman, in person. Not just twitter, email, Facebook and over the phone. I'm excited. Here's why:

In the spring of 2009 (i think), I joined twitter.  I had lots of friends joining it so i decided if everyone else was doing it I didn't want to miss out on anything. I began following my fellow musicians from college and the random other ones that i knew. discussions with one friend would bring other people into the conversation and before I knew it i had twitter musician friends around the globe. One evening I was having a conversation with two other composers. I don't even remember what we were discussing but i remember being in awe that the three of us were able to connect and discuss in real-time scattered across the globe. One was in Ireland, one in Australia and I was here in Mississippi. I thought that was a wonderful.

One of the musicians i feel incredibly fortunate to have formed a friendship with is Wendy Richman. We met on twitter via a mutual friend, Ken Ueno. Wendy and I had quite a few chats and one day she told me about her commissioning project for new works for singing violist. i was excited and intrigued. We chatted some more and I began writing in mid 2010. the result was Gakka for singing violist. She was able to premiere it the following year. It was wonderful.

So this weekend Wendy is in Biloxi performing in the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra. I feel like we already know each other quite a bit even though we've never met face to face.

So here is the audio of Wendy performing Gakka for singing violist:

Gakka for singing violist

Alabama Shakes Live concerts on Internet Archive - FTW

I've been doing a bit of driving lately so I've been listening to a lot of podcasts and concerts from  I may be the last person to discover the live concerts and other recordings available on the Internet Archive. So I downloaded a couple of concerts by one of my new favorite bands, Alabama Shakes. Not only do I want to support fellow Alabamians but i feel they are one of the latest bands continuing the long line of the Southern Rock tradition.

If you don't have their album Boys and Girls get it. If you have the time check out their live concerts at the link below. I highly recommend the one at the Capitol Theater

Leif Segerstam Part 2

Leif Segerstam writes lots of symphonies. Not as in Mozart wrote a lot of symphonies, not even in the category of Haydn and Hovhaness wrote a lot of symphonies, Segerstam is in a different category. Right now he is somewhere in the 270s for his symphonies.  Most of them are intended to be performed without a conductor.  Each part has timings and when they should play in time with other musicians. Each section even has directions on who should begin and end it.  His symphonies have inspired me to start sketching out one of my own for winds, piano and tympani.  We'll see if anything comes of it.

As I said in my first post his music is very free. If you click the link below and look through his catalogue you will find  bunch of PDF files of some of his works.

Here is a link to Leif Segerstam's profile and list of works at the FMIC.

Below I've included video of his Symphony No. 212 which was written for Gustavo Dudamel. The work was divided into two sections i'm assuming to meet the file size requirements of YT. Go listen to it. Enjoy it.