31 May 2014

The Grand Christmas Music Sprint is done

"Christmas in May" is now over (as it must be, tomorrow being June the first). These past nine days, I have managed to re-build in Sibelius the scores of three Christmas pieces for choir, brass quintet, organ (& optional timpani), 145pp. of full score, total. The good news is, I still like the music.

I made a number of tweaks to Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song:  mostly, the usual drill of adding expression marks which was an aspect which was apt to slow me down when I was working with that other notation software.  Ditto with my arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.

In I Look From Afar, some important changes, not so much re-composing, as re-distributing some of the brass lines;  in the original, I must own that several passages were just annoyingly high for the horn. In some cases, I just took a few notes down an octave, which do not reduce the charge of those passages;  in some, I switched the horn and the second trumpet lines (and, again, at need transposed some figures down an octave).  The piece remains a juicy challenge for the brass, but all the vexation has been expunged.

Tomorrow at First Church in Boston

Love Is the Spirit goes on:

30 May 2014

Near the goal

Just about done with I Look From Afar.

My Island Home will go on, 11 November 2014.

I have heard a recording of the string trio version of Le tombeau de W.A.G.!

28 May 2014

Christmas chuffing along

Wrapped up not only Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song, but today, the arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen which I originally did up for Mark Engelhardt at St Paul's here in Boston.

And now, a start laid in on I Look From Afar.

27 May 2014

On with it

Had a superb rehearsal this evening. And this afternoon, I sketched the optional timpani addition to God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.

26 May 2014

About yesterday

In the morning, my choir and handbell ringers did really a splendid job with My Lord, What a Morning.  I have yet to check if the recording came out;  will probably see to that later today.

Most of the remainder of yesterday was dedicated to Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song.  At the end of the day, I had just two pages remaining (with the understanding that I had yet to add the optional timpani to probably the second half of the piece), so I let it rest overnight.

There were some unanticipated tasks which arose yesterday and the day before.  For one thing, there was the odd wrong note . . . which I shall charitably ascribe to the odd errant mouse-drag in Finale.  Why did I not find the wrong note(s) back when we actually performed the piece?  Because, relative to all the other music I wrote for use at First Congo in Woburn, it is a huge piece.  Now, that was really (we might say) selfish on my part:  I had been writing so many small-scale occasional pieces, that I felt compelled (for my own development as a composer) to assay a major-ish work.  Of course, I had no quarrel when, at the last, Bill firmly (but not at all harshly) insisted that we arrange cuts so that the piece would more or less work within a worship service.  At this great remove in time, I forget just where the cuts were made;  but perforce the piece was reduced to say about half the total . . . and I expect that the wrong notes were in the 'excised' passages, else I had certainly found them back then.

The other (and loosely related) matter was, when I first composed Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song, it was the grandest musical work I had attempted since (probably) my doctoral dissertation piece, which ran athwart the necessity of getting a finished piece in the hands of the choir (and organist) so that rehearsal could begin.

Thus, in revisiting the piece twelve years later, there was a seam or two which struck me as abrupt, or in some other way as not quite musical enough.  Today, now that it there is no need to quash the scale at all, there were a couple of places where I added some material;  and I formalized a slower tempo for the final section (Andantino in the first edition, now Poco adagio).

For my purposes this week, then, I need only finish the addition of the (optional, did I mention that?) timpani;  but down the road, this new Sibelius file will make preparation of a choral score a much simpler affair.

24 May 2014

Christmas past, and perhaps yet to come

Curiously, it has become a kind of "Christmas weekend" for me, as I do up Sibelius files of Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song, of my arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen . . . and (perhaps) even the first ("big-band") of my settings of the Advent I Antiphon, I look from afar.

I don't know if it is nostalgia (I wrote the piece for Christmas 2002), or fond thoughts of the late Mr Goodwin, or the thought of the piece actually being performed again, or the genuine merits of the music, but I find myself close to tears when reading some passages of the Op.67.

Made it to p.58 of 89 (the old score), so very nearly two-thirds done. Also got my 10,000 steps walked, and did the grocery shopping. So, a fabulous day.

23 May 2014

In the offing

Actual news item № 1: Olivia Kieffer (director of the Reinhardt University Percussion Ensemble) has My Island Home slated for a fall concert. As soon as I get a date, I shall try to plan a trip to the southlands; will try to interest Olivia in playing Just what everyone was expecting, too.

Actual news item № 2: The First Church Choir are singing two services as part of the American Guild of Organists convention here in late-ish June, and will sing the piece I wrote for them, Love is the spirit of this church. I am in touch with my publisher, as we are encouraged to sell our music at the venue; even keeping it to music related to FCB, I could see having five works of Henningmusick in the stalls.

One speculative bit: One of the singers from the New Bedford Symphony Chorus who sang the Alleluia in D at a pre-concert lecture has asked for Christmas music . . . I am trying to pitch Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song. We shall see . . . .


At last night's rehearsal, my choir did a fine job with My Lord, What a Morning. If we sing it that well (or even, gasp, better) this Sunday, we are viral-video bound!

22 May 2014

Firm of purpose

Per yesterday's post, and even though energy was somehow rather depleted, my nominal effort last night for White Nights was a matter of adding rehearsal letters to Scene 2. I must re-read the source novella, as I find myself wondering if the forest must instead be a meadow.

That done, we now have utterly complete:
Scene 2 (Op.75 № 3)
Scene 3a (Op.75 № 4)

A modest enough "start" for re-booting the project more than 12 years on; but it's the right direction, and the momentum is live.

The other work I did last night:

Arranging two of the five numbers of These unlikely events for B-flat soprano cl and E-flat alto cl. I have not, perhaps, looked at these wee pieces for some three years, but on revisiting them last night, I am puzzled that none of the people I've sent them to have played them. Sure, they're just little bagatelles, but damn it, they're good.

Arranging Le tombeau de W.A.G. for 2vn & va. I sent the score and parts right away to the violist (also a conductor), and this morning I found a message he had sent after 11 o'clock last night: he was in rehearsal with his colleagues that evening, and says that they will read it through next Wednesday, and tape the proceedings.

Even with energies down at this point in the week, the wheels turn.

21 May 2014

Six of the nine ears, and White Nights

Yesterday's 9th Ear rehearsal was excellent. I see people walking about like trees sounds as if we had been playing it the day before, rather than a month ago; in fact, it was the best we have played it yet, so come June, it will be bristling.

We played through Le tombeau de W.A.G. twice, and it already sounds very good . . . and again, we've started rehearsal early, so, ever upward.

How to Tell, which is a lot of living in 11 minutes, is still in a process of gradual refinement (and we are already at a substantially good stage). We played it through, and it was mostly roughly-as-good-as-we've-ever-done; and we went back to clarify a couple of passages.

Afterwards, having only a dollop of reserve energy, I puttered with White Nights, adding some highlighting to a ten-measure stretch of Scene 1. This is the way, I think: take my time with adjustments, get it just so . . . and at the last, it will be better than if I had had the time back then to finish it.

In Arranging News, I will toss off a string arrangement (2 vn & va) of Le tombeau de W.A.G. And recast These unlikely events for clarinet in B-flat and alto clarinet in E-flat.

It is years since I saw the Finale files of White Nights . . . and I wish I had had the presence of mind to generate PDFs of them all. (The fact that I have PDFs of the Overture, Night the First, and Intermezzo I is probably the result of my herding them together to show a conductor or two.) A fellow composer (from out of state) has graciously assisted by converting the files I have, to PDFs . . . and now I am wishing I had "optimized" them (in Finale parlance). As it is, I have huge systems of full orchestra, with many empty staves, and tiny, tiny notes. Still, A. I am glad to have hard copy (and in all events, grateful for Nicole's help, bien sûr); and B. anything that I cannot quite make out unaided, will yield to a magnifier.

As a result, I have a clearer sight of "my desk" (viz. White Nights), in fact, the clearest sight I have had in some six years.

I: Music finished: one hour and 17 minutes' worth. Though the first order of business is, getting all of this "live" again, as Sibelius files. If I can manage that by Independence Day, I shall consider it the Eighth Wonder of the Modern World.

II: Numbers in some substantial state of progress: will amount to about 20 minutes when finished. I may not wait for the outright accomplishment of I. to proceed here.

III: Music remaining to be composed: 34 minutes, according to the present state of my grand schema.

Understanding that this is a general notion, and not a binding commitment . . . Completion (at last) by the end of 2014 is possible.

20 May 2014

A second (writer's) opinion

“What a man does for pay is of little significance.  What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world’s beauty, is everything!” – H.P. Lovecraft in a letter to Maurice W. Moe, January 1929

Another day, another Night

Nastenka at the Bridge and A Walk through the Forest, because of their economy of scoring (and not only that economy) were fairly easy to "dust off"; getting a finished Sibelius score for these was the work of perhaps two days, each. Now as I apply myself to performing the same operation upon Scene 1, a score which (as I had laid it out in Finale) ran to 42 pages, it is a task which requires both patience, and persistence . . . now that I am back to a regular work schedule, I shall endeavor to make even a small degree of progress each day.

The patient application will reap further benefits; I see opportunities to refine this or that passage in Scene 1. (Other passages, as in the case of Scenes 2 & 3a, I am gratified to consider quite finished.) Specifically, and after perhaps 100 measures to which I should never dream of adding anything further, I am plugging in an extended passage for (primarily) strings, and I think some further coloration skill is demanded. I also see the viola part, and I wonder that I thought it was idiomatic, back whenever I actually composed the passage; delighted to find that I discovered a perfectly musical solution without any strain.

In short, I am in the happy position of feeling, not that the delay in the project has been any hardship, but that the time is ripe for making the entire ballet a grand tour de force.

Category error

From the Wikipedia article on a famous author:

He also has a simple definition for talent in writing: "If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented."

In other words, the question of talent does not interest me; all that matters is: has money changed hands, and were you ahead (or even) in the transaction?

I see the point; but there is talent in the world which is not being remunerated. And if he is blind to the matter of talent, that blindness does not become virtuous, just because it is a wilful blindness.

The other error is, whoever plugged that into Wikipedia doesn't understand what a definition is; that remark does not define talent in writing.

Probably the writer himself thinks it partly a silly remark. Someone wrote you a check which didn't bounce: what talent you've got!

19 May 2014

A couple of Twitter facts

Now and again (less frequently lately, perhaps there is some Seeing of the Light in progress), I view in my Twitter feed a remark which, at least in part, boils down to How wonderful is our Twitter?! And thank God we're not Facebook!

Perhaps once a week I go to Twitter on the computer (even on my Droid, I don't generally visit Twitter on a daily basis).  Today, in suggesting "whom" to follow, Twitter informs me that no less than the Boston Symphony Orchestra follows [name of large financial corporation]!

Now, I am a composer.  The BSO doesn't follow me.  They're following the money.

There in a nutshell you have both the real meaning of Social Media, and an icon of the Major Orchestra Dance.

18 May 2014

Return to White Nights

Dear Blog,

I've done it again.  A number of musical happenings, but I've not let you in on them.  Let's try again.

At last, I am back to White Nights.  I've not yet written any new material;  thus far (and in anticipation of an event, not yet set on the calendar, in upstate New York) I have been rebuilding already-composed scenes in Sibelius, and (perhaps to my relief) loving the music.  Scenes 2 and 3a are now reconstructed (in token of the work's ultimate necessity, I have been adding rehearsal marks, and {e.g.} articulations in the strings), and so I am now continuing my way backwards towards the Overture, and starting this afternoon on Scene 1.

So, I have been learning how to work a full orchestral score in Sibelius (at last).  And in any case, since I did not have parts from (had not even added, e.g., rehearsal marks to) the Finale version of the scenes, this is work I should have had to do, anyway.

13 May 2014

Wee choral motet

Love is the spirit will be part of two services held at First Church in Boston as part of the AGO convention (order of service here).

11 May 2014

The Bottom Line

Why should I even bother composing?

If you do not have reasons of your own, no other in the world can supply you with a reason of any sufficiency.

09 May 2014

On miscorrected tritones & musical tampering

On the Droid, I do enjoy the convenience of the Swype method. Now and again, the auto-correct subroutine yields some extra amusement (it looks as if you typed that, but it is not what you typed). As today when I had to "teach" the phone (add to the dictionary, really) the word tritone, because it had automatically substituted uterine. (Frightful possibilities for musicological disasters, there.)

(And incidentally, Microsoft Word doesn't like the diabolus in musica, either - just now offering me the strangely zoölogical triton, instead.)

A busy, full & enjoyable choir rehearsal last night. The last order of business for this season was, to settle upon an anthem for the choir to sing on Trinity Sunday. (And certainly the choir of Holy Trinity United Methodist Church ought to sing on Trinity Sunday!) In memory, I went back to the joyous experience of singing in the choir of the Episcopal parish of St Michael the Archangel, in distant Wayne, NJ . . . not all that frequently, I should think (but the impress in my musical memory has been indelible), we sang a Scottish chant setting of the Gloria. (And perhaps this has been close to the surface of my musical thought, since I shall set this myself for my Mass before long.)

Looking in the hymnal which we use at HTUMC, lo! I found that very Scottish chant.

Or, nearly that very Scottish chant. As I reviewed it before last night's rehearsal, I found that some editor, somewhere, had tampered with some of the chordal cadences . . . and the tamperings are musically weaker than the setting as I well remembered singing the chant. Even so, to get the process of learning the piece started, that was the version we read through a couple of times last night. (Although Charles remembered singing the proper version of the chant in church, and we spent a little time leafing through older hymnals on the choir room shelves.)

This morning, unsurprisingly, I found the chant (in different, I suppose we might say updated, typography) in the 1982 Episcopal hymnal. Curiously . . . I think that the final cadential Amen may be a change from the 1940 Hymnal (in which I learnt the chant). I think we'll go ahead and try this 1982 version at next Thursday's rehearsal . . . .

08 May 2014

File under R for Robotics

[Another The Twilight Zone post.]

The other night, I re-watched "Eye of the Beholder," which is a particularly striking title for such a marvelously executed episode. Apparently, it went by another working title, and at late enough a stage that an alternative set of closing credits was prepared. (I don't quite remember that less-memorable title, though it, too, is drawn from the script.)

Last night, I re-watched "The Lateness of the Hour," from the second season; it was one of the first episodes which were done on videotape as a cost-save pressed upon Serling by the network.

First, a visual note. The grainy quality of the videotape is noticeable from the start, with the shot of Jana's face in the window, illumined by a flash of lightning: an immediate, unfortunate downgrade. I feel the loss of quality keenly, having only recently watched the astonishingly vivid camera-work of "The Howling Man," "Eye of the Beholder," and "The Nick of Time." Still, one may argue that, of the episodes shot during the second season (and considered simply from the nature of the narratives) "The Lateness of the Hour" suffers less from the loss of polish. Kudos to the team, too, for echoing the claustrophobia of the story, by the limitations of the medium.

** SPOILER ALERT :: If you have not yet seen " The Lateness of the Hour," STOP RIGHT HERE, READ NO FURTHER **

The story takes place entirely within a house, and we are cued for the house-bound story by the opening shot of a wild rain-storm; we certainly feel for Jana's irritable antsy-ness to go out and play. Two-thirds (perhaps) of the story is shot within the living room, perhaps one-quarter shot in the foyer, and there is one scene in Jana's bedroom. When at last it dawns on Jana, just what she is, I think of Decker's sharp line in Blade Runner: How can it not know what it is? An even keener irony in the story is, that the character in the drama who shows the most energetic emotion, is one of the robots. Dr Loren is always cool and steady (though not mechanical); Mrs Loren's emotionality is not fiery like her "daughter's," but she is like the ground to which the lightning rod conducts the otherwise deadly energy.

Incidentally, as I compose this post, I remember that this second viewing of another episode, "A Thing With Machines," had me thinking that Stephen King ultimately owes all the considerable royalties for "Christine" to Rod Serling.


Last night, a short (original) piece for the handbell choir emerged, "in a single breath," as it were. And I wrapped up a short arrangement/mash-up of two hymn-tunes in triple meter.

06 May 2014

Postcard from The Twilight Zone

A fresh urge has taken hold of me, and I have been watching quite a bit of The Twilight Zone lately. Watching "A Passage for Trumpet" anew the other evening, my eye caught an anomaly. It does not rise to the name of goof; it would be unreasonable to have expected a solution to it with the technology of that epoch. Not only is it not the sort of detail which would interfere with anyone's reception of the performance; but Jack Klugman's compelling characterization commands the eye in that scene, in all events.

** SPOILER ALERT :: If you have not yet seen "A Passage for Trumpet," STOP RIGHT HERE, READ NO FURTHER **

Klugman plays a trumpeter who is down on his luck. Drunk and depressed, and having hocked his horn once again, he pushes himself in front of an oncoming truck.

For the duration of the drama in which Joey Crown is in a neither here nor there state, this is dramatically underscored by the fact that, as he wanders to this or that frequent, erm, haunt of his, none of the people he knows are in place, and none of the strangers with whom he tries to speak can hear or see him. Thus, too, this peculiar state he is in, is visually realized by there being no reflections of Joey Crown in any of the mirrors he looks into; for that reason, when at last he is returned to the land of the living, the camera returns to a shot of his trumpet in the pawn shop window - and we see a reflection in the shop window of Joey stretched out on the sidewalk.

Yet there is a scene in which we see Jack Klugman's reflection (though, as I wrote above, it is no mark against the director or camera man): when he is the bar, and telling the barkeep (who is a stranger to him) what a nice guy the bartender he knows is, he spends a minute or so leaning against the jukebox recounting another instance of the bartender's kindness. And, we see a reflection in the curved glass of the jukebox.

02 May 2014

Life synching with Art

So, in the car CD tray I've got the soundtrack album for Grosse Pointe Blank, which was playing both on my way to the train station this morning, and back from the train station this afternoon.  When I switched the ignition off (at approximately 17:10), the Guns 'n' Roses cover of "Live and Let Die" was playing.

So, I have a quick cup of tea, rest my eyes while listening to some music, lapse into genuine nap, awaken, have some supper, cue up Grosse Pointe Blank in the DVD tray. And (follow me here) just at the scene when the Guns 'n' Roses cover of "Live and Let Die" plays, my mom-in-law invites me to go grocery-shopping with her . . . and we get in the car, and the Guns 'n' Roses cover of "Live and Let Die" is playing.

That's all.

And, even allowing for the fact that the piece is second-tier Vaughan Williams, I am sure this does not do the piece credit . . . but I don't really remember the musical material of the Romance for harmonica and orchestra, I just know it signifies that the Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis is done . . . .