Thanks for writing.
You’ll always have some unease until your “job” truly matches up with your life’s work. It doesn’t matter how many titles, doctorates, or honorifics you try to throw on it. A doctor is a noble profession, and it would sort of matter to you, just like [your workplace] sort of matters to you. Or, perhaps, how it matters will be in the basics – money, food, employment, something to prove to your wife that you are bringing value to the union. But it doesn’t really matter to you. Not in the ethereal or magical sense – and most importantly, not in your heart and soul.
So if you truly want to get a master’s degree, go for it. Just make sure it’s not just throwing another blanket over the box that’s hidden in the back corner of your mind that has the piece of rock that you scrawled, “I want to create when I grow up” on when you were a child.
Honestly, I think one of three things will happen:
- There will be an earthquake of change.
Ideally, you would just throw up your hands and say, “To hell with all of it” and start Spitzfire Productions as a real company – one that makes movies and shorts and scores and compositions. Your wife buys in and gives you support regardless of whether you start off well or poorly, and you repay her faith by working harder than you’ve ever worked. Only you’re not working at all, because it’s what you love to do. And you end your 12 hours of work a day feeling like you never even started working.
Conversely, this could also happen if you were to be fired, or you moved, or something else thrust you into it. Only you’d likely have less buy-in from your wife, more pressure to be successful, and the small, gnawing knowledge that you waited for the universe to hand you what you wanted when it was in your power to do it yourself, if you had the balls.
- You will change incrementally.
You keep working at [workplace], only you ramp up the efforts to support yourself on other terms. You make movies and vignettes and compositions and word starts getting out. You bring extra money in and your wife slowly comes around to realizing that this is a viable solution. Eventually, so many requests start coming in that you have serious discussions with Jess about quitting [workplace] and working for yourself full-time. You suddenly are free from the shackles of [workplace] and are free to demand higher salaries, bonuses, and equipment. You eventually stop working there by either choice or because they don’t meet your demands, and either is fine because now you’re doing what you love full-time. The change is so slow and the support to the bank account so consistent that Jess never mounts a real opposition. Everyone wins.
- You continue to work at [workplace] because you have to, and you sort of tinker with movies and music and on occasion sell some stuff, but less because you’re really making an effort at it and more because your raw talent is so absurd that you can’t help but sell things even with the minimum of effort. Spitzfire Productions never really becomes anything other than what it is, and you eventually have kids or move and really lose any chance of pursuing any of your dreams because you don’t have any momentum that you could have built up from the time when you could actually do that. Your increasing needs tether you more to [workplace], not less, and leave less time for creating anything, while the increased stresses and requirements for the family means that your wife than has tremendous ammo to question blowing up what you have and striking out on your own to support while you create. Your creative world stays as a small, occasional supplement to your main income that decreases in frequency over time, and you struggle for the rest of your life with the vague worry that you never really made what you could have out of yourself.
I think I’ve been waiting five years to see where you’re going, and right now it’s a combo of two and three (more one than the other at that).
We get one life, Martin, and the difference between a rut and the grave is the depth. So you have to decide, what option is it going to be?
Max Keenlyside, the young virtuoso who in June 2010 brought the word “face-melting” to ragtime, went one step farther into the Land of Amazing and composed a fantastic piece called “The Facemelter.”
Aside from being just a great piece – which, as you are about to hear, it is – this tune makes my day because, well, Max wrote this tune with me in mind!
To hear him tell it:
It was at the annual Scott Joplin Festival, one hot summer in Missouri, that I first applied the word “face-melting” to anything musical. I had picked up the ‘term’ from a guitarist friend years ago in Ontario, and had not since been moved to dub anyone or anything such a term. That is, until I heard some incredible performances by my friend, pianist Martin Spitznagel.
It seemed that this particular adjective really took off; in short order, the term was commonplace, with Mr. Spitznagel reigning as “the Facemelter” himself! I cannot think of anybody more deserving of the title – so as a hommage to a great pianist and composer, here is my new composition, “The Facemelter”. I hope you like it, Martin!
I’m speechless, so I will let the piece say it for me. But just so we’re clear, this is how I looked after I heard it:
If there is a question I get asked more than any other, it is this one:
Where can I find the sheet music for your Star Wars: Cantina Band video that I saw on YouTube?
Bryan and I are thrilled that so many people have e-mailed us this question over the past three years. Here’s the story.
On March 28, 2009, Bryan Wright and I were giving our second concert together in Pittsburgh, PA. We had the whole program planned out – trading off solo pieces – but we realized that we needed a big finish. We didn’t have anything prepared, and I am a giant Star Wars nut, so we got together the afternoon of the concert and roughly worked out this ragtime arrangement of John Williams’s masterpiece from the cantina scene in Star Wars: A New Hope.
For fun, we videotaped the rehearsal. We were all dressed up for the concert, the piano was terrific, and we just had a great time. Then we performed it that night, and the crowd went crazy.
I uploaded the video we shot during rehearsal to YouTube two months later, and it has averaged 1,000 views a day ever since. When you search for “ragtime” on YouTube, it is the third video to come up. It is by far the most successful live-played ragtime piano video on YouTube, and it’s a relatively easy arrangement of an awesome tune.
The bad news is that it’s not notated.
Every time Bryan and I chat, we say, “We should really get that notated.” The challenge, though, is that there is no financial incentive – we cannot sell it – and we don’t know who to talk to in order to get it legally published.
So, the answer to this question is: I don’t have a score to send you. But I do hope, someday soon, to get one put together and if so I will post it here!
Got a question for the Martin? Click here to contact me.
In July of 2011, I was lamenting the challenge of coming up with things to blog about. To the rescue came Steve Clay, a reader of this blog, who sent me a list of questions to help inspire some new entries. Examples include:
- Have you ever posted about your writing process?
- Are you very methodical about writing, scheduling time to do it, working on particular parts in a certain order, etc.?
- How often do you steal ideas from your other pieces?
And my personal favorite:
- Do you like lists of questions from strangers?
Aside from being delighted that someone had actually taken the time to prompt blog entries from me – which was rad – I sat on the questions for awhile. In the back of my mind, though, I thought it might make a good little series of entries to take the time and thoughtfully answer his questions. So, that’s what I’m going to do.
What will be even more fun, though, is if you have questions for me that I can answer. If there’s anything you’d like me to answer, use the contact form or leave a comment here.
Part I will answer the single most common question I get these days. And man, it’s a doozy.
Hi friends. Thanks for your patience last week as I was making updates to the site. It still looks unfinished – things that need sanded, edges that need touched-up – but with some tweaks and additions I think it’ll make for a handsome platform moving forward.
The redesign really got me thinking about my Internet presence and what I wish for it to accomplish. I wanted to keep music the primary focus while also creating a living portfolio of my work. I don’t just do ragtime, after all – my interests include film and game composing, video and film production, writing, etc. – and I want my web site to reflect that variety of interests.
That’s why I’ve renamed this space The Martinverse. I’m excited to see how I can grow in 2012!
Here’s a tradition carried over from my old blog. At the end of the year, I make a list of the top moments in my life for that year.
The list is not about my favorite moments, nor my best moments. These are the top moments, the “Hitler as Man of the Year 1939″ moments, the ones that changed me, moved me, taught me, inspired me, humiliated me.
They are mistakes, triumphs, failures, wild successes. Some are comprehensible by anyone, others belong only to me. They are not listed in any particular order, only the one in which I think of them.
If I left out a moment you think should be here, don’t be upset. Exact your revenge by leaving a comment!
Martin’s Top 100 Moments of 2011
- The cyclonic windstorm on the first tee of the preliminary SSCC golf tournament round where Mark, Mat, Chris, and I were nearly blown into oblivion.
- Playing “Seagull Shuffle” with Brian Holland and Danny Coots at after hours in Sedalia, and having Danny call it “the deepest pocket I’ve ever been in.”
- Learning about the death of Steve Jobs and having my entire world rocked repeatedly by watching his 2005 commencement speech over and over.
- Receiving Max Morath’s review of my new CD and having him tell me that Eubie Blake would have loved it.
- Learning that an 8th-grader in Connecticut did a PowerPoint presentation on me for his school music class.
- After repeatedly assuring Mat about how good of a driver I am in the snow, crashing his car into a snowy embankment because I was thinking too hard about what to do next with my life.
- My phone interview with the Sedalia Democrat that turned into an article about me on the front page of the paper.
- Getting into a fight with my boss and nearly losing my job.
- Animating and scoring the holiday card for our parent company and having it go out to thousands of people all over the world.
- Driving in the car with my sister and listening to the radio at the precise moment when the radio is playing “Red Elephant Rag,” which I wrote for my sister. CRAZY AWESOME.
- Finally winning the Old-time Piano Playing Championship after deciding, “Fuck it, I’m just going to make something up,” and improvising arrangements of “Five Foot Two” and “I’ve Been Working On the Railroad”.
- Learning that Good.Bye Films wanted to make a documentary about me, and filming my first interview.
- The grand and emotionally turbulent ride from Sedalia to St. Louis on the Missouri River Runner.
- Eating the best barbecue on the planet at the gas station in Kansas City with Jerry and Mary Grace.
- Having my voice teacher, Marguerite, tell me in all seriousness that I had a good voice.
- Making my public singing debut with “Oh You Beautiful Doll” at the Black Fox Lounge in DC.
- Failing to deliver a master that Rambling Records wanted to use, and ending up with nothing to show from our supposed record deal.
- Earning the nickname “Senor Cuervo” at Risk because I left our host, Mat, with an empty bottle of Tullamore Dew, an empty bottle of Captain Morgan, an empty bottle of Maker’s Mark whiskey, a 95% empty bottle of Jose Cuervo, three mangled and chewed on pieces of the Green army, and a broken toilet flusher, all by my hand (and mouth).
- Getting kicked out of the Steinway Hall practice room for not paying to use it (I maintain it was because Art Tatum was too hip for them).
- The hot, impromptu duet on “Dizzy Fingers” with Richard Dowling in Baltimore.
- Being able to say, “Last night was incredible!” multiple times to the woman I’ve been with for 10 years.
- Birdieing the 10th hole in the SSCC team tournament, having finally relaxed (after three days of golf) and found my swing.
- The food tour at Pike’s Place Market, following the bearded man with the pink umbrella, and watching them throw the fish.
- The shrimp and cheese grits at Slightly North of Broad in Charleston, SC. Hot damn.
- Meeting Smiley Wallace in Kansas City and listening to his stories about Eubie Blake, his wife, and his lifelong perpetuation and promotion of ragtime music.
- Purchasing my new iMac with money I saved up from my ragtime concerts and finally retiring my workhorse Power Mac G5 after six years.
- Learning that Eubie Blake ate chocolate cake every night before he went to bed. I mean seriously, how awesome is that.
- Performing live with my brother for the first time, and then with his band.
- As Artist in Residence, being asked by literally ten 8-year-olds if I played “Uncle Ian” in the Alvin and the Chipmunks movie.
- Taking the brewery tour at Leinenkugel’s in Chippewa Falls, WI with Wheels and Adam.
- The Gullah performance at Boone Hall Plantation that lifted up my heart.
- Standing around the green room with the next generation of great composers – Max, Will, Brett, and Bryan – talking about music and playing each other’s pieces.
- Nighttime beach walk on Two Mile Hollow Beach in the Hamptons; getting soaked in the surf; looking up at the stars.
- Staying at the shadiest hotel on the planet in Versailles, MO and fearing for my life.
- Selling my first copy of Handful of Keys to Daniel Levi.
- Arranging flowers for the first time and realizing that it was very, extremely, wonderfully Zen.
- Skyping with Emily and Jeffrey for the first time – so different than talking on the phone!
- Being featured in a company press release for the music I composed to the 2010 holiday card.
- My epic single-dice-roll defense of the Northwest Territory that went 5-6, 6-6, 3-3, 4-6, and 1-6. Nate’s yellow army has never recovered.
- Racing go-karts at 50mph like a crazy person with my brother out in Prince William County.
- The endless adventures with my bowling team, Livin’ on a Spare, including Jess and I combining for a no-open-frame 185 in one game.
- The amazing, picturesque sailboat/snorkeling tour in Puerto Rico that ended when the main sail tore clear in two right above my head and we had to navigate the seas on a 20hp backup engine.
- Paddling through a mangrove forest at twilight.
- Dipping my hand into a luminescent bay and watching as the lives of billions of bacteria extinguished in a light display worthy of Pandora.
- Swimming under a waterfall in the El Yunque rainforest.
- The Segway tour of Old San Juan.
- Discovering the mysterious and dangerous La Perla.
- Chowing down on the salted caramel ice cream at Molly Moon’s. Sweet pancakes it was amazing.
- Touring the Spragpole museum and eating huckleberry shakes in the middle of nowhere, Idaho, with the Elliotts.
- Having my sisters and father in Sedalia this year and getting to show them off to all my ragtime peeps.
- Completely screwing up the piano accompaniment to “Mister Rogers” and earning the ire of “Handyman Joe” Negri at the concert to benefit the earthquake victims in Japan.
- Resenting Jess’ desire to get bunnies. Getting the bunnies. Hating the bunnies. Slowly coming to love the bunnies. Now inseparable from the bunnies.
- Two words: crisis beard!
- Watching the Super Bowl at Dukes and Boots, drinking myself silly on Captain and Diet, and playing pool with JC while being unable to feel my hands.
- Staying with Jerry and Mary Grace, while in Kansas City, and feeling like their adopted child.
- Losing my brand new Zoom H2 recorder in Eau Claire without ever having had the chance to even turn it on.
- Jamming with guitarist Craig Ventresco at the hotel bar and just looking on in wonder at how amazing he was.
- Recording “The Entertainer” with a couple of ragtime crazies on an old upright outside in 20-degree weather.
- Holding Ava Lynn Lee for the first time.
- Lisa’s 30th birthday party at Secrets in DC where I saw more perfect flying penis than you could shake a stick at.
- Making Bryan Wright scat-sing to “Charleston Rag” before an audience of 200 people and play coconuts, washboard, and scat sing in front of 600 (all while wearing a tuxedo).
- Having Yuko bring cookies and Red Bull, and give great massages to get me through the late-night recording sessions for Handful of Keys.
- Playing laser tag against vicious 12-year-old girls with my DC friends for my 29th birthday.
- Streaking naked through the woods in drunken glee at the cabin for New Years.
- Failing to finish Monsters!, the children’s book that I was writing for an app on the App Store.
- Writing 10k words in my novel at WW’11. Medium-core anal has never been more productive.
- Hearing that my version of the “Tiny Toons” theme delighted series creator Tom Ruegger, who later friended me on Facebook and posted it for all his friends to see.
- The fantastic Riskino night, with big wins at the craps table and my first Risk victory against three former champions.
- The horrific (but still fun) That’s Me Lucky Rolls craps outing where I lost all the money I won at Riskino night.
- Speaking of losing money, I blew my own mind when I spent $700 on two coats, four shirts, and two pairs of jeans after my concert.
- The wonderful gift of Rebecca Sheir and my interview with NPR that brought folks to my show, sold a bunch of my CDs, and gave me the mountain-fresh scent of musical legitimacy.
- Surviving a dark night of my soul in March (and not leaving any puke in the ZipCar afterwards… whew.)
- The first moment when I composed with the chorus from the EastWest symphonic library where all of a sudden a whole new world of possibilities opened up and I discovered a new sound inside of myself.
- The great appreciation of dark beer I developed drinking with Chuck and talking about work.
- Having the tour guide at the Bayernhof Museum get mad at anyone in our tour group who asked a question.
- Driving through the misty, snow-kissed mountains and auburn, windswept plains of the West on our way to Seattle.
- Premiering “The Smoky Rose” for Danny Matson in Eau Claire, and having it go on to win the composition contest in Peoria.
- Failing to get a Grammy nomination despite talking and acting and dreaming like I would get one. Thanks for nothing, law of attraction and The Secret.
- The standing ovation I got after the 10PM show at the Black Fox that filled every pore of my body with excitement.
- Watching the last Harry Potter movie and realizing that the first movie had come out 10 years earlier, right as I was graduating film school, and even after 10 years I still had not finished my Star Wars movie.
- Filming the videos for my brother’s website, theaugustactor.com, and feeling a small flame enkindle within me that said, “You should do more of this!”
- Walking around New York City in women’s shoes, and then no shoes.
- Living to see another awesome Muppet movie be released in theaters.
- Discovering Austin Kleon and reading about how to “steal like an artist.” From Austin: “Make the art you want to see. Write the stories you want to read. Play the music you want to hear.”
- Deciding we were moving out of our apartment, only to decide to stay in it two months later.
- Reading the eulogy Steve Jobs’ sister wrote for him in the New York Times and wishing I could impact one person the way he impacted millions.
- Impromptu dinner party with Jess, Bill, Dasha, Bryan, and Yuko in NYC and feeling like a wealthy person.
- Max Morath saying, “I recognize you as a major pianist.”
- Preparing for Hurricane Irene for days and then having absolutely nothing interesting come out of it except a small leak in the ceiling.
- Having the gang say, “The champ is [whatever mundane thing I was doing or feeling]!” every time I did something in Peoria after winning the trophy.
- Finally seeing Les Miserables live and learning what all the fuss was about. Other theater highlights: Billy Elliot, Mary Poppins, and Memphis!
- Having a moth fly into my ear in Adams Morgan, drowning the moth inside my ear with earwax remover, and then having to go to the ER to have the moth removed.
- Looking up through the ancient purple glass in the sidewalks as Jess and I took the underground tour of Seattle.
- Hearing Dalton Ridenhour’s take on the blues at Mimi and Friends in Versailles, MO.
- Realizing I’d gained back 30lbs of the 75lbs that I lost in 2010. Dammit. See #74 as to why.
- Shoveling the driveway of my host family as Artist in Residence for the SJF.
- Nearly losing my job because of, and being given brand new Mac Pro by, the same people in one week.
- Canceling, un-canceling, canceling, un-canceling, canceling, and then putting on my show on November 12th.
- Improvising on “Amazing Grace” at 3 AM in Bellefield Hall, with nothing but the happy silence of creation and a perfect 9’ Steinway to accompany me.
- Looking out upon the night sky at Writer’s Weekend and its thousands of stars when suddenly, in the night, the largest shooting star I’d ever seen streaked across the sky and I wished the same wish I always do, the one that I hope comes true…
What exists on this disc by Martin Spitznagel is one of the most amazing and diverse collections of syncopated styles and genres to be found on a single CD.
Jack Rummel, a figure that looms large in the ragtime world as a composer, performer, scholar, and historian has reviewed my CD, “Handful of Keys.”
It’s my first official review for the new album, which came out in June, and I’m delighted to see positive feedback from Jack! It’s been a slow process getting the albums into the hands of people, and every little bit counts. I’m especially pleased with this review because I seem to have answered some of Jack’s criticisms of my first album, Tricky Fingers, with my performance on this new release. Yay for getting better with age!
You can read the original here here (click on “This Month’s Reviews” on the left-hand side of the screen). I’ve copied it below for easy access 😀
COMPACT DISC REVIEW
By Jack Rummel
Handful of Keys
Martin Spitznagel, piano
Rivermont Records BSW-2217
Handful of Keys / The Easy Winners / Mary Poppins Medley / The Chips Are Down / The Smoky Rose / Ticklish Tom – A Carolina Cakewalk / The Train Town Rag / Hobson Street Blues / Marty’s Blues / Legend of Zelda: Overworld Theme / The Newbie Eubie / Hot Cinders / Final Fantasy: Amblin’ with Chocobo / Incandescent Rag / The Entertainer (Blues) / Pork and Beans / Marigold / The Seagull Shuffle / Super Mario Brothers Medley / Amazing Grace / Tiger Rag (à la Art Tatum) / Maple Leaf Rag at 4AM.
Martin Spitznagel refers to this recording as “face-melting” ragtime, defined as exposure to an event of epic awesomeness. While making that claim may border on epic audacity, this CD does have an awful lot going for it. The recorded sound is excellent and the graphics are very good, too. His touch is completely under control; he can switch from loud and brash to feather-light in the time it takes to draw a breath. The extensive liner notes are personal and fun to read, and while they’re spiced with occasional name-dropping and horn-blowing, as Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”
Every track is a winner but some deserve individual mention. Stride piano has re-interpreted many pop tunes, Broadway melodies and “longhair” classical themes, so why not Mary Poppins? It’s hard to imagine “Feed the Birds” taken in stride, but blended with “Chim-Chim-Cher-ee,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “Let’s Go Fly a Kite,” Spitznagel’s medley is a champion. He has also recorded the best version of Hot Cinders I have ever heard; under his talented fingers, Joe Lamb’s complex melodic ideas all make sense. Amazing Grace is a meditative interlude that hooks the gut beforeTiger Rag shatters the inner peace with an unhumanly blur of 128th notes. He closes with Maple Leaf Rag at 4AM , a jazzy take on this warhorse, complete with scat chorus (although it’s a bit disconcerting to hear the A-section reduced to 14 measures).
The Spitznagel originals are also worthy contenders. The Smoky Rose is a lovely, relaxed tone poem that could easily be mistaken for a long-lost work by Billy Mayerl. Marty’s Blues is a gently ambling ode featuring Gershwin-like harmonies, while Newbie Eubie is full of Eubie-isms yet maintaining its originality. The lightning-fast Incandescent Rag lives up to its name and Seagull Shuffle is a fine stride opus. Of special note is The Train Town Rag, a complex piece full of new ideas which won the Scott Joplin Foundation’s 2010 composition contest.
Being an empty-nester at the time that video games began to exert their grip on the youth of the world, I missed out on the Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy and Super Mario Brothers. Their theme songs, which Spitznagel has adapted to ragtime, do not awaken childhood memories for me as they do for him, but his versions are enjoyable.
What exists on this disc by Martin Spitznagel is one of the most amazing and diverse collections of syncopated styles and genres to be found on a single CD. Whether it’s stride, ragtime, jazz, soundtracks, spirituals, blues, novelty or themes from computer games, it’s all included and no tempo has gone untried and no dynamic has been excluded in these performances. Highly recommended.
I worked for Apple in 2006-2007 as a specialist at the Apple Store.
The best thing about working at the Apple Store was that, on a daily basis, I got to help people purchase technology that would improve the quality of their life.
The worst thing about working at the Apple Store was that I spent all my money… at the Apple Store.
I got to do all of this with a straight face and a clean conscience. I got to say things like “Isn’t that cool?” without sarcasm or slickness, because I believe(d), in my Real Place, that it was cool. I got to believe in what I was doing – with the sole exception of being asked to sell .Mac, which was a suite of online apps that did for $99 what Google did (better) for free, but I digress – and I felt good when I helped folks pick out a new computer or iPod. I felt like I was helping them in a small way to be happier, more connected, and more powerful.
My hero was Steve Jobs. Steve made it fun, made it cool, made it magic. Because of him I was happier, more connected, and more powerful.
Steve Jobs died today.
His death was one of those things that I knew was coming – pancreatic cancer is the most vicious, the most pernicious enemy – and yet when it came, it did so as a total, wind-out-of-my-chest shock. I’m not above confessing that I cried. Like Jim Henson, he was a personal hero of mine.
The web is alight with people offering their obits, their stories, their condolences. Aside from dealing with my own thoughts on death, I don’t have much to add to what has been said, only this:
The reality distortion field became reality, and the world is a better place.
Thank you, Steve.
Sent from my iPad