Changing (Music) History at BAA

“Many education leaders lament the current state of American high schools and say we need to redesign them.... But there’s a school in Boston that’s already doing that right now: Boston Arts Academy.”

So begins a recent article on WBUR about the innovative, audacious public school where I'm lucky to teach. Although I've taught a number of subjects at the school, my main opportunity to collaborate and innovate has come in music history.

One of the music history classes I teach is a seminar for junior musicians. Last year, we debuted a curriculum based on the idea that (a) our students should engage as musicians with the world around them, and (b) the best way to do so is to look at musicians past and present to learn how they addressed their realities. We decided to do this backwards, starting from today and moving to the 1800s, in order to show the roots of today's music step by step.

Check out some of the music on our curriculum below and sign up for the email list (on the right sidebar) to get expanded playlists for this and other posts.

You can support ground-breaking teaching at Boston's only public high school for the arts with a tax-deductible donation right here!

Jacob Collier Performance

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to take the Boston Arts Academy Jazz Choir to work with up-and-coming jazz legend Jacob Collier. We joined forces with the MIT Media Lab, the MIT Festival Jazz Band, and other local musicians to put on quite the show at MIT's Kresge Auditorium. Check out the performance of "Saviour" below! (I pop up around 5:30.)

In addition to "Saviour", we performed Jacob's “Hideaway” and an improvised arrangement of the Mancini/Mercer standard “Moon River.”

Scores available for purchase!

I'm excited to announce a new set of pieces that are now available for purchase at SMP Press! This batch is focused on string pieces:

  • Letters from the War, for beginning intermediate string orchestra (written for the Northern Guilford Middle School orchestra);

score – parts – score & parts

  • Sin Tregua, for string quartet (written at Harvard in response to the drug war in Mexico);

score – parts – score & parts

score – parts coming very soon!


Look for the next batch of scores focusing on piano music soon!

Short film updates

I'm excited to announce that "Persefone's Breakfast" directed by my friend Sam Mendez (and one of several films of his I've scored) will be screening as part of for the Official Latino Short Film Festival on Saturday 17 September in NYC. Check out the trailer here!

I've updated the entry for "Persefone's Breakfast" as well as for "A Bodega" (another Mendez production) and "Beyond Cheesecake"(see below) on the Film and Media page.

In addition, I've uploaded a sample from that short as well as the soundtrack from the short film "Beyond Cheesecake", which I worked on this May as part of the Boston 48 Hour Film Festival. Hear both tracks below!

A Space Chain

Lana del Rey, Terrence Loves You.jpg

Hit play on the playlist above and listen along for a string of strange connections.

A few days ago, I crossed paths with the song "Terrence Loves You" from Lana del Rey's new album Honeymoon. It's a great, hypnotic, trance-like song that despite its slow tempo has a lot of energy and drives to the end. But what really caught me by surprise comes about 2/3s of the way through the piece, at 3:24, when del Rey begins singing "Ground control to Major Tom".

Yeah, that Major Tom, from David Bowie's 1969 "Space Oddity". I'd heard before that Bowie's song was inspired in both theme and title by the famous Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey. What I didn't know was that the first part of the music was also inspired by some of the music used in the film. Specifically, the very soft, unclear instrumental at the beginning of the song is inspired by the famous "Also Sprach Zarathustra".

Richard Strauss' 1896 tone poem Also Sprach Zarathustra was inspired by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche's novel of the same name. (Apparently, in his spare time Nietzsche was something of a composer as well!) Among other things, the novel features a parable on the death of God.

Many of Nietzsche's musings on power and the gods were originally inspired by German composer Richard Wagner. (They later fell out and Nietzsche wrote some terrible words about Wagner.) Possibly the biggest inspiration for Nietzsche (and certainly the biggest work for Wagner) was the Ring cycle, a 15-hour epic opera cycle that makes a Lord of the Rings movie marathon look like a commercial break. Curiously, the whole cycle begins with a wash of music that starts, like the beginning of "Terrence Loves You", "Space Oddity", and Also Sprach Zarathustra, very softly and with no clear rhythm. Coincidence? I think not.

So go get Lana del Rey's new album, and think fondly of David Bowie and Richard Wagner when you listen.

This post is the first of a new series, Crosscurrents, in which I draw connections around a theme or a topic across several time periods in music.