25 September 2016
15 September 2016
Tonight is our second church choir rehearsal, and Sunday will be our first service "on duty." An idea had been buzzing around the back of my mind, and when I acted on it last night, I made an enlightening discovery.
With our reduced musicality in the bass clef, I've thought about reviving an old, simple 3-part choir piece from First Congo days, setting five verses from Psalm 31; one of the very first pieces I wrote for Bill Goodwin's choir in '98.
Last night, at last, I rooted among the electronic folders and found the Finale file. (At such an early date, I did not yet adopt the sensible routine of saving scores as PDF files.) Partly because a new Sibelius engraving would look worlds better, partly because I needed to allow higher notes for my tenors, now, than the bass part of back then provides, I set to creating a new score in Sibelius.
After about 15 measures, I found myself concluding this is rubbish.
At the time at First Congo, the piece was graciously received ... the centenarian mother of a correspondingly old parishioner had died, and this was a piece I wrote, probably quickly, for the choir to sing in her honor. But looking at the piece now with cool impartiality, whether the blame falls on the rapidity of writing, or on its being an early effort, or both, the pacing of the phrases is poor, some of the rhythms are rather stiff, and the harmonic traversals are uncomfortably arbitrary.
I'm sure I must have tried to emulate the simplicity and solemn gait of Russian liturgical choral music, but this attempt stinks.
So, I have discovered an early piece of mine which I am perfectly happy to leave in the dustbin! (Quite a few of my early pieces, on the contrary, I continue to own entirely.) Of course, I went on to write a great deal better for choir, so in the larger context the fact that an early attempt was a flop, is hardly either a surprise nor any disgrace. So the ancillary discovery is, how at peace I am with finding a failure in my files.
And another good thing is, I was not counting on having this piece in my choir's folders tonight.
11 September 2016
The work went reasonably quickly, as I recall; certainly comfortably within the timeframe decided with Yoichi. When the piece was finished, I was happy to own it all compositionally; there was a passage or two where (as it turned out) I needed to write what I wanted better for the instruments, but this did not reach my attention until some while after the first performance. I also remember delivering hard copy of the score to Yoichi's apartment one windswept evening in (probably) October; I remember this all the more readily because it accorded so nicely with the piece's title.
Details of why elude me now, many years later, but there was a passage of which Yoichi was unconvinced, and a cut was required. Even though (then, no less than now) I believed completely in the music to be cut, I complied, and recomposed a measure or two to accommodate the requested excision. (That cut did not coincide with the material I mentioned above, which needed repair.) In writing about this now, I do not mean to seem to rail against any artistic injustice; I am only recording the history. So the full piece is 12 minutes in duration, and maybe with the cut, the piece ran ten minutes and a half (let us guess).
At the time, I was working in Finale (perhaps Finale 1998? No knowing, now), and the endgame of cleaning up the layout of extracted parts for a large score was nightmarish. (I'd like to mitigate this by proposing that the problem lay in its being the first large score I needed to perform this operation with; but in the following years, with other large scores and more flight time logged with Finale, it always remained dogsbody work, and eventually that was why at last I tried Sibelius, which after very a surprisingly brief learning curve proved much easier to work with, and with better-looking results.) So as a performer myself, I was a little nervous about what the players' experience in working on the piece would be. I was highly interested in attending rehearsals, to see (for instance) if there were any changes I might need to make. But everyone was a little nervous about having the composer present when there were still notes to be learnt; and (not at all unusually for the Boston area) at least one weekly rehearsal was lost to a snowstorm.
In the event, then, it was only the dress rehearsal which I was able to attend, and although there were some rough aspects, it would not at all have been the time for me to make suggestions. The performance, I am pleased to report, was a good advance upon the dress rehearsal. I do not recall if I received a recording; it would have been a cassette tape, and it is now more than a decade since I listened to (or had the gear to listen to) a cassette. What I suspect is that, since the performance was of a cut version which I would not endorse for any subsequent performance, if I did have a recording, it was not one which I was apt to make generally available.
Sometime later, more than a year, less than ten years, later . . . I was looking at the score, and realized that there were some passages (i.e., a passage in the exposition, and which was largely repeated in a recapitulation) where the writing for the low strings was impossibly busy. And my first thought was, this must have been problematic in the rehearsals for the first performance, but I heard nothing about it, and so could not offer the composer's sanctioned solution to the problem. It was both impossibly busy, and unnecessarily busy, so I found an easier and a playable way to get what I wanted from the low strings in those passages. Those changes were reflected in the March 2015 Sibelius version of the score; and I have now just made some minor adjustments here and there (most notably, improving the writing for the optional harp part).
13 August 2016
First, as to Oxygen Footprint, I briefly report that I am true to the mission of daily progress, and the piece is presently at the 2:15 mark.
In the interval since the 5 July post above, the reading of The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth with Kammerwerke went very well on the 21st. There is a set rehearsal schedule, starting the third week of October, and the performance will be 18 November.
I also made a start on the fixed media accompaniment for Olivia Kieffer's piece, Mistaken for the Sacred, which we have decided will be a seven-minute piece. I joked with her that I'll make it eight minutes, and she can mime for the first 60 seconds. At some point, we shall see if I am kidding.
11 August 2016
It's time to blog again.
What better time, than when I need to finish a piece?
(Considered from a certain angle, though ... that is very nearly anytime.)
To start (here in the blog, I mean--for the piece is already begun), what can I tell you about Oxygen Footprint?
1. It is a trio for flute, viola and harp, commissioned by Ensemble Aubade.
2. I've thought about writing such a piece for a while, and I have a cursory sketch bearing the working title Ray Charles Needs Soloists. (Probably I shan't ever actually write a piece of that name, too vivid. Comes from an email message from the director of a choir I used to sing in.)
3. (Probably shan't use that old sketch. Doesn't seem to have anything to do with the present piece.)
4. The group and I have agreed on a piece seven minutes in duration, and composed in such wise that the harp part could work at the piano.
5. The piece will be premièred in New York State in November of this year.
6. I seem to have begun proper work on the trio at the beginning of July; but it was on May the 12th that I advised the group's management that the title of the piece is Oxygen Footprint.
October looks like a busy month for at least some members of the Ensemble, so I have promised to have the piece to them for rehearsal in September.
At present, I have some 90 seconds of the piece done. Well, 60 for certain. And if I compose 20 seconds of music per day, 6 days a week, the score will be done on 31 August.
The piece will be Op.138.
(Op.139 is the collection Minor Sacred Music IV; and Op.140 is Sound & Sight. Originally, Op.138 was a short dramatic work which is being shelved a while.)
06 July 2016
05 July 2016
Near the end of May, word came from Kammerwerke, and we are going ahead with The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth. We are to read it all together (the composer conducting) in rehearsal July the 21st. At the time of the May message, the intention was to program my piece for their Winter 2017 concert. Encouraged by the news, I went ahead and finished composing the piece (which had languished at the 10:30 mark since November, I believe) on 17 June, let the score 'rest' overnight, tinkered a bit further on 18 June, and I do pronounce the piece complete.
The Op.130 done, and after our fine concert at King's Chapel on June 21, I set to finishing the Gloria (yes, at long last). Much as with The Young Lady, I reached the final double-bar of the Gloria on June 28, and left the score to cure a bit. A friend in Florida, reading the score, raised a question about the meter changes on the first page; and I agreed that there was in this case some 'visual noise' which could be clarified with no loss to the composition. With those well-advised alterations, the Gloria was finished on June 29. It is still sinking in, that now the Mass is complete.
Over the holiday weekend, I began by responding to two Fifteen-Minutes-of-Fame calls: one sixty-second piece for flute, clarinet in A & bassoon, Out From the Unattended Baggage; and another sixty-second piece for flute & harp, sand dance.
I then got a proper start on the trio for Ensemble Aubade, Oxygen Footprint. (I have a three-measure sketch for flute, viola & harp from March of this year, I think; and I may use it yet, but it was no way to start the piece.) And I have resumed work on < Boulez est mort > (Wounding Silence), the second movement of the clarinet sonata. My plan now is to make gradual progress, alternating between the two pieces. When one of these is done, I begin tinkering in earnest on the piece for Olivia Kieffer, Mistaken for the Sacred, percussion and fixed media.