Sunday, July 29, 2012

Super-duper Independent Artist Feature 2

Composer, Steven Ricks
CD: Mild Violence

I'm excited to write the second installment of the "Super-duper Independent Artist" feature I recently added to my monthly e-letters. In August 2012 I would like to present composer, Steven Ricks. If you read the first feature of this kind you may notice that I featured the composer, Neil Thornock, from Brigham Young University, and Steven Ricks also happens to be from BYU.

I met Steve on a trip for which I was performing some of Neil's music. Steve actually conducted the performance of Steve Mackey's "Micro-Concerto" I did with the BYU New Music Ensemble. He is an excellent guy, enthusiastic through and through about new projects, a modern composer with a unique and resonating voice, and a mover and shaker. His latest CD is Mild Violence; a mixture of contemporary chamber and solo pieces with electronics. After releasing my second album, "Souvenirs", with an alternation of solo tracks and chamber tracks, I am tending to be drawn to CD's that cover vast territories and varieties of repertoire, especially in contemporary music, and Steve's does just that.

I was drawn mainly to the title track, "Mild Violence", a Pierrot quintet plus percussion piece, that starts in a curious way much akin to tinkering with the percussion set-up, and then goes on to evoke fascinating punches of composers, Lee Hyla and Steve Mackey, but only to be smashed out by none other than Steven Ricks. The title refers to the clinical label for videogames alerting about "cartoonish malice", but also the piece can tend to delve more into the realistic malice of humanity.

As most things seem to fall, in a serendipitous way, once I had settled on a topic for my dissertation; "Pierrot Plus Percussion; A Trend Shaping Contemporary Chamber Music, Composition, and Percussion Repertoire", all roads led back to Steve and Mild Violence. And another coincidence being that he conducted my last performance of Mackey's "Micro-Concerto" in October 2011, which is also a Pierrot plus percussion piece.

"American Dreamscape" is the third track for alto saxophone, piano, percussion, contrabass, and electronics, and opens suggesting "uncontrolled kinetic motion--a runaway train, or perhaps a runaway tape reel, spinning faster and faster until it melts onto the tape head." A cosmic exploration of texture at times, and the chaos of a city club strip at others. Track 5, "Beyond the Zero" for solo violin and electronics got my blood boiling the a good way. A very suggestive piece for real violence in war and the world, the interaction between the acoustic and electronic players creates a wonderfully crafted spectral malaise.

I highly recommend checking out this disc for new music connoisseurs, percussionists, and everyone interested in the path of contemporary music.

Visit Steve's awesome webpage here!

Percussion Contributions of Marcin Błażewicz

I feel that many aspects of my career have been charmed. One being the numerous composers I get to collaborate and interact with. I met Marcin Błażewicz in Stuttgart, Germany as I was going onstage to perform his "Concerto Rustico" for the final round of the Stuttgart World Marimba Competition. He was very appreciative of the performance I gave and we began a cherished friendship. I stayed in touch with him through that year and then brought him to Chicago to see me do the US (Chicago) premiere of the same concerto and then record it for my first solo album "Circularity". The next stone in our path together was the duo he composed for me and Ronni Kot Wenzell to premiere on tour in Denmark, Sweden, and later the Midwest. I then saw him again in 2011 in Aalborg, Denmark for the premiere of "Piece for Two Marimbas". I have also recorded his marimba solo, "Sonata for Marimba" on my second album. Nonetheless, it has been a top-rated friendship between two creative people.

As Marcin is very well-known in Poland for his accomplishments as a composer, I feel that that renown does not carry beyond to other parts of the world as it should. I hope that this post will help percussionists worldwide become aware of exquisite contributions Marcin has made to the breadth of quality music we have available. Most of the pieces listed can be found at Edition Svitzer ( or Schott Music.

Compositions for percussion:
Arista, Death Omen; for solo percussion and live electronic (1988)
AS; for harp, solo percussion and live electronic (1992)
Kundalini; for 6 percussions and live electronic (1997)
Sahay Manush; for 2 percussions (2005)
Sonata for Marimba (2009)
Second Concerto for Marimba and Orchestra (2005)
Concerto Rustico for marimba and string orchestra (2007)
Piece for Two Marimbas (2011)

And of course Marcin has composer an amazing amount of music for other instruments. The last 5 pieces on the list above can be found on recordings by myself, Mark Ford, or Marta Klimisara.

Marcin Błażewicz – a composer and teacher, born in 1953 in Warsaw. He  started his music education at the age of thirteen. His first compositions come into being then.In between 1974 and 1975, he studied philosophy. In 1982, he graduated with honors from the composition class under Professor Marian Borkowski at the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music, in Warsaw (currently the Fryderyk Chopin University of Music). In 1983, he published a proclamation of  his critical attitude to the cultural policy of the Polish authorities and artists’ associations. The composes voices his critical attitude even currently, stating that the system transformation has not altered anything for Polish musicians. Since that time his compositions have been performed more frequently abroad than in Poland. In 1985, he participated in the Iannis Xenakis composition courses and in 1987 being an SACEM grant holder – in the Oliver Messiaen courses.In between 1983 and 1987, Marcin Błażewicz was the artistic director of the independent International Forum of  New Music, which was created by him and a handful of his friends. Since 1985 he has been employed at the Fryderyk Chopin Academy of Music, in Warsaw, where he has had composition and instrumentation classes since 2004.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Super-duper Independent Artist

While doing several miles of traveling this summer I was contemplating the self-promotion that I do online and wondering what more could make it all seem more useful. I came up with the idea, or the expansion of ideas already in place, to specifically feature/help promote other independent artists and collaborators through my email newsletter. I mean, after all, helping each other should be a part of what we artists are about. It ultimately makes our lives better with an abundance of opportunities always there for the taking, or participating.

So, here it is, the first entry of the "Super-duper Independent Artist" Feature.

Neil Thornock's CD, "No Stopping, Standing, or Parking" is the first one I have chosen. Neil gave me his CD in October of 2011 when I was at Brigham Young University collaborating with him and performing his music. I actually drove that trip from Iowa to Utah...yes, 1200 miles! So I popped the disc in the player as I left Utah, and BAM!, it was awesome! I listened to it twice through on the drive back.

After having the idea to add this bit to my newsletters I immediately knew which disc I wanted to start with, so I popped it back in the player recently driving from La Crosse, WI to Chicago and enjoyed it even more than I did the first 2 times 6 months earlier.

It is a saxophone CD. Yes, I have gone bonkers for saxophone. I have always liked the sound of a good saxophone quartet, but Neil has taken it further with saxophone and harpsichord, saxophone and processed carillon, and other great chamber combinations. My favorite track would have to be Traptalk, for saxophone and harpsichord.

One thing you should know about Neil is that he has written me a percussion ensemble and carillon piece and a hammer dulcimer solo. I was originally turned on to him through his carillon solo piece. So, in short, this composer is a cool kat, and will attempt anything with great success!

We are working on recording a CD of his percussion works, to be the future.

Check Neil and his music out at

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What is the right dissertation topic? Dance, Dulcimer, Percussion, Theory?

As I stare down at the deadline for finishing my Doctor of Music degree and ponder endlessly on what I should hunker down and do my dissertation on, I realize maybe it is a good time for a blog post.

There are so many collaboration topics and projects I should be posting about in this blog, but I just haven't made the time to do so. So I thought, why not take some time and put down all the ideas I have for a dissertation topic and maybe this will help facilitate the thinking process...?

Topics in chronological order:

1. A Comprehensive Study of the Dance and Music Collaboration "Genre" Postdating Cage and Cunnigham. As you may be saying to yourself, and as my committee said to me about this one; this could be a whole book. Appropriately, I have abandoned this one for now, and hope to get back to it later in life and write that book.

Following in the steps of Carolyn Brown's, "Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham", and works by other authors, I feel there is a need for a user's manual to collaborating between dance and music. John Cage and Merce Cunnigham set a solid genre in motion with their long relationship, and since then there has been an explosion of new works created branching off from this path. A book that interviews collaborators, compiles lists of pieces and artists, defines some common approaches to collaborating, and provides an overall guide to possible ways to begin a collaboration could be very valuable.

2. Research into the trends of contemporary hammer dulcimer repertoire.

This topic is not developed enough in my own mind yet, and as I see it right now, most of the trend is currently coming from me. So I don't think there is enough to run with here...yet.

3. The contributions of composer, Marcin Blazewicz, to contemporary percussion repertoire. Here, I would have analyzed two works by Marcin; "Concerto Rustico for marimba and string orchestra" and "Piece for Two Marimbas", to show the breadth of his contribution to percussion. He is largely unknown in the US, but famous in Poland, and his voice for percussion writing will likely live on for a long time. I would also interview him for this paper, as we are in contact from time to time.

4. This topic idea was similar to # 3, but using the Danish composer, Andy Pape. Andy's output for percussion has been more focused on battery percussion pieces. I would include an in-depth analysis of a couple of his percussion works and attempt to show why his compositional voice resonates so well with percussion instruments.

And finally # 5.

This topic is becoming the most developed in my brain and will likely be where I settle.

A Survey and Analysis of the Use of Hammer Dulcimer in Contemporary Chamber Music. This dissertation will serve to examine and analyze the use of hammer dulcimer in contemporary chamber music from 1978-2006. I have chosen four pieces that utilize a variety of instrumentation with hammer dulcimer, one for each decade starting in 1978. Technical concerns, such as tuning and demands on the performer will be addressed, as well as the role of the instrument in each piece. Other works will be used to hopefully show a change or shift in the importance placed on the hammer dulcimer as an integral role in the texture. Theoretical analysis will be provided for the four pieces, and other repertoire will be presented to support trends on the use of hammer dulcimer.

Signing off to begin writing the outline.