Friday, December 30, 2011

Tops of 2011

This by far has been the most shocking year of my life.

There are so many new things, and major mile stones that mark this year, so I want to list off my tops of 2011

Favorite Album

        Bon Iver
                Bon Iver

                I discovered this album sometime in June and listened to it for almost four months straight. The whole thing is so                 creative and the album really feels incomplete when you listen to just one song. It really wasn’t a contest for me this                 year, this album was easily my favorite.

Honorable mention:

                Ghosts Upon the Earth

                If Bon Iver wouldn’t have released their self titled album, this might have been a favorite of the year. It is chilling, and                 sobering, but also magical, and alive.

Favorite moment

        Like I said a lot happened this year... I don’t have one favorite moment.

                Writing a wind ensemble piece and hearing it read through

                Graduating from College

                The moment Jackie and I walked through the door of our home.

Favorite Composer

        Johannes Brahms

                I have been listening to his symphonies, his requiem, his lied, and his piano pieces, I can’t get enough of his music.                 He was truly a master.

Favorite Video game

                The Skyward Sword

                It is funny that I even have a video game section considering that I think they are a huge waste of time, but anyone                 who knew me in my youth knows that I couldn’t get enough Zelda. The newest game was really creative, and a lot of                 fun to play. It is only thanks to Bryan Throckmorton that I was able to play, he has graciously loaned me his wii for                 the time being.

Saddest moment

        Leaving Denver

                By far leaving Denver was on of the hardest things I have done. I really miss my Denver friends, I started to name all                 of you but it took a really long time, so I stopped. But just know that if you are a Denver Friend, I miss you.

Favorite TV Show


                I watched a lot of TV shows this year, and nothing quite does it for me like Dexter does. Breaking Bad was great, But                 I don’t care as much about the Characters as I do Dexter.

Sunday, December 11, 2011


Sorry it has taken me so long to write this post, We have moved out of Grandma’s and now live in our own home! Yay!

In my last post, I made a joke about my teacher shrieking in terror because I said that I write in Sibelius.

For those of you that don’t know, Sibelius is notation software. There are two major notation software programs out there, Sibelius and Finale, both of which basically do the same thing. Composers will argue back and forth why whichever one is better. I don’t really care about that so that is all I am going to say about it.

The point of this post is to discuss something entirely different.

There is a major debate among composers about notation software and whether or not it should be used when writing. Some composition schools won’t allow students to use the software, and consequently some students won’t go to those schools.

To be completely honest I wouldn’t go to one of those schools. I don’t know if I know how to write without software... It is kind of embarrassing but I am completely dependent on it. I can sketch out ideas on pen and paper, but writing an entire piece without playback is something that I can’t even begin to fathom.

For those of you that don’t know, Sibelius and Finale do MIDI playback for you as you write. Which means that you get immediate results and don’t need to try and plunk out the notes on the piano.

I see problems with this method of writing... First of all our composition forefathers did not have have playback, yet were able to write symphonies, opera’s, concerto’s, and everything else without the handy use of it all being played back.

While the MIDI is helpful, it is also misleading. I might be hearing my oboe part too loud in my playback, so I write it quieter than other instruments, but in fact the oboe is already a quiet instrument, so it can easily get drowned out. The problem being that the playback is dishonest in how loud an instrument is, or what it actually sounds like, and unfortunately I respond to this misleading information.

The next point and probably most worrisome of writing in the software is writing by ear... Using the playback to write means I am writing with my ears, rather than my mind. This is the point I think about the most. It is the point that scares me the most. I can’t help but wonder how much writing like that hurts me as a composer.

I wonder about that because several composers that I respect and admire do not use software.

We had a guest speaker one semester that doesn’t use anything but a pencil, staff paper and his kitchen table (not even a piano). He played a string quartet for us, and it was fascinating! Beautiful! Interesting!

I admire that skill.

Beethoven wrote his entire 9th symphony whilst completely deaf! This is the same kind of skill. One that is, I believe a true mastery.

I can’t help but wonder about it though.

The creative process is so different for each individual, and I wonder how much of that skill can be attributed to his creative process, and how much is plain... practice... or craft for a lack of better words.

For some composers, the music is just in their heads, and they have to get it out. For some (like myself) there is no music in there, but it is playing with something, like a piano, or a guitar, or a computer that pushes my musical imagination which drives my creative process.

So I am not sure that writing like that would even work for me... But I am not against trying it. I can’t even begin to fathom if it will even work, but I know I will be stronger on the other side.

The best way for me to handle it I suppose, is to just do it, and come at it with no expectations.

It will probably be a while before I try to write that way, but I am vowing to try it.

Maybe a year of writing with no instruments, and no computer... I’ll definitely need to start small

Maybe in 2013...

That’s all for now.

Merry Christmas Friends.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Some exciting news in my life:

Jackie and I are buying a house!
I have a part-time temporary job!
I am starting a new piece!
I am obsessed with power-tools...

Back to the blog...

I recently joined the American Composers Forum and am so excited about this resource! It is an online community for composers and people who want to get in contact with composers.

Their is an entire section called “opportunities” which lists information ranging from composer residencies, to job openings, to competitions. It is seriously incredible!

I read a blog post, or an interview (I don’t remember) by Eric Whitacre who encouraged composers to enter as many competitions as they can. He specifically pointed out (several times) that you will not win, but that they are a great way to motivate yourself to get pieces done.I have decided to take him up on his advice and start entering competitions.

Right now I am aiming at a January 17th deadline for a 3-5 player, string +/- piano work. I am trying to hit several birds with with this bow... (pun intended(please laugh, I am so desperate)) By that I mean, I am going to try and submit the same piece for several different competitions.

As I looked at my calendar, I realized that I had to say no to a lot of competitions that I wanted enter, because of time. Especially considering that it often takes me three times longer to finish a work than I expect it to, and ten times longer than the average composer.

I am also submitting a few past scores to other competitions, which is nice because those don’t require much of me: except revisions (as needed), and mailing (which is some times a total pain in the ass).

With all of that said I came across a competition that wants the composer to compose a work in 60 minutes. They control this by releasing the instrumentation an hour before the scores are due... Which is awesome! It sounds like a really exciting challenge, but I can’t help but think that it would be really easy to cheat... I mean I can write out a motive, harmonize it, and then when they release the instrumentation, just orchestrate it (which still might take longer than an hour(especially if they are really strange instruments that no one has ever heard of (like a Portuguese thiamin rod (Who in the Hell knows how to write for that?!)))).

Regardless, I am going to try and write for that competition, and if any of my composer friends want info on it just let me know.

I am going to upload my string score as it progresses... I think... It is kinda freaky to upload WIP (Works in Progress (that is for you Geoff Munnerlyn (you definitely are not smart enough to get that acronym))) on the web first of all because the ideas can easily be stolen... and second of all because they are WIP... I often get excited about the smallest victory in a piece that no one but me even notices...

Lastly, I work mostly in Sibelius *Loud screaming sound* (that noise you just heard was my comp teacher screaming in sheer terror, and rage) and found that much of my work isn’t documented, as I progress. All that I really got at the end was the finished score, which is sad because I can’t see my progress, my mindset, wrong turns, and neither can anyone else. I began using versions in Sibelius which is really handy, I save it every morning before I start working (if I remember). I am writing this mostly for the historians that look back on my writing, and wish they could see my process.

That’s all for today...

Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 5, 2011


For those of you that don’t know, I am unemployed right now, and have been since August. With my plethora of free time, I have decided to live my life the way I want to. I try to compose at least two hours every day, and with that try to practice piano at least an hour.

I am reading a biography about Brahms right now and came across a section that demonstrated a major difference between Brahms and Schumann; Schumann tended to depend on inspiration to write, while Brahms depended on the craft of writing.

One of my teachers in school talked about composing as a craft, and the concept was really foreign to me. I remember asking him what that meant, and he answered by telling me, “regardless of what style, instruments, or mood you are in, you should be able to write.”

Another teacher once told me that writing is my instrument, and I need to practice every day.

I hated these ideas at first! They seemed totally counterintuitive to the creative process, especially because you can not force creativity!

But slowly, as I began to write more and more, it hit me that composing isn’t always about creating, in fact it rarely is. It is often about structure, voicing, playability, editing, dissecting, pacing, cutting, rejecting, reworking, etc... When it comes down to it, composing has to be more than just inspiration, because so much of it can’t be handled by inspiration.

I think now that I am forcing myself to write everyday, regardless of how inspired I feel or how excited I am to work on a piece, my approach to writing has changed. I see the repetitive habits that “inspiration” submits, and the lack of problem solving skills that it brings to the table.

I think this is why a lot of bands can only make 2-3 good albums. A lot of song writers “wait for a song to come to them” and are “only inspired in the morning.” This mind set is lazy, and eventually stops working. A bands fresh new sound loses it’s shimmer, and the said band has to either find a new sound, or just keep doing the same thing over and over again. Unfortunately for a lot of bands the pursuit of a new sound is fruitless, and I would venture to say (in my unexperienced opinion) this is because of inspiration vs craft.

When I think about craft I think about a black smith: how he heats and bashes, and bashes! As composers we should work on our pieces with the same degree of ferociousness. And yet our tools must be even stronger! If a black smiths tools are weaker than his project, then the project and the tools will be ruined.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What a great time to be a musician!

For anyone who doesn’t know, Five Iron Frenzy is getting back together and making an album! I am excited for lots of reasons, but one of the major reasons is how they did it!

They launched a website, and asked their fans to pay for their studio time by offering various prizes for paying certain amounts... Their goal was 30,000, and hoped to reach it in 60 days.

They reached their goal in 55 minutes... *jaw drop

In less than a week they raised 150,000 dollars! *pissed myself

Relevant magazine interviewed Reese Roper (the lead singer) and he made several references to not being under a label with this album, and how being under a label isn’t necessary. You can read the article by clicking here

This is such wonderful news! The middle man is losing his grasp on the music industry, and the artists are beginning to thrive!
What a great time to be a musician! Unless of course you are a hack, people will see right through that...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The unfortunate side of Capitalism and the Arts (Part 3)

I started writing this post in July, but I got overwhelmed because there is so much to this topic, and I didn’t know how to continue. But seeing information about the internet censorship fiasco made me realize that I need to finish my post. I am sorry it has taken so long.

If you don’t know anything about the internet censorship fiasco click this link, this is like big brother stuff and needs to be addressed. It is terrifying. Click here to get in contact with your congressman; apathy and doing nothing will not help. Telling your political representatives will do something. It is not hard, it is not confusing, just do it.

The RIAA (recording industry artists of America) are one of the groups behind these internet censorship bills, they are also a big part of the problem of which I am referring in these blog posts.

Boycott the RIAA! Do not buy brand new albums if they are owned by major labels, pirate, or buy second hand, if you want to support artists, go to their shows, buy their merch, give the bands money by sending it via snail mail, or literally handing them money when you see them.

As an addendum to the last post I found this video, and despite its vulgarity, and poor production quality, this indeed is part of the problem to which I am referring

Now to conclude my whole rant about Capitalism and the Arts.

Ultimately the problem with Capitalism is that money is the point. Honestly I am not Anti-Capitalist, I am not promoting Socialism, so before you conclude that I am trying to destroy America, know that I have no political agenda. So I hope you don’t think that I am trying to push ideas on you. I am a composer that has noticed patterns in the music world, and now notice those same patterns outside of the music world.

The way that capitalism works in America today is consumerism. We are a society thats entire economy is dependent on consumerism. We work to buy. The Government gives the people stimulus packages, so that they will spend money, which in turn will stimulate the economy. None of this is a secret.

The only way this system can fully sustain itself is by high turnover: people need to buy a new TV every five years because companies don’t make as much money off of a TV that people only buy once. Cars, Computers, Shingles, Cell phones... etc You name it, in five years whatever you have will be out of date, and falling apart. We can thank lightening fast developments in our technology, but we can also thank planned obsolescence for this reality. Planned obsolescence means that from the beginning of the blue prints, the engineers designed whatever item it is to fail after a certain period of time. A period of time that is just long enough for the consumer to not catch onto the fact the product was designed to fail. Otherwise, the consumer might use a similar product from a different company.

I think that is enough to relate these ideas to the arts field, but if you want more information click here.

Art outlets in this country are run by the same dynamics of mass production for mass consumption:

Consider the movie industry today: a movies success in today’s world seems only to depend on what it makes in the box office. When we hear info about the movies from this week, we hear which movie did best according to how much money it made(they are making a transformers 4 for crying out loud!)

Television looks through the same lens: by rating a shows success by how many viewers it gets, but honestly that information doesn’t matter to us the consumers, that information matters to advertisers. If a show is getting a lot viewers, then it has more advertising potential (firefly, and arrested development got cancelled).

Unfortunately music is subjugated by the same mindset. All the fades that happen through the years boy bands, girl idols, Matchbox 20, all of these things are just like I said, fades, and once again their success is dependent on how many records they sell.

Do you notice something unusual? Art in our culture is labeled as successful or unsuccessful by how much money it makes. I do understand that money can be a strong indicator of the successfulness of a work because it can indicate the amount of people the said work were willing to spend money on it.

Before you read on I want you to consider your favorite albums, (go ahead I’ll wait) ones that have lasted through the years and that keep on resurfacing, look through your most played in itunes. Consider the music that has meant the most to you.

In 1999 the Backstreet Boys released Millennium and since then it has sold over 40 million copies. The next in the 90’s was in 1997, Shania Twain’s Come on Over, and then the Bodyguard soundtrack in 92. ( I am just listing albums from the 90’s that sold over 40 million, there are others in the 40 million section, but they are all from before 1987) The reason I am listing the landmark 90’s albums is because these albums are considered highly successful in the music industry especially considering the short amount of time it took them to reach 40 million.

Now, was Millennium, Come on Over, or the Bodyguard soundtrack in your favorite albums list?

I want this blog to be respectful and objective, and it is my respectful, objective, opinion, that those albums suck.

They suck, and if this society dies out, those albums are not how I want our music to be remembered!

How is it that top albums in the industry are so terrible? *shoulder shrug.

I will probably talk more about this in other posts, but I want to talk about other things... like writing music... I would love to know what anyone else has to say about this...

Boycott the RIAA!!!!

Be well friends

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The difference between a song writer and a composer.

When I was still in school I wrote this, for some reason I never posted it.
I am working on the last section of the unfortunate side, but it is taking a lot longer than I thought it would.

A composer wants to redefine what music is.
A songwriter wants to show you what music is to them.

I had a conversation with my Composition teacher about how I feel like the classical world has isolated itself from culture and is now irrelevant to everyday people.
She told me that composers didn’t do it on purpose, that new ideas had to come forth because it is what composers need to do. Composers need to be creative, they need to constantly be growing or else they are just doing what everyone else has already done.

Perhaps my definition is wrong, but as I am sitting in class I am thinking about this composer we are talking about named Oliver Messiaen. Messiaen made an entirely new music language that he wrote a book about. Fred, the teacher for the class went into some detail about some aspects of his language, he had a very specific form that he consistently wrote for.

I believe that being creative for the sake of being creative is meaningless, but I also believe that refusing to try anything new in any art form is meaningless. Art in my opinion needs to be a strong balance of the two.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The unfortunate side of Capitalism and the Arts (part 2)

Hi everyone,

Sorry it took me so long to post, Jackie and I went camping for the fourth with my sister Kim, and brother in law Chris... Anywho...

At that point I was very naive (obviously) but was onto something...

The way the music industry works:

Bands flood the music scene, playing local shows, recording demo CDs all in the hopes that a label will sign them on.

For the lucky few that “make it” they sign a contract that gives them maybe a dollar (probably less) for selling a record that sells for 15-20$. In the midst of signing that lovely contract you as a musician give all of your copyrights of your music to the label. That means, you no longer own the music that you wrote! It now belongs to a label.

        If you don’t believe me consider the Beatles, Paul McCartney lost the rights to over 200 songs after a bidding war with         Michael Jackson. While McCartney still earned royalties, he had no say on who used the songs for what purpose (which is         probably why we heard gettin better on GE Commercials in the early Milli).

From this point the Label then gives the band a huge loan 75,000$+. The band is then put in a studio, and meet this new guy who says he is the producer. The producer then tells you why your music is bad (which isn’t always a bad thing) he changes lyrics, changes song structure, song meaning, but keep in mind, his goal is not to make a timeless record, his goal is to make an album that will sell, and to make that album sell fast.

Remember earlier how I pointed out that the band will make a dollar off of a record sale? Where does the rest of that money go? According to this website 24% of that money goes to the retailer, and 63% of it goes to the label... and 13% goes to the band (which I couldn’t find it’s sources, but I can’t imagine that it is far off). Wait a minute....! The label gets almost 2/3’s of all the money made off of record sales? (No wonder they are pissed off about Pirating) Lets think about this. The band takes out a loan to pay for recording a record that they don’t get much say in. In return the label owns all of the rights to the record, and makes 2/3’s of the profit off of the album. Does this remind anyone else of the mob? Back in the days when they charged business owners fees to protect them, and if they didn’t pay the fees they would torch their buildings. What other business practice has policy like this? Can you imagine buying a car only to have the dealership take the car and use it whenever they want to, and then when you decide to sell it, the dealership takes 2/3’s of the money you made from it?

Remember that giant loan? That loan pays for the record being recorded, it pays for the producer, it pays for all of your food, it pays for the music video for your single off the album and it pays for your personal gear.

Once the album is done it is time for you to promote it: hello life on the road. 7-10 months a year spent touring. This usually broken up, so good luck finding a job that is ok with you leaving for months at a time.

Playing concerts is typically where a lot of bands pull in their money, mostly from selling merch, but also from ticket sales. At this point the band members are making payments on the loan, and trying to make a living off of what is left over.

Let’s Recap: (for fun replace the words
Band with business owner,
with mafia,
with business,
and Record with protect)

Band signs up with label.

Band gives all rights of music to label.

Band takes out giant loan from label to pay to record music that the band has no rights to.

Band dies in crack house owned by the label

So really why would anyone want to get signed with a label? Ever? Seriously?

I will wrap this up in Part 3

Monday, July 4, 2011

The unfortunate side of Capitalism and the Arts (part 1)

I remember when I was a kid, and everyone I knew thought that being signed to a label was the best thing that could ever happen to a musician. The idea of American Idol was a dream come true to so many. My mom and sisters always said that I had a great singing voice and were waiting for the day that I would be “discovered”.

Back in those days I was hopefully waiting for the same thing. The idea of being what Miley Cyrus, or Justing Bieber are today was the big break I was looking for. I remember wandering around grocery stores, and shopping malls singing loud, so that someone would hear my voice and make me famous. When I was in eighth grade my voice began to change and I was terrified that my good singing voice went away mostly because of this moment from the Simpsons

The next time I was interested in music was when I was 17, I began to play guitar (that is a different story). When I picked it up again my sisters and mom were ready for me to jump into the American Idol scene, and even worse the Christian version of it... By then I knew that I didn’t want that for myself, I wasn’t sure why, but I knew then that my idols, Billy Corgen, and Jeremy Enigk wouldn’t be caught dead on those shows... So I resolved myself to get good at guitar, and based on talent alone I would get “discovered.”

My freshman year in college I was reading through lyrics from either Kid A, or OK Computer, and I read something that said “lyrics reprinted with kind permission from our label.” Being a mediocre guitarist, a less than inspired song-writer, and just plain bad lyricist, I was outraged (seriously my lyrics were bad). The idea that a label had to give me permission to print lyrics on the jacket of my CD was blasphemous ( I didn’t know they were bad).

By the end of my freshman year I had written and recorded my first song,

and I realized that labels didn’t only own your lyrics, they owned the recording, and the entire musical idea. I did this entire song by myself, and the idea of some unknown machine taking it from me made me weep (literally, I was a pothead back then and would cry a lot).

I was still convinced that I needed a label to discover me, but since my song was so good (I thought) they would just have to sign me and give me all the rights to my music (HA)!

I will have to continue this on Wednesday.... Happy Fourth n such.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Music from this Semester

This last semester was a great one for me for several reasons, but firstly because I got three recordings from this semester! (the player for them is at the bottom of this post (the player won't display the song titles, but I put them in the order that the player will play them))

Death of Death Reading this was my reading of my senior project, my wind ensemble piece. This is the project that I literally spent over a thousand hours writing. Honestly I think it took so long because everything takes me a long time... I mean I have several songs that I have spent over a year writing out on my guitar... and they still aren’t done. Regardless, this piece and recording were ultimately the culmination of my degree. The conductor, Dr. Kish, thinks he is funny apparently...

Glow Reading, I also posted this piece on this blog when it was beginning. This was my first choral piece which was set to a text I wrote. I have had several complaints about the text by people, but I have also had several people tell me that they love the text... Which is pretty funny. I have never considered that I would one day be the center of a love/hate argument, but it is what it is, I suppose. I feel like this piece can also use some work, I feel like it has some pacing issues, and I could quiet the arguments that people make about the text. There is one line that states “grace us with your putrid stank” that seems to be the line that really sets others off.

Your Wildest Dream is a piano piece that was performed by my friend Margo. She performed it in my schools Monday recital class and did a great job. The piece is built off of a synthetic scale, so in a literal way it is atonal, but there is definitely a tonal center that you can hear. But it follows no normal rules (ie using I-V7-I). This piece was supposed to be a short score for orchestrating a six-eight instrument work, but I ended up liking it more as a piano piece. It is actually the piece that I am talking about three posts earlier. I didn’t realize that until I began to write this out. I feel like I could create more pieces using this scale, and make this a suite.

Just so I can make you mad... or so you can love me
here is the text:

Oh fire of tires
Burn in defiance
To rain
Blasphemy snow
Whose purpose is to make you dry
Grace us with your putrid stank
That makes eyes water and lungs
Other fires sway to the will of anyone or anything
But I say Glow!
Let the world see, know, feel, who you are
Let the world feel, know, see, the weight of who you are

My composition teacher Cherise Leiter gave me some advice for Putrid Stank, she said to change the context of the word to offend less people. So stink stink stank. I think that it is a pretty good idea. (but she still liked it the way that it was)

Friday, July 1, 2011

A New Summer, a New life.

I just finished my BM in music composition. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. My last semester I had 10 credit hours because of a mistake I made in registering for a class, but holy crap I am so glad I only had 10. I easily spent over a thousand hours on composing my senior project, which was a wind ensemble piece, that ended up being about six and a half minutes long. After hearing the piece read through it changed my life, I honestly felt like my DNA changed. It was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my life. I feel like the piece could still use some work, but I haven’t buckled down and worked on it yet. I am honestly excited to though. It is weird, I always feel like starting to compose is a slow process that feels more like someone or something is dying, but after about an hour it is a raging storm that engulfs you, and holds you prisoner. Consuming every thought, demanding the respect and precedence that sailing through a tropical storm commands

It is not easy to be married when a monkey like that is on your back, mostly for your spouse. Jackie would be talking to me, and notice a blank stare come across my face. She would see the milk I put in the pantry and the cereal box I set in the washing machine. In normal life I felt like a complete moron, but before my score I felt like... what did I feel like? A god? A warrior? I felt I became who I have believed myself to be my whole life. As if, I have always tried to be who I think I am, but before my score, there was no trying. I just was.

With the finishing of my degree, a new chapter in our lives unfolds. Jackie and I are moving to Illinois in August. Right now we live in a scummy 2 room duplex, that we are subletting from a couple that left the place nice and filthy for us. We wanted to stay in Colorado for the summer to enjoy the mountains before we left.

I am working on a few pieces right now, one of which I collaborated with Emily Fox. She wrote a poem that I am setting to a choir, I like the direction the piece is going. I am meeting with her today to talk about it. She hasn’t heard anything from it so I hope she likes it.