Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Winstride Tutorials

Another great orchestra teacher has made a series of tutorials for her students - this time of Winstride! Please enjoy:

Sorry, Cellos and Basses, it looks like there aren't videos in this series for you just yet. But thanks to this wonderful teacher - I hope your students, their parents and the school administration appreciate your efforts!

Edited: Cello and Bass videos have appeared on YouTube! Enjoy!



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Oscar Post-Mortem 2015

Another Oscar night is done and I did only okay this year - I honestly wasn't expecting to match 2014's 91.5% accuracy, but I was hoping to get somewhere in the 80% range. Rather, thanks to a surprisingly strong showing by Whiplash and a few risky picks, I got 71% this year. Not great, but not my worst year.  Here's how it broke down (correct picks are in red):

Best Picture: Birdman
Best Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Best Actor: Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Best Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Best Supporting Actor: J. K. Simmons, Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Best Original Screemplay: Birdman
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Imitation Game
Best Editing: Whiplash
Best Cinematography: Birdman
Best Score: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Song: "Glory" from Selma
Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Costumes: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Makeup: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Sound Editing: American Sniper
Best Sound Mixing: Whiplash
Best Visual Effects: Interstellar
Best Animated Feature: Big Hero 6
Best Foreign Language Film: Ida
Best Documentary Feature: Citizenfour

The final count was Birdman: 4, Grand Budapest: 4, Whiplash: 3, Everyone else: 1. I was hoping for more love for Boyhood, to recognize its epic production schedule and I underestimated the impact of Whiplash, which took two surprise awards.  I'm disappointed that proven veteran Michael Keaton was passed over but am thrilled for Julianne Moore, who finally won after four previous nominations.

Overall, I liked the show itself - NPH is a natural, likable host and did a great job. Lady Gaga has a great voice, but her Sound of Music tribute brought the show to a screeching halt and should have been cut. I was not happy about the In Memoriam montage leaving out Joan Rivers - the woman who basically invented red carpet coverage, personally boosted Oscar ratings for decades, made careers for up and coming designers and upped the standards of the event after years of questionable fashion. Anyone remember what the red carpet was like in the 80's? It was awful.  Besides that, she was a beloved writer and actress and for that alone should have been in the montage.

I enjoyed hearing all the political statements from the winners - the best Oscar moments are always the ones where the show goes off the rails and the producers lose control while someone goes rogue at the mic. After Patricia Arquette took a stand against wage inequality, it opened the floodgates for everyone to speak their minds and I applaud everyone who did.

It was an interesting broadcast with exciting results that left us with plenty to talk about - it's what we hope for every Oscar night. I'll try to do better next year and look forward to more exciting races!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Oscar Picks 2015

It's time again for my Oscar predictions! This year we have a good mix of tight races and sure things. Here's how I see it going:

Best Picture: Birdman
Best Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Birdman
Best Actor: Michael Keaton, Birdman
Best Actress: Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Best Supporting Actor: J. K. Simmons, Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress: Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Best Original Screemplay: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Adapted Screenplay: The Imitation Game
Best Editing: Boyhood
Best Cinematography: Birdman
Best Score: The Theory of Everything
Best Song: "Glory" from Selma
Best Production Design: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Costumes: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Makeup: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Best Sound Editing: American Sniper
Best Sound Mixing: American Sniper
Best Visual Effects: Interstellar
Best Animated Feature: How to Train Your Dragon 2
Best Foreign Language Film: Ida
Best Documentary Feature: Citizenfour

This year's sure things are Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress and Best Song. I'm most nervous about my pick for Best Actor - the Oscar always goes to whomever won the Screen Actors Guild award and this year it went to Eddie Redmayne. But I think the Academy will break the trend and give it to Keaton for his decades of solid work and a fantastic technical and emotional turn in Birdman.

Best Picture and Director have also been up in the air between Boyhood and Birdman and many predict that the categories will split, but I think the Academy will side with Birdman's flashier production and conceit over Boyhood's more low-key, cerebral tone.  Besides, Hollywood people love stories about actors. That's largely why Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan back in 1998.  Boyhood's major strengths are in its writing and editing.

If it goes as I predict, Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel will each win four Oscars, Boyhood will earn three, American Sniper will take both Sound categories and the rest of the hardware will be distributed evenly among seven other movies. As usual, I don't pick short films.

My fingers are crossed, but I can only hope to match last year's 91.5% success rate. Be sure to tune in on Sunday, February 22nd at 7pm Eastern Time! I'm expecting a great show from Neil Patrick Harris (who could turn out to be the next Billy Crystal) and, even though she wasn't an official part of the ceremony, I hope to see at least one tribute to Joan Rivers.

Enjoy the show and I'll post here with the results after the Oscars!


Thursday, January 29, 2015

Conducting at IMEA

You guys!  I had such an amazing time on January 16th at the Indiana Music Educators Conference in Ft. Wayne! I cunducted an "open rehearsal" of three of my pieces - Avatar, Winstride and Gauntlet - and answered questions from teachers.

Johanna Marvin and her Riverside Middle School Orchestra rehearsed the music ahead of time, but we had never met in person before that day. They did such a great job and I think everyone had a good time.

I also got to meet orchestra teachers from around Indiana and participate in a reading session of new music , which was a blast. So how did they get me to come to the event? They asked. It was that simple. I usually charge a nominal fee and ask for expenses to be paid, but other than that, it's pretty straightforward.

Then I had to rush home because on the afternoon of the 17th, the OMEA District XIV Honors Orchestra performed their concert, which featured the world premiere of Victory At Home - a new piece they commissioned me to write.

It was a full weekend and one that I won't soon forget!  Thanks to Johanna Marvin, the IMEA, the ASTA, the OMEA and all the students of the Riverside Middle School Orchestra for being so great.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Online Concert Winter 2014

A quick announcement first: I'll be giving a presentation at the Indiana Music Educators Association conference in Ft. Wayne on January 16th, 2015. I'm going to lead an open rehearsal of three of my pieces - Avatar, Winstride and Gauntlet. Bring your scores to follow along, think of questions to ask me afterwards and listen to me show a talented group of young musicians how I like to hear my music performed!

On with the main event: Halloween concerts are done and it's Holiday concert time here in the States - and that means a bunch of new concert videos have popped up on YouTube. Let's have a look at a few of the really good ones:

Up first is the Vivace Advanced Orchestra killing it with Pioneer Sky at the Central Indiana All-Region middle School Orchestra Festival. They perform some nice dynamics and give the piece the right energy - bristling accents in the ostinatos, soulful legato in the lyrical parts. Nice job!

Next, the Mansfield Youth Strings of Mansfield, Ohio open their concert with North Pole Workshop, complete with percussion parts!  Fantastic tempo, nice precise playing and good style. I hope this one catches on. Great job, MYS!

Up next, Angie Cimbalo leads the Region 24 Sinfonia Orchestra at the Middle School Texas Music Educators Association All-Region Concert with a furious performance of Dragonfly. This is a piece that requires intense focus and these young musicians are right up to the task all the way through the end, never letting up. An arranger did a really great job with the harp parts as well - writing for harp is one of my favorite things to do but I seldom do it because so few school orchestras have harp players. But it really works well in this setting and it makes me wish I'd written that part myself. It's a fantastic performance.

Finally, the Olentangy Orange Middle School 7th Grade Orchestra performs Gauntlet. It's a good performance made all the more special by some awesome rock star stage lighting. Excellent tempo, nice expression, and they stick the landing beautifully. Nicely done!