Wednesday, February 3, 2016

6 Mallet Myths Part 2

The 6 mallet myths presented in this series represent some of the most fundamental issues preventing 6 mallet playing from becoming more widely adopted. If you missed it be sure to catch up on part 1 here

Part 2 is definitely more generalized and direct in tone than part 1. Some of this is due to time constraints on my part. Either way we continue onward...

Myth #3
Certain 6 mallet chords and passages are only possible when the hands are locked into various positions.

Locking = Lacking

This is something that many of the various methods I've studied seem to have in common. On one hand I appreciate and understand the sentiment. I've spent a great deal of time working with and studying string players. I've always loved the fact that early on they study positions and these positions serve to develop areas of the instrument that they will play in. Inspired by this, I often use positions very early on when teaching the marimba and multi percussion as a way to develop different posture/body "stances" that must occur often and be made to feel completely normal.

However, I think there is a big difference between fluid positions that serve as grounding points to shape out one's playing vs. "locked in positions" which by definition create tension and encourage a lack of freedom. Locked in positions are unnecessary and only serve as a crutch. Certainly with 6 mallets there are more moving parts and it can seem tempting to lock positions to control those moving parts but if we revisit Myth #1 we remember that the redistribution of weight is the ultimate answer to this problem.

Once again I point out my work "Summer In Between" to illustrate this point. At 1:42 I am playing single independent lines that require that use of the inside most mallets in both hands. In past methods, players might be inclined to lock these mallets into position in order to prevent the other mallets from flailing. However, by using a subtle redistribution of weight, you'll see that the passage is able to be performed effortlessly.

No mallets need to be locked into place at 1:42 to perform these single independent lines. 

Myth #4
There is no way to control the middle mallet. It must always flail loosely.

Flailing = Failing

This is basically the other side of the coin to myth #3 and like myth #3 it simply isn't true. Like any aspect of an independent grip, the middle mallet will work at it's best when it is a part of a symbiotic system. The idea that the middle mallet or any mallet in 6 mallet playing should be loose and uncontrolled again implies that unplayable absolutes are necessary to achieve anything with 6 mallets. This also indirectly implies that "locking" the other mallets into place is necessary to allow the middle mallet to flail.

Of course this doesn't mean that mallet can't have varying degrees of pressure applied depending on the demands of the music. It also doesn't mean that the middle mallet will never move and be entirely stationary. It only means that in any complete method, mallets need not constantly flail. Flailing creates an endless amount of problems including but not limited to weak voicing, unplayable passages, lack of control, and the inability to redistribute weight to name a few.

To see an example of the middle mallet being used in a controlled way check out this preview I made back in July of my new etude "Thrown Away." Although this is an older version of the piece (and the video was intentionally made with highlighting my technique the vertical throw), you'll notice that in many of the passages where I'm not using the middle mallet starting at 1:09 it remains generally controlled.

At 1:09 the middle mallet isn't being used in either hand yet it remains controlled without excessive flailing while the other mallets are in use. 

Myth #5
6 mallet playing is too cumbersome and specialized for any realistic applications.

A System Of Grace 

Marimba is an inherently cumbersome instrument. However, when a true "system of grace" is applied, so much of what initially seemed impossible becomes possible. The key is to avoid all tension. Many percussionists around the world preach this idea but very few practice it. I might have fallen victim to the same circumstances had I not been fortunate enough to have a few key influences in my education.

Before I even touched a mallet instrument, one of my earliest teachers was the great drummer Joe Morello. In many ways he represents the genesis of my exploration of this. Through his approach I learned the physics behind playing without absolutely no tension. I was fortunate to have studied with Joe. His influence would stay with me for the rest of my life.

Joe Morello's approach changed the way I play forever.

Additionally, some of the most productive lessons I ever had took place when I graduated from Juilliard. Upon graduation, one of my first projects was to commission the composer Andrew Thomas to write a new work for me. I showed him some of the ideas I had and he brought me "Valse Triste." I found the work to be nearly impossible. Andy suggested that my issue was not in my inability to play his work but rather, it was rooted in my fundamental relationship to the instrument. He suggested I take a few lessons with Juilliard dance faculty member Stephen Pier. Stephen was excellent. He immediately worked on my posture and sought to remove any areas where I was obstructing the natural flow of energy. This allowed me to create a paradigm in my playing where I was able to roll with the momentum I generated rather than work against it (or fight to control it). My approach was never the same again.

 Valse Trise by Andrew Thomas taught me a lot about working with momentum rather than against it.

As I developed my 6 mallet method I would constantly refer back to these lessons and the fundamental ideas I had learned. Although the solutions to the current problems with 6 mallet playing weren't always readily apparent, my past studies had clearly prepared me well for the kind of problem solving I would need to explore.

My work with Joe Morello, Andrew Thomas, and Stephen Pier showed me that there are always ways to properly channel the flow of energy when the sometimes cumbersome nature of percussion rears it's ugly head. Morello taught me how to create a system using physics in which the rebound of the stick and the drum do all of the work. Andy and Stephen showed me how develop a system of grace to work with the natural momentum generated rather than work against it. Clearly the solutions required to mold 6 mallet playing into something more practical were not directly implanted from these ideas but the foundation and "way of thinking" was there.

So many 6 mallet approaches that exist today rely on obstructing the flow of energy to achieve security. The opposite is true. One must develop a "system of grace" to create a paradigm where the weight of the mallets is no longer an issue. Once this takes place a natural flow of energy is created and the impossible becomes possible. When done this way, 6 mallet playing is NEVER too cumbersome for any realistic applications. 

Myth #6 
There are things that just aren't possible with 6 mallets.

Just Saying...

This is really more of a philosophical point. Hopefully, the previous 5 examples have served to dismiss this idea. As I've pointed out again and again, any truly evolutionary technique needs to be 100% applicable to past, current, and new music. Otherwise, the limitations created will discourage the development of any meaningful progress. The Boyar Method for 6 mallets seeks to solve these problems and make the impossible possible. In doing so, I hope to reinvigorate progress into the world of mallet keyboard percussion.

My next post will begin the process of breaking down The Boyar Method starting with the basics.

© 2016 Boyar Music Studios

Monday, January 25, 2016

6 Mallet Myths Part 1

There Is No Music...

First, before we get into the main premise of this article I want be absolutely crystal clear about something. The main issue holding back 6 mallet playing is the lack of high quality music. This is the ultimate truth and it should be focused on with razor sharp intensity. As I pointed out in my last post, many excellent musicians have through composition or commissioning made contributions to the 6 mallet literature. Unfortunately, it hasn't been enough to encourage a wider adoption and inspire more composers to write for up to 6 voices. This because 6 mallet playing is widely viewed as a flawed method with too many restrictions. We have to fix some of these restrictions in order to encourage the creation of more music. This is the crux of my article. 

Despite feeling sort of backwards in some ways this is actually appropriate. Today in 2016 much of the development of the percussive arts takes place in an academic educational forum through colleges, universities, and band programs. Therefore, one who seeks to expand the world of percussion in 2016 must always have an eye on pedagogy. Personally, I hope this will change one day but relatively speaking concert percussion is still a young art form constantly shifting through ever-changing movements of expression. Like it or not many of these movements begin in academia so it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that academic thought and problem solving would inspire the creation of new and better music.

So let's get into it...

Perception Is Reality - Extended Vs. Evolutionary Technique

If we dig a little deeper beyond the main musical issue, we find that one of the most common issues holding back the mass adoption of 6 mallet playing is the perception that 6 mallet playing is a mere extended technique regulated to niche playing vs. a truly evolutionary technique capable of expanding what is possible on our instrument. 

Let's quickly define and examine the differences between the two. 

Extended Techniques are techniques that are specialized, niche, and not standard. 

Evolutionary Techniques build upon current practices and ultimately become ingrained permanently. 

Currently, 6 mallet playing is perceived as an extended technique. This creates a problems because extended techniques are rarely "normally" taught and often considered fringe. Over time the perception becomes the reality and ultimately the information is treated as unnecessary. This can stifle creativity. This is exactly what has happened with 6 mallet playing.

Making The Impossible Possible 

Currently, 6 mallet playing probably deserves it's "extended" standing. Technically, there are just too many roadblocks preventing any meaningful music from being made on a wide scale. This has created a whole generation of percussionists who perceive this technique as excessive and unnecessary except in specialized situations. Unfortunately, they have a point. In it's current state, 6 mallet technique is extremely limiting. What good is a technique that can't meet the basic requirements of music making? If a technique is not truly evolutionary, how can we justify adopting it it on a mass scale and teaching it to students worldwide as a part of our standard practice?

In order to clear the air and reset our thinking in regards to 6 mallets, some radical changes must be made to make the impossible possible. We'll have to take what we normally see as common issues and find solutions. In fact, from here on out we'll have to treat the most commonly sighted issues as myths and nothing more. So with that I present to you...

6 Mallet Myths

The Boyar Method addresses several of the most commonly sighted "issues" with 6 mallet playing. Many of these issues have inadvertently designated 6 mallet playing to a mere extended technique. My premise is that 6 mallet playing can be more than an extended technique. I believe that it can be an evolutionary technique.

As I've experimented and solved these common "issues" I've come to call them "6 mallet myths" (say that 6 times fast). My method is essentially built around solving these commonly misunderstood  problems.

Let's examine the most common myths preventing 6 mallet playing from becoming an evolutionary technique. Each of these myths constitute pages and pages of information. I hope to write about each further as we explore my method. For now, I will briefly define each and present what I view as the solution. 

All the the items on this list are false.

Myth #1
"Traditional 2 and 4 mallet playing is impossible with 6 mallets"

Connecting The Dots


Perhaps one of the most basic reasons that 6 mallet playing is not more widely adopted is the perception that traditional 2 and 4 mallet literature cannot be performed with 6 mallets. This is an understandable perception based on current practice but it is not true. 

One of the major developments that solidified 4 mallet playing as a standard technique was when it became common practice when holding 4 mallets to use the two inside mallets to play monophonic lines similar to standard 2 mallet passages. This allowed players to treat 4 mallet playing as an evolutionary technique and build upon what had already taken place with 2 mallets. Of course this doesn't mean that 2 mallet playing was abandoned. It just means that 4 mallet playing became more practical. Today nearly every percussionist is able to (and expected to) play with 4 mallets. 

In the same way that nearly everything that can be played with 2 mallets can be played with 4, nearly everything that can be played with 4 (and 2) must be able to be played with 6 for any legitimate 6 mallet method to work. Any technique or method that doesn't fully address this is not a full fledged evolutionary method rather, it is simply an extended technique.

Surely many of us have experimented with picking up 6 mallets only to discover that a lot of things initially don't seem possible. Who wants to play a double vertical stroke with the new "middle" mallet flailing around. It seems in general that the middle mallet creates a number of issues that make the basic application of what has come before with 2 and 4 mallets seem unplayable when holding 6 mallets.


The solution is in how the weight of the middle mallet is distributed. This insures that there is no needless flailing and/or locking of mallets (more on this later). By using a "System Of Grace" in which weight is redistributed among the mallets, The Boyar Method addresses this fundamental issue. When performing 2 and 4 mallets passages using 6 mallets, this allows all passages to be played without the middle mallet flailing around needlessly. No mallets ever flail and perhaps more importantly, no mallets need to lock into place to prevent this from happening. This system of grace is similar to the Method of Movement developed by Leigh Howard Stevens.

Weight can be redistributed in nuanced different ways and it's not a zero sum game. In fact, the concept of weight redistribution can (and will) take up an entire article. For the purposes of this article, the most important preliminary concept to understand is that when the perception is that the redistribution of weight is the solution to performing complex 2 and 4 mallet passages with 6 mallets, anything is possible. When the perception is anything else, there are severe limitations. 

Here are two basic examples of this concept being used in my piece "Summer In Between." You'll notice at 3:16 that my left hand is required to play basic 2 voice double vertical strokes starting at a minor 7th. If I allowed the middle mallet to flail during this passage it would increase the probability of unwanted notes and create a lack of control. At the same time, locking my hand into position to prevent the middle mallet from moving and keep the mallets in place would stifle the sound. The solution? Redistribute the weight and place the middle mallet in the left hand alongside (or close to) the the inside mallet.

The left hand middle mallet is placed next to the inside most left hand mallet to redistribute the weight (3:16)
A more nuanced approach to middle mallet weight redistribution would be what the right hand is doing in the same phrase (3:20)

Redistribution of weight can either take place in a full and aggressive way or in a more nuanced way. An example of this would be what the right hand is doing in the same phrase from Summer In Between at 3:20. Here the right hand is playing some basic melodic passages. Although the middle mallet needs to be controlled, in this case there is only a slight redistribution of weight applied. You'll see that as as result, when the right hand plays this passage at 3:20 the middle mallet does NOT flail.

In some ways, the redistribution of weight is the spiritual successor to the inside or outside mallet rotating "around" the opposite mallet in the Steven's Method during the execution of single independent strokes. Without this innovation the opposite mallet would flail and the player would need to work twice as hard to execute the most basic strokes. In the same way, the redistribution of weight works to insure that the middle mallet doesn't flail in the same direction as the independent mallets from it that are being struck.

If not solved properly, the technical hurdles in "Summer In Between" could easily turn people off from 6 mallet playing. My method systematically examines the redistribution of weight in order to provide ease when playing the most complex 2 and 4 mallet passages with 6 mallets. 

Myth #2
"Chords with 2 black keys on the outside and 1 white key in the middle are impossible to play with 6 mallets"

Making The Impossible Possible 


I'll admit that when devising my method I almost went the same route as previous methods and declared these chords "unplayable." Then I remembered that nothing is impossible. It's only a word. I knew there had to be a way.

I had come to the understanding that one of the main things holding back the widespread adoption of 6 mallet playing was the idea that certain passages were simply unplayable. The root position chords Db, Eb, Ab Major and c#, f#, and g# minor were basically the poster children of this idea. In many ways these chords where a white key rested in between two black keys had essentially set in stone for eternity the idea that 6 mallet playing is merely an extended technique.


This was a major issue to fix and it was tricky. At the outset I only understood that the solution may at first deceptively appear to be cumbersome and awkward. This would be a red herring for sure. How did I know this?

It was from my prior experience with 4 mallets. So much of it seemed unstable when I started. The delicate balancing act required to play with any variation of an independent Musser/Stevens grip feels nothing short of alien at first...just ask anyone who is starting out. The small muscle groups do not work together well and all too often mallets fall out of the hands and nothing develops properly without proper oversight. Tension is then all too often applied as a way of compensating for these issues and if left unchecked severe frustration and even injury are possible. I see this play out over and over again with inexperienced students. However, with the proper instruction and guidance over time things change and just the opposite happens. Leigh Howard Stevens put it best in The Method Of Movment. "The preliminary instabilities soon blossom into freedom of movement (LHS)." It's true...they do but it takes time and patience.

I thought about Leigh's quote a lot as I looked at what would be necessary to play these unplayable chords with 6 mallets. Clearly, the middle mallet would need to somehow be pulled back. In my work with Stevens grip, I remembered that one of the most initially awkward motions to master was the sort of "throw" that occurred when switching from small/medium to large intervals. While initially awkward and impossible, I now rely on that freedom as a foundation in my playing. Using this tool of Steven's approach as inspiration, I realized that when holding 3 mallets in one hand, a similar "throw" could be possible with the middle mallet. However, when this throw occurred the goal would be to have the mallet head move vertically forward and back between the black and white keys on the marimba rather than horizontally across the marimba to expand the interval. This major innovation in 6 mallet playing radically changes what is possible when holding 6 mallets. I call it "The Vertical Throw." It allows many of the previously deemed "unplayable" chords to be played.

An early example of "The Vertical Throw." It can potentially solve many of the most basic 6 mallet issues.

In my opinion the vertical throw has the potential to solve some of the most basic problems plaguing a wider adoption of 6 mallet use. As predicted, like many things in the early stages of the independent Stevens/Musser grip, it initially seems extremely awkward. The video above was put together when I first started using it. However, as I write this I have now been working with it for 6 months and the results are changing the way I play.


In my next post I will continue examining some of the most common 6 mallet myths and offering more proposed solutions. The next several myths take on a slightly more generalized tone but the problems are just as relevant and in need of solving. Stay tuned for more useful 6 mallet content.

© 2016 Boyar Music Studios

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Allow Me To Reintroduce Myself - The Boyar Method For 6 Mallets

"Allow Me To Reintroduce Myself." Jay-Z


Throughout this series, I will attempt to examine and explain my method of playing with 6 mallets. A lot of excellent work has been done on this subject. My intention is not to claim credit for or replace anyone's work. Rather, I only seek to explain my personal system so that others may benefit from it. For me, the development of my 6 mallet method was musically driven. My music began to demand the use of extra voices and musical ideas and thus, my 6 mallet approach was born.

Paying Homage

As pointed out in the introduction, I am well aware that I am FAR from the first person to develop a 6 mallet technique. Keiko Abe used it throughout her compositions. Great marimba virtuosi such as Ludwig Albert and Pei Ching Wu have been using it for years. The technique has been codified and explored throughly by Dean Gronemeier, Kai Stensgaard, Robert Paterson, and Joe Porter. Other excellent contributions have been made by Rebecca Kite and Jane Boxall.

I developed my grip and method on my own through trial and error along with years of performing in a wide variety of situations as a working musician. I didn't study 6 mallets with anyone and I don't have any fancy degrees. In fact, I don't even have a master's degree.

Throughout the development of my method I took some time to study other methods. Out of all these excellent player's grips mine is definitely most similar to both Dean Gronemeier's and Kai Stensgaard's approach. I admire the work of these fine musicians. With that said, we all play quite differently and we absolutely have different perceptions and ways of explaining things. Ultimately, my approach is my own and as we explore my method the differences between mine and other methods (no matter how initially similar they may appear) will become clear. 

With all of that said, surprisingly the two largest influences of my work are not 6 mallet players. They are without a doubt Gary Burton and Leigh Howard Stevens. Leigh's Method of Movement and his system are the foundation for my method. I view my method as building on his and without Leigh's foundation the "system of grace" in my method would not be possible. As for Burton, I use the Burton cross grip (my first grip) to essentially build a "new wing" onto my hands. This is similar to the process described by Dean Gronemeier.

Therefore, I will not present my method as a revolution unto itself. Rather, it is an evolutionary system which I use to teach, perform, and create music with 6 mallets. My system needed a name and I named it "The Boyar Method."

My "Grip" History

I originally learned to play the marimba using a modified Burton Grip in which one holds the handle at the ends of the shafts. This grip was taught to me by William Moersch during several lessons at Rutgers University when I was still in high school. It was an excellent grip but regardless, I then switched to Stevens one year later. I simply felt there was more available information on the subject and I've always been a sucker for pedagogy. I was able to teach myself Stevens grip by using his seminal book The Method of Movement. Later, Greg Giannasoli would show me how to use the grip to achieve a large amount of power. Lack of power is something that is unfortunately often falsely sighted as the primary weakness of Stevens grip. I've been using Steven's method for almost 20 years and "lack of power" has definitely proved to be a false chink in the armor.

I never played with Traditional Grip although some of my favorite players growing up like Keiko Abe and Nancy Zeltsman used it. As a student, perhaps the greatest inspiration for me was Gordon Stout (I wouldn't be playing the marimba today if it weren't for his recordings) and he has his own cross grip.

A Stevens/Musser Foundation

My version of 6 mallets is rooted in Stevens grip. I use Stevens for almost everything so when some of my music started to demand the use of 6 mallets, I developed a method through Stevens. However, the truth is I don't think it matters what grip one uses. When a student comes to me using a different grip than mine, I rarely change it unless there are deep rooted issues that need addressing. All grips have their strengths and weaknesses and they are all useful. Any great artist will eventually surpass "grip" in their playing. It just doesn't matter anymore at a certain level. However, my 6 mallet method is based on Stevens grip and therefore, The Boyar Method will probably be most relevant to those who use Stevens/Musser.

With Inspiration from Gronemeier, Boyar Peace Summit Leads to Stevens and Burton Joining Forces - A New Alliance is Born! 

My 6 mallet grip is a combination of the two grips I am most familiar with. Stevens is still the absolute base. Much of the foundation that makes Steven's "Steven's" is firmly in place. Burton is then added to Stevens to create a new system. When trying to develop a method of playing 6 mallets, I found that a cross grip with it's "mallet interdependence" is extremely useful since there simply aren't enough fingers left to create a true 3rd "independent mallet." However, ironically with the application of Burton grip overlapping Stevens, having 3 truly independent mallets becomes entirely possible. For those of us who have studied 6 mallet technique before, this process is similar to the one described by Dean Gronemeier. However, my method brings some new ideas to the table that I believe have the potential to change 6 mallet playing from a mere extended and specialized technique to an evolutionary technique.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Thoughts on "Rain" for Marimba Ensemble and Track

My path to composition was not a traditional one. I started out as a Juilliard trained performer and a teacher. Eventually I became bored and I began venturing into new territory. I desperately wanted a new outlet to be creative but composition never actually crossed my mind. It was producing that initially peaked my interest. I had a lot of friends who were in the producing world and something about it fascinated me. As a classically trained musician, I had always been taught that using one's ear and "listening" was something that was done primarily through notes, tone, color, and balance. I marveled over the idea that in the world of producing, the ear took on a much larger role as "what was heard" went beyond the music. The actual "sound" itself became so important. That's not to say it wasn't important before but producing seemed to add a third dimension. This was definitely something I could explore.

I have always felt that the modern marimba lacked enough character to be a serious instrument and I have always wanted to play a role in developing it further. I felt that learning about producing was a way I could essentially get inside of the sound and create characters that touched new audiences. I started making tracks using pro tools and eventually logic. I built up a small collection of mics and started to record myself. I experimented a lot with everything from samples, stock sounds, and even my voice. All throughout I watched tons of videos to learn as much as I could. Over time my ears changed dramatically. I started to hear everything!

At the time I didn't realize it but in making the tracks I was technically composing music. I just didn't see it that way. In fact I didn't even write a single note until a few years later. It's safe to say that I definitely came to composing through producing. Looking back I think I just wanted to know more about music and how it was actually made beyond the notes. Once I understood that process, writing the actual notes became easy.

"Rain" is ultimately about embracing the randomness in creativity and life.
Rain was developed during this time. I had sampled a few water sounds for several different projects I was working on. I made a few core beats from these samples. You can hear one of them in Rain today. One evening, I developed an improvisation around this beat playing several marimba parts with 1 mallet in each hand. At the time I had no clear ideas for the music except that it was inspired by the water beat I had made. I recorded it and put it away.

Nothing much happened after that. Remember, at the time I was still technically not coming at this stuff from the vantage point of a composer. As far as I was concerned I was simply experimenting. It wasn't until much later when I was actually "writing music" that I went back, listened, and realized that I had a piece that was attempting to create a rudimentary sonic representation of rain using the marimba as the primary musical vehicle. I went through it note for note and transcribed it into Sibelius.

At this point I basically had a beat with marimba parts. It was interesting and it sounded really cool. I gave the parts to my students at NYU and we gave a trial performance on one of our Marimba Ensemble Concerts in 2012. However, I still felt like something was missing. It wouldn't be until later when I formed Boyar Music Studios that I would finally build a track around the music in order to publish a full version of "Rain." I should backtrack here for a moment and point out that prior to developing the published version, I had actually tried to build a track around the music on several occasions but I could never get it right. Looking back, I can now see that I lacked the production experience and the ears to bring my ideas to fruition. This is no longer a problem.

As with most of my music, there is a metaphor at work. "Rain" is ultimately about embracing the randomness in creativity and life. It can be a very painful process at times, but it is something that (at least for me) must be practiced. Flexibility is an art form unto itself and it is by far the most natural order of things. My artistic development is no exception and "Rain" is a culmination of not only this process but more importantly, this philosophical understanding. Nobody can predict how or where the drops of Rain will fall but when embraced it's truly beautiful and sometimes there's even a rainbow afterwards.

Copies of Rain for Marimba Ensemble and Track by Simon Boyar can be purchased here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Thoughts on "The Void" for Percussion Ensemble

"The Void" came together during a very strange period in my life. At the time I was living in Brooklyn constantly sketching songs, concert works, and solo pieces yet I could never release anything. Why? 

Here's a little back story...

I experienced a moderate degree of early success in my career. By the time I was 25 I was teaching at 2 major schools, performing as a concerto soloist around the world, and regularly freelancing. In a very short period of time, I became an established member of the professional community. It happened very fast. It sounds great but at the time I was truly unhappy. I always felt like something was missing. Looking back I know now that my frustration was the product of two things, one emotional and and other artistic.

1) Emotionally, I simply didn't know how to manage my feelings.

If I didn't like something I didn't know how to "feel the feeling" and let it go. Instead I would dwell on it and let it endlessly rot. This was truly destructive behavior that led me to perceive much of my life in a skewed way. My training only added to this. While learning how to play, I had been critical of myself for such a long time that it had become a habit and a lifestyle. 

2) Artistically, I was unfulfilled.

Beyond being unfulfilled I was sincerely confused. All around me people were telling me that I was successful but I didn't feel that way. I didn't even feel like a real artist. I felt like a phony and a fraud. I also didn't feel like I understood music. I felt like someone who could reproduce anything written on the page yet I couldn't create myself. This was a strange feeling given that I had been around music and composers for years and during that time, I never once even thought of becoming a composer. All of those years spent in the music school circuit preparing for auditions, concerts, and juries had kept me so busy that I totally forgot why I got into music in the first place. It was creativity and the desire to express myself...

A combination of these two issues caused me to crash and I crashed hard. I couldn't take it anymore. Something felt so wrong with my life. When the smoke cleared I found myself living in a one room apartment in Brooklyn writing music.

The Void...

During my time in Brooklyn I had no real direction but I had tons of ideas. Ideas have always been the easy part for me. I have too many so it can be hard to organize them. It's one of the reasons I have excellent organizational skills. Throughout my entire life, I've had to deal with organizing the endless stream of ideas in my head.

The NYU Marimba Ensemble Performing "The Void"
Although I had very little direction I knew enough at the time to know that if I was writing music, I would need to have some of it performed for it to be "alive" and "real." I was the director of The NYU Marimba Ensemble so I brought a sketch I was working on to rehearsal for a reading. It was some music I had come up with scored for 4 marimbas, vibes, glockenspiel, xylophone, and drums. It had a drum and bass meets rock sound to it coupled with the richness of percussive concert music. Parts of it were very catchy. The music had no name at the time but upon hearing it a student of mine named Matthew Overbay (an incredible talent and musician himself) suggested that the music sounded like "The Void." It was perfect and the sketch would later become and be entitled "The Void." 

"The Void" is about my experiences attempting to redirect my life during this time. For awhile it seemed like I would write and write and nothing would happen. I would begin an idea, develop it, and then throw it away when I thought it wasn't good enough. As I've written in other posts, I began to lovingly call this process "life reset." Things went on like this for such a long time that I started to believe I had made a mistake by attempting to write music in the first place. I began to believe that something was fundamentally wrong with me. Looking back I now know that I was in "The Void." 

If only I had known that things can change. If only had known that change happens without warning. If only I had known that sometimes getting to the truth is painful. Maybe I wouldn't have suffered so much. Maybe...but who knows.

I dedicate "The Void" to all who struggle. It's important to keep at it and be patient no matter what. The fog will clear...

Copies of The Void for Percussion Ensemble by Simon Boyar can be purchased here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Thoughts on "Love Brings Out The Best" for Solo Marimba - Life Reset

I am not a natural player. Everything I've accomplished in music has been through hard work and sacrifice. It doesn't come easy to me. I've had to embrace music as a lifestyle sometimes when I haven't wanted to. This aspect of my relationship with music has often caused very destructive behavior. Sometimes after working on a project for weeks I will get frustrated and want to throw the whole thing away. In hindsight, there is usually nothing wrong with the project. I simply was too close to it and I lost all perspective. When I started writing music I spent years going through a pattern of never finishing projects and "starting over." I came to lovingly call this process (or anti process) "life reset."

It's important to give some background on how this happened.

I was classically trained in the art of performance. I never learned how to write music...only to interpret. I could easily transition this whole article into a discussion about my thoughts and feelings surrounding this gigantic problem in our college/conservatory education structure but I will stay on topic.

Throughout my training I always felt like something was missing. I never felt truly comfortable behind my instrument. I never felt like I was performing music. Even so, Juilliard is an amazing place and I was always kept busy. As a result I never had to fully face these feelings. It was only when I graduated and began trying to make a career in the real world that I started to feel real pressure. There was true emptiness. Something was missing. Through a series of experiments and starts and stops, I eventually started creating my own music.

It's important to keep in mind that this didn't happen in a straight line. I achieved much success early on going the traditional route. I would become busy in my career and like at Juilliard, I wouldn't always have to face things in the short term. Either way time passed and ultimately all paths would always lead me back to the familiar emptiness and I would start being creative again.

Musically, I never had any trouble coming up with ideas. Going back to this concept of "life reset," it was finishing the ideas that gave me problems. I still hadn't yet learned the most valuable lesson in art and creativity, that one's work is never finished and there is no final form. Art is merely a snapshot of a captured moment. Immediately following that moment, things have already changed. The tormented artist cliche is nothing more than a person trying catch moments and chase their own tail. Most people may not even be aware of this aspect of life but the true artist is all too aware.

As a trained performer I was truly unfamiliar with the creative process and thus the pattern of "life reset" became a routine part of my existence. I wanted nothing more than to create music and share my voice with the world but I couldn't. It seemed like no matter how hard I worked and how great my ideas were, I could never quite cross the threshold of letting go and releasing my music. I would work and work, get frustrated, melt down, and start something new. As this process played itself out again and again I found myself unable to keep up with the creative process. It was truly destroying my creativity. It was truly destroying me. As a result of this destructive cycle, over a 5 year period I developed a large body of work that had almost never been heard. The old adage "if a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it does it make a sound?" seems to apply here.

What's worse than all of this is that I had actually convinced myself that what I was doing was a good thing. That somehow, I was just improving my work and getting it to the point where it was "ready." Unfortunately, it would never be ready. I was stuck in an infinitely torturous cycle.

Around this time I met my future wife Danna Pero. She had the quote pictured by Austrian Poet Rainer Maria Rilke framed and displayed in her cottage in Croton. We still have it in our house today.  She strongly urged me to absorb the meaning.

Rainer Maria Rilke
The message would ultimately resonate with me but not without resistance on my part. I had spent so many years focusing a metaphorical magnifying glass on my work and caught in my destructive cycle that I had become convinced that working in that way was a part of who I was. I would latch on to creative ideas and not allow them to breathe. I thought that by doing that I was controlling the process. In reality I was strangling it. Any suggestion otherwise was for hippies and phony spiritual beings.

As time passed I eventually began to see the truth. My own focus was merely self hatred disguised as standard seeking. If I could learn to let things go from time to time (and love myself enough to do it) I could get some distance and perspective, come back to them fresh and finish the least as much as finishing any sort of art is possible. I began working in a different way. If I became frustrated or if I couldn't finish an idea, I would relax my thoughts and let it go. The main difference here is that I would trust that the answer would reveal itself to me. I would trust the universe and live my way into the answer instead of forcing it.

This is essence of "Love Brings Out The Best." In order to trust the universe and trust that answers will come without being forced, one must learn to love themselves. Trust is nearly impossible without love. It didn't happen overnight but when I stopped holding on to things and began to trust, I was finally able to start releasing music.

Trust the universe and don't force things

"Love Brings Out The Best" is a meditation on the principles that finally allowed me to turn the corner. The slow melody at the beginning is a churning of change. The explosive ending is a full release of unshackled passion. FINALLY!!!

Copies of Love Brings Out The Best for solo marimba by Simon Boyar may be purchased here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Thoughts on "Never Ever Knowing" for Solo Marimba

One of the most moving performances of "Never Ever Knowing" was a Veteran's Administration Breakfast sponsored by Hospice.  During this performance, I had the opportunity to perform for over 300 Veterans.  It was a true honor and a privilege.  As I was playing the thought crossed my mind that I never intended "Never Ever Knowing" to have a connection to military service but I suppose the connection is inevitable.

The artistic journey is one of introspection and self reflection.  Art mirrors life and the events that happen to us.  I composed the melody to "Never Ever Knowing" two days after my Grandpa Leo died in 2012.  He was a WWII Veteran.  Although when I was growing up he was a big part of my life, as an adult we lost touch.  This happened for a number of different reasons but by the time he passed away I felt like I really didn't know him very well.

I composed the melody for "Never Ever Knowing" two days after my Grandpa Leo died
My grandfather was a man of few words and often misunderstood.  He was a very nice and loving man but he didn't like to talk about his feelings.  I remember one of the few conversations we had during my twenties when I asked him about his service.  I specifically asked him about fighting in the Pacific.  I suppose I wanted him to give me some generic heroic account of the war.  Instead he gave me a sober history lesson (stuff I already knew from school) and preceded to avoid directly telling me about his own experience and the things he had to do.  He only told me that war is terrible and everyone had to do their duty.  At the time, it was just what people his age had to do.  I got the sense he wasn't comfortable with it but he was at peace with "being uncomfortable."  That was it.  The conversation was over.

The Greatest Generation was called upon to serve.  They didn't have a choice.  At the onset of early adulthood immediately following the great depression, many would go to war and the experiences they had would color their lives forever.   They were expected to save the world, see terrible things, and then come home and raise a family.  Many of these men were expected to carry this burden alone without any help.  They may have been welcomed home as heroes but the times were different.  Therapy and psycho social services weren't mainstream and they weren't encouraged.  Although some may have sought counseling, most felt that they were expected to get over it. Any issues and feelings they had about what they had done were buried.  The fight continued for many of these men silently for years to come.

This is who my grandfather was.  He was a man of his time who's early life and subsequent personality after was defined by his early experiences.  As a result, there were many things that he just couldn't share.  I think he carried a lot of that with him during his life and when he died he probably took a lot of that with him as well.

My grandfather was sometimes misunderstood.  It's society's issue.  We are sometimes conditioned to think that people who don't wear their feelings on their sleeve are somehow "disconnected" and "less human."  This couldn't be further from the truth.  To carry a silent burden and yet go on to raise a successful family and build a life through hardship is quite human.  Life must go on and for my grandfather it did!

There were several times I went to see my grandfather in the years before he passed away.  I saw a kind, loving and caring man.  He was simply a man of his time and like so many in his generation he just couldn't share certain things and cater to certain feelings.  I understand and respect that. As a child he gave me the love he had and I loved him. I really miss him and wish I was more present for him as an adult.

We all experience loss and it effects our interpersonal relationships. "Never Ever Knowing" is a reflection on this.  We may wish things were different and want those close to us to act in certain ways but it's not our place to judge.  People in our lives pass away.  They take with them things we'll never know.  Joys and regrets and things left unsaid.  We might wish that things would be different but such is the path of being.

"Never Ever Knowing" is a call for understanding the trials and tribulations of one's life before passing judgement.  It is a call for compassion.  

Copies of Never Ever Knowing for solo marimba by Simon Boyar may be purchased here.