Blog

Andy Bliss is a percussionist, conductor, professor, and contemporary music collaborator living in Knoxville, TN.

 

He is also a tech enthusiast who is interested in tools and workflows that can reduce friction in creative output.

University of Tennessee Percussion Night: Duos
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Tomorrow night my students at the University of Tennessee will be presenting their work in the Fall 2017 Percussion Studio Night (Facebook event info) at 8 PM in the Sandra G. Powell Recital Hall. Join us!

The Studio Recital, as an event, has proven to be a very worthwhile curricular tool and is one of the requirements I used to ultimately replace juries in our program. I love that the Studio Recital puts them on stage, in concert dress, under the lights, in a "real" performance environment which also includes a live audience (few of these parameters are provided in most jury performance environments). Additionally, afterward, they walk away with a program for use in their records as well as a quality live recording (audio + video) which they can also add to their portfolio.

Pedagogically, it has also offered valuable performance experience for younger players. While I believe it to be common for students to perform for each other in studio class and similar formats, students often don't receive much solo performance time with the realities of a recital as outlined above (under the lights, live general audience, etc). Having them step on stage with only one piece to conquer for that evening seems like a very achievable task, setting them up for success their junior year when they have to walk out and hold the stage for an hour. By that time they will have had at least 4 of these studio recital performances under their belt, if not more.

I remember the opening notes of my junior recital and how much my mind was racing. Looking into the crowd and seeing friends from so many different parts of my life in one room was equally heartwarming and confusing. I remember thinking things like "Why is my uncle sitting next to my friend from high school? Do they know each other?" Meanwhile, I'm stepping up to the marimba to play some very soft Keiko Abe notes to open the show, which... let's just say didn't feel particularly controlled that night. I'm hoping the Studio Recital gives the students a bit more of a footing when they step on stage for their own recitals as they get to the end of their degree programs, having had a few swings at the plate prior to that night.

This semester, the Percussion Night event has a theme of "Duos." For me, this is a performance combination that often gets missed as our percussion ensemble will usually focus on works for 3 or more players. There is some fantastic repertoire out there to be explored for duos and I'm excited to hear the wide variety of performances tomorrow evening. The inspiration also came from the Wagner-esque event we had last semester as all of the solos had us there for way too long...

For those in the Knoxville-area, please consider stopping by to hear some of this great repertoire tomorrow including Seeds by Leonardo Gorosito/Rafael Alberto, Wooden Music by Rich O'Meara, Catching Shadows by Ivan Trevino, Table Talk by Alyssa Weinberg, Dance Groove Drifting (from Book of Grooves) by Alejandro Viñao, Passacaglia by Anna Ignatowicz, and Karakurenai by Andy Akiho. In addition, the UT graduate students will be performing Zyklus by Karlheinz Stockhausen, ...And Points North by Stuart Saunders Smith, and a world premiere commission for cello + percussion by Tyler Eschendal.

Finally, a big thank you to Abby Fisher who has been doing an incredible job running the program this semester while I'm away on paternity leave!

 

Sticky Notes
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Sticky notes are great for helping us remember things, like where not to play on keyboard bars! This is one of my favorite low-tech tricks when working with students. Each time the mallet strikes the paper, it makes a crackle or a ticking sound that will immediately draw their attention to their playing area and the resonance of the bars, not to mention the visual disruption.

Harry Potter with KSO
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Great double rehearsal yesterday with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra (event info), preparing for this weekend's Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone concerts. I don't think I've ever played so much Bell Tree and Mark Tree in one gig, but these are the sounds of a wizard!

Andy Bliss
Ruler App
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A recent late night date with Quickbooks had me going back and forth between a few PDF documents to reconcile an account. While the creative part of being a musician is great, having clean books is a necessity and I found myself having to tighten up a few groups of data. Thankfully I have a TV in my office and could monitor the MLB playoff race at the same time...

Some workflows on the computer are just not as easy as paper and pencil and using a ruler to keep your place while reconciling an account vs a statement is a trick as old as time. I remember my Dad doing it at his desk growing up, however it seems a little unnecessary to print everything in 2017 just to get this job done accurately and quickly. Enter this nifty Ruler App.

This handy ruler was a huge help with banking and could easily be used to keep your place on any kind of document where your eyes have to go back and forth often, even if in the same document. I can imagine it having uses in score study perhaps or while reviewing any information across a few locations. The colors are changeable, it can be multiplied to have more than one, and can be used vertically or horizontally. A nice little find for $2.

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TechnologyAndy Blissapp
🎧: New Morse Code's "Simplicity Itself"

I've been a fan of Robert Honstein's music for a while now and have enjoyed working on his pieces Patter and Unwind at various times over the last two years with the University of Tennesse Percussion Ensemble. We performed Unwind in Tampa, FL at the McCormick Marimba Festival using a marimba, vibraphone, and cello pans and it turned out beautifully while also creating a great platform to work on polyrhythms with my undergraduate students. These rhythms combined with the piece's instrumentation flexibility provided our group with many "teachable moments" that semester.

Even better, my pals in New Morse Code, just released their debut album Simplicity Itself on New Focus Records, featuring Robert's two pieces mentioned above, plus music from Tonia Ko, Caroline Shaw, and Paul Kerekes. It's been playing at my desk for over a week now and I'm really enjoying it – especially the way it so perfectly fades away at the end of the album.. Be sure not to overlook the detailed cover art by Tonia Ko herself as well! The album is available for purchase now.

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ListeningAndy Bliss
New Water Music

Yotam Haber's recent work New Water Music is a 50-minute outdoor work for orchestra (also available for indoor performances) inspired by Handel's Water Music, which I learned was premiered 300 years ago in 1717. I also learned that the piece was premiered on barges in the River Thames. The title of the piece now has me wondering if I'm the only one who didn't know this...

The project immediately made me think of the Persephassa performance that Doug Perkins directed a few years back in New York City, which still captures my imagination despite my not being in attendance. The fact that Handel's crew was doing this 300 years ago is awe-inspiring.

New Water Music is a beautiful merging of orchestral performance and community relevance and forced me to consider larger questions surrounding the music we play, the places it's heard, and the audience who shares it. This certainly has been added to my bucket list of pieces to experience live.

Head over to Yotam's website to learn a bit more and to check out the rest of his wonderful work as well. I've enjoyed playing some of his music at past Nief-Norf Summer Festivals. Also, hat tip to my friend Rob Deemer for initially sharing a link to this project on Twitter.

Andy Bliss
Curriculum Diversity

After a busy summer, I was able to take some time this weekend to enjoy reading Anne Lanzilotti's insightful series on Building Curriculum Diversity, published by New Music Box this past July.

The most lucid moment in my reading was in Part Three of the series, where Lanzilotti shares a portion of an interview with violinist Jennifer Koh:

It is our responsibility as artists to advocate for artists and composers who happen to be women or people of color. I feel that we as artists and as an industry need to model and advocate for our entire community. And frankly, diversifying programming is the only way that classical music will survive. If our programming does not reflect the diversity of our society, then we are not serving our community and by extension, we are actively making ourselves irrelevant to society.

With classes starting at many institutions around the country these past few weeks, this is an especially good time to consider the diversity issues raised in these thoughtful essays. As many of us are preparing the storyline by which we will pass down the history of Western music to our current students, the resources offered would be immediately useful for anyone compiling musical examples. At a deeper level, the three essays also helped me to articulate things I already believed more clearly, gave me plenty of new artists to investigate, and left me with several sources that I would like to read and learn more from.

Johnson City Symphony Orchestra

A hearty congratulations to current University of Tennessee MM candidate, Colton Morris, who won the Johnson City Symphony Orchestra Associate Principal Percussion position this past week. They have an exciting season ahead including their March 24th Master Classics show with Mason Bates' Mothership and Pictures at an Exhibition. Way to go Colton!

Andy Bliss
Baseball & Apple Watch

It's likely not a surprise that the recent news that the Boston Red Sox may be facing charges for using the Apple Watch to steal signs immediately caught my eye. Stealing signs has long been a paranoia among baseball teams, and I have often wondered while taking in a game, how technologies like the Apple Watch, iPhone, and simply texting play into the rules. It wasn't long ago that cell phones didn't exist among most people, let alone smart phones, so I'm a little surprised that this is the first time I've seen a headline about suspicions of smart devices being used in the dugout for an advantage.

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Andy Bliss
Harry Potter with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra
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In just over a month, I'll be joining the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, performing every note from Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone along with an HD projection of the movie. I loved this book and my wife has read the entire series multiple times. In fact, it is not uncommon for us to be found watching the full Blu-Ray movie sequence together on the weekend once or twice a year. When she completed her PhD we took a trip to Harry Potter World to celebrate, something we had been waiting to do for years.

If you will be in the Knoxville area in early October, this should be a very fun weekend - tickets are on sale now.

Andy Bliss
10 Reasons to Let Students Major in Music

I really enjoyed this Forbes article by Liz Ryan on the advantages high school students gain when majoring in music. Choosing a university and a degree program can be very tricky for parents and students, and often my meetings with high school visitors at the University of Tennessee surround some of the questions that are addressed.

In addition to Ryan's compelling list of reasons supporting a degree in music, I would also add two additional points (at least):

11. My music students become very good at managing their time and multiple responsibilities. With performances, exams, and other personal deadlines, the students learn how to keep all of the plates spinning and how to deliver in public arenas while doing so. 

12. Music students also learn to work with a wide variety of colleagues in close, collaborative environments, something we see in the professional world daily. Some of these colleagues are friends, and some...are not. Part of being a professional is learning how to work and communicate with a wide variety of individuals.

I found this article to summarize many of the important advocacy points for high school students who might be feeling pulled to a life in the arts after high school.

Andy Blisshigh school, advocacy
Auto-Filing Email with SaneBox
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I’ve enjoyed getting on board with SaneBox this year to help me stay in charge of my inbox. Since I began teaching in higher education, my email intake has increased significantly, while the processing team remains the same size – me. On top of this I have 2 other email accounts that manage, so it is important that my time in Apple Mail is as efficient as possible.

SaneBox comes with several folders that can be enabled for sorting through the wide variety of messages hitting the inbox, which I use to screen messages in Apple Mail a few times a day. The Inbox messages remain untouched by Sanebox  and are the messages I want to see and spend my time on. Often these might be about a potential collaboration from a colleague, a message from a former student, or an email from a friend. 

The rest of the messages get pulled into the following folders. By doing so, they are then trained to arrive in these folders in the future:

SaneLater: These are important messages that can’t be dealt with at the moment. Not having to re-read these multiple times, often over several days, makes processing the other actionable items easier and distraction-free.

SaneCC: SaneBox automatically files messages here that I am cc:ed on. Again, these are typically important, but rarely would be the first items I would act upon if I only have a few minutes. Having them out of the way until I have some extra time is extremely helpful.

SaneBulk: Real emails that don’t need to interrupt focused work. Newsletters, marketing from retailers, notifications from social media, and many other types of non-urgent and frequently uninmportant messages. I’ve found more than 50% of the emails I receive daily fall here. I often can scan them quickly, Select All, Mark as Read, and then Archive / Delete. This replaces the constant “pruning” many of us have resorted to on our phones while spending time with others, when we could be having focused, meaningful interactions.

SaneBlackHole: Junk mail. Real or spam. Drag emails here and they will be put directly in the Trash in the future. By not unsubscribing, I save time and don’t risk exposing myself to more junk by clicking through on the initial message.

Email can be rewarding when spending time on correspondence that is  important, but all too often we spend our time sorting through unimportant messages, trying to get to a place where we can focus on the important stuff. SaneBox has acted as my digital sorting assistant since I signed up and I’ve been cruising through my inbox at much faster speeds since, not to mention enjoying many of the other features SaneBox offers.

More information can be found at SaneBox.com. If you decide to give it a shot, consider using this link to save $5 off a paid subscription.

Andy Bliss
Getting Started with TextExpander Snippets
 
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In a life where creative time is at a premium (which is just about any creative person) I always get excited when I can find time to automate the administrative side of my work. For me, TextExpander scratches that itch daily.

Whenever I'm working through my daily punch list and find myself anticipating work that is remotely repetitive, I find my geek-senses kick in and I begin thinking about how to automate tasks. For example, it is the beginning of the semester at the University of Tennessee, and I am on paternity leave, meaning I need to put a lot of people in touch with a colleague of mine who is replacing me for Fall 2017. I could put up a standard away message to all utk.edu email, but there are lots of people who don't necessarily need this information; on the contrary I don't want to type out an explanation for me being away, when I will return, and how to contact this person, dozens of times each week until the new year.

So instead, I type "xaway" and the following message appears:

Thanks so much for your message. I am away on paternity leave for the Fall 2017 semester celebrating the birth of our new daughter! As a result, please contact UT's Visiting Lecturer of Percussion xxxxxx whose email is xxxxxx. The UT Percussion Studio work phone is also of course live which is xxx-xxx-xxxx. I look forward to connecting once I'm back on campus in a few months!
 
Warm regards,
 
Andy

Once this happens, I can modify the text, add/subtract text, and format as I wish, but it saves a lot of time. And it doesn't only have to be used in email. This is one of the simplest ways to use their snippets and there are countless ways this can be implemented, not only for efficiency, but also for consistency.

Each semester, most faculty members have to fill out an online form to reserve space for upcoming events the following season. Often I am in a hurry amidst teaching that semester, and found I didn't fill the form out as thoroughly as possible. I would notice this later as the form is sent to our marketing coordinator, and my "event description" was always kind of lame and uninformative. So now I type "xdes" and get this:

The UT Percussion Ensemble performs a concert of contemporary works for chamber ensemble, directed by Andrew Bliss.

This is at least a nice starting point until I know more about what repertoire the ensemble might be performing. I also have to notify the facilities coordinator that we want the performance hall each day for our dress rehearsal via some special instructions. Every time I have to type the following, which I now get with "xspe":

We will need these rooms as soon as classes are over for the day please, to begin staging equipment and having our dress rehearsals for the evening event.

This is just a small portion of how I've found TextExpander to be useful in the administrative side of my work and perhaps I'll post more down the road about more involved snippets I use including date & time stamps, fillable options, and more. Thanks so much to the great folks over at Smile for their great work on TextExpander!

Rising Tide by Nina Young

I recently had the good fortune to collaborate with composer Nina Young at the 2017 Nief-Norf Summer Festival. We spent some time on various projects and heard 4 of her pieces in concert throughout the week, and I'm excited to share this recording of her piece for 7 musicians Rising Tide.

Nina and I with the "Rising Tide" ensemble at the 2017 Nief-Norf Summer Festival

Nina and I with the "Rising Tide" ensemble at the 2017 Nief-Norf Summer Festival

Thanks as always to my good friend and colleague Evan Chapman for his work on the video and audio, especially in such low concert lighting!

No End in Sight

The editor's note, by Matt McCue (@MattMcCueWriter) in this quarter's edition of 99U Magazine focused on an interview with architect Peter Marino and grabbed my attention. In a past interview, McCue discussed how Marino spoke about generating ideas:

When he first started out, he said it took him all week to come up with an idea, but now he thinks up 10 a day, easily. They just come to him. Impossible, I thought. It took all my effort to squeeze out a half-baked idea once every seven days.
However, years later I'm realizing there is truth to Marino's statement. Once you've pushed your brain to come up with hundreds of ideas, you do something to your mind. You unknowingly switch it to the "always on" mode and you can't help but observe everyday life through your creative lens...In the process the barrier between work and play disintegrates, because work becomes play.

McCue then refers to multiple creatives in their prime who are 65 years old and still pushing ahead with their creative endeavors, and I see the same in the music world.

It was a pleasant reminder that having more ideas to tackle than one can ever pursue in a lifetime is a privilege, and should not be a point of stress or pressure. I'm fortunate to live in a world with no punch-clock.

Andy Bliss
Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis

In a recent appearance on the Tim Ferriss show, Malcolm Gladwell made a mention of the story-telling prowess of Michael Lewis. He considered himself an amateur compared to Lewis, and I made particular note of this. I've read nearly all of Gladwell's books and enjoyed them thoroughly. In addition, Moneyball might be one of my all-time favorite reads, likely due to its fusion of baseball, mathematics, and the story-telling that Gladwell references. 

I picked up a few of Lewis' books recently and, while at the beach on vacation, knocked out Home Game in a couple of evenings. It had me laughing out loud regularly and it was a great get-away read. With a baby on the way in September, it was a timely choice.

Andy Bliss