A Composer/Performer's Life

the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!

One of those days

Perhaps it’s the cold, or the ice, or the snow, or my burgeoning list of things that are urgent or important or both. Perhaps it’s just the time of year, although I don’t suffer from any sort of winter malaise or light deprivation as some do. Perhaps it’s that my tea is cold or that I’m a little bit hungry. Perhaps I need to catch up on sleep, even though I slept almost 9 hours. Perhaps I had too much sleep?

Whatever the cause, I feel tired. Deeply tired. I tweeted this morning that I wanted to stay in bed with my kittie, but then ate breakfasts and took a shower and felt better.

Now I’m back to wishing I was in bed….. but now there’s someone else here working, so how can I go back to bed when others around me are working? Must soldier on, or as my mother is fond of quoting a friend of hers, “chin up.” Some curse words come to mind, even if she is my mother….


It continues to be a very busy time for, like, the last four years! It’s also been incredibly productive and transformative and at times it’s felt more like a roller coaster than anything else. I don’t particularly like roller coasters, but I do like how quickly the ride changes the energy. It’s hard to get stuck when you’re being tossed this way and that at unpredictable times.

Just this last week I had another rehearsal with the amazing early music ensemble Parthenia, who has commissioned my latest work Donne Songs Without Words, which they will premier next month. The piece is one of my choreographic scores, so the players are all moving while they play. It is VERY challenging and they are wonderfully game for the whole process. My challenge continues to be getting them all the materials they need to do the best they can. Things like making videotapes of the rehearsals and updated parts.  So the first time I tried to make a tape, we weren’t in a big enough room so I couldn’t get far enough back to get everyone in the shot. I also hadn’t yet figured out how to make the camera work before I got there, so I wasn’t confident that I could even make a recording. They didn’t have a videotaping class at the Conservatory. But this time we rehearsed in an amazing brownstone with 15 ft ceilings. There was plenty of room and I bought a tripod and read the manual – ah yes, the manual – and got everything working. Rehearsal was great but then it took me many hours over the weekend to figure out how to transfer the tape onto my computer. Oh, and now my backup drive is misbehaving so I’m not sure I have a backup, and on and on. Even though I should have been updating the score and parts, I ran out of time dinking around with all this other stuff. It’s important for us all to have it though, so worth the trouble.

I used the time that the video was transferring to practice for my upcoming tour with Philip Glass. Since retiring from his ensemble in 2004, I’ve been subbing in kind of regularly for the last 3 or so years. It’s great fun to play the music and go out on the road with them again, so I’m looking forward to this, but there is a LOT of music to practice. Some of it is new and some of it I haven’t played in more than 10 years. The biggest challenge is to get the chops back to play the music from the 70s, like excerpts from Einstein and Music In 12 Parts. That stuff is hard! And also really fun!

And on Friday night, the 30th, my new group, Ensemble 50 with Mary Rowell, violin, Jim Pugliese, percussion, and Kevin Norton, vibes with myself on piano, gave our first public performance on the Composers Now kickoff concert at The Cell. What an amazing group this is. We played a piece of Kevin’s called I Dig Facts Man, and opened with one of mine, Spice Mix 1. These pieces have a lot of improv in them, which is what this group does so well. And it all happens in the performance. Not that we don’t rehearse because we do, and we have to in order to be good, but the energy of the audience is what we need to really bring it. And we did. If there were photos or recordings made, I’ll post some here.

Finally, two more rejection emails came last week. And I live to fight another day..

Part 2: Once we understand that it’s a choice we have the power to change

Once we understand that it’s a choice we have the power to change.

Yesterday I had occassion to send the below to a fellow artist that wanted to use some music of mine to enhance the experience of their art in a video. I don’t need to post the whole exchange, but this seems so relevant to what I posted last week, that I thought a Part 2 was called for.

“You understand that not knowing you, or more to the point, not being nside your head, I cannot know what your intentions are. The question has to be asked of anyone wishing to make use of something that I’ve made and own. I’m not opposed to gratis uses, but it’s important to me that I have the opportunity to make that choice and that it not be made for me.

As far as money and prizes go, they only infest art if you let them. Personally I have nothing against either, nor do I care much about having prizes, in particular, which is a good thing since I’ve won very few. Money I need to make my life and work. Making music is my job, and I expect to be paid for it. I won’t apologize for that nor will I accept any argument that posits money as an inherent evil. Money has no intention in and of itself. People do. It’s all about the intention behind the work that makes it one’s best or not, in my view. All the other stuff is just noise to distract us from the fact that those who can’t make art feel powerless in the face of those who can. Long ago they created this myth that money was poison to creativity. Not all creativity, just the pure art forms. It’s a lie, but as a society, we’ve bought it hook line and sinker.

You will note that not all artists are poor. They still manage to make great art, at least some of the time.

Let’s wake up and stop the bullshit.

You couldn’t have known that I’ve been on this mission to purge the arts community as a whole of the myth that we shouldn’t have. We should. We deserve it. I’ve been on this mission for 20 years.”

I want to further add that we are all necessary and vital parts of our communities. Without each of us, the community would change and become something else. We should never try to be anything other than who we are because the valuable work that we do has more to do with our differences than with our similarities!

Thank you for being part of my community!

POSTED 1.22.15

I want to change how you think about money

Dear readers, it’s been a long time since I posted anything here. I’m sorry to have been out of the loop so long, but life took me in another direction for a while. 

I’m back, and refreshed, and ready to pick up where I left off, changing the way we think about ourselves and the ways we do business.

Let’s start with some things that I hear a lot. And they almost always have to do with money. I’m going to post these in bits, so that it’s more digestible.

No one makes any money as a composer. I can think of people who do: Philip Glass and Steve Reich, John Adams and John Luther Adams, to name a few. Ok, you may say, but they’re famous. No excuse. They may be famous but they are also composers making their living as a composer. And they weren’t always famous either. This is one of the biggest lies in our industry. People have and will continue to make money, and even become rich making music and art. But if you believe that you can’t make any money then you certainly will not. You have just closed the door to financial success making your art just because you don’t believe that it is possible.

People always ask me to do things for free. Well, as long as you keep saying yes to doing things for free then you will continue to be asked to do things for free. It is in and of itself a self-fulfilling prophesy. You could flip that around and substitute the word “free” for “money” and have a more sustainable result.

Classical music is dead. This is just a lie. Classical music is not dead. Plenty of people listen to and love classical music. I read/hear this misperception from people all the time. What is programming for the bottom line, rather than with creating an interesting and thought-provoking experience. Audiences want a more connected experience from classical music. They want to feel something and to feel a part of something. They are not interested in experiencing a relic of the early 20th century. People want to experience something that feels relevant to them. But they have also been trained to think that Classical music is dead, thanks to all the articles that have been written about that subject. There’s nothing like repeating something a bunch of times, especially in print and social media, etc, to make it true.

The music business is dead and no one makes any money anymore. 20th c. business models don’t work anymore. No one disputes that. But this does not mean that you can’t make money in music anymore.?I’m going to say this one more time. People have and will continue to make money, and even become rich, making music and art. But if you believe that you can’t make any money then you certainly will not. You have just closed the door to financial success making your art just because you don’t believe that it is possible.

Stay tuned for more, and Happy New Year!



New website and blog host

Hi All,

My redesigned website is up and you can find the blog under Musings. Hope you come and check it out. Let me know what you think!

Thanks again for reading!


It’s been a while since I’ve written for a number of reasons. Chief among them that I sprained my ankle while on vacation at the beach in Currituck, NC.



Anyway, the bad ankle hasn’t stopped my getting together with musicians and playing. All month I’ve been rehearsing with Pat Irwin for our upcoming show at Spectrum on Sunday night, September 1. It’s so lovely the way our individual sounds blend. You don’t hear electric guitar and piano that often and while I was never worried that it wouldn’t be good, it’s very nice that it’s so beautiful.

Last week, I also got together with a very interesting trombone player, Ben Gerstein. We improvised, read music, talked about creating in general and then listened to music.I hadn’t done that in so many years and forgot how much fun it is.  He made some really amazing sounds, and the hair on my legs stood on end in one particularly quiet section. The way the sounds he was making combined with the piano resonance and sounds I was making was really special.  Thanks to Ben for sharing music in so many ways! 

One of the best things I’ve done as a way to jump-start my career is to start to play with musicians that I admire but never worked with. This was the genesis of the Rétes collaboration series and I really recommend this to anyone who’s trying to find a niche for themselves. 

Getting together and playing with people is a great way to share music and stretch out your chops at the same time. It’s such great fun and a really great way to build a new musical community of people who know your music and like to play it.

The next step?

I think it might be an ensemble. I’ll get back to you on that, but I feel like it’s time to start advocating for my generation of composer/performers and composers in general. I want to loll around in beautiful and interesting sound combinations that make my hair stand on end as much as possible!

Who’s in?