31 May 2010

Rehearsal before the service

Before the Glare . . . .

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30 May 2010

A little morning glare (lunar)

Paul & I will do some musical scampering before the service today. Placement will be key. Cannot block the view of floral arrangements. Fair enough.

29 May 2010

Rehearsal the day of

From a week ago tomorrow, bits of pre-concert rehearsal of the SSA version of the Alleluia in D, Opus 48b with the choir Sine Nomine (Dr Paul Cienniwa—music director) at St Martin’s Episcopal parish in Providence, Rhode Island:

A Milestone of 50

Quite possibly, I should be more artistically annoyed than I am . . . harpsichordist Paul Cienniwa and I are playing part(s) of Lunar Glare as the Prelude to the service at First Church in Boston tomorrow morning, and it’s a 16-minute piece (which, I should check the recording of the première, actually ran to 20 minutes, and without feeling over-languorous) . . . so of course we aren’t going to play the whole thing. What I should perhaps be more annoyed over, is the paring away; but instead, I am just pleased to play even bits of it. It’s fun to play.

I was impaneled to serve on a jury, so that rather dominated the week . . . and I got an e-mail message from Paul on Thursday afternoon (not panicked, but righteously earnest) reminding me that I needed to give him the measure numbers of the excerpts we’re going to play this Sunday, so that he could rehearse the cut(s) yesterday. Check.

Great pleasure in the fact that DMC Duo in Atlanta are planning to take Angular Whimsies (Heavy Paint Manipulation) on tour (it’s even now on their web page, though with Whimsies whimsically spelled) in June. They’re playing here in Cambridge, Mass., and all along I have been hoping to attend the performance — but they’re playing on Monday the 21st, which is when the k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble will play a big do in Woburn. Maybe timing will allow a quick jaunt afterwards to Cambridge, but I am doubtful. Better, perhaps, they are hoping to book another venue in Boston for a second performance. We shall see.

Hectic time, but I did (thankfully) remember to submit my ASCAPlus application yesterday; this is a program whereby the organization provides some modest monies to members whose royalties in any given year don’t amount to much (which is certainly the way I’ve been consistently rolling). The application is not difficult to submit, even easier in some ways now that it has been available as an on-line form. Especially easy for me, one might say, as I have no data to offer in the sections Recent Recordings nor Prizes, Honors, &c.

My strength on the form has always been “Recent Compositions (indicate if commissioned)” — which I always have healthily populated — and “Recent Performances of Your Original Compositions (including premières).”

It is this last field which was such a startling revelation when I set to filling out the application. This field lists piece by piece, separate dates and all (and even includes a couple of radio broadcasts from WERS 88.9 FM Boston). In all, from 1 June 2009 to 31 May 2010, I listed titles/performers/venues for 50 recent performances — as compared to seven for the period 1 June 2008 to 31 May 2009.

We make progress, I think.

27 May 2010

Whimsies, Glare

Heard from Caleb Herron, the percussionist of DMC Duo, confirming that the Duo will take Angular Whimsies (Heavy Paint Manipulation) on their upcoming tour. (And there the Whimsies are, listed on their page.) And the clarinetist, Ariana Lamon-Anderson, exchanged e-mail messages with me mere minutes ago, so we’ve made sure that she now has the transposed score to play from

Not a moment too soon, I’ve also sorted out which six and a half minutes of Lunar Glare ought to be used for the Prelude to this Sunday’s service at First Church Boston.

26 May 2010


Re-reading The Act You’ve Known for All These Years: A Year in the Life of Sgt Pepper & Friends. More on which later.

Also reading Mistress of Modernism: The Life of Peggy Guggenheim. Tough incidents early on for her.

Dennis De Young & al. made the grade and still they wonder who the hell they are. Tommy Shaw has given up hope on the afternoon soaps and a bottle of cold brew.

Exquisite weather in Boston this week.

24 May 2010

Love Is the Spirit Out in the Sun

Most of the time, when I send a score via e-mail, the recipient does not soon respond. If much time passes, I probably will not ever hear back.

This past Thursday, hard athwart form, I got a longish-delayed response to the five-part choral piece I originally wrote last November for Paul Cienniwa’s choir at First Church in Boston (Love Is the Spirit):

Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner, but this is great. We actually recite this covenant at almost every service, so I'm quite sure we'll be using this—it's far better than [the setting] that we currently have . . .our pastor videotapes every service, so I may even be able to send you a video.

Thanks again for thinking of us!
The same day I had a lovely lunch with Charles Peltz, who some few years ago conducted the première of Out in the Sun. His office is in an odd corner of the building, and I was not confident that I could find it unaided; so we decided that he would meet me at the main entrance to Jordan Hall. It’s some while since last we met. I was a little thrown by his first words on our meeting today: “Great news about Michigan!” Took me a long second to realize he meant the University of Michigan Wind Ensemble performance of Out in the Sun.

Before long I found the right moment in the conversation for: “Has it been a good enough interval, that you might think of programming Out in the Sun again?”

Almost certainly not this coming season, which has already been programmed. More importantly, though, for a piece like OitS with its particular instrumental demands, Charles has to look at (e.g.) what grad student clarinetists he will have next year . . . and if there are only two who could handle a piece like mine Opus 88, he has to be judicious in programming (he cannot have them playing every piece, must keep the workload manageable). In short, he’s up for it in principle, but it’s a matter of people resources and timing.

Timing also governs the answer to the second question I was keen to pursue with him in that day’s meeting.

In addition to his duties at NEC, Charles conducts the Glen Falls Symphony . . . and back in the deeps of time, he told me he would like to program a string orchestra number from White Nights in Glen Falls.

In brief, we’re waiting on the right time, which in this case is a matter of the balance of new music in the season’s mix — really cannot foist too much new music on the subscribers to an orchestra in a smaller burgh in upstate New York, and there is already planned for this season a Schwantner piece (for which the Glen Falls Symphony was part commissioner) and a Michael Gandolfi piece (Gandolfi teaches composition at NEC) for clarinet solo and strings. The not-just-yettishness notwithstanding, I believe Charles to be in perfect earnest when he tells me that the string pastoral from Night the First is never buried back in his mind.

He’s going to write another letter to the wind ensemble network to whom he initially passed on word of Out in the Sun (which is how Michael Haithcock at Univ Mich learnt of the piece), this time with word that maestro Haithcock took the piece on. Charles feels that will provide impressive weight.

Keeping on keeping on, here in The Town of the Pulse.

23 May 2010

One Performance Only

The Alleluia in D tomorrow later today in Providence:

A concert featuring Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G Minor for Double Choir with chants, motets and anthems for the Day of Pentecost by Byrd, Gibbons, Harvey, Henning, Tallis, Thompson, Titelouze, and the world premiere of Ave Verum Corpus by John Masko (b. 1992) — a student from the Wheeler School.

Unfortunate headline, upon which a reader has commented.

22 May 2010

A lesson in futility

Aforehand, I must mention that the Internet has, and often, proved a powerful networking medium for me and my work. So the following is not any comment on the tool, but merely an enlightening instance of how the usefulness of the tool depends crucially upon the environment, and one’s fellow users.

For ten years or so, I have served in a variety of churches in and near Boston as a paid chorister. It was even given to me briefly to serve the Episcopal Cathedral as Interim Choir Director.

All this time, one of my on-line musical activities has been, to subscribe to a network dedicated to choral music. From time to time (without, I trust, making myself a nuisance) I would participate more actively in the group by announcing a coming performance. From time to time, I would announce a new choral work I had just completed. Occasionally, when a message to the group was a call for a specific type of piece, with perhaps a specific type of accompaniment, I would think, I have just the thing in my catalogue, and I would reply to that effect.

The rate of replies to any activity of mine in that group, for a (probable) ten-year period has been less than one percent. In all, only one actual performance of my music has ever resulted from my participation in that group.

That in itself, I should not have taken great offense at. A composer gets used to hardly hearing back as he makes various attempts to generate public awareness of his work.

In the case of this group, the response rate is witheringly slight even compared to the average.

But here is the utter kicker.

These past two weeks there has been a discussion thread in the group headed, Your 10 favorite living composers. It was a vigorous discussion, too, generating withal at least 40 responses.

(Incidentally: the very first response to the original message was posted by a woman, whose list of 10 consisted exclusively of women composers. I wonder what remark she would make of anyone who posted a list exclusively of men. Possibly she would have an opinion on that, and possibly the opinion would be sharp. Possibly she would think that it is only bigotry when her preferred demographic is slighted.)

In 40 responses (which in theory might have yielded 400 names, though of course one expects composers of some fame and publication to be statistically favored), my name came up exactly zero times.

In brief, my modest efforts to raise any awareness at all of my own music, of myself as a composer, in at least eight years of participation in this group, have resulted in absolute zero.

That is a great gift, really. For three years or more, I have rather wondered if the dearth of any reaction to my own participation in the group, did not indicate that even the little time I dedicate to the group would not be better spent elsewhere. And here I have been given a crystal clear answer.

At King’s Chapel

As promised here, a lively program at King’s Chapel, and always a pleasure to play together with Peter Bloom.

The program (and when I sent to Heinrich I must once again have mis-typed Garden for Cage . . .):

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The artists:

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As on prior occasions (gratifyingly) the usher at King’s was warmly enthusiastic, and asked eagerly when we should be coming back to play again (which is either October or November . . . Heinrich having asked me to bump to another date in consideration for another artist’s scheduling restrictions).

In fact, the usher reported one concertgoer as saying that she had to return to Lancaster County, Penna., that day — but that she would be coming back to Boston for next week’s concert. So Henningmusick is setting a good standard for the King’s Chapel series.

Guest in Woburn

There seems a layered imagistic irony in blogging an image of a photo taken of a photocopy; but the Ur-text is actual newsprint:

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The beautiful sanctuary in the all-wooden structure of the Sixth Meeting House of the First Congregational Church in Woburn:

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And the order of service (including Cat Stevens’ “Morning Has Broken,” a hymntune which had been Fragmented only the Wednesday before):

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St Nicholas in May

It is some few years, actually, since anyone has heard the Canticle of St Nicholas. Warm thanks to Carson Cooman for taking an (active) interest in the piece.

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[ No knowing why blogger has flipped the photo upside-down. ]

Watch this man’s smoke

John McLaughlin Williams receives some well- and hard-earned notice in the Chicago Classical Review:

. . . Williams is that rarest of contemporary podium animals, a conductor who is a knowledgeable and passionate advocate for American music, particularly lesser known byways like McKay, Benjamin Lees, Quincy Porter, and Chicago’s own John Alden Carpenter.

Even in a city as musically rich and diverse as Chicago, that kind of promotion of our own musical heritage by established institutions remains far too rare. Williams’ appointment would admirably fill that void and serve to boost the Sinfonietta’s profile in the process.

And in the Chicago Sun-Times:

Since the announcement in early 2009 of music director Paul Freeman’s decision to retire, the Sinfonietta has been on the march to find a successor to its venerable founder. The current season has featured five guest conductors in a sort of public audition role, and the last of these contenders, John McLaughlin Williams, might have the strongest case after an impressive showing Monday night at Orchestra Hall.

And in the Chicago Tribune:

The deciding factor must be leadership ability. Certainly the fusion of Williams' abilities with those of the dynamic young Harlem Quartet at Monday's event lifted the music-making out of the mediocre rut in which it has been stuck for years.

This, ladies & gentlemen, is the sound of a robust talent finding at last open and attuned ears.

20 May 2010

Carrying on

A friend who came to the King’s Chapel concert day before yesterday had some suggestions about the piece on the program which I have been apt to refer to as a daft experiment.

My catalogue has accumulated items enough of (what I am content to imagine is) musical weight, that I felt at perfect ease writing a daft experiment, a piece which is under no great burden for repeated programming. That said, my fellow performer and I were both surprised on the upside (in the parlance of our times), and even considering it for an odd, one-off work, I like it quite well as it is.

My aforementioned friend offered suggestions which he himself pointed out essentially amounted to how he would write the piece. I think I surprised him by having no great quarrel with that (he joked to the effect of, “Now you can beat the stuffing out of me”).

Last night, I attended a concert devoted nearly exclusively to music of Larry Bell; all of it very well and musically performed, none of it less than very good, and three of the pieces I liked a great deal indeed. Now, in considering the pieces upon which my momentary, instantaneous affection did not fix quite so keenly—what was “wrong” with them? Nothing which would not boil down simply to how I might have worked matters otherwise. And there is no reason why any other composer should go about his business just the way I do.

Fact is, the fewer composers there are who operate like Karl Henning, the better Karl Henning likes it.

Carry on.

18 May 2010


Some days, you just don’t care that you ended a blog post with a preposition.

No news, but . . .

. . . seen today on a friend’s status update on fb:

The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
— Oscar Wilde

My musical career, there in a nutshell.

Well, one carries on. Doing good work is the best answer.

Preparation for today’s recital included printing out an extra three pages, to be strategically placed in unobstrusive places for an itinerant clarinetist to refer to.

17 May 2010

Coming Tuesday 18.v.10

Cool Breezes

Music of Karl Henning

Irreplaceable Doodles, Opus 89 (2007)
Here You Go / Hear You Go, Opus 101 (2010) première

three for two, Opus 97 flute & clarinet
№ 1: Heedless Watermelon, Opus 97 (2009)
№ 2: All the Birds in Mondrian’s Cage, Opus 97 (2009)
№ 3: Swivels & Bops, Opus 97 (2010) flute & clarinet

Peter H. Bloom, flute
Karl Henning, clarinet

Tuesday, 18 May 2010
King’s Chapel
Corner of School & Tremont Streets, Boston
(near the Park St ‘T’)

Free-will offering

Veni, swivi, bopi . . . .

15 May 2010

A good kind of busy

Very pleased with how we played the Out in the Moon program at St Paul’s on Wednesday. Small but keenly attentive audience.

As a guest instrumentalist, I’m set to play at First Congregational in Woburn tomorrow, including my Canzona & Gigue.

The chance arose all of a sudden to play both the Brahms Opus 120 clarinet sonatas with Eric Mazonson in Newton. Haven’t played them in years, and the mere notion of programming the two back-to-back on the same concert strikes me as agreeably cheeky.

The Alleluia in D is in rehearsal as part of a Sine Nomine performance next Sunday.

And Peter H. Bloom and I have a lunchtime program to play in King’s Chapel this Tuesday.

11 May 2010

notes for tomorrow, from the moon

Lunar Glare :: A large portion of the inspiration for this piece I owe to Domenico Scarlatti. I had heard a few of Scarlatti’s keyboard sonatas on synthesizer and piano before I ever heard them on the harpsichord . . . I thought the sonatas nifty even when synthesized or pianified, but I like them better still on the shimmering strings of the harpsichord. The clarinet was invented (developed is probably better) in the mid-18th century, a time when the harpsichord was already being eclipsed1 by the piano; so the very idea of the two instruments together implies a degree of anachronism which likes me well. As to the process of composition, I don’t know that I could say much apart from the fact that I delighted in the timbral contrasts between the two instruments. Some passages are fanciful explorations (in my own musical language) of the harpsichord’s proper idiom. There is a kind of mensural canon (imitation in which the second ‘voice’ declaims the same material, but at an accelerated rhythmic rate). There are stretches of the piece where the two instruments alternate with different material entirely (suggesting that they have no common ground), and another passage where the two instruments are bound together in a whirlwind unison. It was fun to write, and I find it great fun to play. An early draft of the piece included notes that are just too high for Paul’s harpsichord to play; he made me change those. The inspiration for the title came from signage on a Massachusetts highway advising motorists to be cautious of solar glare in the morning2.

1 Subtle, moonish pun

2 It is a road I am apt to travel at night.

All the Birds in Mondrian’s Cage / Swivels & Bops :: Once I had written Heedless Watermelon for Peter and myself to play together, it proved such great fun (— that word again —) that I knew I wanted to round it out as a set of three pieces. (Time constraints for today’s program make it impractical to offer the complete set of three.) Not long after our July concerts last year, my eye fell upon a Mondrian reproduction, and I thought about how I might compose a piece with musical means to reflect the austere simplicity of de Stijl. (Not an absolutely original idea, by the way, as I had studied with the Dutch composer Louis Andriessen when I was in Buffalo, and it is to Louis that I owe my introduction to the term.) I first played All the Birds in Mondrian’s Cage with Nicole Randall Chamberlain in Atlanta last November. I wrote Swivels & Bops earlier this year, because I knew I would; it is dance-music for turtle-doves. Every Christmas, I used to wonder what the two turtle-doves would like to dance to.

Fragments of « Morning Has Broken » :: Bill Goodwin, music director of the First Congregational Church in Woburn, Mass., commissioned this trio for us to play with violinist John Jelatis. In its original clarinet-violin-piano version, I’ve also played it here at St Paul’s with violinist Stephen Symchych and former music director Mark Engelhardt. Honestly couldn’t say at this point why I adapted it for flute-clarinet-piano (which involved some redistribution between the single-line instruments). The piece is a variant on the idea of theme-and-variations. There is no initial statement of the theme, but after an introductory passage (which returns in a metrical alteration . . . more variations) each section of the piece takes a successive fragment of the hymn-tune Bunessan as a topic for exploration. I find it irresistible to share that, when we played the piece here in 2004, I overheard a member of the audience say immediately afterwards, “Cat Stevens, eat your heart out.”

09 May 2010

For a week hence

begin transcript

Dear Bill,

Here I’ve attached two scores: my Canzona & Gigue, and an arrangement (varying degrees of liberty) dubbed Handeliana.

I’d suggest we do perhaps the first movement (or first & third) of the Handeliana for a Prelude; the Canzona during the service (for the Offertory?) and the Gigue for a Postlude.

When we get together to practice, if you like, we can give the middle movement of the Handeliana a run just for kicks.

The Canzona & Gigue I wrote for Mark Engelhardt and myself . . . he had given me short notice that he wanted the two of us to play something together for a service, so I made a point of writing an organ part that did not make great demands.

The Handeliana was an idea I’d been kicking around a long time (it was brewing a lot when we’d sing Messiah with Tom de Blois, for instance). The occasion for actually writing it was, James Woodman was subbing for Mark at the Cathedral, and (similarly) he reached out to me for original music for the two of us to play one Sunday.


end transcript

08 May 2010

More Moon &c.

Having a great time practicing Lunar Glare. Even (or especially) on my own — for I do need to learn some notes. Paul is learning his notes, so it would be disgraceful for the composer not to learn his own &c.

For the grand finale of the 21 June concert, I was thinking of composing something fresh for all six players — but I am powerfully attracted to the thought that we could bring a scene of White Nights before a willing public; so I am likely to do some arranging instead.

Feels like the end of an era in a way . . . but I got a new double clarinet case. Quite smart, and looks like it will travel easier on a plane. So we can tour anytime now.

Coming Wednesday 12.v.10

Out in the Moon

The k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble

Lunar Glare, Opus 98 (2010) clarinet & harpsichord — première
All the Birds in Mondrian’s Cage, Opus 97 № 2 (2009) flute & clarinet
Swivels & Bops, Opus 97 № 3 (2010) flute & clarinet — première
Fragments of « Morning Has Broken », Opus 64a (2002) flute, clarinet & piano

Peter H. Bloom, flute
Paul Cienniwa, harpsichord, piano
Karl Henning, clarinet

Wednesday, 12 May 2010
The Cathedral Church of St Paul
138 Tremont Street, Boston
(near the Park St ‘T’)

Free-will offering

Head for the moonshine . . . .

06 May 2010

post while the posting is good

Whatever John Lennon might have been thinking, no, I don't believe that I can syndicate any boat I row.

Good rehearsal tuesday night; looking forward to next week's concert.

There was call for an organ solo piece, the Canticle of St Nicholas; which, happily, is now available at Lux Nova.

When I'm 64, will you say we're out to dinner with our piggy wives?