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What revisiting YESTERDAY'S music taught me about TODAY

Once when I was a graduate student, I told a composition professor that I was completely rewriting a two-year-old piece. He responded: "Always look forward, never back!"

A few years later, a fellow composer shared a similar story. "Quit picking at it!" his teacher told him. "You'll make it bleed."

So when I decided to revisit some of my older pieces before authorizing third party dealers to sell them as print-on-demand editions, I was not surprised when several composer colleagues counseled me to just focus on my new music.

The BEST place to buy sheet music these days is...well, it's complicated

When I was growing up, my house was filled with sheet music, with everything from Mozart piano sonatas to Broadway songbooks. We bought most of it from Childers Music Center, a small storefront run by Dan Childers, a.k.a. “Dandy Dan the Music Man.” In addition to running the store, he supported the County 4-H program and the Civic Forum Spelling Bee.

The Music of Forgiveness

If you asked me a decade ago what I wrote music about, I would have given you an exhaustive (and probably exhausting) list of themes.

Music in a Time of Word Wariness

I receive requests with some frequency from musicians asking if they might alter the lyrics of my songs in some way. Without exception, all of these requests are thoughtful and thought-provoking, motivated by large and important questions. Because I am hopelessly addicted to large and important questions, I find myself responding to all of them.

Imagine something. Learn something. Make something.

Twenty years ago, I renovated a kitchen for about $1500. A quirky do-it-yourself job, it involved stripping 1970s wallpaper adorned with no fewer than ten varieties of fruits and vegetables, painting the cabinets Sherwin Williams Bunglehouse Blue, and commissioning my artist friend Annemarie Zwack to paint a whimsical mural illustrating my favorite life motto:

How To Sing a Faith (and how not to)

Last February I was asked to give an informal talk at the Pacific Northwest Unitarian Universalist Music Festival, where I was serving as guest composer/conductor. I surprised myself by deciding to sing part of a song I had tried to write in high school. I'd never before shared that song with anyone -- and by that, I definitely mean anyone.

On Not Finding My Voice

You know what I’m talking about. Voice. A composer’s personal musical style, her particular and often idiosyncratic signature, that all-important talisman which sets her apart from the 17.5 million other composers in the world. (Schubert's sublime melodies, Prokofieff’s slippery modulations, Copland’s bright Americana...)

Henry and Kate and Grace

I'm not one of those composer/lyricists who can write a song in one day. If I'm really on a roll I might draft 90% of it, but it may take a steamy shower two days later to make me realize that the chorus needs one more phrase. It may take a frustrating car trip to make me realize that a song has more expressive potential than I thought. And every once in a while, it takes significantly more than that. Until I wrote Grace, I didn't know how much more.

Music, Slavery, Chocolate, Change

A change in a society’s consciousness usually happens slowly, over decades or centuries. So when I see such a shift happening faster than that, I sit up and take notice:

Remembering Steven Stucky

Late last night I was surprised and saddened to learn about the death of Steven Stucky, my primary composition professor at Cornell University. When I told my husband, he asked, “Did you ever get to tell him the story about that composition lesson?” I had to admit that I hadn’t. It wasn’t exactly the kind of story one relates in a concert hall lobby after an orchestral premiere, which is the last time I’d seen Steve.


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