Carolyn O'Brien

Show and Tell: Wintery Spring Tour 2014

The week before we started this tour, we named it "Operation Enduring Patience" but luckily, it turned out to be a pleasant (but cold) tour!

February 28-March 8

Greater Rochester International Airport on Feb 28th.

Greater Rochester International Airport on Feb 28th.

Meerenai flew into Rochester so that we could rehearse before hitting the road for our concerts during Chris’ spring break. We worked on putting together Sol Moon Rocker, a new piece by Zack Browning. We also had a great coaching with composer Ivan Trevino on his piece Things We Dream About:

After our coaching with Ivan Trevino.

After our coaching with Ivan Trevino.

We feared that this tour would become "Operation Enduring Patience" when we started having technical problems (again) with our midi pedals and the Max/MSP patch for Ian Dicke's piece, Isla. Luckily, with some hardware changes and some tweaking of the Max patch by Ian, we were able to get it to work again! Honestly, this piece has been really difficult to put together because the pedaling and playing is really tricky. Since we both have other pedals (Chris has the vibraphone pedal and Meerenai has her bluetooth pedal that turns pages on her iPad) and we are using midi "pedal" devices that aren't the easiest to work with, this piece takes a lot of time and patience to rehearse. We spent most of our rehearsal time for this piece trying to get the Max patch and pedals to work together. Despite the technical difficulties, we continue to perform this piece over and over again because it's an outstanding composition and it's one of our favorites. We can't thank Ian enough for his many (MANY!!) adjustments to his Max patch for our unconventional midi device setup. Thank you Ian Dicke!!

Chris' many pedals for the Kent and Oberlin shows.

Chris' many pedals for the Kent and Oberlin shows.

We also got a really great write up in Cleveland Classical about our two shows in Ohio. Many thanks to Mike Telin for a great preview!

Sunday, March 9

Drove from Rochester to Medina, OH to stay with Meerenai’s friend, flutist Kelly Wilson (and family), for our few days in Ohio.

During our downtime at Kelly's place, Meerenai entertained herself with a toy that Kelly's kids generously shared with her:

Monday, March 10

Woke up early to get to Kent State University to load in all our instruments and get set up for student composition readings. We read about 10 compositions from Kent State students. The writing styles and length of pieces were varied. We were particularly honored to have read the first official composition written by one of the students. Reading new compositions can be sort of scary/thrilling but we did our best and had a good time. We always wish that we had more than a few seconds to take a look at the pieces before launching into a reading but we were able to let the composers get an idea of what they wrote and exchange some ideas on notation or sounds.

We had a nice break after the reading to get ready for the evening performance.  The evening performance was well-received and we were satisfied with our performance. Our program for this concert and the next one at the Oberlin Conservatory consisted of:

Echoloquacious by Matthew Joseph Payne
Things We Dream About by Ivan Trevino
Nocturne by Carolyn O’Brien
Isla by Ian Dicke
Limb by Drew Baker
Sol Moon Rocker by Zack Browning (premiered at Kent State!)

We still did most of the heavy lifting (literally and figuratively) for load-in and setup, etc but we felt pampered by the assistance from the Kent State faculty, staff and students. Not only did we get a lot of help in loading instruments in and out, Tony Donofrio hung out with us for dinner, Frank Wiley took us out for drinks after the show, the percussion and composition faculty/students helped us break down out instruments and load out. Most importantly, we had 2.5 hours (such a luxury!) to set up and soundcheck for our concert.

Thank you Tony Donofrio, Frank Wiley, and Kent State University for inviting us! Thanks to everyone who came to our concert.

Tuesday, March 11

We got very lucky with the weather this day and was able to take some new photos outdoors in Cleveland. Many thanks to Yevgen Gulenko of Human Artist Photography for the beautiful photos:

Wednesday, March 12

A day of snowstorms didn’t stop us from presenting a workshop at Kendal at Oberlin called “Making Contemporary Music” organized by Larry and Arlene Dunn. We performed excerpts from Carolyn O’Brien’s Nocturne and Ian Dicke’s Isla and showed off some extended techniques and discussed notation. The participants in the workshop had excellent questions and comments which made it a lively discussion and good time.

(Click on the image below for video:)

Thursday, March 13

We had a relatively short setup and sound check period for the concert at the Oberlin Conservatory but we were able to get it done in 1.5 hours! Every piece on our program, except one, required different amplification or electronics so every piece needs to be sound checked for levels to accommodate different halls and sound systems. We don’t have a dedicated sound person or roadies, so we are doing 99% of the setting up of instruments and equipment before our shows.

With Arlene and Larry Dunn after the concert at Oberlin Conservatory.

With Arlene and Larry Dunn after the concert at Oberlin Conservatory.

The concert at Oberlin went well too but it was a bit more taxing than the one at Kent State because we didn’t have much of a break between sound-check and the performance. A couple margaritas after the show made it all better though. Many thanks to Oberlin flute professor Alexa Still for inviting us!

Friday, March 14

We woke up early to drive to New York in time to catch a performance by Ivan Trevino’s awesome cello-rock band Break of Reality.

Our day off was spent driving 8 hours and catching a friend’s concert. And we wouldn’t change a thing!

Saturday, March 15

While in New York, we split up and stayed with different friends. Although we get along quite well spending almost 24 hours a day together while on tour, it’s good to have a little break from each other too.

Meerenai stayed with a Banglewood friend in Jersey City and continued her tradition of eating as much vegan pizza as possible while in the NYC area. Chris stayed with grad school friends in Brooklyn and caught up with some old friends around the city.

We had another gloriously long load-in and sound check period which started 3 hours before the concert at Spectrum. This time, we had to carry the vibraphone and everything else up a flight of stairs but we did it with plenty of time to spare.

This was our “Happy Hour” show. We planned a program of all LOUD music that can compete with the live music from the bar downstairs.


Flight of the Bleeper Bird by Matthew Joseph Payne
metalStaind by Adam Cuthbért
Rebonds (part A) by Iannis Xenakis
Things We Dream About by Ivan Trevino
Echoloquacious by Matthew Joseph Payne

Here's a video of Adam Cuthbért's metalStaind from this concert:

Sunday, March 16

By this time, we were eager to play our last show of the tour and get back home to our own beds. 

We were particularly thrilled that two of our composers came to this concert (again at Spectrum). Zack Browning and Drew Baker were able to speak about their pieces before we performed them.  It’s always special when the composer is present.  This was the first time that we met Zack in person too.

Photo with Drew Baker after the show (Drew Baker's Instagram photo):

Our program this night:
Sol Moon Rocker by Zack Browning
Nocturne by Carolyn O’Brien
Long Distance by Steven Snowden
Isla by Ian Dicke
Limb by Drew Baker

We even got a great review in The Flute View:

The first piece performed was entitled “Sol Moon Rocker” by composer Zack Browning, and it contained both interpolations of popular rock songs as well as some fun flute and piccolo playing. Next was Carolyn O’Brien’s piece “Nocturne,” which was by far my favorite, as it was written for the strange combination of contrabass flute and djembe. I was unsure of what contrabass flute and djembe would sound like, but Shim and Jones’ unique instruments complimented each other quite well. The high ranges of the contrabass flute and the djembe’s overtones created a multi-layered soundscape of awesomeness.
— The Flute View

We really wanted to check out the New Music Bake Sale that was also happening this day in NYC but we just didn’t have enough time! Chris had to be back at school in Rochester at 7:30am on Monday morning so we drove straight back to Rochester after the Spectrum show. We got back to Rochester at 3am and Chris made it to school on time. Meerenai flew back to sunny California on Monday afternoon.

Can’t wait for more adventures in June 2014!

Carolyn O'Brien

We commissioned the Chicago based composer Carolyn O'Brien to write a piece for us. We will be premiering Nocturne for contrabass flute and djembe in Chicago on December 1, 2013.


Chris met Carolyn in 2011 after a show with Ensemble Dal Niente in Chicago. The two became instant friends over a glass of bourbon, discussing music, life, and the future. A few days later, Chris met with Carolyn for some coffee to discuss a couple of her scores and brainstorm about an idea she had for a percussion solo involving spring coils.

It didn't take much convincing when Chris showed Meerenai some of Carolyn's work. It was, as they say, a "no-brainer". 

We are excited to play her piece, and even more excited for another glass (or two) of bourbon after the premiere!





After a career as a public school orchestra director and freelance violist, Carolyn O’Brien began studies in music composition at San Francisco State University with Carlos Sánchez-Gutiérrez. In 2007, she completed an MA in music theory and composition at University of California at Davis, where her principal teachers were Yu-Hui Chang, Pablo Ortiz and Laurie San Martin. Ms. O’Brien is currently pursuing a doctorate in music composition at Northwestern University with principal teacher Lee Hyla.

Ms. O'Brien's works have been performed by the Left Coast Ensemble, Empyrean Ensemble, Bent Frequency, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), ensemble dal niente, Anubis Quartet, Trio Phonos directed by Harry Sparnaay, and Graeme Jennings among others. She was a chosen fellow for the Music X Festival with ensemble eighth blackbird in 2006 and 2010, the 63rd Annual Composers Conference at Wellesley College in 2007 led by Mario Davidovsky, and granted a fellowship at the MacDowell Colony for the fall of 2013.

Ms. O’Brien has been awarded numerous prizes including second prize in the SCI/ASCAP Student Composition Commission Competition in 2006, the annual call for scores held by Atlanta’s Bent Frequency in 2006, the Libby Larsen Prize in 2007, the Charles Ives Scholarship via the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2009, and the William T. Faricy Award in 2011. Some of her earliest works were commissioned, including two works that premiered at Dance Week with choreographer Lea Wolf in San Francisco in 2000-2002, and the Herb Bielawa Commission Prize in 2003 at San Francisco State University. In 2007-08 she was awarded a commission and position as composer in residence at the San Francisco Community Music Center for the 21st Century Music for The People project through funding provided by the American Composers Forum. In 2008, her commission, Formicary, for piano quartet, was performed at the Society of Composers, Inc./ASCAP National Conference. In 2011, she received three commissions, which yielded Thing Contained, for saxophone quartet commissioned by the Anubis Quartet, Escapement, for flute, oboe and baritone saxophone commissioned by ensemble dal niente in Chicago, and a final commission and job as composer in residence from the Lick Wilmerding High School Orchestra in San Francisco, CA. In July 2012, her work, Coil, Recoil for alto saxophone and viola premiered at the Selmer Studio in Paris, France by Jan Berry Baker and Tania Clements, and at the World Saxophone Congress in St. Andrews, Scotland.

For more information about Carolyn and to see what she's up to visit 


A/B: Any pre/during/post composition rituals?

Carolyn: Yes. Clutter drives me mad, so I obsessively clean my workspace until every surface is a clean slate, before and after I compose a piece.

A/B: Favorite drink after finishing a composition?

Carolyn: Splitting a really fine bottle of wine with my husband.

A/B: Cake or pie?

Carolyn: Oooooh, definitely pie. Pear pie!

A/B: Favorite book?

Carolyn: Kwaidan, by Lafcadio Hearn

A/B: Your first LP, tape, CD, etc. purchase?

Carolyn: A 33LP of Pete Seeger's children's songs: Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes. I hold it so dear, that I just bought it again last year!