30 August 2023

More Arrows Out of the Quiver

I don’t say I wouldn’t tell you, but I cannot deny that I am but a minor dude
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

For those of you who have never met me, you might call me ‘the under-nourished Alfred Hitchcock’...

— Rod Serling on Night Gallery

Somehow, the numerous disappointments of the past notwithstanding, I have felt motivated to put my musical neck on the chopping block again and am sending forth Henning scores both to prospective conductors (the band version of Ear Buds and In the Artist’s Studio (there’s a wide world in there) and a few calls for scores: the string version of Misapprehension (to two separate calls) and a Scene from White Nights; The Nerves and (again) In the Artist’s Studio (there’s a wide world in there.) There is another call to which I plan to send The Saltmarsh Stomp, but I’m waiting for a reply to a query. Of course, it may be that (yet again) nothing may come of it, but I’ve got the music in my portfolio, I should get it out there and in front of colleagues’ eyes.

29 August 2023

The Henning Ensemble Rises

One man’s tireless search for the halvah-with-pistachio his wife loves....
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have two new recruits for the k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble: multi-instrumentalist Dan Zupan, a colleague of Peter Bloom’s from the storied Aardvark Jazz Orchestra, and bassist Dave Zox, a cornerstone of the ModernisticsOur date in Boston’s historic King’s Chapel is Tuesday, 16 April 2024. And our program shall be:

Fuchsia Minor, Op. 179a 2 flutes, alto saxophone, contrabass

I Dreamt of Reconciliation and Harmony, Op. 171 flute/alto saxophone

Waiting on the Italian Paperwork (Throwing Vermicelli at the Wall), Op. 177 flute/alto saxophone

Nun of the Above, Op. 144e 2 flutes, alto saxophone, contrabass

Should we continue with this lineup—not a given at this stage at all, but considering the caliber of the latest additions and Dan’s enthusiasm for the two duets, not crazee talk, neither—I am already starting to think of repertory for an October 2024 program.

27 August 2023

More Arrows Shot Into the Air

Vexation Nation: What the bore wore in the Boer War.
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

It’s harder for me, and I embarrass myself more readily, but I get more pleasure out of failing in a project that I am enthused over, than in succeeding at a project that I know I can do well.

— Woody Allen

In August of ’22 I applied a call for orchestral scores. Nothing came of it. And actually, I see from my email that 2022 was not the first time I applied thereunto. Well, I see the same call again, so why not? I've submitted the string version of Misapprehension and a scene from White Nights. (The winner is commissioned to compose a new work.) There was a choral music call for which I have entrants at the ready. Done.
A call for band pieces also caught my eye: Composition must be at least 3 minutes in length, not to exceed 6 minutes. Ear Buds is too long, and the Saltmarsh Stomp is a quarter of a minute shy. However, thinks I, I could add a repeat for a brief passage in the middle, and that should nudge the piece into qualifying, so that was my work today.
Notwithstanding today's being Sunday, I got a reply from one of my "cold" reach-outs, a band director, who writes that she is already familiar with Out in the Sun, which was very pleasant, indeed.

25 August 2023

Hot Ice and Wondrous Strange Snow

Honk if you've had a good laugh to-day.
Laughter is longevity. Gibbering, not so much. Don’t trouble to honk, if you’ve only gibbered, hang it.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

tThey didn’t wanna have me,
Yet somehow I was had,
Leapin’ Lizards! That’s why I’m so bad.

— Stephen Sondheim “Gee, Officer Krupke”

Today was the day of the Wild Coincidence, emphasis on wild. Let’s ramp up to it. This past 31 July , I create a Sibelius file using the stock Sibelius Chamber Orchestra template for an Opus 179, with the idea of writing a piece dedicated to my mother. About the second week of August, a little down over the non-performance of two (soon to be three) symphonies, I entertain the idea of not writing for orchestra for a while. As I complete August Haze, I feel that the chamber orchestra piece will spring from the solo flute piece. Work proceeds smoothly with For You, Fuchsia and Fuchsia Minor. Pleased with the latter, and still hopeful that bassist Dave Zox will participate, I arrange Nun of the Above for what we hope is the new lineup. Buoyed by the steady productivity of this summer, and by Lux Nova Press preparing to publish the Opus 169 organ pieces, I do what I have not done in a few years, I begin reaching out again to musicians in the area, especially conductors. Today—again, something I haven't done in a while—I check opportunities at the American Composers Forum website. What should I find but a call for scores from an Orchestra, a call for which For You, Fuchsia is an improbably good fit both in scoring and duration suits. Finding this this call today, I note that the application deadline is 25 August. Done! ‘Tis now on the knees of the gods.

24 August 2023

About a multiplicative Nun

Sadder Budweiser or Corona non grata?
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

Time is an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so.

— Douglas Adams

As noted here, 2017 was quite the year for the creation of Henningmusick. The two “flagship” compositions of the year being the Symphony № 1, Op.143 (completed in January), and the Clarinet Sonata, Op.136 (completed in June) In between, one fine day in April I began working on a piece for clarinet, guitar and bass called Nun of the Above. I suspect I had in mind a performance on a Ninth Ear event. These being few even at first, nothing ever came of this original intent. Whenever I may have finished the piece, though, I seem really to have liked it, because I adapted it several times: Op. 144a for flute, guitar and double-bass adapted for Peter Bloom & Mark Leighton, Op. 144b for clarinet and piano not that there was a pianist with whom I was working, then, seemingly with the intent of creating a kind of electronic mix, Op. 144c for 2 A clarinets and electric bass (we’ll permit acoustic double-bass ad libitum) which, while neither actually produced/performed as intended, has appeared as a component of one of the whimsical Sauna Songs, Op. 152, and then (and until recently, seemingly finally) Op. 144d for flute and piano. If that seems like a lot of effort to get this piece to an audience, maybe it is. All the mental real estate that this piece sems to have occupied notwithstanding, I had completely forgotten about the piece (granted, I suffered a severe stroke since.) I was reminded of the piece courtesy of Facebook’s Memories algorithm, which showed me the photo below. Why that is relevant is, that with the possible recruitment of a double-bassist for the Henning Ensemble (hence the quartet Fuchsia Minor) the Nun struck me as an obvious candidate for adaptation. I took the Op. 144c (2 A clarinets and electric bass) as the “base” for the Op. 144e for 2 flutes, alto saxophone ad double-bass. It was good fun, filling out counterpoint as needed, and the arrangement is done. I sent the parts to the band today.

23 August 2023

if a gifted young man ...

On August 23rd we commemorate the quiet roll-out of a radical peacenik religious sect: the Calm-ish.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Always look on the bright side of death, just before you draw your terminal breath....

— Eric Idle

If something is peculiar, is it necessarily of interest? I suppose not.

Divers applications of some elements traditional to Jazz. Listening

to some Copland today. Life would be less interesting, I think, if I

lived a sheltered intellectual life of feeling that I was somehow,

miraculously, never mistaken. It’s almost 40 years since I was

graduated with a baccalaureate, and I still check my work. I smile

at remembering Walter Damrosch saying of Copland’s Organ

Symphony: “if a gifted young man can write a symphony like that

at age twenty-three, within five years he will be ready to commit

murder.” You wouldn’t think this a big deal, but I’ve found a brand

of tea whose cardboard box it is easynay, practically effortless—to undo so that it is simply flat. Five years

ago I gave a pre-concert lecture to an audience consisting mostly of

retirees, basically so that they would not flip out over my music,

which was going to be completely unfamiliar to them. The lecture,

no less than the presentation and reception of the piece, was a

success. The idea of setting myself an obligation to commit words to

what I shall out of convenience call “paper” strikes me as a little

peculiar. Not absolutely peculiar, not peculiar for everyone , just for

me. I never knew that Copland scored a version of the symphony

sans orgue. Checking my work often results in learning newer and

better. Also listening to Boris Pasternak playing Copland’s Piano

Fantasy. It’s been too long. Funny to think that this was one of the

first Naxos CDs I ever bought, at the Borders which used to be on

Washington Street in Boston. I shall hope it isn’t somehow elitist

to find something peculiar only for myself. After all, I’m perfectly

happy that it be peculiar for anyone else, too. I didn’t always know

that Damrosch was joking in order to blunt the ire of the bluehairs

at the shock of some new music. Such successes are still quite rare

for me. I do not think that rarity is any fault in the music.

  1. Jack Gallagher

  2. Paul Schwartz

  3. Judith Shatin

  4. Walter Ross

  5. Charles Wuorinen

  6. Louis Andriessen

Of these six esteemed composers with whom I had the rich and arguably undeserved privilege to study, the number of music professionals who taught me that the craft and practice of composition included the dodge of having someone else do the work for you was precisely Zero. Osbert Foxglove [not his real name] is beneath contempt. One of my modest wishes is never to be too old to learn. Copland actually designated the piece, Symphony for Organ and Orchestra. Saint-Saëns, Symphonie avec orgue.

22 August 2023

Afterword viz. Opus 179a

Auto-correct wanted to swap “bladders” in for “balladeers,” and, honestly, there’s a case to be made.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Look, I probably should have told you this before, but you see...well...insanity runs in my family. It practically gallops.

— Cary Grant in “Arsenic and Old Lace”

As I have noted, the bass licks were the last piece to fit into the puzzle of converting a solo flute piece into Fuchsia Minor, Op. 179a, a quartet for two flutes, alto saxophone and double-bass. said additional bass licks essentially reflected a wish both artistic and collegial to do the right thing by our prospective bassist, Dave Zox. That said, the bass line is one of my favorite things in this wilful quirky quest to expand the reach of August Haze.

21 August 2023

Fuchsia Minor

I get it as a slogan to market your cheese, but I cannot help chuckling at the phrase
“masters of natural aging,” maybe because I’m happily an amateur ....
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

I cannot go back to your land of gloom.
— Captain Beefheart, “Frownland”

The gloss/expansion of August Haze (flute unaccompanied) into a brief tone-poem for chamber orchestra titled For You, Fuchsia went fairly smoothly. In contemplating a quartet adaptation of the piece (two flutes, alto saxophone and double-bass) I decided to begin from the chamber orchestra version, because I added contrapuntal material which will serve the quartet version well. This process was a bit of a chore (essentially a question of voice 1 vs. voice 2 in Sibelius) and here or there it was necessary to make adjustments to adapt a line for the saxophone. As I was chuffing along, I was conscious that I was focusing insufficient attention upon the double-bass. I came soon to understand that I would really need to write a part as interesting for the bassist as the upper lines are for the winds. This was the lion’s share of y work this afteroon/evening. And as happened with “Grand Fuchsia” whatever twinges of misgiving may have spooked me during the task melted all away as I reviewed the exported sound file.

Tomorrow or Wednesday/Thursday I will prepare the parts so that I can share the piece with members of the ensemble.

16 August 2023

Finishing up Fuchsia

“Embalmer’s Almanac.”
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

Let’s have everybody claiming college football is the most important thing for America sign up for a shift changing bedpans on a COVID ward.

— Dan Rather

As I have been working on For You, Fuchsia, I am finding it personally an interesting and unusual endeavor. The piece is essentially glosses upon a monody, so part of me feels, “just stay out of the way of the original, and maybe you can’t go wrong” (content with the Ur-text, August Haze, as I am.) Part of my experience, though is a kind of second-guessing, I’ll stop working after a while and think, but is it garbage? Maybe the g-word is a shade harsh, but that’s near the gist. But then, I listen to the extracted sound-file and I’m pleasantly surprised. Once this tone-poem is finished, I shall find it easy to prep the quartet version for the k a rl h e nn i ng Ensemble, and which I shall dub Fuchsia Minor.

15 August 2023

From Out the Haze

Seen Cinderella in San Diego?
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

Must be getting early, clocks are running late.
— The Grateful Dead, “Touch of Grey”

Even as I was proceeding with work on August Haze, I thought of “building it out” into a piece for the Henning Ensemble, which, while it seemeth dead, doth but sleep. And subsequently (even though in this post I wrote of the germ of a resolve not to write for larger forces) the thought took hold of me to “build it out” yet a little grander into an adaptation for chamber orchestra, a kind of tone-poem, For You, Fuchsia, in my late mother’s memory. Work has gone quite smoothly yesterday and today. May have it wrapped up before I have to take Friday off for recuperation from physical therapy.

14 August 2023

Sonic Haze in August

An armful of harmful: The Texas Chainsaw Antimacassar.
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

As regards my symphony—I have been writing it for about 3 years now
& I believe it is finished—I have made a 2 pfte arrangement & will get that tried through to see if I can bear it...
The bits I have shown to people they do not like—Gustav [Holst] heard it all in an early version on 2 pftes— 
was puzzled by most of it & disliked the rest.

— Ralph Vaughan Williams, writing to Sir Adrian Boult
(and with characteristic self-deprecation) about his Fourth Symphony

On 10 August, I started writing a fresh piece for flute unaccompanied, August Haze, for Dolores August. The haze is not Dolores’, but the effect of light on Boston Harbor in some photos I had taken 7 August 2018. Long time ago, when I was a green composer, I would generally do some “pre-compositional work” at the outset. Overall, I did quite a bit to (we might put it) manage materials. I don’t say that I’ve entirely given over ‘material management.’ but there came a time where I was pretty comfortable letting the material do pretty much as I perceived that it wished. I did quite a bit of work on the piece Saturday, and yesterday morning’s work brought the piece to the five-minute mark. As I downed tools, I wondered if it really was a piece of music, or if I was just slinging notes onto the staff. I left the house for a brief but pleasantly sociable outing in Somerville, and I lost all sense of that nagging question. I wasn’t planning to do any more work, yet, once I was settled back home, I resumed work. I finished the piece, and I do think it is music.

11 August 2023

I don’t really know, do I?

Can you cheer an ostrich austere? Dare I try without favor or fear?
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

Nothing is a greater stranger to my breast, or a sin that my soul more abhors, than that black and detestable one, ingratitude.

— Geo. Washington, 29 May 1754

A year-ish ago, on what I believe will pass for a whim, I composed a series of random sentences, or a series of sentences which I designed to impress as passably random. I did this not especially intending that aught should come of it, and nothing may yet. I shared it then on Facebook (arguably an instance of Vaguebooking) As nothing posted to Facebook ever goes away, it resurfaced in my feed as a memory, and I thought, well, why not? If I consider it the first chapter of something, shall I see if I want to continue accruing chapters? At the end, I may just find that it’s all rubbish, or mayhap I may be fortunate enough to find that it’s a shade or two better than rubbish. I’m not promising anything, but at present, anyway, there are now four chapters. If/when it gets as far as 25 chapters, I’ll take stock of it then. On the chance that I achieve an end result satisfactory to me, I have christened the endeavor Select intrusions of the Then Upon the Now.

Something else which resurfaced as a memory on FB was a set of photos I took from what was then my workplace, which I shared as Boston Harbor, August Haze Effect. Well, flutist Delores August suggested that a piece of music needed that for a title. So ... last night, I began composing August Haze for flute unaccompanied.

09 August 2023

Remembering The Orpheus of Lowell

I dreamt of absurdly small cheese crackers marketed as Tweez-Its.
Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

the thorny hard regret of rocks.
— Jack Kerouac from “Mexico City Blues”

The origin of this piece was a lovely occasion on which flutist/conductor Orlando Cela & I took a cup of coffee together at La Pâtisserie in Winchester (in fact, I don’t think that fine establishment employs the accent circonflexe, but we don’t hold it against them.) I believe it was likely the first time we two had gotten together since my stroke, so the first part of the conversation was mostly my reporting on my experience and condition. In the course of the conversation, as I’d assured Orlando that my recovery is going well, and that I had returned to composing, we spoke of his work. Later, he asked me, “What do you think of Jack Kerouac?” “Love him,” I said. At Wooster, some friends and I had Reading Evenings, and for some of these I read out from The Dharma Bums. Orlando was organizing a concert as part of the celebration of the Kerouac Centenary in Lowell (the poet’s birthplace) and the Lowell Chamber Orchestra was commissioning new pieces for the program, featuring Soprano Rose Hegele. I would be at liberty to select whatever texts I wished, and to score the accompaniment from a Pierrot ensemble. My first inclination was to go ahead and use the full complement, however I was encouraged to prune, if I felt I could, so (reckoning that the flute and clarinet occupied the treble clef sufficiently) I sacrificed the violin, so to speak. The text consists of an opening line of my own modest, febrile invention: “Oh! for an instrument of lemon peel and steel.”

there then follow five complete or partial choruses (I had originally selected seven, but that proved more text than the desired scale of the piece would accommodate) from Mexico City Blues, and the accompaniment scored as follows: 

(1.) XLIII. [tutti]

(2.) CCXXVI [bass cl & vc]

(3.) CCVIII. [alto fl & pf]

(4.) from XXV. [alto fl, cl & vc]

(5.) from XC. [alto fl & cl — then vc & pf]

The piece concludes with the curtain line from the first chapter of The Dharma Bums: “It’s all the same thing,” I heard my voice say in the void that’s highly embraceable during sleep.

The event itself was enormously gratifying. I was one of a number of composers and performers receiving questions prior to the concert proper. I was mildly relieved that my reference to Orpheus in the title did not provoke a question of whether I considered Lowell to be the Underworld. My piece, superbly executed, was well received by the performers and the audience alike. It is the nearest I have come to feeling like a well-respected celebrity. Entirely an experience for which I remain grateful.

08 August 2023

A Tale of Three Symphonies

Columbo in an airport café with a briefcase full of marked bills, there’s an unfinished brandy on the table, and the waitress asks him for a dollar ten for his root beer. And an impossibly open airport interior with no TSA screening. Those days are gone, folks.

Porridger’s Almanack (Breakfast of Ganglions)

When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.

— Incorrectly attributed to Sinclair Lewis

I set to writing my first symphony when I felt I was really ready to write one, and because I had wished to write one for a long time. Perhaps a decade before, I’d made a brief sketch for a symphony which I would leave unpursued. So this time, it was for real. It felt great when the symphony (the “Henning First”) was “in the can.” Perhaps I hoped there would be an odd chance that I might convince a conductor to perform it, which would entail finding (a) an orchestra with a board and mission open to presenting a symphony written by a living composer, as well as (b) a conductor who believes in the piece. (b) is overall an easier matter, I find, than (a) I should perhaps mention almost incidentally both that (unlike so many other pieces of mine) I here deliberately eschewed a colorful title, deciding instead that the no-frills “Symphony Number One” would make do. Also that I so designated it because I was confident that it would not be the only Symphony I would write. As I say, I was open to the hope, but (barring a kind of miracle–which has not materialized) I was not going to be much surprised that the piece would sit around unperformed indefinitely. Very well.

As a general thing, symphonic bands are typically more open than orchestras to music composed by living composers, so I decided that the “Henning Second” would be a Symphony for Band. I composed the first movement (of three) during the summer some months before my stroke. Finishing the symphony was a musical motivation I had while I was still in rehab following my stroke, before I really applied myself to composition again. Well, I did complete the second and third movements, but I have not as yet had any more success in arranging any reading/performance of the second symphony than I did for the first. I'll repeat that, in the first place, I know I’m not the first composer to have orchestral music in his portfolio languishing unperformed and, in the second, I wrote the pieces on spec, so (almost by definition) there has been no demand in the universe for them. I was therefore approaching a decision not to write another substantial piece until there should be some favorable augury. Before clinching that decision, though, I thought, Let me write a piece for strings alone, as perhaps a piece easier to “sell” than either of the first two symphonies. I felt I would avoid the raw designation “Symphony Number Three” and compose a memorial piece for the late Louis Andriessen, one of the composers with whom I had worked while I was at the University at Buffalo. In some later blog post I will address the question of whether the piece gets anywhere. In the spirit of Read Twice Before Posting, I am a little concerned that the element of complaint may loom larger than either seemly or necessary. Even as I contemplate not launching another speculative large-scale composition for the time being, I am not wailing to the heavens, why, oh why did I even write this music? I am proud of the music. I like the music. I believe an audience would like the music. Any disappointment is no matter of How can the Universe do this to me?! but entirely the passion with which I stand by my work.

One curiosity more: As evinced on this blog, I originally planned the Symphony for Band to be four movements. I might wonder if the decision (subsequent to my stroke) to “reduce” the symphony to three movements had to do at all with any reduction in confidence in my composing as I recover from the stroke, but I feel that the decision was simply so that the complete symphony would run about half an hour, that I felt making the piece longer would increase the difficulty in marketing the piece. Since the piece at present has zero currency in the market, the question may seem moot.


07 August 2023

I Had a Dream

Doughnut, go gentle into that good night.
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

Well, here’s another clue for you all: The Walrus was Paul.
— Jn Lennon, “Glass Onion”

Paul Gardner and Greg Weber very graciously sent a recording of the duet I dedicated to them: I Dreamt of Reconciliation and Harmony, Op. 171, for flute and alto saxophone, 

06 August 2023

On YouTube at last

“Bagels on Betelgeuse?” Lox in Space!
Postcards From Red Squirrel Trail

You are disoriented. Blackness swims toward you like a school of eels who have just seen something that eels like a lot.

— Douglas Adams

there was a weird skitch at the close of the sound file of The Lungs, the third movement of my Opus 148 Symphony № 2, for Band. Yesterday, I succeeded in losing it by deleting the rallantando marking in the measures leading up to the ending and exporting a fresh sound file. I had guessed that it was a Sibelius playback glitch of the sort that much savvier Sibelius users avoid by use of supplemental software, which is just too much “in the weeds” for me.

Peter Bloom and his Aardvark Jazz Orchestra colleague Dan Zupan are getting together to read Waiting on the Italian Paperwork this Tuesday. They’ve invited me to “coach” them, though I'm sure they’ll get on fine with little interference from me.