Steven Rosenhaus, Composer, etc.
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Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Steven Rosenhaus" journal:
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A nice note|
Today I received a note from CPT Charles L. Stuppard, Commander of the Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Ft. Story, who attended the Navy School of Music's concert band concert the other week at which my work Unbreakable was premiered. Here is most of his note, dated June 28th:
Dear Dr. Rosenhaus,
I wish to extend my congratulations for your outstanding...contributions to the School of Music's 75th Anniversary Concert last Thursday evening.
....[T]he song [sic] you composed, Unbreakable, was truly befitting of the evening and the School of Music's milestone anniversary. Your participation truly helped to make it a memorable event.
Again, thank you for your support and contributions to our men and women in uniform. It's patriots like you which makes me proud of our country.
(signed) Charles L. Stuppard
Captain, U.S. Navy
Current Mood: honored
U.S. Navy School of Music, Graduation Speech 6/25/10|
As noted in the previous entry, I was recently given the honor of giving the graduation address at the U.S. Navy School of Music in Norfolk, VA. A friend suggested I post it, and so I have. Some things you should know: CDR Ralph Ingraham is the Commanding Officer of the Navy School of Music. It was he who invited me to give the speech, which tied in nicely with the performance of Unbreakable in which he led the School's concert band the evening before. The graduation ceremony included a review of the troops, which CDR Ingraham and I did. You should also know that once in a while I deviated from my written speech, but only in spots and only to rephrase something slightly. Note that the use of the word "rare" below is an understatement: I am the first civilian to give such an address. Lastly, please note that none of this is meant to be ironic or sarcastic.
Graduation Speech for U.S. Navy School of Music, June 25, 2010
Commander Ingraham, thank you, as well as the faculty and staff of the School of Music, for the honor and privilege of speaking today. I understand that it is rare for a civilian to be afforded such an opportunity, and I avail myself of it with great admiration for your service and dedication to our country and the sobering knowledge such service is by no means limited to music. Whether you serve here at the School of Music being musicians and helping musicians in training in their development, or on foreign soil protecting the principles and ideals that are the foundation of our country, please know that what you do is important, greatly respected, and appreciated beyond words.
For those of you graduating today, I have been asked to offer you words of advice and, frankly, I am concerned. I never served in the military, so there is nothing I can offer about what it takes to be a sailor, soldier, or marine. You must rely on your commanding officers and your own experience and good sense for that. But you are graduating from the School of Music, and that gives me an advantage: I can talk about being a musician and I can speak from experience. And maybe, just maybe, you can apply what I have to say to the military aspects of your life as well as to the musical ones.
My first advice is listen. Whether you're playing an instrument or singing, listen to what you're doing. Is your instrument tuned properly? Are there any extraneous squeaks, squawks, rattles, buzzes? Singers, brass players, and wind players, are you breathing properly, supporting phrases and extreme notes in your range? More importantly perhaps, what is the music you are making? Are you just playing the notes to get to the end, or are you saying something? Listen to yourself, your inner self, as well. Play, sing, speak, and do from your heart, and let your mind have a say as well. Listen to your fellow musicians; whether you're playing classical chamber music or in a small jazz group, the best music is made when everyone pays attention not only to what they themselves are doing but also to what their colleagues are creating. And while the word "listen" technically doesn't apply, watch the conductor - at least once in a while. Listen to what your colleagues have to say too; listening is often the best way to find out what you have in common with other people.
Remember that there is a huge difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is passive; it is an unconscious (or at least subconscious) act. Passive hearing turns music into something just going on in an elevator, or played over speakers in restaurants. You are not engaged with the music. Listening, on the other hand, is active; you are aware you are doing it, and sometimes it takes a bit of work. Listening to music, not just hearing it, allows you to find learn about it if it's new to you, or to delve deeper into its complexities, or just to find different ways to appreciate it. Listening to your fellow musician, your fellow sailor, soldier, or marine, can accomplish some similar things.
My next bit of advice is quite obvious. The old joke tells of a violinist new to New York City, lost on the streets of Manhattan trying to get to his first gig. He stops someone and asks, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" To which he is told, "Practice, practice, practice." Like some old jokes, this one isn't as funny as it is true. But what does "practice" mean? Practice means, at least on one level, work. If you want to be the best trumpeter, for example, you're going to have to put in the time on your horn. Practice. You want to be the best conductor? You're going to need a lot of podium time, leading all types and sizes of ensembles with different levels of technical abilities. That's practice. The inventor Thomas Edison said "Success is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration." A composer develops as a writer of new music learns music theory and counterpoint, but also by writing, which to me is the same as practice. Practice good musician habits - treat your instrument with care and respect, and do the same with your fellow musicians, with your fellow man or woman, and with the world itself. Practice good human being habits. In Judaism there is a concept called Tikkun Olam - heal the world. That concept appears in all the world's religions, and for good reason. No matter what you are required to do in the service of your country, whether it's playing a fanfare or going on patrol in a place that is literally foreign to you, realize that in some way you are doing so to heal the world in some way.
Here's a piece of advice that I admit has been the hardest for me to learn. By all means take music, your music, seriously; take what you do, what you create, as seriously as you can. But try not to take yourself too seriously. Egos should be healthy, but don't let them rule. When I have been lucky enough to conduct some of the Navy and Army bands in my own music, I sometimes wear a tee shirt to rehearsals that I had made up. The front says "Blame the Composer"; the back says "Blame the Conductor." What I mean by this example is be open to having fun, even when you're working hard as all get out. Smile from time to time; if nothing else it improves some embouchures.
My last recommendation is to remember from time to time why you became a musician in the first place, and why you serve our country as a musician as well as a member of the Navy, Army, and Marines. I, for one, am glad, awed, and proud you did, and I am humbled to have had the opportunity to address you today.
Steven L. Rosenhaus
June 25, 2010
Current Mood: Honored
How I'm celebrating 30 years as a composer|
Yes, you read correctly. Thirty years as a composer. 1980 was the year I revised something I had written as undergrad and declared it my first "official" concert piece (For Clarinet Solo). That was also the year I completed my Masters thesis work, Woodwind Quintet No. 1. I have worked hard but I have also been fortunate in many ways. Especially considering the current economic climate, this is especially true this year. Here is what I've been working on and will be working on for the near future.
* Finished Volume 1 of The Etude Project, a series of original graded performance etudes for chamber ensembles, written in consultation with the faculty of the U.S. Navy School of Music. While it incorporates elements of the USNSoM curriculum, The Etude Project can be used in any educational setting at high school and above. It is already being used at the Navy School and at Sacred Heart University. It will be officially published by year's end.
* Finished The Apian Way for piano. This two-movement work was requested by pianist Laura Leon. Laura is not only an incredible pianist, she has been a consistently strong supporter of my music. She has requested and/or commissioned several works, including Pro*Ject, Matilda Variations, and the Waltz Rhapsody -- and now The Apian Way. And yes, that's "Apian" as in "bee-related." Laura hopes to premiere the work later this year.
* Finished Unbreakable for concert band. In addition to Laura Leon as a champion of my music, I'm blessed with several folks of a similar bent who serve (or have served) in the U.S. military. CDR Ralph Ingraham, who currently serves as Commanding Officer of the U.S. Navy School of Music, is one. While he did not initiate The Etude Project (that was his predecessor, the now-retired CDR Donald Keller, Jr.), CDR Ingraham has been extremely supportive of the work (and patient with me while I worked to get it "just right"). And, as soon as I handed in the aforementioned Volume 1, he commissioned me to write a work for the School's concert band to celebrate the School's 75th anniversary. The title "Unbreakable" refers, in an oblique way, to the men and women who serve our country, but also to the quality of diamonds -- the traditional association with a 75th anniversary.
Now and Upcoming:
* I'm in the third week of my three-month composer residency at Flushing Town Hall (FTH), which entails my coming in...to compose. That's all. Just compose. Basically whatever I want (see below for my current work). And I get a stipend. Oh, and did I mention I will be putting on a concert there within a year as part of it? (This is my first such composer residency, after many times applying for, and not getting residencies at MacDowell Colony or Yaddo. Who knows what will happen next?)
* I finished the last bits of Unbreakable at FTH and, unusual for me, set right on to composing a new work. This one is a commission for the New York Repertory Orchestra; the work (as yet untitled) will be premiered in one year (May, 2011). It's slow going right now (as it always is at first), but the groundwork continues apace.
* In the meantime trombonist (and Sacred Heart University Band Director) Keith Johnston has asked me for work using trombone and organ. I have never written for organ before, but I follow the composer's unwritten rule: "Say 'yes' to the gig, then figure out how to do it." I'm already learning a lot, but I'll have to work with an organist at some point soon.
* One more commission coming up, this from the New York Chapter of Music Teachers National Association. I won't have any details until at least October of this year (the premiere will be in October 2011), so all I know is that it is to be a chamber work.
* I'm also in the rewrite stage of a new book, The Concertgoer's Guide to the Symphony Orchestra. It's meant to be user-friendly introduction to the concert-going experience. The publishers like it enough so far to continue the project.
Not at all a bad way to celebrate.
Current Mood: cheerful
Rumination on "Rent"|
This past weekend I saw a production of Rent done at Sacred Heart University (I was surprised that they did it "full-out," but I was not surprised that they did it well). It got me thinking:
* Jonathan Larson died, tragically, just before the show originally opened. That Rent is a very good and moving show there is no doubt. What is in question is whether Larson would have made any changes (or additions or deletions) once the show was up on the boards. Based on what now exists I hope he would have; nothing major mind you, but a snip here, a slight reshuffle there, maybe a different song in spots, that sort of thing.
* The show is based on Puccini's opera La Boheme, itself based on a story by Henri Murger. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Larson updated the time and place as well as the main characters (and adding a few in the process). Such updating is done a lot in theater (I've done it with collaborator Jay Michaels with Critic, which is loosely based on Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper); the story told in the opera and in Rent may be more soap than opera but it works for most folks.
* What I like about the show (this is apart from the production, which I enjoyed) is the believability of the characters, not only in what they do but what they say (and how they say it). A few minor characters come off as false (the landlord/former friend is one), but we can easily suspend disbelief with the main roles.
* What I'm not fond of about the show is...well...the music. (Please note: This is only my opinion. Your mileage, as people say, may vary.) The overall style is okay (rock edging into pop) but no song really stands out, and that is a shame. Also, there isn't enough variety from song to song for my taste, even when Larson makes an effort to give a character his or her "own" music. The result is very pleasant (or rather, as pleasant as the story allows) but somewhat shallow.
I am very glad I saw this production. The actors really gave their all and were brave in doing so (one character is a transvestite and another moons others at one point); this is not an "easy" show to put across, but they did. Singing abilities ranged from wonderful to adequate, and even the few lesser voices convinced me that this was intentional, that this was part of their characters. The single set was quite adaptable and let the audience use its own imagination to fill in gaps; it's nice to see a show where more effort was spent on getting the =show= right than the scenery. The pit band was very professional, literally as it turns out. I would be interested in seeing the same group do another show.
Current Mood: impressed
Yet another update (and the hits just keep on comin')|
As I have posted elsewhere, I am amazed and humbled by the turn my composing career has taken as of late.
Today I found out that I have been awarded the Con Edison Composer Residency at Flushing Town Hall (in Queens). To quote the program's literature: "New York City-based composers in all music genres are invited to apply for one of six (6) three-month residencies at one of three cultural facilities. The newly-expanded residency program will provide awardees with use of suitable composition and rehearsal space for a three-month period, as well as a stipend. Each facility will present a free public program featuring their resident composers' work." My residency is scheduled from May through July.
Note: This is only the program's second year.
Current Mood: satisfied
* Finished Eb book (Etude Project, Vol. 1); Mid-way through F book.
* Finished first draft of The Secret Life of Bees for piano, Laura Leon. Not bad, methinks. (Sounds tonal but it's really twelve-tone tonality; very useful ttt is.)
* Got a couple of leads for funding for the Australia trip (for premiere of the Lute Concerto).
Edited to Add:
* Finished the piano piece (including editing and engraving), but changed the title. What was The Secret Life of Bees is now The Apian Way. Less confusion that way, and possible more fun.
Current Mood: Never bored
* Finished the B-flat book for The Etude Project. On to the E-flat book.
* Tried working on the piano piece. More erasing than writing today, but that will change soon (I am hopeful).
* Did not watch the Super Bowl. Did see a bit of the Puppy Bowl online though.
Current Mood: working
State of the Union|
Finally had a chance to watch the President's State of the Union address (on the New York Times website, complete with a simultaneous transcript). Some random thoughts:
* I never expected Obama to instantly and magically make problems go away; he himself said, throughout his campaign, that he couldn't and no one could. The last year was proof of that. As he (correctly) reminded everyone, ten years ago our federal budget had a $200 billion dollar surplus. By the time Obama took office we were already several trillion dollars in debt. He also reminded us that in going ahead with the TARP plan he was continuing Bush's policies "because it was the right thing to do." That Republicans now blame him for this is inconsistent, contradictory to their previous actions and policies, and makes them seem petty, posturing, and negative for its own sake.
* Obama called upon Republicans, and to a lesser extent Democrats (perhaps not enough), to stop putting the next election and their own agendas ahead of the American people. Here, here, I say!
* It was as interesting to see the frankly overzealous standing ovations the Democrats gave Obama as it was to see the Republicans, with equal determination, well, sit during those moments. Some polite applause from audience right (as if they forgot themselves for a moment?) but mostly conscious decisions to not respond. Obama noticed it too ("I thought I'd get applause for that" when he spoke of tax cuts implemented in 2009). Come on, folks. You've been drinking the Fox "News" Kool-Aid (tm) too much, methinks. And Dems? You're not off the hook either. Get to the business at hand and if it means crossing party lines at times, be the pioneer and cross that aisle. (And Joe Lieberman? Maybe you should just sit where you are for a change.)
* Many of the ideas Obama proposed seem logical on first blush, and may very well turn out as good or better. Some might fail. I don't know enough to judge which or why. They certainly deserve to be tried and, as the President said, if someone has a better idea, tell him. (The implication being, it's not enough to say "no"; this reminds me of the "Argument Sketch" by the Monty Python's Flying Circus troop, but the point is taken.)
Like I said, just random thoughts.
Current Mood: pensive, w/cautious optimism
Speculations on an essay in 1/3/10 NY Times|
Charles Isherwood wrote an interesting essay published in today's New York TImes; it's called "Cue the Chorus: The Musical Endures" and I thought I would comment as I go read through it again. Please note that these are my opinions. That and a Metrocard will get you on the NYC subway system.
Isherwood says at one point: "In singling out a half-dozen of the most significant musicals of the decade, my criteria were not exclusively personal or artistic. Some choices typified a significant trend; others marked a peak of achievement or an inflection point." Indeed, forced by the limitations of article word counts to talk about only six shows pretty much guarantees shows which might (should) be considered "significant" will be omitted. That said:
General Comment: The first thing you will notice is that all of the shows Isherwood has selected are "book" musicals. That is, they all tell stories in pretty much traditional ways, through dialogue, action and, of course, song (and dance). This in itself is significant (there's that word again), in that such shows are the epitome of the aforementioned "Great Tradition" of musical theater.
The Light in the Piazza: The writer claims that this musical signals "the continuing possibility of...'the Great Tradition'". The only exception I take to that is as well-written as the show is, it lacks the one thing that defines shows of that tradition--a memorable score. It is lush, it is beautiful, it is in fact Italy itself, but memorable it is not.
Wicked: I absolutely agree with Isherwood's take on this Stephen Schwartz show. But C.I. is not correct in saying that South Pacific "never stooped to sermonizing"; Rodgers and Hammerstein were rather heavy-handed here. "You've Got to be Carefully Taught" is nothing if not sermonizing.
The Producers: I don't remember where this is from (Sunset Boulevard most likely), but the line "There are no small roles, only small actors" comes to mind. Is The Producers "the greatest bread since slicing," musically speaking? No. Mel Brooks writes good solid tunes that are by no means up to date but are by every means listenable and even memorable (compare with Piazza). The problem, for me at least, is that the actor who takes on the role of Max Bialystock is a crucial factor in whether the show will work or not. Max is the most over-the-top, gregarious, lovable cad ever put on a stage, and you need a Zero Mostel or a Nathan Lane to put Max across. I'm sorry, but Tony Danza was professional in every sense, but he was never believable as Bialystock to me. Or, to put it briefly, what Isherwood said.
I also agree with Isherwood regarding the spate of self-referencing in shows, although I must say that Spamalot did it best. (Curtains came close and was even much gentler about it somehow.)
Mamma Mia!: The first of the jukebox (or as I like to call them, "cover") musicals and, tied with Jersey Boys, the best of them. If I want a revue of songs with a common thread (same songwriter[s], or a common theme, etc.) I'll see a revue. I am not interested in shows called musicals with stories that try to incorporate pre-existing, non-theater songs. With these exceptions (and two more I'll mention in a moment), it doesn't work--it can't work properly. By "properly" I mean that songs in a show must come from the character(s) who sing(s) them, from the time and place in which events occur (or not, depending on the tone of the show), and the action or rather, "the moment." It's darn-near impossible to do that with pop songs, which have rightly been referred to as "three-minute universes." Tommy, on the other hand. was always intended to be theatrical, at least according to Pete Townshend. Lo and behold, that show works. The dance musical Movin' Out, using both Billy Joel's pop songs presented "in concert" while the overall story is told in dance, works precisely because the original source is acknowledged. But these are the rare exceptions--four shows out of how many? In general, pop songs are self-contained; they exist on their own. Compound this with what Isherwood rightly points out is a trend to the "musical as a live movie rerun."
Not that musicals haven't been made out of movies before, and better for that matter. What I think Isherwood misses, or at least doesn't have the print space to get into, is that you can't--shouldn't--just turn a popular movie (or book or play or whatever) into a musical. The original source has to be transformed in some way by the addition of music. Unfortunately there are plenty of examples where that idea--I want to call it a cardinal rule--was forgotten. In most cases these could have been great musicals but missed it, sometimes by wide margin. Just to name a few: Carrie, The Musical; Big (which I wanted to do as a musical but couldn't secure the rights--just sayin'); and The Full Monty (although it's better than the two just mentioned), just to name three. Making a movie into a musical can be done. A Little Night Music comes to mind, as does Stephen Schwartz's The Baker's Wife. Playing in Chicago right now is a musicalization of The Addams Family, starring Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth. I am hopeful.
Avenue Q: Isherwood rightly calls attention to this show. It goes out on a variety of limbs (Sesame Street grows up; puppets on stage) and then supports it with a simple-but-solid story and a memorable score. I agree that Avenue Q helped open things up for shows like Spring Awakening. Spring Awakening though, despite its Tony award for best musical and financial success, doesn't impress me so much. In The Heights however, which Isherwood mentions only in passing, seems to do much more. ITH, has it all: A good story, well delineated characters (although admittedly some of them are stereotypes), and a memorable score that is intimately tied in with the characters, time, and place. (It's not some generic "Hispanic" music making up the score; there is a wide variety of cultures evoked, each associated with particular characters, and it's all done seamlessly.)
Isherwood concludes by noting that only one composer-lyricist on his list "had more than one new show on Broadway during the decade....Mel Brooks." His point is that writers of musical theater don't have the "luxury" of learning their craft by failure. Isherwood bemoans the lack of experienced practitioners (my emphasis). He's right to a degree. There is too much money and other resources at stake to put a new show on Broadway untested or to allow to fail. Off-Broadway and out-of-town productions are one possible solution for this, but these have their own sets of problems. I've noticed that writers are becoming more, well, creative in getting their musical theater works performed. You'll find shows performed in cabarets, clubs, and other unexpected (but logical) venues. There are musical theater festivals, and theater festivals that include new musical theater, as well.
I am more encouraged these days about the state of musical theater, not necessarily by what's on the boards already but by what could be--about which I have no clue. And that's good.
Current Mood: thoughtful
Busy. So are you, so I'll keep this brief:
* Finished preparing In the Cave of Aeolus, for flute quartet, for publication. Title (and movement sub-titles) are based on Greek mythology.
* Finished preparing Undercurrents, for (SATB) saxophone quartet, also for publication.
*Finished recomposing Volume 1 of The Etude Project and preparing the score for publication. (The six parts books--for treble clef C, bass clef C, B-flat, E-flat, F, and percussion--will be ready for publication in early 2010.) I will be presenting the Commanding Officer of the U.S. Navy School of Music with two copies of the score next week.
* Getting back into arranging, with an orchestra project staring me in the face and daring me to complete it.
* New short composition for piano to be finished by end of January, for my all-time favorite pianist, Laura Leon. Not only does she ask me to write works--repeatedly--she plays them. Very well. A lot. And has recorded most of it so far. What can I say besides a quiet yet ecstatic "wow"?
* Working out details on two 2011 commissions, one for orchestra, other for chamber ensemble.
* Working out details for a completely different kind of project, although still dealing with music. More on that when I have finalized things.
Current Mood: busy but beats the alternative
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