Rock, Bach and Bees

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The daily activities of a freelance classical musician can range from terribly fascinating and engaging to claw-you-eyes-out miserable practically from moment to moment. This past month, I’ve been involved in a particularly lovely version of my freelance life, working on some fantastic projects all over the world.

This kicked off last month, working with Meredith Monk at BAM. That experience was followed quickly by a project written by Aaron and Bryce Dessner called The Long Count. 

Aaron and Bryce are probably best know for their work as guitarists in the Indie Band The National. Their BAM piece was a big BAMstylemultimediaevent (isn’t there a German word for that yet?), featuring Kim and Kelley Deal from The Breeders, Shara Worden from My Brightest Diamond, and Matt Berninger from The National, not to mention a hefty assortment of strings, winds and brass. This piece was super, super fun, full of really great extended-form songs, some mild staging, and a through-line that had something to do with the Mayan creation myth and twins and baseball.

As a freelancer, one tends to be called upon to answer the question 'So, what are you doing now?' or 'What’s next for you?'--a set of questions that can result in serious stress dreams. On a project like this (which was totally great--the most fun--omg), I found myself kind of at a loss for what to say. “Well,” I’d start, “it’s a show at BAM with the Dessners from The National, kind of like an indie rock oratorio? Or extended song cycle? It’s about the Mayans. And baseball. It’s really good!” 

This kind of thing is coming up more and more: the ostensibly classical show written by people best known for their song writing skills, or conversely, classical composers engaging in rock-style touring.

My freelance dream month was rounded out by joining composer Nico Muhly along with three other wonderful musicians from the Bedroom Community Label on a tour of Europe called the Whale Watching Tour. I saw no whales--I saw dead Bach and I documented headlight phasing.

We’re at a kind-of great place right now, where people who are writing thoughtful, well-crafted music are interacting with other people doing the same. This seems like a simple idea, but in a way it’s revolutionary that composers aren’t clawing each other’s eyes out, as they’ve done from time to time (ahem, 1970’s, cough). Anyway, I find the whole thing pretty exciting. It’s making great music! Pollination!

There’s a lot of this stuff going on; I am decidedly a fan. What do you think? Does cross-pollination dilute genres or enhance them?