Monthly Archives: October 2013

Where is this Pirelli?

The Ballad of MTI’s Ass-Hat Arranging Department goes something like this: in January, Anno Domini 2013, I read this very article published by no less venerated an institution than the New York Times, wot made me think, natch, “I should like to program, perform, and conduct one of these Sondheim Suites myself!”

Flash forward to two 1/2 months ago when I opened the box from the publisher and found music proudly bearing the following title:


And that was just the beginning.  Wrong and misspelled notes, nonsense articulations, pointless doublings, shoddy orchestration, useless transitions – and all of that illegibly copied.  At every level, this arrangement, by Don Sebesky, was a Hack Job.

What’s a girl to do?  I scrapped the Sebesky arrangement and wrote my own from scratch.  Mine includes “The Ballad of SweenEy Todd”, “My Friends”, “Green Finch & Linnet Bird”, “Ah Miss”, “Joanna”, “A Little Priest” and closes with a reprise of the “Ballad”.  It is superior to MTI’s house arrangement in every conceivable way.  I conducted it in concert yesterday, so to The Man, I say, good luck getting me to cease and or desist.

Who the hell is this Don Sebesky in the first place?  Well, according to this book, he wrote orchestrations for the 1983 revue Peg, Cy Coleman’s The Life, and his own 1989 Prince of Central Park.

I hate to judge a guy by his resume – there are plenty of people out there doing quality work in obscurity.  But really, is this the person to whom we want to entrust an orchestral arrangement of Sweeney fecking Todd??  It’s quite possible that he’s decent at writing for a Broadway pit band, but writing for a regulation-size symphony orchestra is a different beast altogether.

Otto_NicolaiI feel a little like Otto Nicolai who, legend has it, had to single-handedly found the Vienna Philharmonic just to ensure quality performances of Beethoven’s works in Vienna.  Perhaps that’s a ridiculous comparison, and I should just let Sondheim and his music fend for themselves (or at the very least not insult other arrangers and their publishers in catty blog posts) but it’s just, I feel like I’ve got to do SOMETHING, you know?

How to write a children’s piece

I premiered a new kids’ piece this summer called “How to Become a Composer: The Tale of a Young Musician“.  I’m just now posting it because we weren’t really set up for an audio recording, and I’ve had to do my meager best to clean-up the track.  The narrator is my friend Kyle Ritenauer, NYC percussionist extraordinaire; the orchestra is the house band of the Pierre Monteux School.  They all did a pretty good job on one rehearsal!

This, and it’s sister piece, “Cinderella Goes to Music School” are long pieces, about 35 minutes each, and that’s the point – you’re supposed to be able to perform either piece and have it take up a whole children’s program (at the Monteux School, we follow it with an instrument petting zoo, so the whole morning clocks in at around an hour.)

At 35 minutes, I know that very few people will actually sit down and listen to either of these pieces, but I’d like to tell you a little bit about what I think distinguishes them from the rest of the pack.

OK, so what are the other pieces in the Narrator+Orchestra category?  “Peter & the Wolf” [obvs.], “L’Histoire de Babar”, “La Boîte à Joujoux”.  Then there’s sort of the next generation of pieces, like “Tubby the Tuba” and “Peewee the Piccolo”.  These pieces are all sweet and lovely and educational in their own way, but [hubris alert] here’s why I think mine are better:

My pieces, “Composer” and “Cinderella” are about real people, not animals or anthropomorphic instruments.  The people are adolescents, and if my childhood fascination with “Saved by the Bell” is any indication, adolescents always hold a particular appeal for younger kids.  The clincher is that the characters happen to be musicians, and because of this the music in the story is motivated and integral, and seems more relevant, I would argue, than a set of leitmotifs that illustrate a story just because a composer happened to write them.

The stories are contemporary, though I hope they have a timeless quality to them.  I’ve also tried to do that Disney thing of having enough sophisticated humor in the mix to appeal to adults, and hopefully there are enough musical in-jokes that the stories and music will appeal to orchestra musicians as well.

The music is a mixture of styles – Hollywood, cartoon, Broadway, classical, modern, etc.  The style is familiar from the larger media world, but also introduces the classical sound-world of the orchestra and a number of historic styles (there’s many a pastiche of famous composers.)

Each of these stories starts out with an introduction to the instruments, but I’ve tried to reinforce the particular qualities of the instruments throughout – again, setting these stories in the world of classical music makes that an organic possibility.

Well, that’s my pitch, and I’d love it if you’d listen to these little playlets of mine, because they were a great joy to concoct, and I think kids and orchestras would really like them.  If you happen to be an orchestra programmer and are interested in knowing more, get in touch with me via my contact page.

The last thing I’ll say is this: the opening of “Composer” is my homage to Phillipe Rombi, the ever-inventive collaborator of François Ozon.

How to Become a Composer – – tmp+2 – pno – hp – str

Like my earlier “Cinderella Goes to Music School” this is a narrated story about a young musician in which the music itself plays a crucial role in the tale, and is interwoven into the narration.  This story concerns a young boy, Jacob, who wishes to become a composer.  We follow him from his childhood, full of musical imagination, up to college, where he finds out that ‘the biz’ isn’t quite what he thought it would be.  In the end, he gets to meet one of his musical idols who teaches him that the true reward of being an artist is neither fame nor fortune, but the ability to connect with other people through one’s art.

Like “Cinderella”, this is a concert-length piece for a kids’ program (clocking in at just under 33′) and I’m offering it for a $150 rental/royalty fee with a $50 royalty per additional performance.

The recording was engineered by the great Jon Brennan and is available for purchase here!

Nostalgia Radio

Say what you will about Cincinnati, but we have an FM station devoted to the pop/jazz music of the thirties, forties and fifties.  They even play the CBS Mystery Playhouse every night from 7:00 – 8:00.  Is it our abnormally high population of geriatric Caucasians that sustains such an endeavor?  Certainly yes.  But that’s OK; I’m willing to throw my lot in with them.

There’s a few things I need to get off my chest about The Great Debasers Podcast, and it’s more than I can unload on twitter.  My friends made this podcast as a way to revel in the nostalgia of their youths misspent watching film, and in spite of the fact that we went to the same school, grew up at the same time, and lived in the same city, my early history with film couldn’t be more different from these guys’.

Let’s look at the first 10 episodes: “Lost in Translation”, “KIDS”, “A Fish Called Wanda”, “Jackie Brown”, “Last Tango in Paris”, “The Fugitive”, “Eyes Wide Shut”, “Office Space”, “Do the Right Thing”, “Romeo + Juliet”.  Alright, of those ten movies, I’ve seen five (“Lost”, “Jackie”, “Tango”, “Fugitive”, “Eyes”) and of those five, there’s only two that really made an impression on me (“Jackie Brown”, “Eyes Wide Shut”) and I saw them both in college.

It really got to me with the “Clueless” podcast, because it turns out all my college buds consider that movie a touchstone of their adolescence, and they all cop to having seen it about a hundred times.  I saw it for the first time in June, just so I could understand what they were talking about.

Since this is my blog and I can do what I want, I’m going to go on record with the movies that I watched incessantly in middle/high school and which played a part in my own personal formation:

Auntie Mame
Interview with the Vampire
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Immortal Beloved (I know…)
Les Trois Couleurs: Bleu
Les Parapluies de Cherbourg

I can still recite every line of dialogue in these movies.  Other than that, all I wanted to do was watch The Simpsons and Absolutely Fabulous, and listen to Vivaldi concertos, Beethoven Symphonies and Strauss waltzes.  And to AM 1260, D.C.’s nostalgia radio station, and they didn’t even play the CBS Mystery Playhouse.