It's always about the credentials with you

At the beginning of the month my partner and I moved into a new apartment in Nashua. It’s been really great so far except for two things.


  1. There are four storage spaces in the basement but only three apartments. God knows who’s using the fourth but it didn’t really bother me. When we first moved in the last tenant left a brand new microwave. (She was evicted from the place - it took me a good two weeks to get the eviction notice off of our door - and I guess just left some things behind?). Anyway, we already have a microwave so I thought to myself that I was going to plan for the future and put the microwave that she left down in our storage space. Naively I didn’t buy a lock for the storage door. Why should I just assume that my brand new neighbors are going to steal? Especially a microwave. Anyway, the other day my partner went into the basement and came back to tell me that our microwave was missing. BUT she peeked through the slats in the wall into the other storage space and saw it sitting there. WHO’S USING THAT STORAGE SPACE? We don’t know! It’s not even that we need an extra microwave but it’s the principle of the thing. But I went out and bought a lock so now the flattened cardboard boxes sitting in my basement are nice and secure.

  2. That previous tenant that I mentioned earlier - she also left a washer and dryer. The washer is great but the dryer doesn’t produce any heat, it just kind of endlessly tumbles wet clothes around. My assumption was that tumbling wet clothes around might be even marginally quicker than letting things air dry but i was wrong. So that leads me to why at 11:00 PM on a Monday night is when I decided it’s time I start committing to writing a blog post every week.


What I want to talk about tonight is how I have a really cool part time job. It’s actually one of the only things outside of music that I really enjoy doing. I work for a non-profit here in New Hampshire. I’m actually not supposed to say too much about what it is I actually do because the company is pretty serious about employees not speaking publicly about their jobs.


At first when I was told that I thought, “That’s kind of weird. Any publicity is probably good publicity, right?”




One of my coworkers - I’ll call her “Erin” - discovered that one of my other coworkers - I’ll call him “Sam” - went on a podcast to talk about our job. Now without giving too many details about what we do, the easiest comparison is that we do something that is similar to the Big Brother / Big Sister program. Knowing nothing about that program I believe that ours is somewhat more structured and is paid for by school districts but that’s aside from the point. Anyway, Sam goes on this podcast to talk about our job and the podcast that he goes on is a largely weed-centric talk show that also often diverts itself to saying misogynistic and creepy things about girls - especially drunk girls. So Sam says a lot of things about our job and also reveals a bunch of personal information about his client and then proceeds to talk about “these drunk bitches” he met at a party the other night and you can kind of see where things might go from there. So Erin shows me this podcast and I suddenly totally understand why we’re really not supposed to talk about this job in a public forum. Even with really great intentions if I say something that the company doesn’t necessarily endorse it puts them in a really awkward situation - especially if that public forum might be even vaguely high profile.


So I’m not going to be specific about the job but what I really wanted to talk about today anyway is that I had a really interesting day last Friday. The client I got to work with has a part time job at a music school where he helps to fix instruments. The clients aren’t usually focused on music. It was just a happy accident and we get along quite well. So this client - I’ll call him “John” - while he’s working on fixing a saxophone says to me, “I know you’re a composer so I mentioned it to one of the teachers here. He wants to meet you! He’s going to come by and say hi.” “Great!” I say.


What follows is my conversation with the aforementioned teacher (who I’ll call “Steve”)


Greg and John are sitting at a table a the end of a long hallway lined by classrooms. Steve approaches.


JOHN: Hi Steve! This is Greg. The guy I told you about. He’s a composer.


GREG: Hi Steve - nice to meet you.


Greg holds his hand out but Steve ignores it.


STEVE: Hi Greg. So you want to be a composer?


GREG: Oh well I am a composer. John told me that you are too?


STEVE: Well are you a real composer?


GREG: I’m not really sure what that means.


STEVE: Anyone can say that they’re a composer. Do you have any credentials?


John continues working.


GREG: Well I have a master’s degree from Boston Conservatory.


STEVE: Oh, well have you written anything?


GREG: Well yeah. I’ve written an opera and a few orchestral pieces and a lot of chamber works.


STEVE: You can’t write for orchestra unless you can write for string quartet.


GREG: I guess so. But I’ve written for both so I think I’m okay. What kinds of things do you write?


Steve ignores Greg’s question.


STEVE: Well if you’ve written an opera have you written a song cycle?


GREG: Yes, I’ve written a few actually. I’ve done a lot of work for piano and voice but I’ve experimented with cello and voice as well. It’s a really great combination.


STEVE: Anything can be a good combination if you know what you’re doing.


GREG: Yes, that’s true. What kinds of things do you write?


STEVE: Well if you’ve actually written an opera you know how much work goes into organizing musicians.


GREG: Yes it is a lot of work.


STEVE: You don’t have to tell ME that it’s a lot of work.


GREG: Okay…


STEVE: Well i have my string quartets performed every year.


GREG: That’s great. I’d love to hear them sometime.


STEVE: Well they’re recorded.


GREG: Great. You’ll have to write down a website for me?


STEVE: So if you’re such an accomplished composer what are you doing working with John?


GREG: It’s just a job but I really like it.


STEVE: Well are you writing?


GREG: Yes I’m working on some commissions and I’m starting a concert series in Boston.


STEVE: Boston has bigger crowds. But it’s more expensive. I know people there.


GREG: That’s nice. It is more expensive. I’m lucky because I’m part of a really great and supportive community and I have a space for free.


STEVE: Well isn’t that nice?


Steve walks away without saying anything.


I hope that my depiction of the conversation accurately displays how frustrating and strange this conversation was. Nobody likes to feel like they have to argue for their legitimacy in a particular field, but it also seems like in new music we spend most of our time arguing for our legitimacy. So to have a fellow composer dismiss me out of hand like that I think is understandably vexing.


A few weeks ago I was really fortunate enough to attend (and even speak at) New Music Gathering - held this year at Boston Conservatory where I just received my Master’s in Music. Almost every conversation I had at the conference was the exact opposite of the one I had with Steve. Two moments stand out to more than the rest. The first is that I ran into Steven Snowden, a composer who I really admire and respect. I just saw him standing around before Helga Davis’ keynote address and walked over to say hi. He was really great and really friendly! He asked a lot of the same questions that our friend Steve did earlier but with the intention to actually learn and communicate. The second moment that’s been sticking with me is a conversation with the violist Michael Hall. Michael is a performer of new music and helped to start the Bandung Philharmonic. Michael is another musician I really admire and it was exciting to talk to him in person. Again, what was really cool is that he wanted to talk with me about my project The Boston New Music Calendar. Taking the time to crowd source, list, and promote new music events is a pretty dumb thing that is likely to drive me fucking insane but Michael had a lot of great ideas and input into the project. He treated me like an equal even though in my mind he’s a minor celebrity.


The theme of this year’s New Music Gathering was inclusivity and while a lot of the conversations focused on issues of making new music an equitable endeavor for everyone, one of the topics that came up more often than not was the issue of gaining a wider audience for new music. What that really means is that people want to know how to make new music something that isn’t entirely restricted to academia. This illustrates the central difference between my conversation with Steve and everything that happened at New Music Gathering. Steve represents the sect of classical music obsessed with credentials. Steve doesn’t remember that there was a time (not really that long ago) when when musical academics didn’t really exist. The idea of a musician having one full time job is a very modern idea, and one that’s fading so quickly it might as well not even exist. To be fair Steve is literally the first person I’ve ever met (or heard of) who’s asked another musician about their ‘credentials’ but he represents the pretentious elite of classical music. New Music Gathering represents the other sect of musicians who desperately want to see our small community flourish and grow. Being a member of the new music community reminds me a lot of what it feels like to go to a really great DIY punk show. Everyone wants to meet everyone else and even when the music you’re hearing sucks it doesn’t really matter because the act of doing the work is sometimes a little better than the work itself.


I don’t know how we can make our community have less people like Steve. He was a little outlandish but he’s definitely not an outlier. I actually suspect that a lot of people who aren’t involved in classical music might think that most of us are Steves. I actually met so many Steves when I was in high school that I swore off becoming a composer for a few years. It took meeting some real composers and performers of empathy to get me to where I am now (they don’t know it but I’ll always be indebted to Kate Soper and the MIVOS Quartet for this). Until we figure out how to treat each other with a little more compassion I’ll gladly be there to make Steve as uncomfortable as he made me.



I'm very excited to share with everyone the video of my first full length opera, WAR IS A RACKET:






what we talk about when we talk about gilmore girls

In my dreams I post here every week - even every six weeks would be great but maybe we're settling for every two months right now?

News round up:

  • My rock and roll band Dérive released Instantly Black the Goodness last August on Howling Frequency. Tomorrow night (December 2nd) we are performing at The Flywheel in Easthampton, MA.
  • The Boston Conservatory Composer's Orchestra premiered Staghorn Sumac in October.
  • contraBAND premiered Transient the week after at their drag show. My partner and I were in appropriate outfits ---
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  • And speaking of - did I forget to post here that I am engaged? I popped the question last June and here we are planning a wedding for September 2018! 
  • Jon Whitin and Sarah Harvey premiered my piece Ravens in the Gun Tree (which will be performed again on Tuesday in Boston) at a recital in New Britain, CT. The same night Bri Tagz, Kelvyn Koning, and myself premiered my piece Fun Facts. Word is it'll be getting a second performance on January 20th in Boston. 
  • Black Sheep Contemporary Ensemble will be performing my trio Scanned into the Bright Light sometime in the spring. 
  • FINALLY my first opera War is a Racket is completed. The premiere is on April 22nd and I'm sure I'll post about it again before that...

Onto the real business though. 

Gilmore Girls.

Chances are you've at least heard of the show. It mostly features Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, mother and daughter with ridiculous appetites for junk food and coffee, whose dialogue is usually rapid and full of too many references to pop culture for even the most in-the-know to know. I consider myself a fan of the show. I've been through the series a few times and waited with anticipation last year for the Netflix series to be released. But the new episodes tricked me. I had always been under the impression that Gilmore Girls would end like Seinfeld. In the latter, we watch four New Yorkers take advantage of, lie to, and swindle just about everyone they meet for nine seasons. All of it for us to be reminded that despite the fact the actions are funny, they're actually really quite despicable people we're watching. The series ends with the four being thrown in jail as a result of their various schemes over the years. I always felt like Gilmore Girls would be the same way. I shouldn't have been watching it as some sort of twisted social satire. i should have been watching it as Amy Sherman Palladino's strange perception of human relationships.

Let's start with Lorelai. The entirety of the show is based on her struggle to understand that her daughter can't be her best friend all of the time. We're expected to feel sympathetic and jealous of what a close relationship they have while lauding her for being such a great mother, but in fact she totally fails to treat Rory like a daughter. (and by the way can someone explain how Lorelai somehow has enough money to eat out a few times a day and be a homeowner but still complain about being too poor?). Lorelai has a strange insistence on being part of every facet of Rory's life. Her desire to know every detail about Rory losing her virginity is nothing short of creepy. 
Her relationship with Rory is strange but the way she treats her friends, family, and community is just awful. How many times throughout the show does she toy with Luke's emotions? She knows as a fact that Luke is in love with her but she continues to traipse her various boyfriends around him and then get upset when he shows frustration at her constantly leading him on. When she ultimately cheats on him the show expects us to feel sympathetic with her, instead of feeling bad for Luke who has spent the last however many years going out of his way to do favors for Lorelai. In the new series she treats him even worse - how long can she go on with "I'm afraid of commitment" act before we call bullshit and someone on the show tells her that it's time to grow up. Luke aside, her treatment of her parents, who aren't without blame, is bratty, but we're constantly told that it's endearing and quirky. Meanwhile Lorelai is rude and disrespectful to just about everyone who lives in Star's Hollow. Every scene that is meant to be read as "Wow! Look at how fast talking and witty Lorelai is" just feels like, "Why is she being so mean to everyone?" 

So while all of the above is going on Rory is mirroring the behavior of her mother. Actually I take that back. For a lot of the original run of the series Rory is fairly better than Lorelai. But just to be clear, the way she treats Dean (he's not a gem either - see below) is pretty despicable. She's not too great to that guy she meets in Yale whose name I can't remember. Do you know who I'm talking about? He works a million jobs and seems like the perfect guy for her? He likes the Marx Brothers? 

And as a *brief* aside, can we just admit that for a show that was marketed to middle and high school aged girls, it teaches a lot of really bad lessons about relationships. Everyone loves to argue about which of the three boyfriends is the best for Rory, but the real answer is that they're all kind of awful choices. Dean breaks Rory down to the point that she can't have a conversation with him without it ending in her pleading, "Please don't be mad." Jess is the most appealing to me (or I think his character has more depth) but he does pretty seriously assault Rory at a party. I would argue that Jess actually redeems himself but it's an issue that goes entirely unaddressed and we're still expected to sympathize with Rory as she struggles to decide if Jess is the right choice for her. Finally there's Logan. I hate him because he's a real smug douchebag but at least his offenses are the least of the three. Some would argue that he really takes care of Rory and has her best interests at heart but I find him to be somewhat controlling and manipulative. No good choices here.

Which brings us to the (original) series finale. Lorelai and Rory have spent the past six seasons being awful to everyone they meet. For some reason Rory gets a job following Barack Obama on the campaign trail so Luke (what the fuck are you doing Luke? Have some fucking self respect. Why in the hell are you trying to help out the woman who cheated on you not a year earlier???) organizes a town wide going away party for Rory. I want even half an explanation about why anybody in that town cares about Rory. She's nothing but rude to everyone and hasn't even lived there for 4 seasons. The show tells us that for the entire town to love you all you have to do is be a little quirky and read a lot. It's not true!

AND THAT brings us to the Netflix reboot which features GUESS WHAT.

  • SIX. HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO FEEL ABOUT RORY BEING PREGNANT AND ALONE AT THE END. Actually I think that's a great ending. I think other viewers might have seen that and thought, "Oh wow what a cliffhanger!" And I thought, "This is the Seinfeld ending I've been waiting for. Neither Rory or Lorelai deserve my sympathy which they are clearly vying for." 

I can't really say why I like this show and continue to watch it, but I do. Maybe it's a sort of 21st century primer on exactly how not to treat people. Or maybe I'm just watching it because Kirk is the best character on television.

Long Time No See

End radio silence for now. I haven't posted in 5 months - mostly because of the stress of booking a national tour for an underground punk band immediately followed by the trauma of watching your van permanently melt down outside of Seattle = hello months of debt as we pay off a new touring vehicle.

In the meantime - my opera War is a Racket has started prelim rehearsals for our performance in late April. 

Earlier this month the pianist Jeremiah Cossa did me the honor of performing my latest solo "Darlings of the Word."

And more finally I recently paired up with the soprano Felicia Chen to start the Boston New Music Calendar  which is a compiled resource of events and concerts in the Greater Boston area. 

That's it for now - more thoughts on gender politics in music coming on Sunday I imagine. Now I'm off to see Transient Canvas at Boston Sculptor's Gallery.

Emails from Yury

I made a lot of choices in 2015. The choices that seemed like they were going to end in disaster ended up becoming some of the best moments of my life. On a solo tour stop in Atlanta I was visiting my friend Chelsea. I met a couple while getting a cup of coffee in the morning and before I knew it they were inviting me to their wedding in the woods. They exchanged vows under a waterfall while this hippy guy played mandolin. Chelsea and I were the only witnesses and they traced the shape of our feet in a book they were putting together for their future child. In Turner's Falls, MA the amazing artist/musician Noel'le Longhaul gave me a tattoo of the cover from The Fiery Furnaces' Bitter Tea.


But then I also made the choice to move to a boring commuter town outside of New York City with a girl I didn't really know that well. It seemed like a really good choice at the time and I wouldn't necessarily advocate that someone doesn't move somewhere far away with their significant other, it was just disastrous for me.

The thing about moving is that once you get there, you also need to find a job. She had a real good one but I didn't. One day on Craigslist I saw an ad that a piano tuner / technician / mover was looking for help. No experience required. I had never worked on pianos before but I knew how to play them so I went down to a run down warehouse in the Shippan neighborhood of Stamford, got the job, and started the next Monday. I was told it was going to be a pretty standard 9-5 job. Occasional late hours with notice. $10/hr. 

It only took one day for me to realize I wasn't going to be working there long. Hours were instantly cut and I was constantly listening to a barrage of sexist and racist comments about our clients. I was physically threatened and called a whole range of homophobic and misogynistic slurs. 

The last day I worked for them we were moving a piano to Scarsdale, NY. I had been asked to drive a commercial truck that I'm not licensed for. My boss and coworker were smoking pot in the back. I was constantly being screamed at: "Drive faster! Drive slower!" Finally I turned around and told them I shouldn't be driving anymore. I was uncomfortable. It was an unsafe situation and despite how much I needed the money I couldn't put myself through it anymore. Our boss told me to get out of the truck. We were on I-95. 

I got out of the truck on the side of the highway and walked to a train station in Scarsdale. I had $10. I was able to buy a ticket to Harlem and then jumped on the train back to Stamford hoping that I could make it to Connecticut without being asked for a ticket. The conductor was walking towards me when I was able to get off the train and walk the three miles back to the warehouse and get my car. 

Over the next month I fought with my former boss over whether or not he should pay me. He was trying to claim that he had hired me as an apprentice that CT apprenticeship law allowed him not to pay me. He was wrong. I did eventually get paid but not after exchanging some heated emails, texts, and phone calls. So I saved them all and set them to music. Here you go:

In other news, someone sampled my voice for a contribution to the Waywords and Meansigns project which I am also a contributor to. Check it out.





Sweet Rivers + new performances

I'm beyond lucky to have seen two beautiful performances of my music in the past few weeks. Natalie Hunt and Yukiko Oba performed my art song "To S.M. a Young African Painter Upon Viewing His Works," with poetry by Phillis Wheatley.

And at the beginning of the month Jeremiah Cossa and Cory Gross performed the first three movements of my song cycle, "I Keep Writing In Place of You." Poetry by Xu Lizhi. The final three movements are going to be performed by Felix Aguilar-Tomlinson this fall.

I'm maybe a little burnt out on how much vocal music I've been writing lately but every time I think I'm going to take a break from art songs and choral writing, I get another new idea for a project. So here I am again, finishing a song cycle, working on an opera, and starting work on a piece for string trio and baritone. 

Last night I (late to the game) watched the Bomb the Music Industry documentary, Never Get Tired. I have so much respect for Jeff Rosenstock and his work and it was pretty beautiful and inspiring to see everything laid out on film like that. There have been a lot of comparisons with Fugazi and "Instrument" but I really think these are different sorts of documentaries. Instrument is really more of an abstract portrait of a band while Never Get Tired is a straight up chronological talking heads documentary. That's not a judgement call it's just pointing out a difference. Bomb the Music Industry only played all ages shows, capped ticket prices at ten dollars, really never sold any merchandise, and gave away all their records free. They're really an inspiring group and deserve to be immortalized in this way. But really just try not to cry at the end when they splice all the performances of Future 86 together. 

Dérive is about to record demos of our new album so I have frantically been writing and rewriting and rewriting lyrics. The Boston Conservatory Contemporary Music Ensemble is going to be performing my piece, "Sweet Rivers" on Tuesday April 4th.

Today I am snowed in at my partner's house in Manchester, NH so I am spending the day writing and editing.

Short current listening playlist:
1.) Beethoven String Quartet 8
2.) Dag Nasty - Can I Say
3.) Zemlinsky String Quartet 3
4.) Ligeti Requiem
5.) Fauré Requiem
6.) Holy Molar - Cavity Search
7.) Vacation - Bomb the Music Industry

from a route 3 coffee shop

I am very happy to announce that my miniature for soprano and cello, "I Can See You and I Know What You're Doing," will be performed by Courtney Sherman and Michael Dewhirst on a faculty recital on March 28th at The University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. These two premiered the piece a little more than a year ago as part of A Very Small Consortium and I'm very happy that they'll be playing the piece again.

In ongoing project news:

1.) Dérive is hard at work on a new album. 9-10 songs it's looking like. We are making some demos next month and the studio time is booked for May. We have a couple shows booked before heading out on a full US / Canadian tour this July. 

2.) I will be collaborating on a new piece with forty/sixty for their 2017-2018 season. My friend and collaborator Joshua Scheid will be singing with them as well. We're looking at a series of 12 politically themed miniatures so stay tuned. 

3.) Meanwhile I am currently finishing up a trio for harp, flute, and vibraphone called "Sick as the Sound of a Skyscraper Coming Down," as well as going through the preliminary work on my first chamber opera, "War Is A Racket."