Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My Premier Premier

Many have requested that I share the experience I just had last weekend- that of having an orchestral piece performed in France. It wasn’t just any orchestra, however, but it was one very dear to me. I conducted many of those musicians in my debut orchestral conducting performance two years before when I was studying abroad in Aix, France. The director of the orchestra, Michel Camatte, was a true mentor for me while I was studying there and has sense become a sincerely dear friend. About 9 months ago, I sent him the score to my then-recently finished composition, with only slight hopes that their orchestra might agree to play it. But in January, I received the wonderful news that they would play it in April and wanted me to come to hear the performance!

And how time travels so quickly. I wrote this in an earlier blog:
"there are times when I have thought about moments suspended in the future for so long that it feels the future will never arrive, yet alone pass!"

But that’s not how I felt going to France to hear the piece. Reflecting on it now, I find it strange that I didn’t day dream and try to imagine how I would feel, how it would sound, what others would think. Instead, I felt a true sense of calm and, simply, a forward motion. It was, as one friend described it, the next progressive step in my career path. That’s very much how I felt, as if it were something that should be expected of me and which I should expect of myself. When a med student delivers their first baby for example, people don’t think it any feat of impossibility, but it’s simply an important (and yes, significant) task in the journey to grow, learn, and more importantly, to serve.

I think I feel different than most musicians, however, as I truly don’t feel like I fit into any “instrument” category. People usually like category boxes- but I have no desire to choose between conductor, composer, teacher, flutist, pianist, organist, percussionist, and border-line guitarist?

I arrived in France to see the smiling face of my dear friend, Hodg. He had come to meet me at the airport as a surprise- just the first of several surprises of that day. After our BEAUTIFUL three hour train ride to Aix, I ran up to hug my mom, Terry, and (as a surprise!) my grandparents! They had all flown to Italy for holiday and then come on to Aix for the concert. It was really so special to have my grandparents there in particular, because my piece was inspired by and dedicated to my Nana who taught me about “Whippoorwill Winter” in Tennessee—the title and inspiration for my piece.

So the performance time came and we all filled into the Grand Theater in Aix. It was a really fantastic turn out! I hardly ever see free concerts get such a great audience. The orchestra was for the more advanced students at the conservatory in Aix and had many teachers and professional players filling in instrumentation.

It was a very different experience from other times when I’ve had pieces premiered. In university, I always felt so tense, and so judged, when my pieces were being played for the first time. I was always thinking “what is he thinking? What is she thinking? Oh how could I have written such crap?” But I truly think I have graduated from that. Sure, I don’t like everything I’ve written and am writing, but I have finally taken a step in the direction of understanding my own music and appreciating it. So as I sat in the audience, it only felt funny to me because Camatte gave an introduction about me and the piece and it was strange for me to know that hardly anyone in the audience knew who it was that he was talking about… and for the first time, that person was me.

What was going through my head during the performance? I can’t quite recall; it wasn’t a reflective moment for me. I remember being very focused on what was going on in the music, listening intensely to which parts worked and which parts totally didn’t. It was like a learning experience and a composing experience at the same time. I was constantly evaluating what the orchestra was doing and almost mentally willing certain instruments to play louder or softer as they played. When it was finished, it was finished, all in a blur of a moment. So I stood up and bowed and felt proud. But it was almost like auto-pilot. When someone asked me after how I felt, I could only describe it as a very intimate moment- I forgot about anyone else in the audience, I forgot to worry about people coughing or talking during the piece, I forgot about the orchestra even. It was just me and my piece, having a conversation together- the music telling me what to do and what not to do next time. And when you’ve composed a score for so many instruments, it suddenly sounds so simple to hear it played back. All those hours of consideration, just blowing back at your ears in a matter of 10 minutes.

Fortunately, and I didn’t even think of this until now, two very good things happened:
-         Not many people came up to me to tell me that they loved the piece (did my family enjoy it? I don’t remember if they told me! )
-         I did not become a hermit-like snob immediately after the piece, internally scowling at any one who complimented my piece… this has happened to me on many occasions.

So, audio will be coming soon. I’m sorry there’s no video. I thought the concert hall was going to video the performance, but there was some misunderstanding. I know some people will be really disappointed about that, but don’t worry… life goes on.

It was so incredibly wonderful to be in France. I worked with Colette, the artist for Ndoto, for many hours on Saturday. It was humbling and so wonderful to work with her. We had incredibly sweet red strawberries, and fresh creamy cheeses, and sweet wine, and olives soaked in the incredible oils and salts of Provence. I had lunch and dinners with people who were my professors only a couple of years ago; and now they treat me with respect and as a friend—it’s one of the greatest and most astounding feelings I’ve experienced. I feel like I’m slipping slowly but safely into a warm pool that is adulthood. I’m always looking behind me to suddenly realize that I’m no longer where I was. There’s a fresh obligation to teach, to share with others what great minds have taken the time to teach and share with me. But, sometimes I just look up at the sky, gaze at the stunning blue sky, and feel like a child again. Perhaps, and perhaps hopefully, that never goes away.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Whippoorwills and Waltzes

I'm currently counting down the hours until I board a plane to Marseille, France where I will
a) See my mother, step dad, and two "surprise" guests....
b) see my dear friend, Hodg
c) See my dear friend, Aix-en-Provence (where I studied abroad 2 years ago)
d) Hear the premier of my first orchestral piece, Whippoorwill Winter.

Whats a whipporwill, you ask? Well here's what the Cornell Lab of Ornithology says:

Whip-poor-will Photo
Whats a whipporwill WINTER, you ask? Well here's what some random guy's gardening blog says:

"the last named winter, Whippoorwill Winter, is actually a herald of warmer days coming to stay for the summer. The whippoorwill (Caprimulgus vociferus) migrates from wintering in Mexico to their summer range farther north in late May to early June. Whippoorwill Winter is not as cold as the other winters but still a bit of cold snap, lest we forget.

So that's what my piece is about- singing birds and the last of a cold winter. I think april is the perfect time for such a premier, don't you? It must be just about whippoorwill winter time over in Tennessee!

I'm quite excited. And have no fear, of course recordings will be done. Why do people keep asking me that? I document my life probably more than most people actually want me, yes, of course I'll have video and audio and photos and what-have-ya.

In other news, we had our big Ndoto two-day camp last weekend. WOW! was fun- was intense. About 40 minutes of music and dancing for these kids to learn. Check out the video from the weekend

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Blue Seas and Blue Skies

I just got off the phone with my mom-we chatted for like 30 minutes for free. There’s this app called Viber that lets you call iphone to iphone and it’s a godsend, seriously. It was so good to hear her voice- and what’s crazier is that I’ll see her in person in less than TWO WEEKS! Ok more on that in a bit.

I just got back from Zanzibar and Ethiopia. Fantastic trips. I’m so thankful for the opportunities I get to travel, my goodness. And it’s so affordable here. Ok and now the funnier moments from the two back-to-back trips. In Zanzibar, most of the entertainment was provided by Fraser, my travel buddy :)

Looking out on Stonetown coast:

  • Our hotel in Stonetown basically abutted with a mosque which we didn’t notice during the day. We discovered this, however, during our first night when, at 5:20am, the first call to prayer came blasting out of the mosque’s loudspeakers, causing Fraser to nearly leap/fall out of bed, thinking it was some sort of malicious alarm and me trying to insensibly calm him down in my own sleepy stupor. Immediately after my heart rate slowed down, the man doing the call to prayer over the loudspeaker apparently got a tickle in his throat and began to cough and hack something up… for the whole neighborhood to hear. Why he couldn’t have just switched OFF the mike for a second or two is beyond me. Maybe it’s some new kind of call to prayer. The cough to prayer?
Jumping in Zanzibar
  • Day three, Fraser and I requested a last-minute snorkel trip from our small hotel (where we were the only guests…?). After an hour, a big sail boat appeared on the shore- just for us! We got a private boat ride out to clear blue water where we could snorkel in complete peace. Until Fraser took off his mask and snorkel to revel in the beauty of it all…and down down down went the snorkel and mask. I watched it sink underwater but when I came up for air and then looked under to see where the mask was, I couldn’t see it at all! The current had already hidden it! So the three Tanzanian boat men, realizing that we were one snorkel short, got in and all of us searched for the mask and snorkel for about 20 minutes. In the end, Fraser found it himself, dove down and retrieved the sunken treasure!
Fraser's saving my feet from the sea urchins
  • It was very hot and sticky in Zanzibar, and in our first hotel we had only one measly fan that wasn’t doing me any help. Or so I thought- until the power went out in the middle of the night. My eyes immediately popped open with an exasperated breath as I realized how still and excruciatingly hot the room had suddenly become. Thank God the power came at some point and I survived. We changed hotels the next day.
Beautiful evening- beach to ourselves!
  • I had pineapple (and only pineapple) for lunch two days in a row. That’s just how good the fruit is here. (screw the food pyramid… haha)
Cat going crazy over my cheese

Ethiopia was a fabulous time as well, where I visited my friends Rachel and Eric. Tons of fun including- National Museum where I saw the bones of the earliest homo sapien, trying Ethiopian wine Tej, hearing great live Ethiopian and West African music, shopping in the markets (things are not so cheap there, so I bought very little), having the most Mexican-style-food I’ve had since coming to Africa, playing mom’s game Ricky Ticky with a bunch of new friends, having our Taxi break down in the middle of a HUGE intersection of flying cars… gotta love Africa. Check out the video!

This next week is our first Ndoto camp. 2 days. 14 hours of rehearsal. 50 kids…. Maybe I should have saved my vacation for after this weekend. Oh! But then NEXT weekend I get to run off to Aix, France to hear the premier of my first orchestral piece “Whipporwill Winter”—kind of crazy, right? I’m so excited I can’t quite tell you. There, I’ll see my mom and Terry, my friend Hodg, all of my Aix friends, and some surprise guests my mom is bringing….. the suspense is killing me!!