Strange Beautiful Music in Detroit!

New Music Detroit
Strange Beautiful Music IV
Saturday, September 25 at 6 p.m.-1 a.m.
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit MI


It’s not every day that Detroit figures prominently in Arts and Entertainment media, but a random confluence of news items have recently flown over the transom here at Music Nerd Central, and I know, dear reader, that you’re counting on me to sort it all out for you. I live but to serve!

Why Detroit, you ask? Well, McDoc and I lived there for two years, so I have a soft spot for it, and being contrarian by nature, I enjoy having concrete evidence to counter the ubiquitous "Detroit sucks" meme.

I have the pilot episode of Detroit 1-8-7 on my DVR; a busy week of rehearsals for Saturday’s 30 Days Project in Concert have kept me from watching it yet. (Yes, Miss Music Nerd has a latent fondness for police procedurals. It’s just one of my many dirty secrets!)

One of my loyal informants has informed me that the Detroit Symphony players may go on strike if a contract dispute is not resolved soon. I used to live two blocks from the hall where they played, and enjoyed many wonderful concerts there, so this news saddens me. I hope negotiations go well.

Here’s the really important item that you’re less likely to have heard about, though: New Music Detroit presents Strange Beautiful Music IV!

New Music Detroit is a contemporary music group that I had the honor of meeting and working with a little bit while I lived in the D. In fact, it was quite serendipitous for me; before McDoc and I moved to Michigan, I searched online for contemporary music ensembles in Detroit and found none. I figured I’d be driving to Ann Arbor a lot. But not long after we arrived in the summer of 2007 — in fact, we were still sitting on folding chairs and living out of boxes — I heard a radio announcement NMD’s very first concert, and I delightedly hightailed it on down. Kismet!

Read here about my experience performing on their very first marathon concert back in September of ’07!

They are fantastic musicians who always put on an impressive show. The event this Saturday is their annual marathon show. Just $8 gets you as much or as little cutting-edge music as you can handle! If you’re in the Detroit area, check it out, and tell ’em Miss Music Nerd sent you!


MMNFAQ: Producing The 30 Days Project

Hey, music nerds! Want to help me write my FAQ? Send in your question!

Here’s one from LisztNut:

How did Miss Music Nerd make the recordings in “The 30 Days Project”? Specifically, what type of equipment or recording setup was used, who were the performers, how much rehearsal was involved, etc.?

All of the pieces were recorded by me and my All-Electron Philharmonic Orchestra!

My basic rig consists of three pieces of hardware and two software programs:


  • Mac computer (I was using an iMac at the time)
  • Yamaha P-120 digital piano
  • M-box 2 audio/midi interface


  • Finale for music notation and some sequencing
  • Pro Tools for sequencing, recording, processing and editing

For the solo piano pieces, I just connected my piano to the M-box with an audio cable and recorded into Pro Tools. In some cases, there may have been some over-dubbing involved — I can neither confirm nor deny that! 😉 There were a few piano pieces that definitely required more than one track, because they needed three or four hands: Tango-ish and Something Languid. There was even a two-piano, eight-hand piece: On Not Being Stingy.

When I wanted to use other instruments, there were a couple of different ways to do it. Finale has some passable MIDI sounds, so I used them where I could. Sometimes I could just save a whole Finale score as an audio file and be done, but more often I would save each instrument’s track separately and then load them into Pro Tools for tweaking and mixing.

When Finale’s MIDI sounds weren’t enough for me, I turned to Xpand!, which is a virtual instrument plug-in for Pro Tools. It has some fun percussion and keyboard instrument sounds; I especially liked the accordion and jazz organ sounds I used toward the end of Cicadas in Love and the “glassy glockenspiel” in Out of the Loops.

When using Xpand!, sometimes I would play the music into a Pro Tools instrument track through the piano, and other times I would generate MIDI data with Finale and import it, so I didn’t actually have to record it myself. In any case, using more than a few Xpand! intruments at once puts a serious strain on my system resources! I never lost data due to crashes, though (phew!). Someday when I’m rich and famous, I’ll have a top-of-the-line digital audio workstation with the most powerful computer known to humanity (until the day after you buy it, at least!), but for the moment I have to make clever and resourceful use of my mid-range gear. 😉

The cicada sounds, by the way, were the only sounds I didn’t produce myself. I used sound files from University of Michigan Museum of Zoology’s website, after the scientists there kindly granted me permission. I did, in fact, have live cicadas singing outside my window at the time, which is where the idea for the piece originated, but I wouldn’t have been able to get the quality and variety of sound files I had access to if I’d had to record them myself.

I’m grateful that we have this new-fangled digital technology, because it’s really fun to get an idea immediately of what your piece will sound like. Also, it’s the only way I could have done something like the 30 Days project.

Still, there’s nothing better than having your piece performed by live musicians. I am hoping to put on a live concert of these pieces at some point, hopefully this coming fall. I won’t have any trouble finding musicians in Boston, that’s for sure! Stay tuned! 😀


Existential Pilot: A New Music Group That’s Going Places!

I have to confess: I get a little jaded sometimes. I ask myself, “Is being a musician really worth it?” I mean, except for a very lucky few, it’s not glamorous, it doesn’t pay a lot, it can be very time-consuming and stressful, and the tax returns are a bear! (Being self-employed makes for a lot of red tape, paradoxically, as anyone who has ever floundered in a sea of 1099s can attest!)

But just when I’m about to chuck it all and learn how to be an accountant or dental hygienist or something, I have an experience that shows me that it really is worthwhile.


I recently made the acquaintance of a the new music group Existential Pilot when they visited Boston on their first official tour. The group’s members are current students and recent alumni of the University of Michigan, which has a very well-respected music program. The members are:

William Zuckerman, composer, pianist and electronic performance
Ezra Donner, composer and pianist
Claire DiVizio, soprano
Jonathan Lubin, composer, pianist and electronic performance
Zoë Aqua, violin
Mark Dover, clarinet

I met the group for coffee the afternoon of their performance here in town, at First Church in Boston. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the concert itself — it was a Wednesday night, and I had a choir rehearsal to run… But I did get to hear most of their dress rehearsal, and that was pretty cool, because it was like having a private command performance just for me!

While fortifying ourselves with coffee beforehand, we chatted about how the group formed, what the different members are up to individually, and this business of running a new music group in general. There’s no set playbook for it — no one has written a “Forming a New Music Group for Dummies” as far as I know. One thing that really helps is advice and encouragement from others who have already done it, and composer-pianist Ezra Donner mentioned a few composers and groups who have mentored them, including composer Joan Tower, the groups Eighth Blackbird, and Time for Three, who said to them, “You can do this!”

EPClDuo EP will certainly have no shortage of material to perform. The program they presented on this tour consisted entirely of music by the three composers in the group, but they intend to issue a call for scores sometime soon, and branch out into playing works by other emerging composers as well.

I admire this spirit of generosity and cooperation. When I saw that there were three composer-pianists in the group, I had visions of dueling keyboards, both the piano kind and the computer kind. But the embarrassment of keyboard riches seems to serve the group very well. In fact, I was sorry to hear Jonathan Lubin was on the injured list that evening, and was unable to accompany soprano Claire DiVizio on his song, This is the Garden. Ezra stepped in and learned the piece on just a few days’ notice, but I wouldn’t have guessed that from hearing their dress rehearsal!

I also got to hear Ezra play his own Sonata no. 1 for Piano, which had energy to spare, with driving rhythms and harmonies based on 4ths and 5ths. His Sonata Judaica for clarinet and piano gave clarinetist Mark Dover a chance to rock ‘n’ roll as well.

EPVlnDuoI heard two of William Zuckerman’s pieces: Sinuous Rills, for violin, clarinet and piano, and a movement from Music In Pluralism, for violin and piano. William mentioned that he was influenced by minimalism, and we had a playful conversation about that, because I had to confess not being a huge fan of that style. But I didn’t really hear minimalism in his music — it had plenty of arpeggiated chords in the piano and ostinato-like passages, but it didn’t stay in one place or try to evoke a meditative or trance-like effect the way minimalism does, to my mind. Actually, I felt his music was rather romantic, full of drama and sweeping gestures, conveyed quite effectively by violinist Zoë Aqua.

It was great to spend time with these musicians on their first tour — funded, incidentally, through kickstarter, which helped them harness the support of generous family, friends and beyond. I hope it’s just the first of many successful ventures for them!

You can hear several audio excerpts on the Existential Pilot site — just click “Listen” on the lower right.


WMMN-TV Presents: Recital Video: the Amusingly Serious One!

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I’m sure I’m not the only composer who periodically takes stock of her collected works, as a way to glean whatever insight may come from looking at where she’s been, where she is now, and where she might be going. I did that as part of the planning process for this recital, I was amused by what I saw. That’s probably due to the fact that my sense of humor has improved enormously over time. I was one serious little whippersnapper back in the day! It was all part of the temperamental artiste thing; I was in thrall to the romantic archetype of the tortured, angst-ridden soul who is happy to suffer for art. But over time I realized that, glamorous as it appeared, as a way of life it was downright unsustainable.

I also noticed that I’m a far more pragmatic composer now than I was while I was in school. When you get out in the real world, you discover that idealism is expensive! Hence, the piece I’m performing in the video below is the longest and most difficult one on the program. I know better than to make life so hard for myself now, I’ll tell you what! 😉

I still love the piece, though, and re-learning it after many years was a challenging and rewarding experience. It was a little bit terrifying too, I confess — I almost cut the crazy thing a few days before the performance, because practicing it was making me want to tear my hair out. But in the end I was really pleased with how it went, so I’m glad I didn’t. (Cut the piece or tear my hair out, that is!) In fact, I’m looking forward to playing it again!

In my spoken intro to the piece, I mention a Gershwin tune I had in my head while writing it. Here’s a full version of it — it’s a great tune!


WMMN-TV Presents: Recital Video: With a Little Help From My Friend

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One of the drawbacks of being a pianist is that you can spend an awful lot of time playing alone, unlike other instrumentalists who, almost by definition, play in orchestras, bands, or chamber ensembles most of the time. I didn’t discover chamber music until I got to college, and it made me want to just… sing!

Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities for musical collaboration if you put yourself in the right place at the right time!

I especially love accompanying singers. This video is the first of two songs on my recital, where I was joined by the wonderful singer, and my good friend, Peter Terry. The song is a setting of a text from the Song of Solomon (adapted by yours truly). As I mention in the video, it was performed at McDoc’s and my wedding ceremony (but not by me!). Enjoy!

More to come… 🙂


WMMN-TV Presents: Recital Video: the Technical Ones!

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While working out the order for this recital, I split the pieces from the 30 Days Project into two sets and alternated them with other selections, because I think it can get tedious to listen to a very long list of short pieces without at least a snack break or something. Hey, there’s an idea — I should serve milk and cookies at my next recital! Mmm, cookies… Oh, okay, and the audience can have some, too. 😉

I enjoy creating categories and putting things in them. These three pieces are what I call The Technical Ones; each one is built around a particular music-theoretical conceit. Other categories include The Pretty Ones and The Whimsical Ones. Actually, I like to think that any of the pieces could fit in any of the categories — it’s all just a matter of emphasis.

Herewith, I give you:


More to come… 🙂


WMMN-TV Presents: Recital Video!

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I was very pleased with how my recital went on Wednesday! What I am less pleased with is how tedious the task of editing video is… but I do it for you, music nerds! If that’s not love, what is? 😉

Here’s the first installment, featuring my charming stage commentary and the first piano piece on the program, For Brian’s Birthday (part of the 30 Days Project). Enjoy!

Stay tuned for more to come!


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