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:

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:

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:

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?

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 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 the place of honor, over the fireplace 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.

Ten 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 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 is the first piece I have made as part of this project. It is posted as September 21st in A Book of Days. This is the first version of the piece, and I am imagining I will revise both the music and the video in response to the effects of time.

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Tower of Ivory is the second piece I have made as part of this project. Matt Petty made the video for the piece. It is posted as December 21st in A Book of Days. This is the first version of the piece, and I am imagining we will revise both the music and the video in response to the effects of time.

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Mistake is the third piece I have made as part of this project. It is posted as March 21st in A Book of Days. This is the first version of the piece, there will be a video shortly. And I am imagining we will revise both the music and the video in response to the effects of time.

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You are warmly invited to support this ongoing project: