Sunday, November 05, 2006

30 Second Spots - The Manuscript Ends Abruptly, Scherzo for Danny Cariaga

One of the several bad pieces of advice from my graduate education was "It doesn't matter what a review says as long as they spell your name correctly." Wrong!

Reviews with nice things about me always made me feel good. Bad things didn't. I preferred nice reviews. What a review said matters to a struggling composer.

Soon after my education ended I was one of several unknown youngsters trying to hack out public performances in the new music wasteland of Los Angeles. We called ourselves the Independent Composers Association. ICA for short.

One mark of success for such a concert was getting it reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

Since long before my time Daniel Cariaga was a Times music critic. Over the years we became acquainted and at various times he wrote about my playing and my compositions - and even interviewed me over dinner (I can't quite remember why at the moment.)

He only had limited space to say what he thought of any particular piece - and he could choose a few words very well. Of course if those words were about me I'd hang on them. Meeting him at a concert in later years was always a pleasure, a chance at a similarly short interchange of ideas and support.

Last Thursday the Times carried Danny's obituary. (You might have to register to read it.) Here's Tim Mangan's obituary at

This incident stands out in my memory: the big closer concert of ICA's second season - featuring Terry Riley's In C. Terry traveled to LA to perform it with us. This was in 1978 when performances of In C were not ubiquitous like today. We were thrilled - and petrified - to learn that Daniel Cariaga would review the concert. (Here's a link to the score and instructions of In C.)

He liked it. More than that. Apparently he was really impressed. He wrote
"To one observer, the impressive closing of a second series . . . caused regret that earlier visits to an obviously enterprising impresarial entity had not been made. Clearly, ICA is making some things happen."

For a long time we called this The Revelation Review.

The ICA, disorganized, unrealistic, without resources and hampered with a constantly changing membership, stumbled forward into more concerts the next year. Danny decided to review a "dance with chamber music" event from our third series, a real stinker of a concert held in a barren second floor studio of a Pasadena church.

We couldn't begin to imagine what his reaction would be to the vastly different style and scope of the production values. He stood out in the small audience. At intermission he got up and never came back. No review ever appeared.

So let us give thanks for music critics who can not only pick the perfect handful of good words to describe unfamiliar music but also know just when to keep their mouths completely shut.

In preparing this post I was at a loss for a picture to include. "No," I thought, "not a picture. This blog post requires music." So I trucked my laptop up to Starbucks and returned with a new 30 Second Spot.

click here to hear The Manuscript Ends Abruptly - Scherzo for Danny Cariaga - based on the opening 40 measures of the third movement of Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 8 in B minor - "The Unfinished". This is the actual unfinished part of The Unfinished.

Copyright © November 5, 2006 by David Ocker - 52 seconds

My friend Scott Fessler recently made an off-handed remark about the possibility of writing a half-piece of new music - meaning one which obviously ended half way through. While this is not such a half-piece, it is inspired by that notion. Always start by studying the masters.

At the very end of the Schubert symphony score is written "Here the manuscript ends abruptly". Schubert probably did not write this, but to me it seemed like a good title.

This 30 Second Spot is dedicated to Daniel Cariaga.

I have no idea what he'd think of it, but I'm pretty sure he would find just the right couple of words to tell us.

Explanation of 30 second spots

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