Tag: American new music community

An Introvert’s Guide to the New Music Gathering (and Other Networking Events)

Last May I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend the New Music Gathering, an assembly of music makers in the new music field who have been meeting at locations across the country for the past few years now. It was a wonderful experience and is still a highlight from 2017 for me.

Near the end of the three-day event, I remember having a conversation with composer Aaron Jay Myers and violinist Nicole Parks during which we laughed at the idea of a conference full of self-identified introverts who were suddenly behaving like extroverts.

The nearly universal feeling seemed to be, “These are my people. I must meet them all!”

The nearly universal feeling seemed to be, “These are my people. I must meet them all!”

For those of us who do find ourselves on the introverted side of life, such concentrated social activity can be exhausting. While speaking with Aaron and Nicole, I imagined all the attendees returning home and retreating to their studios to live in silence for a week just to recover.

And can you blame them? Being around people is a lot of work for the introvert. It’s not that we don’t enjoy other people. Quite the opposite. It’s more that we take people in controllable doses with large chunks of alone time. The smaller the groups of people, the better.

The reality about the New Music Gathering (and all conferences, really) is that we can’t space the doses of people out. Conference organizers, especially the NMG organizers, design the event to be an intensive incubator of ideas, performances, meaningful conversations, and networking. And this is a good thing!

Sadly, I am unable to attend the 2018 gathering. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot and wanted to pass on many of the strategies I’ve used to make conferences such as the New Music Gathering powerful and memorable experiences.

Below is my guide for the introverted composer or performer attending this year’s New Music Gathering in Boston May 17–19.

The focus is on the New Music Gathering because it is just around the corner. More than that, if I was the kind of person to make bets, I would wager that nearly everyone I have met at NMG would self-identify as an introvert. To do what we do as composers and performers requires the ability to spend many hours in solitude.

The difference between introversion and extroversion is a matter of degrees.

The truth is that most people are ambiverts who exhibit both introverted and extroverted qualities depending on the context and situation. The difference between introversion and extroversion is a matter of degrees—think of it as a sliding scale—and we all have a natural inclination to be on one side or the other.

I hope this guide is universally helpful, even for the extroverts. The ideas can easily be applied to any conference or networking event. But if you self-identify as an introvert I wrote this for you. I hope to encourage you to get the most out of the conference. You do not need to feel pressure to do all the things. Nor should you feel guilt for doing only some of the things.

Set a clear intention for the conference

Decide in advance what you will get out of the conference. Last year I wanted to meet some people, deepen some relationships, and, in general, just observe. It was great! Setting an intention or two allows you frame the experience in advance. I know people who have used intentions to have better relationships and experiences. You can do this at NMG, too.

Do you intend to become better informed about trends in new music? Do you want to learn more about a specific topic/idea? Do you want to lay the foundation for a new collaboration? Do you hope to meet and network with performers?

Plan your schedule in advance

The NMG organizers have already published this year’s schedule of events. You can find it on the NMG website: http://www.newmusicgathering.org/.

Taking the time to plan things out now will reduce the stress of having to make a last-minute decision.

Except for the evening concerts and the keynote address, there are multiple events within each session block. Look at the schedule and consider in advance what you most want to attend. Taking the time to plan things out now will reduce the stress of having to make a last-minute decision. Decision fatigue is a real thing—especially, when you’re hungry, tired, or overwhelmed by the previous session you attended. Take the time now to map out the things that are of interest to you. This will also give you a good sense of the range of things happening at any one time, and will likely allow you more energy to be flexible once you’re there!

A solo instrumentalist performs on a violin that is sitting on a table top.

Build in alone time

One marker of introversion is that alone time is what recharges, energizes, and makes you feel capable and sane. It is okay to plan an hour or two in your schedule to be by yourself. Maybe you want to take an early afternoon nap. Maybe you need to spend an hour in the local coffee shop.

My experience is that conferences like NMG are inspiring and life-affirming, yet they require a high level of engagement. They require meeting and speaking with many people. They often include discussions of high-level topics that are not easy to parse or even talk about. In fact, reading through the schedule I see many sessions that promise to provide these very things.

There are also evening concerts and performances throughout every day of the conference. I’m positive you’ll want to listen carefully to the work of the composers and enjoy the skill of the performers. As I’m sure you’re aware, giving a performance your full attention can be both inspiring and taxing—and I don’t mean in a bad way! Nothing inspires me to compose more than attending a concert, but actively listening is also exhausting.

You may find, like me, that just taking an hour to be alone or with only one or two others is all it takes to be ready for the next session or concert. You want to get the most out of each session.

Give yourself permission to skip something

Some of my favorite memories from last year’s NMG, as well as the many other conferences I’ve attended, are the spur-of-the-moment opportunities to grab a coffee with someone I just met or to have deep, meaningful conversation over an extra-long lunch. These are the times when you have to throw your schedule out the window.

And when you do that, you have to give yourself permission to miss a session. Whether you’re recharging by yourself or building community, don’t beat yourself up when this happens.

Yes, you want to be at everything (which is impossible). Yes, you wouldn’t want anyone to skip your session (but people do for a number of reasons). But it’s okay to miss something.

I used to feel enormous guilt after returning home from a conference because I didn’t do all the things. I realize now that that is a ridiculous expectation to have. Be present. Be involved. But also give yourself permission to miss something.

A view of the large audience for one of the panels at NMG 2017.

Don’t network in order to get, network in order to give

NMG is an ideal place to meet new people who love new music and who are interested in making it happen. In fact, they encourage it! Every year the organizers host a Speed Dating event where performers and composers can meet each other, share information, and see if there would be ways to work together.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that the Speed Dating event is the only networking opportunity at NMG. Every interaction you have is an opportunity to build a relationship. And that’s how you should view networking.

Every interaction you have is an opportunity to build a relationship.

For some of us introverts, networking can feel like we have to put on armor and go slay a dragon. From just outside the door, it appears to be a heroic and difficult task—but it doesn’t have to be! If every interaction is networking, then the first step is to just enjoy each interaction. The next step is to work to add value to those you’re meeting and interacting with. Don’t network to gather the names and contact information of people you can ask something of. Instead, network to give to others. Network to build relationships with people who live and work in communities far from yours.

Some of the best tips I have for networking include being genuinely interested in other people; searching for ways to help other people, either with your skill set or other connections; and truly listening. The worst kind of networking experience is when you find that other people only want to talk about themselves.

As Dale Carnegie said in How to Win Friends and Influence People (one of the oldest books on networking), “To be interesting, be interested,” and “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”

Networking is also more than building the connections you have. It leads directly into the next point: network to build community.

Build community

When Lainie, Daniel, Mary, Matt, and Jascha founded the New Music Gathering, they intended for it to be different from any other conference available to composers and performers of new music. As they say in their mission statement, the conference is a way to “focus on the needs and desires of the community directly.”

This is why you will not find vendor booths or anyone selling anything at NMG.

Some of my friends have described NMG as a breath of fresh air. I have experienced this myself. It is a place to be with like-minded individuals who want to make music, explore ideas, and support each other.

By attending NMG you are participating in this community. Your networking, conversations, and interactions are all part of the bigger picture.

Work to build the community by developing your own relationships, by participating in the discussions, by attending sessions and concerts, and by encouraging those who have put in many hours of uncompensated work.

Some of you are thinking that the above work doesn’t fit in an introvert’s guide to NMG. If you are truly an introvert, sometimes the idea of building community can be terrifying. It requires engaging with others. It requires showing up when you don’t want to. Sometimes it requires engaging with those who you would rather avoid. More than that is the fact that the community that NMG supports extends across the nation and even internationally. Many introverts build rich and supportive communities around themselves with a small circle of friends. The introverts I know, including myself, can name a handful of people they’d enjoy seeing and spending time with. We can be, at best, ambivalent about everyone else.

It’s important to join and be a part of the larger community.

At the New Music Gathering, however, you have to leave the small community mindset at the door. It’s important to join and be a part of the larger community. It will benefit you in ways you can’t imagine, and it benefits others because they need to hear your voice, too. The community needs you to show up, contribute, share your music and ideas, and offer your support. And it might mean that you will go against your natural inclinations about engaging with others to make it a reality.

The gathering, as are most conferences, is only three days long. Set the intention to join and participate in what normally could be an uncomfortable setting. You can choose to make the community building an exciting and energizing part of the conference.

Don’t be negative

It’s trendy to be snarky. The mocking sarcasm can be most biting on social media. I’ve had to work hard to avoid trying to appear smart or clever by expressing sarcastic statements that come at the expense of others. Sure, they may be funny, but they certainly are not building community.

It’s normal, and even expected, to dissect the sessions and performances you attended. But I’ve participated in too many of these conversations where the snark becomes negative. The mutual dislike of a composition, topic, or presenter turns into an excuse to sling mud. Instead of building up, we tear down.

This doesn’t mean you have to like it all. I’m not sure that’s even possible. Just be careful with your words.

Be careful with your words.

One question I’ve found helpful with this is to ask, “Is this the person I want to be?” When I find myself saying the kinds of things that the person I want to be would not say, I stop. You can literally flip a switch and start acting like the person you want to be.

Just because you’re an introvert does not give you the excuse to belittle those who are putting their work and ideas out into the world. If you dislike what you hear, start a more constructive conversation about it. This, too, will build community.

NMG attendees crowd a room to watch a dance performance.

Enjoy yourself!

Lastly, have fun! If you go to NMG with the intention of having a great experience, you will. If you go thinking about how hard it will be to sustain conversations and network, that is what you will experience. Henry Ford supposedly said, “Whether you think you can or think you cannot, you are right.”

I encourage you to choose to enjoy yourself. Go into NMG expecting to hear great music brought to life by superlative performers. Look forward to meeting interesting people who are doing interesting things. Expect stimulating discussions on topics that matter.

Go with the attitude that you’re going to have a great time!

Go with the attitude that you’re going to have a great time!

Many of my composer friends have commented on how spending three days attending NMG has provided them with enough fuel and encouragement to sustain them for months afterward. If you want, you can also be so inspired.

Look at networking as an opportunity to help others with your unique set of skills. Choose to think of community building as an energizing experience.

And don’t be afraid to give yourself some self-love with the occasional break. It will make the other things so much easier.

Meeting of New Music Minds at SF Gathering

Composer-musician speed dating.

Composer-musician speed dating. Photo by Shaya Lyon.

From January 15-17, 2015, new music makers from across the country gathered at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to share three days of performances, presentations, and discussion. Now that the hustle of this busy conference period is behind them, several participants took a moment to reflect on the ideas they confronted and what their take away was as they returned to their home communities.

Rob Deemer

Over the three years that I wrote weekly for NewMusicBox, I often discussed issues within the concept of the American new music “community.” Over the past fifteen years, that community has evolved from pockets of composers and performers who formed in mostly urban areas around the country to a much more connected and integrated community located online through social media networks, and we may have seen the next step in the evolution of our new music community in San Francisco this past week at the New Music Gathering. I found myself describing it as a “reunion for friends who had never met each other,” but it was much more than that–it was proof in action that an environment that removes the problems of proximity, competition, and ego can generate an immense amount of collaboration, friendship, and growth.

Claire Chase in performance at the Gathering

Claire Chase in performance at the Gathering
Photo by Tina Tallon

For a first-run of a DIY conference that encompassed performers, ensembles, and composers equally, this year’s event was an unmitigated success. There was a good balance between known personalities, from Claire Chase’s wise and inspiring keynote address to the recently unshackled Allan Kozinn doing his best to attend everything, and younger professionals and students. There was a healthy tension between time and content throughout the events–so much good stuff and not enough time to cover everything in the allotted schedule. The concert scope was luxuriously wide–a Boulez-by-memory recital by Taka Kigawa was followed later in the evening with a recital honoring Terry Riley by Sarah Cahill, while a touching and plaintive vocal performance by Baltimore’s Megan Ihnen and Hillary LaBonte served as a wonderful counterpoint to the intricate choral harmonies of Volti.

The presentations were just as diverse as well as informative–from Lainie Fefferman’s participative discussion on new music vocal issues to Samatha Buker’s lecture on working with boards to my own panel on presenting new music, there was a lot of listening and questions and discussions that seemed to always pour out into the hallways after the formal presentations were complete. Finally, the Composer-Performer Speed Dating felt extremely valuable to everyone who I talked to; to be able to comfortably introduce oneself to a potential collaborator with no risk of rejection or judgement is something that could easily be replicated elsewhere, but because of the wealth of attendees from around the country, this event seemed to succinctly encapsulate all of the goals of the conference at one time and in one place.

Obviously much gratitude and recognition needs to be directed toward the quartet of New Yorkers who not only came up with the idea, but had the foresight to hold its initial outing on the West Coast, where the San Francisco Conservatory proved to be a fantastic venue. Kudos should also be given to the many professionals who came out and supported this experiment; the New Music Gathering could have been a disaster if it had been weakly attended, but as one of the seemingly overarching themes of the conference was the support of intelligent risk-taking, the successful outcome will hopefully inspire the sustainability of this important new aspect of our community.

Isaac Schankler

It’s really hard for me to pick highlights from the weekend because I had so many positive experiences and interactions, and did my fair share of presenting and performing as well. But the Established Ensembles panel was especially notable, with administrators and artists representing the Kronos Quartet (Sidney Chen and Christina Johnson), ICE (Claire Chase), and Alarm Will Sound (Gavin Chuck and Matt Marks) present. The sheer amount of brain power and experience on stage was staggering. Most interesting were the responses to a question about the challenges of incorporating entrepreneurial or administrative skills into the college music curriculum. All the panelists expressed reservations about this idea, with Chase going so far as to say that anything she could teach would immediately become obsolete. Chuck suggested a practicum class where students would have to do all the work of putting on a concert themselves.

The roundtable on women in new music was also vital, with Lainie Fefferman, Brenna Noonan, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Leaha Maria Villarreal, and Joelle Zigman mediating an extremely lively discussion with the audience. Topics covered included concert programming, young composer competitions, challenges unique to motherhood, ingrained fear of affirmative action, antagonistic teachers, and a lot more. What became abundantly clear is that there is no single solution to achieving gender parity in new music–it’s a war that must be waged on all fronts.

Gathering organizers Daniel Felsenfeld, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Lainie Fefferman, and Matt Marks on stage.

Gathering organizers Daniel Felsenfeld, Mary Kouyoumdjian, Lainie Fefferman, and Matt Marks on stage.
Photo by Tina Tallon

Performance-wise, again, ugh, how can I possibly choose? But I was literally and figuratively shaken by Vanessa Langer’s arresting performance of David Coll’s Position, influence for soprano and sound sculpture. Coll’s metallic sculpture moaned and keened in sympathy with the virtuosic vocals of Langer, who played her part with an exaggerated theatricality perfectly suited to the outsized nature of the piece. On Saturday night, the Living Earth Show put on a multimedia extravaganza with 100 minutes of memorized music including pieces by Brian Ferneyhough and Luciano Chessa, multiple costume changes, video projection, abrasive electronics, choreographed flashlights, and a Moby Dick-inspired interlude in which the audience was served smoked fish and instant coffee. Not all of the individual parts worked by themselves, but as a gestalt experience it was completely engrossing.

So, the New Music Gathering was basically a big party for ourselves, and as a party, it was an indisputably incredible one. But I couldn’t help but wonder what my experience would have been like if I wasn’t the target demographic. I met someone who unabashedly described himself as a composer of “mostly new age music and show tunes.” How did he feel about the whole shebang? I didn’t ask. But the thought kept coming back to me. The Gathering managed to be admirably inclusive within the existing new music community, which is in and of itself an impressive feat. Now, how could we be more inclusive to the uninitiated?

Shaya Lyon

Kronos Quartet and Wu Man talk about their years together, with moderator Mary Kouyoumdjian.

Kronos Quartet and Wu Man talk about their years together, with moderator Mary Kouyoumdjian. Photo by Shaya Lyon.

I’m reeling from the sheer volume of ideas, music, and friendliness that filled these past three days. Every conference should be at least half as productive as this one. The recipe: bring together a bunch of people who love what they do and are committed to doing it more and better. Give them a safe forum to talk about what they know, and how they do, and encourage many questions. Create spaces where they can discover kindred spirits with the purpose of future collaboration. Avoid sales and pitches. Be supportive. Make the goal to advance the collective goal. Rejoice. Eat. Listen. And then sleep.

Throughout the New Music Gathering, I heard composers and musicians talk about challenges with documentation, collaboration, defining a vision, making decisions, making a living–issues not unique to new music. Raw, creative, and largely uncharted, new music may be eliciting questions we’ve long forgotten how to ask in other, more established industries.

Sideband Mobile Quartet (Lainier Fefferman, Anne Hege, Daniel Iglesia and Jascha Narveson) performs with tether controllers. Video courtesy Shaya Lyon.
This is my favorite question of the weekend, a gem from Aaron Siegel (to paraphrase): How can we better ourselves? In order to keep improving at our trade, we need to probe that which is unknown to us. How do we do that? How do we figure out what we don’t know, in order to learn about it? One way is to reach for the fringe (of what we know, what we’re comfortable with).

I leapt at this conference: new music, new people. And the newness didn’t disappoint: there was awkward, and there was awesome. So much to learn.

Composer-musician speed dating; Lainie Fefferman on left.

Composer-musician speed dating; Lainie Fefferman on left. Photo by Shaya Lyon.

Nat Evans

New Music Gathering overall I would say was really successful, and I got a lot out of attending (and presenting) there. Even though it was sort of billed as a “conference-that’s-not-a-conference” it most definitely still was…a conference, which is fine, as this particular one fills a void that exists for a lot of contemporary music. That being said, in the end it still mainly represented the healthy presence of around 100 people who all interact with each other on social media and are in most cases under 40. Is that a healthy cross section of our microcosm? Most definitely! But, it’s not all of it by any means. That’s not the fault of the NMG organizers, as this is the first year and organizing something as big as this is an enormous and oftentimes thankless task, but I do hope that in the coming years people from a more representative cross-section of the music world take notice and apply to be a part of it–I have a feeling that the thoughtful curators will be interested in expanding to represent more ideas in the future.

Also, as great as a lot of the panels, performances, and interactions at the conference were, it also was simply an invaluable time for getting to talk with and meet people from all over the country–some of whom I’d even worked with professionally before but hadn’t actually met. That face-to-face time with folks even if for five or ten minutes seemed to be as much of what the conference was about as anything formally presented.

Garrett Schumann

I had an incredible experience at the New Music Gathering last week, and I think the founders–Daniel Felsenfeld, Matt Marks, Lainie Fefferman, and Mary Kouyoumdjian–deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the event’s success. They led by example as they welcomed a group of wildly different composers and performers to the San Francisco Conservatory, and their enthusiastic selflessness infected everyone who attended and participated in the event. This uncommon leadership resulted in a palpable sense of community that was deeply supportive and encouraging of anyone’s contribution to new music. I left San Francisco inspired but wistful, knowing that feeling of togetherness is a rare thing in our world. However, at least I believe I can count on finding it once a year at future New Music Gatherings.

Judah Adashi

I was delighted to attend the inaugural New Music Gathering (NMG2015) as a composer, artistic director and teacher. My collaborator, cellist and teacher Lavena Johanson, and I presented a performance and talk entitled Putting on a Show: Bringing the Alternative Venue Into the Concert Hall. Lavena played a short concert, performing Caroline Shaw’s in manus tuas for unaccompanied cello and my own my heart comes undone for cello and loop pedal. My piece was accompanied by the premiere of a short film by Tim Holt, featuring dancer Sara Paul. After the performance, I shared some thoughts about creating an inviting communal experience around new music.

Lavena Johanson in performance at the Gathering.

Lavena Johanson in performance at the Gathering.
Photo by Judah Adashi

This was an apt topic for a festival-conference hybrid that achieved just that. I came away from NMG2015 deeply impressed by its organizers. It’s hard to imagine four artists more genuine in their intentions or generous in their approach. Lainie, Danny, Mary, and Matt were unfailingly enthusiastic, engaged, and responsive, committed to making NMG2015 the best possible experience for everyone who presented or attended. They set an ideal tone, striking a balance between familial informality and professionalism. The event was a testament to what happens when seasoned grassroots, D.I.Y. artists get together to create something on a large scale.

What excited me most about NMG, both in concept and realization, was the emphasis on the city in which it was held. NMG2015 warmly captured the spirit of San Francisco’s storied and vibrant new music scene, thanks in no small part to the remarkable facilities, resources, and personnel of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, as well as the Center for New Music. This meaningful connection to a city and its musical community strikes me as the singular heart of the NMG enterprise, and a durable template for its bright future.

Thank You For Your Reply

Area blocked off by masking tape with the words "Polite Line"

Polite Line – Outpost Project – Art from the streets – Cockatoo Island Sydney. CC Photo by Neerav Bhatt via Flickr.

It’s becoming a common refrain to hear of the decline of civility, etiquette, and good manners in our culture. Good social habits have seemingly been in decline for years, and the rise of the internet, with its volume and speed, has only diluted what remains of traditional proper conduct. We are all aware of this, right?
But until recently I never felt a lack of civility to be a major problem in the various music communities I have participated in. Music people have, in general, always seemed different to me—people who possess a higher level of character and integrity in pursuit of a particular calling.
In recent months, however, I’ve been stung repeatedly by a sense of indifference and sometimes even rudeness during interactions with colleagues in a way that I am not accustomed to. It seems that now, even in the new music world where we are all essentially in the same (sinking) boat, so-called professional courtesy is no longer a given.

Over the years, I have remained active as a composer, performer, presenter, and writer as well as an avid concert-goer. As a regularly engaged participant wearing many hats in the wider new music community, I have any number of active music-related conversational threads—about concert ideas, proposals, applications—going on at any given time. While some of these threads are part of large-scale processes that don’t always guarantee a response (like job searches or competitions for grants and residencies), many are much more local and personal, involving colleagues and friends I have had ongoing relationships with over many years. It’s one thing if the brass at Lincoln Center doesn’t respond to your unsolicited concert proposal. It’s quite another when a friend who runs a concert series invites you to make a proposal, and then when you do so completely ignores it.

Or when an organization that you’ve worked with off and on for years in various capacities has a major job opening and you apply. Now we all know how tough the market is these days and we never expect to land the job. But isn’t it reasonable to expect that at least your interest would be acknowledged? You are, after all, a friend and colleague, an integral part of the community. But apparently this is no longer the norm.

There are hierarchies, both social and economic, and one way power is too often reinforced is by ignoring those beneath you. But the power equation is not always what you might perceive it to be. So far I’ve talked about the insensitivity of organizations to artists seeking opportunities, but as a presenter, coordinator, or administrator, I’ve encountered artists being similarly insensitive or indifferent to the attention and support they have received from an organization if they feel that organization is less important than they are. When an organization takes an interest in your work, you should at least acknowledge it even if you aren’t able to act on it right away, rather than just ignore or reject it.

Why should we all care about this? Why, for example, should important organizations with busy schedules and high-profile happenings be concerned about random artists that they aren’t currently interested in? Why should artists respond to queries from smaller organizations that might have presented them in the past even if they’re busy or have moved on to bigger venues? Well for one thing, it reflects well on you when you appear accessible, even if technically you aren’t. Most of us in new music are as much a part of the audience as we are the talent, and so it behooves us to be respectful to everyone on all sides.

But also, things can change. When in the role of a presenter and someone approaches me unsolicited, I may not have the time or the inclination to really explore their work right away, but I might the following week (or the following year). Or I might have some false perception about an artist that, through some unexpected turn of events, might completely change. You never know. So I always respond and at least acknowledge that I received their proposal. And as an artist, when I approach someone out of the blue, it’s understood that they might not have any interest in me or my work, and if that’s the case, I can handle it! But if I never hear anything back from them, I’ll never know. If anything, being ignored will turn me off to them as a potential audience member and interested party in the wider community, and that means something.

So what can we do? I know we are all busy busy busy and we all get a thousand emails a day, but it seems to me that responding to your colleagues should be a top priority, regardless of the circumstances. The health of the art and the artists and institutions that pursue it depend in large part on open channels of communication and information. When these exchanges go dark, I am reminded of a story I read about the writer Anne Beattie who, at the very beginning of her career, submitted over a dozen stories to The New Yorker before eventually having one accepted for publication. Now we may not all eventually succeed in our pursuits as she did, but imagine if you were to make a proposal to an organization over a dozen times and they actually responded every time! That would be some useful information, right? Comparing a new music organization with The New Yorker may not be fair, but it’s worth noting that such a prominent institution makes it a priority to respond, as a matter of policy.

There are those in the music world who share this value, and I commend them. As often as I am disappointed by the silence I meet, I am also sometimes pleasantly surprised by the warmth of a response. I only wish it were more often. We live in an age of “signals,” where clicks, likes, opens, views, and plays are monitored and analyzed obsessively. But unfortunately we seem to have stopped sending the most important signal of all—our actual, personal attention. I think we can do better. In the same way that, in the internet age, I have come to embrace the mantra that “it’s better to like than to lurk,” I have embraced the idea that it’s better to respond than to ignore. I invite you to join me.


Dan Joseph is a composer based in New York City. For the past fifteen years, the hammer dulcimer has been the primary vehicle for his music and he is active as a performer with his own chamber ensemble, The Dan Joseph Ensemble, as well as in various improvisational collaborations and as an ocassional soloist. He is also the producer and curator of the monthly music and sound series Musical Ecologies at The Old Stone House in Park Slope, Brooklyn.


Last week seems so long ago…

Over the weekend, reports of a hurricane slamming into the Caribbean—an unfortunately common occurrence at this time of year—were easy to miss. As it moved up the coast, the media dubbed it a “Frankenstorm”, a moniker that, while technically accurate and clever, failed to impart the true nature of what was to come. By late Sunday and early Monday, Facebook and Twitter gave those of us living away from the Eastern seaboard the impression that our friends on the coast were cheerfully looking forward to riding out the storm with variations of hurricane-related cocktails and selections from Netflix. As Hurricane Sandy and the various weather systems that converged on the eastern half of the United States began to unleash their power, it still didn’t seem all that bad from our vantage point in western New York. (The 60+ mph winds that were buffeting us off of Lake Erie that night are not exactly rare here in the Snow Belt.)

It was, indeed, that bad.

As power was (and still is) out for much of New York and New Jersey, it has taken some time to begin to piece together what effects Hurricane Sandy has had on the new music community, but here’s what I’ve found out so far:

New Amsterdam Records had recently moved into their new 3000 square foot headquarters in Red Hook, but from the following report by co-founder Sarah Kirkland Snider, these headquarters sustained massive damage from the storm. Quoting from her Facebook page:

“Our new New Amsterdam HQ in Red Hook was totaled by Sandy. The water mark is over 4′. We had moved much of the office to higher ground prior to the storm, and elevated everything else, but we still lost all files/paperwork, a hard drive, some furniture, vintage synthesizers and music gear, and most of our CD stock. Our landlord does not have flooding insurance, and our attempts to acquire it before the storm were denied. There is some talk of FEMA helping uninsured Red Hook businesses, but that seems like a long shot. Stunned and heavy-hearted we are.”

I spoke with William Brittelle, one of the other co-founders of New Amsterdam Records (along with Judd Greenstein) Thursday morning about the situation. He spoke about being disheartened when they first explored the damage (in the dark, of course) and about having to leave the premises soon after for fear of being overcome with fumes from bleach, paint thinner, oil, gas, and other materials that made up the four foot-deep noxious soup in their headquarters while buses and overturned boats floated in the street outside. Brittelle was also amazed by the outpouring of support that Snider’s Facebook post garnered, speaking of the hundreds of people who had contacted them with offers of help and of the “fabric of relationships” that were helping the NewAm organization get through this ordeal.

New Amsterdam Records has created a page on their website for anyone who wants to help support them in their cleanup efforts. From that page:

“Despite the many hours we spent on Sunday preparing for the storm–stacking furniture on cinder-blocks and moving everything we could to higher ground–our space was flooded with almost four feet of polluted sea water. As a result, about 70% of our catalog of CDs has been destroyed–CDs we hold on behalf of our artists (we do not own them). Literally ALL of our financial records were destroyed, including our back-up hard-drive. Sewage, gas, spilled paint thinner, and bleach all blended with seawater, creating a toxic mess. A mess that is sure to corrode our newly installed drywall, kitchen cabinets, and office furniture. Musical equipment, amps, and priceless vintage synthesizers were also destroyed, along with countless personal items, clothing, two sofas, records, and other furniture. Thankfully, our donated Steinway grand piano dodged the bullet, as it was wrapped in a huge plastic tarp; the water mark from the flood was drawn literally inches from the piano’s lid.

Over the last few months, we’ve invested countless hours preparing our space, and thousands of dollars renovating it — money and time we were hoping to make up for with a series of public events and private fundraisers this fall and winter. Now that plan is in severe jeopardy. Our financial future is intimately tied to our space; we were “all in,” so to speak. After sharing news of our plight on Facebook, literally hundreds of you have offered to help. The outpouring of love and concern from our larger community has been staggering and truly inspiring. At the suggestion of a number of NewAm friends and artists, we have decided to create this page—an official home for our Hurricane Relief Fund. If you would like to donate to our recovery effort, please click the link below. You donation will be fully tax deductible, and will be returned with heartfelt thanks and supreme gratitude.”

Finally, here is a Flickr account with some pre- and post-destruction photos of the space.

Our beautiful headquarters was really coming together before Sandy. This shot was taken just weeks before the storm.

Our donated Steinway grand was wrapped in a tarp. We've yet to assess the damage.

Composer Valerie Ghent blogs about the damage to Westbeth Artists Housing where many musicians, artists, writers, directors, choreographers, and filmmakers live and work. Ghent writes:

“Westbeth Artists Housing, my home in the West Village of New York City, has been severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Nine feet of water flooded the basement, destroying the boiler, oil tank, pumps and electrical equipment. Music studios, musical instruments, sculpture studios, metal-working and wood-working studios in the basement are literally gone. Some artists have lost a lifetime of work. Currently there is 5′ of water standing in the basement.

All performances and exhibitions, including the Westbeth Gallery, Martha Graham Dance, Brecht Forum, are canceled until further notice.

There is no power, water, heat in the entire building. No elevators. Tenants are using candles and flashlights to navigate the pitch black stairwells and hallways. Neighbors are checking on one another, going from apartment to apartment, paying close attention to the elderly and disabled tenants.

Oil and gas fumes are apparent throughout the building, from the gas and oil from flooded cars on surrounding streets and the damaged oil tank in the basement. It is likely that even after power is restored to the neighborhood Westbeth will remain without power as the transformers in the basement were also flooded.”

The Kitchen is rescheduling concerts because of reported damage to their theater space.

Newspeak reportedly had members flooded in, and had to postpone their concert at the Atlas Performing Arts Center in Washington D.C. Newspeak founders David Little and Eileen Mack sent this in:

“As a result of hurricane Sandy, Newspeak and the Atlas Performing Arts Center made the decision to postpone our November 2 show. Initially, we were hoping that we could make it work, but it became increasingly clear that getting everyone in the band together for our last couple of rehearsals, or even to rendezvous to drive to DC would be almost impossible. Our eight band members all live in different parts of the NYC area–Brooklyn, downtown, the Heights and further afield–and looking at the hard facts of the situation, it didn’t feel like we could safely make it work. But we’re talking with Atlas now to find a new date, so stay tuned!”

Bargemusic, with its dockside location, seems to have survived the storm with relatively minor damage.

Many concerts were forced to cancel or be rescheduled—a good list of those in NYC can be found here at WQXR’s website.

An example of one of those event reschedulings occurred in Baltimore. After having just raised almost $10,000 in a Kickstarter campaign, Judah Adashi’s Evolution Music Series opening concert featuring the music of Kaija Saariaho had been scheduled for Tuesday night, but out of concern for the performers and audience the concert was rescheduled for November 28.

Even with one of the worst storms to hit the area in recorded history bearing down on the East Coast, some composers kept working sans electricity, as can be seen here in Mohammed Fairouz’s candlelit studio:

Working by candlelight

I’m sure that many more effects from the storm will be revealed over the next few days and weeks. The flight cancellations alone will have a ripple effect for quite some time, with many composers and performers unable to travel to or from their concert and festival destinations. In the meantime, it is important to point out how much this event highlights the delicate situation many composers, performers, and new music organizations are in; with concerts being rescheduled or cancelled, electricity being scarce for many along the east coast, travel being next to impossible for many communities, and communication lines tenuous at best, the ultimate ramifications of this week’s weather event, while unknown, will most likely be felt for quite some time.

Sincerely, John Cage

If there’s one event that can unite the American new music community, such as it is, in shared admiration, it must be this year’s Cage centennial. I spoke with my continuing-ed class yesterday about Cage, in particular his under-discussed prewar music, and it was difficult for me to convey the magnitude of Cage’s contribution to music and musical thought. One student asked, as listeners freshly exposed to Cage often do, whether Cage really expected us to take his propositions seriously; before I could answer, another student piped up that he had spent some time over the past week Googling Cage’s name in search of video and audio content. Making my heart glad, the second student avowed that, having listened to Cage talk about music, after hearing his voice, he was sure the composer wasn’t winding us up: You have only to listen to him discuss his work to know he had to be sincere.

That same student brought with him to class a concert program from 1967: As it turned out, he had witnessed a concert featuring pieces by Cage, David Tudor, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Alvin Lucier, and Lowell Cross at Hope College in Michigan more than forty years ago! The final piece was the famous 0’00”, which Cage performed by reading a book and smoking a cigarette under (as specified) heavy amplification. What a remarkable coincidence.

I’m not yet sure what Cage performances await me this year—many, I hope. However many it ends up being, I look forward to that very rare feeling that they bring: A special peanut butter cup of familiarity, comfort with the literature I owe to my UMBC education, and the unfamiliarities, the epiphanies, Cage’s music can bring about. There’s never been a better time to hear (or play!) some Cage; I hope America’s musical institutions, old and new, seize the opportunity to give the man’s work its due.