09 April 2023

How the Vermicelli Stuck

Fool’s wool! Don’t be fleeced by sheep imitations!
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

Mel [Gibson] will always be Mad Max, and me, I will always be a number.
— Patrick McGoohan, creator of the iconic series, The Prisoner.

In the true microblogger spirit, yesterday I reported having composed two pieces, but discussed only the first. Nevertheless, as pleased as I am to have wrapped up the latest of the Opus 169 organ solo pieces (and I am greatly pleased, I have also managed in the space of ten days to begin and complete (allowing still for tweaks-&-finishing), a new flute and alto saxophone duet for Paul Gardner and Gregory Weber, who did such a beautiful job with I dreamt of reconciliation and harmony, Opus 171. So it is pretty much a wrap on Waiting on the Italian Paperwork (or, Throwing Vermicelli at the Wall), Opus 177.

08 April 2023

Big News for Little Old Me

...at last: avant-garde without the messy hallucinogenics!
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Better to suffer injustice than do it.
— The father-in-law in Terrence Malick’s A Hidden Life

After months of not feeling any particular motivation to do any creative work (in general) or to carry on with the Opus 169 organ pieces (in particular) I have finished two pieces this week. It is long enough since I have posted here that some recapitulation is justified:

The idea behind the Opus 169 set is a number of short pieces written as musical thank-yous to organists in the Boston area who have been supportive of my work. In most cases I pretty much picked a tune out of a figurative hat, but in the case of № 8, there’s a sense in which I let the dedicatee choose. Jack Russell was the instructor for my class's first-year Music Theory course, and also director of the Wooster Chorus, a group which continues to tour every Spring Break as a kind of cultural ambassador from the College. At the end of the year of Theory we had individual appointments, and after the business of the appointment was done, Jack asked me my plan, which at the time was just to major in Clarinet Performance. He explained to me the advantage (or even, in hindsight, necessity) of versatility and encouraged me to consider a double major ... Composition was one suggestion, and I took to it directly.

So, fast forward to the present: Jack has served as Music Director of the Episcopal parish in Hamilton, Mass. (not far from Danvers, where I serve the Methodist parish.) Id reached out to him a couple of times by phone, so weve been in loose touch. In the first year of the Pandemic, which in effect shut our church down for Lent and Easter of ’20, Jack’s church had a live stream for a light-staffed Good Friday service, in which a baritone soloist sang “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” (to the tune Hamburg) ... so thats why I have employed this tune in the Op. 169 № 8. I no longer remember just when I set to work on the piece; it had something of a false start, and I needed to recompose whatever I began with. Then the piece stalled out completely for at least a couple of months. In need of getting something easy together for our handbell ringers (few as they are, thanks in large part to the pandemic) so that they might participate in the Easter service, I whipped up a minimalist arrangement of “What Wondrous Love Is This.” As a result, I thought to get on with the Opus 169 № 8 by inserting a bit of “What Wondrous Love Is This.” I then managed to complete the piece in short order. On Wednesday morning I gave Jack a call, and “warned” him that I would be sending him the piece. I was then the fortunate beneficiary of positive reinforcement, as my friend Carson Cooman prepared a performance of the piece with breathtaking dispatch.