Friday, September 26, 2008

Good session today....

Today producer/composer Behn was in the studio. We did a mastering session for a new tune of his called "Shooting Starz", featuring vocalist Bliss. This will be available on itunes in the near future.

Behn has a great style. This one, like all his stuff has a lot of influences. There's a sort of Chinese vocal lick in there, 2 voices in'd know the sound upon hearing it. I liken his approach to a sculptor who goes out in the street to incorporate all sorts of found objects. In the art world they call it 'pastiche' (but pastiche more in the sense of combining elements, than of imitation). I've mastered a lot of his records, "Vibemachine"

and before that "World of Paper, City of Boom".

Love the titles!

I also love he look he gets on his face when he's listening really hard. At first you suspect you're screwing up, but turns out he's just focused...

Here we are in a myspace type self portrait after the session, this was the best picture I could get, with my shaky camera technique. I couldn't figure out how to use the timer feature in the heat of the moment:

Behn was cool though, he could have brought up that it wasn't good I didn't have my camera technique down (in my defense, it's a new camera), given that he was trusting me with all this technology used in mastering his tune.

He tells me he'll be back through to master the whole album with Bliss, so I guess I passed. I'm really looking forward to it!


Check out Behn's myspace profile and hear some tunes here


Thursday, September 11, 2008

remembering Bob Bass (part 1)...


For me it was the year that an important relationship in my life imploded, and as a result my world took a precipitous nosedive. I was on really shaky ground emotionally, in a way that I've only been a handful of times in my life.

The story of that woman is for another day, but I decided that I needed some structure and inspiration in my life. As always I turned to music for that. It was a very active year. I started playing in a funk rock band, and I was working really hard writing music for dance performances. Also, lots of studio work was occupying me, and I had a "day" job - actually the graveyard shift at a satellite TV station.

I was not planning on giving myself time to ruminate on my situation!

One day an advertisement in the Village Voice caught my eye for an audition with a chorus, called the Collegiate Chorale, which is a venerable, famous old chorus of about 200 members founded in the 1950's by the legendary Robert Shaw. The Chorale did concerts at Carnegie Hall, and Avery Fischer, among other venues. I wanted to return to classical music, and this was a great vehicle. The year's program was the New York Premiere of a Richard Strauss opera called "Freidenstag" (see the concert's CD release here), a couple of concerts of Beethoven's 9th, and I believe, Mendelssohn's "Elijah".

The music director was a man named Robert Bass. I had already heard about him - and the Chorale - from musicians who I knew in Richmond VA, and so I was awestruck to be entertaining the thought of working with a man who was - to me - famous. In those days, a conductor, who had been concertizing in Carnegie Hall was a full out celebrity to me, and he had a reputation which proceeded him.

So I set up an audition. It was for a time when I would be the last appointment of the day. I would be meeting the maestro and a cadre of others at an apartment on 72nd street. It's a new York thing to meet musicians in apartments, I guess real estate is the driving force in that. I was a little nervous as I anticipated this meeting, but I was far more preoccupied with the downward spiral that I was experiencing in my other life.

The day of the audition, I had a very difficult phone conversation with the aforementioned woman, who had fled New York City a couple of weeks earlier for the companionship of someone else, and I was catatonic. So I went to a bar. I slammed down 4 beers on an empty stomach in just shy of a couple of hours. If you know me, you can probably guess that I was pretty 'lit'.

Still, for some reason I went to the audition anyway, despite my obvious disadvantage.

When I got out of the subway, I couldn't find the building, so after some searching I called and said I was running late. Finally I did find it, and so I went up to the apartment.

I still laugh when I think of the scene: 45 minutes late to a meeting with a famously 'type a' conductor: I stepped off the elevator with long hair (halfway down my back -and which probably hadn't been combed in a week) - God knows about my hygiene - in ripped blue jeans falling down drunk...

To this day I can remember the look on his face -- he was NOT happy!

We went into this little room with a piano, and I proceeded to belt out "Is Not His Word Like A Fire?" (For the uninitiated, here's a real singer singing it) which is the tricky aria that Elijah sings in Mendelssohn's Elijah, and I also sight read a little excerpt they gave me from Paul Hindemith's "Elementary Training for Musicians" (which BTW ain't THAT elementary), and from what I remember it was a musically perfect audition. I think Bob was somewhat stunned by that part, given the visual. The Mendelssohn was delivered mostly accapella, since they had already let the pianist go home. Bob plucked out a couple of notes as I sang it. I remember him having a lot of trouble turning pages. I nailed it though. I had been practicing it for an audition with the city to apply as a public school teacher. That person told me at the time of that PS audition that I was the only %100 he had ever given in an audition, so I'd been practicing.

Still, thinking back to that look on Bob's face, I thought -- No Way!

Later, the next day, I got the call that I had been accepted into the Chorale. I couldn't believe it! Ultimately, I was privileged to sing in a great season. Carnegie Hall, Avery Fischer...and I'll never forget the feeling a had in the last minute or two of the Friedenstag...400 or so people on stage, multiple chorus, full orchestra, famous soloists, and this moment at the big climax when a shiver went straight up my back. Being part of something that big, having that feeling, it was possibly the ultimate singular sensation I've ever experienced. I literally cannot describe with any words the magical feeling of the moment that was created there that evening for this good ole boy from Richmond VA, actually on stage at Carnegie Hall! Ultimately I spent 5 years in the Chorale, sharing the stage with Luciano Pavarotti, Sherrill Milnes, Leontyne Price, Paul Plishka, Beverly Sills, Marilyn Horne, Kathleen Battle, Robert Merrill, Samuel Ramey, Angela Bofill, Narada Michael Walden, Paul McCartney, James Conlon and a whole host of others. I have worked with the Chorale ever since, providing studio services, doing arrangements, remote recordings, mastering and such.

The time has sure flown.


Bob died a couple of weeks ago at age 55. He had been in poor health recently. He had a heart transplant in May 2007, and then a stem cell transplant in November of that year. He had been conducting since then, believe it or not, and actually the last performance I saw him lead was, in my estimation, by far the best I'd ever seen him do. He was always at his best when the chips were down.

That last performance was a bookend to what was for me a remarkable relationship which lasted 19 years, and a chance to feel in full force the thrill of seeing Bob doing what he did, and being at his best doing it. A very happy moment for me.

The other thing I want to say is that he was like a father to me - even though I was only 4 years younger than him - in a way I'd never experienced (my own dad died when I was eight). It followed a classic trajectory: At first I just worshipped him. I was always seeking his approval and trying to please him. Later, as I grew and matured, I started to see some chinks in his armor, and I also had some bones to pick with him. There was a rebellious phase. [Later, I'll do a blog on some of those experiences, some of which are entertaining in their own right.] Finally, there was a sense of peace, and I felt, in my own estimation, like more of a colleague. I was so looking forward to sending him a CD of my latest film score, which I thought he might like (He had heard some of my music, but in my perception had never really given me the thumbs up). Most of this was (and is) going on in my own head.

I think deep down he knew all this, but like a parent who never quite "gets" you, we never discussed it in detail. Not the "father" part. I worked closely with him, yet we never had dinner. I expressed frustration and anger when times were hard, and yet there was never the feeling of real reconciliation with those, only acknowledgment. I always felt he never forgot that first meeting, and in a sense never thought of me with abiding respect. I might be wrong about that. Maybe that's just who he was.

I will say that I always respected his courage. Of course he was courageous in his response to his illness, but also in the everyday, moment to moment things. I always wished I could be more like him in that way.

There was one time though, after a 5 year absence from choral singing, when I joined a select group of the Chorale for the opening of the MTV music awards, held in 1999 at the Metropolitan Opera House, where he came over to me and patted me on the back with pronounced and genuine affection. For that moment at least, I felt as though I was respected, or valued, or acknowledged. It felt like a triumph.

Regrets? Well, I really regret that I hadn't talked to him since he'd been ill. Somehow he seemed invincible, so it never occurred to me that he'd pass away. Still though, I try to analyze what that means -- I felt like I'd be intruding. Really though, it's nothing more than fear on my part. I shouldn't worry about 'disturbing' people, or that I'm somehow not valuable enough to be involved. if you are showing your concern, that's far more important than waking someone up from a nap or disturbing their dinner. That'll be appreciated. If it isn't, your mirror still looks a little better to you.

I'm vastly un-proud of that. No second chance here, but I hope to learn from this. I could use a little more of Bob's courage, in the daily things.

Fast forward to last week. I went to the memorial service, and after, I went out to a bar and sat once again alone (this time with glasses of wine). It seemed fitting to memorialize this loss similarly to that failed relationship of 19 years ago on the day of our first meeting. I was there to get a buzz. There was a difference though: this time I drank to Bob - a silent solitary toast. I sat there in the Upper West Side neighborhood about 4 blocks from that first meeting 19 years ago (almost to the day), as people walked by and the world kept on whirling and tried to imagine it without Bob in our lives.

Later, I went to his apartment to celebrate his life with some of his friends and his widow, and I had made a little progress, first in having fought my instinct to stay away. When I arrived I sought out his wife Juliana, and I shared the story of our first meeting. She enjoyed hearing a little about my affection for him, and about the story, but I sensed she didn't completely "get" the significance of his meaningfulness to me, and somehow that was OK. I mean, Imagine what she's going though,anyway.

I didn't share it with ultimate skillfulness, but I did share it. Another triumph. On we go...

So here's to Robert Bass. Conductor, Musician, Father, Fearless and feared leader. Thanks for letting me make music with you. I wish I could have done more somehow...