31 August 2013

An Unexpected Journey (Tweets from Middle-Earth)

Jacksonized Tolkien + exposition = a kind of death (not the pleasant kind, either)

Bilbo is writing to Frodo, who lives in Bag End w/ him. Yet the famous start of The Hobbit is presented as explaining a hobbit-hole to Frodo

Oh, look! Something else which is entirely different to what Tolkien wrote.

First "regurgitation," now "parasite." Accumulating a list of Words Which Don't Belong in Middle-Earth But Jackson's Screenwriters Were Too Tone-Deaf to Know It

. . . "academic," another word no dweller in Middle-Earth would speak

Okay, I admit I'm disappointed in screenwriters who don't understand the difference between Tolkien and Marvel Comics as source material....

And, ladies and gentlemen, Bilbo's finding of the ring? Why tell it the way Tolkien told it? Absolute cinematic rape.

A pathologic incapacity for fidelity to the source: Peter Jackson

Gollum is suspicious of what Bilbo has in his pocket, BEFORE he realizes that he's lost the Ring? Are the writers *utter* dolts?

It's getting so I can't distinguish between Grunge Thorin and Pouty Aragorn . . . .

Ah, the line, "You've got to be joking"! If I've read that once in Tolkien, I've read it a dozen times. That, and "dwarf-scum."

Happily, I reached a point in the DVD where I could fast-forward with no fear of missing anything of consequence.

The pièce de résistance? Thorin hugging Bilbo. Oh, my left eye is going to tear, no, I mean it.

Oh, and Smaug sounding like the shut-down of an Evinrude.

Counterpoint repair shop

When last I worked on Après-mystère, I wrote three measures of canon, and stopped because, in even so short a time, I created a problem. Properly speaking, I stopped at a point where I dropped the strictness of the canon, to avoid the problem. I left the problem unaddressed for a few days, partly because of my schedule. But the more artistic reason was that I was dissatisfied with dropping the canon so early on.

This morning, I fixed that problem and then wrote a further twenty-three measures of canon.

30 August 2013

For First-Listen Fridays

JS Bach, Cantata BWV 30, « Freue dich, erlöste Schar »

Ulysses Kay, Scherzi musicali

Henze, Symphony № 4

Bridge, Phantasy Trio

Brahms, Variations on an original theme, Op.21 № 2

Chopin, Rondo à la Krakowiak, Op.14

JS Bach, Cantata BWV 31, « Der Himmel lacht! Die Erde jubilieret »

29 August 2013

An Expected Journey

Per this blog post, the Reinhardt University Percussion Ensemble begin to rehearse Journey to the Dayspring:

What I'm reading this week on-line

[O]ne of the most important lessons: what happens backstage stays backstage.

Pianist Pierre-Arnaud Dablemont stops reading all the dirty laundry and nattering, and improves the quality of his life.

Building a Slave Society Through Higher Education [Breakfast with Paul]

Partly touching on how college has become just a rung on the ladder up to a job.

[W]ork wisely. Feed the music beast. [Trumpet Matters]

From Phil Collins (no, not that one)

Meerenai Shim recaps “Banglewood”

Hoboken on his mind

Wm Dart of Auckland likes Petrenko’s account of the Leningrad

And . . . although this site seems to promise resourcefulness, half a dozen of the links I mashed are to apparently inactive blogs.

28 August 2013

Pale watershed

Over the years, I have not discerned any positive sign indicating that my rest after one large composition is done, and my mind is ready to apply itself to the next.  It is a condition which I seem not to recognize, until I open the notebook and begin notating again.

Every day, I carry my notebook with me.  When I am in the process of writing a piece, the reason is obvious:  I make active use of the notebook.  But there are many days when I carry the notebook, and it is apparently ‘dead weight’ as I make no actual use of it.

But, if I did not faithfully tote that notebook with me, day in, day out, I should have missed that inscrutable neural tickle this morning, when I composed a fresh three measures of Après-mystère.

I had gotten a start on this piece a little more than a week ago, a good start, but then there was a feeling of losing my way, for want of the fuel to travel on.  And now, we are back on track.

24 August 2013

That's Entertainment

Watching Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade this evening.  No surprise that the music is by John Williams.  There's one scene when Indiana Jones and Dr Schneider are making an escape (trying, anyway) by boat in Venice.  Williams has scored many movies, and with admirable skill.  But this is a scene where . . . well, perhaps the backdoor fact is that he and the director didn't talk all that much about it, or whatever.  The music is nothing like the action.  Does not comment in any sensible way upon the action.

Possibly my perception of this musical offense would be less acute if I had not watched a Hitchcock film earlier today.

Eyes only

This morning was all reading, review. I read through the clarinet part, measure by measure, in real time, partly to confirm that the layout does not want any further clean-up, but more importantly still, to mentally step through fingerings at tempo, to take stock of the practicing which will want doing.

This piece puts me in something of an unusual position: I am the accompanist. For many of my prior concerts, the target of the preparatory arc was, the date of the performance. For this piece, though, the singer will rely on me to be solid, prepared. So I must aim to be ready, perhaps not entirely by the very first rehearsal, but certainly by the second. (I should not be in musical disarray at the first rehearsal, either.)

And I read through the full score in its entirety again.

For the unaccompanied stanza, I have taken thought for three strategically placed clarinet notes. Still inclined to leave them optional; will seek out the singer's opinion, when she has had a chance to review the piece.

22 August 2013

The plan has been altered

... well, it wasn't an official plan, of course. But the thought crossed my mind that, once the Trumpeter was finished, I might write the two shorter pieces more or less at the same time. To be sure, initial ideas for both came in through the motivic clearing-house not only at about the same time, but as I was finalizing the composition of the Whitman setting.

However, I seem to be inclining towards divide-and-conquer, now that (barring the two purely cosmetic touch-ups I'm contemplating) the Trumpeter is done.

Still, I may continue with the program of brain-rest for tonight.

Reading in wikipedia today, I chuckled to learn that the seventh of the titular Seven Samurai was added in when Kurosawa reflected, at an early-ish stage of developing the script,  that "six sober samurai were boring."

21 August 2013

An aside

So, what am I thinking, while I permit my brain a rest from the rigors of composition proper?

Overall, and even though there remains no short-term prospect of performance (still no date for the hoped-for upstate New York performance of the string pastoral, and maybe more, for instance), I find a renewed motivation, and even enthusiasm, to resume the White Nights project. (I must have 50 minutes of music yet to write.)

As a means of easing back into it, sometime soon I shall reconstruct the Overture in Sibelius. This will be a good workshop, too, for learning how to work in larger scores in Sibelius; I'm not really surprised to reflect that quite probably all my work in Sibelius thus far has been chamber or choral music.

Should pick the Mass back up, of course by starting with wrapping up the Credo.


Taking a break from composing for a couple of days.  Ideas have come readily enough for both Après-mystère and Nicodemus;  but I feel a little unfocused, out of breath.  A mental margarita seems called for.
These unlikely events may launch in the southlands!  My publisher is preparing them for the Gremlins Duo, who will tour in April.
I hear of a soprano in Atlanta who is willing to take a look at The Mystic Trumpeter; so, one never knows.
And I’ve been revisiting the ghastly MIDI (originally from Finale 2004) of the Overture to White Nights . . . and in spite of all the MIDI crudities, insufficiencies & outright abominations, I am reminded how pleased I am with the composition.

20 August 2013

Game of Favorite Threes

Songs by The Bobs (covers):

1. "Free Falling"
2. "There Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens"
3. "I Was a Teenage Brain Surgeon"

Honorable Mention: "Li'l Red Riding Hood"

Songs by The Beatles (covers):

1. "Dizzy Miss Lizzie"
2. "Money (That's What I Want)"
3. "Matchbox"

Honorable Mention: "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby"

Zappa Songs Whose Title Refers to Another Musician

1. "The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue"
2. "Igor's Boogie (Phases I & II)"
3. "Variations on the Carlos Santana Secret Chord Progression"

Honorable Mention: "Elvis Has Just Left the Building"

19 August 2013

Morning after

Although I have indeed sent The Mystic Trumpeter off to The Intrepid Soprano, I am toying with the idea of making three comparatively immaterial changes: (1) I wonder if one of the “G.P.” measures is more time than needs to be taken at that point; (2) a couple of eighth-notes in the clarinet line of stanza 8 have me wondering if I should not expand them to quarter-notes (the seemingly clipped notes of the original-and-discarded clarinet draught for that section were the chief culprits); and (3) the odd clarinet note or two over the course of the unaccompanied stanza may be a good idea for soprani who may not be quite so strong in the ear as Jaya.
These are all negligible corrigenda, and the composer is well pleased (at last, we may say).
On this morning’s train, I started to scrawl some flute notes for Après-mystère. The Trumpeter clocks at 20 ½ minutes (as Sibelius tick-tocks).  Allowing for natural give-and-take in a live performance, I should not be surprised if it runs as long as 23 minutes.  If it should, and keeping in mind the need for the program to come to a hard stop at 12:45 PM . . . I think we must keep Après-mystère to no more than three minutes, and it will probably be advisable to plan on running the two pieces with no intervening pause (which of itself is something of a fun thought, I think).  Should start with flute alone, give the clarinetist the option of swabbing the bore . . . .
I still have some paper sketches for Nicodemus which need to be folded into the Sibelius file, and the cellist is enthusiastic about the prospective piece.

18 August 2013

A tale of two files

All in all, the re-written stanza 8 is (I believe) the goods.  Now, for finishing school . . . .

Without too much trouble, the clarinet part for The Mystic Trumpeter has workable page turns. I have not luxuriated in cues, but when we rehearse I shall see if any more cues need be added.

The endgame for this piece, curiously, includes (I think, of necessity) two parallel Sibelius files: one with the clarinet line as the clarinetist will need to read it in transposition; the other, the score in C with sundry of the clarinet passages swapped into enharmonic equivalents, for the reading convenience of the singer.

Maybe there is a way to automate this, and save myself a spot of work; but it's so small a spot (I hope), I shall just set to it.

17 August 2013

A dilemma, its horns

Home from the museum, I've just reviewed the ending as I had written it Thursday . . . and I like it better than I seemed to at first. Or, perhaps, I am more aware of largely liking it, less aware (though not unaware) of the need to improve it.

Now the doubt I suffer: did I “over-engineer” the re-write?

Fresh morning

It's not quite what I was thinking
(yesterday) that I should need to do (today). I've been revisiting the clarinet part for mm. 440-501 of The Mystic Trumpeter. My thought yesterday (possibly optimistic) was that the "new" clarinet line needed only some fine-tuning; and basically, that has held true--the essential harmony of the clarinet's counterpoint to the voice remains as I wrote it Thursday. Yet, as I combed through the score this morning, scarcely a measure remains unchanged from the Thursday version. These new alterations are of three types:

1. Rhythmic changes / "activations" to assist the overall flow of the passage (which is Largo, but shouldn't crawl to a seeming stop)

2. Changes so that there are closer ties (apparent imitation) between the two lines

3. Something which I've neglected this past week, but meant for this section from the beginning: echoes of the clarinet fanfare from the very opening of the piece

To judge by all the ink I've strewn this morning, it might seem that I've overstepped my stated aim of "fine-tuning"; but the emerging new version feels to me both an organic improvement upon the Thursday draught, and a significant artistic gain for the piece.

Well, well, we shall see if I still feel that way when I review the lot this evening.

16 August 2013

Taffy pull

In breaking news:  still haven’t brought the close of the Trumpeter to quite the state I want it in.
(Finishing this piece is not a straight line.  It is a forest . . . .)
Yesterday’s re-write is a substantial improvement, so the work is bearing fruit.  And so much of the earlier course of the piece came to me so readily, I mustn’t complain if I find myself rolling up my sleeves at this point.
Still, you know:  I want this piece done, for all the usual reasons (it needs showing to the performer;  and I want to move on to the next piece).  Truth to tell, part of the annoyance is simply knowledge that, with my schedule, there’s no addressing what those measures need, until . . . I shan’t say Saturday evening, since I have every expectation of needing to recover and relax then, but Sunday.
In other news . . . looks like Kingsfold will get an airing in early September, the first since its initial performance in (crikey) 1998.
Face it:  I was unknown then;  I remain unknown 15 years later (notwithstanding a great deal of music which I have written all this time, much of it work I am proud to have created);  I shall likely die unknown.
The only thing which can express proper outrage at that, is to continue creating the best music I can, for as long as I can.

15 August 2013


Made good progress on Nicodemus this afternoon. And while lolling on the sands, did a fairly extensive proof of the Trumpeter.

And some re-writing of the clarinet line for stanza 8. Is it done now? A little time will tell.

14 August 2013

A beginning and an ending

This evening, I made a start on a short piece for cello and piano, as my friend Sara made a kind request for a short, meditative piece suitable for use at Communion. Setting that project in motion seems to have clarified for me the supporting role for the clarinet in the final stanza of The Mystic Trumpeter; and on the Orange Line just now, I've scribbled some of Plan B for mm. 440-451.

The trouble was that I had thought the two lines could be two independent streams;  or rather, it remains tenable to have them two independent streams, but as it was, the original clarinet sketch was of a rhythmic character which jars overmuch with the voice line. There are other contexts, other pieces in which that would work fine . . . but not here.

The general harmonic conception of the clarinet accompaniment is sound; I've just needed to rethink the rhythmic flow. And the work beginning the new cello-&-piano piece (to be titled Nicodemus brings myrrh and aloes for the burial of the Christ) has helped me focus on that needed task.

The Mystic Trumpeter looks to run just over 20 minutes;  I shall need to keep Après-mystère on the short side, perhaps even as brief as four minutes.

Difficult (nor is it necessary) to decide at 11PM, but I think, once Trumpeter is done, I may write Nicodemus and the fl/cl duo in parallel.


On the train, got my notebook.

Left my pen at home.

Not quite, truth to tell

Working in Sibelius last night, for a bit, I reached two conclusions:

1:  The voice-line is, I think, completely true.

2:  I should probably start afresh with the clarinet.  Maybe I was just tired last night, but I felt it was not working, or that about 75% of it was not creating the music I wish.

This morning, I think I'll scribble a few notes for an entirely different piece, try to clear the air.

13 August 2013

Progress report

On my lunch hour yesterday, I immured myself to set the entirety of the remaining text;  from the morning’s work, the gyroscope in my musical mind was still humming with a sense of the character I want the singer to create for the piece’s conclusion.
Last night, I relaxed . . . this morning on the train, the work was not generative.  Though it may not seem the task one would choose to do on a moving train, I started a fresh copy of the voice-line of the final stanza, leaving a blank staff beneath for the clarinet.  Yesterday’s burst of text-setting work yielded some 61 measures (including a couple of written-in breathers for the soprano).  The (slightly) earlier sketch of clarinet music is some 32 measures;  and although I drew that up with a certain arc to it, I knew what I did not know (at the time) – that is, how much space the text would actually require.
. . . which in fact was space enough, that a diversion to a different pitch-center in the middle was called for, so that (and I was morally prepared for this from the outset, anyway) the clarinet sketch could not in any case rest intact, but would serve as a source.
I am repeatedly reviewing the score so far, and between (a) the voice-line, with which I remain largely content, (b) the clarinet sketch, and (c) the evergreen prospect of referring to earlier material, I have all the musical goods I need to compose out to the end of the piece.  The act of writing out the voice afresh, longhand, will of itself set the necessary sparks off.
For that middle section, I am thinking not merely of changing the pitch center, but of a tension between different pitch centers for the two lines;  no harsh tension . . . more a gentle stress . . . .
The great practical question which I have thus far disregarded entirely is:  will I have page-turns?  (I mean, I have some;  will I have all that a clarinetist requires?  Tune in our next episode . . . .)

12 August 2013

What I'm reading

Recent reading/perusing in the blogosphere includes:

The 10 Greatest “Must Hear” Cello Concerti of the Last 50 years

Conductor/cellist Kenneth Woods lists (and links) more than just the titular ten, including a few I had not heard before.

Medical research explains why dumbing-down sucks [On an Overgrown Path]

Spelling out the importance of cognitive knowledge gathering and processing.

Those slow pieces [By Heart]

Another realm in which speed kills.

Edinburgh on film [fern and frost]

Postcards from Scotland.

1757 — A survey of the music — part I [HaydnSeek]

Mike McCaffrey's latest instalment in his Haydn survey-in-progress.

An eye to the end

While bringing my paper sketches for the voice-unaccompanied stanza of The Mystic Trumpeter into the Sibelius file yesterday, I do not mind confessing, there were two places where it was necessary to make on-the-spot changes.  The rhythmic profile was true, but the effect was rushed. (I was writing away, riding on the Orange Line, and lost temporary sight of the tempo, I suppose.)  It was an easy matter to augment the rhythmic values, and with the added benefit of (I think) some greater emotional weight.
I had to recompose the rhythm of one other measure, because (frankly) rapine is a word which I had read any number of times, but never heard spoken;  so I composed that measure assuming the accent on one syllable, but with a mental note to check the pronunciation, and at the ready to re-compose as might be needed.  And needed, it was.
Still undecided on whether to add a note or two of clarinet at key points of the voice-unaccompanied stanza.  Maybe it works fine as is;  maybe it will work fine with the spare note or two from the accompanying instrument.  Perhaps I shall scribble in those two notes, and mark them “optional.”  I have a couple of days to mull;  it is nice, not to need to rush some artistic decisions (another argument for getting the process going earlier, I suppose).
On this morning’s train, got a good start on the setting of the final stanza.  I recall my state of mind, perhaps two weeks ago, when I was faced with three substantial stanzas yet;  much better these days, feeling that each section is shaping up just as I had wished. (And, I might almost add, feeling that they’re turning out better than I deserve.) In each case, you might say, planning failed;  but when I sat down to the page with pen in hand, I found the solution there.  For the final song of Joy, the two lines pursue different arcs, but will combine (I hope) ecstatically.
This morning, I read through the entire piece to this point.  There is a place or two over which, in my mental recollection, I had felt the tug of some reservation;  but as I review the actual score, I am inclined to feel that it all works quite well.  Again, this is a test I shall run more than once over the coming days.  When I have been working over such a stretch of time on a piece, I strongly entertain doubts whether I have succeeded in holding the whole thing together with proper cohesion, with sufficient tensile strength in the unfolding musical narrative.  If it is strange to say so of a project which has, after all, been occupying my attention for weeks, I find myself rather pleasantly surprised, to find (at the moment, at least) that I think it works very well.
Of course, I’ve yet to write the end . . . the piece must at the least end well . . . .

11 August 2013


This Thursday past, I checked the proofs for the book review which is to appear in a periodical next month.

I've added the necessary cues to the parts for Misapprehension, and sent the parts to Dr Tim.

And I have folded into the Sibelius file all the voice-writing I've done for The Mystic Trumpeter, as well as finished taping out the clarinet accompaniment.  Which now leaves that last stanza which I am informally calling the song of Joy . . . and then I shall let the tentatively-finished piece soak in my brain for a couple of nights, allow myself a little tinkering time, before springing it on the soprano.  (One wants to have a care, when springing things on sopranos.)

10 August 2013

Haste, oh haste!

It appears that I have passed through the borderland between Will this project never draw to an end?! and the piece snowballing towards the final double-bar, with a most artistically satisfying result. And sometimes, it's as easy as writing that bit that you feel like writing now.

This morning, not only did I wrap up stanza 7 (even while I reserve the possibility of interposing a clarinet note here or there) — which was not a grand labor, some 20 measures of writing — but I also caught up with all the remaining text of stanza 8, writing up 59 measures there.

At this point, then, what remains is to fashion the clarinet accompaniment for most of stanza 7 (for which I have ample material, so that it almost seems just a matter of "stitching"); and to write out the voice line for the song of Joy.

Reaching the end this weekend is a clear possibility.

09 August 2013


In an exquisite coincidence of timing (for it had slipped my mind that today would be the Nagasaki anniversary), last night I watched the Jeeves & Wooster episode, "Hot Off the Press," wherein, near the beginning, Hugh Laurie sings a ditty, whose sheet music Bertram purchased on the recommendation of Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps. Stephen Fry shines (in that dignified, Jeevesian way) as the incident allows him to show off his knowledge of the geography of Nagasaki Prefecture.

Thank you, Dr Hovhaness

Now that the end of the task of composing The Mystic Trumpeter is well in view, I have been clarifying the several sections yet to be written.  (“Yet to be written” is a slight misstatement, as in fact composition is in progress on all the remaining sections.)  Stanza 6 is begun, and has its proper character, and its composition will be a largely ‘formal’ matter of setting aside a chunk of time to attend to the task.  My original idea for stanza 7 is unaccompanied voice;  I may or may not stick to that, but in any event that section of the piece is about half composed.  Last night I settled the question of just how to set stanza 8.  How did that transpire?
Last night I was listening to Schnittke’s Psalms of Repentance, one of a large group of pieces which I enjoy greatly, admire without reservation, and which is not at all how I would write a piece.  (Somehow, when I started out studying to be a composer, pieces which were very much not how I would do things, were at first something of a nuisance.  I am glad to have gotten over that, and long ago.)  Enjoying the piece though I was, the hour was getting late, and the music was engaging my neurons to a degree which was not convenient to the time of day; so about three-quarters of the way through the Schnittke, I switched to Hovhaness’s Celestial Gate Symphony.
Even though the Hovhaness is exactly the sort of music which herds my neurons into a zone separated from actual sleep by the thinnest of veils, on its own plane it engages my musical thought no less than the Schnittke.  So that even while mentally I was slouching towards slumber, I found myself discovering just how I want to set stanza 8 (the song of Joy).  And (how one does this, I do not quite understand, myself) even while listening to Hovhaness, in my inner ear I was composing music of completely different stuff.  In a way, and probably subconsciously, I am already tying The Mystic Trumpeter together with the brief, yet-to-be-composed companion duet for flute and clarinet, Après-mystère, because the music I was composing while my head reposed on last night’s pillow is a variant on the sketch I drew up a week or so ago for A.-m.  So, courtesy of an audition of the Celestial Gate last night, I came to compose the greater part of the song of Joy.
Now, many a time in the past, I’ve gotten a musical idea before drifting off to sleep, but if I do not make an ancillary effort to plant a neural flag in my brain, I have been apt to forget it.
This morning, although last night’s composing was nowhere near the forefront of my mind, as soon as my eye fell upon my notebook (as I was gathering everything before heading off to work) . . . directly I glanced my notebook, I remembered all the music I had composed last night.  And while riding the train, I recorded it all on paper.

07 August 2013


While I have indeed gotten a start on the war's wild alarums stanza ... on this morning's train, I began the next, the last-stanza-but-one. I suppose that, in part, forming a definite idea of the character of the later stanza's beginning, will help the martial stanza's setting, as I have a clear sense of where I'm going.  Generally, though, with the end of the entire piece hoving into view, I am certainly keen to set whatever bit of the text the Muse appears to light on, as the task will snowball quite agreeably.

Annabel's century

On YouTube, the Libella Quartet’s performance of Annabel Lee has reached the 100-view mark.
And word comes in that there may be a reading of the Cello Sonatina soon, down in The Volunteer State.

04 August 2013

Planning is...

... taking a shower before watching Psycho.

[ For some mysterious (software, I expect) reason, this was first posted without this, admittedly brief, body.  I admit that in retrospect, I am amused by the thought of an empty post headed with Planning is ... ]

Uncanny timing

There is no particular reason (I do not think) that I have not watched Hitchock's The 39 Steps until today.  And yet, at just the moment when Hannay serves Annabella fish, my mom-in-law brought in a plate of fish for me.

(My fish worked out much better.)

03 August 2013

Meteorological query

Casablanca is such a wonderfully executed fiction, with generally slack ties to history ... it is in a spirit of pure inquiry that I wonder if it actually rained on the day before the Wehrmacht marched into Paris.

Peter Lorre gets such billing, and is so embedded in my awareness of the movie; it's curious to consider that he gets whisked away before the first act is done.

Catching up

Discovering the clarinet accompaniment for the stanza which I have informally dubbed The Love Song proved about as intuitive as I had hoped. While I reserve the right to pitch it out and start all over again, I feel ready to wade into the warlike alarums properly.

There remain then essentially three large sections: warlike; a stanza I am tempted to make an unaccompanied passage; and the joyous conclusion. The challenge (which is nothing insurmountable) will be to make the concluding joy distinct from all the recent love. The key (that just might wind up a pun) may be a distinct pitch-world.

Time to sleep on all that, and I may well find that I awake tomorrow with my sights on the musical solutions.

02 August 2013

Not an apt quote, really

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.” — Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh
Struck by the coincidence of chancing upon this quotation. Although, of course, a mystic trumpet is not necessarily an uncertain one.