29 September 2013

Inspiration everywhere

Monet would have painted here.

Thoreau would write an essay.

As to myself, I am thinking of a piece for flute and clarinet, Zen on the Wing.

27 September 2013

Justin Observation

American Idol has succeeded in taking a few musical non-entities and making them over into wealthy celebrities.

It has, in other words, followed through perfectly in its mission and capacities.


Down yonder in Charlottesville, Andrew Kurtz led our intrepid student ensemble, the Camerata Rotunda (impishly interpreted by Walter Ross as fat friends) in the original chamber version of Appalachian Spring, with a certain scene restored.

In these latter days, one of my low-impact searches has been for a recording of this very version of the piece. A quest which has proved surprisingly gnarly.

24 September 2013

The Tuesday Advisories

Life Is Art

Paint Your Dreams

Mind the Gap

(The gap, I suppose, between Life and Dreams.)

23 September 2013

What it is

It's rather strange that one should feel atypical, or unusual, or out-of-the-mainstream for such a thing, but in composing, as a consistent rule, I am interested in making music. Insofar as my music is a reaction to anything, the great likelihood is that my composition is my own part in an imagined dialogue with beauteous creation, whether human or divine, wherever I perceive it.

18 September 2013

Not inactive

So, the clarinetist has been practicing the Trumpeter, as well he ought.

I've also been studying four scores in which I shall need to rehearse a choir tomorrow night.

I have scrawled a few measures more of just what everyone was expecting.

And the cellist in Tennessee, a conductor in Michigan, and a pianist in Peru have all spoken warmly of Nicodemus.

16 September 2013

Moving parts

In continuing just what everyone was expecting, I brought into the score various sketches.  At the end of measure 122, I slotted in (what is now) mm. 135-145, and immediately after, (what is now) mm. 149-160.  Didn't like it.  It felt like an entire mess.

There was another sketch in my MS., though, of a marimba passage with a pattern, a sort of mosaic with tremolo notes separated by single attacks.  This passage I did not mean as the marimba solo passage, but was one part, and I had in mind adding the clarinet to it.

So, I interposed the 'tremolo mosaic', plus a clarinet part I improvised, at mm. 123-134;  and then a variant of this for mm. 146-148.  Completely pleased with the result, which (curious to observe) sounds as though all these pieces were designed to flow like this.

After all this, I had three measures of clarinet alone, essentially three sustained notes, and then a quick semiquaver sort-of-descending-arpeggio.

At this point, I had this strange feeling of completely owning all the piece up to m. 160, and then wanting to throw out the three mm. of clarinet alone;  thinking that I would toss that, and start afresh.

There was no hurry, though, so I let the matter rest.

As the neurons cooled, I was again aware of the valuable distinction between baby and bathwater . . . and came to feel that the only thing which bothered me about those final three measures, was the rapidity of that sort-of-descending-arpeggio.  So I feel that all that wants doing, is to alter the rhythmic profile of the sort-of-descending-arpeggio, and that the character of this altered version will pretty much drive the ensuing section.

Success here has resulted from a combination of the freedom to feel dissatisfaction, plus some patience, plus questioning just what it might be, exactly, that I am dissatisfied over.

15 September 2013

just what

Today has something of an ambivalent feel to it.  Good work laid in on just what everyone expected, this morning before choir duty.  Low energy level throughout the day, though.  Went for a goodly walk at the pond.  Some more work on just what afterward, but . . . the jury is still out on that latest bit (or, those latest bits).

Still, if the track record can be trusted, even if having slept on it I find myself to some degree dissatisfied, I should find a way to repair things.

14 September 2013

Commuting here, commuting there

No actual writing yet today. Read through Nicodemus some three times, and also through the present state of just what everyone was expecting once.

Fun rehearsal this morning with the FCB choir. Among others, sang the Duruflé Ubi caritas, a Dvorák part-song, the Byrd Ave verum corpus, and "The Heavens Are Telling" from (you guessed it) Haydn's The Creation.

13 September 2013

A kind of flexibility

In reporting my experience, I began by writing, "I shan't give a blow-by-blow." But as I continued writing, I realized that I was, in fact, reporting blow by blow. As that inaugural sentence no longer applied, then, I struck it out . . . .

12 September 2013

A dawning, and Moonrise

As with the long-delayed dots I recently connected, so that I finally showed the Cello Sonatina to Kirstin Peltz, another delayed (happy to say, not missed) opportunity suddenly shines upon my heretofore darkened mind.

Even so, the path was not a straight line.

Earlier this year, I wrote the clarinet choir piece in 15 parts, Misapprehension;  and am presently writing for the clarinet choir's director, Timothy Phillips, the clarinet-&-marimba duet, just what everyone was expecting.

On Facebook, a trumpeter I know has recently "Liked" the page of a brass quintet.  With the latent thought that perhaps a conversation will someday ensue, I have now "Liked" their page, too.  My thoughts turned to Moonrise, the brass quintet (with flugelhorns substituting for trumpets) which I wrote in fruitless hopes that the Synergy Brass Ensemble would perform it, even own it.

Well, Moonrise is a piece of which I am particularly proud.  I think it is beautiful, evocative music, and that it gives a quintet ample room both to demonstrate their collective skill as an ensemble, and to ring out with delicious chords and chilling unisons. Over the years, I have written several pieces "on spec" which wound up unperformed (and which lie on my shelf unperformed still — this never happens to John Williams), and of course I wish that they had.  But that sense that a piece which fellow musicians and listeners would hold in high regard, if only the piece might be created in public, is probably sharpest in the case of Moonrise.

Thus (and call this one of the many reasons why I am glad of the daily, albeit generally incidental, musical newsfeed on Facebook) the "Liking" of the Facebook page, the view of Bobby Thorpe's familiar head-shot, and the memory of hearing the Synergy quintet reading Moonrise in a parlor in Needham (they had a recorder to hand, why, oh why, did they not have tape running?  I tell you, this is a piece you'll like) — This fair morning, my heart welled with a longing that Moonrise should no longer languish unlistened-to.

The thought of the Troy University clarinet choir so fresh in mind, the idea of creating a clarinet quintet arrangement actually occurred to me first (and I think it a good idea).  But then (Dawn Breaks Over Marblehead) methought:  Charles!  The NEC wind ensemble department!

No good reason why it never occurred to me, all these long years, to mention the piece to Charles.

Guess what I have in mind as a Thing to Do today?

11 September 2013



Per last night's post, I added six notes to the piano's final four measures in Nicodemus, and the piece is completed. In hindsight, the nag (which was, in the event, an artful nag) amounted to this: all through the piece, the piano accompanied, or perhaps more than accompanied, was a partner in the music; but in that penultimate draught, the piano was insufficiently present in those closing measures. Harmonically and rhythmically, the ending was fine; there was only a quiet voice lacking.

just what everyone was expecting is progressing nicely, now at almost the two-minute mark. The music is busy and quick, so requires a bit more ink. Still, it's got a feel of, if I write 40 seconds' worth off music each day, and then allow a day or two to tighten the odd bolt, the piece will be in the can before the beginning of next week.

10 September 2013

Toiling with Nicodemus

Last night, I reached the end of Nicodemus brings myrrh and aloes for the burial of the Christ for cello and piano; and in my enthusiasm, sent it right away to a couple of cellists. This morning, I found gratifyingly rapid responses from both Sara (for whom I have written the piece) and Kirstin Peltz.

Sara will read the piece with a pianist this Monday;  Kirstin has a student for whom (and a new music recital for which) she thinks the Sonatina may be a good fit, and has promised soon to write again with thoughts about both pieces.

Even so, last night I confess that I suffered the slight nag of doubt about the very ending.  Not to lapse into technical jargon . . . but all else about the piece just feels right to me, seems to flow well and naturally, but I wonder if the ending (which is not a "bad ending," as such, I don't think) does not quite feel, well, maybe of a piece, or it feels to me that the timing may be off.  So the two questions I am shuffling around are, Is there really a problem?  (I mean, I think there is, but even this nag is worth questioning) and, If there is, what is the least invasive solution?  Because if you over-engineer a fix, the likelihood increases that you simply create a new problem.

And while my head lay on the pillow (and the neurons were, in any case, still rather charged with the thrill of having practically reached the end of the piece), the solution (or, what I feel may quite readily be the solution) came to me.  And separately, my friend Lee made a suggestion which is particularly sound (it's not the fix, but it is a nice finishing touch).  At this stage, I am apt to feel that I have things pretty much in the bag.

To Lee also belongs credit for suggesting the inside-the-piano bit;  absolutely the right idea.

This morning on the bus, I drew up the next passage of just what everyone was expecting.  This is a piece which, I feel, is simply flying along.

PS/ The more I reflect on Nicodemus, the less the ending troubles me.  I think just the merest touch will mend all.

09 September 2013

Two bulletins

One, on paper: Yesterday's First Church Boston bulletin.  My arrangement of Kingsfold inaugurated the new "choir year" at the church, a pretty honor for a modest piece.

And the other, not on paper:  I think Nicodemus brings myrrh and aloes for the burial of the Christ is finished.

Chuffing along

Before reporting for choir duty yesterday morning, I made some more progress with just what everyone was expecting.  The piece has the feel of writing itself, which is entirely the feeling I like.

Partly a result of the fresh air up in Ipswich yesterday afternoon (and breezy as the day was, the air certainly was fresh), but whilst my head lay on the pillow yesternight, ideas came readily to me, both for the further pursuit of the clarinet/marimba duo, and for the apt conclusion of Nicodemus brings aloes and myrrh for the burial of the Christ.

08 September 2013


Here is the Chris Forbes Trio in action.  (Chris wrote a lovely setting of O Oriens for the choir of the Cathedral Church of St Paul during my tenure as interim choir director.)

Cor, was it eight years ago, then?

Thoughts of that elusive Trumpeter stretch back to this message, dated 10 Sep 2005:
Cari amici,
While I am eager to return to the ballet, there's a sense in which I'm not worried about it, either . . . I feel somehow that when the planets are in proper alignment . . . anyway, the whole recital series cancellation thing (among other aspects) at St Paul's has been the large gorilla in the room, to a degree.
But also, I am trying to dance with that, to make it an occasion to create, rather than allow it to be a disruption in itself. A newish acquaintance is a voice teacher at NEC, and she has expressed interest in putting a recital together, so my musical backburner (and all my music has been backburner, of late . . . well, since the clarinet solo [the Studies in Impermance], anyway) has been occupied not only with "back to the ballet", but also what to write for Barbara and myself.
I've naturally gravitated to Whitman (samm's poem is a beauty, and I should be delighted to set it, but I'm looking for something larger-scale), though this is perhaps not the right occasion to set "Song of Myself" . . . but "Mystic Trumpeter" leaped out at me, and I was mulling thoughts on this when my head rested on last night's pillow . . . and got some good sketching done on the bus and subway in to the MFA this morning.

07 September 2013

Postcard from the Orange Line

The contrapuntal application of the cello tune (none of which I've yet shown you) turned out startlingly well. At first, I found that the tune works very nicely as a strict canon at the fourth; so my work yesterday (and probably begun the day before) was to decide what I wanted to do for a third voice. I discarded three attempts at a solution, most of them in the spirit of keeping the repetition strict. The apparent problem with those first attempts, was the pitch-world, which wound up expanding in ways I did not wish for this piece. But as I set to the fourth attempt, I understood that my deeper concern was, that with a third voice about the same business, the rhythmic profile was getting too active. (That consideration, plus the pitch-world, would really have pulled a delicate piece entirely out of shape.) So the solution for the third voice is a rhythmic augmentation, and for the sake of the harmonic interplay already established by the 2-voice canon, I alter the contour as I see fit.
That was the work on my train rides yesterday. And I hoped to fold that into the Sibelius file this morning. Which I did (I thought I might be able to export a pdf file to send you this morning, but the time grew short, and it would have been tempting Fate), and the cool tenderness of the result is all that I might wish.
I need to discover just what wants doing for the final section, now. But I'm letting that rest, and my work on the bus just now was the start of the clarinet/marimba duet for Tim Phillips, just what everyone was expecting.

06 September 2013

Cello tune

Having slept on it, I reviewed yesterday's cello melody, and feel that I rather like it. Would blog some more, only I want to scrawl some more notes.

05 September 2013

By inches

Today's work was modest, a cello monody. Simple, but with (I think) a nice shape. The judgment could go either way: when I review it tomorrow, maybe I'll toss it out; or, maybe I'll still like it, or indeed like it better.

Had a look today at a structure which, though non-agricultural (in present use), looked like a barn. The land was likely a farm previously; so it would not surprise me if it turns out to be a renovated barn.

The "El Bozo" side of Chick Corea's My Spanish Heart album has really grown on me over time.  I seem to remember the electric keyboard not appealing to me at all on my very first listen.

Had the odd thought, while a couple of co-workers in the shop discussed fanciful T-shirt designs, of the Boit daughters canvas, with the daughters cut out. Not a suggestion, really, it was just a peculiar thought.

Sometimes, I feel as if I really ought to have gotten more accomplished, on a given day. But, then again, I did run some errands, and went for a walk at the pond.

04 September 2013


You don't know just how long three minutes can be, until you're waiting for a train, and a pair of street musicians keen away at "Nights in White Satin."

Further To-Do List

Comb Moby-Dick for possible choral material.

Ditto Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frederick Douglass.

Piece for violin and harpsichord, 7-12 minutes.

Puttered with some chords for Nicodemus, but they may be all wrong. (May reserve them for vn/hpschd piece, above.)

Set an appointment for next Thursday evening, whose result may prove very interesting, indeed.

02 September 2013

Quick thoughts

My immediate mental reflex to the suggestion of piccolo in Après-mystère is:

  1. The character of the opening fits the suggestion admirably.
  2. I had already written the canon so the flute and clarinet should stay out of one another's registral space . . . the greater expansion of the range with the substitution of the picc. may make the whole passage a bit more dramatic.
  3. The only thing I perceive as a possible 'loss' as a result, is the unison on the last note.
However, if all else proves musically satisfactory, I can recast that final unison an octave higher, making a slight adjustment to the clarinet line leading to it.

So, we may find that an alternate version of the piece for piccolo is born.

No longer hung up

On this fair holiday morning, I was awakened by a curious event. Around nine o'clock (about when I would have arisen anyway, if I had troubled to set the alarm), there was a small crash just outside the bedroom door. It was my Buffalo diploma.

It had been hanging there for years, and the synthetic string chose this minimally-inconvenient time to fray apart. The frame broke in two equal halves, the glass was shattered into 50 pieces, but the document itself suffered no hurt.

My esteemed and ever-astonishing colleague Peter H. Bloom, God bless him, printed the Après-mystère flute part out and played through it the very afternoon I sent him. He has the idea of trying it out on piccolo, and why not?  I can see the perky, fife-ish character of the opening suggesting piccolo. So when we do get together to rehearse, we'll try it both ways . . . and an alternate version for piccolo may just be born.

01 September 2013

September begun, Opus 113 № 2 done

My new-&-improved canon from yesterday not only moved Après-mystère along nicely, it set the stage for winding the piece up (it is, after all, a brief epilogue to The Mystic Trumpeter).  So, the piece is done.

There was time left to bring the rest of my sketches for Nicodemus into the Sibelius file.  That task done, I was at a What now? point . . . so I went for a walk around the pond.  On my walks, I generally find I pass through the following twenty-ish-minute phases:

  1. Getting into the physical rhythm;
  2. A sort of mind-flush, getting rid of mental residue; and
  3. A refreshed clarity of mind, in which creative work can again flourish.

Thus it was that, while I walked, I saw clearly how I wanted to get from the present end of the Sibelius file (roughly the three-&-a-quarter-minute mark), to the end of the actual piece (total duration of probably five and a half minutes).