Friday, December 4, 2009

The Real (?) Me program

Here is the program from a concert I presented in Brooklyn. I am very excited about all the performances and I am looking forward to putting on the whole concert again on March 19th at Roulette. Click on the names of the pieces to watch complete performances or click here to watch the concert in its entirety.

November 15, 3pm Douglass Street Music Collective

“Be devoted to the unification of the diverse aspects of yourself.”
-Tom Waits


by Tom Swafford
Tom Swafford, violin
members of the audience

by Tom Swafford
to Suzanne Fiol
by Tom Swafford
String Power
violins:Anna Brathwaite, Mark Chung, Liz Hanley, Tom Swafford, Helen Yee, Jeff Young
violas:Megan Berson, Leanne Darling, Nicole Federici
cellos:Loren Dempster, Brian Sanders
bass:Peter Maness

Times Square Shuffle
by Tom Swafford
The Swizzy Winds
Erica Von Kleist, flute; Sally Wall, oboe; Mike McGinnis, clarinet;
Rachel Drehmann, horn; Sara Shoenbeck, bassoon

18 Germs
by Tom Swafford
1. Fanfare
2. Shitty Fugue
3. Shiny Turds
4. 70’s Car Chase
5. “Pass the God Damn Butter”
6. Crappy Canon
7. Groovy
8. Fuckin’ Fast
9. Doubles
10. Free, baby!
11. Austere, baby!
12. Gently, Delicately
14. Crappy Canon #2
(Proust in his first book
wrote about, wrote about)
15. Pass the God Damn Butter Pt.II (Pass the God Damn Peanut Butter)
16. A Simple Device
17. Awkward
John McDonald, piano

This is the Real Me
by Tom Swafford (with Gelsey Bell)
Gelsey Bell, voice

by The Ensemble
Tom Swafford, violin; John McDonald, piano; Loren Dempster, cello
Mike McGinnis, clarinet; Sara Schoenbeck, bassoon

Your (so called) 'Music'
by Tom Swafford
Lee Todd Lacks, voice
String Power

Interstate 81
by Lee Todd Lacks
Lee Todd Lacks, voice
Pete Maness, bass
Jeff Gretz, drums

Cracker Jim Crow
by Tom Swafford
lyrics by Andy Mullen
Andy Mullen, banjo and voice
String Power

Much of the text in Hecklepiece comes from comments made to me in various performing or composing situations. I am interested in the psychology of musical taste; what criteria people have for judging the value of a particular piece or genre of music. I am very aware of this while playing in the subway and looking at the expression in people’s faces as I play, for example, a fiddle tune vs. something classical. I’m especially intrigued by the rare instances when a person seems morally offended by my musical choice. The text in this piece also represents my own inner critic. I have recently come to the conclusion that I need to listen less to both inner and outer critics.

I formed String Power in May 2007, soon after arriving at New York. Inspired by my roommate Krista’s extensive CD collection, I first set out to write a set of music in various styles (funk, jazz, old time, thrash metal) and then realized I might learn something by transcribing the actual music. My goal was to showcase the many excellent NY string players and to demonstrate the often overlooked capacity strings have for textures besides pretty, lush backgrounds. Leanne Darling and I do the arranging and I also program my own compositions. Expectorant and Lozenge are influenced by the music we’ve played in String Power. I am dedicating this afternoon’s performance of Lozenge to Suzanne Fiol, the founder of Issue Project Room, who passed away last month.

I wrote Times Square Shuffle soon after arriving in NY and (not surprisingly) it represents my impressions of the atmosphere of midtown Manhattan. The honking of horns and yelling of angry drivers transforms into a original shuffle feel blues tune that becomes less and less hidden. I also quote a bit of Fugue 4 from book two of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier. I think that the fugue texture works well to depict hectic pedestrian and vehicular traffic situations.

18 Germs was written in January 2009 for my composition teacher from Tufts and the guy who inspired me to do what I am doing, John McDonald; much of the piece is influenced by John’s playing and compositional style. The pieces can work as is or as jumping off points for compositions or improvisations. I had not written my own music in a while and I felt the need to re-establish my own compositional voice by forcing the music out as fast I could without worrying about quality. This is one reason for the irreverent titles. I am also in the process of working out my aesthetic and, at least for the moment, I am more concerned with broad, spontaneous gestures than carefully worked out music. This comes partly from my experience in free improvisation.

This is the Real Me is like no other piece I have written. It could be about many things and there is a lot of room for interpretation for both performer and audience. For me it is about figuring out who I am as an artist and as a person. The end of the piece is influenced by my experience playing with the folk-punk band Meisce. While I would not call myself punk, I like the joyful and at the same time aggressive energy of the punk culture.

It is this piece that inspired me to put on this concert and the process of working on it has opened up a new direction in my artistic thinking. I now feel like am starting to figure out what I want to say with music. Words cannot describe how grateful I am to Gelsey for working on this piece with me. It would not exist if not for her. It is not the kind of piece that can be simply notated and handed to a performer. Her input and her enthusiasm for performing this piece have been invaluable.

John McDonald introduced me to free improvisation when I joined the Tufts University New Music Ensemble in 1991. Loren Dempster and I played in the Roosevelt High School Chamber Orchestra together from 1989-91 and from 1997-2001 we played together in the Bay Area in the free improvisation ensemble ΓΈ24c. I met Sara in Seattle several years ago and I met Mike last year in New York. All four of these people are some of my favorites. To me, free improvisation is more meaningful when you have a history with the people you are playing with. TOJOLO MISA is just my not so clever way of indicating the order I want people to enter and the groupings for the beginning of the piece.

Your (so called) 'Music' is a musical setting of an actual piece of hate mail I received after the last big concert I put on in Seattle in 2006. That concert featured the three improvisation groups I worked with: Doublends Vert, Cipher and The Golden Crackers as well as music inspired by my work with those ensembles. I was both proud and ashamed to receive such a vitriolic response. It does lend itself well to outlandish musical expression. I am very happy to have my good friend Lee Todd Lacks (who I met in 1993 when he joined the Tufts University New Music Ensemble) joining us on this piece, playing the part of the angry letter writer, Brad.

Lee Todd Lacks writes:
Interstate 81 is the title number from a performance piece that recounts my family’s experience of traveling from Cohasset, Massachusetts to New Orleans, Louisiana. This particular piece deals with a late night driving dilemma that occurred towards the end of our first day on the road. As I was writing what some might refer to as a rant, I was inspired by the unique vocal style of the B-52's lead singer, Fred Schneider, whose delivery freely alternates between speaking and singing.”

Cracker Jim Crow is written in the Old Time style. I was introduced to Old Time music while busking in Seattle. Soon after I joined his group Potbelly Gumbo, Andy Mullen turned me on to some great old time fiddlers like Bruce Molsky and I became very intrigued with all the rhythmic subtleties, particularly with the bow hand. I also started to believe there is something more healthy in old time players approach. In a memorable scene from the short film “My Old Fiddle,” legendary fiddler Tommy Jarrell is given a Stradivarius to try. He doesn’t like it. It is not the same as his own, beat-up fiddle that he has had all of is life.

I am finally realizing what most of us already know: I can write whatever I want! I can make my own aesthetic decisions without adhering to any one else’s concept of what is good or bad. What I am asking myself most lately is: What makes music meaningful to me? Why do I write music? What am I trying to communicate? It is not any one particular thing but more of an attitude towards music making that can be applied to any style. For me music is as much about sound as it is about all of the experiences I associate with making music and the people who I make music with.


Gelsey Bell is a vocalist who regularly performs with new music ensemble thingNY and moonlights around with various other music, theatre, and dance groups in the city. She is also a singer-songwriter (and will be releasing her second album In Place of Arms sometime this spring), a PhD Candidate in Performance Studies at NYU, and the Managing Editor of TDR: TheDrama Review. She wants to thank Tom for the opportunity to work on developing this piece with him: it's been a joy!

Hatched from a 1967 Dodge Dart, Lee Todd Lacks came into this world at a time when music was changing forever. During his formative years, Lee Todd spent many hours riding in the back seat of the Dodge listening to his mother’s favorite tunes on the radio. Recognizing her divine obligation to foster the genius of her first-born offspring, Mama Lacks exposed him to only the most aesthetically-stimulating repertoire of The Guess Who, Three Dog Night, Rose Royce, and The Bee Gees. When he reached the age of first awareness, Grandma Alice and Grandpa Dick showed Lee Todd the Way of the Coupe Deville. Under grandma and grandpa’s loving tutelage, Lee Todd flourished, and many years later, he was admitted to Tufts University with the intention of pursuing a masters in ethnomusicology. However, while at Tufts, he fell under the influence of some rather extraordinary characters, who subsequently encouraged his penchant for self talk and clarinet squawk. As a member of the New Music Ensemble at Tufts, Lee Todd began to develop a modest reputation as a performance artist and has since performed at venues in Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, and now, Brooklyn! He currently resides in South Portland, Maine, with his wife, Heather, and their two dogs, Henry and Eliot. After a long hiatus from the stage, Lee Todd is eager to resume his peculiar practice of speak and music. Lee Todd’s retrospective album, Reassembled, will be released later this fall.

John McDonald was recently promoted to Professor of Music at Tufts University, where he is Director of Graduate Music Studies. He is a composer who tries to play the piano and a pianist who tries to compose. McDonald was named the 2007 MTNA—Shepherd Distinguished Composer of the Year by the Music Teachers National Association, and received the 2009 Lillian and Joseph Leibner Award for Distinguished Teaching and Advising from Tufts University. His recordings appear on the Albany, Archetype, Boston, Bridge, Capstone, Neuma, New Ariel, and New World labels, and he has concertized widely as composer and pianist. New releases include pianist Andrew Rangell’s performance of McDonald’s Meditation Before A Sonata: Dew Cloth, Dream Drapery, on Bridge Records. Recent performances at the Goethe Institut of Boston and at Tufts have been highly acclaimed. McDonald is a member of The Mockingbird Trio, directs the Tufts Composers Concert Series, and serves on the boards of several performance organizations in New England.

Tom Swafford performs with Emanuel and the Fear and Potbelly Gumbo, freelances with artists in a wide variety of styles and busks in the NYC subways. Current composition projects include Anthropomorphic: The Musical with book and lyrics by Timmy Young presented by The Puppetry Arts Theatre (December 12, 13 at Court Street Regal Cinemas). Tom grew up in Seattle where his musical parents encouraged him to start violin and piano at an early age. He played in orchestras, jazz and rock bands in middle and high school. He attended Tufts University where he majored in music and clinical psychology and studied composition with John McDonald. He received a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley where his principal teacher was Olly Wilson. He then studied in Amsterdam for a year with Louis Andriessen. He returned to Seattle in 2002 where he soon joined up with Seattle’s vibrant experimental music community. He also began busking at Pike Place Market and joined the Irish punk band Meisce. He moved to New York in March 2007. Tom received a Charles Ives Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001 and an Eisner Prize (1998) and Hertz Traveling Fellowship (2001) from the University of California Berkeley. He has received grants and awards from 4Culture, Jack Straw Foundation and CityArtist. This is about the 8th full length composition concert Tom has presented since his first at Tufts University (with the encouragement of John McDonald) in 1993.