Friday, November 2, 2012

A Grammy For Me, World Peace For All

Ever since I can remember, I’ve watched award shows, and dreamt of being there, hearing my name called and humbly accepting whichever one they offered me. Oscar, Tony, Emmy, or Grammy – I pictured the clothes I would wear, and imagined the speech I would give (no script, off the cuff, yet very moving.)

I’ve been writing music for over 15 years now, and haven’t put out a CD since 2007. It’s not that I stopped writing. I’ve just shifted my focus. Rather than concentrate on making great music, I’ve been studying people who have won Grammys and analyzed their speeches and followed their Twitter feeds. So now, I really feel strongly that I will not only be a contender, but that I can win the Grammy this time around.

I will be releasing my new soon-to-be award-winning CD in just a few months. I would give you a little sample of the tracks, but that would take some time away from my Grammy campaign. Just know that the new tunes are amazing – and please vote for me!

People have asked about the recording process and what it was like to work with some fabulous musicians in Indianapolis. Believe me, there are some great jazz players in this town. And I look forward to having them join me at the studio just as soon as I get the tunes down on paper that are spinning around in my head.

At parties, friends say to me, “Let’s hear one of your new songs!” And I say, “Oh, you’ll hear them alright, just as soon as I win that Grammy!” This gets them so excited! “Wow, you’re up for a Grammy? That is amazing! Can I go with you? What are you going to wear!!!”

The songs that have almost formulated in my mind are absolute hits, you just wait and see!

In this day and age of social media and networking, I’m sure everyone who reads this knows someone who knows someone that is a Grammy voter. So, please spread the word. Vote for Becky Archibald! Feel free to direct your friends to my website at Everything they need to know about my music is either there or going to be posted there as soon as I win!

Music is universal. It crosses all boundaries and connects and comforts us. I really believe that the music I will soon create can help guide us toward a more peaceful planet.

Thanks in advance for your vote. And please send me some love (in the way of cash) so I can buy this fabulous dress I have my eye on. When I win, I need to look the part!


Friday, October 19, 2012

Are You My Audience?

People often ask me, “Who is your audience?” I guess if you are reading this, you are who they inquire of. So, please tell me a little about yourself, so that I can pass it on to the next person who asks.

I ran into a friend who I hadn’t seen in years. She said, “You have no idea how much your stories mean to people. Please keep them coming!” So one answer, when asked the question, “who is your audience?” could be, “I’ve been told that I have no idea.”

Not only am I supposed to know my audience intimately, I am expected to be able to sum up who they (as in, you) are within 15 seconds. Even if I tried to describe the personality of one of my friends/audience members, I would have trouble doing it in 15 seconds.

“Well, this one guy that often shows up at my concerts always has a great big smile on his face. He has an accent but I can’t quite tell what country he is from. He brings a different person with him each time, so maybe he likes to expose his friends to. . .”

Oops, I ran out of time.

But hopefully this gives you a broad picture of who my audience is (that is, if I have an audience of one) (but hopefully not) (I mean, one plus a friend of his) (whom I know absolutely nothing about.)

I learned awhile back never to say, when asked the “who is your audience” question: “EVERYONE!! People of all ages, hairstyles and musical preferences have promised to attend one of my concerts someday and/or read my stories!” That would be like, when filling out a list of skills on a job application, saying: “EVERYTHING!! I have proven skills in every area of every type of work known (or yet to be known) to man!

Specifically, people want to know who my music-listening audience is, as opposed to my blog-reading audience. And of the music I’ve written, who is my solo piano audience vs. my chamber music audience vs. my jazz audience. And of the jazz, who is my bebop-listening audience vs. my blues audience vs. my fusion audience vs. my funky audience vs. my in-the-style-of-Monk audience.

It may be wiser of me to generalize my audience rather than pinpoint specific food allergies or personality traits, so that no matter who is reading this can see themselves clearly, such as:

“My audience is very hip, witty, youthful, attractive, brilliant, sarcastic, INFJ, ESTP, and generous (but never to a fault.) They are loved and admired by each person they come in contact with.

Yep, that’s it, that’s the one. Plus, I can say it in less than 15 seconds.

Becky Archibald

P.S. Important note to my audience: Be watching. . .my new jazz CD. . .coming soon!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The ISO Has Made My Life Wonderful

I feel like I’m watching Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life. Everyone’s talking about how the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is being forced to jump off the bridge – from their current status as full-time orchestra, to some sort of shadow of their former selves, as part-timers. And then I wonder – what would it be like if the ISO never existed?

From my personal experience as a pianist and a composer, it’s hard to say where I would be without the encouragement early on from many of my ISO friends. Fresh from receiving my master’s degree in piano performance in 1990, I moved back to Indiana and began teaching at the University of Indianapolis. After a few years of talking about composers in my music appreciation classes, I inadvertently became a composer. At first, I was writing and performing piano music, but eventually, I started writing for other instruments. When I finished my first string quartet, Michael Schelle, Professor of Composition at Butler University, suggested I show it to some musicians in the ISO who champion new music. I made a cold call to Ingrid Bellman (cellist) who said she would be happy to read through the piece. She rounded up a quartet, which included Dean Franke, assistant concertmaster. They asked me to meet them at the Hilbert Theater during their break so that they could play it in front of me. It was an incredible deal, having such fabulous musicians play my music. Hearing the music come to life, and hearing their encouraging words about my work, gave me the inspiration to keep doing what I was doing, keep writing. The piece was one of the winners in a regional chamber music competition, and received a live radio performance on NPR in Nashville, TN.

One spring day, I was inspired to write a cello/piano duet that I titled “Spring.” I made a “warm” call to Ingrid this time, and she asked me to drop off the piece at her house. She called the next day, but I wasn’t home. This was at least 8 years ago, and still today, I have Ingrid’s message from that day saved on my answering machine. She so passionately talked about the piece and why it resonated so much with her. When she came to my house to rehearse, I was so moved by her performance (and so was my hardwood floor, which vibrated its approval when she played.) Ingrid suggested I write more music of the seasons, so I ended up writing a suite called “Seasons” for cello and piano. Through the ISO’s education program, Ingrid and I have played these duets many times and worked with hundreds of children. ( I was the first composer that the ISO brought on as a partner artist.)

Of course, Ingrid introduced me to her husband, David (principal clarinet) who played the first clarinet piece that I wrote, a trio for clarinet, French horn and piano titled “I Know.” He and Rick Graef (French horn) recorded the piece with me and really made it their own. When I asked Marvin Perry (principal trumpet) to play a new trumpet/piano duet with me, he not only made it sound incredible, he also helped me with a compositional decision. I knew a particular section needed the trumpet to be muted, but I didn’t know which mute to use. He said something like, “come on over, I have 14 of them.”

When I started writing jazz, I met more ISO musicians who I found out were interested in playing jazz (and who were quite good at it.) Having my jazzy friends Jim and P.J., along with Ju-Fang Liu (principal bass) Dean Franke and Mark Ortwein (bassoon, bass clarinet, saxophone) in my home to play my new tunes and improvise together was so exciting, and again, their encouragement inspired me to continue writing.

I could have written about how much I have enjoyed listening to ISO performances over the years, and how important music is to the community, and what a treasure we have to hear musicians of this caliber come together week after week for amazing performances. I could have talked about how much we need to support the arts, because if we don’t have art and music and artistic expression, we don’t have life. I could have talked about the hundreds of thousands of children the musicians in the ISO have encouraged and inspired through their teaching and performing. But instead, I wanted to share some of my personal experiences with members of the ISO. Passionate, brilliant, funny, generous and kind people who have come in and out of my life and my living room to play with me and encourage my growth as a musician and composer. Incredible musicians who love and are inspired by the music of the masters, but also believe in the importance of the creation of new music.

This is what the ISO has meant to me, and I am just one person. I have to wonder how many stories are out there, and what the impact looks like when you multiply it by the thousands of people who are not only audience members, but people who connect to the symphony in so many other ways.

At the end of the Jimmy Stewart movie, when he thinks all hope is lost, the whole town shows up with donations. Here’s hoping that before it’s too late, we find a way to save the ISO.

Becky Archibald
September 9, 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In a Different Room (But Maybe Not an Empty Room)

This morning, I was flipping through a forgettable magazine that comes free with the newspaper, and came upon a story about a student who was in trouble at school, and made to sit alone in a different room. The student began to dance and, well, they didn’t really give any details or tell much of the story or say who it was, but supposedly the student found her calling and because a famous choreographer. Not a well-told story, but it did get me thinking. . .

A few years ago, I spent the night at a friend’s lake house, all by myself. My family and her family had been there the night before, but since I had a performance nearby the next day, and everyone else had to get back home, it made sense for me to stay – and believe me, I was SO looking forward to it. I had hoped to take a nice walk around the lake after saying our good-byes, but it was cold and rainy. So I went back inside and . . . looked around . . . and it dawned on me . . . there is no piano here! I don’t know what to do with myself without a piano. At home, I can’t wait for everyone to leave the house so that I can sit at the keys for hours, writing, practicing and studying. But what do I do when I am left in a different room, really alone??

I bet you are thinking that I will say I started writing poetry and wrote the piece that caught the eye of an important publisher and launched my career as a poet. Or that I found some art supplies and an umbrella, and painted a beautiful lake scene during the storm, which went on to win prizes and launched my career as a landscape artist. But, neither of these things happened. What did happen is rather embarrassing to admit. We don’t have cable TV at home. We don’t have a large TV screen. We don’t have a satellite dish. The lake house had all of these items. I ended up flipping channels for hours, finding nothing on, until settling into the classic film, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (which was actually pretty good.)

What I experienced at home last week was luckily quite different. My son was away for a week doing volunteer work. My daughter had just started day camp. I had my first taste of real freedom and aloneness in about a year and a half. It was so . . .different. It took me awhile to find myself again. I was writing words and writing music, maybe not my best, but I was remembering and experiencing the bliss of just doing it. In a few days, I noticed some improvement, especially in the music. One morning, I spent what seemed like hours (because it was) just trying to find the right tempo for a section I was working on. It seemed perfect until I put on headphones and listened while walking. The problem was that I meant to write something that I could walk to – but the pace was too slow. When I re-taped at the right walking speed, the melody sounded too rushed. Oh no! I kept adjusting until I could make a clear decision, and luckily, I didn’t have to rewrite the whole thing. I was happily obsessing over the minute details of composition! Yeah, I had found my calling again!

So, back to the bad student-turned-dancer. I agree that one can get closer to finding their calling when they are alone. But one also needs the right tools to experiment with when they are in that different room. Or not necessarily the “right” tools, but at least a reasonable facsimile. The student had a dance floor. I kind of need a piano. (Or at least a tape recorder to sing into. Or some pots and pans to bang on. And some manuscript paper and a pencil. . .) And no one can find their calling with a TV remote (except maybe Loren Michaels or Steven Speilberg or Jerry Seinfeld or Taylor Archibald or. . .)

June 26, 2012

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Wait and Hope

One of my missions in life is to inspire creativity in others. I can’t force this on anyone, or even expect it to happen. I don’t have a magic formula. All I can do is be there, and wait and hope. I could say the same thing about my own writing, whether music or words. I can’t force it to happen, or know whether I will be happy with what comes out that particular moment. I don’t have a magic formula. All I can do is be there, ready with paper and pencil, and wait and hope.

My cellist friend Ingrid and I took our chances a few months ago, hoping to inspire students at the Indiana School for the Blind in their artistic endeavors. Our plan: To perform my music during their art classes and talk about where my inspirations come from, to talk about our instruments and why we chose them, and to wait and hope. The art teacher also had a plan: To help the students create tiles out of clay, with their own unique patterns and textures, that he would weave together into a large work of art, to be installed permanently on the campus. (How cool is that!)

About midway through the first day, the principal stopped by and asked, “Is it making any difference?” I said that this was hard for me to answer, since I had never watched the students in art class when they didn’t have a live musical performance to (possibly) inspire them as they worked. When I posed the question to the art teachers, they said that the students usually have trouble getting started on a project. They wave their hands and call out for help at every point along the way. But with us present, the teachers were amazed at how well the students were able to work independently. They sat down and dug their hands in and worked it!

I was particularly amazed with the profound thoughts the students shared with me about music. I wish I could remember the exact words he used, when one particular 16-year-old boy talked deeply about how much music meant to him. Many of the students came forward to put their clay-caked hands on the instruments. We loved seeing the delight in their faces while they plucked the strings and caressed the keys.

We don’t really know what difference we made that week. We don’t know if some students went home that day and wrote poetry, or improvised music, or used their imaginations in a different, more imaginative way. But we came, we waited, we hoped and we played the music. And we look forward to seeing the culmination of their work on the campus sometime this fall.

Becky Archibald
June 20, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Remembering Chuck Workman

Remember Chuck Workman

I used to listen to Chuck on the Sunday Morning Jazz Show, WTPI. When my first CD came out, a friend suggested I send it to him. I jumped out of my seat when I heard him play “Searching.” He was the very first to put my music on the air. Later he called to interview me for a NUVO article. What a wonderful voice to hear over the phone!

Over the years, I have done many radio interviews with Chuck, and he has written many articles about my music. He believed in me so much, he helped me believe in myself. He really floored me with the headline pictured above.

I called him every time I had something big coming up, and he always called me back to hear the latest. I was even planning on calling him today. . .

I’m not quite ready yet, but when I am, I will enjoy listening again to the tapes of our radio interviews. His enthusiasm was so sincere, and so infectious.

The last time I saw Chuck was at the Jazz Kitchen, just a few months ago. I watched him eat a really big dessert (that I was hoping he would offer me a bite of.) We talked and talked about music, of course. I remember him saying that he felt like he was in New York, as we listened to one of our great local jazz groups – The Farrelly/Markiewicz Quartet.

Chuck, thank you for your love of music, your kindness and your generous spirit. I miss you already.

Becky Archibald
March 26, 2012

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Answer: In the State of Wonder

The next time someone asks me the question, “If you could pick any place in the world, where would you like to live?” I am going to say, “In the State of Wonder.” And that doesn’t mean the State of Confusion, as in, “I wonder what is going on??” where we squint our eyes and scrunch up our faces and feel lost or overwhelmed. I’m thinking of the childlike state of open-mindedness and endless possibility.

The other night, I watched a documentary about Evelyn Glennie, an amazing percussionist who lost her hearing as a child. She and fellow musician, Fred Frith, improvise music together (on both traditional and makeshift instruments) in a cavernous warehouse in Germany. Fred especially seemed like a giant kid. His eyes, his face, were so relaxed and open as he experimented with sounds on his guitar. He seemed to be having such a great time, and made it all look so easy.

It reminded me of what I saw when teaching my first Composition Studio Class at Anderson University. I had worked with my students individually, but not as a group, so I wasn’t sure what the dynamic would be. I did know, though, that they were very, very bright, so I had better come up with something good. So the first thing I said was,

“Today we are going to play a game called ‘Work the Room.’”

I asked them to find objects in the classroom that they could make a sound or noise with. After experimenting with the sound, they were to write down what they discovered, so that someone reading their instructions could replicate what that they did.

I was so pleased to see each person immediately enter the State of Wonder: big eyes, lips parted, slight smiles, relaxed breathing and childlike curiosity. There were no “instruments” in the room (except an upright piano that was off limits.) Instead, the students toyed with mini blinds, and projector screens, and chairs, and drawers, and music stands and erasers on the chalkboard. I won’t go into phase 2 or 3 of the game, which emphasized the importance of not assuming anything when communicating on paper, because I want to focus on the playfulness that happens prior to the decision-making.

When composing, if I happen to notice that I am momentarily in the State of Wonder, I sometimes say out loud, “I love writing music!” So far, this has not snapped me out of my trance. Instead, it reminds me of how much fun I am having, even though I haven’t solved all the problems, and am still considering many possibilities. (Actually, maybe I should say, because I haven’t solved all the problems.)

If I don’t spend at least part of my day in my “home state,” I feel lost, and also, feel that I may have lost something. What if I missed out on a brilliant insight that could have come to me, if only I had taken the time for it?

Last month, a 7-yr-old student decided to write a new piece for the recital that was coming up in a few days. I watched and listened as he invented the whole thing, right in front of me. He doesn’t really like to title his pieces, but I went ahead and asked what he wanted to call it. We shared a comfortable silence for at least a full minute as he pondered the question. I’m okay with this seemingly long chunk of time, because I know that it is a precious thing, and potent with possibility. Finally, he said, “I got it! It’s called, “Float, Flutter, Fly.”

Wow! Not only was his title a perfect fit for the rhythm of his theme, it was also a beautiful parallel to the actual creative process. Floating in uncertainty leads to a bit of fluttering when the idea hits, and then you are ready to fly.