Category Archives: university

Ender’s Game – Thesis Project

So, my Masters of Music thesis project is in full swing, and I thought I’d cross-post some of it here. I’m taking 4 books that haven’t been turned into films, and writing scores that would fit if they ever were turned into films.

The first book up is Ender’s Game, one of my all-time favorites. You can check out the work so far here:

Ender’s Game Thesis Project

The Sound of Light

I was recently a guest in a classroom (not at APU) and listened to a fantastic composer and beloved professor tell a room full of eager students that the reason florescent lights buzz when they start to go bad is because some of the light is slowing down, and the frequency of the light is getting so slow that it becomes a sound wave instead of a light wave, which is why the buzz is at 60 Hz.

Nobody in the room contradicted him. Nobody. After about 30-second of dumb disbelief, I protested, and the whole class turned on me as if I were an idiot, daring to argue with this obviously brilliant man.

This brought to mind 3 things:

1. An expert in one area is not an expert in all areas. If you are a teacher, be sure you communicate to your students when you are speaking from your area of expertise, and when you are speaking out of your nether regions. If you are a student, become critically aware  of the difference. 
2. Intellectual authority comes from being right, not from being in a position of authority. Don’t be afraid to challenge professors when they are wrong.
3. In a room full of 20 people, I can’t believe nobody knew enough about light, or sound, or electricity to contradict an obviously absurd assertion. I’m worried that we’ve come to just accept general ignorance about how the world works.

So here’s today’s extra credit question. Help me restore my faith in the world. Without heading to wikipedia or google, with just your general knowledge of physics, what would you have said to the man to demonstrate his error?

Do You Hear?

What time is it?

Do You Hear?

Awwwww yeah, it’s that time! This is the orchestral interlude to the epic Christmas opener for this year. The sound is straight out of Sibelius, so … be gracious. I’m including the score for those who wish to geek out. The section you hear starts on page 5, bar 48.

XMAS-OPENER_11x17_SCORE

How To Handle Hard Questions

I love the webcomic XKCD for so many reasons, not the least of which is the unpronounceable title that stands for nothing at all. Today’s comic is all about handling insightful questions from students, and it struck home. I love it.

Faculty Awards, Round 2

Remember this, from last year?

I got nominated again this year. It’s for the “THE TEACHING EXCELLENCE AND CAMPUS LEADERSHIP AWARD”. There are 5 faculty members nominated each year.

Cross your fingers. If I win, we’ll throw a shindig at the Lee joint to celebrate and blow through that cash prize.

Book of Eli

What we do, part 2.

This was done by a freshman. He stripped the existing music from the film trailer for “Book of Eli” and rewrote his own score. I’ll say it again. This his first year, first time he’s ever taken a music class. He came to APU on a football scholarship, took music fundamentals last semester and found out he was pretty good at this stuff, and then 3 months later, this.

Beat It

It’s the end of the year, time again for student projects. This was done by my Production Techniques class. Everything you hear, all of the instruments, the recording, the mix, everything was done by our students. It was arranged and produced by Sean Beck.

VOLUME UP!

Beat It

This is what we do!

What I Said Tonight

Every spring, the APU School of Music faculty sits down for dinner with the students who are graduating. Toward the end of the evening, the floor is open for students to talk to share about their experiences here, and for faculty to give a few words for the road ahead. Tonight, I said two things:

First, one of the hardest things about graduating is the collapse of structure. For the past 4 years, every minute of your day has been accounted for, you have to know certain things by certain dates, you have to show up once a week and play for someone who intimidates you just a little, you have been forced into some very good habits. The day after graduation, all of that goes away. No more juries, recitals, exams, no more weekly lessons. The collapse of structure can be devastating. Figure out how to build that structure back into your life, so that you continue the good habits that are part of being a good musician.

The second thing is this: you have a power and a freedom that many of us no longer have. You have the freedom to be poor (lots of laughs, most of them from faculty members who are pretty convinced they are still living with this freedom). There is a real freedom in that. If you can live poorly, you can make creative decisions for creative reasons, without having to worry about how much money the gig pays. Don’t trade that freedom away too soon.

Don’t buy a new car. Don’t take on debt. Find roommates, eat at home, don’t buy things you don’t need. The less money you HAVE to make each month, the less time you have to trade away for that money. You don’t want to live this way forever, but for these first few years, embrace the freedom of being poor. You may not ever have a time like this again.

I don’t mean to romanticize poverty, at all. I do, however, think that I started worrying about making money earlier in my career than I should have, and passed up on the chance to do some really great projects because they didn’t tally up on the bottom line.

I’m interested to hear your thoughts. I know as a group we’re all over the map in terms of both income and creative choices, I wonder how often we stop to think about the particular blessings of whatever situation we are in at the moment.

Today’s Lecture Is …

Some students and I were joking about how bad most professors are at giving lectures. They said that you could tell how well a lecture would go based on the introduction and the first slide.

So, in continuation of that joke, this post is the first semi-demi-annual contest, “Today’s Lecture Is … ” Post your rambling intro, and then the title of the first powerpoint slide, to what you would consider the worst lecture ever.

I’ll start:

Before we begin today’s lecture, I’d like to take just a few minutes to explain the grammatical differences between “who” and “whom”. I brought a brief powerpoint presentation, If someone could just hit the lights …

… and, there we go. Slide one:

The Linguistic History of Objective Cases, part 1: Sumaria

Are Bad Excuses a “Flu-like Symptom”?

Dear Students,

If you’re planning to ditch my class, not turn in any homework, then show up to the study session for the exam only to realize that you don’t know any of the material and are doomed to fail, decide to email me to let me know that you’ve had the swine flu and have been bed-ridden for the past two weeks and can you please take the exam late, please take just a minute to modify your facebook account to remove photos of you drinking heavily with friends for 5 consecutive nights last week.

Love,
Your Professor

P.S. Seriously?

drinky-drinky-no-more-thinky

Professionals, Again

I spent yesterday editing down the tutorial video from the Our Father, Vindicate recording session with our very own Mr. Zack Mathers (so expect some swearing in the comments). For those of you who do not eagerly memorize every detail of my life with rapt attention and a pavlovian frenzy, I wrote a song, wanted to do a big recording session of the song, and the only way I could afford to do it was by getting a grant to fund the demo. To do that, we had to engage in some mild academic trickery, and tell them that the whole purpose of the recording session was to make an instructional video for students.

So, Zack brought some cameras along, recorded the whole session, and yesterday we editing all of that down into a 10-minute tutorial on how to record large-ensemble composer demos with no money down and only 8 singers.

I know I’ve said this before, but yesterday was another reminder: I am always shocked when people I know, people who are just, like, my people, friends, drinkin’ buddies, when they also turn out to be stone-cold awesome at what they do. I felt the same way the first time Aly edited something I had written (the proposal for this same grant, by the way). I felt the same way when June brought down a painting for my office. I felt the same way when other florists started ripping off Gretchen’s work and claiming it as their own (a true indicator of awesomeness). It’s been the same with Cory, Chad, Rosy, almost everybody (hey Bobby).

It’s always fun to get to see people who are your friends as they are perceived by their clients, and to realize that the reason they do what they do is because they do what they do. They didn’t just hang a shingle, they became professionals.

Child of Sorrows

For my songwriting class at CSULA, we have to write a different kind of song each week. This week, Da Blues.

Here it is. My staggeringly white attempt to write the blues. I had to resist the urge to make the whole song about this time I ordered a Chai Tea Latte at Starbucks, but got a Soy Latte instead. Oh Lord, why must I suffer.

Child of Sorrows

UPDATE
Finished it, here’s the full demo:
Child of Sorrows – Final

Child of Sorrows

I am a child of sorrows
The Good Lord won’t let die
I am a child of sorrows
The Good Lord won’t let die
Lord knows I’ve been trying
With whiskey and with rye
But I ain’t done suff’ring yet


I am a child of money
But that don’t mean a thing
I am a child of money
But that don’t mean a thing
She kicked me out at 17
And I ain’t seen her since,
Oh I ain’t done suff’ring yet


I married a good woman,
And you know I turned her bad
I married a good woman,
And you know I turned her bad
The joy I took away from her
Is the only joy I’ve had
Oh I ain’t done suff’ring yet


I went to see the preacher
About my heart of sin
I went to see the preacher
About my heart of sin
Well he looked me up
And he looked me down
And he kicked me out again
Said I ain’t done suff’ring yet,
No I ain’t done suff’ring yet,
Well I ain’t done suf’ring yet.

That’s a *&^ Idea

Tonight was the first night of actual classes for my MM adventure. I think I’m going to start a list of things that profs at Cal State are allowed to say, that I would love to say in my classes, but never could. First on the list, the prof for Advanced Composition, talking about what made Beethoven such a compelling melody writer.

Play the first 4 notes of the 5th Symphony.

“Your hear that, nobody’s waiting around for the musical idea to show up. That’s a f’ing musical idea!”

New Notes

I took a risk yesterday, and it paid off in a huge way.

I met with the Dean of the school of music, and we negotiated a big shift in my responsibilities in the School of Music. I am stepping down from my role as Director of Small Groups, and taking on the role of Staff Composer. A big chunk of my job from now on will be to compose new music and do some arranging for the ensembles in our school. In the last year, I’ve had several ensemble directors come ask me to write or arrange something, and I’ve had to say no to some of them because of the time constraints, and because they didn’t have room in their individual budgets to pay for new music. This solves both problems in one glorious swoop. I now get to say “yes!”, they get to have new things written specifically for them, I have time to do it, and they don’t have to decide between paying for new music or paying for scholarships (or whatever else they spend money on).

I have loved my role at APU since day one, and I didn’t think it was possible for it to get even better, but this is like a dream come true.

Music is Vast

(NOTE: Some of you already saw this on Facebook. I really wanted to post this here instead, but the server was just going nuts the last few days, so I couldn’t. These kind of thinky thoughts totally belong at the Roadhouse, not on that trashy whore Facebook.)

If you took Intro to Music Tech from me in a previous semester, the class probably started out with my patented “You all suck at music, and will likely end up working at Walmart” speech. While I stand by that speech, and think that it is largely true (especially for you, Brandon), I feel as though it may have set the wrong tone for my class.

Instead, this year, I gave a different speech. Addison Road-ites will notice several recurring themes from my posts here, wrapped up in a tidy 5 minutes diatribe on Music and Technology.

So here it is: my opening speech to the incoming freshmen.

Music is vast. It is so much bigger than you think it is. It covers more things, runs deeper, any grasp you have on it is always too small. It will always be bigger than your experience in it.

Music is vast. I call myself a musician, and in the last 4 months that has meant playing keyboards for a national commercial, writing a modern composition for trumpet, piano, and laptop, conducting a choral recording session for another piece I wrote, playing keyboards live for 100 awesome fans at Hotel Cafe, teaching a younger player how to set a tap-delay for a guitar tone, leading worship, singing backing vocals on a demo, writing two songs for a musical, and playing piano for a bad j-pop album. All of those things are music. That’s just one summer, for one person, and you should all know that I am nowhere near the top of the heap when it comes to this industry. Other people are doing far more work than I am. But all of that is music.

Music is vast. It runs deep. It reaches out and strikes the soul, and the whole body resonates on that pitch. It reminds us, like nothing else can, that we are more than meat and bone, more than dust. We are the breath of God, created in His image, and just as he sang the world into being, we create in imitation of Him. We are the immortal echo of the eternal, living for just a little while in these clay jars, and music reminds us who we are. If you haven’t ever felt that, then I honestly have no idea why you’re here.

Music is vast, and it is shared. Music is the exchange of ideas. Melody, harmony, rhythm, tempo, vibe, tone, tension, resolution – music is about the trading back and forth of ideas. And language is, frankly, a very bad tool for exchanging ideas about music. There’s a quote, attributed to Frank Zappa but probably not his, that says, “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.”

Technology is the ink and paper of music. It is our best tool for exchanging ideas. If you have ideas worth sharing, and again I don’t know why you’re here unless you do, then technology is you best tool for capturing and sharing those ideas.

My goal is not to turn you into geeks and nerds; that will happen on its own. My goal is to turn you into musicians. That means being fluent in the language of music, which is, increasingly, the language of music technology. My goal is to help you learn to use technology so well that it lets you do what you really want to do, which is music. The technology should be transparent, it has to get out of the way, and let you be a musician.

Music is vast. It is broad and it is deep, and it’s way to early in your musical lives to start defining yourself in narrow ways. Don’t say, “I am this, not this” or “I do this, not this”. You have no idea yet who or what you can and will be. Be big! Be curious, be broad, be deep, be soul-ish and magnificent. Everything else in this world will conspire to make you small – don’t be complicit! Resist the urge to define yourself in small ways.

Be a musician. Be vast.

Phat Beat

We’re recording an album this week, of the touring small group from APU. It’s going to be pretty good.

We’re doing one song that’s a deep R&B, hip-hop groove. In pre-production, I built this massive phat 808 electronic kit loop. We tracking scratch vocals yesterday, and the group went nuts over the loop. I mean, seriously nuts.

I guess they didn’t realize that all the great hip-hop songs are actually programmed by middle-aged white guys living in the suburbs.

get-on-up-loops.mp3

School, Again

Well, it was a long and arduous process (I had to pay $50), but I was finally accepted as a graduate student at that most prestigious of all schools, Cal State LA (Go Golden Eagles! Or whatever!). Looks like I was wrong about never going back to school again …

As I went to drop off my transcripts at CSULA, I saw two girls feeling each other up outside the admin building. I think this is going to be a little different experience than my first master’s degree; at Biola, the lesbians are still in hiding.

I’m going to be getting a Masters of Music in commercial music, with an emphasis in arranging. I’m actually looking forward to it, for two reasons. First, I need some outside impetus and set parameters to move my writing along in new directions. Second, I feel like this is as close as Professors ever get to a “student teaching” experience, where we get to see someone else do their thing, and learn from them. I’m interested in the content, but also in the methods and techniques of the teachers.