Last April Â MSR Classics released a CD ofÂ my concert music based on ragtime.Â Prestidigitations â€“ Contemporary Concert Rags by J L Zaimont.Â Â For years Â Iâ€™ve been writing Â rags -Â some on my own prompting, some on commission â€“ because of an itch to do with this American dance idiom something similar to what Chopin did with mazurkas and polonaises.Â Most are big framedÂ five-part rondos Â Â but each is in a different tempo stretchingÂ the forms along with Â the Â concept of Â syncope.Â Â
For years Â Iâ€™ve been writing Â rags -Â some on my own prompting, some on commission â€“ because of an itch to do with this American dance idiom something similar to what Chopin did with mazurkas and polonaises.Â Most are big framedÂ five-part rondos Â Â but each is in a different tempo stretchingÂ the forms along with Â the Â concept of Â syncope.Â The time seemed rightÂ to gather them as a group.Â Â Â On two otherÂ discsÂ (â€˜03, â€™05) Â a single rag was added in , and reviewers appeared Â fascinated by Â the idea Â (several Â using the word Â â€˜irresistibleâ€™ â€“ or as one UK critic put it , â€œirritatingly catchyâ€).Â Â Â Some are for piano alone while Â others are for Â various forces, broadened out Â to society orchestra Â in two arrangements Â by David Reffkin. Â (David directs San Franciscoâ€™sÂ American Ragtime Ensemble, featured on the disc.)Â We recorded in San Francisco Â last October.Â Â (I play on a few cuts, and had a hilarious Â telephone rehearsal in advance with flutist Elizabeth Owens â€“ she being in SF and me in Maricopa, Arizona Â – neither Â one of us having access to any sort of advanced technology!)Â
Without intending to, the disc is functioning as quasi litmus test,Â pinpointing Â a â€œdivide â€œ in ways of hearing.Â Early write-ups in ragtime and classical journalsÂ illustrate the distinction in outlooks: Â While all the writers agree that this is (quality) contemporary music, Â Â for the classical folks the music is easy to take in, but Â for the ragtimers noticeably more knotty.Â Â Â Â
The classical writers (again) spend words on Â the â€˜novelâ€™ Â concept, whereas the ragtimersÂ advise repeated hearings so a Â traditional Â listener Â getsÂ comfortable with unusual forms.Â Â Â
IsÂ PrestidigitationsÂ the work of my alter ego?Â Â Â Iâ€™m not Â Â a fusionist, Â but Â ragtime reaches me â€¦ Â who doesnâ€™t like aÂ good tune, music thatÂ feels neat to play, Â Â and every once in awhileÂ writing in major?
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While cover art may have something to do with the impulse to purchase a particular recording,Â itâ€™s unclear just howÂ important it is to separately title a CD.Â
I donâ€™t recall titles being an issue in the days of LPs;Â a list of works and the names of the performers and composers were generally what we saw on album covers.Â Â And the Schwann catalogue (plus Fanfare, Stereo Review, High Fidelity andÂ other record review journals)Â organized theirÂ write-upsÂ justÂ the way we do today, according to theÂ artistâ€™s surname.Â Â Nevertheless,Â starting about a decade ago I began toÂ create titles separately for discs of my music, in part asÂ a way to keep track ofÂ which piece(s) were on which disc.Â
Â This has turned out to be a fun thing to do –Â and takes as much thought as designing titles which matter for the piecesÂ themselves.Â Â If thereâ€™s any â€˜theme â€˜ at allÂ implicit to this particularÂ group of pieces,Â the CD titleÂ offers the listener a guide,Â Â suggestingÂ at least one way to approach this music.Â Â My first try at titling was for theÂ 1996 CD Neon Rhythm –Â a natural choice considering that the disc features the cool color of windsÂ and most ofÂ the music is built on dance rhythms.
Â For each later recordingÂ there is a small side-storyÂ just about the titling process.Â Â The one withÂ the best inside joke is aÂ 2005 Albany discÂ ofÂ small-forces chamber music.Â Â I had the good fortune to have my husbandÂ createÂ that cover art.Â Â When Gary and I discussed the music to be included and heÂ heard that one of the titles I was tossing aroundÂ was â€œpure colorsâ€,Â he went away and came back with a design featuring anything but the pureÂ variant of each color !:Â theyâ€™re all off-tone variations of prime colors,Â and the whole thing is based on versions of a singleÂ angled shape.Â Â Considering the â€˜angularityâ€™ of several pieces on the discÂ Â — especiallyÂ WIZARDS, and clarinet solo Astral –Â Â the design concept fit perfectly, and it remains my favorite CD cover so far.
AÂ full list ofÂ my CDs with cover thumbnails may be found here.
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Andrew Waggonerâ€™s recent NewMusicBox essay deals with theÂ perils of entering most public spaces these days due to Â the onslaught of pumped-in music, Â most of it monotonously pop and largely negligible.Â Â Â Thereâ€™s an undertone of anger in the piece the author readily acknowledges, Â in that weâ€™reÂ not able to change the situation â€“ so we have to duck out, feeling somewhat impotent, so as to recoverÂ the quiet Â necessary for hearing inside oneâ€™s head.
Iâ€™ve also written about this, along withÂ other present-day vexations for a composer,Â over the past half-dozen years. Â Â (Most recently:Â Â Imaging the Composer Today, published this month in the IAWM Journal,Â a small tweaking of the Keynote address given last fall at the Â College Music Society national conference.)Â My take though, is a bit different:
I consider it a strength move to boycott the places which are the worst offenders. And I believe itâ€™s an act of confidence to create for oneselfÂ personal spacesÂ where serenity, contemplation and the required think-environmentÂ — so necessary to beginning a new piece â€“ can prevail.
Lutoslawski observed â€œPeople whose sensibility is destroyed by music in trains, airports, lifts, cannot concentrate on a Beethoven quartet.â€Â LargelyÂ true.Â But even as we bemoan the diminishment of the capacity for active listening en masse,Â we do,Â each,Â take steps toÂ preserve that capacity for ourselves.Â
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Relocating to Arizona has been wonderful.Â After I stepped away from teaching and in early â€˜06 moved to this clean, dry climate with its endless vista of sky, my creativity has surged.Â Â Once all the mechanics of moving were sorted out, I began toÂ feel as ifÂ twenty years have been stripped away, and Iâ€™m just approaching age 40 â€“ a composerâ€™sÂ â€˜prime timeâ€™.
Especially this last half-year has been chock-full of new notes. Two big pieces just finished ( three premieres looming in Sept.-Oct.), another premiere andÂ newÂ CD released in March ,Â a big essayÂ published and another furbished up for issue next year, and feature articles in summer issues ofÂ two magazines.Â Â
And itâ€™s not just me.Â My husband, Gary, has gone back to his artÂ — whichÂ IÂ see as having parallels with my music.Â With communicationÂ nowadays requiringÂ on-the-spot definition,Â I welcome the comparison.Â Â We both Gary share these traits:Â Â Tradition made fresh, overall modernist viewpoint,Â Â engage with the subject in a dramatic way, high quotient of design on every level,Â emotional impact,Â huge scope.Â Â Â (Take a look at one of Garyâ€™s recent works from the Large Animal series,Â Â 4 ft x 7.5 ft, cut paper on paper. )
Â Â Â Â Â
In later posts I plan to write about specific pieces under development, about being a teacher of composers (composer blogs now largelyÂ tilt towards a comp.Â studentâ€™s perspective), and something on navigating the waters of the currentÂ new-music scene.Â But this opening post is just to get things started.
Whatâ€™s yourÂ answerÂ toÂ Pete Townshendâ€™sÂ question,
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Who are you?Â (Boop-boop, Boop-boop)
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