A litter of new works

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve had a HUGE spike in my musical output. I finally finished Only Air, then wrote three new choral works and a song cycle.

Part of the reason for the spike was the simple fact that four of the above-mentioned works were commissions and had fast-approaching deadlines. I’m a horrible procrastinator at times, so deadlines are happy things for me. And while I adore Douglas Adams, I try not to ascribe to his philosophy on finishing work: “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

1) The double bar went on Only Air around the 1st of January. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was the 1st of January. Apparently New Year’s Day hangovers can’t stop me from finishing a piece! Over the next month or so, I sought out critiques from friends and mentors, and continued to make some revisions, but the piece was effectively done.

2)After Only Air was finished and engraved, I turned my attention to They Lie at Rest for SATB choir (text by Christina Rossetti), which was commissioned by two choirs in Florida: East Ridge High School Concert Choir in Clermont, FL, and the Lake Minneola High School Choirs. The commission was instigated by East Ridge’s Gretchen Kemp, who’s a former classmate of mine from my Illinois State days, and with whom I sang in various choirs for several years. They Lie at Rest will be premiered on April 24 in Washington, D.C.

One of the fun and interesting parts of writing the piece was walking the schools through the commissioning process. For a lot of musicians, commissioning is something that only ensembles with huge budgets do, and it seems arcane and wildly expensive. It was enlightening for me to see how people outside of the new music world view commissioning. And it was wildly fun explaining the concept of a commissioning consortium and of co-commissioning to a newbie commissioner! (Definitely a reminder that what seems obvious and simple to me can be anything but that to others.)

3)Once They Lie at Rest was emailed to the choirs, I started in on Voices – the companion piece to When Music Sounds, which was premiered in December by the Illinois State University Madrigal Singers. I think I wrote the piece in three sittings. But when I got it into Sibelius, I realized that I didn’t quite like the ending. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to fix it right away because I had another deadline racing nearer and nearer.

4)In late December, I submitted some works to be considered for a commission by Providence Premieres, a new concert series in Providence, RI, and somehow I was awarded one of the commissions for the inaugural concert in April! This is actually the first time I’ve gotten something – other than residencies at artist colonies – that I’ve applied for. The commission was for a 7-9 minute piece using some combination of soprano, violin, and harp. I, of course, chose to use all three instruments.

For my texts, I chose three short poems by Elizabeth Morgan, who I met in 2009 at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. I was completely charmed by her reading one evening at the VCCA of her poem “Poetry Reading”, and ordered two of her books of poetry as soon as I got home, after whose arrival I fell in love with “Email from Odessa” from On Long Mountain. This cycle doesn’t use either text; instead it makes use of three contemplative poems that are, on the surface at least, about animals and insects: “Like Young Men”, “Gnat Facts on NPR”, and “Without a Philosophy”. The cycle, which takes its title from the last poem, clocks in around 10 minutes.

The crazy thing about the cycle (aside from my brief reference to The Orlons’ “Wah Watusi”) is that it was written and engraved, parts were extracted and formatted, and everything was sent off within 10 days of putting pencil to paper – while also holding down a full-time day job. (Yes, I sketch on paper first!) A few weeks later, and my head is still spinning from the frenzy of writing!

After finishing Without a Philosophy, I had a few days of relative down time before I packed my bags and ran off to Dallas for 5 days to be a little social butterfly at the American Choral Directors Association’s national conference. I’d never been to an ACDA conference before, so the whole experience was new and exciting. Aside from some travel difficulties getting to Dallas and the need for a better map of the area, it was a great time and I met some really great directors, as well as spent quality time with a few friends. I also learned quite a lot about some holes in the repertoire, as well as cemented some thoughts on a new business model I’ll be trying out with some other composers later this year.

After Dallas, I revisited Voices and finally got the ending right. And I banged out the parts to Only Air and sent them off so that rehearsals could start.

Blah blah blah, I quit my day job to go full-time freelance, blah blah, more on that later.

5)And this past weekend while staying with Darien and his parents at their house in Montauk, I composed a new 4 1/2 minute piece for SSA choir and piano – Sunset: St. Louis, text by Sara Teasdale. The intention was to send it off to a competition (with fantastic terms and no entry fee, mind you), but it turns out that when I printed out the guidelines, they hadn’t been updated for this year’s voicing, which was mixed choir – SSA was last year! Regardless, I now know that not only can I write a 10 minute song cycle in 10 days, but I can also write and fully engrave a 4 1/2 minute choral piece in just under 32 hours!

And since I can’t enter the piece into the competition, I’ve made it available on NewMusicShelf with a 40% discount through the 13th. So if you or a director you know with a women’s/treble choir are looking for some new material, send ’em over here and tell ’em to use the code STLOUIS.

“The Gallant Weaver” for Choir

This evening I started a new arrangement of “The Gallant Weaver” for SATB choir and piano. The reason? There’s a choral composition competition (say that ten times fast) that I’d like to enter, and the deadline is Friday. I’ve been hemming and hawing over texts for ages, and this afternoon after a very busy day at the day job where I didn’t choose a text like I’d half-planned to do (“Look it up while you’re at work, instead of doing your work! Brought to you by the Internet Foundation.”), I decided to make life a little easier on myself and just arrange something from my existing catalog. “The Gallant Weaver” is ripe for the picking in this respect, and also happens to be one of my favorites of my own songs (don’t tell the others, though – we don’t want them getting jealous…).

So after a little walk in this beautiful warm weather, I dove into the arrangement and am already at the halfway mark. I should be able to finish the arrangement Wednesday evening, which makes me incredibly happy. It’s nice to add a new piece to my catalog, and to do it so quickly!

I’d have it done tomorrow, except that I’m meeting with Jeff Algera to make the final arrangements for the Tobenski-Algera Concert Series, which is effectively finished. However, part of our meeting is to deal with the funds leftover from our semi-season last year so that I can start a new series in the coming months very much like the T-A Concerts. The reason for the dissolution of the Series is that Jeff and his wife are moving to California next month, which will make continuing the Concerts in their current form very difficult. Obviously, Copland and Sessions managed to do it via post in the early ’30s while the latter lived in Paris, and it’s infinitely easier to communicate via Skype, but it’s time to change things up a bit, and Jeff’s life will certainly be taken up for quite a while with setting up his new life and web business on the West Coast.

I don’t normally write pieces specifically for competitions. In fact, I usually avoid those that require an unperformed, unpublished piece because I have so few of those. And as a self-published composer, I honestly can’t say that I have any unpublished pieces. As soon as I finish something, I slap the Tobenski Music Press logo on it, and throw it on my site and the NewMusicShelf. Everything I write is immediately considered to be published. But it’s not published by a “legacy publisher” (a nice term I came across to describe traditional publishers), which is certainly what is meant by the “no publication” rule. No danger of that ever happening – I don’t want a “legacy publisher”! (More on that some other time.) My other point of “meh”-ness is that the piece can’t be performed in the meantime, or submitted anywhere else. So, until August when the award winners are announced, this arrangement, which I’m so far very happy with, has to sit on my hard drive and twiddle its thumbs. But I guarantee that even though I can’t do anything with it in the meantime, it will be ready to go for the instant that the announcements are made. Of course, I’m certainly hoping that it has to sit on the shelf for another few months because it’s won the award and needs to be premiered by this organization!

Fingers crossed!


This Friday I’ll be singing the premiere of my new short art song, meditation.

meditation, which clocks in at 1 minute, is my latest collaboration with poet Mark Statman. I came across this short, slightly dirty poem while leafing through Mark’s manuscripts in his studio at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in 2007. This concert, by the way, is celebrating composers who have been in residence at the VCCA, so I felt it appropriate to work with Mark again since that’s where we met.

I’ve been dying to set this poem, and it’s been bouncing around in my head for two years – never quite settling into something that I was happy with. Now I’ve finally found an excuse to make it happen!

In December, Gilda Lyons, the Artistic Director of The Phoenix Concerts, asked me to write a short song for their March concert titled “Music from Mt. San Angelo: a celebration of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts”, and thus was born meditation.

Music from Mt. San Angelo
a celebration of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts
Friday, March 18, 2011 at 8:00PM
Church of Saint Matthew and Saint Timothy
26 West 84th Street, NYC


With all the blogging I’ve been doing lately about the concert music business and how composers should be more proactive in the financial aspect of their careers, I’ve decided to make a personal/professional resolution: By October 2011, I want to be able to pay my monthly student loan payments with income from my musical activities: commissions, royalties, performance fees, score sales, and the (very) small distribution fee I charge at the NewMusicShelf. It’s a small goal – $264 per month – but one that I think is attainable. And it’s a step toward my larger long-term goal of being able to support myself almost entirely on my music. I don’t think that just under $3,200 per year is too much to ask for now – I’ve managed it before, and more. My musical income for 2010 was a paltry $1,273.35, so all I have to do is a little more than double that.

In order to meet this goal, of course, I need to have a plan. The plan, in a nutshell, is this: Over the next few months, I’ll be rolling out a new segment of the site devoted to commissioning new works, as well as making a marketing push for the NewMusicShelf, and a separate push for my own music. Beyond that, I’m researching some recording projects to help get my music out there.

Two new songs

I’ve spent some time over the past few days writing two new songs – part of a group of birthday songs for friends. The 8 planned super-short songs are, of course, a part of the Song Album Project (I haven’t forgotten about it!), but will be available in the Tobenski Music Press store as soon as they’re written.

So far, I’ve written songs for my friends Danny Stone and Joel Conarroe (the latter of whom is having a big birthday bash tonight on the East Side), who turned, respectively, 30 and 75. For Danny, I wrote the 1&12frac; minute “Twilight”, on the short poem of the same name by Walt Whitman. And for Joel’s one-minute song, I used another short Whitman poem, “To a Western Boy”.

Six more to go!

Tobenski Music Press store fixed

I discovered this afternoon, much to my chagrin, that the Tobenski Music Press PDF storefront hasn’t been working properly since April. So, I just spent the past hour and a half updating my PayPal settings and upgrading my LinkLok files (I sure would have appreciated an email from the LL folks when the updated version rolled out in April…). After a sizable number of test transactions and their corresponding refunds to myself, I have the storefront up and working again!

On the one hand, at least no one tried to purchase anything in that time, so no one was inconvenienced (I receive emails of all purchases, and would have been able to have fixed it immediately, so it would only have been a minor inconvenience). On the other hand, nobody even tried to purchase anything during that time! Which left me a) without any idea that there even was a problem, and b) having managed not to have sold a single score in five months!

So now that everything’s working again, buy! buy! buy! Or just donate on the Links page because you love me so much.