To be sure, it must come with the time of year; traffic snarls, clogged roads, and the havoc these perforce wreak on the bus schedules, form the background of my Sunday. The passenger next to me has ear buds in, but at that volume, her hearing must be at risk. My best option is probably to listen to my own variety of music (at a safe level).
29 November 2014
My elective listening this holiday trip has included Dowland lute music, Louis Couperin and Buxtehude harpsichord solo, Queyras playing the Eb solo cello suite, Prokofiev's first string quartet played by both the Emerson and the Pavel Haas Quartets, and Jn McLaughlin Williams playing the Korngold vn cto.
26 November 2014
Winter Storm Cato and day-before-Thanksgiving traffic. Fair enough, one keeps cool, and is grateful that the delay is not more serious.
Crawling (the bus, I mean) down the length of Manhattan to Penn Station. Another bus-like vehicle, essentially a moving advertisement for a big-name designer, blocks the grid.
Bad PR. Ask me if I'm ever buying anything bearing that designer's name.
25 November 2014
My choir have consented, not only to a Tuesday rehearsal this week, but to adding half an hour's rehearsal time from now to the concert. There will perforce be a few absentees tonight, and we shall need to pace ourselves; nevertheless we should be able to spend good time not only with the "major" pieces (and with Sunday's anthem, which poses no challenges) but with a few of the lesser with-congregation numbers (which, after all, we should lead the congregation in singing. Looking forward to a good time and productive rehearsal.
If ever I am on a beach, and I should see before me a brass lamp, and if by chance I polish that lamp a bit, and should there appear (to my wondering eyes) a most improbable and accommodating genii, and if contrary to all reason and expectation he grants me but a single wish . . . most days, the feeling runs high that I should wish that all who use English may at last understand the difference between "everyday" and "every day."
Yesterday, indeed, I very nearly tweeted (upon reading the slate in front of a café), "Almost I should give this place my custom, simply for correctly inserting a space in every day."
22 November 2014
21 November 2014
Finished watching the Tim Burton Planet of the Apes a second time. I do rather enjoy it. Curiously, I did not notice that I did not know the name of Mark Wahlberg's character, until I watched the end credits scroll along, this second viewing. Nice that the credits mention Rod Serling as a contributor to the old 1968 script.
This week saw some progress on The Mysterious Fruit; relaxing this evening, and recharging, the better to make good progress tomorrow.
Much more than I had expected, I've been enjoying the '80s incarnation of The Twilight Zone.
Excellently productive choir rehearsal last night. The Concert Order is in its third draught, and it was time to share it 'round; and for the most part, no panic ensued. We also found, in the Timetable which I had prepared (apparently, a shade hastily) an omission and erratum ... the omission being Christmas Eve (!!!), the time of which service remains t/b/a. The erratum was the date of the Concert (the dangers of copy-&-paste). Still, all was sorted out, or as much as it was necessary at this point to sort out.
We began (after warm-ups) with the Wassail Song. Now, I tried in earnest to rustle up a free download of The Typical Harmonization, and repeatedly came up empty-handed, so I fell back on The Oxford Book of Carols. (For ease of my choir's reading, I prepped an edition with just the four verses we shall sing.) One slightly tricky wrinkle in the tenor, but I can sing along with them.
Next we rehearsed Calypso Christmas, with our young electric bassist. A page here and there is on the high side for my sopranos, but when warmed up they should do fine.
We then reviewed Lord of the Dance. We hadn't looked at it since the Sunday we sang it with the handbells; so, a shade rough, but not at all in bad shape.
There then followed a sort of "sing-along" rehearsal of Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song, as I had brought a CD with a MIDI sound file of the brass (and choir), the better for everyone to hear all that's going on, earlier than our rehearsals with the brass. We listened (and more or less sang) once; then talked a bit ... I assured the choir that we shall be taking the Vivo section less briskly, though of course we could not adjust the tempo of last night's CD. Naturally there were a few places where we slid out of sync with the playback, but everyone went more or less with the flow. We did the same a second time, and a bit better; and I think everyone found it a productive communal exercise.
We then had just sufficient time to go over Sunday's anthem a bit, and we shall be able to polish that well come Sunday.
Next week, since the holiday erases our Thursday rehearsal, my choir have graciously agreed to rehearse on Tuesday evening.
In the spirit of the Concert Order not yet being etched in stone, one item of Tuesday's business will be to make a decision concerning 'Round the Glory Manger. I'm fine one way or the other: whether we decide that we only need a little refining rehearsal to get the piece into shape, and we keep it; or we decide that the effort is a bit more than our schedule will allow, and we drop it. There is music enough in the program, that dropping the piece will not by any means make the concert too short.
19 November 2014
18 November 2014
Rather than wait 20 minutes, standing out in the cold, I walked up and down a sheltered walkway (cool enough, in its own right) to get the blood circulating, keep warm (-ish), and get some more of the day's step count in.
For part of the course of this modest exercise, I overheard part of a conversation (nothing of any delicate nature). There was a fellow Bostonian, and a friend returning to Boston from Montana. The returnee expressed regret that "the Garden" was no longer the Garden. The welcomer offered reassurance: for a while it was "the [name of former corporate sponsor] Center," but now it is "the [name of present corporate sponsor] Boston Garden."
The returnee was mollified. For myself, mercy upon me for reflecting that, the name notwithstanding, there cannot have been anything remotely garden-like about this venue for many decades.
17 November 2014
The first through the third of the set I composed in my sort-of-improvisational mode. For the fourth, I drew up the "chord progression," as it were, and then gradually discovered how I wished the three players to unfold it.
For the fifth, I decided to go back to a compositional game I have frequently played, of rhythmic processes.
Let's go to Illustration #1:
You note, Gentle Reader, that the top row of figures consists of four subsets. The numbers represent quarter-note values (i.e., 1 = a quarter-note; 2 = a half-note; 3 = a dotted-half-note), and so the series of numbers represent a series of rhythmic values. The first and third subsets (marked A) are the same. The second subset (B) is actually the same as A, less the concluding element (1); and the final subset (B1) is the same as B, less its concluding element (3). So my first idea for the piece was that this repeating series of rhythmic values would govern the two violins, who would play at the octave, one pizzicato, the other sustained tremolo.
The pitches for the violins I improvised; the pitches, too, are in a (non-atonal) series of 25, which repeat out of phase with the rhythms. These pitches you can see (and deployed in the rhythms charted above) in Illustration #2 (that part of the page marked AREA 2):
(AREA 1 is irrelevant to our present discussion, being a sketch for the third Avocado.)
The lower line of figures in Illustration #1 is also a series of rhythmic values, intended for the viola, which I derived from the violins' rhythmic series as follows. First: Where in the first series, there were two consecutive 2's, I struck the second (hence the X's — or at least the first four of the X's — beneath the top row of figures). Second: The 1's from the violins' series were retained without change. Third: To all the other values (save the final 2 of B1, marked with that deviational X) I added 1.
Then I devised a series of pitches for the viola, independent from that which I composed/improvised for the violins. It was different both in being shorter, nine notes (and non-repeating, and atonal-ish), and perfect fourth-ey.
AREA 3 of Illustration #2 I drew up on the flight from Atlanta back to Boston. Well, AREA 2, as well, only I had gotten AREA 2 right, where I found that I had gotten realization of the viola part (i.e., the game of applying the rhythmic value series to the pitch series) wrong. And though I discovered that I had gone wrong, and made an attempt to fix it ... I found it something of a visual mess. So I inscribed it RE-DO (as you may see), and realized that I could simplify the matter with a sheet of graph paper. (This graph paper was in my three-ring binder from the time that I was working out the rhythmic profile of the Thelonious Monk tune "Evidence.")
The result is the apparently not musical, but refreshingly clear and reliable, Illustration #3:
So, there we have it: pretty much all of the "stuff" of the fifth Avocado, a piece which (I think) I still managed to make musical, and not just . . . a chart. But, perhaps I am mistaken . . . .
It's a soggy morning, rolling in to Boston on the bus. But, as it's my first workday after a wonderful week away from the office, why should it not rain? I shall have the shelter of my cubicle. And I am perforce reminded of how fortunately clement the weather was all the while I was in Atlanta.
It will be a good day.
16 November 2014
15 November 2014
Still, ready to shimmy back to Boston.
Ready to work on the fifth Avocado while I am in flight tomorrow.
(Due to mechanical insufficiency, the recorder unfortunately ran out in the middle of Après-mystère. Thus, the audio of the "video" below is a "virtual performance" combining the 7.x.14 performance of the Op.113 № 1 with the 8.x.13 performance of the Op.113 № 2.)
13 November 2014
One compositional result: I told them the story behind Le tombeau de W.A.G. (Don't quit your day job), and Mark wants a version for two tenor and one bass trombone. Done.
I've also done up a Deck for the Halls for my choir (sure, there must have been an easy way). And I do think I have the idea for the fifth (and . . . final?) Tiny Wild Avocado.
It was not quite what I expected, but a good time was had by all. Not to brag, but it is not every clarinetist whose playing can conjure a mighty literary spirit, and we all heard the footsteps of the shade of Thoreau in the upper room. There was some other ambient noise betimes, which most obligingly fit within my piece's pitch world, so that at times my audience thought, How did he do that?
Overall, a right groovy show.
12 November 2014
Although the sketch I have used as a source I wrote a bit earlier, this latest Avocado I essentially knocked off in the space of perhaps an hour. To recap, the Rule for these short pieces has been: to spread over (I nearly wrote cover) two pages, so that all three players read from score. And this latest piece runs perhaps 40 seconds; so I'm not making any plea for exceptional artistry. We might well argue that so brief a stretch of music, for only three players, ought not to occupy a composer for a long time. And now I wonder if I had not been too eager, to send it abroad when I have not allowed the music time to "cure" in my inner ear.
One thing I am pleased with is, that originally I thought this number would be "slow" (and thus, actually, an atypically long Avocado). And I discovered this morning that, in fact, I wanted the underlying metrical pulse to be fast (and quite possibly the fastest in the set), and express the slowness of the music's conception in a broad harmonic rhythm.
Again: no great musical innovation, and nothing I have not done in some way or another in other pieces. But a happy "rediscovery" for application in a new context.
11 November 2014
Mirage is an atmospheric study, which I originally composed as a companion piece in a recital on which Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat was also programmed; so there is a veiled quotation from this classic in my own score. In various indirect ways, though, the whole piece points to L’histoire, or to Stravinsky. At roughly the mid-point, the clarinet sounds a sort of close-of-day bugle call. After a brief introduction, the piano quietly reveals a series of moody chords, which both reflect a firm independence from traditional harmony (a lesson I learnt in many ways from the Russian master), and also to my mind point in a rarefied way to Debussy's La cathédrale engloutie, e.g. (and of course Stravinsky began by learning from, and in certain ways surpassing, French Impressionism).
On 21 December 2013 I finished composing My Island Home; I began sketching a piece of that title (for three or four percussionists and piano) perhaps as early as 1999, or rather, I began a sketch one day, knew I should come back to it, but probably did no further work on that particular material ever again. I liked the title, I suppose, and just started an entirely new piece, for 10-player percussion ensemble (and no piano), and specifically for the Ensemble here at Reinhardt University, who did such a beautiful job with another piece of mine, Journey to the Dayspring. My musical "upbringing" was in symphonic band, so I was never far from percussion. It was my experience at the University of Virginia, though, sitting in on Professor Scott DeVeaux's African drumming seminar, which proved especially illuminating to me. Every now and again, I write a new percussion ensemble piece, because . . . I have to.
10 November 2014
One delightful surprise has been a Colorado conductor reaching out for a sound file of I Sang to the Sky and Day Broke. His messages came while I was yet in Massachusetts, but my publisher and I got the file ready since I've come to Atlanta. You never know.
You Never Know II: a church music director in Connecticut permitted me to send him In the shadow of the kindly Star. Could it happen?
Finished Tiny Wild Avocado № 3, "Scampering Squirrels" today. And reached out to a violinist I only met yesterday, although she has heard a bit about me.
Now for a bit of a walk . . . .
Karl: What if we pick it up afresh at the pick-up to D?
Olivia: What are you talking about? What is D?
Scott: (patiently scritches behind the cat's ear while Karl sorts his error out)
Given that Scott was playing a MIDI (upright) piano — which was convenient, as he was able easily to wheel it around so that we could improve sight-lines among us three — and the vibraphone at Olivia's would have been perfectly at home in Hooterville, if Oliver Wendell Douglas had had a bandmaster for a neighbor ("I could have found a better vibraphone at a rummage sale") conditions were not ideal for the overall piece; but Tuesday's performance will be lovely, both because Olivia & Scott are so attuned to the music, and because the instruments and space will be impeccable and lovely.
Olivia and I then repaired to another part of the house to hunker down with just what everyone was expecting. This is one of my high-energy, interlocking parts, not much relent, really, pieces; and (as stated earlier) this was the first occasion she and I have had to play together. So we took it passage by passage, a bit under tempo, and that is how one conquers in the big way. After a substantial, excellent session, we reached the point where we can pretty much play two-thirds of the piece, straight from the beginning, at our rehearsal tempo.
We resume work at eleven of this morning's clock, and I expect leaps and bounds (and, perhaps, pastoral dances).
09 November 2014
Some "light" practicing, perhaps half an hour's worth, the "usual suspect" passages in both Irreplaceable Doodles and just what everyone was expecting. Comedy of cork grease errors, as the stick sold to me yesterday for 50 cents turned out to have been completely spent. Olivia saved me by running back into a guitar shop and buying a fresh stick.
Close to finished with Tiny Wild Avocado N° 3. Nominally, I've reached the final double-bar, but that's not the end. I think what will work is, swapping that cadence for a passage presently in the "interior." Either that will, simply, work; or the process of trying it out will illumine a proper ending.
Waiting for an Atlanta Chamber Players concert to begin. Met the young composer Adam Schoenberg, nice chap.
08 November 2014
07 November 2014
06 November 2014
This is the week I head off to Atlanta, so I shall miss my choir both this Sunday morning and the rehearsal a week from tonight.
So, material I have ready to bring with me to rehearsal tonight:
1. O Holy Night in C, to determine if this transposition suits our Brenda
2. The marked parts, and score, for In the shadow of the kindly Star, wherewith to populate the ringers' folders
3. The first of the carols for the congregation to sing along
4. The round with which I have lately decided to finish out the evening
5. The second draught of The Whole Concert
6. Oh, and a simplified electric bass part for our young Annie
Looked at like this, I have had the busy week, with this in addition to preparing the clarinet for next week's journey, and dealing with an automotive/insurance issue.
I may just sleep on the plane down to Georgia . . . .
05 November 2014
... I get up in the morning, but it's too early to wake.It's not the first time, and I already view the matter as purely artistic, and no question of "theological compromise" ... one of my tasks today was to devise a substitute text for a reference to the Holy Trinity. I think it suits, but I await word.
Looked at the score of Stravinsky's Movements for piano and orchestra, for the first in a looong time. Love the music, and typographically those "cut-out" scores of Igor Fyodorovich's are lovely to read. Cannot help thinking that all those beams that elegantly connect divers instruments, to assist the reader of the score (I suppose) in making rhythmic flow connections, just don't translate as one prepares parts for the players to read from. When you're an established Stravinsky, the executants make it work. When you're still trying to get someone's ear, you've made things unnecessarily difficult.
04 November 2014
So let's add "Deck the Halls" and the Wassail Song! (Seems obvious now, doesn't it?)
So my "old" metronome app (which always worked fine on my Droid) somehow would not make a sound on my new Samsung, I tried downloading some other metronome apps. None of them would sound, either.
This week, got the brilliant idea that, even though it is deactivated as my phone, I can continue to use my Droid as a metronome.
Good practice session this evening; played every note which I am planning to play on the Wednesday, 12 Nov concert, and still had chops. Great place to be, more than a week before the show. Need to woodshed the odd passage, but there is time.
- "Children's Song"
- "Autumn Leaves (Wind Effect)"
- "The Gnomes (Paul's Garden)"
- "At the Pond"
- "Squirrels at Play"
03 November 2014
Tired, but I got my practicing in, all the same.
Close to settling on the complete program for the Christmas concert, I think.
And the Avocadoes (the two so far ready) have met with approval.
02 November 2014
All of the pieces of the Christmas Concert puzzle are starting to fit together. About the last decision is, which carols to have the congregation sing along with us on that afternoon?
So far I am thinking:
 The Friendly Beasts
 He Is Born
 When Christmas Morn Is Dawning
 Once in Royal David's City
01 November 2014
Having at last finished In the shadow of the kindly Star, and further, having taken some refreshing tea, I drew up Tiny Wild Avocado #2 (trio for two violins and viola) in fairly short order. Its subtitle is Autumn Leaves (Wind Effect). I don't believe there will be time to see to a third this week; except that I could see myself composing it aboard my flight to Atlanta this coming Saturday.
This reopens the question, Do I want to bring my gear (that gear) with me? And perhaps I do, at that.
This afternoon, I had a very productive (and, moreover, very nice) meeting and chat with Sylvie, the marimbist for whom (with Carola) I am setting Leo Schulte's The Mysterious Fruit. One thing we did was, read through the opening two pages (with me trying to sing) ... of course, when I sang, I was rather concentrating on singing, and could not mark properly how manageable the marimba writing felt for Sylvie. So I begged her to play those pages through without my voice. Fine, just fine. And her demo of a few other pieces was very helpful, illuming, even; and she gave me a copy of a most enlightening three-page document, a sort of introduction to a marimbist's world. It is perfectly fair to say that I shall be writing a somewhat different, and a better, piece now that I have benefited from Sylvie's marimba seminar.
There was something a bit wrong-headed about my first essay (which it was relatively easy to repair). Still, the essential character of the piece as I began sketching it on that roadside in the Kaatskills remains intact.