Sunday, September 19, 2010

Composers Composing

As I sit here, listening to Mozart and incredibly unmotivated to do much of any kind of compositional work, I feel as I am becoming more and more disenchanted with the whole mess altogether.

Perhaps this is a sign that I should go to bed and try to work again tomorrow. But before I do, I wish to complain briefly about the business of composition. I read a quote earlier today from late composer (and former head of composition at my alma mater, Oklahoma City University) Ray Luke that said "being a composer is easier than composing." I'm not sure in what context this was meant, but reading it as is, I just can't agree. The competition, festival, commission, and grant circuit can be time consuming, expensive, and incredibly frustrating. I'd much rather be fighting an army of musical ideas in my brain than have to deal with that bureaucratic mess at all.

One of the reasons I disliked the business of singing was the constant rejection. Some people get fired up as a result of rejection, become more motivated and dedicated to bettering themselves. I, on the other hand, shrivel up and dry out with each and every "thanks, but no thanks" letter I receive. 'Weak' might be one way to describe it. Alternately, 'sensitive' and 'personal' are more so how I like to think of it.

I apologize for the whining. It's just, the creating, practicing, performing, listening, and interpreting of music is the only process I really care for. When I care for it. Which is mostly ('but not always,' says the guilty voice in my head).

I am just incredibly jealous of those who do play the business side of composition so well. Teach me, oh entrepreneurial ones! Help me see the light!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Aurelia: An Interactive Sound Sculpture!

Hello friends!

This week, with the help of many, I opened a sound/art installation located in the lobby of the University of Louisville School of Music. It is an interactive sound sculpture that I collaborated on with a visual artist, Collin Lloyd. He created these beautiful glass sculptures that act as a kind of projection screen for different short movies we filmed. I created various types of gong and water sounds/beats in ProTools and programmed a MIDI pedal board to trigger not only these sounds, but to change the videos playing on the glass as well.


The piece was originally intended to be a Tesla coil (an electric spark inside a glass dome filled with helium: example) that would dance with the sounds around it. Collin had it all working when it sprung a leak somewhere and died on us. We tried to have one of the UofL chemistry professors help us with it, but it kinda fell through at the last moment. So, here we were, one day before the installations were to open with no visual element to the project. Luckily, Collin had made these sculptures as a Plan B in case the Tesla didn't work out. 

We worked on this thing all Tuesday night (I was at school from 10AM until 12PM the next day)--we filmed the movies, Collin made some shelving, we filmed the movies to be projected, and I taught myself some Max 5 programming in order to trigger the movies. We were able to secure a projector on Wednesday afternoon and get it all up and running after the UofL Student Computer Music concert on Wednesday night. Thursday Collin and I came in and cleaned up our cable mess we had hurriedly thrown together the previous night, and we made the project a bit more interactive between the films and the sound. Today I finished up the programming, so it is at it's very best now!

There is another interactive installation, too, that my friend James Young did the music and programming for located in the second floor connection hallway of the music school. There are about 4000 paper airplanes that his artist, Alexia Serpentini, made and strung up on the ceiling--it is incredibly stunning.


This project was exhausting at the end, but such a fantastic learning experience. I have a much greater command of the programming language of Max 5/MSP than I did before. I also now know that I work pretty well under pressure! The collaborative element was a pretty positive experience, too--first coming up with an idea you are both excited about, and then having someone there at the end who was in the same boat as you, desperately trying to make things work and still be artful at the same time. This was all for a kind of "test run" of a course that one of my composition professors, Dr. Wolek, had proposed to the dean last year. I feel like it was incredibly successful for its first year, and would recommend this type of course to anyone.

The installations run until March 22. We'll take them down after the second Student Computer Music concert of the semester. What will happen to those paper airplanes at that point, I do not know. If you are in or near the Louisville area, please swing by the school of music and check out these interactive sound/art installations!

(Photo credits to Alexia Serpentini)

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving! Part 1

I can’t think of a better way to have spent my short Thanksgiving break from school than by cooking for TWO ENTIRE DAYS! It was pretty epic, not to mention delicious. And just about everything turned out exceedingly well considering most were first-time recipes. My dear friend Diana came into town from Oklahoma City for the holiday and was my partner in crime for the cooking extravaganza. Together we made a feast to rival any other!

So, where shall I begin?

Saturday-Sunday I put the turkey into the fridge to defrost and planned our menu. I knew I would be brining the turkey, strictly following Alton Brown’s oldie-but-goodie episode of Good Eats: “Romancing the Bird”. My family always used the Reynolds Oven bags for our turkey, and it was always hit or miss. I kept getting the oven-bag advice from naysayers of the brine, but knew that my man Alton would not steer me wrong (I am a faithful Good Eats-ite from way back). For the rest, I took a turn from the website on their “Classic Thanksgiving” menu and subbed/added some of my own classics from home:
  • Giblet Stock Gravy (I sort of made this one up as I went)
  • Cornbread Dressing (Pepperidge Farm bags, my Dad’s tweaked recipe)
  • Mashed Potatoes (basic Yukon Golds w/ butter and cream)
  • Roasted Carrots and Parsnips with Thyme
  • Green Bean Casserole (Old-school with canned beans/soup/onions! Nothing gourmet here!)
  • Canned Jellied Cranberry Sauce (Can-mold intact!)
  • Kat’s Angel Biscuits (Recipe to Follow)
  • Pumpkin Pie (again, went the easy route with the canned stuff)
  • Double Chocolate Pudding Pie (for Steven)
  • Schminnabons (to eat whilst watching the Macy’s parade!)
  • Deviled Eggs, Cheeses, Pickles, Olives, (for munching!)
So, Wednesday Diana and I carefully planned out what we should cook when. The pies and biscuits were to be baked that evening, the cinnamon rolls would be all-but-baked, the turkey would be put in its brine, and the eggs would be deviled. A tall order. But by doing our calculations, analyzing oven temperatures along with baking/rising times, we handled it in style!

The Angel Biscuits, I must say, turned out unexpectedly well. I’ve always had trouble with biscuit dough being too messy to work with, and it was looking like it would turn out that way this time, but with a little flour at hand, it was quite painless! My good friend Kat has told me this is not a secret family recipe and shared it with me willingly, so I figured I could share with the two people who read my blog (parenthesis emphasis = mine):

Angel Biscuits
5 c. (yes, that is correct) AP flour
1/2 c. sugar
3 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 c. butter (unsalted)
1 packet dry yeast
1/2 c. warm water
2 c. buttermilk (and no, not that milk-with-vinegar stuff…the real, full-fat, thing)
Additional butter for melting/dipping (you’ll use about 1.5 more sticks)

Preheat oven to 400F. Combine dry ingredients. Cut in butter with pastry blender (till mixture resembles crumbs). Dissolve yeast in warm water; let stand 10 minutes. Add yeast/water and buttermilk to dry ingredients. Mix well. Knead until elastic. Roll out (on parchment dusted with flour) to 1/2 in. thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter, dip in melted butter, and fold in half. Place on baking sheet and allow to rise in a draft-free warm place (We let em go for about an hour, and they didn’t rise all that much. No worries, as they were still delicious.) Bake for about 12 minutes (and then resist eating every last one).

(Yield: about 2/2.5 dozen depending on the size of your biscuit cutter)

Fear not my friends. Part 2 is soon to follow. For now, alas, I still have schoolwork to accomplish.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


So I’ve been on hiatus from blogging at all this last month-plus due to the explosion of the fall semester that inevitably occurs 3-6 weeks out from finals.

What’s new?

1. My hard drive crashed last week. It’s been rough. But I finally got my computer back today, and it’s like starting fresh and actually feels rather cleansing. I can now just take a deep breath and move forward. No news yet of how much if any data will be recovered. I remain hopeful, however, because really, why not?

2. There are about two weeks before most of my DMA applications are due. I almost have all of my ducks in a row. I just need to finish the actual applications online, update/print all of my scores I intend on sending out, and of course, finish the orchestrated chunk of my thesis that I want to send out as well. All of this has been put on hold for the last week as a result of point 1. Dumb.

3. I am almost done with my ensemble for the semester. It’s been swell. I like playing piano in an ensemble. It’s stressful but not nearly as much as solo playing, which gives me the shakes.

4. I have so much classwork to catch up on it’s not even funny. A 10-12 page paper due in exactly one week, an opera proposal for a play I haven’t even read yet in three, a 20 minute presentation over lord knows what in three, and a 16-20 page paper due in four.

So for now I bid ye adieu mein interwebs. And also a fond farewell to my friend sleep. I’ll miss you both. See you again mid-December!

I just finished reinstalling Sibelius onto my computer. Nose to the grindstone. Pedal to the metal.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Worth the Tears

In honor of our first real fall weather on Sunday I decided to make some autumn comfort food: French Onion Soup. I’d never made this soup myself before, but as it is one of my favorites I thought I should at least give it a try!

I started the way I usually do when making a more or less standard kind of recipe—I looked up a bunch of different ones and picked what I liked out of each. I mostly stuck to my man Alton Brown’s recipe with some additions/subtractions from here and there. I was mostly intrigued by his use of apple cider in the recipe, so I had to try it out. I did use a beef bouillon cube instead of consomme (forgive me, AB! Cubes store much better in my teeny weeny kitchen than cans do!), but to counteract a minor offense, I used my tasty/frozen homemade chicken stock. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any wine handy so I tried to make up for it with some balsamic vinegar. This was unfortunately not as successful as I’d hoped it would be. The soup as a whole was intensely flavorful, but a bit too sweet for my liking. And also a bit thick, more like an onion stew. I might not let the broth cook down so much next time.

I splurged on fresh thyme (which I’m now obsessed with and want to put in/on everything I make) and a $10 block of gruyere cheese for the croutons (which really helped balance the sweetness of the soup, i.e. made it edible).

There’s really no better excuse for a good cry than cutting up a whole mess of onions. I’m pretty stressed these days with school, applications, and composing, I feel like I’m kinda out of it most of the time. I needed to let it out a little. I tell myself that I like being busy and that it keeps me motivated, and this is sometimes true. But sometimes I’d rather just be chopping onions.

Anywho, the real moral of the story is that I will surely make this soup again in the near future, but perhaps not on a Sunday when I am unable to go to the liquor store and get some actual wine to help balance the rich flavors of sweet, sweet caramelization.

If at first you don’t succeed: try, try again. And even then, keep trying until all the tears are gone and there’s nothing left but sheer will.

Monday, September 14, 2009


Today I applied to my first composition competition in over a year. It was an art song competition I have entered before and obviously had no luck with. I feel better about it this time around, though. I really feel like my recent work is strong enough to compete.

I reapplied to SCI (Society of Composers Inc.) today as well. They have this fabulous e-publication called the SCION that is basically a list of most of the major competitions and calls for scores out there with all of their criteria laid out in a tidy format. Even with the $30 member fee, if I can apply to several competitions without fees, the thing really pays for itself.

I’m feeling motivated to be more proactive with my career and get my name out there. I want to have more performances and opportunities to write for people—more musical experiences outside of the university.

And let’s face it, I really want more bells and whistles on my resume.

But the first step (well, pre-first step, actually) is to write some more music, which as of now is my thesis. The thesis is the first step to many of my goals, come to think of it. Graduate, get into a DMA program, become a professor, become a better composer—all of these things and more. It is, however, becoming somewhat elusive. I really like some parts of it; some, I really don’t. Unfortunately the ‘some I really don’t’ tend to occur in the beginning, which is what I’m working toward having completed by the end of November for my portfolio. A tall order. I’m convinced I can make it better though. Honestly, I have no other choice.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

  My in-laws from Houston are visiting us in Louisville this weekend for my husband, Steven’s birthday. They’re the first of our families to come and visit us here, so we’ve tried to plan the weekend so we can hit most of our favorite Louisville places and restaurants. We went to the zoo, Woodford Reserve distillery, the Slugger museum, Seviche, and Mark’s Feed Store (both on Bardstown).

  Anywho, it is Sandra and Bobby, my mother and step-father in-law, who bought for me my wonderfully wonderful artisan stand mixer that I absolutely adore. On the card they said “we expect cookies!” So, upon their arrival I said “what kind?”, and Bobby answered an emphatic “Peanut Butter.”

  Now, I love me some peanut butter. I like it on sandwiches, with crackers, with carrots, and fruit. I am however not the biggest peanut butter cookie fan in the world. But any excuse to use my stand mixer, right?

  So, I found a recipe through I just searched ‘peanut butter cookies’ and picked the ones that looked and sounded the best (the original recipe is here: ice cream for dinner).

  This recipe turned out to be absolutely fantastic. Soft and chewy, the perfect size, and a great peanutty flavoring without being too sweet. I also ended up with a perfect two dozen cookies (three batches of 8), which never happens! The last batch I decided to throw in about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips I had in the cupboard, which was probably one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. Ever. I’ve finally made a peanut butter cookie I LOVE. Not to mention Steven, Sandra, AND Bobby! There are not many problems in this world that cannot be solved with a little chocolate.

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 c. Natural Peanut Butter (peanuts, salt, no filler)
1 stick of butter (1/2 c.)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. firmly packed brown sugar (I always use dark, no matter what the recipe calls for. If that’s wrong, I don’t want to be right.)
1 large egg
1 1/4 c. AP flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2-2 c. chocolate chips (optional)

  Preheat oven to 325F. Line baking sheets with parchment or your trusty silpat. Both work well. Cream butter, peanut butter, and sugars in the stand mixer. Blend for 3-4 minutes. Beat in your egg. In a separate bowl, whisk or sift together flour, powder, soda, and salt. Incorporate into the wet mixture, being sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl at some point to get all of that goodness in. Spatula in the no-longer-optional chocolate chips. Spoon with a rounded teaspoon (not as in the measuring spoon, as in the small spoon in your silverware drawer) and roll into balls. Place evenly onto cookie sheets (I got 8 per sheet), and cross hatch with a long-tined fork dipped in sugar. Bake about 10 minutes or until cookies reach your favorite shade of golden-brown and delicious.