Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mission Accomplished (month 1)

If you've been reading along, you'll remember my post of September 1st, when I decided to choose a daily challenge for each month of the coming year (September - August) and stick to whatever I chose to do. If it is not obvious, I chose to write every day in my blog for the month of Septmber. With this entry, I've accomplished that goal. It wasn't as difficult as I first thought, though I think it is the first time I've actually written every day for a month. My hope is that it has become a habit and I'll continue to write regularly in the blog. Which, in a way, is my hope for every activity I choose.

So, for the month of October, I will be writing a new work for solo piano. My goal is to compose every day of the month, and end up with a new work for solo piano on October 31st. I'll write about this journey in my blog, so I don't abandon all the work I did in September.

And if you have been reading, thanks for coming along for the ride.

Monday, September 29, 2008

More on scales in thirds

To add to the previous post, once you've mastered the G major scale in thirds (for saxophonists - I recommend different scale starting points depending on the instrument) you can try the same process on other scales. C major naturally comes next (pun intended), and then I recommend F major. Then D major and B-flat major. With the exception of G major, these scales can be played up and down two full octaves. (G major can too, once you learn your altissimo range - but I'll save that topic for another day.)

Once you've mastered these first five major scales, I recommend moving on to minor scales, using the melodic minor at first. Many good saxophone instruction books introduce the major and minor scales, so I won't go into detail here about the various scale degrees - I'll just say that playing scales, including playing them in thirds, is a wonderful way to improve your playing ability.

Putting these ideas on the blog make me think that I should take the time to write a method book. I've been teaching saxophone now for over 20 years and its time I share some of what I've learned with others. The trick will be finding the time to write it! We'll see...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Scales in thirds

I just received an e-mail from one of my Chautauqua saxophonists - so wonderful to hear from her. In the e-mail she asked about playing scales in thirds, an exercise I introduced to the Chautauqua saxophonists during the camp. Playing thirds in G major is a great warm-up on saxophone. Just remember that the notes are the same as a G major scale:

G - A - B - C - D - E - F# - G

When you ascend a scale playing in thirds, you skip a note, and then come back down to the note you skipped, then repeat the process, until you descend to the high G:

Starting on low G:
G - B - A - C - B - D - C - E - D - F# - E - G - F# - A - G
(Ending on high G)

Coming back down the scale, you again skip a note, and then come back up to the note you skipped and repeat:

Starting on high G:
G - E - F# - D - E - C - D - B - C - A - B - G - A - F# - G
(Ending on low G)

Practice this slowly, and try to hear the pattern. It is best to learn it well enough to play by memory.

I'll try to post more tips for saxophonists in the future, since I hear some of the Chautauqua saxes have been reading this blog. Let me know what you think in the comments section! Or feel free to e-mail me at russ@pmaconline.org.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Turn that frown upsidedown

I just wrote a mammoth review of last night's Ben Folds concert at the Orpheum in Boston and the internet swallowed it whole. It's gone. And I don't have the energy to rewrite it. So here are a few bullet points.

- Good show, almost great. Solid performances by Folds and the band. Great to hear strong three- and four-part harmonies in a rock setting. A rarity these days.

- The show was all new material from the upcoming CD "Way to Normal". Doesn't come out till next Tuesday. Good stuff, but the atmosphere was a bit subdued since the fans haven't had a chance to learn the new songs.

- Five or six great encores after a very short show. He played fan favorites at that point (Zak and Sarah, Rockin' the Suburbs, Underground, Landed, more) and the energy changed dramatically. It became a ROCK SHOW during the encores.

- No shout out to Regina Spektor when performing the new song "You Don't Know Me" which he recorded with her. What's up with that?

- No shout out the Boston's hometown girl Amanda Palmer who just released her new CD, "Who Killed Amanda Palmer", last week. Folds produced it. No friendly reminder to the hometown crowd to run out and buy it? Come on. Amanda's been pushing "Way to Normal" during her tour and sharing her love for Folds with her fans. Return the favor, dude.

- It was the BEN show, through and through. Why not show off some of the amazing support cast. When touring with musicians that good, share the spotlight a little.

- This is ROCK, dude. A show that is shorter than 90 minutes doesn't cut it.

Friday, September 26, 2008


Heading to see Ben Folds tonight at the Orpheum in Boston with Katie. Anticipating an amazing show. We've never seen him in concert and we're really looking forward to it. Tomorrow night it will be the Yard Dogs at The Music Hall. One of the perks of being a musician/music educator is the need to stay on top of the music scene - meaning we make it a point to get out to as many shows as possible. And I encourage everyone else to do the same. Few things are as rewarding as a good evening of live music.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Middle School Open House

Yes, my 11 year old hit middle school this year. Tonight was the open house for 6th grade parents. And I have to say that there were a few inspiring teachers in the mix. All of the teachers seemed good, competitent. Even "highly qualified."* But I'm happy to say that Max has a few that are truly inspirational. I hope he has a landmark year.

This is about the age where education starts to get serious. I think that's because this is about the time a child's social world and educational world begin to seperate. In elementary school there is a bit of a melding between social and educational. But now school is work, hopefully challenging work, and fun is fun (and a lot of that fun happens away from the classroom). This is not to say that education shouldn't be or isn't fun. The teachers are working to help the students find passion in every field. But passion is different than entertainment. And it was obvious tonight that a few of the teachers really do get that distinction, are passionate about what they do, and will most likely inspire passion in the students they teach. That's a tall order, but one worth delivering.

* the designation the State of New Hampshire now gives to teachers they deem qualified to teach a specific subject.


Now you can see what I'm reading. And maybe I'll keep my shelfari account up to date if I see it everytime I write in my blog!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


"Who Killed Amanda Palmer" finally arrived in the mail today, 8 days late. But the CD is autographed by both Amanda and Ben Folds. Katie will be thrilled. We see Ben Folds at the Orpheum in Boston this Friday night. And though you can't really see in the photo, I'm wearing the new t-shirt that I bought with the CD, which says "I Killed Amanda Palmer."

A Saxophonist is Awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant

I was thrilled to learn music historian Alex Ross, author of "The Rest is Noise", won a 2008 MacArthur Genius Grant ($500,000 over 5 years, NO STRINGS ATTACHED!), but was even more plesantly surprised to learn that a jazz saxophonist was one of the 25 recipients this year. I actually don't know the music of Miguel Zenón, but you can bet I'll be searching the web and my local CD store for anything I can find. Here is his bio, as it appears on the MacArthur website:

Miguel Zenón is a young jazz musician who is expanding the boundaries of Latin and jazz music through his elegant and innovative musical collages. As both a saxophonist and a composer, Zenón demonstrates an astonishing mastery of old and new jazz idioms, from Afro-Caribbean and Latin American rhythmical concepts to free and avant-garde jazz. Beginning with his 2001 recording Looking Forward, Zenón has exhibited a high degree of daring and sophistication in the manipulation of conventional jazz forms. His third album, Jíbaro (2005), illuminates his intense engagement with the indigenous music of his native Puerto Rico. Forgoing the Afro-Caribbean sound that characterizes most Latin jazz, Zenón was inspired by la música jíbara – string-based folkloric music popular in the Puerto Rican countryside. Unlike other attempts to fuse jazz and jíbaro, which have retained the traditional instrumentation with little harmonic variation, in Zenón’s hands the essential elements of jíbaro serve as the compositional and rhythmic underpinning of his contemporary jazz arrangements. The result is a complex yet accessible sound that is overflowing with feeling and passion and maintains the integrity of the island’s music. This young musician and composer is at once reestablishing the artistic, cultural, and social tradition of jazz while creating an entirely new jazz language for the 21st century.

Miguel Zenón received a B.A. (1998) from the Berklee College of Music and an M.A. (2001) from the Manhattan School of Music. His additional recordings include Ceremonial (2004) and Awake (2008). He has performed at venues and in festivals throughout the United States and abroad, including the Jazz Standard, the Village Vanguard, and Carnegie Hall.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Chautauqua - part four

This is part four in a multi-part post. To read from the beginning, click here.

On the final day, the three bands, chorus and orchestra play for each other in a "concert." Roy Ernst, founder of New Horizons and the camp, tells everyone that it is not really a "concert" but more of a "show-and-tell" opportunity. The philosophy of New Horizons supports the enjoyment of music making, and the pressure to perform can often detract from that enjoyment, so performance is never the focus. Music is.

The "concert" went swimmingly and everyone had a fabulous time. The beautiful concert hall was a great setting for the culmination of five days work. Here are some photos from that morning:

After the concert, it was time to say our goodbyes and head home. I really enjoyed meeting and working with everyone. I do have to say it was quite special to work with the Band 1 woodwind section - I ended up spending 3 - 4 hours each day playing music with them. Here we are, together after the final concert:

The final aspect of the week for me was to be interviewed by a film crew that is working on a documentary about New Horizons Band. It really has become quite a special organization, led by a very special man who had a vision. His belief that adults can come into music later in life, particularly ensemble playing, was more groundbreaking than it probably should have been. It's one of those ideas that comes along and eveyone thinks, "why haven't we been doing this all along?" Whatever the reasons, Roy has made it happen, and many lives are the better for it. Just before leaving, Roy's wife took the picture below of Roy and I. Thanks, Roy, for everything. It was a glorious week.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Chautauqua - part three

This is part three in a multi-part post. To read from the beginning, click here.

My evenings (after the first night of tropical storm craziness) were spent at the Bellinger dining hall playing jazz with the camp faculty and some campers. The dining hall would begin to fill around 9 p.m. and we'd play jazz as people danced, or sat and listened. The audience was friendly, and it was nice to finish each day playing.

On the next to last day, Wednesday, many of the small ensembles performed in the dining room. Ensembles played during lunch, dinner and in the evening. My saxophone ensembles played in the evening. It was wonderful to hear everything come together after such a short time. And the variety of ensembles was amazing. Beginner harmonica players, musical theater, dixieland, jazz lab, clarinet choirs, french horn choir, cello choir, Mexican mariachi band, German band, and much more. The campers were up for anything. Here are a few photos from the Wednesday performances:

During the Wednesday evening performances, beer and wine was served as well as hors d'oeuvres. A true party atmosphere. It eased some of the tension as everyone anticipated the large ensemble concert that would take place on the last day of camp.

Continue reading with part four here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chautauqua - part two

This is part two in a multi-part post. To read from the beginning, click here.

After the balmy 80s of the tropical storm on Sunday, the weather returned to a much more seasonable 60s-70s for the remainder of the week. On Monday I began working with the saxophone ensembles and in sectionals with the Band 1 woodwinds. I took a chamber music approach to the ensembles, and opted to keep everyone together. In retrospect, some of the music may have been a bit too challenging for three consecutive days of rehearsal followed by one performance, but I made a conscious decision to challenge the players, rather than pick repertoire that was sight-readable. There is probably a happy-medium that I missed, but I think that if I erred, it was on the right side - adventurous rather than cautious.

The repertoire we played included:

Basin Street Blues
To Yonder Lovely Grove
a Brahms Chorale
Fly Me to the Moon

I'll post details on how to obtain this music in a later post, for those interested in ordering copies and trying them out.

One of my goals for the week, which we did acheive, was to combine as many saxophones from all of the ensembles into one monster sax ensemble. I think we ended up with 22 or 23 saxes all in one group performing To Yonder Lovely Grove. Here are some rehearsal photos of the monseter group, taken during our only full rehearsal on Wednesday:

Working with the saxophones was my primary responsibility for the week, and I divided my time between sax ensembles and Band 1. I really enjoyed getting to know the New Horizons players. They were truly excited about playing sax and making music, with wonderful questions about embouchure, fingering, and other technical aspects of playing. The word to describe their interest in music is PASSION. They love it. They are there to make music. Sure, socializing is a major component of the camp. But it is an outgrowth of the music-making.

Over the course of the three days, the ensembles came a long way. Musicianship improved. Music was made. It was all so fast - a whirlwind. It is hard to digest, being used to 18-week semesters, with week-long breaks between rehearsals or lessons. The idea of cramming everything into five total days is strange, if born of necessity. And the sax ensembles really only had three days - Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday rehearsals with a Wednesday performance.

I wonder if I'm too intense for this type of environment. I enjoyed it, and would go back if invited, but I think I need to learn to be more laid back. Those who know me outside of music consider me very laid back. But they haven't rehearsed with me. I try not to create stress in rehearsals. But I am intense, with a lot to accomplish in a short period of time. The New Horizons musicians rose to the challenge. I just hope it was a positive experience for everyone involved. It certainly was for me.

To continue reading with part three, click here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Chautauqua - part one

I am home, sitting at my laptop in my kitchen, finally finding time to write about my Chautauqua adventure. I'll have to do this in parts, since there is so much to convey.

In the spring I was invited to teach saxophone at the International New Horizons Band Camp at the Chautauqua Institute in NY. I quickly accepted the invite, knowing that this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity - though I really hope to be invited back after having an amazing week.

The New Horizons Band is a program created in 1989 by Roy Ernst, now professer emeritus at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. The concept is to give adults, particularly those over the age of 50, an entry point into ensemble music. In American culture, the opportunity to join a band and play as you learn your instrument stops after elementary school. At least it did until Roy created this program. New Horizons is like a "fifth grade band" for adults. You can pick up an instrument and play in a concert band as you learn the instrument. It is an inspiring program. Roy began with about 40 adults in one band in Rochester, NY. There are now well over 100 bands world wide. I haven't counted lately, but I'd bet it's over 200 bands by this point. I've been conducting the Portsmouth New Horizons Band since it was founded in 2003. But more on that later - back to the camp.

Tom and I arrived at Chautauqua on Sunday afternoon. It was essentially a 10 hour drive from Portsmouth that we spread out over two days. Upon arrival, I was suprised to find a densely populated colony at the Institute. Houses are built very close together and the streets are very narrow. Here are some examples of the streetscapes:

After checking in, we were sent to our first rehearsals of the camp. The camp offers a wide variety of music classes for the campers - everything from chamber music ensembles to blues or dixeland bands to musical theater or Dalcroze movement. But all participants fall into one of five large ensembles: Band 1, 2, or 3, Orchestra, or Chorus. I would be spending a majority of my time working with Band 1. These are the musicians who are new to their instrument - most of whom had be playing for less than a year. They were an enthusiastic group and really fun to work with. We rehearsed in McKnight Hall, a beautiful small theater with an audience capacity of approx. 100. Here are some photos from a rehearsal break:

The Band 1 woodwind section was a trio - Holly on flute, Barb on clarinet and Fran on alto saxophone. Here's a great shot of the honorary fourth member of the woodwind section, Barb's assistant Abby:

Band 1 was a small group - only 8 musicians. This is a scenario I (and many other New Horizons Band directors) am familiar with. There initially was a great deal of apprehension about the lack of doubling - pretty much only one player per part. But the instrumentation was well balanced for such a small group: flute, clarinet, alto sax, four trumpets, trombone. I knew from the start that it would work. But with only four days to rehearse, work would be the key word.

On that first day, Sunday, we rehearsed in the afternoon, had dinner together in Bellinger Hall with the entire camp, and then rehearsed again in the evening. The camp was off to a great start.

I stayed at the Carey Cottage Inn during the camp, a nice, fairly large inn in the center of the Institute. On the first night, hurricane Ike ripped through the campus, downgraded to a tropical storm by that point, but still intense. It had pushed tropical air all the way to New York, and when I returned to the Inn at 9 p.m. it was extremely windy and near 90 degrees - way hotter than typical for a mid-September night.

When I got to my room, the sirens started going off. I immediately thought they were tornado warnings, and it didn't suprise me the was the wind was howling outside my window. I got into bed and then at one point the entire room shook. It was so quick and violent I was ready for a tornado to rip the roof off the inn. But then things began to calm down.

The next morning I learned that a 75 foot tall tree had fallen on the inn. That was why the building shook. It fell on the opposite side of the building from where I was staying, so I was not alerted. But the guests on that side of the inn were relocated to other rooms. The tree was precariously perched against the building and the innkeepers were worried that another gust could bring it crashing through the walls. Here are some pictures from the next morning:

They came to cut down the tree that day, but I was able to get before and after pictures. Quite a way to start the week!

Continue reading with part two here.

Friday, September 19, 2008


The above photo was taken on a day I spent at the beach (all by myself!) about one month ago. It was still on my camera and I uploaded it to my computer with the Chautauqua pictures I've been promising. It was a beautiful morning, and then fog quickly descended on the beach, the temperature dropped about 10-15 degrees quickly, the wind picked up, and it started to rain. I still had a great day. After spending an amazing week with about 250 wonderful people, I'm ready for some down time with the family, and - if I dare - a few hours all alone. Life is all about balance, right?

Anyone who thinks those in their 20s have no work ethic, read this. Beth is an amazing human being and is as passionate about her work (which I bet pays next to nothing) as anyone I've ever met. Hang in there Beth. We've all had weeks like this!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Monster Saxophone Ensemble

My saxophone "students" at the 2008 New Horizons Band Camp at Chautauqua in New York. The photo was taken after a rehearsal of "To Yonder Lovely Grove". The 22 piece ensemble gave a wonderful performance that evening. Bravo.

My Chautauqua adventure has come to an end. I plan to write a series of reflections here in the coming days. I just had to post this photo because I kept saying I would post photos and never managed to find the time to do it while at the camp. They really keep you running. But I'm happy to report that I'm returning home with many photos which I WILL post in the coming days.

Tonight I stay in Corning, NY and tomorrow I return home. Looking very much forward to seeing Katie and the boys - I've been missing them!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

First Final Day

I think of this camp as having two "final" days, and today is the first. I only get to meet with my classes for three days - Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (today). Tonight, my students will perform the music they worked on with me. The band 1 & 2 saxes are combined and will play a couple of pieces, and the Band 3 saxes will play a couple as well. And, hopefully, we might take our monster piece with everyone and find a time to play it for an audience. It's going to be a long, but rewarding day.

Tomorrow will be the second and actual "final" day of the camp. At 9 a.m., all of the camp's large ensembles will perform for each other. I've been rehearsing with Band 1 and will sit in with them. They have done a wonderful job - most of the players have played their instruments for less than a year and I think all logged less than two years playing time!

I highly recommend this camp for any adult who plays a band or orchestral instrument. It is primarily populated by New Horizons Band members from throughout the country and Canada, most of whom are over 55 and retired. But I don't think membership in a band is a requirement. (Though if there is a New Horizons Band near you, that is definitely the place to start.) It is an amazing opportunity to make music with others. And I can tell you that the most advanced band is playing wonderfully challenging repertoire - nothing to sneeze at if you have quite a bit of playing experience. One of their pieces I last performed in my college wind ensemble at The Boston Conservatory. So even if you're quite advanced and have played for years, there is something here for you. And if you've only played a few months - come join us in the "green" band. You'll have the time of your life.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

More fun than you can shake a stick at

OK. This has been an EXHAUSTING three days. Two to go. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

My saxophone ensembles are wonderful. We are having a blast getting together and playing in the mornings. I'm combining all of my students from all three bands into a monster sax ensemble tomorrow. It's going to be a blast.

The band 1 students are an inspiration. They remind me why I need to start another beginner group as soon as I get back to Portsmouth. I need to do it this winter! If you want to join, let me know!

Tonight we combined bands 1 & 2 for rehearsal and the band 1 students got to play two of of the band 2 pieces. Then band 1 played for Band 2. The Band 2 members who were sitting next to Band 1 members read along and augmented the group. It was a great time and we will do this in Thursday's concert.

Tonight I played an hour of jazz with the faculty and some students in the dining hall. Some great tunes: Ain't Misbehavin', Blue Monk, Stella By Starlight, Night Train, The Lady is a Tramp, and more. The students all gather in the dining room for this performance and they are a fantastic audience.

Then I finished my evening with a walk back to the inn, where I sit writing this. I listened to some of the new Amanda Palmer CD on my MP3 player on the way back as I walked in the dark. Thanks again to Amanda's crew for making it available for download last week. The CD was released today and I'd be seriously bummed if I didn't already have my copy here.

Again exhausted. I PROMISE to take some photos and post them. I'll probably be writing about this for weeks, when I finally have some time and energy. For now, they keep me running here. And don't even ask me about having to carry the baritone sax around in its "lead" case today.

Good night!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wind Storm, and music

Huge wind storm last night. Shook the house. In fact, at one point the entire building moved, swaying back and forth violently. There were sirens going off, so I imagined the tornado had reached me. I was ready to hop in the tub as I duck and cover, but then things calmed down. This morning I learned that a 75 foot tall tree was blown over onto the Inn. Luckily (for me) it was on the opposite side of the buidling, so I did not need to be relocated to another room. Others were less fortunate. But, the tree was cut down today, and it seems the damage to the building was minimal. Photos to follow, but I'm too exhausted to upload them today.

My day began early. My fist class was at 9 a.m. - the Band 2 sax ensemble. Then the band 3 sax ensemble, Band 1 sectionals, Band 1 woodwind ensemble and lastly Band 1 rehearsal. Fit into all of that was lunch and dinner. No significant breaks, so I remained on campus for most of the day.

The bands range in ability from 1 (beginner) to 3 (advanced). All of the musicians are wonderful. They've welcomed me with open arms and we had a brilliant first day of small ensembles.

I do the same for the next two days. I'm hoping to have the sax ensembles combine to perform as a MONSTER SAX GROUP. Will be working on coordinating this all day tomorrow.

Tonight I sat in with some of the faculty, playing some jazz for the "students" in the caffeteria. Had much fun. Looking forward to another great day tomorrow.

I have so much to say about this experience. Too bad I can't keep my eyes open right now...off to bed!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Exhausting First Day

Not going to write much now. It is only 9 p.m., but the past 12 hours have been non-stop and pretty exhausting. Looking very much forward to a great day tomorrow. Today we launched the band camp with back to back large ensemble rehearsals. I sat in with Band 1 (the beginner band) most of the day, though I had a chance to sit in with Band 2 for a few minutes as well. Everyone is very friendly, excited to be here. It truly has the feel of the "first day of summer camp." It's amazing that it will be done in four days.

Tomorrow I get to work with the saxophones. I'm looking very much forward to this. My first class is at 9 a.m. I hope to have photos and detailed info about the experience tomorrow. So far, I'll say the Chautauqua grounds are pretty amazing - not at all what I expected.

More later...good night!


I've just arrived at Chautauqua, ready to teach at the International New Horizons Band Camp. The place is beginning to buzz with students. I've checked into my room, at the Carey Cottage Inn. My camera is there, so don't expect photos until tomorrow. I don't know if the Inn has internet access - I doubt it. So I'll be blogging from the dining hall, where I now sit amidst the excitement. I have a busy schedule - several saxophone ensembles, some mixed groups, and I'll play some with the beginner band to help out the students. The average age is somewhere around 65 - a vibrant 65. I'm looking forward to a great week.

R.I.P. David Foster Wallace


Saturday, September 13, 2008

Heading to Chautauqua

For the next five days, Sunday through Thursday, I'll be teaching saxophone at the Chautauqua Institue in New York. Right now I am in Corning New York, at a Days Inn, where I'll be staying before making the final leg of the trip tomorrow. I'll be teaching at the International New Horizons Band Camp, a camp for adults who play band or string instruments. I'll have several ensembles and sectionals that I'll teach each day, and I'll even sit in and play with the beginner band to help out the "young" musicians. This is the first time I've ever taught at this camp and I'm honored to have been invited by New Horizons founder Roy Ernst.

My plan is to post to the blog once or twice a day, including photos from the camp. I'm hoping for at least a little sun, to enjoy the outdoors and get some great photos of the grounds. But at the moment it is raining, and we may be feeling the effects of hurricane Ike later this week. Regardless, I've been told I'll have internet access, so you'll be hearing from me one way or another.

Eight hours of the drive down, two and a half to go. For now, some R&R.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Never Let Me Down

David Bowie's 1987 album, Never Let Me Down, was not a hit. Sure, a few tunes got a little radio airplay. Radio was already a dying medium. But I bought the CD the day it came out. I listened to it, learned the lyrics. It's not my favorite Bowie. But it is part of the whole that has become very important to me. Bowie was the artist that shaped my view of music as a teen. I am very forgiving when it comes to his music. So it makes me a poor candidate to review his music. To tell people what I think. There is no detachment, no objectivity. That lack of other objectivity holds true for other artists, other music. That is why I avoid "reviewing" CDs on this blog. I considered writing a review this week, but I won't. I may convey some experiences about the music, suggest that you run out and buy it, be a fan. But I won't be a reviewer. That wouldn't be right. Because some artists just never let me down.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

never forget

I was at the gym when it happened.

When they first broke in on the radio with the news, someone said, "they've got it wrong. It couldn't have been a 747. It must have happened at 7:47 a.m." Then the radio went back to playing music and we all went back to our workouts.

When the next plane hit, there would be no more music that day. A dozen or more sweating people stopped lifting weights, got off the treadmills and bikes, and stood together at one side of the room looking up at the stereo speakers on the wall, listening to the events unfold.

When the Pentagon was hit, there was fear that there were more hijacked planes, as many as five or six in the air. That was when I ran home.

I arrived just in time to see the towers fall. To hear the reports of another attempt thwarted by heroic passengers over Pennsylvania. To see my father, a native New Yorker, watch his city on fire from his adopted New England home.

At the time I taught saxophone lessons in a Manchester, NH studio that was right below the landing route for the international airport. In the still warm month of September I taught with my windows open. The roar of plane engines was absent for the week that followed.

America came together that day. I've never experienced it any other time in my life. People cared. Millions donated money, thousands traveled to the devestation to help secure the site. To participate in the autopsy. People held hands, hugged. We were united.

We got on with our music, our lives. And the plane engines returned. And it seems that some have begun to forget.

I hope I'm wrong.

I'll always remember.

My frustrations have moved on

from Windows Vista to Quickbooks 2008. Computer problems abound. Not happy right now, but hey, when they do work, computers save me a ton of time. I guess I shouldn't complain too much about the hours lacking productivity as I try to solve this problem. Oh well.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Great first night

Our New Horizons Band met last night for the first rehearsal of our fall 2008 session and it was an excellent rehearsal - a good start to what will be a great year. This will be our seventh season. Can't believe it's been that many already. I broke out some new music to add to our repertoire for the occasion - the Anchors Aweigh March, Victory at Sea, and the Infernal Dance and Finale of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite. Not sure how I ended up with a two-thirds nautical theme, but there it is. I'd like to program the Firebird for our May concert. Much more excitement in store for the coming year. If you want to join in the fun, just give us a call at PMAC! More info here.

Monday, September 08, 2008


For the first time in quite a while, I sat down, put headphones on, and listened to a new album from beginning to end without interruption. I need to do this more often. I'm beat now, as it is almost midnight, and I need to get some sleep - so I won't comment in detail on the album. A few more listens are in order before I solidify my opinions. For now, congrats Amanda. Well done.

I am happy

And all is forgiven. I have Amanda's new album.


Recognizing all the chatter on the fan message boards, the marketing team posted a link on the message board before giving the general public access to it. We were all able to get our CDs and downloads, and, as far as I know, the site didn't crash.

I unfortunately have to run into an evening board meeting now, so I won't get to listen until late tonight. But I will be up listening.

It may have been delayed, but they pulled it off. Many, many happy fans tonight.

800 posts today and counting...

I just visited the Dresden Dolls bulletin board site THE SHADOW BOX and discovered that I am not the only one waiting for the pre-sale purchase links to become active on www.whokilledamandapalmer.com. After praising Amanda and her team just a few days ago on this marketing approach, I'm beginning to think that there are some complications they didn't foresee. Yet, if they can get the links up and working by 5 p.m. Eastern Time, I bet all will be forgiven and forgotten. But right now there is a lot of anxiety in Amanda's fan base. As someone who works in a customer service industry, it will be interesting to see how they handle this one, especially if they can't manage to get the site working properly by the end of the day.

Whenever I have a potential customer service disaster, I ask myself one question. What can I do to turn this experience around so that, rather than an angry, disgruntled customer, I end up with a happy, life-long client/customer? The clock is ticking, and before long, if the problem isn't fixed, they will have to ask themselves this question.

Until then, I'll keep hitting refresh on my browser, in hopes of discovering the long-awaited link.

More later...

I'm sure there is a good reason...

...as to why, as of 10:15 a.m. Eastern Standard Time this morning, the pre-sale links on www.whokilledamandapalmer.com are still not active. I still think it is a great idea. But as the day wears on, if I am unable to buy the CD at the site, I will begin to think I am doing something wrong. Did I not follow the instructions correctly? Is there another site I should be visiting? Will I miss out on my autographed CD while others are quickly buying the first 250? Katie is a huge Ben Folds fan, so his autograph is a huge bonus for this purchase. (Some of you know she collects autographed CDs.) I'll keep trying back throughout the day, but I have to admit it is a little frustrating.

More later...

Sunday, September 07, 2008


I'm dragging a bit this morning because last night was spent at The Barley Pub in Dover at a fiveighthirteen show. This is a great band - the trio of Nick Phaneuf, Mike Effenberger, and Mike Walsh. Nick's been living in Germany for many months now and this show was put together for Nick's current visit to the States. Last year, before Nick headed overseas, the trio played Radiohead's classic album Kid A in its entirety live at The Barley Pub. It was one of the great shows of 2007. Last night, they continued that tradition, playing a wide variety of Radiohead tunes, and mixing in some originals. It is really remarkable how they pull off the complexities of Radiohead with just three musicians in a little NH bar. But they seem to do it with relative ease. I'm looking forward to Nick's return to live in the states. Maybe at that point the band can work on more originals. They certainly have great potential.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Amanda Palmer - Credit where credit is due

A bit more on this morning's post regarding Amanda Palmer and music marketing. After posting it I received a kind e-mail from the wonderful Emily W., who has worked with Amanda and the Dresden Dolls for some time. And after going back and re-reading my post, I want to clarify:

Amanda is, as I said, a fabulous business woman. But she doesn't do it all alone. I've learned through the past several years of running PMAC that truly great work is near impossible to do on one's own, and definitely impossible for a single person to accomplish on a grand scale. Amanda has a talented team working with her. I know this because nearly two years ago, when we invited Brian Viglione to come to the school and give a clinic, Emily was critical in making that happen. To this day it was one of our best guest artist clinics. Also, when Katie and I went to see Amanda with the Boston Pops (see my blog post on this here), her lovely assistant Beth was kind and truly sincere in her interest in getting Amanda up to Portsmouth for a guest artist clinic. We've yet to have her here because of her hectic schedule, but we still hope she'll visit the students one day soon.

I write all of this not because it was pointed out to me that Amanda has such a team, but because when Emily e-mailed I was reminded of the truism that behind every great person, there is an amazing support system of equally great people - and those are the people who make the world go around. Bravo.

Quote of the Day

"If you take pride in what you do and put out a great product, people will find you.”

--Jon Snyder, owner of Il Laboratorio del Gelato in SoHo, N.Y.C.

See the article in which this quote appeared here.

How to succeed in the music business...by trying

Get ready for a long rant. For those who stick with it, it is relatively easy reading - I hope you enjoy. Here goes.

We live in the digital age. In the past decade there has been a major paradigm shift in the music industry and those who embrace it (artists like Radiohead and Amanda Palmer) will reap great rewards, while those who resist (major labels) will become extinct.

There has always been one key to success in the music industry - getting your music to the fans. For decades this was done through radio. Not today. No one listens to radio anymore, not for music, NO ONE! Have you even tried to sit through an hour of commercial radio in the car these days? There is a reason the word commercial comes first. You get 60% advertising and 40% music. And the playlists are ridiculous. Anyone who wants to listen to overplayed classics of past decades owns it all already. And the radio no longer plays interesting new music. DJs are a thing of the past. Playlists are now computerized, handed down by marketers who don't listen to the music as much as they listen to their focus groups. I repeat, radio is the PAST. The web is no longer the future. Music on the web is NOW. (If you are reading blogs, you know this already!)

The goal of a new artist should no longer be to make money from recordings. You just can't. CD sales are plummeting. The new media is digital download. If you want to succeed you need to build a fan base - a SIGNIFICANT fan base. With radio out of the mix, you need to WORK to accumulate fans. Why try to sell CDs at your gig? Why not hand out cards with web addresses where your fans can download all your music for FREE? Is ANYONE making money selling CDs? You need a decent fan base before it's even worth manufacturing them. Don't get me wrong - people want hard meda (CDs, Vinyl, whatever). But they need to be IN LOVE with your music before the will buy it now. I own just about every David Bowie CD ever made (that's a lot of CDs). I have them all on my MP3 player, but I wouldn't give up my CDs for anything. (At least until the next great hard medium comes along.) Maybe that makes me a dinosaur. Maybe our kids won't want the liner notes in their hands. You can see all that on the net. But I know that you still can sell hard media. But you have to work at it. And you still need to give it away on the net. Take Amanda Palmer.

I am a fan of Amanda Palmer, and of her duo, with Brian Viglione, The Dresden Dolls. If you read this blog, that comes as no suprise. Amanda's first major solo release comes out in about 10 days. I've already listened to most of the album - on YouTube, MySpace, and various other websites. I like the album, I'm a fan, and I want to own it.

I get the impression, though I don't know for sure, that Amanda puts up a lot of her own money for her projects, this CD included. She needs to make that money back, and hopefully more - to live, and to build her next project.

Amanda's fan base is relatively small. She's a bit of a niche artist, though she strongly hits the classic rock demographic - teens. She's not a Kanye West (thank goodness!) or U2. But she's no longer a "local" artist, exclusive to her home town of Boston. She is international. Her fans are web savy. They all have heard the album, and many have downloaded it, one way or another. But they will buy it, too.

Amanda is smart. An extremely intelligent business woman. In many ways she has been writing the book on how to market yourself over the net. This is how she has marketed the new CD, titled "Who Killed Amanda Palmer."

1) She blogs. She has told her fans about the trials and tribulations of creating this new work of art. We've been waiting now for well over a year for this CD. She didn't clobber us with frequent "commericals". She just told us about her life, through her blog, with posts a couple of times each month, including info about her work on the album. This level of communication is for the die-hard fans. This is where your word-of-mouth begins.

2) She uses her MySpace page to give you unreleased tracks, including, over a year before the release of the album, rough live recordings of the new songs. I already have the lyrics for several of the songs long memorized - way before the album hits shelves.

3) She used YouTube to release, one by one, videos for the new album. MTV? A thing of the past for music videos. Now its just trashy reality TV. I really never could have predicted that one in 1985. But back to Amanda: The fan base, and other curiosity seekers have seen the videos now. For well over a month before the album release. She uses YouTube like film makers of the 1940s used the cinema for Serials. Each time you see one video posted, you can't wait for the next. We're hooked.

4) She doesn't try to keep the songs off the web, doesn't threaten to sue people who download her music "illegally". In fact, she encourages it. (What a concept! Give the fans what they want, when they want it!) She even asks fans to record and video her concerts, get them on the net ASAP and spread the word. GENIUS.

5) When it finally comes time for the release, she creates a multi-media work of art. Sure, you can download the music and pay nothing. I bet a lot of those people will pay money to see her in concert. A good thing. Or you can just buy the CD at the record store. Even better. Or, you can buy packages directly from Amanda. With these, you get to download a digital version of the CD a week before it comes out. You can get t-shirts, books, memorabilia, unique gifts, and entered in a contest to have Amanda play a show in YOUR LIVING ROOM. (Don't think I'm not entering that one.) CDs are $14.99, but the bonus bundles begin at around $35 and go up to $100. I'll be buying one of the more expensive versions. Maybe not the most expensive, but maybe I will. I have until Monday, when they go on sale, to decide.

She will sell to all her fans. Everyone who cares will own this. This is how you succeed in the music business.

Metallica fought the internet. Fought illegal downloads. And I agree with them, that the music is theirs and it is their choice on how it should be distributed. If they want to charge for it, they should. But I think that is a paradigm of the past. By the time you are successful enough to sell a ton, why do you need to? You are not making a good margin on it. Why not break barriers and become the next Beatles. They are coming. And they won't be focused on CD sales. I can guarantee that.

p.s. - my Vista laptop is now synched with my network. Still have to figure out printing, but I'm getting close!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Vista vs. XP

I really liked my new laptop with Windows Vista...until I tried to network it with my other, XP computers. I understand the need for improving computer security, and from what I've read online, Vista's security features are a big improvement over XP. BUT, wouldn't you think that the folks over at Microsoft would be able to predict my situation (which, as I understand it, has been the situation of many, many, many, many others) and at the very least provide its customers with comprehensive instructions on how to solve this (common) problem? I've had to google this dilemma repeatedly and still have had to call upon the skill of a friend to (hopefully) solve it. The aforementioned friend arrives at 10 this morning to remedy (again, hopefully) the situation. Boo to Microsoft - I've lost several otherwise productive hours getting nowhere with this!

Advice on this topic is welcome and encouraged!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Media Bias?

OK. Everyone I know claims Fox News shows extreme bias and CNN is the fair and balanced network. I see extreme bias in both networks. In fact, it is hard to watch or read any "news" these days as there always seems to be some slant in the reporting. I'm not a Sarah Palin fan. Don't really know much about her, beyond the tabloid fodder the media enjoys throwing around. But I am disappointed with the photo CNN chose to put on their web homepage from last night's speech. I'm sure the hand gesture must have been caught mid-wave, but the choice of the image - Sarah Palin apparently offering a hand gesture so clearly associated with Adolf Hitler - shows extreme bias against her selection, at the very least. Don't tell me that news professionals had no clue what they were doing when they posted this. I'd be just as appalled if it were an image of Biden, Obama, McCain, or even Bush. Trashy, trashy, trashy photojournalism. I expect better.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Sing, play, improvise, make music!

PMAC's adult ensembles begin next week. New to the lineup is the Monday night Portsmouth Men's Chorus. Tuesday is the Saxophone Ensemble and New Horizons Band. Wednesday night features the Flute Choir and Blues Band. And on Thursdays you can play in the String Ensemble or Jazz Band. All are fun and will perform together on one concert in November. Check them out!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Fall Semester - Day One

Our fall semester began today. It was great to see several students who were away for the summer. But even for those who studied through the summer, today felt like a fresh start. Summer is a time for fun, and I teach accordingly. Now we're all back to business, which is still fun, but more intense - in a good way.

I've been working on organizing my office today. The installation of new carpet forced me to box everything up and move it, and now I need to move back in. I've taken this opportunity to go through absolutely everything and it's amazing the stuff I have packed away. I found some cherished CDs that I thought had long disappeared, and even some old photos, including one of me and my prom date, in full prom dress and tux, taken in June 1984. Wow. But such discoveries do nothing but slow my progress. I'll get it done, though. And I'll feel better about my "stuff", much of which has been disorganized in random storage boxes. Time to really deal with the clutter and find a proper place for everying.

I love September!

Monday, September 01, 2008


I've always viewed September as the start of the new year. It's because I've either been a student or a teacher my whole life, and the academic world begins anew each September. January 1st always feels like it is interupting me in the middle of something, a break from my world. September 1 is the fresh start.

Recently I've been reading a few blogs where people commit to doing something every day for a year. Composing a new piece every day for 365 straight days (yes, someone actually did this and blogged about it). Cooking a new recipe every day for a year. There's a whole bunch of stuff like this out there. I've often thought about doing something like this. But is it worth the committment? And would I get bored? So I thought I might try a variation on this concept. Pick a daily challenge for each month for a year. 12 different daily challenges that I only have to follow through for a month at a time. Here are some ideas:

1) Compose a piece of music every day for a month (the obvious one)
2) Work on a specific aspect of my saxophone playing every day for a month (even as a professional, it is difficult to find time to play EVERY day)
3) Write a blog entry everyday for a month (I'd need to find a month where I'd have access to a computer and internet every day - no unusual traveling allowed!)
4) Write a poem every day
5) Take on and finish a different PMAC marketing project every day (an area I could use some work on)
6) Run at least a mile every day (wouldn't attempt this one between December and April!)
7) Write 3 pages of a new book every day (I'd end up with 90 page in a month)

That's only seven. I'd need to come up with twelve. Any ideas?

And I'd need to start September today. I'll need to think hard and quick, so I can get started without compromise. More later...