31 July 2012

A lark, really

I just learnt to-day that a flautist whom I follow on Twitter was calling for scores, and that the deadline is — to-day.

Now, I am certain that this was not the first time she announced the Call.  But until quite recently, I was on a kind of composition sabbatical;  and chances are that my glance fell upon the Tweet of Call, but I thought, Interesting, but not for me, as I am not composing at present.

Well, I saw the Call (as I say) to-day, and I thought, Why not?  Well, but the deadline is this very day, the Voice of Reason indicated.  The spec is any piece less than ten minutes in duration, I countered.  Could not I write a brief piece in the space remaining of this day?  I supposed that I could.

I suppose that I did.  Maybe my piece will not be selected — well, that could be true even of a piece I might spend a week, or a month, writing.  But perhaps it will be selected.

Let me state for the record that I think it a fairly good piece;  and that if, coldly looked at, the piece struck me as unfit to bear my name, I should never have sent it in.  Without making any claim that it is The Great Unaccompanied Flute Piece of the 21st Century, I do think it a piece worth playing, and worth the listening.

So: we shall see.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Forking paths

It is a while (probably four years, in fact) since last I looked at Après-lullaby. On its surface, it seems the easiest of the three movements to convert to string quartet: for almost the whole of it, the upper parts are within the respective range of violin or viola (with just a few, easy-peasey displacements down to the sole remaining cello line).

Except for the closing chorale.

What to do? I think that's the game for me to play to-night.

In a discussion of compositions lost, destroyed, or proposed but not composed

My Master's thesis at UVa was a (10'?) composition for chorus and wind ensemble, the first part of a projected five-movement cantata of sorts.  Musically, I don’t think that first part worth recycling, let alone performing as it stands;  nor do I intend taking up the ‘greater project’, which I think was just my own private grandiosomania of the time.
[Most nearly] notably, one result was . . . my doctoral dissertation.  Having learnt how tough a sell is such a piece as was my Master’s thesis, to any prospective chorus-master, my work-around (the history of my study of composition could be boiled down to a series of work-arounds, couldn’t it? Oh, I can talk about it, now . . . .) was to lose the chorus, and write for three soli voices (and, again, wind ensemble).  The dissertation piece is a five-movement, 45' affair (so, a large-scale fulfillment, where the Master’s thesis had been the first essay in a pipedream).
Musically, there is much that I own in the doct. diss., but for other reasons, I am happy simply to destroy it.  Rather than fuss over salvaging anything that I like in that piece, I should sooner just write a fresh piece, which I will like much better.
For the record, there are pieces even earlier than either of these, which I continue to perform (some of them, published, even).  So my overall feeling about the epoch is:  I knew how to compose even at the time;  these projects, though, were a valuable exercise, and if perhaps not worth preserving as artistic efforts, were an important step for my musical development.

No pen!

Although I was fixin’ to work a bit on the winds piece on the train (and I certainly brought the notebook), I left my pen at home.

A. Found N° 4 last night!

B. Oh, did I say that already? It has a spareness which contrasts nicely with both the motoric repetition of N° 3, and the freewheeling bop of N° 5.

C. Chuffed that I'm converting It's all in your head for string quartet at last.

D. The process (to some extent, necessarily fruitless) of sending new pieces to people, most of whom don't need it, has begun. We shall see who out there possesses that rare combination of excellent taste and musical nerve!

30 July 2012

Rolling on

Re-wrote the ending of These Unlikely Events № 5, which is now even smokinger.

Found the MS. of № 4!

Adapted Lutosławski’s Lullaby for the Sereno String Quartet.

Bed-time . . . .

Let's pretend …

There is (this is not pretend) material I was thinking of for the close of Th U Ev #5, but in my wind-up to the finish I neglected it.

With the ending as it is, I'm reasonably happy. But let's pretend I am not, and that I have a go at bringing on board the neglected material.

That is my program this evening.

29 July 2012

Marginalia, again

Marginalia (of which I sneaked in another arrangement, for flute, clarinet & harp, earlier this year) has crossed over to string-quartet-dom.  I had an amusing misadventure in Sibelius (which, I freely disclose, would not have been a problem if I had saved a copy of the file early on) . . . I took the original cello ensemble file, made the sundry adaptations needed for a straightforward string quartet (primarily, though not solely, a matter of transposing up a perfect fifth). I had completed the conversion; but then I realized I hadn’t saved the original file in its unaltered form. So I needed to ‘undo’ back to the Ur-text to revert to & save the original. Once that was done, though, in trying to ‘re-do’ back to the string quartet work I had laid in, I managed to crash Sibelius.

The only bad news, though, was that I had to re-create that work.  Against the two bits of good news, that I had not goofily ‘lost’ the Ur-text, and the work to be done over was a matter of a scant ten minutes.  At that scale, it is not wasteful repetition, but only a useful exercise.

Apart from a fondness for the piece (for I wrote it in Bethesda while visiting with my old Wooster mate Moondi), Marginalia strikes me as a lovely, poignant miniature.  It played very well as a trio.  This week coming, I think I am apt to examine the other two movements from the Opus 96, and strategize how to convert them to standard string quartet.

Although I felt to-day that I was quite strongly pleased with it as it stands, I may just possibly ‘re-open’ These Unlikely Events № 5. There is an idea which was buzzing around as I was working on the piece, for which I never quite found an insertion point; but as I mull over the last page, either I shall decide to leave it as is, or I shall find where the ‘forgotten’ material has a home.

This work, which has long needed doing, of wrapping up the Cello Sonatina, the clarinet duos, &c. has (predictably, really) clarified numeration:

These Unlikely Events, Op.104
Cello Sonatina, Op.105
Kyrie, Op.106 № 1 (leaving the possibility of the complete Mass open)
The Artist’s Studio (There’s a Wide World In There), Op.107, work-in-progress (the new big chamber work for winds)
Cantata, Op.108, work-in-progress (for which I have renewed hope)
Mystic Trumpeter, Op.109, work-in-progress (which in a sense I ought to go back to now . . . but in more ways, I am happy to hold off on, at present)

Done again

As I reported to my buddy Lee, I feel roughly 96% certain that These Unlikely Events № 5 is done.  The idea for the ending (while it does spring from the earlier material) came to me while ringing some postcards at the cash register of the MFA gift shop.  If one is alive to the Muse, she'll whisper to you wherever you may be.

So, if indeed № 5 is a wrap (near enough, really) all that is wanted is for me to find the MS. of № 4, so that I can plug it into Sibelius, and then These Unlikely Events will be completely clear of my desk.

Sara in Nashville is such a sport to have read the cello part of the Sonatina, that she is shaming me into following through on an old promise to send her music for her string quartet.  For ages, I have entertained the likelihood that the three-part suite for cello ensemble in four parts, It's all in your head (not that that's a bad place for everything to be) should adapt readily for regular string quartet.  I shall start stress-testing this theory with adapting the middle piece, Marginalia, this afternoon.

28 July 2012

Missed connection

Utterly amused to report that I got so involved with writing the clarinet duo, I missed my stop on the Red Line. Nor did I just miss my stop, but it was four stops down the line that I pulled my head out of my music, and realized that I needed to get off the train and head back. (In my defense, the automated announcements on the train's P.A. system were mis-timed, so my ear filtered them out early on.)
Rattlin' pleased with how the duo is shaping; so I am in that rare, enviable position of having missed a train, and not caring in the least, for joy in the art I'm making.

These Unlikely Events #5, in progress


On Facebook, I see a Sponsored Ad for “Guerilla Opera.” Probably my editor’s eye, but I feel that the impact of the idea is diminished by the single r. Consider the power of Guerilla Operra!

26 July 2012

Dry morning

There is an undeniable temptation to generalize about Thursday mornings, when this morning (which I believe was a Thursday) found me with too little motivation to carry on with work on the duo. But I am not certain that to g. about Th. would genuinely serve the quest for truth. So I'm just going to consider this morning, a morning.

And after all I have the evening free, and I can log in some work. 'Twill not be an idle day.

No one is in a hurry to read the Kyrie. Which actually signifies nothing artistically. Oh, there is perhaps the temptation (quite possibly a genuinely vicious temptation) to think, why do I bother? But if I do not find the answer to that question in the very music which I myself have written, I really should pack it in. The piece will be sung: of that I feel certain. Even if, for any number of reasons, the conductor I have sent it to now elects never to program the piece, somewhere someone will sing it. I know that the piece sings, so to speak. It is the nature of the piece, which is the reason to have written it.

I've been in touch (at last, and again) with my old buddy, Jeff, because it occurs to me that the Cello Sonatina is particularly suited to dancing. Did I notice this as I was writing it? Quite probably.

Anyway, I have long been keen to renew a dancing collaboration with Jeff. Just a matter of logistics.

25 July 2012


The fifth of These Unlikely Events continues, as is likely. I should have known how unlikely it would be, when I speculated that I might complete it in one day. (It is possible, only — given my weekly routines — unlikely.)

This last piece of the five remains true to the mission of just being fun to play.  I figure if the players are having fun performing the piece, there's a good chance the audience will find fun in the listening.

This picture shows the morning sun shining on my morning's work, in the train.

24 July 2012


Hope revives. Work on the Cantata has been hanging upon the question of the accompanying ensemble; and we just may be slightly nearer a fork in the path to the solution.

Worked a bit more on These Unlikely Events N° 5, while seated at a small table in the lobby of South Station. The readiness is all.

Moving along

The train, a fun place to compose, even if the traveler seated beside you appears largely to resent removing personal belongings in order to vacate your seat.

(This picture was taken later, far from the commuting crowds.)

Clarinet duo N° 5, on the move…

Done, and some

Found the solution which was wanted, and so the Cello Sonatina is done, and delivered.  One cellist has confirmed that the part is written for a higher intermediate to advanced student, which may be a notch above the young dedicatee.

Maria has further requested a contrabassoon for In the Artist’s Studio (There’s a Wide World in There), which is a delicious suggestion.

Ideas flowing for the last of These Unlikely Events, and the idea of wrapping that project up is too attractive to ignore.  Could well compose it all to-day, and then over an evening or two I can get the lot done up in Sibelius.

23 July 2012

Notebook in hand

Will probably proof the Cello Sonatina, as a solution to the software conundrum feels nigh.  May also scribble some notes for the new piece.

Temporarily lost in this present rush of activity, is the duet setting of Mystic Trumpeter.  But I've not completely lost sight of that work-in-progress, either.

Status Quo

Before this recent conclusion of the Kyrie, the last piece I had finished was one of the (as yet unperformed) clarinet duos (These Unlikely Events), which I completed in MS. while cavorting in Puerto Rico this past February. It's been a healthy sabbatical, and I'm enjoying the return to on the job composering.
(These Unlikely Events have not yet been performed as clarinet duos;  two of the five numbers have been performed as trios for alto flute, clarinet and harp.  Four of the five duos are complete.  More about 5 presently.)
Apart from additional detail, and the technical hurdle (not enormous, but …) of sorting out the Sibelius score, yesterday saw the completion of the Sonatina for Cello and Piano.  It is not the first piece I've attempted to write for a student player;  and I rather half-fear that in the tradition of Three Things That Begin With 'C', I may have ended up by writing a piece rather beyond the young cellist's present abilities.  The question then is, whether the piece is on the order of something achievable as the student necessarily wins improved technique over time, or whether I've just written 'the wrong piece'.  The composer has the partial consolation, modest in scale though it be, that he likes the piece which has resulted.  Possibly illusory, but I have the feeling that everything in the Sonatina is related to two or three other passages in the piece, so that (even though it is not strictly a rhetorical composition in the Sonata tradition) it coheres quite snugly.
Now, apart from probably seeing at last to the final clarinet duo in the set of five, I begin to ponder a wind piece by request of Maria, who has asked for a piece broad and spacious after the spirit of Out in the Sun (really one of my hits, I should think).  I am thinking (bottom to top) tuba, bass tn, two tenor tns (I do dig that foundation, so to speak), four horns, bass clarinet, English horn, three oboes and sopranino clarinet. The Artist's Studio (There's a Wide World in There).  I was cautious in sharing this tentative title with her yesterday, but it seems to meet with approval.
As with Out in the Sun, I am here thinking a group weighted towards a lower tessitura, generally. Although, with all these oboes (and a sopranino clarinet) the new scoring has more instruments of higher frequencies. Part of the inspiration there must be my recent(-ish) revisitation of the Shostakovich Op.43, with that famous keening-oboes passage.
In walking around the pond yesterday, I began to hear the piece . . . it's going to start with the world's first English horn and sopranino clarinet duet.  Well, I haven't done the research, so I don't know that it will be the very first.  But, the first great English horn and sopranino clarinet duet, that's certain.
Wonderful to find that more than one erstwhile colleague has expressed warm interest in seeing the Cello Sonatina (yet another reason to wrap it up entirely this week).  Both pianist Scott Tinney, whom I first knew back in Buffalo (currently teaching in Peru, and beginning to negotiate the vagaries of life with a smart-phone), and cellist Sara Richardson Crigger, who used to sing with the St Paul's choir here in Boston (now working in Nashville).
A bit of a footnote touching on that now-ancient work, the Evening Service in D which I composed for St Paul's long erewhile:  Stuart Forster, m.d. and organist at Christ Church Cambridge (Massachusetts, that is), leads his choir in a weekly Evensong.  Long ago (as now it seems) we had a cup of coffee and a chat, and I asked him if he might have use for the Preces, Responses &c. which I composed as the 'utility' component of the Evening Svc.  He made me welcome to send . . . however, it was a case where, with the vagaries of electronic storage (where did I put that file?), I was insufficiently organized to follow through with any timeliness.  Whether at the last, he may actually find any use for it, I do not as yet know;  but yesterday, I did finally send the material along.
Viz. the Kyrie . . . loose plans to continue with other parts of the Ordinary, eventually to complete an unaccompanied Mass for mixed four-part choir (how quaint, I know, I know – but we odd composers, you know, write as the Muse bids us).  Certainly no hurry, unless some as-yet-unforeseen demand may arise.
Hoping to sort out the question of accompanying forces for the Cantata, another work which seem already to have a small but ready audience.  Hoping to sort this out, oh, anytime this summer, really.
Living into a highly sentimental return to both Hot Rats and Uncle Meat, which were the first two Zappa albums I found on vinyl in a used record shop on Route 23 in northern New Jersey, back in the day (way back).  I have the CD reissues, to be sure, and generally listen to them on headphones.  But this weekend, I came to play them both on a CD player, listening to them in the space (so to speak) . . . and that experience cued an agreeable type of nostalgia.  That said (not that I can determine the question at all scientifically), these albums sound better, richer on compact disc than I remember them sounding as LPs.
Thinking back to that time, I had a friend or two who were apt to praise the first three Mothers album (Freak Out!, Absolutely Free, and We're Only In It For the Money) above all else, so naturally I was curious to find those albums – which by the time I had heard of them, had been long out of print (thus explaining my quest for used record shops).  I never did find used (let alone new) copies of these albums in long-playing record form;  and at first I bought Hot Rats, Uncle Meat and Burnt Weenie Sandwich with a feeling of Oh well, I guess these will have to do.  As it turned out, though, these three albums got right in amongst me, and have worn very well over time indeed.  In fact (and contrary to the Received Wisdom of Rolling Stone), I actually think more highly of these albums than of the first three (which have been enshrined in 'the rock press' as eternal faves – not that they are bad albums, at all, bien sûr).

22 July 2012

Ten Best Movie Lines

[ disclaimer appears below ]

№ 10: “Your mother was a hamster, and your father smelt of elderberries.” — Jn Cleese as a French Guard in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Admittedly, we could populate the whole list of ten with lines from this movie alone.  Cleese’s outrageous accent, and the little-marked fact that elderberry juice does come to smell rather . . . dubious, push this line to the top.

№ 9: “These flies, for example. They’re protected against pilferage under the provisions of the Guacamole Act of 1917.” — Peter Falk as Vince Ricardo in The In-Laws.

Another script which could run away with the whole list (the argument could be made that a list of ten could be seeded from this scene alone).  It was a close contest, between this line and The benefits are terrific. The trick is not to get killed. That’s really the key to the benefit program. But there: you get a glimpse of the rabbit-hole here.

№ 8: “Disappointed!” — Kevin Kline as Otto in A Fish Called Wanda.

Another script which could &c.  I lit on this one, in particular, to recognize the fact that mere wordiness is not necessarily the key to a great line.  It is also a matter of delivery, and artists like Kline can deliver in a single word.

№ 7: “It costs money, ’cause it saves money.” — Vincent Gardenia as Cosmo Castorini in Moonstruck.

You’ll never think the same about plumbing again.

№ 6: “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” — Michael Caine as Charlie Croker in The Italian Job.

A classic injunction of the Less Is More principle, which Michael Caine delivers fraternally to his brother Stanley.

№ 5: “Wait till you get to my teeth.” — Sean Connery as Come On, You Know Who in Thunderball.

An old roommate used (possibly coined, but I’ve not done the research) the term Little Jimmies for Bond one-liners like this.  This one stands out for its subtlety, I think.

№ 4: “Laugh a-while you can, monkey-boy!” — Jn Lithgow as Lord John Whorfin inhabiting the earthling Dr Emilio Lizardo in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension.

(Seems that any note I might add would only be gilding the lily.)

№ 3: “As opposed to the Louvre in Wisconsin?” — Bruce Willis as the Hudson Hawk in the movie of the same name.

Part of why this works especially well, I think, is as a response to Minerva Mayflower (Sandra Bernhard being a bit more flatly obvious even than usual). You know how when a cast really inhabit their characters, there is a kind of electricity which flows between them as they deliver their lines?  Bernhard is astonishingly impervious to any such electrical charge.

№ 2: “You can’t really dust for vomit.” — Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel in This Is Spinal Tap.

Another drummer lost in mysterious (not to say tragic) circumstances.

№ 1: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” — Mandy Patinkin as Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride.

One treads delicately when challenging a Sicilian’s use of the adjective inconveivable.

Disclaimer:  All right, I don’t think one can really settle on the ten best movie lines, but these were the first ten which came to mind, and they’re darned good.

15 July 2012

Kyrie done

At long last (and even though I reserve the right to tinker with it, on further examination to-morrow) I have practically finished a Kyrie for four-part choir unaccompanied.

The original motivation (months and months ago) was internal:  just felt inclined to set the text.  Over a period of weeks, I sketched probably three distinct openings, all of them imitative, but no two really similar.  At first, when I told Paul of a Kyrie in the works, he suggested that it might work for a Sine Nomine program.  In the event, the texture of Sine's coming season has changed;  and then my work on the piece took a back seat, as I thought of another piece or two, and since there seemed no (or a less) urgent call for such a piece.

Oh, at first Paul also asked if it might become a full Mass.  That was not my first thought, I was writing (as I thought) a stand-alone Kyrie.  But rather than reply to Paul with a no which might be artistically unnecessary, my own thought opened to the possibility down the road.  Perhaps later, if I may, I shall write the remainder of a full Mass . . . if that comes to pass, I think I expect to work on one number at a time, probably interspersed with other writing.

Now that the Kyrie is done (or very nearly done) I am back to work on the Cello Sonatina, to wrap that up for a young lady in Pennsylvania.

07 July 2012

Zappa Played Zappa

Dweezil & cohorts came to the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford, Massachusetts on Sunday night the 1st;  and it was a splendid show. He has done the Zappa Plays Zappa tour at least twice before, so I reckoned on his doing things well.  More than (merely) that, he is certainly his father’s son, in that he is one serious guitar-player.  From his dad, he has learnt to shape a guitar solo magnificently.  The band was tight, so chalk up another musical skill passed on to some degree from father to son.

If I have one quarrel with the show, it is that the band were fairly uniformly loud, and the textures fairly uniformly dense; so that my friend (who did not know all of the numbers beforehand from the recorded legacy of the late, great FZ) came away from the show feeling (rather misled, I should say) that all Zappa’s stuff sounds pretty much the same.  As a result, instead of hungry to investigate the source recordings (e.g.), he feels that he has had pretty much all the Zappa he needs to hear for a long time.  And (with a tear in my eye) I must admit I understand his viewpoint (or auditionpoint).

Apart from the too-uniform density, if a genii came to me to grant one wish, I should have liked to hear a mallets player in the band.  I have an idea Dweezil has toured with a mallets player before, so I am sure there are reasons, or circumstances, or just-the-way-it-happeneds.

All that said, again:  a terrific show, and Dweezil has plenty of the guitarist fire in his belly.

What they played:

“The Gumbo Variations”
“Hungry Freaks, Daddy”
“Oh, No”
“Let’s Make the Water Turn Black” (instrumental)
“Dirty Love”
“Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance” (a little on the fast side, but rather impressive, even so; lotta words to chew out, there)
“Cosmik Debris”
“Apostrophe (’)” (goes without saying, nervy of them just to attempt it, but beyond that, impressive in the execution)
“Black Page #1” (with special “Terry-isms” afterwards)
“Black Page #2”

[ here there was a detour of sorts, including a roadie dressed in a jumpsuit, for which he did not quite have the figure, shall we say, singing a Van Halen song (“Call Me a Doctor”?) ]

“You Didn’t Try to Call Me”
“City of Tiny Lights”
“Orange County Lumber Truck”
“Trouble Every Day” (in a rhythmic manner closer to later FZ tours than to the original)
“I’m the Slime”

“Camarillo Brillo”
“Debra Kadabra”
“Carolina Hard-Core Ecstasy”
“Willie the Pimp”

If Dweezil comes back to southern New England, I’m going, again.