About Me

Yeah, I know.

This used to be an overwhelmingly music-focused blog. Things changed.

What kind of music do I make?

I compose and arrange, and you can listen here. I have never recorded myself playing anyone else’s dots. However, I love listening to certain other people’s dots, even though my brain doesn’t seem to want to play them anymore.

I’m no longer sure what genre I’m in, but I think I’ve come to the end of the line with classical. There’s more breathing room in new age and folk-based traditions, and I really don’t think those dudes need any more adulation thrown at them. They’ve gotten three centuries of abject worship. That’s more than enough.

General whatnots and things

I was raised in an Italian-American household, so my youth was soaked in opera and classical music. Subsequent to entering young teen-hood, my youth became equally soaked in stadium rock. I consider all of the aforementioned genres of music to be personal vernaculars and place them on an equal footing in terms of merit.

I much prefer unsnobby, beautiful, melodically rich, and unrepentantly sincere music. If I like it, it’s a guarantee that a klatsch of art-music devotees having a roundtable over lattes and clove cigarettes at the local coffeehouse rolled their eyes at it. πŸ™‚

I play piano and have spent some time on viola, but had to press the “pause” button on viola lessons when composing reared its entirely unanticipated head. I’m now irked at myself for “jilting” the viola since I’m finally forced to admit that I just can’t get behind an instrument that only makes one noise at a time. (That said, I’ve recently decided I like the 19th Century flute, so there’s logic for you.)

I started piano when I was 10 after about four to five years of relentless nagging of my parents on my part. Coming from somewhat financially straitened circumstances meant that until my family could chase down a freebie, it wasn’t going to happen. I’m thankful that I did have the 8 years of fairly rigorous lessons that I got, and thanks to studying piano plus being Somewhat Neurologically Peculiar, I absorbed a whole lot of theory anyway.

I have never attended a music college in my life, or studied music in an academic setting. I have BS degrees in physics and astronomy, and an MS in physics with a concentration on high-energy/particle physics. Metaphorically speaking, I seem to have been born without a right brain, causing my left brain to subsequently inflate and subdivide itself into a left and right brain. (Please note that I preceded that statement with the words “metaphorically speaking.”) While I can fairly be called a childhood math prodigy, I was never a childhood music prodigy. My childhood piano teacher is someone I’m almost positive you’ve never heard of.

I enjoy languages, orthographies, mathematics, handcrafts, really good food, and music. And my kitty, of course.

General advice for studying music — or anything else really

  1. There are no shortcuts. Stop wasting time looking for them and get to work.
  2. Play now, pay now. There is no later.
  3. Small changes consistently made add up. Those changes can be improvements if you want them to be.
  4. In fact, small changes consistently made are the only kind of changes that add up. Slow progress is the only real progress.
  5. Don’t wait until you’re at your instrument before you expect inspiration to arrive. You need to look for it 24/7, which means that it may strike while you’re stuck in traffic. Oh, well. Inspiration isn’t accommodating. It comes when it comes, and if you expect it only to show up of its own accord when it’s convenient for you, it won’t come at all. Get used to it.

Advice on improvisation, composition, and playing by ear

  1. Get the sheet music off the desk.
  2. Relax.
  3. Take a popular song melody you like and work it out.
  4. Listen to it a few dozen times until a left hand suggests itself.
  5. If you stumble upon something good, write it down or record it.
  6. Frob the dials on it. If the song goes back into the home key at some point, try redirecting it into the relative minor or Major. How did you do that? How might you do it in another song? What would it sound like in a different time signature? Might the melody work well in a nocturne?
  7. Rinse and repeat for a couple weeks/months/years. See #5.

All of this was made easier for me with the acquisition of a digital piano with headphones, where my noodling could be kept to myself. If you, like me, are classically trained and you just can’t lose that old puke reflex over making “mistakes,” I strongly recommend that you get an instrument with headphones if at all possible. (Some don’t come with that option. If you’re a wind player, you’re kind of stuck.) You will be surprised at how much looser and freer you will feel once you don’t feel like someone’s listening.

And honestly, I left out Step Zero:

0) Hum to yourself constantly, even just in your own mind.

Why are you so grumpy all the time?

Your guess is as good as mine.

I can be contacted at firexandxair at gmail dot com.

31 comments on “About Me

  1. fg says:

    Dear Sir or Madam:

    We also attended the concert with David Daniels at Disney Hall and found it extremely enjoyable. Best of all, we drove up to Santa Barbara (from Orange County!) the day before yesterday to catch Andreas Scholl and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. The performances of both were thrilling and left us speechless out of sheer excitement. So far we have not been able to track online any review of this concert, and we would appreciate if you could talk about it (we are assuming you attended). In addition, it was announced that NPR was recording the concert. It would be interesting to find out if and when it will be broadcast (this is a big “if”, since someone’s hearing aid kept beeping occasionally, but very annoyingly, for the whole duration of the concert. At intermission it was announced that the piercing beep could be picked up by the recording instruments – as well as by the public and orchestra, I would add – so it is possible NPR will discard this recording).
    We appreciate reading your posts. Keep up the good work.

  2. fireandair says:

    Thank you — I had no idea anyone was reading these posts; they’ve been a bit wandering as I’ve been straightening out my own thoughts on the issues surrounding the high male voices. I suppose I’ll have to start writing them more carefully now!

    I also drove up to Santa Barbara to see Scholl in concert with the ACO and have written a review of it. It’s missing a few key pieces, but once I add them in from the program, I’ll publish the review publicly. I’ll have to keep an ear out for the NPR broadcast, because that would be truly wonderful to have. Thanks for informing me, and thanks for your kind words.

  3. Rob Johnson says:

    the horn player from the Australian Chamber Orchestra Concert with Andreas Scholl in Santa Barbera was Rob Johnson who is also Principal with Sydney Symphony

  4. fireandair says:

    Thank you; I’ll add his name in.

  5. fg says:

    Dear Sir:

    It would be interesting to read a post on Philippe Jaroussky, and maybe see him added and compared to other countertenors in your April post (chest vs. falsetto voices, etc.).

    Thank you

  6. fireandair says:

    I must admit, I’m not familiar with Philippe Jaroussky, although I understand that he is a falsettist whose falsetto is high enough to kick him up into the soprano register instead of settling into alto like most of them. I’ll need to learn more about him, and he certainly comes well-recommended.

    There really are multiple axes along which voices need to be categorized, and it becomes incredibly complex with male voices when the falsetto is included. With the exception of Maniaci, I don’t think there is a single male vocalist without a medical distinction of some sort who can hop above alto without using a falsetto. That one register is the area of greatest overlap for chest versus falsetto voice, and hence is the most complex in terms of having to set taxonomic distinctions. Maniaci excepted, just about all physically “normal” men who sing above alto are guaranteed to be doing it in a falsetto.

    Thanks for your comment.

  7. fg says:

    Thank you for the reply! You should investigate Jaroussky. He is quite extraordinary, and his falsetto does not sound like one.

  8. Brenda K says:

    Hi there,

    Thanks very much for the post about electronic tuners! (I wanted to put this comment on that post, but when I clicked the “add comment” button, it didn’t go anywhere 😦

    That was very helpful because I friend of ours just asked me to teach her violin, and since I have very little background in teaching (I’ve always been a performer and only taught for a couple years a long time ago), and we “advanced” players tend to lose all memory of what it was like when we first began learning to play the instrument.

    Naturally after reading your post, I encouraged my new student to get an electronic tuner and I showed her how to use mine during her first lesson. She was thrilled to finally learn how to tune her instrument πŸ™‚

    Your blog is extremely helpful to me in beginning this new adventure – thanks again!

  9. Bobby Lee says:

    Doug Livingston plays Bach on pedal steel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vz_1lC51z0

  10. fireandair says:

    Oy, gorgeous! Thank you!

  11. Really enjoying your blog and musings!
    I can’t seem to find how to leave comments on individual posts, so I’m just putting a general one here. Good work, thanks for sharing – always interesting to hear how other musicians go about approaching things!

  12. fireandair says:

    Thanks! I keep comments off of everything but this page just to keep from spending more time talking about music than making it. Glad you enjoy the blog!

  13. iarxiv says:

    Hi, Just wanted to say I read a couple of your articles and really liked your style. Good punchy finishing lines πŸ™‚ Also liked the content.

  14. […] HomeAbout Fire & Air Bookmark the permalink. […]

  15. lukeworth says:

    (Cool, a comment box!)
    I really like your blog.
    That is all.

  16. lukeworth says:

    Apologies but that was NOT all: what do the orange notes in your Fire&Air banner represent?

  17. fireandair says:

    Nothing deep — I guess they represent the fact that I like orange. πŸ™‚

  18. Love the studying and improvisation advice.

  19. By the way, thanks for the mention on one of your recent posts!

  20. Joanna says:

    Science. Music. It’s a winner

  21. Really enjoyed your job advice πŸ™‚ Thanks for the encouragement to just DO IT. Applies to all art, really, doesn’t it?

  22. fireandair says:

    All the same thing — and all delicious. πŸ™‚

  23. fireandair says:

    Yep — the easiest way to get ahead is to turn on your ambition and just leave it on as a default position.

    I was concerned that post would be misconstrued as “get a job, you effing freak,” but it’s just advice for people without trust funds or wealthy relatives that we need to pay attention to making our own safety nets if we’re to survive long enough to create our art. And if we’re going to be working jobs while making music anyhow — which we all do — why does it need to be stuff like driving cabs and washing dishes: low-pay, little chance of advancement, and ergonomically damaging?

  24. Lila says:

    You opened comments? Here?

    I actually don’t yet know if you’re a guy or a girl. You certainly sound like a guy. Except for the love of kitties part. All I can tell is this: you are the Fire, and the instrument is Air. Together, these two make music.
    End of groundbreaking analysis.

    Would love to see a post from you on picking up languages, with elaboration on how you perceive your intuition in the process. (Isn’t it so creative of me to request this of you? I know, I know, I’m just awesome like that.)

    Great posts you have. I enjoy reading through it even though I barely know a thing about playing music.

    Peace & love,

  25. Phil says:

    This evening I was watching Handel’s Gulio Cesare on my iPad’s Met Opera On Demand app with my daughter. I’m still not used to seeing grown men singing in a high countertenor voice. I searched the web and ran across your article on the high mail voice. That is a fantastic posting. Exactly what I was looking for and much more.

    I was aware that women were often not allowed to sing in church during the years up to Handel. Thus the development of the high male voice. But Handel had favorite sopranos as well as castatri in his operas so he obviously could have women singing the high parts. What I can’t figure out is why Handel chose to have men sing men characters, such as Gulio Cesare, in a high voice. Then turn around and have a woman sing a man’ role (Sextus) in a alto range. Everything seems so turned around. The men sing like an alto and the alto plays a man.

  26. fireandair says:

    I guess the best way to think about it is that it wasn’t really his choice — that was how people thought of voices at the time. Nowdays, the equivalent might be the male rock singers who usually also sing quite high. People wanted that ringing high sound for a heroic role, and when it went out of style in opera, it found a home in pop and rock music, where people still associate it with heroic and virile images.

    When all the most prized voices for the heroic roles are high, you can mix and match people at will. Gender-crossing was just part of the glamorous stage fantasy at the time. It was almost part of the “special effects” to see how well someone could pull it off. Some of the castrati were known to be as good at over-the-top glamour as any modern drag player.

    Glad you enjoyed the article! Operas from that era are a wonderful mix of classical music, pop songs, and show tunes — I encourage you to look up “Rodelinda,” “Partenope,” and “Tamerlano” as well. Together with “Cesare,” they are sort of Haendel’s Top Four and chock full of the most wonderful music.

  27. nikkitytom says:

    I wanted to comment on your excellent post featuring Michael Maniaci, I am convinced this is the most beautiful voice in the world and your article has gathered together a stellar collection of details about him and that incredible voice. I wish that the producers of “Farinelli Il Castrato” had considered Maniaci for their soundtrack, which was ultimately created by electronically fusing a male counter tenor’s voice with that of a female soprano. Both were recorded separately and then digitally combined. Although that hybrid has produced a lovely sound track … nothing can measure up to Maniaci. “Ombra Mai Fu” must make the angels weep with jealousy. .

  28. Barbera Stevens says:

    I have been playing the piano, and taking lessons, for about thirteen years now, so music is pretty much my entire world. My knowledge of classical music is very limited, but I do have a strong appreciation for it. The music that I mainly listen to is classic rock.
    I really enjoyed your article on Steve Perry, and was wondering why you are so fond of his voice, if your favorite music is all classical. What made you take notice? I ask this because I only recently started looking in to his music, and have realized that it is very easy to take truly talented rock singers for granted.

  29. Belsnickel says:

    Don’t forget Jon Anderson, lead singer of Yes. He’s described himself as a countertenor and he certainly had a loud powerful voice against the noise Yes made!

  30. fireandair says:

    Probably had to do with the fact that my first real introduction to music was through opera; in our house when I was growing up, a big voice was a big hero. As a result, 80s rock always struck my ear well since skilled singing was a huge component of that genre. Prior to that (and mostly after it), rock was more focused on guitars and drums than voice, so I’m afraid I never really took it seriously.

  31. Mary Kusaka says:

    Just want to reply to nikkitytom about why Maniaci was not considered for “Farinelli”: he was only 18 yrs old at the time. Had just applied to, and been rejected from, Juilliard. No one could have predicted what he would develop into back then. He did, however, appear on the soundtrack of “The Hawk Is Dying” (2006).

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