Horned Up: Dirk talks music with Queer the Air

The following interview with my hubby Dirk Caber appeared in Queer the Air magazine on January 28, 2015. Dirk, as you may know, is a professional classical musician and composer, and he really enjoyed the chance to sit down with guest columnist Cyn Duby to talk about his true passion. It’s a fun and informative read… check it out below, and be sure to visit QueerTheAir.com for more LGBT-related entertainment news!


Queer the Interview: Dirk Caber
By Cyn Duby, Guest Columnist

QTA1I do love doing an interview with someone who is a study in contrasts and breaks stereotypes to smithereens. Such a person is Dirk Caber. We all know he’s hot and a big name in the gay porn industry. We also know he and his fiance, Jesse Jackman, are not only adorable together, but also very intelligent and giving men, They are always doing their part for our community whenever they can. But, to pigeonhole Dirk as just a porn star with a heart is underestimating him so grossly, you could miss some of the most essential facets of this remarkable man.

I had the opportunity to pose some questions to Dirk about his first love and one of his greatest talents: music. Yes, you heard that correctly. He can sing, play several instruments, and compose wonderful original classical pieces. It is just that subject on that this interview focuses.

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QTA: You seem to have a fairly large body of work as a composer. How many years have you been writing classical music?

I seem to have been writing since childhood; I honestly can’t remember a time I wasn’t devising tunes for poems or banging out some harmony or something at the piano. I first was consciously writing in fifth or sixth grade; I suppose that would mean I was eleven or twelve when I started.

QTA: Were you raised in a musical household?

I was. My grandparents were singers, pianists, organists. My mom sang and played piano. My dad’s interest in music was mechanical and I grew up in a house full of musical instruments that played themselves, music boxes of all sorts and sizes, mechanical organs, and the centerpieces: six reproducing player pianos. Sometime when I was about ten and dad could no longer tell the difference between the piano roll playing and me imitating it afterwards, he decided it was time to find me a piano teacher.

QTA: What was the first instrument you learned? What instruments do you play now?

I was always singing, although my first formal singing lessons weren’t until college. My first lessons were on violin, then piano. In junior high and high school I had a reputation for picking up instruments and learning them well enough to play on stage in a matter of weeks, so I was given a succession of all the odd ones: contra bassoon, French horn, English horn, contra bass clarinet, harp, etc. Finally I was given the one I fell in love with: tuba.

QTA2QTA: Do you have formal education in music? If so, what?

I have degrees in music composition from two institutions, the second from Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. I also studied organ and harpsichord on top of piano, sang a lot of Renaissance and baroque music, dabbled in a number of Renaissance instruments, and, of course, play tuba.

QTA: What is the easiest instrument to write for?

They all pose challenges and have aspects for which they’re perfectly suited. I think because I’ve always been singing and because so much of my music is inherently singable, I’d have to say voice is easiest for me.

QTA: What’s your inspiration? Where do you find it easiest to write? Any quirky habits that help the muses speak to you?

Some of my inspiration is literary; many of my works are responses to poetry or a passage of text somewhere. A few things have been similarly a mood inspired by a painting. Most of my music however simply starts off with the discovery of a sonority I find unique or compelling, or when I discover a melody with some really rich and fascinating contrapuntal potential. Much of my musical inspiration is, in fact, musical. I can write nearly anywhere. It’s better to be in a slightly noisy place; somehow working in silence just doesn’t feed my muse. Some of my best music has been written at tables in cafés, or in the middle of work meetings.

QTA3QTA: How does your mood affect what you write and if you can write?

My productivity is best when I’m either really unhappy or really happy, i.e., when I’ve the most emotional energy to channel. The music that results doesn’t necessarily reflect that mood, though; I can write quiet music in an ebullient moment as easily as ecstatic music in a somber mindset.

QTA: Which orchestra/s do you work with?

I don’t work with one in particular. In fact, as a tubist I tend to avoid orchestra work simply because there’s often a lot of sitting around twiddling my thumbs while the strings do all the work. I’d rather play with bands, brass quintets, Dixieland ensembles, groups where I’m the principal bass instrument and play most if not all the time.

QTA: How do you “hear” what you write? Do you hear the melody when you write or all the parts? Do you hear each instrument separately?

It’s like writing words. Despite these little black characters representing sounds which our brains translate into meaning, we don’t need to sound out every word as we write it to know what it means. This however is something we learned how to do; as children we had to mouth the words when we were first reading. It’s the same with music; with years of practice I’ve arrived at the point where I can write a score for a hundred instrumentalists, and know what every note for any one instrument sounds like, and how it sounds in context. This isn’t to say I start and the top and write out the score fully-formed. I start with sketches. I’ll make a “short score”, sort of an outline, and make successive versions until the piece is fully fleshed.

QTA: When did you first begin to compose music? Do you also conduct?

I think the earliest tunes I remember I probably dreamed up when I was five or six. I first wrote music down when I was eleven or twelve. And I’m no virtuoso conductor, but I can keep time for an ensemble and provide cues. I’d much prefer to actually be part of the group though.

QTA: What music do you listen to for pleasure?

Pretty much anything and everything. Because I delight in picking out the weird moments in music, the odd incongruous moments, and all music has these somewhere, I’m always listening. The problem becomes that music can overwhelm me. If I’m at home and need to be thinking about other things, I love silence, or just the sounds of the neighborhood and the house around me.

QTA: Who are your inspirations?

Poets. Authors. Painters. Sculptors. Other composers. Actors.

QTA: Many of your songs, especially the Eclogues, would go very well as scoring in a film. Is that something you’d like to do someday?

I’ve been really interested in film scoring at times, and might still dabble someday. Film music should compliment the action but must never distract from it, so it needs to be simple and direct. What I’d find challenging is being that understated… So much of my music is so “concerted”, it would tend to overwhelm an audience’s attention, I’m told.

QTA4QTA: The woodwinds in Danzas Cubanas No. 1 are very nicely highlighted. Tell me about this number.

This was written for a Cuban man in NYC, an excellent clarinetist, with whom I was obviously rather smitten. The four movements are impressions of four Cuban dance forms.

QTA: Eclogue No. 4 and Eclogue No. 6 fit their names perfectly as pastoral musical poetry. The conversation between the instruments is very well done. All the parts have their creative versions of the melody, but it feels as though they’re talking and the melody is but the theme of the conversation.

The Eclogues were really my exercises for myself to learn how to orchestrate, how to break music up over larger ensembles with balance and flow. This is actually a rather difficult skill. Different instruments “talk” to each other and “get along” with each other in very different ways, and these are relationships you really can only learn how to utilize by trying and making mistakes. The reason we have Eclogues 4, 5, and 8 is that they’re most successful. The others have nice passages, but for whatever reason they just didn’t work as well.

QTA: When listening to Edification and Amusement I feel I’ve been transported back into time. Was that your intent?

Particularly in high school I had a fascination with Joplin and Scott and Confrey and other writers of ragtime. Having good friends who also played piano meant a chance to write four-handed repertoire; this is just such a little piece of musical “candy”.

QTA: The Miniatures for Piano are very short but complicated pieces and more varied than I expected.

There are 24 miniatures now, of which 12 are recorded. They are miniature in name and duration only; none is longer than two minutes. Most of them are exceedingly challenging to play though! They’re certainly well beyond my skill as a pianist. Someday soon I’ll have the whole cycle recorded.

QTA: Your Mount Desert Island Suite feels like day at a North Atlantic beach. Is there significance beyond the obvious beauty in this composition?

The four movements reflect aspects of Mount Desert Island and its environs in Maine. It’s a little love letter to my home state and to its rocky Atlantic coastline.

QTA: When I hear Nocturne, I picture a mother with her child at bedtime.

You know that this was written for my mom? It was a birthday present for her several years ago. It’s also the one recording where you actually hear me playing.

QTA: One of my favorites by you is The Good Morrow. It reminds me of the Gregorian chants. It’s simply gorgeous!

This was a Christmas gift last year for my now-fiancé Jesse. The poem is an early love poem by John Donne, with spiritual overtones interleaved with subtle sensual hints. I need to make a proper recording, playing the piano, and as I wrote it for my own voice, with me singing. The tune, usually presented in some canon with itself, is long and meandering, often slipping away from the “beat” of the accompaniment, which might explain why you hear the breathlessness of Gregorian chant.

Classical Caber VIDEO: Dirk’s Sonata for Flute and Piano… live!

Last Saturday saw the public premiere of Dirk’s Sonata for Flute and Piano (more accurately, the 4th movement of the sonata) as part of the American Composers concert at Trinity Lutheran Church in Fort Collins, Colorado. Dirk and I attended the concert in person along with several of our friends; our buddy Keith, who drove all the way up from Colorado Springs, was kind enough to shoot this video of the performance (above). He missed the first couple of notes, but you can hear the complete studio version of this piece (as well as many more of my hubby’s compositions) on Dirk’s SoundCloud page. The flute sonata is one of my favorites, and it was so amazing to hear it brought to life. By the end of the piece, I had tears in my eyes!

Here are a few pictures from the performance.

Classical Caber: “Eclogue No. 4”

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of Dirk’s compositions, but since it’s the first Monday of the new year, Dirk and I want to start the year off right by sharing another one with you! Posted above is Eclogue No. 4, one of a series of nine eclogues that my hubby has written. Here’s Dirk’s explanation of its origins:

openquote
The Eclogues were my earliest experiments in orchestration, each using a particular variation on a chamber orchestra of not more than 24 or 25 players. Each was based loosely on a literary source, usually a poem. Eclogue No. 4, which I wrote in 1992, draws on a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

All of the musical material is derived from a “folk song” tune I’d written to approximate a setting of the poem, but this tune isn’t played in its entirety until presented by the English horn, all alone, at nearly the end of the piece. Until that final solo, Eclogue No. 4 is a slow “thinning” of material for most of its duration, reflecting the increasing sense of loneliness of the text.

Only three of Dirk’s Eclogues have ever been recorded: Nos. 4, 6, and 7. (I’ve already posted Eclogue No. 6, a lush pastoral piece that reminds me of our recent trip to Ireland.) We’re exploring the possibility of starting a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to record the other six, and then releasing the entire collection on iTunes and CD… watch this space for details. In the meantime, check out Dirk’s other compositions on SoundCloud, and click here to share his SoundCloud page with your Facebook friends!

Eclogue No. 4 Image

I think this picture sums up the themes in Eclogue No. 4 rather perfectly, don’t you?


Classical Caber: “The Good Morrow”

“You know what I’d really like for Christmas?” I offhandedly told Dirk at the beginning of December last year. “Write something for me.” Meaning a piece of music, of course. Dirk was in the middle of a creative drought so I thought the request might encourage him to start composing again.

Little did I know that my talented hubby was already hard at work on my Christmas present; he’d been writing a setting for bass (voice) and piano of The Good Morrow by the English Renaissance poet John Donne, which he gave me on Christmas morning. Dirk hasn’t recorded it yet; maybe that’ll be my birthday present . The first time I heard it, I cried. Dirk had started writing again, and the first thing he’d written was for me. It was beautiful, even in computer-generated form. Here are the lyrics:

I wonder by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? were we not wean’d till then?
But suck’d on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone;
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown;
Let us possess one world; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mix’d equally.

If our two loves be one, or thou and I
Love so alike that none can slacken, none can die.

In celebration of my third anniversary as a Titan exclusive, I’m happy to share my hubby’s setting of The Good Morrow with you! (You can play it in the embedded player above, or click here to play it at SoundCloud.) And it’s not the only anniversary celebration I’ve got planned… stay tuned for more good stuff later this week!

Dirk the Composer 2

 

TheGoodMorrow 01 Small

TheGoodMorrow 02 Small

TheGoodMorrow 03 Small

TheGoodMorrow 04 Small

TheGoodMorrow 05 Small

The Return of Classical Caber! Mount Desert Island Suite, Movement 4: Bar Harbor Rondo

It’s the return of Classical Caber! By popular demand, here’s another selection from my hubby’s Mount Desert Island Suite… the fourth and final movement, entitled Bar Harbor Rondo. (I’d previously posted the third movement, Beach and Sandpipers, which has proven to be one of Dirk’s most popular works to date.) Here’s what Dirk wrote about the MDI Suite, which he composed in 2001:

openquoteThe MDI Suite was written by commission for the sadly now defunct Penobscot Bay Chamber Music Festival in Bar Harbor, Maine. The music is simpler than much of what I write, partly because I anticipated very little rehearsal time and I wanted something easy for busy musicians to grasp. The four movements reflect four quatrains of a poem by Cora Millay (mother of Edna St. Vincent Millay) reflecting on different aspects of Mount Desert Island in her home state of Maine; the first depicts the gulls wheeling over the rocks and spray at the coast; the second, the owls in the quiet old-growth pine forests. This third is of sandpipers dodging the ripples on the sand at the water’s edge, and the last conveys the bustle of downtown Bar Harbor. This piece remains close to my heart as an impression of the sort of Maine coastline I grew up on and which is still home to me in many ways.”

We hope you enjoy this second installment!
 
Bar Harbor

Downtown Bar Harbor