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.

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.

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.

 

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:

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:

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?