Hello! Welcome to my new website! I spent a lot of time designing this. There may still be a few glitches but overall I’m quite happy with it. The company that hosts my site stopped supporting the old Sitebuilder platform so I had to update to WordPress. My friend Tony built my original website back in 2007. It worked really well for a 14 year old website. Tony had to design the whole thing in html code, which makes it even more impressive. You can check out the old site here.The home page isn’t available but the other pages still work. I especially like the mp3 page! For my new site, I was able to take advantage of the many website building developments without having to know how to program computers. I still found it pretty challenging. I finally have it more or less how I want it.
My wife Molly and I left New York in March 2020.Since I made most of my living playing in subway stations and other public areas, it was not feasible for me to stay in NYC during the pandemic.I was lucky that my teaching work with the Brooklyn Conservatory quickly pivoted to an online format so I was able to keep that going wherever I went. Molly and I spent most of the last year bouncing around between her family on Cape Cod and my cousins in Boston.It has not been easy but we are feeling hopeful now. We actually had planned to re-locate in the fall of 2020 before the pandemic happened, to be closer to family. But we ended up having to shift our exit a bit earlier.We are grateful to have the support of our family and to have had safe, comfortable places to stay during this time.We are very much looking forward to setting up our new life together in New England this fall.
Tomorrow I will be going into Futura Productions, a recording studio in Boston, to record my solo album.My teacher from Tufts, John McDonald, recommended Futura to me.John has been active in classical and new music in Boston for over 30 years so I trust his judgement! I am paying for this project with an Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign.I reached my goal last week and I am very grateful to all my friends and family who contributed.
I have felt a bit of a conflict between my composer and improviser self while preparing for this project. In the back of my mind, I keep feeling like I should have written a series of highly complex compositions and then thoroughly practiced them for many months.This would showcase my “best” musical self and would be far more labor intensive. But I wanted to present the best possible sound I could. And the strain and effort of trying to play something complex would be detrimental to the sound. So my album will be half folk-influenced music that I played on the subways, and half improvised music.
There is something to be said for music with fewer notes which maynot be technically difficult in the traditional sense. But in fact, when you consider all the nuances and subtleties in the sound, there is tremendous amount happening. Much of it cannot be notated. I’m thinking particularly of Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground.I am doing a version of this on the album. My goal with this version isn’t to duplicate what he does exactly, but to create a sound that approaches Johnson’s. I remember hearing about a string quartet playing a blues arrangement.Listening to it, the players thought it would not be particularly difficult. But the arranger transcribed every subtle variation in sound quality, every nuance and microtone, so the arrangement turned out to be very challenging indeed! I could have attempted an exact transcription of Blind Willie Johnson’s original version, and then tried to precisely re-create it on violin.This would have been a good challenge. But something would have been lost in the translation.I think the feel of the original would be sacrificed. That’s not to say that I am able to get any where close to the sublime feeling of Johnson’s version, but I hope to get somewhere in the vicinity.
I had similar ideas when it came to my decision to record some purely improvised piece. I could have improvised on my own, perhaps recorded my improvisations and transcribed them. And then tried to re-create the improvisations. But again the original feel would be lost and the tension of trying to re-create it would be detrimental to the sound quality. There is a lot of controversy about the terms improvisation and composition.As is the case with the term “jazz,” which many musicians (going back to Ellington) did not use to describe their own music, improvisation also carries with it a qualitative assumption: the idea that because a piece is improvised, or composed spontaneously, it is of less value than something written down.I also fight these kind of assumptions. Just because something takes a long time, and a lot of effort, does not make it better.
It has to do with what Molly’s artist stepmom Ruth says when people ask her how long it took to do a painting. She responds “about 70 years”. In other words, her whole lifetime. The actual painting process could take a few minutes or a few days.The amount of time spent on something does not correlate to its quality.So I fight that sense of guilt when making an album means sketching out some ideas and going in to the studio and recording. In some cases, I might not even sketch anything out.But I have thought a lot about what I’m going to do. I’ve spent 30 years improvising. And I’ve played the subway pieces thousands of times, so it has been engrained into me.
I would like to get back to composing notated music.It uses a different part of the brain and it is beneficial to keep both parts active. Many musicians do both.I like the communication that happens between composer and musician. It’s very satisfying to hear someone realize your musical ideas. And it is often a collaborative process,figuring out what works best for the instrument and the player.I still have to figure out the difference is between the music I compose and the music I improvise.My compositions up to this point have been in a completely different style than my improvisations. Part of this might be because I compose a lot on the piano- and the act of pressing the keys is quite different from violin technique. The freedom from the written score means, of course, that music I improvise can be far more complex than anything I could easily write down. It also means the subtleties in the sound, sometimes more than the notes, become essential parts of the music. And if I went through the tedium of accurately transcribing it, the original feel of the improvisation would still be difficult to recreate. So even though it doesn’t make sense to transcribe my own improvisations for myself to play,if another musician wanted to play something I improvised, I would be happy to attempt a transcription, and in the process I would probably discover things about my musical self.
I keep thinking the next thing I do will be really be “it” and I’ll feel like I’ve finally arrived at my true artistic goal. But of course it’s all a process. Just like everything I’ve done in my life so far, this recording project is another step in my development. But I am hoping it will open up some doors for me in terms of what I do next.