Tag Archives: Charles Ives

Corning and Elmira: Central New York’s Finest

Another long delay. I’ll try to update this blog more frequently!

The two most recent concerts on the Ives tour marked a notable step in my musical journey. For the first time I was playing not for family friends back in Wilton or fellow students at Ithaca College, but for a general public that had no clue who I was. Luckily I found two wonderful, supportive venues: 171 Cedar Arts in Corning and Lake Street Presbyterian Church in Elmira. It was fun to venture out to these two cities and interact with storeowners as I tried to hang up flyers advertising the concerts. I spread my flyers far and wide, hoping for a good crowd.

In the end, attendance at both concerts was quite sparse, but it was a good reminder of how far I have to go and it got me thinking of new, better ways to promote the Concord Sonata. Despite the small audiences, I did meet one woman at the Corning concert who had the enthusiasm and encouraging power of 20 people! Her name is Barbara, she’s 84 years old, and she loves modern and dissonant music. She seeks it out. How rare is that? Barbara stayed to talk for a while after the recital and was just completely enamored with the piece and how Ives really captured a moment in American history and portrayed it in music. The next day she sent me an email with even more effusive comments about the recital. All it takes is one special person to make an impact!

Throughout all my travel through Corning and Elmira, I discovered a gem of a dive bar: Brady’s Pub (248 W Water St, Elmira). After a long day of hanging up flyers I thought I’d stop in somewhere for a drink and get a sense of the local flavor, and I was not disappointed. The beer taps were that rare combination of diverse and cheap, and Brady himself was bartending. Eventually a group of friendly regulars walked in, and I had some good talks about living in that area, the issue of gas fracking, and beer. I wish I had taken a picture, but I know I’ll be back. If I lived in Elmira, it would be the perfect place to watch sports, play darts, and just hang out.

Corning is also a charming place, from what I saw. These pictures were taken on a quiet Sunday with almost no pedestrians, but there’s a really nice downtown area with restaurants and shopping.

Corning street

coffee

So now that these two concerts are over, the tour is on a bit of a hiatus until January, when I will venture out to Wheaton and Chicago. Until then, I’ll stay current with musical news and random thoughts.

Ithaca Happenings and Tour Update

After a rather long silence since the last post, here’s an update. My first performance of the Concord, on October 4 at Ithaca College, was a fun night. It was really satisfying to be able to share both my thoughts about the music and to play the music itself for a community of musicians that have become close friends. Attendance was surprisingly high, and included visits from Dr. Timothy Johnson, a great mentor and Ives scholar (check out his book Baseball and the Music of Charles Ives), and Dana Wilson, my composition professor. I even saw some students from the music theory labs I teach! My friends and acquaintances seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the music, the lecture, or the whole package. That was encouraging to hear as I look ahead to future dates.

improv

I’ve been a witness to some musical highlights since then. On Wednesday the 8th I heard a concert of faculty/student musical improvisation. It was the largest, most diverse improv program I had seen, and each ensemble, whether trumpet and piano, voice and jazz combo, solo viola, or other, offered a unique and thoughtful musical moment. The overriding feeling of the concert was a spirit of newness and freshness. Improvised music has the benefit of being developed on the spot, coming from intuition and gut reactions to other musicians. It is not overthought or overworked. It seemed to me that everyone left that concert happy and satisfied.

On Saturday the 18th I had the privilege of attending another significant musical event. My friend Lynn Craver has put together an opera company, Opera Ithaca, and their inaugural production is Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle. I enjoyed experiencing this music live for the first time, in a production that made good use of limited resources, anchored by extremely strong singers, and appropriately full of dread.

Then on Sunday I drove to Elmira to see Hal Holbrook’s legendary one-man show Mark Twain Tonight! The script is comprised solely of quotations from Twain’s writing, but I was amazed at the scope and consistent brilliance of the man’s thoughts. Some of his statements on politics, religion, and human behavior seem totally fresh and hilarious. I found myself wondering if Twain’s work had the same effect on Charles Ives as the Transcendentalists referenced in the Concord Sonata. Apparently Mark Twain was a close friend of Ives’ wife, to the point that she even called him “Uncle Mark”. With that in mind, I can imagine a few interactions between Charles Ives and Mark Twain, with those two bold, independent men cracking jokes and talking about America.

Speaking of Elmira, I’ve added a new tour date:

Thursday, October 30, 7:30 pm
Lake Street Presbyterian Church
300 Lake Street
Elmira, NY

Announcing the Concord Sonata Tour

Have you ever discovered a piece of music that then became an indispensable part of your life? A piece that marked a turning point in your study of music itself? A piece that you wanted to study, reflect and obsess over?

Charles Ives’ Sonata No. 2 “Concord” is that piece for me. Since my first listening back in high school, I’ve become fascinated with unraveling its mysteries and living with it as a piece of repertoire. As I face the end of my graduate education and the question of What To Do Next, I’ve decided to take this music on the road and see what happens.

As I travel from Ithaca to parts of New York, the Chicago area, and Toronto, I will be starting my recitals off with a lecture to introduce the themes (both musical and philosophical) that inform the piece. This is dense, weighty music that really requires some explanation. Ives himself addressed this concern by writing his Essays Before A Sonata, but I will be adding my own thoughts and insights.

There’s another important reason that I’ve chosen this piece for my first attempt at a recital tour. Ives grew up in Danbury, Connecticut, just a stone’s throw away from my own hometown. I’ve climbed the mountain where Ives used to sit and compose (in a shack he built himself), and I’ve followed his paths through the quiet woods. I connect deeply with the New England nostalgia in the Concord Sonata and the sense of something great hiding just beyond the clouds, the electricity of inspiration and the beautiful terror of life.

Finally, since I have now been studying this piece in some capacity for about five years, I think it represents my truest musical self. It was the piece that made me want to take composition seriously, and I love it more than just about any other music. My only hope with this tour is that some seasoned fans will get an opportunity to hear it live for the first time, and that curious newcomers will have an unforgettable encounter with this tour de force.

Here’s the list of dates so far. I may be announcing more soon, and I’ll post links to the venue sites as the dates draw closer.

Saturday, October 4, 8:15 pm
Nabenhauer Recital Room, Ithaca College
953 Danby Road
Ithaca, NY

Sunday, October 26, 3:00 pm
171 Cedar Arts
171 Cedar Street
Corning, NY

Monday, January 12, 7:30 pm
College Church
332 E Seminary Ave
Wheaton, IL

Wednesday, January 14, 8:00 pm
Fine Arts Building, Suite 825
410 S Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL

Friday, February 27, 8:00 pm
The Firehouse Space
246 Frost St
Brooklyn, NY

Thursday, March 12, 8:00 pm
Gallery 345
345 Sorauren Ave
Toronto, ON