31 July 2021

Jack (Kerouac) in July

Read on the Interwebs:
“... she’s probably got a good feel for Stylus phantasticus and I intend to get hold of her Buxtehude.”
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

I asked Hitler about it.
He has no interest in anything other than the Sudetenland.
I believe him.

— Neville Chamberlain

Having made the necessary textual decisions, I have been able to get on with composing the piece—I cannot call them tough decisions, but I was hesitant to ‘cut’ text. It’s funny how just selecting text beforehand can make one feel proprietary.

The fact is, though, that when I got to four minutes and a half with the piece, my pleasure at the landmark was confused by a kind of anxiety over ‘how much text remained’ an obligation which was actually a chimæra.  With today’s work, the piece is nearing the six-minute mark. We shall see how much progress tomorrow may bring.

28 July 2021

Satori in Woburn

Amen, an Omen! Eased meets West.
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

I’ve started out for God knows where
I guess I’ll know when I get there

— Tom Petty, “Learning to Fly”

There is no denying, as I look back on Monday through today, that I did not do all the composing which I perhaps might have done. But I accomplished a great deal today: Gentle Reader, I have eased myself of an unnecessary self-imposed burden. Even having discarded’ one chorus, as I reported on Monday, I felt too much like Procrustes as I considered four more choruses against the fact that I can really compose only four minutes more music to fulfill my charge. All that discomfort fell off my shoulders this evening as it dawned upon me—the text for the piece is mine to select, and I am not obliged to set each chorus in its entirety. Pretty simple, but it was just out of my sight until I rounded some kind of corner today.  Between that realization and composing a few measures of the vocal line, I am thoroughly pleased with the day’s work, and can down tools with a clear conscience.

26 July 2021

With a nod to Tom Godwin

Start smaller: carpe meridiem.
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

When I saw the Beatles film A Hard Day’s Night in England, that’s when I decided that I too would form a four-man group [The Firesign Theatre] but I didn’t want us to dress alike. Those were my very thoughts.

— Peter Bergman

In August of 1954, Tom Godwin published “The Cold Equations,” a story whose dramatic springhead is a stowaway on a space ship, and the logistical problems resulting from the additional weight. I had read the story while yet a teenager, and more recently I found it was adapted for the 80’s “reboot” of The Twilight Zone. a show I consider a success, overall. But I digress.

I selected texts for the Op. 172 having (of course) no definite idea of how much musical time would be needed to deliver all the words. Well, the piece is now at the 4:30 mark and I have set three of the seven choruses I chose from Mexico City Blues. I am charged with writing a 8-9' piece, so the simple fact is that—with abundant regret—I must needs jettison one of the remaining four choruses. Work to resume tomorrow.

25 July 2021

Midway Point

From the floorboard of his florid Ford, Lord Peter torpedoed the torpid and bored.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

These concertos lie somewhere between too easy and too difficult; they are brilliant, pleasing to the ear, and natural without being shallow. There are passages here and there that only a true connoisseur can truly appreciate, but that a layperson also can enjoy without even knowing why.

— Mozart writing to his dad, 28 Dec 1782

I am very happy, both with the Opus 172 so far, and that I am well ahead of the calendar. I have reached the end of “my” third chorus (Kerouac’s 226th). The soprano will need to be fearless, to be sure. The question of whether I need to drop a chorus will be settled by how much time this next chorus occupies. My present impression is that no chorus will need to be dropped. Tomorrow is another “therapy doubleheader,” so any work composing will be minimal. Something tells me, though that this next chorus will be done in a week, so the Moment of Truth is not distant.

24 July 2021

Op. 172 Progress Report

So what does Hollywood do with all the busted blocks?
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Margaret Dumont: This is a gala day for you.
Groucho: Well, a gal a day is enough for me, I don't think I could handle any more.

four-five days have elapsed since my last relevant blog post.

I have indeed made steady progress, and am well ahead of the minimal-target “production schedule” which I have scrawled onto the wall calendar in the kitchen. The piece is nearly half-done, in fact.

When I finished my second chorus, for which I relaxed the tempo, the question crossed my mind whether perhaps I selected more text than a piece running eight minutes and a half could aptly handle. When I leaf through the text to see if a chorus should be dropped, though, I feel that the pacing will work out fine, and I should leave my text selection as is.  If I find otherwise, Gentle Reader, you will learn of it here first.

The “hard deadline” for the piece is 1 September. The pianist (entirely understandably) would like the piece earlier. As half of the piece will be done by July’s end, I think it likely we can accommodate that wish.

19 July 2021

Bopping Along

“Literally” is such a perfectly useful word, what an awful shame that it has devolved into yakfill!
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Margaret Dumont: This is a gala day for you.
Groucho: Well, a gal a day is enough for me, I don't think I could handle any more.

July dawned (as it were) but I still needed to settle on the text for the Op. 172. I discarded my original idea as too time-consuming and then (that decision made) I assembled my text fairly efficiently.  The first line of the piece was set on 6 July. The sands of Time ran while I quite dithered about what to set up in the piano. I made my mind up as to that at last just yesterday, as a matter of fact. Today, I have the first chorus (43) finished and I have started the second (226) — the numbers are as the choruses appear in Mexico City Blues. 242 Choruses. The ice is broken now. For today, that is all.

18 July 2021

The Game Is Afoot (Kerouac Edition)

Love is the means of repairing broken people.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

At night, when the objective world has slunk back into its cavern and left dreamers to their own, there come inspirations and capabilities impossible at any less magical and quiet hour.

— H. P. Lovecraft

The Opus 173 done, it was time today to roll my sleeves up for Opus 172. Unusual for me—and undoubtedly allied to the fact that this is a paid commission with a deadline—I sat down with my calendar and calculated that I need to compose a minute and a quarter each week, to have the piece done by 1 September. The pianist would like the piece earlier if possible, and indeed there’s a good chance that once I get cooking, actual production will run ahead of my weekly guideposts. I got good work in today: The first 40 mm. are not yet finished, but I have composed the voice out to the chorus’s end.

17 July 2021

Op. 173 Done

Breakfast of fear: Dreaded Wheat.
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

Where a man can stand by another man without an ego flying.

— Captain Beefheart (Don van Vliet) “Frownland”

Even though it’s exactly what I was banking on—to minimize disruption of work on the Op.172—I finished When, Op.173 for choir and alto flute in the space of three days. It runs four minutes and change, and is a setting of a charmingly simple poem by my “virtual acquaintance” Jayaprakash Satyamurthy of Bengaluru:

When in a late year

Late in an early decade

I could hear your mouth

Finding my ear

Across the city

Your eyes finding mine

Atop the sky

When in a late year

We walked with time

And listened to the sky

My eyes found yours

Your ears sought me

Our mouths met

When an early sky

Sought us

And we were found to say

This is an early year

This is the first decade.

And, after this afternoon’s reading of the Op.119 № 2 with Janet and Peter, it’s back to Kerouac!

15 July 2021

The Juggling Act Today

Man holding the leash: C’mon, boy!
Dog: It’s the journey, not the destination.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.

— Pablo Picasso

I recall talking with Robert when he was writing this piece, but I only chanced on it this week.

My intention earlier was to write the Kerouac piece first, and then the piece for Triad. (indeed, that is how I cast the Opus numbers, which are now going to be chronologically misleading—Too Bad!) In my new role as AVP of Triad, though, my mind is in the thick of planning rep for the November program, so I decided I would go ahead and chop out that piece (When) first. My (not at all strict) model is my earlier Hodie Christus natus est for choir and clarinet. I am close to finishing When, but there will be no working on it after tomorrow’s PT (an observation, not a complaint) so my confident expectation is to finish it Saturday, around our initial reading of the Op.119 № 2 with Peter and Janet.

As I mull on the Kerouac piece, what should I be listening to? Somehow the chief reply from the Universe seems to be: Trout Mask Replica

My dear friend Peter Czipott has written back enthusiastically about the Opus 148 in spite of (as he put it) the depradations of MIDI.

And the Rasa Quartet wrote back most graciously, permitting me to send them It’s all in your head (not that that’s a bad place for everything to be). Quoth the great Fats Waller: One never knows, do one?

12 July 2021

Four Years Ago Today

To end this call, simply hang up.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

To save man from the morass of propaganda is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.

— Martin Luther King, Jr

The pen is for scale. This was the score to White Nights, on 12 July 2017 (Nos. 1 through 12). Wrote I then: With the paper pressed flat (just normally, no hydraulics) it's a ¾" sheaf. The piece is ⅔ done, by playing time; i.e., I don't necessarily expect the rest of the score to be half again this volume of paper. (But ... maybe.) “I don't always compose a score measured in quarters of an inch, but when I do, classic Russian lit is involved....”

10 July 2021

Prepping, prepping

Andy says of voices,
And their characteristic noises,
That he can take Axl Rose’s
Only in moderate doses.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

All the world is birthday cake.
— Geo. Harrison

The Harrison quote I borrowed from a virtual acquaintance’s signature, and I was indeed wondering where from. As the Universe would have it, I watched Yellow Submarine again last night, so now I know.

I have not as yet done any more actual composing of the Op. 172, but I now have an overall Plan and even some specifics for bits within the grand blueprint. Chances are, after I take off again/still this evening, I shall roll up my sleeves tomorrow.

06 July 2021

Just a start—But a Start

Art: understanding “the rules” so that you have the power to break them and make the result work.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

6 months ago, our Capitol was stormed by violent insurrectionists. I will never forget, and as long as I have my voice, I will do whatever small part I can to make sure we as a people never forget what took place, who was responsible, and the threat it represents for our nation.
— Dan Rather

Today I composed the first five measures of the Op. 172. A couple of days ago, I had no idea just what the opening phrase of the soprano would be, but I knew I wanted the soprano to kickstart the piece. Last night, as I laid my head on the pillow I heard in my inner ear just what the soprano would sing. My arguably slight work today was settling the entirety of the soprano’s incipit, and composing the cumulative ‘answers’ by the bass clarinet and flute. Strange to say (possibly the changing weather had a say) that felt like work enough for today. Indeed, as it is a beginning which I like, good work it was Will sleep on it tonight, and see what I hear in the morning. (so to speak)

05 July 2021

Plans, Mostly

Echoes of Agent 86: “I can play the Widor Toccata on the E.G.G. Hook 3-manual while reciting Moby-Dick. Can you believe it? Moby-Dick.”
—“I find that hard to believe.”
“How about ‘You Are My Sunshine’ on a toy piano while reading Li’l Abner?”
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.

— William Carlos Williams

Found a text by my friend Jayaprakash Satyamurthy for the next piece in the Op. 119. That will likely be my project following completion of the Opp. 172/173. Way-ish down the road, it seems clear that my third symphony must be in Louis’s memory, and I plan on a symphony for strings.

04 July 2021

Ready to Start Composing Tomorrow

I’ve got no car, and it’s breakin’ my heart,
but I found a driver and that’s a start.

— John Lennon, “Drive My Car”
My Maserati does 185,
I lost my licence, now I don’t drive.

— Joe Walsh, “Life’s Been Good”

Today, I settled at last on the text for the Kerouac piece: 

The Orpheus of Lowell Op. 172

Seven Choruses and a Sleepy Afterthought for Soprano, Flute, Clarinet, Cello & Piano

The seven choruses come from Mexico City Blues, which struck me as a natural source. The “Afterthought” is the curtain line (!!) from Chapter 1 of The Dharma Bums.

Tomorrow, I shall get to work.

I’ve also settled on a text for the Triad piece for November, a poem, “My Dear Friend,” which Leo Schulte sent me last August, whose simplicity strikes me as perfect for the task.  That piece will be:

Light and Truth, Op. 173 for choir and flute

The photo is from 14 years ago today, when I inaugurated work on White Nights, Op. 75

03 July 2021

Resting and Listening

I typed “Widor Toccata,” but my wiseacre phone decided I really wanted the Wider Toccata.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

A cat can crawl into the oven to have her kittens, but that don't make ’em muffins.

— Maine proverb

One of my weekly rituals is First-Listen Fridays, and my listening list today included Sergei Taneyev’s 1911 Violin Sonata in A, and Op.20 Piano Quartet, Amy Marcy Cheney Beach’s Piano Trio in a minor, Op. 150 (when I was an undergrad she was still referred to as “Mrs H.H.A. Beach” and (what seems to me mildly strange as an inaugural listen) Schubert’s Adagio and Rondo concertante in F, D. 487.

this is how First-Listen Fridays came about: A prominent and successful composer was serving as Composer-in-Residence for a major US orchestra, and a friend introduced the two of us in hopes that that the p. and s. composer might be able to help me (an unknown and obscure composer) by perhaps promoting my work. This was gracious, kindly and thoughtful of my friend—also, more than a little sanguine, as it turned out. So, I sent my Overture to White Nights to the p. and s. composer, as a finished composition of which I was rather proud, and a piece which will certainly require a professional orchestra.

What is probably not any surprise: nothing came of it. The money line from the response sent to me by the p. and s. composer? The suggestion that I listen to more new music. Of course, my new listening today would not have met with the p. and s. composer’s approval, for the implication was that if I listened to ‘the right music,’ i.e. the approved new music, (as if I do not, mind you) I would necessarily write music in a style more to the liking of the p. and s. composer.  I had already learnt this lesson from the time I served at the University at Buffalo: There is no snob quite like a New Musicoid snob.

01 July 2021

Catching My Breath

Should I worry about the intelligence of a search engine which suggests: “You may have meant to search for Minty Python”?
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

So we have reached a place in the proud history of our republic when the topic of the day is whether the president reads. When, really, I think deep down don’t we all know the answer?

— Dan Rather

I didn’t get any work done today: Needed rest. Fact is, my OT taxed my brain a great deal as I try to tie a shoelace into even a simple knot. And when I got home, rather than napping, I drove myself to finish the Sibelius file for Square Dance. Note to self: The grey matter needs recuperation time.