31 May 2018


Although I have not been working in the score of The Nerves, I have been quite productive both in constructing materials, and broadly taping out the path to the final double-bar.  This “module-work” will be the order of the day tomorrow, as well.  There is the odd chance that I may actually be able to start folding material into the score tomorrow evening;  but at present my expectation is that Saturday morning will be The Great Sleeve Up-Rolling.

30 May 2018

Building a brass carillon

If you can let gravity do some of your work for you, that is an advantage, and no failing.

A bit more than 90 seconds’ worth of The Nerves yet to compose, which means that a Sunday, 3 June completion is quite possible.  The arc from here to the big double-bar is fairly clear in my mind.

Outside tasks slated for this evening and tomorrow will reduce the possibility of working in Sibelius, but there is always paper, and time on the bus.  This morning I sketched out the pitch material for the brass carillon which came to my inner ear . . . oh, I suppose it must have been no earlier than yesterday.

A brief word on my verbal sketches, such as the one which illustrates this blog post of last week.  They may come into play, or they may not.  I may act upon one of them, and then find the music ready to pursue some other (new, but in all probability related) notion;  and in all the noise of the musicworks, I may forget the ideas I wrote down, entirely.  Which is one reason I write them down.  Because:

  1. Maybe I will use them, only the “right spot” is waiting.
  2. Maybe there will be no occasion to use them, because the piece evolved in certain other ways.
  3. Even if I use few of them, there is no wastage or inefficiency – it is all part of the process.

Of those notes from when the piece was only at the 75" mark (!), “the runaway scales” and “fever fugato + bug sust. chords” (as always, adapted to actual musical requirements in the fabric of the piece) found strong use, and to a greater extent than the 15" which I initially ‘allotted’ them.

For the brass carillon pitch material, I took the “harmonic minor plus Lydian raised-fourth” scale which came in at m. 125.  I generated a series (in the simplest sense) of pitch-classes by using two transpositions of the scale, each starting at a different scale-degree;  I generated a second series, with two other transpositions, each beginning on yet other scale-degrees.  I then interleaved them irregularly:

  1. The first pitch of series I
  2. The first pitch of series II
  3. The second pitch of series I
  4. The fourth pitch of series II
  5. The third pitch of series I
  6. The seventh pitch of series II
  7. &c. &c.

What matters, of course, is not the geeky process (though the rhetorician in me, why should I deny it?, exults in this sort of thing, really) but the resulting series of highly satisfactory pitch-classes, which will be new, and yet which grew from what came before.

Another detail emerges from what is frankly a mere parenthesis to the actual creative process.  It is a tale of sonic love, loss, and bongos.

Whether it is a bug in Sibelius (which is my thought) or my limitations as a Sibelius user (a possibility I always allow), an inconsistency arose in the playback of percussion.  (I am sure that this sort of problem arose before, only I have now had opportunity to observe it more consistently in the diary-like succession of work-in-progress soundfiles I have been exporting.)  Often, I have a line of percussion in the middle of which I have the player change instruments – it is usual practice, and there is a Change Instrument utility in Sibelius.  And, normally, Sibelius processes the change in instrument fine for the playback.

Let me speculate as to the cause of the problem, from retroactive consideration of the shade of prior experience as well as trying to mend the current (trivial, happily trivial) problem:  that when a score has grown past a certain critical size (both number of instruments, and time duration) Sibelius struggles to manage the sounds.

To describe the problem itself:  at first, the playback of the bongos (which were not the originally designated instrument, but a change in the course of the score) is normal;  but later, Sibelius does not play a bongo sound, but instead a weak, pitchless “pat,” which is (a) too soft to be of any use, and (b) even if it were audible, is inadequate.

I shan’t spell out the whole multi-stage process in detail, by which I sought a work-around;  at last, at least for a faithful playback, I simply created an extra percussion line which is a dedicated bongos part.

Now, really, the whole creative point of having spelled out this footnote is, the time spent focusing on the percussion choir (which I think come across as generally strong in the piece, as is) has had the additional felicitous effect of my feeling, rather suddenly, that I want to add a subtle tam-tam stroke in there.

And that sort of thing is worth whatever (apparently “useless”) puttering on a “backstage” detail.

One more thing (for today).

A day or three ago, the thought crossed my mind of bringing back the opening;  but in fact, at that point, it did not seem right, it felt “pat.”  Here I am pleased that I “made my way” to a varied recapitulation which does not feel like a rote return, but which is (what I especially like) familiar material but new ground.

Still, I had to work to make it ‘natural,’ even here.  On Sunday night, when I began with bringing in, module by module, [some portion of] the opening (mm.1-17) at rehearsal letter [K], it appeared hard on the heels of fff repeated notes in the brass – some utterly unsatisfactory combination of abrupt, and insufficient of contrast.  The solution, though, was quite simple, eight measures of woodwind and horns, piano, in a kind of echo.

To return to the top . . . while I detailed the sourcing of the pitch material, Gentle Reader, there remains the structuring of the rhythm.  Which I believe will be the work of this afternoon’s bus ride back home.

28 May 2018

Probably what you were expecting

This morning’s work on The Nerves was building out what in my verbal notes appears as The runaway scales.  It assumed more weight, greater dimension, in the working-out today, than I had (casually) surmised, when I made those notes;  this is partly because it does, interestingly enough, emerge quite naturally from the “non-static clusters” from yesterday’s work.

Part of me wants to work further today.  But, perhaps a nap first . . . .

27 May 2018

Half Done

If, that is, the process of writing the movement conforms to the original intention, and The Nerves has a final run time of seven minutes, then, after today’s work, ’tis half done, the first movement of Karl’s Big (But Happily Incomplete) Map to the Body.

I reached a point where I was thinking of bringing back the beginning.  And I did paste in the opening accented chord—but I immediately felt that to bring back the beginning would be Business As Usual, and not The Right Thing.  What I did feel I wanted, and right there, was a brief unpitched percussion ensemble interlude.  The first 15 seconds are percussion alone;  and then, when I start a varied repetition, I decided that was just the right moment for a duet, piccolo and baritone saxophone.  I continued to sculpt time with “non-static clusters” set against a fourth-ey monody;  and this section’s two parts bleed into one another with a Sibelian scoring trick.

So, just having good fun with the process, and with the result.

26 May 2018

Un beso antes el fin del mundo

Meanwhile, in Costa Rica, violist Brett Deubner gives a smoking performance of A kiss before the end of the world, a concerto with wind and percussion accompaniment composed by my old mate Houston Dunleavy.

Nerves in the Morning

Per the plan spelled out here, I have 20 seconds more of the piece to show this morning.  The hope is to lay in a bit more work yet, this evening.  One thing I need to see to in the interval is, the marking of handbell parts;  and there is Real Life™.  However the day may shake out, though, the progress is significant, the musical mind is purring along, and, in short, there is ample occasion for composerly gratification.

My “recreational listening” has included a deeper dive into the Symphony № 2, Ascendant, by my first serious composition instructor, Dr Jack Gallagher.  One of the most rewarding scores, to my ears, of the past 10 years.

25 May 2018

Even the great and the famous . . .

Reading Joan Peyser’s To Boulez and Beyond (why, we certainly hope “beyond,” since Boulez est mort . . .)

American commissions for Stravinsky dried up during World War II, so he turned to the film industry;  but his efforts there failed.  A score for a film, The Moon Is Down, based on a novel by John Steinbeck, about the Nazi invasion of Norway, was rejected;  so he converted it to Four Norwegian Moods.  Another with a Russian setting became Scherzo à la russe.  The score for Orson Welles’s Jane Eyre ended up as the middle movement of the Ode, and the music he wrote for Franz Werfel’s Song of Bernadette was salvaged as the second movement of his Symphony in Three Movements.

But Stravinsky kept hammering away because he needed money:  “I have never regarded poverty as attractive,” he writes.  “I do not want to be buried in the rain, unattended as Mozart was. . . . The very image of Bartók’s poverty-stricken demise, to mention only one of my less fortunate colleagues, was enough to fire my ambition to earn every penny from a society that failed in its duty to Mozart.”

Stravinsky arranged the Firebird as a love ballad, “Summer Moon,” so that it would turn up on jukeboxes and deliver him large royalties.  He wrote his polka for the Barnum and Bailey circus and the Ebony Concerto for Woody Herman in an effort to tap Tin Pan Alley.

What is it about fabulous expatriate Russian artists who struggle to earn money for their brilliant work?  Certainly, I am thinking of the meticulously executed, virtuosically varied work of the admirably prolific Maria Bablyak, whose breathtakingly energetic Tango Dancers (below) graces the poster of this season’s Triad concerts.

(How peculiar is the Stravinsky remark, I have never regarded poverty as attractive.  Although this was a man who could – and, a thousand times, did – turn a brilliant phrase, not only does this sentence fail to sparkle, but the arc of its plunge epitomizes what investment professionals call a “dead cat bounce.”)

24 May 2018

The Big Picture, 1H18

In late January and February, my energies (and time for composing) were much reduced by one or another of the various wintry ailments which were banging around at the time.  Compositionally, this meant that I felt it unfeasible, to try to bring Heart So White up to public-readiness for the April concert.

There was nothing B-grade about the Plan B (it was more The Other Plan A), which was out highly successful King’s Chapel program of 17 April.  One way in which the concert became something of a different experience for me, was that I played for the entire 25-minute program, which is (simply) more clarinet playing than I do, as a normal thing over the past several years.

There is the temptation to get a little “playing-the-clarinet-saved-me” sentimental.  True it is, that study of the clarinet was how I apprenticed into the Art of Music, and playing the clarinet has always been part of my musical life – yes, even in darkest Buffalo, where the then Chairman of the Music Department was virulently hostile to Performance.  (This is one of the most bizarre notions to share, here in a music blog, but it was the bizarre fact.)

Through whatever combination of being in restored health, having been playing a lot, and drawing to the end of my church choir’s season, the composition desk is purring:  the clarinet trio, Memory Almost Reliable;  the concertante piece for clarinet and string orchestra, Deep Breath;  and now, proceeding smoothly with The Nerves.  Oh, even the mad jeu d’esprit of the Tooth Fairy.

It feels like a return to form.

23 May 2018

The Opus 148 marches on

Now that I am back all in, mentally, for The Nerves, my (entirely realistic, achievable) goals are:

  1. Work at least a little on it each day
  2. Generate at least 15" more each day
To produce more of the piece, it is not necessary that I have a full page of big band MS. paper to stretch out while I am in a subway car;  I can just work with my 3-ring binder, and project.

As of this morning, the piece was at the 1:18 mark, although I had doubts (at 5:45 A.M.) about this or that passage.  When I reviewed the score this evening, all doubts had apparently evaporated;  I think everything works perfectly fine.  I then built it out, using sketches I had drawn up on the Red Line heading into Boston this morning.  The piece is now at 1:45.

If I only keep true to the 15"-per-day goal, I could reach a kind of final double-bar by mid-June (or by June's-end, if I suspend The Nerves while I am participating in the competition, of course).  If (as I did, today) work proceeds well ahead of the minimal 15", there is the odd chance that the piece may be done before the competition gets started.

Either way, I shall rest content.

22 May 2018

Suite for flute, clarinet & bassoon

Nigh unto two years ago, Gentle Reader – and as recorded here – I wrote two 60-second bagatelles in response to a call.  (Yes, it would probably have to be in response to a call, that I write a piece as brief as 60 seconds; I mean, we’re really only getting warmed up by then, aren’t we?)  One of these was Out From the Unattended Baggage for flute, clarinet & bassoon.  Lux Nova Press is presently compiling a listing of music for bassoon, and it has been suggested that this too-brief bagatelle might form the core of a short suite.  Faith, I consider it an excellent suggestion.

The first question is:  Do I expand the original 60-sec. piece?  And I am inclined to a simple No.  That inclination may not prevent me from slightly letting out a seam here and there;  upon a cursitory glance, it does not appear to me that the fabric of the composition should be significantly re-engineered.

So my thought is instead to designate the present piece as the scherzo of a four-movement Suite.  At the moment, my thoughts are:

I. Toward the Unconfirmed Itinerary – Slow introduction, and Moderato body;  say 3'00
II. Not My Boarding PassAdagio, 2'00
III. Out From the Unattended BaggagePoco vivo, 1'00
IV. Odysseus in SheepsheadAllegretto, 2'30

All of these, subject to reconsideration;  all the more, because I am going to leave the work to wait until after:

  1. The Nerves
  2. Heart So White
  3. The two-week get-a-piece-written event

And, there we have it.

Triad and (non-frayed) Nerves

As noted a few days ago, I am conducting Sarah Riskind’s Hariyu on the Triad concerts of 3 & 17 June.  (Note to self:  Have we settled on venues?)  Unusual circumstances have called on me to conduct a second piece as well, our own Julian Bryson’s Green Is the Color of Its Flame (on a Thoreau text), and last night’s rehearsal was the first I conducted the group therein.  On one hand, I had only a few days’ study (one studies a piece very differently, depending on whether one is singing the bass line, or conducting the lot);  on t’other, the singers now know the piece fairly well.  Apart from one cue which (largely by my own gaffe, mussing up the pattern) I failed to provide for my worthy altos . . . and letting the tempo sag before we got the 11/8 riff cooking . . . the first go was reasonably successful–though of course, only a beginning.  Plenty of room for improvement.

My Agnus Dei went very well, apart from my confusing my fellow tenor in one measure on the last page.  (Another new development is, I am moving from bass to tenor on this piece, among others.)  Judging from last night’s rehearsal, we are well on track for good performances–of the entire program–next month.

It was, therefore, not until this morning that I could spend a little time with The Nerves.  Although I am accustomed to working quite comfortably with scores on-screen (certainly chamber and choral works, but even various numbers of White Nights where I already have the concept of the piece well formed), it is no surprise that with a piece as designedly dense as The Nerves, my work benefits (especially at this early stage) from printing out hard copy, for both review and fiddling.  Why?  Because on screen, either I see only a fraction of the score, or the music is reduced to a size which I find physically annoying on a screen–where my eye is perfectly comfortable processing small type on paper.  (I am speaking of this review/compositional process only;  for actual conducting, the size would need to be larger, absolutely.)

So my work this morning consisted in:

  1. Verbal notes to ‘capture’ different musical ideas which have floated about in my mind the past couple of days, for execution in the next few days
  2. Highlighting various ideas in the score-as-is, both for modification in situ, and for further use
  3. Some minor editing (I saw one measure whose rhythmic notation wants improving)

My mind is now fully engaged with the piece, and meseems that it will be peak efficiency if I devote this week’s creative work to The Nerves, and wait until the holiday weekend to attend to Heart So White.

Now–Although I have started sketches for a second Symphony proper (i.e., for orchestra) I think I had better hew to my vow to finish White Nights before addressing myself to another (orchestral) Symphony.  You see, Gentle Reader, that with the qualifying parentheses I am already weaseling around it, to some extent.  But it is all rather innocent, truly, and all this is to say simply that although (as noted here) the first idea was to make Karl’s Big (But Happily Incomplete) Map to the Body the Symphony N° 3 for band, why not change that?  As I am cooking away at The Nerves now (and have decided to push out the new orchestral symphony to post-Dostoyevsky) let’s make the Big Map the Symphony N° 2.

21 May 2018

Fresh To-Do List

Items to focus on near-term:

  • Heart So White . . . test the present state of the fixed media for timing with the scene.
    • Possible problem:  fixed media too short
    • Remedy:  determine extent of needed expansion, and see to it.
  • The Nerves . . . set down ideas, verbal and musical.  Finish before Independence Day?
    • Possible Problem:  too musically demanding
    • Remedy:  carry on, write the piece as I wish
  • Memory Almost Full . . . recording session
  • Nun of the Above . . . recording session

It is possible that Deep Breath will not suit the group which I had in mind when forming the piece;  even if not, that is fine, as there are other groups for which it will prove a good fit.

As I was chatting with Matthew Marsit, and he asked me about my plans for the summer, I told him about White Nights.  Although it is not a piece which would apply at all to the Charles River Wind Ensemble, he sounded both impressed with and enthusiastic about the project.  I wanted to mark the incident, with gratitude.

20 May 2018

Hurricane, and Nerves

This morning—which is to say, before I reported for church choir duty—I finished the spiffy new Sibelius file of Hurricane Relief. The now 13-year-old trio, I left essentially untouched (I eased back on the initial metronome marking, and added a final punctuative chord).

And this afternoon, as I might have predicted, I laid down a little more work on The Nerves.

Also for next month's Triad concerts

Agnus Dei

Among much else of value which I learned in Judith Shatin’s studio at UVa, two phrases of Judith’s have stuck with me through succeeding decades: “business as usual,” and “something specific.” “Business as usual” meaning, an artistic laziness in doing, without consideration, what one (or others) have already done – a condition diligently to be avoided, in either fact or appearance. And “something specific”: to create something definite, some thing-in-itself, and for my reasons – which I am both at liberty, and under a profound obligation, to determine.

The challenge and opportunity of writing an unaccompanied Mass thus consisted in making it Henningmusick, despite the fact that the text has been treated (and the endeavor has been achieved) a thousand times in the past, by hundreds of others.

This does not preclude availing myself of the example of the past literature, nor does it deny me the pleasure of writing for voices in a way which choristers find gratifying to sing (I hope). The composer can find his own voice, and nevertheless speak a language comprehensible to others. The joy in the craft, is expressing something which is clear and strong, yet which astonishes the listener as casting it in a way he had not hitherto imagined.

19 May 2018

Chiefly about bassoon

Of late, I have considered how some of my cello-&-piano music may adapt for bassoon; so I have prepared bassoon versions of the Sonatina, Op.105, the three-short-mvt Suite, Op.127, and ... illa existimans quia hortulanus esset ...., Op.121.

And I had forgotten that two trios I composed long ago, in 2005, include the bassoon:  Starlings on the Rooftop, Op.82 (flute, English horn, bassoon, composed for Second Winds in Denver) and Hurricane Relief, Op.81 (cl/bn/pf, written for the Squibnocket Trio here on the South Shore).

After the Tooth Fairy

Per discussion of the audio puttering for Tooth Fairy here, last night I sketched some 21 measures, and this sketch was the germ for a four-minute trio for clarinets (two soprano, one bass) which I have just finished, Memory Almost Reliable (a title redeemed from the 11-year-old list here).  The trio is, I think, both a piece-in-itself, and (likely) the basis of an accompaniment for Sauna Song #3, Migratory Reptiles.

He's not saying it hasn't all been fun
To the untrained eye, those laces look untied
The sun beat down and because most of April
Had been absurdly cold, the warmth of the May sun
Made my spirit giddy
Though I nevertheless doubt the need to run
The air conditioning on the bus
To the untrained eye, the bus looks bound for Swampscott
But nothing doing
At lunch we discussed a highly successful film composer
It isn't that we scoffed at his work
We only questioned the comparison to
A certain composer of the century before
Fall River, where a certain ax murder remains
Forever befogged in uncertainty
I may never play cribbage there again

18 May 2018

While in rehearsal

Part of last night’s choir rehearsal was spent with a very enjoyable arrangement of How Can I Keep From Singing?  The next anthem we rehearsed was a fairly ambitious arrangement of  Lasst uns erfreuen (and, also, nicely done).  There is a descant for verse 2, the sopranos have a line unlike the tune (and the meter is recast to 4) in verse 3, and there is a subtly different descant for verse 4.

Which is to say, the sopranos (who may, at times, become accustomed simply to singing a familiar tune) faced some challenges.  In one of the verses last night, they dropped out, and did not manage to plug back in.

You kept from singing!, I observed.  However did you manage it?!

On Sarah Riskind’s Hariyu

Notes for the upcoming Triad concerts

Sarah Riskind writes:  When I composed Hariyu in 2010, I wanted to break out of the world of slow sacred choral music.  My inspiration came by way of Leonard Bernstein, whose Chichester Psalms I have admired since I first sang them as a college first-year student.  Like Bernstein's opening movement, my Hariyu gives Psalm 100 the excitement of changing meters.  However, the texture of accented piano eighth-notes and the Mixolydian mode create a somewhat different world than Bernstein's larger work with orchestra.

Karl Henning writes:  Sarah Riskind is an alumna from Triad's first season, whose musical adventure soon called her elsewhere.  It is a reflection of the music's excellence, then, that we all wanted to return to Hariyu in the present concert—even without the composer among us to plead on her own behalf.

To amplify upon two of Sarah's observations:  Bernstein was (among much else) a pianist; in my experience, a well-grounded instrumentalist tends to use mixed meter in an effective, natural way—more so than most singers.  One key to Sarah's success in Hariyu is the musical flow she achieves in the mixed meter:  after each (unpredictable) barline, the next note feels naturally agogic—a genuine downbeat, and no accident of notation.  The composer's mastery of the successive metrical shifts is what allows the music to dance gracefully, sure-footedly, even as we sing along at an exhilarating tempo.

15 May 2018

And on the eighth day

As recorded here:
As I scrawled notes yesterday afternoon, my momentary title for the clarinet-&-strings piece was How Fond Her Heart Grew (in His Absence).  While I do like it as a title, it does not suit the character of the music, as I began composing it last night. (What was the point?, you ask?  But what is ever the point?)  I am inverting the “introduction & Allegro” model, by writing an introduction which is poco agitato, with the main body of the work to be peaceful.  The piece is now called Deep Breath.  And, the first minute or so is composed.  I expect the completed piece will be some 8 or 9 minutes.
...The other aspect of the insufficiency of the title How Fond Her Heart Grew (in His Absence) is, that I the piece was to be (and is) dedicated to Maria, and such a title sets the wrong tone to the act of dedication, meseems.  Indeed, the musical character which rendered the initial title unsuitable, of course sprang from the dedicatory impulse.

In a gentle excess of expectation, Deep Breath runs 11-ish minutes.  I find myself entirely pleased with the piece (and eager to play it, as soon as occasion may arise), and incidentally, additionally pleased at the act of generating the piece (from initial conception, to completion) in the space of eight days.

I shall remind myself of this, when I want to knock out a few numbers of White Nights this summer.

14 May 2018

On provoking divine mirth

Periodically, I draw up a list of titles I have in mind, which seem (at the time) a fairly good notion, and in case I do not remember them over time.  This morning I chanced upon just such a list, from/for 2007 – thus, incidentally, pre-dating this blog.  Often (as in this case) the list is both of titles for purely hypothetical future pieces, and of works-in-progress

The old proverb goes, If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.  At any rate, I chuckled on seeing the first item marked done, yes?  I can laugh with a light heart now, knowing of the substantial progress last summer, and the fact that I presently have "live" sketches for Night the Third;  but I cannot help smiling at the fact that White Nights is still with me, eleven years on.

Terpsichore in Marble was the new title for a duet for clarinet and cello which I wrote in Charlottesville, which has not yet been performed, and which (perhaps) need not ever be.

The Irreplaceable Doodles have, of course, become a Henning performance staple.

I do not believe I ever actually got to work on a Kyrie at this stage;  it tickles me a bit that the thought occurred to me well before my July 2012 Kyrie.  Five years later than this list, in 2012 I apparently had no idea that I had previously entertained the idea.

I must have recently struck my friendship with violist Peter Lekx, because Tango in Boston is the title of the first viola-&-piano sketch I drew up.  I held onto that sketch, which would later form the genesis of the third movement of the Sonata for Viola & Piano.

I may quite possibly still write a Symphony springing from the delightful Italian visit;  but the Op.143 Symphony № 1 is completely different music.

On these lists, I did not balk at casual ambition;  and apparently I was considering an opera after Hamlet.

Of the other titles (some, but not all, of which I may likely yet use) Heedless Watermelon became the first of the Op.97 fl/cl duets;  and Another Think Coming became the opening movement of the Sonata for Clarinet & Piano.

The Deep Breath of early this morning

In my verbal notes from Thursday (?), I listed one section as cl murmurs and ‘allotted’ it 30 seconds.  I had not then formed the specific musical matter, just had a rough idea, and the scribble was meant as both memorandum and springboard.

In the score as of Sunday evening, this is the passage from m. 145 to the ‘end,’ m. 167, a passage which runs nearly a minute, i.e. much more than “planned”;  but that 30" was not a fixed plan, just part of the rough idea.  And the fact is that if this section stops hard at m. 167, it is of course too abrupt;  I felt it needed a compact rhetorical answer, which I did compose this morning before beetling off to work.

So, perhaps (given the present verbal outline) the entire piece may run 12 minutes.  Or perhaps it will expand to (probably) no more than 15.  I shall do some more work at lunchtime, and we shall (begin to) see.

13 May 2018

That Sunday Feeling

For each of the past two years, I have submitted scores (movements from the Symphony Op.143 in both cases, I believe) to a certain organization’s annual Call (but, nothing doing).  This year I have decided to take Ear Buds, for which I have already prepared an orchestral version, but whose scoring I need to adapt to be suitable for this year’s specs.

And I have at last prepared a flute part so that our Marissa Bell can join in for our annual dusting-off of the Alleluia in D.

12 May 2018

A few thoughts more about Deep Breath

The dicey element to writing a piece for one’s wife, and designing it to be music she will especially enjoy, while she is away, is of course her return.  Say she likes it (which is both the idea, and my expectation).  Does she then coyly observe, Ah, I see what nice work you do when you are pining for me, in my absence.  Let me take off for another while, and see how you do ...?

Another idea behind the piece, is to have it ready to hand over to local conductor, a week from (well) today. Yet, even if the piece should prove somehow unsuitable for this group, I think it will prove an easy-ish pitch to four other conductors I know around town. A strong feeling that an actual performance is a good and reasonable possibility infuses me;  and maybe this can be my foot in the orchestral door, at last.

The speed of throwing the piece together is practical, both so that I can hand hard copy to the conductor this Saturday, and as a kind of rehearsal for a contest in June, which will require writing a complete piece in the space of two weeks.  Truth to tell, this kind of exercise was part of the qualifying exams for my doctorate in Buffalo; and it is a challenge which I do enjoy.  The piece (i.e., Deep Breath) is now at almost five minutes and a half.

And, in recreational viewing: yesterday afternoon I watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Had not seen it in decades;  and all prior viewings were midnight shows, so if you were wondering if it felt a bit strange to watch this, while there was still light in the sky, yes.

Why did I bother to revisit this, when I have done so very well without, for (gosh) almost 40 years? I did not, honestly, have a clear answer before sliding the disc into the tray. Save that the answer was not titillative. As I watched, I kenned that I was curious about it, afresh, as a musical. And, considered in this light, it is superb, both the songwriting and the (erm) execution. My hat is off to Richard O’Brien
I did not, on earlier occasions, recognize this for the musical/stage tour de force it is. The cult success of this quirky project is richly deserved.

And, speak of quirky projects...yesterday evening, for the first time, The Corpse Bride. The fact is, I sidled quite innocently into the Macabre-Comic Double Feature.

Overall, I found it charming, with two Demerits:

1. There are few hands in cinema as heavy as Tim Burton’s hand. Few as heavy, and (I dare speculate) none heavier.

2. Whose boilerplate is there, like unto Danny Elfman’s boilerplate?  Musically, this had all the feel of a Nightmare Before Christmas re-tread.

Those serious (IMO) demerits noted, the saccharine, Hallmark greeting card-esque character of Elfman’s music plays a pivotal role in modulating (mayhap even normalizing) Burton’s (impressively creative, let it be well noted) cartoon-macabre style. There are faults in both partners, yet the partnership does result in part in a kind of magic, and if they’re recycling themselves, they are not poaching (without artful adaptation) from others.

11 May 2018

Plans, and Their Modification

As I have worked on Deep Breath earlier this week, I was thinking an 8-9' piece. But as I made notes this afternoon of the blocks which I have in mind as the score plays out further, and keeping in mind that—if I estimate conservatively—the transitions may feel abrupt ... it may in fact push out to 12'.

10 May 2018

Breathing, and Lumbering

Yesterday evening, I made (what I feel is) good progress on Deep Breath, emerging from the poco agitato beginning into the main body of the piece, which is of just the character I wanted.  On the bus this morning I sketched a contrasting section within the main body;  yet, as I consider the pace (and, yes, breath) of mm. 31-64, I feel that a contrast there is a bit on the abrupt side.  So for lunch today, I wrote out an answer, which is “the new mm. 64-73,” and I think my contrast from this morning will proceed satisfactorily from m.74.

On the bus ride home yesterday (I am, indeed, putting the commute to artistic use) I tried something entirely new to me, sketching a new text, on my phone.  This morning, I found it more than acceptable, which did not stop me from brushing it up (without spoilage, I do not think).

Not sure either why I now remember the great tortoise
Walking on the roadside near the Wenham pond
We almost could not believe our eyes
Carefully backed the car and sure enough
A lumbering solemn tortoise
Sagacious in its determined patience
Or maybe just moving because
She felt she must

09 May 2018

White Nights, Deep Breath

As I (at last!) reopen my White Nights folder, with my charts, schemata and divers notations, I find that the musical material I have been forming this week will not do for Scene 11 (Night the Third);  but it will serve perfectly for Intermezzo III.  I shall let things percolate a bit yet.

One result of my surreptitious roll-out of Tooth Fairy is, I have not discussed the musical process.

The audio consists of three ‘strands’:  the text, of course;  the kind-of-trio, which is live-plus-MIDI–an experiment in taking MIDI extractions of the “accompaniment” parts (and treating them), and recording myself playing the principal part (and, honestly, I mean to putter more, in just that way, in future) . . . our parakeet’s good-natured interjections (she does take my practicing in good part) originated in the clarinet recording;  and (also treated, and practically beyond proper recognition) samples of myself singing, built into a kind of background choral track.

Not that I minded in this case (since it is “buried” in the mix) but my performance against the mechanized accompaniment is less “together” than I should normally wish.  Part of the reason is, I had not anticipated the session, and so I did not have my part printed out;  I therefore recorded myself reading along with the rolling Sibelius file (the first time ever tried such an activity).  Thus I could not “read ahead” as I always, always do when playing, i.e., cast my eye a few measures ahead as a reminder, while I am playing (say) measure 18, of what measures 22 & 23 will look like.  As I say, in this case especially, I did not care about imperfections . . . after all, the members of an actual human ensemble sometimes drift mildly out of synch and then recover.

It is an experiment with which I am almost entirely satisfied, and upon which I intend to build.

Separately, in recent chats with Luke Ottevanger, I have pressed him with an invitation to write a duet for Peter H. Bloom & me to play.  Perhaps for this October!

As I scrawled notes yesterday afternoon, my momentary title for the clarinet-&-strings piece was How Fond Her Heart Grew (in His Absence).  While I do like it as a title, it does not suit the character of the music, as I began composing it last night. (What was the point?, you ask?  But what is ever the point?)  I am inverting the “introduction & Allegro” model, by writing an introduction which is poco agitato, with the main body of the work to be peaceful.  The piece is now called Deep Breath.  And, the first minute or so is composed.  I expect the completed piece will be some 8 or 9 minutes.

08 May 2018

The Scene's Scheme

Yesterday morning, I cast some notes upon the page for Night the Third. More than this, I planned out some textural aspects of the scene, and the pitch-world process. This afternoon, I made (verbal) notes about scoring, and to spell out detail of the textural conceptualization. In a way, I suppose I have been ‘setting the rules,’ for when I sit down to properly compose/improvise the scene.

Perhaps I have not considered this seeming anomaly, since the days when I drew up the outline for the entire ballet; but Night the Third is the uncharacteristic “onesie”—even Night the Fourth is divided into two scenes (the setting is the same, but the marker is a character's entrance). So I stand to earn a big psychological victory, through a fairly compact compositional task:  I could (without a great stretch) possibly tie up Night the Third and Intermezzo III by May's end.

Separately (as yet only in principle) I am thinking—for highly practical use—of a piece for clarinet and strings, Deep Breath, and another for two clarinets and bass clarinet, I float above your mistaken impressions of me.

07 May 2018

Back to the orchestra

Gentle Reader, not for decades (UB, I feel reasonably certain) have I played clarinet in an orchestra.  And, no, I have not been invited to play with the Boston Philharmonic.  But I have been invited to play on 19 May with the No-Name Orchestra, Musorgsky’s Prelude to Khovantshina, and Ravel’s Mother Goose Suite.  What good fun!  (Why, yes, I shall practice . . . .)

At the end, of course–White Nights

While I deny that I am going "full Boulez" here, I think the Tooth Fairy deserves that I should try again (at the mix, not so much the source material, in spite of the fact that we might find frequent and reasonable fault with the 'video performance').  We have a Triad rehearsal tonight, so I doubt I shall assay to mend the Fairy this side of Tuesday evening.  The sound level is generally too low;  I suppose I was overcautious, knowing how when I combine tracks into a single mix, the volume is apt to get out of hand (it did not, in this case).  But also – and I did not notice this until (rather strange to relate, really) I watched the video on my TV screen – the synchronization of audio and video is a little off. It is a lesson to me, to make sure I am testing at full screen while yet on the laptop.

Yesterday's rehearsal of Rejoice was good, a lot of hard work for my handbell choir . . . the combination of three factors (the piece's rhythmical quirkiness;  using mallets rather than just plain ringing the bells;  and each member being responsible for three bells rather than the usual two) is the driver for the need to rehearse harder than is quite normal for us.  But they are all having fun with the piece, so they are engaged.

What is undeniably an agreeable sign:  while my head rested on the pillow last night, the next Scene for White Nights came to my inner ear quite clearly;  and I began the scribbling on this morning's bus.

05 May 2018

Tooth Fairy (Sauna Songs #1)

The notion of doing this, even this sort of thing, only occurred me to me a few days ago.  Well, one aspect of it—to play the clarinet part of Nun of the Above against an electronically generated (and treated) accompaniment—yes, this has been knocking about in the back of the Henning brain for, oh, a couple of months, I'll say.  But the tout ensemble, that is a notion which came unto my mind as a kind of flash;  and it was a flash which I decided I should respect, and own.

Although I make no great claims on its behalf, the result is pretty much what I aimed for, and so I shall indeed take thought for a couple of companion pieces.

With no further ado, the first of the Sauna Songs:

04 May 2018

Cautious, and elliptical

Although tape was running, I consider last night's session a rehearsal.  Sure, I'll have a listen ... there is room for improvement.

It could be zero hour for trying out the larkly idea I have for Nun of the Above.

These are both various components for the first shot at something for which my working title is Sauna Songs.

03 May 2018

It all seems so sinister, in hindsight

When I was last in So Carolina, I happened upon two (count ’em) places whose bar did not stock any rye.

Is it the Apocalypse? I asked myself at the time.

02 May 2018

Avian Adventure

While not an absolutely novelty, the showcasing of other composers in a concert of “my band” had become a great rarity over the years.  It was a signal pleasure, not only to prepare and perform these pieces by my colleagues & friends, but that the concluding work on the 17 April program should be a “guest” work.

Just when (and upon what occasion) I first met Pam Marshall is a detail which eludes me at present.  And almost immediately, I am sure, I wanted to recruit her to play horn in a piece I was fixing to write.  Pam has fulfilled commissions for many local ensembles, managing to work quite steadily, and always (to my ear) producing engaging, mellifluous music.  And it was our great pleasure for Triad to sing her poignant anthem to dementia, Deepest Shade, on our November 2016 concerts.

For our piece this spring, Pam combined two longstanding musical passions of hers, improvisation, and electronics.  There is a fixed media component;  and the live instrumental complement was notated, but with a fluid interplay.  Pam writes:

We’ll play from score. The score is divided into parts, each for a major section of the audio soundtrack. Each section is free and rather improvisatory. Only Part 1 is measured. 
In the birdsong sections, musical gestures should be like birds, and should answer back and forth, sometimes overlapping. The notation tries to show this overlapping alignment, but it is freer than the notation implies. Improvising on the suggested songs is welcome. Birds do it too, or at least from bird to bird, the species song can be quite various.