Princeton Symphony performs Sarah Kirkland Snider

Sarah Kirkland Snider

Princeton Symphony Orchestra

Richardson Auditorium, Princeton, NJ

May 13, 2012

PRINCETON – The Princeton Symphony’s final concert of its classical season included two repertory staples – Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major – as well a revised version of Sarah Kirkland Snider’s sole work to date for orchestra, Disquiet. Although Snider is a rising star in the world of contemporary music, she has thus far made her name as a formidable composer of vocal works, notably the song cycle Penelope, as well as theatre music and chamber compositions for groups such as yMusic and NOW Ensemble.

She first conceived some of the material for Disquiet back in 2000, and the original version of the piece was premiered at Yale while she was a graduate student there in 2004. The revised version given by the Princeton Symphony, conducted by Rossen Milanov, is a single movement tone poem around a quarter of an hour long. Rather than depicting “disquiet” primarily via its pitch or rhythmic language, creating abundant dissonances or angularity, Snider takes another approach: uneasiness is primarily delineated by the work’s formal design. Thus, one may at first be surprised to hear the its often lush harmonies and strong melodic thrust. But as Disquiet unfolds, a labyrinth of disparate gestures and contrasting sections, often supplied in quick succession, imparts the title’s requisite restive sensibility.

Milanov brought out the piece’s wide dynamic shifts, exhorting brash tutti and hushed sustained chords from the orchestra. The piece’s quick sectional shifts allowed several performers brief turns in the spotlight: concertmaster Basia Danilow, clarinetist William Ansel, and flutist Jayn Rosenfeld noteworthy among them.

One hopes that, with this performance under her belt, Snider will get the opportunity to create more works for  orchestra. Given  Disquiet’s colorfully cinematic use of motives, one also wonders whether she might try her hand at film-scoring.

Perseverance = Fourteen Years


Good news to share: I have been offered and accepted a tenure track position as Assistant Professor in the Music Composition, History, and Theory Department at Westminster Choir College.

More than a few acquaintances might be wondering, “Haven’t you been teaching for a long while? How long did it take you to land a tenure track job?”

Fourteen years.

I went on the job market, while still a doctoral student, in 1999. I received my Ph.D. in 2001. I’ve been applying for academic teaching positions, in hopes of finding an ongoing one, for fourteen years.

Halfway through my search, an op/ed in the Chronicle for Higher Ed told me to give up any hope of getting a tenure track job after three years. When I recounted this to a girlfriend (who was not to be my future wife), she said, “Oh, that’s just if you want to get a good job.”

I’m grateful that my stubborn Irish/German DNA, a score of friends, and another score of stubborn Irish/German-American relations told me otherwise.

During the time period from 1999 until, well, this past Friday, I’ve been employed as a contingent faculty member in seven different places, under a variety of job titles. Particularly early on, I sometimes didn’t know if I’d have a job until the next semester was about to start. I believe the record for a late job offer was two days after a semester started, but there were many Fourth of July weekends spent on tenterhooks.

I’ve listed the job titles below. Bear in mind that the commitments were semester by semester until 2002 and then again from 2004-’06. After that, they were mainly one-year appointments.

1999: Adjunct Assistant Professor
2000: Part-time lecturer and Adjunct Assistant Professor (freeway flier years: three campuses and three other part-time jobs)
2001: Adjunct Professor
2002: Replacement Assistant Professor (my first full-time teaching job)
2003: Substitute Assistant Professor (doesn’t that sound like you have an unruly homeroom class to mind?)
2004: Adjunct Assistant Professor (part-time again, for two years. That was the toughest time: going from having full-time pay and benefits to being eligible for food stamps)
2006: Instructor (one-year contract )
2007: Visiting Assistant Professor (one-year appointment)
2008-’10: Acting Assistant Professor (two-year appointment)
2010-’11: Acting Assistant Professor (one-year appointment)
2011-’12: Acting Assistant Professor (one-year appointment: line split between two campuses)

Do you notice how each of these job titles tells you “Don’t get comfortable?” I mention this not to complain: I am one of the lucky ones. For eight of my fourteen years on the market, I had a full-time salary with benefits. I have friends and colleagues who are extraordinarily talented, yet woefully underemployed. In fact, most of the new Ph.D’s who enter the higher ed job market today will encounter a struggle during the search to find their teaching “homes.” Some will be faced with job offers that they feel they ought to take, even though it involves moving away from family, friends, and the place they have come to think of as home. Many will remain underemployed for years; some will be kept as contingent faculty members for their whole careers.

Once most people get their “dream job,” it’s easy for them to forget these years in the wilderness. It’s natural: I imagine a human
response to coping with adversity. The one blessing I find in the long struggle to remain employed is that it will be difficult to forget what it was like to live semester to semester and year to year for so long. I hope never to take that for granted.

Indeed, it’s still hard for me to believe: I will be teaching on one campus next year, and I will be able to start thinking of myself as an ongoing part of an institution instead of a visitor. I am particularly glad that my wife Kay Mitchell and I (as well as four frolicsome felines) will be living under one roof instead of apart. So many academic couples have to get accustomed to living apart for years at a time. I tend to think that Anneliese  and Zelda would have none of that.

Without the many friends and family members who offered their support and encouragement throughout this long process, it simply wouldn’t have been possible. I hope to get the chance to express my gratitude to each of you in person, but I’d like to say it here publicly. Thank you.

I only wish that my father, who passed away in 2009, had lived to see this come to fruition. But to those still seeking the “right job,” and doubting their perseverance, I’d share one of his favorite sayings, one he’d say to me when the academic job market’s vicissitudes were weighing particularly heavily:

“Don’t quit before the miracle.”

Or, as Churchill said in his last visit to Parliament: “Never give up. Never.”

PS Lest you think that I will be resting on my laurels for even a moment, the conditions of my new job require me to come up for tenure almost immediately. So, if you are one of those kind people who has a concert program or tape of a performance to send to me: now would be the time. Thanks!

Free DL: “Alleluia, Ascendit Deus” (Soundcloud Demo)

Casavant Organ at Grace Church Newark

Here’s a Soundcloud demo of my latest choral piece, a motet setting of “Alleluiai, Ascendit Deus” (Psalm 47:5). Instead of those beastly MIDI ooh’s and ah’s, I’ve used a sample of an organ flute stop as the sound palette. Please feel free to download, share, embed, etc.

The piece will be premiered as part of the 175th Anniversary celebration of Grace Church Newark, a service commemorating the Feast of the Ascension (May 19,2012 at noon).

New project

I’ve been asked by organist Joe Arndt to write a motet for Grace Church Newark’s 175th Anniversary, celebrated on the Feast of Ascension (May 19 2012 at noon). The church has requested a setting of “Alleluia, Ascendit Deus,” a text most famously set by William Byrd. I’m keeping Byrd’s vocal divisi – SSATB (during his time, probably AATbB), but emending the text used in his version.

Instead of blending words from two psalms as Byrd did (fusspot that I am, I don’t like liturgical mixing and matching), I’m setting the verse below.

Ascendit Deus in iubilatione,
et Dominus in vocae tubae. Alleluia.
Dominus in caelo paravit sedem suam. Alleluia.

Psalm 46 (47): 5

God has ascended with jubilation,
and the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. Alleluia.
The Lord has prepared his seat in heaven. Alleluia.

Once Copernicus got Westerners to realize that heaven might not be “up there,” and Sputnik gave us an even greater reality check, the Ascension of Christ has been one of the passages in the Bible that most vexes literal-minded readers.

I love what Anglican theologian N.T. Wright has to say about this. In the book The Resurrection of Jesus (coauthored as a dialogue with John Dominic Crossan), he rhetorically poses the “laws of physics” question about the Ascension. Wright doesn’t to dodge the issue. He responds that Christ didn’t need to ascend all the way to heaven to present a miracle to the disciples, he only needed to get past the first clouds to demonstrate a transfiguration!

A rebuttal such as this certainly helps an ecumenically minded composer to set to work. If all goes well, the music will reach that first layer of cumulus handily!

Gregson plays Gabriel Prokofiev (CD preview)

Out on 2/13 in the UK (and everywhere else on 3/6/12), “Jerk Driver” is the lead off single from Gabriel Prokofiev’s Cello Multitracks, a CD that is his latest genre-bending release for the Nonclassical imprint. It features cellist Peter Gregson, a noteworthy genre bender in his own right, playing all nine cello parts, creating a swath of overdubbed strings that is then subjected to remixes by Paul Miller (DJ Spooky), musician/producer MaJiKer, and composer Marcas Lancaster. Check out a sample embedded below.

As Jerry Bowles points out on the homepage, Gregson and Prokofiev will be presenting the piece at Joe’s Pub in New York on 2/10. More US events are listed below: some of them include Prokofiev’s concert music; others, his work as a DJ!

Gabriel Prokofiev + Peter Gregson – Jerk Driver (preview) by Nonclassical

Nonclassical US tour
9th February: Gabriel Prokofiev Bass Drum Concerto (World premiere) w/ Princeton Symphony – Richardson Auditorium, Princeton, NJ
10th February: Peter Gregson & Todd Reynolds (+ Gabriel Prokofiev DJ sets) – Joe’s Pub, NYC
11th February: Peter Gregson w/ Joby Burgess ( + Gabriel Prokofiev DJ sets) – Terrace Club, Princeton, NJ
15th February: Peter Gregson w/ DJ Madhatter, Joby Burgess ( + Gabriel Prokofiev DJ sets) – MOCT, Wilwaukee, WI
16th February: Peter Gregson w/ Joby Burgess ( + Gabriel Prokofiev DJ sets) – Brink Lounge, Madison, WI
18th February: Peter Gregson w/ Joby Burgess ( + Gabriel Prokofiev DJ sets) – Chicago, IL (Venue TBC)
21st February: Gabriel Prokofiev Bass Drum Concerto w/ Chicago Composers Orchestra – Ruth Page Theater, Chicago,IL

Com Truise’s Galactic Melt (CD Review)

Com Truise
Galactic Melt

New Jersey’s own Seth Haley records electronica under the moniker Com Truise. With a name that tropes on an eighties icon, it’s not too surprising that his source material reference dystopian sci-fi soundtracks, early synth pop, and a splash of trippy dark wave for good measure. Now, I know that, at this point, some readers might be warily edging their mitts towards the mouse. After all, this referential material is potent stuff to overuse: weaponized in the hands of the wrong creator. Fear not.

Thankfully, Haley keeps the various reference points in balance on Galactic Melt, his latest full length for the Ghostly imprint. Unlike the film actor whose name just might be morphed into Haley’s audio incarnation, Galactic Melt doesn’t seem overexposed. Haley provides enough thoughtfully mediated distance between the source material and its current day handling that the music (happily) never lapses into nostalgia nor stoops to broad parody. Recommended.

Check out a stream of the new single “Ether Drift” on the File Under ? Tumblr page.

Plus, courtesy of our friends at RCRDLBL, grab a download of album track “Brokendate” below.

This Sunday: National Chamber Choir of Ireland visits NJ

On Sunday October 16 at 3 PM, the National Chamber Choir of Ireland will give a concert at Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ (ticket information here). Led by the esteemed conductor, scholar, and vocalist Paul Hillier, the choir’s program spotlights the work of British composer Tarik O’Regan, including the regional premiere of his Acallam na Senórach: “An Irish Colloquy.” Afterwards, O’Regan and Hillier will be on hand for a talkback.