Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Titanium Man

Happy to say my Dad is doing well after his heart surgery where they replaced his aortic valve with a titanium version.  He had a good night and we're all very happy and relieved.  A great surgical team and nursing staff.  Everyone has been very nice.  Thanks to all for their good thoughts and prayers.


Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sweet Surrender CD - Buy While Downtown Corvallis

Thanks to these local Corvallis retailers for carrying my latest CD, Sweet Surrender:

So...when you're out and about in downtown Corvallis, perhaps looking for some music, stop by and do some shopping...hint, hint!


Monday, November 16, 2009

Graters of the Lost Carp - Movie Debut

CORVALLIS -- "Graters of the Lost Carp," Wednesday, 8 p.m. Nov. 18, 2009, Beit Am, Mid-Willamette Jewish Community Center, 625 N.W. 36th St., Corvallis. The world premiere of the action-packed (yet nonviolent) 30-minute film, "The Adventures of Israel Stein, Gastronomical Archaeologist." Written and directed by Mike Aronson and performed by Beit Am members; music by local composer Rob Birdwell. Admission: $5 suggested donation, $10 per family. Information: 753-0067

Friday, November 13, 2009

All This Stuff - multi-mix demo using Silverlight

Cut to the chase - click this link to view the working version first pass of my 8-track mixer.  

Now read on and you'll know what I'm talking about...

I have a bunch of tunes from the last year or so that I'll probably mix down soon and just be done with them.  Using sophisticated mixers like SONAR and notation tools like Finale, and distilling it all down to a somewhat static "stereo" mix can be a bit of a let down (to me at least).  Why are we trapped in the world of stereo? (And I'm not talking 5.1 Dolby stuff here, but rather the general status quo of the consumer stereo mix for the last 50 years or so.)

What if music listeners could do more than turn up their volume - what if they could mute the lead vocal? What if they could listen in on all the background vocals and/or horn lines?  I know, there are ramifications to this.  But consider live performances - what if our portable music players could tap into the main mixing console (broadcasting openly to those interested "listeners") and interact with live performances with our own portable mixers?  Raising the level of the guitar, focusing in on the horn section....what if?  

Well, here's my first experiment with multi-track playback...using Silverlight.

The tune is mine and called "All This Stuff" - but rather than a stereo mix, you can play around with any of the 8 channels of this mix.

I plan on adding more features to the 8 track mixer console.  And 8 probably is enough, at least for me.  Audio levels, panning, muting - not a bad start.  Soloing and being able to save a mix would be nice features and they will come.

If you click the "red" button (looks like a record button) you'll see a window listing the details of the track data.  You can even modify it.  In theory, a collaborative group of musicians could pop their mp3 links into the editor and it would stream in.

Naturally, a way to do this sans little or no effort is the goal.  Again, what if...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Svens at Bombs Away - Friday 9/25/2009 8pm

CORVALLIS - Come experience The Svens at Bombs Away Cafe, Friday, September 25, 2009.  The show starts at 8pm. The title of this show is "California Fever" - you'll hear a great story accompanied by some terrific tunes.  Hope to see you there.  CDs will be available too.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Corvallis Community Musicians Wanted - Once Upon a Mattress

Community Musicians wanted for CHS/CVHS Musical 

Once Upon a Mattress!

Opening Night is November 12
Show Closes November 22
(November 11 will be a preview performance)

Corvallis High School and Crescent Valley High School will put on a joint production of the musical Once Upon a Mattress.  This  two week run of performances is scheduled to open on November 12 and closes November 22.  (November 11 will be a preview performance)

Due to a high school band related event during part of that time, some of the parts will need to be covered by community players. 

This 1959 show sports a sophisticated and challenging score for a full pit orchestra (strings, winds, brass, percussion).  The orchestra rehearsals will likely begin in mid October - possibly one weeknight and Sunday afternoons.

If you are interested in being involved (even if you can only sub for a few shows) please contact Rob Birdwell AND Michael Grant at the following emails:

Michael Grant - Music Director
Rob Birdwell -

Once Upon a Mattress - Pit Orchestra

1 FLUTE (Doubling Piccolo)

1 GUITAR (Acoustic with amp)
1 PIANO (Doubles Celeste)
2 VIOLINS (Divisi)
1 VIOLA (Divisi)
1 CELLO (Divisi)

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sweet Surrender CD - Now Released on CDBaby.com

It's been months in the making and finally "Sweet Surrender" is here! It has been quite an adventure attempting to formalize and release this collection of tunes that came about so spontaneously.

And I think the wait and work will be worth it. My hat is off to CDBaby.com - a fine (Portland, Oregon) outlet. Those folks have done a great job pulling off a major upgrade of their site and services. The benefits and new features will, by far, outweigh any technical glitches.

Like any endeavor, we all stumble now and then. But what the world remembers is that we were bold, got up, and did our thing the best way we know how!

Thanks for your support. I do hope you enjoy the CD - I enjoyed making it. You can order single MP3 tracks, all of the tracks digitally, or the (personally autographed) physical CD if you want!


Rob Birdwell

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Business Card Advertising with Rob Birdwell

Are you looking for a creative way to advertise your business or services AND support an independent musician?! Here's an easy and inexpensive way to do BOTH!

The sample CD card (the inside portion) illustrates where YOUR BUSINESS CARD or PRE-PRINTED ADVERTISEMENT would be prominently displayed within one or more of my CD releases.

If you would like to fill all or a portion of the CD insert side with your own pre-printed advertisement, I can work with you on this and we will work out a per unit rate that will be 1) affordable and 2) effective.

My recordings reach a modest but interesting and diverse audience. I sell my physical CD stock through CDBaby.com but the vast majority of my physical CD sales are sold directly to folks at live performances.

Key Benefits:
  • Your business card or ad gets into the hands of local music lovers!
  • This low-cost form of advertising helps offset the CD printing costs for me, enabling me to reach even more listeners.
  • Cross-marketing your business and services with the arts is great for everyone!
Please contact me directly if you would like to include your business cards or pre-printed advertisement with my CD releases!


Rob Birdwell

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sweet Surrender by Rob Birdwell

Here's the title track from my CD, Sweet Surrender, in a youtube performance:

Sweet Surrender is available on CDBaby and other online outlets on or after 9/1/2009.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sweet Surrender - CD Liner Notes

Here are the liner notes to my new CD, Sweet Surrender, which I just finished mastering today. The CD, which will be available everywhere in CD and download form shortly, is a collection of improvised settings & songs. I play Flugelhorn, Trumpet, Piano and Tenor Sax. Recorded during a three week period in July 2009, this collection of recordings is unique for me in that I invented the tunes in the moment. It was a wonderfully refreshing process, one which I'm familiar with when collaborating with other musicians, but something I'd rarely tried doing while recording on my own.

Read my complete liner notes for Sweet Surrender...

Rob Birdwell - July 26, 2009

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rob Birdwell - Horns for Hire on StudioTraxx

A compelling site so I'm giving the StudioTraxx service a try - we'll see if anything comes of it. But it's a sound idea and I know the process well since I've been a VHHH (virtual hired horn hand) for some years now. Bottom line is that there are lots of musicians out there and they (we) often need collaborators to spice things up. And if we (the hired hands) can share our talents for a fair rate and help someone along with their project, well that's awesome!

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

A New Day - Notes on an Orchestral/Big Band Composition by Rob Birdwell

The following are my 2009 "composer's diary" entries that captured my experiences composing a rather large work (for me at least!) for the combined ensembles of the Corvallis-Oregon State University Symphony Orchestra and the MPG Big Band (a talented high school band based in Germany).

Here's a balcony-cam video shot of the debut which was on May 19, 2009 at LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus - only the first 8 minutes or so were captured. (And obviously the sound quality was much better than the video rendition here!) Bravo to all the amazing musicians who played so wonderfully on each and every piece!

Diary Prelude

This is sort of a milestone for me as I've written for both types of ensembles before (orchestra and big band), but never as a combined ensemble. It's also been a while since I've written for a large "symphonic" type group, at least a non-virtual one! I'll try to be as honest as I can with these "diary" entries - maybe these logs will be of use for my teaching...or maybe just for posterity - either way, it feels like I should document something of this little adventure. So here's a glimpse into the making of A New Day, a glimpse into the process, the excitement, the mundane, some of the angst, the joys, anticipation, and how it all came to be, at least from my perspective:

Feb 6 - around this time I first learn about a group called the MPG Big Band from Germany through an email from Marlan Carlson, the symphony director (and head of the music department) at Oregon State University. They're coming to Corvallis in May. MC asked at first if I might arrange something for orchestra and jazz band...that would be fun...and as the idea of that took hold I thought: "wouldn't it be fun to write something new, especially for the two groups?" MC said that sounded good and gave me the thumbs up. Uh oh...what have I got myself into?

Feb 10 - materials are being sent to me from MPG Big Band director Martin Drechsler in Germany. Recordings of his MPG Big Band, some sample scores, etc. Received them - a great sounding band for High School. These kids can play. They lean towards the funky stuff but they can swing. They should certainly be able to play whatever I can throw their way. Now what should I throw their way?

Feb 18 - my first sketches start coming out. I just start writing - some of the sketches make no sense. I'm fishing for sure, but there's something magical about just starting to write, even if it's not particularly high quality stuff. It gets the wheels spinning. I know that I can always fall back on some devices, but this exploratory process is interesting so I embrace it and just write child-like, without regard for any of the normal rules of the road or the logistics involved in working with the material later. That's the other "me's" problem. I wouldn't say writing for a "big band" (jazz ensemble) comes super easy for me, but I'm comfortable in that space...it is, however, easy for me to fall into pattern mode and pull the same tired rabbit out of the hat: a bit of swing here, some solos here, a shout chorus here, end it all on a big fat chord, etc. And that's fine and good. But with a whole orchestra there, the situation seems to call for perhaps something more - and that will mean moving into material that's not necessarily safe, tried or true for me. For years, I've wanted to write works that delve, at least for a bit, into the "serious" or "compositional" territory, unbounded by conventional constraints and expectations, going simply for sonic qualities, effects. But alas, I'm simply not a hired film composer junkie, and most of my compositions to date tend to be straight forward smaller combo settings that serve as vehicles for live performance and soloing...

Feb 22 - still sketching...man, where am I going with this thing? Feels like I've written a drop for what should be an ocean of material. Am I on the right track? What if I can't come up with something? What if the players hate the piece...what if my peers, friends, family shake their heads in disbelief at the horrid monstrosity I thrust upon their tender ears....well, all these thoughts and worse go through my mind at various times...as do the fantasies of writing something so stunning that everyone (picture multiple clones of me in the audience on their feet cheering, a la American in Paris) applauds wildly when the final notes are played...ho hum....I simply try my best to ignore all of that head chatter and get on with writing my piece. It will be what it be. And yes, it will be my piece. It won't be Bach...it won't be Bernstein...it will be Birdwell (oh, boy! now I am getting a little worried!)

Feb 24 - been using Finale for years and I'm using it to score this Orchestra/Jazz Band mash up. Suddenly though I wish I wasn't so reliant on it - wish I had ability (dedication?) to write it all on paper first and hand it to the copyist! I used to write the paper way, but never had the privilege of copyists. As I charge forward, my computer/hardware seems to be choking....playback of even simple stuff isn't smooth. I'm long overdue for a hardware upgrade. And of course money is too tight to mention, as the lyric goes. I suppose I will simply have to use my imagination. Never mind those dropped beats...never mind that what I'm listening back to sounds clunky and clumsy at best. I will be using more eye and inner ear for sure.

Feb 25 - heading to to U of Idaho for their annual Lionel Hampton Jazz fest for a few days. I went to school there for two years. I studied composition with Dan Bukvich and Trumpet with Bob McCurdy and was fortunate enough to see both of them while I was there, but just briefly. It was so nice to re-connect, even for a brief moment or two. Met up with some good old friends too, particularly Tom Garrett. Anyway, the festival was great. Bobby McFerrin was a highlight for me - watching him compose on the spot...his comments on improvisation and motion (and this applies very much to composing my new piece!) ...watching him teach and allowing himself to be so vulnerable...that was all very inspiring.

March 1 - I returned home and late that very evening I start to envision a totally new direction for the piece and decide to basically throw out all my 4 or 5 sketches in favor of a new fangled theme or setting. On this day I receive an email from Marlan inviting me to conduct the piece. Cool. Now all I need is 10 to 12 minutes of music to conduct! (The Panic wants to envelop me, but I laugh at it instead and tell it "not yet...check in with me bit later dude...I'm on to something now....")

March 2 - I wake up early and realize that abandoning my initial sketches (and vision) for the the piece is a really BAD IDEA! What was I thinking? Not that my new idea was bad (I don't really think I had a clear idea of what the "new" idea was - maybe I was just anticipating my next piece?), but just that after singing through my initial themes I came to the conclusion that they were, in my opinion, pretty good - they were "me"...and although it was apparent that putting it all together was going to be somewhat challenging, it just seemed like it was a better to go with the devil you know and love...if I'm going to have something stuck in my head for a couple months, well, I guess I want this stuff...and besides, it just might work. And if it doesn't...NO. It will work - it has to. I decide then and there to fully commit to my sketches/theme/vision.

March 3-5: I'm waking up at 5:30 or 6:00 am now to do the work and it's going slow but well. Writing music late at night can be miserable for me, especially if I'm under some sort of self-imposed deadline. It works okay for mundane tasks and that's what I use the night hours for. At the end of the day my senses are usually dulled and my judgment is generally poor. I fumble around way too much at night with technical/creative things, get side-tracked, get frustrated, then sleep is never good. So forget that. I'll go to bed a little earlier, and shift into early morning mode which should comprise all of March and the better part of April. Rehearsals for this piece start at the end of April. I need to get parts to the MPG Big Band kids/director in Germany sometime in mid April. My sense is that I'm on track - but who knows? I'm writing a multi-staff piano sketch. I'm scoring from a single page of "blocking" notes and various little sheets of paper on a clipboard - it's a technique started using while at the Dick Grove School of music. It has worked for me in the past - hopefully it will this time too. Almost up to the initial main "swing" theme that features (mainly) the jazz band. But a sketch is not a score - it's very thin and un-orchestrated. One has to have faith or whatever that this wire-frame will eventually hold water. There are a billion details and things to work out it seems. There are sections I will need to fully flush out and perhaps re-write. Wouldn't 6 months be a better deadline for this project? Would even that be enough? I have about 6 weeks. Yikes! "No Panic, you keep away from me dude." With my morning work done, I review the situation, start this diary of a blog and look forward to more early mornings.

March 15 - at this point (on a rainy Sunday morning) I've reached the "coda" section in my score (which is still in sketch mode) as indicated in my blocking. I've got a multi-staff sketch going and am trying not to over-think the mountain of orchestrational tasks that lay (lie?) before me. I "think" it might be possible to play all these sounds back once I start orchestrating, but that still remains to be seen (or better yet, heard). My "coda" hits at about mm. 291 (subject to change - I'm assuming I'll end up trimming some early measures for simplicity/sanity- still, this is getting to be a monster - not my usual 32 measure bon-bon!). My deadline seems close - must have the Big Band parts pretty much all orchestrated and detailed and ready to post by about April 15 (one month from today- taxes, yikes! Forgot about those!) so they can start rehearsing in Germany before they come to Corvallis. Then get the orchestra parts finalized and ready before the Monday April 27 first rehearsal (correction: the actual first rehearsal is April 20 but I didn't know that yet), of which this chart is merely one of several that will need to be rehearsed. In other words, I shouldn't be blogging right now!

Good thing there are deadlines - nothing would get done otherwise!

Overall, I feel good about the piece and hope to remain so. Some things are still being distilled to their essence. But I think it has a pretty good flow, lots of contrast/contour and emotionally, we'll just have to see. Every time I hear orchestras on TV (like the PBS Chris Botti special or Andre Rieu and his orchestra) I'm always amazed at the, I don't know - call it elegance or simplicity of the arrangements...I see a lot of players, but it sure does seem like a lot of "goose eggs" (whole notes) being played (layed...laid...lain...?)...and maybe that's all the TV world needs. (I'm not being critical - there's more to the music than that of course!) Usually there's a featured performer or two - and arrangers can get get away with large spans of the orchestra sitting around looking pretty, waiting for their entrance some minutes later, which consists of nothing more than, you guessed it, a giant "goose egg" played softly. Pay must be the same either way. For this work, I'm hoping to keep everyone somewhat engaged...sure there will be spans of rests where certain players aren't playing, but hopefully nothing like some of the orchestral 3rd trumpet parts I've had the pleasure to count through! (count with me: 83, 2, 3, 4...84, 2, 3, 4...yawn...uh, oh, where are we?)

I might have mentioned this, but this piece is called A NEW DAY. And Just yesterday I was perusing a section of The Week and glanced an article on Celine Dion (the theme was sentimentality and schlock - themes that I struggle with (or embrace?) when dabbling in the art of music and composing)...anyway, turns out her sold-out Vegas show is called "A New Day" - oh well...I knew my title wasn't going to be particularly original, but just for the record, my titling was in ignorance of the Dion show, and was so named because it just seemed fitting in this day and age - a new president (Obama), hope for the future...and (the pay-off) if you say the title fast it sounds like "A NUDE Day"! But again, that's really more of a fringe benefit and nothing intentional, consciously at least. I can only guess that the Dion team must have realized this too when they went with A NEW DAY as the title of their Vegas show.

March 24 - this weekend I went to Kinko's and had them print a rendition of my score/sketch on 11 x 17 paper. Since the sketch is somewhat thin (sometimes just a simple melody, bass, and percussion sketch) and there are so many parts, I just wanted to shift gears back to paper for a bit, see the entire score at a glance (my computer monitor is good, but not that good!) and pretty much mark up everywhere I want stuff to happen. I like working like this - so nice to just have a pencil in hand and say things like: "okay, english horn, you play this nugget, clarinet 1 & 2 you've got this ditty, and bass trombone I want you to go low...", etc. Sometimes I stick to these mini "work-orders" but often I deviate and improve things even more when it comes to actually entering things into the electronic score. The point isn't to get all the details on paper - it's to get the overall concept. The details can and will be worked out. (I saw evidence of this technique being used for a large scale musical orchestration project in 1996 called Kristina from Duvemala.) The technique is simple: save a temp version of the score; apply "blank notation" to all the stuff not currently scored (and for me that's just about everything except some percussion and my sketch staves); then group sections so each main section is on about a page or two, then print the sucker! My score is about 25 pages - to date, I've orchestrated fairly completely up to about page 6, depending on who you believe (the "optimistic me" or the me that is shaking his head saying, "dude, you've left so many stones unturned...snakes are going to bite you!").

It's amazing what a slow process this seems to be (and just how much I'm actually getting done in a relatively short period of time) - work, family, fun, loafing, sleeping (or mostly not for me!) taking out the trash, working out, playing catch, eating, birthdays, practicing, recitals....all these things and more must and do happen...and still, somehow this little matter of writing the music must also stay its course.

I've had some computer crashes (think it had something to do with corrupted RAM) - even though I've got 4 gig - and/or the sheer number of VSTs and/or the Kontact2 plugin...not sure...either way, Finale 2009 unkindly crashed while making a backup but allowed me to enter notes for an hour or more, the progress bar was frozen on around 44 percent, but somehow I never got the memo that my original .MUS score file was completely trashed...bad Finale, baaaaad....that set me back a couple hours and was no fun. Now I'm pressing CTRL+S after just about every new little change I make. I also run a batch file to move all autosaved and backup Finale files to another drive daily and after every writing session in case my computer decides to self-destruct on me. Did I mention this writing process seems to be going slow? Am I behind? Have I tried to do too much? No time to panic yet - it's simple really. If I orchestrate "N" number of pages per day then I'll be done by "X" date - at this point "X" is floating around April 5 or so, well ahead of any looming deadline - that would be pretty good. As with all types of creative projects, you always want to get your creative stuff to the point where you have a "deliverable" at any point in time. Even if it lacks some of the details. There's seemingly no end to those. And let's not forget about the invariably corrections, adjustments, and possible re-writes.

After the orchestration process, I'll spend some hours reviewing yet another draft print out (printing out 11 x 17 pages is surprisingly cheap at Kinko's - only 20 cents per page! I thought it would be more for some reason...) of the score, mark it up, finalize things, etc....then start creating parts! I'll prioritize the big band parts first as they need to be printed first, and then I'll finish up the orchestra parts. Lots of percussion stuff in this one - lots of every thing in this one!

March 31 - the last day of March! I've been busy orchestrating. Not without some setbacks (mostly technical). But thanks to an updated sound card (I went with the E-MU 1616m PCI card with the breakout box) and a slightly better video card (well, actually much better) I've been able to work in Finale very productively, save for the intermittent crashes anytime I use the note-mover tool for copying/merging notes from one staff to another. Finale support was helpful and I still have one more thing to try (removing the .ini files...naturally!) ...but the days when I couldn't narrow the issue down were not as productive as they should have been. Oh well - many more things are working right!

I'm up to page 20 of 25 in my orchestration (around measure 242!). There are many more details, but I'm blasting through pretty fast now. My main goals are to get this thing printed out again so I can put on my editor's hat and ruthlessly make some simple changes that will hopefully make it even better.

A day ago I was feeling so relaxed - I was thinking, yep, I'm gunna finish this thing, yes sirree...well of course I am. But my good feelings are constantly muddled, what with a bunch of other stuff going on (faltering economy, these darn dark and tough times, etc. Cue up REM's "end of the world as we know it..." - surely there's some good news out there?) - well, none of us live in a vaccum - each of us are affected personally and professionally by these tough times...all of these things are inextricably linked to what we strive for and work for... tough times either inhibit the creative process or fuel it. I'm trying for the latter.

My revised plan is to be through with the "macro" orchestration by the end of this weekend. That will be a good milestone, marking a point in time when it's just about done - save for about a million little details!

April 5 - it's been a busy weekend and lots of stuff going on. My oldest daughter gave a fantastic dance recital and my parents visited. Our Pacific Northwest spring weather has turned unmercifully beautiful....naturally, just when need to hunker down in my bunker. My trumpet practice schedule is off, but I try to play while the computer is rebooting after a crash...so my chops are holding firm! My family have all been very supportive - I'm working just about every spare minute I can now!

I learned on Friday that the first rehearsal is actually April 20, and not the 27th like I'd thought. Yikes - that set off a thunderstorm of work. It really forced me to fix what needed fixing and get on with it.

This morning I re-wrote about 15 measures in order to make the transition into the "chaos" section better...or maybe I made it worse! No, I'm pretty sure what I had was going to be a train wreck and even though it's chaos, the section needed some sort of setup and a bit more, well, "structure" - I've thought long and hard about adding a section of "chaos" into the piece. It's a challenge on many levels. The natural question is: why? Why put something into the score that's potentially so ugly and out of control? Well, why not? So much in our lives are ordered. We're always trying to keep on the rails. I'm certainly trying to keep the piece flowing - and a bit of chaos is merely one part of the flow.

As an improvising musician, playing off the cuff is more or less the norm for me. I also realize that when the notes on the page turn to slash marks, there still needs to be some motivation and intent serving as a "guide"...so setting up that section was sort of a priority. And although I can't say for certain how it will all play out, I'm glad I've got this little section in place. It makes sense to me - it's part of what I do. And now I'll get to hear what happens when about 60 musicians go into the wild for just a bit.

There's lots of stuff in the score that I know will work just fine. It's those unknowns that interest me most these days.

I'm orchestrating the last bit tonight. Reaching the end - wow, it seemed a long time coming, but this is really just the end of what I call my "macro orchestration" phase. Tomorrow morning (April 6) I'll once again go go to Kinko's to get another 11x17 score rendition- my last before the final (rehearsal) score printing. That will really help me mark things up, fine tune things and get me away from the computer for a while. I'll have lots to do - finalizing parts, finishing some parts (piano, percussion, string bowings, yikes!) - and then blasting through the parts!

April 17 - well, it's been a busy couple weeks during the final push, but the score are parts are now printed, the parts have been zipped up and sent to Martin in Germany (MPG Big Band) and on Monday we'll rehearse with the orchestra in Benton Hall for the first time. I must say this: composing is very easy compared to the work involved in putting the score and parts together. Still, I don't mind the grunt work. Hey, it's all grunt work and every little thing really does matter. But coming up with the settings and putting it all into a simple piano sketch - man, the guys who do that work have it easy. I want that gig! Musical orchestrational giants like David Metzger who orchestrate and produce hours of music are, well, just way beyond mortal.

I met with Marlan today at OSU to give him the parts and review the score. We were a couple minutes into it (listening to the score rendition on his computer) and was following along with his eagle eye and ear when the phone rang and he said he had to take the call...it was from Germany. It was Martin calling to say he received my score/parts and had listened to the score rendition. Marlan put me on the phone and I got a chance to chat with Martin. He had some very nice things to say. Wow, that was nice.

I mean, I feel very good about this piece, and know full well the thought and creativity that have gone into it. I've been very deliberate about what and why I wrote what I wrote, and feel that at this stage in my life I can just go for it, write what I want and not be too precious about it (to borrow from the Dave Storrs book of phraseology). Musically, I know what works and what could probably be "better" or whatever...but seriously folks, years can go by without much feedback (good or bad) on my work. I get feedback at gigs when I'm playing in the form of some clapping once in a while - hey nice solo, nice to hear you play, hey that's a cool little tune, yada, yada, but very little nibbles in the streams I fish in when it comes to large scale composition. And I'll confess that it's been a bit of a deterrent to writing more large scale works. With the cost of entry so high (time, not money), I've often questioned whether it's not better to bake bon-bons instead of a these gianormous symphonic cakes. I can create a few bon-bons in a few days. These symphonic ditties are like running a marathon.

So to hear some positive things about a score I worked pretty hard on today was, well, very, very nice. I don't necessarily expect to hear positive things but I won't lie and say I'm not moved and inspired when they do come.

Working on this piece reminded me just how fun larger works can be. And that I'm actually capable of writing beyond the "2 minute wonder" or 32 bar lead sheet.

April 20 - first read through/rehearsal of A New Day with orchestra only. They are such good players - truly amazing. No percussion tonight, so it was all bare naked. After my piece, I sat in on Trumpet but felt like I couldn't even play the instrument! But that's okay - I can, it's just that sight-reading is always humbling. So it gave me a great appreciation for just how well everyone was reading my piece down. There's much to interpret and there are many little stylistic things. I'll review the recording. I'm going to be adding a 3rd and 4th part to the horns I & II parts. There's five of them - I know 4 of them pretty well and that was their feedback. So yes, I'll add in some rich stuff. (I really wasn't sure how many horns there would be - assumed there might only be 2, but what luck with 5!). All things considered, it was a good first read through. But now I really need to focus in on how best communicate some of the stylistic things I want to hear - I think I'll slow things down. I must also work on my conducting - once the orchestra starts getting how it all fits, I want to be there to see if we can eak out just a bit more polish.

I really enjoyed listening to the other pieces - Coolen's piano concerto & Xia's Eulogy. It's always a wonder to see a creative thing, whatever it is, undergo the rehearsal process and eventually turn into something that transcends the page.

(Note: here in my diary process I slacked off a bit - mostly because I was so involved in the rehearsal process, out of "writing" mode, and simply not spending time at the computer!)

May 21 2009 - we did it! The "Around the World Extravaganza" concert on May 19, 2009 was a great success - so much fantastic music. A New Day had its debut and I was very pleased - and that's sort of an understatement. Meeting Martin and the MPG Big Band players was so nice. Such warmth, enthusiasm and talent. Martin expressed that the music was the bridge that allowed us to connect and share our lives with each other and I couldn't agree more. What a great experience for the MPG players to tour the country a bit. Hey, I want that gig!

As for the actual performance, I wasn't so much nervous for myself but rather for the musicians, both in the MPG Big Band and Orchestra...hopeful that they would feel good about their performance, knowing that if they did then it would be great all around. And from my vantage point everyone was spot on - I even felt good about my conducting...didn't get in the way too much or mis-cue (at least not while anyone was looking! That has sort of been my little joke - how amazing it is when the players actually see me make a conducting mistake - because I make so many!) Listening back to a balcony view video recording, the tempos seemed pretty much in the pocket...if anything, I may have been on the sunny side of the beat, but the energy felt really good, and that's just what she was on this night.

Marlan Carlson gave an eloquent introduction about the meaning behind A New Day (which he quite correctly inferred, presumably either from the music or my sparse comments here and there) - Marlan's impromtu introductory words are the perfect summing of what I was trying to express musically and emotionally:

"A New Day - a new day signifying new hope for peace in the world, for reconciliation, and for understanding between all peoples of the world with different ideas of how life should be lived."

Yes, yes, yes...that's exactly the sentiment!

I took the stage along with Dave Storrs (who added his wonderful percussion touches along with his valuable feedback and insights throughout this entire process) and the MPG Big Band vocalists and percussionists (who did a fantastic job). I was a bit late getting on stage at first because we were sort of bunched together off stage and I couldn't hear what was going on until someone said you better go now...so I took to the podium, not really nervous, but definitely feeling a bit naked out there in my little no-tails tux (I really must invest in some tails - I shouldn't be trusted with making fashion choices - clearly the "modern cut" like a business class suit to me!).

When I arrived at the stand to conduct, I immediately noticed that my score wasn't on the stand yet (a prevous piece was!) - so there was a bit of clumsy, but funny, business as John (the assistant who did a spectacular job on everything - there was just way to much for one person to do) promptly came on and we exchanged scores and I then got situated. And a bit more time while the solo mic in front was set up. Then finally the moment was right, and, well, we simply performed the piece.

And it's not an earth changing moment of course, but for me writing and performing "A New Day" was the culmination of many things - mostly just the satisfaction of getting to be involved in the creative process of writing and performing music. I love music - and I love being a musician and I have a love for my fellow musicians! Sounds cheesy, but I never tire of being involved in the process of making music - of talking about it, creating it, talking about it more and sharing what was learned. That's all I've really wanted to do for the last 20 some years. Well, that and have plenty of time to do all the other things in life that are fun to do (family, travel, learning and experiencing new things, etc.)...so to have these weeks of writing, rehearsing and then finally to have a performance in front of so many of my dear family, freinds, peers and the many special folks in the community...well, it was all a very rich.

Thanks to everyone for their personal feedback, comments, well wishes, and hard work. This was an experience I'll always treasure...I've enjoyed connecting with so many talented and creative folks, working together and sharing in a common purpose. It was such a joy to meet, work with a bit, and watch the MPG Big Band perform along with their director Martin; and also to get a bit of an inside look at the many hats and skills Marlan summons to shape and make a program like this one come together.

I'm inspired and look forward to the next thing...

Rob Birdwell (May 2009)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A New Day - World Premier May 19 2009 at LaSells

Needless to say, I'm more than a little excited about the symphonic/big band debut of A New Day, which will take place Tuesday, May 19, 2009. The evening's music will begin at 8pm at LaSells Stewart Center, Oregon State University. Click here for ticket information.

The orchestra sounds fantastic and we're all looking forward to welcoming the MPG Big Band from Germany and putting it all together. This concert is sure to be a very special night of music - the program will feature a wide and wonderful variety: music by Strauss, Beethoven with additional world premiers by Coolen, Hu Xiao, and Dauner.

I composed A New Day especially for the Corvallis-Oregon State University Symphony Orchestra and the Max Planck Gymnasium Big Band.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

BirdwellMusic.com - Print and Play Publishing

As of May 2009, all scores and parts ordered through BirdwellMusic.com will be delivered electronically in the Adobe PDF format. So when you order a score or part from my Store, you won't be getting paper parts in the mail, but rather a downloadable collection of PDF parts (and score renditions) complete with everything you need to simply Print and Play. Over the next few weeks you will be seeing a host of new and re-vamped products listed in my BirdwellMusic.com Store - all the products that involve scores of any size or type will be distributed electronically in PDF once the (modest) license fee is paid.

This is big news and hopefully will serve to provide music directors and their respective ensembles (bands, orchestras, jazz ensembles, choirs, combos, and other groups) more direct control over their licensed parts and scores, printing only what they need, when they need it, with the ability to re-print anytime a part is ever lost or damaged.

There are several advantages to this switch from a paper-based distribution model to the distribution of electronic PDF score and parts:

As a working musician and part-time jazz band director, I know how easily parts get lost or damaged. When you purchase a license for a score from BirdwellMusic.com you'll have copies of your licensed PDFs, so you can print out the copies you need, when you need them.

We're a pretty small shop here at BirdwellMusic.com (currently publishing only the musical works of me, Rob Birdwell), so it's simply not cost effective for BirdwellMusic.com to deliver hard copies of bound scores and parts to groups around the world. Paper, toner, binding, taping, and shipping costs add up quickly. And those are merely the ornamentation of the true "content" of the musical work. But the costs of printing out the necessary parts and score for an orchestra, band, choir (or other ensemble) are relatively small, particularly when the licensee is in control of the parts being printed - nothing is wasted. Part quality will be high and is again somewhat in the control of licensee. Scores can be scaled to an appropriate size for the licensee (you're not stuck with a paper copy that requires a bionic eye to read!). Corrections from the publisher are also easily distributed (not that any of my scores have mistakes!) . Having the PDF files ready to print at anytime makes the process of getting music to the stands a very simple thing to do, as it should be.

This "Print and Play" model of publishing will serve to keep the actual licensing costs of BirdwellMusic.com scores and parts to a reasonable rate, ensuring that every band, orchestra, jazz ensemble, choir or other group has access to our ever growing music library, and simultaneously ensuring a reasonable compensation for the composer.

The bottom line is that I want to do everything possible to make access to my library of scores affordable and convenient. Eliminating the barrier of the "paper" burden should go a long way in making my musical offerings more easily accessible and convenient for music directors to program and perform.

There's always the threat of mis-use of the PDF files. Having access to musical score/part files electronically makes them easy to copy, share, or loan.

However, the folks who purchase licenses for my music are my champions. They are music directors, teachers, and performers. Besides, a true violation of the license terms would be a multi-step process, involve multiple parties, and be potentially embarrassing for any organization if/when they were ever caught. One must actually print out the parts, distribute them to the players, rehearse the musical work, program the piece and, finally, perform the piece at a public or private venue - all with full knowledge that they are doing it to avoid a minor licensing fee. But why would an organization even want to risk the appearance of impropriety, particularly when they are serving as advocates for the artistic merit and value of the musical work by performing it in the first place? And with reasonable licensing rates for parts/scores there will simply be no reason for ensembles to violate the license terms. It will, I believe, be a model they welcome and gladly support. Besides, the old model isn't really working - just ask any publisher!

Music directors are burdened with managing both a paper library of musical artifacts (typically in those rows and rows of gray or black file cabinets) and an ever growing electronic catalog of resources, scores and parts. The former represents the past, the latter the future. The past is not an easy thing to shake, but I at least want to do whatever I can to help make new music easily accessible and affordable to a wide range of musical ensembles - now and in the future.

Time will tell, but I think the benefits of the Print and Play model far outweigh any concerns of mis-use or mis-appropriation. The point with any musical work is to get it performed, to reach an audience and, sure, it's nice (as a creator of intellectual property) to get reasonably compensated. I believe it will be a win-win model and will evolve as things like this always do.

As of May 2009, I'm "electronifying" some of my older scores (March of the Flower Children, Heroic Music, and a numerous other works) as well as putting into place the tools and processes for making my newer works flow into this new Print and Play music publishing model. There's much music to write!

By delivering my scores and parts electronically to the groups I've served in the past (bands, orchestras, jazz ensembles, combos, choirs, and a variety of other instrumental groups) I can keep my publishing costs down and still deliver a professional quality, modestly priced "product" that can be what it was intended to be: performed!


Rob Birdwell

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Contest - Connect to BirdwellMusic.com and Win

My team of web analytic sources tell me that my BirdwellMusic.com web site needs to get a bit more connected with my fan and support base. So we're having a contest with cool prizes to encourage folks to link to BirdwellMusic.com from their personal or company web site and/or blog. Obviously, we're not looking to link with just any old site - but rather, sites that are musical, artistic, and share common themes with BirdwellMusic.com.

Here are the contest guidelines (subject to change) - naturally, donations and outright bribes will improve your chances in this respectable and completely random contest:
  1. Signed "Bootleg Edition" of Rob Birdwell's Portrait CD
  2. Real Trumpet Volume 1 Audio Loop CD - a $19.95 value!
  3. Virtual Trumpet (licensed copy) - a $15 value!
  4. A free 20 minute musical consultation with Rob Birdwell to review your musical goals and get some tips for your playing, improvisation, composing, and/or songwriting - priceless?
If you are selected as a winner, I will additionally set up a permanant link from my site to your site or Blog. And naturally you will be blogged about, twittered, and otherwise bask in a favorable glow of attention from BirdwellMusic.com for years to come in appreciation for your winning ways and obvious good taste!

Contest Tips:
Finding something to link to on BirdwellMusic.com from your website or blog should be very easy. Here are some tips:
So act now by linking to my site and then contact me with the link info and who knows? Maybe you'll be a winner!

Good luck!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A New Day - About the Score - Part 1

My symphonic/big band score entitled "A New Day" will be performed May 19, 2009 at LaSells Stewart Center (Oregon State University) in Corvallis, Oregon. Original works by Hu Xiao and Michael Coolen, and music from Mozart, Beethoven, Dauner, and more, are all part of this diverse program. The following is a bit about my piece.

I had about 8 weeks to get all my licks in...I can't recall ever writing a score with this many parts! I went about it pretty much the same way I always do. Fear, shame and doubt are not on my radar at this early stage - those will come later!

The first few weeks of composing were great - I feel like I touched on some spaces I'd like to continue in future works. After about a week of sketching things out in a pretty random manner I had a bunch of different themes and ideas to juggle around and wasn't entirely sure how they would all play out so I attempted to distill it all to single sheet of paper - a "blocking" - just to give me a bird's-eye (pun intended) view of the piece so I could sing, air conduct, plunk through on the piano, and otherwise grunt my way through the conceptual piece. This is a pretty low investment way to compose - no firm commitments yet. My first couple drafts might have been tossed into the trash...no biggie. It's easy to swap things around this way (with pen and paper). "Blocking" is just part of my personal writing process - I suspect other writers do something like this too, perhaps in their own way and probably a lot neater than mine. It's not always pretty but it forces me to define how everything will go, without getting into too many details. What you see is about 13 minutes of planned music - just from the blocking I had a sense that it would run somewhere in that time range. It would also create for me quite a bit of orchestrational and arranging work, but I tried not to worry about that. By blocking it out, I can sort of get a sense of the end state - it's all fluffy and dreamy at this point and creates a lot of tasks that must get done in order to get to that end state. At this point I had about 7 weeks to write and not a single note written. Yet I pretty much knew how it would go.

Fast forward through all the late nights working through all the tasks I'd created for myself in the blocking (cursing that "me" for the luxury of having such an easy gig!), computer crashes, re-writes, editing and pruning, and I finally have the score and parts ready.

The last three weeks of working on the score were pretty intense - lots of little details and even after printing I still have changes I'd like to make - but it's time to let it go now...I have the great honor of being able to conduct the piece too.

A New Day was composed especially for the Corvallis-Oregon State University Symphony Orchestra and the Max Planck Gymnasium Big Band from Germany.

Rehearsals begin April 20 (and my piece is only one of several originals on the program) .The MPG Big Band will come to town May 14 and the performance is May 19, 2009 at LaSells Stewart Center, Oregon State University.

I'll update this post with more...stay tuned...it's a work in progress! Should be a lot of fun!


Friday, April 17, 2009

International Saito Conducting Workshop June 20-26 2009 in Saskatoon, Canada

The 2009 International Saito Conducting workshop will be held in Saskatoon from July 20 to 26, 2009. Details are posted at http://conductorschool.com/course.html. Participants will be instructed by Wayne Toews, Dianne Gryba and Bonnie Nicholson with assistance from George Charpentier. The workshop will address the conducting of all genres of music with clarity and artistry to serve all levels of players. Enrollment is limited.

Comments from previous participants are posted at http://conductorschool.com/scrapbook.html

See also the offer for the free Saito Conducting Method PDF and instructional resources for band on the website.

For more information contact Wayne Toews at info@conductorschool.com or 306.373.6408

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Sideways Portal - Cloud 9 was Fine

On the heals of our terrific show at Squirrel's in February (actually that was "Sideways Sharks") Sideways Portal performed what I believe was a truly great couple sets (and then some) at Cloud 9. I think we finally tapped into the vibe of this particular room...our first set was melodious and rhythmic - and thanks to all who came and responded with your generosity! Our second set was possibly more adventuresome - I can't recall all the details; but we closed with some of the sonic particles we started with and made something new again.

Ben Mutschler
(tenor sax)
was amazing...Page Hundemer and Dave Storrs played with much joy...John Bliss was out of town but was with us in spirit; I dished some, soaked it all in and couldn't stop smiling!

I think that when you hear Sideways Portal (and I really do mean "hear") you will experience something truly creative and inventive. There's actually quite a language behind the what's all going on in the music. We're not always trying to paint the picture you would expect, but rather the one that needs painting at that moment. Hope you can see and hear us next time. (First Friday of the month at Cloud 9)

Rob Birdwell

Svens and CowboySurfPoetry.com

The Svens played another great show at Bombs Away Cafe tonight. "The Scavenger" was the name of Viking's tale and it was terrific. The tunes went just fine and the sound effects were also very good. And there was a milestone too: the band played to its first ever group of dancers! The Svens recently added a new web site to their marketing machine: cowboysurfpoetry.com - look for some neat stuff on the site coming soon.

Viking - guitar, storyteller
Sven - guitar
Sven - bass
Sven - drums
Sven - sax

Monday, February 23, 2009

Cloud Composing

I've been thinking about this term and it's possibilities: "Cloud Composing". There I said it - and I'm probably a long way from the first. This isn't necessarily a new term since cloud computing can and will naturally apply to just about any creative endeavor. And for those who use little or no technology to create music - well, more power to ya!

For the rest of us, with all our mixing gear, sounds, synths and heavy hitting desktop software (e.g., Finale, SONAR, et al.) it's hard to imagine writing works completely away from those tools. Still, building the little parts away from the studio... from say, wherever we happen to be (a plane, hotel, train, work, vacation, etc.) is very compelling. More than that - it's a necessity sometimes!

As I was thinking about a "wish list" of tools for Cloud Composing, the first thing that comes to mind is some sort of nice web-based notation tool to capture little ideas. Well, turns out that the obviously talented folks at NoteFlight.com have just such a tool. Noteflight is a web-based notation application, running in Flash. On a first glance, the functionality seems way too simple and one might make the mistake of labeling this a simplistic tool. But that would be wrong.

NoteFlight, even in its current beta state, appears more than capable of enabling composers to create musically expressive scores that play back with a relatively small palette of sounds (which will undoubtably grow)... all a very good to get us on our merry way. I found note entry to be amazingly easy. I'm a Finale user - and although I've dabbled with other notation tools, I'm pretty much all thumbs with them, even if they are great. Yet I had no problem getting started with NoteFlight.

I've imported a few sketches of a piece I'm working on in Finale and I'll have with me when I'm out and about - again, this makes the tool very useful...being out in the "cloud" and all. Of course, I'm going to use Finale for the big stuff (orchestration, details, parts, etc.) - what an incredible tool that is - but because NoteFlight fits so nicely in the "cloud" space it could very well be an indispensable tool for being able to compose and sketch ideas very effectively...wherever.

No longer chained to the basement!

There are numerous "would be nice" features on NoteFlight.com's forum, but of particular interest to me are the import/export features. (Because eventually, all paths lead back to the basement for me!) Currently NoteFlight allows importing of files via MusicXML - and exporting to MusicXML appears to be a planned feature too! I can hardly wait!

Below is simple sample score I created using NoteFlight. The possibilities and ramifications for personal, professional and educational use are simply amazing! My highest raves and best wishes for NoteFlight!

Rob Birdwell

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Sideways Sharks at Squirrel's February 7, 2009

Sideways Sharks - it's what you get when you blend players from Sideways Portal and the Tone Sharks. But that would be an oversimplification. There are other groups as will: Oomph, 'Extet, Zygoat, Freezer Burn, The Blowholes, and more.

This is going to be pretty neat. More than a few bands within this group...Dave Storrs tunes like Ross Island, Cub Scout Barbecue, and Clouds will be featured...Dave Leslie's tunes (which are nameless as of this writing but sure to delight)...Page Hundemer's tunes Turkey Bound, Katie's Blues, Now He's Gone...John Bliss' tune Reinhardt in Tunisia...Mike Curtis' tunes (again, the titles may be unknown to me, but are sure to please)...Jack Falk (whom I've never played with but excited to) will bring his energy and raps into the mix....and my own little offerings (Rob Birdwell) of tunes with titles like Birthday Suit, That Is Not a Chew Toy, and Rodent Rumbleway....all of these and more will be on our stands...we'll see if we even get to any of these...between our grooves, spontaneous creations, and the various percussion interludes...there may even be special guests...who can know for sure? You'll just have to check it out.

Enjoy the Sideways Sharks!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pearls Before Breakfast - Street Musician Metro Experiment

What happens when you feature one of the world's finest musicians, performing some of the greatest music composed, at a busy Washington, D.C. metro station? Can fantastic musicianship and music command attention, inspire, and permeate the hustle and bustle of the daily commute?

Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post tells the story - very interesting!

If you're a musician who has played on the street or on gigs where the music might as well have been a construction project, then you'll empathize with some of Joshua Bell's post metro gig analysis and reflections. And regardless of your own gig, the article is a reminder that in the midst of our rushing about, it's still important to keep our eyes, ears, and hearts open.

Rob Birdwell