Mo Li Hua

While I was working in China, my longtime friend and favorite violinist Ally Jenkins happened to also be coming through. So there we were in Changzhou on a Tuesday, drinking some very suspect rice liquor and dealing with the madness of a foreign country when word came in from on high that her quartet needed to find an arrangement of the Chinese traditional song “Mo Li Hua” for a second encore. And that it needed to be ready in less than a week.

That Friday afternoon, I sent them a new setting of the classic Chinese melody. Inspired by the journeys of the thousands of Chinese men who built the railroad and settled in the American West, it sees the traditional melody gradually transform to become more and more rhythmic and Western, until the next thing you know it’s a fiddle solo and I’m plagiarizing Aaron Copland. Did I say plagiarizing? I meant, uh…homage. It’s an homage.

Anyway: Here it is!

Paderewski Was a Player, and Here Come the Plays

A couple years ago, a songwriter named Matthew Hardy approached me to orchestrate a new musical he was working on. It was commissioned by a state-backed arts organization in Warsaw, see, and was about a Polish classical pianist and politician named Paderewski who played a lot of Chopin, bedded a lot of women named Helen, and had a winery in California. Naturally, of course, Matthew thought the best way to represent the statesman’s life was as an epic rock musical.

Well…when you write it out like that it sounds pretty ridiculous, but the songs were really fun and Matthew’s a very charming guy so I said yes anyway. And the next thing we knew it had a workshop in New Orleans. And his script and score were, like, really good. And now it has an officially scheduled production for Fall of 2020 - in Poland!

Read all about this wild journey in the latest American Theatre.

Latest News - Or, Uh, Just Late News

Well, I haven’t updated in over a year, so a few pieces of news:

1) I spent about five months in China teaching musical theater performance, devised theater, and instrumental ensemble playing throughout China. While there I collaborated with the amazing Viola NoOne to found Urban Nomad, Shanghai’s very first (to our knowledge!) improvisational a cappella ensemble. Our work together culminated in multiple public performances throughout the city. The humans I met there were wonderful and I am so excited to go back soon to see the work they have continued in my absence.

2) While I was in China, my friend and favorite violinist Ally Jenkins came through town with the Manhattan Four String Quartet, who were in need of an arrangement of the Chinese Folk Song “Mo Li Hua” for the second encore. I dashed off a version of it written in the American Nationalist style (a la Elmer Bernstein and Aaron Copland, except I’m not them and never will be…but I’m working that out with my therapist) and it premiered the following week at the Jasmine Theater in Fuzhou. The whole quartet was amazing, but I have to give a special shout-out to their translator Alice, who graciously put up with a whole bunch of American musicians (we bring much more drama than a Chinese student is used to) and then served as my tour guide in Chongqing. Chongqing is amazing. It should be on everybody’s bucket list. Tucked away in the mountains of China is a city of 9 million people who are expressive, artistic, outspoken, and wild.

3) I orchestrated a workshop of the musical Virtuoso, which is having a special concert this fall in Poland AND NYC for backers and producers. Fingers crossed. This is a really, really fun show that I can tell you absolutely nothing about.

4) The minute I returned from China I had about two and a half weeks’ time to orchestrate about 100 minutes of music for Starkid: Homecoming, the 10th anniversary celebration of A Very Potter Musical (and everything that followed it). AJ Holmes and I formed a base camp on the Upper West Side where neither of us slept or really went outside for about two weeks, and at the end of it I lived out every musician’s dream of having Vulfpeck’s Jack Stratton play my drum charts.

5) Having spent three summers (and the two years in between) nurturing and raising Nvak Foundation, in July of 2018 I parted ways with my co-founder and waved goodbye to one of the most wonderful projects I’ve ever been a part of. I am so proud of what we accomplished together and can’t wait to find an excuse to go back to Yerevan under other circumstances so I can see my amazing students (and, let’s be real, eat a ton of lahmajun).

Student Success Updates - Eurovision and American Idol (!)

Hi all - 

First off, if you happen to be a fan of Armenian music television (and who isn't?), be sure to check out Depi Evratesil. Armenia chooses its Eurovision entry via contest rounds held on Depi, and currently two of the popular entries are written by graduates of my Nvak workshop! Nvak participant Lusine Mardanyan's song, "If You Don't Walk Me Home" (co-written by Nvak lyricist Gagach Derkhorenian) just advanced to the next round of semifinals! And while Tamar Kaprelian's "Poison (Ari, Ari)" did not advance to the semifinals, I am still massively proud of its Nvak-trained writers Sanahin Papazian, Yana Karapetyan, and Ovsanna Khublaryan for putting together such an incredibly groovy and hook-y song.

Secondly, my voice student Catie Turner, who attended AMDA's Contemporary Vocals program in Summer 2017, is going to be a featured contestant on this upcoming season of American Idol! She's the kind of exceptional talent that you get once in a blue moon, so you sort of HAVE to tune in now. 

Upcoming 54 Below Show: Samantha Joy Pearlman Sings the Music of Regina Spektor

A few months ago, Samantha Joy Pearlman started planning a concert with a really incredible set of tunes from Regina Spektor's catalog, and she graciously invited me to music direct. We are gonna be doing some awesome stuff - we've got Anthony Lee Medina (from Broadway's Hamilton), tapdancing from Jenn Rose, and a beautifully weird musical ensemble featuring the Meraki Chamber Players playing orchestrations by yours truly. 

And it's 54 Below, so you know the cocktails are gonna be baller. 

Get your reservation now! May 5, 11:30 PM

NVAK @ TUMO in Yerevan This Summer - Applications Open!

NVAK at TUMO (which was the subject of an Al Jazeera documentary on innovative education throughout the world) is now accepting applications for its 2017 summer program in songwriting, vocal performance, and music production. In addition to myself and NVAK founder Tamar Kaprelian, this year's staff will also include Cobra Starship's Gabe Saporta, international producer DerHova, and some guy named Xandy Barry, whose writing and producing credits include tracks by such up-and-comers as Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, and Maroon 5. 

The program accepts applicants aged 12-22. Housing and Board for international students is provided by Camp TUMO. The program offers a chance to study with an international faculty of some serious heavy-hitters in an incredibly friendly, culturally rich city (Yerevan, the capital of Armenia). 

A few tidbits: United States citizens do not need a Visa to travel to Armenia, which has lower crime than the States (and lower prices! I had a personal trainer there for $12/hr!). And the whole program will be conducted in English, which is pretty widely spoken in Yerevan. 

New Arrangement Debuting Tonight at Rhapsody in Brew

 

Meraki Chamber Players present an all new program featuring the music of Judd Greenstein, Alexandra Gardner, & more - including a new commission by composer Joe Young & a brand new chamber arrangement of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue by Andrew Fox. [Bolding mine]

"KCBC is also brewing us our very own beer just for the occasion (!!), inspired by the program we're performing! 

Natasha Loomis, flute
Alex Knox, clarinet
Terrence Thornhill, cello
Aurora Mendez, violin
Jordan Tarantino, viola
Joe Young, guitar & trumpet

Kings County Brewers Collective
381 Troutman St.
Brooklyn"

Songs of Protest at 54 Below in NYC, March 29

We have put together a pretty redonkulous stable of performers and songs for an upcoming 54 Below concert showcasing protest and satire. We've got Berlin Cabaret tunes, Motown, Country, Showtunes, obligatory Randy Newman, and some really funny satire, with performers like Nellie McKay, Andrew Samonsky, Amy Jo Jackson, K Sloan, These Guys, and more! I'll be music directing and arranging.

A portion of the proceeds will be going to the National Chapter of the ACLU, because god knows they need everything they can get these days. 

Get your reservations now

Hey Mom, I'm on Al Jazeera!

Back in the summer of 2016, a film crew from Al Jazeera English came into the classrooms of TUMO to film a documentary series highlighting innovative education around the world, which in this case had taken them to Armenia to see the incredibly creative work being done by TUMO (and NVAK, the music program I worked for that partnered with TUMO). 

Check out the video to learn more about this incredible institution (and to see clips of me and my amazing students making music, of course)!

NVAK at TUMO: Armenia Teaching News and Pictures

So, this past July I taught for NVAK's inaugural program in Armenia! Ben Moody (of Evanescence), Tamar Kaprelian (of Eurovision's Geneaology), and myself spent two weeks at the state-of-the-art TUMO facility teaching pop performance, production, and songwriting. 

I don't speak Armenian or know much about Armenian news media, so apologies in advance for the vague descriptions of these sources. 

Armenia's Official Music Channel 21 Profiles the NVAK program

Coverage of NVAK in Armenian Online Print Media (English Translation)

Coverage of NVAK in Armenian Online Print Media (Original Armenian)

The talent in Armenia was pretty unbelievable, and I'm so excited to share the finished products once I get them. In the meanwhile, I will say this - the city of Yerevan is one of the safest, coolest places I've ever been, and the food is out of this world. And the taxis don't have seatbelt buckles, so, uh, hold tight. 

Myself and Ben, presumably making a HILARIOUS joke about XLR cables. 

Myself and Ben, presumably making a HILARIOUS joke about XLR cables. 

Broadway in Chicago, tonight!

Midwesterners - this is certainly late notice, but if you get a chance be sure to check out the free Broadway in Chicago concert in Millennium Park, tonight at 6:15 pm (seating starts at 5:15). It's gonna have some incredible performances, a pretty big and awesome ensemble, and expert music direction. I had the opportunity to contribute an orchestration, and if I can't be there to see it, I hope some of you can check it out in my place. 

New Episode of Take a Ten Available to Stream

So for the past year or two, Andy Roninson has been writing a podcast called Take a Ten Musicals. It's a monthly production featuring Broadway stars in fully-produced original ten-minute musicals. Last month I got to co-compose some of the music. Check it out!

 

Marriage Proposal String Arrangement

Last Fall (October, I think?) I had the pleasure of writing a string arrangement for Nicholas Fox (aka Human Drum Machine, one of the best beatboxers you'll ever have the pleasure of hearing), who used it to propose to his girlfriend in true musical theatre fashion - by having BOTH of them sing this surprise duet from The Last Five Years

(The Last Five Years, incidentally, is all about a divorce. But I think we can all feel safely assured that Nick and Mimi will not suffer the same fate as the musical's protagonists.)

Playbill Article: Star of "The Following" and Tony-Nominated Broadway Talent to Feature in the Circle Concert Series

The Circle, a group of award-wining songwriters, will present their third concert of original songs in New York City. The evening will feature performances from Sam Underwood ("The Following," "Dexter"), Tony nominee Keala Settle(Hands on a Hardbody, Les Misérables) and "So You Think You Can Dance" finalistAriana DeBose (Hamilton, Pippin).

The concert, to be held March 9 at the Laurie Beechman Theatre...

Full article can be read here. 

Album Release: Tha Los, Night Off EP

Carlos Valdes (of CW's The Flash) musical alter-ego, Tha Los, has just released a brand-new EP, Night Off. It's a little bit funk, a little bit jazz fusion, a little bit smooth 70s pop, a little bit retro stag film soundtrack, a little bit dirty disco. It's available via iTunes and bandcamp

Producing this one was a total blast - we did it old-fashioned, with no click track (okay, one song has click track, but I won't tell you which), no headphones, all basic tracking done live in the same room. A killer band - Carlos on bass and vocals, AJ Holmes on keyboards, Brent Michael DiRoma on guitar, and Jamie Donald Eblen (currently drumming on Broadway in Honeymoon in Vegas, which you should totally see if you haven't) on drums. Plus some amazing horn players and backup singers. We tracked in the beautiful Relic Room NYC with Tom Rosato and Josh Hahn.

Old-school recording. All live, minimal processing, minimal dynamic range compression. 

There's a supercut of it and some previews on this site (under "Producer-Arranger") - check it out, and buy a copy! Carlos is trying an experiment where instead of promoting the record, he lets people discover it. Well, go discover it right now - you won't be disappointed.