30 September 2018

Second Task Done

Unsteady State (Grand Lullaby), Op.158 for soprano, piccolo, bass clarinet, violin, cello, marimba & piano, on a text by Leo Schulte, is done.

Task 2.4 (Op.158) - text ahoy

Ma fin est mon commencement

The author, Leo Schulte, having prepared (and on short notice) a verse adaptation of the text which I selected, I began the process of setting the inserted text.  This morning I started at the end, composing music for the final stanza, and then saw to the initial stanza.  And now (or, after lunch, anyway) to see to all the middle stuff.

29 September 2018

Task 2.3 (Op.158)

The conversion of Lutosławski’s Lullaby from a piece for piano solo, to an ensemble which will accompany a soprano, is done:  piccolo, bass clarinet, violin, cello, marimba & piano.  The arc of the scoring is musical, there is nothing ‘automated’ about it. 
And the verse adaptation of the text is ready:

“Yes, it’s true!
A bird once soared
To tell the wind
To carry her
Wherever it desired.

Across the ocean,
Said the wind,
To an island, to a hill
With an offer of seeds,
And insects, and the bones of man.

Still alive were three bones,
Three bones of an ancient man
Delighted by the feathery visit.

“Dear bird, be at home,
And beware,
For the soul of destruction
Resides in this lair,
And I am its keeper,
Both now and ere!”

Chirping and twirbling
In the cool cave air
The finch its beak
Did later clench,
When surrounded by
An imprisoned stench.

Flapping and fluttering
and fleeing the unjailed gas,
The finch peeped forth
A prayer that rang:

“Crows never sleep,
When strychnine dances!
Let us drop the poison,
Where happiness prances,
And crushes our woes!”

The length of the text is perfect for the scale of the piece; I am headed out for another walk while there is light in the sky, and then I shall begin seeing to the text setting.

Task 2.2 (Op.158)

In “building out” the ensemble version of Lutosławski’s Lullaby, and in consideration of there being a soprano in the ensemble, my initial thought was, to scare up a brief Whitman poem.   (I am pretty much always ready to try to invent a musical context for Whitman.)

Another odd strand in the formation of this piece is, I have been listening to The Penguin Café Orchestra in the car this week, and one of the tracks has been “Steady State.”  And, an early decision in this ‘expanded Lullaby’ project was, to title it Unsteady State.

Thus, before even wading into Leaves of Grass, and addressing the challenge of finding a Whitman text to suit the title...I realized that it is preferable by far to find a Schulte passage, and I began leafing (in a Kindle touchscreen way) through From the Temples of the Cloud.

On p.89 (as it reads on my Kindle), Karazama speaks:
“A bird once soared and told the wind to carry her anywhere it desired.  And so the wind blew her across the ocean to an island, where it landed on a high hill.  A fissure at the top of the hill beckoned to her with hints of food, if she hopped into its darkness.  And so the bird accepted the offer, and, in the dimness of one ray of light, fluttered down to a muddy surface full of insect and seeds and the bones of man.  Some of the bones, however, still lived, and those were in an ancient man delighted by the sudden company.  And he said: ‘Hello, dear bird, be at home and beware, for the soul of destruction resides in this lair, and I am its keeper, both now and ere.’  The bird knew nothing of this, and chirped and twirbled in the cool cave air, until an imprisoned stench, searching its cell for escape, surrounded the visiting finch.  Fluttering and flapping to escape, the bird peeped forth a prayer that said: ‘Crows never sleep when strychnine dances, so let’s drop the poison where happiness prances and crushes our woes!’ And so I bless you all in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen! That’s it!”
I think that will do perfectly.  And Mr Schulte is working on a poetical adaptation of the prose.

Task 2.1 (Op.158)

So the idea here is, to take Lutosławski’s Lullaby (not that there is aught wrong with it as is, just piano solo) and “expand” it by adding marimba, two winds, two strings, and a soprano (and therefore adding a Whitman text).  The marimba and piano together will serve as the, erm, “rhythm section”; and the marimba part is therefore the first of the tasks which I have now completed.

First Task Done

On 17 September, Marshunda wrote to suggest that we play Deep Breath with No-Name Orchestra in Beverly this January.  I immediately promised her the strings parts, and only somewhat less than immediately, that promise fell into neural oblivion.  Why did I remember, out of the blue, at four of this morning’s clock?  Who can say.  It is not hard duty, and there is not much reason why I could not have fulfilled the request within a few days of the request.  On that other hand, there was no urgency, so I am no White Rabbit here.

Now, at any rate, the parts are readied, and sent.

Now, to the next thing . . . .

28 September 2018

Back in the Zone (1/24)

I hadn’t meant to slide back into The Twilight Zone.

Notwithstanding my objections to A Certain Writer’s spurious methods of expressing his preference for The Outer Limits to Rod Serling’s landmark series, my viewing (soon after) the episodes “The Chameleon” and “The Forms of Things Unknown" was an encouragement to continue with The Outer Limits. Yet, continue did I not.

Instead, control of my Blu-ray player was lost to The Twilight Zone, and I found myself readily lured into watching (again!) the first seven episodes of Season One. Only one of the considerations was, this time, I concentrated more on Bernard Herrmann’s superb scoring for “Where Is Everybody?,” “Walking Distance,” and “The Lonely.”

Spoilers will follow.

“Where Is Everybody?,” the pilot for the series, faked out producer William Dozier (who also produced Batman, and was the voice of “Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel”) because at the end, a plausible, real-world rationale is provided, which explains the combination mystery and paranoid fantasy which preceded.

One criticism leveled at “One for the Angels” was, that Ed Wynn was incapable of a pitchman’s rapid sales patter; yet I find that his affable manner, indeed partly reflected in his disinclination to fast talking, makes Lew Bookman all the more sympathetic a character. This more than compensates for the possible disbelief that Ed Wynn could so engross Mr Death that the hour of his fateful appointment slips his steely mind. And Lew Bookman becomes Twilight Zone Casualty #1.

There is a touch of gentle humor, too, in the fairly earnest Western, “Mr Denton on Doomsday,” though at first the emotional highlight is Martin Landau’s cruel hazing. The character of Henry J. Fate is at once both a chap of neighborly concern, and a businessman who does not play favorites, and in the process gives the momentary appearance of having betrayed Al Denton. The first of the episodes to have an unambiguously happy ending, perhaps.

Ida Lupino provides perhaps the necessary celebrity factor so that the central character “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine” is both plausibly a prima donna, yet sympathetic.  But there is an unforgiving edge to her nostalgia, and while Jerry Hearndan takes no offense (out of affection for his former partner), her rejection is appallingly cold.  For Barbara Jean Trenton, escape is all; so in a sense, this episode, too, concludes happily.

His own harshest critic, Rod Serling afterwards spoke negatively of “Walking Distance,” which is the first time-travel episode of the series (though we add as a footnote that Barbara Jean Trenton’s transfer to celluloid was essential a desire to travel back in time).  The middle-aged businessman who meets his 11-year-old self, carving his name on the town gazebo (Serling later said) should have been frozen into astonished inaction.  But this strikes me as quibbling with believabilities in fantasy.  The older Martin responds with a fully believable frustration which springs from his dissatisfaction with the daily New York grind; he hectors his mother to the point that she must slap his cheek to stop his mad-seeming rant.  Serling’s later equivocation notwithstanding, “Walking Distance” is a signal dramatic and emotional success.

The first of a number of updated Faustian fables, “Escape Clause” is mostly comic, but with an unforgiving comeuppance that overtakes Walter Bedeker. Bedeker is so insufferable, though, that satisfaction at the miscarriage of his scheme rings resonantly with the comedy. Twilight Zone casualty #2 occasions no mourning for the audience, either.

 Although it is the first science-fiction episode of the series, “The Lonely” is more an off-beat love story.  Jack Warden is won over, in despite of his harsh initial reception of Alicia.  At last, he finds, not without bitterness at the visual shocker at the end, that it is better to have loved and lost, than to remain to bake his brains out on a prison asteroid.

I’ve written at length out of fresh love and admiration for a show which, to my eyes and heart, is one of the pinnacles of American television, and the enduring cornerstone of the legacy of one of America’s great writers, and a man who was humane and humble as well as a great writer.

Lullaby by the bye

Further Adventures in No One Is Going to Need It, Probably

Once, long, long ago, I prepared an organ adaptation of Lutosławski’s Lullaby (and, rather later, the cello choir in four parts, and string quartet adaptations).  I am now considering crafting an adaptation for Pierrot-plus ensemble (in which the clarinet must be bass clarinet, and bass clarinet alone).  I believe this will be a stimulating way to pass a Saturday morning.

26 September 2018

Quartet at work

Often when my situation has been as desperate, as hopeless, or more so, if possible, than it is at present, some unexpected interposition of Providence has rescued me from a fate that has appeared inevitable.  I do not particularly allude to recent circumstances or latter years, for from my earlier years I have been the child of Providence–then why should I distrust its care now?  I do not distrust it–neither do I trust it.  I feel perfectly unanxious, unconcerned, and indifferent as to the future; but this is not trust in Providence–not that trust which alone claims its protections.  I know this is a blamable indifference–it is more–for it reaches to the interminable future.  It turns almost with disgust from the bright prospects which religion offers for the consolation and support of the wretched, and to which I was taught, by an almost adored mother, to look forward with hope and joy; but to me they can afford no consolation.  Not that I doubt the sacred truths which religion inculcates.
– Washington Irving, Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey

If anyone has Mahler on the celestial hotline, let him know I’ve got his Fifth Symphony playing as Music to Fold Laundry By.

No one will make you smile in quite the way a younger brother does when he writes, “I have a knack for making the women in my life angry with me, but I’ve reached new heights . . . .”

No one is calmer
Than Palmer’s embalmer.

Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Friends.  It is really all about friends.

It appears that I shall indeed play the Voluntary on “Beautiful Savior” as part of a very special evensong next month, but I should say no more at present.  I see the bag out of which the cat is not to be let.

Last night we had a marvelously good (and efficient) rehearsal for the King’s Chapel program we shall play on 16 October.  The undeniable, and not altogether surprisingly obvious, benefit of refreshing Mistaken for the Sacred and Kurosawa’s Scarecrow has been, they are falling back in with ease, and the new performance will be a significant gain I musical polish.  The Boston Harbor Heave-Ho, too, is shuffling in very nicely.

And it is friends who are making all this possible, the talented musicians who are friends, and who generously make their talents and time available to me in order to put this program together.

We’re ahead enough in the process that we have more attention, earlier on, for a more playful interaction with the fixed media, and of course it makes for a whole new order of experience.

Thanks to a Virtual Friend’s kind listening to the fixed media for A Heart So White, I have revisited that as well, and I do think it good.

David Bohn has sent out a fresh call, this time for a toy piano piece, so I should bend some thought thereupon.

The smug tut-tutter

There’s a chap I “knew” via an Internet group about classical music, and while we differed in the occasional exchange about social or political issues, we shared a number of musical enthusiasms, and he seemed nominally interested in my compositional work.


Some years ago he dropped out from the group, but we remained “friends” on Facebook.  For five, eight years (I dunno) our contact was infrequent.

Never, and I do mean never, in all that time did he make any comment about my musical posts on Facebook.  So:  zero interest on his part in me as a musician.  On the rare occasion when he would chime in, 1) it was always in response to one of my relatively infrequent politics-related posts, and 2) it was never to exchange ideas, but to act the corrective schoolmarm:  essentially “you're wrong,” “how disappointing,” variations on those themes.  Of themselves, nothing which would be out of place in an actual friendship.  But, an actual friend’s part would extend much broader than preaching about political remarks to which he objects.

This is not about bruised feelings (they aren’t) nor about only being friends with people who pretty much agree with me on all things political (I am not).  It’s the realization that I am not a person to this “friend.”  I’m just someone he enjoys expressing political disapproval of.  I am certain that he is an actual person; but from the nature of his responses, and their observedly specific triggers, to my own posts, any other person would be forgiven for wondering if he is not simply a bot.

I waited a couple of years for some, for any, interest on his part in my musical work.  As he has expressed none, his latest exercise in social media self-righteousness simply aided me in formalizing a decision which had been a low-impact question for 2-3 years.

Farewell, and best of luck.

22 September 2018

Not that we all need work the same

One dialogueless scene in Woody Allen's Interiors is a matter of the camera cutting between Renata’s (Diane Keaton's) face, and the pad of paper at whose head she is laboring at alternately scribbling (nervously) and striking-through (thoroughly), and at last, with only two lines of text penciled in, and unable to get the first line to her satisfaction, she crumples the page.

Ah, the tortured artist. Not but I'm (reasonably) sure that some are really racked. Gosh, but it remains a durably popular image. But that's not the fish presently in my frying pan.

As for myself, that's not what I do with paper. Mind you, I appreciate the cinematic applications of paper-crumpling. Rod Serling's “Midnight Never Ends" from the second season of Night Gallery comes straight to mind. But even when I feel that there is something inadequate in what I have set down on paper, I want to see it. I strike through mistakes, but the not-yet-up-to-snuff measures, I want to see them. To reflect on what was amiss with them. To benefit from even the discards.

I never crumple paper. But, that may just be me.

Those pulp writers! they will be going on and on

Yesterday I read, on the Internet (I did not think to save the link, so salt to taste, sure) that Stephen King wrote that he preferred The Outer Limits to The Twilight Zone, because he found the latter too inclined to the Morality Tale.

No, wait . . . I have found the link, and King expresses himself with surprisingly liberal vitriol:
[...]“smarmy,” “simplistic,” or “almost painfully corny” moral tales that were “really sentimental riffs on old supernatural themes.”
One points out, considering that, yes, Rod Serling had a passion for addressing social issues, and since matters too socially relevant were anathema to the toothpaste and laundry detergent manufacturers who sponsored early television, why, yes indeed, part of the ethos of The Twilight Zone was to address social problems in the ‘theoretical’ realm of fantasy.

There is also the not inconsiderable matter of how, when Stephen KingStephen King, if you please—complains about any other writers on the planet ‘riffing,’ the ancient exhortation Know thyself springs to mind.

But, set that aside, and allow King his opinion, by all means.

What should I see last night, but an episode from season 1 of The Outer Limits, “The Chameleon” (with Robert Duvall—at least, when he’s not hidden in a B.E.M. [Bug-Eyed Monster] costume), an episode which is as bald a morality tale as any to have appeared on The Twilight Zone, and to which any smarmy, snobby genre-writer might object.  A fairly air-tight argument can be made that “The Chameleon” is a sentimental riff on an old theme.  Which does not at all interfere with my enjoying the story, and its execution.

My personal preference is for The Twilight Zone, as may be divined from the fact that I have watched through the original series twice (and I am alive to its flaws—its undeniable excellence is not unimpaired), where I have yet to make my way completely through the two seasons of The Outer Limits.  Preferring the one does not obligate me to denigrate the other;  I am indeed making my way through the rest of the latter series, and I greatly enjoy virtues which had, largely, escaped me whenever I watched it in younger days.

Another case of King basically grinding his own axe, and mistaking the whetstone for an Oracular pedestal, appears at the head of the linked article:
[...] for sheer hard-edged clarity of concept, The Twilight Zone could not match The Outer Limits [....]
Consider the following thesis:
For sheer hard-edged clarity of concept, The Outer Limits could not match See Spot Run.
Most critics, writers, and just-plain-Joe viewers, if asked, would likely cite the subtleties and ambiguities of The Twilight Zone as an artistic virtue, a point of especial interest, and not as any ‘failure to be clear’.

One has every expectation that the millions of fans of Stephen King, find his writing clear.  Clarity is a mode, not itself the prize.  Why, yes, there is also content to be considered.

In conclusion, my quarrel with the wealthy writer’s remarks is not a matter of his maintaining a position, an opinion, at variance with mine.  Perhaps I might worry, if King and I agreed on much.  My point is that he does not make a case for Girl With a Pearl Earring, by painting a mustache on La giaconda.

20 September 2018

3rd of the original 3

My expectation as recorded herein was, that my work would not be among those chosen.

Oh, boy: right, again,

Of the bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells, bells

What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
– Edgar Allan Poe

If we knew then, what we didn’t know then . . . .
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

The first consideration before this blog post is: periodically, as Music Director at Holy Trinity UMC, I need to populate the folders of the handbell choir with music.  It’s not just “the job,” it’s a pleasantly stimulating task.  A game, and not a chore.

The second consideration is: at the beginning of each year, I may not have a clear idea of how many bell-ringers I need to accommodate.  The more, the merrier; yet, if I put a piece in the folder which needs ten people, but only seven come in, the ten-ringer piece is not serviceable.

The third is: part of my Job Description is (here I paraphrase) Composer of Ad Hoc Musical Requisites.  Hey, this is partly why I contracted for the job.

The fourth consideration is: as in my regular, non-directorial composing, I happily rely on the fecund whimsicality of my Muse.  She ain’t let me down yet.

Sometimes, I just leaf through the hymnal.

(There are still uses for old-school books.)

This Sunday past, I chanced to find a hymn adaptation of “The Call,” from Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs.  Practically immediately, I wanted both to adapt it (in a breezy, minimal-effort way) for the choir to sing during Communion, and to arrange it for the handbells, together with our doughty young flutist, Marissa Bell.  With our first handbell rehearsal this Sunday, the flute-&-handbell arrangement perforce came first, and I finished that yester even.

I wanted also to revisit Rejoice from the spring.  Originally scored for 12 bells and optional drum, we had four players manage three bells each by playing with mallets.  (Then, as we did have a reliable fifth participant, I hastily drew up an additional ringing bell part.)  Originally, too, I meant it for a smoking tempo; in our spring performance, we opted not to smoke.

So this time, I want us to ring the piece, and I want to start out with a conception of tempo which is reasonably achievable.  And the drum will not be optional, since we found that the drum is even more helpful than my simply conducting–if I am conducting, they know where beat 1 is, but if they are suffering any doubt, they may not know for which measure I am beating 1.  For this adaptation–Rejoice (II)–I wanted to do without the Zen-like ‘empty spaces’ at the beginning, which at the original smoking tempo are dramatic pauses, but which at a slower pace practically invite folks in the audience to shout “Get On With It!”

So, I woke up early.  Normally my alarm goes off at 4:20–okay, my alarm went off at 4:20, as usual, today, only I awoke an hour ahead of the alarm.  And, well, I rather wanted to see to Rejoice (II) ahead of the work day, so my Muse was probably telling me something.

19 September 2018

19 Sep 2008

Ten years ago today, Our Man in Montréal wrote (of the Henning Op.92):

What I crave most about you Passion, Karl, its its closeness with Johns’ unique writing style.  He, alone among the Evangelists, wrote in a repetitive-accretive idiom. And that's where that Firste Parte really hits it: the increasingly hypnotic manner in which John brings us into the Passion narrative.  And then that break of emotional/writing style for a more emotional, broken, “quavering” response to the Crucifixion and Entombment.  And how the initial “archaic” musical style comes back in places in that last third of the work.  Mixing the old with the new is particularly relevant here.

I’ve always preferred Bach’s St-John Passion to his St-Matthew one – even though the latter has a more ‘spiritual’ bent.  No wonder he was called St-John The Divine.  Karl has grasped this essential – unique – character about John’s writing.  I’m not comparing Henning to Bach, but the artist’s response to his subject.  And it’s fully worthy of It.

18 September 2018

Got it!

On my way back in from a good walk at the pond, I had a “miniature Eureka!”  I now know how I want to write Olivia Kieffer’s solo part to [the original conception of] Mistaken for the Sacred.

About time! we find ourselves close to saying, as The k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble prepares its second performance of the Op.141a.  But, I am pleased with the idea.  And, once I get the week’s handbell choir music done (and the Mystery Tune for Michael Joseph’s recital in Billerica on Sunday) I shall set to’t.

Thy song expands my numb’d, imbonded spirit

And he called the band down to the stage,
And he looked at all the friends he made.
– Jethro Tull, "The Minstrel in the Gallery"

He permitted no sound of lute or harp or song or other loose minstrelsy to be heard in his fortress, debauching the ear and softening the valor of the soldier; no other music was allowed but the wholesome rolling of the drum and braying of the trumpet, and such like spirit-stirring instruments as filled the mind with thoughts of iron war.
– Washington Irving, Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada,
"Of the Fortress of Alhama, and How Wisely It Was Governed by the Count de Tendilla"

Excellent, positive, productive Triad meeting last night. And I was served as fine a cup of chamomile tea as was ever quaffed in the Commonwealth.  Reflecting the present reduction in both personnel and rehearsal time, we're planning a program partly of SATB (or thereabouts) unaccompanied pieces, partly of solos.  Hence, it was decided (and not upon my insistence) to proceed with It Might Happen Today; and as one of the solo works, Sudie is looking at The Mystic Trumpeter.  Curiously, about a week ago I began contemplating a new voice-&-clarinet Whitman setting, to perform with Amanda; revisiting "that strange musician" of the Op.113 will be the perfect preparation.

And–as if that were not enough good news for one day/blog post–Marshunda wrote asking if we might go forward with Deep Breath for No Name Orchestra's 19 January date.

Tonight, I should chop out some handbell music.

17 September 2018

Noise vibrating through the air of the Library

Institutions have never been reliable gauges of artistic merit.

People have a knack for being both rather better than you hoped, and perhaps even a shade worse than you feared.

Work which is bad, but which bears the right labeling, will succeed in this environment, where good work which resists easy description is rejected.  Rejected even by people who know that, historically, the artists they admire created work which defied easy description in their day.

Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

No labor-saving machine,
Nor discovery have I made;
Nor will I be able to leave behind me any wealthy bequest to found a hospital or library,
Nor reminiscence of any deed of courage, for America,
Nor literary success, nor intellect—nor book for the book-shelf;
Only a few carols, vibrating through the air, I leave,
For comrades and lovers.
– Walt Whitman

Nine years ago today (tonight), we made Noise in the Library.  Which confirms that it is about time I revived the Studies in Impermanence.

And today, in an off-chance which ranks mighty high on the Trippy Scale, I have found (what I was not particularly looking for today) the symphonic band arrangement of the Egyptian Dance from White Nights.

Or, it might not (happen, today)

They say they don’t need money,
They’re livin’ on nuts & berries.
– The Talking Heads, “Animals”

“Remember, O king, that thou canst not refuse this challenge; since thy prophet, knowing the impossibility of maintaining his doctrines by argument, has commanded his followers to enforce them with the sword.”
– Washington Irving, “The Crusade of the Grand Master of Alcantara”

The great unexpected news item is, the tantalizing possibility of another Massachusetts ensemble performing The Young Lady Holding a Phone in Her Teeth.  It does not seem to be an insurmountable problem, for the performance set to come on-line at Lux Nova Press.

Meeting tonight with Triad, in quest of the solution to the present conundrum.  My proposal will be, not to consider this a disaster in terms of what the Repertory Committee was planning, but to consider a tactical insertion into the Long-Term Plan:  a “Triad Sings Triad” program, all in-house pieces which require less-extensive preparation, all voiced SATB.  From my own folio, I should propose both the Alleluia in A-flat, and the Magnificat from the Evening Service in D.  Perhaps It Might Happen Today is only postponed until the spring.

This week, I need to get two pieces into the handbell choir folders.  For one, I’m planning a slight adaptation of Rejoice from the spring.  For another, thinking of arranging Vaughan Williams’ The Call for flute plus handbells, the thought arising from finding a version of this in the hymnal yesterday morning.

I have a suspicion that there is a rehearsal tomorrow evening, where I am not expected, yet where I shall be made welcome.

15 September 2018


Saturday started out by permitting me at last the time to complete the flute adaptation of the Voluntary on “Beautiful Savior.”  And, for my next exercise in hopefulness, am sending out the Visions fugitives de nouveau to a call.

A message came in that the decision which was to be announced today, has been delayed.  Of course, the notice is a courtesy, and one is thankful.

Much occasion to revisit cherished memories, at Jack Parry’s memorial service today.  Jack was one of the anchors of my tenor section for years (and we learnt today that he sang in the church choir 58 years).  To have known him, is a blessing.

14 September 2018

Never Stop

“And it is also said, Go not to the Elves for counsel, for they will say both no and yes.”
Frodo, having asked advice of the Noldo Gildor in exile

It is also said, Go not to Elvis for counsel, for he will say both love me tender and love me true.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Very pleased to report that participation in the church choir remains strong;  it is certainly true that having an organist who is (to say no more) both agreeable and competent helps a great deal there.  The fundamental fact is that the choir share a love for serving the congregation, and for working together harmoniously.  From an impartial, musical standpoint, the rehearsals are fun and productive, morale is good, and the congregation appreciates the musical quality.  It is a situation for which any church music director would be grateful.

There remains something of a question mark with Triad;  the strong expectation is that this stems mostly from the customarily spotty communication among the collective, plus the reduced capacity during the start of a new school year, but the question is–when do we start rehearsing?  (And, I suppose, the related question, where shall we rehearse?)  I expect a satisfactory resolution of it all, but it does feel a bit like floating loose at present.

Meanwhile, the imminent weekend is an apt time to get back into the swing of practicing clarinet, as we prepare for the King’s Chapel date in October.

Nothing from Verdant Vibes, but my expectations are nil on that head, and I don’t care who knows it.  Nor are those expectations any reflection on the quality of the music I submitted.

And . . . I’ve just now found 5 or 6 other calls to send music to.  I suppose the answer must be, just to keep sending.

13 September 2018

From the archive: 11 years ago today

From Cathedral days.

[ 13 Sept 2007 ]

Choir rehearsal again last night. We had a no-frills read-through of Bless the Lord, O My Soul (which I think we may be singing on 7 October).  We also had a good twenty minutes of solid rehearsal on Nuhro, culminating in a complete read-through, with no train-wrecks of note; the piece is slated for 4 November.  I was really pleased with how good it sounded, even last night . . . it sounds more like a piece we worked on a lot last year, and not so much like a piece we haven’t sung together for several months.

Composition has taken a smaller slice of the time-pie lately; but I am still making progress on The Mousetrap . . . got a good jump on a passage described in my notes simply as “unison dance”; and I have been crunching pre-compositional notions for an abstract arabesque section of some three minutes.  Formally (in abstract terms) it is not at any great remove from the Studies in Impermanence, a fanciful composition-qua-stage-improv.  I suppose that what these pieces are for me, is something like this:  with a number of other pieces I’ve written, I have often had a very clear ‘global’ design of the piece, and in a number of these cases, one of the first sections (or at any not, not the last section) of the piece that I’ve composed, was the end, so that I knew ‘where to go’.  So in The Mousetrap, as in the Studies in Impermanence, instead I am engaging in a ‘working from inside the narrative’ perspective, playing with the relation of the parts, keeping a not-entirely-drooping eye on the whole, but largely trusting the ‘formative’ powers of the parts and of the narration.

And, of course, the English horn version of the Studies in Impermanence is on John’s [John Rasmussen] program this Saturday evening.

This past Sunday’s performance of the Alleluia in D, although Ed [Broms] approves and will use it for the radio, will not go on this week!  Stand By . . .

Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras

Caution:  It may not mean anything.

Do that which you know you ought:
Let the bacon home be brought.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

The first performance of any new piece is shy of ‘perfection’ (however considered). That said, the Voluntary on “Beautiful Savior” went well Sunday morning; I shall see when Barbara is game to give it a second go.  And, Sunday afternoon, Peter & I had a good, efficient rehearsal of Considering My Bliss Options.

Monday was originally slated for our first Triad rehearsal of the new cycle; we are considering a different rehearsal schedule.

Tuesday, we had the first full rehearsal for the 16 October concert at King’s Chapel, and it went beautifully.  The two refreshed pieces (Mistaken for the SacredKurosawa’s Scarecrow) fit back into place with remarkable ease, which is to say, we are in great shape.  The new piece, the Boston Harbor Heave-Ho (“that which the Rapido! contest rejected”) was well received by all the players, which is, simply, exactly what the composer expected.

Tonight is the second choir rehearsal of my sixth year with Holy Trinity United Methodist Church.  For the first four years one of my best tenors was a nonagenarian, a wonderfully cheerful fellow named Jack.  As his eyesight failed, he came to choir less and less.  I periodically rang him to see how he was doing.

On a somber note, at this past Sunday’s service we learnt that Jack had died.  The choir will sing to honor him at the memorial service this Saturday, my arrangement of Precious Lord.

One of the musically interesting things about Jack, who sang in choirs and choruses from his teen years, is that (when his voice broke, that is) he started out as a bass, but his range migrated up.

Earlier on Tuesday, at last, the new M.D. at First Church, Robert Jan August & I enjoyed meeting one another.  I had already started to adapt the Voluntary on “Beautiful Savior” for flute & organ, for my old friend John Rasmussen, and I was delighted to learn that Robert’s wife is a flutist–which is ample motivation to finish and polish up the new arrangement this Saturday morning.

10 September 2018


Here were the notes for my lecture three weeks ago, Gentle Reader . . . but what of the performance, you have been asking?

08 September 2018

Spoilerly musings

This has to do with the 1978 Philip Kaufman Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and there will be spoilers. If you have not yet seen the movie, do not read on.

(No peeking.)

Leonard Nimoy reassures Donald Sutherland about Brooke Adams, saying, A good night's sleep wouldn't hurt.  This is a richly subtle line, in context.

Nimoy plays a psychiatrist, and Sutherland brought Adams to him for help, so the line on the surface is obvious, sensible advice from a doctor.

But we already have reason to suspect that the psychiatrist may have been changed, from the disappearance of the body from the Bellicec mud bath, and the open window. If that is the case, then a good night's sleep wouldn't hurt has a dark edge: he would mean, when Elizabeth goes to sleep, her body will be snatched, and thus the problem will go away.

Much later in the movie, when Elizabeth is changed, she tells Matthew, They were right, it's painless. It's good.

So when Nimoy told Sutherland, A good night's sleep wouldn't hurt, it could both be true that he is an alien wanting that Elizabeth be converted, and that the experience will not hurt.

Heave-Ho anew

In the proposed program which appears in this blog a few days since, Gentle Reader, I listed the Boston Harbor Heave-Ho (Tea Party Dance) as scored for two flutes and clarinet.

Ladies and gentlemen, there has been a change.

It began in the group e-mail exchange with “the band” in which thoughts about rehearsal times and the program were batted about.  Seeing that the Tea Party Dance was horn-less, Pam wrote (in jest):  Don’t you need the horn to play offbeats in the new dance?

But, although a light remark, everyone liked the idea.  I mean, of adding the horn, not of giving Pam oom-pah’s.

The challenge, of course, was to add a fourth line, and have it fold in organically, not to have it feel like an “addition.”

That, Gentle Reader, was my work this afternoon, and the composer is well pleased with the result.

(This will mean, of course, that I need to add a fourth line to Revere’s Midnight Reel . . . I suppose for the spring concert.)

 (photo courtesy of Maria Bablyak)

The Entertainment Value of Paranoia

Last Sunday night (at last) I watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the original, that is.   When the remake came out, I saw that in the cinema, and I thought highly of it (scary enough that I did not go back a second time . . . now I am curious to revisit it, of course).  The triumph of the original is that it does not depend on any special effects beyond the era’s capabilities, most of it is the script and the acting.  Holy cats, that was Morticia (Carolyn Jones) as Teddy Belicec.  My first epiphany was the score composed and conducted by Carmen Dragon, who before was just a walk-on at the end of The In-Laws to me.  I half-wondered if Miles and Becky did not kiss too long for the censors of the day, though of course they were standing.

As a mere formality, I shall say SPOILER ALERT, though anyone who has seen even the remake, or knows a fair bit about the movie unseen, will not find any objection here.

So Becky does fall asleep, and she is taken over.  But how (or why)?  Presumably there was no pod in the tunnel.  And, the whole idea is that the pod becomes your double, perfect in every detail, except it lacks your mind, which it absorbs from your nearly sleeping self.  As I read it, there is no reason why Becky should not have awakened herself.


Oh, I almost forgot: an uncredited Richard Deacon!

Last night, then, and for the first time since watching it in the cinema when it opened, oh, 40-ish years ago, the remade Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  At the time of the original movie, the studio suits had little tolerance for genre-mixing, and after they overheard laughter and gasps alternating through the course of a test-screening, they compelled Don Siegel to drop the humorous elements.  It means something, that the movie which remained nevertheless worked as a good “study in paranoia” for the era; but it is arguably a bit flat.   What a delight, on revisiting the remake, to find (to be reminded, that is) that there is ample humor strewn here and there for comic relief, which does serve the main story, is no distraction.

So, almost completely ignorant of the original as I was back then, I missed the fact that the screaming man who rebounds from Sutherland’s cracked windscreen is Kevin McCarthy, essentially recapitulating a scene from the original.  Let alone that it was Don Siegel driving the cab which is not going to take Matt and Elizabeth to the airport.

So a core of “the team” from the original was on board with the remake, and there is a degree of “making it, now, the way we should have preferred, in 1956” at play.  Most particularly the ending, where (as 1978 director Philip Kaufman says) the movie doesn
t let the audience off the hook.

I love the ensemble in the remake—Donald Sutherland, Leonard Nimoy, Jeff Goldblum, Veronica Cartwright.  I ought to include Brooke Adams, hers is a more central character than any, and it seems a discourtesy to her.  But.  On the one hand, unlike any of the four I named as the ensemble, Brooke Adams cut something of an indistinct figure.  Fact is, when I saw her at first, I wondered if she was Karen Allen (Marion in the Indiana Jones movies), although I soon understood that Karen Allen would have been too young at the time.  On that other hand, her role is rather passive.  Her husband, Geoffrey, pod person though he has become, is in some ways a more dramatically interesting character (in, say, the scene when Matt has had the police in to find, or not to find as it happens, the duplicate body for Elizabeth).  She winds up being Matt’s love interest, which is not simply an outgrowth of their always having been flirty friends from the start, but (again) something of a defensive reaction to the events all around them.  And, of course, like Becky Driscoll in the original, she grows too weary, and winds up needing to sleep.  One could argue that Jeff Goldblum does less actual acting than does Brooke Adams . . . he is more or less himself, plus some physicality.  But then, the tension between Goldblum and Nimoy is one of the lesser plot points (Matt telling himself, more than telling Jack, “You’ve never agreed with him in your life before”).

I like both, though my preference goes to the remake, both because of the sentimental factor—I might have been 19 when I saw it, and I was in for the ride, finding it every bit as creepy and compelling as the director might have wished—and because the elements which remake “restores” do add value.  As with the original, the special effects for the 1978 outing are, erm, organic, and serve the story and the tone perfectly.  The score is adequate, but not IMO great.  At times it feels like ABC Sunday Night Movie (so, of its era), at times like a poor man’s William Schuman, at times like the nascent synthesized music scene.  It all works, do not get me wrong; with a perhaps too-critical ear, I call it patchy, workmanlike.  There, the original with the score by Carmen Dragon gets the nod.

Other quibbles with the remake are: I think the opening outer space sequence unnecessary.  The big set-piece near the end, of Matt chopping the light cables to throw the nursery into (hopeful) ruin . . . for me, the weak point of a strong narrative arc.  And the two cuts or so in this montage, of pods spitting blood, are the weakest special effects of the flick.

06 September 2018

The present up-gearing

…something in the shadows waiting to pounce…
– A listener in the UK, describing the passacaglia in Plotting (y is the new x)

Now that all the clouds of Doubt are dispersed, I am greatly excited about the King’s Chapel program.

Kurosawa’s Scarecrow and Mistaken for the Sacred are both revivals;  and thus, we expect to be able to improve even upon the highly satisfactory première performances.  In particular, I think we can count on being able to crank the fixed media – that is, that in our caution, we under-dialed the fixed media in the past.

The Boston Harbor Heave-Ho (Tea Party Dance) and Considering My Bliss Options are both ad hoc rearrangements, of 2018 compositions (allowing for the fact that the first 21 mm. of the latter were composed in early 2016).  And indeed, at Peter H. Bloom’s suggestion, I shall add the horn to the Tea Party Dance.  Why leave Pamela Marshall out of the fun? in the first place; and i’ the second, I am musically amused at the challenge of adding an optional fourth line.

Our first rehearsal as a quartet will be this Tuesday coming.  Also on Tuesday, I shall meet up at last with the new-ish Music Director at First Church, Robert Jan August.  One of the choir member’s wrote earlier to say both that Love Is the Spirit has been on a kind of sabbatical, in respect for the choir’s associating the piece strongly with previous director Paul Cienniwa;  and that they fully mean to re-establish it in their repertory (after a decent interval).  And the composer is grateful for both considerations.

Oh, and I am hoping that PeterI can get together this Sunday to start considering my Considering My Bliss Options.

Also, Barbara Otto and I shall play the Voluntary on Schönster Herr Jesu this Sunday.

And there is a special event brewing in honor of a certain person in a certain specific Boston locale in October.  Hush-hush.