30 July 2014

Looking ahead

The date is:  Tuesday, 7 October.

The Mystic Trumpeter may well ring forth at last! Evelyn pronounces it doable, and she is showing the piece to her voice coach. I've mentioned to her that I thought about adding a couple of clarinet notes to the solo voice stanza, as reference points, and wish her opinion.

And of course, there are those rapid triplets which I shall need to practice, practice & practice.

And Peter H. Bloom is on board to play the epilogue miniature, Après-mystère.

For the November Atlanta trip (which reminds me that we need to confirm the timetable), Olivia will take a good long look at (and listen to) just what everyone was expecting.

At the very least, my clarinet will be in fighting trim this autumn!

27 July 2014

One reason out of the 15

Well, it turns out there are practical, spiritual and musical reasons to use hymnals.
Hymnals make songs less disposable. Okay, obviously you can throw a hymnal away if you want. Text on a screen is there one second and gone the next. There’s no visible permanence. But hymnals are symbols of consistency. They give life and breath to the great songs. They demonstrate that what we sing is worth keeping around.
In other news, well, we knew all along that the lowest common denominator approach is rubbish:  Audiences can cope if given the opportunity.
Everyone involved in classical music should look again at my photo and ponder . . . .

26 July 2014

The Fickle Finger of Fate

The notebook has gone a bit dodgy, and has been consigned to the computer garage for the spa treatment. As a result, I am on forced sabbatical from Sibelius.

Spent much of the evening assembling a loveseat, with commendable success.

In the afternoon, I luxuriated in a four-episode Twilight Zone-a-thon, the first four episodes of the third season: "Two" (one of my very favorites, I think), "The Arrival" (whose ending took me by surprise, again), "The Shelter" (one of the most terrifying, I think), and "The Passersby" (which I don't think genuinely predictable, I think it just made such a strong impression when I first saw it, that I was not going to forget its arc). So: Zowie, what a show of strength to open the season!

Listening today was the latter half of the Shostakovich Op.87, the Bruckner Ninth, and the soundtrack to Grosse Pointe Blank.

With no access to Sibelius, I suppose I should work with paper on the piece for CarolaSylvie, as a practically (possibly, utterly) finished text is in hand.

25 July 2014

Reserving the right to shake things up

Mind you, when I wrote on Wednesday that the question of the text is completely settled, I might have written instead, I have a text I like, so there is no pressure.

Leafing through Leaves of Grass yesterday, I found a favorite passage in Song of Myself which might serve just as well, or even better. Or perhaps (since Whitman's lines can be wilful in their variable lengths, not that I consider that at all a bad thing, as a reader) I may toss a salad of suitable ingredients, from the two passages I have this week been perusing.

Meanwhile, Lee has come through with a complete verse rendering of The Mysterious Fruit, will give that a close read today. As I am not sure when the Song of the Open Road project may actually materialize, I am reassigning Op.123 to The Mysterious Fruit.

Had a great time reading Bill Bryson's book on Shakespeare (from the Eminent Lives series). I applaud the author who concludes the first chapter with the frank, manly disclosure:

... this book was written not so much because the world needs another book on Shakespeare as because this series does. The idea is a simple one: to see how much of Shakespeare we can know, really know, from the record.

Which is one reason, of course, it's so slender.

The book is essentially (1) Here is some historical context, (2) These are the actual facts we have in our possession viz. Shakespeare, and (3) Here is some of the conjecture spinning from the facts, but however attractive, it remains conjecture. This book taught me more than I ever knew about the Spanish Armada. (Admittedly, I had not done any particular research.)

I've started reading the sample of Ron Rosenbaum's The Shakespeare Wars on my Kindle.

It's always seemed to me that the work is what is most worth caring about and that Shakespearean biography, with its few indisputable facts, its suppositions, its conjectures, its maybes, does more to distort than to illuminate the work.

I have nothing against literary biography in general, but I suspect most serious literary biographers must be a bit dismayed at the fantasies spun out by Shakespearean biographers on the basis of such fragmentary evidence. Just as in the old story of the man who persists in searching for his keys under a streetlamp (even though they're not there) "because that's where the only light was," Shakespearean biography, especially the obsessive-often circular-attempts to make inferences about the work on the basis of the few known facts and anecdotes about the life, can be a distraction from the true mystery and excitement, the true source of illumination, the place the hidden keys can actually be found: the astonishing language. (Look how little we know about Homer and how little it matters.)

Thus most efforts to forge, fabricate or flesh out the life (as opposed to placing the work in its cultural context) have ended up doing a disservice to the work because they lead inevitably to a reductive biographical perspective on the work and use the work to "prove" suppositions about the life.

I think I shall probably wind up reading this in full, as well. There are such powerful resonances with the foodfight which often arises over Shostakovich.

This morning, I began reading James Shapiro's Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? . . . hard copy, toting the book around with me. Not so heavy as the Gershwin biography which I really need to take back up and finish.

Although the experience wound up spread out over a few evenings, actually . . . I revisited The Witches of Eastwick, which I had not seen since watching it on the big screen the season it opened. Pretty good, although at times I found the soundtrack rather a musical nuisance. Felt awfully sorry for Veronica Cartwright's character throughout (the Cassandra role). Bothers me, too, that the Principal found it horrifying that (wait -- for -- it) a school band was playing Mozart musically. Glad I watched it again, for another movie in which Cher did quite a creditable job of acting. Nicholson was hammy, in a role which pretty much needed hammy for fuel. I'd say he was a good man for the role, though I am not sure I rank it among his finest performances.

Watched a couple of episodes of the third season of Rod Serling's Night Gallery last night. Largely enjoyable, though it certainly has the feel of 70's television + Serling not "in control" to the degree which enjoyed with The Twilight Zone. Certainly fun to watch episodes with John Astin and Leonard Nimoy. I may or may not go through and watch the entire season.

23 July 2014

Done with the search (what, already?)

As I have been mulling a choice of text for the young-choir-&-piano piece, Paul sent to suggest Dona nobis pacem ("5-10 mins"). Which I think perfectly apt. In my quick-&-mussy search yesterday, I found that (reflecting the intersection of two facts: that perhaps as much as 35% of the world's population fancy themselves poets; and that everybody loves peace) a Google search mostly gave me New Age-related links of no use and less interest. I did, however, find a couple of 17th-c. poems, which are lovely and most worthy of setting to music, but which (understandably for the time and place) make reference to (e.g.) one born in a stable (on the Prince of Peace theme). In our present instance, we want a text free of specific theological implication.

Even though the petition dona nobis pacem comes straight from the Mass (which, naturally, is a cornerstone reference of Western culture), there are two settings of that text already slated for the program. Sure, that puts the musical pressure on.

When Paul and I talked this over in person, he mentioned that he thought of the Vaughan Williams, which naturally is on too grand a scale to be practical for this concert.

But . . .

In the same search which turned up the 17th-c. poems, I found a Whitman poem (and I had been thinking of Whitman from the first, had in fact quickly thumbed a bit through the actual book yesterday morning) of which one stanza in particular would suit. So, with Paul suggesting that I set Dona nobis pacem (with which, face it, I should be well challenged to create 10 minutes of music), I have been brought face to face with "the Vaughan Williams model." Not so large-scale a piece, naturally . . . and (thinking as I type) not sure whether to leave it as a single movement, or to make it three movements, with the Latin text for bookends, and a musically "enriched" return to it after the English text for a larger central movement.

We shall see. I feel certain that the question of the text is completely settled.

22 July 2014

The weekend's leisure done...

Sunday morning at St Aidan's (picture below) was a lovely occasion, musically satisfactory. The Prelude on « Kremser » (admittedly, nay, designedly, not a great challenge) went perfectly;  I had a good time noodling on the hymns, something I've not done in a long while, but a type of musical activity which reaches back even to when I was a teenager; and Paul & I improvised coöperatively to excellent effect (I thought) for the Offertory (entirely Paul's idea, to give credit where due).

Following up on a fragment of conversation, I may likely arrange Kremser for oboe; which is to say, a task which will require next to no effort.

Lee reports that work continues on a versification of that episode from A Center of the Universe which I've selected for the mezzo-&-marimba piece for Carola & Sylvie.

One of the basses in the First Church choir is also a publisher, and we once had a chat on the lines of, If you published a piece of Henningmusick, what would that piece look like? The answer coincides neatly with a proposal (more of a suggestion, really) Paul once made, that I write a piece technically suited to a good high school chorus, with piano accompaniment, setting a general-use (i.e., non-liturgical) text. It was always a good and sound suggestion;  I've just been about other musical business.

This line of discussion warmed back up this weekend, as Paul told me of a concert he is planning, on the theme of Peace. So, here I go, looking for a good (public domain, non-sacred) text on that sublime Subject. Cannot be hard.

20 July 2014


About to head over to church with Paul, for to play my Prelude on « Kremser ».