NEW VIDEO: PROJECT Trio’s “Sloeberry Jam”

by Maggie Molloy

Comprised of three classically-trained musicians with an ear for eclecticism, PROJECT Trio​ brings humor, charisma, technical prowess, and clever arrangements to classical repertoire and pop music alike.

Check out our brand new video of the trio performing their sweet and syrupy “Sloeberry Jam” at Town Hall Seattle:

Like what you hear? Check out our video library for more contemporary and cross-genre works from some of the biggest names in new music!

5 Tips for Handling Procrastination

by Joshua Roman

If you’re like me, your days are full of blank calendar space but long to-do lists. I essentially run a small business, and while I have partners such as a manager and publicist, there’s plenty of busy-work to fill each and every day. Problem is, since I’m not at an office with coworkers, I have to be a manager to myself, as my only full time employee! Given the lack of structure around my time, I’ve tried to implement various kinds of self-imposed schedules, but it’s tough with the randomness of traveling and performing.

Being someone who is naturally prone to procrastination, it’s a subject I’m become far more familiar with than I’d like. However, this has given me a few helpful go-to habits that might be useful for your own challenges of prioritization. Whether you’re a self-employed musician, or a full-time job holder with the tendency to put things off, perhaps these can help you get your day going as well.

1) Change your space.
A lot of times I find myself easily distracted by the things that surround me. One of my favorite ways to procrastinate is to reorganize my space so it feels “just right”. Of course, once I finish doing that, I have to enjoy the fresh feeling for a while. Then, there are the habits that are triggered by seeing my laptop and the couch, the books on my shelves, the light-fixture project that hasn’t been finished yet… you get the picture. While on a normal day, any of these things can be a good and necessary task, when the mood of procrastination sets in they become obstructions to the prioritization of whatever I’m avoiding. So, moving to another room, especially a pretty empty one, is helpful. Our bedroom doesn’t have bookshelves and usually is devoid of electronic devices, so dragging my chair in there is often a great way to kick-start whatever practicing I can’t seem to do in the living room. If you’re lucky enough to have a studio, keep it optimized for focus! Hotel rooms, oddly enough, often do the trick for me as well. I stopped watching “real” tv long ago, so a hotel room is a simple space with no distractions other than what I bring in my bag. Whatever it is for you – a change of scenery can often help shift your mindset as well.

2) Start with the big things, in small chunks.
Maybe you find yourself, as I do, procrastinating by doing all of the little things that are also necessary. Perhaps there’s a big piece you need to learn, but it looks complicated, so practicing more familiar rep over and over again gives just enough of a sense of accomplishment to reward that need for productivity, without having to tackle the “big deal”. Same can be true of starting a new composition, or really any task that seems monolithic before it’s broken down. And that, right there, can be the key: break it down. Don’t try to learn the piece all at once, let yourself read through it, go on to something else, and then make a schedule that divides the learning process into chunks. Almost every project or task is made up of smaller elements, and if you find yourself feeling anxiety when thinking about the totality of a project, zooming in on the individual elements can be a good way to get yourself started.

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3) Start with the little things.
Sometimes getting started can be more effective if you approach it in a subtly different way – if you are being super hard on yourself, thinking things like “I’ll never amount to anything if I don’t get this done today”, or “I’m just a lazy bum”, then you might do better starting with the low hanging fruit. Example: emails! Sometimes I’ll set a timer for 30 minutes, and clear all browser windows except Gmail so that I can start to clear up the inbox. This is more of a rolling start – as each success happens, mark it and look for something slightly bigger until you’re replying to that one email that requires research for a thoughtful reply. The timer is important here, once it goes off, give yourself a moment to enjoy the small win, then head over to your schedule or whatever you use to manage your time, and plot out the bigger immediate goals. I also think it’s important to schedule time for scheduling! This lets you check in on your progress and adjust for the best results.

4) Schedule your play time.
I think there’s a little kid somewhere inside of me that’s always concerned I’m working too hard. What if I never get around to the “fun” stuff? Sometimes setting aside time in my schedule for relaxing, hanging out, or even watching a movie will assuage those subconscious worries and help me stay focused. It may even be that those moments of play are a good goal to look forward to, a motivating force to help push through the To Do’s. Breaks of any kind help – usually when I practice or compose I make myself stop for ten minutes every hour. No matter what I end up doing, it gives the brain a rest and allows me to refocus in a more powerful way upon returning to the work.

5) Buddy up
Accountability is a powerful thing. Being near other people who are working hard has always gone a long way towards inspiring me to stay focused, as well. This is not always easy, or possible, with the self-composed work life. However, having a friend – even at a distance – to check in with and report to can be a big help. Someone who won’t let you make lame excuses, but understands the challenges of what you do as well. It’s not necessary that the people around you be musicians, artists, or anything similar, really. Work buddies are about creating a sense of responsibility that goes beyond your inner voice.

These are just some of the tricks I use to get moving again. There are many useful books and tools out there – and some might even say procrastinating is not always the worst thing to do. Of course, even when it’s useful, there is a limit. Here are a couple of videos from TED with different perspectives on procrastination. Share your own favorite tips and tools below – I’m always looking for more ways to be effective with my time!

Cutting Through the Noise

by Joshua Roman

We’re so fast.

So. Fast.

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It’s breathtaking, really, if you think back even ten years, to the advent of the iPhone. The internet was something to be checked on a few times a day, unless you happened to be sitting in front of a computer. Very few people were constantly plugged in. Now, it’s the complete opposite.

This is not a new trope; only an acceleration of a theme common throughout human development especially after the industrial age. As we create more and more ways to bring convenience into our everyday life, time for reflection and articulation becomes harder to find. In a world of increasingly instantaneous sharing, the pressure to be immediate exerts itself in ways we do not yet fully understand, and our sense of balance can get lost.

I’m not anti-technology; I’m not even against a fast-paced life. I love living in New York City! But I cherish the moments I get in nature, in silence, in solitude. With the constantly increasing noise surrounding us as we try to stay up-to-date, I think it is important that we embrace the opportunities we have to work on a longer game with the same energy we embrace the new, the latest, the most up-to-date.

I’ve been working on drafts of a post to respond to emotions that are running high all around for the last couple of weeks, including mine. Something designed not to simply soothe, but hopefully to have a positive impact, however small it may be. One thing that strikes me as an avid follower of the news is that in fact, my emotions have been running high for over a year, not just recently. And I’ve felt a sense of urgency that doesn’t have a clear set of actions to solve whatever issues are bubbling underneath the surface.

I’m talking about life right now, but this is also relevant for artand for music. It’s so temptingand again, sometimes necessary and goodto be quick with what we do. Find the easiest fingering for a passage. The phrasing that is good enough. The interpretation that we might already have a knack for. That has served me well; my last post was about my experience and thoughts around improv. It doesn’t get much more immediate than that!* To contrast, though, there are times when something substantive demands a more thought out approach.

(*I will add that the most complete improv experiences I’ve had have been led or inspired by artists with the experience to approach even the moment-to-moment interaction with deep thoughtfulness)

I’ve been pondering and probing the various ways I can serve through my art—as a cellist, a composer, a curator, a writerand there are many. I’m working on concrete plans (again, the scale may not always be large, but the statement and course correction are important) that I will share soon. Some of them are simple codifications of practices and habits that are already manifest in some (disorganized) form, and some may end up being new directions as I seek input to help understand the actual results that affect other people.

Back to #Bach. This time with @ted.

A photo posted by Joshua Roman (@joshuaromancello) on

I felt an incredible amount of tension and animosity in the air in the days after the election and so I responded with Bach. This was not my original idea, but I could not find a quick way to articulate something with words that I believed would be true and also not make its way into one of the echo chambers that surround many of us, reinforcing only what we already think. In Bach I found something universal, something human, something that transcends the temporal. Is it enough? For someone with strong opinions like me, no. So there will be more.

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At the moment, though, I’m challenging myself to be true, rather than fast. To be thoughtful, rather than convenient. In both my art and in my life, as I work on depth rather than speed, slowing down is difficult and yet feels so right. There’s plenty of quick thinking and fast responding (just ask my girlfriend about my obsession with facts and “OK Google” on my phone), and finding the right balance is a constant adjustment.

My challenge to you: think before you _______. (*)

*Speak
*Write (music, that Facebook post, a text)
*Get out of bed
*Put bow to string, fingers to keys, lips to mouthpiece, etc…

Experiment with this balance between the hectic and immediate vs. the slow and thoughtful. It’s a pendulum which works best when swinging in tandem with your own internal rhythm, so take the time to notice what happens when you change it up. Look for other perspectives, explore; how does this practice affect your conversations? How does it affect your practice routine?

Art exists for many purposes, and one of the great benefits of practicing art is learning how to observe and tweak your own internal processes.

As I alluded before, this post comes in the middle of a time of reflection and preparation. Sometimes a period like this does not result in a huge outward change, but an inner realignment of the compass. I look forward to sharing the results of this process with you, and encourage you to take the time to slow down and give yourself a chance to grow in all that you do, so that your actions, words, and sounds may have the full weight of purpose behind them. In doing so, perhaps you’ll manage to cut through some of the self-perpetuating noise out there and find a measure of confidence and peace on our shared journey as musicians, as artists, as humans.

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LIVE VIDEO STREAM: Town Music at Town Hall: Duos wtih Joshua Roman & Caroline Goulding

Join us Wednesday, October 5 at 7:30pm (PST) for a live video stream from Town Hall featuring our Artistic Advisor, Joshua Roman and the “precociously talented” violinist Caroline Goulding performing duos by Kodály, Ravel, and Handel-Halvorsen. If you’re in Seattle, we’d love to see you there! Get your tickets here and be sure to hello at the broadcast table in the lobby.

If you are expecting something small and dainty from this slim chamber music configuration, think again—the works on this program showcase the full power of these two world-class soloists. Halvorsen’s Passacaglia converts old harpsichord music by Handel into an epic display of Romantic virtuosity, while Kodály’s Duo channels the rustic energy of Hungarian folk music. In Ravel’s Sonata, a bewitching tribute to Debussy, the violin and cello produce a staggering array of colors and textures.

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ALBUM REVIEW: Northwestern University Cello Ensemble’s Shadow, Echo, Memory

by Brendan Howe

Inspired by his profound love for his new bride, Alma, Mahler saturated his Adagietto (the fourth movement of his Fifth Symphony) with his love of obsession and conflict. If you haven’t yet heard it performed by a world-class institution, I would recommend watching a clip of Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic perform the Adagietto so you get a sense of just how high the bar has been set with regard to the movement’s emotional capacity and execution.

For non-expert groups performing the masterpiece, walking the line between musical expression and self-indulgence often proves an impossible challenge. The Northwestern University Cello Ensemble, however, delivers a sublime performance that showcases both the work and the magnificent capacity of the cello to express the ineffable as the capstone track from their latest album, Shadow, Echo, Memory.

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The Adagietto rounds out the album’s emotional exhibition of the cello as well as its theme of capturing specific moments in larger contexts. Shadow, Echo, Memory was recorded by a total of 45 current students and 15 highly successful alums of Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music, under direction of the celebrated cellist and educator Hans Jørgen Jensen.

It is a collection of 19th, 20th, and 21st century music written and arranged for cello ensemble. The well-established idea of the cello’s unique ability to match the range and timbre of the human voice plays a large role, as Fauré’s Après un Rêve, Rachmaninov’s Vocalise, Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna, and contemporary composer Zachary Wadsworth’s Three Lacquer Prints are all arrangements of vocal works. What makes this album stand out, however, is the Ensemble’s ability to combine technical excellence with poignant depth (Kernis’ Ballad, Mahler’s Adagietto) and conceptual clarity (Wadsworth’s Three Lacquer Prints, van der Sloot’s Shadow, Echo, Memory) in a moving and accessible fashion.

The opening track of the album orients the audience solidly on the conceptual end of the spectrum. The vocal group The Esoterics had commissioned Wadsworth for a piece to premiere in October 2012, and he began fleshing out an idea he’d been contemplating – while poetry and music are narrative forms of art that share the characteristic of changing over time, the relationship between visual art and poetry (and accordingly, music) is both far less tangible and underrepresented.

In order to rectify this oversight, Wadsworth found inspiration in a collection of Amy Lowell’s verse poems on Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, written between 1913 and 1919 (the three pertinent poems are reproduced in the album booklet). Wadsworth was struck by the elegance with which Lowell captured single moments through the inferred context of her words while ultimately respecting their static nature.

Wadsworth took this string of artistic influence one step further by writing one vocal vignette each using the Lowell poems Temple Ceremony, A Year Passes, and A Burnt Offering. The pieces mold and elongate Lowell’s lyrics to lend valuable time and perspective to the motionless, print-inspired experience.

Adding a fourth artistic interpretation to the woodblock-poem-chorus dynasty already in play, the NU Cello Ensemble recorded arrangements of Wadsworth’s Three Lacquer Prints, removing the restrictions of language in favor of the familiar, interpretive qualities of cello music.

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Roland Pidoux arranged Fauré’s Après un Rêve with similarly emancipatory results, achieving a surreal dreamscape with eight cellos that would be unattainable with piano accompaniment. Van der Sloot’s titular track, Shadow, Echo, Memory, goes the furthest back into human history of all the pieces, drawing inspiration from Ice Age cave paintings. It opens with a spectral, water-droplet percussive quality, which feeds into the wide range of the unknowable creativity of the ancient mind – anxious slides, centered resolutions, fitful exclamations, and intense darkness.

As the album continues onward from the Rachmaninov through the Mahler, it becomes clear that the Ensemble has achieved their purported goal of using the cello to express textures of dark and light, bring to life sounds and images from another time, and finally to aid listeners in revisiting their own histories. It does indeed provide a fascinating, haunting individual experience to those who are up for a little soul-searching.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Maya Beiser’s TranceClassical

by Maggie Molloy

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Johann Sebastian Bach’s influence on the classical music tradition is immeasurable. Even now, nearly three centuries after his death, he remains one of the most performed composers of all time. Bach was the first of the three B’s, he was the golden standard against which all future composers would come to be measured—he was the undisputed king of counterpoint.

And he was also among the first composers that cellist Maya Beiser ever heard as a child, quickly becoming a central pillar in her musical development. Bach’s influence on Beiser extended far past her studies of the Baroque tradition or even the classical tradition—clear into her musical interpretations of 21st century compositions.

Beiser’s new album, TranceClassical, features the cutting-edge works of an incredible cast of contemporary composers: Michael Gordon, Imogen Heap, Glenn Kotche, Lou Reed, David Lang, Julia Wolfe, Mohammed Fairouz, and David T. Little.

And yet, the album is not wholly a product of the 21st century. TranceClassical is bookended by Beiser’s own arrangements of classic works by Bach and Hildegard von Bingen—and every 21st century work in between draws from the style, sensitivity, and skill of the early classical music tradition.

TranceClassical started from a washed-out still photo in my mind,” Beiser said. “Me, as a little girl curled with a blanket on her parents’ sofa, hearing Bach for the first time, hanging onto every mysterious note coming out of the scratchy LP. TranceClassical is the arc my mind sketches between everything I create and Bach—David Lang and Bach, Glenn Kotche and Bach, Michael Gordon and Bach.”

The album begins with Beiser’s own wistful arrangement of Bach’s famous “Air on the G String,” recreated as she first heard it in her childhood: the melody singing sweetly above the sounds of a distant, crackling LP.

Composer Michael Gordon’s “All Vows” features another meandering melody, this one echoing in churchlike reverberations. Interlacing cello motives transport the listener straight into a meditative trance, evoking a somber and nostalgic glance backward in music history.

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It’s followed by a glance forward: Beiser’s rendition of synth-pop superstar Imogen Heap’s “Hide and Seek.” Here we find Beiser singing in ghostly three part harmonies above a solemn cello accompaniment—all heavily processed to create an unshakable sense of eeriness and desolation.

The cello moves back to center stage for rock drummer Glenn Kotche’s contribution, “Three Parts Wisdom.” Densely layered to showcase Beiser’s remarkable cello chops, the piece features one fiercely challenging melodic line plus seven layers of computer-generated delays—and all happening in real time.

And speaking of rock stars: the album also features a rendition of the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin,” arranged by composer David Lang. But don’t expect the hypnotic drone of Lou Reed’s original two-chord tune—Lang’s arrangement is almost unrecognizable, layering Beiser’s despondent, breathless vocals above jagged cello arpeggios in this haunting rendition.

Composer Julia Wolfe’s “Emunah” is a different kind of haunting: the droning, dissonant, and anxiety-driven kind of haunting. Wordless vocals whisper above cello tremolo, relentlessly pulling the listener back and forth in time.

Arab-American composer Mohammed Fairouz’s “Kol Nidrei” is perhaps the most striking and evocative work on the album. The piece echoes of ancient cantorial styles, with Beiser singing sacred Arameic text above ominously deep, dark cello melodies.

The trance is broken, however, with the onset of composer David T. Little’s “Hellhound,” a metallic rock ‘n’ roll tune inspired by blues legend Robert Johnson’s song “Hellhound on my Trail.” Andrew McKenna Lee steps in on electric guitar, but Beiser shreds hard enough on her cello to rival his raging solos.

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And in another unexpected musical turn, the album ends with Beiser’s own cello arrangement of Hildegard von Bingen’s choral work “O Virtus Sapientiae.” (Yes, as in Hildegard the 11th century composer and Christian mystic you studied in music history class.) Beiser’s rendition, however, features no vocals at all—it doesn’t need any. The sacred, solemn melody of her cello is music enough.

And although medieval choral music seems a far cry from the metallic drone of the Velvet Underground, Beiser manages the full range of music on the album with skill, precision, and charisma. Because whether she’s playing Julia Wolfe or Imogen Heap, Michael Gordon, or even Lou Reed—there’s a little bit of Bach in all of it.

“No matter how far I venture, how rebellious, or avant-garde or electronic, my artistic mooring stays with the creation of this immense genius,” Beiser said. “The pieces I bring here give me a sense of trance—a reverie and meditation on his place in my heart.”

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ALBUM REVIEW: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble’s Sing Me Home

by Maggie Molloy

In light of recent tragedy and political turmoil around the world, we need music now more than ever—not as a distraction or an escape, but as a gateway toward experiencing our shared humanity. We need music to open our hearts, our ears, and our minds. We need music to connect us in ways which transcend language, religion, tradition, and geography.

That’s the idea behind Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, a global music collective comprised of performers and composers from over 20 countries throughout Asia, Europe, and North America.

With such an array of distinct cultures and musical voices present in their collective, the music of the Silk Road Ensemble is at once contemporary and ancient, familiar and foreign, traditional and innovative. The group makes culturally conscious music, drawing upon instruments, ideas, and traditions from around the world to create music that is reflective of our 21st century global society.

Their new album Sing Me Home is a musical culmination of this ethos. Silk Road members each selected a musical work of personal significance to them, then invited guest musicians from different cultural and musical backgrounds to collaborate with the ensemble on each piece.

Sing Me Home

The result is an album which travels fearlessly from the folk melodies of Macedonia to the traditional textiles of Mali, from the fiddle ditties of Ireland to the harvest songs of Galicia, and from the taiko tunes of Japan to the sitar suites of India.

“When you listen to the album you’ll hear how different our homes are,” Yo-Yo Ma said. “For us, this is one of the great pleasures of Silk Road: we celebrate difference; we cultivate curiosity in our exploration and generosity in our sharing. In our home, something completely unfamiliar presents a precious opportunity to build something new.”

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Released as a companion album to the documentary film The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, the album stands confidently on its own as a glimpse into the music and personal memories that most inspire the individual artists of the ensemble.

The journey begins with Chinese pipa player and composer Wu Man’s piece “Green (Vincent’s Tune).” Eastern folk melodies come alive through an orchestra of Chinese wind instruments, Western strings, Kamancheh (an Iranian bowed string instrument), assorted percussion, and, of course, the visceral Tuvan throat singing of the Grammy-winning vocal octet Roomful of Teeth.   

Violinist and composer Colin Jacobsen’s contributions to the album include two imaginative arrangements of Western folk tunes: the Irish “O’Neill’s Cavalry March,” featuring Martin Hayes on the fiddle, and the American “Little Birdie,” featuring vocals by Sarah Jarosz. Each arrangement expands the timbral and harmonic palette of Western folk music by incorporating Eastern instruments like the pipa (a four-string Chinese string instrument), the shakuhachi (a Japanese bamboo flute), and the sheng (a Chinese free reed instrument).

What follows is a new arrangement of the traditional Malian tune “Ichichila,” for which the ensemble enlists the talents of Toumani Diabaté on kora (a West African string instrument) and Balla Kouyaté on balafon (an African wooden xylophone). Traditionally sung by the Taureg people while dyeing textiles in indigo pits, the song’s colorful, upbeat cadence comes from the rhythm of the textiles being plunged in and out of the dye with long sticks.

Balkan vocalists Black Sea Hotel lend their voices to an arrangement of the traditional Macedonian folk song “Sadila Jana,” while Japanese percussion instruments take center stage in a contemporary arrangement of the Japanese “Shingashi Song.” Indian raga is the inspiration for the organic and free-flowing “Madhoushi,” featuring Shujaat Khan on sitar and vocals, and “Wedding” features a vibrant marriage of clarinet, oud (a Middle Eastern string instrument), and wordless vocals in a heartfelt tribute to the millions of Syrians who have fled to find new homes in recent years.

But perhaps no other song captures the spirit of the album more than “Going Home,” a piece that has passed through countless composers’ capable hands in the past century. Originally composed as part of Dvořák’s New World Symphony, it was later arranged as a song with lyrics by his pupil William Arms Fisher. On this album, we find it rearranged and translated into Chinese in a twinkling string rendition featuring vocals by Abigail Washburn.

Jumping from China to Spain, the work is followed by a Galician harvest chant. Davide Salvado lends his voice for a new arrangement of a traditional Galician work song titled “Cabaliño,” his voice slow and steady above a bed of lively strings and warbling accordion.

Rhiannon Giddens’ gypsy jazz-infused vocals sparkle atop a tangle of accordion, Klezmer clarinet, and yangqin (a Chinese hammered dulcimer) in an arrangement of the “St. James Infirmary Blues,” while Bill Frisell’s soulful guitar solos shine in “If You Shall Return…,” a Kojiro Umezaki original which takes its inspiration from Bhatiali boat songs.

The album comes to a close with Rob Mathes’s arrangement of the jazz standard “Heart and Soul,” featuring vocalists Lisa Fischer and Gregory Porter. The song plays like a smile: it’s got all the waltz and charm of 1930s New York jazz, but with more global instrumentation.

Because in the end, that’s what the album is really about: bringing together an entire world of sound, listening to one another with open hearts and open minds, and ultimately, creating harmony and understanding in a world that is too often divided.

“All around the world, people constantly meet the unfamiliar through change,” Yo-Yo Ma said. “Rapid or dramatic change can feel threatening, tempting us to build walls to defend against the unknown. At Silk Road we build bridges. In the face of change and difference, we find ways to integrate and synthesize, to forge relationships, and to create joy and meaning.”