So…. Why DID you do it? Or… aren’t you a little old for this? Guest Post by Paige Garwood, ’16

Approximately 2 1/2 years ago, this newly-minted 60-year-old student stood on stage at the Vermont College of Fine Arts to receive his Masters Degree in Music Composition. It was a time of reflection – this was probably the last formal education I would receive. After all, I WAS 60 years old, at a time in life when retirement is considered the norm, not going back to school.

So why DID I go back to school to get a grad degree at the age of 58? There are two reasons that came to mind readily and one more reason which has become the overriding reason. The first reason for me was simple… I was intrigued. I am primarily self-taught as a musician (aside from a 6 month stay at the Armed Forces School of Music). Do I actually know enough to get into a program like this? I had my doubts. The second reason was akin to the first – where do I fit into the musical food chain? I have been a big fish in a series of small ponds my entire life. What would happen when I got into a bigger pond? Can I hang with the cats in Vermont? I have been a musician ever since I can remember, and self-employed as a full-time musician since 2002. What would happen when I got to VCFA?

So glad you asked.

In short, I found out that I could indeed hang with those wunderkinds up there in Vermont. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t even CLOSE to being the big dog on the porch, but at least I was on the porch. That was enough. What WAS surprising was that I didn’t really learn anything new MUSICALLY  – if you are simply talking about notes, music theory, and the like. What DID happen was that I was introduced to the fine art of discovery in music. I discovered my “process” (being able to turn on inspiration – or get my muse to come out and play). I discovered that the music I write is worth defending (thank you Diane Moser and Roger Zahab) and that it wasn’t a sin to believe in myself and the music I write. I re-discovered that music is the art of self-expression, not a contest between musicians. I am not a Margie or a Garrett (two of my youngish new and wonderful VCFA friends – both incredibly talented and beautiful human beings)… but then again – they ain’t me. I discovered that I REALLY loved choral music – especially that from the late Medieval or early Renaissance. Who cares that nobody is writing that way anymore – I embraced my new obsession and it found its way into each of my VCFA-related compositions. Finally, I can say I discovered a renewed passion for music that has since surprised me with its intensity. Every day I wake up and look for a moment or two when I can write something musical. Every day… For the last 2 1/2 years since graduating… I have several projects in the wings right now that I cannot wait to get started on. This last year has seen me write the music for two dance school programs, a short film, along with the odd string quartet or two, and an experiment with writing hymns.

So now we come to the over-riding reason for my attending VCFA at what is probably the waning years of my musical career. It’s a simple reason. Perhaps it is the most profound reason. I love music. I love all things music. After 50+ years as a musician, I…love…music. And in the end, that is still what drives me. I love nothing more than to sit down in front of a blank piece of score paper, and ask that piece of paper… “I wonder what’s going to happen NOW?”

Being immersed in an environment where everyone around you gets you – where everyone around you loves music at LEAST as much as you do – that is an experience worth chasing down.

So there you have it. VCFA. Me. Why.

Someone asked me since I graduated “Do you regret not doing this sooner?” I thought briefly and responded “Nope. VCFA came at just the right time. It’s the perfect capstone for my career in music.” You see, being an elder citizen had prepared me for the diversity I found in this school. Having a half-century of music experience under my belt prior to VCFA gave me a musical context that allowed me to truly enjoy my stay there.

I am under no illusion that I will be the next Mozart or Bach. I don’t believe that I will be “discovered” and become the next great thing in scoring movies. But what will I be? A lover of all things music. I will write music – I will play music – I will sing music right up until the time God takes me home. It’s good to be me.

David Alm’s “Oceano” Included in VCFA Exhibit “Ecstatic Beasts”

David Alm’s (’17) woodwind quintet Oceano was featured in Ecstatic Beasts, a VCFA exhibition that considers our complicated relationship to animals and, consequently, the natural world. Animals are regarded a multiplicity of functions in contemporary human society and culture, serving as pets, food, clothing, medicine, surrogates, life-savers and proxies—to name a few. Their role is hotly contested, as what it means to support animal stewardship and still acknowledge our collective dependence upon them is a murky, and often political, ground. And then the question: which animal? We revere some, loathe others, and barely even think of many.

Oceano is a celebration of the birds living in and around the tiny California beach town of Oceano. The musical material mimics and emulates the many natural world sounds emanating from the habitats of six particular shore bird species. Beyond providing a means to further explore a woodwind quintet’s capacity for sonic beauty, the inclusion of such tunes are intended to demonstrate a kind of mythical/real interaction between the human beings and avians inhabiting Oceano.

Oceano was premiered by The City of Tomorrow (Elise Blatchford, flutes; Stuart Breczinski, oboe and English horn; Rane Moore, clarinets; Nanci Belmont, bassoon; Leander Star, French horn) on February 10, 2017 at VCFA. Listen to the performance here.

David is a high school choir director in San Luis Obispo and works as an instructional assistant/piano accompanist at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California. He received his BA in piano performance/composition at UC Berkeley where he studied with the pianists, Charles Fuery and Janet Guggenheim (Itzhak Perlman’s longtime accompanist) and the distinguished composers, Richard Felciano and Jorge Liderman. He graduated from the MFA in Music Composition in February 2017, having studied with Roger Zahab, Michael Early, Andy Jaffe, and John Mallia.

Beth Bradfish Concert and Exhibition Grace New York

Chicago-based VCFA alum Beth Bradfish has an ongoing exhibition and an upcoming concert in New York. The concert, “Attachments,” features other members of the VCFA community and takes place on June 27th. The exhibition, Untied/United, is a collaboration with multi-discplinary artist Connie Noyes. Both projects were completed under the auspices of Harvestworks.


Untied/United is an installation about the fragility and resilience of close relationships. Noyes has woven a web-like pattern of elastic threads through the exhibition room. Visitors can interact with them via strumming, pulling, or moving around the threads. As they do, sensors developed by Bradfish use that information to create changes in the installation’s soundscape. The changes depend on the density and closeness of the strings, among other factors. The interwoven effects of the visitors can create some drastic results, and invite guests to ponder our interconnectedness.

The installation is currently running, and will continue through July 22nd. The hours are 12–5 pm on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Holiday Mondays at Governors Island Building 8a Nolan Park.


The technology that Bradfish developed for the installation will also be part of a special collaborative concert on June 27th. She will present an improvisation for piano, bass, laptop, Wii Remotes, contact mics, and smartphones about the present, past, and future of familiar relationships and places. VCFA faculty Diane Moser will join her on piano, with VCFA alum Max Johnson on bass.

The concert will be Wednesday, June 27th, at the ISSUE Project Room, 22 Boerum Place, Brooklyn, NY 11201.