19 March 2018

Back in the pool

Late Saturday morning, Peter Bloom I rehearsed both Mark Gresham's Miniatures and Avrohom Leichtling's Bárðarbunga dreymir undir ísnum for the first time.  There's work yet for us ahead, but the vibe is already good.

The program for King's Chapel will be:

Avrohom Leichtling | Bárðarbunga dreymir undir ísnum (Fantasy Piece № 10, Op. 137)
Mark Gresham | Three Miniatures
Karl Henning | Down Along the Canal to Minerva Road, Op. 149
Pamela Marshall | Birds on the Harmonic Plain

The flow of the program works almost like a symphony:  dramatic opening;  ScherzinoAndante;  grand finale.  Curiously, the order is also that in which each piece was completed.

Peter & I rehearse again tomorrow evening.  The full quartet will band together this Saturday morning.

For our young flutist at church to join in, I have added a flute obbligato to O Traurigkeit and Kingsfold.  In fact, I had prepared (for Paul Cienniwa, whose choir includes a flutist) a flute version of O Traurigkeit;  so all that is novel at present is, I have decided that the flute and clarinet will play in unison, for the combined color.  The flute is an entirely new (and entirely happy) addition to Kingsfold.

This April, Ensemble Aubade will take the Oxygen Footprint on tour (again!) to the Middle-West:

6 Apr | St Mary in the Woods College, Indiana
7 Apr | St Paul UCC, Columbia, IL
8 Apr | Cedarhurst Center for the Arts, Mt Vernon, IL
10 Apr | Lewis University, Romeoville, IL

18 March 2018

Wondrous Carillon Game Love

Very pleased with my choir and handbell ringers for their performance of my (modified) arrangement of What Wondrous Love this morning.  And what a trip, getting their heads around the improvisatory element of the Paschal Carillon Games, but that went beautifully in rehearsal after the service.

More to say for the day's work, but let it wait until tomorrow.

17 March 2018

Games of Four, Not of Fear


Act I: Over three months, I meet sporadically with the director of a community chorus, the meetings seem to go well, and I am made welcome to send samples of my work. No reply is ever made to my sending, nor acknowledgment, although when I actually meet the chap, he is pleasant, and one does not believe there is any dissembling. Nevertheless, Act I drew to a pleasant conclusion. My Man on the Inside of the chorus applied diplomatic pressure, simply to listen to my work. I decided that I should attend their 3 March concert, even though it was a choral Pops event and therefore not (as we might say) my first choice. (It was good fun.) I arrived early enough, that I figured I would step in the back (the parish hall of the church, that is) and greet my friend (thanking him for his pains, and for the comp). I found (barged in upon, I might say, without exaggeration) both Eric and the M.D. finishing with their suitings-up. Eric and I withdrew (for I really did not mean to engage the conductor in conversation, so shortly before a performance), and I heard to my delight that Adam has, indeed, listened to my work, and likes it. The plan is a bit longer-scale, to allow for a possible commission.

So, I await the opening of Act II.


Paul Cienniwa is playing a concert down yonder in Delray Beach with a violinist of the Delray String Quartet, on the 19th August. They will revive my duet, Plotting (y is the new x).

Ever the impertinent composer, I found the violinist on Facebook, logged a Friend request, and sent a brief introductory message. Shortly after she accepted, and replied with her phone number, making me welcome to call to talk about my piece.  (Questions of layout / page turns.)

For a dozen small reasons, but thankfully no great horrible reason, 1Q18 has been no friend to my musical activity/work. I had not meant for so long an interval before trying Mei Mei, but I did at last call this morning. (A little bird told me to have my music under my gaze during the call.) She had some layout/page-turn requests – and only reasonable. (Offhand, I am not sure how EmmaLee worked around the part . . . probably printed it all out at a reduction.) The call went swimmingly. As I know of the string quartet, naturally I went on to ask if I might send some music for the SQ, specifically (of course – pretty much the only quartet music I have Game Ready at present) the suite of short pieces, It’s all in your head (not that that’s a bad place for everything to be). She warmly accepted, and as the quartet have a September concert, and my pieces are short, she is already considering using one as an encore to their program.

This morning I worked at a better-flowed violin part for Mei Mei.


In a separate development, EmmaLee Holmes Hicks (who played the première of Plotting (y is the new x), above, together with Paul) has asked for music for four violins.  I originally composed It’s all in your head (not that that’s a bad place for everything to be) – in the case of the first movement, arranged – for a cello ensemble in four parts, and found afterwards that it translated quite readily to string quartet. And for EmmaLee’s piece for four violins, well, transpose a piece for four cellos up a twelfth, and . . . .


The k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble will ride again on 17 April at King’s Chapel;  and it is time to get to work in earnest.  We have two duets composed specifically for us by Mark Gresham and Avrohom Leichtling (and we have a rehearsal later this very morning).  Our own Pam Marshall is working on a piece (Birds on the Harmonic Plain) for the four of us plus fixed media;  and I began my new quartet, Down Along the Canal to Minerva Road, on the 19th February.

And did no work on it since.

Well, technically, there has been nothing since to show for any work on the piece.  I have mulled.

No, really.

So, here I set to a bit more work on this, before heading to Somerville to rehearse with Peter.

20 February 2018

Changes, changes

Won’t be able to do From the Pit of a Cave in the Cloud in October.  Won’t be able to finish A Heart So White for the April program, thanks in large part to a wintry indisposition.

Bumping A Heart So White to October.  Pulling up Avrohom Leichtling’s cl/fl duet to serve as part of the April program.  Writing a wind quartet, 5 or 6 minutes, Down Along the Canal to Minerva RoadPam Marshall has a piece for us to play.  Christopher Gordon Forbes and Mark Gresham will have duets for us.  The April concert is covered.

Great Triad rehearsal last night.  Felt good to be able to sing again, at last – first time in something like three weeks.  A good thing, as we have a concert at Curry College this Saturday.

03 February 2018

Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't

To be clear at the outset:  I don't say that Woody Allen's œuvre is uneven (maybe it is, maybe it isn't – I have not seen even half of the movies he's made) . . . only that I have had a checkered history of how quickly I appreciate the virtues of this or that film.  My "apperception curve" is a bit of a mess.  It is in fact to Allen's artistic credit that he sets out to do (often subtly) different things in different movies – witness four utterly different titles, which I appreciated warmly on first viewing:  Love and Death, Manhattan, A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, Crimes and Misdemeanors, & Shadows and Fog.  All right:  five titles.

One would think that, enjoying all of these as I ever have, I should know better than to approach a 'new' (i.e., to me) Woody Allen movie as if it ought to tick the same boxes as this other movie I already love.  Stardust Memories is my favorite example of a movie of which, when I first watched it (and in this case, on the big screen, back when it was first released), I did not think at all highly, but of whose greatness I later became irrevocably convinced.  The fact is, I no longer know what problem I imagined I had with Stardust Memories.

There may, simply, have been the contrarian impulse which had me wondering how everybody could think Annie Hall is such a great film.  I chalked it up to the first effort to shake off the clown outfit (not that he has not continued to be marvelously amusing) and direct a movie with a dramatic purpose;  I made some allowance for the numerous big (or soon to be big) names in various cameos – Christopher Walken, Shelly Duvall, Paul Simon, Carol Kane, Jeff Goldblum.  My chief quarrel was, I felt that the flashback montage at the end was the weakest ending since the police car in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  (Which is also less objectionable than I once thought, thank you very much.)  But once I absorbed the fact that the opening monologue was truly the theme of the screenplay, that Alvy/Max (like any of us) needs someone to love him, but there's something in him that works destruction upon a close relationship, I saw the flashback not as a faute de mieux closing, but as Alvy's regretful (and powerless) recollection of what he had lost.  Is all that was missing, an acceptance of Alvy Singer as a character in the drama, rather than the screenwriter playing himself?

In this spirit of readiness to have scales fall from my eyes, I shall soon give Broadway Danny Rose a second viewing.

01 February 2018

Grit and Leningrad

It never seems to occur to people that a man might just want to write a piece of music.
- Vaughan Williams

Quite regularly, the need for, or the non-'needy' application of, extramusical ideas upon music, without an overt textual component, and with no reliable guidance from the composer (sometimes, in ways that do not necessarily reflect discredit upon the composer, there exists disinformation) — quite regularly the topic arises for discussion among passionate music-lovers (and aren't we most).

Thinking this morning about the Leningrad Symphony, and the march interlude which "invades" the sonata-allegro design of the first movement, I consider the argument (in principle) between those who say that the feet on the march in that interlude are Russian (heroic defenders), or are German (implacable barbarian invaders). But what if it is just a march? ("just a march") Concede that, yes, obviously, the march is a reflection of the struggle of the City of Leningrad—but propose that there is no literal depiction of whose army is marching.

That it is music, not a "docusymphony."

One story about Stravinsky which I may have read in either the Eric Walter White or Roman Vlad books, but which I cannot find in a cursory search in volume II of the Stephen Walsh bio, tells of a Hollywood producer who talked to Stravinsky about a film score, and when the question of the composer's fee rose, the composer took thought for about how long it took him to write The Firebird, and quoted a figure which would have made it worth his time. Which the producer declined with a polite, "Thank you all the same, Mr Stravinsky."

For the moment, I am not interested in whether it is purely anecdotal, or whether it is anecdote but true in essence. I am instead thinking of the 1969 film True Grit (which had nothing to do with Stravinsky).

I first saw (I forget just when) the Coen Bros.' remake of True Grit, and liked it thoroughly and immediately; it is only last night that I watched the original. While it did strike me as somewhat dated (as what movie with John Wayne could not? Though he is not uniquely responsible for all the dated elements) I found it magnificently enjoyable. The score by Elmer Bernstein-without suggesting that it is ever otherwise than very good-at times struck me as "a poor man's Aaron Copland."

So I had a fantastic image of (as with the Stravinsky story, above) a producer approaching Copland, and being put off by the price tag, when in pops Elmer Bernstein saying, "I can get it for you wholesale!"

29 January 2018

(The dream of a young man in the woods, listening)

It works in both directions (if there are “directions”).  That is, when I walk again into those woods, and feel my feet cushioned by the fallen needles, I remember again the walk I took, on which I conceived the musical germ for Ear Buds.  But also, when I listen in my inner ear (as yet, the only way to hear the piece) my spirit is transported to those woods, even if I am seated in a cubicle on the 31st floor of an office building in Boston.

And why am I thinking of the piece?

Two or three years ago, a conductor I know suggested that, if there is room, Ear Buds might have a reading at an annual internal conservatory event.  It all depends on there being capacity, and there has turned out to be none the two previous years.  But it is again that time of year when (as I have been made cordially welcome) I might ping him and see how the slate for the present year’s reading may look.

You may recall also, Gentle Reader, that Ear Buds now exists in a scoring for orchestra.  And you are right:  it may be time for an equally discreet inquiry there.

28 January 2018

Food Cinema Marquee

Bun After Reading

Raisin Arizona

The Fig Lebowski

2001: A Spice Odyssey

Berry Lyndon

A Clockwork Orange

Dr Strangeolive

The Silence of the Clams

A Family Pluot

Raiders of the Lost Okra

Citizen Kale

Midnight in the Garden of Food and Evil

Feeding John Malkovich

I Am Ham

Die Chard

The Fifth Condiment

Earth Girls Are Greasy

Mustard and Commander

Grosse Pointe Blancmange

From Here to Edamame

When Harry Et Salty

The Adventures of Bacon Munchausen

Twelve Mangoes

The Jerky

The Man With Two Grains

Driving Miss Dairy

Flan's Labyrinth

Kill Dill

The Good, the Bad, and the Arugula

Asparagus Now!

27 January 2018

All for one, and Nun for two

Today, I followed through on the thought, and refined the cl/pf arrangement of Nun of the Above. (Probably, I should follow through further, with a fl/pf version for PHB.)

Why spend so much effort, on so slight a piece?

I like it. I look forward to playing it myself. To repeat, although it is a modest work, I own every note of it.

And, per a friend's query on another head, because—although I wrote the piece on the traditional model of performance before an audience—perhaps I should build a parallel body of work, which "performs" in an environment other than a concert space.

More on this hereafter. For now, rest.

25 January 2018

The Fourth Nun

Originally, I composed Nun of the Above for a planned concert of The 9th Ear. The plans ran aground, and when the next concert of the group-in-waiting may take place, no mortal soul knows.

But my equivocal Nun, it is (though I, Gentle Reader, be he that says so) a winsome little number which of a hearing strongly deserveth. She has already assumed a variety of shapes, both in fact (the flute version for Peter H. Bloom) and in fancy (cl/pf). And here I have already finally conceived a spatially displaced version, an electronic mix wherein will meet a bassist half the world away, and mine own clarinet in multiple takes.

This last is a most frankly whimsical thought which has sprung from the happy accident striking an acquaintance through Facebook with a writer and bassist of Bangalore. Is not the world become yet more wonderful, even than before?

Why, oh why should I take such trouble over a bagatelle?  Because I own it, every note, not a whit less than I own the obviously more substantial Symphony.

Because I don't record a note, unless I feel certain that it is the right note.

24 January 2018

Carrying on, as ever

This morning – at last, we might nearly say – I began to address the cl/pf adaptation of Nun of the Above.  I do believe I should make some registral adjustments, so that the right hand is not so nearly thoroughly underneath middle C;  and I can see some modest enhancements to etch in.  But overall, I want not to ‘over-engineer’ the piano adaptation.   The result will be a piano part on rather the simple side;  but of course, not all 21st-c. piano music need aspire to Finnissy (e.g.).

Will I ever play the piece as originally scored?  No knowing, no knowing.

Has the noble endeavor of Triad at last splintered upon the shoals of public indifference?  Let us hope not.

And in other reading today:

Spotify, from what I have found online, pays between $0.006 and $0.008 per play to the label and artist. 1500 plays works out to about $10.50.

All the indicators, then, are that if ever Henningmusick becomes a streaming commodity, it won’t exactly the composer’s fortune make.

A Nervous Romance. I was never crazy about Annie Hall, I quibbled with it here, there ... most substantially, I felt that the ending, the flashbacks to the good times with Annie, was a non-ending.

Revisiting it today, I wonder if the viewings of the past, when I thought poorly of it, I was too nervous.  Watching it now, less artistically wound up, I see the ending as the open-ended, wistful tribute of Alvy's. I permitted the movie to be itself, and I permitted myself to receive it on its own terms. There is much music, over the years, which likewise, I had to learn to leave be.

23 January 2018

Why, Oh, Why?

While first pointing out two harsh truths –

  1. There are many, many – I don’t say innumerable, but I cannot number them – other composers out there;  and quite a few of them, quite a few of even the as-yet-unknown (ahem), do exceptionally excellent work.
  2. You, Karl, have been at it for quite a few years by now, but have not managed to make a name for yourself;  chances are slender that the situation will change, this side of the grave.

. . . so, with these two prefatory articles on the whiteboard behind us, people sometimes ask me:  Why, Karl, do you still do it?  Why do you persist in composing music, for which there is apparently no call?

Saturday, in testing out an upright piano, I had a go at playing both The Bronze Girl’s Spilt Milk and To Melt From a Distance.  I didn’t know what to expect (except that, of course, I knew not to expect anything like Perfection in my, erm, performance).  I had not played them at all since about the time when I had composed them (in Petersburg and Tallinn, respectively).  And I have not much played any piano in a decade or so.

It was, unsurprisingly, on the lurching side.  I suppose I should take it as encouraging, that I feel I should make more regular time to plink at the piano.

15 January 2018

On Inactivity

It’s a big wheel, and it’s big as the world, and there’s no use in wishing the wheel were other than it is. So the first consideration is: don’t pour water into the sand—use your energies so that you achieve results.

There are the holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s), and there is the seasonally driven spike in church music activity. And (to be clear) I am completely glad in it; it is gratifying to serve as a church music director whose efforts are appreciated by the choir and the parish.

And there can follow a recuperative lull after the rush of the holidays, and if there is a sharp frost, a tendency to nap rather than to push oneself to additional labors.

Then, too, in this recuperative period, the creative batteries are recharging.  And there is needed only the slight push of starting to get work done, to prime the pump.  Not to be daunted by the need to get Something Big done right away;  but the knowledge that gradual work each day, gets the job laid in.

Now, that fact is that I started composing this blog post on January the 9th, and almost a week has passed before even taking the blogging back up.  On the 9thI made a start on a quartet for two trumpets and two trombones, not for any urgent need (for sometime in the summer, I think).  And today, I made a formal start (created the Sibelius file, for instance) on A Heart So White, for King’s Chapel in April.

So:  quiet beginnings, again.

08 January 2018

With apologies to Laurie Anderson

So my sister and I were watching a movie on DVD, and over the opening credits and establishing shot we listened to music which I thought might be Danny Elfman re-tread, which in fact it turned out to be.

And I thought, Oh, boy:  right – again.

06 January 2018

Why need it mean anything?

In the car behind me were a couple of men whom I've known practically all my life, but who no longer communicate with me. Driving was my dad, now deceased for some years, rest his soul. He talked over his shoulder to one of my brothers in the back, speaking in atypically tender, supplicatory accents. Out of the car, there was an oblong wooden box (no, much too short to serve as a coffin), and on the top two parallel rows of broad discs to be tightened with a Phillips head screwdriver. The tool I was using was awkward, as the head was worn and pitted. Someone said, "Perhaps your dad has a better," and someone else agreed, "He must." As my dad handed me a fresh screwdriver, I told him the Russian proverb, A bad workman blames his tools, and he chuckled lightly. Somewhere there was a label with a pseudo-Italian name, with two impossible diacritic marks.

Last night I revisited Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story, through which one motif is a haunting vision of an armored demon who threatens first the martial artist, and at the end, his son Brandon. My dream last night was nothing so dire, of course. It was gentle, pastoral, familial. Even the irresolvable elements were not at all elements of tension.

The score was written by Randy Edelman (born in Paterson, NJ), and the article in Wikipedia suggests that the "Bruce and Linda love theme" has been recycled and echoed numerous times in other films. I've not seen the other films mentioned, so I cannot confirm. But in the character of the music — I could see it.

02 January 2018

On parts of speech

Robie: I only regret one thing.

Danielle: That you never asked me to marry you?

Robie: No. That I ever took the time to teach you English.

Danielle: You only taught me the nouns. I learned the adjectives myself.

Robie: The word cat is a noun.

Danielle: Not the way you use it. For you it means excitement, danger, affluence.

(All three of which words, by the bye, are nouns.)

01 January 2018

Then, and Now, and What Next?

In the week leading up to New Year's Day 2017, I was keen—if at all possible—to complete the second movement of the (three-movement) Symphony. And, that done, a year ago today I set to work on the third and final movement. This year, the week between Christmas and New Year's was a restful time of hanging out with family. And in fact, even today I decided to nap at will, rather than drive myself to get work done.

Tomorrow is soon enough.

There are (as ever) several musical tasks to be resumed—White Nights, The Nerves, Sleepyheads, Wake Up!—and, in due season, resume them I shall.

The priority at present, however, is naturally the set piece for the April concert at King's Chapel, for two voices, three instrumentalists and fixed media: Heart So White. For which, before today, I had not yet got so far as a folder and Opus number.

How to set about it? For much of this time, I have been thinking of setting the text for the voices, and seeing to the fixed media afterwards. But today (and I suppose this may just qualify as getting to work after all) I am forming the design for the fixed media, and so, I expect that I am about to compose the several layers more or less in tandem. Which is undoubtedly an artistic approach.

And so, the ice has been broken.

The ghost of Microblogging Past

“She smells like parole officers ought to smell.”

(Not really in the script.)

“That dweam within a dweam ....”

The lady motorist with the license plate frame assuring us that Happiness Is Knowing Christ, certainly drives as if keen on meeting Him at the earliest opportunity.

Dick van Dyke, making love to his wife (Mary Tyler Moore) over the phone with a disguised voice. This cannot end well. Strike that: it’s a comedy, and shall end well.

You may think it a nuisance, but we all need the overachievers . . . .

“… planning arcane procedures.”

“It all started at lunch. Wolfe splashed a drop of sauce from the spare ribs right on his tie ....”

[Karl] found half an inch of tea gone cold in the bottom of the cup, and he’s going to DO something about it!

Keep Calm and Choir On

The stare of the chap across the aisle, directed at his smartphone, can only be described as harsh.

No; I don’t wish to know.

(All these on some 31 December or other.)