Posts about my own studies, my work as an educator, or academia in general.

Guest lectures at the 2018 Epcot International Festival of the Arts

Between January 19 and February 19, I will give five different thirty minute invited lectures as part of the 2018 Epcot International Festival of the Arts. The lectures were great fun to prepare and to give to an enthusiastic audience of park-goers at the Odyssey Festival Showcase. The lectures are:
The Evolution of Flow in Hip Hop. Here, I trace the growth in lyrical and rhythmic complexity in Hip Hop from the late 1970s onward, with a special emphasis on the musical, Hamilton.
Maverick Composers. American music history from its very beginnings before the Revolution to the present has its strain of independent thinkers that changed how we all see things. Composers included here are William Billings, Charles Ives, Henry Cowell, John Cage and George Crumb.
A brief history of Jazz. I trace the several musical threads that lead to the birth of Jazz, with a close look at New Orleans itself, because understanding its specific culture helps us better appreciate jazz. We end with a quick tour of the trail blazed by the giants of this uniquely American genre.
The music of John Williams. We put John Williams’s music in context both in film music history and classical music history, with a special emphasis on how Williams so successfully navigates the special demands placed on composers for film.
Women Composers. From a small handful of historically recognized women composers prior to World War II, women have fought and powerfully earned a central place on the world stage of the concert music tradition. We’ll survey this history, with special emphasis on the amazing and varied voices that women composers represent today. Composers featured in this lecture include Hildegard von Bingen, Joan Tower, Jennifer Higdon, Wendy Mae Chambers, Julia Wolfe, and Sarah Kirkland Snider.

Heart! We Will Forget Him anthologized by Inside View Press

Sing Into Your Sixties… And Beyond!

Soprano Sangeetha Rayapati has included my setting of Emily Dickinson’s Heart! We will forget him! for soprano and piano as part of her vocal pedagogy textbook recently made available by Inside View Press.

Here is the description of the textbook from their web site:

A manual and anthology for group and individual voice instruction

Original Edition (ISBN: 978-0-9755307-7-1) 220 pages

Sangeetha Rayapati, DMA


Sing Into Your Sixties… And Beyond breaks new ground in the pedagogic literature for singing. While information about the aging voice is plentiful in the disciplines of speech language pathology and audiology, few resources have been available that focus on voice training for mature singers—despite the fact that a major demographic shift is about to occur in our nation! Dr. Rayapati’s background in anatomy, physiology, and psychology, ranging from nurse’s training to her graduate specialization in voice pedagogy, makes her the perfect person to fill this void. In addition to her experience with aging singers as a conductor and chorister, she has provided voice instruction in group and one-on-one settings to people of all ages. These experiences helped her create this ideal new user’s manual for senior-singers: Sing Into Your Sixties… And Beyond!

Equally well-suited to singers and singing teachers, the volume is divided into three main sections. It begins with a manual for singers, Fundamental Vocal Principles: Anatomy, Physiology, and Vocal Techniques, which provides clear and concise descriptions of the challenges often faced by older singers, along with specific exercises to help maintain the best possible singing voice. It concludes with a teacher’s guide, designed to help both teacher and student come to a deeper understanding of the aging process and its impact on the voice. Between these pillars comes an extensive anthology of songs. Nearly 50 musical selections, custom picked with the interests and abilities of senior singers in mind, provide exceptional motivation to keep singing!

Folk and Traditional Songs without Accompaniment
Aamulla varhain (Finnish)
Ajde Jano (Serbian)
Alouette, gentil Alouette (French)
Iskat me, mamo (Bulgarian)
Nuz my sdais krzescijani (Polish)
Sikon (Greek)
Tin Tin Tini Mini Hanm (Turkish)
This Land was made for You and Me (American, by Woodie Guthrie)
This Little Light of Mine (American)
Folk and Traditional Songs with Piano Accompaniment
Auld Lang Syne (Old Scotch Air)
The Blue Alsatian Mountains (Stephen Adams)
The Last Rose of Summer (Thomas Moore)
The Loreley (F. Silcher)
Oh dear! What can the matter be? (Traditional)
Oh, Shenandoah (David Horace Davies)
Sing Ivy (Traditional, arr. Holst)
Slumber my Darling (Stephen Foster)
The Storm (John Hullah)
There’s Music in the Air (George F. Root)
From the Great American Songbook
Ain’t Misbehavin (Thomas “Fats” Waller)
Cry Me a River (Arthur Hamilton)
Don’t Get Around Much Anymore (Duke Ellington)
My Funny Valentine (Richard Rogers)
Sacred Solos
Ah, Holy Jesus (Richard Walters)
I Wonder as I Wander (David Horace Davies)
The Lord is my Shepherd (Robert Leaf)
O Holy Night (Adolphe Adam)
Pie Jesu (Gabriel Fauré)
Simple Gifts (David Horace Davies)
Sacred Duets & Trios
Befiehl dem Herrn deine Wege! (Max Reger)
Commit Thy Ways to the Lord (Max Reger)
Jesus Lover of my Soul (David Horace Davies)
Laudate Dominum (Lorenzo Perosi)
Magnificat (Peter Benoit)
Out of Your Sleep Arise and Wake (R. Mather)
Puer Natus in Bethlehem (Josef Rheinberger)
Secular Solos
An die Musik (Franz Schubert)
Finding Home (Ricky Ian Gordon)
Three Emily Dickinson Songs (Charles B. Griffin)
Waiting (William Campbell)
What can we poor Females do (Henry Purcell)
Secular Duets & Trios
Erano I capei d’oro (Alessandro Kirschner)
Mägdlein auf die Weise gingen (Anton Rubsenstein)
My Dearest, My Fairest (Henry Purcell)
Wanderers Nachtlied (Anton Rubenstein)

Presentation at ATMI Conference in Richmond, VA on October 20

[issuu viewMode=singlePage width=550 height=425 embedBackground=%23940a03 backgroundColor=%23222222 documentId=111021125403-86bc40a3a6d147668515bffa84a4aa02 name=atmi_presentation username=cbgriffin tag=atmi unit=px id=ba9b6ccf-c154-801a-d52a-d4d1f81ce8ba v=2]

I gave an hour-long presentation at the 2011 National Conference of the Association for Technology in Music Instruction (ATMI) yesterday in Richmond, Virginia. The title of my presentation was Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Interaction and Teaching Music Online. I spoke of ways to maximize the ways we use software tools such as Sibelius, Logic, Quicktime, iChat, Adobe Acrobat Pro and Screenflow to both assess student performance and provide instructor feedback. I spoke about Web 2.0 fatigue on both sides of the pedagogical equation and criteria I adopted to make decisions about which tools to choose for my own teaching.

I then spoke about the Web 2.0 tools I use specifically (Diigo, Soundcloud, Spotify, Issuu) and how I integrate them both visually and practically into assignments and tests. One particularly interesting way to take advantage of the portability (via widgets and embed codes) of these various tools is to use them in tests created using Google Forms.

It is possible to to tie these tools together by accessing the source code of a test you create using Google Forms and bringing that into an HTML editor. Once there you can insert embedded videos, images, PDFs, or any other media you like, and have the questions you ask in your test refer to the embedded items. Finally, I spoke about the importance of keeping in mind the visual impact of the way we deliver content online and how critical it is to student focus to keep that information clear and organized.

Back to America

I had to check out from making any posts here for a while, but for good reason. With about 4 weeks lead time, about 6 weeks ago I left Latvia to begin a new teaching position at Full Sail University, a school focussed primarily on digital media arts just outside Orlando, Florida. I’m the Course Director for Music Composition, a newly created position within the MPBS (Bachelor of Science in Music Production) program, itself a newly launched program within Full Sail’s online division. I had to pretty much hit the ground running, but after a month’s time to adapt, I can honestly say I’m having fun teaching again. In the meantime I’ve been trying to furnish my apartment (Overstock, Target, Office Depot, Ikea, Craig’s List… I’ve assembled more home furnishings in this month than my entire life) in anticipation of my family’s arrival from Latvia (Saturday!). Can’t say I’ve experienced much reverse culture-shock, though coming back to American grocery stores was a little strange. Too many choices, not to mention that in Latvia I didn’t have to deal with the notion that a chicken that was not also somehow a cannibal during its short life is here treated as a selling point worthy of an explosion-shaped sticker and a loud font. On the flip side, I’ll never miss Latvia’s the-customer-is-always-wrong mentality. Walking into a Target with a receipt and an item to return with the confidence of knowing there will be no argument is a blessing worth a moment of reflection by us all. Finding the time for creative work has been a bigger challenge at the moment, as I try and squeak in work on a commission from the Colorado State University Percussion Ensemble, also roughly due next week. Gulp. Getting there.

U.S. Embassy lecture tour on Rock music and American Culture

The American Embassy in Riga has invited me to lecture on the relationship between rock music and American culture as part of its annual Month of American Culture.

During these lectures, I will discuss selected songs as a window to understanding sociopolitical and other cultural trends in post WW II America. The songs include Hound Dog (Elvis Presley); Blowing in the Wind (Bob Dylan); Respect (Aretha Franklin); Break on Through (The Doors); Ohio (Crosby, Still, Nash & Young); Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana) and Wake Up (Rage Against the Machine).

Time: April 12, 2010 from 2pm to 4pm
Location: Latvia Culture College
Street: Bruņinieku Street 5
City/Town: Riga

Time: April 13, 2010 from 3:30pm to 5:30pm
Location: Jazeps Medins Riga’s Music Secondary School
City/Town: Riga

Time: April 14, 2010 from 12pm to 2pm
Location: Daugavpils University
City/Town: Daugavpils

Time: April 14, 2010 from 3pm to 5pm
Location: Daugavpils Music Secondary School
City/Town: Daugavpils

Time: April 15, 2010 from 10:45am to 12:45pm
Location: Jekabpils State Gymnasium
City/Town: Jekabpils

Generative Music – Part I – Tiction

One of the reasons you’ve been seeing posts from me lately about the graphic arts software programs Inkscape and Processing is because I’m in the planning stages of a multi-movement, electroacoustic, multi-media work that I will write for a flute quartet based in Rīga (and possibly a second group in Göteborg). In any case, I chose as my inspirational starting point the subject of Emergence, the study of how complexity arises in various kinds of systems.

I’ve gotten a hold of various books on subtopics of the subject, such as Steven Johnson’s Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life, Scientific American’s collection of articles, Understanding Artificial Intelligence, James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds, which I first heard about when listening to the podcast of one of my favorite radio programs, the one for WNYC’s Radiolab.

One of the movements I’m planning will involve projection of an animated, graphic ‘score’ that will be realized/performed by the audience in real-time, accompanied by electronics and the flute quartet. I’ve put myself on the learning curves of both Inkscape and Processing in order to prepare those scores. I’ll talk about my plans for that in another post.

Along the lines of artificial intelligence, I thought I’d try to survey what’s happening with computer assisted (or generated) composition currently, whether algorithmic or not. If I could define the kind of activity going on in this regard right now, I’d break it down into two categories, each with sub-categories: those that require knowing or learning code (such as LISP, see for example, Peter Siebel’s Practical Common LISP, also available at Amazon) and those that are principally driven through a GUI (Graphical User Interface). The subcategories for each of those are FLOSS or FOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) vs. Commercial.

I want to talk about my experiences, early impressions, difficulties, or whatever else comes up:
1.) because it will help me process my own thoughts;
2.) if I overcome some technical hurdle (and boy, do they seem to have a way of persistently appearing) I might as well share my solution to save the next poor soul some time, and;
3.) to the extent that it’s offered, receive the wisdom and/or expertise of anyone who comes upon what I’m writing and wants to share.

tiction_topSo that brings me to Tiction, a quite beautiful, freeware “nodal music sequencer,” created by Hans Kuder with Processing. I downloaded the program, and followed the brief instructions at the website. Tiction doesn’t generate sound on its own, so needs to be connected to an external MIDI keyboard or an internal software synth.

There are basically three menus in Tiction:
1.) The Help menu, which is basically a list of keyboard shortcuts for setting up the nodal network, N to create a node, C to connect it to the next one, etc. It’s very straightforward.
2.) The Options menu, which allows you to choose 16 specific pitches according to their corresponding MIDI note number, with a default setting of a C major scale/diatonic collection, the MIDI In/Out connections, sync parameters, the ‘bar brightness’ and ‘do physical actions on trigger’
3.) The Edit menu (reached by selecting a node and typing E, which allows you to select specific parameters for the highlighted node, including MIDI channel, physical actions (such as jiggle, attract, repel), and velocity, among other things.

I first connected it to my external MIDI keyboard via my typical Core Audio MIDI Setup in Mac OS X, selecting it from the Options menu. I created several nodes, connected them, and fired it up. Right away, Tiction made some interesting music, with compelling visuals to go with it. The default behavior dictates that the network of nodes you’ve created drift around the screen, and depending where the network is drifting along the X/Y axis, it will affect the register that is sounded as well as affect the velocity. What that means is that the default mode is really rather musical. Set certain nodes to attract or repel, and the activity on the screen and the music generated become more agitated. Change the pitch collection and its potential broadens again.

I was so excited, I began thinking that it would be great to look into Screencasting software so that I could make a video of Tiction doing its thing and project it for the audience. I would record MIDI into say, three or four MIDI channels in Logic, add, edit, or modify material as I saw fit, and voilá! One movement done! Since there will be a choreographer and some dancers as part of the project, I thought this would make a perfect accompaniment.

Picture 1 I then wanted to try running Tiction through Apple’s Logic, and here I wound up hitting several hurdles, some that were solvable and some that I haven’t been able to yet. First, running Tiction into Logic requires using the IAC (Inter-Application Communication) Bus that comes by default with Audio MIDI Setup in OS X. At first it didn’t work. I tried it with Midipipe. Still no. Since Tiction was made with Processing and since Processing requires conversion into Java, AND since, evidently, there is some lack of support from Apple with Java, I thought the problem may reside within the Java extensions folder. Looking through the (not particularly current) message board at the Tiction website, I decided to buy Mandolane MIDI SPI, thinking it was a long-shot, but since it was cheap, well, okay, and it was. A long shot, that is. Still no. But on the right track. Turns out the only extension necessary is: mmj (because since OS X 10.4.8 Apple no longer supports some java MIDI packages). Download mmj and copy both mmj.jar and libmmj.jnilib into /Library/Java/Extensions.

Finally! I get Logic and Tiction talking to each other. But another head (or 3) grew on the hydra:

1.) I can’t set the nodes to play on different MIDI channels. Whenever I hit “E” and edit the MIDI channel number, no matter what number I enter, it always resets itself to channel 1 as soon as I hit “E” again to exit the editor.
2.) I’m having the same “note off” issues that others reported in earlier versions of the software.
3.) I can record MIDI data into Logic from Tiction, but I can’t get their metronomes to sync up. If I select anything other than “Use Internal Clock” in Tiction, it refuses to play for me.

So, it’s not yet necessarily at the deal-breaker stage for me. Though it would be some work, I could still realign the MIDI data to proper bars and beats to deal with the sync issue. (I don’t know if there’s some clock drift over time or not that might make that more complicated than I think). I could re-orchestrate the MIDI data to whatever channels I want after the fact, though that would be time-consuming, and probably less organic than being able to do it directly from the original. I suppose I could make the MIDI ‘note off’ problem a feature rather than a problem, especially if I choose to involve the flute quartet in some interesting, crunchy way against the held tones. (I could also manually shorten other groups of notes that didn’t turn off.

I posted this issue on the Tiction website. If I get an answer that solves it, I’ll report back. Otherwise, anybody out there already run into and solve this problem?
September 21, update: Problem #1 is solved, with help from Hans Kuder. When changing the MIDI channel in the individual node’s Edit menu, you must use the ENTER key for the change to take effect. The other half of the issue, on the Logic side, is that it is necessary to go to File>Project Settings>Recording and check “Auto Demix by Channel if Multitrack Recording.”
Note Off and Sync issues remain.
February 15, 2010, update: I’ve been meaning to say for a while, that Tiction’s website was down for a while, but now it’s back up. But anyway, Tiction broke under Snow Leopard. Hans Kuder is a ware of the problem and is looking into it. Check his website periodically for an update. I noticed that another, simpler program called MIDI Game of Life, which is also Java-based broke under Snow Leopard too.

Nätverksläger för tonsättare och musiker at Klackbergsgården, in Norberg, Sweden, July 27-August 1

At a conference in Helsinki in October 2008, I met Swedish composer Martin Larsson, who told me about a pilot project he was running in Norberg, Sweden with guitarist Patrik Karlsson called New Music Incubator (literally, Networking Camp, which sounds better in Swedish than English) for Composers and Musicians, a 5-day intensive workshop where 5 composers and approximately 25 musicians come together. The composers each write a new piece every day for some combination of musicians, followed by an evening performance of the works and a final concert some months later in Västerås Concert Hall. Geared toward post-graduate professionals and not limited to contemporary classical music, it’s an opportunity to explore, to simplify, to step out of one’s comfort zone, and to expand one’s network.

I invited Martin and Patrik to come to Latvia and speak to members of the Latvian Composers Union about the possibility of expanding this project so that participants could apply from throughout the Baltics and Scandinavia with the goal that the camp would next take place in Latvia, with me as the local administrator. We successfully applied to Kulturkontakt Nord for €10,000 to hold the camp outside Liepāja, Latvia in the summer of 2010.

This July I will go to Sweden as a composer participant so I can experience the camp first-hand. All the better to administrate next year, my dear.

Lectures in Lithuanian Cities, May 5-13

One of my projects this past year has been the preparation of a Powerpoint lecture series on American music for the American Embassy in Latvia. I prepared 5 90-minute presentations, on Classical, Jazz, Blues, Rock and Hip Hop. I have now been invited by the American Embassy in Lithuania to give the lectures there. I will lecture in Kaunas on May 5 (Lithuanian Music & Theater Academy); in Vilnius on May 6 (Lithuanian Music & Theater Academy); in Klaipėda on May 11 (Klaipeda University); and in Šiauliai on May 13 (Šiauliai University).

Job Season (Shoot Me NOW!), CV and Teaching Philosophy

I haven’t written a pure blog entry in a long time… It’s been mostly concert announcements and the like. But it’s Academic Job Season again. Which makes me think of the Abbott and Costello “Who’s on first?” variation from the old Bugs Bunny cartoon where Elmer Fudd (who is hunting rabbits specifically) has both Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck cornered with his gun, and Bugs gets Daffy to insist on getting himself shot.


Bugs: It’s true, Doc; I’m a rabbit alright. Would you like to shoot me now or wait ’til you get home?
Daffy: Shoot him now! Shoot him now!
Bugs: You keep outta this! He doesn’t have to shoot you now!
Daffy: He does so have to shoot me now! [to Elmer] I demand that you shoot me now!
[Elmer raises his gun. As Daffy sticks his tongue out at Bugs, he is shot. Daffy walks back over to Bugs, gunsmoke pouring out of his nostrils]
Daffy: [to Bugs] Let’s run through that again.
Bugs: Okay.
Bugs: [deadpan] Would you like to shoot me now or wait till you get home.
Daffy:[similarly] Shoot him now, shoot him now.
Bugs: [as before] You keep outta this, he doesn’t have to shoot you now.
Daffy Duck: [re-animated] Hah! That’s it! Hold it right there! [to audience] Pronoun trouble. [to Bugs] It’s not “he doesn’t have to shoot you now”, it’s “he doesn’t have to shoot me now”
Daffy: [angrily] Well, I say he does have to shoot me now!! [to Elmer] So shoot me now!
[Elmer shoots Daffy again]

Anyway. That’s close to how I feel about applying for academic positions. But I just retooled my Curriculum Vitae, and created a teaching philosophy statement. I would very much appreciate constructive feedback on either one. I hope the Teaching Philosophy doesn’t come across as the same old, same old pablum.

While I’m at it, I wonder if anyone out there who has been or chaired a search committee might care to illuminate the process by commenting on their experience(s)? I have only taught adjunct, so I’ve never been on one. In the last three years, I have made it to the interview stage three times. The first time, someone with a choral conducting qualification got the job over me, because conducting was entailed. The second time, they broke the position into multiple adjunct posts in the end. The third time I was painfully nervous during the sample lessons I gave, and they gave the position to an internal adjunct candidate.

But I would love to know a few things, the most obvious being what makes one person’s CV float to the top of the candidate pile?

But also random things about the process that sometimes contribute to it feeling like a hassle, like:
• Why do committees ask for things that will make the entire applicant pool spend money on something like official transcripts, videos of teaching, CDs or scores, etc., rather than waiting to reduce the pool to, say, 10 candidates?
• After just reducing the size of my CV from 8 pages to 5 (primarily by winnowing my complete list of works down to commissioned works only), I see a vacancy announcement specifying a desire to see a complete list of works. Why?
• As for letters of recommendation, which is more important, the content of the recommendation or the name-recognition of the referee?
• How important is it to see a cover letter truly tailored to the school to which it’s sent?

Teaching philosophy

As a classroom educator, I model myself on a combination of several professors whom I have been fortunate to know. Teaching effectively requires flexibility, patience, humility, inquisitiveness, humor and creativity. I strive to be clear and methodical in my presentation, to keep the path between the specific and the general visible, and to individualize the learning experience as much as possible. Mistakes should be embraced as instructional opportunities. I strive to bring into the conversation about music ideas from other disciplines such as history, the sciences or psychology, in order to create multiple inroads to understanding for my students, but also to introduce them to the notion that an embracing open-mindedness to disciplines outside of music will help them become better musicians and critical thinkers. As much as possible, I try to treat the classroom as a laboratory environment for my students, where they learn by doing, by being active rather than passive.

When giving composition instruction (in addition to listening, score study, and reading), I follow an excellent model for discussion I learned when participating in a workshop at New Dramatists in New York City, led by Ben Krywosz. He learned it originally from the field of dance, but applied it here to an intensive workshop on collaboration between composers and playwrights/lyricists. There were five composers and five lyricists (and five singers plus an accompanist). We had to produce a lot of collaborative work, and every other day, we would come together and the performers would read through the pieces. When it was time to critique each other’s work, we followed a very specific five-step model for the discussions:

1. Say something positive. This forces us out of our typical reflex reaction, which is to find faults or something we would change had we been one of the authors. A lot of good-faith effort went into the attempt to create something artistic. It shouldn’t be too hard to find something positive to say.
2. You can ask them questions about the work, but not one that couches a negative opinion (like “How dare you?”). An example might be “What inspired you to evoke that image in the text?” or “What was the mood you were hoping to achieve?”
3. The author(s) can ask us questions. They might ask “Did that tempo work for you?” or “Could you understand the text in that vocal register?” etc. Truthfully, we as creators tend to have a sense about what is working well and what isn’t, and this provides an opportunity for the creator(s) to voice their own concerns. This can also preempt some of the content in the next step.
4. Opinion. This is the time we can present the negative aspects of our larger reception of the work. Here, whatever remaining technical or aesthetic issues can be addressed. All creative artists feel a certain emotional vulnerability that accompanies putting one’s work before other people. After steps one through three, that vulnerability has diminished, and leads to an ability to receive these opinions rationally and constructively.
5. Big picture. Here we examine the issues brought up in the discussion and determine if any are relevant to the discipline as a whole.

Perhaps one of the most important reasons I appreciate this model is the respect it accords people in their artistic efforts. I have found it useful when speaking with composition students, performers, or colleagues alike.