21 May 2018

Fresh To-Do List

Items to focus on near-term:

  • Heart So White . . . test the present state of the fixed media for timing with the scene.
    • Possible problem:  fixed media too short
    • Remedy:  determine extent of needed expansion, and see to it.
  • The Nerves . . . set down ideas, verbal and musical.  Finish before Independence Day?
    • Possible Problem:  too musically demanding
    • Remedy:  carry on, write the piece as I wish
  • Memory Almost Full . . . recording session
  • Nun of the Above . . . recording session

It is possible that Deep Breath will not suit the group which I had in mind when forming the piece;  even if not, that is fine, as there are other groups for which it will prove a good fit.

As I was chatting with Matthew Marsit, and he asked me about my plans for the summer, I told him about White Nights.  Although it is not a piece which would apply at all to the Charles River Wind Ensemble, he sounded both impressed with and enthusiastic about the project.  I wanted to mark the incident, with gratitude.


20 May 2018

Hurricane, and Nerves

This morning—which is to say, before I reported for church choir duty—I finished the spiffy new Sibelius file of Hurricane Relief. The now 13-year-old trio, I left essentially untouched (I eased back on the initial metronome marking, and added a final punctuative chord).

And this afternoon, as I might have predicted, I laid down a little more work on The Nerves.

Also for next month's Triad concerts

Agnus Dei

Among much else of value which I learned in Judith Shatin’s studio at UVa, two phrases of Judith’s have stuck with me through succeeding decades: “business as usual,” and “something specific.” “Business as usual” meaning, an artistic laziness in doing, without consideration, what one (or others) have already done – a condition diligently to be avoided, in either fact or appearance. And “something specific”: to create something definite, some thing-in-itself, and for my reasons – which I am both at liberty, and under a profound obligation, to determine.

The challenge and opportunity of writing an unaccompanied Mass thus consisted in making it Henningmusick, despite the fact that the text has been treated (and the endeavor has been achieved) a thousand times in the past, by hundreds of others.

This does not preclude availing myself of the example of the past literature, nor does it deny me the pleasure of writing for voices in a way which choristers find gratifying to sing (I hope). The composer can find his own voice, and nevertheless speak a language comprehensible to others. The joy in the craft, is expressing something which is clear and strong, yet which astonishes the listener as casting it in a way he had not hitherto imagined.


19 May 2018

Chiefly about bassoon

Of late, I have considered how some of my cello-&-piano music may adapt for bassoon; so I have prepared bassoon versions of the Sonatina, Op.105, the three-short-mvt Suite, Op.127, and ... illa existimans quia hortulanus esset ...., Op.121.

And I had forgotten that two trios I composed long ago, in 2005, include the bassoon:  Starlings on the Rooftop, Op.82 (flute, English horn, bassoon, composed for Second Winds in Denver) and Hurricane Relief, Op.81 (cl/bn/pf, written for the Squibnocket Trio here on the South Shore).


After the Tooth Fairy

Per discussion of the audio puttering for Tooth Fairy here, last night I sketched some 21 measures, and this sketch was the germ for a four-minute trio for clarinets (two soprano, one bass) which I have just finished, Memory Almost Reliable (a title redeemed from the 11-year-old list here).  The trio is, I think, both a piece-in-itself, and (likely) the basis of an accompaniment for Sauna Song #3, Migratory Reptiles.

He's not saying it hasn't all been fun
To the untrained eye, those laces look untied
The sun beat down and because most of April
Had been absurdly cold, the warmth of the May sun
Made my spirit giddy
Though I nevertheless doubt the need to run
The air conditioning on the bus
To the untrained eye, the bus looks bound for Swampscott
But nothing doing
At lunch we discussed a highly successful film composer
It isn't that we scoffed at his work
We only questioned the comparison to
A certain composer of the century before
Fall River, where a certain ax murder remains
Forever befogged in uncertainty
I may never play cribbage there again


18 May 2018

While in rehearsal

Part of last night’s choir rehearsal was spent with a very enjoyable arrangement of How Can I Keep From Singing?  The next anthem we rehearsed was a fairly ambitious arrangement of  Lasst uns erfreuen (and, also, nicely done).  There is a descant for verse 2, the sopranos have a line unlike the tune (and the meter is recast to 4) in verse 3, and there is a subtly different descant for verse 4.

Which is to say, the sopranos (who may, at times, become accustomed simply to singing a familiar tune) faced some challenges.  In one of the verses last night, they dropped out, and did not manage to plug back in.

You kept from singing!, I observed.  However did you manage it?!


On Sarah Riskind’s Hariyu

Notes for the upcoming Triad concerts

Sarah Riskind writes:  When I composed Hariyu in 2010, I wanted to break out of the world of slow sacred choral music.  My inspiration came by way of Leonard Bernstein, whose Chichester Psalms I have admired since I first sang them as a college first-year student.  Like Bernstein's opening movement, my Hariyu gives Psalm 100 the excitement of changing meters.  However, the texture of accented piano eighth-notes and the Mixolydian mode create a somewhat different world than Bernstein's larger work with orchestra.

Karl Henning writes:  Sarah Riskind is an alumna from Triad's first season, whose musical adventure soon called her elsewhere.  It is a reflection of the music's excellence, then, that we all wanted to return to Hariyu in the present concert—even without the composer among us to plead on her own behalf.

To amplify upon two of Sarah's observations:  Bernstein was (among much else) a pianist; in my experience, a well-grounded instrumentalist tends to use mixed meter in an effective, natural way—more so than most singers.  One key to Sarah's success in Hariyu is the musical flow she achieves in the mixed meter:  after each (unpredictable) barline, the next note feels naturally agogic—a genuine downbeat, and no accident of notation.  The composer's mastery of the successive metrical shifts is what allows the music to dance gracefully, sure-footedly, even as we sing along at an exhilarating tempo.


15 May 2018

And on the eighth day

As recorded here:
As I scrawled notes yesterday afternoon, my momentary title for the clarinet-&-strings piece was How Fond Her Heart Grew (in His Absence).  While I do like it as a title, it does not suit the character of the music, as I began composing it last night. (What was the point?, you ask?  But what is ever the point?)  I am inverting the “introduction & Allegro” model, by writing an introduction which is poco agitato, with the main body of the work to be peaceful.  The piece is now called Deep Breath.  And, the first minute or so is composed.  I expect the completed piece will be some 8 or 9 minutes.
...The other aspect of the insufficiency of the title How Fond Her Heart Grew (in His Absence) is, that I the piece was to be (and is) dedicated to Maria, and such a title sets the wrong tone to the act of dedication, meseems.  Indeed, the musical character which rendered the initial title unsuitable, of course sprang from the dedicatory impulse.

In a gentle excess of expectation, Deep Breath runs 11-ish minutes.  I find myself entirely pleased with the piece (and eager to play it, as soon as occasion may arise), and incidentally, additionally pleased at the act of generating the piece (from initial conception, to completion) in the space of eight days.

I shall remind myself of this, when I want to knock out a few numbers of White Nights this summer.


14 May 2018

On provoking divine mirth

Periodically, I draw up a list of titles I have in mind, which seem (at the time) a fairly good notion, and in case I do not remember them over time.  This morning I chanced upon just such a list, from/for 2007 – thus, incidentally, pre-dating this blog.  Often (as in this case) the list is both of titles for purely hypothetical future pieces, and of works-in-progress

The old proverb goes, If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.  At any rate, I chuckled on seeing the first item marked done, yes?  I can laugh with a light heart now, knowing of the substantial progress last summer, and the fact that I presently have "live" sketches for Night the Third;  but I cannot help smiling at the fact that White Nights is still with me, eleven years on.

Terpsichore in Marble was the new title for a duet for clarinet and cello which I wrote in Charlottesville, which has not yet been performed, and which (perhaps) need not ever be.

The Irreplaceable Doodles have, of course, become a Henning performance staple.

I do not believe I ever actually got to work on a Kyrie at this stage;  it tickles me a bit that the thought occurred to me well before my July 2012 Kyrie.  Five years later than this list, in 2012 I apparently had no idea that I had previously entertained the idea.

I must have recently struck my friendship with violist Peter Lekx, because Tango in Boston is the title of the first viola-&-piano sketch I drew up.  I held onto that sketch, which would later form the genesis of the third movement of the Sonata for Viola & Piano.

I may quite possibly still write a Symphony springing from the delightful Italian visit;  but the Op.143 Symphony № 1 is completely different music.

On these lists, I did not balk at casual ambition;  and apparently I was considering an opera after Hamlet.

Of the other titles (some, but not all, of which I may likely yet use) Heedless Watermelon became the first of the Op.97 fl/cl duets;  and Another Think Coming became the opening movement of the Sonata for Clarinet & Piano.


The Deep Breath of early this morning

In my verbal notes from Thursday (?), I listed one section as cl murmurs and ‘allotted’ it 30 seconds.  I had not then formed the specific musical matter, just had a rough idea, and the scribble was meant as both memorandum and springboard.

In the score as of Sunday evening, this is the passage from m. 145 to the ‘end,’ m. 167, a passage which runs nearly a minute, i.e. much more than “planned”;  but that 30" was not a fixed plan, just part of the rough idea.  And the fact is that if this section stops hard at m. 167, it is of course too abrupt;  I felt it needed a compact rhetorical answer, which I did compose this morning before beetling off to work.

So, perhaps (given the present verbal outline) the entire piece may run 12 minutes.  Or perhaps it will expand to (probably) no more than 15.  I shall do some more work at lunchtime, and we shall (begin to) see.

13 May 2018

That Sunday Feeling

For each of the past two years, I have submitted scores (movements from the Symphony Op.143 in both cases, I believe) to a certain organization’s annual Call (but, nothing doing).  This year I have decided to take Ear Buds, for which I have already prepared an orchestral version, but whose scoring I need to adapt to be suitable for this year’s specs.

And I have at last prepared a flute part so that our Marissa Bell can join in for our annual dusting-off of the Alleluia in D.


12 May 2018

A few thoughts more about Deep Breath

The dicey element to writing a piece for one’s wife, and designing it to be music she will especially enjoy, while she is away, is of course her return.  Say she likes it (which is both the idea, and my expectation).  Does she then coyly observe, Ah, I see what nice work you do when you are pining for me, in my absence.  Let me take off for another while, and see how you do ...?

Another idea behind the piece, is to have it ready to hand over to local conductor, a week from (well) today. Yet, even if the piece should prove somehow unsuitable for this group, I think it will prove an easy-ish pitch to four other conductors I know around town. A strong feeling that an actual performance is a good and reasonable possibility infuses me;  and maybe this can be my foot in the orchestral door, at last.


The speed of throwing the piece together is practical, both so that I can hand hard copy to the conductor this Saturday, and as a kind of rehearsal for a contest in June, which will require writing a complete piece in the space of two weeks.  Truth to tell, this kind of exercise was part of the qualifying exams for my doctorate in Buffalo; and it is a challenge which I do enjoy.  The piece (i.e., Deep Breath) is now at almost five minutes and a half.

And, in recreational viewing: yesterday afternoon I watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Had not seen it in decades;  and all prior viewings were midnight shows, so if you were wondering if it felt a bit strange to watch this, while there was still light in the sky, yes.

Why did I bother to revisit this, when I have done so very well without, for (gosh) almost 40 years? I did not, honestly, have a clear answer before sliding the disc into the tray. Save that the answer was not titillative. As I watched, I kenned that I was curious about it, afresh, as a musical. And, considered in this light, it is superb, both the songwriting and the (erm) execution. My hat is off to Richard O’Brien
I did not, on earlier occasions, recognize this for the musical/stage tour de force it is. The cult success of this quirky project is richly deserved.

And, speak of quirky projects...yesterday evening, for the first time, The Corpse Bride. The fact is, I sidled quite innocently into the Macabre-Comic Double Feature.

Overall, I found it charming, with two Demerits:

1. There are few hands in cinema as heavy as Tim Burton’s hand. Few as heavy, and (I dare speculate) none heavier.

2. Whose boilerplate is there, like unto Danny Elfman’s boilerplate?  Musically, this had all the feel of a Nightmare Before Christmas re-tread.

Those serious (IMO) demerits noted, the saccharine, Hallmark greeting card-esque character of Elfman’s music plays a pivotal role in modulating (mayhap even normalizing) Burton’s (impressively creative, let it be well noted) cartoon-macabre style. There are faults in both partners, yet the partnership does result in part in a kind of magic, and if they’re recycling themselves, they are not poaching (without artful adaptation) from others.


11 May 2018

Plans, and Their Modification

As I have worked on Deep Breath earlier this week, I was thinking an 8-9' piece. But as I made notes this afternoon of the blocks which I have in mind as the score plays out further, and keeping in mind that—if I estimate conservatively—the transitions may feel abrupt ... it may in fact push out to 12'.


10 May 2018

Breathing, and Lumbering

Yesterday evening, I made (what I feel is) good progress on Deep Breath, emerging from the poco agitato beginning into the main body of the piece, which is of just the character I wanted.  On the bus this morning I sketched a contrasting section within the main body;  yet, as I consider the pace (and, yes, breath) of mm. 31-64, I feel that a contrast there is a bit on the abrupt side.  So for lunch today, I wrote out an answer, which is “the new mm. 64-73,” and I think my contrast from this morning will proceed satisfactorily from m.74.

On the bus ride home yesterday (I am, indeed, putting the commute to artistic use) I tried something entirely new to me, sketching a new text, on my phone.  This morning, I found it more than acceptable, which did not stop me from brushing it up (without spoilage, I do not think).

Not sure either why I now remember the great tortoise
Walking on the roadside near the Wenham pond
We almost could not believe our eyes
Carefully backed the car and sure enough
A lumbering solemn tortoise
Sagacious in its determined patience
Or maybe just moving because
She felt she must


09 May 2018

White Nights, Deep Breath

As I (at last!) reopen my White Nights folder, with my charts, schemata and divers notations, I find that the musical material I have been forming this week will not do for Scene 11 (Night the Third);  but it will serve perfectly for Intermezzo III.  I shall let things percolate a bit yet.

One result of my surreptitious roll-out of Tooth Fairy is, I have not discussed the musical process.

The audio consists of three ‘strands’:  the text, of course;  the kind-of-trio, which is live-plus-MIDI–an experiment in taking MIDI extractions of the “accompaniment” parts (and treating them), and recording myself playing the principal part (and, honestly, I mean to putter more, in just that way, in future) . . . our parakeet’s good-natured interjections (she does take my practicing in good part) originated in the clarinet recording;  and (also treated, and practically beyond proper recognition) samples of myself singing, built into a kind of background choral track.

Not that I minded in this case (since it is “buried” in the mix) but my performance against the mechanized accompaniment is less “together” than I should normally wish.  Part of the reason is, I had not anticipated the session, and so I did not have my part printed out;  I therefore recorded myself reading along with the rolling Sibelius file (the first time ever tried such an activity).  Thus I could not “read ahead” as I always, always do when playing, i.e., cast my eye a few measures ahead as a reminder, while I am playing (say) measure 18, of what measures 22 & 23 will look like.  As I say, in this case especially, I did not care about imperfections . . . after all, the members of an actual human ensemble sometimes drift mildly out of synch and then recover.

It is an experiment with which I am almost entirely satisfied, and upon which I intend to build.

Separately, in recent chats with Luke Ottevanger, I have pressed him with an invitation to write a duet for Peter H. Bloom & me to play.  Perhaps for this October!

As I scrawled notes yesterday afternoon, my momentary title for the clarinet-&-strings piece was How Fond Her Heart Grew (in His Absence).  While I do like it as a title, it does not suit the character of the music, as I began composing it last night. (What was the point?, you ask?  But what is ever the point?)  I am inverting the “introduction & Allegro” model, by writing an introduction which is poco agitato, with the main body of the work to be peaceful.  The piece is now called Deep Breath.  And, the first minute or so is composed.  I expect the completed piece will be some 8 or 9 minutes.


08 May 2018

The Scene's Scheme

Yesterday morning, I cast some notes upon the page for Night the Third. More than this, I planned out some textural aspects of the scene, and the pitch-world process. This afternoon, I made (verbal) notes about scoring, and to spell out detail of the textural conceptualization. In a way, I suppose I have been ‘setting the rules,’ for when I sit down to properly compose/improvise the scene.

Perhaps I have not considered this seeming anomaly, since the days when I drew up the outline for the entire ballet; but Night the Third is the uncharacteristic “onesie”—even Night the Fourth is divided into two scenes (the setting is the same, but the marker is a character's entrance). So I stand to earn a big psychological victory, through a fairly compact compositional task:  I could (without a great stretch) possibly tie up Night the Third and Intermezzo III by May's end.

Separately (as yet only in principle) I am thinking—for highly practical use—of a piece for clarinet and strings, Deep Breath, and another for two clarinets and bass clarinet, I float above your mistaken impressions of me.


07 May 2018

Back to the orchestra

Gentle Reader, not for decades (UB, I feel reasonably certain) have I played clarinet in an orchestra.  And, no, I have not been invited to play with the Boston Philharmonic.  But I have been invited to play on 19 May with the No-Name Orchestra, Musorgsky’s Prelude to Khovantshina, and Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite.  What good fun!  (Why, yes, I shall practice . . . .)

At the end, of course–White Nights

While I deny that I am going "full Boulez" here, I think the Tooth Fairy deserves that I should try again (at the mix, not so much the source material, in spite of the fact that we might find frequent and reasonable fault with the 'video performance').  We have a Triad rehearsal tonight, so I doubt I shall assay to mend the Fairy this side of Tuesday evening.  The sound level is generally too low;  I suppose I was overcautious, knowing how when I combine tracks into a single mix, the volume is apt to get out of hand (it did not, in this case).  But also – and I did not notice this until (rather strange to relate, really) I watched the video on my TV screen – the synchronization of audio and video is a little off. It is a lesson to me, to make sure I am testing at full screen while yet on the laptop.

Yesterday's rehearsal of Rejoice was good, a lot of hard work for my handbell choir . . . the combination of three factors (the piece's rhythmical quirkiness;  using mallets rather than just plain ringing the bells;  and each member being responsible for three bells rather than the usual two) is the driver for the need to rehearse harder than is quite normal for us.  But they are all having fun with the piece, so they are engaged.

What is undeniably an agreeable sign:  while my head rested on the pillow last night, the next Scene for White Nights came to my inner ear quite clearly;  and I began the scribbling on this morning's bus.


05 May 2018

Tooth Fairy (Sauna Songs #1)

The notion of doing this, even this sort of thing, only occurred me to me a few days ago.  Well, one aspect of it—to play the clarinet part of Nun of the Above against an electronically generated (and treated) accompaniment—yes, this has been knocking about in the back of the Henning brain for, oh, a couple of months, I'll say.  But the tout ensemble, that is a notion which came unto my mind as a kind of flash;  and it was a flash which I decided I should respect, and own.

Although I make no great claims on its behalf, the result is pretty much what I aimed for, and so I shall indeed take thought for a couple of companion pieces.

With no further ado, the first of the Sauna Songs:

04 May 2018

Cautious, and elliptical

Although tape was running, I consider last night's session a rehearsal.  Sure, I'll have a listen ... there is room for improvement.

It could be zero hour for trying out the larkly idea I have for Nun of the Above.

These are both various components for the first shot at something for which my working title is Sauna Songs.


03 May 2018

It all seems so sinister, in hindsight

When I was last in So Carolina, I happened upon two (count ’em) places whose bar did not stock any rye.

Is it the Apocalypse? I asked myself at the time.


02 May 2018

Avian Adventure

While not an absolutely novelty, the showcasing of other composers in a concert of “my band” had become a great rarity over the years.  It was a signal pleasure, not only to prepare and perform these pieces by my colleagues & friends, but that the concluding work on the 17 April program should be a “guest” work.

Just when (and upon what occasion) I first met Pam Marshall is a detail which eludes me at present.  And almost immediately, I am sure, I wanted to recruit her to play horn in a piece I was fixing to write.  Pam has fulfilled commissions for many local ensembles, managing to work quite steadily, and always (to my ear) producing engaging, mellifluous music.  And it was our great pleasure for Triad to sing her poignant anthem to dementia, Deepest Shade, on our November 2016 concerts.

For our piece this spring, Pam combined two longstanding musical passions of hers, improvisation, and electronics.  There is a fixed media component;  and the live instrumental complement was notated, but with a fluid interplay.  Pam writes:


We’ll play from score. The score is divided into parts, each for a major section of the audio soundtrack. Each section is free and rather improvisatory. Only Part 1 is measured. 
In the birdsong sections, musical gestures should be like birds, and should answer back and forth, sometimes overlapping. The notation tries to show this overlapping alignment, but it is freer than the notation implies. Improvising on the suggested songs is welcome. Birds do it too, or at least from bird to bird, the species song can be quite various.


01 May 2018

Miscellany of May

Enjoyable (as ever) Triad rehearsal last night.

As a result of having been introduced (via e-mail) to a Romanian violinist, there is now a chance that the violin adaptation of the Variations on a Basque Carol may be performed.

One of my tasks this week (or so) is to create a flute obbligato for the Alleluia in D.  What a delight to have a talented youngster available to play along with the choir.

David Bohn, organist & clavichordist, reports that the recording session has been scheduled for late May, which will include my own DC-written bagatelle, The last man to come to the vineyard to work.

The working title for my new piece for Duo Zonda appears to be Not at all what I thought I heard (Grapefruits of Rage).