24 December 2016

This endris night

Pre-service rehearsal done here at First Church Boston.  Paul Cienniwa & I shall play a cl/org arrangement of The Snow Lay on the Ground.

14 December 2016

Bit of a Recap

Weeks after the fact, I write of how very gratifying it was, to have not one, but two pieces performed which I wrote for local chamber ensembles, and indeed, to have enjoyed the privilege of conducting one of them.  Additionally, to have had so wonderful a choir as Triad to give the belated concert première of the Song of Remembrance, Op.123 in their/our two concerts was wondrously satisfying.

In some ways I think that the most musically important thing I might say about the compositional process for both Oxygen Footprint and The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth is, it felt great to write them.  Knowing that all the several instrumentalists involved in either piece would be technically able to handle any reasonable challenge I might pose them, gave me as the composer freedom to give my imagination full play;  and both pieces are surpassing playful.

Part of the rationale in putting the Song of Remembrance on the recent Triad concerts was, it is a piece which would be comparatively easy for a group of such accomplished singers.  That said (and not unlike the Alleluia in D) it is a score which, while transparent in its ease, we might almost say, nevertheless requires focus and unflagging attention.

25 November 2016

Henningmusick on the Air

On Monday, 28 November at 12:00 noon (Eastern) Gandalf ("None shall pass who have not rehearsed properly") will interview me (Karl Henning) on WJFF 90.5FM Radio in Jeffersonville, New York. The interview will live-stream at www.wjffradio.org/ . . . so there is no geographic barrier to listening in.

The Music for the program:

  1. Agnus Dei, Op.106 № 5. Performance by Triad. (4:45)
  2. Metamorphosis of Charles Turner’s The Hebrew Children, Op.133 № 3. Source performance by the HTUMC Handbell Choir. (5:15)
  3. Out in the Sun, Op.88. Performance by the University of Michigan Wind Ensemble, directed by Rodney Dorsey. (15:10)
  4. Night of the Weeping Crocodiles, Op.16. Performance by The k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble. (7:45)
  5. Moonrise, Op.84. Performance by MidTown Brass Quintet. (5:30)
  6. My Island Home, Op.115. Performance by the Reinhardt University Percussion Ensemble, directed by Olivia Kieffer. (5:30)
  7. From the Pit of a Cave in the Cloud, Op.129 (excerpt). Performance by Barbara Hill MeyersThe k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble. (4:15)
  8. Suspension Bridge (In Dave’s Shed): Sonata for Viola & Piano, Op.102, second movement. Performance by Dana Huyge & Carolyn Ray. (12:30)
  9. Jazz for Nostalgic Squirrels, Op.117. Performance by the 9th Ear. (4:45)
  10. Mistaken for the Sacred, Op.141. Fixed media component. (7:15)
  11. Castelo dos anjos, Op.90. Performance by Tapestry. (13:00)

23 November 2016

What has been happening

The Holy Trinity United Methodist Church music program has been in steady preparation for our Christmas Concert on 11 December.  Additionally, I have kept busy in the following ways:

Kammerwerke performed the piece which they commissioned from me, The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth, Op.130, on Friday, 18 November in Bedford, Mass. It was my honored pleasure to rehearse them and to conduct the première.

Ensemble Aubade performed the première of Oxygen Footprint, Op.138 in Stamford, New York Sunday afternoon, 20 November. They invited me to their Saturday rehearsal, and they enjoy my full confidence; and the report is that the piece was very well received.

We had our latest Triad concerts (our fourth program already, not counting the Nono outing) Saturday and Sunday, 19 & 20 November.  We sang the concert première of my Song of Remembrance, Op.123, originally written for the Framingham State College Chorus.

Monday evening, I whipped up a simple arrangement of a New Year’s Carol, for our choir rehearsal last night; this will be the last compositional work towards the 11 December concert (and we'll also have the use of it the morning service of January the 1st, since New Year’s Day falls on a Sunday).

19 November 2016

The To Do List

Mark handbell parts for Morning Light (actually, no use having these in the folder before 4 Dec . . . hopefully, not too late, then: concert is 11 Dec)

Reflow pp.9-10 of vocal score of In dulci jubilo (for choir rehearsal 22 Nov)

Have a tentative Christmas Concert order to review/revise with Anne (tomorrow morning)

Sit in on Oxygen Footprint rehearsal (12:00 today)

Arrange New Year's Carol (for choir rehearsal 22 Nov)

Report for Triad concert I (18:00 today, Cambridge)

Learn how the MIDI voices are invoked at the organ at HTUMC (sometime soon)

Try to pin down a venue for the 24 March concert

Report for Triad concert II (18:00 tomorrow, Somerville)

Re-score In dulci jubilo for Dan (by 1 Dec)

Harvest video files from the Triad concerts and return video equipment to Peter (before Thanksgiving)

Prepare CD of Henningmusick for the radio interview (by Saturday 26 Nov)

Compose the percussion solo for Mistaken for the Sacred (ASAP, considering)

Finish cleaning up the vocal score for the Schulte Exaudi me (within two weeks of the present Triad concerts)

Arrange Things Like Bliss for clarinet, harp, harpsichord (probably after the Op.141 and Schulte tasks)

Resume second movement of Symphony (when the dust has somewhat settled)

29 October 2016

One giant leap for gaskind


This is how the program note must perforce begin:  Like many another composer, from the first that I listened to Debussy’s exquisite Sonata, it has been my wish to write a trio for flute, viola and harp — a sound world which is at once rich, and delicate.  I remember clearly the afternoon when I was in the Andrews Library at the College of Wooster, listening to an LP recording while following the score.  The Debussy trio is a kind of event in my musical life.

Decades later, I set to writing just such a piece.  How?

First, I said to myself, “Forget Debussy.”  (If I have not been clear:  I love a great deal of Debussy’s music, and this piece in particular;  so this is not any statement of artistic hostility.)  The aural beauty of this combination of instruments was revealed to me by the Debussy piece, but the last thing I wanted to do was, write “my version of” the Debussy Sonata.

Second, the palette thus scraped back down to the wood, the answer was obvious:  write your own piece, and these are the instruments to employ in the piece.

The title is a double pun, and yet the second pun did not occur to me consciously until I set to writing these notes.

The first pun adapts an au courant phrase for a metric of the individual’s environmental impact.  My idea is that, befitting the ensemble’s capacity for delicacy, we want an airier impact.  And “footprint” in music suggests the dance, which ties in to the before-today-unconscious second pun.

One of the ballets Prokofiev composed for Dyagilev’s Saisons russes in Paris, a sort of celebration of the Workers’ Paradise at a time when the West was still intrigued by the new socio-economic system in Moscow, is « Le pas d'acier », The Steel Step.  This may seem a contradiction.  I am quite a fan of this ballet;  but I do not believe I had it in mind when I wrote my trio.  Why it may seem a contradiction is, I find the counterpoint between the two titles (Steel Step, Oxygen Footprint) quite winning.  I almost wish I could say I HAD meant it.

Because, in a sense, we might consider my piece a sort of ballet suite in miniature, starting at a vigorous pace and with a frequent emphasis on syncopation.  By stages, the music makes its way to a kind of dreamy-yet-insistent gigue (jig).  And the becalmed-intense emotional core of the piece has a distant family resemblance to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

And with observing that Debussy and Stravinsky once sat down together, to play the four-hands rehearsal reduction of that celebrated ballet, these program notes have come full circle.

27 October 2016

Symphony Update: second movement

Began sketches for the second movement while rolling into Boston on the Red Line. These sketches record ideas which I was turning in my inner ear while my head lay on the pillow last night, so work actually started 26 October.

That is all.

26 October 2016

First Movement Done

or, The “Projecting Creative Work Is an Inexact Science” Symphony Update

About yesterday’s post, which advised that the first movement was not yet done, and it would probably be a couple of days.  Earlier in the day (why, yes, that would have been about 5 AM) I composed the first draught of the ending of the movement.

It didn’t work, I knew immediately that it didn’t work, I knew the several ways in which it didn’t work, and I was not much worried about it not working, because I knew I would find the ending which does work, and before long.

That, too, is part of the composing experience:  at times, you do work, and you know that – as it stands – it is ‘bad work,’ but that the germ of the good and deserving work is right in there, and (provided you don’t just bulldoze it over) you will find and uncover the good work, and all will be gas and gaiters.

And I knew all that when I posted yesterday.

What I didn’t know was, that the good work would jump right out at me yesterday evening.  The first problem with yesterday morning’s work (which, really, was a pretty good quarter-hour’s work, for so beastly early in the day) was that, as the coda to the movement, it was too short.  (There was another problem or three, but this was the lynchpin problem.)  The coda needed 1. to feel like the ending, 2. to have enough mass of its own, that it sounds like the conclusion of the movement, and not “What was that? Oh, have we stopped?” and 3. even while it takes material from earlier in the piece, it needs to apply braking, and not feel like we’re still chuffing along.  As a result, the first movement, which I was figuring on running seven minutes and a half, actually runs almost eight minutes and a half.  And that’s fine (see: The musical result is what matters, above.)

So then, forget about waiting a couple of days.

The first movement is done.

I may wait a couple of days before starting the second movement.

Or, I may not.

And, the perhaps unlikely lesson?  Maybe the work you do at 5 o’clock in the morning won’t be the best work you’ve done;  but it could yet be the doorway to the best work you’ve done.

25 October 2016

Symphony Update: Approaching the end of the first movement

Probably I got just a bit ahead of myself; the news is nevertheless good.  To recap so far:

I made a start on the first movement 8 October, almost fully the first minute of the piece. Tweaked that, and expanded to about the 2-minute mark, the next day.

Over the following week, I did hardly any actual composing, but I thunk pretty hard;  the hard thunking paid good musical dividends, and when I did get back to setting pen to paper (whether literally or computer-figuratively) progress was yet greater.

That cycle repeated again, and this past weekend’s “realization-work” of the preparatory conceptualizing proved, in my view, very highly gratifying.

While the end of the movement is in sight indeed, the euphoric feeling that a sort of momentum will carry me across a sort of finish line, is actually rather misleading, and I would do my processes a disservice to be at all ‘disappointed’ that I haven’t “just finished, already.”  I am sure that the thoughts I have for the ending of the movement are good ideas, the “right” ideas;  but if I reflect a little soberly (or simply, “non-euphorically” – not that I should not feel elated at having accomplished so much with the piece thus far) I understand that, having accomplished so much so well over the two days of the weekend, I am again at a reflective phase of the cycle.

So, it’ll be a couple of days.  And that’s just fine.

12 October 2016

Symphony, first movement: how to proceed?

(As posted to Facebook 12 October)

"Though we seemed dead, we did but sleep...."
~ French herald in Henry V

(Symphony Update)

While no more notes have landed on the page since Sunday's session, there has been (in a musically pertinent sense) mental activity. Partly, I've thought of events/passages to follow (setting many of them temporarily aside, as not The Right Thing for measure # 58, where the score of the first movement presently stops); partly, I've been digesting the musical Stuff of what is presently composed.

This last may sound odd. "He wrote it; doesn't he himself GET it?" But recall that my goal this weekend past was a musical object possessed of a certain sufficiency, to serve as a lump of workable sonic clay. It was the result of musical caprice, an impromptu. In a word, I thought it sounded fairly good, and that it would be something to work with; yet the creation was, I won't say a speedy affair, but the idea was, do first, and reflect after. (There are many situations in Life where that is NOT the way to proceed, but I've found I can compose like this to no one's hurt.)

So one of the things I've done is, study my own score, reduce the pitch material to a compact phrase, the clearer to make further use of what is already in the piece, so that the composition contains, among other things, ample self-reference and musical affirmations.

That done ... I now go to paper. Just regular, blank paper, to sketch, arrange, fiddle with verbal and graphic scribblings with which my inner ear will associate a variety of musical elements and ideas, some of them more or less specific, some of them vague but nevertheless real. The broad idea is a kind of blueprint, although I caution you from considering it as anything as fixed as an architect's blueprint must perforce be. The arrangement, ratios, and content of these visual blocks will quite probably alter over time as I work on the piece; since of course what ultimately matters is the success of the sound of the music.

This sort of sketch is a kind of "pre-compositional" activity which I've used in the past, although by now, in quite the distant past. It is an ancillary process which was very helpful earlier in my composing, and which I largely internalized. It's kind of a fun "back to basics" activity which, I think, helps me to ritualize and affirm this formal embarkation upon the composing of a symphony.

So that's the tale for today.

Symphony: A start on the first movement

(As posted to Facebook 10 October.)

It's Thanksgiving Day in Canada, and I take this opportunity to thank so many of you for all the good, warm, positive vibes you have sent in response to my announcing the beginning of my symphony-in-progress. I got good work laid down over the weekend, and the first movement is nearly two minutes done (with the understanding that I still may tweak, modify, recombobulate the latest 15 measures). As I wrote, I am in no rush to get the movement finished, but I was keen to get a certain "critical mass" of the piece formed, so that it should be an independent object which exists not only in the ephemera of my imagination. I'll say I am really pleased with the start, which spurs me (in the best way) to make certain that the movement as a whole carries out that promise.

So what is different this week? The fact is, that the thought crossed my mind perhaps six times in the past: I should write a symphony. I know I've wanted to. Once, I even made several sketches (none of which I am using in the present piece, for whatever reason). The key difference at present is, I feel entirely capable of composing a symphony. This feeling, arguably, may prove illusory. But I am for the moment going to continue to enjoy living into that illusion.

Symphony beginning

(As posted to Facebook 8 October.)

In the perhaps optimistic expectation that life will carry on 9 November and beyond, I have started work on Symphony № 1.

There are layers of optimism here . . . starting a large piece, and hoping to bring it to its completion . . . starting it, with the apparent implication of a № 2 . . . writing a large piece, not knowing if or where it might be brought to an audience . . . &c. &c. &c.

But, over the past couple of days, a musical idea has taken root in my inner ear, and its only practical application is, for orchestra.

Other practical guidelines for the present project:  I'll write it for a smallish orchestra, and at a technical level which could conceivably suit a community orchestra.  Nevertheless, the musical language will be at a level to make it worth the attention of a professional orchestra.  The scale, too, should not be immediately forbidding to a community orchestra;  so let's say a 25-minute piece in three movements.

As there is no immediate (nor near-term) need for such a piece, I do not set even a soft deadline;  I'll work on it, as and when the Muse bids me.

25 September 2016

The Young Lady, Her Progress

The members of Kammerwerke first  wrote to me about a possible commission in January of 2015;  but earnest discussion of what it would musically entail did not begin until May.  I proposed a 12-minute duration for the piece;  and Kammerwerke asked of me that the piece should be written for ten musical peers (i.e., not for a solo quintet plus an ‘accompanying’ quintet), and that the piece should contain “melody.” I cast that word in cautionary quotes because two different people (even two different musicians) can mean quite different things by melody. We mutually decided that we would start by my writing a beginning to the proposed work, so that the group should have a concrete musical example; and we would discuss the matter further.

At about that time, I was walking in downtown Boston at my lunch hour, and I saw an energetic businesswoman walking up the sidewalk, talking on her cell phone. Suddenly, she seemed to have need of both hands, in order to fish something out of her bag. What to do with the phone? She popped it in her mouth, and I thought, there:  That's the name of the piece for Kammerwerke. The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth.

Both the impression of restlessness, even impatience, and the peculiar (although, from a certain angle, practical) solution to the problem of freeing up her hands, set my musical mind working.  A vigorous rhythmic profile, to suggest the bustling activity;  wilfully independent voices, to suggest the apparent chaos of the street scene of a lunch hour in Boston’s financial district, or perhaps to suggest the contrast of the swirl of activity around the Young Lady, and the swirl of her internal demands.  Our Young Lady is a soul, and like any of us (however agreeably stimulating we find the bustle of such a scene) must have a center of calm and focus.

The piece is no linear narrative of these things;  it is rather a composition shaped by musical logic, with elements mysteriously suggested to the composer by reflection upon the experience of watching, and contemplating the sight.  And, of course, music intended to comply with Kammerwerke’s musical guidelines, which were quite reasonable, and which any capable composer might fulfill.

I began, then, with composing the first five minutes of my projected piece, and I sent that beginning to Kammerwerke in June of 2015.  While I waited for the group’s response (which would probably not come in until they had had a chance to sit down and read the piece all together), I sent the piece to Dr Jack Gallagher.  I had studied composition with Dr Gallagher at the College of Wooster (Ohio), and I keep in touch with him, periodically sending him my latest work, that he may know that his efforts to teach me something have not been fruitless.  Dr Gallagher’s response to the beginning of the piece was sufficiently positive, that I felt I should go on with writing the piece, regardless of how it might be received by Kammerwerke.

Thus by October of 2015, I had advanced the piece to the nine-and-a-half-minute mark;  so (as the final piece would be 12 minutes) substantially done.  (All this while, I might point out, I had also been at work on a number of other compositions.)  I sent the expanded score and parts to Kammerwerke, so that they should have the freshest version of the piece to review, while they were still considering the question of whether to commission the piece from me.  Again, they have had other programs to work on and to perform, and while I knew they would return to me, I understood that patience was of the essence.  There was a request to simplify the rhythmic notation of a couple of measures;  and as I considered it, I agreed that the musical result which I desired could be notated less “densely”;  and I modified those measures.

In November, word came that the group had read the Young Lady and that the reception of the piece was generally good;  there was as yet no pressing need to complete the score.

In April of the present year, word came that Kammerwerke would sit down to read the piece sometime between June and September;  with that in mind, I dedicated a week’s compositional efforts in June to completing the piece (as planned, 12 minutes and perhaps just a bit).  And soon word came from the group that they wished to go ahead and program the piece for their November concert, and that I was invited to rehearse and conduct it.

On 21 July we all together rehearsed the piece, and even managed to play through the entire score (under tempo, for the most part), and the piece made a good impression on the group.

Karl Henning

24 September 2016

15 September 2016

Letting the dross be dross

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

Windy & Sky-Wheely

So, part of the story of The Wind, the Sky, & the Wheeling Stars . . . in the days when the company where I work was a subsidiary of A Large Bank, I knew a chap named Wendell (still with the bank, I believe) and he was taking part in a sort of external workshop or seminar, and another participant was Yoichi Udagawa, who conducts the Quincy Symphony. Wendell brought us two in contact, and Yoichi asked me to write a piece for the Quincy Symphony; I still remember meeting Yoichi in a Dunkin Donuts in Cambridge, not far from Alewife station. (No, there are not many Dunkin Donuts visits which stand out in my memory.) This must have been in the fall of 1999; the concert would be February of 2000. I should emphasize the kindly confidence that Yoichi placed in me; or, how kind it was of him to adopt the self-confidence which I projected. At that time, I had only wished to write for orchestra, had never actually done it; so this was my baptism by fire.

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

henningmusick: The self-evident [telephone her teeth] hold

henningmusick: The self-evident truths we hold

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

The Show Itself

With as yet no comment ... June the 21st at King's Chapel:


05 July 2016

The self-evident truths we hold

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.

30 June 2016

Gloria erat sic finis

Although I have probably blogged to this effect before . . . it all started with a call to Paul.  In all likelihood, I had been listening to Mozart’s d minor Kyrie, and I thought I’d like to compose a setting of my own;  and I wanted to write unaccompanied polyphony, so a good choir was indicated;  and I called to ask Paul if a Kyrie would be acceptable for use in the Unitarian parish whose fine choir he directs.  Not only did he give me the green light for the Kyrie, but he asked that fateful question, “Is this the first movement of a complete Mass?”

Hadn’t got as far as thinking that, but the question could not very well now be disregarded.  So I accepted the suggestion, on the understanding that I wasn’t “stopping everything” to write a Mass, but that I would take up a movement, now and then, on my Muse’s caprice.

That said, I wanted to get the Credo, and all its text, done up first – first, that is, after the Kyrie (which was sung at First Church Boston . . . in fact, I think I was in the tenor section of that performance . . . not exactly sure why we do not have a document of that event).

For the Kyrie, obviously, I would inscribe a dedication to Paul Cienniwa.  My idea then was to dedicate each movement to a choral director (most of them here in Boston) to whom I owe an especial debt for helping to foster and promote my compositional work.  The Credo bears the dedication “in memoriam Wm A. Goodwin,” who was responsible for commissioning so many occasional pieces for use at First Congo, and who essentially bankrolled the purchase (and the first subsequent upgrade) of Finale.  The Agnus Dei is dedicated to Mark T. Engelhardt who as Music Director at the Cathedral Church of St Paul on Tremont Street invited me to compose a festive Evensong, the chief of many occasions on which he directed his choir in Henningmusick.  The Sanctus is dedicated to Heinrich Christensen who has made King’s Chapel a welcome venue for twice-annual presentations of Henningmusick.  And the present Gloria is dedicated to Nana Tchikhinashvili whose choir Moderato Cantabile has repeatedly performed my Magnificat, itself no easy piece.

Of course, what I have found (which ought to have been no surprise) is that the Gloria, while less than the Credo, also has quite a passel of text.

– and another reason it ought not to have surprised me is, that when I finally had the Credo done to my satisfaction, I thought, “Let me write the Agnus Dei now:  that is just a little slip of text ....” –

Probably (and even granting my infrequent blogging of late), I’ve here detailed the various fitful starts to the Gloria, all the more reason why I am pleased to report what a well-oiled machine it is now, this week.

13 June 2016

Sound & Sight in the works

The artists have been busy on their own account (which is, truth to tell, their normal condition), so it was only yesterday that they sat down to listen both to The Conquest of Emptiness (the fixed media, plus "virtual winds" so that they have an idea of what we will play in counterpoint) and to On Contemplating the Irrepressible.

When Masha and I first chatted up the project, we settled on two pieces of art-plus-music, the first to be of a somewhat lamenting character (well, we said "lamenting," and I guess my music went "somewhat," there), the second, lively and cheerful.

Back when I first played for the artists the fixed media for The Conquest of Emptiness, I also played (see "virtual winds," above) the first 24-48 measures of what I had written at that time of the obbligato winds. I was highly satisfied with the both the writing itself, and how it played with (or, played off against) "the fix." This is a joint effort, however - I am asking the artists to do something a little outside their typical experience, in having them do their work as a performance, to the strict timeline of a piece of music . . .

--In a sense, they are perfectly accustomed to performing in public, all the times they set up an easel in the Boston Public Garden, or Boston Harbor, or the Arboretum, or anywhere, where passersby take an interest and stop to watch them in action. So the novelty is in degree, not in kind--

. . . and their feedback is a vital part of getting to a result with which all the artists involved are satisfied. And my first go at the wind parts for The Conquest of Emptiness, Masha felt was too active, cheerful - which was not an artistic cavil at the musical writing, but an observation on the character of the piece, to which she and Irina will respond in the space. I set immediately to re-composing the winds, but it was only yesterday (as I say) that the artists sat down with me, that I might demonstrate "the new piece" for them. They pronounced it satisfactory. (I should add that, at first, when I played for them simply the fixed media mix, they found it beautiful; they did make a couple of requests, which I incorporated in the final mix.)

So: it was only this past Saturday afternoon that I reached the completion of the fixed media for On Contemplating the Irrepressible. It's a good job I had all my evenings free last week . . . I did not genuinely dawdle, but I was a while getting the skeletal "accompaniment score" composed; I don't think that was really done until Friday evening. Saturday morning and afternoon, then, were agreeably spent in manipulating sound objects and layering them onto the skeleton. One especially fun subproject was extracting passages from three instruments from the Ghanaian drumming section ('B'), smushing them around a bit, and superimposing the result as a quiet, subversive counterpoint against the second (B) section (m. 168ff.) There is so much vigor and activity in this piece (which was a designed contrast to The Conquest of Emptiness, of course) that on Friday and Saturday, I did have an idea of keeping the live winds' component simple. More on that presently. In all events, I find the fixed media bit for On Contemplating the Irrepressible highly satisfying, my best effort in that vein so far.

I spent yesterday morning working on wind parts for On C. the I., and by lunchtime I had got to the 2'30 mark (from rehearsing The Conquest of Emptiness with the band, we found it helpful to mark in the parts what timings of the track align with the rehearsal marks) so: one-third done, and for much of the rest of the piece I could with relative ease adapt the material already written.

This, then, was the point at which I sat down with Masha & Irina to demonstrate the tracks. The artists found the fixed media for On Contemplating the Irrepressible a blast, too. They like the fact that it is not seven and a half minutes of unrelentingly fast music, but that there are the contrasting Ghanaian drumming sections, which are more moderate in pace, though still active. They want the ending to be a little louder, which I think is an easy remix.

I then played for them the first 2'30 of the piece, together with the wind parts I had then written. She expressed herself with great delicacy and sensitivity, in advising that the wind parts from that morning were too busy; "I'm sorry to make you do more work," she added. I hastened to assure her that she was absolutely right; that I myself knew a day and a half before that I wanted to keep the wind parts light of tread, but that I had lost sight of that mission; and that, as for doing more work, I wanted to make sure I was doing the right work. Right away I spent about 20 minutes modifying what I had, to test on Masha's ears, and we had the solution; and I finished off the wind lines over the course of the afternoon.

Part of 'the lighter touch' angle is, we winds have long stretches of rests. But, we aren't really 'the concertante soloists' in this context, but part of the accompanying ensemble for the featured artists; so, we'll count our rests and make sure to come in on time.

The overall structure of On Contemplating the Irrepressible, then: I don't know if this is an official musical term, but it will do the job . . . the rhythmic soul of the (A) section is the classic "mariachi hemiola," the supple rhythmic alternation between 6/8 and 3/4; in the case of my score, I vary this a little further in 'every other 6/8 measure' by an additional beat. The basic (A) riff, then, is a four-measure pattern: 6/8 - 3/4 - 9/8 - 3/4.

There is an (A') passage which is progressively varied, the same tempo as (A) but in effect 'relaxing into' a regular 3/4. At first, anyway - for we soon alternate, not with 6/8, but with 2/4. I thought of this as a sort of codetta, and as a result it is a final variation of this section which drives into the final cadence.

As mentioned above, the (B) section is a 3/2 riff which I first learnt back in Charlottesville, courtesy of Scott Deveaux's African Drumming seminar in Charlottesville. Add a ritardando here and an accelerando there, and an assortment of these building blocks essentially accounts for the course of the piece.

11 June 2016

In progress, June 2016 edition

First off, I owe the freedom of working across so liberal and ample a timespan to three expertly musical colleagues.

The rehearsal of The Conquest of Emptiness (four winds and fixed media) went exceptionally well. It is, simply said, a bit of a stretch for me, though I have the benefit both of regular practice in chamber performance, and of the experience of playing (with Peter H. Bloom) the piece which David Leone wrote for us, flute, clarinet & fixed media.

Confident that that number is readily conquerable, I've had the blank page before me, of the 7-1/2-minute "last movement" of the 21 July event. The piece has been an agreeably engaging challenge, a combination of compositional techniques completely "in hand," with two "layers" of the process out of my ordinary:  the quasi-appliqué technique of adding a counterpoint of "electronic" sounds (properly speaking, recordings of natural sounds, manipulated in various ways);  and then, this settled recording to serve as a fixed 'background', to write for four live winds, in a way which is both musical, together with the fixed elements, and executable, by four amply professional musicians, without undue (not to say, inhuman) strain.

It took me the better part of a week to be satisfied with the "skeletal score":  a base composition from beginning to end, a musical narrative of sufficient interest in itself, in that one could listen solely to it, and hear a satisfying logic carried by, and a coherent narrative through, it alone. Yet, with enough "open space," to admit two distinct counterpoints:  of "non-musical" events alongside;  and the vital participation of four real-time, live instrumentalists.

More tomorrow, Gentle Reader.

04 June 2016

Of King’s Chapel & Kammerwerke

Last week-ish, fresh word came in from Kammerwerke (double wind quintet) viz. the considered commission:

  1. The reading will be Thursday, 21 July.
  2. My piece is in consideration for their Winter 2017 concert.
  3. I may be the one to conduct it.
But we have yet fresher word, from last night’s rehearsal of The Conquest of Emptiness, the first of the wind-quartet-plus-fixed-media (one part of a dialogue between artistic disciplines, featuring artists Maria BablyakIrina Pisarenko) pieces for the upcoming King’s Chapel concert.

My liaison with Kammerwerke is Carol Epple, who is in our band for 21 June, and whom I therefore saw yestereve.  One modification seems to be, that The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth is almost certainly on the Winter 2017 concert, as at this point there seems no active, direct resistance, but only a pocket of garden-variety musical inertia;  and the expectation is in fact that I shall conduct.  When Carol and I shared the Kammerwerke news with Peter last night, I simply told him, “We went from zero to sixty.”

As, tomorrow, Peter goes up to Maine for the annual weeklong Snow Pond Composers Workshop (he is one of just two or three featured performers, and the composers write a piece for him during the course of the workshop, and then Peter plays a marathon concert at the end of the week . . . yes, a full concert of music none of which he had seen — because it hadn’t existed — a week before, and some portion of it technically plausible . . . he always has great stories to tell when he comes back to Somerville from Down East) our next k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble rehearsal is Monday the 13th.  Hence, my ample time to complete Contemplating the Irrepressible.

Since the King’s Chapel music must be in the can come Sunday the 12th, I then have (let us say) the second half of June to wrap up the final 90 seconds of The Young Lady, so that for the Kammerwerke reading on 21 July, we can read through the complete piece.  So, a robust but entirely manageable Henningmusick production schedule.

(Photo by Maria Bablyak.)

20 May 2016

Back in, under the radar

So, what's new?

Been watching quite a lot of Hitchcock lately, partly driven by my sister's having turned me on to The Trouble With Harry.

One big, pleasant surprise in recent viewing: Woody Allen's Love and Death, a most welcome reminder that when he keeps the whining to a certain level, his comedies can remain artfully comic, rather than a referendum on how self-absorbed the director can be.

We had a very good Triad concert, and "post-mortem" group meeting. This remains a group with a future (rather than, a group which half a year ago had a future). [That was a counter-example, not a diagnosis.] We have a new President (since our most warmly esteemed David Harris has now Gone West), and one of our latest singer-members has stepped in to fill the Secretary's office (since it is our former Sec. who has been promoted to the Presidency). The goals for the next season include: increased publicity, more fundraising, securing venues so that we sing each program at least twice, and to pay the singers.

I've agreed to serve as a sort of co-chair with Julian Bryson of the Composer/Repertory Committee. I am keen to begin to incorporate some Luke Ottevanger in our programming beginning this next season, perhaps with The Lamb for starters.

Oh, Henningmusick, you ask? We have sent a courtesy score of the Op.92 Passion According to St John to David Hoose; and we shall see.

Frank Grimes, of Ensemble Aubade, has now written, and he is enthusiastic about The Mousetrap. The plans for the 21 June concert having changed in the time since I had refreshed my outreach to Frank, we are aiming for 18 October. Looks like I may have more clarinet practicing in my future, and this may be a driver for proceeding with the Clarinet Sonata.

Further Ensemble Aubade news: I am officially invited to compose a seven-minute piece for them, to be premièred in November. Their management has already begun publicizing the event and piece, so I was asked for a title . . . I have settled on Oxygen Footprint. [It was but an idle hang-over from St Paul days (Ed Broms era), but my initial sketch for this trio bears the working title Ray Charles Needs Soloists.]

For the 21 June concert at King's Chapel, I am building fixed media backing for a wind quartet, the music to serve as a counterpoint to Maria Bablyak creating artwork in real time, a joint performance.

It may be time soon to attend to the Gloria, and be done at last with the Mass.  Since the Triad repertory committee has, as a provisional goal, the planning of concerts four programs out, perhaps I should suggest a grand première of the Henning Mass.

18 May 2016

Plus ça change ...

There is a hint of change in the air, though it will not take effect until winter.  A mildly sad change, but one positive result is, a return to regular collaboration with our much-esteemed Paul Cienniwa.

This is a mad week, with Cantata Singers rehearsals and concert eating up, nay, devouring, three weeknights, and cutting into two nights' rest. When I shall have caught my breath, I expect to consider it time gratifyingly spent; participation in this Pärt piece may be a rare Boston-area opportunity, and the two Bach scores I have never sung before.

15 May 2016

Triad III

Last night, we sang our third concert as Triad: Boston's Choral Collective. In a bravura display of technique, artistry & assurance, Maria agreed (in the space of less than two weeks) to create two panels, to flank the choir as a visual element of the performance, on motifs drawn from the texts we sang last night.

26 January 2016

Another Think Came

Inspired in part (and mysteriously) by a beautiful program played by the Boston Symphony on Saturday night, Sunday afternoon and evening I made my way to the end of the first movement of the Clarinet Sonata. I did not rush overmuch, but I did have a very slight nagging sensation that I might want to change the ending . . . the last two measures represented a substantial improvement on the first version, which does not survive even in a draught, but there was something which felt just a little rushed about the last gesture. And the whole movement felt to me so sure-footed, I should hate to stumble just at the end.

Yesterday morning (Monday), I felt better about the ending, perhaps 92.4% inclined to leave it as is (well, as was, as will be clear presently). At lunchtime, I read through the score, and an idea came to me for a slight change. (The ending was close enough, that even the improvement should not be over-engineered.) For the space or perhaps two hours, I even fancied I might try a third change, and if I felt roughly the same about all of them, that I might even encode in the score a performer's choice from among three possible endings.

But when I revised the ending late yesterday afternoon, the new ending sounds so perfectly right, that is that.

Oh, and on the bus ride home from the office, I made a start on Boulez est mort, which will start piano-only. For three whole minutes? Well, we shall see.

Tim Phillips wrote from Alabama last night, asking for an E-flat contra-alto part to substitute for the B-flat contrabass in Saltmarsh Stomp. There are only two notes which are too low for the contra-alto clarinet, and it does no serious hurt to the texture to cast those two notes an octave higher.

20 January 2016

More Thinks Coming

The first movement of the Clarinet Sonata is now at the 5-minute mark. (I resumed daily work on the piece this Sunday past.)

11 January 2016

from the heart

Dear ——

I wish

to apologize

I honestly thought

those grapes were


10 January 2016

Weekend edition

At the outset, it is only fair to disclose that I wrote nothing of the Clarinet Sonata this weekend.

Yesterday morning, having been assured that the guitar lines in Things Like Bliss are playable, I prepared (as I had been prepared to prepare) alternate versions for, respectively, flute and cello. I also finished the shakuhachi-&-toy-piano piece, Liv Plays Scrabble (remembering Olivia Kieffer's gracious hospitality when I went a-clarinetting to Atlanta).

Today, I essentially took the day off as a composer. Our HTUMC Chancel Choir sang, this morning, my arrangement of "Brightest and Best," from The Southern Harmony. Since this is an arrangement--easy though it is--which they had never seen before Thursday the 7th, it was quite bravely done.

08 January 2016

First Ears of the New Year

Parenthetically, and not as if I am near that point in the Clarinet Sonata (I am not, as yet), there must be clangor at the outset of Boulez est mort.

There was a meeting of three-fourths of 9th Ear Wednesday night, basically to firm up the programs for 18 March at the Church of the Advent (at which we have, say, 20 minutes of a composite concert) and 19 March at the Nave Gallery (a/k/a Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church, a full concert all our own). Jim Dalton, Charles Turner, and yours truly attended.

18 March program to include (in part):

Dalton: new piece for clarinet and guitar
Turner: Suma Beach for soprano and shakuhachi
kh: just what everyone was expecting, as arranged for clarinet, mandocello & double-bass

19 March program to include (in part):

Dalton: new piece for clarinet and guitar
Dalton: Thoreau songs for voice & guitar
Dalton: The Learned Astronomer for choir unaccompanied
Dalton: Quem quaeritis for choir unaccompanied

Turner: Sonnet to Sleep for soprano, viola and piano
Turner: Suma Beach for soprano and shakuhachi
Turner: KOAN, a miniature opera for two singers and chamber group
Turner: O miei dolci animali for choir unaccompanied

just what everyone was expecting, as arranged for clarinet, mandocello & double-bass
Things Like Bliss for clarinet, two guitars & double-bass
Three Things That Begin With 'C' for clarinet and horn
Agnus Dei for choir unaccompanied

Last year, I began writing Darkest Doings, on the chance of it being suitable for the 19 March program; but I left the score for months in that just-begun state, pending this late meeting, because the finished piece must likely run to 20 minutes, and I deemed that such a piece would too much dominate the concert, and therefore be unsuitable. What I shall at last do with the Doings, I am not at present sure. At some point, I may slightly rescore it so that it would suit a k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble program; I certainly still like the idea of setting that scene from "the Scottish play."

07 January 2016

Brightest and Best

Last night I prepared an arrangement of Star of the East from The Southern Harmony for my choir's rehearsal tonight, and which we shall sing this Sunday morning.  Because that's how we roll.

I also composed my allotted ten measures' worth of Clarinet Sonata today.  A triumph, all around, although this post to the blog is most brief.

06 January 2016

Movements five

More work on the bus ride this morning. Having a lot of fun writing this one.

Originally, I was thinking three movements, but in the back of my mind this began to seem template-ish. I quickly moved (a day or two ago) to thoughts of four movements. This morning, as I was toweling off after the morning ablutions, the thought flitted through my sleepy neurons, Viola Sonata . . . Clarinet Sonata . . . what instrument next? Va Sta in three movements, Cl Sta in four . . . five movements for the third?

And then I thought, No - I'll cast the Clarinet Sonata in five movements, with a short clarinet unaccompanied mvt, and the three middle movements attacca (or does that just make it three big movements?)

I was also originally thinking that the whole piece would run half an hour, but as I start taping out the five movements, we just may run the clock to 40 minutes, if we can make it worth the audience's time.

i. Another Think Coming [ Allegro ]
ii. Boulez est mort [ Adagio ]
iii. Ambiguity & Overlap (Something or other, if not something else entirely) [ Vivo ]
iv. Unanticipated Serenity [ Allegretto grazioso ]
v. After a reading of "The Mysterious Stranger" [ Andante - Vivace assai - Andante ]

05 January 2016

Just checking in

Logging today's progress on the Op.136.

04 January 2016

Stealth Sonata

In writing the Viola Sonata for Dana, there was a deadline, which I met in good time by determining to get some work done on the piece every day, composing at least 10 measures every day.

Maybe that sounds as though the process is "forced," that there would be days where I write measures which aren't good enough and need to be replaced, thrown out.  But in fact, the consistent activity means that my mind is attuned to the piece;  so that the work was in fact quite apt, and of sustainedly good quality.  In practice, I often wrote a good deal more than the 10 measures "required";  so the "hum of productivity" kept me buoyed.

I have no such deadline for the Clarinet Sonata, but I am adopting the same method.  What is different now is, that the decision to write the piece was whimsical, so that before I started work yesterday, there was no "pre-compositional planning" . . . I just hurled noteheads onto the page.  Pretty much did the same today;  but after a few days, a plan will have begun to form;  and then, as I wrap up the first movement, ideas will gel in the back of my musical mind for the remaining movements.

So now, there is a full 30 seconds of Allegro music of the piece.

And tomorrow is another day.