30 July 2023

Post Hop Ergo Propter Hop

Nikki, don't lose that rhumba.
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

“Alas, how easily things go wrong!
A sigh too much, or a kiss too long,
And there follows a mist and a weeping rain,
And life is never the same again.”

— Geo. MacDonald, Phantastes

As I was wrapping up Music for the Un-Hip Hop, Op. 178 for two flutes, the thought occurred to me, to adapt the piece for two violins. Finding myself in some little doubt as to whether it really flies in that guise, I’ve reached out to a professional violinist friend, and am presently awaiting his opinion on the viability of the Op. 178a.

I sent the Hop over to my colleague Peter Bloom for comment, he replied:

So, having taken a closer look at the way “...Un-Hip...” I get the hopping manner is which the duo references a hop that might be construed as unhip.  Karl, your counterpoint of parallels (fourths, fifths, sevenths) and open intervals conjure a scene of a medieval ball as experienced through the fifth or sixth dimension. Fantastic (and phantastic)! Might this be Guillaume de Machaut on ketamine?

Let’s schedule a reading (with composer) sometime soon.

Peter’s comment reminded me of a Wuorinen piece I've known about for a long time, but haven’t yet heard: Machault, Mon Chou.

The Hop thus finished, I proceeded to wrap up the last of the Opus 169 organ solo pieces.  As I warmed to the task,  I decided to lean into an Ivesian melting-pot approach, so there are incursions by the National Anthem, “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” an adaptation I knew from the old English Hymnal of the plainchant Agnus DeiSunshine of Your Love, and I just don’t remember where I first heard the bass lick which first appears in the pedals at m. 13.  Oh, and I really enjoy the jest of an ending, a spar of inspiration which really did surprise me.

As I warmed to the task, I decided to lean into an Ivesian melting-pot approach, so there are incursions by the National Anthem, “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” an adaptation I knew from the old English Hymnal of the plainchant Agnus Dei, "Sunshine of Your Love," and I just don’t remember where I first heard the bass lick which first appears in the pedals at m. 13.  Oh, and I really enjoy the jest of an ending, a spar of inspiration which really did surprise me.

I was on the phone with my publisher to share the news of the Op. 169’s completion, and he suggested publishing them all as a set, which means pealing № 4 (for flute and organ) out from the set, so that it looked like the set would be eleven pieces, after all. As I in turn shared this datum with friend and colleague David Bohn, to whom I have sent each piece as it came off the press who then asked if № 4 could perhaps reduce down to organ solo. He did not merely ask but is graciously setting himself to the task. The original version of № 4, marketable as really a flute piece now bears the designation Opus 180.

My publisher is also going to float the complete set by Jens Korndörfer, recently retired as organist at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, and who is presently joining the Baylor faculty. I am, needless to say, excited at the prospect of Maestro Korndörfer’s feedback.

I have been listening to a playlist of the twelve pieces, two of them in performances by Carson Cooman, the remainder as MIDI exports from Sibelius. I don’t like to seem to pat myself on the back, but I am truly gratified to find that I believe fully in the set, which consists of:

  1. Where bright angel feet have trod, for Barbara Otto, based on HANSON PLACE
  2. While the dew is still on the roses, for David Bohn, based on GARDEN
  3. Love is come again like wheat that springeth green, for Carson Cooman, based on FRENCH CAROL
  4. Come unto me and live, for Delores and Robert Jan August, based on THIRD MODE MELODY
  5. Be thou our guide while life shall last, for Heinrich Christensen, based on ST. ANNE
  6. To lay aside his crown for my soul, for Gigi Mitchell-Velasco, based on WONDROUS LOVE
  7. Till Love create a place, for Michael Joseph, based on DOWN AMPNEY
  8. Sorrow and Love flow mingled down, for Jack Russell, based on HAMBURG
  9. Let streets and homes with praises ring, for Mark Engelhardt, based on TRURO
  10. Love’s pure light radiant beams from thy holy face, for Leonardo Ciampa, based on STILLE NACHT
  11. The grateful song my voice unwearied raises, for Mark Frazier, based on MIT FREUDEN ZART
  12. When this poor lisping stammering tongue lies silent in the grave, for Eric Mazonson, based on CLEANSING FOUNTAIN

26 July 2023


Cindi in Sydney keeps her chameleon in quarantine.
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

I think it’s really tragic when people get serious about stuff. It’s such an absurdity to take anything really seriously … I make an honest attempt not to take anything seriously: I worked that attitude out about the time I was eighteen, I mean, what does it all mean when you get right down to it, what’s the story here? Being alive is so weird .

— Frank Zappa

I’ve formed the idea of adapting Music for the Un-Hip Hop for two violins, for my friend John McLaughlin Williams. As reported here, for the twelfth (and final) organ solo piece of the Opus 169, when this poor lisping stammering tongue lies silent in the grave, Eric Mazonson’s request for the tune “Cleansing Fountain” poses a good challenge for me. Indeed, I felt nearly clueless. I should add that Eric graciously gave me the “out” of a number of other hymn tunes, but I wanted to honor his choice. In a way it would have been bad form for me to have extended the invitation, only to nix my fellow artist’s selection. Also, I considered that when Mark Frazier requested Mit Freuden Zart," a tune with which I was certainly familiar, for № 11, it nevertheless took me a little while to find my way. I felt, therefore that as a musical challenge, it was not a genuine obstacle but only a problem to be artistically solved. In the intervening week, the project has moved from Where do I find a handle? to Is the piece writing itself? Enough invention is percolating, that my focus is almost more on  QC. Well, back to work, then,

25 July 2023

The Hop Is Done

I stopped “Don't Stop Till You Get Enough,” because I’d had enough.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

It all began innocently enough on Tuesday.
— The late, great Phil Austin of the Firesign Theatre as Nick Danger, Third Eye.

I confirmed for myself this morning that Music for the Un-Hip Hop, Op. 178 for two flutes, composed for Wei Zhao & Orlando Cela, and running about six minutes, is complete.

When I finished my work yesterday, I closed the Sibelius file of the Op. 178 and kind of reflexively opened the file for the Op. 169 № 12, when this poor lisping stammering tongue lies silent in the grave, but I felt that Id done work enough for the day.

This morning I had a very nice catch-up phone call with a colleague.

I’m also thinking about the Symphony № 3 for Strings, Op. 175, and the fact that the typography of the score needs to be punched up. I’m having two conductor friends (one of them a composer, as well) cast their expert eyes over the score, and we'll take it from there. Pursuant to a virtual acquaintance asking whether I mostly write on the shorter side ... Having now completed the ballet White Nights and three symphonies which I’ve written on spec, my feeling is that I’m not going to invest the effort in another large-scale piece until the Universe takes up one of the big pieces already complete. It’s also probably true that anything concrete on that head, how small soever, may really light a fire under me. The fact of neither of the first two symphonies having gotten anywhere (not a huge surprise—I have a friend who IIRC has written at least ten symphonies, only one of which has been performed—so I know not to expect immediate success) is why I decided to make the third a piece for bowed strings only (not even harp) so that it should be easy to shop around. Hence, too, why I would like to get the score in condition to show to conductors. Now and again, I feel an itch and think that once the Op. 169 is in the can, I'll write a tone-poem for chamber orchestra. Maybe just seven minutes. Not feeling that I have a lot of steam today, I may leave off work with having (optimistically?) created a Sibelius file for the tone-poem, which I shall dedicate to my late mum, and titled For You, Fuchsia. The future will tell whether this was just bravado, or if I may be returning to form.

18 July 2023

Fresh Work

As the contrarian even at an early age, in my high school I was the one who was spaced in.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Carmen Sternwood: You’re cute. I like you.
Philip Marlowe: What you see’s nothing. I’ve got a Balinese dancing girl tattooed across my chest.

The Big Sleep

I continue to make progress on the flute duet, Music for the Un-Hip Hop. Now at about two minutes and a quarter. When I began the piece, I half felt that I was just riffing, but I am pleased with how it is shaping up. I am making no guess as yet regarding the final duration. I shall write a bit more, first.

I have now also made a proper start on the Opus 169 № 12, when this poor lisping stammering tongue lies silent in the grave, for my friend Eric Mazonson.  Eric requested an old revival tent hymn, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins,” right at the intersection of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice and arthouse gore. It’s one of a number of hymns which crop up in Ives’ music here and there. The hymn’s character makes for a good challenge for me, it’s so different from almost every other hymn I’ve coöpted for the Opus 169. So I’m learning what to do with the tune on the fly. So far, I am true to my desire to do a little composing every day.

And I’ve reviewed Joshua Bell’s new album with Chinese orchestra.

16 July 2023

Update and Latest

Many a fad have I seen fade.
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

I thought thou wert good: but I said, and wept:
Can I have dreamed who have not slept?

— Geo. MacDonald, Phantastes

Gentle Reader, this is but my third blog post of the year, which must of itself be an indicator. I seem to be asking myself What is different now, and how do I proceed? Before my stroke, a few things were true (as probably evidenced on this blog. I had a lot of steam for composing, notwithstanding what we might call limited professional encouragement. I have likely mentioned before that a friend of mine told me he only composes when commissioned to. I am enormously pleased for him. For my part, I simply don't see how that happens: if I composed only to commission, I should by this point have written hardly anything at all. Particularly as regards orchestral music, I should have written only The Wind, the Sky, and the Wheeling Stars, an experience for which I remain grateful to Yoichi Udagawa and the Quincy Symphony. Likewise, I Sang to the Sky, and Day Broke, thanks to Andrew Levin and the Clemson University Orchestra. Knowing (as I do now) the challenges a Music Director faces in "selling" music by a living composer to the board of a community orchestra, it's something of a marvel that I enjoyed the performance in Quincy. The practical takeaway, in a sense: Not much ever resulted from either performance, in terms of either more orchestras playing either piece, nor of further orchestral commissions. Setting aside the question of why I even bothered, all the orchestral music I’ve composed since has been on spec, and to date has gotten nowhere. Nevertheless, my present point is simply that prior to my stroke, I was not stingy with my compositional energies. Another thing which was true earlier is, I would typically be at work on more than one piece at a time. I was eager, I suppose that there would be more music of mine in the universe.

When I was first discharged from rehab after the stroke, I was eager to resume composing. I even managed to complete at long last that flagship of Henningmusick for which the world appears to have no use, the ballet White Nights. One thing which is unavoidably true of my life in recovery from the stroke is: I have less energy than I used to have. I wonder if what also may be true is, that I feel less ability to combat the cumulative disappointments.

My post today is not to etch anything definitive in stone, but to reflect on what I feel and think, I suppose.

possibly as early as late April, I made a start on the eleventh organ solo piece of the Opus 169 set, for Mark Frazier, and based (per Mark’s request) on the tune Mit Freuden Zart. For some time, the piece was stalled at fewer than ten measures. Last week,  I worked on it a bit. I was unsure that I liked it, really, and wondered if I might just need to throw it out and start afresh. The really important thing about last week, though, is that I determined to return to the minimal discipline of composing even just a little every day.  I came to feel that my earlier dissatisfaction with the start of the grateful song my voice unwearied raises (a title which nearly acquired ironic undertones, as it did not much reflect my experience these days) was not with the material itself, but with not knowing where I was going, and wondering if, in fact, I was going nowhere. I suppressed what a friend has cited as “Impostor Syndrome,” and entertained the hypothesis that the piece was workable/redeemable. And I did, in fact, finish it yesterday.

In the course of a conversation with Orlando Cela this spring, I suggested that I might write a new flute duet for him and his partner, Wei Zhao. And on 27 June, I did make a start on Music for the Un-Hip Hop. In the spirit of my multi-tasking erewhile, I alternated between work on the flute duo and the organ piece. The former is now not quite a minute long, so the work is inching along, but some work is work, eh?

In some ways, the biggest job I have undertaken this year has been my review of the box of  Dimitri Mitropoulos reissues from Sony.