We had the good fortune of connecting with Stacy Fahrion and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Stacy, we’d love to hear what makes you happy.
Challenging myself to learn and expand my limits. I read that learning music is the art of turning the seemingly impossible into the familiar, and believe that’s the best way of explaining why I love practicing music. I lose track of time when I’m immersed in composing or messing around at the piano. I love studying music theory and analyzing music, whether it’s tango music, Messiaen’s non-retrogradable rhythms, Prokoviev’s use of a particular augmented sixth chord in modulations, Radiohead’s chord progressions and neo-Riemannian theory, Carnatic rhythms, polyrhythms, or most recently, microtonality. Like many others, I’ve revived my interest in chess during the pandemic, so when I’m not nerding out about music or composing, I’m doing chess puzzles and playing on chess.com.
As an educator, moments when I realize I’m having an impact bring me the most fulfillment. I love to see my students creating their own music. I’m always ecstatic when a student has a breakthrough, and I love sharing the joy and healing power of creating music with my students and anyone willing to listen.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
When I started composing, it made a lot of sense to call my music “Whimsically Macabre,” since I was often riffing on nursery rhymes and embedding little jokes in my compositions, and wrote so many wildly different versions of Itsy Bitsy Spider that I’ve lost count, but that label doesn’t fit as well any longer. Everything I’ve written recently has a fair amount of complex rhythmic interplay, however subtle it might be, and I feel like I’m often using music to test and expand my own limits. I’m more and more interested in music as a path to transcend ego and other trivial things, and as a way to imagine other possible worlds. I want everything I make to have a little bit of otherworldly magic in it.
In 2020, my book, Polyrhythms for Pianists, was published through Piano Pronto Publishing. It felt like a monumental undertaking because there’s nothing quite like it out there, and I wanted it to be a great reference for any pianist who would like to improve their rhythm. The book contains instructions on how to play and internalize different polyrhythms from two against three up through four against five. There are rhythm exercises, improvisation suggestions, and lots of polyrhythmic etudes in the book. I’m also coming out with an album, Polyrhythmic Pieces for Piano, that will be released soon.
I’m proud of the remote collaborations I participated in during the pandemic, with dancers, circus artists, poets, and other musicians. I’m particularly excited about a remote collaboration I did last year with Daisy Press improvising vocals and Maddie Ashman on cello. The piece, Controlled Burn, is based on a devastatingly powerful poem by Amy Wray Irish, a Colorado poet. Those who are interested can find it on my Whimsically Macabre YouTube channel.
What’s coming up next for me seems to be a continuation of explorations in rhythm along with exploring alternate tunings. I’m intrigued by the infinite possibilities of breaking out of equal temperament, and how fresh and interesting all the intervals we’re so familiar with can sound when we use different tunings. I’m planning on collaborating with Daisy Press again, and also with Joshua Trinidad, Denver trumpet-player extraordinaire. I’ve dreamed of collaborating with Wonderbound Dance Company for many years, but have not yet informed them of this dream, so maybe I’ll do that this year.
The question of whether or not any of this was easy is important for me to answer, because some things seem to be surprisingly easy, like landing a deal with my sheet music publisher, Piano Pronto Publishing. But if you look at all the time and effort I put into my music, you see a different story. If I include studying music since childhood, spending hours practicing daily, getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music, voraciously studying music theory, time spent composing, learning to use notation software, cursing at that notation software, setting up a home recording studio, troubleshooting recording equipment, learning to use a digital audio workstation, working on both my performing and composing technique, saving for years for the 1951 Steinway piano I record on, and saving enough money for a home to put it in. A lot of that was an emotional, intellectual, and financial struggle.
What have I learned along the way? Stay curious. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Low confidence is often the cause of procrastination, and the only way to silence your doubts is to get started. Be weirdly enthusiastic and enthusiastically weird. Be kind. Do a little yoga every morning. Always be doing something that’s hard to explain. Finally, I’ve found this advice from the composer Alexandra Gardner helpful: “Don’t be boring, let people know who you are.”
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
This question makes me realize how much I miss going to live shows. First on my list would be heading to the Mercury Cafe for brunch while my friend Jesse Maclaine is there singing, making quirky jokes, and playing piano. After an afternoon hike or a walk at the Botanic Gardens, attend a magical performance by Wonderbound or Rainbow Militia, or if my friends are quirky and weird enough to handle it, Buntport Theater. If they’re into yoga, Shoshoni Yoga Retreat is one of my favorite places to go relax and reset. Ideally, Joshua Trinidad would be playing at Dazzle. Finally, we’d go to Mixed Taste, a couple lectures on seemingly unrelated topics that seem to be wildly popular because clearly there are a bunch of delightfully nerdy folks in Denver.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My mom and dad instilled a love for music in me from early on, were very supportive of me practicing two instruments, and were always taking me to lessons and competitions. My dad is a retired music teacher and band director, and continues to work as a piano tuner in Iowa. He was my first piano teacher. After some lessons with him, I began studying with Patricia Williams, and continued lessons with her throughout high school. She was a wonderful, encouraging teacher.
My partner, Stoph Long, has encouraged me since the early days when I started posting my recordings to my Whimsically Macabre Music blog in 2012. I have little patience for fixing technology when it’s not doing what I want it to do, so he’s also always been my tech support.
During the pandemic I’ve been working with lots of teachers online that I would not have been able to study with in person. Several years ago I came across B.C. Manjunath’s YouTube channel and became obsessed with Carnatic rhythm as a result, and last year I had a dream-come-true opportunity to take the International Rhythm Course with him and other experts through the magic of Zoom. I’ve also been studying advanced rhythm and microtonality with Jacob Adler, and have loved my lessons with him. I’ve also been able to study composition and sing ragas with Michael Harrison, a composer-pianist who has studied Indian music his whole life. All of this feels like a dream, being able to study with these world-renowned teachers who are so enthusiastic and encouraging. I’m immensely grateful to my parents, my partner, and all these inspiring teachers who have so generously shared their enthusiasm and expertise.
Other: Bandcamp: https://whimsicallymacabre.bandcamp.com/