The Tinderland: A Tragicomic Cabaret

Last night I had the wonderful experience of seeing and hearing a cabaret show put on at The Duplex in the West Village in Manhattan. The show, The Tinderland: A Tragicomic Cabaret, featured David J. Baldwin (music director) along with R-Elle Fry, Amanda Tarver, and Timothy Stoddard singing solos, duets, and ensemble numbers all addressing the theme of dating and love in New York City. The Selections included a variety of pop hits such as “Stay With Me,” “Elastic Heart,” and “La Vie en rose” among others.

As I’m in the midst of a research project about Tin Pan Alley, I couldn’t help be be struck by the similarities between the tales of late-19th century New York City entertainment and the performance last night. What really struck me was how the show weaved together contemporary pop hits, classic ballads, standards, and even songs from movies to support a personal and relevant dramatic theme, and how it integrated and embraced the nature of a drinking establishment as performance venue.

Despite the many changes and twists and turns that we see and hear about in the American music scene, The Tinderland affirmed that some things are so good that they can and will remain for some time.

Money, Not Quality

Back in 2006 tech entrepreneur Andrew Keen wrote an article for The Weekly Standard entitled “Web 2.0″ that criticized the increasing rise of democratized media and growing ability for anyone to publish books, make movies, or record an album with newly inexpensive technologies. Keen argued that traditional curators of content, the “media and culture industries,” perform a valuable service by making sure that the best works of art and the best artists find their audiences:

The purpose of our media and culture industries—beyond the obvious need to make money and entertain people—is to discover, nurture, and reward elite talent. Our traditional mainstream media has done this with great success over the last century. Consider Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Vertigo and a couple of other brilliantly talented works of the same name Vertigo: the 1999 book called Vertigo, by Anglo-German writer W.G. Sebald, and the 2004 song “Vertigo,” by Irish rock star Bono. Hitchcock could never have made his expensive, complex movies outside the Hollywood studio system. Bono would never have become Bono without the music industry’s super-heavyweight marketing muscle. And W.G. Sebald, the most obscure of this trinity of talent, would have remained an unknown university professor had a high-end publishing house not had the good taste to discover and distribute his work. Elite artists and an elite media industry are symbiotic.

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Barstow

One year ago today I went on stage in the Kasser Theatre at Montclair State University in New Jersey to perform Barstow by Harry Partch. I was joined on stage by Jonathan Evers, Devon Yasamune Toyotomi, Liam Sheehy, and Mike Deering. Barstow was performed that evening alongside several other works for Harry’s instruments. This was the final performance on the original set of instruments at Montclair before they were moved to University of Washington last November. For many years I had dreamed of performing Harry’s music, and this performance was an amazing opportunity and experience. Although I am glad that the instruments are at a supportive institution, I am sad that I can’t just hop on a train to enjoy their presence. Hopefully I will have the opportunity to perform Barstow and other works by Harry again in the future.

David Ward-Steinman (1936–2015)

David Ward-SteinmanI received word yesterday that the composer and pianist David Ward-Steinman has died. Dr. Ward-Steinman was a teacher of mine at San Diego State University and one of the first people who encouraged me to compose music. My first memories of him was walking into his office and showing him some early, early works of mine (works I’d never let anyone know about today). “The fugue is better than the prelude,” he said before urging me to submit them both in my portfolio for entrance into SDSU’s composition program.

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Furious 7

Today the news broke that Furious 7 raked in over $380 million worldwide during its opening weekend. When I first heard that Universal Pictures would be making a seventh film in the series during Superbowl IL (I had forgotten that Paul Walker had died in an automobile accident back in 2013 when the movie was still in production), my immediate reaction to the trailer was to start laughing. When a film series reaches part seven, I expect only the worst.

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Eight Years of Furniture Music

Eight years ago today my senior composition recital was held at Smith Recital Hall at San Diego State University. The concert included nine different works I had composed over four years at SDSU, and these works quite appropriately represented my creative output from 2003–2007. Strangely though, I quickly lost interest in the works after I graduated, and today I rarely share anything I’ve ever composed prior to 2008. There are however, a couple works I gladly continue to share and those are the two bits of muzak—or furniture music as Erik Satie would call it—I composed as intermission music for the recital, “Causal Friday,” and “Easy Street.” These two tracks together have the most hits of all time on my soundcloud page (making them the most popular music I’ve ever written!), and one has even been included as on-hold music in an Israeli comedy short.

I eventually published the tracks as the two-track album Waitin’ Around on soundcloud, and the songs remain near and dear to me. There’s something fascinating about music that is not meant to be heard. Muzak is truly one of my guilty pleasures, and a my not-so-greatest secret is that I would love to have a regular job composing on-hold music for all those people, waiting around, on hold.