Musicians in Residence at The Banff Centre


Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

January 5 – March 15, 2014, I’ll be composing a piano-violin-cello trio as an artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre’s winter Musicians-in-Residence program. Banff is a town within Banff National Park (the Canadian Rockies) in Alberta, Canada. I’ll be  collaborating and socializing with lots of other resident musicians as well as an impressive roster of visiting faculty.

This is really my first “art colony” sort of experience, and I’m extremely excited. A generous scholarship from The Banff Centre has made this possible (they get good funding for the arts in Canada, unlike some places), though I still must raise lots of money. I am quickly devising a Kickstarter plan that rewards donors. Stay tuned.

I have ten weeks to devote exclusively to music. This is professional development at its most intense, and  I want to prepare as rigorously as possible so that when there, I can “go with it.”  If I’m sometimes socially awkward, this would be the time to cut it out. There is no structured program in place for me, with classes and so forth, though I believe there will performances galore.  It’s about being proactive.  I believe there are  opportunities to speak with visiting faculty. Among them are  Uri Caine – pianist/composer; the  Afiara String Quartet; Royal Wood – Singer-songwriter; Barney Bentall – Singer-songwriter; Lucy Shelton – Soprano; Ransom Wilson – Flute;  Ronan O’Hora – Piano; Yehonatan Berick – Violin.

It would be an understatement to call this a risk. It precludes me from teaching during the spring semester, and I have no guarantee of returning to my position after I return. But then again, I’ve never really had a guarantee as an adjunct. I’m also generally concerned about finances post-Banff. But the up-side is that I get to give my career a push by composing a substantial piece of music and by networking with lots of great musicians. It’s my goal to develop into the “active composer” that I envision, not only as an end in itself, but as a gateway to a more secure, non-adjunct teaching position, whether it be where I currently teach or elsewhere.

Only one life.  Make the most of it.


Posted in news by admin on October 4th, 2013 No Comments »


Saturday, September 21, 2013, 2-4 p.m.
Old South Church, Sanctuary
645 Boylston St., Boston, MA

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Symphony No. 29 in A, K. 201

I. Allegro
II. Andante
III. Menuetto: Allegretto
IV. Allegro con spirito

Aaron Rosenberg: To Finish the Moment
world premiere, composed summer 2013

Ambroise Thomas: “O vin, dissipe la tristesse” from Hamlet
Gaetano Donizetti: “Bella siccome un angelo” from Don Pasquale
Ruggero Leoncavallo: “Si può?” Prologue from I Pagliacci 

Philip Lima, Baritone
Peter Freisinger, Piano

Ludwig von Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 2 in Bb, op. 19

I. Allegro con brio
II. Adagio
III. Rondo: molto Allegro

Artem Belogurov, piano

Peter Freisinger, Music Director and Conductor
Sofia Ynes Gonzalez Pikul, Assistant Conductor

Suggested admission: $13 adults, $8 students
Free to UMass Lowell Students and Faculty

Posted in news by admin on September 5th, 2013 No Comments »

Summer of Music and Possibility!


It’s been a busy summer. I like being busy with musical projects.

I am working on a piece for chamber orchestra—”To Finish the Moment”—commissioned by my friend Peter Freisinger, to be premiered on September 21st at Old South Church in Boston. Herr Freisinger’s concerts are always well-attended and well-conceived. He is a conductor and pianist of great aplomb. Plus, he speaks about seven thousand different languages. The concert is 2-4 and also features a Mozart symphony, a Beethoven piano concerto with pianist Artem Belogurov, and some operatic arias with baritone Phlip Lima and Mr. Freisinger at the piano.

I am applying to the Banff Musicians in Residence winter session. The maximum stay is Jan. 6 – March 14, 2014 and that’s what I’m hoping for. I’ve heard wonderful things about this state-of-the-art artist’s colony in the Canadian Rockies, and really hope I am accepted.  In any case, I have been commissioned to compose a trio for piano, cello, and contrabass by my Darmstadt friend, cellist Michael Veit, who was the first person to tell me about his Banff experience. In the summer of 2011, Michael and his wife Wiltrud  hosted me while I was in Darmstadt. My piano quintet “Crowd Scene” was performed by ensemble Soli fan tutti at the Staatstheater, and I had a great time visiting Darnstadt, Munich, and Berlin.

Regardless of whether or not I compose the piece at Banff, it will be premiered on June 28, 2014 at the  Darmstädter Lange Nacht der Neuen Musik (at the Staatstheater Darmstadt, of course). I hope to be able to visit again and enjoy the company of Michael and Wiltrud as well as their friends. Italy as a side-trip would be pretty cool….

July 14-20, I’ll be teaching Intro to Piano and Music Theory to the high-school kids at the Mary Jo Leahey Symphonic Band Camp at UMass Lowell. I’m looking forward to this very much, as last summer was a great experience with these spirited kids.

Tom Malone is a colleague at UMass. Together we co-taught Musicianship & Analysis 2 last semester. After using a song from Schubert’s cycle “Die schöne Müllerin” to demonstrate something or other in class, we talked about our love of Schubert and the possibility of performing the whole cycle. So that’s what we’ve been working on this summer, and it’s been a truly fantastic experience. Dr. Malone who is a German speaker and also incredibly knowledgeable about this particular music (not to mention  many other things) has been the driving force in leading our rehearsals, and I defer with gratitude. For my part, it’s terrific just getting my fingers dirty again playing piano.

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

Starting to compose…again

The voices! The voices!

I finished composing my dissertation in September, 2009. Since then, my output has included a few beginners’ piano pieces for my students and nothing else. I have many practical excuses, which bore and frustrate me. Since graduation, my few attempts to compose something meaningful have simply lost steam in the process.

But, I have been fortunate to teach music at UMass Lowell for the last two years, as well as to pick up several private piano students. It’s all rewarding work, and I love it. I would also love to switch from adjunct work to a full-time, salaried faculty position. This seems to require that one be active in the field. Apparently, teaching music is not a field in itself. Being active means composing new works and having them performed. Really, this is what I’ve always wanted anyway. It was just easier in the nurturing environs of academia.

Recently I’ve been able to compose in privacy at a decent Steinway grand at UML. I’m a “piano composer”—I like to physicalize sound at the piano, and the better the instrument, the more inspired I am. The difference between this and past attempts at composition is that now I’m trying to observe the process from the perspective of an impartial witness. That’s hard to do when I’m me, but I think I may be on to something, at least for this composition. It entails taking time later to reflect dispassionately upon the events.

1) An idea:
“…see, it’s about never arriving! It’s functional tonality, with every indication of harmonic progressions that move to C, but you never play a C, not in a IV chord (just F and A will work), not in a vi (just A and E) not even at the end, and that’s the piece! Frustrate! Create a wretch of a character—yeah! let’s call it “Wretch” (how cool is that?), or maybe some modification on Riley’s “In C”—and let it spin toward C for the entire piece. Maybe some altered predominants, maybe leading-tone augmented sixth (oohh, sounds cool!), maybe other modal borrowing, I don’t know, but C—pitch-class zero—will never, ever show up, and the listener will be frustrated and sad at the end, and that will be good! Yeah! Thank you. Thank you.”

2) Sketching:
At the keyboard, jotting notes that fit the conception, maybe sketching a formal diagram. It begins with just a melodic line, and it snakes about and then spins around B & D, then the F-B tritone, and quivers and shakes nervously a bit…and then this, right, okay, and then this, but not G yet, I don’t think. That’s frustrating, right? That sure keeps you wanting C. How clever! What an idea! But should they want C from the very beginning, or maybe just increasingly throughout…? Anyway, and then!….

3) Sputtering out (a few days later):
This thing isn’t going anywhere. I don’t like listening to it. It’s flashy and absolutely flat. *Sigh* – Here we go again.

On the other hand, I can sit at the keyboard and improvise nice sonorities. Let them repeat however many times, let them change when they’re damn good and ready, no sooner. Vanquish worries and relax, and at some point start putting notes on paper, and only when the timing is right. I don’t need to worry about voice-leading, about spelling, about line. That’s all there in the intellect, anyway. Or at least it should be.

This yielded music that I like, at least so far. What’s tricky is deciding at what point during this process “pulling it all together” becomes helpful, if it’s helpful at all. Do I heed the voice in my head that insists, “Put in a double-barline already!” There are also other voices: “But what’s the harmonic scheme?” “This part is apropos of nothing!” “Simply everybody is writing slow music these days.” “It’s a bit amorphous, hmm? I mean, if that’s what you’re after.” “I think this is the best thing you’ve ever done!” Those voices can be useful at times, but it will also be necessary to squelch them.

Most confounding is that this rather organic approach, with which I’m now having some success, might not be an absolute. It may be inapplicable for other compositions. The next one might require a completely different approach. If that’s the case, what lesson do I take? “Develop the flexibility to wholeheartedly delve into a composition from any and all necessary angles, and also, sometimes, get out of your own way.” Or something like that.

Posted in news by admin on July 28th, 2012 No Comments »

I got to teach “Intro to Piano” at band camp!

Me, around fifteen

Over five days, I was to introduce thirty-three fourteen-to-seventeen-year-old band-camp kids to piano, and it was to be fun. They had signed up for this elective—“Intro to Piano”—and I taught two sections a day, each one hour.

The kids were any combination of punchy, giddy, brash, timid, engaged, bored, upset, determined, and confused. Responding to one girl’s question, she shot back at me, “Are you looking at me? I can’t tell if you’re looking at me! I like eye contact when people talk to me, and I can’t tell!” I didn’t bother explaining my strabismus. She seemed so happy to be assertive, I didn’t want to ruin it for her. A couple of days later, she publicly complimented me on my Levis, and the next day my khakis.  On the last day, she wanted her photo with me.  So…there.

I decided against headphones, despite the pandemonium.  Why isolate when fun was the goal? We learned the letter-names of the piano keys, some scales, triads in their three positions, a little theory, and finally some music. I arranged two versions each of “Silent Night” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (I played for them a recording of the late Jeff Buckley, my favorite performer of that song).

It seems that a triad doesn’t just fall into place. I knew that, having worked with beginning seven-year-olds, but these kids were older, and they already played other instruments.  Why were their hands so cramped? All you have to do is…like this, don’t hurt yourself, use the full length of the keys, turn your wrist a little, keep it lower, arms out more, be comfortable. That’s it!  Now fingers fixed and wrist loose, jump up to a four triad with your thumb here – Good!

By the end of the week, it was useless trying to speak over them. They were too hyped up. The best I could do was to lead ensemble performances of “Hallelujah.” Through the clangor, I could definitely discern some music, and could see some truly intense effort.   I then attended to each student privately for a repeat performance, in whatever fashion. A few were not able at all, one girl could play just the melody with both hands, and many ponderously played the chords in the left hand with the melody in the right.  Success!

I was glad to hear, even second-hand, that one girl was now considering private piano lessons. Despite what seemed like utter chaos, many of these kids learned something.  Over the course of the week, it was somewhat frustrating  gradually relinquishing the control that I typically wield with my undergrads. But during the process, I began to have some fun myself.

I only vaguely remember what it’s like to be that young. There’s a picture of me above, being that young. I wish it could talk.

Posted in news by admin on July 22nd, 2012 No Comments »

I get to teach “Intro to Piano” at band camp!

I’m very excited about this. I’m currently teaching summer classes in Theory and Aural Skills at UMass Lowell. While photocopying, I bumped into Deb Huber, the tireless director of the Symphonic Band Camp, in the main office in Durgin Hall. Apparently she’s seen or heard me pound at the piano when I was teaching, and she asked me if I’d be interested in teaching the Band Camp’s elective “Intro to Piano” course. Another teacher had backed out. The camp runs one week starting July 16. Having lost one of my second-session summer courses (Theory 3) due to under-enrollment, and desperate for some new experience (and the cash), I was more than happy to step up. I get to work with two sections of around twelve kids (grades 8-12) who are already musicians, but don’t know piano. We’re going to learn to play a pop/rock song in a low-pressure, high-fun zone. This is a new age group for me to be working with, and I’m happy for the opportunity! The website is here.

Posted in news by admin on June 29th, 2012 No Comments »

Walden School Teacher Training Intensive

Pat Plude, me, and Pam Quist

What a great experience! I could have stayed another month, but hopefully will return next summer for level 2. Pat Plude and Pam Quist (both professors at Santa Clara University), along with other amazing faculty and administrators, ran the Walden TTI as an incredibly well-structured, week-long intensive, leaving enough time for activities such as mountain-climbing, swimming, ping-pong, and late-night partying. It was an approach to music teaching with an eye toward creativity and play: discover, drill, create! I also made lots of terrific friends.

Posted in news by admin on August 19th, 2011 No Comments »


CD cover

What a great trip. Munich and Berlin were great places to visit.  I found myself sitting in on a practice session with a Javanese gamelan one night in the musical instruments collection of the Münchner Stadtmuseum. They were short quite a few members that night, so we got to talking….

The high point was Darmstadt, though. Michael and Wiltrud Veit hosted me for four nights altogether, and couldn’t have been more gracious, generous, easy-going, and entertaining. Michael is the principal cellist with the Staatsorchester and one of the primary organizing forces behind Ensemble Soli fan tutti’s composition competition, and Willi is an astounding pianist and educator. I had the best time with them discussing music, eating and drinking. Daniel Shapiro, another American composer, also stayed a night or two at the Veit’s. Dan makes an incredible polenta, and we ate and drank well. We also toured the outlying towns, including Heidelberg, where Willi’s parents live.

The performances were spectacular, and it was great to hear my Crowd Scene played! I was even interviewed on German radio by  woman named Ursula Böhmer, though I’m mostly overdubbed in German.

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 Each of the fifteen composers chosen from over two hundred is considered a “winner,” according to Michael, and there were also three cash prizes. First place went to Dorothea Mader for Crazy Busy, second to Jordan Nobles for simulacrum, and third to Jay Greenberg for Blues for String Quartet.

Andy Lim of Darling’s Acoustical Delight (a division of Darling Publications) produced a commercial CD of all fifteen compositions quite a while prior to the May 29 concert.

A completely positive, uplifting, and educational experience. And the next time I go to Germany, it’s nice to know I have friends there.

Posted in news by admin on June 9th, 2011 No Comments »

Professional Development: The Walden School

I’m excited to be participating in the Walden School’s one-week summer intensive for music teachers, called Developing Creative Expression.

I am completing my first year teaching theory, aural skills, and keyboard to undergrads at UMass Lowell.  I love my job, and my only wish is that it were full-time rather than adjunct.  I believe that with another year at UML (I’ve been renewed) plus the kind of enrichment I can receive from programs like Walden’s, I’ll be teaching full-time soon.

Oh, I need to compose. It’s been a while!

Posted in news by admin on May 4th, 2011 No Comments »

International Exposure!

My piano quintet Crowd Scene won entry into the finals of the Soli fan tutti composition competition in Darmstadt, Germany. It will be performed on May 29 by members of the Staatsorchester at the Staatstheater Darmstadt.  Crowd Scene is scored for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano.  A video will be available sometime after the performance.

A generous grant from AMC’s Composer Assistance Program has made it possible for me to attend. I’m going to visit Berlin and Munich as well.

Posted in news by admin on May 4th, 2011 No Comments »