25 December 2014

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 13

Day 13: “The Deathless Horsie” (Live in Munich)

Bonus track: “Thirteen” (from You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol, VI)

Listening to the Christmas tree

Do your best work, do the work you want to do, and damn the critics.

Write what you want to hear, not what you think others might want to hear.  It's impossible to discern what anyone else wants to hear, anyway.

Waiting and not knowing is not oppression, it is opportunity.  Everyone has ample occasion betimes to wait;  but not everyone waits well.  Waiting is not a passive state, but I have not known many who understood how to act aright into the Waiting.

24 December 2014

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 12

Day 12: “Eat That Question” (from The Grand Wazoo)

Dr Feelgood

Finish composing a piece at (say) eight o'clock one evening, and perform it for an audience at nine o'clock the next. I hope I may be forgiven for feeling that, in some ways, I lead a charmed life.

23 December 2014

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 11

Day 11: “Help, I’m a Rock” (from Freak Out!)

Op.126 № 3

The time was this morning, and the place was the MBTA bus . . . and the Basque Carol variations for clarinet unaccompanied, Op.126 № 3, are now done. Or 97.5% done, anyway.

The pitches for the arpeggiated chords of Variation IV. are essentially drawn from the tune plus a transposition of its inversion. I used different transpositions of the inversion for each successive phrase. I did not trouble to keep the tune and transposition registrally distinct through the sequentiation of the chords; my priority instead was arranging the (apparent) four voices which played out as I deployed the accumulating pitches.

The Theme returns, cast in a different register, with disruptive silences and the occasional additive eighth-note flourish.

A modest piece, to be sure, but (I think) suitable.

22 December 2014

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 10

Day 10, “The Gumbo Variations” (from Hot Rats)

Caroling away

In working away at the Op.126 № 3 on this morning's bus ride, I decided to "re-insert" a variation which I had been thinking of originally. So the rough scheme through to the end is:
Var. II — wandering through divers pitch-centers
Var. III — "skeletized" theme plus rapid two-note pick-ups
Var. IV — arpeggiations
Theme — varied return

21 December 2014

The 13 Days of Zappaness 9 (Birthday Edition): Day 9

Day 9: “Watermelon in Easter Hay” (from Joe’s Garage)

The “full title” behind this tasty little number (one of his dad’s “signature tracks,” per Dweezil) is:  Trying to play a guitar solo with this band is like growing a watermelon in Easter hay.  A suggestion of the virtually impossible, if you will.

Happy birthday, Mr Zappa . . . .

Rush job

The key is, that the motivation is internal rather than ext. The inspiration was, singing this as a guest in the choir for the Lessons & Carols at St Adelaide's. I feel certain I've sung this carol before, but I don't recall when ... and if my memory is not befuddled, it's a long time since I sang it.

Devising the first variation has given me a clear sense of variations II. & III.  Tomorrow morning, I may start with the concluding altered return of the theme.

20 December 2014

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 8

Day 8, “The Eric Dolphy Memorial Barbecue” (from The Best Band You Never Heard in Your Life)

19 December 2014

From the archive

Five years ago today, The Snow Lay on the Ground was in the air, too.

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Days 6 & 7

Days 6 & 7, FZ’s miniature homage to Stravinsky’s rockin’ chamber music: “Igor’s Boogie,” Phases I & II (from Burnt Weenie Sandwich)

18 December 2014

Not idle, no, not I

Day before yesterday, I resumed work on The Mysterious Fruit; a little work each day, and it may be done by year's-end.

Settled on the music for Christmas Eve, including an unaccompanied clarinet piece which I need to write (but that is what the weekend is for).

Should get some of the audio from the Christmas concert up on-line, while the season is still imminent (or, as some maintain, already in swing).

17 December 2014

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 5

Day 5, “Manx Needs Women” (from Zappa in New York)

16 December 2014

Corrigendum approaching

In glancing over the PDF of the Agnus Dei, I find that I mistyped the text in one measure of the soprano line. I am inclined to correct it, although the Lamb of God doth also take away Mindy's sins, verily.

Divers thoughts and all

Just the Odd Echo of an Idea Probably Expressed Better by Someone Else Dept.

In an environment where even the ensembles dedicated to New Music(tm) consider no living composer's work worth their attention unless it conforms to the trend(s) they promote, or unless it is Socially Relevant(tm), the composer who goes back to First Things, and the idea that the artist's highest mission is to bring more Beauty of exquisite craft into the world, this composer is the real radical.

Beautiful music, by God, does not ever mean tedious music. Let's be clear there.

You Never Know Dept.

Attended a very interesting, and (I say with some personal caution) potentially fructiferous meeting. As much as I dislike meetings (though I see the need for [some of] them), this one was much better than most. Met an assortment of smart and affable fellow musicians. The idea is to organize a choral group, consisting of composer-conductor-singers, dedicated to work by living composers, which will in fact sing nothing older than written 25 years ago (as of the moving present) . . . not that there is anything wrong with the old music, there are just hundreds of groups to serve the already-established lit.

We shall see.

And one of my new colleagues has already permitted me to send a copy of the Op.123, A Song of Remembrance.

Can't Say I Didn't Try Dept.

Earlier this month I re-visited El Niño, and it was ultimately a worthwhile endeavor. My opinion, my ears, but the piece still fits my "Adams model" of [some genuinely excellent work] mitigated by both [stretches of BAU (business as usual)] and [But does it seal the deal as an Overall Composition?]

So, what was good about the process was, that the long stretches, entire numbers, which (basically) soon grow uninteresting to me (and never quite recover), I endured, and found the odd number in the whole which is Adams at his best (it happens too seldom, but it does happen). A fellow composer really likes this piece, and now I could have a reasonably informed conversation with him about it.

I may not come back to this for another two or three years; and there is still the question Were even the best bits worth the tooth-pulling? Not sure that there was actual redemption. But I did discover some excellent music hidden away amid all the dross (YMMV).

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 4

Day 4, “Twenty Small Cigars” (from Chunga’s Revenge)

15 December 2014

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 3

Day 3, “Moggio”

The day after

My choir sang a Christmas concert yesterday, and I am unalloyedly proud of them, they did so bravely and well.  It was an ambitious program for them, but their hearts remained strong, and they stayed with me.  Certainly there was the occasional mistake, but overall they carried the program;  and we had a large and thoroughly appreciative audience.

Put thus succinctly, it’s going to give the impression that the concert was The Karl Henning Show, but in fact I was complimented by many for the balance and mix of the program . . . the Henningmusick on the concert was:

Le tombeau de W.A.G., Op.122 (original version for low brass trio, and a première)
The Allegro grazioso closing section of the Sinfonietta, Op.38 (brass quintet)
In the shadow of the kindly Star, Op.126 № 2 (violin solo and handbells, première)
Musette, Op.118 № 7 (handbells)
Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song, Op.67 (choir, brass quintet & organ, première of the piece in its entirety)
The Snow Lay on the Ground, Op.68b (children’s choir, mixed choir, handbells, violin solo & organ, première of this version)

Anne Bennett (also an alto in my choir) is the director of the children’s choir, and they did smashingly.  In fact, they stole the show (earlier in the program than my Op.68b, they had a set of three numbers they sang on their own).  Rachel Wimmer stood out for her lovely violin playing. The handbells were of course a hit, as well.  And the brass (although there was the odd clam or missed note – they’ve had a lot of music to blow this weekend) did splendidly;  and they all warmly complimented the composer.

Even with the imperfections of execution, I am elated to have brought the Op.67 to an audience (and to so large an audience!) at last.

The church in Wayland is also doing The Snow Lay on the Ground, though I do not know just when.

I haven't checked the audio, but I had a go at recording the entire concert.

Followers of The Henningmusick Chronicles know both, that my Micro Track recorder runs only about half an hour on a fully charged battery, and that the outlets at HTUMC are not grounded, so that it's worthless trying to use the Micro Track plugged into those outlets.

Although this possibility was not in my mind when I initially ordered the Jackery® portable charger (I was simply thinking about maintaining the charge for the cell phone), I had the happy thought (or, I hope the result affirms the happiness of the thought) that I might try running the Micro Track, with the power cord plugged into the J.® p. ch.

In all events, Charles also recorded the entire concert.  So with luck, we shall have two documents of the concert.

14 December 2014

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 2

Day 2, “What’s New in Baltimore?” (from Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention)

13 December 2014

Thanksgiving still

[...] Whoever you are, now I place my hand upon you, that you be my poem;I whisper with my lips close to your ear,I have loved many women and men, but I love none better than you.
O I have been dilatory and dumb;I should have made my way straight to you long ago;I should have blabb’d nothing but you,I should have chanted nothing but you.
I will leave all, and come and make the hymns of you;None have understood you, but I understand you;None have done justice to you—you have not done justice to yourself;None but have found you imperfect—I only find no imperfection in you [....]

There’s a Whitman poem I am keen to set for soprano and clarinet.

I celebrate my gratitude that I have the privilege to be a choir director; that I have the direction of a choir who are game to put together such a concert as we shall together present tomorrow;  celebrate the fact that, thanks to my changed circumstances resulting from this appointment, I can spend today preparing for the concert, doing a little grocery shopping, and taking two nice walks around the pond.

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 1

Day 1, “Planet X” (from Uncle Meat)

Welcome guest

What a pleasure to be a "ringer" (an extra voice, I mean . . . now that there are handbells in my musical life, I must be clear) at St Adelaide's Advent Service of Lessons & Carols (in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe) last night. Michael Olbash is the music director & organist, and it's really a very nice program, particularly for a Catholic parish. I was selected to be one tenor in a select octet to sing the de Victoria Ave Maria, a piece I love (though I think this is the very first I ever sang the tenor line). We also did an English translation of Wachet auf. It was a very nice assortment of music, and all of even the new-ish music was respectable.  An entirely lovely occasion.

Today my musical tasks are, to send a last pre-concert e-mail message to my choir and handbell ringers [done];  and spend just a little time studying Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song [partly done] — mostly re-memorizing the changing meters, but also deciding where to drop from a quick two into one-beat-per-bar, so that everyone in the ensemble knows that's what I am doing, and therefore to mend one transition which was the one dodgy thing from Thursday's run-throughs which was purely my own fault.

And there will be a grocery run!

12 December 2014

Trending Towards Showtime

Excellent choir rehearsal last night with the brass; there are still some rough edges to file off, but with application, focus, and a bit of luck, we should do quite well. And after dismissing the choir, I led the quintet through the Allegro grazioso closing section of the Sinfonietta (that ancient work, Op.38). Very gratifying that the brass players have responded so favorably to the pieces.

This morning, the inspiration visited me to try to interest the players of the lower instruments in trying out Le tombeau de W.A.G. as a prelude to the Allegro grazioso. And through the conjoined miracles of PDF files and e-mail, we've all pow-wowed, and the matter is settled. We shall rehearse/read the piece as a trio just ahead of the 2:30 dress rehearsal for Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song on Sunday.

And I think I may have chanced upon a workaround for the problem of needing a power source for my portable recording device (for durations > 23 mins).

How wonderful to make music. End of blog post.

11 December 2014

Arrangements & preparations

Two action items which arose recently (and which I have executed with dispatch) were: a C melody saxophone transposition of the Op.127 N° 1, and making over the marimba in just what everyone was expecting into a sort of piano part. I have a soprano for whom I am keen to write an achingly moving setting of a Whitman text;  but her sound artistic sense is, that the occasion which was the original springboard, probably will not actually be suitable for such a piece. So this potential Whitman project waits yet in the wings, and this composer awaits some other text (it may be) for this occasion.

Tuesday's torrential rain not only soaked many of my garments, but spoiled my working score for Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song. So I must mark up a fresh copy for tonight's rehearsal.

08 December 2014

Catching up a bit

Good rehearsal yesterday of The Snow Lay on the Ground (our children's choir are doing splendidly, and of Lord of the Dance, and of the violin-&-handbells piece, In the shadow of the kindly Star. More work to be done.

Iain Quinn sends word acknowledging the Organ Sonata, and a partial performance may be arranged.

Kenton Kravig sent a message speaking warmly of I Want Jesus to Walk With Me.

06 December 2014

Be safe out there

This week's Creepy Power of the Internet Story.


Tuesday, 2 Dec: Karl shares pic of grumpy Orthodox cat

Thursday, 4 Dec:  One of Karl's choristers comes to rehearsal . . . We bought 30 copies of this for our choir!


Whitman's poetry I find both beautiful and a little frightening. I read, & I think he has already lived my life. I wonder, am I really living my own life, or do I but dream that I live my life?

Here goes

Excellent, hard-working rehearsal this Thursday past.  Now to review my own scores and make note (mental of highlighted) of where it will be good (or even necessary) to give cues.

This morning I arranged Out for a Walk for cuatro and guitar (no, not a difficult task, by any means).

And I need to finish marshaling all the info for the program for the concert.

04 December 2014

... don't touch that dial

The other day, I listened in some discomfort as the Pachelbel Canon started playing on WCRB.

But I did not change the station, for fear of lighting on another which would be playing that awful, awful Christmas music.

The devil you know, is better than the devil you don't . . . .

03 December 2014

More miniaturization

Some of my composing, I do while my head is lying on the pillow, and I make a kind of game of refraining from switching on the lamp and scrawling notes, instead trying to create a sufficiently firm mental impression of the material, so as to recall it the next morning.

In just this way, the night before last (-- I know, ancient history in blog terms --) I discovered the idea for a duet for two of my nieces, who play the flute and saxophone, respectively. Yesterday morning, on the bus ride in to Boston (-- the faithful Reader of this blog will perceive a pattern --) I drew up the beginning of the duet, the first of a set of pieces on something of the Tiny Wild Avocado model. And yesterday evening, I wrapped it up.  I called this number simply "Out for a Walk," but Masha hears in it a Christmas song, which is perfectly fair.  The set will be Notebook for Elaina and Anna.