31 October 2013


How did all those errors creep in?

In preparing the new arrangement of Counting Sheep, I added some detail (and altered some of the time signatures), and so I have had it in mind that, the new arrangement done, I wished to create a fresh original-scoring Sibelius file.

Although one might argue that I am merely making more work for myself . . . it turns out that this supposedly-additional task is proving greatly added value, as I find several errors in my adaptation.

Probably, I am enjoying this entire process more than some right-thinking people could quite endorse . . . .

30 October 2013


Apart from some layout clean-up, the new arrangement of Counting Sheep (or,The Dreamy Abacus of Don Quijote) is complete. I find that the piece in no way embarrasses the composer; here is hoping that we finally get a public performance. (Even if so, we shan't hear until January.)

Word is that the Reinhardt University Percussion Ensemble performed Journey to the Dayspring last night with cool assurance.

And it is high time that I finished the clarinet/marimba duet, just what everyone was expecting.

23 October 2013

Note taken

This is the first day I've ever punched holes in printed copies of my own choral music.

Report from the Hotel Lobby

The piano, a modest but (in a perfect world) serviceable four-footer, is of a pale pastel grey color, which it cannot be quite happy about. The keyboard cover is clamped shut, and the morning papers are strewn upon the closed lid.

Yes, on the whole: a stylish temporary-media-storage device, rather than a musical instrument. The angels above are weeping.

21 October 2013

Dreamy Noisemakers

Though the task be laborious, it is less so (and the resulting score looks better) in Sibelius, now. Curiously, though, I have found something which I did in Finale which it appears I could not do in exactly the same way in Sibelius. As originally notated, the grand balleto quasi uno flamenco often used a composite time signature, 4/8 + 3/16. It seems that such composite meters in Sibelius are obliged to use the same denominating unit note.

I suppose that my workaround might have been 4+4+3/16. But I decided instead to split the 4/8 and 3/16 into separate measures, which yields the incidental benefit of improved flow for the layout.

(As it is, I have other reasons for wanting afterwards to go back to the original scoring, and bring that document into harmony with this "new version.")

The percussionist for the new scoring had been an interesting challenge, and a surprising opportunity. I've pretty much been winging it, so far, in terms of selecting the mallet instrument (where the player is needed for the allocation of pitch material), or unpitched noisemaker in places where it seems an appropriate enhancement to the texture (as it seems a pity to leave the player unnecessarily idle for too long). I've had in mind, though, both timpani for the fullest-textured passage, and a single tam-tam stroke for a key moment ... and to tape the logistics out, it was necessary at last to print out hard copy of the old original.

The History of Sheep (Part IV)

As I continue the process of re-scoring Counting Sheep (or, The Dreamy Abacus of Don Quijote), I have chanced upon an e-mail message with attachment.

And I learn that I sent the score for the original (on 24 May 2010) to a colleague in an ensemble dedicated to new music here in the Boston area - someone from whom I never heard back.

Underscoring two or three great truths for the living composer:

1) It is not every musical group which bothers with new music; and,
2) It is not every musical group which do bother with new music, which will take in interest in yours.
3) And, they may not even give you the least courtesy.

16 October 2013

Scattershot survey

Okay, what have I been doing, which I haven't blogged about?

Finally sent movements two & three of the Organ Sonata to Paul, who is soon to return to duty at FCB from his sabbatical. (I had sent him the first movement before his sabbatical started, and he responded positively.)

Had a go at reading the Canzona and Gigue with my new organist, and we decided to reserve them for a later occasion.

Got the Lux Nova edition of the SAB version of Bless the Lord, O my soul prepared at last. Through nobody's fault but mine, that phase of production sat around half-finished since 2009.

Sent both the "noisy" I Look from Afar (with brass, timpani & organ) and Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song for Dan in Iowa to look over. No knowing yet if he'll actually have use for them, but it's a reasonable possibility; and honestly, it feels good just having a respected fellow musician look at the scores again, after all these years.

And making gradual progress (at least even the one short passage per day) on the "Pierrot-plus" ensemble version of Counting Sheep. The piece sounds no less smoking in the new scoring. In the midst of the process, I am finding myself more creatively applying percussion.

Bippity, Reverse Snobbery, Boo!

I've always had a nightmare. I dream that one of my pictures has ended up in an art theater, and I wake up shaking. ~ Walt Disney

15 October 2013

Non-theoretical Cage

Today, a virtual neighbor furnished a YouTube link of Reinbert de Leeuw performing 4'33 by John Cage on Dutch television. (There are the inevitable camera angles of members of the audience rolling their eyes, but face it:  John Cage was an American composer, would such an event take place on a major US television network?)

The idea of an actual performance of the piece struck me as engaging:  enough about the (supposed) idea of the piece, enough of the cavils and sneers.  Whether one considers the Beethoven Op.68 or the Cage, reading the chit-chat about the music is one thing, being in the space while musicians are performing it, something entirely different.

That said, when I first saw the YouTube widget, my immediate reflex was I am not going to hit the Play button.  It was not a strong resistance, but probably just a habitual doorstop.  What is more absurd, came the nay-saying voice, than watching a video of a performance of 4'33?

[The performance begins at the 6:40 mark of the video.]

As I say, when my eye fell on that YouTube box, a bit of me inside scoffed . . . but then I thought, Why not? and so I did watch.

I found (quite possibly to my surprise) that it was time well spent. As with just any other piece of music, it all depends on what you do with the time, and with your concentration.

The experience of (I smile almost just to type this) watching a video of a performance of 4'33 made me think of a story told me by a friend in upstate New York, of a Dutch architect teaching a class at the time when mechanical pencil sharpeners had just been installed at each of the desks in the classroom.

The architect got the students’ attention, saying, “Before we begin, let us sharpen our pencils.” All of the students used the sharpeners at their desks, turned the handle a few times, and in seconds all of them were done.

The architect sat down in front of the class, took his pencil, took out a knife, and without any apparent hurry, patiently whittled a sharp point. All the students sat and watched this, who knows what thoughts and emotions ran through each student's breast?

At last, the architect spoke again, “Well, then. Where are we now? You all have sharp pencils, while I — I have designed an interior.”

No matter how you slice it, it's baloney

The exhortation, Give up on Beethoven ... You’ve got Stockhausen now (and it doesn’t matter which two composers’ names are plugged in there), does not somehow become a sensible proposition, just because Miles Davis said it.

There is a review which I have lately read, a review of the recently released Petrenko/Royal Liverpool recording of the Shostakovich Fourth Symphony, which is unfavorable.  The good news, though, is that there is no musical content to the negative review.  There is scarcely a fact or a musical observation in the review, only fancy dressing for, not merely I don’t like it, but I don’t get why other people like this conductor’s work.

It is not that I object to negative reviews; only I think it is not unreasonable to expect the reviewer to give us musical reasons for his dislike.  Instead, this bloviator gave us a pointless litany of derisive phrases: curiously rhetorical, vacuous and/or banal, pawing at the soil, little to engage or inspire, tension slackens alarmingly, much too intent on manicure and polish, what a pity, rhythms lack menace, passes for precious little, a series of diverting, self-indulgent doodles, while pleasing in themselves they add nothing to the essential narrative, we’ve been here before, and all too often, weak, indecisive, no match for the strength and thrust of the best, nothing more than a mild attack of the vapours, it’s all so damn tentative.

Now, I have listened to the recording, and I think the performance and the interpretation excellent.  It isn’t that I disagree with the negative review;  there are no hard assertions to disagree with.  It is simply that all those negative phrases signal to me a reviewer who just wants to vent.  And I am a little surprised (even in these Days of the Blogosphere) that a reviewer thinks that there is somehow any charm just in venting.

For me personally, the funniest item orbiting around the review is . . . When Peter Bloom and I were chatting after our King’s Chapel recital the Tuesday before, something Peter mentioned triggered an amusing Wooster memory. For my very last jury at Wooster, there were only two jurors: my clarinet instructor, and the flute instructor (an adjunct faculty member who came onto campus two days a week to give lessons). I played something which not long before I had played (and played quite well) for my senior recital.

My clarinet instructor, Nancy, was entirely satisfied with my playing for the jury. The other juror’s comments on the sheet were brief, and went thus: You played fast, you played slow. So what?

Happily, my own teacher was there to put this into context, so that my spirit was not shattered. But, as I say, I felt I had played very well, and my instructor felt the same.

It struck me that a 650-word review, which opens with the Everybody likes this guy, so Ill telegraph that I refuse to like him chestnut, and concludes with the hand-wringing un-conclusion, Try as I might I simply cannot fathom blah blah blah, boils down to no more than: You played fast, you played slow. So what?

Reviews whose informational content never rises above I don’t like this recording, listen, here are these others I like better; sorry I cannot be bothered to give you musical reasons why are the journalistic equivalent of fruitflies.  Plentiful, but no one needs them.

14 October 2013

My own private windmills

Still tilting at them . . . .

One piece which I wrote (as it is beginning to seem) long ago, but which has not yet been performed, is a score for woodwind quintet and piano, Counting Sheep (or, The Dreamy Abacus of Don Quijote).  I originally wrote the piece for a collective of European musicians, but hard economic times hit before any concert including my piece might have been realized.  And, knowing them to be excellent musicians, I wrote a technically challenging piece — which in turn has meant that there are not many woodwind quintets of my acquaintance to whom I might propose the piece.

At one point, I undertook the apparently grandiose task of arranging the sextet for full wind ensemble.  I sent it in to a call for scores, but the too-demanding writing for Trumpet I (among other challenges) made the piece susceptible to a discreet no, thank you.  I have no quarrel with the judges.

The score has pretty much remained dormant for several years.

Now, however, a call for scores has come to my attention here in Boston, for a "Pierrot plus" ensemble (the flute, clarinet, violin, cello and piano of Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, plus a percussionist);  and I see no reason why my Sheep cannot suit such an ensemble well.

It's a passel of work, not readily done within the space of even a three-day holiday weekend;  but I've made a good start on it.  A lot of notes, but I do think them all good notes;  and this comparatively mechanical task has been the occasion for my reacquaintance with my own piece.  I do like it, and better than ever.  (I am even prepared to re-take ownership of the wind ensemble version, and am ready to make the necessary scoring adjustments that such ownership entails.)

13 October 2013

12 October 2013

I've seen fire and I've seen rain

It was my privilege, this morning, to amuse a couple of my fellows at the shop (one of whom is a resident of the Berkshires) with the line:
They had better have liquor, because if I'm going to a James Taylor concert, I'm not sober.

Tales from the Massachusetts Retail Trade

A nice couple came up to the register to make their purchase (I shan't call them elderly, which might not be flattering, but I felt confident that I was their junior), and the gentleman spoke up with some warmth about an entirely different matter. There was a woman in the shop, he said, who had already been told by a manager not to do so, but she was going on all the same, leafing through an art book and violating all decency and most international copyright regulations by photographing page after page of art reproductions.

In the first place, who pulls this sort of nonsense?  And in the second place, who goes on doing so after being asked not to?

I wheel out from the registers, and make my way gingerly through the clowder of shoppers, trying to find this woman they had pointed to (but who was out of my line of sight when the gentleman had pointed).  At last I found her, though before actually clearing a fixture to find her in view, there was the sound of a book being hastily shut, and at last I beheld this brazen bint rushing up out of the chair where she had been chewing the devil's own backside, rather than keeping to the prudent and good lessons taught to her by her ancestors.  Her face was overwritten with the awareness that she had no business in the least doing what she was doing, nor did I mince words.  "You cannot do this, and I understand you've already been told so. You have to leave the shop."  "Yes, I go," she offered.

I returned to wait on the couple, who were not at all put out at having to stand unattended at the counter while I chided the recreant draggletail.  "They really have no respect at all for the intellectual property of others, do they?"

11 October 2013

King's Chapel recital, Part the Second

While Peter was playing The Angel Who Bears a Flaming Sword, sirens started to ring out on the street (not unusual in downtown Boston). My initial thought was, regret that the external noise was marring the experience. But then, knowing what a trooper Peter is, and how embracing his musical tolerance ... I knew that he would not let it rattle him at all, and that his steadiness of purpose would carry the experience.
I also thought, then, how fortuitous the timing was. The sirens had not sounded out while Peter and I had played the calm, quiet Zen on the Wing. Not only had they "waited" until the turbulent part of the solo piece, but then, they were done by the time Peter reached the lyrical section.

There was a child who vocalised (not to excess) at interesting points during the Irreplaceable Doodles, and the final duet. Curious to say, it was with a kind of pleasure that I noticed. One of my own earliest memories is of a special, non-domestic sound, in a solemn church interior; and I was pleased to think that my clarinet (and Peter's flute) might become one of this child's earliest, enduring memories.

08 October 2013

King's Chapel recital, Part the First

One of my most important take-aways from today's event: getting up at a relaxed hour, and after an ample night's rest, means as much for the performance as being in good practice.

05 October 2013

Duo on the wing

Rehearsed this evening with Peter. Both pieces felt good and are sounding good, and of course will sound increasingly better as we approach the recital date. Of course, I still need to finish Zen on the Wing; but then, that is why I have all this free time tomorrow . . . .

03 October 2013

The adventure begins

Tonight will be my first choir rehearsal as Music Director at Holy Trinity United Methodist Church, and I have a wonderful feeling which is a harmonious mélange of excitement and peace. The choir are a fine, amiable, welcoming group, and I am confident in our imminent sonic collaboration.