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.

30 November 2014

The voyage home

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

Thanksgiving round-up

Some progress with The Mysterious Fruit;  refreshed contact in Atlanta;  and today, a start on a short student vc/pf piece, Early Summer Song.

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

The biggest rehearsal known to November

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.

Perhaps an everyday thought

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

Only the truth

Leslie Banks's Russian in 1932's The Most Dangerous Game is appallingly poor. Fay Wray looks good, though. I don't recall any such feminine distraction in the source story.

To be sure, it is high time I re-read the story ....

On Fruit, and an unnecessary alarm

Light work as yet this morning, bringing sketches for The Mysterious Fruit into the Sibelius file, and adding touch of marimba here and there. More work on this later. After a grocery run.

From the Ministry of Movies I Haven't Seen in Decades, last night I watched the 1945 And Then There Were None. Very amused that I recognized in the actor who plays the Russian "professional guest," Mischa Auer, the same man who played a similar "professional guest" in My Man Godfrey of almost ten years earlier. Just a curious bit of type casting.

When I play Thoreau in Concord Jail, I make an extra effort to keep myself honest in terms of the passing of time. Pictured below is the inexpensive time keeper which I have been using, and which therefore traveled to Atlanta with me recently.  I find it useful both as a visual reminder not to be in a hurry, and also to ensure that I do not draw the time out overlong. On my way traveling back to Boston, the alarm feature on this clock somehow managed to switch on, as I learnt the first Monday morning after my return, when its beep beep started sounding ten minutes before my proper alarm would have waked me.  (That was not a bad time for me to have awakened, so the good news is that the alarm didn't go off at something like three in the morning.)  I could not figure out either how I had switched the alarm on, nor how to switch it off;  but I did somehow manage to reset the time that the alarm goes off, so that it sounds later in the morning, when it would not be a great inconvenience. Thus today the alarm sounded off at noon, the first I had heard it since last Monday;  and as I am at ease today, I had time to fiddle with the "soft buttons" so that by dumb luck, I did hit upon the combination to switch the alarm off. I know, I know: life's tiny, tiny successes.

21 November 2014

Just the odd thought, really

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.

Home Stretch Approaching

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

Down time, lawn mowers, & baby powder

Steve Hackett and friends playing selections from the ancient Genesis songbook. Smashing show.

18 November 2014

... did The Stroll

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

Scheming the Avocado

First of all, although this was the fifth Avocado, it is not (or, it is no longer) the last.  Per Masha's suggestion, there will be seven Tiny Wild Avocadoes.

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 . . . .

Here and there

My old bios do not seem appropriate for today's modern life style.

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

Back in the saddle

Put together "in house" editions (mostly for clarity of reading) of He Is Born (translation of the traditional French carol, Il est né le divin enfant) and the Wassail Song for my choir's Christmas concert.  Delighted that my choir members have assented to a Tuesday rehearsal so that we do not lose a rehearsal the week of Thanksgiving.  Now to break up the MIDI of Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song into "cues" so that we can use it for rehearsal this Thursday.

15 November 2014

Plotting afresh

Just chopped out the violin/piano version of Plotting (y is the new x) for Dr Dana Polson (and perhaps I might interest some Atlantans in this version, as well).

Okay, now it's time to pack for travel . . . .

14 November 2014


Note to self:  Sort out More Than When.

Day 7

Work for the week pretty much done.  I Shot an Arrow Into the Air Dept.:  I've sent the four Avocadoes, Jazz for Nostalgic Squirrels, and The Mystic Trumpeter to three several fellow musicians.  We Shall See.  Had a lovely first-ever visit with fellow composer Charles Knox.  Played Scrabble for the first time in I don't even know how many years.  Had a lovely relaxed dinner and chat with an old schoolmate.  Had an unalloyedly great week.

Still, ready to shimmy back to Boston.

Ready to work on the fifth Avocado while I am in flight tomorrow.

Mysterious[ly Tardy] Trumpeter

Per this post (among others), the lyrical coloratura Evelyn Griffin sang my Mystic Trumpeter exquisitely, way back in October. My equally highly esteemed colleague Peter H. Bloom also did wonderfully, playing piccolo for the brief instrumental epilogue, Après-mystère;   and that day (7 Oct 2014) was a landmark, in having the two pieces performed together (as the composer intended) for the first time.

(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

Day 6

Quite frankly, a day of rest. Had lunch with Susan Clearman and Mark Gresham. Susan was in Boston when we first met, and she joined us as organist for part of the year when I served as Interim Choir Director at the Cathedral Church of St Paul in Boston. My publisher, Mark is a fellow composer, and one of the pieces performed at Eyedrum last night was his Vagabond Drumming, Book IV for two percussionists. You know it's a good lunch when you see that it's three o'clock, and you wonder how it got so late.

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.

Day 5b

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

Day 5a

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

Day 4

The concert was a great success.  The Reinhardt University Percussion Ensemble played excellently and musically, and the entire program was fine music. I am pleased with how both My Island Home and Mirage went. Presently rolling down I-575 returning to Atlanta.

Program notes

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.

Day 3c (morning edition)

Cracking rehearsal yesterday evening of just what everyone was expecting with Olivia, and of Mirage with both Olivia and Scott (not pictured).  All will be in smashing readiness.

10 November 2014

Day 3b

As I review the posts on the blog, apart from the almost-three-measure incipit which dates from earlier (by perhaps a week?  I mean, I am the only person who might know, and I'm not particularly sure) this turned out to be essentially a three-day Avocado.  Could I begin another tomorrow, and have it finished before I travel back home to Boston?  Watch This Space.

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?

Day 3a

Practiced on my own, making gains on both just what everyone was expecting and those Irreplaceable Doodles.

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 . . . .

Day 2b (reporting late)

Excellent rehearsal yesterday evening with Olivia Kieffer and Scott Wesley Hawley, both of whom I met for the very first time.  Both of them fine and hard-working colleagues, and a pleasure to collaborate with.  First we three worked on "the new Mirage," and it was discovered that (in recreating the score in Sibelius) I had failed to give Olivia the rehearsal letters (Scott and I both read from score and clarinet part, respectively, from the original Finale edition).  The discovery went on the lines of:

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 OliviaScott 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

Day 2a

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

Day 1

Practiced about 50 minutes.  Found cork grease (50 cents).  Drew up some program notes for just what everyone was expecting. Composed perhaps a third of the next Tiny Wild Avocado.


Slept a good ten hours last night, and needed it. Well rested, arose early enough to pack calmly and (I think) fairly efficiently. Excited to bring my clarinets to Atlanta again. I've my 3-ring binder, could even sketch the next Avocado while in the air.

07 November 2014

Check list

Flying tomorrow.

On my way to the office now.

Feeling a bit like the evening will be consumed in packing.

But in fact, I should still be able to shoehorn some practicing in.

I know this for true, and will do it.

06 November 2014

The wielding of the markers

Now I've finished marking the eight handbell parts for In the shadow of the kindly Star. It felt easy, the time felt fairly short; but I've honestly no idea if the task has genuinely gotten any easier, or if I just made a dozen mistakes which I was too careless to catch.

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

Well, now

... 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

Further thoughts

It's a concert! Not a service!

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.

As the Op.125 shapes up

That was then . . . but now I think the series of Tiny Wild Avocadoes will be something like:
  1. "Children's Song" 
  2. "Autumn Leaves (Wind Effect)" 
  3. "The Gnomes (Paul's Garden)" 
  4. "At the Pond" 
  5. "Squirrels at Play"
EDIT (10 Nov 14) :: Turned out that the Squirrels cavorted into the no. 3 slot.  Probably means the Gnomes will finish the set.

03 November 2014

Duit on mon Dei

In sorting out the handbell assignments for In the shadow of the kindly Star, I discovered two systems where I could drop a staff (and thus reduce the potential for confusion among my doughty ringers).  It means printing out afresh, and marking tomorrow evening.

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

Anticipatory Thanksgiving

As I spent some time practicing on both the A and B-flat clarinets this evening, I felt a wave of gratitude for these beautiful instruments;  and on this All Souls' Day, I send up a prayer of thanks to my grandfather Josh, who bought both of them for me.  These clarinets have served me so excellently well, for practically all of my musical life;  they are a miraculous gift.

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:

[227] The Friendly Beasts
[228] He Is Born
[232] When Christmas Morn Is Dawning
[250] Once in Royal David's City

Anthem of the week prior

Slow to get this available (and my ringers and choristers have been eager for the recording);  only because it was a busy week.  We are planning to reprise this as part of the 14 December Christmas concert.

01 November 2014

At last! The next Avocado.

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 is really no good reason why I've been so long about the completion of In the shadow of the kindly Star for violin solo and handbells . . . but, I like the way it has shaped up.

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.

31 October 2014

Blast from All Hallowses Past

Before I embarked upon a dubious (but decisive) solo career, we had been The Crypt-Kicker Six:

And flies all green and buzzin' from Hallowe'en of 1981:


The Family Addams

Watched the two Hallowe'en episodes from The Addams Family:  "Hallowe'en with The Addams Family" (broadcast 30 Oct 1964) and "Hallowe'en Addams Style" (broadcast 29 Oct 1965).  Call it efficiency rather than reinventing the wheel, I suppose, but the latter episode begins by simply cutting in the same opening from the former, with Gomez working on Uncle Fester's likeness.  The script and acting duties for the latter episode were further lightened by duplicate use (in the same show!) of Gomez and Fester bobbing for apples on a seesaw (admittedly, an inspired bit of stage action).

30 October 2014

Derned if I recall

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


Took a nap.  Modified the marimba notation in just what everyone was expecting.  Back to sleep.


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

Springing Thoreau

My most scandalous work (to date, anyway) may have a future.

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

The most trivial blog post this month, and that is a promise

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

Above the flood

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.