Category Archives: Blog

Teaching Artist: An Interview with Malcolm W. Rowell, Jr.


Malcolm W. Rowell, Jr. is a conductor and music educator. He is a Director of Bands and Professor of Music Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and served as the principal conductor of the University Wind Ensemble and Symphony Band from 1980-2003. Under his baton the wind ensemble released four CD’s: The Wind Music of David Maslanka (1991), Symphonic & Wind Music of Charles Bestor (1994), Tears (1996) and Wind Currents (2001).

Malcolm was kind enough to sit down with me to talk about his life and career. Our interview was recorded live, then transcribed and edited for readability. Continue reading

The Animator’s Hand: An Interview with Aaron Long

Aaron Long has worked as a director, animator, character designer, and storyboarder on shows such as Bojack Horseman, Greatest Party Story Ever, and Triptank. I became interested in Aaron’s work through watching his original project Sublo & Tangy Mustard, an online series featuring two street mascots for a sub sandwich shop.

You can watch Sublo & Tangy Mustard for free via YouTube and Newgrounds. For more information about Aaron Long visit

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‘How Often Should I Have My Piano Tuned?’

Getting a piano generally in tune seems like a complicated task. In fact, it is literally impossible to tune a piano perfectly. For an explanation of this surprising problem, see this video from Minute Physics.

Although it’s not my expertise, a student recently asked me how often they should have their piano tuned. I did a little casual research (thank you, Google). It seems like the consensus among piano technicians is between one and four times a year. Here are summaries of some of the top results: Continue reading

Book Review: ‘Kissability’

KissabilityKissability by Katherine Duke by Katherine Duke is a short, easy read. The longest chapter is only nine pages. However, it offers a lot of material, and a huge number of different perspectives.

The people who responded to Duke’s questions are very honest about their experiences. Their anecdotes are sometimes really funny. I especially like the advice from John’s dad in Chapter 10, who sat him down as a boy and began by saying, “Son, girls are like eggs…”

Other times, they’re gut-wrenchingly sad. When William is asked, in Chapter 7, what he thinks the best or most beautiful parts of his body are, he just replies, “N/A”.

Much of the book seems uncategorizable, like the fictional dialogues comprised of different people’s answers to the questions, or the pages that consist only of poetry or single-sentence quotes. Continue reading

Hypermeter in Zelda: A Link to the Past

Legend of Zelda: A Link To The PastWhile attending UMass Amherst, I wrote a paper on musical hypermeter in Koji Kondo’s music for The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. It isn’t perfect and I would love to rewrite it someday, but it does contain some fairly accurate transcriptions of the soundtrack in lead sheet notation.

You can download a PDF of it here.

The Gig Triangle


Image taken from Wikimedia Commons.

A few years ago, bassist Tom Kenrick articulated a policy on his blog called the “gig triangle”. The idea is that there are three factors he considers when deciding whether or not to take a gig. These factors–the three points on the triangle–are the quality of the music he will be making, the quality of the people he will be interacting with, and the amount of money offered to him for the gig. If a gig satisfies two out of those three variables, then Kenrick considers it worth taking, writing, “two out of three ain’t bad.”

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Music and the Kitchen Sink

One-man band

This vintage image of a one-man band was found on this website.

At a minimum, the job of an instrumentalist is to play the right notes at the right time at approximately the right dynamic levels. A good instrumentalist will also interpret the music to one or another degree of expression, but that is actually not strictly necessary; generally speaking, an instrumentalist may expect to be paid and applauded for a performance that is simply clean and correct. Essentially the same goes for vocalists, although vocalists must also be intelligible, and in some cases dramatic. In addition to these requirements, there are rules of etiquette: a professional musician should be punctual, appropriately dressed, prepared, and polite. It is reasonable to expect that a trained, experienced professional musician will possess all of these basic skills.

It is unreasonable to expect a professional to perform a task for which she hasn’t been trained or prepared. It would be a bad idea to hire a trumpeter to fix a kitchen sink, for obvious reasons: a trumpet consists of metal plumbing, but a trumpeter is not necessarily a plumber; a trumpeter may be an independent contractor, but probably in the field of music rather than plumbing; and a trumpeter may possibly own a kitchen sink, but it doesn’t follow that she is knowledgeable about kitchen sinks everywhere. Continue reading

The Reading Railroad

Burgundian scribe

Burgundian scribe (portrait of Jean Miélot, secretary, copyist and translator to Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy, from a copy of his compilation of the Miracles de Notre Dame), 15th century. From

[Dear Diary,]

Until recently I had forgotten how much I love to read. I have gone through some good books in the past week. Some of the best were Phillip Roth’s Everyman, Voltaire’s Candide, Stephen Hawkings’s My Brief History and Lisa Randall’s Higgs Discovery: The Power of Empty Space.

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A Portrait of the Classical Bullshitter


Pinocchio as depicted by Enrico Mazzanti (1852-1910), the first illustrator of “Le avventure di Pinocchio”. This image was taken from

Consider the following conversation:

Person #1: “Last night, I was listening to Beethoven’s second bassoon concerto. It’s gorgeous. Do you know that piece?”
Person #2: “…yes! The second violin part in that piece is terrific. I think that work is very underrated. But it runs a tad long, don’t you think?”
Person #1: “Mmm.”

Both of these people are being disingenuous. Neither of them has heard Beethoven’s bassoon concertos (he didn’t write any). But they’re eager to impress each other with their knowledge of classical repertoire, so they pretend. Here’s a similar conversation:

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For Its Time

Cave of the Hands

“Cueva de las Manos” (“Cave of the Hands”) in the Santa Cruz province in Argentina. This image was taken from

Trials of Moses

“Trials of Moses” by Botticelli, at the Sistine Chapel. This was also taken from

When we criticize an important work of art, it’s tempting to forgive or gloss over its shortcomings. Take, for example, some early cave drawings. They may be impressive considering the time in which they were made. However, when we compare them to Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, we see that they are not impressive by more modern standards.

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boa constrictor swallowing an animal

“Once when I was six years old I saw a magnificent picture in a book, called True Stories from Nature, about the primeval forest. It was a picture of a boa constrictor in the act of swallowing an animal.

“In the book it said: ‘Boa constrictors swallow their prey whole, without chewing it. After that they are not able to move, and they sleep through the six months that they need for digestion.'”

~from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, English translation by Katherine Woods Continue reading

“Classical Music”

Leopold Mozart and his children, Wolfgang and Maria Anna

“Leopold Mozart and his children, Wolfgang and Maria Anna” by Carmontelle (1717–1806). This image was taken from

What is “classical music”? In the historical sense, it is music written in the Classical era, by contemporaries of Mozart, Haydn, etc. When written this way, it’s usually “Classical” with a capital C.

However, the phrase “classical music” can mean something more ambiguous. The current edition of the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy says it is “a loose expression for European and American music of the more serious kind, as opposed to popular or folk music.”

That definition seems problematic. Both implications–that European and American popular and folk music isn’t serious, and the other kinds of music are more serious–seem questionable. Depending on what you call “serious”, there seem to be many exceptions.

And even if you buy the idea that there are these two kinds of music, “classical music” is still a little confusing because it sometimes carries the more specific meaning alluded to above (“Is this piece classical or Classical? Is it classically written?”).


Dreaming Up A Better Time Signature

Sacrificial Dance from The Rite of Spring

“Sacrificial Dance” from the 1913 piano version of “The Rite of Spring” by Igor Stravinsky. This image was taken from

Music notation did not appear suddenly in its current form; rather, it evolved over time until it reached its present incarnation. Presumably, it will continue to evolve as long as it is used. It’s not perfect, and some relatively small changes might make it more intuitive. It would probably be good to make those changes because more intuitive sheet music would likely be more conducive to high quality musical performances and coherent music theory. Continue reading

Newgrounds Interview

Triple Self Portrait

“Triple Self Portrait” by Norman Rockwell. This image was taken from

On April 22, 2012 I was interviewed by a member of Newgrounds. The interview is mostly about my music, but a few other topics are discussed as well. It is reproduced here with a few minor modifications. These modifications are mostly contextual, like removing parts of the original titles of tracks (i.e. “{BT} Sneaky Sneakers” becomes “Sneaky Sneakers”). The original copy of this interview can be found here.

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Interview with Roger Ellman

star-forming cloud NGC 281

NASA Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer observed the star-forming cloud NGC 281 in the constellation of Cassiopeia as it appears to be chomping through the cosmos, earning it the nickname the Pacman nebula. From

Roger Ellman is a composer, as well as a poet, cosmologist, physicist, philosopher, and sculptor. For information about his work, visit

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