02 July 2020


Last night I was thinking why is it a surprise to people that the Firesign albums can be played over and over again? Don’t you you play your favorite music albums over and over again? Once afain that’s an often-asked question. What makes these last? It’s because they’re more like music than they are like jokes, and part of that is the performance, you know, if you love the way Lena Horne sings a song, then you love everything she does because she has a way of doing it. There’s a particular kind of sound to that and it’s the same thing with the Firesign Theatre. You love and you react favorably to the richness of the language that’s contained in a certain melody. The music of the piece just bounces right along. Our pieces are very musical.
— David Ossman (Sagittarius)
At my weekly physical therapy sessions, Mike makes me welcome to connect my phone to his Alexa via Bluetooth.  Over the months, the music which it has been my pleasure to introduce Mike to has included Haydn string quartets, the Shostakovich and Vaughan Williams Fifth Symphonies, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet and more.  Sometimes we listen to non-classical music:  One week we revisited (what neither of us had listened to for a long time) Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. When I arrived for my appointment today, I had decided to introduce Mike to Robert Fripp’s 1980 new wave dance quartet, The League of Gentlemen, and we listened to their performance in Philadelphia, When we were wrapping up and I went to grab my phone, I saw that the date of the performance we had listened to was 2 July 1980:  40 years ago, today.

Three things I asked Alexa this week (generally, not while I was at therapy):

  1. How big a Bengal Tiger is
  2. When Jno. Frakes was born
  3. Where Lake Titicaca is located

30 June 2020

In Celebration of Asteroid Day

. . . Tutti! for Earth and Heaven! The Almighty Leader now for me, for once has signal’d with his wand.
— Walt Whitman, “Proud Music of the Storm.”

These Triad concerts marked my post-stroke, pre-pandemic return to participation in the collective

This was our second go at Jim Dalton’s setting of Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learned Astronomer,” and, as one might hope, we made better music with it the second time.

28 June 2020

New Choral Music Under Lockdown

It is high time that I apply myself to mixing Best Get the Ax. My friend Charles Turner is first out of the gate with Berkeley Denies:

27 June 2020

Shake It Off—Move On!

Two years ago, I participated in the Rapido! Contest, a biennial event sponsored by the Atlanta Chamber Players.  In brief, the idea is that the participating composers have two weeks to write a piece. Not all contestants win, and I was one of the non-winners. I've made note of this already, so I am not writing to complain, today. One of the specs for the entry that cycle was, music related to dance, so I wrote a set of two:  Dances of Exhilaration and Nonchalance . . . consisting of Revere’s Midnight Reel (War Dance) and the Boston Harbor Heave-Ho (Tea Party Dance)
One reason not to complain about not having won is, I am pleased with what I wrote; indeed, I arranged the latter for “my band”

Was my piece perhaps too “retro” for the judges?  No matter.

If at first, you do not succeed . . . so I enrolled for this year’s Rapido! cycle.
As a rule (under normal circs) writing a piece of the scale required in that time-frame is a task I do not find unduly trying.

The difference, this year, is that I am in therapy, recovering from my stroke.  So I undertook the challenge, on the understanding (which operates for me, but which will be irrelevant to the judging process, of course) that I would pace my efforts, and not overwork in order to write the piece.

So, I got a good night’s rest Sunday, 30 May.  The e-mail with the specs came in at 9am Monday, 1 June.  The requested scoring is right up my street. And as the piece needs to be 4-6 minutes in duration, I figured I could compose 30 seconds of music per day, and have lots of wiggle room.  By the time  I set myself to a relaxing Tuesday evening of watching James Bond, I had written 60 seconds of my piece, and I was quite pleased with the start I had made.

Although I rested well Tuesday night, on Wednesday morning I felt tired.  when I have talked with my Occupational Therapist about the question of my returning to work, I had to report that, while my stamina is generally good (I certainly have steam enough for a walk around the pond, generally 50 minutes) I find that my body requires a nap at periods too frequent for me to consider resuming a spot back in The Workplace.  The brain's efforts to re-map the neural connections are indeed an expenditure of energy; and I am diligent in my therapy “homework.”  And my weekly P.T. sessions, whose activity sends a great deal of input to my brain, typically require a couple of days to “recover.”

So, Wednesday morning, my feeling was, that not only would I not compose that day, but that I should simply rest, and leave off any thought of composing until I felt completely recharged.  I understood right away that this threw my “plan” off the rails, but I was morally prepared to abandon the contest, if I did not feel up to the work: there will be other opportunities.

Days of rest (for which my body was grateful, went by.  At last, on Sunday (the seventh day of the contest, and thus the half-way point of the contest period) I felt myself again, and thought I might resume composing.  I trimmed my scheme for the piece, so that, with a stricter rest regimen, the project would be achievable, and I opened up the Sibelius file for the first time since downing tools.  What I found was that, although I had felt that those first two days’ work had been good, I had messed up the cello line with an errant mouse-click.  This was, is if anything, confirmation that I was too tired towards the end of that work period.  The fact is, too, that even under good conditions, I sometimes make such a mistake, so it was not anything to impute to (say) my still-compromised left hand.

Well, that discovery, and dismay at the prospect of recovering the material, came close to convincing me to throw in the towel.  However, I thought to pour out my tale to fellow composer Mark Gresham, who had originally informed me of the contest. He reminded me that Sibelius auto-saves backup files (something, admittedly, which I ought to have known) So, on the early side of that Sunday evening (I think it was) I went back into Sibelius, and managed shortly to set my score to rights again.  And I shut down the computer and got a good night’s rest.

Quite probably buoyed by the successful restoration, I awoke fresh and ready on Monday morning.  All through the week, I remained true to keeping the work periods brief, and getting ample rest.

I did, indeed, finish the piece, both to my entire musical satisfaction, and in time for the deadline.

And, Gentle Reader, since anonymity is one of the conditions of the contest, that is all I shall say, until I know the result.

All I shall add is, whether or not I succeed in this contest, my piece will be heard. That is a promise.

26 June 2020

The Challenge of Simplicity

Picking up from yesterdays post, I found Judith’s memorial piece for the Public School teacher delicately touching, both for itself, in its unaffected artistry, and in its light-handed universality (as it seems to me) Even at this far remove, I have teachers from my youth whom I remember with love and gratitude, it would not surprise me if we all have.

I was also reminded vividly of one of my first meetings with Judith in her studio at UVa, possibly when I was interviewing for admission to the graduate program in Composition. She asked me to show her some of my work, and one of the pieces I showed her was a set of three occasional pieces which I had written at Wooster for soprano Elaine Krochmal  and tuba-player Jennie Macke, a set of Three Viking Proverbs from the Prose Edda (I think)

They were scored actually for soprano, clarinet and tuba; Elaine and Jennie asked me if I knew of any music for soprano and tuba.  I did not, so I offered to write something for the three of us.  At the interview, mildly embarrassed by their musical modesty, I apologized for their simplicity.   “There’s nothing wrong with simplicity,” she assured me.  It was both a generous, friendly ice-breaker, and a maxim that I have kept to heart.  Indeed, I knew the truth of it, as soon as she gave it utterance.

It is, I think, in some ways superficially easier to compose dense, complicated music.  The result, at least is sufficiently active to beguile the ear.  In the most important sense, composing music is a challenge, simple or complex, because the goal is a piece which will engage and interest the listener, and beyond these, to earn the listener’s affection.  But there is a sense in which the challenge is more acute when the music is simple: There’s no place to hide, we might say.

There are a few student works which I still own, but the Three Viking Proverbs is not one of them.  There is a good idea or two in there. The piece does suffer from a number of flaws. Simplicity is not among them, however.
I remember that piece now, most importantly because Judith reminded me that there is nothing wrong with simple music.

25 June 2020

Past, Present, and not-quite-immediate Future

In reverse order:

I have done just a sliver more work on the second movement of the Symphony № 2. Will let ideas percolate a bit more.

One of my teachers, Judith Shatin, writes:

I composed The Best Angel in Heaven in the cruel month of April, 2020, in memory of Sandra Santos-Vizcaino, the wonderful third-grade teacher at PS 9 in Brooklyn, NY who passed away from Covid-19.

The poignant directness of the ‘found’ text is powerful, both because the music is of just the right character, and courtesy of the composer’s keeping masterfully ‘out of the text’s way.

The latest Facebook status update of an old schoolmate of mine reads: I never finish anythi

I shall conclude this post tomorrow (weather and authorities permitting)

24 June 2020


The blog Earrelevant featured my Apr 2018 video of Thoreau in Concord Jail as one of their Interlude features. It reminds me (altogether pleasantly) that I am recovering towards playing clarinet again.

And: credit where credit is due ... I had neglected this my blog for some time, and the fact that my buddy Dave in Minnesota recently posted to his blog told me that I was due for one, meself.