30 June 2014

Finale of Night the First

Perhaps this is a most peculiar existence, after all.  There's this music which I wrote, years and years ago.  It's never been performed, there has been no occasion for any performance;  although, of course, I have several times shown it to prospective conductors.  I thought it very good music, then, when I wrote it.  For whatever reason (and I do not think the reason is the quality or character of the music) this substantial bit of work on my part, and work of which I was proud, has been silent all these long years.

[No, this is not complaint.]

So as I continue the process of revisiting the "old scenes" from the ballet, creating new Sibelius files of the scores, refining and adding detail, with practically each page I find music I am pleased and proud to have written.

Yesterday I got just past the half-way point in Scene 3b.  Not so much work as I might have got done over the weekend, perhaps.  Probably, considering the work remaining with this Scene and with the first Intermezzo, I can plan on reaching the end of Night the First over the coming holiday weekend.

28 June 2014

Post-gala inventory

First off, to the best of my knowledge, nothing was sold at the Wednesday event.  It is not immediately clear why.  I know no reason why there was no activity before the service;  after the service, there followed almost immediately a harpsichord recital, so at a guess that was why there was no relaxed milling about the sales table between the musical events.

So all the Henningmusick merch which moved, moved on Thursday.  There were sold:

1 copy each of the SSA & SATB versions of the Alleluia in D
all 20 copies of Love is the Spirit
two copies of the Three Short Pieces
one copy of the Organ Sonata

So, a little better than half of what was on offer. Satisfactory.

27 June 2014

After Service II

Everything musical went so well on Wednesday, that Paul was on guard against the complacency which can sometimes, even in part, scuttle a repeat performance. But, if anything, last night's singing may have been even a notch better.

The chap who requested my autograph on the score of the Op. 34 before yesterday's service was very kind. I said I hoped he would enjoy the music; and he told me that after looking the pieces over, he stepped out to an ATM for cash so as to buy it.

26 June 2014

Before Service II

A first: asked by a perfect stranger to autograph the score of the Opus 34 Three Short Pieces.

Another good rehearsal.

After Service I

Choir felt they had sung Love is the Spirit the best ever they have. The former composer-in-residence and organist assistant at Boston's Cathedral Church of St Paul, James Woodman was in attendance, and in his quiet way spoke highly of the piece, the performance, and the choir. And tape was running.

25 June 2014

Before Service I

Rehearsal went well. All is in order. It's a warm evening, though.

Various sorts of ready

Finished the refurbished, bass clarinetted version of the piece, (very nearly) what everyone was expecting. I was simply taken with the idea of employing the marimba part as a fixed element, and writing a wind counterpart of different character, and seeing if I could not craft a new (albeit clearly related) composition. I may be too close to the project at the moment to tell, but I think I may possibly have succeeded.

The parcel from Lux Nova has arrived, and there will be Henningmusick for sale at the table in the lobby of First Church for the events tonight and tomorrow night.

A total of 46 items will be available for purchase:

Love is the Spirit (20 copies)
Alleluia in D, SSA version (10 copies)
Alleluia in D, SATB version (10 copies)
Three Short Pieces (3 copies)
Organ Sonata (3 copies)

I am in principle prepared for any outcome ranging from [ at the end of Thursday, nothing has been sold ] to [ everything is bought up before midnight tonight ]. However things play out, I shall report.

The idea with the octavos is that single copies are purchased, and the client then goes to the webstore, for however many copies are needed for his or her choir.

I've also prepared a leaflet with URLs of the Lux Nova Press webstore, and of YouTube performances (as available) of the music for sale.

24 June 2014

Lesser expectations

It remains quite the small world. (Some say it is getting smaller, but I have no opinion on that speculation.) At the events for this week's convention, in addition to the unaccompanied motet which I wrote them (on Paul Cienniwa's apt suggestion), Love is the Spirit, the First Church Choir will be singing an AGO commission, a piece accompanied by marimba; and the marimba player is fellow I have come to know, one of the members of the duo Transient Canvas.

We had a full rehearsal this Sunday past, and at a brief lull we talked about just what everyone was expecting. He likes the piece (or, there is the possibility, this may be diplomacy, and no fault to anyone if so), but it doesn't seem to be the clarinetist's cup of Assam. He also mentioned that both players find it visually annoying when there is beaming across the bar. (I heard this with something of a wry internal smile, thinking how I was so concerned that beams across the bar would vex organists in the last movement of the Sonata.) There was friendly speculation, too, that, who knows? perhaps the clarinetist may like the piece better next year. So I said that I would send a revised score with the beaming normalized.

Since I've now (largely) finished with the White Nights Overture, and have not yet begun on Scene 3b (and as we shall be seeing one another again at the services tomorrow night and Thursday), I thought it would be a good palate-cleanser to take a break from the ballet last night and address the notational concerns, so that I can send, and make that ol' eye contact while we're both on the job tomorrow. And I thought, Why wait on the odd chance that the piece may meet with a clarinetist's favor next year?

So I decided (a little whimsically, a little suddenly) that I would create an alternative text, (very nearly) what everyone was expecting, writing a largely new bass clarinet part, and see if I feel that it works as well as the original just what everyone was expecting (which I still like just fine, thank you very much).

So, there: this is the story behind the present score, which I plan to wrap up this evening.

23 June 2014

Not what I was expecting

On a whim, I decided to adapt the piece, by largely recomposing the clarinet line, and switching to bass clarinet, the result to be titled (very nearly) what everyone was expecting.

Take a memo

An illuming conversation with a marimbist yesterday on the further travails of just what everyone was expecting. But, of course, as rather a finicky clarinetist myself, I entirely understand if any other clarinetist just doesn't feel like playing a given piece. Still, in the hope . . . it seems that beaming across the barline is a personal anti-preference. (Alive to that principle, I've asked a few organists about such cross-bar beaming in the Op.108.) So, let me see if I cannot remember to adjust the score before the percussionist and I meet again.

Shostakovich interlude

Quite excited that we've just about got the Organ Sonata to press.  (And a Danish organist may have a look at it soon.)

At the request of a 'net acquaintance, I did a moderately accelerated comparison of two recordings of the Shostakovich c minor Symphony, Op.43, Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony, Rattle and the City of Birmingham.

Listened to the first 5-1/2 minutes of the first movement. Advantage: Jansons. More energy and direction. On its own, probably I should have had no quarrel with the Rattle; only given this side-by-side comparison, the comparative stateliness of the pace felt just on the verge of languor.

Listened to a patch of the third movement, from the keening oboes at the end of the marcia funebre, through the massive "extended hocket" tutti, through to the orchestral bells and timpani fortissimo, and the big unison trombone peroration. Advantage: Jansons. Rattle whipped the Birminghamers quicker, at least at first, and it felt like a borderline-unmusical strain; and in fact the momentum wore down, so that at the last it felt a little tired, oom-pah-pah-ish. Then at the orchestral bells &c. passage, he ratcheted the tempo back up, and it felt unmotivated.

Listened to the last 8-ish minutes of the third movement, the waltz, and then its dissolution, the grand pealing brass, and the aftershock. Man, the Bavarians sound terrific with Jansons. For the waltz, there was a grace to Jansons's take; Rattle sounded in a hurry, and I'm not sure why. For the big brass bit, there was a bit of a sourness to the intonation of the Birmingham brass, times when there was a bit of dispute in the pitch among the horns. Not at all a genuinely bad performance, but (again) hearing the two orchestras in succession, this is the sort of difference which stands out. Advantage: Jansons.

Listened to a patch of the second movement, the Trio, and the retransition into the Scherzo, the fugato. Love how the Bavarian strings dig in at the succeeding entrances of the fugato. Curious to report, there is a moment of dodgy intonation in the Birmingham strings near the start of the Trio. The string entrances in the fugato, a little wishy-washy among the Birminghamers. Once again, and overall—Advantage: Jansons.

22 June 2014

On location

The Op.75 n° 1 is done (allowing for proofing). In place, waiting to rehearse the Op.85 n° 3.

21 June 2014

Closing in

Up to measure 406 (p.36 of 44);  may still reach the final double-bar before lights-out . . . .

20 June 2014

State of the Overture

Up to m. 252 (p. 27 of 44, of the Original Edition).  Definitely knocking this off tomorrow!

19 June 2014

A composer's moment of media glory

The episode illustrates how it is the artist who already has a name, who perforce gets all the attention.

And here, the artist is lapping up the attention. It is part of the circus that he protests against a supposed injustice (in this case, with unseemly overtones), but of hundreds of worthy artists in this country, he is the one at the mic and on camera.

Catastrophe, and a victim! Yes, the artist tells the world (and what a privilege that is) that a wave of public opinion questioning his artistic decisions is a catastrophe, and that he is the victim. That his work is the victim.

The central event of the work is the brutal murder (a genuine catastrophe, and in living memory) of a man (an actual victim) who went on vacation with his wife. However, the conceit of the work is, Hey, let's not rush to judgment! Let's consider the facts.  The title of the work, though, conveys a meaning.  The title is free of any hint of terrorism, of murder, of catastrophe, of a victim. Now, I'm not saying the title must do this thing, or that thing, or anything in particular. But the meaning of a title which the artist has designated is open to discussion.  There would be apt intellectual opposition, if instead of The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson had named his film Christ Spends an Hour in the Garden.

So the beginning, it may be, of questioning this artist's artistic decisions, is the matter of the title. The victim (the man who never returned from his vacation, I mean, not the artist at his press conferences) is not a victim, in the title. In the title, all monosyllables save for the victim's name, he did not experience murder, or terrorism, or fear, or violence (any of which, incidentally, would make for smashing opera).

No. All he experienced was Death.

Well, it is not rushing to judgment to observe that the chap didn't die in his sleep. So the title (whatever else may be said) sanitizes a terrorist murder, by eliminating even the suggestion of an agent.

The artist is too shrewd a fellow, that I should suggest that he misses this point. No, he shrewdly evades it, in his protests that his work is being unjustly victimized as anti-semitic.

He is indeed a shrewd publicist to the last. And as this week shows, it's all about publicity.

18 June 2014

Yesterday, on the way to King's Chapel

The tuba and banjo were being played furiously in the park.

In contrast, the fellow fiddling with the reed and ligature on his soprano saxophone mouthpiece was more a visual effect.

A non-musician made a point of sending me a message today, saying that he enjoyed the new recording of Thoreau in Concord Jail.

Trending towards getting the Organ Sonata ready for sale at the AGO convention next week, which would be mighty cool.

17 June 2014


A few too many pieces which were little more than note-spinning, a few too many pieces which didn't sound composed, whose end the audience was aware of only because, not only had the players not been playing for a while, but they made a show of disengaging from their instruments.

These were impressions I recorded after an event from weeks and weeks ago. Just a note to myself that there are still people who, judging by the pieces they are able to get performed before an audience, have a knack for getting away with something. Part of the territory, since The Arts are all over the map, to be sure.

16 June 2014


With Scene 1 done (bar the proofing, and trivial adjustments), and the evening wide open for work on the Overture, I'm going to enjoy this beautiful weather with a pre-Overture walk.

Today, I looked over my newly-rediscovered notes &c. for White Nights, dating (most recently) from June 2008. The only material I am "missing" now, is the Rossiniana, which is readily recoverable.

Back to the Overture

Now that I am proofing Scene 1 of White Nights, I've taken out the old score of the Overture.  How efficiently can I have a new ed. of the Overture ready?  We are about to find out . . . .

I've found my folder of "pre-composition" notes, so there is some nostalgia in my near future.

15 June 2014

Scene 1 now in proof

A piece which was actually written perhaps 10 years ago . . . the first scene of actual dancing in the ballet, the corps de ballet as people milling through the streets of St Petersburg at the time of the White Nights. The quietude and "loss of dance rhythm" towards the end of the scene reflects the main character, The Dreamer, as he finds the people emptying out of the city to go to their dachas in the country.

14 June 2014

So close!

Close to wrapping up the "new edition" of Night the First, Scene 1 . . . have finished 33pp. of the original 42.  I've made the occasional alteration, very few, really:  a couple of odd bits of scoring which needed improving, and the improvement was effortless;  a couple of places where there was unnecessary voice-crossing between Violin I and II, not that I object to voice-crossing, but in this case the first draught made for unnecessarily annoying wide intervals, and redistributing the pitch for a few measures was an easy fix.  And the original had an extra change from A clarinet to Bb, which proved unnecessary, the affected passages lying equally well under the fingers without complicating the players' evening with yet another change.

I shall sleep on it, but there is one passage which has me wondering . . . is it okay to drop back on the melodic focus for one passage, or is it (as it stands) "dull," does it need . . . something?

That one possible cavil aside, the whole Scene is a piece of music of which I find myself mighty proud . . . I could not tell you exactly when I first composed it, probably 12 or more years ago.

13 June 2014

Working the White Nights

More good work done on Scene 1 this week. Hope to wrap it up this weekend ... if I can get to even p. 1 of the Overture on Sunday, I shall count it a triumph.

12 June 2014

Although you may elect to pass....

I dreamt that Elvis wished to make a musical instrument of his knee; and that his manager managed something with brass, a valve, pads and keys. And that all teenage America were enchanted anew by The King, and his keyed knee's tone.

11 June 2014

Rather long, rather slow, and rather quiet

Mind you, I am not after The Historical Thoreau, The Man Thoreau, or What Was Thoreau Really Like? There is a place for that, I am sure; but I am largely content with the Thoreau of General Consumption. All this, simply so that you, Gentle Reader, will not expect me to be getting down to the brass tacks. The brass tacks wait there for another.

The Thoreau who wearied of society, so he settled at Walden Pond, and tarried at the pace of the woods. The Thoreau who was content to be remanded to jail, rather than allow his Loyal Opposition to be crushed beneath the Irresistible Wave of imperialism. This is whom I had in mind when writing my piece: music which is economical of materials, and feels no want for more; music which does not take time, but inhabits it.

In fact, the goal is the same which I had when I set to composing the Studies in Impermanence, a 20-minute piece for unaccompanied clarinet; but for the Studies, I did not remain firm to that purpose. The piece which I wrote (the Studies) is one I stand behind completely; only, as I say, I shifted from that initial impulse, to a musical mission which was more in line with music as I generally compose it: its degree of activity, its several sharply contrasting sections, remove it from the original Mission. Although the musical desire was there, as a composer I suppose I was not fully prepared to pursue that desire, at that time.

If at first you do not succeed, try, try again.

The renewed attempt found me, more than (I might say that) I resumed the quest deliberately. I had a concert to program, and where I thought I had a performer for a 15-minute piece, what had at first been an acceptance morphed into a refusal. That's all right. If this is how he operates, I would not perform in that man's company. But notice of the change came to me at too late a date, that I should be able to find another performer, other performers. I had to act quickly, and I had to supply 25 minutes of music.

It is official: Plan B is required for King's Chapel. (29 Jan 2013)

I am seriously thinking of a new clarinet unaccompanied piece, and there is ample time to get the chops back in fighting trim. (2 Feb 2013)

My thoughts turned to the Studies in Impermanence, and to the notion of a fresh attempt upon the goal from which the Studies wound up diverging.

More work, while riding this morning's train, on Thoreau in Concord Jail. Part of the discipline in this piece, is to resist the tendency to be too lavish with ideas . . . instead, to find ways to "reduce, re-use, recycle" a contained repertory of ideas. (6 Feb 2013)

At the beginning of March, I interrupted Thoreau in order to write Misapprehension, the clarinet choir piece.

Sunday, 10 March: I announced that Thoreau was done.

Monday, 11 March: Practicing at last, I played Thoreau through twice.

Tuesday, 12 March: Performance.

In hindsight, though I certainly did not lack for nerve in playing the piece under those circumstances, no wonder I was a bit nervous about the duration and pace of the piece, as I played it in public having only run it through twice, and the ink still wet on the page, as it were. Nor did I even have a good bead on just how rushed a job I had made of it, thinking that I had played it at about 23 minutes' worth, where the fact was about 19 minutes.

To recap quickly: When I first tried to write the piece, another piece (the Studies in Impermanence) came out, instead. Then, when I do manage to write the piece, I don't manage to perform it in harmony with its goals, with (in fact) its nature. Still, the audience was receptive.

Once I had reviewed that première recording, I knew immediately that I wanted to attempt the piece again, to perform it "properly." But not for a little while, certainly.

So, after the concerts of The 9th Ear this past Jan/Feb, I booked a date with the Nave Music Series in Somerville. At first, this was going to be a k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble concert, and whatever else was going to be on the program, my first thought was Thoreau. Thoreau was always the life of this party. I did not, as I see now, specifically remember the astonishing rush with which I took the piece to its inaugural audience; but I certainly knew that what I wanted to do was, play it every day for about a week (I mean, for two weeks would not have been a bad idea, but the week before had been occupied with preparation of the Christmas music), and to establish a habit of feeling the piece at its proper pace.

From my perspective as The Guy Playing (as well as The Composer), I felt that the 6 June performance was purt near an unqualified success: I had stamina enough, and again, I did not need to draw things to a halt in order to swab out the bore or anything; and if at 24 minutes, it was still arguably on the "fast" side, the performance was much more nearly in line with the conception.

Two things that were different: at King's Chapel, I played at lunchtime, for an audience many of whom were seeking a sonic oasis away from the office; last week, I was playing on a Friday evening, when most of us in the space had already had something of a full day. At King's Chapel, Thoreau was the entire program; where this month, it was the first piece after intermission, and the start of what proved a second half exceeding the first half in duration. And the audience were seated on quite unforgiving wooden benches. So for those who with some degree of tact told me that the piece might have been a little too long, I apologize (belatedly) for any discomfort, I certainly see where this viewpoint originates, and I can agree in hindsight that conditions were not as audience-friendly as the composer might have wished. Still, with Thoreauvian firmness, I must quietly insist that I believe the piece not longer than it need or should be.

And someday, there will be audience to agree with me.

10 June 2014

More Audio

The début of the quartet version of Le tombeau de W.A.G. (All right, whom are we kidding?  The piece's début in any form.)

And a fresh (and the best yet, I think) take of How to Tell (Chasing the Tail of Nothing).

08 June 2014

Thoreau II

New and improved . . . .

The day of rest

Today probably marks the first time I shall ever have heard the Doors sung as part of a worship service.

Last night's concert was better still (with one peculiar caveat). Higher energy, tighter ensemble (in the trio, particularly). No surprise, since I had spent yesterday relaxedly dawdling with my mum, mom-in-law & aunt at Plum Island, where before Friday's concert I had put in a day's work at the office. (Note to self: Do always take the day of a concert off, the music will thank you.)

The one caveat relates to Thoreau. It was brought to my attention that our audience in Danvers (which would be, in large part, our parishioners) would be inspired to mutiny if I played Thoreau in all its 25-minute glory. It was only good sense, and the advisory was meant in a thoroughly brotherly spirit. (Part of the problem, which was a matter of my not reminding Charles of Thoreau's duration when he prepared the program, was that the second half of the program was significantly longer than the first.)

Since on Friday, I had accomplished what I wished with the Op.109 (I wanted to play it in public, as it ought to be, and probably have a good document of the event), I suffered no need to insist . . . and I gave assurance that I was perfectly content to present an abridgement, with an eye to keeping the peace. I asked Charles what he would suggest, and he replied 5-6 minutes. "I defy you," I said; "I'm playing 7!"

Back when I first played Thoreau at King's Chapel, I bought a small, cheap clock so that I could mind the time. (Honestly, it was part of that undercurrent nervousness which resulted in my rushing the piece so awfully, then; the condition which it was my goal to defeat on this occasion.) So, since the proposal was to reduce the music a great, great deal, I thought that my process ought to be dispassionately Cageian. I decided that I should play for 3'30, and then I should turn the page, my eye lighting on some suitable "landing place," play for a further 2"30, and then turn to the last page.

07 June 2014

And the second is a wrap

An even better concert, with yet more energy.  Not surprising, I suppose, since today I just spent a relaxing day dawdling on Plum Island with family, where yesterday I put in an eight-hour day at work before the show.  But I am satisfied with the twain.

More tomorrow.

06 June 2014


The concert at the Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church went very well tonight.  Nancy Rexford's songs are beautifully written, and charming in tone.  Charles Turner's pieces, are smartly written and effective.  I was entirely pleased with all my pieces.  (Thoughts, though, on Thoreau tomorrow.)

05 June 2014

On the day off

Listened to several Haydn symphonies today;  had our last choir rehearsal of the season tonight.  Ready for tomorrow!

04 June 2014


Good practice today.  The chops rest tomorrow, and then showtime Friday & Saturday.

03 June 2014

Rehearsals, one & two

Excellent rehearsal of the trio and quartets . . . and then, on coming home, I played through Thoreau.  Still a steady 25 minutes!  And the embouchure has not wilted.  The day is a great success.

Flashcard Program Notes

I see people walking around like trees

My wife listened to this piece, and asked me what its title was. I found that the title which I had in mind, did not in fact suit the piece as I had composed it; so I asked for her suggestion. "Something mysterious," was her reply. A friend in Columbus, Ohio supplied a nicely mysterious title.

Le tombeau de W.A.G.

William A. Goodwin was the organist, music director, electrical engineer, & guy-who-just-got-everything-done at the First Congregational Church in Woburn, Mass. I worked with Bill for a number of years as assistant choir director, composer-in-residence, and occasional guest clarinetist. Bill was a great friend, and I wrote this piece to honor his memory.

Thoreau in Concord Jail

Refusing to pay his poll taxes because of his opposition to the Mexican-American War and to slavery, Thoreau spent a night in Concord Jail. As Thoreau played the flute (I know not how well), I felt that the perfect scoring for a piece reflecting on his experience that night, would be a single unaccompanied wind instrument.

How to Tell (Chasing the Tail of Nothing)

The phrase how to tell I borrowed by lopping off half of the title of a book. My music, however, has nothing to do with the book (though it is a frightfully amusing book). I originally asked Dan if he would play bongos for a piece I was planning to write; he suggested the frame drum instead, and I've never even looked at a bongo since.

02 June 2014

More practice

The Turner Tala Pieces feel pretty good;  they're not quite where I want them, but . . . it's only Monday, and I have days of practice yet.

And I am managing to play Thoreau at the perfect pace . . . tonight, again, the piece ran almost exactly 25 minutes.  I can only think that playing it each day will reinforce the right-ness.

What wants doing

All right: the Christmas music sprint done, I must needs now pay better attention to the clarinet, as we've a brace of 9th Ear concerts coming this weekend. For one thing, I had to learn Charles Turner's Tala Pieces, four artfully shaped one-pagers, each with a distinct (and winning) character, and (true to the title) each is governed by its own rhythmic pattern(s). These were quite easy to learn, and the writing is perfectly idiomatic, and lies well under the fingers; thus, I've pretty much learnt them over two days' rehearsal.

The elephant in the clarinet studio has been, Thoreau in Concord Jail. The piece is not technically difficult (that was one of the points of the piece, back when I wrote it . . . it was a last-ish-minute Plan B for a King's Chapel date). The challenge remains the fact that it's a 25-minute piece. The two Action Points for me this week are: I still remember that I rushed the piece, that initial performance at King's Chapel (a trim 19-minute outing – the Ozawa Version). So Mission № 1 is, learn the piece, in the sense that I need to learn its proper pace (as the guy playing it, I mean) . . . I need to internalize the pace, so that in performance, with the anticipated adrenalin and "feeling" the audience, I can stay centered in the piece's own tempo. True to the work's title, I must march to the beat of my own drummer.

(And I am keen to bounce it off the two fresh audiences. The piece could break either way: the listener could lose patience with the piece – "Nothing is happening! He's mad, mad, I tell you!" – or, enter into the spirit and flow of the event, as it is essentially a sort of "environment piece.")

Mission № 2 is, simply, stamina. When I played the piece at King's Chapel, it was the entire program, and I had nothing else I needed to play. Here, I shall already have played I see people walking about like trees, Charles's Tala Pieces, and Le tombeau de W.A.G. in the first half; Thoreau opens the second half (so, a decent break at intermission); and then a break, and the concert closes with How to Tell, which is itself a long, challenging play. So, these coming three evenings, I need just to play until my chops cannot take any more. Thursday evening is choir rehearsal, so largely a break (though I told Charles I would play his Tala Pieces for him, which will be light enough duty, that Thursday will still feel like a day's rest for the clarinet).

01 June 2014

Practice log

Had good runs-through of all four of Charles's Tala Pieces.  I thought I was recording them, but idiotically plugged the mic into the headphone socket.  Will do it proper tomorrow.

Also played through Thoreau, and without rushing (much);  probably played it in 24 minutes.  A couple rehearsals more, and I may have it internalized well enough to resist the urge to press quicker in the concerts.

Before this week's service . . .

. . . a taste of last week's.  My choir's second go at my arrangement of My Lord, What a Morning: