the bus driver didn’t change his mind

02.11.02

Hi Bus Driver Visitors:

One of many emotions that has come up for me post 9/11 is an intense form of feminist rage, something I feel quite uncomfortable about, if I can be honest, having always thought myself quite beyond all that. But when I got this Bang on a Can commission, the first thing I thought of was this poem by the Bangladeshi troublemaker Taslima Nasrin. (She had a fatwa issued against her in the mid-90’s and seems to have pretty much disappeared from public life.) Originally I was going to set it in the piece, but I decided not to. Here’s how it goes:

Character

You’re a girl
and you’d better not forget
that when you step over the threshold of your house
men will look askance at you.
When you keep on walking down the lane
men will follow you and whistle.
When you cross the lane and step onto the main road
men will revile you and call you a loose woman.

If you’ve got no character
you’ll turn back,
and if not
you’ll keep on going,
as you’re going now.

The harmonic language is mostly built of diminished seventh chords, in reference to that cool climax in the first movement of Mahler’s Second, which I was listening to because I’d been hanging out with Berio’s Sinfonia because of the “keep going” connection between the Beckett/Berio and the Nasrin text.

The pre-recorded material is constructed solely from samples of the pipa, a Chinese instrument that is conventionally played by cultivated young ladies performing elevated music for the delectation of the upper classes.

The title of the piece comes from something I read yesterday in a profile of the American troublemaker Al Sharpton in this week’s (2/18-25/02) New Yorker:

“The bus driver didn’t change his mind, Rosa Parks changed hers.”

The piece is dedicated to the memory of Samia al-Rumn.

Eve Beglarian

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the bus driver didn’t change his mind is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear the Bang on a Can All-Stars premiere performance by visiting August 22nd.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format, and here’s a set of parts. I’m open to you reorchestrating it for your ensemble; let me know what you have in mind.

As part of your process in learning the piece, I urge you to listen to my sketch of the piece, where I sing the Nasrin text that later became the clarinet part. It will tell you many things that can’t be embedded in the score.

In order to play the piece, please order a copy of the backing track by following the paypal link, and thank you for your interest in the bus driver didn’t change his mind.

My Feelings Now

The lyrics of My Feelings Now are adapted from various things the Indonesian dancer and choreographer Hartati said during a residency we both had in Los Angeles in the summer of 1996. I wrote the song in Wyoming while in residency at Ucross in August of 1996. (Thanks to both Judy Mitoma and the Ford Foundation for the APPEX program that brought all of us together, and to the Ucross Foundation for the residency time that freed me to write the piece.) My Feelings Now is dedicated to Tati with love.

For the twisted tutu version of the piece, Kathy Supové and I performed against a quiet taped background of Robin Lorentz on violin, mixed with an electronically manipulated recording of Indonesian flute and vocal music performed by Sawir St. Mudo and Mira Tanjung.

My Feelings Now is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear twisted tutu’s version of the piece on August 12th. It’s also available on twisted tutu’s CD Play Nice.

If you want to perform the piece this way, please contact me for the pre-recorded tracks. But there are many ways to flesh out the song, and I am very open to you making whatever versions you feel will work effectively. Similarly, you should feel free to transpose it to reflect your vocal style and range. If you need a transposed score, please get in touch with me.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

All U Got 2 Do

All U Got 2 Do was inspired by a sermonette by Reverend Milton Brunson which appears on a 1990 release called Black Gospel Explosion.

all you got to do is
stand still
study yourself
be real

and god’ll give you the power
won’t he do it?
somebody know what I’m talking about?
won’t he give you
power?

power to live right
power to think right
power to speak right
power to do right

god’ll give you
power

• Reverend Milton Brunson

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Along with the Brunson text, the piece uses a transformed recording of the introduction to the Benedictus of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. The live player tries to follow the Reverend’s advice by playing as few notes with as much attention as possible. The piece was originally written for Hammond organ, but it has been played on violin and on clarinet. Other instruments might work as well, I’m open to you trying it. The score is minimally notated: you will want to shape the expression of the piece in your own way. The best performances will create a fragile balance between immobility and hope.

All U Got 2 Do is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear David Steele’s clarinet version at 3 August, along with the video by Matt Petty, which is part of our multimedia show, Lighten Up.

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Here is a performing score in pdf format.

After you click the donation button below, you’ll get all the necessary materials to perform the piece.

The Garden of Cyrus

Some time in the early 1980’s, I happened upon an essay by the 17th century polymath Sir Thomas Browne called The Garden of Cyrus OR, The Quincunciall, Lozenge, or Net-work Plantations of the Ancients, Artificially, Naturally, Mystically Considered. It is a wacky and marvelous piece of work, and reading it kind of changed my life.

The essay both describes and embodies the idea of the “decussation”, the place where two opposed forces meet, releasing energy by embracing their opposition. Sir Thomas Browne is a simultaneously a mystic and a scientist, a medical doctor and a literary stylist. He talks about the quincunx pattern as it appears on beetle’s wings and in Plato’s cosmology and a bunch of stuff in between.

My electronic piece, The Garden of Cyrus, was the first big piece I wrote after I finished school. It embodies the decussation by being totally rigidly serial, with algorithmic structures defining every pitch and rhythmic event, but I simultaneously tried to make the processes organic and available to the listener, as classic minimalism does. My goal was to wrestle the crunchy techniques of old-school modernism into something I could use, something I could love.

This score is the last movement of electronic version of The Garden of Cyrus. It’s a four-part canon in twelve sections, where each player does faster and faster repeated notes in each section until finally s/he falls into sustained notes. The original version was electronic, but the excellent guitar quartet Dither recently asked me to make a four-guitar version, so that’s what I’m posting here. It could probably be adapted for string quartet as well; please get in touch with me if you’d be interested in performing a string quartet version.

The electronic version of The Garden of Cyrus with all five movements is available on my CD Overstepping.

The Garden of Cyrus V is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear and see Dither’s performance by going to July 22nd.

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Here is the original electronic version:

Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. For a set of parts, please click the donation link below, with my thanks for your support of this very low-key way of publishing:

Creating the World

I wrote this note for the premiere of Creating the World in 1996:

I had cut Milosz’s poem “Creating the World” out of The New Yorker when it was printed there several years ago, and when Paul Dresher called to ask me for a piece for his ensemble, I knew the time had come for me to take it on. Because the instrumentation of Paul’s ensemble allows for the possibility of live performance and control of A LOT of pre-recorded samples, it seemed the perfect opportunity to create a world of hedgehogs and sopranos and urban intersections and Mozart.

At first, everything was big fun: I had a great time recording the text with the wonderful actor Roger Rees; I spent weeks collecting recordings of virtually every sound mentioned in the poem (including something like forty different settings of the word “gloria”); I got obsessed with Tosca (which became the soprano sample) and saw about four different performances of it (both live and on video: NYC is a great place for creating the world(!)); studied the complete works of Joni Mitchell from the point of view of guitar tuning (which ended up not being incorporated into the piece at all)…

And then the abyss hit me.

I realized I could not knit all these wonderful samples into a piece until I had a way of making sense of the central contradiction of the poem: that all the creation in the world does not necessarily make meaning. And it really threw me.

I went back and read Milosz again, not only the poems, but also The Captive Mind, his analysis of the totalitarian mind-set, and  A Year of the Hunter, his journal from 1987 (around the time he wrote “Creating the World”), and things got even worse: all the horrors of the twentieth century came crashing down on me. The abyss of meaninglessness became the abyss of actual evil. The image of the Soviet soldiers standing outside the city watching the Germans destroy Warsaw for them became real for me, became my history.

Gradually I went back to the poem itself, to its feeble invocation of feasts of love as protection against the abyss, and I remembered a lullaby that my Bangladeshi friend Babu (M. Faslur Rahman) had sung for me this summer, a very private form of love feast. And I started thinking about the Dionysian feasts of love that pervade every human culture, and I figured that the brittle present-directed pleasure of house music is the current American embodiment of that protection. And so you will hear these feasts of love, and I hope they will protect you as they protect me.
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Creating the World is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear the Paul Dresher Ensemble’s recording by visiting December 31st.

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For the original version of Creating the World the drummer played the spoken word samples on drum set, and lots of other samples were performed on both MIDI keyboard and MIDI mallet controllers. I am happy to make versions for whatever controllers you have available, and some things can certainly be sequenced for practicality. The main live instruments you need are violin, bassoon (or bass clarinet), guitar, and probably two keyboards, although one might work.

Here is a score of the piece, and when you click the purchase button below, I will work with you to make a cool live version of the piece for your band! It’s more expensive than my other pieces, because I have to rejigger the samples and all that. If you think of it as a consulting fee rather than as a publishing fee, I hope it will feel reasonable. If you really want to play the piece, and you don’t have the money, get in touch and we’ll work something out.

 

remembering Grant Beglarian | 1 Dec 1927 – 5 Jul 2002

Today is the anniversary of my father’s death, so to mark the day I unpacked one of the many unopened boxes of his papers that I’ve got up here in Vermont. The box was materials relating to a project he led in the 1960s.

The Contemporary Music Project, funded by the Ford Foundation, put young composers in schools around the country, where they wrote music for the school bands and choruses and sometimes a bit of chamber music as well. The roster ultimately included something like eighty composers (of whom the most well-known is Philip Glass, one of whose pieces is a childrens’ chorus number called Dreamy Kangaroo, something I’d really like to hear!)

According to the files I have in front of me, there were precisely two women composers on the roster: Emma Lou Diemer and Elaine M. Erickson, although it’s interesting to note that Lisa Bielawa‘s father Herb, and my own father were both participants, so maybe the program fostered women composers one generation removed? I hope so! (If you were a student at one of these schools and grew up to be a musician, I’d love to hear from you.)

One interesting outgrowth of the program is that it clarified how comprehensive musicianship skills are needed to work happily with contemporary music. My father gave a talk on that subject of comprehensive music education in 1966, something I was too young to read or remember at the time, but I very much enjoyed reading today. If you work with students or you are a student of music, you might like to read it yourself!

It Happens Like This

It Happens Like This sets the recitation of a poem by James Tate against an adaptation of a traditional Persian chaharmezrab melody and dance rhythm. Perhaps the cyclical embroiderings of the chaharmezrab echo the successive embroiderings of the narrator’s tale of the goat.

It Happens Like This was commissioned by Mary Sharp Cronson and Works and Process, Inc. for a celebration of James Tate at the Guggenheim Museum. Many thanks to Greg Hesselink for help and advice with the cello notation, and Mary Rowell for ideas and advice for the two-instrument version.

It Happens Like This was written while in residence at the Civitella Ranieri and is dedicated with affection to Diego Mencaroni, who once loved a goat.

I was outside St. Cecelia’s Rectory
smoking a cigarette when a goat appeared beside me.
It was mostly black and white, with a little reddish
brown here and there. When I started to walk away,
it followed. I was amused and delighted, but wondered
what the laws were on this kind of thing. There’s
a leash law for dogs, but what about goats? People
smiled at me and admired the goat. “It’s not my goat,”
I explained. “It’s the town’s goat. I’m just taking
my turn caring for it.” “I didn’t know we had a goat,”
one of them said. “I wonder when my turn is.” “Soon,”
I said. “Be patient. Your time is coming.” The goat
stayed by my side. It stopped when I stopped. It looked
up at me and I stared into its eyes. I felt he knew
everything essential about me. We walked on. A police-
man on his beat looked us over. “That’s a mighty
fine goat you got there,” he said, stopping to admire.
“It’s the town’s goat,” I said. “His family goes back
three-hundred years with us,” I said, “from the beginning.”
The officer leaned forward to touch him, then stopped
and looked up at me. “Mind if I pat him?” he asked.
“Touching this goat will change your life,” I said.
“It’s your decision.” He thought real hard for a minute,
and then stood up and said, “What’s his name?” “He’s
called the Prince of Peace,” I said. “God! This town
is like a fairy tale. Everywhere you turn there’s mystery
and wonder. And I’m just a child playing cops and robbers
forever. Please forgive me if I cry.” “We forgive you,
Officer,” I said. “And we understand why you, more than
anybody, should never touch the Prince.” The goat and
I walked on. It was getting dark and we were beginning
to wonder where we would spend the night.

james tate

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Here is the traditional chaharmezrab on which the piece is based:

It Happens Like This is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To hear a live recording of the duo version by BRIM, please visit July 6th.

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Here is a score of the original cello plus actor version. And here is the two-instrument version of It Happens Like This. It has been done as a violin/viola duo, and as a mandolin/guitar duo. For a set of parts, please order by clicking the donation link below (and let me know if you need different transposition or clefs.)

Landscaping for Privacy

Landscaping for Privacy was written in August-September 1995 for twisted tutu (Kathleen Supové, keyboards and Eve Beglarian, vocals) while we were in residence at the Bellagio Center in Italy under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation. The poem is by Linda Norton. The keyboard part was written to be played using the arpeggiator function of a synth keyboard, sort of like a new convertible with an automatic transmission. I tried to capture the fragile elation urban types feel at driving out of the city on a beautiful Saturday morning in spring.

Landscaping for Privacy

Make a pagoda of thyself!
–Herman Melville

Ultima multis
–inscription on a medieval sundial

The hedges along the parkway, the trees, the trees–
They sashay, they nearly genuflect, they breathe.
It’s good to breathe; it’s good to get away in summer,
It makes you feel clean. The city, the squalor, the mess,
That’s what’s killing us. Did I tell you about the rat
I saw in the subway last night? It had a swollen belly
And no fear, it went right for a transvestite in heels!
Enough; I know; not here, not now; I should relax,
Shut up, let go. Oh, yes, Long Island’s very fresh and nice;
Do they have rats out here, or just field mice? And I forget,
What do people do with themselves in the suburbs?
The streets are empty, the lawns unused. If I lived here,
I’d spread out, I’d hang a hammock, I’d keep sheep,
I’d dig a well. I’d build hummocks to my own
Specs, I’d be positively pastoral.

But you’re right, of course. Of course, you’re right.
I couldn’t keep sheep, there’s probably an ordinance,
They’d shoot me for ruining property values.
But what’s property, anyway? Years ago
I read about a pillar of roses in an English garden
And so I own it, I have the deed by heart.
Speaking of which, pull over, look,
Here’s a surprise for you. Check out my bicep.
Do you like my new tattoo?

What do you mean, “What is it, did it hurt?”
It’s a miniature gazebo! Of course it hurt!
Note the incredible detail, the wicked craftsmanship.
See–it’s a garden pagoda for me and you,
With ivy, and grass, and a snake in the grass.
Hey, what are you doing? Oh yes, that’s good,
Yes, kiss it and make it better. Because
It did hurt a bit. In fact, it hurt like hell
(Remember that night when you touched me
And I yelled?)

OK, let’s drive, let’s tour the hydrangeas
And the lawns. What could be more suggestive
Than a grassy mattress? Maybe that TV glowing
In a darkened den, shades nearly drawn.
Slow down, slow down–that’s strange: a sick room,
A suburban tomb, on a day like this,
With the clouds all starched and bustling
In a Disney sky. Look, they have a gazebo, too,
Jam-packed with rusted rakes and trash.

If I had their lawn I’d soak it and sun bathe on it,
I’d sleep out under the stars, I’d walk to the mall
And strap a sack of fertilizer to my back and hike
All the way home. We’ve lived in the city far too long,
Yes, that’s what’s killing us. That, and this monument
To love we lug, this brick inscribed FOREVER.
Let’s let it sink. Let’s kiss. Give me the wheel,
I’ll drive so you can look at clouds.

“All clouds are clocks,” bulldozing time.
Do you remember who said that?
A pauper? A philosopher?
Well, he was right,
Those pretty clouds are bullies–

Bouffant armada,
Fluffy but cruel,
Ushering last days for many.

–Linda Norton

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There are three versions of the piece: the original version for narrator plus the PC88 keyboard’s arpeggiator; a version for narrator with acoustic piano and playback; and an ensemble version (voice, alto flute, bass clarinet, vibes, marimba, and piano.)

A recording of Landscaping for Privacy is on my CD Tell the Birds and also on the compilation CRI Emergency Music.

Landscaping for Privacy is May 30th in my ongoing project A Book of Days.

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score of piano (plus playback) version –> (.pdf)
score of all-acoustic ensemble version –> (.pdf)
score of original arpeggiator version –> (.pdf)

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

Miranda’s Kiss

Miranda is a signing chimpanzee James Merrill meets early on in his visionary trilogy, The Changing Light at Sandover.

Miranda’s Kiss is both a programmatic piece describing their meeting (Miranda’s exuberant but hesitant approach, and their kiss, which like most first kisses, wavers between concentrating on the experience itself and one’s excitedly nervous awareness: Yes! I am (finally) kissing her!) and also an evocation of Merrill’s merging of two worlds:

Between one floating realm unseen powers rule
(Rod upon mild silver rod, like meter
Broken in fleet cahoots with subject matter)
And one we feel is ours, and call the real,

The flat distinction of Miranda’s kiss
Floods both. No longer, as in bad old pre-
Ephraim days, do I naively pray
For the remission of their synthesis.

Miranda’s Kiss was written for and premiered by Tony de Mare. It was begun at the Leighton Artist Colony in Banff, Alberta and completed in New York City.

Miranda’s Kiss is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to Barry Salwen’s live recording of the piece by visiting April 1st.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. It’s on my list to make a computer-engraved copy of this autograph score. If it will make it easier for you to program the piece, do let me know, and I’ll make the time to do it soon.

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

Lament

Lament was originally written for a production of Terry O’Reilly’s play, Animal Magnetism, directed by Lee Breuer. The piece was originally played on an abandoned, very out-of-tune piano. If you have access to one of those, it would be great to use it.

It is possible for an actor to perform a text in conjunction with the music, as it was performed in the original production. If you find a new text that you wish to perform in counterpoint to a performance of this piece, please let me know what you have in mind.

Lament is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a live performance by the musicians of Orchestra X by visiting March 30th.

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You can purchase the performing version for bass clarinet and piano via the paypal button below. If you would like a transposition that works for another instrument, just let me know your needs.

And thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing!

Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast was commissioned by Mary Sharp Cronson for an evening celebrating the poet Stanley Kunitz. I chose his poem of the same name, which I think is a small, brutal masterpiece. I asked my mother, who I was caring for at the time, to draw me a picture of a robin. The drawing above is what she made for me.

It was the dingiest bird
you ever saw, all the color
washed from him, as if
he had been standing in the rain,
friendless and stiff and cold,
since Eden went wrong.
In the house marked For Sale,
where nobody made a sound
in the room where I lived
with an empty page, I had heard
the squawking of the jays
under the wild persimmons
tormenting him.
So I scooped him up
after they knocked him down,
in league with that ounce of heart
pounding in my palm
that dumb beak gaping.
Poor thing! Poor foolish life!
without sense enough to stop
running in desperate circles,
needing my lucky help
to toss him back into his element.
But when I held him high,
fear clutched my hand,
for through the hole in his head,
cut whistle-clean . . .
through the old dried wound
between his eyes
where the hunter’s brand
had tunneled out his wit . . .
I caught the cold flash of the blue
unappeasable sky.

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The piece has been recorded by Corey Dargel and Margaret Lancaster and is available on my CD Tell the Birds.

Robin Redbreast is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear a recording of the piece by Margaret Lancaster and me by visiting March 27th.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. To purchase the pre-recorded track for live performance of the piece, please click on the paypal button below:

Night Psalm

Night Psalm was inspired by Psalm 77, particularly verse 20:

Your way was through the sea,
your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.

The melody of the piece is based on a chant found in a late sixteenth century antiphoner from Augsberg Cathedral in Germany. It is not known why this book would have been made so late, given the liturgical politics involved.

Night Psalm is dedicated to Paul Kahn on the occasion of his becoming a deacon. The piece is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear Vicky Chow’s live recording (accompanied by a video I made off the back of a towboat on the Mississippi) by visiting March 10. And you can see an excerpt of me performing the piece on a Launchpad here.

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Here is a score of the piece. If you are paid to perform it in public, I would deeply appreciate you paying for the score:

Spherical Music

Spherical Music was written in 1985 as part of an electronic piece called The Garden of Cyrus. (A recording of that piece is available on my CD Overstepping.) At the time, I made a version for twelve marimbas which Daniel Druckman recorded and performed with eleven parts on tape. In 1998, Danny called and asked me to make a version for twelve players on six marimbas. I made substantial revisions in the orchestration for this version, and I think it’s beginning to approach what I was hoping for it to be in the first place: an algorithmic music where the rule-based events feel like more than mere arithmetic, where they become a kind of magic numerology.

There’s a quotation from the Divine Comedy that embodies what I was aiming for when I wrote the piece:

E come l’alma dentro a vostra polve
per differenti membra e conformate
a diverse potenze si resolve,
così l’intelligenza sua bontate
mulitiplicata per le stelle spiega,
girando sè sovra sua unitate.

                             Dante, Paradiso II: 133-138

And as the soul within your mortal clay
is spread through different organs, each of which
is shaped to its own end; in the same way
the high angelic Intelligence spreads its goodness
diversified through all the many stars
while yet revolving ever in its Oneness.

                             John Ciardi’s translation

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In addition to the original electronic version available on Overstepping, Jane Boxall’s solo marimba version of the piece is available here. Also, Daniel Druckman’s 1985 recording of the piece is posted as part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can listen to it by visiting March 3rd.

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Here’s the score of the 1998 twelve player version. When you purchase the materials through Paypal below, you will receive all the materials necessary to perform the piece.

If you want to do a solo version, you will first want to record all twelve parts and then mute the parts you want to play live. Here’s one possible solo version of the piece. However, once you’ve spent the time recording all twelve parts yourself, you are likely to have your own favorite path through the piece, so I encourage you to make your own solo performance version. If you want the score in Finale, XML, or MIDI format to make editing your own version easier, please request it when you order the materials.

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

Do Not Be Concerned

Do Not Be Concerned is the first piece I wrote specifically for my ongoing project A Book of Days. At the time, I was imagining writing a piece for every preset in the General MIDI spec: this piece uses the Calliope Lead (patch #83) to accompany a recitation of a line from the Gospel of Thomas.

A live performance of the piece on synth requires a MIDI echo effect: I have a version implemented already in MOTU’s Digital Performer. If you need it in some other program, I can give you the specifications for the effect so you can set it up yourself.

You can perform the piece as a solo, reciting the text as you play, or you can do it as a duo: one person plays while the other speaks.

Do Not Be Concerned is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit February 21st to listen to the piece along with my pre-911 slideshow of images of Soho.

And this is Nick Griffiths’ 2014 live performance on piano with no processing. It’s a very different take on the piece, and I’m delighted by it!

 

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

Did he promise you tomorrow?

I wrote Did he promise you tomorrow? on 7 February 2011 as a memorial to Steven Dennis Bodner (1975-2011.) The title is something a woman named Carla asked me in a bar in Los Gatos, California precisely one year earlier, on 7 February 2010, while Chris Porter and I were watching the New Orleans Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl. I had never watched a Super Bowl before, but the fact of two river cities being in contention made it sort of a required event that year. I don’t know what Steve’s attachment to the Super Bowl may or may not have been, but I do know that he loved Louis Andriessen’s music passionately, so I have re-purposed a lick from De Volharding as the basis of the piece.

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Did he promise you tomorrow? is part of my ongoing multimedia project A Book of Days. You can hear Matt Petty and me doing a wacky all-harpsichord version by going to February 7th. And you can purchase a wind and brass heavy version here.

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The piece can be performed by virtually any group of at least six instruments and/or singers. You can arrange your own score from the six conceptual lines. The pdf called vocal score is the simplest arrangement. You can look at the Newspeak arrangement to see one approach to arranging the piece for larger forces.

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You are warmly invited to support this low-key way of publishing. Once you make your purchase, we will send you a Finale file so you can make your very own arrangement of Did he promise you tomorrow?

Wonder Counselor

Wonder Counselor gets its title from the Jerusalem Bible translation of Isaiah 9:6, which is more familiarly translated as “…his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” I am delighted by the idea of a higher power serving as my wonder counselor, maybe dressed as a scout leader, taking me around to point out the marvels of the world. While I was initially thinking about the piece, I did a concordance search for the word “wonderful” in the Bible and found the following proverb:

Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a maiden. (Proverbs 30:18-19)

The piece embeds these four wonderful sounds into an electronically transformed recording of a single organ sonority. The live organist then plays a loose set of variations on the sequence “Res est admirabilis” (“It is a wondrous thing”) from the thirteenth century Gradual of Eleanor of Brittany. The sequence is aptly-named: it has some of the strangest counterpoint I have ever heard. I was introduced to it by Marcel Peres’ excellent recording.

Wonder Counselor was commissioned by the American Guild of Organists to celebrate their 100th Anniversary and premiered at their National Convention by Kyler Brown at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in New York in July 1996. I want to thank Kyler Brown and Reverend Edgar F. Wells for their advice and insight while I was making this piece.

Wonder Counselor is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a recording by visiting February 4th, or by purchasing a recording of Tell the Birds.

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To play the complete piece single-handedly requires a four-manual organ, and is very difficult! Please contact me if you would like that solo version. In the meantime, I have made a duo version which can be performed by two live players, or with KBD2 pre-recorded (or MIDI-controlled) and KBD1 played live by a single player. If you wish to play the piece on a single synth rather than a two-manual organ, you can map the swell notes (marked p in the score) to trigger as they sound in the score, but played two octaves below where they are written, and then map the bomb notes (marked f in the score) to go from middle C up, just as they appear in the score. Please get in touch if you would like clarification of any of this!

Thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing!

LIGHTEN UP

LIGHTEN UP is a new, evening length multimedia song cycle created by New York composer Eve Beglarian and Louisiana video artist Matthew Petty. This 80 minute concert combines live music and video projections with lighting and set elements that invoke the force and imagery of the visual artists it honors.

Initially inspired by the life and work of Houston’s Flower Man, LIGHTEN UP explores the visions of visual artists whose life and work re-shape the American Dream in imaginative, powerful, and healing ways. While sometimes called “outsider artists,” these artists’ work springs from sources deep in the ground of the places they live, and inside their deepest selves.

LIGHTEN UP is more a fantasia on the work of these visionary artists than a conventional documentary. Matt Petty’s videos include footage of the work of Cleveland Turner, aka the Flower Man, Pastor Juanita Leonard, Prophet Isaiah Robertson, Jeff McKissack (the Orange Show), Kenny Hill (Chauvin), Dr. Charles Smith, and others. Eve Beglarian’s music sets texts by Louise Glück, Ezekiel, and Reverend Milton Brunson as well as the artists themselves. The piece also explores the way Eve’s and Matt’s lives have been transformed by their relationships with these artists and their work.

The music is performed live by the LIGHTEN UP quartet comprised of James Allen (keys and vocals), David Steele (clarinets and other reeds), Matt (trombone and vocals), and Eve (vocals and electronics).

Eve and Matt began working on LIGHTEN UP in the spring of 2015, under the auspices of the Marion International Fellowship for the Visual and Performing Arts. This year-long development and travel grant culminated in a workshop showing of a first version of LIGHTEN UP performed by the quartet of Eve, James, David, and Matt at the Alley Theatre in Houston, TX in June 2016.

For the premiere, the quartet will create original music and color guard choreography to be performed by students of an under-resourced school band program in the Greater New Orleans area. Along with the high school residency, younger children will work with Pastor Juanita Leonard, one of the visionary artists featured in LIGHTEN UP, to create visual environments from found materials. These artworks will be featured as set elements in the live performance.

Touring performances of LIGHTEN UP can optionally include a two week residency during which the quartet works with the band program in a local high school to master original live music and and color guard choreography. The student marching band will perform their segment alongside the quartet of Eve, James, David, and Matt at the local venue.

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Please click on the titles below to experience three of the existing pieces in LIGHTEN UP.

Dust

footage: Prophet Isaiah Robertson’s home and church,  Niagara Falls, NY | Aug 2015 • text: Ezekiel • music & vocals: Eve Beglarian • video: Matt Petty

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All U Got 2 Do

footage: parishioners at Juanita Leonard’s Church, Montgomery, LA & St. Matthew’s MB Church, Houston | Oct & Dec 2015 & May 2016 • text: Reverend Milton Brunson • music: Eve Beglarian (and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis) • clarinet: David Steele • video: Matt Petty

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Enter In To My Heart

footage: Kenny Hill’s Chauvin Sculpture Garden, Chauvin, LA | Dec 2015 & Mar 2016 • music: anonymous harmonica player in New Orleans | Dec 2015 processed and mixed by Eve Beglarian and Matt Petty • video: Matt Petty

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LIGHTEN UP: Artist Biographies


According to the Los Angeles Times, composer and performer Eve Beglarian “is an idealistic rebel and a musical sensualist.” She was awarded the 2015 Robert Rauschenberg Prize from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts for her  “innovation, risk-taking, and experimentation.”

Beglarian’s current projects include LIGHTEN UP, a multimedia music-theater piece about visionary visual artists in America;  a new collaboration with writer/actor Karen Kandel about women in Vicksburg; the long-term undertaking A Book of Days, text/music/visuals, one for each day of the year; and BRIM, the ensemble she has created to perform the repertoire she has created in response to her 2009 journey down the Mississippi River by kayak and bicycle.

Beglarian’s concert music has been commissioned and widely performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the American Composers Orchestra, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the California EAR Unit, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Third Angle, Contemporaneous, loadbang, the Guidonian Hand, Newspeak, and many individual performers.

Highlights of Beglarian’s work in music theater include music for Mabou Mines’ Obie-winning DollhouseAnimal Magnetism, Ecco Porco, Choephorai, and Shalom Shanghai, all directed by Lee Breuer; Forgiveness, a collaboration with Chen Shi-Zheng and Noh master Akira Matsui; and the China National Beijing Opera Theater’s production of The Bacchae, also directed by Chen Shi-Zheng.

She has collaborated with choreographers including Ann Carlson, Robert LaFosse, Victoria Marks, Susan Marshall, David Neumann,  and Take Ueyama, and with visual and video artists including Cory Arcangel, Anne Bray, Barbara Hammer, Kevork Mourad, and Shirin Neshat.

Recordings of Eve’s music are available on ECM, Koch, New World, Canteloupe, Innova, Naxos, Kill Rock Stars, CDBaby, and Bandcamp.

New York Times profile

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Sister Juanita Leonard was born at the Huey P. Long Charity Hospital in Alexandria, Louisiana and has been a Louisiana resident all her life. She currently resides in Montgomery, Louisiana (population 795) where she owns and operates Closer to Christ Ministries, a roadside church located off of Highway 71, that she built herself from salvaged materials. Sister Juanita focuses on serving the homeless, sick, and poverty- stricken members of the community, as well as released prisoners, and at-risk children. She provides daily free meals from her home and healing services for those in need, and has done so since 2001.

As an artist, Sister Juanita has been painting since she was 17 years old. Her artwork has expanded into other forms including sculptures, architecture, quilting, hat-making, and basket weaving. Her work has been featured in numerous shows and museums across the state of Louisiana, as well as the The Pennsylvania Museum of Art, in Erie, PA; The Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, GA; and Roff Graves’ Gallery in Lodi, CA. She has been awarded the title of Recognized Tradition Bearer by the State of Louisiana in 2016, and has also appeared in two books including Juanita Leonard’s Hard Times Bus by Jason Neville, and When the Spirit Speaks: Self-Taught Art of the South by Margaret Day. Additionally, Sister Juanita has appeared in publications by Louisiana Public Broadcasting, CBS, Raw Vision Magazine, The Folk Art Messenger, SPACES Archives, and The American Folk Art Museum.

Raw Vision profile   |  Folk Art Society of America profile

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Matt Petty is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, and video artist based in Natchitoches, Louisiana. He is a graduate of Northwestern State University, where he received degrees in Music Education and Trombone Performance. Matt Petty uses low-fi gear to create music-based multimedia productions involving sound, video and live performance. Matt is an alumnus of New York’s Watermill Center, where he worked as a performing artist, collaborator, and technical assistant; and was influenced by artists such as theater director Robert Wilson, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and the American freak-folk band CocoRosie. He is also a founding member of the experimental-Americana ensemble Kisatchie Sound, with clarinetist and co-founder, David Steele; a group that creates music with a sense of place.

As a collaborative artist, Matt has worked with numerous visual artists and musicians across the U.S. performing concerts and making video pieces. He has screened experimental video in Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, California, New York, and Vermont. Additionally, Matt is the creator of the feature documentary, Sacred as Folk, about the life of Louisiana artist, Brother Michael David Elvestrom. Most recently, Matt is traveling across the country working with and documenting visionary artists for a grassroots multimedia collaboration with composer Eve Beglarian titled LIGHTEN UP—a project that promotes diversity and healing through art as a social practice. Additionally, Matt was one of 25 international artists selected as Lucas Artist Fellows in Music at Montalvo Arts Center, in Saratoga, CA. Matt currently serves as Adjunct Professor of Music and Fine Arts at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. For more information, visit Matt’s Vimeo page.

ADDITIONAL COLLABORATORS

James Allen is the music director and organist at First St. Matthew’s Missionary Baptist Church in the Third Ward of Houston, Texas. A singer since the age of three, he graduated from Madison High School of Houston in 2003, and from Alcorn State University in Mississippi in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in Music Performance. His home church is Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church. James has performed as a musician and collaborator with Eve Beglarian and Kisatchie Sound as part of LIGHTEN UP’s workshop performance at The Alley Theater in Houston, Texas, in the Summer of 2016. Additionally, James works as a lifeguard and swim coach at the YMCA of Houston.

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David Steele
, a native of Houston, Texas, has been part of the music faculty at Northwestern State University since August 2012 where he teaches clarinet, woodwind methods, and fine arts. He is also a founding member of the chamber ensemble, Kisatchie Sound. While clarinet is his primary instrument, David plays the chalumeau, various woodwind instruments and several folk instruments. He plays an active role as a director, instructor, choreographer, and visual technician throughout the Louisiana/Mississippi Color Guard and Percussion Circuit for area marching bands and color guards. David studied at Northwestern State University, the University of New Mexico, and the University of North Texas. He has worked for Popejoy Hall, New Mexico’s premiere performing arts venue, in the Education and Outreach Department. His teachers include Dr. Malena McLaren, Mr. Keith Lemmons, and Dr. Kimberly Cole Luevano.

While at Northwestern State University, David performed with the university’s Wind Symphony, Symphony Orchestra, and Jazz Orchestra. He has played principal clarinet with the University of New Mexico’s Wind Symphony and Symphony Orchestra. While attending the University of North Texas, David performed and recorded with the U.N.T. Wind Symphony as principal clarinet under the direction of Dr. Eugene Corporon. Additionally, David has performed with several professional groups such as the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra, Roswell Symphony Orchestra, Shreveport Symphony Orchestra, Texarkana Symphony Orchestra, South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, the Many Chamber Orchestra, and the Northwestern Faculty Quintet. He has also performed as a musician, color guard performer, and visual artist at the Alley Theater in Houston, and as a woodwind specialist and technician in the pit-orchestras at Long Lake Camp of the Arts in New York. He is a recipient of the McCutchens Award for Musical Excellence, the Magale Award for Musical Excellence, the Bess McNeely Award for Outstanding Musical Performance, and the Albuquerque Community Education and Outreach Award.

As a recording artist, David has recorded with renowned brass players Joe Alessi, Sam Pilafian, Marshall Gilkes, and J.D. Shaw. He has recorded with composer, Eve Beglarian, and the chamber ensemble, Kisatchie Sound. David’s playing is featured in the sound track of the documentary film, Sacred as Folk. His playing and color guard choreography is featured in the multimedia production of LIGHTEN UP

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Christina Giannelli is a Houston-based lighting designer. Her work in Opera and Ballet lighting design has taken her around the world and gained her national recognition.  She has been the Resident Lighting Designer for Houston Grand Opera, Cleveland-San Jose Ballet, Texas Ballet Theater, Houston Ballet and most recently for the Metropolitan Opera. Firmly committed to furthering the growth and development of the Arts in Houston, Ms. Giannelli has served on the Boards of Zocalo Artists Yard, Infernal Bridegroom Productions, the DiverseWorks Artists Board and is the founder and president of Dance Source Houston, a service organization that supports and promotes Contemporary Dance.  She is also the co-proprietor of a guest house for visiting artists and innovators located in EaDo.

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Atque Semper

ATQUE SEMPER (2006) for flute, horn, electric guitar, bass, and piano

Atque Semper is a meditation on the early medieval hymn Ave Maris Stella. The guitarist plays a free version of the melody while the other instruments try very hard to mess it up. The pianist is torn between supporting the guitar and hanging out with the troublemakers.

Atque Semper was commissioned by the young guitarist Dylan Allegretti for Santa Fe New Music and is dedicated to him with many thanks.

Atque Semper is part of a project called ReThinking Mary, which also includes Lullaby, Wonder Counselor, Take Your Joy, and Be/Hold. Atque Semper is also part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can listen to a live performance by the Cal State University New Music Ensemble, under the direction of Alan Shockley, by visiting January 7th.

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Here is the score of the original arrangement. I am open to people making arrangements of the piece for different instrumentation, so if you have ideas about this, please feel free to get in touch with me at eve at evbvd dot com.

For a set of parts, please click the donation link below, with my thanks for your support of this very low-key way of publishing:

Fireside

Fireside was commissioned in 2001 by pianist Sarah Cahill in celebration of Ruth Crawford Seeger’s centennial. The piece sets a poem Ruth Crawford wrote when she was thirteen years old. The harmony is a response to her fifth prelude. Fireside is dedicated to women composers of the future, who will undoubtedly be making devil’s bargains of their own.

Here is the text of Ruth Crawford’s poem.

Fireside Fancies

When I sit by the side of the blazing fire
On a cold December night,
And gaze at the leaping and rollicking flames
As they cast their flickering light

I see what I would be in future years,
If my wishes and hopes came true,
And the flames form pictures of things that I dream,
Of the deeds that I hope to do.

One tall yellow flame darts above all the rest,
And I see myself famed and renowned,
A poetess I, and a novelist too,
Who is honored the whole world around.

That flame then grows dim, which to me seems to say,
That my first hope must soon die away,
Then another one darts on a great opera stage,
The most exquisite music I play.

And then, after many flames rise, and die down,
The first burns even and slow,
And I see myself singing to children my own,
On the porch of a small bungalow.

Oh, I dream, and I dream, until slowly the fire
Burns lower, grows smaller, less bright,
Till the last tiny spark has completely gone out,
And my dreams are wrapt up in the night.

Ruth Crawford, age 13

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

Fireside is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to December 30th to hear my demo recording.

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

Lullaby

Lullaby is for solo voice, female chorus, piano and optional vibes. It can also be done by women’s chorus where the solo part is done by the altos and the chant is done by the sopranos.

The text is a poem by Janet Lewis.

Lullee, lullay,
I could not love thee more
If thou wast Christ the King.
Now tell me, how did Mary know
That in her womb should sleep and grow
The Lord of everything?

Lullee, lullay,
An angel stood with her
Who said, “That which doth stir
Like summer in thy side
Shall save the world from sin.
Then stable, hall and inn
Shall cherish Christmas-tide.”

Lullee, lullay,
And so it was that Day.
And did she love Him more
Because an angel came
To prophesy His name?
Ah no, not so,
She could not love him more,
But loved Him just the same,
Lullee, lullay.

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Lullaby is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to December 25th to hear my demo recording. The piece is also one in a series called ReThinking Mary.

Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

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And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

Where Your Treasure Is

In September of 1967, when I was nine, and my brother six, my parents brought us to my aunt’s house in Michigan and went to Ireland for a month on their own. Thinking back on it, I find this a little surprising. My parents were not the type of people who had “date nights”, let alone “date months.” School started right after Labor Day in New Jersey in those days, so I missed the first month of third grade, and my brother of first grade. My cousins were in school already in Michigan, and my aunt and uncle both worked, so we were home with the cleaning lady most days.

I wonder why my parents didn’t bring us along on this trip to Ireland. Could they not have made the trip in the summer instead of the fall, and brought us along with them? (In fact, we never once traveled as a family outside the United States, and rarely within the country either, except to visit other family members, even though we all traveled separately quite regularly.) Or they could have gone on their own in the summer, which would have made our visit to the cousins in Michigan a little more like a vacation for all of us, and avoided having my brother and me miss a month of school.

Perhaps they were having what would have been called “marital troubles”, and decided precipitously to rekindle their relationship with a trip to Ireland. Or perhaps we children were driving my mother insane and she needed a respite from us. (She was a stay-at-home mother in the 60s, with a husband who traveled a great deal for work, which would drive almost anyone insane, and my mother was more sensitive and high-strung than most.) But when I asked my aunt about this recently, she confessed to being as unclear as I am. So I guess I will never know what led my parents to embark on this slightly mystifying adventure.

They returned with many stories and photographs, and with all the enthusiastic energy a good trip engenders. They had rented a car and wandered all over the country, and while I don’t remember many details, the overall emotion was utter joy. I think they had a very good vacation. (I haven’t found the photos yet, they’re in one of the boxes in storage, and when I find them I’ll post a few.)

And they had bought a painting. They were very excited about it. They had met the artist, a young woman, younger than they were themselves. They loved her work and they thought she was impressive and talented.

Maybe a month or two later, the painting arrived, having been shipped from Ireland, probably on a freighter.

I have a vague memory of the immense wooden box it was shipped in. And the painting itself was very large. And unlike any painting I had ever seen. It was a painting of a dolmen, a prehistoric burial mound. And there were Irish rocks and Irish moss affixed to the canvas itself, to make not just a painting, but really sort of a sculpture, since the stones and plaster actually protruded from the canvas. I was fascinated. I thought the head of the dolmen looked sort of like the skull of a horse, perhaps, even though I knew it was stone and not bone. And the background of the painting was so different from the dolmen itself. It seemed very flat, almost an abstraction of sky and horizon and a bit of hills in the distance, and a ragged fence on one side. I kind of loved the dolmen, its feeling of being somehow organic, even though it was stone depicting stone. But the background bothered me. It seemed, I don’t know, incomplete, maybe. Half-formed. An afterthought.

My parents absolutely loved this painting. I don’t know if it was a talisman of their excellent vacation, or aesthetic delight in the painting itself, or both. They spoke of the young artist — Maria Simonds-Gooding, her name is — with great respect and delight: her talent was their shared discovery, their shared pleasure. The painting felt like it contained mysteries of adulthood, of my parents’ existence as a couple, as two individuals in a relationship, rather than as parents. It may have been the first time I glimpsed them in this way.

And so the painting was hung in a place of honor in the living room of our house in New Jersey. And when we moved to Los Angeles two years later, it hung over the fireplace in the living room of that house for fifteen years. And when they sold the house in California and bought a house in Westchester, it hung over the fireplace in the living room of that house as well, for eighteen years. After my father died, and we had to sell the Westchester house and move my mother to assisted living, the painting went with her to New Jersey once again. A couple of years later, my brother wanted a turn taking care of my mother, so we moved her to Los Angeles. But my brother refused to take the painting. He told me he had always hated that painting.

So I packed it up and brought it to my tiny New York apartment, which has no fireplace. And I hung it for a while over the dinner table in the living room, but it was overwhelming and ridiculous. When my then-lover visited from Athens, she, in her forthright Greek way, asked me if I liked that painting, if I wanted it looming over the dinner table. And I explained this whole story (she was patient), and she told me I didn’t have to hang the painting in my apartment. You understand I was in my late forties by now, certainly an adult. I had had my own apartment for thirty years. But it had never occurred to me that I had a choice about living with this painting. It was part of my inheritance, whether I wanted it or not.

So with great emotion, we encased it in packing foam and bubble wrap and put it in the very back of the hall closet. It sat there quietly for maybe eight years. In the meantime, my mother died, and then my brother died. I am the only person left of my immediate family, and I have no children to whom to burden or gift this inheritance.

Fifteen years ago, I bought land in Vermont. It’s quite a bit of land, and there’s a stream and a ravine, and a beautiful view of the Green Mountains, and lots of trees and ferns and rocks. Many rocks. Vermont is rocky. And one night in June 2015 I was sitting on the porch of the master bedroom (every room is a separate structure: there’s a bedroom shelter, and a composing cabin, and an outhouse shelter, and dining shelter and a reading/guest-room tent and so on.) And I suddenly had the idea to bring the painting from out of the closet in New York and put it on top of one of the big rocks on my land, the one that overlooks the dining area’s fireplace. I imagine the big rock is a formation left by the glaciers, a glacial erratic, that itself looks almost like a prehistoric burial mound. I could place the dolmen painting on the natural dolmen, and gradually the painted dolmen will disintegrate into the natural dolmen.

This is the right thing to do with the painting. I am sure of it.

In mid-July of 2015, I pulled the painting out of the back of the hall closet, and my friend Meredith helped me lash it to the top of my car (it wouldn’t fit inside), and I drove it up to Vermont and placed it at its final resting place. Every day I am here on the land, I take a photograph of the current state of the painting. I don’t know how long it will take to disintegrate, but I will document it as well as I can.

And there will be a piece for the dolmen every three months in A Book of Days, at each solstice and equinox. As time goes on, each of the pieces will be revised (both musically and visually) to reflect the current state of the dolmen painting. My idea is that the texts for these pieces will all be taken from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but that may change as the project develops.

And one of these days I will take my own trip to Ireland, in honor of my parents’ psychically important trip, in honor of my Irish ancestors about whom I know nearly nothing, and in honor of my own status as an “erratic”, carried by forces larger than myself to a resting place I cannot predict or imagine.

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Orphan Girl (2015) is the first piece I made as part of this project. It is posted as September 21st in A Book of Days. The current version is the third iteration. Made in late summer of 2018, it has a video by Emma Courtney.

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Tower of Ivory (2015) is the second piece I made as part of this project. It is posted as December 21st in A Book of Days. The version that’s online now is Margaret Lancaster’s 2017 multiple flute extravaganza, and the latest video was made by Emma Courtney in late summer of 2018. The performance materials are now available, if you’d like to perform the piece live.

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Mistake (2016) is the third piece I made as part of this project. It is posted as March 21st in A Book of Days. Emma Courtney made a video for 2018, and the score is now available, if you’d like to perform the piece live.

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Were you at the Rock? (2018) is the fourth piece I made as part of this project. Commissioned by the Los Angeles Philharmonic for uilleann pipes and pipe organ, it was premiered by Renée Anne Louprette and Ivan Goff at Disney Hall on 7 October 2018 and will have its New York premiere on 20 January 2019 at St. Ignatius Loyola.

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You are warmly invited to support this ongoing project:

Baby-Angel Barcarolle

Baby-Angel Barcarolle was commissioned in 1994 by the New England Conservatory Preparatory Division as a piece for young players. You’ll probably notice that I was hanging out with the Bartok Violin Duets at the time. The piece is dedicated to the violinist Robin Lorentz.

Baby-Angel Barcarolle is part of my ongoing project  A Book of Days. You can hear Mary Rowell’s demo recording by visiting December 16th.

This old Breton’s fisherman’s prayer might be related to the piece:

dear god, be good to me;
the sea is so wide,
and my boat is so small.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

Please click the donation button below if you’d like to support this low-key way of publishing:

Island of the Sirens

The Island of the Sirens (2011) is a piece about defective transcription and the failures of translation.

I started with a recording of a warning siren I heard in Plaquemine, Louisiana, while I was traveling down the Mississippi River in the autumn of 2009. I sliced the warning siren into eight layers of partials and then asked the computer to transcribe those eight recordings into musical notation. Because the computer’s transcription algorithm was confused by the sounds, the resulting scores were quite strange. I recorded eight women singing these transcriptions, and mixed them in quasi-unison against the eight layers of electronically transformed siren. I then made three separate submixes of the electronics, which are fed into three sets of headphones for the backup performers, who can be instrumentalists or singers. The backup chorus is asked to perform in real time what they are hearing in their headphones, a task at which they will invariably fail to fulfill entirely successfully, creating yet more quasi-unison layers that deviate from the actual sound of the transformed siren.

The lead vocal, a setting of Rilke’s poem about the impossibility of describing an experience to those who haven’t shared it, is the only notated music in the piece. It also incorporates elements I heard in the siren recording, filtered through my own biases and limitations.

When his hosts would ask him late in the evening
to tell of his voyages and the perils they brought,
the words came easily enough,
but he never knew

just how to convey the fear and with what startling
language to let them perceive, as he had,
that distant island turn to gold
across the blue and sudden stillness of the sea.

The sight of it announces a menace
different from the storm and fury
which had always signaled danger.
Silently it casts its spell upon the sailors.

They know that on that golden island
there is sometimes a singing–
and they lean on their oars, like blind men,
as though imprisoned

by the stillness. That quiet contains
all that is. It enters the ear
as if it were the other side
of the singing that no one resists.

Rainer Maria Rilke, from New Poems
Joanna Macy, Anita Barrow, translators

The Island of the Sirens was written for the New York ensemble loadbang, and is dedicated to the band with vast affection. The piece is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear the Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble‘s live performance on December 10th in A Book of Days. loadbang’s premiere studio recording of the piece is available here.

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In order to perform The Island of the Sirens, you need a lead singer who sings this score, along with three instrumentalists or singers, who listen to individual headphone tracks and imitate what they’re hearing as well as they can. The piece is set up already in Ableton Live, and after you click the donation button below, I’ll send you all the materials you need to perform the piece using Ableton or the DAW of your choice.

Play Nice

When Elizabeth Panzer asked me for a harp piece, I came up with an idea for a big piece based on a poem by Linda Norton (the poet of Landscaping for Privacy) about knitting and the Aran Islands. I still plan to make that piece, but as the deadline neared, I realized I will need more time to write it, so instead I decided to work with a sweet redemptive pattern I had written as an underscore for an audiobook production of Gerald’s Game, one of Stephen King’s more horrific novels. The resulting piece is totally diatonic, doesn’t even require two octaves, uses standard minimalist variation techniques, and in virtually every way plays nice.

I think it’s actually a mean little thing.

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There are two recordings available:

The harp version is recorded on Elizabeth Panzer’s CD, Dancing in Place.

A toy piano version (played by two people) is the title cut on twisted tutu’s CD.

Play Nice is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear the twisted tutu version by visiting December 5th.

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Here is a score (.pdf) of the solo version.

Here is a score (.pdf) of the duo version.

The graphic is based on a drawing by Emma Grady Pawl.

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And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

All Ways

All Ways was commissioned by Frederick and Alexandra Peters for a project called Songbook for a New Century, an evening of songs about the millennium. I chose this text from Stephen King’s novel It, because I felt I didn’t know anything about the new century.

You don’t know you don’t always

I was right about that.

All Ways is November 27th in my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear my live performance of the piece there.

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The piece was originally written for voice and piano. The piano/vocal score is here. And here is a draft copy of a score which lays out all the conceptual parts. I can orchestrate it to your specifications, just let me know what you’d like.

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing: