Friday, February 19, 2016

Corvallis-OSU Symphony Final Frontier Concert 2016

Corvallis-OSU Symphony Orchestra - Final Frontier concert poster 2016
I have the honor, once again, to be part of another great Corvallis-OSU Symphony concert on Sunday, February 28, 2016 at 3pm at LaSells Stewart Center.  For more information and tickets, visit the Corvallis-OSU Symphony web site.

I'll be guest-conducting the following works:

Star Wars Medley - music by John Williams
Flying Theme from E.T. - music by John Williams 
Star Trek Through The Years - music by Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, et al.
Space Oddity - words and music by David Bowie, arranged by Rob Birdwell; featured vocalist: Marc Callahan
A Brave and Startling Truth - poem by Maya Angelou, music by Rob Birdwell; featured poetry reader: Shelley Moon

Other works to be performed and conducted by Corvallis-OSU Symphony music director Marlan Carlson include:

Am I excited?  Way beyond that!  There's a tremendous amount of talent on and off stage - professional musicians, teachers, extraordinary students, and pro-level community players comprise this orchestra.  A hard working symphony board and masterful music direction by Marlan Carlson make this, like so many other concerts, a one-of-a-kind event.

Corvallis-OSU Symphony
It's an honor to be able to "play" (as conducting is my instrument for this gig) with such talented musicians.  As usual, I'm humbled but soaking in the experience and always learning new things.  The 30 minutes or so that I'll spend on the stand during the performance imploring musical expression out of the orchestra for my selections - and flowing along a good deal of the way too - won't compare to the hours/days/nights of preparation, dreaming, scoring, communicating, persuading, doubting, and hoping.  That's true with just about everything though - probably why I like watching those "making of" documentaries of films or music as much (if not more) than the finished product.  

Dr. Marlan CarlsonMarc Callahan
Marlan Carlson and I were chatting in his office in early December 2015 about the possibility and logistics of adding David Bowie's Space Oddity to the program, preferably with an operatic baritone singer. To my delight he said he knew just the singer.  I followed him from his office as he speedily lead the way to the studio of Marc Callahan.  Marlan asked Marc of his availability, introduced me, and then I mentioned the Bowie song; Marc took maybe 20 seconds to stew this idea around before he said, "why not?" and just like that a new arrangement, song, and performer were slated for the concert! It's been a joy getting to know Marc and his exceptional vocal talents.  I can't wait for him to unleash that thunderous voice of his on this song - it is musically and emotionally fitting that a wondrous voice and talent such as his will be performing it.  Coming in the shadow of David Bowie's recent passing makes it all the more poignant.  I'd been scoring the arrangement of Space Oddity and completely immersed in all things Bowie for several weeks when I heard the sad news.  The gift of Bowie's Blackstar album and the stories from his collaborators shed light on his relentless artistry despite what he was facing.  Can't get much more final frontier than that.

Shelley MoonThere are always pleasant surprises and happy accidents when putting together any music, program, show or concert - getting to know poet, author, and storyteller Shelley Moon is certainly one, and Maya Angelou's poem "A Brave and Startling Truth" is another.  The concept of the "final frontier" theme is clear in every line of Dr. Angelou's poem - written in 1995 in honor of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations - and Shelley Moon's reading of it will be a gift for all as she lends her artistic voice and life experience to every word, phrase, and meaning in the poem.  As Maya Angelou so eloquently states, "We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world " - that's final frontier stuff all the way.

Rob Birdwell
Shelley Moon's reading of "A Brave and Startling Truth" will be underscored by my original music inspired by Maya Angelou's words and message.  It's an experiment and there's always risk in this sort of thing but I'm grateful for this collaboration and opportunity. 

And finally, don't even get me started on the Theremin and all that I learned about that instrument and its inventor over these past couple months!  More on that later - hopefully much more!

Rob Birdwell

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Art of The Rant

I don't understand
this world we're livin' in
how a billionaire blowhard
would ever think best to be
the President of all America 
    boom for the business
    bust for the soul
    I wanna let it all go...
                     -Rob Birdwell (from the song "Let It All Go")

Maybe the best rant is the one we keep to ourselves.  The world is awash with relentless pontifications and tirades.  Why add to the noise?

Well, why not?  Besides, the medium of song tends to soften the blow.

My song "Let It All Go" came about somewhat indirectly when I read someone else's rather nasty little rant - none of which had anything to do with my life or anything I cared much about.  But the comments made me pause to consider, imagine, and eventually provided more than enough fodder for this little song.  Recorded almost as fast as it was written, I filmed my live vocal take and then added some trumpet for this demo...or mon petit divaguer, if you will - enjoy!

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Wayward Dog - a score for Jazz Band and String Orchestra

I wrote Wayward Dog as a way to combine a jazz band and string orchestra.  Although scored for younger players, this chart will work great for more advanced groups too.

Wayward Dog by birdwellmusic

Directors: this chart is a great way to bring your jazz and string groups together! Please contact me if you're interested in performing Wayward Dog.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Kanye West and Aiming for the Bushes

Kanye West is a man of many talents and resources for sure.  However, his seemingly boundless confidence does, at times (especially like this), remind me of the scene in the 2010 film The Other Guys.  Two actors (who are only in the film's first few minutes) played by Samuel L. Jackson and Dwayne Johnson, portray detectives with boundless confidence on the dangerous and mean streets.  Nothing can go wrong for them; they have the admiration (and envy) of their peers; they are impervious (or so it would seem) to all perils of their profession.  Yet that fateful day arrives when they simply over-estimate their abilities and miss the mark - by a long shot.

Aim For The Bushes

Kanye West Sings Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen at Glastonbury

Okay, so maybe Kanye was aiming for the bushes on this one.  I get the strange sense that he landed just fine.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

MuseScore 2.0 Preferred over Finale

I've been a Finale user for many years - and I will be for many more to come.  However, it probably won't be my go-to music notation software for new projects.  I'm pretty much using MuseScore 2.0 for every new project these days - it does just about everything extraordinarily well, is reliable, feature rich and fits nicely with my own workflow and preferences.

Here are my top 10 reasons why I now prefer MuseScore 2.0 over Finale:

  1. Note entry - MuseScore 2.0's features in this department rival even Finale's Speedy Entry feature, something I never thought would be possible.  
  2. Navigator - the ability to navigate quickly to any part of the score.  The Page and Continuous view modes directly correlate with Finale's approach but the Navigator (bird's-eye view) greatly enhances both of these views.
  3. Slurs and hairpin dynamics - these are just two examples of common input shortcuts made simple.  Pressing "S" will slur any selected notes; hairpin dynamics are input using the < and > keys.  Pretty intuitive!
  4. Chords Symbols - I love MuseScore 2.0's ability quickly enter chord symbols just the way I want!  No, chord symbols don't play back as they do in Finale - but that was never a desired feature and one I often had to scramble around figuring out how to turn that feature off.
  5. Metronome - I know this is a simple thing, but I love this feature.  I no longer have to compose a drum part as my click (although drum and percussion entry in MuseScore 2.0 is very powerful).
  6. Page and Score Layout - I've gotten pretty good at page layout with Finale although much of that learning was the product of a great deal of time and experimentation.  MuseScore 2.0's layout features (with the "Breaks and Spacers" and the vertical & horizontal frames) are easy to use and work pretty much as I'd expect.  
  7. Inspector tool - very useful for selecting a group of notes and changing their attributes en masse.  At first it seems like an "Advanced" tool but once explored you'll be clicking F8 to get at these features - for example, making notes invisible, making a group of notes smaller, etc.  All very easy with this tool.
  8. Looping Measure(s) - the ability to select one or more measures and loop them in playback!  That's really useful for practicing lines with the score!  Used in conjunction with the metronome and this is a double cool feature with many practical uses!
  9. Playback - the score playback in MuseScore 2.0 is actually quite wonderful.  The ability to control the mix and pan are especially intuitive.  Do I miss Finale's Garritan Orchestra playback?  Maybe a bit.  But it really is about notation first.  We're writing music for a player to see and bring to life.  The playback must be good, but not at the expense of bogging down the system. Besides, people who need super high resolution playback simply have no imagination! ;)
  10. Open Source - I love the fact that this software has a huge community and support network.  It's a true marvel, creating such a feature-rich tool for creating musical scores and lead sheets given the wide range of musical styles and preferences within the world of music notation.  The barrier to entry is incredibly high, but MuseScore 2.0 clears the bar and then some.  And because it's open source, the anticipation and support for new features will hopefully continue long after this MuseScore 2.0 honeymoon is over!
  11. Repeat Last Selection ("R" shortcut) - I know I said "Top 10" but my list of favorites would be incomplete if I didn't mention the "R" feature - which is to say the "Repeat" feature whereby you simple select any measure or note group within a measure and press the R key - those selected notes notes and/or measure items will be repeated to the next beat or measure.  This is extremely powerful and reduces millions of key strokes!  
I love many, many other aspects of MuseScore 2.0 - from the ability to import a variety of formats, including MIDI and MusicXML, to being able to export a score's playback to MP3, WAV or other audio format, to being able to use MuseScore 2.0 on Windows, Linux or Mac.  The list of favorites goes on.

However, there are many features I still greatly appreciate about Finale - most all of the same things I like about MuseScore 2.0, but these features are particularly powerful in Finale and are either missing, lacking, or unknown to me in MuseScore 2.0:
  1. Note Mover Tool (ability to move/merge/replace select notes from one staff to another) - yes, I can copy notes many different ways in MuseScore 2.0, but when it comes to fine-grained note movement I believe MuseScore 2.0 could improve on this lack of functionality.  Finale's "Note Mover" tool would be a nice feature to have in MuseScore 2.0.
  2. Exploding Notes - although MuseScore 2.0 does indeed have a very useful "Explode" note feature, it's limited to the staff directly below the one you are exploding too.  Finale has more fine-grained control over this feature.  I wish MuseScore 2.0 would allow me to explode notes from different voices as Finale does.  Still, I can work with MuseScore 2.0's explode note implementation - works good enough for what I most commonly need. 
  3. Copy/Paste only certain items (via filter) - Finale's features in this department are powerful.  While MuseScore 2.0 rivals many of them, I miss being able to (easily) copy only articulations, slurs, et al.,  from one melody to another un-detailed..  Maybe this feature exists in MuseScore 2.0 - but as of this writing it's not obvious to me how to do this.  

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Following My Muse

I've been in love with music for a long, long time.  I enjoy learning about it, listening to it, writing it, and of course performing it.

I love the friendships, laughter and deep kinship I experience with fellow musicians.

Music can serve as a refuge (the word "escape" sounds a bit negative, though it may very well be).

Music opens up many conversations and causes me to think about the natural world in different ways - there are so many mysteries and things still unknown.  Perhaps music and all that goes into it (and from it) is helping to contribute to human kind's understanding and perspectives.

There's a responsibility being a musician - one must be prepared, show up on time of course, and play the gig in front of them.  In any creative endeavor, there's a mix of emotions: excitement, anticipation, and a fair share of disappointment - all of which test our will to continue creating.  But continue to create, we must.

Most of my favorite musicians and artists are what you might call "elders" - they are men and women who have been around.  In the youth-centric media market it's easy to lose sight of the fact that there remains a wealth of deep wisdom and artistry in the work of these elders - those who have lived through success, failure, re-invention, and are still pushing boundaries and creating and performing.  Yes, I keep an eye and ear open to the new trend, the new thing, the new "it" - but with all that is new we must also devote our attentions, at least equally, to those who have traveled and those who continue their creative travels.

So here I am - after all these songs and years, finally making my first music video - a real do-it-yer-selfer for sure.  But I did it - and I'm not boasting, just sayin'.  Part of the muse we all follow requires that we be vulnerable; that we share a part of ourselves and our work.

In his poem Bluebird, Charles Bukowski - a prolific poet and author who explored many wonderfully dark aspects of the human condition - seems to speak of himself; that sweet part of him that, if revealed, might blow his cover.  Pretty cool way of doing just that!  Night after night - following his muse.  And thank goodness for that.

Following the muse - it's a choice.  To follow her may be folly, but to ignore her would be ignorant.

To follow one's muse is to pay homage to all we are; to all we were; to all we are to be; to all we have learned; to all we have loved; to all we have dreamed; to all who have believed in us; to all who would deny us but no longer can - because we followed our muse;  to times past and times still to come - when, if we're fortunate, the muse will still beckon.

Rob Birdwell