Separate from the upcoming vodcasts on the artistic life, is another project that has sprung up in the most wonderful way: through the end of the year, I’ll be working with photographer Kaity Volpe on an interesting photo project.
Kaity approached me a few weeks ago about the idea of following around a young composer with her camera for a few months, snapping photos of the writing process, meetings with colleagues, and hopefully catching a performance of the composer’s work. I thought it was a fantastic idea – and a very fun one, too! – so we decided to team up.
Starting last Thursday, Kaity and I have met with some regularity for a series of candid photo shoots. Our first session was at my apartment almost immediately after one of my weekly composition lessons with David Del Tredici. I did a little bit of tidying (despite Kaity’s admonishment not to) waiting for her to arrive – taking care of laundry, making sure that nothing potentially embarrassing was left lying about – and made a “plan of attack” so that I wouldn’t be left wracking my brains trying to find something to work on. Photos of me thinking don’t sound too terribly exciting! When she arrived, we chatted for a bit (on the election, new projects, and some idle gossip), then launched into the first official shoot. I did my best to ignore her and get some writing done on “To You”, which is no mean task when someone else is in the room. I was at the particular stage of composition where I rely on Sibelius’ MIDI playback, so after a few times through one short passage, I joked that she’d be sick of the song long before it was ever premiered! (She was already humming the tune by the time we were finished!)
The majority of the shoot, though, was of my apartment itself. Of particular interest to Kaity were by near-overflowing bookshelves. I pride myself on my book collection – my New Year’s Resolution (I rarely make resolutions, but decided to make a silly one this year) was to buy at least one book a week. I’ve fallen behind schedule, but I think that I’ve more than made up for that in my several book shopping sprees. I’m a major fan of used books, largely because they can be so inexpensive, but also because they have a little more life and history than the glossy-covered kind with unbroken spines that you find at Barnes & Noble or Borders. (I also aim to spend no more than $3 per book if I can manage it, and will gladly pick up second or third copies of a book I like if I can get it for a dollar – they make wonderful gifts!)
Some other fun photos that Kaity ended up with were of two of my quirkier (I guess) organizational tools. I keep a tin painted with violins on my wall near the door to collect receipts for anything I can claim as expenses on my tax returns. As someone in the arts, a lot of my purchases end up being expensible, so I end up with a lot of receipts. There are so many for this year so far that the overflowing pieces of paper look like a bizarrely beautiful bouquet. I also keep a bulletin board with two groups of note cards pinned to it: the middle of the board is full of index cards with ideas for pieces that I’d like to write and who I might like to write them for, and the right edge is a column of index cards that list the various commissions I’ve currently got lined up.
We met again at the City College Musicians Accord composer readings on Thursday for some shots of me working with the ensemble and David Del Tredici. For the readings, I had two short pieces played, and also sang for two of my colleagues. There are some really nice shots with David Del Tredici – we’re clearly having an intense conversation about an orchestrational detail (he suggested that the strings be given random pizzicato A-flats throughout the arrangement of “In the dark pine-wood”, the effect of which was stunning). At another point, David and I are both making strange faces at each other – a passing moment of silliness whose trigger I’m sure I’ll never remember. She also captured a studious moment between me and Eric Taxier, one of the composers who I was singing for. I’ve often thought of a photo that adorns the wall of one of my former teachers, Daron Hagen. It’s of a twenty-something Daron sitting in an armchair near Leonard Bernstein, probably during one of Daron’s lessons with the maestro, each lost in a different orchestral score – a moment of quiet and concentration, really a lovely photo – and I always wondered how photos like that happen. This project has answered that question for me.
The next day at noon, we met at “my office” – the 77th St Cosi. Particularly since having been laid off from my day job (anyone know of a job opening anywhere?) in mid-September, I’ve taken to spending my afternoons, and sometimes evenings, with my laptop and an iced tea (soon to be hot chocolate in the impending winter months), working on a new piece, or designing/refining/updating one of the many websites that I designed and operate for various clients. Kaity made it very clear from the beginning that she absolutely had to have some photos of me working at either Starbucks or Cosi. (Ironically, I can write in such an environment with astonishing ease, in contrast to my inability to work with only one other person in earshot.) Cosi or Starbucks (on rare occasions) or the NY Public Library have become working havens for me – I sit with my laptop and my sketches done at the piano, and do the heavy-duty, nuts-and-bolts composing work. Again, I did my best to tune out Kaity’s photo-taking, so I can only speculate on the crazy looks we got when she pulled out her camera and spent at least 20 minutes taking photos of me staring at my computer screen. Admittedly, the possibilities here were probably limited (though I’ll see the proofs soon enough), but it’s where the majority of my work gets done!
I’ll post more about the various shoots as they happen, and maybe even pop up a teaser picture or two on occasion. Kaity and I are brainstorming ideas for what to do with the finished product. In a few weeks when the project is further along, I’ll create a new page on the site for some of the shots, with some statements and writings by both Kaity and myself.