I've been commissioned by La'Toya Princess Jackson to write original music for her new ballet called Vanity Lane. We are fortunate to have this ballet produced by the Harvard BlackC.A.S.T and receive our premiere performances on March 23 - March 25, 2018, at Farkas Hall in Harvard University. The ballet will also feature original music written by Princess, Gordon Williams, and Jared Hettrick.
Working on this ballet gave me new opportunities to expand my musical palette. Princess asked me to write music electronic music inspired by the style of 80s-era Prince. She also asked for an upbeat bhangra inspired piece for one of the scenes. Funky Prince music and bhangra are both sounds that I've enjoyed but without this commission, I may have never explored these sound worlds. With any new project, I hope to be stretched in some way.
Here is a sample of the bhangra inspired dance piece for Vanity Lane:
For tickets to Vanity Lane visit the Harvard Box Office:
Recently, Stacey Chou and Joanne Wheeler from the In Radiance flute quintet commissioned a new piece from me. Dedicated to Timothy Chou, Across the Synapse was premiered at the 2016 National Flute Association Convention in San Diego, CA, with the generous support from the Friends of Flutes Foundation. So, what is a synapse and how do you go across it?
In Radiance is a genre-bending flute quintet for the modern age. Each member of the quintet lives across five different corners of the US. Since the quintet cannot frequently meet in person, the ensemble depends on modern technology to operate. Through email, video chatting, and social media they can convene, rehearse, and conduct themselves as an ensemble. With computers and iPhones, 1000s of miles dissolve into bytes of data, and they can transmit ideas instantaneously. A synapse is a junction between nerve cells where chemical messages are passed from on to another. The action in this minute gap gives life to our ideas and experiences. Symbolically, the screens on their computers and smartphones represent the synaptic cleft where information exchange occurs for In Radiance.
In the piece, the individual flutes pass musical ideas to each other from one side of the stage to the other. For live settings, performers are instructed to position themselves in a wide "U" formation with the bass flute in the center to gain as much distance from each other as the stage allows. This staging should enhance the stereo effect on stage. Hopefully, with the opening musical statement, audiences can hear the transmission from the first flute to the second flute. In Across the Synapse, I wanted to create an acoustic chamber within the ensemble where ideas can pass back and forth and swirl around.
Across the Synapse follows a traditional ABA' form. The ideas in the outer "A" sections fluidly move around. By contrast, the middle "B" section presents stillness with long melodies over slow-moving harmonies. Here, I decided to include beat-boxing to add to the timbral palette of the piece. In a piece where much of the music sounds amorphous and textural, it's nice to have a moment of something concrete. Also, I thought In Radiance would like to have a groove in their piece since a couple of the members like EDM.
Perhaps one day I will have the funds and means to record this piece in a studio to create a real stereo recording. It might be interesting to compare the experience of listening to Across the Synapse in a concert hall and listening to a recording through headphones. Instead of ideas going from stage left to stage right, the sounds would pass from left ear to right ear. Until then, please enjoy the great live performance recorded by In Radiance and visit their site to support their projects!
This year the Longy School of Music celebrated its centennial during its annual SeptemberFest. All summer, Longy promoted a call for video submissions of new works that are up to 100 seconds long for their celebration. 100 seconds for 100 years. Initially, I felt that this might be an opportunity that I could not reach. I am fairly confident in my abilities to write miniatures and also confident in my audio mixing skills. Although I have dabbled in making short videos before, I was unsure if I could find people to perform my music, record it in a presentable way, and put together in a 100-second video performance in time for the celebration.
As the deadline drew closer, I realized I could not pass this up. I decided to write a piece that I can perform. So, I began sketching the guitar and electronic parts. As my ideas started to come together in a more cohesive way, I decided to reach out to my friend and fellow Longy graduate Isabella. I have always wanted to write something electro-acoustic for Isabella, but she currently studies at UCLA. Longy recently expanded from the East Coast to the West Coast where Isabella lives. I decided that I could write this piece to commemorate Longy's expansion with performers at both locations. Also, Isabella creates videos and maintains an active YouTube channel. So, despite the distance, she became a natural partner for an online collaboration.
Initially, I planned on filming myself with my iPhone and rely on Isabella's experience to put the video together. Isabella had a friend with a more professional camera that could film her. For those of you who don't know, having good lighting is essential for an iPhone video. For me, this meant finding the time to go outside and take a long selfie of myself playing guitar. However, this plan did not work out as the weather made it difficult for me to play guitar outside during the week that I needed to film.
Luckily, my friend Danny Padgett mention to me that he knew some very talented high schoolers and put together a company called JDProductions. At the very last minute, Emai and Anna from JDProductions were able to film me with much better equipment than an iPhone. We decided to meet in Graffiti Alley near Central Square in Cambridge, MA since the awning would provide protection from the rain and the location would provide an interesting juxtaposition against Isabella's pastoral setting.
Thankfully, this project proved successful. "Coast to Coast" was selected as one of two videos to be premiered and included in Longy's SeptemberFest celebrations. Perhaps this is the start of more video projects for me.