29 June 2018

Nothing and everything

Don’t grow up.  It’s a trap.
● Seen on a billboard north of Boston

I Drink and Know Things.
● Seen on a T-shirt on Downtown Crossing

There is more than enough cool in the world, if we can simply keep ours.
● Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

On an almost daily basis, I’ve been revisiting the Boston Harbor Heave-Ho and Revere’s Midnight Reel – more or less the “play-to-destruct” exercise, as Bob Z a/k/a “Bobbsey” was wont to write – and (the deficiencies of MIDI accounted for) I remain entirely satisfied with them.

On the opening of It Might Happen Today, I have not as yet materially expanded.  Mild quantities of thought have bent upon the piece;  it will be tomorrow before there may be further tinkering.

Paul & I may possibly play the Voluntary on “Beautiful Savior” in August – PaulMei Mei play Plotting (y is the new x) on Sunday 19 August.  I’m planning on playing it (i.e., the Voluntary) with Barbara on 9 September.  Five Smooth Stones From the Wadi appears to be on for 15 July;  I think we may not be practicing it all together until that morning.

Holding my breath upon the possibility that Thomas & I may get together to read the Clarinet Sonata in late July.

Sometime soon-ish I should attend to the second and third of the Sauna Songs.

28 June 2018

10 years ago today: The flight to Sibelius

There is a great deal of failure in the world, but take heart – hardly any failure is complete.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Seen in the elevator this morning:  People who wear glasses may be smarter.  We can certainly assert, with confidence, that if one needs glasses, it is smart to wear them.

Four years ago, there were Henningmusick sales.

Curiously, as this week I am reading tweets from my much-esteemed colleague, Nicole Chamberlain, that her patience with Finale is running thin, yea, super-thin – as I leaf through the archives, lo! I was reaching the end of my own Finale rope 10 years ago today:

Although timing and the graphic result all worked out, preparation of the parts for Brett’s wedding music surprised me by how much time the end-game consumed . . . far ‘hairier’ an experience than the prep of the parts for (say) Out in the Sun. And, as I am gearing up now to wrap up the ballet (I think I hear Allan [Santos] chuckling, but then, one is pleased to incite some mirth in so fine a chap), the experience with the parts for the Opus 93 indicates that post-production of White Nights will be sixfold hairier.

This sober consideration has prompted me to take seriously, for the first time, a switch from Finale to Sibelius.

And what the demo for Sibelius shows me about the interface between parts and scores, looks very good indeed. Honestly, it makes me wish I’d switched before work on the Opus 93.

For this weekend, though, it is still ‘pre-compositional’ refamiliarization with the project [i.e., the ballet], and allowing the intuitive musical notions to accumulate.

Well, and finding the sketches for Scene viii, which it will be about time soon to write out in proper scoring.

. . . And, in amusing hindsight, of course I did not, at last, actually address the task of Scene viii until Independence Day, last year.

06:01 Harvard Square

Resolved:  How could anyone not like Toch's Sixth Symphony? Possibly, delusion.

Solve for x:  On what planet is Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge "a revolutionary film"?

The odd, light task

I dreamt I was touring with a Latin American Yes cover band, named Sí.

Tuesday morning (on the bus), and at home in the evening, I began work on It Might Happen Today.  On the whole, a good start, but I think I do want to tweak the rhythmic profile of the ostinato.  As I considered the start yesterday, it almost had the feel of an outtake from the Gloria – but that invitation to déjà vu can be completely remedied with minor alterations.

The work Tuesday night meant that I neglected to see to a transposition which I had promised Mark Lutton;  but I can take care of that in a trice, this morning.  (And his choir are out for summer, so there is no genuine rush.)


I did sketch out my rhythmic alterations for It M. Happen T., yesterday, and this morning, I find that they are just the thing.

And I just now saw to the transposition for Mark.  (Sure, it was practically just a matter of a mouse-click ....)

26 June 2018

And the beat goes on

For Sunday’s service, we enjoyed the participation of a talented teenager in the parish who plays flute.  One of the choir’s anthems was John A. Behnke’s Now All the Vault of Heaven, which is a strophe-by-strophe arrangement of Lasst uns erfreuen;  there is a supplemental handbell part, which we purchased, and parts for brass quintet, which we did not (I do not foresee hiring a brass quintet anytime soon, though I wish we might).  So I drew up our own flute part to go along with it.

By the time of the scripture readings, the choir’s “heavy lifting” was done.  The first reading was the story of David and Goliath, and the phrase five smooth stones from the wadi began immediately to play upon my imagination.  At the end of the service, I thanked Marissa (the young flutist) for all her participation through the year;  and I advised her mum that I planned to write a piece for Marissa, Barbara (our organist) and myself to play together.  I began writing it Sunday afternoon (before I headed up to Nashua for Michael Joseph’s recital), and I finished last night after I got home from the office.

At Michael Joseph’s recital, I had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of the music director for a church in Chester, NH (east of Manchester), and I have passed some music on to him.  The conversation is ongoing.

It was highly gratifying this year that Triad sang both the Gloria and Agnus Dei from my Mass.  In thinking what I want to offer Triad next season, and consistent with my practice of changing the tone of the Henningmusick from Triad season to season, I’ve decided to act on a plan I formulated, I think, in December.  An old friend from the St Paul’s choir days, Mara, has a daughter (Emma) who improvised a song as a cunning means of delaying being sent to bed.  Mara posted the lyrics, and I thought they would make a dynamite choral piece.  I’ve decided to set it for three-part men’s choir . . . there is a musical idea which I have batting around in my inner ear, and I started work on MS. paper this morning while (what else?) riding in to Boston on the bus.  The title is It Might Happen Today.

Waiting, not necessarily with any hope

Three weeks from today, I should hear in response to a score I submitted. Of course, I sent it in, in hopes of being selected (and, performed… and recognized, &c.) But I don’t feel I can nourish much hope. The first caution is, I have participated in calls with this organization a few times before, but my work was not selected. The second caution is, I know from experience with several ensembles dedicated to new music, that many (of even those with whom I have personal contact) find my work easy to reject. I shan’t speculate as to why. What purpose would be served by such speculation? So that I change my work to suit them? But I won’t change my work. I’ve been at it for years, and have reached a state of being highly artistically satisfied with the result. Why water it down, or introduce elements I don’t believe in, or cram into Procrustes’ B&B, when they're only going to prefer the work of those they have already decided it is their mission to support?

This is no cynicism.  It is experience of non-response from a certain organization, further tempered by having recently met another group which will not see to performing my work until Hell sees a significant cooling trend.

Why write of this sober assessment of a bleak environment?—I mean, bleak for my work, although an environment in which some others flourish, some of them even achieving celebrity. Because I feel with my bones that I am doing good work; and even though at present I am given scant external recognition for the character and quality of the work, it is just possible that in the future, still, an appreciation for my work will expand beyond this core of kind Henningmusick enthusiasts.

For such an expansion, it is necessary that I continue to do my work.

That, then, is one reason to keep at it. But it is not the main reason.

The main reason is, it is work that I love, and my ear rejoices in the result of the work.

25 June 2018

Remembering the Blue Shamrock

Someday, I am going to say to my wife after a concert, “I played Blue Shamrock exactly as it ought to be played [or, one of a variety of ways within how it ought to be played].” Someday, I am going to say to my wife after a concert, “Once again, dear, I played Blue Shamrock exactly as it ought to be played.”

The Wrap-Up

Yesterday morning was the last Sunday of choir at HTUMC, and we enjoyed the supplementary participation of both Marissa Bell on flute, and the handbell choir.  At the Benediction, the Pastor made a very nice announcement to send the choir off into Summer, as it were, and an expression of gracious appreciation of the choir’s ministry;  it was a touching moment.  On my choir’s behalf, I was deeply gratified that they should be recognized for their work and their contribution.

Overall, it is an excellent feeling, that the choir are in a much more agreeable place now, than at this time last year, when things had soured with our previous organist.  (At least, last June, we did enjoy the company of a substitute for the final two Sundays when the choir sang.)

When I got home yesterday afternoon, I set to work on a short piece for flute, clarinet & organ, Five Smooth Stones From the Wadi.

Another event which was pure pleasure, was Michael Joseph’s recital at Nashua’s Masonic Hall, which is home to an 1895 Woodbury & Harris organ.  Michael began with his own Festive Toccata (originally published by Belwyn Mills, but now apparently out of print) and continued with music of FrescobaldiFrançois CouperinBuxtehudeJS BachBrahms, & al.   There are plans to record music, so that the Hall has a CD to promote the instrument.

23 June 2018

Hot off the press

Eleven days ago, at the request of my organist (!) I began work on a new clarinet-&-organ piece, the first I have written in a long while.  (The previous organist did not welcome new pieces from me—she endured them, and not always with any especial grace.)  Barbara’s request was for a piece based on “Beautiful Savior.”  An old friend, an organist and fellow composer, when I told him of the project, remarked, I’ve never come up with something to do with that tune.  And in fact, when I first considered the hymn afresh, my reaction was a similar musical puzzlement.  Soon after, though, I thought of it, not as the well-loved, long-familiar hymn which seems perfect in itself—but as (on a purely musical plane, and without any disrespect to the source material) a car in a junkyard to be selectively relieved of its component parts.  Not as a tune to be preserved in its present state and proportions, as (say) the subject of a chorale-prelude-style piece.

The result is a piece which I am not certain whether my worthy parishioners will enjoy for its own character, or if they will find it a frustrating listening experience, since they can more or less recognize the tune, but will not be able to sing along with it, mentally, as they experience my piece.

At any rate, I’ve now sent the piece to Barbara, and we shall put it together whenever she may wish.

22 June 2018

Tchaikovsky Road Trip

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has some very interesting and only mildly controversial things to say about poutine.

According to Wikipedia, the first theme of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto was converted into the popular song, “Tonight We Love,” by bandleader Freddy Martin in 1941.  In Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942), when Freeman and Barry Kane are being driven from Soda City to New York (and a tedious long drive it must have been), the driver and his seatmate wanly sing (or, it is only the ghost of singing, really) an exhausted phrase or two from “Tonight We Love.”  One needs to pay a bit of attention to know what it is they are singing (the characters are that tired – so, yes, there is storytelling in the scene);  it is quite a sharp little touch, I think, that for Saboteur, the selection is so fresh and topical.

The role of Freeman (he is not graced with a Christian name) was played by Alan Baxter.  (Freeman is asleep in the back seat next to Kane when we hear the popularized Tchaikovsky being sung, which is perhaps no criticism of the performance.)  I formed the (probably mistaken) impression that I have seen Baxter in something else;  reviewing his filmography in Wikipedia, I consider that I must have been mistaken.  Only from perusing this list, do I learn that his final appearance on film was uncredited, as a Military Officer in 1971’s Escape From the Planet of the Apes.

Heck of an arc, there.

Seemed a Good Idea at the Time (Pop Music Lyrics Division)

You say I must be crazy
’coz I don’t care who I hit, who I hit!
But I know it’s me that’s hitting out,
And I’m – I’m not full of shit.
  • The character of Rael, as written by Peter Gabriel (ca. 1971)

He doesn’t care who he hits, because he knows he’s the one hitting out?  That’s so full of shit.
  • Man in the street (ca. 1987)

21 June 2018

Making New Music Into an Old Friend

Founding Triad member Julian Bryson writes about our Sunday evening concert, and the experience of revisiting music sung on previous Triad programs:

[…] Triad presented a concert with the intent of resurfacing gems from our first four seasons (and like any historian, we didn’t have time to perform every piece we wanted to include).  Like Messiah to my mentor, each returning piece felt just like “seeing an old friend again”.  As in any mature relationship, familiarity revealed new dimensions of understanding and connection.

Since our first concert, I’ve improved my vocal technique and sense of pitch (a musician’s work is NEVER done).  I’m still far from the best singer in our ensemble, but I’m definitely better than I was four years ago.  Additionally, I remembered quite a bit from our earlier performances of these works.  As a result, [Sunday] night’s concert was so much more personally meaningful than any of our previous outings.

I was able to immerse myself beauty of Emerson’s transcendental world, brought to life through Thomas Stumpf’s sensitive and poignant setting [Each and All].  I found myself pleading for mercy in the dramatic climax of Karl Henning’s Agnus Dei.  My heart leapt for joy among all generations in Sarah Riskind’s Hariyu—even (perhaps especially) through the high G’s.  And I smiled for the hundredth time as “standing” and “running” give way to “falling” and “crying”, “sleeping” and “dreaming” in Charles Turner’s Sing Child.

Painting the Music

Two years ago today saw the first performance of Sound + Sight, the performance piece featuring artists Irina Pisarenko and Maria Bablyak creating two pieces of art before the audience’s eyes.  The composer received input from the artists, requesting certain musical characteristics/elements, and I checked in at wide-ish intervals, the idea being somewhere in between Does it seem that the music is doing what you expect? and Where the music deviates from what you perhaps expected, does it nevertheless feel comfortable?

The construction of the fixed media was a particular pleasure.  Still I vividly recall the impression, when I had finished “cooking” the fixed media, that it seemed complete on its own.  But I took that feeling as indicating, not that that the addition of the live instruments was anything superfluous, but that all the components enjoyed complete integrity.

20 June 2018

At the time, a kind of breakthrough

Two works that I composed ten years ago, may prove to be the most seminal accomplishments in my catalogue.

While there are several pieces I wrote before, in which my pride is scarce less, and which were arguably the last steps leading there – Out in the Sun, the Studies in Impermanence, Castelo dos anjos – in hindsight, I cannot help thinking that the Opp. 91 & 92, The Mousetrap and the Passion according to St John, represent a genuine watershed in compositional confidence and achievement for me.  They are both large-scale works (time-wise, at least – of course, The Mousetrap is scored for only two single-line instruments) and quite demanding (not insanely difficult) for the performers.  I had the great good fortune, thanks to the dedicated endurance of Peter Lekx for The Mousetrap, and of Ed Broms and the choir of Boston’s Cathedral Church of St Paul for the Passion, to have both pieces performed, on the occasions for which I had labored to compose them.

More than once in this blog, Gentle Reader, I have noted how many pieces I have written – and not ostensibly “for the shelf,” but with actual performers, with an actual group, in mind – which still await performance.  So the fact that two consecutive opus numbers, each of them the most ambitious endeavor on my part in their respective genres at the time, both “came to full term,” as it were;  and the additional fact that the performances confirmed for the composer the rightness of the scores – the boost to my musical core was at once immediate, and incalculably far-reaching.

I had made glancing, coy references to popular music on isolated occasion before (“42nd Street” in Hurricane Relief, “I Got Rhythm” in Out in the Sun, e.g.) but in The Mousetrap it became something of a sober obsession, to borrow extraneous musical citations, but to make them organic within my own work.  Perhaps it was something of an exorcism;  I don’t know that I have never done it again, since, but this proved a kind of unburdening.

In the case of the Passion, once I had well established my own psalm-tone (and perhaps had the listener wondering, or fearing, if the whole piece would play out that starkly) I parceled the text out into specific modules, constructing the grand whole out of building blocks, driving at last to the through-composed finale.  I might say that even the glaring mistake of the Passion, I managed to convert into a triumph.  When I traveled south to a friend’s house, as a kind of composing retreat to concentrate on finishing the piece, my copy of the text was incomplete, and I was missing the final few verses.  Back in Boston, when I realized that I was not yet as finished as I had permitted myself to think, the final Burial music came to me practically immediately.

I think back ten years, and I see that the pride I can now take in the Viola Sonata, the First Symphony, and the Clarinet Sonata, has its root in what I learnt from the experience of The Mousetrap, and of the Passion.

19 June 2018

The musical day, 17 June 2018


11:00 Handbell Choir rehearsal.  First time reading the parts I marked up for the Behnke.  Of the four ringers, two are "subs."  We also had our flutist, to whom I had gotten a part only the day before.  With such a rehearsal, you know that things will not start out perfect, nor do you demand that we reach perfection by the rehearsal's end.  This anthem is on for Sunday the 24th, so it's Do or Die.  We're Doing.

12:15 JSB, Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin, BWV 125 on the drive back to Woburn.

ca. 14:15 A nap.

17:40 Holmboe, String Quartet № 13 on the drive to Somerville.

18:10 Enter Clarendon Hill Presbyterian Church.

18:30 Carol launches the pre-concert warm-up/touch-up with Seven-Line Supplication.  We have basically 5 mins per number.  For Hariyu, I target two passages, and then yield, figuring that some other item on the program will want an extra minute, at a juncture when time is a precious commodity.  For Green Is the Color of Its Flame, time insufficient to run the lot.  There's a request to run "my" Allargando.  Everything on the program feels good.

ca. 19:30 Triad withdraw to the (notably cooler) basement.  I close my eyes, relax.  Do not actually sleep, of course.

19:55 We line up.

20:05 Concert.  For Hariyu, I add a new bit of "choreography," in stepping aside the stand and crouching for the piano, 6/8 passage; performance sharp, energetic.  The Agnus Dei goes especially mellifluously;  highly satisfactory.  For Green Is the Color of its Flame, my challenge is, especially, to respect the pianist's activity (i.e., that I not rush);  performance warm, solid, optimistic in that peculiarly Thoreau way.  The entire concert went very, very well.

21:15 Après-concert.  The host of the venue warmly congratulated [Triad as represented by] me on "an excellent concert";  he's worked with us/me several times over the years, so we did indeed manage to make an especially strong impression.  A couple of members spoke me encouraging remarks viz. my conducting, for which I am grateful;  I can certainly stand to do better, as with any performance.  One singer paid me the great compliment of saying that in this performance, the final cadence on pacem was especially affecting.  Another asked me how I felt about the tempo, if it was "what [I] had in mind" for the Agnus Dei;  I explained that I wrote the piece with the idea that, depending on the size of the choir, and on the performance space, the tempo would be malleable – that I did not have a single, "correct" tempo which was the necessary ideal.  I assured her that the composer was entirely satisfied with the evening's performance.

21:45 Holmboe, String Quartet № 13 on the drive home.

18 June 2018

From the Archive :: June 2008

18 June 2008

In rehearsing The Mousetrap, Pete and I have found that it runs a bit longer than I’d expected earlier on. And it’s a lunchtime recital, and quite a few fellow workers here at the office will turn out . . . so we can’t have the concert running long.  Regrettably, then, I’ll strike Blue Shamrock from today’s program, and figure on including it in a program later in the year.

20 June 2008

Now it can be told: I had a blast on Wednesday.  Pete is such a damned good player!  The performance of The Mousetrap, notwithstanding its distance from Strict Perfection, amply justified my speculation in writing such a behemoth of a chamber

I hadn’t thought about it in a while;  yet when I was asked the inevitable question, yesterday, about what tie-in the title has with the piece, my former thoughts had settled into something approaching coherence.

The title comes from Hamlet.  The play-within-the-play is The Murder of Gonzago, and yet when Claudius asks, Hamlet tells him the name is The Mousetrap.  Generally, in the background of the composition, were thoughts of how Shakespeare on one level, drew frankly from existing dramatic sources, but created something of excellence which is all his own;  and on another level, has a distinct dramatic event which is an organic piece of the whole.  Part of my thinking in the piece was, a new (for myself) approach to including ‘found objects’, and also variation in representing the object.

Now, I started writing a piece for Pete and me to play together almost exactly a year ago.  Originally it was going to be a relatively brief piece . . . and sparse and atmospheric.  But there wasn’t the time to wrap up composition and get even an easy piece rehearsed in time for the recital, so I set the MS. down.

By the time I took it back up, I had decided on a somewhat grander plan.  Part of this may simply have been, that in my mind, it was a slow-sustained piece for a long time now, and compositionally I wanted to write a burst of activity to contrast.  Even in the early stages of the composition, I had included an ‘organic quotation’, though something pretty obscure and with sentimental value here at home, to make Maria and Irina smile . . . an allusion (though not, in The Mousetrap, in waltz-time) to a waltz used in the Gary Cooper / Audrey Hepburn movie Love in the Afternoon, called “Fascination.”  Soon I was not only broadening the compositional scope, but making a game of composing an environment whose ‘orbit’ might capture various bits from the literature.  Part of what was going on, too, was likely the fact that in writing for viola, I had in mind Shostakovich’s references elsewhere in both the Viola Sonata and the Fifteenth Symphony.  And my own fascination (!) with enlarging the piece was partly a matter of building on the Studies in Impermanence . . . thinking that, having managed a block of 20 minutes with a solo wind instrument, it must after all be an even easier accomplishment with two instruments.

Imperfections of execution notwithstanding, response to the piece was warm, from listeners with a variety of musical background.  A friend of mine has served as a recording engineer intern at Symphony Hall this past season (and she is going to go back to school for more studies this fall).  She very graciously fetched in her gear and recorded the recital; she sounds confident in the quality of the resulting production.  Before I actually get my own hands on the recording, she is going to clean up such things as, the rumble of the Red Line trains regularly passing underneath the Cathedral . . . .

17 June 2018

The Mousetrap of Yore

Ten years ago today, violist Peter Lekx & I were rehearsing The Mousetrap for a 18 June 2008 performance.

My notes from 17 June 2008 include the notation:
Just for the record, Pete is still calling me “evil.”
Few enough have earned the right to sling that adjective at me . . . .

16 June 2018

Back where it began

Here am I, at the Ear Buds place again.  The dream of a young man in the woods, listening.

Working Wherever

And today, at The Composer’s Movable Workplace:

For the second consecutive time (so, yes, it has the appearance of being made a habit) I brought my laptop with me, to work on a task for the HTUMC Music Program while I waited for an oil change.

As befitteth a composer, the timing was perfect:  I had reached the final double-bar of the flute part which I was attaching to Dr John A Behnke’s Now All the Vault of Heaven Resounds just as the announcement came over the intercom inviting me back to the Service Area.

Tomorrow morning, we rehearse the handbells;  and we put it all together Sunday the 24th.

15 June 2018

A kind of floating

Your vision will become clear when you look into your heart.
– Jung

This is more or less how I feel, when I listen to Ear Buds.  When singing, or simply listening to, Nuhro.

There is music which I write, the process of creating which is not (on the surface) governed by how I want to compose it.  But there is a sound in my inner ear, which I know to be a good sound, and a sound apt for expansion into a full piece.  And my “work”?  To be obedient to the sound.

It should be added (that is, it appears to me to be true) that the reason that I am able, today, to ‘surrender’ my musical mind to obedience to a sound, and that the result can be a musical composition with which my ear, my mind, and my heart are altogether satisfied – the reason is, I have years of experience writing, and many of the pieces I have written over the years have been governed (well governed, no tyranny here) by the mind.  The process – not one process, but a repertory of processes, approaches – is internalized.

I can be obedient to the sound, because I know I can trust my ingrained musical habits.  Discipline;  the fruits of discipline.

14 June 2018


Unable to find a suitable brass player for the 24th; so be it.  I do need to prepare a flute part, now.  Or, well, tomorrow.

Struck up an acquaintance with a pianist in Philly.  And recalled that only two of my pieces for piano solo have ever been performed for an audience.

Triad concert this Sunday evening (the 17th).

Michael Joseph is playing an organ recital in Nashua on the 24th, which I can make.

And I pronounce the Dances Defiant done, both the Boston Harbor Heave-Ho (Tea Party Dance) and Revere’s Midnight Reel (War Dance).  They will make a good addition to programming here in Boston, in any event.

On Chatty Porcupines, and No Puertorriqueño of This World

As I cuddled the porcupine,
He said I had none to blame but me [...]
No time for romantic escape
When your fluffy heart is ready for rape.
— Peter Cuddles With Porcupines Gabriel

After Selling England by the Pound, Genesis collectively felt that they had settled, over their first four-ish albums, into something of an airy-fairy rut.  Part of the idea with The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway was, a change in tone (or, something) to a fresh, deep-in-the-NY-street “realism.”  For reasons not germane to this post, the project became a double-LP concept album, and Peter Gabriel took sole charge of writing the words (both the song lyrics, and the rambling prose on the inner gatefold which does not really answer for either clarification, nor synopsis).

It was an ambitious undertaking for a group with more musical polish and acumen than your average pop band.  And I’ll disclose at the outset that, musically, I think it a magnificent achievement, and in spite of the difficulties the band had in the course of its creation and touring.  (It was while touring this album that Gabriel announced to the rest of the band that he had had it.)

The narrator (when the voice is in the first person) is a Puerto Rican youth in New York named Rael.  No, but really.  You hardly get more realistic than that, now, do you?

The second indication that Gabriel did not make sufficient effort to enter the mindset and world of his fictional Puerto Rican:  Rael has a brother named . . . John.  If there was ever a puertorriqueño in New York whose name was Rael (let's be fair—I don’t absolutely know that there has not been), if he had a brother, I bet a jeroboam of Bacardí that the brother’s name was Juan, rather than John.

To repeat, musically I admire this album, practically unreservedly.  All through his stint with Genesis, Gabriel tended to be (to use a charitable adjective) adventurous with words;  and in this Genesis fan’s view, perhaps his successes outnumbered his stinkers, but he misfired with some regularity.  There are IMO cringely moments on all four sides of this double-LP.

Rael is supposed to be a tough city kid.  Again, this is a simple matter of Gabriel failing to focus on remaining in-character.  Consider the following, from “The Chamber of 32 Doors”:

I’d rather trust a countryman than a townman,
You can judge by his eyes, take a look if you can,
He’ll smile through his guard,
Survival trains hard.

The city kid Rael may well trust a countryman better than a city-dweller, though one supposes that his idea of a countryman is theoretical – when would he have soaked in country-living experience?  Theoretical, and therefore possibly a bit romantic.  But, presumably, Rael’s own experience is that survival trains hard in the city, just as much.  The fairest we can say is, this is not a fully-conceived character named Rael speaking;  it’s Author’s Message.  It is not (especially as pop music goes) “bad writing”;  it just doesn’t rise to the ambition of the undertaking.

An unfortunate line that (to my ear) grates worse because he winds up repeating it, riff-like, is that matter of being “ready for rape.”

The sourness of the note is reinforced by my recently reading a similarly unfortunate whitewashing, in Stravinsky’s rather distasteful remark that rape could somehow “be justified by the birth of a child.”

Not to belabor the point (my enjoyment of and admiration for the music is undiminished in either case), the apparent belittling of assault and violation strikes me as, at the least, unseemly.  Products of their time?  Perhaps.

I suppose, though, that in Gabriel’s case, the tone is justified by (what I earlier accused him of failing in) creating a character.

A contemporary-ish counter-example of rape being treated with all due severity, is in Hitchcock’s Marnie, of 1964.  In contrast to Suspicion of 1941, whose ending was modified so that Cary Grant’s character would not be an actual villain, Sean Connery plays a character, not as a rule bad, but who in a moment of weakness is worse than a cad.  Let casuists argue that a husband is “due” the sexual enjoyment of his wife, and therefore it “cannot be” rape;  but, delicately though it is shot and cut, Rutland rapes Marnie, and the consequence is, she attempts suicide.

It is part of our epoch, both that we are faced with a heightened awareness of sexual abuses (of varying degrees) which women suffer as they strive to work in the business world (or indeed, the world at all), and that suicide is on an appalling rise.  I did not set out for this theme, when I started writing this blog post;  nor, having found myself sounding it, do I shun it.  There are those well known to me, of whom it would be a betrayal, if I shrug it off.

Awareness.  Compassion.  Decency.

None of this, is too much to ask.

Awareness.  Compassion.  Decency.

13 June 2018

More proofing

The sweet benefit of having the work substantially done so early:  one can take three days for proofing and refinements.

Even as the sands in the hourglass....

Unsure that I have ‘reported’ this, but there is a chance that we shall play Deep Breath next May, or even sooner, in January.

There is no urgent need to hire, but I am still inquiring after a brass player for Sunday the 24th.  My first choice (a horn player) was unavailable;  nor was my second (euphonium player).  I’ve now sent word to the hornist who was part of the quintet for the première of the full Sweetest Ancient Cradle Song.  I think that if she be unavailable, I’ll discontinue the search.  It is for an anthem which does have parts for an optional brass quintet (which, knowing that we would not hire a full quintet in the near future, I did not purchase);  my idea being that I would draw up my own horn (or euphonium) part.  I have held back on the work, though – partly because I was not sure I should need a horn or a euphonium part, partly because I am also drawing up a flute part for Marissa Bell, and that is a part I shall do differently, if the flute be the only single-line instrument we add to the anthem.

Actually, I sent word to the Cradle Song hornist, courtesy of an address furnished by the first trumpeter from that same occasion, Tim Deik.  As a result, I’ve now sent Tim the brass quartet version (trombones) of Down Along the Canal to Minerva Road.

No word from the euphonium player for whom I prepared a 2 tp/2 euph version of Minerva Road.

Thanks to Facebook, I have reconnected with a French cellist whom I first met here in New England (of course), so, who knows? there may be a French performance of some Henningmusick à bientôt.

To a local string quartet who champion new music, I have sent a follow-up email message.

Very nearly sent a similar follow-up about The Nerves, only I realize that the first message was sent out 10 days ago.  Maybe on some plane of etiquette, 10 days is a polite interval;  but I shall give it a solid two weeks.

A flute player made the initial proposal for a new piece, but I have had no reply to (now) two e-mail messages.  I did begin a fresh sketch, back at the time we spoke in person;  but I shall wait, before continuing.  (Incidentally, this is one reason why opus numbers wind up getting reassigned.)

The Dances Defiant are, I believe, ready for shipment.

There is a local group to whom I sent Misapprehension, oh, some time ago.  No word.

Through all this, what is the important thing?  First, that I continue to do the work.  Second, that I find the work to my own artistic satisfaction.  Third, that there are conductors and performers who are made aware that I am creating new work, each month;  even if no performance results this year, my work has flashed briefly upon their musical consciousness.  Fourth, if I have to make 50 pitches of my work, in order that a single performance may result, there may not, in fact, be any ‘more efficient’ means of getting my work performed – and the effort is not ‘wasted.’

I’m composing music.  It is what I am made to do, and what I have chosen to prepare myself to do, to the highest degree of excellence whereof I am capable.  That my work is so seldom performed, and that I am not paid for my work – these are no fault of mine.  And it is my business, that this fault should continue not to attach to me.

12 June 2018

Stealth Mitzvah

Tonight, I started work on a new cl/org piece, a Voluntary on “Beautiful Savior” (“Fairest Lord Jesus”).  I’m puttering away at it . . . I work at it for perhaps an hour—and suddenly I realize what is different, and in a most gratifying way.

Our organist at HTUMC asked me to write the piece.

Not merely does she welcome such a thing;  she asked me to write a piece.

A Day of the Red Letter, truly.

11 June 2018

Ear Buds (detail)

The initial musical idea for Ear Buds (The dream of a young man in the woods, listening) came to me while I was walking (near the titular woods, in fact) and contemplating a new (and, ideally, better suited) piece for a certain clarinet choir, a certain unusually large clarinet choir, in 15 parts.

Although the musical idea came to me as I hoped to construct a piece better suited to a specific group, I soon reached the conclusion that this piece, too, would prove inadequate to the group’s demands.  In terms of my nascent piece, this was a benefit, as I soon realized that the piece I was forming in my inner ear, would be better served by a less homogeneous ensemble.  Another consideration from the initial spark was, technical ease;  so I decided to compose the piece for symphonic band, with the idea that it may be approachable for a young ensemble.

The scoring for the symphonic band, then, was less than full.  For one example, as I had not long before attended a community band concert, and saw that there were no bassoons in the band – to be more accurate, once of the group’s conductors also served as the sole bassoonist – I wrote Ear Buds with no bassoons.

This, then, was the birth of the Op.135.

Last year, as I was sharing my Symphony with the conductor of a local orchestra, part of the conversation turned (of necessity) upon the challenges faced by the music director of a community orchestra who wants to program a substantial work of new music.  As a possible stepping-stone in that arduous journey, we talked about a smaller-scale orchestral piece.  As chronicled in this blog, I saw to that orchestral adaptation, well, almost exactly a year ago.  On the whole, I think the scoring good;  an artifact from the original band score, though, is the lack of bassoons, which is arguably a peculiarity of the Op.135a.

For the present call, the requirements of scoring meant that I had to scale back the brass a great deal.  From three trumpets (and there are a few places where they have a kind of staggered fanfare), and two horns, and three trombones – to but one of each.  Quite a bit of creative line reassignment was called for, which I had to take on more or less a page-by-page basis;  the addition of the two bassoons was rather a help.  It was necessary also to go from four percussionists, to two;  in this I was helped by the permissible addition of harp.

Thus did the Op.135b come to be.

As with a number of other pieces of mine, although I have sought to accommodate various groups/occasions with alterations, or alternate scorings, none has yet been performed for an audience.

Who knows?  This could be the year.

10 June 2018

Back, forth, and (well) back again

It was mid-May (which is to say, less than a month ago) that I was thinking of modifying the scoring of the orchestral Ear Buds—more accurately, producing an alternative orchestral scoring—for a fresh American Composers Orchestra call.

But, I had other things I was a-writing, and the time fast approached when my desk must be clear for the write-it-quickly event;  and (as noted here) I gave over the idea of the third version of Ear Buds.  After all, I have submitted scores at least twice to ACO calls, and no business resulting.

However, since (a) the work on the pair of Dances has proceeded so well, and (b) the deadline for the ACO call is tomorrow . . . I was well pleased, this afternoon, to see to bringing an orchestral version of Ear Buds into instrumentational compliance with the present ACO call, and I have now submitted it.

You don’t get the rejection letters, if you don’t send your work in . . . .