Alyson Greenfield Releases “Uncharted Places” on May 30th

Alyson Greenfield is one of those artists who are everywhere, both behind the scenes and center stage. Now she returns to the scene with new music and debuting her single “Uncharted Places.” Greenfield will release the track at the Roc-Elle Records’ curated Brooklyn Night Bazaar on May 30th at 8pm, performing alongside Hearts revolution, Ninjasonik and Demetra. See event details here.

Greenfield recorded “Uncharted places” at the Converse Rubber Tracks Studio with engineer Alex McKenzie, and then mixed the track with Roger Greenawalt. Watch some of her experience right here:

“I’m so excited to finally release Uncharted Places,” says the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter. “I’m also very excited about the new direction my live performance is taking. With the help of collaborators Interroben and Nate Morgan, we are able to produce a more dancey vice, which I hope translates into a more communal and vibrant feel.”

Alyson Greenfield performing at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar in Brooklyn on May 30th

 

Throughout the indie music scene in NYC, Alyson has become known for partaking in multiple projects. In the Fall of 2013, she directed and performed in the Tinderbox Music Festival. Earlier this year, she worked with film director Michael Carr to score a feature film The American Templars, and also had placements in the film SuperSleuths which premiered at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival. During this time, Alyson also formed a new synth-pop side project, Polyvox, with collaborator Joe McGinty, who also collaborated with Psychadelic Furs, and The Ramones. Additional highlights include becoming a regular at the Loser’s Lounge series at Joe’s Pub, and a featured performer at the 4th Annual Brooklyn Rock Lottery alongside band members of Oneida, Bad Girlfriend, Superhuman Happiness, and Rainer Maria.

Alyson is also known for participating in various musical communities throughout New York City. She talks about some of her experiences in this clip.

The right place, the right time: Alyson Greenfield Talks about how Music is calling to her

A few hours prior to her music video debut of “Mama Said Knock You Out” at the Church for All Nations on the Upper West Side, Alyson Greenfield works with music engineers and her drummer, Van Alexander on a sound check. Afterward, Alyson, Van, her make-up artist Seevon Chau, hair-stylist Gloria Espinoza, and I travel downstairs below the church to an educational playroom. Here Seevon and Gloria help Alyson get ready while I interview her for my Music Historian blog, Hear; Don’t Listen. 

Surrounded by baby blue walls and preschool décor, Alyson multitasked on a few things like communicating with her industry representatives on her cell phone; cooperating with her stylists as they prepare her for the show; and answering my questions.

I personally know individuals who would get frustrated with this kind of hype, but not Alyson. During my interview, I learned that Alyson has years of experience working several jobs as an artist; and I initially assumed it was this experience that taught her to be comfortable in these situations. Slowly however, I realized that her kindness and flexibility might be the result of her personal development rather than professional.

“I NEVER said to myself “music is the only thing I want to do in my life.”

Alyson Greenfield is a woman of several talents and she happens to be a musician. For Alyson, music is not just a career. It is also plays a great part in her journey to discover her full potential as an individual artist and a member of a collective artistic community.

“I have never said to myself “this [music] is the only thing I want to do in my life.” Nor did I think “If I don’t do this, I’m going to crumble!” I just feel that right now, being a musician is calling to me,” explains Alyson.

“I moved to New York City three years ago to focus on music. In addition to composing and performing music, I started an organization called Tinderbox Arts, and my other jobs included being a teaching artist in drama and dance at different elementary schools. It wasn’t until May of last year that I realized I didn’t have the time or energy for several jobs, and that’s when I decided to only run Tinderbox Arts and perform music.”

Alyson proves that working in the music and performing arts industry can be trying. Working multiple jobs is an obstacle – one which can overwhelm even the most organized and talented worker. So how does Alyson keep going when the going got tough? She says:

“I ask myself questions like ‘do I still want to do this’; ‘do I have something to say’; ‘do I have something different to offer’; ‘do I have time for this’?

“At the moment, I am focusing on meditation and yoga to really help me find a sense of calm and peace within myself, and ultimately help transform whatever I am doing into something that will help me become a whole person.”

These words really struck a chord with me and raised these questions: what did Alyson mean by being a whole person, and how could music help? I found my answers as I listened to Alyson talk about her greatest musical influences and her attraction to electronic music.

“Their songs are about fear and seeing love from different angles…” 

“Tori Amos was the first person to really influence me. Her original compositions and her passion for music touched me. I also liked Radiohead, Bjork, Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush for their use of electronic sounds in their music, which I found really epic and moving.

“Their songs are also about fear and seeing love from different angles. Their songs deviate from the storybook love and heartbreaks. For example, in his song, “Digging in the Dirt,” Peter Gabriel reflects on the feelings he has about his past: he puts his feelings upfront and addresses them.”

Alyson continues, “In this instance, some of the emotions you bring out in music are not always going to be pretty, but expressing them is part of being human.”

One of her songs in which I can detect this openness and fearlessness is “Understand the Sky.” In this song, Alyson openly reveals her curiosities about the physical world. She sings, Get it into your head that I live in a bubble globe… Get it into your head that I am an adventurer… ‘Cause I think I touch you like the sky touches the ocean… but up close, I know I’d have to keep swimming to try and touch the sky. Alyson tells her story behind this song.

“While I was living in Alabama, I had discovered my Casio keyboard could make dreamy sounds. One day, I was in my studio in my apartment, and I just started playing a few chords. The melody simultaneously seemed to come right out of me.

“I wrote about the sky because one day, I was looking up at it and I realized there’s so much I don’t understand about the realm I live in, like where it beings and ends. I also thought the subject of the lyrics would fit very well with the chords I composed.”

“I think electronic instruments transcend time and space in a certain way.”

One can easily interpret “Understand the Sky” as an acceptance or an understanding of how we might never understand the mysteries of the space in which we exist. The electronic harmonies and her immaculate vocals help transform Alyson’s thoughts and words into complete songs.

“I think electronic instruments transcend time and space in a certain way. I also think they help me get over my fear of things I don’t understand, and just help me push forward and get into making music.

“As for singing, I don’t think I’ve ever lived a day without singing. I’ve been writing melodies since I was a kid, and I feel like I always have to write something.”

This inner need for singing enabled Alyson to create a cover of Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise.”

“I feel the covers kind of pick me. I just start singing these songs in my home and then sing them in my own way.

“I’ve always loved “Gangster’s Paradise,” and always found it very moving. When I sung it in my own head, I realized I wanted to turn it into a cover song. So, I tried several instruments for the cover like piano, the guitar, a few synths, and then, I found the glockenspiel, which seemed to be the best instrument.”

Anybody can listen to or watch the music video of “Gangster’s Paradise” on Alyson Greenfield’s website. What you will not find on her website are the songs she performed this past Saturday on the stage at The Church for All Nations.

“All the songs I am playing tonight are all new and they’re not recorded. So, that will be one of my projects. I am also releasing a single of a song I recorded at the Converse Studio in Brooklyn last spring, and I will start work on a music video for that single too. My overall goals are to record music and share it with people.”

“I look forward to sharing more spaces like this with people and other musicians.”

Aside from sharing her music with her listeners, Alyson also looks forward to sharing her performance space with musicians, as well as work with other artists.

“One of my favorite parts of being a musician is interacting and collaborating with other musicians. I have collaborated with people on music videos as well as artists in other realms. I enjoy this work because I learn a lot and I feel like I am part of a community.”

While Alyson will still write songs and perform them by herself, she is more excited about the communal experiences that arise with being a musician; like performing with musicians in a space like The Church for All Nations.

“It’s important for me to perform in a space like this, and I am looking forward to sharing more spaces like this with people and other musicians.”

The right place, the right time

 Leaving the Church of All Nations that night, I reflected on my interview with Alyson and realized the following: We all too often hear that a composer’s or musician’s success is based on being in the right place at the right time within the industry. Yet, several musicians rarely think about whether music is calling to them at the right time and place in their lives. Alyson is one musician that carefully examined her circumstances, and listened to her reasoning and her inner voice before fully-pursuing a career in both music and the performing arts.

Alyson is definitely not a musician that acts without thinking or out of pure impulse. Making music is perhaps the only instance where she surrenders her mental toughness, logic and control. The end result includes intriguing instrumentation and harmonies; whimsical and sometimes existential messages; and a voice that anchors all these elements down into one song.

Just In: New Video and Sound Cloud from Radiation City!

Earlier today, I interviewed Radiation City’s drummer, Randy Bemrose for the December band feature on Hear; Don’t Listen. In my interview with Randy, I learned about a lot of exciting projects coming up for the band in 2012. However, you’ll have to standby on Music Historian’s blog to learn about them. In the meantime, listen to Radiation City’s sound cloud and watch their video of their song, Babies.

http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/165281/exclusive-radiation-city-babies-popopepe-remix/

The Portland-based band, Radiation City will kick off their west coast tour tomorrow in Eugene, OR. Visit the link above to see their tour schedule.

CMJ Music Marathon 2011: NYC’s Cornucopia of “New Music”

College Music Journal Marathon, the largest and longest-running music industry event of its kind, dominated the performance scene in Manhattan and Brooklyn this past week. Up and coming bands on the independent music scene, were the focal point of this massive 5-day city-wide festival. CMJ traditionally attracts college students, young professionals from all walks of life and members of the music industry and press. As a young professional and a ringer in today’s “new music” scene, I was sucked into CMJ and now, I have a new happy concert memory.

Avi Wisnia: “Something New” at Rockwood Music Hall

(From left to right) Toru, Avi, and Gil

My CMJ celebration started at Rockwood Music Hall in New York City last Friday afternoon. I came to this rustic, cozy and bohemian bar to see Avi Wisnia – an artist from the independent record label, MPress Records. Although they’re a new band, Avi Wisnia blends musical elements common in older genres like the blues and 1950’s west-coast jazz. The song “Rabbit Hole” is an ode to the 12 bar blues style and American jazz.

The acoustic bassist, Gil Smuskowitz, opens “Rabbit Hole” with a syncopated melody; which is repeatedly improvised on both the piano and guitar throughout the entire song. “Rabbit Hole” also makes a great anthem for those cold and nippy autumn days. Avi sings you know it’s a good thing we’re in here it’s starting to pour/… we’re in these close quarters but somehow we’ll make due/ well it looks like I’m stuck in this rabbit hole with you.

This funny song of young and foolish love will warm your insides, especially when you’re consuming your favorite cocktail. On the other hand, “Something New” – the title track on the band’s newest album – is far more riveting and upbeat.

Audience at Rockwood Music Hall

“Something New” quotes 4 different songs: “Smooth Operator” (Sade); “Eleanor Rigby” (The Beatles), “I Will Survive” (Gloria Gaynor), and “Pumped-up Kicks” (Foster The People). “Something New” was the perfect ending to Avi Wisnia’s set. Everyone in the audience, including myself, was curious about the singer’s next improvisational surprise but before we all knew it, the song was over. “Something New” is the single on Avi Wisnia’s newest album, which is now available on iTunes.

Purity Ring Steals the Webster Hall Show

That night, I came to a larger performance space, NYU’s Webster Hall. Here, the experimental electronic group, Purity Ring opened the 7pm line up. Purity Ring’s sound is undefined; their songs chill me to the core. Though the band is a duo; they together created a performance of theatrical proportions. Singer, Megan James and sythesizer player and automator, Josh Kolenik stole the show.

Nobody in the audience ever saw James’s and Kolenik’s faces, only their silhouettes, which were outlined by flashes of colored lights. James and Kolenik purposely programmed these lights to flash along with the

Webster Hall reception for Purity Ring's show

down beats in their songs. In addition to an eccentric lighting effect, Purity Ring’s clever use of automated and synthesized rhythms and incomprehensible sounds in tracks like “Belispeak” and “Ungirthed” transcended listeners to a deep dark abyss of nonsensical musical ambiance. Purity Ring’s performance was out of this world!

Britain’s Emmy the Great hooks Brooklynites at Spike Hill

On Saturday, I took the L train to Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn to a pub called Spike Hill. Here, music video distributor, BaebleMusic lined up bands to perform throughout the day and evening. One of the first artists in the line-up included the up and coming singer-songwriting duo from England, Emmy the Great.

Emma Moss and Euan Hinshelwood tune up at Spike Hill

Emma-Lee Moss sings beautifully with a clear and crisp pronunciation. The one track in which she exhibits this vocal skill is “Paper Forest” – a song that celebrates living in the moment, whether it be joyful or somber. In this song’s last verse, Emma sings, Oh come and we will celebrate the things that make us real/ the things that break us open and the things that make us feel/ like these accidental meetings and the partings of our ways/ that are not so much our choice but in the blood that we are made… . Those who gathered at Spike Hill to hear Emmy the Great were hooked by Emma’s bold and poetic storytelling.

Spike Hill in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Select 5-7 bands each day, and personally chat with them!

One can describe CMJ Marathon as a cornucopia of new music; but the abundance of bands and performance venues can be overwhelming for first timers. If you plan on attending the next CMJ, I suggest you research a few bands you’d really like to see and, if time permits, select 5-7 for each day. Unless you are Hermoine Granger from Harry Potter, there is no way you can attend every CMJ concert; so take your time in deciding!

I also discovered CMJ is an intimate festival where attendees are in close physical proximity of every band. In addition, bands are excited to talk about their music with attendees, and I can attest that every musician I met at CMJ was welcoming and open to conversation. I look forward to continuing my conversations with a few of them. I hope to learn as much as possible and I can’t wait to record and share these conversations with readers right here on Music Historian’s Hear; Don’t Listen.

Opera Night’s 7th Anniversary!

Like any modern day music historian, I talk about music during our generation in the 21st century. I also like to examine the role of classical music in today’s society. Although classical music is not on the top 10 list of popular genres, it is still used to educate and help young musicians, school children and professionals further their performance skills.

 Northport – a New York City suburb on Long Island – is one such artistic community where classical musicians and music teachers dedicate their time to building new talent. My former classical piano teacher, Isabella Eredita-Johnson has not only developed young artists as a teacher, but she has also created an organization called Opera Night.

Since its beginning, the series grew 

Since its first gathering at Café Portofino in Northport village on Friday, July 1st, 2004; Isabella and her sister, Maddalena Harris, have been inviting singers to perform arias and vocal duets on a monthly basis. They both named this gathering, Opera Night. As the series grew and began attracting larger audiences, the little café with the bistro charm couldn’t accommodate crowds.

Two years later, Opera Night relocated to St. Paul’s United Methodist Church across the street. Along with more seating space, the church provided an upright Steinway piano to accompany the singers and greater performance space. While moving to St. Paul’s greatly benefited audiences and singers, Isabella, also faced challenges. Some of them involved focusing on professional singing and musicianship while accommodating local audiences. I personally talked to Isabella about how Opera Night evolved from a monthly gathering to an actual venue, and the challenges that arose.

Opera Night is still as fresh and exciting as when it started

Isabella explained, “The caliber of the audience has grown and the presentation is now more formal than from Opera Night’s beginnings in 2004. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the spontaneity.” The performance program is determined by which singers show up that night. Isabella claims, “we do this to keep the performances fresh and exciting. After a performance, people come up to me and say, “this was the most exciting Opera Night to date!” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that, I would be very rich.”

 This spontaneity helps Opera Night stand out amongst the competing performance venues that heavily rely on structure in their programming.

Another aspect of Opera Night that hasn’t changed is the immediate delivery of famous arias and duets. Isabella started Opera Night to bring the most exciting and popular parts of great operas to opera lovers instead of performing full operatic works. Some musicians might find this hodgepodge of music overwhelming, but for Isabella, it comes naturally. Isabella claims, “For me, it’s easy because good, finely trained singers have come to me. The nature of inviting 20 different singers is they will most likely sing 20 different songs.”

Opera Night now focuses on furthering singers’ performing repertoire and skills

Focusing on the singers is fairly new general goal at Opera Night. Isabella explained, “The reasons a singer would want to sing at Opera Night are: they sing in front of a large audience; they get a free accompanist provided by Opera Night; and they increase the quality of their performances.” These benefits naturally encourage singers to spread the word about Opera Night to opera lovers and potential future Opera Night performers.  

If a free accompanist and a full house is not enough to attract singers to Opera Night, the success story of some regular performers will perhaps change prospective singers’ minds.

Bringing professionals back to the music and putting their voices in films

Bruce Solomon initially had a successful singing career. However; supporting a family while performing as a concert artist was challenging. So he went into sales.

Years later, he heard about Opera Night, which helped satisfy his passion for singing and helped make up for the years he was out of the musical scene. Thanks to Opera Night, Solomon can now easily step back into singing.

In the beginning years, Frances Fascetti was an Opera Night regular. Chris Garvey, an audience member, taped and recorded all of Fascetti’s performances and distributed them on a digital music platform.

One faithful day, independent film director, David Campfield, found Fascetti’s recording of “Ave Maria.” Isabella was thrilled to hear Campfield wanted to use Fascetti’s recording in his upcoming film, Cesar & Otto’s Summer Camp Massacre. Fascetti was doubly excited to learn that out of all the “Ave Maria” tracks available for download on the worldwide web, Campfield chose hers.

Opera lovers are all around and they are coming out to Opera Night

Aside from helping young professionals develop their skill and performance repertoire, Opera Night reinforces the communities love for one of the most classical performing arts.

Isabella says, “Opera lovers are out there and they’re coming out of the woodwork. We see the audience turn out, and it is growing. You meet these people who love Opera and want to know if there is anywhere they can listen to it… and you tell them about Opera Night.”

The minute Isabella meets an Opera lover looking for a good performance; she puts them on the email list and sends them reminders about upcoming performances.

Opera Night also reinforces Isabella’s life-long drive and passion for opera and classical performing arts.

Isabella’s performance experience during college encouraged her to take on Opera endeavors

 Isabella’s mother and father were the first opera lovers she ever knew. Their love of music fostered Isabella’s talent for classical piano, and soon, her years of dedication and performing eventually resulted in a degree from the Manhattan School of Music. Her greatest inspiration for opera however, was a “fine” bass/ baritone singer and enthusiastic voice teacher named Peter Maravell.

Isabella became Maravell’s piano accompanist at his studios. What Isabella thought would be a summer job that paid more than what her peers were making at McDonalds, turned into an assistantship and apprenticeship under a great singer. Maravell taught Isabella the music from the operas by some of the greats – Mozart and Puccini.

Maravell helped give Isabella a job that enhanced her experience as a concert pianist. Working under Maravell also expanded her musical world.

Isabella’s performance experience outside of academia encouraged her to teach music and take on projects and musical endeavors that would attract large audiences. For her, these projects and endeavors would revolve around opera.

Isabella encourages communities to help keep opera afloat

As Isabella continues in her musical endeavors and projects, she is constantly reminded of the hard economic times currently affecting many opera companies – even large ones in the neighboring metropolis, New York City. Isabella has taken the initiative in promoting New York City Opera’s Chairman Challenge, a fundraiser that will help City Opera continue producing full operas. More importantly; this challenge will help New York City Opera improve their opera education and professional development programs. This is why Isabella encourages community members to take an active interest in keeping opera afloat by attending a performance; spreading the word about a company; or donating.

Tonight is Opera Night’s 7th Year Anniversary!

Tonight’s celebration of Opera Night’s 7th year in Northport will remind community members of how much people love Opera. People want to have it and need to have it. “And for a good reason too,” Isabella says, “it is just wonderful!”

Hear People Listen, Part 1

Hello again. It is my first entry of 2011 and I feel I have to explain myself a little. The New Year started with a busy communications job in Brooklyn and evening classes at NYU. At the end of March and beginning of April, I found myself in Romania interviewing family members and friends about their histories and pasts.

Now that you know what has happened to me, the Music Historian brings you a special first entry of the year.

Throughout my experience with a non-profit called StoryCorps, I learned that sometimes, the greatest soundtracks of our lives are without music.

Dave Isay, Founder of StoryCorps

Dave Isay, a former radio producer and recipient of the MacArthur’s “Genius” Fellowship, started this non-profit in 2003, recording and preserving the stories of everyday Americans from all walks of life. Today, StoryCorps has recorded and archived more than 30,000 interviews from over 60,000 Americans. In addition to preserving these stories at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, StoryCorps also broadcasts stories on NPR’s Morning Edition every Friday and animations on PBS. Dave also published people’s stories in his original bestsellers – Listening is an Act of Love and Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from StoryCorps.

The big question is – why do people find others’ life stories so intriguing? One reason might reside in the fact we are all individuals or a collective group of individuals who come from different backgrounds and are interested in learning about “ways of living” that are unfamiliar to us.

One StoryCorps recording that struck this chord with me is the story of “Danny and Annie”— a couple who had a late-life romance and happy marriage.

Danny and Annie

Judging from the number of views this animation received – about 1 million – it has struck a chord with other listeners as well.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many people like it when strangers, close friends or family listen to their stories. I discovered this after I was interviewed by StoryCorps in January. I then decided to share the gift of recording and interviewing by taking StoryCorps’ portable interview kit abroad to family members in my parent’s native Bucharest in Romania.

My mother’s life-long friend in Bucharest fell gravely ill and was spending her time in Bucharest’s oncology center. My Mother planned to go to Romania to visit her friend and then I suggested the idea of going with my Mother to record their conversations and preserving them for her friend’s family. Excited by the idea, my Mom agreed to bring me along.

When we got to Bucharest however; we discovered the branch of the oncology center where my Mother’s friend was placed was completely quarantined and recording devices were not permitted in her room. Luckily, my father and his life-long friends wanted to record their story and two of my Mother’s other close friends also wanted a chance to tell their stories.

On April 7th, I returned to the United States with great stories from my parents’ native country, Romania.  I cannot wait to translate these stories into English and share them with readers.

Until then, I invite you to hear people listen at StoryCorps.

Hear; Don’t Listen

One chilly Saturday afternoon, my BFF, Emily, was driving my sister, Gigi and my sister’s boyfriend, Sal and me around Huntington. We were listening to STAR 99.9 in the car, and on the program was a song I had not heard in ages- Susanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.”

This was Sal’s first time listening to the song. Of course he had heard it many times before on television commercials, but that Saturday in Emily’s car was the first time he ever listened to Vega sing, “I am sitting/ In the morning/ At the diner/ On the corner/ I am waiting/ At the counter/ For the man/ To pour the coffee…”*

“What?” Sal remarked, “Those are the words? I can’t believe I never noticed. She could have probably sang a song about using the toilet and I would have never noticed.”

Sal’s reaction to Suzanne Vega’s song is just one of the many common reactions I’ve observed in my family members and friends as they stumbled across a piece of minimalist music on the radio. They say, “this just repeats…”, or very appropriately, “that’s it?”

I had a similar reaction when I had revisited a piece by Satie. The piece is “The First Gymnopedie” (for Mademoiselle Jeanne de Bret, 1888). I replayed it for the first time when I was 19 years old and I said, “I can’t believe I practiced so intently [as a 15 year old piano student] just to master a piece so simple and lethargic.”

A few years past, and I played it again at 22, just for fun, and I understood why it was important to master. When I was learning this piece, I wasn’t mastering the technique because of the composition’s complexity or length; I was mastering the physical feeling of the Gymnopedie.

Tranquility in the wrists and fingers are vital, just like the decisive striking of the keys: all the notes of the chord must be played with the same volume and all voices have to sound as one. If the player diverges from the specifics of the piece, becoming too fast or some notes of the chord louder than others, you might deprive the song of its simple right of being.

Some of you may be wondering what this means. Imagine this, try listening to a virtuosic mezzo soprano sing the lyrics to “Tom’s Diner” while the rest of the song remains the way you and I have heard it all this time. Yes, the sound would be equivalent to that of a broken garage door falling on a car horn and in the process smashing the car.

So here is what “Tom’s Diner” and the “First Gymnopedie” have in common—they are songs for hearing and feeling, not for listening and analyzing. You might also argue this case to be true for many minimalist compositions and popular songs. So let me take the time to say, “Hear; don’t listen.”

*Lyrics were borrowed from this source, http://www.lyrics.com/toms-diner-lyrics-suzanne-vega.html