190. enormity


Ohmygoodness, has it really been fifty-one days since I last updated this blog? That’s terribly delinquent.

My world as of late has been consumed with stress, worry, anxiety, and the like. A few weeks ago my therapist asked me what’s been keeping me going. I replied that the thought of graduate school, studying music again, and having a real career in music (as supposed to the state of meager subsistence I’ve been in since graduating from college in 2004) has prevented me from being totally consumed by depression.

At the end of last month I submitted my first grad school application, this one to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. At the end of this month, I’ll be submitting two more applications, these to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Southern California. Of these three, my top picks are Eastman and the University of Michigan. USC would be a great opportunity as well, but I’m more an East Coast kinda guy than West.

The process of writing statements of purpose got me thinking a lot about my past, and since I don’t have much else to write about, I thought I’d discuss some of the music that has been most influential to me. I don’t talk about music that much here, probably because LGBT issues and atheism have been such dominating forces the last few years.

One of the first pieces of music I can remember is Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. My parents had a recording with Mia Farrow narrating that we’d listen to in the car or around the house. My early tendencies toward neoclassicism probably started here.

My early ventures into composition were largely shaped by exposure to Classical music. The first piece I ever wrote was a minuet that I composed shortly after learning to read music. One of the pieces in my lesson book was an arrangement of the menuet from Act 1, Scene 2 of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. I’d seen a production on television and skipped ahead in the book to learn it and probably drove my family crazy by playing it over and over.

After my family moved to Minnesota in 1993, we found both a church and a library to call home. In my piano lessons, I was studying a lot of Baroque music, and I probably checked out the library’s entire collection by the time I finished high school. By then, I’d listened to everything Bach ever wrote, plus a good deal of Handel, Corelli, Purcell, Domenico Scarlatti, and Purcell.

My love of Bach and the Baroque though was firmly established around age 10 when I went with my dad to an orchestra concert where they played the first of the Brandenburg concertos.

When we left the concert, I asked my dad for a recording of the complete Brandenburgs, which I still own. I was obsessed from that point on. Throughout high school I studied everything of Bach’s I could find, which were my first lessons in orchestration and counterpoint.

I also adored Mozart. My first opera was Le nozze di Figaro, and it remains my favorite to this day. A seminal moment in my composition career is at the end of Le nozze, when the Countess sings: “Più dolcile io sono, e dico di sì.” It’s ridiculously simple: a G major chord in first inversion, to C major, to d minor, to e minor. It took my breath away the first time, and still does.

Everything changed when I heard Stravinsky’s Le sacre du printemps. Considering the majority of my listening up until that point, it almost felt like checking out pornography. I knew that it was supposed to be dissonant and that it had caused a riot in Paris in 1913, and that I should be familiar with it as a musician, but I didn’t know what to expect.

Rite of Spring literally turned my entire world upside down. It was violent, dissonant, chaotic, and unfamiliar—and I loved it. I listened to it straight through two of three times that first day. Then I discovered Prokofiev’s adult music through his seventh piano sonata; Béla Bartók; Alban Berg; Paul Hindemith; Steve Reich; Francis Poulenc; Maurice Ravel; Samuel Barber; Benjamin Britten; John Adams; and probably most importantly, György Ligeti, whose music I heard in the film 2001: a space odyssey. And I almost abandoned writing tonal music completely.

About midway through college, after hearing repeatedly from colleagues and teachers that they preferred to hear my “nicer,” tonal work, I reversed course and delved into what my friends affectionately refer to as my “Tallis and Tavener” phase.

I got back into Henry Purcell after hearing a piece from King Arthur used at the end of Theatre de la Jeune Lune’s The Miser. I also heard an incredible “completion” of his anthem, Hear my prayer, O lord, by Swedish composer Sven-David Sandström in 2002. I actually include a chord from the penultimate bar of the anthem—a G major chord with an added fourth—in all of my own music.

I’m also still obsessed with the funeral sentences from Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary.

My voice teacher in college specialized in Baroque music, and I discovered Monterverdi’s L’Orfeo. My piece for double brass choir, Elisabethan Musicke, is an homage to the opening.

I also got very interested in Stephen Sondheim and Kurt Weill, and in writing music for theater… especially music incorporated into productions. I don’t remember at what point, but I realized that why I liked Mozart so much was that all of his music seemed to have dramatic links, and the music I enjoyed writing the most also had extra-musical links and was spatially oriented.

Moral of story? At age 30, I’m finally figuring out who I am, personally and artistically. I’ve tried on different styles and have found what works for now. I also know there’s more to work on, and that’s what I intend to pursue in graduate school.

119. crib


cribverb: To pilfer or steal, especially to plagiarize; slang: One’s home; pad.

Regrets collect like old friends,
Here to relive your darkest moments—
I can see no way, I can see no way.
And all of the ghouls come out to play.
— Florence + the Machine, Shake It Out

Change is inevitable. That’s the way of evolution. It’s the driving force of the universe. If things stayed the way they were, nothing would exist.

I’ve called Minneapolis/Saint Paul home since August of 1993 when my family moved here from central Kansas, where we’d lived since 1986. Ever since we came up over a hill and the skyscrapers of Minneapolis came into view, I’ve never wanted to call anyplace else home—even after visiting England and Ireland in 2003. This is where my family is from, where my friends are, and where a million memories are connected to.

But over the past couple of months, like a person gradually losing their mother tongue and having it replaced by an alien language, it’s felt less like the home that it always has been.

A similar thing happened in 2007 when I left the church that had been home for 14 years and went off by myself to another church, where I’d be for the next three and a half years until finally becoming an atheist.

When we moved here in 1993, we quickly decided on a non-denominational church in Saint Paul. Everything about it felt just right—the people, the teaching, the Christian education programs for both adults and children. And we got involved right away. We got connected with the active homeschool community at the church, and soon we were there 3-4 days a week, including Sundays. There were music practices, AWANAS, clubs, and regular events.

Later I would join the adult choir at age 15, which became my special church family, and I honestly cherish every memory I have from that group. And we were good. We were not your typical warbly church choir. We were an auditioned ensemble—and voiced. Our music director was incredible, and we were seated according to how our voices blended.

Needless to say, there were a thousand things about that church that I loved. But then our pastor left after a coup of sorts by the executive pastor who was hired to basically turn us into a mega church. That eventually led to the installation of the pastor who is currently there, a much younger guy who had his own “hip” ideas about church. The sermons were watered down in content and quality. Services started resembling rock shows, with one of the pastors shifted over to overseeing production.

And then one day I was standing in church, looking around, and it suddenly hit me. “I don’t belong here anymore.” I couldn’t put my finger on it, but so much had gradually changed that it no longer resembled the church I had grown up in. It was someone else’s church. At the time I was working at the church as a custodian, and I continued to work there while going to Saturday services at the church I would eventually move to.

In the same way, Minneapolis and Saint Paul have ceased to feel like home. Only nothing about the city itself has changed. The people have. And I have.

For many reasons, this past Christmas I cut off all contact with my immediate family—my mom and dad, two younger sisters, a brother-on-law and a nephew.

Many of my friends have also either moved away, or gotten married and/or started families of their own. A very close-knit group of friends of mine scattered last year after about half of them moved away. I lived with two guys for about a year and a half until one of them moved out to move in with his girlfriend, and then the other guy was getting married so I moved in with my parents for a bit until I found a new place to live. They became my “church” after I left the other one.

Then there’s SafeHouse, the church that my friends are starting. For those of you who’ve never been in a church, there’s a closeness that comes with being part of one that makes everyone on the outside feel a bit alienated. It’s not intentional on their part. They’re just becoming a tribe. It’s basic sociology.

… there’s also Seth.

It feels like playground politics to say it, but he’s really become the line in the sand with my old group of friends. Before the night of my birthday in 2011, I had grown incredibly close with that set of people, and Seth (at least for me) quickly became the center of it all. He’s incredibly charismatic and likable. From the first time I heard about the kid who had been kicked out of his Christian parents’ home when he came out to them, to when I read his blog and fell in love with his words, to when I actually met him for coffee and fell in love with his personality and his incredibly piercing, beautiful blue-grey eyes, I was taken.

Then it all fell apart. Now he’s my friends’ pastor, and on one side of the line is me and on the other is all the pain and ugliness that lies between him and myself, as well as anyone who calls him “friend.” And I miss him terribly. There are few days where I don’t think about him or wonder what he’s up to, and wish things happened differently.

So I’m seriously contemplating relocating to Seattle this summer. It’s pointless to run from your problems, but neither is anything getting better; and sometimes a radical change of scenery can help, like women in Jane Austen novels vacationing in Bath.

There’s the need for physical distance between myself and Seth, from SafeHouse, and from the people in my life who I just don’t belong with anymore. And I can’t figure out who I am now as an atheist when I’m dragging this horse around with me.