19 December 2015

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 4

(I am embracing non-contiguous days.)

Day 4, “Naval Aviation in Art?” (from Läther)

18 December 2015


Still catching my breath.

To-do list this weekend:

1. Video for the 21 November Triad concert

2. Video & audio documents of the HTUMC Christmas concert

3. ... Holding a Phone...? Things Like Bliss?  Guitar solo?

No urgency to 3., as a Christmas respite does approach.

15 December 2015

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 3

Day 3, “Marche royale” from Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat (from Make a Jazz Noise Here)

14 December 2015

The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 2

Day 2, “Call Any Vegetable” (from Absolutely Free)

13 December 2015

9 of 15

(song no. 9)

a green the shade of new leaf
on the maple in april
the indefinable blue
of late autumn sky
reflected in cayuga
the sparkling grey in your eyes
when i return home

the unfailing invention

of the mockingbird’s song
so natural, so unaffected
that first you hear and then listen
the bubbling coo of the turtle
as she pecks through the black shells
the love in your voice
as you offer me some tea

(... color)

Music ho! and The 13 Days of Zappaness: Day 1

Henningmusick this morning and afternoon on the North Shore.  More on which, hereafter.

But for now, let the Zappaness roll!

Day 1, “Orange County Lumber Truck” (from Weasels Ripped my flesh)

12 December 2015

10 of 15

(song no. 10)

she doesn’t have a cat
so she stencils paw-prints
on the floor the paint brown
like the mud which in fact
she is glad the cat she doesn’t have
doesn’t track
she pulls out her phone
so words float like stars
on a still pool
sunfish dart
beneath the stars

not poetry but studies for poetry
an insistent inability to set pencil to paper
spurred by the vague desire
to record racing thoughts
there are letters you drop into slots
even though you don’t understand the signs

eternally misrehearsing a phone number
few or none of the buttons look right
turn off the moonlight
dial quickly
scattering the sunfish

before i awoke to your white night
and could brush my hair in the blues of your eyes
i saw mirrors in icicles surrounding my sunglasses
i answered a knock at the border with incorrect papers
i wrapped the cast on my arm in a plastic bag
to join men i didn’t know in a country sauna
i sank into a subway though i couldn’t see bottom

she gave me a photograph
from the future of a kitten
the cat has a young girl
you can see in the girl’s eyes
she is thinking of the cat
and even (possibly) of me
(there’s that look in her eyes)

you can see in the cat’s eyes
the girl & the photographer are less
than the sunfish trying the phone
she’s disconnected

deep in the background
in the cat’s paw you can see

(... casual paintbrushes)

For the Kammerwerke folks

Composer's thoughts on the composition of The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth, Op.130 (work-in-progress as of 12 Dec 2015)

The piece begins, first of all, with punctuative unisons (cl/bn, m.1), an idea {a} which soon expands to repeated notes (cl/bn, m.3ff.), itself a musical idea {a1} which expands by breaking up the unison (fl/cl, m.7).  This first section plays out as a sort of textural tension between the "uniting" notion of the {a} material, and parallel activity of ebulliently free counterpoint (cl I & hn II, in rhythmically and intervalically varied inversion) {b}.

At rehearsal mark [A], this textural tension continues, but favoring imitative expansion of the {b} idea(s), and the repeated-note {a1}.

Rehearsal mark [B] sets off a sort of "summary fugato," culminating first in a dense chord on the repeated-note idea (pickup to m.39) and a return to the punctuative B-flats (m.42).

Rehearsal mark [C] is essentially a unison tune {b1?} in octaves, traded off in relay, "accompanied" by a development of the {a} punctuation.

That yields in turn to a sort of chorale at [D] which takes the pitch word established by the piece and converts it to sustained stillness.

Rehearsal mark [E] returns us to the rhythmic activity, a development of {a} employed as an accompaniment to a playful duet in the clarinets.  This slows down to the modal arioso at [F].

Rehearsal mark [H] is a new developmental expansion of {a}.

This gives way to an inverted imitation game between the oboes at rehearsal mark [J], upon which the horns break in by leaving off their sustained background (m.198, e.g.) to suggest a complementary, broader-rhythmed counterpoint of their own (m.201ff.), and the upshot is the tender ob/hn/bn trio (with occasional clarinet disruptions) at rehearsal mark [K].

Rehearsal mark [L] is clear (I think) if brief recapitulation, leading to a horn fanfare at rehearsal mark [M].

Rehearsal mark [N] is a thickened, augmented variation of the unison tune from [C], and in fact a near-literal recap of [C] gets under way shortly after [O].  There is a solo clarinet insistence on this material after [P].

Rehearsal mark [Q] is a new, ethereal chorale, which (I think) rather cleverly manages to morph into a sneaky reference to the "modal sarabande" from [F].

That is the piece so far;  I envision about two minutes remaining, and employing various subtle re-workings or re-enactments of the material already inherent to the piece.

11 December 2015

11 of 15

(song no. 11)

while it was raining
and while the droplets were still few
we found the edge of the pond
in a clearing past tall oaks
the smooth stones at pond’s bottom
offered no footing
so we squatted in the shallow water
cool and the air not much warmer

floating in the cool pond gave me
the fleeting impression
that i was big as the pond
that my fingertips could touch
the far shore
my arms outstretched
the ducks and geese
took to the air
stepping off my wrists

the bark of a distant dog
and the clap of nearing thunder
and we rushed
as fast as the slippery stones would permit
to the towels and the clothes kept dry
and after a while
we left the curious trail of ducklings
behind on the rain-speckled pond

(... summer swim)

Now, where were we?

So, really I ought to catch the blog up on all the composition which went on while the blog slept. And that is not something to be managed in a single post.

For the present, a relatively timely item:

Today is the deadline for a call for orchestral scores; it was the perfect fit (from this senator's standpoint) for Discreet Erasures. My materials were all sent in and received two weeks ago. At present, that's all there is to say about that.

Very good penultimate rehearsal last night with my HTUMC choir;  we had the flutist and violinist with us for the first time. It was a long-ish and reasonably hard-working rehearsal;  spirits were good, and we got much good work done. A few things that still want fixing (some of which, I thought had already been in good repair), but then, that's why we still have the Dress Rehearsal proper at 11 Sunday.

10 December 2015

12 of 15

(song no. 12)

i am singing
because the brightness of the stars tonight
would shame me
if i kept silence

i am singing
because the wind is so crisp
and the air is so clean
that with all my being
i feel that the song from out my lips
must be pure as well

i am singing
for if i did not give thanks
for our family
for our love
for the joy we share in creating
and for holding your hand —
if i do not give thanks for these
i do not deserve them

i am singing
to give thanks
to the giver of song

(... thanksgiving night air)

serif of nottingblog: The 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards and a Joke: Moon Baboon Canoe Nooz

serif of nottingblog: The 22nd Annual Hamilton Literary Awards and a Joke: Moon Baboon Canoe Nooz

For those who may have wondered what Hamilton has been up to, lo, these 22 years. I've told Gary that, technically, I could be yet more pleased, only I should probably have to file for an extension.

09 December 2015

13 of 15

(song no. 13)

without asking whether i deserved it
i found myself writing
a song to the dawn
without opening the backdoor
i knew there would be peanut shells
on the back landing
and i thought of my wife’s easel
and the canvas resting on it
the canvas a living thing
in the way that it would change
and grow in response to the love
she applies to it through brush and paint

i put the kettle on
knowing i would need to turn the flame
quickly down
lest its whistle awake my love from her dreams
dream on my sweet
dream that we are walking along the pond’s edge
dream that the bread falls from our hands
towards the impatient geese
dream of the wisps of cloud
reflected in the pond’s surface

my song to dawn is a song
of my beloved’s rest
as i knot my necktie
and patiently await
the pouring of hot water over teabag
joy at the work she has done
at her easel yesterday
joy at the work she will give
herself to later this day
a song of thanks to dawn
for the new day
and more peanuts tossed gladly
to the jays and squirrels

a song of the play of glancing sunlight
falling among the new leaves
as though light were a thing
newly invented by boyish laughter
a song
of the proud tall birch’s shimmering leaves
trembling in the gentle morning breeze

a song of thanksgiving
a holiday to be celebrated
at all times and in all seasons
and always outdoors
did i think all these things
when i opened the backdoor
baring my soul and opening my eyes
to spring in the yard
or did all these beautiful things
think me?
my heart stirs at the whispered sounds
of morning quiet
dare i drown it out with my oafish noise?
i put the flame out
underneath the readied kettle
the steam-scent of jasmine tea
it seemed i smelt it with my eyes
did i think these things
or did they come to me
rising from the painted ceramic mug?
shall i drink this tea?
and should i not strive to become
one of spring’s finer thoughts?

i breathed in
great draughts of the morning air
and the rich scent of fresh grass
and the second flush of maple blossom

(... aubade)

Somewhere in the middle

The day before yesterday was the anniversary of the surprise attack upon Pearl Harbor;  so I watched 1941.

Yesterday was Jean Sibelius's 150th birthday;  so I listened to Luonnotar.

In four days my church choir will sing a Christmas concert;  so yesterday I made copies of most of "the little stuff" for the concert folder (the carols with which the audience will sing along, e.g.)  The only items missing were The Friendly Beasts (not sure why I didn't have soft copy of that) and our "sneaky encore," the Christmas Round.  I have those ready to send to the printer this morning.

08 December 2015

14 of 15

(song no. 14)

many teach that life
is a succession of blank pages
and that the history of man
is a matter of writing the pages over

of these
some teach that the goal is
that all the pages be written over
with all manner of things
so that when the last trumpet sounds
we may know the number
of the pages

but the wise teach the true goal

that all the pages
howsoever great their number
be written over with the same thing
every last one
until the writing on all life's pages
is the same

and the writing is love

(... parable of the pages)

Home (Triad II)

Audio for the 23 November concert of Triad's second program, Home, is up at SoundCloud, including an exquisite performance of Nuhro.

More about this later, too.

15 of 15

(song no. 15)

as to some rare concert
we listened to the rainfall
at first it tapped out
the march of time
until she took her mother’s clock away
smothering time in blankets

the rainfall said
i know i got up late and all
is it really still just today
or a brighter tomorrow already

i could listen more closely
after she trimmed my beard

i thought i heard the rain say
how about some tea
seems it might have been
my wife

for all the flowers on the table
i couldn’t get to the kettle
helpless i watched it boil
steam falling up to the sky

(... chopin on majorca)

07 December 2015

Two years ago today

I was at work on Plotting (y is the new x).

Yesterday, an excellent if long (in preparation for next week's concert) rehearsal with the handbell choir.  I had clean forgot that we are going to include my Musette . . . I need to get a copy into the conductor's folder . . . .

06 December 2015

Divers reflections

Curious to consider now, but four years ago today was the first time I listened to “Papa's” String Quartet in g minor, Op.74 № 3 “The Rider” (Hob.III/74) (played by The Amadeus Quartet).

And my own motet Love is the Spirit was premièred six years ago today.

05 December 2015

Last Christmas

At last, I have audio from the Holy Trinity United Methodist Church music program's concert of 14 Dec 2014 available.

The centerpiece of the concert is Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song, a single-movement cantata for choir, brass quintet & organ I originally wrote for First Congo in Woburn's music director, the late Bill Goodwin.

More of this concert later.

04 December 2015

henningmusick: And?…

henningmusick: And?…

Four years ago today!  Funny thing is, I had to rummage about the blog to understand myself that I was writing about These Unlikely Events.

03 December 2015


First full rehearsal after Turkey Day, and 10 days to the concert. On the docket: the Opp. 52a & 53a, and hopefully even a read-through of the Op.126 N° 7.

Remembering with gratification how I composed through to the end of From the Pit of a Cave in the Cloud, this past Labor Day weekend.

Everything for the concert should already be settled, so there is the odd chance I may be able to attend to finishing The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth this weekend. We shall see.

02 December 2015

Scofflaw Monologue

It's dark
There were gotcha questions
She smiled as she walked along
the aisle of an undeniably cold bus
She asked (of no one in particular)
"Why can't all motion be agreeable?"
It was dark
It isn't that he clung to hope
Whatever the external pressures for hope
his own relationship to that construct had long since become
a matter of comfort and ease
It was dark
Yet he did not cling to hope so much as
there's a chair at the kitchen table where hope had been sitting so long
he just didn't see any need now to displace it
There would be gotcha rhythms
Some motions kept him awake
some motions lulled him into rest
It wasn't necessarily an easy matter
distinguishing between the two classes of motion
She smiled as she sat down beside him on the bus
Her smile reminded him of hope at his kitchen table
a little
Why did the bus need to be so noisy?
He didn't know her
The smile was neighborly
He himself did not understand why unconsciously he thought
her name might be Hope
Not for the first time
he mistook the bus's motion
The rhythm is gonna getcha, she suggested
Not all rhythms are the same
he found it easy to elude most
he did not think it any talent
he supposed that most anyone could
Really it's always dark
he remembered some idiot remarking
While light grew in the east
The rhythm is gonna getcha, she teased
(And if you think it's a comfortable experience
being teased on a bus by someone you've not met before
you might think again.)
Gotcha rhythms
He sprang to the left
to a land of squares
Postage stamps
not all of them cancelled
Tea bag packets
Disjointed 64ths of some unfortunate chessboard
some black
some white
Possibly the least imaginative of crackers
The east grew lighter yet
He didn't know her
The rhythm is gonna getcha, she warned
He sprang up to a land of cream
Really it's always dark
You should probably never trust the one who benefits
from sparking the fears of another
He was in all respects a master of rhythm
In the world all around him
fresh and beguiling rhythms
are being created
Rhythm and complacency don't mix
The rhythm is gonna getcha, she promised
He got off the bus
Entering a world
somehow neither dark nor light

01 December 2015

While the turkey roasted

Posted on the eve of Thanksgiving:

I should hesitate to overcommit myself for this holiday weekend . . . I should at last post music from the HTUMC Christmas Concert; I need to prepare parts for the flute and violin for the upcoming Christmas Concert; I should break out the audio from both Triad concerts into tracks, and upload "teasers"; should decide if I really am going to arrange the Basque Carol for this Christmas Concert, and how;  definitely submitting my application for the American Composers Orchestra call; and I owe it to Jack to draw up at last a proper review of his magisterial Symphony № 2 « Ascendant » . . . but probably none of that until the bird is in the oven.

That's not a crazy to-do list;  but I am going to take it on the easy side, too.

30 November 2015

Not sure about that line

... at eleven P.M. on a Tuesday afternoon after a successful day at work ....

23:00 is a time of day I simply don't think of as afternoon. Although eleven o'clock at night is certainly after twelve noon.

Thought as the shade of the music

I have not actually heard any version of "Little Drummer Boy" on the radio yet (and that is how I like it).

But I've seen complaints on social media about "Little Drummer Boy" on the radio, before Thanksgiving especially. (I am largely sympathetic to the complaints.)

So, I've not yet heard a note of "Little Drummer Boy" this season. Normally, that would mean I just don't think of it (and that is how I like it). But the amusement of the on-line complaints has necessarily evoked thoughts of "Little Drummer Boy." But, I am not complaining . . . I am not thinking about any to-me-odious recordings of "Little Drummer Boy," but of one or two recordings which I do genuinely enjoy.

I may not need actually to play them; enjoying the thought of them, may quite suffice.

28 November 2015

Still at work on the turkey

(Culinarily speaking.)

An interesting and musical morning . . . it's raining, which is keeping me from my walk (even though I am not made of sugar) and I am not complaining because we are in sore need of the rain.  I started with sending Lux Nova Sibelius 6 files of the Op.126 № 3 (flute version) and № 7, and so, since my eye fell upon the folder containing the Op.126 pieces, my eye was drawn to № 2.

I've told my buddy Jonathan of the Midtown Brass that I was working on a new arrangement for them (I don't think I told him yet that this is the jazzed-up Wachet auf).  And in the back of my mind was the thought, Do I continue work on that, now?  I am unsure I can get it done in time for it to be useful for their Christmas events (it's a piece they will want to practice, and from here through year's-end, chances are they do not have much practice time.

Now, I did find my Public Domain version of "I Want Jesus to Walk With Me," and seeing my arrangement in the Op.126 folder reminded me that I need to prepare the surgery theatre.  I began by looking at the present state of the Op.126 № 2, and making little rhythmic improvements.  (These of themselves will not "clear" my arrangement;  I need to check for textual "watermarks."  Though it does increase my motivation to get my work clear of any conflicting claim, as my arrangement waxes yet better.)

And then the idea occurred to me that, as a short-term contact-renewer with both Jonathan, and Kevin here on the North Shore, a brass quintet arrangement of the Op.126 № 2 would prove a signal success.  So that is what I was up to today.

28 September 2015

Admee Unbound

Last night, we had the initial rehearsal (for instruments only) of From the Pit of a Cave in the Cloud, Op.129, and the time was musical, productive, and stimulating. It's a big piece in a short span, a lot of notes, several sections in succession, a lot of Lebowskian ins & outs & what-have-yous. Each of the musicians is excellent, sensitive, alert, and the entire rehearsal was sustained by good humor and eagerness to start right off at getting things right. The experience and musical result were, in short, everything the composer had hoped, and better.

18 September 2015

From the Dream Dictionary

In my dream last night, I walked along the street, walked into a building and along wide corridors with any number of other people milling about, and I met an oboist.

Only in my dream an oboist was not someone who plays the oboe.  An oboist was someone so fanatically devoted to the oboe, that he is practically suspicious of any other wind instrument, as a potential rival diminishing the supreme splendor of the oboe.

He was passionate.  He was outspoken.  The truth did not matter, only the oboe.  The oboe was his Truth.  Even the fact that he was restricted from air travel did not deter him in his single-minded devotion to the double-reed instrument.

He talked on and on, and I did not say anything in response, and after a while he fancied that he perceived some discomfort on my part.

You're a clarinetist aren't you? His eyes seemed to drill into my brow.

No, no!  I mean, I play the clarinet, but I am not a "clarinetist"!

16 September 2015

Spelunking in the Sky?

From the Pit of a Cave in the Cloud is a scena, a monodrama, a verse adaptation prepared by Leo Schulte at my request, from part of one chapter of his novel in MS., From the Caves of the Cloud.

A year-ish ago, when Evelyn Griffin was doing such a marvelous job with my setting of Walt Whitman's "The Mystic Trumpeter" for soprano and clarinet (and while I had known of the Holst setting for decades, I forbore actually to listen to that classic until after I had finished my own setting), I was determined to write a new piece expressly for her. Her talent is an admirable combination of singing declaratively and emotionally for the stage, and an ear and taste for music that stretches beyond (in a word, or in a name, indeed) Puccini. (Nothing against Puccini, you understand.)

So I wanted a text for a dramatic piece designed to fix the audience with its glittering eye, so to speak, and I told Leo so; and he delivered just the text any composer might wish to set. (When I sent the half-completed score to the instrumentalists, so that they might have an idea of what they were getting themselves into musically, the plight of the poem's narrator was at that point so dire, that one of the musicians expressed concern that performing this piece would interfere with our ability to travel by air in future.)

The piece is musically challenging for both singer and the accompanying chamber quartet, but especially for the singer, who has scarcely any rest in a twelve-minute performance. But our Evelyn is game, and looking forward to putting the piece together.

I've only just gotten the completed composition to her, this past Saturday, so she is busy learning it yet. We begin rehearsing the instruments alone, so that we can be a reliable accompanist for the singer in the full rehearsal, for two rehearsals late Sept/early Oct.

The accompaniment consists of:

soprano recorder (doubling on tenor)
bass flute (doubling on picc.)
horn in F

This is the first I have written for recorder, and the most demanding chamber part I have yet written for horn, and the players have gently advised me that we may need to make some minor adjustments (which will not affect the fabric of the composition).

Though I'm the one saying it, I have been at the top of my compositional game for a good year and more, and any of my recent works, if it should have the ever-unlikely good fortune to have notice taken of it in the press, will present the composer to the world as a distinct and powerful voice. (Of course, when you're nobody - and I am nobody - no one hears your voice.)

12 September 2015

Preface to the expanded remarks about the Op.129

How large a cast is needed for a production of Hamlet?  How many actors (including extras) are necessary to do dramatic justice to Shakespeare's magnum opus?  Yet, some of the most intensely satisfying theatrical endeavors (and I am thinking of some of the classic Twilight Zone scripts, among other examples) require no more than two persons on the stage.

In just such a way, I feel no artistic limitation in the least, when writing a piece of music for two performers.  Let alone for five.  In fact, if a composer is capable of making a compelling 20-minute piece for two players, an ensemble of five is a spectacle.

10 September 2015

Here am I

The past seven days have in large part been consumed in the effort (musically rewarded) to compose through the Op.129. I had started it back in June, left it be while I attended to other pieces, and in the back of my mind there was some sort of doubt annoying me. Not at all about the text, which I knew would make for a smashing piece;  but the smashing piece was taking its sweet time coming to me.

Well, I have by now discovered it, and it is (if anything) even hotter than I had hoped.

I have choir rehearsal tonight, so production is paused; but I already see my path through to the end.

03 September 2015

Somewhat disorderly

The date for Kammerwerke (maybe) to read the 5-minute start to the Op.130 [title under reconsideration] appears to be 3 October.  You never know.

Continued progress on the Op.129.

9th Ear talk about concerts in March.

I showed some of the Tiny Wild Avocadoes to a new acquaintance, who agrees that they are fun.

Adapted Sparrows Hopping on the Wet Sidewalk for tenor saxophone for my niece, Anna.

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.