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So I’m finally crawling out of the black hole that is the academic Spring Semester and looking forward to a summer chock-full of composing, preparing for classes…and figuring out what to do with my Composer Next Door project.

Three years ago I was marooned in central Oklahoma with few job prospects, so to keep my mind distracted I threw myself into a project that I’d always wanted to try – creating a radio show based on contemporary concert music. The folks at KCSC-FM on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma were kind enough to give me an hour slot and within six months I was making radio shows on my laptop with a decent USB microphone and a healthy collection of CDs kindly donated by composers across the country.

Things seemed to go quite well until my teaching & composing career improved to the point where I had to impose a six-month hiatus on the project – it had been getting increasingly more difficult to give it the time that it needed while tending to small distractions such as finishing commissions and revamping curricula. Now that I’ve taken said hiatus, I’ve finally gotten things at work more-or-less organized and my commissioning schedule seems to have spaced itself out well enough that I can get back to TCND and figuring out what’s best for it.

My conundrum is what medium and format would be best for such a project. Radio is a safe way to go about it but unless you’ve got a national syndication, you’re limited to a local audience (online simulcasts help with this, but you’re still limited in terms of how often someone can listen in). Podcasting is tempting but the copyright limitations/royalties issues are daunting, especially if one wants to focus as much on label-affiliated CDs as on self-produced works. At the speed at which new opportunities come about, I wouldn’t be surprised if a third option hasn’t come about recently that I’m not aware of – I’ve also thought about working video into the mix (giving due props to John Clare who seems to do everything right these days). All I do know is that this is still an important project and that I’m sure there’s a viable way to make it work (either on my own or in conjunction with others).

So…if you were in my shoes, what would you do?

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Just when you thought that the American public has forgotten all about composers like Cage…he’s brought up in a political discussion on the Time magazine blog Swampland. The comment thread, while not groundbreaking, is interesting because it seems to veer away from politics and more towards a discussion of the piece and its creator.

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A little-known wiki on the current state (up to the minute) of the academic job market came to my attention last year and has since blossomed
from a listing of gigs in various stages of completion to a though-provoking anonymous discussion on issues pertaining to those in the front lines of the college/university job market in theory & composition. An example from the discussion (author, of course, unknown):

Having worked for several departments on a non-tenure-track basis over a number of years, and having spoken with a number of colleagues working as both TT and NTT faculty at several different institutions, my impression is that the search process is too uneven to generalize. To be fair, the hiring process in any industry is ultimately a crapshoot, both for those doing the hiring as well as for the hiree: one never knows how good the hiree will be until that person has been on the job for a while; conversely, the hiree won’t truly know the nature of the professional environment until he/she has been there for a while. With that said, here are a few impressions:

  1. Most faculties tend to be, on the whole, pretty good, staffed by competent professionals committed to their work. A few faculties are excellent across the board. A few are mediocre. Many span the range, with pockets of both excellence and mediocrity. (This is perhaps more likely at larger departments.) The same can largely be said of search committees: most are good, a few excellent, and a few mediocre; this range can sometimes be found within different search committees on the same faculty.
  2. Some search committees go into a search already having identified the person they want to hire. This may be an internal or external candidate. The deck may be stacked in favor of that candidate, making the interviewing of external candidates an expensive formality. (This strategy can backfire.)
  3. Some search committees go into a search already having identified their ideal hire, but create a fair and level playing field. This sometimes leads to the hire of the ideal candidate, sometimes not.
  4. Some search committees are beset with political infighting and/or conflicting agendas. This can lead to poor hiring decisions, or to failed searches. It can also lead to excellent hiring decisions.
  5. Some search committees lack the “relevant expertise” but still make excellent hiring decisions. Some have an abundance of expertise, and still make poor decisions.
  6. Some search committees conduct themselves with the utmost of professionalism. Some can be highly unprofessional.
  7. Search committee recommendations can be shot down in a faculty meeting (plenary or otherwise). This can be due to concerns of the faculty, political intrigue, etc.
  8. For some departments, the hiring decision is ultimately made by the department chair. This individual can veto a search committee’s recommendations.
  9. A search committee’s recommendation can be struck down at higher levels of the univeristy administration. This could include the dean and go as high as the provost, or even the board of trustees, if there are larger (i.e. budgetary) issues.

So, as I said, it’s impossible to generalize. I once worked for a department that didn’t care what their students thought about potential hires, and hired a fine scholar that the student feedback would have prevented. (One student said to me, personally, about the candidate, “I don’t like that guy, he’s a smart ass.”) The end result was, for the students, fairly disastrous. I also know of departments that do care about student feedback, but don’t consistently follow through, even when their interviewing protocol requires it. I have also seen one search go south due to an incompetent dean that decided to check unlisted references without asking the candidate first. None of this should be surprising: if one looks at tertiary education as an industry, one should expect to find similar ranges (e.g. size of institution, levels of excellence/incompetence, etc.) as one would in other large industries. That these variables should affect some of us in getting hired (or not) should not be unexpected. I think, however, many of us view the university as something “special”, when it is in reality just an institution with a specific agenda, and often a large and cumbersome bureaucratic structure. That structure is inhabited by normal human beings who are just as fallible as the next person.

Not only is the discussion of interest, but the results from the job searches as well – most are named along with their alma maters so you can get a very sharp picture of who’s getting hired and where did they graduate from. What’s your reaction?

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I’ve been out of commission the past couple of months during my move to western New York, but I’m still sending installments of The Composer Next Door back to Oklahoma City where it’s broadcast across the state and online. Today’s show (5pm EST) will feature Wanderings, a woodwind quintet by Derek Bermel, Shiroi Ishi, a vocal work by Ken Ueno performed by the Hilliard Ensemble and Daniel Bernard Roumains’ String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks” with a performance by the Lark Quartet. Enjoy!

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In addition to juggling several compositions, a dance/music concert series in Austin, keeping a radio show moving forward and enduring the grueling experience of buying a house for the first time, I’ve begun the enormous task of taking over the composition department at SUNY-Fredonia. The fact that they’ve given me the keys to a healthy and thriving department is an exciting one, and one of my primary goals is to make sure the students get as much exposure to ideas and resources outside of the university as possible, which of course will include Sequenza21!

To that end, I’ve got a couple of questions for the collective wisdom (I have my own opinions but I’d love to get your input):

  1. What texts (dealing with composition) would you feel to be important for a young composer to be exposed to? (I already have Ann McCutchan’s The Muse That Sings and Kyle Gann’s American Music in the Twentieth Century and Music Downtown on my list, for example…)
  2. My duties will include being the faculty advisor for the student-run Ethos New Music Society, which is quite active in the community. Every year they put on a week-long festival and next year their festival will be on electronics in music. One of our jobs is to come up with works that the faculty and students will perform during the week in several concerts (large ensembles, chamber ensembles, voices, solos, take your pick). My question to you…what are your favorite works (new or old) that utilize acoustic instruments with electronics?

Thanks in advance!

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The Public Radio Talent Quest
On the broadcast radio front, you may have heard of the Public Radio Talent Contest that’s being run by Public Radio Exchange and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Basically it’s like American Idol – the first round allows anyone to submit a 2-minute clip of them doing something radio-ish. Then 10 people will get picked to go on to subsequent rounds until there’s just one host from each of the three categories (entertainment, talk, music) left. Each of those three winners gets a good chunk of cash and the opportunity to produce a pilot for a national show. Click on the link to the left to check it out.

I threw my hat into the ring on this one, creating a mini-show complete with a 40-second breakdown of Jefferson Friedman’s orchestral work Sacred Heart: Explosion. Besides getting a chance to see what that sounds like, do check out the rest of the site – it’s quite interesting to see how many people want to be public radio show hosts and what their final products are like. I figured if nothing else it’d be good to get some new music out there (amongst the various world-pop and rock station DJ’s who are trying out).

If you want to vote or even enter (it’s easy to do), watch out for their registration page – it asks you to add two numbers together and the first time you answer the question, no matter what answer you give, it will be wrong. Just expect it, answer it again and it will work.

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Having no shame, I’ll take a page from Daniel Gilliam’s book and let y’all know that this Sunday at 5pm (EST), The Composer Next Door will feature works by four New York composers: Lisa Bielawa’s The Trojan Women for string orchestra, Beata Moon’s Wind Quintet, Jefferson Friedman’s massive orchestral work Sacred Heart: Explosion and  Alexandra Du Bois’ solo guitar piece, Preludes to Solitude.

You can hear The Composer Next Door every Sunday at 5pm (EST) on 90.1 KCSC-FM if you’re lucky enough to be living in or passing through the state of Oklahoma or live on the web.

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Thought you might find this interesting…got this from Randolph Peters on the Finalelist. Absolutely incredible how much of this was done by hand.

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Taking a cue from the fantastic new digs Sequenza21 has due to Jerry and Jeff, the concept of web presence springs to mind as a good first topic in the forum. I myself have been slowly but steadily working on creating an online presence over the past year (amazing how finishing a dissertation allows one time for such things) and so far I’ve created a decent non-flash website, a myspace site and (as of last night) a nice little Wiki entry on the Sequenza21 site. Add to that the postings I’ve done on this site as well as comments I’ve sporadically interjected on the NewMusicBox and Adapstration sites – not a huge presence, but I’d hope someone noticed I’m here. The fact that these inroads can be acheived is imperative to those of us who aren’t blessed with a residence in a major metropolitan hub – Oklahoma City is a fine city, but I’d be hard-pressed to have a career solely as a regional composer (as if I’m not already hard-pressed having a career as a composer, period).

I’m curious to see what your thoughts are on the need of composers to have an online presence, how you’ve gone about making your own presence known and where do you see this taking us in the future? Here’s a few related questions – pick and choose as you like:

  • What do you see as essential components of a composer’s web site? What about other components that you hate to see on a composer’s site?
  • How much time do you spend on upkeep and updates? Do you find this to be a drain on your creative efforts?
  • Have you had good or bad luck putting music (both recordings and scores) online, if you do at all? What works, what doesn’t?
  • Do you have any favorite composer’s sites that you would point to as models of fantastic design, usefulness and ease of navigation

I must admit, it was fun to have my freshman theory class tell me they liked my myspace site… they loved the idea of keeping tabs on their teacher online untill I informed them that I had already checked out their Facebook pages. Nothing like making a bunch of 18-year olds blush at 8am.

Note to Jerry: Ahhhhhhhhh…posting on the new system is a very good thing!

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