About me

I am an active composer and organizer of music events. I share a monthly Music as Meditation concert with listeners and fellow musicians and I organize several concerts of new music each year. I use this blog to tell people about my musical endeavors.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My heart is so full I can't sleep. It is the early morning after the evening of the Summer Strings concert. So many people came to hear our music. I enjoyed so much connected time with the musicians and composers over the last week. I will share one more thing. Here is a story about banana squash that I wrote for the program.

Gratitude and Summer Strings
 photo taken on the Bickford Brooke Trail.
This has been a summer of abundance for me. I've had time to garden, hike, take pictures of mushrooms, and even go swimming on occasion. These days I wade through the rampant greenery of the garden and marvel that there is so much to bring, so much to share. Some of it I didn't even plant.

The banana squash plant with our
stone wall in the background to
show you how giant it is.
Early in the season, when I was first breathing deeper with the relief of a too-busy schedule finally easing off, I noticed a very vigorous squash plant volunteering itself out of my compost pile. I transplanted it to what was left of my husband's gift to me on the occasion of my 50th birthday—a truckload of real horse manure. In its new, rich location, this squash began growing with an energy I can only admire on most days. It had the upright habit of a zucchini and dark green leaves. I did not know or really care how its fruit would look or taste; its vigor simply brought me joy on every garden tour I made. It was the first of my garden plants that I could really see from my kitchen window. It bloomed early. One day, there was a zucchini-shaped object underneath its large triangular leaves. A few days later I brought it in.


The fruit of  the banana squash

My husband asked “is that a banana?!” In fact, the fruits of this squash look a bit like green bananas—slightly curved and slim. I chopped the garlic and heated the oil and we had our first taste of summer that day. Now “banana squash” make an appearance on the table several times a week. I laugh aloud to think of how they came unbidden to my garden and now are taking it over.

I've been trying to learn, lately, to trust the universe to keep bringing me the abundance I need. The banana squash and Summer Strings are evidence that my trust is well-placed. This concert and our festival could not have come to be without the volunteer energy of many people. Christ Episcopal Church's community offered us the space. The players all volunteered their time and careful attention to detail. Many of them drove long distances repeatedly—a sign of commitment if there ever was one. Significant donations from the Music as Meditation listeners made tuning the piano, posters, and programs possible. Help from Ken Turley and Bill Marvel made the picnic timely and fun. All this to bring to fruition music that itself arrives in composer's ears in a mysterious fashion, volunteering itself for our joy.

I don't know what is behind the mystery of this abundance. Why is this particular strain of zucchini so sweet and prolific? Why is that particular musical phrase so compelling and satisfying? I only know I am grateful to be part of this stream of abundance—and I know that the fruits of our time and attention are meant to be shared. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Preparing for Summer Strings


I've been hanging posters this week and proofreading press releases. Today I went to the church to play the piano. Rehearsals are scheduled and the players have their music. Here is the poster and press release. Please help spread the word. I hope to see you there.
-Ellen

Summer Strings: a String Orchestra Festival Featuring New Music

The sound of vibrating strings will fill Christ Episcopal Church on Sunday, August 6. The event is Summer Strings—a new music festival featuring a string orchestra and piano. The players are accomplished musicians from around the region. Four composers have written the music. Bozena O'Brien, violin, and Ellen Schwindt, piano, are soloists. This is an extravagant approach to Music as Meditation.

The music ranges from light-hearted to grand. Ken Turley, of Bridgton, Maine, wrote a suite for string orchestra called “Un Diner Leger” (A Light Dinner). Despite its levity you may just leave the concert humming its satisfying tunes. The last movement in the suite is called “A Confection” and deserves its sweet name.

Larry Wallach, who comes to Albany every year to lead early music week at World Fellowship Center, wrote a prelude and fugue for string orchestra. It looks backward in time with some early music styles of writing, but includes some delicious modern harmonies.

Ralph Farris, who appears occasionally at Christ Church when he is in town visiting his mother, wrote a piece called Three Mirrors that turns on harmonics and repeated patterns—as if the light between the mirrors might bounce back and forth forever.

Ellen Schwindt, organizer of the festival, wrote a double concerto for violin, piano, and string orchestra called “Music for a Resonant Space.” Bozena O'Brien will play the solo violin part, and Schwindt will play the solo piano part and lead the piece from the piano bench. The music depends on tones produced indirectly; not tones produced by the piano's hammers hitting strings, or by bows pulled across the violin's strings, but by sympathetic vibrations from the interactions of directly produced tones. The performance at Christ Church will be the world premiere of the piece. A Pastorale and Allegro for strings by Schwindt rounds out the program. This piece speaks to minimalist forms while maintaining a driving rhythm throughout.

The festival runs from August 4 to August 6 and includes a potluck picnic for listeners and players on Saturday, August 5, at noon. To participate in the picnic, R.S.V.P. to Ellen at ellen.m.schwindt@gmail.com. Summer Strings is part of the Music as Meditation series hosted by Christ Church and led by Ellen Schwindt. The concert is free, but attenders may make donations for the extra costs incurred by the festival, either on my blog or after the concert.  

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Summer Strings in a Gift Economy

or 

How my creative work is and isn't undertaken in the commercial sphere


For the last six months or so, I've been talking about my interest in "gift economies." I think I started down this path when my husband finally convinced me to do something about a dormant retirement account I had that was left-over from a school where I worked a long time ago. I'd always chosen the social justice box on the re-investment paperwork when it came in the mail, and consequently a little less money was sitting in the account than had been there before the 2008 crash, and well, I didn't really pay that much attention to it. When my husband and I talked about it, I just said "I don't want to buy bombs." 

So finally, when I turned 50, I realized that retirement money was actually a concern that might need some attention. So I went to see a financial adviser who works for Thrivent Financial with the stated goal of finding a way for my little tiny retirement account to grow that didn't entail buying bombs. 

The bad news is that I didn't succeed. Even the very honest and very clear financial adviser working for an avowedly "Christian" company couldn't sell me an investment that would make money and keep entirely clear of the defense industry. This adviser did point out to me that because I had very little invested, with clear management, I could buy very few bombs and little more of slightly more palatable end-results with my investment dollars. It was not a very satisfying outcome for my conscience, even if it did come with something we moderns might call better financial security.

My adviser, who really knows her work well, asked me all sorts of other salient questions--such as how much money did I think I would need to retire, when did I want to retire, and how much money do I spend to keep myself alive now? In other words, she started me on a project the telos of which I cannot even see, much less fathom. I am deeply grateful for this nudge.

Then I ran across a short film based on a book by Charles Eisenstein: Sacred Economics: Short Film. I was fascinated by the ideas in the film, and ordered the book and read it all fairly quickly. It made me want to wake up one day and find myself in a fully realized gift economy where I could contribute my gifts and be supported with what I need. Like everyone else, however, I still wake up in this real world we inhabit with gas pumps distributing subsidized, carbon-producing fossil fuels, and decisions about what is possible always created by consulting the balance sheet so many of us keep in our heads all the time. 

When I analyzed my own life, I could easily see what I want to contribute. I found my calling in teaching, performing, and creating music in my mid-thirties, and I can't imagine my life not being centered around music-making. Luckily, I teach for a school that pays me a salary which takes care of my basic needs, even if that salary doesn't really provide for retirement savings, or much in the way of funds for travel or producing my music. I think it makes sense that I get paid to teach music because I have invested a lot of time and energy in learning how to play, learning how to make music, and learning how to teach it. I know that what I offer as a music teacher has value, and asking students or their parents to pay me seems correct. 

When it comes to creating, though, it's much harder for me to figure out how to ask for pay. I write classical music. I don't consider what might or might not be popular or "marketable" when I write--I just write the music I want to write. I am lucky in finding friends to play my music. I do like to write with a particular person, and usually a particular performance, in mind. I don't want to put up any barriers to other musicians playing my music--in fact one of my pieces was performed in Tallinn, Estonia, earlier this year because a musician found it on the International Music Score Library Project webpage. 

Producing concerts often requires some money. From paying the piano tuner to contributing some money to people who manage the space, it's often necessary to have some cash. Then there's the time involved. I often think how much more I could produce if I regularly had a couple of days each week to devote to composition and publishing. I am fortunate to have one dedicated day each week, but it never seems enough--and often my teaching responsibilities fill that day and my other free time as well. I would like to make some changes in my life-work balance that would give me more time for creating and producing my music.

The good news is that I am much more aware, nowadays, how thoughts about money and its power seep into everything I do. Being aware of this seepage, I hope I am doing what I can to take the power away from money and put it into what is more real to me--community. 

Summer Strings is a project I'm undertaking this summer. It is a new music festival that will take place over three days in August in North Conway, New Hampshire. It will involve 12-16 players, all of whom are playing for free. The works of four composers will be included in the program. I have a donated space to use--Christ Episcopal Church for the rehearsals and the concert. I will still need to pay the piano tuner and I would like to offer players travelling from far away a mileage stipend. 

Summer Strings is also an experiment in community funding. I've decided to ask for monetary help from people who get something out of my music. If you've read all the way to the bottom of this page, you must be a little interested in economics. You will see a link at the right of this page to a simple appeal for the project Summer Strings. If donating money to this cause seems right to you, please do. If you can find another way to help the universe along, please do that. 

I feel like signing this blog, so I will:

In a sharing spirit,
-Ellen





Sunday, June 25, 2017

Two Chances to attend Music as Meditation
Sunday, July 2 ~ 5 PM at Christ Church in North Conway, NH
Sunday, July 9 ~ 4 PM, Medallion Opera House in Gorham, NH

More than a year ago, I began Music as Meditation as a way to share my new music and satisfy my craving for the experience of a shared meditative spirit. The idea is to present music with its connection to human hearts in mind. I play musical selections in groups that flow, setting the stage for contemplation. I intersperse familiar piano literature, contemporary pieces, and my own new compositions with improvisations on piano, violin, and viola. Scheduled on the first Sunday of each Month and generously hosted by  Christ Church in North Conway, Music as Meditation has been well received and has begun to attract a regular audience.

Most of you know that I make some of my living by teaching music at Mountain Top Music Center in Conway. Sometime during the flurry of end-of-school-year recitals and concerts, Susan Ferre of Berlin, NH contacted me to ask if I would bring a Music for Meditation program to Gorham, NH. The Medallion Opera House had recently acquired a grand piano and was looking for piano programs to present. So on Sunday, July 9, I will bring Music as Meditation to Gorham. I'm grateful to share this form of music-making with a wider audience.


This month, I've been preparing an allegro and adagio from a Haydn Sonata and a Romance by Germaine Tailleferre. What these two pieces have in common are beautiful harmonies and very planned, proportional structure. They are completely different in style but both depend on the pianist's ear being attuned to two musical lines happening simultaneously. I can't seem to stop playing Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata so I will be including that gem as well. The thread that connects all this is careful listening. It's easy in piano playing—as in life—to go about the business of sounding notes and “getting through” the structure of piece of music (or a day's schedule) while thinking of just about everything else. The trick to making great art and to living well just may be the same trick—to pay attention to what is actually going on around us as much of the time as possible.

All that is not to say that a composer's life lacks long-term planning. At this Month's Music as Meditation, I will be sharing more themes from my forthcoming double concerto titled Music for a Resonant Space and tunes and rhythmic improvisations from a set of Hymns and Dances I'm writing for viola and strings. Stay tuned to this space for more information on the two-state tour of those pieces—scheduled for August 6 in New Hampshire and for September 9th in Kansas.


Music for Meditation is free of admission. In Gorham, donations to support the creation of more music will be gratefully accepted at the door. These donations will support Music in the Great North Woods, The Medallion Opera House, and Ellen's work in equal amounts. If you would like to support my work, please use the paypal button on this site to make a donation. I am grateful for all sorts of help in bringing music to life. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

 The Composers' Consortium's
Baltimore Endeavor

Later this month I will have the delight of immersing myself in music in a city I used to call home. Last fall I received an advertisement from one of my teacher organizations about a conference--in Baltimore, where I lived for 12 years. Since I had recently published some of my music in booklet format and I wanted to get the word out about the Composers' Consortium Press, I decided to attend. 

Between conference sessions, I plan to hand out sheet music published by the Composers' Consortium Press. The line I've rehearsed for music teachers interested in the music is "The first one is free, please pay what you want to for the second one." I hope to meet some musicians who will take my music home, play it themselves or teach it to their students, and bring into reality the music I made the effort to write down. 

But I am not quite "zen" enough to be content with the incorporeal hope in my music being played somewhere, sometime, in a place unknown to me, and without the possibility of my being able to hear it--so I also decided to plan a concert. Here's the postcard I designed, with the help of my resident calligrapher, to advertise it. You can get tickets here: 


I contacted a friend of mine: Samira Phillips. We taught science together many years ago at a private school in Baltimore.  At our school people often confused the two of us--we were both young women who taught science, we both played both violin and piano, we both had long-ish dark hair (not anymore!) and dressed in a similar manner. Now we are going to play music together. Samira happily agreed to help me share my Sonatina in F for piano and violin. She's also going to play my Method-Book Miniatures, a set of tiny pieces harking back to John Thompson's Book "Teaching Little Fingers to Play." Here's a picture with the cover illustration drawn by my wonderfully supportive spouse--William Marvel. 

Samira also had ideas about other musicians with whom to collaborate. She introduced me via e-mail to Harriet Katz, a composer who is active in the Baltimore Composers' Forum. Harriet has written a lot of wonderfully expressive music, including an opera about Naomi and Ruth. You can read about her composition and hear some of her music here: Harriet Katz Music

Harriet is contributing two pieces to the concert. One is called Skein of Silk. It's for violin and piano and it weaves together beautiful motifs with some spicy chord clusters. Although the silk in the title lives up to its reputation for smoothness, there are certainly some sparkles in this weaving. Harriet's piece gave me the idea for the title of the concert--as her writing is quite a bit like mine. The themes in my piece Labyrinth and Nine-Fold Canon are similar in emotional content, and our ways of writing compliment each other. I found it fascinating that two people completely unaware of each other could write such similar music simply by swimming in a similar cultural sea. 

My friend and colleague George Wiese is making the trek down to Baltimore for the concert. He is a graduate of Peabody Conservatory and is now making the world safe for participatory music in rural Conway, New Hampshire, my hometown for these past fifteen years. George will play piano in  Labyrinth with me and his childhood friend and clarinetist Jim Livengood. I'll be playing viola on that piece. He'll also play Cycles for Trombone and Piano, which I wrote last year. You can preview this piece here via YouTube. The third movement is a meditation undertaken at the piano on the night of the terrorist attacks in Paris in November of 2015. I find this kind of music bubbling up in me when I need a calm place for contemplating my next action in this unsettled world.

Harriet, on hearing about George's participation, promptly wrote a piece called Companions for Trombone and Cello. She also introduced us to Brian Smith, another mid-Atlantic-based composer whose contribution to the concert is a Jazz piece for piano, cello, and percussion. How is that for a weaving of music, people, connections, and ideas? Please contact me for more information: ellen.m.schwindt@gmail.com or look in on my Facebook page: Ellen Schwindt. 






Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Music as Meditation

Music as Meditation 

Sunday, March 5, 2017 at Christ Church in North Conway, NH

Did you ever feel the need to step into a space where words are few and far between? Music as Meditation is a monthly concert designed to facilitate reflection. There may be some speaking at the beginning and there is usually a written program, but once the music starts, it continues, with spaces of silence in between the pieces. The gathering offers listeners a chance for reflection and musicians a chance to share music. 

For me, music often acts as a balm to a heart sore from living in our modern world. The act of meditating frequently takes the form of playing music--for my own quietude and as a way to get in touch with what some Eastern religions might call the source. Music as Meditation is my attempt to share this spirit with listeners.

If you are a regular at Music as Meditation, you might note how often I use nature pictures to advertise the event. My reason for that  is that the experience of playing music I "hear" from the ether resembles, for me, the experience of walking through the words, or working in my garden. It is restorative, perhaps because it helps me really understand my time-limited and small place in the universe; it helps me stay in the present moment.

This picture above helped me to think about the what Charles Eisenstein calls "The Law of Return." Though I don't think I can say that I am always at peace when I think of this law and how it affects me and the people I love, looking at Birch Trees with peeling bark and lots of epiphytes helps me approach peaceful contemplation of returning.

The music in this month's Meditation follows this kind of theme. It is cyclical, but ever-changing. I will play another installment in my quest to learn all of Edward McDowell's First Modern Suite (opus 10). I'll also play a selection from my new friend Harriet Katz called Skein of Silk. Doris Henney will join me in this work. I'll be playing the same piece at a concert in Baltimore later this month--an endeavor I find just as important to my current self as Music as Meditation.


Some of the music this month comes from my concert schedule on April 29th called Hearing Color; Seeing Sound. I've been having a great time living with a painting by Stephen Kull, pictured above. I see new colors and think of new ideas every time I see this painting. My friend and colleague Mike Sakash is going to take a turn at babysitting this painting next to see what kind of music it stirs up in him. We will both be sharing our results at Fryeburg Academy on April 29th. Watch this spot for a blog about this show when it is a little closer in time.

Music as Meditation takes place on first Sundays of each month at Christ Episcopal Church on the corner of Pine and Main Streets in North Conway. Free admission. Call 447-2898 or e-mail me at ellen.m.schwindt@gmail.com for more information. The event is free. I hope to share the reflection time with you.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Planning for

The Comic and The Divine


     This weekend holds an enormous glut of music activities ranging from the hilarious to the transcendent. Perhaps those two charachteristic exist within the same piece! 

    On Friday at noon,  my school offers a Jokes Concert at our new building. you can read all about it below. It's been delightful to get to work with five very different pianists in my community. We're playing music that runs the gambit of human experience. The most sure thing about the program is that it will bring laughter to all who attend, musicians and listeners alike. 


     On Saturday, after the experiencing the joy of lots of elementary and middle school students playing in state-wide orchestras, I'll head to Mountain Top Music's 24 hours of Music event to kick off the Composers' Carnival. That event brings together composers and players for a lightening-fast creative experience. Composers find out who they are writing for at 6 PM on Saturday. They hand in their scores and parts at 6:00 AM Sunday morning. Rehearsals begin at 9:30 and the pieces are premiered at noon on Sunday.

    But even that is not all, the weekend concludes with a Music as Meditation event at 5:00 PM on Sunday, April 3, at Christ Church in North Conway. This time, Natalia Shevchuk, Nancy Farris and I are offering our music. Though the spirit of the weekend may change the program on Sunday, Natalia is planning to play Prokofiev and Schubert. Nancy and I will play a Poulenc Sonata for four-hands. I will improvise on some of the themes that come up from the Composers' Conference. I hope to share some laughter and some joy with you!