More Toy Piano, New Songs, Art

April 13, 2017 saw the Middlesex Community College faculty composers concert, organized by Chair Carmen Rodriguez-Peralt, and with her on piano for some pieces. This featured music by myself, David Janssen, Todd Kitchen, and Richard Chowenhill.

My compositions included A Contrivance (2016) for toy piano, and two new pieces—Broke Free for voice and piano, with lyrics by Robert Sozanski, and Humoresque for piccolo and toy piano. I played toy/piano for all three, Kimberly Ayers sang, and Julee Avallone performed on piccolo. It’s been a real joy working with friends lately. Without them, I would not be able to get my music performed.

Broke Free is an excursion into a more folky feel for me. It’s the story of a mill girl, poor working conditions, and tragedy. On the heels of that comes another song, hopefully to be recorded soon—River Detective, also with lyrics by Rob Sozanski. This is a veritable film noir, journeying with Muddy Banks, P.I., who seems to slip back and forth between two lives.

Finally, I have a new commission from the wonderful people at the Brush Art Gallery and Studios. This is a Lowell establishment which I frequent from time to time. I ended up chatting with painter Ioana Singureanu, who, after we traded some info,  eventually asked me, “Do deadlines help you get things done?” Yes, they do! This will be a piece for toy piano and alto recorder. Rob Sozanski will wear his performer’s hat for the recorder part, and of course I will play my toy piano. How nice to have a toy piano! And friends, too.


Posted in news by admin on June 22nd, 2017 No Comments »

Salon chez Composenberg with composer David Amram









I have got  to do more of these! My friend and esteemed saxophonist/composer/sound painter Dennis Shafer and his group ChagallPAC, along with poet Diana Norma, hosted a salon at my home that coincided with the Lowell Celebrates Kerouac festivalThe event was dedicated to the music of composer David Amram, who was kind enough to show up and honor us by sharing his enthusiasm for our event and compliments for our performances of his music.

I accompanied singer Meredith Borden in some of Amram’s Shakespeare songs from Twelth Night, saxophonist Jonathan Hulting-Cohen and pianist Nicholas Shaneyfelt performed beautifully his Greenwich Village Portraits. Hulting-Cohen and Shafer, along with saxophonists Eck Sierra, Jon Amon, and Sean Mix, performed Shafer’s all-sax arrangement of Amram’s Wind Quintet. I performed my own toy piano piece, A Contrivance, and Diana Norma read her poetry accompanied by some soundpainting.

The Amram Jam at the Worthen House Attic happened a couple of days later, with Mr. Amram beginning the event with a Howl-style reading, and then accompanying many styles of performance (song, poetry, ocarina), on piano, pennywhistle, and drums. He took a short break while I performed A Contrivance (electric piano setting on glockenspiel), concurrently with improv by flautist Julee Avallone and poet Robert Sozanski.

What a feeling it is to be part of something unique like this.


Posted in news by admin on October 10th, 2016 No Comments »

A Contrivance


I performed my latest toy piano composition, A Contrivance (see image) a couple of nights back. It was a great show and the first concert in which I’ve participated at UMass Lowell since I began as an adjunct at this university in fall 2010. (I do look forward to full-time employment in my future where my music gets regular exposure). I had the opportunity to better acquaint myself with some other faculty, both full-time and adjunct, and felt just a tiny bit closer to those I see fleetingly between jobs. I listened to our Chair laud the copious achievements of some of the full-timers at the pre-concert reception. I also spoke with another adjunct who asked me if I was applying for tenure-track jobs, and who seemed somewhat pessimistic about my chances when I declared I’m not a research person.

I believe that composers with PhD’s to some extent do get tenure-track teaching jobs without doing the scholarly research and article-writing that, say, music theorists do. My understanding is that universities expect composers to produce music at a certain rate and have it performed and recognized internationally. Truthfully, many adjuncts meet these expectations, too. In any case, I’m not sure I would do well with an administration keeping tabs on me in such a way. Sure, it would provide incentive to compose more regularly, and maybe even allow me to travel outside the country more than once every five years. So.

I’ve contrived the mechanisms of my life into its current form. There’s tons of work (two adjunct positions, about thirty piano students, tutoring) just to make ends meet, and each summer I almost go broke. But there’s the freedom of not being completely beholden to or dependent upon any one institution. April found me moved into a new loft here in Lowell, which has also been an overall improvement. Still, I believe that the one right teaching job—at one college, such that I need take no extra employment and can compose more—exists.

I try to comprehend my envy of others’ accomplishments, understanding that comparing oneself isn’t always healthy. But is it sometimes healthy? How does envy transform into inspiration, and inspiration to accomplishment?

Lately, I’ve appropriated  I’mma do me as an internal reaction when I’m envious, as if others have somehow goaded me into defending myself. In other words, “I’m doing just fine in my own very special way, thank you.” Then I take stock of my accomplishments and while they’re pretty good, I feel I can do better and that improving my lot is the only direction to go. I’mma do me begins to feel like a copout.


Posted in news by admin on September 25th, 2016 No Comments »

Soli fan tutti commission, nostalgia


“Nostalgia” by Jose Higuera











I’m looking forward to the premier of my trio Ascent on June 26 in Darmstadt, whose performance will be included in the sixth Soli fan tutti concert. Rehearsals will have begun at the beginning of June, and I will sit in on the last few. Performers are:

Wiltrud Veit – Piano
Makiko Sano – Violin
Michael Veit – Cello

As I understand it, Soli fan tutti is the name of chamber music program whose musicians are comprised of any subset of the Staatstheater Darmstadt’s orchestra.

This event is an interesting confluence of other past happenings. In 2011, my piano quintet Crowd Scene won a performance as part of the Soli fan tutti composition competition. I attended and was graciously hosted by Michael and Wiltrud Veit. It was a great time, with excursions also to Berlin and Munich. During my stay with the Veits, Michael recounted to me with great fondness his past residency at the Banff Centre in Alberta, Canada, encouraging me to apply.

I filed that information away in my mind, and three years later was accepted as a ten-week musician-in-residence at the Banff Centre, where I began composing Ascent in January 2014. The Banff Centre residency is an amazing story unto itself that I’ll forego here, only to add that I partially funded it with my first (and last?) Kickstarter. What’s interesting is the full-circle component, from Darmstadt to Banff and back to Darmstadt.

This commission was funded by the Association of Friends of the Staatstheater Darmstadt, for which I’m very grateful. Five years after my first visit, I get to see my old Darmstadt friends again, as well as make new ones, hopefully.  My German is non-existent. We can only communicate because most German people I meet speak English to a lesser or greater extent. In fact, most non-Americans I meet speak English. Oh, how I wish I were a polyglot!

Ascent traces a gradual emancipation from a quagmire of nostalgia. I wanted to explore the concept of nostalgia as a trap. In my own emotional life, I’ve often fiercely clung to the past—the “good old days”—much too tenaciously. In my experience, this can preclude growth of all sorts. It’s not that all nostalgia is negative, but only that some of us have a tendency to dwell there more than is healthy.


Posted in news by admin on May 27th, 2016 No Comments »

Bertrand Russell and The Old West a Couple of Ways

January 3, 2016










My wind octet Trail Days (2006), a piece inspired by the Old West’s cattle trails, was played twice by the Neoteric Chamber Winds this past August (2015) and my To Fill the Hour (2009) for large chamber ensemble was performed on October 22 by the Exit 128 Chamber Orchestra, directed by Travis Herd. To Fill the Hour is a six-movement work depicting models of happiness and unhappiness as presented by Bertrand Russell in his 1930 book The Conquest of Happiness. I am grateful for both of these performances of some not so easy music.










At the very first Florida International Toy Piano Festival next weekend, I will be  playing and discussing my 2008 toy piano piece, The Crail Family, 1910. My music depicts the still life of the photographic image of the family as well as my impressions of the workaday existence of this frontier family in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Knowing nothing about this family except what the caption tells us, my depiction is obviously not fact-based, but rather pure imagination.

Posted in news by admin on January 3rd, 2016 No Comments »

After that, this.


The Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta, Canada. Photo by Aaron Rosenberg

It’s been almost a year and a half since I last posted, and that’s too long.

My ten weeks at The Banff Centre were great. I got the bulk of my trio composed there, and the remainder during last summer. Its premiere will be June 26, 2016 in Darmstadt. I hope to be there for that!

Last summer was financially the most disastrous time of my life. I could barely pay rent.  However, in September I started teaching Music Theory at Middlesex Community College in addition to my UMass Lowell teaching, and last August I began teaching piano lessons at the Music Academy of Chelmsford. This past spring semester was my busiest yet, with around 22 piano students, plus four college courses, two at each college. I’m hoping I have enough saved to last me through this summer. But also, I’m an adjunct. So, probably not.

On May 3, a couple of great musicians—Dennis Shafer and Jason Felitto—performed my Misty Valley Chickens for soprano sax and double bass at a Middlesex faculty composers concert. Here is a youtube video of that performance. I also played my piano piece Animus Semotus. The audio quality isn’t as good for that one because it’s the original video audio.

It was a real pleasure getting to know Dennis and Jason, as well as Dennis’s wife, Norma, who is a poet.  Here she is:


Norma holding a baby (Zara), with me in the background enjoying cake.

This photo was shot at Outpost 186 on May 2, where Dennis and Jason offered to play Chickens as a run-through performance, and where I also played Animus on an upright. The rest of that evening was dedicated to some audience participation pieces and graphic score music.  A very hip evening, and such great connections and nice people! In fact, for my (extremely tardy) Kickstarter rewards—piano character pieces composed to honor my biggest backers—Norma may be adding some poetry. Stay tuned, and apologies to those patient patrons still awaiting their music. It’s coming.

Again, another summer with enough time to compose. My good friend and composer Simon Hutchinson is in town for a couple of months at the end of June. We’ll be trading ideas and music, which is always a pleasure. Things are looking up!

Posted in news by admin on May 18th, 2015 No Comments »

Actively Composing, Teaching, and Magic: No Retreat!


Receiving my diploma from George Benson at Berklee College of Music, 1990

I desire two things with equal fervor.

First, to compose as much music as possible.  I love music so much. I love listening to all kinds of music, composing, and having something I can give that will hopefully be appreciated.

The other is to continue to teach music to undergrads, but full-time, not as an adjunct.  Including my teaching fellowship, I’ve had  seven-plus years experience teaching music theory, composition, musicianship, and class keyboard both at the  University of Oregon and at Umass Lowell.

There’s a notion, often subtly communicated,  that understanding how music works strips it of its magic. Bull. There may be some minimal truth to the bliss of ignorance if a person has zero personal investment in music. But who is that person?  The first time a kid asks why something sounds a certain way—happy, sad, wrong, ugly, beautiful, scary, foreign, cool, etc.—ignorance is no longer bliss, and should no longer be an option.

When I teach, I don’t contain my emotional ecstasy in response to certain music, and it’s always in the service of analyzing and understanding that music. I love the a-ha! moments that I get to impart.  A dominant-seventh chord enharmonically reinterpreted as an augmented-sixth chord? Holy crap, that is truly awesome!

I began adjunct teaching in 2010, having earned my PhD in 2009. Because I don’t drive, I can only work for one school, and this causes some financial difficulties. The answer is, of course,  full-time teaching with job security, and like many adjuncts, I’ve been hunting for it all along, all over the country and internationally.

It seems that people who get the full-time teaching jobs are those with active careers in their field rather than those who are just good teachers. Because of stress related to finances and other constraints, I’ve had less time to compose than I would like. My compositional output since 2009 has been rather meager. (Oh, I’ve composed quite a few little pieces here and there, but these are for pedagogical purposes in the classroom.) But a resurgence last summer with “To Finish the Moment” for chamber orchestra and now two trios has put me back on track.

To that end, there’s the upcoming residency at the Banff Centre (see entry below), which is ten weeks composing a trio. What I want potential backers to understand is that this is no retreat.  For every one of my seventy days at Banff, I will be at it dawn to dusk composing, copying, conferring, consulting, and collaborating. The result should be a significant piece (or two) of music  that will likely receive repeated future performances and provide me a good deal of momentum for my composing and teaching careers.

The Banff residency is a crucial springboard. It is a financial risk whether or not I meet my Kickstarter goal, but in my view, a risk  worth taking because of its potential yields. On the composing side, these include more commissions, and so more compositions and more exposure.  On the teaching side, I will be recognized as not just a good teacher, but as an active composer.  I am thus more likely to be hired.

To bring it full-circle, I see myself in the near future balancing full-time college teaching (with benefits and job security) with a successful and prolific composition career. It’s my observation that those teachers most secure in their positions seem also to find the time and energy to dedicate to their personal careers. In fact, their employers most often demand their professional development, and frequently provide the means for such.

Composing and teaching: When one career nourishes the other, I’ve seen that the result can allow the best of both to shine. This is what I want for myself—to give back shiningly to my listeners and to my students.



Posted in news by admin on December 25th, 2013 No Comments »

I have launched my Kickstarter campaign!


Click on image to open my Kickstarter project in a new window.


Dear friends and family,

I am attempting to finance the balance of my Banff residency with Kickstarter. I will be there from Jan. 5 through March 15 composing a trio. Any contribution is greatly appreciated, and I have nice rewards for those who back me! Thanks.

The countdown begins….



Posted in news by admin on December 9th, 2013 No Comments »

In memoriam: Conrad Susa (1935–2013)


Me with Conrad Susa, probably 2002. This was at a party thrown for my friend Bernard’s 50th birthday.


I read on Facebook about the death of my composition teacher, Conrad Susa. This press release from the San Francisco Conservatory provides a very nice bio with some wonderful quotes from Conrad.

I’d like to recount a few personal memories of Conrad from the time I studied with him, from 2001-2003 as a composition student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

I took private composition lessons from Conrad during those two years, but I also studied counterpoint and orchestration with him,  and was a student in his seminar “Wagner’s Celtic Operas,” which was a great seminar and lots of fun, to boot.

Paraphrasing one of Conrad’s observations of a Mahler work we studied in orchestration: “Is it long? Yes. Is it very long? Yes. Is it excruciatingly long? Yes. Could it be any shorter? No!” Whenever I listen to lengthy works, I recall this comment. I think about how the piece sits in my memory, and how it felt to experience the entirety of it. With a busy schedule, it can sometimes seem almost impossible to give my full attention to very lengthy work. But if it’s incredible, then the music—the whole of it—inhabits the psyche like a gorgeous, profound, living saga. And when that happens, I always ask myself, “Could it be any shorter?” “No!”

During one composition lesson, Conrad was informing me about a piece I should hear—something that was akin to whatever I was writing at the time—and in relating it to me began humming it, gently conducting. In short time, his eyes were closed and he was completely mentally immersed in the world of this piece. This went on for what seemed like forever, but was probably somewhere around a minute and a half. He was smiling, waving his hands fluidly, eyes closed, head swaying. Whatever tune he was humming faded in and out, as if he were actually in another world and I was hearing him from afar.  I became a bit uncomfortable, but he did eventually return to Earth.

In another composition lesson, Conrad was scanning the score of my piano quartet at the piano—not playing, just scanning with his eyes, turning page after page in complete silence. Toward the end, he began to make a few marks with his pencil in my score, changing a note here and there. When he played through it afterward, it was so much better. I was at a loss as to what led to this, so with some nervousness (I was a bit intimidated by the man), I blurted, “Can I ask you a question?” “Of course!,” he responded. “Can you tell me what you were thinking when you made those changes?” “I was only doing more of what you did.” He explained the details, and I was amazed. It was simple and profound. That was such a learning moment for me, one which I obviously never forgot.

Conrad held welcome parties for the new composition students in his San Francisco home on Eureka Street, a quirky and lovely house that was every bit as unique as he was. His generosity also extended to gifts. I received from Conrad a score for Stravinsky’s “Orpheus” and a great recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.

Conrad seemed to me a complex person, and it’s difficult to pinpoint any one overriding quality.  His reverence was palpable for the  music he most admired. He was an engaged teacher, able to work with students’ myriad styles without imposing himself. He was brilliant, though in an understated way. He had a great, dry sense of humor. His character ran very deep, and getting to know him over a couple of years was like peeling back only the outer few layers of an onion. Still, he sits in my consciousness like one of those musical sagas.

I haven’t listened to much of my earlier music for a long time, but am now listening again, remembering and appreciating more than ever what Conrad Susa did for me. In this music I hear a more guiltless voice that I have perhaps somewhat abandoned since those days. I plan to recapture that to some extent in my future works. Thank you again, Conrad.

Posted in news by admin on November 23rd, 2013 No Comments »

“To Finish the Moment” and now two trios (…..!!!)

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

My composition for chamber orchestra, “To Finish the Moment” was performed by the Freisinger Chamber Orchestra on September 21. A professional video of the performance was made by Simon Yue, and I extracted the audio and have placed it on “Compositions” page (see tab above).

I am pleased with the results. Here are a few words from the online publication “The Boston Musical Intelligencer.”

Time to push on. Teaching responsibilities are precluding composing more than I’d like right now. I’m applying for a couple of grants for Banff, but financial anxiety is keeping me awake nights. This kind of pressure can actually be good for composing. If only I had more time….



Posted in news by admin on October 19th, 2013 No Comments »