Alan Shockley holds the Ph.D. in music composition from Princeton University. Shockley has held residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Atlantic Center, the Virginia Center for the Arts, Italy’s Centro Studi Ligure, and France’s Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre (CAMAC), among others, and he has received grants from the American Music Center, Pittsburgh ProArts, the Mellon, and the Heinz Foundations.
His works have been performed at the International Society of Bassists Convention, the Composers Concordance Festival, Electronic Music Midwest, the American Choral Directors Association Conference, the Spark (Minneapolis), U3 (Pittsburgh), Montecito (California), and Frontiera (Pisa) festivals, and at the American Academy in Rome, the University of Cape Town, the Fondation des États-Unis in Paris, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York City’s Merkin Hall, Columbia University’s Miller Theater, and other locations around the globe, including performances in Berlin, Sydney, Stellenbosch, Oxford, Montreal, Maribor, Munich, Bucharest, Essen, Toronto, and Amsterdam, among many others. His electronic works have been installed in Jack Straw Studio’s New Media Gallery in Seattle, Minneapolis’ Weisman Art Museum (for a Bob Dylan exhibition), as part of the International Computer Music Conference, and in Brooklyn’s VertexList Gallery, as well as in other venues across both North America and Europe. His little white house (underpass to the foundation), 1 p.m. for nine player toy pianos formed a part of Trimpin’s installation klavier nonette.
His new study of extended techniques for piano, The Contemporary Piano (forthcoming from Rowman & Littlefield), includes a full chapter devoted to writing for the toy piano as well as extended techniques for the instrument. Shockley is an Associate Professor and the Director of Composition/Theory in the Bob Cole Conservatory at California State University, Long Beach.
What sparked your interest in toy piano?
I acquired my first (of many) toy pianos almost 20 years ago, and have been playing and writing for the instrument ever since.
What do you hope to achieve artistically or educationally from your participation in the festival?
I love the toy piano and hope to connect to other composers and performers who do, too.
December 21, 1940 – December 4, 1993
While Frank Zappa is widely remembered for his work in the rock and jazz world, Zappa had quite the career as a composer of avant-garde music, with performances conducted by new music champions such as Pierre Boulez and Peter Rundel. Zappa was greatly influenced by the composer Iannis Xenakis as a child and though he never graduated from a college music program, he showed expertise in contrapuntal writing as evidenced by his Synclavier album in a “new baroque” style. We couldn’t just choose five albums by Zappa to highlight his prowess as a composer of new music, so we are sharing several of them with you this week!
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on December 21, 1940, Frank Zappa was largely a self-taught musician, whose 30-year career embraced a wide variety of musical genres, encompassing rock, jazz, synth and symphonies. Avant-garde composers, as well as math and chemistry from his father’s work, all fell into Zappa’s mix of influences and comprised his unique approach to his art, coupled with a flouting of convention. Zappa also directed films, designed album covers and spoke about social issues. Although his unconventional aspect often overshadowed his brilliance, Zappa is highly respected as a musical pioneer. He died from prostate cancer on December 4, 1993, at age 52. – Biography.com
Louis Thomas Hardin
May 26, 1916 – September 8, 1999
“I am an observer of life, a non-participant who takes no sides. I am in the regimented society, but not of it.” – Moondog, 1964
Moondog earned the title as the Viking of 6th Avenue, due the fact that he spent most of his time in New York City from the 1940s through 1972 on 6th Avenue between 52nd and 55th Streets dressed in a cloak and Viking helmet, he had a long whispy beard, steel pointed spear. Blind from age 16, Moondog spend his time on the New York City streets in his iconic dress busking, selling music, but primarily standing still. Though he was seen as just a dirty crazy vagrant to those who passed him on the street, he had an astonishing musical career that not only created a body of musical works, but also the invention of instruments and writing of poems. Moondog is a harrowing example in a modern society obsessed with looks and airs that genius can come from those you least expect. For young composers, Moondog’s lesson is one of humility and not letting success turn one into an egotistical monster… there is an inherent peace and philosophical presence in Moondog’s works and views on life.
Because all of Moondog’s music is so wonderful, we couldn’t settle on just five pieces by him, as such, this week’s playlist features five whole albums by Moondog.
An excerpt from an official biography of Moondog is located below:
Once in a blue Moon(dog) …
September 8th last year saw the passing of one of the 20th C´s most respected musical icons. Louis T. Hardin better known as Moondog was a revered pioneer on the Avant-Garde/Minimalist scene, his revolutionary attitude towards composition and melody was lauded by such eminent notables as Philip Glass and Steve Reich, while his style and attitude drew comparisons to Harry Partch. His influence can be seen in the music of Stereolab and Moonshake among others.
Born 26th May 1916 in Maryville, Kansas, Moondog wrote all his music in braille having lost his sight in an accident involving a dynamite cap at the age of 17. He studied music at the Iowa School for the Blind and later at Memphis. He was mostly self-taught determining chord structures by ear and developing his skills and theory from books. Initially he was drawn to the percussion element of music citing that his first drum kit at the age of five was nothing more than a cardboard box. His father, a minister had once taken the young Louis to the Arapaho Sun Dance whereupon he met Chief Yellow Calf and played the buffalo skin tom-tom, and rhythmical device that would reappear in his later work.
Perhaps to some degree the legend of Moondog supersedes his music, if that is at all possible, for in 1943 he came to New York in order to be closer to the 20thC classical scene. The name Moondog didn´t occur until 1947, reflecting on how he came by the title he remembered fondly a dog he owned way back in Missouri:
“We used to howl at the moon.”
Arriving with no contacts and only one month´s rent, for the next 30 years he became something of a cultural enigma. It was during this period of flirtation with the Big Apple that the Moondog legend began. Positioning himself on 54th Street and Avenue, later to be known as Moondog corner, he would entertain crowds playing his compositions on home made drums and some portable keyboards and reciting his own poetry. His eccentricity was furthered by the fact that sporting a long beard and a spear, he wore home made clothes consisting of a robe, a Vikings helmet and leather patchwork trousers again the influence of the Indians having effect. However this unusual form of dress was to lose him prestigious contracts in die future.
As the legend would have it, musicians from the Carnegie Hall spotted Moondog just across the way from where he entertained. Impressed by what they saw they persuaded the conductor Arthur Rodzinski to let him sit in on rehearsals. It was here that Hardin was to learn about orchestration and also to witness the debut performance as a conductor of Leonard Bernstein. Moondog´s debt to Rodzinski was reciprocated by his dedication of Symphony No 50.
He became something of a celebrity when columnist Walter Winchell wrote about him in the Times. Folkways musicologist Tony Schwartz would often make field recordings of street players, such involvement with Moondog led on to several offers being made the most notable being to do a recording of children´s songs with Julie Andrews.
By all accounts he was a genial man and noted for his humour, when asked by passers by as to where he come from he would reply:
“I would tell people I was born in Sasnak …. and when they would ask where it was, I would reply that it was a mysterious place. I left it for them to work out it was Kansas in reverse.”
Legendary disc jockey Alan Freed was one of the first to pick up on the Moondog sound and found himself losing a lawsuit when he named his spot the Moondog show after the Moondog Symphony. However Freed was later to become the self styled originator of the term Rock´n´Roll.
His jazz influences were cultivated while on the streets, it was there that he met Benny Goodman and Charlie Parker, the latter remarking:
“You and I should make a record.”
Sadly though this never happened for shortly afterwards Parker died unexpectedly. Moondog paid tribute to Parker later on with “Bird´s Lament”.
By the early seventies still on the streets, it would be hard for most to imagine that this imposing street player had released albums on labels such as Mars, CBS and Prestige. The beat generation in the 60´s had welcomed Moondog with open arms seeing him as something of a rebellious icon. By this period he had performed a poetry reading with Allen Ginsberg, appeared on stage with Lenny Bruce, Tiny Tim and in films with William S. Boroughs. He was adept at making music for films and TV commercials, one of his pieces was used for the soundtrack for “Drive. She said” starring Jack Nicholson.
As for his views about music, be would only listen to his own stating that the work of others was full of “unspecified mistakes”. He considered himseIf a classicist stating his aim was to create:
“The art of concealing art, maximum effect but with minimum means”.
It is from this approach to his style of work that Philip Glass and Steve Reich hailed him as the originator of the concept of minimalism. However Moondog had his own opinion on the matter:
“Bach was doing minimal in his fugues. So what´s new?”
In 1974 be was offered a chance to play in Europe for a few months which as it turned out led him to relocating to Recklinghausen to live until his death. The suddenness of his departure led many to believe that be had died, at one even Paul Simon mourned his passing on his tv-show.
Of course Moondog hadn´t died in fact his so-called exile in Germany would lead to his most prolific period of his career. He met Ilona Goebel a music translator who gave up her job to work full time with Hardin putting onto paper what rnusic that was in his head, she eventually became his manager.
Moondog did however return to America in 1989. At the invitation of the New Music American Festival in Brooklyn, he shared the stage with Glass and Reich asked to conduct as part of the celebration of legends from the 40´s and 50´s. His conducting manner was unorthodox to say the least, taking his place at the side to play percussion. He later commented that:
“I see my relationship with them [orchestra] as being first among equals, so that there are forty conductors, each in charge of his own part.”
This return to the Big Apple marked a newly rediscovered interest in his work seeing it performed all over the world in some of the greatest settings, some of his work was even choreographed.
I’ve learned a lot of life lessons from my life as a performing and recording musician. However, one of the most poignant lessons has come from the rejections I’ve received along the way. Rejection is a part of life. Rejection is a huge part of the corporate world, the art world, and the land of music. I often joke with friends in bands that planning a tour as a DIY band is at least ten times easier than booking a tour as an independent concert pianist. Being a DIY musician in a band you have connections, you have friends of friends to vouch for you or host you in their town. As an independent concert artist, I have some friends with new music organizations that are willing to present me but largely I have to make cold calls and send out emails that will ultimately go unanswered. When I do make contact with an organization there is usually a board, judging and scrutinizing my every note, my website, my every word posted on the Internet. And then come the rejections… Since I decided to become an advocate for new music and abolished standard repertoire from my performances, my rejections have largely increased. Sometimes they come in the form of backhanded compliments about my “adventurous programming or versatility” but ultimately that message is a rejection of me performing at their venue. Other times they can be more aggressive, flat out telling me that I’m not a big enough draw to the prospective venue to warrant their time in even considering my program.
When I was younger, I found this disheartening. It was crippling and I frequently wanted to retreat to my bed, forgetting the world existed for a while. As I grew older both chronologically and as an artist, I came to accept that rejection as a natural part of life but most importantly how you deal with rejection is crucial. To be truly successful in this life, and in this industry, one must realize that you can’t allow rejection to be the anchor that slows your sailing ship. The quicker one can recover from rejection the more efficient they will be. So XYZ venue or QUA organization turned down my proposal, fine I’ll send that same proposal to at least five more places in that same geographic region. Sitting around and wallowing in the negative pit of despair because one group didn’t jive with me is not only counterproductive, it wastes precious hours and energy that could be spent on practicing or researching other venues which would be welcoming to my particular brand of music.
The ability to let rejection roll off one’s back as a duck in water becomes increasingly crucial to collaborative projects. If you conducted a poll of top executives, one should not be surprised to find that ideas they pitched on their way to the top were sometimes assigned to other individuals for revision or perhaps even scrapped completely. Another commonality you are sure to find amidst this poll of top executives is that rather than wallowing on the negative aspect of these rejected pitches, it caused them to approach the account or problem from a different angle. Plan A, Plan B, Plan C… may not have worked but Plan X was gold.
Rejection is not a reflection on a person. In an old sales training manual my father passed down to me it says that people often reject your pitch because you have not full explained how your product solves a problem they have or your product is not properly suited to the demographic to which you are addressing. It is important to remember this when you are an artist or employee, just because an idea is rejected does not lessen your value as a person or artist.
Next time your idea is rejected or someone has suggestions to improve upon your original plan, take a moment to breathe and realize that there is another way around the mountain. A musician’s life, teaches that one not only has to be flexible but also a levelheaded problem solver. As difficult as it may be to break out of the post-rejection break down pattern, realize that the more you accept rejection as a neutral hurdle that one can walk around, the easier it becomes to handle the perceived downs of life.
Elizabeth A. Baker is Founder and Executive Director of The New Music Conflagration, Inc. Ms. Baker maintains an active career as a performer and composer with concerts across the nation.
At least twice a month, I give my students “listening assignments,” where they are asked to consider a new piece of music. For older students they are asked to write a narrative about what the music represents for them, while younger students are instructed to draw a picture of what they see and feel as they listen. All students are asked to verbalize their thoughts on the work; we discuss the instrumental and textural content of the work. For more advanced students we delve into the land of form and analysis. This is some of the most important work a teacher can do in modern day music lessons and here are some important reasons to consider for both instructors as well as parents:
1) Most parents are not exposing their children to challenging music.
The first reason is of course the most obvious; parents are not exposing their children to challenging music. Parents are busy and don’t have the time to explore the world of new music with the navigation objective of building a playlist of child-appropriate works.
2) The earlier you start a child on new music; the deeper they listen as they grow.
New music requires a strong memory. The ability to hold on to sometimes very abstract musical content for a while with the understanding that often times what develops in subsequent time has a relationship with everything one hears prior. Being able to hone this skill on challenging new music, prepares students to listen to long standard repertoire works because the demand on the ear is not as much as that of a shorter pantonal work.
3) It opens their ears to a richer sonic palette.
Imagine if you lived in a world of only primary color, where while colors were saturated at various levels, secondary colors did not exist. This is the world of music if all you know is the standard repertoire works for orchestra and the commercialized pop music created only to turn a quick buck (and your children probably shouldn’t be listening to music that promotes the over-sexualization and exploitation of women for money, but that is another post for another time). There is quality pop music out there that pushes the boundaries of musical language, but the statistics of it being on the Top-40 chart that is propagated by terrestrial radio stations is extremely low. Introducing children/students to new music, particularly avant-garde works, is mind-blowing. When a piano student discovers the colors of a prepared-piano it can be life-changing.
4) It demonstrates out of the box thinking and promotes critical thinking.
New music sets it’s own rules, but it also breaks it’s own rules. By asking students to consider the music beyond just surface listening, it gets them to think critically. I’m always amazed to see how even young students take time to listen to a majority of the composition before they ever put pen/marker/crayon/pencil to paper to draw/write their interpretation of the work. When I ask them to explain the work in their own words, the imagery and analysis is often much deeper than one would expect a child to intuit. The wonderful part of encouraging this critical thinking is that once this skill is unlocked students start to apply it to other areas of life and education.
5) It promotes future economic support for new music and experimental programming.
Children who grow up with an appreciation for the avante-garde and contemporary concert music are more likely to support it financially as adults. Students often encourage their parents to attend concerts of new music, which introduces the parents to new music making them more likely to donate and pay for tickets to concerts.
There are many places on the Internet to get inspiration or find playlists of new music. New Music Box has their Counterstream radio station, I Care If You Listen has an annual mixtape, and we at The New Music Conflagration, Inc. feature a weekly playlist feature called Discover This: which showcases the music of a different composer complete with a little introduction to the artist.
Rodion Konstantinovich Shchedrin (b. 1932) is one of the most recognizable Russian composers of concert music today. Shchedrin has a diverse and prolific compositional output including: operas, musicals, ballets, symphonies, concertos, chorus, solo voice, solo piano works, solo instrument as well as chamber ensemble. While Shchedrin is highly celebrated in his homeland, his works aren’t as well known to us in the west. Below we have compiled a playlist of works to introduce you to Shchedrin’s signature sound:
1) Cello Concerto, “Sotto Voce” for cello and orchestra in four parts (1994)
2) Self Portrait, variations for orchestra (1984)
3) Concerto for Orchestra #5 – “4 Russian Songs” for orchestra (1998)
4) 4 Pieces from The Humpbacked Horse for piano (1952-1961)
5) Carmen Suite (after G. Bizet) for ballet orchestra (1967)