31 March 2014

Eve of April's Fool

Of course, this is considering only quite a narrow band of literary endeavor. But if, among compact disc liner notes, there is anything more amusing (in ways not apparently intended by the author) than John Adams deriding Liszt for never [having been] known for his subtlety, I've yet to read it.

30 March 2014

Whole lot of Henningmusick today, most of it on the quiet

. . . apart from Plotting, which (I think) was apt to make a nice splash among the listeners as EmmaLee and Paul presented it as the Prelude at First Church in the Back Bay.

My choir started out the morning with a little trepidation, perhaps, but we hunkered down and  gave a creditably moving performance of San Rafaello.  And our doughty handbell ringers took very well to the three (count 'em, three) new pieces we read for the first time in our after-service rehearsal this morning (all arrangements, truth to tell):  My Lord, What a Morning, the Easter Stikheron, and the Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan Easter hymn, Welcome, Happy Morning!

29 March 2014

The Plot exposed!

EmmaLee Holmes Hicks and Paul Cienniwa gave a cracking performance of Plotting (y is the new x) in Mabel Norman's studio at the Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown, Rhode Island this evening.  The audience received the piece most warmly, deeply gratifying.  The composer was especially touched to hear that it was the favorite piece on the program of a couple of listeners.

28 March 2014


Yesterday during the luncheon hour, I worked out the bell allocation among five ringers for my arrangement of My Lord, What a Morning.

I need yet to do the same for the Easter Stikheron, and for Welcome, Happy Morning.

The latter is a tune by Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (yes, that Sullivan) which I find a bit cloying as a congregational hymn, but well suited to handbell arrangement, an environment which lends it a pleasant, music box character.

Part of our choir rehearsal last night was an initial read-through of My Lord, What a Morning; went quite well, I thought.

And I am electrified at the thought of Plotting's première tomorrow. Tomorrow!

27 March 2014

And elsewhere on the Interwebs

An interview (or, questionnaire, really) of yours truly at David Leone's blog.

25 March 2014

Changes, only not really

Had another productive rehearsal yesterday evening (and we've another tonight). The quartet came together quite readily, and we are already at the stage of repeating fairly solid takes, and letting it set.

The trio (which I wrote a few years earlier) is a more demanding piece. We're making good, steady progress (and we have ample time). One decision we made, collectively, early on, is that the tempo marked for the beginning is too fast for the reverberant space of King's Chapel. We've settled into a tempo which serves the music better in that acoustic, and at which it is less vexatious to rehearse the piece. And in fact, 1) it is probably about the tempo at which we played the première (and the piece is more solid, even at this early stage, this time around); and 2) we had a go at playing the entire piece last night, and even at our "relaxed" tempo, the duration fits well.

Separately, I've decided to have the handbell choir accompany My Lord, What a Morning. And I have tomorrow evening to wrap that up.

23 March 2014

Not pictured

We four (Dan Meyers, Charles Turner, Peter H. Bloom & yrs truly) had a cracking rehearsal this afternoon.  Lawd, but I want some practicing . . . .

Handbell début

The first outing of a couple of pieces featuring our doughty handbell ringers at HTUMC:

22 March 2014

Revisiting an analysis

In 2010, Leo Schulte wrote up an analysis of my Sonata for Viola and Piano, Op.102:

This week, I re-read it, and wrote:

While I was riding the Green Line train from the MFA to Downtown Crossing earlier this morning, I read this in toto. Some time passed since I had read your analysis originally, and I wanted to sit and read it through with calm reflection. I read this with pleased astonishment (or it might have been astonished pleasure). So many of your observations and insights on the score enlighten me. Maybe that seems a strange thing for me to say, since I wrote the piece myself. Of course, I wrote it so that there would be both “linear compulsion” (let’s say), and architectural cohesion (references and bindings outside of the real-time unfolding); and to some degree (this may sound a bit funny, but I hope to make it clear, to my non-embarrassment) I paid attention (generally, quite close attention) to the musical elements while I was at work on the piece, so that there was, we may say, much that I can honestly claim that I intended. But your analysis demonstrates to me more connections, some yet-tighter bindings, and a more extensive bucket of cross-score reference, than I was necessarily conscious of at the time. 
Of course, while a composer employs his mind while writing music, more of his mind is probably (or, hopefully) at work on the music than he may be conscious of at any given moment. And I am perforce grateful to you for so perspicaciously showing me aspects of, well, my own work. I thank you anew for your enjoyment of the piece, particularly because (in the present instance) that bond of affection for the music is a precondition for such a penetrating analysis. It is perhaps impossible to offer any praise for your essay higher than, it enables me to hear my own music with a renewed freshness. (And, mind you, I had not found the Viola Sonata growing at all stale in my mind’s ear.)
Thank you.

21 March 2014

Quietish Friday

Paul Cienniwa is preparing the Organ Sonata, planning to use a movement or two as Preludes before summer moves the FCB Sunday worship service to the air-conditioned parish hall.  He now has it learnt, just needs to play it two or three times to “season” it, and then: we are a go!

The two pieces including the handbell choir (When the morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy for shakuhachi, handbells & tenor drum;  and Divinum mysterium for unison choir and handbells) will both go on this Sunday morning.

George Bozeman, organist, organ builder, and great friend of the late Bill Goodwin, is organizing the Memorial Concert for Bill.  For a while I was fantasizing that the Quintessential Brass Quintet, whom Bill hired twice a year for the special services for Easter and Christmas, might take part – and that I might conduct them in one of the many pieces I wrote for them to play at First Congo in Woburn.  Seems they will be otherwise engaged (it is their prime gig season, after all) . . . so as I was composing an e-mail message replying to George, rather than asking if there would be space for a 20-minute clarinet unaccompanied piece, I decided I should write a new 10-minute piece: The Tower Room Is Empty (in memoriam Wm. A Goodwin).  I started sketches for this piece on my lunch break today.

20 March 2014

Spring today

For a concert memorial for the late Bill Goodwin, I shall play clarinet;  perhaps Thoreau in Concord Jail.

Must away to choir early, as we rehearse the handbell choir before the singers arrive;  needed to schedule a supplementary handbell rehearsal, both because we're planning to ring this Sunday morning, and because we were unable to rehearse at our customary hour after this prior's Sunday's service.

I've listened to four different pianists play the Prokofiev Sixth Sonata today.

19 March 2014

Four years ago today

The Sine Nomine Choir, directed by Paul Cienniwa, performed my Passion According to St John, Op.92. And performed it beautifully.

18 March 2014

Hup hup

Had a great rehearsal. The quartet came together quite readily. And, while it was immediately clear that the trio will want work ... quite a lick of work, actually ... it was also clear that (many though the months may be since we first performed it) we all remembered the piece, and we begin now with a great experiential benefit.

Hint of a small project

Of late, when I find myself walking a bit first thing in the morning, I find a certain tune occupying my inner ear. I am thinking about how to arrange it for my choir. I seldom think about it at other times, though (granted, I had the anthem for Heinrich to see to, this past week). Should put it together, though, as its tone would suit Good Friday nicely.

17 March 2014

Inching along

Good report comes in from the inaugural rehearsal of Plotting.

Tomorrow, we begin rehearsing I see people walking about like trees.

Today, I decided that, to the tradtional Easter Stikheron which I started to teach my choir last Thursday, I would add handbells.  So, that's the Op.118 № 3.

And for several days, I have been mesmerized anew by Hindemith's Ludus tonalis.

16 March 2014

Back to Bird

Just watched a movie dedicated to me! Well, not exclusively . . . Clint Eastwood's Bird closes with the credit Dedicated to musicians everywhere.  I'll take it.

It's a movie I remember enjoying a great deal when I watched it in a cinema in Rochester, NY . . . probably when it was in its first run.  Coming back to it, I've watched it in fits (which admittedly, is not fair to the movie) . . . it took me a while, for whatever reason, to warm back up to it.

But mostly, it's an earnest, lifeless movie.

Well, when Pauline Kael didn't like a movie, it was the iron fist in the velvet glove.

Tale of a Make-Over

For the season of Lent over at King's Chapel, music director Heinrich Christensen is leading his choir in various settings of John iii.16 (For God so loved the world &c.), and a bit more than a week ago, Heinrich sent word kindly inviting me to send a piece.  I hadn't set that text yet, and so began to take thought.

For the first two days of bending thought thither, I puttered at a fresh piece, seeking to set the Latin text;  but (for whatever passel of reasons) the result was not much to my liking.  What to do?

It was then that my thought glanced upon a setting I wrote in 2006 of the Nunc dimittis, for an Evensong we performed at the Cathedral Church of St Paul.  If I am not mistaken, it was a piece which Ed Broms (until recently, music director at St Paul's) had his choir sing each year.  So perhaps in the back of my mind there lurked the thought, how might that annual tradition be transferred and sustained?

I decided to try re-texting the music for this Canticle, with the verse from John.

I worked at that for perhaps a further two days, but I was not pleased with how the Latin version of John iii.16 was fitting (poorly fitting) the music.  Well, thought I, what if I cast it in English, instead?

(The first problem to be avoided there, of course, was that I needed a version of the verse which is in the Public Domain;  so I lit upon the verse from the 1899 American edition of the Douay-Rheims Bible.)

Although the task of re-texting the piece did not feel very smooth at first, it immediately felt much more like the right thing, than my prior efforts;  and after something of a warming-up period, the work became perfectly natural.

That said, though . . . for some reason, I did not see a natural make-over for the final section (m.48ff.), which in the source piece is the Doxology following the Canticle text proper;  so (possibly a bit lazily, I don't mind considering the possibility) I decided to set that section with the Doxology in English.  I then in large part worked backward:  m.28ff., which is like m.48ff. only in the minor mode (a switch which, I remember, threw off my choir the very first couple of times that we sang it), I quickly found would suit that whosoever believeth in Him.  There were the inevitable rhythmic changes, and the need to repeat text;  and at the last, I was pleased with the result.

I sent that score to Heinrich, and he discreetly reminded me that the Doxology would not quite suit.  At that point, though, my musical mind was well in the zone;  and to re-use earlier text from the verse, so as to re-text m.48ff. again, was now but the work of another half hour (and some of that time, was the work of reflecting the altered rhythmic values in the rehearsal reduction for keyboard).

15 March 2014

. . . by step

Got it done;  I like it, and for the most part, the setting of the text feels as if that is the text for which the piece was composed.

step . . .

Got the Doxology done. (So, I know how it ends . . . .)

Adaptation in progress

Wanting to get a score to Heinrich for his use this Lent . . . .

For a couple of days, I tried tinkering with John iii.16 in Latin . . . but I think I am going to go with the Douay-Rheims English translation (which is P.D.): For God so loved the world, as to give His only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in Him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.

14 March 2014


My emergence, at last, as a Tibetan bowl ringer to be reckoned with....

Before the concert

And now for something completely different: a baritone saxophone on a stage (in a church).

News galore

Tonight at the Church of the Advent (30 Brimmer Street in Boston), D'Anna Fortunato and Peter H. Bloom will perform the première of The Crystalline Ship (Op.119 № 1) for mezzo-soprano and baritone saxophone, text by Leo Schulte.

Today (dunno just when) is the first joint rehearsal of Plotting (Op.116). (Oh, yes, and I promised EmmaLee that I would write a blurb for the program . . . .)

Premières of both the Cello Sonatina (Op.105) and Nicodemus brings myrrh & aloes for the burial of the Christ (Op.85 № 4), both pieces for cello and piano, will take place here in Boston (or, the Boston area) the first week of April.

Heinrich asked if I had (or, if I do not, if inspiration is wafting for) an unaccompanied setting of John 3:16. I have an idea . . . and now, it's all about execution.

Rehearsal for I see people walking around like trees (Op.120) will begin this Tuesday.

And we of The 9th Ear will be meeting over some tea (and, possibly, something tasty which Maggi Smith-Dalton may bake) a week from tomorrow.

13 March 2014

On the Red Line

Off to meet friends at the Friends Meeting House. Rehearsal!

12 March 2014


Word just in that Sara Richardson will be playing Nicodemus brings myrrh and aloes for the burial of the Christ on 8 April at Austin-Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.

11 March 2014

Myriad prospects

D'Anna Fortunato (mezzo-soprano) and Peter H. Bloom (baritone saxophone, on this occasion) will perform my setting of Leo Schulte's The Crystalline Ship at Boston's Church of the Advent this Friday evening.

That same day (I believe) EmmaLee Holmes Hicks and Paul Cienniwa will begin joint rehearsal of Plotting (y is the new x) for violin and harpsichord.

I think the saxophone choir arrangement of Intermezzo I from White Nights may undergo some rehearsal tomorrow evening.

Sometime soon (this weekend? next week?) we shall perhaps read through I saw people walking around like trees for the first go.

The Cello Sonatina is, I believe, angling towards a performance, though information is wanting.

I should follow up, but I think I recall that Sara Richardson Crigger will be playing Nicodemus brings myrrh and aloes for the burial of the Christ on Palm Sunday (13 April). I think, too, that there will be a Boston performance of the same piece.

In a week and a half (I think) The 9th Ear will have an organizational meeting . . . not only (I hope) a post-mortem of the initial concerts, but plans for concerts which will give meaning to the phrase just used (initial concerts).

My Island Home will perhaps go into rehearsal this fall.

Paul Cienniwa's choir at FCB will sing the Agnus Dei, not sure just when.

10 March 2014


I see people walking about like trees is indeed done now.  It did not need much modification.  Some of the last tweaks were critical . . . not all of them, arguably, so perhaps when we rehearse it, we'll try dropping the odd measure of whose necessity I stand yet in some doubt.

Growing pains of the quartet

The piece now known as I see people walking around like trees originally had a very different working title, and a fine title, too, which I shall use for some other piece hereafter, but it was not a title which was at all suitable to the Allegro non troppo music which started to take over. The piece is a follow-up to the 2011 trio How to Tell (Chasing the Tail of Nothing) . . . and so I wanted to use more extended-ish techniques for the flute, and wanted to use more sounds of the frame drum. The piece being thus all about color, I investigated suitable extended techniques for the double-bass with Charles Turner's assistance.

All that is fine & groovy. This weekend I worked my way to the end of the piece, but the piece is not 100% done . . . probably 98.5% done, only the ending needs a little something. Probably not much, and so the key is, not to meddle, not to make change for the sake of the need to adjust, but to keep quiet and listen for the subtle (probably) alteration which will make the ending work as it ought.

09 March 2014

And as for today

Proud of my choir for doing a fine job in this morning's service, and of my handbell choir for hard work in rehearsal today.

Worked some more on my quartet for 15 April, I saw people walking around like trees . . . not sure at the moment if it is actually done, or if I am just a tad tired this evening.  I shall see what tomorrow morning reveals . . . .

08 March 2014

Before the clocks change

Listened to Gurre-lieder, some Vivaldi, a Haydn symphony or two, and watched Cary Grant sort-of-conduct some Brahms (relatively good, as such cinematic efforts go).

07 March 2014


First, sweep everything out of your mind.
Then, sweep out the sweeper.

This morning, driving through Winchester, my listening was Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante playing concerti by Antonio "Spunky" Vivaldi.

Today, I have not yet done any actual composing; but I have cast my eye upon fresh sketches.

A few months ago, I picked up (quite on whimsical spec) a collection of essays by Roger Shattuck, The Innocent Eye, for perhaps a dollar and fifty cents. I was just browsing a chapter in the form of an exchange of letters about Stravinsky, fully justifying the purchase.

Launching Lent

Delighted to report that my choir sang beautifully at a lovely Ash Wednesday service, leading the congregation in chanting Psalm 51. It was my first Ash Wednesday at Holy Trinity, and I am told we had a larger turnout than usual. Charles Turner concluded the service with a delicate shakuhachi solo.

Rehearsal last night saw strong attendance, and good work. We read through a number of scores for the first time, including my arrangement of Kingsfold, with the Palm Sunday hymn text which was the original occasion for creating the arrangement. (Being singers of good taste, my choir do like it.)

We still need some more music to carry us up to Easter, and as I was poking through my folders for the traditional Russian Stikheron for Pascha, I chanced upon the hymn-carol I had composed for the November 2003 Evensong at St Paul's (the occasion of the première of Nuhro), with the Lenten text I plugged in for the March 2006 Evensong. I think there's a good chance my "new" choir can handle it, with just a little work.

04 March 2014

We could still be friends

I don't care if you listen to Babbitt

03 March 2014

By any other name

. . . the exaltation of the insufficiently talented, by the insufficiently curious.

02 March 2014

Once more out of the depths

A few weeks ago, when a snow storm interfered with choir rehearsal, Charles Turner wrote a piece (bass voice & clarinet) for the two of us to perform at the following service in the choir's stead. The day of the service, he suggested we should write pieces for the two of us in this wise; so today I have started just such a setting of the 130th Psalm.

01 March 2014

Clarinetist's Holiday

Had the day off, and before I went a-gallivanting off to southern Vermont (not pictured), I finished (and sent off) the saxophone quartet to the Asylum Quartet call;  took that quartet and re-arranged it for flute quartet (picc, 2 C flutes, alto flute);  and sent just what everyone was expecting to the duo Transient Canvas (because one never know, do one?)