This spring I was lucky to hike the length of the Grand Enchantment Trail, a 750+ mile continuous foot path that meanders from Phoenix to Albuquerque. The “GET” is a wonderful endeavor, and a fairly incredible tour of southern Arizona and New Mexico, particularly the area in and around the headwaters of the Gila River. I am deeply grateful to have visited for so long such an interesting and scenic part of the world. I anticipated that I would be awed by the southwestern landscapes, and I am happy to admit that I underestimated the beauty of the people of the southwest, which was certainly as inspiring as the plentiful vistas. Thank you to everyone who helped make this trip possible; my parents, my partner Noemi, my brother Nate, Heather “Steady” Werderman, Dave “Two Ply” Mashhoodi, Brett “Blisterfree” Tucker, and all the folks who lent a helping hand along the way; Gerry “Uncle Scairy”, Wayne from Klondyke, Bonnie Garwood, Otie, Manuel Osano, The Los Lunas Police Department, Andy Tapia, The Winston General Store, Cary from Glenwood, Samantha and Carl, Violet Dankmeyer, Thompson Ranch, Stacy Ranch, and The Maes Family. Thank you for helping me see a part of the world I have longed to visit.
Bounty Hunter, Filthy Figaro and myself got to spend 5 days in Kings Canyon National Park last week doing some cross-country travel around 11,000 feet. The weather was perfect, and everything seemed to be exceptionally comfortable and easy, even the mosquitoes. The scenery was more beautiful than I remembered from my travels through the area in 2014 on the Pacific Crest Trail. The high country above 11k reminded me somehow of an ice desert, almost as if it were a reflection of the great deserts to the east and south. Like my time spent in the desert, I found myself deeply enjoying the tenuous, exposed beauty of the High Sierra, while secretly relishing a fear of being so close to a raw, briefly welcoming edge of our natural world.
When I was in college I religiously attended the Composers, Inc. concert series, partly because they offered a generous student discount ($5 tickets!), and more importantly because the series always featured the best performers of contemporary music in the bay area, playing new music by an interesting variety of composers. Through these concerts I was exposed to a LOT of compelling music, and my participation as an audience member was a big part of my education as a composer. I’m stoked that after a decade of being a fan, I’m now a participant.
Composers, Inc will feature my piece Coyote Plan on their !BAMM! concert series coming up this Saturday, May 21st. Doug Machiz (cello), Kevin Rogers (violin), and Ian Scarfe (piano) will no doubt rip my composition into itty-bitty little pieces. Coyote Plan was my first attempt to relish the craft of writing a good part, and I’m very excited to hear how it comes off in the skilled hands of Ian, Doug, and Kevin. I titled my composition Coyote Plan because I composed it the way a coyote might approach her day – intuitively selecting those (musical) opportunities which seemed most interesting and nourishing.
I’m also really looking forward to hearing a new composition by my good friend Ryan Brown. Ryan’s music has a consistently thoughtful and poignant edge to it – I can’t wait to hear what new sound worlds he is exploring. Here’s the details for the event:
Venue: First Congregational Church – Berkeley
Date: Sat May 21, 2016 8:00pm
“Smear Music” for string quartet by Taylor Joshua Rankin
“Coyote Plan” for piano trio by Max Stoffregen
“Juke” for two marimbas by Howard Hersh
“Get-Go” for flute trio by Ryan Brown*
“Three Elements” for string quartet by Brian Baumbusch
“Illusion, in the deep of the abyss” for vilao and electronics by Fang-Wei Luo
I am always stoked when a New Year rolls around. In addition to being a basic plus that I’m still vertical at least half of any given day, it is inevitably for me, a time of valuable reflection on my thoughts, beliefs, and past actions. A few days ago I found myself mesmerized by an interesting rock I had on my desk; losing myself in its colorful bands, I remembered the awesome rock collection I had as a kid, and my childhood belief that rocks were great storytellers. In 2016 I’m still doing the same thing I did as a kid in 1992; digging on our natural world. Some things change, but others happily do not.
Of those things that do change, I’m grateful to acknowledge some of the positive changes for me in 2015!
I successfully transitioned back to the west coast! After a few years of living in Texas, then New York City, and then 6 months of travel, it feels GREAT to be back home. I can’t figure out which was a better – leaving or coming back.
I got an awesome job! I recently started working at the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir, and I am stoked to be part of such an excellent organization, surrounded by so many talented, interesting, and passionate kids and adults. In addition to my part-time accompanist duties at Contra Costa Children’s Choir, I feel genuinely blessed to be gainfully employed exclusively in the arts.
I am super excited about an upcoming album project with the Delphi Trio and John Vanderslice. I’m not sure all the when/what/how of the project, except that I will be doing the arrangements for a full length album, and that I will be working with nothing but ninjas. Could shape up to be something really special.
I’m also excited to start the process of recording and releasing my own album. Over the past few years, I’ve been lucky to write original music for The Delphi Trio, Todd Reynolds, Friction Quartet, Kendra Emery, Jeff Anderle and the Switchboard Music Festival, and the Art in Nature festival; all of these compositions are united by the muse they worship – our natural world – and I feel like I finally have made a coherent statement as a composer, so it’s time to represent.
Here’s to 2016 – more art, more collaboration with friends, more time spent outside…sounds like a plan.
Tomorrow morning I will be back on the Pacific Crest Trail near Mt. Shasta, right where I left off last year. I am super stoked and very grateful to be heading out on another extended trip. My goal is to make it to the Columbia River Gorge, but I look forward to whatever tangents, side trips and obstacles that may exist between me and there. In some ways I hope I never finish the PCT. I like to think of the PCT as trail in the sky that goes on forever and will never be conquered by any human, let alone me. Of course, people do finish it. People do it twice in one year. I even heard a tale of a person who attempted (on a dare) to hike the whole trail in a wedding dress. One thing I know; I am headed towards Mt. Shasta, Crater Lake, the Three Sisters, and Mt. Hood, and if I do get to set my eyes upon such landscapes, I will gaze long and happily.
An extremely well-informed review of Friction’s concert last Friday. The reviewer, Rebecca Wishnia, wrote about my composition The California Crest with a level of insight that makes me wonder if she had a score handy while writing. In fact, she simply has ridiculously sharp ears.
This is an article I wrote for the Pacific Crest Trail Association blog where I get a chance to talk in depth about my approach to writing music inspired by the natural environment, and the nature (ha!) of my collaborative efforts with Friction string quartet. Thank you to the PCTA for giving me a turn to sing my praises and share my thoughts!
This is a reboot of a song called This Land that Odessa Chen and I wrote together. I played a mix of a recording of the song for my buddy Keegan Stokes while we we were relaxing one night over some cold beers, and Keegan started singing the hook to It’s Raining Game by Mac Dre & Raphael Saadiq over an instrumental break in the track. The Mac Dre reference fit the the song really appropriately (since both songs are about living in the bay area) and I knew instantly that I had to do a reboot of This Land that incorporated the hook from It’s Raining Game. The idea of putting Odessa, Mac Dre, and Raphael Saadiq on a track together where they are all singing about the bay was way too magical to pass up.
I was walking through Tuolumne Grove this past news years day, gazing happily upon an indescribably massive Giant Sequoia, when I noticed a Coyote sauntering past the base of the giant tree. I am fascinated by Coyotes. Several years ago I discovered rather by accident that whistling to a coyote will often pique its curiosity and thus slow its gait, giving me more time to observe and admire the animal. Apparent lovers of song and virtuosic singers themselves, Coyotes seem to me natural born musicians; rambling, expressive, intelligent, social, yet aloof and wary. And so I whistled. As I hoped, it slowed. I whistled again, a variation on my tune. It stopped. I whistled some more. Placing itself just behind a tree so as to become invisible in the diffuse early winter light, it casually laid down. Coyotes seem to do this instinctively – no matter how curious they are, care is always taken to remain invisible yet observant. It was a lovely moment. Then I remembered where I was.
This Coyote was no doubt aware that the Tuolumne Grove is a popular place for tourists like myself, who often accidentally drop tasty snacks from their pockets in moments of reverie. Perhaps there are even some visitors who still find it entertaining to feed wildlife when encountered. As I stood whistling tunes, I also remembered who I was dealing with – Old Man Coyote, the famous trickster – and it dawned upon me who was regaling who. I remembered what the human ego has wrought. We think of ourselves highly as a species, and I am no different. Impressed with my own whistling skills (I am a better whistler than singer, which says little), I believed I was directing the encounter. I could almost hear the universe laughing as this thought dissolved. Comfortably lain with attentive ears perked, the Coyote was playing an utterly convincing role as attentive listener. But it was in fact I who was being regaled. In a masterstroke of cognition and perception, the Coyote both fooled and charmed me, all while giving himself potential access to a novel food source. All he had to do was stop, rest, and be seen. Perhaps this Coyote sensed in me that he had an enthusiastic audience, just as I thought the same of him.
As these thoughts occurred to me and then came together in my mind, I stopped whistling and decided it was time to leave Old Man Coyote be. He remained elegantly lain in a pile of sequoia needles as I turned my back and continued my happy stroll through the grove. I wished I could leave some gift for him in return for being such a gracious teacher, though what gift I did not know. Large undisturbed tracts of land would be a nice start. Perhaps it is true among animals as well that giving is the greatest gift, and that Old Man Coyote was content with the lesson he gave me.
I don’t usually celebrate when I finish working on a composition, but this time I am. Having spent the last year dreaming about, planning for, walking, and finally spending too much time sitting alone in a room composing music about the Pacific Crest Trail, I am done with my string quartet for Friction Quartet. It was a privilege to be inspired by such a magnificent landscape. I am grateful that this project allowed me to further explore the complex paradox that the natural world presents and that music embodies. I have discovered absolutely nothing new, but I learned much; the glorious, vexing multitude of sounds made by the common raven (a piece waiting to be written); ants are gods who command respect; the land is alive and vigorous and will be forever; that if I find myself at a road crossing in the Mojave Desert, strangers might be waiting there with ripe peaches, cinnamon rolls, and mango drinks. How do these thoughts play out musically? I don’t know. All is possible.
So, to celebrate the conclusion of my compositional adventure I have decided to return to the PCT…on snowshoes! I’m headed out today to spend a few days in the back—country at a ski hut the Sierra Club maintains just north of the Clair Tappaan Lodge near Donner Pass. The hut happens to be right off the PCT and I remember checking it out last August, so hopefully I’ll be able to re-locate it easily. Clair Tappaan was one of my favorite pit stops last summer on the PCT and I’m hoping to make visiting here a personal tradition, especially in the winter.
Thanks so much for reading — happy holidays!