17 October 2017

Oh, how very prescient a snark!

To them who cry, “More cowbell!” – Cowbells later.  First, there must be sorrow.
– Porridger’s Almanac (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Six years ago today (17 October 2011), John Rich asked:  “Karl, you composed a ballet right? If yes, has any ballet company been interested in performing the work?”

To which Greg Cook shortly replied, “It’ll take another 7 years for him to finish it.”

Now, we may ask the Oracle if it is mere chance that I am planning to wrap White Nights up in 2018.  Or, we may just assume that Greg is himself the Oracle.

Darn spooky, I calls it.

16 October 2017

“What is your work?”

On the lines of Don’t discredit what is true, because it is a liar who speaks it...

A voice from many years past, a character who was at best neutral, and at worst bête noir, posed the actively fructiferous question, What is your work? It is a question, for the artist, with a wide variety of applications, at several levels.

This passage which is costing you labor to hammer it out right, is this your work? No, the finished piece which is the goal, that is my work.

This apparently irrelevant exercise which is required of you this week, this semester, this class period, is this your work? No, my work is something bigger, longer-lasting.

& cetera. These two immediate examples only scratch the surface. The question will mean more to you, Gentle Reader, as you apply it to your own workdesk.

One problem—one big problem—in the World Out There is the pressure, social, monetary, networkly, for art to be “socially relevant.” As if the Chopin e minor Prélude is insignificant because it addresses an audience of one, the listener in his own study, rather than addressing the problems in the workplace. As if to affirm the old materialistic fallacy that a pair of boots is worth more than Shakespeare.

So when I see tweets asserting (e.g.) that Art is our weapon and Art is a form of resistance, I see that which is too small, which is easy and smooth in its marketability. Click-Bait Art.

I ask the rhetorical question, Is your Art a Being to which you give birth? Or is it instead a mere tool?

What is your work?

15 October 2017

The Never-Happened. The Steady, Reliable Support. And, Towards the Future.

[ from the archive — 15.x.2012]
Not much in the way of news . . .  have I mentioned that the First Church Choir are singing a concert in January, and that at least two bits of Henningmusick will feature on the program? Love Is the Spirit and the Alleluia in D . . . possibly also the Kyrie.
The long-awaited recording of Angular Whimsies may actually be sent to me before year’s end.  Or not.  We shall see.
No news on the flute solo piece which I submitted for the call.  The flutist has posted an apologetic advisory that she will be in touch, eventually.
A tantalizing e-mail message has come in from my old trumpet ace schoolmate;  The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword has not been forgotten . . . .
Or, perhaps it has been.

To poetify one aspect of my regular experience:  The path forward for many artists is paved in part with the rubble of past hopes.  Of all the What may happen in the future items of five years ago today, the only element to reach fruition was the performance of Love Is the Spirit on the January 2013 concert.

Does that sound like a complaint?  It is none, for I am deeply grateful for a fine performance of Love Is the Spirit by the wonderful First Church Choir, who have adopted the motet as one of their signature pieces.

Pictured below is the spire of the Sixth Meeting House of the First Congregational Church in Woburn, the site of the creation of many earlier works in the Henning catalogue.  It was arguably journeyman work—but it gave me the opportunity to practice composition regularly.  Its “importance” is not so much the music which I wrote (much of which is modest in scope and intent), as in the invaluable workshop for an extended period.  This has wound up being yet another occasion to express gratitude to the late William A. Goodwin for years of belief in my work, and sustained material and moral support:  because I cannot say that I could have written my recent Symphony, now, without the artistic preparation which Bill made possible.

Looking to April 2018—two years ago at about this time (the PDF of the last score is dated 18.x.2015) I had begun composing a two-singer scene from The Scottish play.  The occasion for which I was speculating the piece (it occupied the since-repurposed Opus number 138) was a potential concert which either changed, or got canceled entirely.  I may at some point finish the piece in that guise, but I want to embark on another setting of that scene, for two female singers, three winds and fixed media.  Musically, entirely a different tackwhich will indeed mean that, should opportunity arise in future to resuscitate the “Old Op.138,” it will keep.  The new scena will run quite a bit cooler than the Op.129, whose première was so stunningly created by Barbara Hill Meyers, one of the singers for the Op.147 to come.

14 October 2017

A few harmless thoughts on David Cronenberg’s The Fly

There may, or there may not, follow spoilers.  I’ll try to avoid spoilers.  I know how disappointing they can be.  But, although, yes, I shall try, I am making no guarantee.  Because I just may riff.

When Seth Brundle tells Ronnie that something is ‘missing’—that because what he has succeeded in ‘teleporting’ is inanimate matter, but that his efforts are not successful until he can teleport living creatures—of course, he is entirely wrong.  The ability to teleport even inanimate items across space is a huge accomplishment;  think how it would simplify (or might) the postal service.  But, of course, that would not have made the movie.  We might likewise advise Othello, “Hey, what if you just ask her about the handkerchief?”

At last, I watched the whole movie last night.  There’s quite a lot of it that I hadn’t seen before. But (somehow) I had seen all the “shocker” bits ... so that (very much like my later fondness for Ridley Scott’s Alien) I could watch the whole with reasonable equanimity.  Still, it is something of a wringer to watch.  Which is really the power and the art of the undertaking.  It is impartially true that I saw much last night, upon which my gaze never fell earlier.  But I do half wonder if some of what I took as new last night, may have been frames which I had seen before, but as I was still in shock over previous gore, I did not mark the scene at the time.  It is possible.

There are many excellent and understated bits of humor.  (Mostly in the first half-ish of the movie, well, sure.)  “Designer phone booths” is (if by now sufficiently anachronistic that the next generation will probably fail to get the joke entirely) wicked sharp.  Before this, when Ronnie first enters the lab, and Seth sits down at the piano and plays “Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing” à la energetic lounge pianist (that looks practically like an oxymoron, but let it stand) it is a rarely delicious musical moment in the cinema of our day. (Did Goldblum play it himself, or did he but mime expertly? Wonder if we learn, in the commentary....)

I nearly wrote that the score is surprisingly romantic, but in fact part of the impact of the horror (it is not all merely gross-out scares) is, the romance between Brundle and Ronnie.  I certainly did not know that this was a Howard Shore score, before.

... but I send anyway

You cannot collect the rejection slips, unless you send in your work.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Nothing will come of it.  We know this;  and we do it anyway.  I have sent in the Larghetto (second movement) and Vivo assai (third movement) of the Op.143 to two separate calls for orchestral scores.


If I think, Nothing will come of it, so it is not worth even bothering, then the thought is bitter in its binding my hands into inaction.

But if I send, even though I think, Nothing will come of it, I affirm that I believe my work worthy of the consideration;  at least in theory, I give an actual person the chance to review the work (and dare him or her to reject it);  and my knowledge that Nothing will come of it inoculates me from the bitterer forms of disappointment.

Nothing will come of it.  We know this.  But I do excellent work.  And someday, it will be recognized for its excellence.

11 October 2017

henningmusick: This morning’s sing [11.x.2009]

henningmusick: This morning’s sing
The composer was very pleased. We sang my Exaltabo Te, Deus (I served as a substitute tenor this morning) when the basket was being passed . . . but it is also a somewhat longer anthem than the choir normally sing for the First Church Boston service. The m.d. told me that the last two minutes of the piece, the congregation had settled nicely into the piece, and their attention was glued. “Magical,” quoth he.
Very well do I remember that morning.  It was the first proper performance of this Psalm setting, which I composed while visiting St Vincent’s Archabbey in Latrobe, Penn. It was one of my first efforts at “inhabiting” the soundworld of Russian Orthodox liturgical choral music. In this, I think it was likely a reasonable success.

10 October 2017

After the Avocadoes

A thoroughly enjoyable, and well-attended concert today at King’s Chapel. Carol, Pam & Peter played beautifully, and they all like the music well enough that they stand ready to repeat the program.  Which I plan on doing.

Right at the moment, however, I believe I shall loll on the sands.