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Apocrypha Variations (long bio)

Portrait 7

Author's note:
Anecdotes about Albert Einstein's inability to keep a beat, reported as fact on numerous websites and transcribed verbatim below, are historically baseless urban legend (my favorite is the howler about “the great Stradavinsky”). However, the author's autobiographical musings are true, to the best of his recollection.

Hello. My name is David Jason Snow. I'm a composer and retired performing arts reference librarian residing in New York City. I'd like to relate to you an amusing anecdote I once heard about the great German physicist Albert Einstein.

As you probably know, Dr. Einstein was a devoted amateur violinist, and on account of his celebrity status he was often invited to perform with professional musicians. He once sat in with members of the Budapest String Quartet for a chamber music jam, but during rehearsal he kept losing his place, entering at the wrong moment and throwing off the other players. Finally, the interruptions got the better of violinist Alexander Schneider who abruptly turned to Einstein and snapped, “Vats wrong vit you, Albert, can't you count?”

When I was growing up in Providence, Rhode Island during the late 1950s and early 1960s, my family owned a Philco Model 46-1203 combination AM radio-record player. It was a massive, anti-iPod of a machine housed in an art-deco wooden cabinet, so heavy that the stand it was parked on would wobble under its weight. When the unit was powered up, the radio dial glowed a warm, incandescent yellow, and the speaker tone was possessed of an analogous amber hue, colored by the even-order harmonic distortion of a vacuum tube amp. On the mechanical side, the record player employed an ingenious changing mechanism that would drop a single 78 rpm record onto the turntable from a stack of discs, then maneuver the tone arm laterally into position and drop the needle at the precise point near the edge of the disc where it could begin its job of electro-mechanically extracting audio information from undulating grooves molded into brittle shellac. The Philco was a mysterious and wonderful fixture of my childhood, and I trace my life-long obsession with things musical, mechanical and electrical to that console.

But before I continue my personal narrative, I'd like to relate to you an amusing anecdote I recently heard about the great German physicist Albert Einstein. Einstein once played in a quartet with violin virtuoso Fritz Kreisler. At one point they went out of sync, whereupon Kreisler turned to Einstein and in mock exasperation sighed, “What's the matter, professor? Can't you count?”

Being a kid with no respect for precision machinery or historic audio media, I sometimes abused both the Philco and my parents' wonderful record collection by dispensing with the phonograph's tone arm and playing records acoustic-gramophone-style using a paper cone with a pin stuck through it near the apex as a substitute for needle and amplifier. There's no telling what damage that stunt did to those irreplaceable 78s, but the experiment entertainingly demonstrated the basic principle of Edison's phonograph, a method of sound reproduction so impossibly simple that you have to wonder why it wasn't invented centuries earlier by a bored Swiss clockmaker.

I once heard about the great German physicist Albert Einstein. One day Einstein was playing Mozart violin sonatas with the famous pianist Artur Schnabel when Schnabel stopped and turned to Einstein saying, “Albert you can't count?”

A few years later my family acquired a Super-8 home movie camera. My brother and I would salvage the occasional defective reel of film that returned from the developer's lab opaque and imageless, and create masterpieces of abstract expressionist animation by randomly scraping patches of emulsion from the base with razor blades and punching pinholes in the frames. The visual maelstrom of light and dark that our shorts produced was primitive by CGI standards, but it had a hypnotically powerful rhythmic vitality.

One evening, Leopold Godowsky was playing a duet at his home with Einstein on the violin. During one passage, Godowsky forgot himself, banged on the piano and, reproving Einstein, cried, “What's the matter? Can't you count?“

The Philco eventually met its demise when, as an aspiring pre-teen artist-scientist, I decided to transplant the receiver and amplifier from the original cabinet to another enclosure for both aesthetic and functional enhancement. The procedure did not succeed, and the patient died on the operating table.

Did you ever hear this one about Einstein? He played the violin, sort of, and was asked to perform with the New York Philharmonic for a benefit, with Leopold Stokowski conducting. At the rehearsal, Einstein kept coming in late for his part, then early, then late. This went on a bit. Finally, Stokowski threw done his baton in exasperation and yelled, “Goddamit Albert, can't you count?”

I went through about a half-dozen chemistry sets when I was a kid. I broke test tubes and beakers by the dozens, mixed chemicals randomly to see what skin- and clothes-staining gunk I could produce, risked burning myself by melting glass tubes over the gas stove in the kitchen, risked burning down the house with unsupervised alcohol lamps, and generally conducted myself in a fashion unbecoming a scientist. By high school I abandoned plans for a career at DuPont and started composing music.

I like the story of Albert Einstein playing the violin with Albert Schweitzer on the piano. The performance was not going well, so the great humanitarian turned to Einstein and growled, “What's the matter Albert, can't you count?”

My first conscious exposure to electronic music was Walter Carlos's Switched on Bach LP in 1968. I had of course heard the theremin in B-movie soundtracks before then, but this was the first time I was aware of synthesis as music-making technology. Initially, my favorite track on the album was the gimmicky second movement of the third Brandenburg concerto, an extended fantasia mostly composed by Carlos, but as I absorbed the album over time, the respectful and interpretively conventional performances on the rest of the disc won me over, and I began to seek out other recordings of Bach's music. I also began shopping around for a harpsichord, a plan that my non-musical parents quickly vetoed. Around that same time, I attended a concert of electronic music at Brown University advertised as featuring a Moog synthesizer, naively assuming that the program would be something similar to Switched on Bach. I don't remember what music was performed, but as an introduction to the academic avant-garde compositional style of the late 1960s, the program left me cold and a little baffled. That concert must have had some effect on my psyche though, because not long afterward I began crude experiments at home with tape loops on my crappy battery-powered reel-to-reel recorder.

Einstein used to play duets with Arthur Rubenstein. Once after a late entry by the fiddle, Rubenstein said, “What's the matter Albert, can't you count?”

Now that I think of it, that old Philco record player had more effect on my compositional development than I realized. When I was little, there were certain records I used to play over and over, particularly Slaughter on Tenth Avenue from the soundtrack of the movie Words and Music, played by the MGM orchestra. I still love that piece.

But before I continue, I'd like to relate to you an amusing anecdote I once heard about the great German physicist Albert Einstein. Einstein was playing his violin in a duet with Werner Heisenberg , who was accompanying him on the piano. After a while Heisenberg slammed his hands down on the keys and said: “It's one, two, one, two, Einstein! Can't you count?”

But before I continue, I'd like to relate to you an amusing anecdote I once heard about the great German physicist Albert Einstein. It is said Einstein was playing violin in a quartet with the great Stradavinsky and at one point Stradavinsky stopped it and said “Albert can`t you count ?”

But before I continue, I'd like to relate to you an amusing anecdote I once heard about the great German physicist Albert Einstein...

I find me fascinating (short bio)

1954: Born in Providence, Rhode Island, and thus off to an unpromising start, geo-culturally speaking.*

1958: Cultivates relationships with invisible friends, setting pattern for rest of life.

1959: Discovers the family's Philco Model 46-1203 combination AM radio/78 rpm record player, a massive, vacuum-tubed anti-iPod of a machine mounted in an art-deco style wooden cabinet and built like a tank. Favorite shellac platters to spin: Pinto Colvig singing Honkety Hank with the Billy May Orchestra, Hugh "Uncle Lumpy" Brannum singing The Cricket with the Fred Waring Orchestra, and Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, the soundtrack to Gene Kelley's brilliant ballet sequence from the moronic Rodgers and Hart biopic Words and Music, with Lennie Hayton conducting the M-G-M orchestra. Loves side 2 of the Slaughter disc, but scary picture of M-G-M lion on record label makes him wet his pants.

1960: Proceeds to mutilate family's priceless 78 rpm record collection by playing discs on the turntable with a straight pin for a needle and a paper cone as an acoustic amplifier. Discovers fascinating facts about the science of audio reproduction while destroying irreplaceable cultural artifacts.

1961: Succumbs to geeky obsession with model railroading. Develops tendency to destroy every train set he owns.

1963: Succumbs to geeky obsession with Lionel-Porter chemistry sets. Entertains fantasy of someday becoming a research chemist at DuPont. Almost burns down house with alcohol lamp. Develops tendency to destroy every test tube he owns.

1964: Listens to parents' stereo LP of Tchaikovsky 1812 Overture and mistakes it for music.

1965: Musical studies begin inauspiciously at age 11 with public school instruction in trumpet. Displaying characteristic sloth even at a tender age, pleads with mother to let him quit after two excruciating weeks, citing the obvious fact that he sucks. Mother will have none of that however, making it clear that since she paid for the farking instrument rental, he has to stick it out.

Portrait 1

1965: Makes two fundamental discoveries about life: 1, it feels good to stick it out, and 2, if you practice playing an instrument daily, you suck less.

1965: Advises violin-playing friend Peter that classical music is just so much sonic excrement.

1966: Succumbs to geeky obsession with lo-fi, battery-operated 3" reel-to-reel tape decks that his ever-indulgent father buys for him. Preserves many embarrassing moments on tape for posterity. Develops tendency to destroy every tape deck he owns.

1967: Begins making way into school music ensembles, an experience he later credits with expanding his intellectual horizons, instilling personal discipline, and making the recreational use of psychedelic pharmaceuticals superfluous (if you have never heard the Cranston High School East marching band play Ina-Gadda-Davida at half-time, you have never been on a bad trip).

Portrait 2

1969: Listens to brother's Switched-on Bach LP and takes a fancy to Walter Carlos's spacey, improvisational fantasia on the 2nd movement of the 3rd Brandenburg. Decides that classical music might not be so unpalatable after all.

1969: By nature compulsively vulgar, turns attention away from pop culture to explore the netherworlds of jazz and classical music, assuming that it might be a good way to get laid. Wrong.

1969: Attends electronic music concert at Brown University with friend Peter, expecting to hear Switched-on Bach but getting an earful of late-60s academic avant-gardism instead. Advises Peter that late-60s academic avant-gardism is just so much sonic excrement.

1969: With generous assistance of high school band director who loans him scores and recordings to study, starts jotting down tunes and peculiar, harmonically challenged duets for trumpet. Without the requisite command of music theory or access to a keyboard, those abortive little compositional foetuses never stand a chance. Comes to conclusion that late-60s academic avant-gardism might not be so unpalatable after all.

1970: Purchase of cute (and relatively inexpensive) 5-octave spinet piano by skeptical but indulgent parents seriously alters the equation and unleashes a torrent of pent-up creative energy. Begins self-instruction in music theory, ignorant of Benjamin Franklin's observation that he that teaches himself hath a fool for his master.

1972: Acceptance at the Eastman School of Music as a composition major. Validation at last, sort of.

Portrait 3

1972-1976: Eastman experience crucial in transforming naive southern New England bumpkin into sophisticated man-about-town. Study with Joseph Schwantner, Warren Benson and Samuel Adler provides serious kick in the pants. School awards him Sernoffsky prize in composition at the end of his sophomore year, the McCurdy Prize his junior year, and the Howard Hanson prize his senior year.

1978-1978: Hoping to stave off responsibility a few more years, matriculates at Yale School of Music, studying with Jacob Druckman and receiving the school's Bradley-Keeler Memorial Scholarship and Frances E. Osborne-Kellogg Prize, as well snagging as his first BMI Award to Student Composers.

Portrait 5

1978-1979: Relocates to Brandeis University in pursuit of the Philosophiae Doctor. Big mistake. Hates everything about the place.

Portrait 6

1979-1980: Stops attending classes, preferring to instead work in the school's neglected electronic studio in preparation for a concert with a local choreographer. Gets drummed out of program. Is awarded a second BMI Student Composer's Award.

1980-2004: Moves to Maryland suburbs of Washington DC, writes music, builds musical electronics, writes MIDI software, writes magazine articles, helps raise two beautiful children, experiences extreme personal upswings and downturns.

2004-present: Relocates to New York City, and reboots.

Portrait 7

Feh, shit happens.

* Assets of my Rhode Island life, 1954-1972:

Liabilities of my Rhode Island life, 1954-1972:

  • Most Rhode Islanders

Composition awards and honors 1974-2019

  • Bernard and Rose Sernoffsky Prize (Eastman School of Music, 1974)
  • McCurdy Prize (Eastman School of Music, 1975)
  • Howard Hanson Prize (Eastman School of Music, 1976)
  • BMI Student Composer Award (1977)
  • Frances E. Osborne Kellogg Prize (Yale School of Music, 1978)
  • Los Angeles Tuba Quartet/Mirafone Composition Contest (1978)
  • BMI Student Composer Award (1979)
  • Annapolis Fine Arts Foundation Composition Prize (1981)
  • ASCAP Foundation Grant (1981)
  • National Association of Composers/USA Composition Prize (1981)
  • National Federation of Music Clubs Composition Prize (1981)
  • Yaddo residency (1981)
  • College Band Directors National Association Commission (1982)
  • National Endowment for the Arts Composer Fellowship (1982)
  • Annapolis Fine Arts Foundation Composition Prize (1983)
  • Meet the Composer Grant (1983)
  • Annapolis Fine Arts Foundation Composition Prize (1984)
  • Annapolis Fine Arts Foundation Composition Prize (1985)
  • National Endowment for the Arts Composer Fellowship (1985)
  • Res Musica Baltimore Composition Prize (1985)
  • Maryland State Arts Council Grant (1992)
  • Musician Magazine Best Unsigned Band Contest (1992)
  • Keyboard Magazine Ultimate Keyboard Competition (1994)
  • Maryland State Arts Council grant (1997)
  • Renee B. Fisher Foundation Commission (1997)
  • SoundMoves Competition (1998)
  • Trio Indiana Competition (1998)
  • Arts Council of Montgomery County Music Fellowship (1999)
  • Pastiche Composition Competition (1999)
  • Yaddo residency (2000)
  • Millay Colony residency (2004)
  • MAARBLE Sounds of Space musical composition contest (2014)
  • TorQ Percussion Seminar 2016 Composition Competition (2016)
  • USC Concerto Chamber Orchestra Composition Competition (2018)
  • Riverside Symphony National Composer Competition (2019)
  • Edition49-Musikwerkstatt Siegburg Music Award (2024)

While you're here, be sure to vist my
Peter Kougasian Dedication Page,
my Gerald Alters Tribute Page,
and my Susan May Schneider Tribute Page!