20 October 2018

A kind of reunion

It is now some years ago that I sang in the choir of the Cathedral Church of St Paul in Boston, when Mark Engelhardt was Music Director, together with Ethel Crawford, David Frieze, Roberta Gilbert, Brian Gilbertie, and many others.  It was for me a musically enriching period, so I do look back on that experience with both fondness and gratitude.  Mark was an especially important champion of my music in those days, and it is to Mark that I owe the occasions for writing Nuhro, Timbrel & Dance, the choir, brass & organ arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, and of course, the notorious, seldom-performed organ Toccata.  (I do not know of anyone performing it at all, apart from Albert Ahlstrom in Atlanta.)

Last night was the Evensong to honor Ethel, as she retires after 40 years of service as the cathedral administrator, and we did indeed surprise her with Mark’s return to Boston to direct an enormous choir.  I was gratified to be allowed to play my latest clarinet-&-organ piece with Louise Mundinger for the Prelude.  (This recording, however, is a rehearsal Louise & I ran, on Sunday the 14th, hence the increasing hubbub toward the end . . . I think there was some sort of book-signing that was about to be held at St Paul’s.)

19 October 2018

Banter about White Nights

Nine years ago today (19 Oct 2009), most peculiarly–perhaps–the topic of the ballet arose:

Cato’s Little Review of “Noise in the Library”

Allow me to share my thoughts on some of Karl’s works which were performed in Boston at the library a few weeks ago.

GMG members have read my comments in the past years about how chamber music is not my favorite thing, in general, although there are exceptions: Borodin’s and Ravel’s quartets, the Bartók Sixth, the frustrated symphony in the Bruckner Quintet, and Bernard Herrmann’s Echoes are the main ones.

Karl’s works join this august group with no problem!

Heedless Watermelon shows an abundance of imagination: one measure of a work’s worth for me is how much did it surprise me, e.g. could I guess the next note(s)?  Heedless Watermelon was a fun maze to hear, always intriguing and expressive.  Irreplaceable Doodles (solo clarinet) strikes me as being more meditative and serious than its title, and therefore on the CD led nicely into The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword (solo flute). Since a flute always has a certain slight melancholy in its timbre, I wonder if the instrument does not express the idea behind the work even better than a trumpet.  Studies in Impermanence must by definition show a meditative nature:  mysterious, ebullient, sad, and almost every other mood appears.  I find the work a Gregorian Chant summary of life.  Lost Waters is a perfect work for solo harp:  the music contains an Americana flavor and provides the image from and for its inspiration without clichés.  (Passaic was particularly dramatic in a subtle way.)

And the Tropes on Pasha’s [sic] Aria from White Nights – although under 3 minutes long – must enthuse every listener to want the completed ballet performed!

To paraphrase Rex Harrison’s Pope Julius to Charlton Heston’s Michelangelo: “When will you make an end of it, Karl?” [emoticon redacted]

To which A Virtual Neighbor (despairing of a completed ballet) replied:

Probably 3-5 years from now. [emoticon redacted]

To which I rejoined:

I’ll accept the short end of that range. That is, if I haven’t finished it in three years (by the end of 2012, say) I’ll officially consider the project jettisoned.

Well, I have never considered anything of the sort, not officially, not unofficially.  I suppose I was just trying to light a fire under mine self.

I guess it did not much work.

Anyway, I was talking to Peter Bloom about Il barbiere ladro just the other day (after we returned to Somerville from the King’s Chapel concert, in fact).  The piece’s fanciful intercutting of the Overtures to La gazza ladra and Il barbiere di Seviglia made a particularly powerful impression on Peter.  I told him that I knew, in principle, just what I wanted to do with that scene, from the very first outline I prepped for the ballet.  But I also knew that, since the entire musically literate world would be “in” on the joke, I had to be sure I did it right.  And, as I believe I have done it right, at last, the time that has passed has not been any delay, but simply a composer awaiting the music’s moment.

So–what am I saying, today, about the long-awaited completion of the Op.75?  The composer has music he must prepare for his church choir for a December concert, and a light-duty task for mezzo Megan Ihnen and saxophonist/composer Alan Theissen.  When those tasks are in the can . . . I believe that may be just the right time to resume work on the ballet; and since what remains to compose is now such a relatively compact requisite, it is very possible that the work will go speedily.

As ever, Gentle Reader:  Watch This Space.


More clarinet than usual

The sound of the bells gave notice that the dismal procession was advancing.  It passed slowly through the principal streets of the city, bearing in advance the awful banner of the Holy Office.  The prisoners walked singly, attended by confessors, and guarded by familiars of the Inquisition.  They were clad in different garments, according to the nature of their punishments; those who were to suffer death wore the hideous Samarra, painted with flames and demons.
– Washington Irving, footnote, Rodd’s Civil Wars of Granada

As I beheld my clarinet case resting between my feet on the Red Line this morning, it suddenly occurred to me that I could not remember the last time I played my clarinet in Boston twice in the same week.  Possibly as far back as the Bullish Upticks concerts.  I’ve brought it in today to play my Voluntary on “Beautiful Savior” with Louise Mundinger for Evensong at St Paul’s on Tremont Street this afternoon.

Curiously, the subject of Evensong at St Paul’s (in a general way) arose in my HTUMC Choir rehearsal last night.

The upbeat arrangement of My Lord, What a Morning which I prepared in the spring, which it was utter madness to suppose that I could teach my choir, no matter how brave, in the space of a week (heaven knows what I was thinking, then) we have not yet come near to mastering.  Plus, we are missing some key singers this Sunday, so I have swapped in my expansion of the Gordon Jacob arrangement of Bro. James’s Air for this weekend’s anthem.  For the following week, I reckoned on refreshing the chant version of Psalm 91 which we first heard sung at Holy Trinity Monastery in Petersham.

I said refreshing, because I knew we had it in the filing cabinets; therefore, I brought it in to Danvers planning to sing it.  And, it is easy; therefore, I took it as read that we had sung it.  Yet, none of my choir recognized it last night, and the fact must be that yesterday’s rehearsal was the first exposure they have had to the piece.  This was an edition I prepared originally for my Evening Service in D, in the year when I served as Interim Choir Director at St Paul’s; and the legend Evensong appears in the top left of the score – which prompted a question from my agreeable and musically inquisitive choir.

I dreamt last night, not that White Nights was done, nor that I was working (as such) on the end of White Nights, but that the whole remainder of White Nights to be composed was sketched out in detail, and that all I need do is roll up my sleeves.  I also dreamt that my publisher, Mark and I were walking around town (talking about verbs, interestingly . . . or, it seemed interesting in the dream, anyway).  Also, he opened the door to a Lyft car and gave the driver a cassette tape to duplicate (bet you didn’t know that service was available from Lyft).

Monday, Sudie & I shall rehearse The Mystic Trumpeter for the first time.

Word just in that Carson Cooman will play one of the Op.28 pieces for Morning Prayer at Harvard this Monday. 

And I am scheming a kind of mini-cantata for HTUMC for the Christmas concert.


17 October 2018

A bit of an "in the guts of the machinery" post

“[Rod Serling's] subtext was about humanity, and not special effects. Rod strove to inform, enrich, nourish and revive the dead, which he did. He saw the invisible, built the intangible, and achieved the impossible.”~ Ted Post, director of several Twilight Zone episodes
Courtesy of Peter H. Bloom, we've been able to record concerts of the Ensemble on video, for some few years now. The audio quality is passable, and thus, I have continued to take a separate audio recording. It was a while before I figured out that I could "swap in" the superior audio on the video. Better late than never.

Take now the case of (e.g.) Mistaken for the Sacred yesterday: live trio plus fixed media.  In the space, during the concert, the balance between the live group and the fixed media was reportedly good. As the mics of my device picked up the music, however, the fixed media was very faint. Faint enough, in fact, that what I figured I should do was, prepare a mix of the live recording, plus the fixed media as resident at my laptop. So, that is what we've got here:


15 October 2018

Banner Day

Well, there we are, facing Tremont Street, out in the sight of God and everybody.


Smoke, hot tea & drizzle

Fame is like smoke,I couldn’t care less.– Anna Akhmatova
Still mostly recovery.  Sang part of the service yesterday morning, but could not sing the whole.  Excellent rehearsals, both in the afternoon with Louise Mundinger, and in the evening with "the band."  Gray, drizzly weather today;  will head out in a bit to rehearse Considering My Bliss Options with Peter.


14 October 2018

Somber postscript

And, to be sure, shortly after I posted this, I learnt that she had passed away a few hours earlier.  She was determined to do whatever she might, to resist the disease, and she kept a brave and cheerful demeanor throughout.  She had the joy of seeing her Red Sox through a magnificent regular season, and of seeing them vanquish the Yankees for the American League title;  so she passed out of this world with a gratified smile.  We shall miss her.

Innumerable angels sing you to a sweet rest, Adrienne.

12 October 2018

In from the rain

It was the day when I chanced upon the alternate approach to Whipple Hill in Lexington.  I did not then stop, for I had no time, then, to saunter among the trees, more is the pity.  The path has never been plainly laid out, and I do not see the end.  Yet the fact that I do not know the end, does not dissuade me from continuing on the path with all my determination and strength.  Frequently it seems that most of the experience, of trying to make one’s way as a composer, is the lack of responses when I send a message, or the form-letter rejections to a score I have sent in to a call.  If I were succeeding in finding material sustenance by other means, the rejections and the silence would be less onerous.

But the more important fact is, that there have always been friends who support and believe in both the character and quality of my work.  For a composer who is not connected to a school, nor to a well-established musical organization, I have been arguably successful in getting my work out to even a small audience, on a consistent basis, year after year.

My work has not yet been befriended in musically high places, and that, too, is a path which is not clearly marked.  Many composers work in and near this town.  And as with the general population, there are people, and there are people.  There are those who befriend you and try to help, to the degree that they can.  And there are those who, preoccupied with their own scramble to the top, push you aside as not merely an irrelevance, but as a possible obstacle, if they give you the time of day.  And these last, it will no surprise you, think no ill of what they do, of how they do it.

The rain has stopped for the moment, and my spirit walks abroad in the fresh autumn air.  To do work of surpassing excellence, is not only the primary goal, but in the deepest sense, is its own reward.

And, as if as a reminder of perspective, I am losing a friend, at far too young an age.  It is a few years since last we met, over tea on Tremont Street.  I have long wondered if we should take tea again; and in sorrow, I reflect on its extreme unlikelihood now.



10 October 2018

State of the Ensemble

Darest thou now, O Soul,
Walk out with me toward the Unknown Region,
Where neither ground is for the feet, nor any path to follow?
– Walt Whitman

It is a most curious matter, this expansion of the Boston Harbor Heave-Ho (Tea Party Dance) from the original trio, to the present quartet.  There is no insufficiency about the original scoring.  The horn line nevertheless imparts the sense that it has always been an integral component; and I made no alterations soever to the original three lines.  In a small way, something of a compositional tour-de-force.  We four all like the piece.

From the character of the fixed media for Kurosawa's Scarecrow, Pam jested to the effect of worrying just how horrid my memories were, of Packanack Lake.  Nevertheless, a separate quip (equally sympathetic) a rose during rehearsal, at the point where the live ensemble wait out a period of about 1'45", when I closed my eyes, and Pam wondered aloud if I hadn't fallen asleep.  While there is a kind of dark, diaphanous mystery to the prerecorded mix, I find it truly, profoundly relaxing.  The rehearsals have gone better and better; and while the chance aspect of just how the live quartet and the fixed media coordinate means that it's never quite the same twice, I find it some kind of marvelous, how apt the chance interplay always turns out.  Not really sure how I managed that.  (No, I had not fallen asleep.)

Between Kurosawa's Scarecrow and Mistaken for the Sacred, the surface similarity is of course the combination of live instruments with fixed media.  Chief among many differences, probably, are 1) the distinct character and materials in the fixed media, 2) the fact that the entrances of the ensemble are fairly free in Kurosawa's Scarecrow, but the alignment of the two elements is fairly strict in M. for the S., and 3) the writing for the instruments is busier and quirkier in Mistaken for the Sacred.  Of the three pieces we rehearsed yesterday evening, then, we needed to train a bit more attention upon a few passages in M. for the S.  Both of these pieces are experiencing significant artistic gains as we work them up now, with the benefit of the previous performances.

Tomorrow, I have a rehearsal with Louise Mundinger of the Voluntary on "Beautiful Savior."  It has got to be ten years or more since last I played the clarinet at St Paul's on Tremont Street.


09 October 2018

And today, in Ten Years Ago

:: 9 October 2008 ::

Started sketching a fresh number of White Nights on the bus this morning.

Well, I am (at present) jiggered as to which number that might have been.  (And, now that I have resumed work on the ballet, and have a bead on the end of the long-term project, that bejiggerment is nothing noxious.)  On a casual leaf-through, I believe that Scene 7 was already finished by this point;  certainly already started, so that it could not be ‘a fresh number’.  No, I really have no inkling.


Vegas, the Philippines, and a Bus Depot, for instance (3/24)

This ongoing survey of The Twilight Zone is very apt to contain SPOILERS.

My spontaneous impulse was to call this one of my favorite discs in the series.  Without at all wishing to squelch that rejoicing, I wanted to recollect briefly, and note that this is no negative reflection on the first two discs.  To exult in the extraordinary and sustained success of the series, is not to deny that sometimes a show, or elements of a show, will flag beneath the series' own high standards.  I do persist in the opinion that even B-grade Twilight Zone is generally superior television.  Are there shows in the series which I might cringe, to view again?  That remains to be seen.

Returning to the "The Hitch-Hiker," one perceives now that the twist is given to us, with some nonchalance, near the outset, by the chap changing Nan's tire.  With the understanding that this is all in the realm of imagination, it is not any actual quarrel with the story to step aside and wonder how it is that people perceive her as just an ordinary woman:  she knocks on a window and wakes a man who testily refuses to sell her fuel until he opens in the morning;  and she horrifies the sailor whom she has promised to drive right to his ship's dock, by attempting to run down the mysterious hitcher.  The teleplay is, then, something of a hip ghost story, and if, in the course of Nan's journey, we come to wonder about the nature of the titular traveler, it is perhaps equally inevitable and shocking–because Nan has managed to exasperate more than one (apparently actual) person–to find that Nan herself is no more, although she has continued to travel here in the material US of A.

It may not be that "The Fever" is genuinely 'predictable'; I cannot truly say, since I am not now watching it for the first time, and I did remember just where it was going.  But it may be fair to say that it is, for the series, an unusually straightforward story line (and telegraphed by the title).  The sound-design special effect of the slot machine's voice was creative and ingenious; and yet, I'll admit to finding it grating after a while (and of course, the whole episode is done after 25 minutes).  One thing I picked up this time is that Everett Sloane is here reunited with Serling; Sloane starred in the television broadcast of Patterns.

After "Walking Distance," "The Last Flight" is as yet only the second episode to turn on time travel.  The teleplay does a neat job of taking rather a non-dramatic situation, on the face of it (an errant airman kept in confinement on a US airbase) and generating dramatic tension.  Curiously, this is one of the very upbeat episodes, as a man who confesses that he was a coward (and who explains that it was his cowardice which, we might say, brought him here) discovers a spark of courage in himself, a spark which he is determined to fan into a flame.  In the spirit of placing the series' employment of women actors under the microscope, this episode is especially peculiar.  I believe that none of the actresses speaks so much as a line–they are there for the sole purpose of being (to the Royal Flying Corps man) a visible anachronism.

Now and again there is a Twilight Zone episode which is, essentially, 'war is hell' with a twist.  It is worth reflecting on the fact that this is born in part out of Serling's own combat experience, a tour of duty which informs his writing and sensibilities, but which was (we speculate) less traumatic than many endured.  (Let us say this without suggesting that there was anything easy about it.)  "The Purple Testament" is the first episode to appear in this genre, and its theme is poignant:  a soldier who wonders how to live with a kind of clairvoyance as to who among them will not be returning from the battlefield.  He tries to explain, but who can believe him.  Nevertheless, Capt. Riker (Dick York) does believe "Fitz," though without telling him–by the fact of leaving his effects in camp before rolling out.

"Elegy" is an episode which leaves me a bit mixed.  The conceit and the story are good, but early on the drama is a bit wooden–one of the spacemen calls, "Here, boy!" to a dog which is clearly not a live animal; and there are similar instances of the wanderers accosting people, even though there is no visual suggestion that they are persons rather than mannequins.  Those unfortunate false notes notwithstanding, it is a story which leads to rather a wrenching dénouement.  In fine:  any quarrel I have with the episode, is mechanical, or a question of execution.

"Mirror Image" introduces us to Millicent Barnes, who means to go to Buffalo for a new job, but who wonders what or whom she and others are seeing.  Paul Grinstead is, by stages, sympathetic, then equally puzzled, and at last–he is in just exactly the position which had him shuffling Millicent off to the hospital for.  "The Hitch-Hiker" and "Mirror Image" are, thus far, the high points in terms of interesting roles assigned to women actors.

A story which has painful pertinence in our own day, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" warns us of kindness which is no deeper than "Howdy, bub"; of the toxicity of scapegoating the Other; of the mob and every man for himself.  Jack Weston as Charlie Farnsworth is particularly poisonous.  The fear and uncertainty throw everyone off, which is why I do not find myself shouting at the television, No, Barry, don't turn on Steve, he was only now defending you against Charlie.  Charlie is the meanest, though, both in firing upon and killing a neighbor who was shrouded in darkness, and in trying to pin the blame on the boy Tommy.


08 October 2018

Auspicious anniversary

That motley drama–oh, be sure
  It shall not be forgot!
With its Phantom chased for evermore
  By a crowd that seized it not,
Through a circle that ever returneth in
  To the self-same spot;
And much of Madness, and more of Sin,
  And Horror the soul of the plot.
– Edgar Allan Poe, "The Conqueror Worm"

In the year when I was most neglectful of the blog, 2016, I posted (four days late) of the start of the Symphony № 1, Op.143.  In the sense that I got the entire piece done with focus and dispatch, and that the composer is entirely pleased with the result, the Op.143 is a complete success.  By measure of the question, Has it yet been performed? success yet eludes both the piece, and the composer. 

Yes, I have made a start on № 2, the first movement of which is complete.  But, as may be readily surmised, it is not as if there is any external motivation to complete it any time soon.

My work this past weekend was altogether more modest.  I prepared flute-&-alto-saxophone editions of both Considering My Bliss Options, and Zen on the Wing.  We sang my arrangements of Precious Lord and Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life yesterday morning.  Pending a test listen, I prepared at last the CD for 16 October of the fixed media for Kurosawa's Scarecrow and Mistaken for the Sacred, this morning (with a 30-second silent track in between, should we of the live ensemble chance to outrun the 'tape').


“Nothing wrong with the balance, I can hear myself fine!”

Overheard at a recent recital:

"Yet another demonstration that it is too easy, for a saxophone to be too loud."

–"Do some saxophonists pride themselves, do you think, on not bothering to listen to the other members of the ensemble?"

05 October 2018

Some cracking titles are born out of necessity

Adventures in the Power of Art:  I’m not even sure to whom I might confess that I involuntarily think of William Carlos Williams whenever I take a cold plum out from the refrigerator.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

There were beautiful prairies, too, diversified with groves and clumps of trees, which looked like vast parks, and in which you could see deer running, at a great distance.  In the proper season these prairies would be covered in many places with wild strawberries, where your horses’ hoofs would be dyed to the fetlock.  I thought there could not be another place in all the world equal to Kentucky–and I think so still.
– Washington Irving, “The Early Experiences of Ralph Ringwood”

As rare as it is that I dream of composing, this was a first, in that I dreamt of working on the mix of a fixed media element.  And the work went well:  the dream concluded with my relaxing back with headphones on, finding the sounds completely to my satisfaction.

So, yes:  the first time, also, that I wore headphones in a dream.

This morning, before pushing off to work, and (need it be added) while enjoying a cup of hot coffee, I saw to improving the beaming both for the cl/hn Ur-text of Considering My Bliss Options, and for the fl/cl adaptation.  I saw to the “quarter-rest fix” in the latter, though not yet for the original.  I also began work on the fl/alto sx version, which (not surprisingly) mostly entailed improving some enharmonic spellings; only a couple of places where I felt I needed to raise a note or figure an octave...a little surprisingly (for a horn line, which then became a clarinet line, and now being retooled for alto saxophone) every single note fell within the saxophone’s range.  Still, just a couple of the very low notes where I didn’t feel we wanted that foghorn honk.

Have not sent yet, both because I want to take a last proofing gander, and because a fl/alto sx adaptation of Zen on the Wing is also wanted.

Very nice, productive church choir rehearsal last night.  The one thing for which I felt the lack of sufficient time is, we aren’t as far along as I should like with my up-tempo unaccompanied arrangement of My Lord, What a Morning.  Probably, as the time fast approacheth for Christmas music prep, Morning will get pushed out to spring.  And that is just fine.

For my latest exercise in Sending a Score Where It Won’t be Appreciated, the subject under consideration is an orchestral score.  Too few winds for a movement from the Symphony to suit; and only one percussionist, so probably nothing from White Nights will do, either.  I am determined to send a piece, though.

The Op.99 is far too big an orchestra to answer this call.  But, it is also rich in texture; not over-rich, by any means–simply opulent.  The inspiration which came this morning is, then, to pare away “into” the slighter scoring, make the occasional musical adjustment, allot it a fresh opus number, and title it:  Harsher Erasures.


04 October 2018

Curious, I halt, and silent stand

—a face nor child, nor old, very calm, as of beautiful yellow-white ivory;
Young man, I think I know you—I think this face of yours is the face of the Christ himself;
Dead and divine, and brother of all, and here again he lies.
— Walt Whitman, “A Sight in Camp”

One of the signs of the changing seasons in the more northerly cities of the US, is the dissonant combination of the sandals which those ladies wear who are determined, subconsciously or not, to deny that the weather is cooling–the ladies’ sandals which are a stubborn hold-out from now-departed summer, and the annual re-emergence of the pumpkin spice thingummies over which these same ladies squee with exuberant delight.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

By now, I’ve lost track of the increasing number of 2018 calls &c. to which I have submitted work, and from which I’ve only received a “No, thanks.”  (I ought really, I suppose, to send out scores enough, that I do lose count, every year.)  The latest arrived overnight.

The call for which I sent Unsteady State (Grand Lullaby) had already received 300+ scores a week before it closed.  One does not confuse the highly improbable with the impossible, of course.  But, neither shall I hold my breath.

Yesterday evening, I chopped out the very-straightforward arrangement of “The Call” (“Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life”) which I had promised to my choir.

Nine years ago today, I was modifying the trumpet solo Ur-text of The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword.  To my knowledge, it has never yet been performed (as a trumpet piece).

And, as if to remind me that I need to be practicing now, too, I see that four years ago today I was practicing both The Mystic Trumpeter and just what everyone was expecting.

03 October 2018

Fifth Anniversary

The villagers gathered in the churchyard, to cheer the happy couple as they left the church; and the musical tailor had marshalled his band, and set up a hideous discord, as the blushing and smiling bride passed through a lane of honest peasantry to her carriage.  The children shouted, and threw up their hats; the bells rung a merry peal, that set all the crows and rooks flying and cawing about in the air, and threatening to bring down the battlements of the old tower; and there was a continuous popping off of rusty fire-locks from every part of the neighbourhood.
– Washington Irving, Bracebridge Hall, “The Wedding”

Five years ago tonight were my first official duties as HTUMC Music Director.  I do not say that it surprises me at all, but I have found it an enjoyable and gratifying ongoing endeavor.

And, now what?  This evening (and indeed, in preparation for tomorrow’s rehearsal) I must do, what two weeks ago I threatened to do – prepare the easy-ish arrangement of “The Call” for use during Communion this Sunday.

Two results from the excellent rehearsal with Peter yesterday of Considering My Bliss Options . . . first, I have just a few typographic items to clean up in the clarinet part (and, therefore, in the horn part of the Ur-text) . . . two measures where there are two eighth-rests when it ought just to be a quarter-rest, and a couple of beams to add.  Second, to arrange it (an easy task, to be sure) for flute & alto saxophone, for Peter’s nephew in New York.

Before next Tuesday’s rehearsal, I must finally prepare the CD of the fixed media for the King’s Chapel concert.

Still need to confirm rehearsal with Louise, of the “Beautiful Savior” Voluntary.


02 October 2018

It Happened Yesterday

Did you ask dulcet rhymes from me?
Did you seek the civilian’s peaceful and languishing rhymes?
Did you find what I sang erewhile so hard to follow?
Why I was not singing erewhile for you to follow, to understand—nor am I now;
(I have been born of the same as the war was born;
The drum-corps’ harsh rattle is to me sweet music—I love well the martial dirge,
With slow wail, and convulsive throb, leading the officer’s funeral:)
—What to such as you, anyhow, such a poet as I?—therefore leave my works,
And go lull yourself with what you can understand—and with piano-tunes;
For I lull nobody—and you will never understand me.
— Walt Whitman

At our Triad rehearsal last night, we read It Might Happen Today for the first time.  It was at the very end of the rehearsal (so, somewhere in the area of 9:15 PM), the interlocking rhythms required unflagging concentration, and we were joined by two new members in the tenor section.  So, on one hand, everyone was probably too information-overloaded and/or too spent, to offer any remark on the music itself; on the other, we sang only slightly under tempo, and pretty much forged our way straight through, with only one stop-and-restart.  The composer is well content.

This evening, Peter & I have a short rehearsal with Considering my Bliss Options.  The piece itself is short, so we can have quite an intensive and productive session, and nevertheless be done in perhaps under an hour.


Zoning In (2/24)

Again, there are going to be spoilers throughout this post. So watch The Twilight Zone, first.


Burgess Meredith reports that, of all his television appearances, people spoke to him most about “Time Enough at Last.” (He also emphasized television, in contrast to his work in the movies.) This is probably an apt time to raise my principal quarrel with The Twilight Zone: Too many of the women are stock characters.  Liz was there mostly to sympathize with poor beleaguered Al in “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”; Martin's entirely reactive mother in “Walking Distance” (it would not have marred the script at all, had it been the mother rather than the father who figured out that Martin had somehow come back from the future); the pathetically spineless (I doubt that even at that time I should have found that common caricature at all amusing) Ethel Bedeker in “Escape Clause.”  Serling did, however, write a good principal female role for Ida Lupino, in “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”; and Jack Warden's robot companion was a good deal more interesting a personality than any of the other supporting women thus far. Thus, Helen Bemis is only a two-dimensional shrew to torment Burgess Meredith.


Serling was one of the greatest writers to hit television, yet he too often phoned it in when sketching the woman in the screenplay. (He got better in Night Gallery.)

A minor quibble is, that for a character who was established as being practically unable to put a book down, as feeling almost physical discomfort if he didn't hold a book in his hands, I confess to mild (but, probably, previously informed) surprise at the delay before it occurs to Bemis that ... he can pass the time in reading.


No complaint about, erm, fleshing out the female character applies to Charles Beaumont's “Perchance to Dream.”  Suzanne Lloyd recounts the story of her watching the episode for the first time, with a gentleman, who responded to her performance as Maya by upbraiding her, “I had no idea you were that kind of woman,” and canceled their date. An unimaginative fellow, who did not understand what acting is.


Long enough an interval elapsed, that I completely forgot that Patrick Macnee appears in “Judgment Night.” I like that we hear his distinctive voice, before seeing his face.


Any A-list of Twilight Zone episodes (a substantial list, to be sure) must include “And When the Sky Was Opened.”  The agents of removal, as it were, are all the more frightful, for being out of view, and indeed an unanswered mystery. Rod Taylor managed to keep his cool better in The Birds, than here.


In this second survey, I've found both “What You Need” and “The Four of Us Are Dying rather better than I gauged them at first. When I first surveyed the series on DVD, I was perhaps so thoroughly taken with the first disc's consignment of episodes, that I may have come to disc 2 with something of a defiant mien. In fact, these two episodes provide a welcome variety, both in the visual style, which is more a stylized, possibly cartoonish, city-scape in “The Four of Us Are Dying,and in the fact that we meet some highly unsavory characters. The peculiar conceit of “The Four of Us Are Dying” threatens to be just a little diffuse for a 25-minute teleplay, but then, the soundtrack comes to its aid.

I intended to draw a contrast, between the emotional center provided by the chamber orchestral soundtracks provided by Bernard Herrmann, Franz Waxman, Van Cleave, e.g., and the “stock” jazz soundtracks used in (among others) “The Four of Us Are Dying,” perfectly suitable though they are. But on some more consideration, I wonder if this is more a reflection (like the frequently shallow writing for female characters) of the time, and the fact that jazz music and artists did not, in the late 50s, enjoy the respect, the parity with the “legit” musical world, which it has probably achieved by now.


“Third From the Sun is charged with a nervousness which leaves the ending in doubt. Interestingly, “I Shot an Arrow in the Air is an apt complement:  in one, we suppose we are on Earth, in the other, we thought we weren't.

01 October 2018

Bubbly Lullaby

I would do anything for love.  Absolutely anything, because that's the kind of guy I am.  Oh!  You're asking for the one thing I won't do!  Thank you for playing.
Porridger's Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

At about the time when I heard first composed Lutosławski's Lullaby, I composed also a fairly brief program note.  I substantially expanded upon this note afterwards, tying in the piece's possible placing in Little Towns, Low Countries, which was in fact an idea contemporary with the original composition, but an idea which I believe I left out of the original program note.

The following is not the original program note as I wrote it in the late 1990s, but my attempt, now, to reconstruct it, as a reduction of the expanded remarks.  (On the other hand, it may be exactly as I wrote it, then.)

About the Dance Postlude: Lutosławski's Lullaby for piano solo Op.25

The first time I went to Petersburg was a day-trip from Tallinn, Estonia.  I took a bus to the city of Peter the Great; walked around the part of town between Arts Square and the Winter Palace, looked for the first time upon the granite-faced fortress of Peter and Paul across the River Neva, spent a dazzling and tantalizingly brief hour in the Hermitage, and missed my bus going back.

Any first-time visitor to such a beautiful, enchanting, and poetical city as Petersburg might have done so, and might have spoken as little Russian as did I.  As little Russian as I spoke means in fact, not the least word.  A succession of kindly strangers pointed me along the stages of making my way to Varshavsky (Warsaw) Station, whence trains depart also for Tallinn.  At that train station, so different from Penn Station or Grand Central, a series of delightfully implausible circumstances led to my being introduced to the wonderful woman who is now my wife.

As the name suggests, trains also depart from Warsaw Station for Poland.  I left on the train for Tallinn little dreaming (— no, I did dream, but I hardly dared think much of the dream —) that the young woman I had met, for such a brief time, would eventually permit me to marry her.  Later, I promised to write her a piano piece.

In Tallinn, I heard the Estonian National Philharmonic play Lutosławski's Symphony № 4, and I learned that Lutosławski had passed away.  I did not travel to Warsaw, but I heard a train rumbling from Petersburg to Poland, the mechanical rhythms of the iron horse lulling a composer to sleep.