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Posting-deficient as always, but this time due to frantic writing, which is as good an excuse as any, I suppose. While I’ve been staring down the sextet, both in the Loisaida studio, and for a short time in more hospitable and greenery-laden points north, I received a spate of e-mail interviews, mostly for high school music projects from what I could tell. As a placeholder of sorts while I continue battle against the forces of time and chamber music, here’s one of those mails, questions and answers intact:

what got you into music?
Well, I’ve always loved music … my mother likes to tell stories of how I was always banging on the piano, and had begged for lessons … and I was always active in bands, orchestras, and choruses. Playing music was always my favorite activity in school and outside of school. And my parents, teachers, and community were always very supportive. My folks would take me to concerts and such, exposing me to all kinds of music and theater and dance, and my teachers would encourage me when I showed musical promise. When it came time to decide what to study in college, I looked at what I loved to do, and it was a very easy decision! Even through collegiate and graduate composition studies , I would wonder if perhaps I wanted to do other things, and I always came back to music, and writing music.

what is your favorite piece you wrote?
That’s difficult. There’s a sort of truism, that a composer’s favorite piece is always the piece they’re working on right then. That hasn’t always been true with me, but it often is. So the answer depends on when you ask me(!) I’ll try to answer more fully, however, if I can. I can’t pick just one, but I find that the pieces I’ve written of which I’m most proud are the ones that where I felt I took a step forward as a composer, and those are all very different pieces, from over the last 10 years. I’d think the list would be something like: OK FEEL GOOD for chamber group, WAPWALLOPEN (String Quartet No. 1), THE RIVERS OF BOWERY for wind ensemble, and METROPOLITAN for orchestra. OK FEEL GOOD might have an edge over everything else … that piece might be where I finally figured out how (stylistically) I would like to write, and what I wanted to hear from my own music.

what is your favorite instrument you work with?
Difficult to answer! I think I might have to be roundabout and say that more than any one single instrument, my favorite to write for is the orchestra itself. As a whole unit, thinking of it as one “instrument”, capable of inexhaustible colors and styles, it can’t be beat. Writing for orchestra is very much like driving a luxury car, it’s just simply very satisfying to write for that instrumentation. To actually answer your question, though, I admittedly have soft spots for cello (beautiful tone, amazing versatility), bass clarinet (I love the color), and percussion in general. I find myself often concentrating more on percussion parts than anything else, even when I shouldn’t. I think I like the virtuosity required of the modern percussionist, and the openness percussionists have to all kinds of sounds and styles.

have any real life experiences influenced you to write a piece?
Not exactly, no. Pieces do come from real life experience, of course, but for me, it’s not anything specific, necessarily. That is, I never really draw from an incident, or a specific experience from my life. My music tends to derive it’s non-musical juice from, say, some lines of a poem, or the cacophony of urban streets, or a musical style in general. Of course, real life creeps in on everything, especially the music you’re writing, and influences it, but I’ve never been inspired to write a piece about an experience, or sat down to try and capture a certain life-experience in music … unfortunately it’s just not how my brain works!

who are your inspirations?
Well, there is a (constantly changing, and lengthy) list of contemporary composers, of course, whom I find inspiring both personally and musically: composers like John Adams, John Corigliano, Osvaldo Golijov, Elena Kats-Chernin, Aaron Kernis, David Lang, Arvo Pärt, Kaijia Saariaho, Tan Dun, or Michael Torke, to name a healthy bunch in alphabetical order — as well as composers of the 20th century whose music I admire immensely and constantly seek to emulate, like Samuel Barber, Alban Berg, Benjamin Britten, Aaron Copland, Bohuslav Martinu, Jean Sibelius, Igor Stravinsky, or Toru Takemitsu. I also find the standard Western repertoire, our pantheon of great composers, to be a constant source of influence. I’m still just as much of a “fan” of say, J.S. Bach, or Brahms, as I am of Mr. Corigliano. I’m also heavily influenced by musicians/performers in both popular music and jazz … I find that listening to Björk, or Prince, or Oscar Peterson, with the ear of a composer learning from another composer’s music to be just as valuable as studying anything “classical”.

I was asked to answer 5 out of 12 questions presented, and I must admit, I’m sure I chose the easiest ones. Some of the others were real stumpers:

10. describe your music the way you view it
12. Where have you found the biggest idea for your music

Head-scratchers both … I’m relieved I had that pass to get out of those.

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