Saturday, August 23, 2008

The semi-retirement of a comb binder

Yesterday marked a small but significant occasion as I put my comb binder into semi-retirement. I say semi retirement as it will be my back up system from now on. Roughly ten years ago I stumbled upon an industrial comb binder at a tag sale in New Cannan, CT (town next to where my parents lived). In addition to all the regular junk, they guy was selling a couple of pieces of old office equipment including this fancy industrial binder from GBC. He said it was a $5000 piece of equipment and should run forever. This was back before Staples sold $150 manual binders (that definitely didn’t last forever). At the time, every composer I knew ran off to Kinkos and paid $2 per score for comb binding ($4 for larger scores). Kinkos screwed it up more than half the time and 80% of the time if the score was bigger than 8.5x11.

So this guy offered to sell me this electric powered binder for $500. I jumped on the opportunity and moved the 80 lb. monster into my mother’s car and never paid Kinkos to bind my scores again. From that day forward binding cost me $.20 for the plastic comb and I could bind any time I wanted. Probably it paid for itself within the first three years and now that 10 years have passed, I would guess it has saved me a few thousand and certainly many hours getting to Kinkos and watching them screw up my scores.

Sadly, the comb binding system is becoming obsolete. Coil binding is in. Its slicker, doesn’t get crushed so easily, and makes a lot less noise when turning pages. All the new kids are using coil binding these days. So it was time to upgrade but where would I find a tag sale that would sell me a $5000 unit for $500. This minor miracle would not happen again, but I did buy a great unit at a discount from my old teacher Jennifer Higdon. She upgraded to coil binding 8 months ago (Jennifer is always on the cutting edge when it comes to self publishing). Her business is so booming that in retrospect she wishes she sprang for the super fancy model. We made a deal, they shipped me their slightly used binder, and yesterday I was binding scores with my new coil binder for the first time. It definitely is sexy compared to the old fashioned comb binder.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Back in Aspen

So the blogging seems off to a rocky start. I take a trip for a premiere and write a flourish of blogs. Then a few weeks off and I write nothing. Everyone tells me the success of a blog depends on regular posts. I’ll give it another shot…

Well I am back on the road for a premiere and am ready to restart the blogging. Hopefully this time I will find a more regular blogging pattern and will not have giant gaps between posts.

We’re in Aspen where my piano quintet will be premiered in a couple of days. This was a two part commission where part of the piece was premiered last summer and now the complete piece will be premiered on Monday.

Its been a very unusual and delightful experience to write the piece in two parts. This 20 minute, 4 movement work moves from a very dark first half towards a very light second half. The darker half was written a year ago and is actually the most difficult music in the piece. A very thoughtful and dedicated group premiered that part at Aspen last summer. They were all veterans of new music and never shied away from a challenge. Yet the collective years of experience illuminated nuances that would simplify very difficult spots and strengthen the effect of the piece. I had also never worked with a group so dedicated towards discovering the best tempos, phrasing, articulation, etc of a brand new piece.

Following that wonderful experience I made a handful of changes to those two movements and had the Boulder Piano Quartet present this portion on my faculty recital last December. They had less rehearsal time but the piece came together very well following the changes and insight of the first group. This past spring I wrote the two additional movements. I specifically wanted movements that not only contrasted and complemented the music of Part I, but I also wanted to compliment the very demanding playing in Part I. The result is a slow and gorgeous third movement, and a fast lyrical fourth movement. Both of these movements really allow the players to breathe a bit and resolve the difficult first two movements.

So I am back in Aspen with a portion of the original group and two new players. The change in players was unexpected and disappointing, but all has worked out well. My wife, Hsing-ay Hsu, was hired as the pianist for this year’s performance. Of course she has played nearly every chamber piano part I have written and is the living (and only) expert on my music. She was delighted to join the stellar group and loves the high level music making and constant thoughtful discussion about the music. The other new player is a wonderful Juilliard violinist, Kathryn Eberle.

I can’t wait for this wonderful premiere.