man-person-clouds-appleI never thought of myself as one who cared what critics thought. But when I got my first negative review, which basically called me a two-bit knockoff of Aaron Copland, it rattled around in my head for months.

Especially in those moments when I didn’t have something else to occupy my hands, I found them pressed against my temples thinking of my critic. I imagined him, thin-lipped and bald, dressed unseasonably in an ugly tweed suit (I don’t know what he looked like), and found myself incredulous that he could have seen in my work such a caricature of my goals. His two-dimensional view of my piece, myopic as it seemed to me, was frustrating, maybe even infuriating. Long after I’ve forgotten the critic’s name, his words stay with me. (more…)

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The HobNob, 2010.

It’s a humid Sunday evening in June in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’m on the patio of a 30-year-old white colonial house, sandwiched between a vibraphone on my right and an electric keyboard on my left. My horn reflects the golden light inside the house and the softer, bronzer glow from the light standards, flickering to life in the setting sun. The fireflies — which we never see in Colorado — are starting to pepper the air in the dining patio. Even as the heat loses its edge in the twilight, I’m sweating through my shirt in the thick Southern humidity. 

I’m not thinking about any of that right this second, though — the waning sunlight replaced by fireflies, the light dancing on the bell of my instrument, the damp heaviness in the air — because right now someone in the small but jovial crowd has asked for Giant Steps, which I’ve never played in public. (more…)

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Every once in a while, in order to break the creative blocks, I write. My favorite project is to ask friends and colleagues for the titles of their favorite songs, promising to use them as the titles for new flash fiction (very short stories, only a few hundred words in length) and post the results here. Part exercise in new artistic directions, part homage to Mr. Tambourine Man, mostly an effort to fill this space with things worth reading.

I’m often working on these little flash stories behind the scenes, so if you have a suggestion for a title, share it on Twitter @gregsimonmusic, or email me using the Contact page. Here’s the third volume of song title flash fiction, with due credit to their respective sources. If you’re curious to hear the songs behind the titles, just click the artist names.

Volume 1 is here, Volume 2 is here.
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Millenials
Not pictured: Kevin Volans.

There are few things that get under my skin more than the popular stereotype of the millennial. You know the one: lazy, entitled, constantly staring at the screen to see if they can find trigger warnings in their politically correct Facebooks. It’s a lazy, facile, and (frankly) unbelievably stupid characterization of a vague collection of individuals that, when examined more closely, doesn’t really exist. And yet it’s pervasive in our culture here and internationally, mostly perpetuated by relevance trolls or writers who have literally nothing else to write about but often easily seen in social networks and casual conversation, even among millennials themselves. If you are a millennial (like me), you see it in boldface all around you. You’re too sensitive. You’re lazy and coddled. You’re entitled. 

Monday was a red-letter day; my frustration with this stereotypical garbage finally intersected with the new music community. (more…)

It’s a well-recognized cause of children-who-are-wrong.jpghand-wringing in the classical music world that concert/art/classical music, new or old, is struggling to stay “relevant.” Our music is losing a PR war, the voices will cry. Where once classical music institutions were beloved national treasures, today they’re cultural non-factors.

“Relevance” is a term often sung in harmony with the timeless “classical music is dying” refrain; not a great starting point, as every “death of classical” article is bound to be a masterclass in logical fallacies and mistaking correlation for causation. What it represents, though, is legitimate: anxiety on the part of classical music’s devotees and practitioners that regardless of the art form’s quantitative place in modern culture, its qualitative place – the actual good it does for the hearts and souls of non-musicians – is being threatened or marginalized. It represents fear that no one cares about or understands the artistic offerings we make so vulnerably, and in the face of pop music or market saturation or smartphone culture the level of appreciation is only destined to wane further. Artists generally want to improve the world through their craft, and even if that’s not the case, they still want to share their projects with people who will find them resonant. As an old teacher once said, we all just want to be heard. So, the discussion of relevance is an understandable one.

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book-reading-learning-letters.jpgEarly last month, I sent up the proverbial Bat-signal for suggestions of song titles, promising to use them as the titles for new flash fiction (very short stories, only a few hundred words in length) and post the results here. Part exercise in new artistic directions, part homage to Mr. Tambourine Man, mostly an effort to fill this space with things worth reading. The quest for such titles goes on, and there are more coming for the remainder of the month and perhaps beyond. If you have a suggestions, share it on Twitter @gregsimonmusic, or email me using the Contact page. Here’s the second volume of song title flash fiction, with due credit to their respective sources (songs without sources are ones which I chose). If you’re curious to hear the songs behind the titles, just click the artist names. (more…)

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Earlier this week, I sent up the proverbial Bat-signal for suggestions of song titles, promising to use them as the titles for new flash fiction (very short stories, only a few hundred words in length) and post the results here. Part exercise in new artistic directions, part homage to Mr. Tambourine Man, mostly an effort to fill this space with things worth reading. The quest for such titles goes on, and there are more coming for the remainder of the month and perhaps beyond. If you have a suggestions, share it on Twitter @gregsimonmusic, or email me using the Contact page. Without further ado, here’s the first volume of song title flash fiction, with due credit to their respective sources. If you’re curious to hear the songs behind the titles, just click the artist names. (more…)

Photo by hira3 via Flickr. Licensed under CC-BY-NC.

At one university I attended, Famous Ensemble came to visit the composers’ seminar: the topic was “How to Make It In the 21st Century Music World.” I walked into the room excited and bright-eyed, ready to take notes. Students asked questions like: “What are your favorite pieces?” “When I send you my score what can I do to ensure it gets considered?” Over the course of the lecture, my eyes kept getting drawn to a faculty member in the corner, who was staring at his iPhone the whole time, even while the extremely polite members of Famous Ensemble were talking. I was shocked – how rude, and what a wasted opportunity. I couldn’t understand it.

By some time later, I had sat through what felt like a hundred seminars with famous performers, composers, and conductors. The opening speeches were the same. The questions from the crowd were the same (“what are your favorite pieces?” “When I send you my score what can I do to ensure it gets considered?”) By the time I saw Famous Ensemble again at yet another composers’ seminar (some years after the first), I understood why that faculty member was more interested in his iPhone: he’d heard the same thing a thousand times before.

But he was still wrong – after all, the problem wasn’t the artists who showed up to share their work and thoughts with us. The problem was us. We asked them about craft, economics, career, technical specifications. We forgot to challenge them, to engage them in questions about art and music and how the two fit into this ever-factioning cultural world. Most artists, I think, have a lot to talk about. How exciting those hundreds of seminars would have been if we’d only done our job.

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Last week, the American music world’s shine grew just a little dimmer.

Richard Toensing (‘Dick’ to his students), a composer, conductor and music educator, passed away on July 3, just a month after announcing to his friends and colleagues that he’d been diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer.

The honors Dick achieved in his time on Earth place him in the finest class of American composers. You can read about them in his obituary, here. But since his accomplishments have already been well-documented (and maybe since I tend to think we spend entirely too much time talking about awards and jobs in this business), I’m going to use this space to share some other thoughts. (more…)

Photo by Paola Frogheri. CC-BY-NC-SA
Photo by Paola Frogheri. CC-BY-NC-SA

Just like the rest of academia, doctoral students usually don’t do coursework in the summer. But don’t you dare call it a vacation.

Somewhere between high school and now, my summers stopped being vacation and became the golden opportunity to do all of the things that are vitally important to my artistic growth and couldn’t possibly have happened during the previous nine months. This particular summer, that involves (among other things) writing the curriculum and copy for a new ear training software; a new piece for trumpet and a handful of Gershwin arrangements for the fall; reviewing a groundbreaking new text from Prof. Ed Sarath; spending much-needed time with my wonderful fiancee and last (but CERTAINLY not least), beginning the process of studying for my oral preliminary exams next May.

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