31 October 2014
30 October 2014
Once (not terribly long ago) I had a conversation with someone, and there was potential opportunity for a euphonium-&-piano piece, for a crack player on the brasswind.
Not that I am at liberty to address such a piece right at present but . . . I do wish I recalled who it was . . . .
29 October 2014
Many and various tasks want doing ... a sense of being a little out-of-breath, partly because a new exigency in the form of an ad hoc task flies in at the transom then I am quite ready for it. The violin-&-handbell piece still wants finishing, I need a version of O Holy Night with clarinet, I need to get the urgent tasks off my desk so that I can return to The Mysterious Fruit.
Good (and timely, necessary) communal work organizing the 12 Nov concert. And, with an eye on the calendar, since Olivia has asked for a slightly modified part, that readily becomes the first priority.
28 October 2014
27 October 2014
Yesterday morning, our choir's anthem (Lord of the Dance as arranged by John Ferguson, plus handbells arranged by myself) was quite a good hit. I have yet to check the audio. Should be a good addition to the 14 December Christmas concert.
The Choir of First Parish in Wayland sang Love is the Spirit as part of the Installation service for their new Minister late yesterday afternoon. I was touched by the fact that so many of the choristers made a point of thanking me for the piece; and their director, Pauline, tells me that they will sing the piece as part of a regular service sometime. I've also sent Pauline the Kremser & Wie lieblich est tp/org pieces, as well as the same arrangement of The Snow Lay on the Ground which we are presently preparing at Holy Trinity.
One side benefit from singing along from the Lux Nova imprint: I've found a couple of typos, not in the music proper, but in the text at the head of the first page. Nothing so coarse as any misspelling (which of course we should have caught before ever going to press), just a couple of errant characters, which one would need to look at that part of the page closely even to note.
The pedal obbligato I had written for the hymntune Slane, I cannot seem to scare up anywhere. I feel the inevitable pang of regret at the work "lost"; but, honestly, I think I should probably do just as well taking part of this evening and just writing it afresh . . . the result will not be lesser than whatever I had written earlier.
Very encouraged by a fellow composer's thoroughly positive reaction to Thoreau in Concord Jail.
25 October 2014
If you needed to summarize Wagner in two words, you could hardly aspire to do better than “mostly loud.”When I put the DVD of The Last Samurai in the player’s tray, the disc would not play. I tried repeatedly to clean the disc’s playing surface (which, actually, was pristine), but NBG.
I am posting this in gratitude because I’ve never had this experience before, and I am grateful it happened with a movie in which I was not particularly invested.
24 October 2014
Choir worked hard at last night's rehearsal. There is a fair deal of work for each rehearsal, as we gear up for the 14 December concert (and, of course, keep atop of the week-to-week service requirements). Sometimes I feel that the gains are not more than incremental, but I think that all the same there is fundamental progress being made.
Insofar as I have free listening time, this week I have been spending more time with the Shostakovich Op.87, as played by Muza Rubackyté, Aleksandr Melnikov, and Konstantin Shcherbakov.
This weekend is time for my inaugural listen to Vaughan Williams's setting of J.M. Synge's Riders to the Sea, a short opera I have been itching to hear for decades.
Busy weekend, too, all in good ways.
22 October 2014
21 October 2014
20 October 2014
I am not sure that I had ever actually watched any of The Twilight Zone; but I had absorbed the awed respect for the show which generally surrounded me. The only Night Gallery story I had seen when growing up was “The Caterpillar,” which made a powerful impression; nevertheless (again, probably by absorption), I had somehow ‘acquired’ the opinion that, as a series, Night Gallery is but a weak shadow of The Twilight Zone.
Having at last seen all of the original Twilight Zone (and much of it twice now), I do not find any of the praise of the series too lavish. Perhaps I was a ‘soft touch’ here, but even the comparatively weaker episodes do not inspire any derision from me. I also read Scott Zicree’s splendidly informative book (in which he shows, probably becomingly, a journalistic impartiality, and he calls some episodes poor with a readiness which may strike some as oddly harsh, for a fellow whose overall tone is greatly laudatory . . . but I suppose that shields him from the charge of hagiography). In a late chapter of that book, he briefly chronicles Serling’s life after Twilight Zone, and while the brace of paragraphs on Night Gallery might require a dose of salt, the fact of Serling’s dissatisfaction with not commanding artistic control of the series, and his eventual disenchantment with the project tended to color my view as I approached Night Gallery.
However, I was keen to revisit “The Caterpillar,” at the least.
Probably I started out with the 2-DVD set of Season Three which is available at the BPL. Probably I watched “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes” first, which I liked very well right off, partly because the cast included John Astin (I suppose); I was curious about a story which had both Vincent Price and Bill Bixby in the case, “The Return of the Sorcerer” – probably not genuinely bad, but I had the feeling of a B-movie vignette; and, curious to see Leonard Nimoy in this context, I watched “She’ll Be Company for You,” a story to which I do not think I was fair, that first time of watching.
Then (because I should need to return the DVD to the Library), I targeted the four stories of Season Three with scripts by Serling. Two are based on stories by other authors: “Something in the Woodwork” (which I think very good, indeed), and “You Can Come Up Now, Mrs Millikan” (which I thought one of a piece with some relatively clumsy attempts at humor). Two seem to be purely original scripts: “Rare Objects,” which is good (could have served as a Twilight Zone episode, in the character of the story, I mean); and “Finnegan’s Flight” . . . which I wanted to like better than I did, as it rejoined Burgess Meredith and Serling, but there was something a little sour about the development of the plot. (Probably, I should give it a fresh viewing). And with that bit of cherry-picking done, I returned Season Three only partly watched, indeed only a minority.
Season Two, I began with revisiting “The Caterpillar,” which I think I have praised earlier. Then, I set myself to watching the entirety of Season Two in order. While the odd Jack Laird miniature is trite enough, a kind of “slapstick Gothic,” that it tends to lower the tone, most of what I saw was very well done, and some of it as good as (or even better than) the top tier of The Twilight Zone. (In Jack Laird’s defense – as a writer, I mean, for clearly he was important to the series as its producer – “I’ll Never Leave You – Ever” rises above the level of his typical “blackout” sketches.)
So, I went back to view the rest of Season Three, and (to be sure) I found that in my haste, I had missed out on some of the best stories of that season (“The Other Way Out,” “The Ring With the Red Velvet Ropes,” “Death on a Barge,” “Whisper,” e.g.)
And here I’ve started in on Season One – or, properly speaking, I have now watched the three stories from the pilot, all of them (of course, since he was the one pitching the show) Serling scripts: “The Cemetery,” with a scoundrelly Roddy McDowall; “Eyes,” featuring one of the last appearances by Joan Crawford (and Tom Bosley in an interestingly ‘against-type’ role: and “Escape Route,” the latest in a number of Serling “revenge fantasies” against surviving Nazis. (I mean, obviously there ought to be, to have been, justice done to them; but I don’t feel comfortable being implicated in a wish to make them suffer cruelly, as retribution. Is it artistically satisfying? I find myself wondering if this third story is as good as the first two.)
19 October 2014
18 October 2014
His larger point, that Night Gallery has in some circles suffered short shrift, in unfair comparison to The Twilight Zone, is reasonable. He goes a bit far, I think, in his derision of the lesser episodes of Twilight Zone.
I don't think he can have it both ways. That is, I don't think he can selectively disregard Serling's expressed negativity about the later Night Gallery, and yet take Serling at his word when belittling some of the Twilight Zone episodes.
Well, finding the right balance is so often the challenge, isn't it.
17 October 2014
Perhaps a quiet matter, but ... "The Red Velvet Ropes" is up there among the strongest Night Gallery stories.
Already a little revisionist, I am thinking better of the third season of the Night Gallery than the conventional wisdom. But this story, particularly, is straight out of The Twilight Zone. May be the peak, or nigh thereunto. And all the same, all credit to the esteemed Mr Serling.
Yesterday was a tiring day; nonetheless, I owed it to my choir to be fresh, energetic, and non-cranky at the evening’s rehearsal. Rehearsal went very well.
1. We read through to the end of The Snow Lay on the Ground (with a good deal of spot-practicing). All went well.
2. With only a few missteps in the initial read-through which we needed to correct with consequent rehearsal, the choir did just fine with I Want Jesus to Walk With Me (the “Ur-text version”). This was really the crucial success of the rehearsal – since the choir never read these pages (as these pages) before last night, and I was proposing that we sing the number this Sunday coming. We sang the spiritual in just this manner (though simply reading from the hymnal) last year. So the whole endeavor was, arguably, low-risk; but I am grateful that everything went as smoothly as it did.
3. The other piece which we had never read before was the John Ferguson arrangement of Lord of the Dance, which was the next-highest priority, since I was proposing that we perform this the following Sunday (26 October) with the handbells. This went even smoother than I had hoped (and I had indeed hoped that it would go without any hitch). Near the end of the arrangement there is a high A-flat whole-note for the sopranos which simply does not suit my singers, so we re-voiced that choral chord a bit – no need for any discomfort among my choristers! Another signal success of the evening.
4. Those confidence-builders set the stage, as it were, for further work on (review of the first great chunk of the Vom Himmel hoch section of) Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song, in the sanctuary and with the organ. Very good work done, just have to keep building on it.
Now that the matter of the Cradle Song has been settled, I have had exchange with the brass chappie to confirm. I think there is nothing for it, but that I shall be a little out of pocket on that, but I feel confident that the entire experience will be a good musical experience for the choir and the church.
15 October 2014
14 October 2014
And I have now both finished my proper arrangement of I Want Jesus to Walk With Me (which may wind up being sung at King's Chapel), and the minimalist reduced arrangement for my own choir's ease this very week.
Resolved: That there is no reason I should not keep things as simple as possible for my choir this week, by keeping the arrangement of I Want Jesus to Walk With Me to a literal transcription of the hymn as it appears in the hymnal. Of course, for my to-be-published arrangement, I want all the added nuance which I have composed into my Op.126 N° 2, and there are choirs who will sing it thus. But for our present purposes, simplicity is the key.
13 October 2014
Item 1. A simple strophic arrangement of a spiritual, serving as one number in a certain edition of the Methodist hymnal.
Item 2. To make this "hymn" serve for an anthem of a Sunday, we set certain conditions, so that the three verses are musically distinct.
Item 3. We make the happy discovery that one of our sopranos has a voice character, and the musical experience, that makes it an artistically easy decision to designate the first verse as a soprano solo.
Item 4. I make a mental note to do up a proper score, so that this ad hoc arrangement may be of musical service hereafter.
All this is, we may say, ancient history. Now, addressing myself to the actual task I realize that the arrangement as it appears in the hymnal is perforce under copyright. Thus I arrived anew at my already customary conundrum: the artistic impulse is to put one's own stamp upon the material, to "shake things up" a bit, as it were. Yet, if I do too much shaking, so that I deviate from the text, I make more work for my willing, but (in the matter of some musical resources) limited, choir.
The force of this artistic tension is felt in this: that we are in the position of requiring an anthem for this coming Sunday, which we shall only begin to read this Thursday (i.e., but three days before we go public with it); yet we need to devote much of the time of Thursday's rehearsal to other music. The idealist in me wants to say, I should spend no more than 30 minutes of this rehearsal on Sunday's anthem; but the hardbitten realist nose well that he must count on this matter consuming 40 minutes of the rehearsal time.
The realist in me is by no means always a pessimist. I understand, too, that's there is no need to have the piece perfect when we pack up rehearsal on Thursday. As long as the piece has a sufficiently firm musical foundation, then having got the choir's attention, and the Fear Factor, work to our advantage come Sunday morning. And, in fact, this whole process will probably aid my efforts in calming the choir's fears regarding Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song.
Item 5. The Sibelius file of the final arrangement is nearly complete tonight. A little further work tomorrow evening, and not only is the piece done, but I think it is the sort of score which might prove to have legs.
11 October 2014
10 October 2014
This morning, I finished marking the last of the six handbell parts for Lord of the Dance. Also, I made some progress on the violin and handbell piece, In the shadow of the kindly Star. Realistically, that is probably about as much work as I had expected to be able to lay in on this trip; my role having been primarily as amanuensis to two artists with their easels, and plenty of beautiful autumnal views to choose from.
09 October 2014
07 October 2014
06 October 2014
05 October 2014
Still, in the case of some things, it were imprudent to carry on as if the good thing would never end.
The reed I play on — my concert-performance reed — I have played on for . . . let me say simply an improbably long time. I am sure that, in part, this is because playing the clarinet is long become one of my relatively part-time endeavors. Still, the fact remains that if I told a fellow clarinetist just how long I have been using this reed (a reed which still sounds mighty good), that colleague would stare at me, possibly as if I had three heads.
I have long understood that I need to get more playable reeds into the Understudy Pen. The conundrum has been, there was one source in the US (and that, an exclusive source) for the reeds I have used since studying clarinet with Nancy Garlick at The College of Wooster in the '80s: Morré German cut . . . and to the best of my sketchy knowledge (yea, even in these days of The Information Super-Highway) that place of business no longer conducts business. (I expect a well-earned retirement is the simple explanation.)
Earlier this year (I believe . . . but I cannot be held to that; time rolls on, and not infrequently, an event is in a past more remote than my present recollection suggests) there was an ad in my Facebook feed for a new brand of reed . . . and so. D'Addario have sent me a sampling of reeds.
My process (as may be seen from this blog post) is of necessity gradual, and quite personal; but I have spent probably half a dozen practice sessions over the past half a year playing on a D'Addario reed. I am not yet in a position to make a full enthusiastic endorsement, but the performance so far (again, to clarify, I have as yet only practiced at home on the reed) has been very encouraging.
This present recital on Tuesday, I shall (Lord willing, and the creek don't rise) play on my grizzled veteran Morré; but my intention is to give the D'Addario a shot soon. perhaps on the concert(s) down Atlanta way in November.
The Opinion Pages | LETTERS‘Klinghoffer’: An Opera and a Protest
SEPT. 22, 2014To the Editor:Re “The Met Opera Stands Firm” (editorial, Sept. 20):
In joining protesters of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s production of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” I echo the silenced voice of our son, Daniel Pearl, and the silenced voices of other victims of terror who were murdered, maimed or left heartbroken by the new menace of our generation, a savagery that the Met has decided to elevate to a normative, two-sided status worthy of artistic expression.
We are told that the composer tried to understand the hijackers, their motivations and their grievances.
I submit that there has never been a crime in human history lacking grievance and motivation. The 9/11 lunatics had profound motivations, and the murderers of our son, Daniel Pearl, had very compelling “grievances.”
In the last few weeks we have seen with our own eyes that Hamas and the Islamic State have grievances, too. There is nothing more enticing to a would-be terrorist than the prospect of broadcasting his “grievances” in Lincoln Center, the icon of American culture.
Yet civilized society has learned to protect itself by codifying right from wrong, separating the holy from the profane, distinguishing that which deserves the sound of orchestras from that which commands our unconditional revulsion. The Met has trashed this distinction and thus betrayed its contract with society.
I submit that choreographing a “nuanced” operatic drama around criminal pathology is not an artistic prerogative, but a blatant betrayal of public trust. We do not stage “nuanced” operas for rapists and child molesters, and we do not compose symphonies for penetrating the minds of ISIS executioners.
Some coins do not have two sides. And what was done to Leon Klinghoffer has no other side.
What we are seeing in New York is not an artistic expression that challenges the limits of morality but a moral deformity that challenges the limits of the art.
This opera is not about the mentality of deranged terrorists, but about the judgment of our arts directors. The Metropolitan Opera has squandered humanity’s greatest treasure: our moral compass, our sense of right and wrong, and, most sadly, our reverence for music as a noble expression of the human spirit.
We might someday be able to forgive the Met for decriminalizing brutality, but we will never forgive it for poisoning our music, for turning our best violins and our iconic concert halls into megaphones for excusing evil.
JUDEA PEARLPresident, Daniel Pearl FoundationLos Angeles, Sept. 21, 2014
A version of this letter was read at the protest at the Met on Monday.
To the Editor:
You say the Metropolitan Opera’s presentation of “The Death of Klinghoffer” is “moving and nuanced” and an assertion of “artistic freedom.” The Met’s right to present this opera is not in question, but its wisdom in doing so should be.
Even the title is misleading. Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly, wheelchair-bound American, did not simply die. In 1985, he was murdered, as a Jew, by Palestinian terrorists while on a cruise ship. Moreover, the composer, John Adams, was blunt in revealing his own outlook when he complained in his autobiography, “Hallelujah Junction,” that “Israeli behavior on the world stage is off-limits to criticism.” But Israel was not even directly linked to the actual story as it unfolded.
Moreover, in a world rife with gruesome terrorism — from Al Qaeda to the Islamic State, from Hamas to Boko Haram — what exactly is it about the outlook of anti-American, anti-Western and anti-Semitic murderers that evokes artistic notions worthy of one of the world’s most prestigious stages?
In this spirit, should we expect Mr. Adams to prepare sequels for the Met, including “The Deaths of James Foley and Steven Sotloff” (not, alas, “The Beheadings”)? The possibilities for giving “voice to all sides” is endless, if, that is, one is prepared to abandon any semblance of decency.
DAVID HARRISExecutive DirectorAmerican Jewish CommitteeNew York, Sept. 20, 2014
04 October 2014
Practiced my three pages of The Mystic Trumpeter. (My part is longer than three pages: it is just that there are three pages which require me to practice.) There is a measure here, a measure there, which I either manage to play right while Evelyn and I have rehearsed, or which I have faked through briefly without losing time, and recovered completely; but they have not, as a rule, been consistently right. Of course, out of respect for the singer's assiduous practicing, and for the piece's sake, I should do better, and will. Some more practice tomorrow and Monday, and I shall have it solid for Tuesday.
Also played through just what everyone was expecting. This is every bit as much fun to play as I had reckoned on. A few bits which I do need to practice, but this initial run-through went easier than I (erm) expected.
Why just two musicians? If I had thought in terms of accompaniment for the voice, I might have written for a grander ensemble — Gustav Holst, for instance, accompanies the voice with a full orchestra, and Whitman's poem is symphonic, and sustains The Grand Gesture. But in composing the music, I did not think of the clarinet as an accompanist; but rather, I thought of the singer addressing the clarinet as the Trumpeter.
Why clarinet? I know that the answer cannot simply be, Because that is what I play. There is an arguably obscure terminological connection. The name clarinet comes from clarino, which was the Italian word for trumpet from the Middle Ages down into the 18th c. (when the clarinet was invented/developed), reflecting the bright, penetrating character of the clarinet's tone in the middle (and upper) registers. Even as Whitman's poem is addressed to an otherworldly musician, I felt that the appropriate instrument for this music, was a not-quite-trumpet.
Well, and why not a trumpet? Because the clarinet is more capable than a trumpet of "vibrating capricious tunes."
03 October 2014
In prior rehearsals, I must confess that I have not been either as diligent or as reliable in the matter of setting correct tempi as I ought, in a number of sections of The Mystic Trumpeter. (I am, after all, the composer.) In our rehearsals, we have at times stopped and reset the tempo with a metronome. This was to be our last rehearsal before Tuesday's concert, and I wanted to make some additional effort to be faithful to my own score.
While riding the train to Roslindale, I listened to the mp3 of the Sibelius file. It is perhaps a somewhat odd way to study a score; certainly an odd way to review one's own piece; but it did the job. This evening proved an excellent final rehearsal.
The task of arranging The Snow Lay on the Ground for my choir and handbells, and our children's choir at Holy Trinity, and violin, has been a most delightful project. It was not ready quite in time for our choir rehearsal last night; but I have now printed out copies. Last night's rehearsal was only our second chance to work with Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song, and there are some ways in which we approached it with more boldness last week. In principle, I am morally prepared, if the choir feel that the piece is withal too ambitious, to set it aside. However, I do honestly think that the piece is within our abilities; and we have (if anything) more time to prepare the piece than did the choir who sang the première.
Very excited about the condition which The Mystic Trumpeter is in, as we approach the concert time this coming Tuesday. Peter and I will rehearse Après-mystère on Monday ... And thus the concert will prove to be our finest effort yet.
I need to write the piece which I promised, for handbell choir and violin; once that work is done, I can resume The Mysterious Fruit. I had a very nice introductory conversation with Sylvie, the marimbist for the latter.
And now that my B-flat clarinet is in proper working order again, I can begin practicing just what everyone was expecting. Frankly, I wrote the piece for another clarinetist, not necessarily caring if it was quite a piece which I should play. That said, I am excited to approach the piece and I am not at all intimidated by it. I don't know: perhaps, if I were a little more sensible, I ought to be intimidated by it. But since Olivia is game to do the piece with me, I am on the contrary determined to conquer it.