31 August 2015

Suggestions for Post Title gladly entertained

Farewell, final weekend of Summer 2015. Made a little progress on the Op.129. Learnt that an Oregon performance of Out in the Sun is slated for this autumn.

It must be only a passing whatever-the-right-word-may-be, but my recent experience has been, motivational misalignment. I want to have finished the Op.129 yesterday;  yet my music generator is humming with material for two other pieces. Must find a way to harness and re-channel the vibe.

Other uncertainties shimmer in the air. Some of which, I should happily trade in for even tentative assurance.

On ye other hand, there is no end to the practice of waiting.

30 August 2015

Gardening (they're all flowers, if you tend them right)

As for a while I had meant to, this morning I reached out to the dedicatee of ... illa existimans quia hortulanus esset ...., Op.121, to ask if there is any musical quarrel, any objection which I may seek to make right.  There might be:  you never know.

Thought I had done this already, but I do not find any email in my Sent folder to confirm so . . . so I've also written to Rodney Dorsey to ask if a piece for 17 winds and harp may be of interest.

Wondering this morning, too, if Misapprehension may work for a choir of flutes.  Or . . . double-reeds?  Oh, madness that way lies . . . .

28 August 2015

Interesting Timing Dept.

Today, for First-Listen Fridays!, my listening included two pieces by Hovhaness: Requiem and Resurrection, Op.224, for brass choir & percussion (1968) and Symphony № 19, « Vishnu » Op.217 (1966).

From the composer’s notes to the CD:
The idea for Requiem and Resurrection arose in 1967 after the first terribly cut performance of Symphony No. 19 “Vishnu.” I was deeply disappointed because I felt it was one of my best works. . . .
The first performance [of “Vishnu”] was conducted by Andre Kostelanitz with the New York Philharmonic in 1967.
Connecting the dots, then . . . Vishnu had been commissioned by the NY Phil and Kostelanitz, so perhaps the assumption of editorial rights was a function of feeling that they “owned” the composer on this occasion.

Personally, I find this story encouraging, both because there has been an occasion or two when my work was cut, in spite of my conviction of the value of the lost material; partly because yesterday (per my earlier post) was a story of discovering new music from the ashes of a disappointment.

In all events, both pieces are top-tier Hovhaness, the Requiem and Resurrection in particular.

Plan B: The Op.112 Ramifications

No one who has looked over the score of my Misapprehension for clarinet choir in 15 parts, Gentle Reader, will wonder at my wishing that we might hear an actual performance. At the time of the above-linked post, I was thinking of mandolin orchestra as an alternative scoring; but on cooler reflection, the search for a mandolin orchestra which could manage 15 wilfully independent parts would prove (if anything) yet more quixotic than the original scoring. This week, the thought of a more suitable Plan B, an alternative scoring which many would likely have thought more obvious, lit upon me. More on that afterwards.

The non-performance of the Op.112 made me wonder if I had not misapprehended the mission. So I reached out to my esteemed colleague, Dr Timothy Phillips yesterday.

Hi, Tim! I am guessing that my Misapprehension is not the good fit for your clarinet choir that I had hoped. It is my own fault, pretty much writing the piece which I wanted to write. If I were to make a second attempt, how should I do things  differently in a new piece?
Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Even before I heard back from Tim, ideas formed for a new piece (for the moment: piece x). I saw (or “heard”) directly the tone, texture, and overall arc of the piece.

With an amiable forthrightness entirely in keeping with his commendable character, Tim returned to me with a most admirable promptitude;  and he laid bare that that very September saw a sharp rise in the number of clarinet students, and thus an increase in his own studio time.  One way in which the schedule perforce gave is, the clarinet choir now might enjoy perhaps three rehearsals to prepare for a concert — and Misapprehension is certainly a piece which will want more than [its portion of] three rehearsals.

We then had an exchange on how a new and better-suited piece ought to sound, in whose course I had to confess to a probable lack of any talent for writing music which might set an Alabama dad’s foot a-tapping.  (And, incidentally, rendering piece x a non-starter for our purposes.  But not at all any loss, as shall be seen hereafter.)

That modest (and, so far as is yet known, entirely accurate) soul-shriving done, however . . . I then took thought for musical material which may in fact suit the demands and logistics of Tim’s fearless clarinet choir (for the moment: piece y).

Pastoral Interlude

Earlier in the week, on my after-work walk to the pond, when I reached one of my favorite spots — a deep cabinet of slender pines — my eyes were met by an unusual sight.  A young person was seated on a stump, oh, perhaps 150 feet into the brake.  It isn’t often I see anyone lingering in that spot (most of the people I see are folks walking about, like myself — which means that, hey, I seldom linger there myself . . . seldom, though not never), but I certainly had never seen anyone there, with a handheld device, and earphones.  I am not writing this to judge:  here was someone perhaps who needed to be alone for a while, and this was the way in which she needed to inhabit solitude.  On the face of things, it did look like a sorrowful icon of Our Disconnected Age, each individual in a cocoon of symbiosis with a smartphone.  As one who avails myself daily of the convenience and interconnection which a smartphone provides, I understand the grey area, and my hand shan’t take up that stone, thank you very much.

Why I mention this here is, that I reached those pines on my walk yesterday, when (by the way, availing myself of the smartphone which I almost always carry with me — it serves as my pedometer, as well) I had sent the above message to Tim, and my musical mind was turning to a new piece (piece x, you may recall).  My walk yesterday, and the spacious, many-columned beauty of the place gave me the musical ideas;  and the unhurtful pang of recalling the sight of that lone youngster yielded a kind of title (you knew, Gentle Reader, that I should not leave it at “piece x”).  It started out (arguably, a little petulantly) as:

The dream of a young man in the woods, listening to something through ear buds

— All right, I should interrupt this momentarily, to acknowledge that, really, I need to press on with writing From the Pit of a Cave in the Cloud, and anyone who knows Professor Admee knows how implacably impatient she must be with me, that I am not simply about it.  Why must I be surrounded by idiots? I can hear her soliloquishing.

Well, too many ideas is a great problem for a composer to have, I think;  so I welcome the ideas for both pieces, x & y . . . and I wanted to sketch the ideas down, for future completion.  So this is the apologia for yesterday evening’s activity.  (I vow to devote the weekend to the Professor, and to the Professor alone.  Musically.)

— So:  The dream of a young man in the woods, listening to something through ear buds.  I did not necessarily mind the ponderous length of the title.  (Indeed, that was part of the point at that stage.)  I suppose my dissatisfaction was a matter of feeling a certain insufficiency of poetry;  and thus it was, too, that I was struck by the botanical-pastoral (God save me for sounding like Polonius) resonance of ear buds.  So the second version of the title is what appears on last night's version of the score:

Ear Buds (The dream of a young man in the woods, listening to something)

Much an improvement, I think.  But now, the weakness of the superfluous-at-best (carping at less-than-best) to something is made painfully apparent.  If we simply lose that—

Ear Buds (The dream of a young man in the woods, listening)

— the result commends itself.

It has already been told how I first conceived of this piece as the new clarinet choir piece;  but whatever its virtues, it is no toe-tapper.  Yet the idea is technical ease;  so I have decided to make it a piece for high school band.  It will work even better with more and varied voices, and I can figure out how to give the percussionists things to do.   I composed the first 16 mm. of Ear Buds last night.

The homey rhythmic requisites for the new clarinet choir piece suggested the dance form Stomp.  At first I thought Cancelled-Stamp Stomp, and although I rather like it, the Op.131 contains a recent reference to postal cancellations, and without a musical connection (which seemed inapt), the duplication were perhaps lazy and inartistic.  Still, I wanted a local stamp, so I’ve settled on Saltmarsh Stomp.  Again, only as a bookmark, I composed the first six measures last night.

That much settled and accomplished, I am now Admee’s solely . . . .

27 August 2015

henningmusick: From the Archives: After a concert at Jordan Hall

henningmusick: From the Archives: After a concert at Jordan Hall

One of the things I find most interesting about revisiting this post is, that now, 13 years on, I generally enjoy Ives better, think better of him. Some of the collage-charabancs, probably I am still apt to lose patience with. But in fairness and good musical conscience I must retract the snide crack about that ain't Ives yer whistlin'.

What if I were to hear that program today? Chances are high that I should still have thought best of the Stravinsky. Perhaps, even if I might still have the odd artistic quibble with the other items on the program, my ears might be more musically charitable.

Jeu d'esprit

In the first place, no: I am not exactly sure why.

I had other (and soberer) music which I needed to write, and instead I dedicated the laborious portion of a (mostly relaxing) Sunday afternoon (ye gods, such profanation on the Sabbath Day!) to this rather absurd item.  I do not believe I had ever before considered a stylish re-scoring of the Pachelbel Canon, and why this particular thought careened through my brain at this particular time baffles me.

It must have been the money.

The parameters were simple:  (a) I wanted my own ear to be engaged and amused by the unfolding textures; (b) I limited myself to those instruments which sound reasonably good "out of the box" in the Sibelius sound library;  and (c) since this was purely a matter of generating a sound-file, and not any practical matter of assembling actual musicians, I just chose sounds as they occurred to and pleased me, not worrying about logistics of transporting instruments or hiring players.

If it takes on, though, an actual score could be produced . . . .

26 August 2015


Yesterday a message came from Orlando, a message not only approving warmly of the Op.132, but with the sound suggestion of placing the two flutists a bit apart on stage, to bring out the score's antiphonal aspects.  We may have a performance as soon as September.

This past weekend, then, a message came from the much-esteemed and always-celebrated Peter H. Bloom, asking on behalf of his cousin if I might make (an easy switch in Sibelius) a version of The Crystalline Ship for voice & euphonium, for Joe Broom (now a student at the University of Michigan).  I then was prompted to ask Joe if he might have use for pieces with piano.  I was actually thinking of adapting the Little Suite, Op.127 (and indeed, I shall likely act on that thought);  but, my eye fell first upon the folder with ... illa existimans quia hortulanus esset ...., and I thought of how I've scarcely heard anything from Kirstin on it.  Thus I found myself adapting the Op.121 for euphonium, first.

Today is the deadline for putting our hats in the ring for conducting duties for the fall's Triad concert.  Will report when the assignments are finalized.

From the Archives: After a concert at Jordan Hall

[ 14 Mar 2002 ]

The Symphonies of Wind Instruments was even better than fond memory led me to expect. In other recordings (none of which have I heard especially recently, but the latest I remember being a Dutoit effort), sadly, some of the strongest "retention" was the impression of screechy clarinets in the block which opens (and, since it comes back, with this timbral barbarity, gave the impression of the Unwelcome Guest who didn't know enough to stay away ...

... but even this block sounded balanced and warm. The whole piece was a joy to hear ringing in Jordan Hall. The alto flute did an awful lot of swaying, but if that's her mode, let her at it; she played fine (and the alto flute always gives me the impression of requiring more air than a tuba). The alto flute and alto clarinet duet has to be experienced to be believed; and, having once experienced it, it is impossible to believe that Stravinsky himself would give that up in a revision. It is a fact that he did, but it is a sonically impossible fact.

The closing Meno mosso (Tempo primo) section was astoundingly beautiful; I don't know when I've heard three trumpets play with such sensitive intonation, and indeed with such timbral sympathy that they sounded like a single trumpet. When the flutes and clarinets were added for the last page, the effect was magical, not as though new color were being added, but as though a highlight was cast on the color already on the canvas.

They played the Ives very well, too. Indeed (at once to paraphrase a hobbit, and subvert his meaning) I almost felt I liked Ives, while they were playing. They did a terrific job. The test of a wind transcription is, not wishing that there were the original strings, instead (but maybe there weren't original strings ... the program notes hinted at a band version of a [no longer extant] organ piece .. so maybe the strings were added by Ives).

But at the last, I was forcefully reminded of a complaint I have brought to Ives' door before -- for as I walked from Jordan Hall to the T stop, what was sounding in my inner ear was the march tune. And when Ives writes in a way that you remember a ta-da-da-taaa tune that he "quotes" and not Ives, well, you ain't remembering Ives, are you?

The surprise quiet coda, while theoretically the point, doesn't stay with you; the boorish blat of the brass band has had too heavy a sonic footprint.

The NEC Jazz Composers Orchestra (somebody help me but, decent ensemble though they were, this is an abuse of the word orchestra) had opened the program with a tune called Dreams. It was all right, without striking me as anything special. The trumpets/flugelhorns could have benefited from contemplating the wonderful intonation evidenced in the Stravinsky performance. I have a hard time taking seriously any clarinetist who plays with puffy cheeks. I mean, if he sounded like he had control, puffy cheeks notwithstanding, I could handle that.

But these clarinets sounded every bit like the cheeks were puffy.

There was a bass clarinet, but the way the "head" was written, you didn't care. Another sharp contrast with the Stravinsky, in which, while the alto clarinet was expected to have fully the facility of a soprano clarinetist, the part was brilliantly written with the registral characteristics of the alto in mind.

A most enjoyable evening at the hall.

25 August 2015

Drone addendum

By seeming chance, there is fresh word today from Scott, from hospital, where he was admitted 4 August for (his third bout with) meningitis. Lift him in prayer.

Droning on

Addendum to yesterday's post: Scott presently resides (and we hope he's doing ever better) in Lima, Perú.

Although date(s) & venue(s) are yet t/b/d, the next Triad concert will be in November, and we shall sing Nuhro. So my thoughts have turned to what I should tell the crew about the piece, as we begin rehearsing.

The Kronos string quartet played a concert in Tallinn while I was there, and of course, I had the nerve to go backstage afterwards and introduce myself to them. As you can judge by the fact that they've never played my music, I did not reap beneficial fruits from my exercise of impertinence. Or, perhaps I did, at that ....

Most members of the quartet brushed me off (not rudely, just with unfeigned disinterest) with some dispatch. It was the violist, John Sherba, who drew the short straw, and I enjoyed a few minutes' conversation with him. Since the group (a) play very well, and (b) play music written by the living, unsolicited scores inundate them. This was the time of the first crest of the "World Music" rage-wave, and Mr Sherba, with only a hint of well-earned annoyance, gave me to understand that in perhaps 67% of the scores they read, there would be a drone; and that roughly 115% of these would assign the drone to the viola. So that reading prospective scores was not always a gratifying prospect for the violist.

For the player: what a hell of a time, being a world-class performer, and you read a score where you sustain an E for five minutes. For the composer: what lack of imagination, to have so enviable a resource as an outstanding string player, only to have him sustain an E for five minutes.

Back in Tallinn, I told Mr Sherba that, if I send a new string quartet to Kronos (— he did not hold out any great hope, so I assumed none —) it would without fail include a passage marked, The John Sherba Memorial Drone.

The lesson I took from this tale of mind-numbing horror was: yes, drones can be a beautiful, even a powerful musical effect; but the composer still has responsibilities both to the health and wellness of the performer, and the sonic stimulation of the listener.

As I worked on Nuhro with its drones, pedal-tones (or pedal-intervals), and unhurried tread, I paid close attention to the pacing, I made a point in the unfolding design of varying both textures, and centers of registral gravity. I labored over it all the more, as the pitch-center is relatively constant through the piece (one of the factors of relative stasis). I wanted the piece to be beautiful, and I was eager that it should in no way be dull.

When at last, I reached the end, and I thought and reconsidered and wondered if it really were done, if there really remained nothing which I ought in good musical conscience to adjust or improve, it was August, and my wife asked me if I did not want to go to the beach. I certainly did. The final stage of composing Nuhro, of weighing the question whether it really were done, was the composer wading out calmly into the surf, and replaying the nascent piece in his inner ear, and feeling a profound harmony between his outer and interior experiences.

It was on the sands of Cape Anne, that I knew I had written what was probably the best music I had made to that point.

24 August 2015

The Groove in Perú

It was not exactly what I had in view, either as part of musical activities yesterday, nor as the piece upon which to perform this operation, but I've now adapted ... illa existimans quia hortulanus esset .... for euphonium. More on that afterwards.

What I did mean to do yesterday, was continue work on From the Pit of a Cave in the Cloud; and I did manage to make some progress. I was mildly mired in consideration that I want this to be a 12-minute piece, and the Adagio opening runs almost a full minute, but addresses only the slightest fraction of the text. But, then, we always wanted to up the tempo for much of the work. More on this, too, afterwards.

An old Buffalo mate of mine, Scott Tinney, surfaced on Facebook, and in June he called generally for any and all composer friends to write him 15-second pieces. I think that, just at the time I saw his call, I was puttering yet with the audition portion of a piece for double quintet (m. on that a.) So the weekend of 27/28 June I wrote one 15-second piece. Over the course of the first week in July, I wrote the second, third, and fourth pieces; and I already knew that I was not just going to write four of them. I quickly (or quickly-ish) decided on a set of 20 in emulation of Prokofiev's early (and, no argument, more substantial) set, which gave me a title:

Visions fugitives de nouveau, Op.131

№ 1: One Leaf
№ 2: Versuch eines Milonga
№ 3: Beneath the Clear Sky
№ 4: That Tickles!
№ 5: Stephen Goes to California
№ 6: Kay's Blue Crabs
№ 7: Questionable Insistence
№ 8: Morning Prayer
№ 9: Bunny Keeping Still
№ 10: Gamboling Squirrels
№ 11: The Street Musician
№ 12: The Shade of an Oak
№ 13: "Could you change one more thing?"
№ 14: Waiting
№ 15: Bicycling in Boston Common
№ 16: Mist on the Harbor
№ 17: Peter Moves to Montréal
№ 18: Seeing a Long-Since-Cancelled Stamp
№ 19: ... but his mind is elsewhere
№ 20: Starless Summer Night

The set was done by 11 July.

23 August 2015


The blog has been idle, but the composer has not.  Gentle Reader, I shall not try thy patience by catching everything up in this post.

Night before last, I finished (at last) a flute duo for Orlando Cela.  (How I came to write the duo is a mildly amusing story.)  I then allowed that last draft to "cure" ... the novelty for me in the process of this piece, is related to typographic concerns. There is an idea I had for the final section, which I have probably thrown out. (Really, I reserve it for yet fuller execution in the new Schulte setting.) So, Friday evening I made my way to a provisionally final double-bar. I then began the trying phase: stress-testing the draught, deciding on places where (1) I might wish to make an adjustment, and (2) where my gut felt strongly I must make an adjustment.

The novelty, though, is that I regulated both (1) and (2) by the consideration of parts layout. All this while working on the piece, I wondered if I should "cheat" by just ("just"!) having the two players read from score together. At heart, I knew I must not settle for that cheat. So I checked the parts each time I made an adjustment. Perhaps inevitably, I began to devise adjustments specifically to yield a page turn here (for Flute 1) and there (for Flute 2).

So, yesterday morning, I reached the point where, now that changes are in place so that both players have convenient page-turns (itself, a perfectly reasonable and practical consideration), I wanted to make sure the piece works and flows as well as I felt it did before I began a-tampering.

And I find that these mundanely-driven alterations to the piece in no way impair the composition.  And thus, Neither do I condemn thee, Op.132 for two flutes, is now finished.

Downside: No idea when it may be performed.

Upside: I know three flutists (including the commissioner) who will take an active interest in the piece, and I am sure they will all like it.

Downstream upside: Will be eminently marketable at the annual flutey-toot conventions.

Why-didn't-I-think-of-this-before? Upside:  In November I made the acquaintance of a flutist in the ASO, whom we may interest in the piece, too.