Category Archives: RIP

Composer Matt Marks: Cause of death revealed

Composer-performer Matt Marks, seen here performing in 2010, died Friday from heart failure, his fiancée, composer Mary Kouyoumdjian, tells The New York Times.

The Times obituary also cited information from Marks’ sister, Los Angeles TV journalist Suzanne Marques, about a genetic condition her brother had.

Marks, who was 38 when he died in St. Louis while working with the New Music ensemble Alarm Will Sound, which he confounded, was diagnosed at age 9 with HHT (hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia), a genetic disorder that causes formation of abnormal blood vessels, Marques tells the Times, expanding on a Facebook post she wrote the day after Marks died.

The disorder helped fuel his intellectual curiosity, Marques said, because it forced him to avoid physical exertion.

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UPDATE: Fund for composer Mary Kouyoumdjian after death of fiancé Matt Marks passes $33,000

Composers Matt Marks and Mary Kouyoumdjian on a trip to Maine posted on her Facebook page.

The Columbia University music faculty has set up a GoFundMe campaign for composer Mary Kouyoumdjian’s possible “emergency costs” in the wake of the death of her fiancé, composer and Alarm Will Sound founding member Matt Marks.

By midday Tuesday, the fund, whose initial goal was $5,000, had attracted more than $33,000 in contributions.

To view the campaign and donate, GO HERE.

On the Slipped Disc New Music blog, commenter trolls (I guess there are trolls in every part of the internet, but this stunned me) have been horribly and unnecessarily brutal in questioning or condemning the fund-raising campaign for Kouyoumdjian.

I don’t know what unexpected expenses she might be facing as a result of her fiancé’s death, but it seems to me that it’s an individual’s prerogative to contribute to any cause he or she chooses.

Although I haven’t seen a wedding date for the couple mentioned, recent social media posts indicate the couple must have set one. There were mentions of picking out a dress and tasting wedding cakes, things that generally aren’t done prospectively,

Marks’ death Friday morning remains officially unexplained, though his sister, Suzanne Marques, in a lovingly gut-wrenching Facebook tribute to her “baby brother,” discusses a serious health issue he faced. Her exposition appears to provide at least a clue to what might have happened.

It cast something of a pall on this weekend’s Bang on a Can Marathon — a 10-plus hour concert of New Music, the world that nurtures the music of Marks and Kouyoumdjian — at New York University’s Skirball Performing Arts Center, It was addressed in a beautiful statement read by Bang on a Can All-Stars member Ken Thomson.

New York composer Matt Marks dies at 38

Composer Matt Marks died Friday, May 11, 2018.

Composer Matt Marks died Friday, May 11, 2018.

Talented young composer Matt Marks  — really a quadruple threat, given his beautiful singing ability, high-level horn playing (he was a founding member of leading contemporary music ensemble Alarm Will Sound), and arranging — died Friday, May 11.

He was 38.

He died in St. Louis, Missouri, where Alarm Will Sound had performed on May 9 and had been doing some recording, the band’s marketing director, Michael Clayville, tells NPR’s Deceptive Cadence blog.

Related: Fundraiser for Matt Marks’ fiancée

Learning of the sweet, funny, and sometimes acid-tongued Marks’ death under any circumstances would have been gutting. But my first clue came when composer Ted Hearne’s heartfelt tribute turned up in my Facebook feed Saturday night. I was in New Music setting that was such a familiar part of Marks’ life: at the Alexander Kasser Theater in Montclair, New Jersey, for a Peak Performances presentation of Julia Wolfe and Maya Beiser’s “Spinning,”with composer David Lang and artist Suzanne Bocanegra among the members of the audience.

The context — Peak Performances has a track record of incubating powerful new works, including David T. Little’s “Dog Days,” which springs from a well that also nourished Marks’ work — made the news of his death that much more of a gut punch.

Marks’ passing was announced on Facebook by his fiancee, Mary Kouyoumdjian.

No cause of death was given.

Alarm Will Sound posted an announcement hours after Kouyoumdjian, which precisely repeated her parting admonition: “We appreciate your sensitivity during this difficult time.”

The always funny Marks — he frequently offered random, wry, witty commentary on Twitter, lately as “Matt Marks (aka JonBenét Gramsci)” and for many years, simply under the childlike moniker “Mafoo” —  died the morning after he tweeted news that the National Endowment for the Arts had approved a $10,000 grant for the staging of his splendid opera, “Mata Hari” (seen last year at New York’s Prototype Festival) at the West Edge Opera in Berkeley, California, in August.

WATCH: An excerpt from composer Matt Marks’ opera “Mata Hari”:

I saw and was impressed by “Mata Hari” at Prototype —  where the composer, as always made a point to offer a cheerful hello —  Will You Miss Me When I’m Gone? last posted about him in 2010, after a performance of his earlier work, “The Little Death: Vol. 1,” which he also performed with soprano Mellissa Hughes.

So, I couldn’t say I knew him well, and don’t wish to take anything away from his close friends and family. I simply knew him through his often brilliant and usually funny work, and his public persona of a down-to-earth person who was consistently pleasant and friendly.

Composers Ted Hearne, far left, and Caroline Shaw, far right, were in the chorus for a performance of Matt Marks'

Composers Ted Hearne, far left, and Caroline Shaw, far right, were in the chorus for a performance of Matt Marks’ “The Little Death: Vol. 1” at Galapagos in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood in 2010, with Marks and Mellissa Hughes in the lead roles. (© 2010, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Marks had only begun to reveal the full extent of his ability. He’s a composer who always held a special place in my heart because I got to see him and his work early on and watch him grow and blossom.

R.I.P. Matt Marks.

WATCH: The Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9,” arranged by Matt Marks:

Maggie Roche, gentle, New Jersey native singer-songwriter dies at 65 (Videos)

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Maggie, Suzzy, and Terre Roche (Photo by Irene Young via The Roches Facebook page)

Maggie Roche, the eldest of the three folk-singing sisters from Bergen County, New Jersey, who performed as The Roches, died Saturday morning.

Maggie, who always seemed like the sensible, quiet sister, was 65 when she lost her battle with cancer.

Younger sister Suzzy Roche confirmed the death in a loving Facebook farewell, saying she and Maggie spent  “the last month and a half helping each other through her final journey.”

Continue reading

How Ron Wasserman’s visit with Fred Hellerman, the last living member of The Weavers folk quartet, resulted in a world premiere

Ron Wasserman, front left, with the New York Jazzharmonic. (Mihyun Kang)

Ron Wasserman, front left, with the New York Jazzharmonic. (Mihyun Kang)

Fred Hellerman, the sole surviving member of the famous 1950s folk quartet the Weavers until his death on Sept. 1 at the age of 89, wanted to be more than just a folkie, his son, Caleb Hellerman told The Washington Post.

The quartet – which Hellerman founded with Pete Seeger, Ronnie Gilbert, and Lee Hays — was immensely popular for its vocal harmonies and faux naïve guitar-and-banjo versions of songs like Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene,” other now-standard folk songs including “On Top of Old Smoky” and “The Hammer Song.”

Hellerman, the son of a poor immigrant couple, taught himself to play the guitar while serving in the Coast Guard during World War II and never studied music.

As a result, he longed to be taken seriously as a musician, and was always self-conscious about his lack of musical education, his son said. “He wanted to be seen as a serious musician and composer,” he said.

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On June 28, just two months before Hellerman died, the New York Jazzharmonic gave him just the boost he wanted by giving one of Hellerman composition’s, “Fourths of July,” its world premiere at the Washington Square Music Festival.

It was almost by chance that Ron Wasserman of New City, the Jazzharmonic’s artistic director, found out about the piece a year ago and began the process of bringing it to the world.

“When I started talking about this with him, it was really kind of thrilling, because I felt like I’d made a discovery,” Wasserman explains.

Hellerman was old friends with Wasserman’s mother, retired singer Joan Wile.

“She sang with him in another group he had after the Weavers, called the Neighbors. The Weavers were blacklisted for a while, so he formed the Neighbors, and my mother was in that group.”

Hellerman and Wile had fallen out of touch, but reconnected in the last several years, says Wasserman, who soon learned that Hellerman possessed some demo recordings he had produced for Wile.

Hellerman wasn’t able to email digital copies of the recordings, so Wasserman paid the elderly musician a visit.

“I went over to his house and got the recordings, which are actually really good, some of the best recordings I’ve heard of my mother singing back in the day.”

Hellerman was intent on getting Wasserman’s attention for something else.

“He was like, ‘I’ve got to play you this piece I wrote,'” Wasserman says. “He had a MIDI computer realization of the piece. He says, ‘I wrote this 30 years ago and nobody’s played it…

“It was a good piece, it was a patriotic kind of piece that the Boston Pops would play, sort of like a theme and variations on ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy.’ So I was like, yeah, I’m gonna do the piece,” Wasserman says.

Wasserman learned that the germ of Hellerman’s idea came from his son, Caleb, who was then an infant.

“When his son was a baby in the crib, he used to scream. In the morning he would wake up like an alarm clock screaming out ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy,'” explains Wasserman. Hellerman learned to turn the noisy distraction into something productive by composing countermelodies in his head. “Eventually, a number of years later, the piece had stuck with him, and that’s how he wrote it. So he dedicated it to his son.”

Because it was written for conventional string orchestra, Wasserman had to recorchestrate it for his 17-piece jazz band.

Over the months between Wasserman’s initial discussions with Hellerman and the June concert date, Hellerman’s health deteriorated. He was too frail to attend the premiere at New York University’s Frederick Loewe Theatre.

“That’s the great irony, the irony of ironies. But his family was there, and they had a great time,” Wasserman says.

Though Hellerman couldn’t attend the premiere, Wasserman found the Washington Square Music Festival audience was very aware of its composer.

“I said to the crowd, ‘You guys remember Fred Hellerman?’ And of course, down there in the Village everybody remembered Fred Hellerman.”

Pete Seeger, Hudson Valley-based singer, activist, environmentalist dead at 94 (video, playlist)

Pete Seeger onstage at a 2009 rally in Memorial Park, Nyack, N.Y. (© 2009, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Pete Seeger onstage at a 2009 rally in Memorial Park, Nyack, N.Y. (© 2009, Steven P. Marsh/willyoumissme.com)

Pete Seeger is dead.

The legendary musician, environmentalist, and activist, a longtime resident of Beacon, N.Y., died Monday at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan, The New York Times reports.

His death comes six months after his wife, Toshi, died just short of their 70th wedding anniversary.

He continued to work after Toshi’s death, appearing in September at a Farm Aid Concert in Saratoga Springs, reports Peter Kramer of The Journal News in a wonderful obituary posted on lohud.com. (Be sure to check out the great video on lohud.com, including this raw footage of a rambling interview at Seeger’s Beacon home. Continue reading

Stew stirs things up with fantastic new songs at Barbès

The hat was more crumpled at Barbès on July 25, but Stew's energy was at a peak. (Photo © 2012, Steven P.  Marsh)

The hat was more crumpled than this at Barbès on July 25 and Stew’s energy level seemed higher than usual. (Photo © 2012, Steven P. Marsh)

By the time his latest gig in his musical living room (aka Park Slope, Brooklyn, boîte Barbès) rolled around Thursday night, July 25, singer-songwriter and Tony Award winner Stew had dumped his original staged plan to play versions of his songs from Passing Strange and other numbers from his extensive repertoire.

Instead, he launched into a tight song cycle “inspired by recent events.” In other words, songs about George Zimmerman and the Trayvon Martin case. If yoy don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to get out from under that rock where you’ve been living and catch up on the news!

If you’re a Passing Strange fan who passed on the show for one reason or another and are thinking now that this make you feel OK about missing, hold that thought. I’m here to tell you differently. Continue reading