Cutting Through the Noise

by Joshua Roman

We’re so fast.

So. Fast.

joshuabach4

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.

joshuabach3

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.

joshuabach2

Touched by Creativity in Nature

by Joshua Roman

With Maggie Stapleton and Rachel Nesvig at Camp Muir on Mount Rainier (Washington State).

It’s no secret that some of the greatest composers in history have sought inspiration, solace, and rejuvenation in nature. Beethoven loved to escape Vienna to walk through the countryside, and Bartok was an avid collector of insects in addition to folk melodies from the countryside. And they certainly weren’t the only ones.

So good for them, right? Now we’ve got the (insert superlative) music they wrote, and we also get a glimpse into the natural world as they experienced it. At least, that’s what I would guess is the attitude of many of us based on our general (if not total) lack of engagement with the great outdoors. Myself, I’ve always loved being outside, and felt frustrated by the fact that my cello does not acclimate very well to wind, rain, heat, cold, or humidity. So being outdoors, which is a natural part of much of my life, has been largely separated from my artistic endeavors. A few multimedia projects – like some of the videos I shot outside for the Popper Project or my Everyday Bach videos – have hinted at a connection, but it’s only really this summer that I’ve begun to feel a tangible and powerful, even primal, creative force arise when out in nature.

View from Mount Si (little Si) near Seattle, Washington.

It started with a hike near Seattle. I was so ready to do something non-digital, something peaceful, that took me away from the demands of this life that start out joyful, but can easily pile up and become overwhelming due to their sheer volume. Here’s a picture from the summit – I was already feeling a calm but directional energy throughout the ascent, but upon reaching this view it exploded into a force of deep, resonant sound that was surprising and exciting. It was a sound that I couldn’t identify, except that it had a rolling momentum and begged to be orchestrated. Someday, it will. In the meantime, I cannot forget how it came from the peak next to ours, and though the grandeur was bigger than I knew how to express, the desire to share it was so very strong.

Lake Morraine near Banff, Canada.

At that point, I immediately knew I needed to do more of this. Luckily, my summer has taken me to such strikingly beautiful places as Banff to perform for TED in a collaborative concert I curated with other TED Fellows, Boulder for a series I curated (as well as for the Colorado Music Festival), and Maine for the Bay Chamber Concerts summer festival.

View from Bear Peak in Boulder, Colorado.

Looking at photos of stunning views is always nice, but for me they are most powerful when they serve as a reminder tied to a real experience. I’ve had more music come to mind in these places–a result of the inspiration and the sense of release we feel when we connect with our physical bodies and engage with the natural world around us. I think it’s about centering – a rich tapestry of experiences can certainly help us to learn about human expressiveness and the essential parts of our existence, but it’s important to find a way to stay grounded. Connecting with nature is a great way to achieve this balance.

View of the bay near Rockport, Maine.

Sometimes, if you can pull it off, a day or three away from everything goes a long way towards clearing the mind and allowing natural creative energy to flow. But even if that’s out of the question, finding a quiet park for a stroll, or a trail just outside of the city, can make a difference in the flow of artistry. If you can manage it, get outside–whether near or far–and allow yourself to be open to that special source which has inspired so many of our heroes – nothing is better than tapping into that directly.

Seattle Symphony’s Tuning Up! Festival

by Maggie Molloy

The Fourth of July is almost upon us, and you know what that means: parades, picnics, and barbeques abound! And while hot dogs, fireworks, and flag-covered clothing are a (somewhat) relevant expression of American independence, our county has a whole lot more than just cured meats and corny t-shirts to be proud of.

Tuning Up!Which is why this summer, the Seattle Symphony is turning off the barbeque and turning up the music with Tuning Up!: a two-week festival celebrating American musical creativity in the 20th and 21st century. This star-spangled celebration features nine concerts which traverse America’s vast musical landscape, from jazz to Broadway, avant-garde to minimalism, classics to Hollywood, and much more.

So whether you crave the jazzy grooves of George Gershwin or the swinging blues of Duke Ellington, you can hear it all during the Tuning Up! Festival. Maybe you prefer the massive soundscapes of John Luther Adams, the hypnotic minimalism of Philip Glass, or the movie magic of John Williams—the festival has all that too!

Suffice it to say, Second Inversion is all over this festival. Come visit us at the KING FM table in the lobby at the following events for music, magnets, and other free swag!


Stage & Screen: From Appalachian Spring to the Red Violin
Thursday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m.

From stage to screen to concert hall, these giants of American music transcended borders and paved the way for generations to come. Among them is Florence Beatrice Price: the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer. The Seattle Symphony pays tribute with a rousing orchestral rendition of her ragtime classic, Dances in the Canebrakes. Plus, dancers take to the stage alongside the Symphony for a performance of Aaron Copland’s famous folk-inspired and Pulitzer Prize-winning Appalachian Spring.

The program also features Leonard Bernstein’s elegant Divertimento for Orchestra, poignant movie music from Schindler’s List and The Red Violin, and a heartwarming tribute to the late Marvin Hamlisch who, among his many accomplishments in music, served as the Principal Pops Conductor at the Seattle Symphony from 2008 until his death in 2012.


The Light that Fills the World: A Meditation in Sound & Light
Thursday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m.

In the face of trauma and political turmoil around the world, Seattle Symphony offers an intimate meditation in sound and silence, light and dark. Julia Wolfe’s My Beautiful Scream, written after the events of 9/11, opens the program with a slow-building and softly illuminating agony. What follows is utter silence: John Cage’s famous 4’33”.

The program also features Pulitzer Prize-winner John Luther Adams’ immersive, Arctic-inspired soundscape The Light That Fills the World, the delicate breath of Morton Feldman’s Piano and Orchestra, and Philip Glass’ scientific salute, The Light.

Plus, the Symphony invites you to submit your own Glass-inspired photographs to be featured during the performance. Deadline for submissions is this Friday, June 24.


In the White Silence: John Luther Adams’ Alaskan Landscapes
Friday, July 1 at 10 p.m.

To say that composer and environmentalist John Luther Adams is inspired by nature would be a bit of an understatement. He spent much of his life composing from a 16×20 ft. one-room cabin in the Alaskan woods, creating large-scale soundscapes which blur the line between nature and man-made instruments.

In 2013, the Seattle Symphony commissioned and premiered John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean, a 42-minute meditation for large orchestra which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and a Grammy Award.John Luther Adams

And now, during this special late-night concert, the Symphony revisits one of Adams’ earlier explorations into sonic geography: the 75-minute soundscape In the White Silence. The piece unfolds slowly and patiently, translating the vast horizons of the frozen far north into a musical landscape of clean, radiant harmony and subtle transformation.


Looking for more in American music? Check out the Seattle Symphony’s Tuning Up! Festival Map below:

Tuning Up! Visual Guide

ALBUM REVIEW: “Nature” by The City of Tomorrow

by Maggie Molloy

CityOfTomorrow_rocks-websize
Dating back to the Late Stone Age, the conch shell was among the earliest musical instruments—and while wind instruments have grown and transformed a lot over the course of the last 20,000 years, they have always had maintained an intimate connection with nature. Throughout history, composers have used the rich tone color of wind instruments to imitate the chirping of the birds, the spraying of the sea, or the rising of the sun.

Even today, contemporary musicians are finding new ways to explore this unique musical relationship between wind instruments and nature—in fact, the contemporary wind quintet City of Tomorrow devoted their entire debut album to doing just that.

Comprised of flutist Elise Blatchford, oboist Stuart Breczinski, clarinetist Camila Barrientos, bassoonist Laura Miller, and horn player Leander Star, City of Tomorrow is committed to much more than just music. The one-of-a-kind quintet merges elements of contemporary classical and experimental music with themes of environmentalism and humanism. Through their music they offer new perspectives on current social and political issues ranging from environmental destruction and war to the everyday injustices of living in the Digital Age.

Their new album, titled “NATURE,” explores the evolution of humanity’s relationship with nature through works by four contemporary composers. The album considers nature through the lens of 18th- and 19th-century Romantic ideas of the Sublime: the overwhelming brilliance of the natural world surrounding us and our inexorable vulnerability in its presence. The album also serves as the first installment of a three-disc set that will musically trace the progression of nature from the Romantic era to the apocalyptic.

The first piece on the album is David Lang’s “breathless,” a work which illustrates the ceaseless flow of nature through delicately circling motives in each instrument. The soundscape moves slowly and steadily forward with a minimalist aesthetic, each wind instrument gently layered over one another in prismatic, ever-changing rhythmic patterns.

Next on the album is Luciano Berio’s “Ricorrenze.” Italian for “recurrences,” the piece explores the delicate balance between order and chaos in nature. The work begins with soft, unison D’s in every instrument before growing into swirling layers of virtuosic melodic lines. The dazzlingly diverse range of tone colors makes the piece’s connection to nature palpable—in fact, Berio himself compared the quintet to a seed being sown and gradually maturing into a plant bearing vibrant fruit.

City of Tomorrow jazzes things up with their performance of “…a certain chinese cyclopaedia…” by Denys Bouliane. Inspired by a fantastical encyclopedia of real and imaginary animals depicted in a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, the piece crafts a musical taxonomy cataloguing the infinite variations of bebop. The piece is a colorful collage of frenetic melodic fragments which offer an abstract interpretation of the evolution of bebop jazz.

The concluding work on the album is “Music for Breathing” by Nat Evans, a piece which is rooted in traditionally Eastern understandings of nature. The piece crafts an organic, often meditative illustration of the natural world through guided improvisation, solo spotlights, extended techniques, and even the use of conch shells and stones. Inspired by the rituals of the Yamabushi Buddhists, the piece at times blurs the line between musical instruments made by man and musical instruments found in nature.

Each piece on “NATURE” is its own exquisite flower, a beautifully unique impression of nature’s rich tone colors and ever-changing musical textures. And City of Tomorrow breathes new life into each work through their imaginative musical interpretation, skilled rhythmic precision, colorful tonal palette, and above all, their unparalleled artistic ambition.

This is one wind quintet that is sure to leave you breathless.