Archive for May 18, 2015

A Deeply Heartfelt Eight-Octave Thank You

I don’t know how to begin or end this.  So consider this a love letter.

Bach's handwritten dedication of the Brandenburg Concertos to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt.

Bach’s handwritten dedication of the Brandenburg Concertos to the Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt.

At no time in western culture did the arts ever not rely on patronage.  Sure, the occasional dilettante with some wealth has undertaken to paint or compose or pick up a camera, but for most of us mere mortals, getting our feet off the ground so we can get our heads in the clouds has taken more than our own blown breath filling our sails.  Perhaps with visual artists it has been easier to see a tactile return on that investment, although sometimes one starts to wonder what makes a smear of oil paint on canvas so much more valuable when Picasso did the smearing than when anyone else did.  With performing artists it becomes more tenuous, in that there isn’t anything solid someone can take home and say “I commissioned that.”  You can’t take home a dancer and put him on your mantle if you subsidize a ballet.  Sure, for a composer there’s a score, and nearly everything Bach or Beethoven or Mozart composed comes with a cover page with a dedication to some nobleman who gave them money or a living situation or did some nice thing for them.  However, the score is only a description of a piece of music that a musician then has to realize.  Think of it as though instead of a Mona Lisa, you had a written description of how to paint a Mona Lisa, each brush stroke, what pigment blend it is, where to apply it, at exactly what time to apply it…  And every person who took those descriptions would paint a Mona Lisa, no two of which would ever be the same.  And what makes music almost noumenonal…  To complete the metaphor, as soon as you finish painting a Mona Lisa, it vanishes.  In this day and age, where having a thing to show for the investment is so much more concretely understandable as hard return for the investment, it’s hard to justify asking for that sort of patronage for something so intangible.

Photo Jan 19, 17 59 52

Against this worry on my part, somewhat over a week ago Jesse started asking me if I’d be willing to consider a crowdsource means of raising some funds for a piano.  I’ve been living without one for upwards of five years now.  My skills as a pianist have decidedly deteriorated, to my deep frustration, and it has slowed my writing nearly to a halt.  Compound this with physical problems I was experiencing with my vocal chords.  An excellent physician specialist in Boston has finally reversed those, and an amazing voice teacher who has gone through this exact problem is now pulling me back to being able to sing again.  Compound those again with as yet not having found any ensemble to play tuba with in Boston, and there’s only so much reward to playing in my little studio room by myself…  I was starting to wonder if there really was any point to having a piano at all, if it was simply time to give up and find a job-job, if after all these years of idealistic artistic masturbation it was time to pack it in and move on.

Okay, that's actually my old ophicleide, which I don't play any more, but it's a fun photo...

Okay, that’s actually my old ophicleide, which I don’t play any more, but it’s a fun photo…

It doesn’t help that my taste in pianos isn’t Bösendorfer concert grand extravagant (they’re awesome, but far more than I need), but I also can’t work on a $250 Casiotone keyboard.  It’s like expecting a computer programmer to devise a new operating system on a Speak-and-Spell.  What Jesse and I found which I can make work (and which we can get into our house!) is a “hybrid”, a Yamaha AvantGrand N2 specifically.  The works are essentially identical to the actual working action of a grand piano, so the instrument feels right under the hands, but the sound processors are entirely digital like top-of-the-line electronic keyboards.  It doesn’t go out of tune, it can be played with headphones in the middle of the night, and I can connect it via MIDI to my computer for input and output.  Kinda perfect, but steep price-wise.  I just couldn’t justify asking for help to the tune of the $15,000 list price tag of such a device.

End-on photo of the action of an American Steinway grand piano.

End-on photo of the action of an American Steinway grand piano.

But then we’d located a used one for less, and Jesse proposed perhaps just asking for some portion of the needed cash.  I said what the hell, go ahead.  I’d thought we’d get maybe $150 and a ton of well-wishers.  So he posted a kickstarter campaign at  Two days after he’d written the campaign, I finally allowed him to promote it.

And then this happened.

Screen Shot 2015-05-17 at 9.30.33 PM

There’s data there that needs a little explaining.  That screen capture was taken as I’m writing this post, 48 hours after Jesse went live with it; the “5 days” actually reflects the time since he wrote the page.  The kicker is that we raised $5,000 in just shy of 24 hours after making this public.  Having promised to post a recording of a piano piece I’d not published before, Jesse jubilantly posted to his own blog here.  And even having reached this milestone, we’re still seeing you contribute more.

I can’t begin to say how much this means to me.  For some years I’ve been thinking more and more “Why write, when I can’t seem to get anyone to listen?”  Arts are about communication, about speaking to people’s minds and hearts in ways perhaps language can’t.  In a certain sense, even language itself is an art, an “artificial” (in the archaic sense, think of the meaning of “artifice” as an adjective) means of conveying not only concrete thoughts but feelings, conceptions, ideas…  And if you speak or write and nobody pays attention, how long can one really enthuse over the idea of writing or talking for your own enjoyment before it just starts feeling futile?

It’s been a revelation to me to know that you listen.  And you not only listen, you want to hear more.  And beyond that you want to hear more, to my utter astonishment, to want to help out with the purchase of a rather heftily expensive tool which will make it possible for me to create more.

We seem to have missed out on the used model we found earlier, but if years of watching eBay and other online sources have taught me anything, if it showed up once, another one will come along; we just have to be vigilant.  Now we have the means to jump on it when the next one does appear.  Meanwhile, the campaign is hardly closed; I’m still thrilled and delighted to send CDs and scores and manuscript pages to anyone who still wants to contribute, and believe me, every last little bit helps.  The campaign is still live at


I really, really hope that I can begin to repay this kindness.  It’s not just the money, as vital as that has been.  It’s the restoration of faith.  That’s priceless.

The composer at work. Thanks to you, back at work!

The composer at work. Thanks to you, back at work!



Yeah, I write poetry too.

So here’s another geeky aspect to me.  Sometimes when I’ve got an emotion I need to find an expression for or need to pinpoint the source of, I’ll write poetry.  This one was written a year ago after a vile fight with one of my very closest friends, and written in the certainty that we’d never talk to each other again.  Took us over six months, but we did patch things up, and we’re closer than ever.  However, with events in the past couple weeks, suicides and deaths of dear friends in San Francisco, New York, and Paris, I’m posting this.  You’re under no obligation to read this; this post is more for me.

Ancora Ductila

His initial impression is of a distant sweetness,
Perhaps more tasted in the air than smelled,
Redolent of apricots, of heliotrope, of hashish;
He inhales deeply, imbuing his corpse
With the vapor wafting unseen on the breeze.

The aftermath is differently beautiful.
No birds sing, no animals prowl;
Not even ants creep among the dusty remnants of grass.
Trees stand leafless, their wood dry and white
Where the bark has eroded away.
No corpse is left; only bones,
Bleached grey in the unyeilding sun,
Lying in discontigous piles, fractured and splintered,
Twisted, and tinged black along dagger-sharp edges.
Knots of what was once hair and feather
Blow in the scentless wind. Decades hence,
When starving dogs first return to this dishallowed ground,
They will refuse these gnawings,
Preferring to chew the dessicated soil.

Those colorless, fragrant clouds
Pass over unseen, like a Pesach angel,
Mordant, bearing malaise across once-verdant lands,
Stripping, defoliating flower and tree,
Dropping both hawks and bees from the air,
Still in tormented guises of flight;
Turning horse as easily as vole aside,
Slavering at the mouth as to rid themselves of the taste.
They die as do insects, their twitching legs
Pawing at the air above, attempting to run, to burrow,
To flee the death they cannot see,
The angel’s flaming sword apparent only
In the line of life overtaken.

Centuries ago, in another dry blanched land
So ostentatiously given to our father’s fathers’ fathers,
The local harpist king once quipped at dinner,
“The number of our years are three score and ten;
And the fullness of those is labor and sorrow.”
When no guest cracked a smile, he harrumphed,
Realizing that only he would ever understand the joke.
His best friend, nay lover, was compelled to forsake him;
His wives conspired and played him for a fool;
His own much-loved son betrayed him, and was slain.
This tragedy played out on a stage only he could attend;
In generations since, most men fail to see the proscenium at all,
And hence never understand that, relatively,
His life was a comedy compared to theirs.
It matters not what to what means we resort;
All human interactions end:
All friendships, marriages, businesses, emnities, treaties.
Men grow distant, or are driven asunder; they quarrel;
Men die.
The gossamer threads, these ductile anchors,
So anxiously thrown in hope
Of securing an enduring bond,
Like a harpsichord string are so easily overtuned
And played too fiercely, they snap;
Or like an elastic band, they harden by exposure
Until in an unobserved moment they crack
And crumble away like unfired clay.
The only constant in our human experience
Is the ever-renewed disappointment
That no meaningful, worthwhile, or pleasurable connection
Proves permanent.

Thus, as all isthmi wash away,
Eroded by the unappeasable surge of the brine-heavy sea,
Does each man become an island.

The only things he sees:
The colorless, cloudless sky arching above him,
And the unsetting sun,
Scorching the unending dead plain stretching waterlessly ahead of him
As far as his myopic and cataracted vision can discern.

The only things he feels:
The crumble of the harsh dead grass under his calloused, gnarled toes,
Hardened by constant wandering beyond the ability to bleed,
And the sting of the wind-borne dust on his grisled, rosacea’d face.

The only things he hears:
The irregularity of his own slowly slowing heartbeat;
And the rasping exhalation of the rank vapor
Issuing from his grey, chapped, split lips,
Seeming faintly sweet to his own nose.

And the only thing he knows
Is that he bears a guttering, malodorous flaming sword
And thus he styles himself an angel.

June 2014


Value everyone around you.  Take time to say you love someone.  Don’t wait to find peace after an argument; do it now.  You just never know when all further opportunity will be taken away.  In the past four years I’ve lost over twenty friends, from people I just knew and liked to my nearest and dearest.  It doesn’t get easier, it doesn’t get any less painful.  And there’re always things left unsaid.

RIP William, James, Marcel, and Eric.  I love you guys.


Angel with a Flaming Sword

Edwin Howland Blashfield, 1893