Member Feature : Assistant Conductor, Nolan N. Dresden

Nolan N. Dresden is the Assistant Conductor of The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps Symphonic Band. His music background is extensive and fueled by a wide range of instruments from the piano, to the french horn to the Contra Bass Clarinet. All leading to his passion for conducting. On April 11th Nolan will be conducting the band in Frank Ticheli’s Rest and Meredith Wilson’s Seventy-Six Trombones

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LGBAC: Let’s start with the basics, what are your vitals?

Nolan: Nolan (given by my Irish grandmother)
Nicholas (given by my older brother who was obsessed with “Eight is Enough”).
Dresden (given by my father…because it’s his last name), 34 years young.

I am a Taurus/Gemini cusp, with my rising in Capricorn and my moon in Leo…don’t be afraid…

L: Tell us a bit about yourself.. Where are you from, where did you grow up?

N: Born and raised in Dixon, Illinois, which is about an hour and a half outside Chicago. I moved to La Crosse, WI for school and I graduated with my BFA in Theater and Opera with a minor in Conducting. My first gig was in the very rural Door County, where I played piano and was a Bing Crosby impersonator…I was actually not too bad.

I then moved to Chicago proper for three years, where I acted and music directed at a few different theaters there. I moved to New York in 2006, took a brief hiatus to China and Hong Kong for 6 months and have been here since conducting and still singing at a few different churches in NYC.

L: What is you’re primary instrument and do you play anything else?

N: This is a tricky question. I started on piano when I was eight years old, and still play today. But I wish I would have kept up on lessons later in life. When I was a church choir director in college, I also took organ lessons from our resident organist. Now, I find myself to be a slightly more comfortable on organ than piano.

The following year, fourth grade, I started playing French horn and played through my freshman year of college. The only reason I stopped is because I injured/strained a group of muscles in my face and wasn’t able to play again. While I was studying, I had the chance to take a lesson with Dale Clevenger, the principle horn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I even was invited to sit on stage with them for their final run through of Brahms’ Symphony No. 4.

In college, I came to Contra Bass Clarinet out of necessity when we needed a contra bassoon part covered for a concert and didn’t have enough bassoonists. It’s fun to play. It literally rattles the floorboards

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L: How did you first find out about the band and when did you join?

N: I was recommended to the band by my therapist (I’m not ashamed) in 2008, and I joined in January of 2009. My first concert was at Carnegie Hall. We played part of our program called Gods and Monsters. That night is when I made my first close friends in the band.

L: What brought you from playing to conducting?

N: I always dabbled in conducting while I was in school. Then I was the resident Music Director for a theater company, and I really enjoyed it. The final turning point was my last full time gig in Hong Kong, when I realized I didn’t like performing all that much. I feel more at home and more valuable to an ensemble when I’m taking the reigns…some might call that “having control issues”.

L: What is your relationship to music (how did you find it ? did it find you?)

N: I was fascinated by my music teacher in elementary school Mrs. Labarre. I would go into her classroom before and after school and just stand at the end of the piano completely enraptured with her playing. That started it.

What sealed the deal was my freshman year, when I was sitting number 15 out of 16 horn players in our all district band and we were playing Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral (which has followed me for years) and hearing that horn line rip through that piece bells up at the top of their lungs brought me to tears. I knew at that moment that I could never not be a musician.

L: What has been your personal greatest achievement?

N: I think being invited to audition at Juilliard last year is definitely at the top of the list. Granted, I didn’t get in, but knowing that I was one of only nine they selected to see from hundreds of submissions felt pretty good. Also, having Alan Gilbert tell me,”you had some of the most impressive pre-screening materials submitted” was pretty amazing.

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L: During rehearsal you gave a very moving talk and interpretation about Frank Ticheli’s Rest, its relationship to you and the bands journey. Care to rehash that a bit?

N: I joined the band exactly six years from this concert cycles first rehearsal. I fell in love with the group pretty quickly, and decided that I needed to be more involved. The following season was the bands 30th year anniversary. In honor of this percussionist Leslie Becker showed a video that she had edited about the history of the band and there was a section devoted to the members who had passed over the years. Some of them during/from the AIDS crisis and some not. But they are all a part of the rich history of the group. More importantly, I think the LGBTQ community is uniquely a rich part of the history of NYC.

I was introduced to the vocal arrangement of Rest by Frank Ticheli called There Will be Rest last fall. It is based off of a Sarah Teasdale poem by the same name. I just found it to be really moving. It had been commissioned by a family who lost their young son very suddenly and very tragically. I don’t know, it just spoke to me.

I started poking around Ticheli’s website and saw that there was also an instrumental version, which I like better. I think it’s important for all of us, young and old, to remember our history and to learn and grow from it. Therefore, I am directing this piece in honor of that history, and to the members that have graced this group with their presence at one time or another.

L: How gay are you? On a scale of whatever you want.

N: When I was in high school, every Saturday morning I would make French toast from scratch and watch the musical numbers of Victor Victoria before going to my piano lesson…how’s that???

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Alex Shapiro : Paper Cut, Part II

This season Paper Cut composer Alex Shapiro attended one of The Lesbian & Gay Big Corp’s rehearsals. Afterward she sat down with Artistic Director and Conductor Kelly Watkins and indulged us on where her inspiration comes from, and how she came to composing. Paper Cut will be played in the first half of the April 11th 2015 concert New York State of Mind.

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Kelly Watkins: First of all, thank you very much for coming. It makes such a huge difference to have the composers available to meet the band. Even if you don’t have monumental questions that need to be answered about the piece, there’s a connection that happens.

Alex Shapiro: I think the connection is knowing that the notes on the page on your music desk come from this human being. No matter how weird the human being might be, or what bizarre sense of humor they might have, the notes come from someone. When I visit, the notes suddenly come off the page and their context is more identifiable to the musicians. I feel this way with every band I visit, but I particularly love it with an adult band because we’re on the same plane of existence. Our points of reference and life experience are so similar, that’s why it’s particularly enjoyable with a band like this. It’s really great.

KW: I can definitely see a change in the band. Everyone’s eyes go wide in a look that says,  “Oh, I get it now.” or “Oh, that makes more sense.” Even when you say some of the things I’ve already said…

AS: Well you know, it’s sort of like a parent can say something a million times, but when a stranger says it, suddenly its like “Oh! Ok!” as if the kid had never heard it before.

KW: So where do you find inspiration for composing?

AS: I live in a really beautiful place called San Juan Island, floating off the upper left hand corner of the United States. We’re right on the Canadian water border off of Vancouver Island, and it’s incredibly rural. Nature is my inspiration, even though it’s not necessarily evident in this particular piece. It’s the irregular rhythms of nature and the behavior of nature that has a huge effect on me and the way that I hear. In a lot of my other works you can sense this a little more readily, in mixed meters and in the flow of things. It permeates every part of my life.  When I sit at my desk looking at other islands, gazing out 125 miles away at Mt. Rainier, or the Cascades, the Olympics, or at whales jumping up in front of me out of the sea and eagles flying by with hapless little animals in their talons, it’s an amazing sensory overload. I think that music is the best way to express some of that.

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KW: We discussed briefly the connection you have with music and how personal it is to you. Do you feel like you were always drawn to music?

AS: I was. I started writing when I was nine. I asked my parents for piano lessons when I was 10. I always knew I wasn’t going to be a pianist but it’s always good to learn an instrument. When I was 15 I took my first formal composition lessons at Mannes College with Leo Edwards and that’s when I knew for sure that I was going to be a composer. Then I had my first paid commission when I was 16.

KW: That’s incredible!

AS: Well, hopefully the music has gotten better since I was 16!

KW: I’m sure it’s been changing a lot with life.

AS: It’s changing with facility too. I had never even been to a wind band concert till 2008, nor had I ever touched a euphonium…I couldn’t tell you what a euphonium was! I had no life experience; my high school didn’t have a band.

KW: So you didn’t have exposure to it.

AS: Right. I had been writing chamber music. Previously I had done a lot of film and TV but when I switched over to concert music, it was all chamber music because that was what I knew and loved. When the U.S. Army Band contacted me out of the blue in 2008 asking me to write a wind band piece for them, I was very honest and made it really clear to them that I didn’t know what I was doing and they said, ‘That’s fine. That’s why we want you’, which is the best thing in the world to ever say to an artist.

KW: So have you always been intrigued by electroacoustic music?

AS: Always. I started when I was 15.

KW: I feel like some people are kind of scared of it. There’s a certain amount that’s not in your control in there…

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AS: Actually, it’s sort of the ultimate instrument for a control freak in a sense because it’s going to play back the same way every single time. As opposed to the variables of a band, where who knows what’s going to happen. But then mixing the two together, that’s a big variable. There aren’t a lot of pieces that do that, and now, I’ve composed about eight of them. I love writing them and I’m doing two more later this year. I love electroacoustic band music. It makes what is already a huge palette from the wind band, become an enormous palette. Just massive. For me, coming from chamber music to when I discovered the band world, well, the first time I heard the Army play the piece they commissioned, Homecoming, I almost fell off my chair because I had never been hit with that much sound of my own work before. I loved it! And you know, from being in the Coast Guard Band, the musicianship is so great. How about you, are you focusing more and more on conducting?

KW: I’m getting into it more and more. I’ve been in the Coast Guard Band 12 years now. I love playing, but I didn’t always know I wanted to be a musician. I played trumpet and ended up being good at it, so then I went with it. Conducting is another animal. It has opened me up so much more as a musician to hearing differently and to being more vulnerable. I really love being able stand in front of people trying to figure out how to make it all connect. It’s challenging because people have to be willing to do that. People have to be willing to be vulnerable and open up and look you in the eyes. I think what attracted me to conducting was chamber music. I love brass quintet playing because it is so personal and you have to be so connected to each other and the audience. I love trying to bring that to the larger group.

AS: One of the things that has always blown me away coming from the orchestra and chamber music side of things, is that I never realized before just how hard it is, if not harder, to be a band director than an orchestral conductor. The reason is that every band has a different number of people. You never know, band-to-band, how many clarinets you’re going to have, how many this or how many that.

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Composer Alex Shapiro and Conductor Kelly Watkins

KW: We have 18 flutes, something crazy like that.

A: It’s unbelievable. For instance Homecoming was written for a small band of about 48 players. I remember going to rehearsal at a university and I saw 70 people on stage and figured they were going to rehearse somebody else’s piece before they got to mine. Suddenly the downbeat came and they started playing my piece, and I’m thinking (and this is when I was a newbie in the band world), ok…how did they figure out all these parts? How did they figure out the balance? It wasn’t written for this large a group. But it worked fine. I realized the reason is because of the talent of the person on the podium to, on the spot, understand the balances and the dynamics and to then adjust them based on the specific group. It blew my mind, and my respect for band directors just went through the roof.

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Follow this site, and stay tuned for more news and stories about the LGBAC’s April 11, 2015 concert, New York State of Mind. Tickets for the concert are on sale here

Profile in Leadership : Edie Windsor

The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps is honored to be presenting Edie Windsor with the Profile in Leadership Award at our spring concert on Saturday, April 11, 2015. 

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The case of United States v Windsor is arguably the most influential legal precedent in the struggle for LGBT marriage equality. In its landmark 2013 ruling in Windsor, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which by its terms had excluded gay couples from all the benefits and protections of marriage under federal law. At the heart of Windsor is the principle that gay people have dignity, and that the Constitution mandates that this dignity be respected equally under the law.  Since Windsor, more than forty federal district court opinions and four circuit courts have held that the U.S. Constitution requires that gay people be allowed to marry. This remarkable degree of consensus is no coincidence – it is based the logic and language of Windsor itself.

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Breaking boundaries is a common theme in Edie Windsor’s life. Beginning in 1956, she spent two decades working with mainframe computers, first as a research assistant at NYU and then, starting in 1958, at IBM where she attained the highest technical rank. She won a competitive IBM scholarship and in 1987 was honored by the National Computing Conference as a Pioneer in Operating systems.

Windsor was in the trenches and in the leadership of so many LGBT organizations in the past 30 years that the scope of her meaningful work has touched East End Gay Organizations, the LGBT Community Center, and Team New York at the Gay Games in NYC in 1994.

Windsor’s 42-year long engagement and finally, marriage to Dr. Thea Spyer is honored by the 2009 documentary Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement.  Edie traveled extensively with the film in the United States and in Europe, using the Q & A to advocate coming out, for marriage equality, and for the joy in commitment.

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Many band members have been personally affected and lives profoundly changed by Edie’s achievements and we are thrilled to share the stage with such a prominent figure in LGBT history.

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Follow this site, and stay tuned for more news and stories about the LGBAC’s April 11, 2015 concert, New York State of Mind. Tickets for the concert are on sale here

All ‘Bout That Host

The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps is proud to have Brian Silva as the host for the April 11th concert, New York State of Mind.

Brian Silva serves as the Executive Director of Marriage Equality USA (MEUSA), the nation’s oldest organization dedicated solely to achieving civil marriage equality in every state and at the federal level. With over 40,000 members and volunteer leaders in all 50 states, it is the largest grassroots organization of its kind engaged in education, organizing, advocacy and coalition-building to win equal rights and protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) families and their children.

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Brian Silva

Prior to joining MEUSA, Brian served in a variety of leadership positions with Marriage Equality New York (MENY), including as Executive Director, where he co-led the successful New Yorkers United for Marriage campaign to win marriage in 2011.

Under Brian’s leadership, MEUSA has expanded its grassroots education and advocacy work into communities across the United States. During this time MEUSA has helped lead 12 field campaigns that brought marriage equality to nine additional states via the nationally recognized National Equality Action Team (NEAT) coalition. In addition, MEUSA co-led the United for Marriage Coalition events in Washington D.C. and around the country for the Supreme Court hearings and Decision Day for the 2013 United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry cases.

Brian has spoken and been published in numerous venues and received multiple awards for his work both in and outside of LGBTQ equality.  Prior to moving to New York, Brian worked as a high school teacher and technology coordinator in Southern California, as well as an emergency manager in New York City. He holds a Bachelors degree in Government from the University of Redlands and a Masters in Public Administration from Metropolitan College of New York.

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Follow this site, and stay tuned for more news and stories about the LGBAC’s April 11, 2015 concert, New York State of Mind. Tickets for the concert are on sale here

Featured Artist : Randy Graff

The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps Symphonic Band is thrilled to announce Tony Award winning actress Randy Graff as the featured guest vocalist in our 2015 spring concert New York State Of Mind.
Randy Graff received the coveted Tony and Drama Desk Awards for her role in City of Angels, as well as Outer Critics, Drama Desk and Tony Award Nominations for her work in A Class Act.
Randy Graff
         Randy Graff
Ms. Graff has the distinction of creating the role of Fantine in the original Broadway production of Les Miserables for which she received a Helen Hayes Award nomination.  She also appeared on Broadway in Neil Simon’s Laughter on the 23rd Floor opposite Nathan Lane, with Carol Burnett in Moon Over Buffalo, and opposite Alfred Molina in the most-recent revival of Fiddler on the Roof.
From the tragic and poignant Fantine, to the tart-tongued Hollywood secretary with a heart of gold, to the strong-willed Jewish mother, Ms.Graff is one of the most versatile actresses there is.
Additionally,her solo cabaret show Made in Brooklyn  has played to sold out houses at NYC’s famed 54 Below Night Club.
Don’t miss her performance with LGBAC on  Saturday, April 11 at 8:00pm at Symphony Space.
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Follow this site, and stay tuned for more news and stories about the LGBAC’s April 11, 2015 concert, New York State of Mind. Tickets for the concert are on sale here

Member Feature : Concertmaster Fran Novak

Fran Novak is a fabulously talented clarinet player, an 8+ year member and concertmaster of The Lesbian & Gay Big Apple Corps. Yet he manages to balance his band responsibilities with having his own practice as a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst. Fran’s contribution to the band as concertmaster is invaluable, keeping the band in sync and in tune is no easy task.

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LGBAC: Let’s start with the basics, what are your vitals?

Fran Novak: Francis (Fran) Novak, 34 years old, born 09/06/80, Virgo.

L: What is you’re primary instrument and do you play anything else?

F: My primary instrument is clarinet, and I also play and double on flute/piccolo, and saxophone.

L: Tell us a bit about yourself.. Where are you from, where did you grow up?

F: I grew up in Pittsburgh and went to the University of Michigan where I double majored in clarinet performance and psychology. I first started working in the field of social work and clinical psychology during my studies at Michigan and worked part-time with children at a domestic violence shelter. Simultaneously and after A LOT of practicing I eventually had the privilege of playing principal clarinet with the University Symphony Orchestra and the Symphony Band. After graduating from Michigan in 2003 I moved to NYC and took a year off to explore and consider what I wanted to study for graduate school as I continued to work in and pursue both of my fields. I realized that with a graduate degree in music or not, I can always still grow, audition and perform as a musician and applied to graduate school in social work and clinical psychology. I received a scholarship to NYU and graduated with my MSW in 2006.

L: What is your day job?

F: I am a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice and have an office in the flatiron district. After NYU, I pursued post-graduate training in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy and graduated from the Manhattan Institute for Psychoanalysis. I have a diverse and eclectic practice and specialize in psychoanalytic work, and work with LGBT individuals and couples. Lately, I love everything Brené Brown has to say about the power of vulnerability and recommend all queer people in the world read “The Velvet Rage” by Alan Downs – serious life changing and life affirming stuff.

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L: How did you first find out about the band and when did you join?

F: I first heard the band in performance when I moved to the city in 2003. It wasn’t until my last semester of graduate school, in Jan 2006, that I was ready to join and reincorporate music and performance back into my life. Doing an intensive 2-year residency program in clinical social work pretty much eliminated any time or energy for clarinet. Although some dust collected during grad school I knew I would get back in the saddle as a performer and set the stage upon graduation for what has been a magical and long tenure as Concertmaster of the band.

L: How did you became concertmaster and what are the responsibilities involved?

F: At my first rehearsals I met some of the most friendly and welcoming people in my life. Little did I know I would be meeting people who would become my closest friends, become part of a family and movement of equality through music. That first season I was asked to play first clarinet and was happy to share my background and experience as a clarinetist. By the following season I was happy to accept my nomination as Concertmaster. The duties mainly entail helping to keep the clarinet section (usually the largest section) and the band together – meaning you have to be intricately and symbiotically linked at all times with the conductor, and of course play your own part flawlessly at the same time. Not always the easiest job but I love the challenge. I also take care of tuning the band and other ensemble related matters. There is a special honor to walking on stage, especially when we have performed at Carnegie Hall, Symphony Space and Avery Fisher, to tune the band at the start of a concert.

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L: What is your relationship to music (how did you find it ? did it find you?)

F: Music and I found each other in the 3rd grade. I was lucky enough to be born in a school district that valued and fostered music education and I was exposed to and had the opportunity to play any instrument (strings, winds and percussion). I honestly gravitated to and picked the clarinet because I liked that it was black and white – I liked the design of it. I must’ve been inherently pretty good as I was placed by our director to higher chairs which was such a vital source of self esteem for little and impressionable me. I wasn’t as athletic back then as I am now so music was not only a source of self esteem, but my salvation. Still very much is.

L: What has been your personal greatest achievement?

F: This is a tough one. Touring China with the Manhattan Symphony was very special, getting my graduate degree, launching into full time private practice, and marching in Obama’s second inaugural parade with LGBA have been highlights of my life. Overall, I’d have to say that managing two professions and contributing to the world both as a therapist and a musician has been my greatest achievement.

L: If you could describe yourself as a frozen yogurt flavor what would it be?

F: Haha! Anyone who knows me well knows that I do love all things chocolate. Rich and sweet all the way.