LIVE BROADCAST: PROJECT Trio Plays Peter and the Wolf, Brooklyn-Style

by Maggie Molloy

You may have heard Prokofiev’s symphonic fairy tale Peter and the Wolf, but you have never heard it like this before. Tune in Wednesday at 7:30pm for a Second Inversion live broadcast of PROJECT Trio performing Peter and the Wolf—Brooklyn style.

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. Expect jazzy basslines, beatboxing flute riffs, and plenty of personality.

For this concert, PROJECT Trio takes the classic tale of Peter and the Wolf out of Russia and into Brooklyn, turning the animals into other kids and the wolf-chase into a parkside showdown.

Catch their performance live this Wednesday at Town Hall as part of Joshua Roman’s Town Music series. And if you can’t make it to the show, tune in to Second Inversion’s live broadcast from anywhere in the world! Download our app or click here to listen to the broadcast online, streaming live on Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30pm PST.

Until then, here’s a sneak peek of the gang performing their rendition of another classical music staple:


PROJECT Trio performs Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30pm at Town Hall. Click here for more information, or click here to tune in to Second Inversion’s live broadcast.

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!

NEW VIDEOS: Daniel Bernard Roumain & Marc Bamuthi Joseph: Blackbird, Fly

Second Inversion presents two excerpts from BLACKBIRD, FLY: A concert for Voice, Body, and Strings recorded live at Town Hall Seattle on December 6, 2016!

BLACKBIRD, FLY weaves together an enduring tapestry of movement, narrative, music and Haitian folklore to engage audiences in dialog about critical questions of our time.

Steeped in hip hop aesthetic, this intimate duet between two preeminent sons of Haitian immigrants – composer/violinist Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) and arts activist/spoken word artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph – unveils their life stories in search of their identity and role models, and delves into universal themes of tolerance and inclusion.

Introspective yet uplifting, BLACKBIRD, FLY is a culmination of Roumain and Joseph’s recent collaborations with Atlanta Ballet, Boston Children’s Chorus, University of Houston, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and Opera Philadelphia. In each of these communities, Roumain and Joseph have created and premiered new works that offer myriad experiential arts education opportunities, youth empowerment and social engagement around our shared values.

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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Four Tips for Classical Musicians Beginning Improv (I wrote this on the fly)

by Joshua Roman
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If you’re a classically trained musician, chances are you can play a number of complex pieces on demand, by memory, you can look at a piece of music you’ve never seen before and decipher the symbols on the page in real time (sight reading), or at least you can rather quickly learn a piece and bring it to performance level. Are you, however, comfortable playing along with music you like on the non-classical station? Can you sit in with your friends and make up a tune, a countermelody, or catch the bass line the first time around?

With the “classical” sensibility that has been cultivated over the last century, the latter set of skills may sound superfluous. Crack open that history book, though, and you’ll see that improv has been integral to musicianship for centuries. Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt (name pretty much any musician from before the 20th century) – they all knew how to improvise. Their level of improv was fairly high, in some cases arguably the main reason for their original fame. While that’s an intimidating standard, I’ve come to realize that the benefits of even a basic level of improv comfort are tremendous.

The most difficult part of improv for someone who is used to preparing for hours, days, weeks before letting anyone hear a piece of music, is letting go of that control. The fear of playing something wrong is important to overcome, but I’ve discovered a few helpful mantras/tools:


1. Don’t compare your improv to the music you usually play.
If you spend most of your time playing the music of the greats, you might have totally unrealistic expectations. Those sounds were organized by veritable masters, and have proven the test of time. That’s not necessary for improv purposes! Simple, easy, accessible, creative, and above all, YOU, is what’s important here.

2. Start small.
I mean this in every way possible. Start in a room where no one can hear you, if you need to! Sometimes it’s useful to just play one note over and over again (an ostinato) until you get tired of it and naturally move on. Or, put on a song you listen to all the time, figure out the melody or the bass line, and then gradually begin to find other notes in between. Sometimes I even like to hold one note through a chord pattern, and feel the tension modulate as the chords underneath shift.

3. Allow yourself repetition.
When I was ten or eleven, my dad started having me play with his band on Sunday nights at church. I’ll never forget his reply when I asked about the sheet music – he said “you’ll figure it out. If you don’t like the note you’re playing, play a different one.” Kind of to the contrary, he also said “if you play a ‘wrong’ note, play it until you make it the ‘right’ note.” Basically, if you do something that doesn’t quite fit, you can incorporate the “mistake” into your next phrase, thereby “fixing” the mistake retroactively by use of repetition. So much of music is about how we play with expectations – so a keen awareness of patterns can take us into super cool and new places, and help us let go of the fear of “messing up” in improv.

4. Do your thing.
The most beautiful thing about improv is that it comes from you. It can begin to reflect your own unique voice – your sense of style and the elements of music that are most important to you. Find yourself listening to Lady Gaga when you’re not practicing excerpts? Great place to start! Simple chord patterns, a consistent beat, tunes you can pick up easily. Love the structure of techno with its beat drops and long arcs? That’s a fun way to learn to read what’s coming next. Want to get inside the mind of Dvorak and his Cello Concerto? Take the main theme and riff on it – how would you develop the material differently? One of my favorite things to do in school was to turn out the lights in a practice room and just start “following the sound.” Sometimes melodic, sometimes strange and wonderful fragments, sometimes just a rhythm would emerge. Letting go of expectations is key.

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Photo Credit: Bret Hartman

The benefits of learning to improv become apparent very quickly. First off, it opens up so many collaborative possibilities! It also gives you a very powerful entry point into any composer’s music. When you start to see all of the choices the composer did not make, the choices they did make paint a stronger picture. One of the more amusing results of becoming comfortable with improv is less fear of memory slips. I say “amusing” as I think of the times I’ve heard myself and others wander off script, and the hilarious (and therefore less awkward) paths back to the written score. Perhaps most importantly, as this skill develops, it gives you insight into your own artistic voice. When all the musical choices are yours, your priorities emerge much more clearly. This process of self-discovery is absolutely essential in order to cultivate an understanding of what you offer to your listeners and colleagues.

In my own musical life, improv has gone far beyond those beginning days of an added cello line to the band. I improvise all of my cadenzas when I perform Haydn Concertos, I’ve improvised entire pieces on stages including the TED stage, and collaborations with artists such as Anna Deavere Smith, DJ Spooky, Anne Patterson, We Are Golden (“Just Every Fisher’s Folly” and “Allen in February and March”), Mason Bates, have all come about because of comfort making notes up on the spot. And I’m not even very good at it, just willing!

Let’s hear what you’ve got. Share your stories, through improv video or otherwise.

The Importance of Run Throughs

by Joshua Roman

“It’s the same balance beam.”

The analogy my dad favored when it came to preparing for a performance was that of a gymnast at the Olympics. The beam is the same whether there are judges or not. The cello is the same, and the music the same, whether there is an audience or not. It’s something I’ve reminded myself of many times over the years, particularly when I used to do competitions as a student.

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Working out the kinks of my song cycle with Jessica Rivera, Mae Lin, Richard Belcher, Todd Palmer, Andrew Rehrig, and Conor Hanick in a casual studio run through.

And on one hand, it’s true. If you can tune everything out and magnify your focus on the details of the task at hand, you can do a much better job of repeating the process you’ve honed in the practice room. Execution becomes a habit, and distractions fall by the wayside once you get into that zone you’ve cultivated over and over again.

On the other hand, music is about communication. One of the exciting things about an audience is that they bring energy, and that energy is borne of a desire to experience a shared moment. A moment that is your responsibility as the performer to guide and shape with sensitivity to the dynamics of the relationship between the music, the audience, the other performers, and yourself. To achieve this means rather than tuning the audience out, opening up to their particular energy and incorporating that into your own experience.

But that can be a scary thing! Most, if not all of us, have felt the strange sensation of playing a piece in front of a live person for the first time and discovering that some of the technical or musical aspects that never quite clicked in the practice room are suddenly natural and fluid. Vice versa, some moments or passages are more challenging when all eyes are on us for the first time. So, while a mantra like “It’s the same balance beam” can help calm the mind or nerves and bring us back to the familiar, how do we practice feeling and using the elevated sensations and energy of a performance with a live audience to enhance the experience?

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LACO’s premiere of Mason Bates’ Cello Concerto. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

My answer: run throughs. While I was in school at the Cleveland Institute of Music, I was immersed in a friendly culture of shared enthusiasm for the learning process, and happily acclimated to the environment around me. My classmates and I were always pulling each other into the practice room to play through something, just to get that sense of what might change when a piece became performative (and, helpful comments afterwards – it’s always good to learn how what you are doing is perceived by someone who can’t read your mind). Over the years since I’ve left school I’ve continued this practice to some degree, but I always notice a huge difference when I don’t manage to make the time.

I recently performed a piece for the first time, and unfortunately I didn’t get organized early enough to do a run through with a pianist ahead of time. I spent many extra hours with the score to make up for it, so at the first rehearsal, while I didn’t have the tactile memory of making micro adjustments that are necessary whenever sharing the interpretive process, at least I caught up quickly. Still, when I compare that feeling to the numerous times I’ve run through a new concerto with a pianist before the first rehearsal, there’s a huge difference. A few years ago, I was incredibly lucky to have concertos written for me by my friends Aaron Jay Kernis and then Mason Bates. In each case, we went through the piece with a pianist (Aaron on his, and Carlos Avila with Mason’s) multiple times. The point was twofold; 1) make sure the pieces were working the way we wanted, and all tempo markings etc., were in line with the composers’ wishes, and 2) be ready to show up at the first rehearsal with orchestra as prepared as I would be if these were pieces of standard repertoire I’d been playing since I was 12.

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I’m happily present while Jonah Kernis and his dad Aaron run the Haydn C Major Cello Concerto for a small gathering before an upcoming performance.

Who knows if I actually achieved the latter to the degree I wanted (being something of a perfectionist, I always find myself falling short). But I can certainly say I knew the music backwards and forwards and felt ready and excited to take it to the next level from the moment we began rehearsals. In both cases, this was no fewer than 3 “performances” in front of friends and colleagues, as few as one or two on the couch in the living room or as many as 15 in a rented space. The number of people is not nearly as important as the number of times running through. Learning how to take risks means actually taking risks, and being okay with people seeing you fail. Along the way, you figure out that even within a particular style or piece, there’s plenty of room for variations on success in a performance. There’s no true reproduction of what happened in the practice room or the last run through, but the confidence of knowing how to ride the wave of the moment comes through experience.

These were new works that no one had ever heard before. I say, however, that the same rule applies to Haydn or Elgar, which I’ve played many times. It always goes better if you show up with experience under your belt. So grab a friend, pull them into your practice room, and find out what you actually need to work on when you get back to your practice routine.

May your mind be clear and focused, your emotions flow freely and powerfully through the music, and may your fingers find their mark.

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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