31 December 2013

The year in Henningmusick

There appeared a review of the First Church Boston Choir concert in which they sang Love is the spirit, the first-ever (so far as I know) reference in any review to my music. [ performance here ]

Composed (and performed) Thoreau in Concord Jail, Op.109. [ performance here ]

The First Church Boston Choir (directed by Paul Cienniwa) sang the première of the Kyrie, Op.106 № 1

Composed Annabel Lee, Op.111, which was selected by the Libella Quartet for performance on their April concert. [ performance here ]

Composed Misapprehension, Op.112 for clarinet choir in 15 parts.

Completed composing the Organ Sonata, Op.108.

Prepared pre-press editions of several older pieces.

Composed The Mystic Trumpeter, Op.113 № 1 for soprano and clarinet in A, and Après-mystère, Op.113 № 2, for flute (or piccolo) and clarinet in A. [ audio of the Op.113 № 2 here ]

Composed Nicodemus brings myrrh and aloes for the burial of the Christ, Op.85 № 4 for cello and piano.

Composed Zen on the Wing, Op.114 № 2, for flute and clarinet in A. [ audio here ]

Composed just what everyone was expecting, Op.114 № 1, for clarinet in Bb and marimba.

I was appointed Music Director at Holy Trinity United Methodist Church in Danvers, Mass.

The Reinhardt University Percussion Ensemble performed Journey to the Dayspring, Op.40.

Arranged Counting Sheep (or, The Dreamy Abacus of Don Quijote) for Pierrot-plus ensemble (Op.58a)

Composed Plotting (y is the new x), Op.116 for violin and harpsichord.

Arranged the first Intermezzo from White Nights (Op.75 № 6) for saxophone choir in 12 parts.

Composed My Island Home, Op.115 for percussion ensemble (10 players).

The Lux Nova edition (the only authorized edition) of Journey to the Dayspring, Op.40 is now available at Amazon.

Arranged Moonrise for flute choir in six parts (Op.84a)

Expanded Angular Whimsies (Heavy Paint Manipulation) for quartet (bass clarinet, percussion [two players], piano, Op.100a)

And may God rest the soul of our dear friend, William A. Goodwin.

30 December 2013


By a technicality, I suppose we can consider "Charlie X" from the first season of Star Trek a "Thanksgiving episode."

Whitman some more?

A friend in England today had his first listen to Vaughan Williams's A Sea Symphony;  and I am myself edging closer to at last listening to Holst's setting of The Mystic Trumpeter.  The curiousest thing of all this Whitman-love of this week being, that I've had a discussion today about a possible commission to set a Whitman text for solo voice accompanied by organ.

The Schoenberg Op.47

My approach to 'expansion' of the Angular Whimsies was nominally inspired by an idea I've carried around since my studies at Buffalo.  Now, I freely admit that I may have gotten hold of something of not-entirely-the-right idea;  and for my purposes, that is fine, since I am not publishing a paper, but making my own artistic use of an idea . . . .

The idea being, that Schoenberg first composed his Op.47 Phantasy as a violin unaccompanied piece, and subsequently added a piano accompaniment.  Now, perhaps this was strictly true;  and if I erred in my own long-gestated notion, it was in supposing that there was a greater distance of time and artistic intent, between the violin unaccompanied phase, and the let's add piano accompaniment phase.

Even if that thought is, regarding the Schoenberg piece, technically an error, I have made artistic use of the idea, and put it into practice with the new quartet version of the Angular Whimsies.

Today I found an interesting article on the Schoenberg Op.47.  One incidental bit of interest is, that it was published the same spring that I was graduated from the College of Wooster . . . and it thus predates my Buffalo studies.  In the scope of this paper, the matter is not settled;  the author allows the possibility that at no point was it actually a violin solo piece;  and delicately observes that Josef Rufer does not explain how it is known that the violin part was composed first.

In reading the article, I found what strikes me as an apparent misprision (but it may be simply that I have been somewhere inattentive, myself) on the part of the author.  In his Example 7, he gives Schoenberg's row divided into two hexachords:

Bb - A - C# - B - F - G / D# - E - C - D - Ab - Gb


10 - 9 - 1 - 11 - 5 -7 / 3 - 4 - 0 - 2 - 8 - 6

He correctly points out that the second hexachord is a transposed inversion of the first.

He then reorders the pitches of the first hexachord, so that the discussion is not solely of contiguous chains of pitch-classes within the strict series . . . and this is where (I think) he offers a remark which I think an error:

It is significant that the hexachord contains no major or minor (...) triads (....)

Perhaps his eye was misled by the spelling of C# in the first hexachord, and of D# in the second;  but respelling them Db and Eb respectively, then the bb minor triad is a subset of the first hexachord, and a corresponding major triad is necessarily a subset of the inverted second hexachord, in this case, Ab major.

It may be that Schoenberg does not employ them as such, but in fact the hexachords do contain a minor and a major triad.

29 December 2013

More whimsical, more angular

The expansion of Angular Whimsies is complete . . . and indeed the piece works so nicely as a quartet, that I am revisiting the original duet, just to make sure I find nothing "deficient" in the piece in that form.

The quartet thus done, I have sent whither it needs to be sent.

And word is just in from Nana Tchikhinashvili in The Netherlands;  she very kindly plans to bring my Magnificat back into her choir's repertory not only for concerts in May and June, but for an event in Rome in October.

28 December 2013

Arrangement and expansion

Likely I shall quit for the day, for I cannot do it all in one day, and I should probably be pleased with all that I have managed to do.

The connecting theme with the two pieces is (not to make it seem particularly melodramatic) disappointment.  Not with my work:  I think them both cracking compositions.  Both pieces were written for fine ensembles, great musicians and nice people, but . . . things happen in life, no blame to anyone, the result though is, no audience for two pieces which I am particularly pleased to have written, and which I had high hopes of presentation to an audience.

Philosophically, no matter:  the pieces now exist, and even if they do not receive a public performance until after the composer is dead, they will reflect well on him.

The one piece (and the first to be written, some eight years ago) was for brass quintet;  but, to be brief, the quintet had no, nor have any, use for the piece.  They play beautifully, tour, give clinics, but the type of piece which they present routinely, and the type of piece which I wrote, were apparently incompatible.  The dedication to that quintet thus had to be removed; and (again, to specify) no blame to them, it isn't at all the kind of piece they can use;  and when the composer writes music in the way that he fancies, without regard for external variables, he perforce assumes an artistic risk.  The burden rests with him to find musicians who might actually want the piece.

There is no particular reason, I shouldn't think, why the thought was so slow in coming to me, that the piece would work well arranged for flute choir . . . the thought did at last reach me, at some point while in the thick of Christmas preparations.  And so today I have at last acted on that thought, and Moonrise now exists in a version for flute choir.  Still no guarantee that any group on the planet, to whom I might have access, will actually undertake to perform it.  But at the least, there are more possibilities.

The other piece I've worked on today was a duet, and the good news is that the musicians for whom I wrote the piece actually did perform it on a tour of the west coast in 2010.  The matter of a recording of the piece has not been simple.  And as I am myself a musician with my creative attentions drawn in myriad directions, and under obligation to pursue other lines of work in order to earn my bread, I sympathize only, and in no way condemn.

Still, I have here a piece, and (I think) a very good piece, and as yet no way of sharing it with a broad listenership.

There is a call for scores for a quartet, of whose instrumentation my duet is an exact subset;  and so I have decided to take Angular Whimsies and expand it . . . not duration-wise, but texture-wise.  Here, too, the work has gone well, I am perhaps half done . . . and I think it well to rest, to do something else with my brain for the remainder of the day, and to leave the completion of the task until tomorrow.

27 December 2013

Listening of late

Quite a bit of Fats Waller, actually, somehow.

And comparing the Christopher Hogwood and Dennis Russell Davies recordings of the Haydn Alleluja Symphony (no. 30 in C).

26 December 2013

Up the Amazon

The piece for unpitched percussion sextet, Journey to the Dayspring.

I've been taking it easy over the holiday, and why not?

24 December 2013

Not St Nick

All right, this morning I did a little more work on Jazz for Nostalgic Squirrels . . . scored a bit of a nap . . . listened to an early Haydn symphony . . . about to head off to our own Lessons & Carols, for which I shall play my Sonatina sopra « Veni, Emmanuel » . . . merry Christmas!

23 December 2013

Back and forth

When I first found my way to the end of My Island Home, I suffered perhaps 5% . doubt. I entertained the question of whether I needed (slightly, ever so slightly) to alter the ending. But as I let the score rest, I felt the ending was fine.

Then, a respected member of my focus group, on hearing the MIDI playback, asked after the ending.

So then, I wondered if I ought to heed that 5% heretofore mentioned.

Today I printed out the score, in preparation for possible ending-adjustment. But then, a fan in Germany who has listened to the MIDI several times told me that he likes the ending fine, too.

So, I am content to consider that 95% of me which is happy with the ending, to be in the right....

21 December 2013

Island, ho!

It is official:  My Island Home, Op. 115 for percussion ensemble (ten players) is now completed.

Gonna rest say;  the Squirrels can wait until tomorrow afternoon . . . .

And, from the archive . . . five years ago today:  Not Quite a Christmas Card

Further inconstancy of the composer

It's not what I had planned (oh, that tricksy Muse), but I think I've now finished the percussion ensemble piece.  (I mean, sure, it was generally the plan that the percussion ensemble piece would be finished;  I just wasn't intending today to be the day.)  I'm letting it sit for a couple of hours, and I'll make the decision then . . . .

Squirrels momentarily voted off the Island

I started out this morning all about the Squirrels, and their Nostalgic Jazz. Saw a couple of them loping along the top of a chain-link fence, offering neighborly inspiration. Made some progress, too. But then, I promised Olivia that I would send an mp3 of the current state of My Island Home, as an aperitivo.

So far, so good. But at that time, for the last 20-ish measures, perhaps, of the score, I as yet had the sort-of-two-part-invention for the two marimbas, with none of the other activity which that passage needs.  So, I set to work there.  Good progress, too.  I think at this stage that the piece may run for about a minute more . . . so I may just stick with that for this afternoon.

After I mark out the bell parts for Joy to the World.

Delighted to hear from EmmaLee, who has responded very positively to Plotting.  She did catch some errors in my notation, which I gratefully emended.

And Kevin is looking at the saxophone choir arrangement of Intermezzo I from White Nights.  I am much enjoying this weekend.

20 December 2013

The War on Famine

Why Paul Does What He Does

Mother Teresa spoke sternly, There are many famines. In my country there is a famine of the body. In your country there is a famine of the spirit. And that is what you must feed.

y and x

Last night I finished Plotting. Musically, I am content . . . I am waiting in case EmmaLee finds anything untoward in the violin part, though if so, I am sure I can find a way to adjust without sacrificing the composition's integrity.

I should have blogged this milestone yesternight, only I was delightfully occupied with my choir's rehearsal . . . we worked hard (and well) on an anthem which we shall sing both this Sunday morning, and for a Lessons & Carols on Christmas Eve.

And this morning, I kept working, now back to those nostalgic squirrels of mine . . . .

18 December 2013

In three parts

The toccata is now "one-third done," with the understanding that when the other two-thirds are "done" I may well tweak, prune, and re-write. Because, dadgummit, I want that conclusion (after what I think has become a cumulatively powerful passacaglia) not to embarrass at all what has sounded before.

That "one-third done" is, BTW, in the Sibelius file. I was working on "the middle third" on the train ride earlier today. The "thirds" are not equal . . . I've decided I want to write 51 measures of music, and the scheme is A1 - B1 - A2 - B2 - A3 - B3, where the two players have completely independent parts in the A sections, and are in unison for the B sections. The A sections are successively briefer, and the (shorter) B sections are successively longer; so that the plan is 16mm. - 2mm. - 14mm. - 3mm. - 12mm. - 4mm.

The asymmetric periods of the violin's patterns through the course of the toccata, too, change, ratcheting a bit quicker through the successive A sections.

17 December 2013

Now we are five

Closer work with bell distribution for Susan's arrangement of Joy to the World (I mean, the arrangement which she likes to play), and it turns out that a fifth ringer simplifies things considerably. No, I should simply go as far as saying that with four ringers, the task is impractical: too many cases where a bell needs to be traded between two ringers for the sake of timing.

On this morning's train, I drew up further sketches for the toccata of Plotting. This could be one of those times when I produce 25% more material than is actually needed, and when further excellence is achieved by discreet pruning.

And all the activity is buoyed by a growing enthusiasm for resuming work on White Nights.

16 December 2013

Minor fix

In proofing by playback, there was one note which (isn't this funny, really?) was either a Tallis-esque crunchy cross-relation, or it was a mistake I plugged in while executing the by-sight transpositions in which the process of arranging this Intermezzo was rich. In principle, I might have kept it, even if a mistake . . .

But when I found the correction, the music as originally composed struck me as clearly superior.

15 December 2013

All arranged

A most enjoyable task, both as a musical exercise in scoring, and because I have been reminded just how much I enjoy the music, the arrangement of Intermezzo I from White Nights for saxophone choir in twelve parts is now done. The number adapted quite readily...the one part which posed me a momentary problem was, a change in timbre in the original score at one point from winds to strings, exactly the sort of thing which, well, doesn't happen in a single, homogeneous choir. But I think I found, let us call it, a sufficient solution. In any event, the sound of the result satisfies me.

14 December 2013

From the front lines

Elektra may be coming, but I've scribbled a bit more of the harpsichord part in the Toccata. I have not decided between the two possibilities: that I've always felt composing would be this much fun; or that I was inclined to learn the way, that composing would be every bit as fun as I always felt it would be.
Of course, the answer may well be, both.

13 December 2013

Puzzle master

... I am not.  Our organist asked me if our bell choir could assist with ringing as a substitute for an optional chime part in an arrangement of "Joy to the World" which she likes to play. And I think it a great idea, nor do I at all repent of my immediate agreement.

Perhaps a bit too off-the-top-of-my-head, I figured that four ringers ought to be able to cover it. It's a snug solution, now that I sit down to figure out the bell logistics. (The challenges arise from the fact that each succeeding verse moves up a half-step.)

I think I've worked it out so that there is only one bell which two of the ringers must share. Certainly, it's near enough that I should feel it lazy to have distributed the bells among five ringers. Will double-check tomorrow evening, of course.

Clearing some dust

After the manner of social media, I read a broad invitation for saxophone choir pieces. Since I already have three new works on the burner, my mind turned to possibilities for arrangement.

As a result, I have, for the first in a great, great long while, cast my eyes on Night the First from White Nights. Under such circumstances (reviewing after a long interval, a piece left in a state of roughly 60% completion), it is very heartening indeed to find that one is happy still to own the music. More than that, it is thrilling to feel that one's musical mind is still perfectly attuned to the score, not only in terms of sympathy with the music's goal, purpose & character, but with an eye (yes, I shall say it) to eventual completion.

That, in addition to feeling that the first Intermezzo will work very nicely for an ensemble of saxophones. Perhaps supplemented by a contrabassoon....

11 December 2013

in memoriam

I learnt last night of the passing of William A. Goodwin, for many years organist, music director, and the guy who kept all the infrastructure together, at the First Congregational Church in Woburn. A son of the kindly middle west, Bill departed from this vale of tears and committees this past Saturday.

First among those who mourn Bill's passing must be the sweet-voiced E. & G. G. Hook organ at First Congo. Now that Bill is gone, there is no knowing if any organist will step up who might be half the caretaker of this magnificent instrument that Bill was. It is a beautiful instrument, whose glorious sound was wont to fill a beautiful space.

In a world of complainers and finger-pointers, Bill was ever the quiet fellow who kept his own counsel, rolled up his sleeves, and got the job done; and if thereby there was some peace made between two contentious individuals, so much the better.

His was a modest soul in a gracious, small-town way. It is his wish that there be no memorial service for his passing. Those whose lives he touched do not really require such a service, for the memory of his many selfless, generous deeds is incense enough, praying for divine succor to his spirit. When we were new to Massachusetts, Bill's quiet gift to us for our first Thanksgiving was a gift card redeemable at a local supermarket. When we were hungry, he gave to us to eat.

It was one of the first of innumerable, generally small (so as not to draw too much attention), although in the aggregate substantial, acts on Bill's part which through the years aided the material sustenance of our family.

He was a musical friend. When I first came to the Boston area (and was thus Just Another Composer in Town), Bill took the brave step of inviting me to write something for use in the church; more than that (and in spite of the at times time-consuming musical demands), he liked what he heard and played. A list of pieces which I wrote either on Bill's specific request, or in the environment of his musical welcome, includes:

Fantasy on a Tallis Hymn, Op.30 (clarinet & organ)
Exultate Deo, Op.31 (brass septet)
Bless the Lord, O my soul, Op.32 (unaccompanied choir)
Three Short Pieces, Op.34 (organ solo)
Kingsfold, Op.35 (choir and piano)
My Times Are in Your Hand, Op.36 (unaccompanied choir)
Festive Voluntary, Op.37 (brass quintet, tiompani & organ)
Sinfonietta, Op.38 (brass quintet)
Bless the Lord at All Times, Op.42 (choir unaccompanied)
Four Silent Prayers, Op.43 (piano solo)
Danse antique, Op.44 (brass quintet and organ)
Danby, Op.45 (choir and organ)
Voluntary on « Exaltabo Te Deus », Op.47a (clarinet and organ)
Alleluia in D, Op.48 (choir unaccompanied)
Trumpet Call Voluntary, Op.51 (flute, clarinet, trumpet, bassoon & organ)
Born on Earth to Save Us, Op.52 (tenor solo, unison choir, organ, optional handbells)
Joseph and Mary, Op.53 (flute, clarinet, trumpet, bassoon, handbells, unison choir and piano)
All Glory, Laud and Honor, Op.56 (soprano, violin & organ)
I Look from Afar, Op.60 (choir, brass quintet, timpani & organ)
Reflections on a French Carol, Op.61 (clarinet, trumpet, bassoon & organ)
Pascha nostrum, Op.62 (choir, brass quintet & organ)
Fragments of « Morning Has Broken », Op.64 (clarinet, violin & piano)
Prelude on « Kremser », Op.66 (trumpet or clarinet & organ)
Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song, Op.67 (choir, brass quintet & organ)
The Snow Lay on the Ground, Op.68 (clarinet, trumpet, bassoon, handbells, choir and piano)
Postlude on « Wie lieblich es », Op.69 (clarinet & organ)
Canzona & Gigue, Op.77 (clarinet & organ)

Bill, you were one in a million, and you were a true and steady friend. Many times ere now I have thanked you, and now you have gone where I can send thanks only as a prayer. God give your soul rest.

10 December 2013

Toccata launched

The concluding toccata section of Plotting, I now have mentally schemed, and have worked on for a couple of days now.

While overall I am content with the last couple of variations for the passacaglia, there has been just the shade of a nagging sensation ... and I've now had the eureka! moment for which I had unconsciously waited. A slightly quicker tempo for variation XXXIX, and then a stepped relaxation through the 'unwinding' of variation XL, will not only sharpen their profile, but will set up the change of pace for the toccata.

09 December 2013

Passacaglia complete

The passacaglia which is the heart of the new violin-&-harpsichord piece, Plotting (y is the new x), has wound up at a nice round 40 variations on the theme, and I worked out variations XXXVIII, XXXIX & XL on this morning's train.

And there will be room for a brief toccata in the capacity of a coda . . . as the passacaglia just kept motoring on, I was starting to think that maybe that would be the piece, and that I should need to abandon my original idea of Introduction, Passacaglia & Toccata. Now that I have shaped the whole passacaglia . . . well, I know where the matter rests.

(I think I mentioned ere now that when Paul & I talked about it, he wanted a piece between 7 and 12 minutes; and you know that means that I would write a 12-minute piece . . . .)

I have that same feeling I had when I had done writing both Counting Sheep, and the St John Passion - that I have written my best music to date.

07 December 2013

The Plan

...for, well, not tonight, for tomorrow perhaps...wrap up the passacaglia, and then see to the Squirrels.

06 December 2013

Hello again, blog

In an extension of the Thanksgiving season, we had a wonderfully productive choir rehearsal last night, so that even with a rescheduling of next week's rehearsal to a different day of the week (which at this season, is bound to conflict with other events, so that attendance will perforce be down somewhat), we are reasonably well prepared for both this Sunday and the following, and are well on track with the actual Christmas anthem.

Checking the info for "The Quijote Project," I find that word of a decision does not come until the end of January . . . coinciding nicely with the brace of concerts we are cooking up astride the January/February divide.

For those two concerts, I have started a quartet for flute, clarinet, guitar and bass, Jazz for Nostalgic Squirrels; pleased with the start I've made, looking forward to further work this weekend.

The passacaglia in Plotting continues to expand. There was a stretch of two-three days in which it was allowed to 'cool', and my thinking while working away was, I might wind up shifting things around; but in reviewing The State of the Passacaglia last night, I was astonished to find just how pleased I was with it, as is. The scheme for this grand heart of the piece is three roughly equal sections: in the first, the theme remains in a 'home key' (a kind of c minor); in the second, the theme moves about, pitch-wise; in the third . . . I've been planning on another 8-10 variations, and my present work (continued at length this morning) has been devising the harmonic underpinning of 1) the continued moving-about, against 2) various contrapuntal applications of the theme. Probably I will wind up with 2-3 codetta-ish variations returning to the kind-of-c-minor.

Nor have I completely forgotten My Island Home . . . though I seem to be itching to whip up a Christmas-ish duet for clarinet and violin.

02 December 2013

Plotting, mostly

I have been delinquent in blogging. So what to catch up with?

The passacaglia in Plotting expands nicely, and sprouted a fresh eleven variations yesterday. (And I scribbled three more on the train this morning.)

The piece (Plotting, i.e.) is invited to an outing on 5 April, hence the focus.

Our composers' collective concert has become a brace of concerts, Friday 31 January and Saturday 1 February. I think I want to write something new for that.

26 November 2013

Moon and Sun

Creating the score for Moonrise anew in Sibelius looks like taking three sessions of note-plugging, and a fourth session of proofing. Which is not unreasonable. Session II took place last night.

One advantage of composing a passacaglia is: the bass line is turning continually in the back of my mind, and I find it quite easy (when boarding the train in the morning, e.g.) to ride the flow . . . a fresh variation or three seem almost to compose themselves. There is no hurry on this, and my plan is actually to build up to perhaps 32 variations.

In other news, positive response to Out in the Sun has come in, from a wind ensemble conductor in New York.

Not that I know he would have any use for it, but it is with this fellow in mind that I have been revisiting Moonrise.

One quirky thing about the Sibelius 7 sounds: not matter how long a tone needs to be sustained, the flugelhorn sound cuts off after a certain (and brief, as it feels to me) duration. I may need to tinker with a "for MIDI" Sibelius file, just to get a sample sound file which at least has all the voices sounding when they ought to be . . . .

24 November 2013

Guess I changed my mind

In this post of last week, I seem to have felt I was letting the Credo sit for a spell.  Perhaps because it has been a few days, that was spell enough.  Anyway, when I did a little composing on my lunch break yesterday, it was to continue the Credo.

In the morning, as I was walking to the bus which I missed by probably two minutes, I realized just what one of the passages of the Credo needs for some finishing.

23 November 2013

On the knees of the gods

It may be, at last, the moment when Counting Sheep (or The Dreamy Abacus of Don Quijote) finds its way into the ear of the public.

Or, it may not.

What is certain, though, is that I've sent all the materials in.

I originally wrote the piece for woodwind quintet and piano, for Giorgio Koukl and friends.  As things transpired, though, it was not the fate of this score to reach an audience at that time, or in this form.

A couple of years later, on something of a lark, I arranged the piece for a full wind ensemble.  It still was not the fate of this score to reach an audience, at that other time, or in that other form.  (Honestly, this arrangement could stand some tweaking, and I am keen to set to it.)

A couple of months ago, I learnt from a friend of a call for scores for a 'Pierrot-plus' ensemble, and I realized that the piece which I was compelled to submit for the call, was a re-scored version of Counting Sheep.  I was in the greater part finished with the adaptation at the end of October;  only I realized when combing through the PDF file of the original score that there were many typographical errors in the Ur-text.  While the piece was yet uppermost in my musical mind, I wanted to make certain that we have also an authoritative text of the original scoring.  That was one of the musical tasks I wrapped up while a-vacationing in the southlands.

The Big Project to which I needed to attend after the score itself, in order to send in all the necessary materials, was an accurate list of performances ("for all works composed by the applicant").  Partly to simplify the task for myself, and partly not to exasperate those who will review the materials, I restricted myself to performances from 2008 to October of the present year.

Anyway, at long last, all the materials are ready, and as they were ready, they are now sent in (why wait, eh?).  Sent in three weeks ahead of the deadline, what is more.

Renewed intimacy with the score has confirmed my confidence in the music;  I think it must be a strong contender.  (There are others who share my opinion, so I am perhaps not entirely eccentric in this.)  As ever, though, there is no knowing whether the ensemble to whom I have sent will think much of the piece.  Certain it is, I have sent music to a number of groups dedicated to new music, who have no use for my work.

So:  we shall see.

22 November 2013

Only a little mysterious

At last, I think I've got all the bits together.

And three weeks ahead of the deadline, too.

20 November 2013

Only briefly

Some little progress, tinkering with the two marimbas, yesterday and today. And I find myself thinking passacaglia thoughts of a curious sudden. And I want it to be a five-measure pattern.

Oh, and I've found my Oxford Book of Carols.

19 November 2013

Hopper Theory

Now one might think that a fellow busy with a variety of non-musical commitments day in, day out, is just spinning pipe-dream after pipe-dream by maintaining a number of compositional projects as works-in-progress. (Quite apart from White Nights, which is very much Its Own Thing, on my desk at the moment there are, waiting for completion, in chronological order by inception: the Credo; some short recorder and harpsichord pieces; My Island Home [percussion ensemble]; Feeling the Burn [flute and marimba]; and Plotting [violin and harpsichord].) But all the pieces which need to be written (which is most of them, and quite possibly all of them), I will have written, in time; and once I form a fair idea of a piece, it pretty much lives in a space somewhere in the Henning brain, where it waits upon me until I may visit again and warm up the kettle.

Now, the Credo, for which I may just possibly find some interest in a choir away south, I am leaving sit for a short while, as I consider (a little) if the present state of the piece (about half of the text is set now) is quite what I wish.

I am therefore at liberty to focus attention elsewhere, and (not at all surprisingly, really) I wrote up a bit of a marimba canon on this morning's train, for My Island Home. All in all, I suspect that I may wind up wrapping up the percussion ensemble piece first . . . and then, in all likelihood, the piece for Paul Cienniwa and EmmaLee Holmes-Hicks.

18 November 2013

At last! What transpired the first week of this month!

High time there appeared a What I Did on My Vacation post.

First, lots of Counting Sheep (or, The Dreamy Abacus of Don Quijote) . . . got the Sibelius file of the new arrangement done; and then got the Sibelius file of the original sextet done.

Made a good start on a new percussion ensemble piece, My Island Home.

Had to stop work on the percussion piece, because the system upgrade pushed to my notebook resulted in the loss of the spiffy Sibelius 7 sounds library. My Island Home was sounding like a 70s video game, and we none of us could face the sonic horror.

Finished the clarinet-&-marimba duet, just what everyone was expecting.

Took the (for the most one-entire-year-old) MS. of the Credo, and plugged it into Sibelius. On doing so, discovered that I had somehow missed one phrase here, one entire line there; and thus came about the first fresh composition on the piece for many, many months.

Compositionally, that was it; and since in fact I also spent the greater part of the vacation flat-out relaxing, I am pleased that so much musical work got done.

This past week was re-entry into the work routine, and was quite predictably exhausting. But a good dose of rest over the weekend set me up at last for some fresh work, and I've now started the violin-&-harpsichord piece, Plotting (y is the new x).

Looks like I should see to a bell choir arrangement of a dulcet Christmas carol, too.

"Diseases of the band"

Zappa was right again, and in ways he might not have dreamt:
In addition, a General Dentistry study published in 2011 showed a wide variety of bacteria, yeast and mold present in 13 previously played high school band instruments....
Didn't clean his own clarinet for 30 years?  One understands that school instruments may not be taken care of the best (particularly in economic downturns where the school's priority is, naturally, to funnel as much of the money to sports, sports, sports! as possible) but, folks, if it's your instrument:  own it & love it.

17 November 2013

A kind of landmark

I began this blog five years ago this month.  I've not kept at it quite steadily, but, there it is.

This was my post five years ago today.

A new day

Amazing what a difference a good dose of rest will make.

Ready to get to work, and now only lacking the time (in the short term) to plant the ideas onto paper. (C'est-à-dire, life has returned to normal.)  Ideas flowing both for the piece I've been asked for, for violin and harpsichord, and for a hitherto-unimagined jeu d'esprit involving a sequence of musical quotation.

But for now: off to work with my splendid little choir.

16 November 2013

The bus, the train, the composer

Didn't do any composing as such on the morning commute. Read through the hard copy of both the Credo so far, and just what everyone was expecting. Very well pleased with the instrumental duo...in some respects, I think it some of my finest writing.

In a way, I'm not sure just what I think of the Credo. I composed far the greater part of the present draught at the piano, and I know I was happy with it at the time. My feeling, then, is that I should respect that, leave that bit intact, go on and set the remainder of the text, and then worry about it. And perhaps at that stage, any propensity to worry shall have evaporated.

This first week back into the routine, after the vacation, has been somewhat rough. But now, I have the evening off...I expect just to shut down, and leave off any intellectual effort until tomorrow at the earliest.

15 November 2013

Enter the subtitle

Inspired by my morning commute these past couple of days, I've discovered a subtitle for Feeling the Burn (Bicycling Into the Sun).

10 November 2013

Author's error?

In Poe's story "The Gold-Bug," the first excavation site is a failure. The mistake in locating it is attributed to Legrand's servant, Jupiter, not knowing his left from his right; and that error sets them strolling at an incorrect angle.

However, a few pages earlier, when he asks his servant if he knows left from right, Legrand himself confirms that Jupiter is left-handed.

08 November 2013

A duo done

Yesterday, I finished (at long last, we might even say) the clarinet and marimba duet, just what everyone was expecting, five-minute jazz-ish (I have to add that -ish, lest I field accusations of trying to practice jazz without a license) flurry of energy for the two players.  The piece had lain largely finished since mid-September, at which time I needed to concentrate not only on practicing for the October recital at King's Chapel, but on writing a short piece for Peter & myself to play.  As I was writing that piece (Zen on the Wing) I formed the idea of a trio (title yet to be settled upon), concluding a set of three subset duos, the four pieces all together to comprise the Op.114.

So (you see where this is going), if four notes be a start, I have started a flute/marimba duet, Feeling the Burn, a piece with as yet no home.

This morning I've been revisiting (again, at long last) the Credo, which probably I had not touched for a year.  Plugging the existing manuscript into Sibelius, and at quite a relaxed pace (for I am enjoying this vacation thing).

05 November 2013


A funny thing. Well, in a way.

Two men, both with a background in Literature / the Arts, both of them with a lively appreciation of Shakespeare. No question, then, not only of the importance of Hamlet to world literature, nor of enjoying it personally. And on the personal level it is of course not a question of mere enjoyment, but of enrichment.

Two men, brothers in fact, and in spite of any difference in years, both of them at an age where they are more apt to appreciate a witty comedy than the heartstring-straining heights of tragedy.

(And this is not about Hamlet, which awaits another time.)

Notwithstanding a general indisposition, let us call it, to tragedy at this time of their lives...enjoying together the poignancy, and yet the light footprint, of Reign Over Me.

03 November 2013

Pour les vacances

It is a task which has been executed in two states and across an expanse of 900 miles, but I have done with the new Sibelius file of the woodwind-quintet-&-piano scoring for (c'est–à–dire, the original version of) Counting Sheep.  That process was valuable, too, as a proof of the new, "Pierrot-plus" ensemble version of the score, which (to tell the truth and shame the devil) was purt near riddled with errata and omissions.

Angling towards (at last) completing just what everyone was expecting, which has lain one minute (a scant 60 seconds) shy of done since mid-September.  However, the recent Reinhardt University Percussion Ensemble performance of Journey to the Dayspring has inspired me to get a fresh perc. ens. piece started:  My Island Home.

(Somewhere, I probably no longer have either the Finale file nor the hard copy of a start I made long ago of the piece . . . so I am reviving the title without worrying about any of that antique music.)

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.

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.