Not My Home

In 2020, when I was initially commissioned by Bill Ryan and the Grand Valley State University New Music Ensemble to write a piece inspired by Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky, it was unclear how or when I would be able to visit the park to gather inspiration during COVID, but the cave spirits were smiling: in early May 2021 they routed me past Bill Monroe’s home place in rural Kentucky on the way to the cave, and past the most amazing cemetery in full bloom on the way from the cave. I found an early (1936) Monroe Brothers recording of the gospel standard “This World Is Not My Home”  and I made a ghostly abstraction of that piece combined with a piece that showed up in my playlist on the road trip: Monteverdi’s “Il ballo delle ingrate” — described as a dance of women who are in the underworld having rejected love — which is deeply strange subject matter for the 1608 wedding celebration at which it was originally performed. Perhaps more appropriately, I began writing Not My Home while staying at the famously celibate Shaker village, Pleasant Hill, a couple of hours east of Mammoth Cave NP. I think the Monteverdi blends in an uncanny way with the high lonesome feeling of Bill Monroe and his brother, which captures something of the feeling of the cave and its effect on the landscape above and below ground for many miles around. Not My Home, which alternatively could have been called The Chimeric Habitation, is dedicated with love to David Cholcher.

To the musicians:

Please be sure to listen to the 1936 Monroe Brothers recording of This World Is Not My Home and the 2007 René Jacobs recording of the Ballo delle ingrate. You want to channel the peculiar combination of stability and strangeness found in both these recordings — the rubato and the pitchiness — at a super slowed down and therefore heightened pace and depth. You can be relaxed in your relationship to the pre-recorded track: the click is just a rough guide, much less important than feeling your own way behind and ahead of the beat. Similarly, you can be flexible in your alignment with the other players: it’s always a conversation. The boundary between land and underland in central Kentucky is always in flux.

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Not My Home is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear a demo with Matt Petty’s video by visiting 4 June.

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For a performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $35, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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I Have to See You

Since the 1980s I’ve been periodically making pieces for a varied range of ensembles and instrumentation responding to the marvelous secular songs of Guillaume de Machaut. I call the project Machaut in the Machine Age, and I Have to See You is the eighth in the series. I Have to See You takes as its starting point Machaut’s Ballade #33: Ne qu’on porroit les estoiles nombrer. The line that ends all three verses is “Le grant desir que j’ay de vous veoir”, which translates to something like: “the great desire I have of seeing you,” a great desire that many of us experienced in a particularly striking way during the pandemic. Machaut knows the feeling since he spent the year 1349 in confinement due to the Black Death.

TO THE PERFORMERS

There should be a drone based on C and G; I used my own voice to make one version of the piece, singing C2 G2 C3 G3 (with C3 = middle C), but you could use something else. The yellow marks in the score indicate places where the drone should re-articulate.

Nothing in the piece should be in strict rhythmic unison: the two melodic lines can be ahead of or behind the drone attacks, and the feeling should be of everyone trying really hard to be together in a world with no guideposts. Even though the score gives you a rhythmic transcription of the medieval notation, you should basically run completely roughshod over that. I have marked notes that should be extended in green. You both want to do those extensions, but you will not succeed at being authentically in rhythmic unison and that’s how it needs to be.

I strongly recommend that you listen to my recording of the piece with Lukas Papenfusscline. I invite you to do lots of things differently, but that recording will give you a sense of the intensity I am looking for.

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I Have to See You is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can watch and listen to the video Lukas and I made during lockdown by visiting 17 April.

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For a performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $12, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Wet Psalm

Wet Psalm is a setting of a poem by Linda Norton, which is based on a page from a rain-soaked bible she found in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, Louisiana in April 2008. The page has parts of Psalms 70 and 71, which become the text for the piece, inflected by Linda’s alterations.

The pre-recorded electronics are created from a recording Eleonor Sandresky made of me improvising on a broken Vietnamese dan tranh, an instrument given to me in 1997 by the performer Nguyen Thu Thuy.

Wet Psalm was originally written for spoken word, violin, and trombone quartet, but the violin part can alternatively be played by clarinet, soprano sax, and other instruments.

The piece was commissioned by The ASCAP Foundation Charles Kingsford Fund. The world premiere by BRIM and the Guidonian Hand was on 1 June 2012 on the Tribeca New Music Festival at Roulette.

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Wet Psalm is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can watch Matt Petty’s video made for our recording by visiting 11 November.

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For a performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $20, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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only your dolls

only your dolls is a song for voice and piano, setting a poem by Anne Sexton called Sixth Psalm.

The piece is part of a song cycle called finish what I haven’t started, about mid-century middle class female unhappiness. Other songs in the cycle set poems by June Jordan, Jane Bowles, and Lucille Clifton. finish what I haven’t started was commissioned by the Brooklyn Art Song Society, and premiered by Devony Smith and Danny Zelibor in April 2022.

The photograph is one of a series of images made by a family friend, Jo Ann Krivin. They have haunted me since childhood.

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For America is a lady rocking on a porch in an unpainted house on an unused road but Anne does not see it.

For America is a librarian in Wichita coughing dust and sharing sourballs with the postman.

For America is Dr. Abraham passing out penicillin and sugar pills to the town of Woolrich, Pennsylvania.

For America is an old man washing his feet in Albion, Michigan. Drying them carefully and then applying Dr. Scholl’s foot powder. But Anne does not see it. Anne is locked in.

For America is a reformed burglar turned locksmith who pulls up the shades of his shop at nine A.M. daily (except Sunday when he leaves his phone number on the shop door).

For America is a fat woman dusting a grand piano in English Creek, New Jersey.

For America is a suede glove manufacturer sitting in his large swivel chair feeling the goods and assessing his assets and debits.

For America is a bus driver in Embarrass, Minnesota, clocking the miles and watching the little cardboard suitcases file by.

For America is a land of Commies and Prohibitionists but Anne does not see it. Anne is locked in. The Trotskyites don’t see her. The Republicans have never tweaked her chin for she is not there. Anne hides inside folding and unfolding rose after rose. She has no one. She has Christopher. They sit in their room pinching the dolls’ noses, poking the doll’s eyes. One time they gave a doll a ride in a fuzzy slipper but that was too far, too far wasn’t it. Anne did not dare. She put the slipper with the doll inside it as in a car right into the closet and pushed the door shut.

For America is the headlight man at the Ford plant in Detroit, Michigan, he of the wires, he of the white globe, all day, all day, all year, all his year’s headlights, seventy a day, improved by automation but Anne does not.

For America is a miner in Ohio, slipping into the dark hole and bringing forth cat’s eyes each night.

For America is only this room… there is no useful activity.

For America only your dolls are cheerful.

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only your dolls is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear my original demo of the piece by visiting 4 October.

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For a performing score, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $12, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

What would the Either be?

What would the Either be? is a piece for live violin, electronically transformed violin sounds, and optional video.

The piece is inspired by a late Emily Dickinson poem, which she wrote in 1883 as she was trying to make sense of the death of her young nephew, Gib.

The Spirit lasts—but in what mode—
Below, the Body speaks,
But as the Spirit furnishes—
Apart, it never talks—
The Music in the Violin
Does not emerge alone
But Arm in Arm with Touch,
yet Touch Alone—is not a Tune—
The Spirit lurks within the Flesh
Like Tides within the Sea
That make the Water live, estranged
What would the Either be?
Does that know—now—or does it cease—
That which to this is done,
Resuming at a mutual date
With every future one?
Instinct pursues the Adamant,
Exacting this Reply—
Adversity if it may be, or
Wild Prosperity,
The Rumor’s Gate was shut so tight
Before my Mind was sown,
Not even a Prognostic’s Push
Could make a Dent thereon—

Emily Dickinson turns the hard dualism of body versus spirit slippery and mysterious. In response, I recorded David Felberg’s col legno playing so you can’t really know what is live and what pre-recorded. The video, shot in the summer of 2020 on Otter Creek in Vermont, blurs the binary of land versus water with abundant grass billowing in the current.

This is the second of a series of pieces I am making responding to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, who became my queer role model in lockdown. What would the Either be? was commissioned for David Felberg by the Taos Chamber Music Group, and received its premiere on 19 June 2021.

What would the Either be? is 27 July in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear David Felberg’s pre-release recording of the piece there.

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Here’s a performing score for the piece.

For the pre-recorded track (with or without video), please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $30, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

You See Where This Is Going

You See Where This Is Going is a setting of a poem by Brendan Constantine about the flower you must never name (in American poetry.) I found an equation that was named rhodonea by the 18th century Italian mathematician Guido Grandi because its plot resembles a rose. If n is odd, the rose is n-petalled. If n is even, the rose is 2n-petalled. I used this equation to create the music that is played by the pizzicato strings, but it’s actually in the spaces between those events where the piece unfolds.

Maybe the piece is about how naming things obscures them, representing them (and us) as something quite other than what we are, and there’s a kind of imposter syndrome we feel by not being able to live into all the implications of our names.

You See Where This Is Going was written for my beloved friends loadbang (baritone singer, clarinet, trumpet, trombone) and string ensemble with the generous support of another beloved friend and colleague Vittoria Chierici, one of whose rose paintings is the image you see above.

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You can visit February 23rd in my ongoing project A Book of Days to hear and see the premiere recording with video by Luke DuBois.

For performing materials, please click the buy button below.

DETAILS

Sang

Sang is a piece for large chorus with santur and percussion. The main text for Sang is a story from the Shahnameh, the 10th century Persian epic by Ferdowsi. Here is a translation of that story, by Dick Davis:

Going forward in the darkness, the army heard a voice from a black mountain nearby, which said, “Whoever takes stones from this mountain will be sorry for what he holds in his hand, and whoever takes nothing will be sorry and look for a balm to ease his heart’s pain.” The soldiers listened to the voice, and wondered what the words could mean, since whether they took stones or didn’t, they couldn’t see what their future sufferings would be. One said, “The pain will be because of sin, that’s the regret for taking stones along the way.” Another said, “We should take a little; everyone has to suffer some pain.” Some took stones, some took none, some out of laziness took only a few.

When they left the land where the water of life was, and found themselves on the plain once more, the road was no longer dark and each man looked at what he’d tucked in his sleeves or his tunic, and so the deceiving riddle was revealed. One found his clothes filled with rubies, another with uncut gems, and they were sorry they had taken so few and hadn’t taken emeralds as well. But those who had ignored the precious stones and taken nothing were even more sorry.

In addition to this text, sung in Persian, I incorporated three texts from the Hebrew scriptures. The first is God’s promise to the Persian King Cyrus in Isaiah 45: “I will give you the treasure of darkness and riches hidden in secret places.” I found other Biblical references to the transformation of stones to jewels, of dust to gold, and I decided to thread these texts (in Hebrew and Septuagint Greek) into my telling of the Shahnameh story.

I hope the piece illustrates how Persian, Hebrew, and Greek (and by extension Islamic, Jewish, and Christian) are intertwined cultures whose shared roots go back to the Zoroastrian revelations, and perhaps even earlier than that.

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While I spent time studying and listening to traditional Persian music in my preparations for writing this piece, and with the guidance of the musicians who performed the premiere, Manoochehr Sadeghi and Pejman Hadadi, I spent a good deal of time with the radif, a compendium of ur-melodies that is a unique source of material for traditional performers, I did not attempt to write a “Persian” piece, which, after all, would be a ridiculous undertaking for an American, even one whose father grew up in Tehran, as mine did.

Instead, my goal was to embody the story in sound as vividly as I can, so that even if you don’t understand a word of the text, the narrative has an impact. And I tried to create a structure that allows the improvising traditional instrumentalists to fully engage their unique artistry in communicating that story, asking not simply for traditional virtuosity, but giving them shared conceptual responsibility for bringing the piece to life.

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Sang was commissioned by the Los Angeles Master Chorale for a project called LA is the World, and premiered at Disney Hall in June of 2007 under the direction of Grant Gershon. I cannot post the recording of the actual performance, but here are two demo recordings which include Pejman Hadadi on percussion and Manoochehr Sadeghi on santur performing some of their music along with my draft recording of the choral music. You do not hear the santur improvisation that connects the two segments of the piece in live performance, but I hope these rough recordings will nonetheless give you an idea of the complete piece.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. I believe this piece could be effectively performed by chorus with instruments other than santur and percussion. Please contact me if you would like to talk about mounting the piece.

DETAILS

a solemn shyness

A Solemn Shyness is a piece for piano and ambience inspired by a fragment of text Emily Dickinson wrote on the program for a concert she may or may not have attended in June 1873.

Of our deepest delights there is a solemn shyness

The appetite for silence is seldom an acquired taste

The music is an abstraction of the harmony of a phrase from the Adagio of Mendelssohn’s First Organ Sonata. There is also an embedded gesture towards the hook from a Kanye West song (“run away fast as you can”) because I think Emily and Kanye might possibly have something useful to say to one another.

A Solemn Shyness was commissioned by Bang on a Can with support from Oscar Gerardo for the pianist Lara Downes, and premiered online on 21 February 2021. You can experience her recording by visiting 27 June in A Book of Days.

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The score is notated as a continuous version of the piece, but the idea is that the performer will pause and make space between phrases whenever s/he feels the urge. The effect makes me think of how deer and other animals graze: constantly stopping to listen, to check out their surroundings. Playing the piece straight through takes about four minutes, but I can imagine a performance that takes twice that time, or perhaps even more. I have made an ambient soundtrack, which can be either audio only or audio-video, of a snowstorm at dusk on Inauguration Day 2021 in Brandon, VT. You can use this soundtrack, or you are welcome to make your own in a quiet outdoor place in the season and closer to the location where you will be playing the piece.

For my version of the pre-recorded track, I gradually add an Eb resonance/reverb to the soundscape. The idea is to do it subtly enough that only the most attentive will hear how the line between music and natural sound has been blurred. The effect is stronger on headphones, so it’s kind of hard to decide how far to go with it. I am happy to share my settings as a starting point.

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For performing materials, click the buy button below. The suggested price is $10, but you can choose your own price based on your situation, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

Unfavored House

Unfavored House is a piece I wrote while struggling to give back a house I inherited in Los Angeles in the midst of the economic downturn, a gift that came with more debt than the house itself was worth at the time. The combination of grief and bad advice led me to a dark place where randomized Bach was my only comfort.

I think randomized Bach an excellent comfort for whatever ails you, actually.

And this psalm also does a very good job of capturing my sense of futility at managing legal documents and paperwork.

Unless the Lord builds the house,

   those who build it labour in vain.

Unless the Lord guards the city,

   the guard keeps watch in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early

   and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

   for he gives sleep to his beloved.

Psalm 127

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You can hear a recording of Unfavored House by visiting 24 February in A Book of Days.

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Unfavored House was written to be performed in conjunction with a live Ableton session that gradually doubles the live performers’ pitches with different successively constrained random pitches each time you play the piece. (If Ableton isn’t a possibility, I can supply a pre-recorded track for a duet version of the piece, with the clav part pre-recorded, and the mandolin and guitar players live.)

If the clav part is live, the live clav and the random clav should use the same patch. The clav part doesn’t look much like what you will hear, and it will sound a little different every time you play it. The live players’ mandolin and guitar sounds should match the random doubles as closely as possible. Feel free to use different sounds in Ableton that match the mandolin and guitar more closely, or even better, sample your own instruments so that Ableton is randomizing you!

Normally, I would charge $50 for the performance materials; in these pandemic days, I welcome you to pay what seems right to you, with thanks for support of this low-key method of publishing:

 

DETAILS

She Gets to Decide

She Gets to Decide began as a meditation on the controversial Balthus painting Thérèse Dreaming. While the painting seems unquestionably pervy to me, I am also struck by the power and self-sufficiency Thérèse radiates.

As I was working on the piece in the spring of 2018, the Bradley Garner/Wildacres Flute Camp story was all over my Facebook feed. That’s the saga where a well-regarded flute pedagogue was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with several young women, stripped of all his teaching jobs and product endorsements, except by the head of the Wildacres Flute Camp, Anna Thibeault, who in defense of Garner, characterized young women as “nymphos” and “Lolitas” (She still has her job, by the way, but Garner no longer teaches at Wildacres Flute Camp.)

A collage from the newspaper account of this story, excerpts from the Poulenc Flute Sonata, and the MET audioguide for Thérèse Dreaming opens the piece. It ends with a setting of Judge Aquilina’s words to the young women who testified during the trial of gymnastics doctor Larry Nasser. The central section uses as its text an excerpt of hebephile pornography (by Alphonse Momas, published in 1900, and recorded by Florent Ghys,) the text of which is treated both as the locus of abuse, and as a possible mechanism for healing from that abuse.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote in a letter to Balthus’ mother, Baladine Klossowska, who was Rilke’s lover at the time: “a barely arching bridge connects the terrible to the tender.”

Sometimes the way out is through.

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You can hear and see Lucy Dhegrae’s premiere performance of the piece by visiting 20 November in A Book of Days. You can also watch a long conversation Lucy and I had around and about the piece in February 2021.

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Here is a performing score for She Gets to Decide. The original version moves from pre-recorded to live piano, and adds a live violin part at the end of the piece. However, it is possible to perform the piece with everything except the voice pre-recorded. You can download the performance track by clicking the paypal button below and paying whatever amount you think reasonable, with my thanks for supporting this informal way of publishing:

DETAILS

None More Than You

None More Than You was a dual commission from the Dessoff Choirs and Roomful of Teeth for a piece celebrating the 200th birthday of Walt Whitman.

My ideas for making a piece highlighting the very different vocal qualities of the two groups were crystallized by a metaphor I happened to come across in Kierkegaard’s Sickness unto Death: “Necessity is like a sequence of consonants only, but in order to utter them there must in addition be possibility. When this is lacking, when a human existence is brought to the pass that it lacks possibility, it is in despair, and every instant it lacks possibility, it is in despair.”

I asked the members of Roomful of Teeth to try to utter the most famous text about words in Western culture, the opening of the Gospel of John, using only consonants. Of course, it is impossible to do this. In order to make sounds, we use air, and air has shape. But that’s what Roomful of Teeth spends the first half of None More Than You trying to do:

N th bgnng wz th wrd,
nd th wrd wz wth gd,
nd th wrd wz gd.
nwn hz vr sn gd.

In response, the Dessoff choir sings lines from Whitman’s Song of the Rolling Earth, which talk about how the words we need to live are everywhere around us, and even inside us:

Were you thinking that those were the words, those upright lines?
No, those are not the words, the substantial words are in the ground and sea,
They are in the air, they are in you.

The music the Dessoff choir sings is inspired by the really stunning incarnation moment in the Credo of Josquin’s Missa Pange Lingua. It’s kind of ironic that pange lingua means “Tell, tongue” since Whitman says it’s better not to:

I will never henceforth have to do with the faith that tells the best,
I will have to do only with that faith that leaves the best untold.

In the course of the piece, the Dessoff singers help the Teeth singers move from the place of stringent necessity to a place of endless possibility, and the last part of the piece is nothing but vowels.

Many thanks to the members of Roomful of Teeth: Estelí­, Martha, Caroline, Virginia, Eric, Thann, Dashon, and Cameron, and Brad Wells, the director; to Jeff Cook, who tracked and helped mix the pre-recorded track for this version of the piece; to Malcolm J. Merriweather and the Dessoff Choirs, who initiated the commission of this piece in honor of Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday and to the New Music On The Point Festival, who co-commissioned the piece.

None More Than You is dedicated with deepest love to Meredith Ward, my chavruta and family member.

Whoever you are! you are he or she for whom the earth is solid and liquid,
You are she or he for whom the sun and moon hang in the sky,
For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality.

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You can hear the Roomful of Teeth and Dessoff Choir version of the piece with me guesting in, by visiting July 1st in A Book of Days. (Meredith’s birthday, not Walt’s!)

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Choruses can perform this piece with the Roomful of Teeth music either live or pre-recorded. Email me for details.

DETAILS

Can I have it without begging?

Since the 1980s I’ve been periodically making pieces for a varied range of ensembles and instrumentation responding to the marvelous secular songs of Guillaume de Machaut. I call the project Machaut in the Machine Age, and Can I have it without begging? is the seventh in the series. Can I have it without begging? takes as its starting point Ballade #19: Amours me fait desirer. The line that ends all three verses is “Que je l’aie sans rouver”, which translates to something like: “so I can have it without begging.”

Against the backdrop of the “Me too” movement, I understand the lyrics of Machaut’s song as part of a long history of attending to the lover’s feelings and ignoring the specificity of the beloved. Machaut talks about Love, not the specific woman, he regards himself as victimized by desire, he will die without it. I am fascinated by how I respond to that pronoun — “it” — how for me at this moment, it embodies everything wrong with how heterosexual desire is depicted in Western culture.

The piece I have made is for live flute and pre-recorded flute samples (recorded on bass and C flute by Margaret Lancaster.) The piece begins with the premise that the live and pre-recorded lines are in the same universe, they want the same things. But the live flute keeps trying to become a soloist, to relegate the pre-recorded track to accompaniment, getting more and more frustrated, begging for something that can never be achieved if the track is merely background.

The irony is that the “failure” the piece embodies is actually pretty fun to listen to. Sort of like the endless number of romantic comedies we’ve all grown up watching.

Can I have it without begging? was commissioned by the National Flute Association, Inc. for the 2018 Young Artist Competition. Special thanks to Lisa Bost, Wayla Chambo, and Margaret Lancaster for their thoughtful advice and artistry as I was writing the piece.

The piece is October 6th in my ongoing project, A Book of Days. That’s the day after the Harvey Weinstein story broke in the New York Times in 2017.

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TO THE PERFORMER:

The backing track starts softly and gets substantially louder; when setting levels, you’ll want to keep that in mind! Perhaps you should set the loudest level towards the end of the piece before beginning to play. At the beginning of piece you should strive to match the pre-recorded track (in volume and attitude); a certain tentativeness is attractive. Gradually become more and more self-serving and egotistical as the piece continues. By the end, you want to have something of a temper tantrum: you are playing the role of a perpetrator after all: don’t be polite!

Here is a score of the piece, please purchase the performance materials by clicking the buy button below, and thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing. The fee for the materials was originally $40, but I have set it to pay-as-you-can for now.

DETAILS

Preciosilla

Preciosilla is a song setting of Gertrude Stein’s poem that places the text in the realm of the rhythm section instead of in the realm of the melody where lyrics are conventionally found. The composer’s reading of the text was sampled by an Akai S1000. The flutist’s melody has quotes from pop love songs and other familiar music embedded in musical stream-of-consciousness writing that attempts to emulate Gertrude’s handling of text. The piece is dedicated with love to Mary Rodrí­guez, and Margaret Lancaster’s recording of the piece appears on Mary’s birthday in my ongoing project, A Book of Days.

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Cousin to Clare washing.


In the win all the band beagles which have cousin lime sign and arrange a weeding match to presume a certain point to exstate to exstate a certain pass lint to exstate a lean sap prime lo and shut shut is life.


Bait, bait, tore, tore her clothes, toward it, toward a bit, to ward a sit, sit down in, in vacant surely lots, a single mingle, bait and wet, wet a single establishment that has a lily lily grow. Come to pen come in the stem, come in the grass grown water.


Lily wet lily wet while. This is so pink so pink in stammer, a long bean which shows bows is collected by a single curly shady, shady get, get set wet bet.


It is a snuff a snuff to be told and have can wither, can is it and sleep sleeps knot, is is a lily scarf the pink and blue yellow, not blue nor odour sun, nobles are bleeding bleeding two seats two seats on end. Why is grief. Grief is strange black. Sugar is melting. We will not swim.


Preciosilla


Please be please be get, please get wet, wet naturally, naturally in weather. Could it be fire more firier. Could it be so in ate struck. Could it be gold up, gold up stringing, in it while while which is hanging, hanging in dingling, dingling in pinning, not so. Not so dots large dressed dots, big sizes, less laced, less laced diamonds, diamonds white, diamonds bright, diamonds in the in the light, diamonds light diamonds door diamonds hanging to be four, two four, all before, this bean, lessly, all most, a best, willow, vest, a green guest, guest, go go go go go go, go. Go go. Not guessed. Go go.


Toasted susie is my ice-cream.

• Gertrude Stein

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Preciosilla is performable by any single-line instrument plus tape, although up to now I believe it has only been done by flute players. The original version was made for Suellen Hershman, which she premiered on bass flute. There’s also a mix with an extended opening I made for Margaret Lancaster, which she plays on alto and C flute. You can use either version, or you are welcome to make your own mix of the opening and embed your favorite love songs so you have your own custom version. Get in touch with me if you’d like to do this, and we’ll figure out how to get you the materials you need to make a new mix.

You should feel free to alter and inflect the score in any way that helps you to express yourself and interact with the track better. Listen to this compilation playlist of tunes and steal from them or from other love songs whatever suits your instrument or your own personality and capabilities.

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The pre-recorded track is in five sections. It’s probably best for you to trigger these events yourself rather than having a sound person do it for you. Setting up a footswitch to trigger the cues is really easy in Ableton, if you have access to that program. You could also embed the sound files in ForScore I think, though I haven’t tried that yet.

When you purchase the materials using the PayPal button below, I’ll send you a performing score and an Ableton session with the two alternative versions set up for you to perform with. (The Ableton version only requires Ableton Lite, but if you want to use a different program, you can of course import the audio into your software of choice.)

Thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing, and I look forward to hearing what you do with the piece! Normally, the materials for performing the piece are priced at $50, but in these COVID days, I’ve set it to name-your-own-price, with thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing.

DETAILS

From the Same Melancholy Fate

From the Same Melancholy Fate (2015) is an improvisatory piece for any instrumentalist, inspired by visionary artist Cleveland Turner, aka the Flower Man. Pete Gershon, author of Painting the Town Orange: The Stories Behind Houston’s Visionary Art Environments, introduces the Flower Man’s story this way: “after seventeen years as a homeless alcoholic, he had a near-death experience in the gutter in 1983. Then, a divinely inspired vision of a whirlwind of colorful junk prompted him to devote the rest of his life to brightening his neighborhood and the lives of countless visitors with the deft arrangement of colorful refuse.” The Flower Man worked on his whirlwind constantly, roaming the neighborhood to forage for abandoned treasures to add to his ever-evolving yard show. But immediately after the Flower Man’s final illness and death (in December 2013), the house and its array of urban detritus began to decay. On 7 February 2015, the city demolished the structure, and it is now a vacant lot. Matt Petty’s video documents that day.

The player is given a pre-recorded track which has as its base my reading of Louise Glück’s poem recorded and re-recorded in space so that it is engulfed by room resonance (a la Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room), along with additional layers of music and song. The performer records every performance of the piece, and each performance recording becomes the pre-recorded track for the next performance. Thus the original track gradually disappears into the new layers, the performer responds to his/her previous self as part of the counterpoint of sound, and every performer’s tape part is unique, a palimpsest of previous performances of the piece.

The title of the piece comes from a gravestone Matt Petty showed me the day after I met him for the first time. In the white people’s cemetery in Natchitoches, Louisiana, the gravestone says in its entirety: “Negro, From the Same Melancholy Fate.”

Not I, you idiot, not self, but we, we–waves
of sky blue like
a critique of heaven: why
do you treasure your voice
when to be one thing
is to be next to nothing?
Why do you look up? To hear
an echo like the voice
of god? You are all the same to us,
solitary, standing above us, planning
your silly lives: you go
where you are sent, like all things,
where the wind plants you,
one or another of you forever
looking down and seeing some image
of water, and hearing what? Waves,
and over waves, birds singing.

• Louise Glück: Scilla: from Wild Iris

In addition to being part of Lighten Up, a multimedia project about visionary visual arts, the piece is also part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit 19 January to watch and listen to Jessie Nucho’s ninth pass on the flute, which I think is the most layered version in existence so far, and I am LOVING it! You can visit 19 October to watch and listen to my most recent (sixth) pass, with a multiply-layered video I’m excited about. Yaz Lancaster created a violin version you can hear on 9 May. You can also go here to hear David Steele’s second pass on the clarinet, and here to hear Timothy Rosenberg’s fourth pass on the saxophone.

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To perform From the Same Melancholy Fate, you’ll start with the original pre-recorded track (with the optional video.) You’ll record your performance of the piece each time you play it, and use that performance recording as the pre-recorded track for your next performance. Gradually, the original track will be obscured under the layers of your successive performances.

I’d love for you to send me performance recordings periodically so I can hear where your version of the piece is going. My idea is to gather a bunch of different versions after some time has passed, and figure out some interesting way to present them as a group.

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Please use the PayPal button to purchase the materials. I normally charge $40 for the materials, but I have made it so you can name your own price, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing.

I will not be sad in this world

Originally written for alto (or bass) flute, I will not be sad in this world is based on the Armenian troubadour Sayat Nova’s song Ashkharumes Akh Chim Kashil. The piece is often played on the duduk, and your flute playing should respond to the ornamentation, intonation, and vibrato of traditional duduk playing.

I will not be sad in this world is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to Tim Munro’s live recording by visiting June 28th. There are several studio recordings available, including those by Marya Martin, Manuel Zurria, and Claudia Anderson.

Thanks to Marya Martin who commissioned the piece for the Flute Book for the 21st Century. You can purchase the performance materials here. Many thanks to my dear friend and colleague Margaret Lancaster, who tried out the piece for me and advised me about notation. Thanks also to the Civitella Ranieri Foundation who were my generous hosts while I was writing I will not be sad in this world.

DETAILS

Walking Music

Walking Music was originally written for an opera based on a Stephen King story called The Man in the Black Suit. This music accompanies a boy’s walk to the stream where he unexpectedly meets the devil. It’s a decorated arrangement of an old hymn of the sort the boy might have been humming as he walked. The hymn, called The King of Love, is a reworking of Psalm 23, set to an old Gaelic tune.

Several years after making the piece, I made an arrangement that can be played as part of the River Project. Thankfully, I did not meet the devil on my journey down the river(!) But I feel that the music captures something of the trusting elation I sometimes felt on the journey.

Walking Music is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a live performance by BRIM and the Guidonian Hand visiting May 11th.

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The original version of this piece is for two singers, two guitars, chorus, string quartet, and optional stream ambience. The BRIM and Guidonian Hand version is for singer, violin, guitar, trombone quartet, and piano. You can download a score of that version here. If you would like a version that works for your ensemble, just let me know your needs.

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

Waiting for Billy Floyd

Waiting for Billy Floyd was written in response to Eudora Welty’s short story, At the Landing, which takes place in a town called Rodney, Mississippi, that I visited during a trip down the Mississippi River in November 2009 with Mary Rowell and again over Easter weekend 2010 with H. C. Porter. The river pilot and poet David Greer was my guide and compass, both practically and conceptually, through this part of Mississippi, and it was he who selected which Welty stories I needed to re-read and which towns I had to be sure not to miss. I am grateful to these three traveling companions, and to Despina Sarafeidou, who helped me when I got stuck.

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Whenever she thought that Floyd was in the world, that his life lived and had this night and day, it was like discovery once more and again fresh to her, and if it was night and she lay stretched on her bed looking out at the dark, a great radiant energy spread intent upon her whole body and fastened her heart beneath its breath, and she would wonder almost aloud, “Ought I to sleep?” For it was love that might always be coming, and she must watch for it this time and clasp it back while it clasped, and while it held her never let it go.

Then the radiance touched at her heart and her brain, moving within her. Maybe some day she could become bright and shining all at once, as though at the very touch of another with herself. But now she was like a house with all its rooms dark from the beginning, and someone would have to go slowly from room to room, slowly and darkly, leaving each one lighted behind, before going to the next. It was not caution or distrust that was in herself, it was only a sense of journey, of something that might happen. She herself did not know what might lie ahead, she had never seen herself. She looked outward with the sense of rightful space and time within her, which must be traversed before she could be known at all. And what she would reveal in the end was not herself, but the way of the traveler.

“She’s waiting for Billy Floyd,” they said.

The original smile now crossed Jenny’s face, and hung there no matter what was done to her, like a bit of color that kindles in the sky after the light has gone.
from At the Landing

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Waiting for Billy Floyd is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can visit 3 April to hear and see Newspeak’s live performance of Waiting for Billy Floyd.

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Here are scores for two different versions of Waiting for Billy Floyd.
original sextet version [fl, cl, vln, vc, pf, perc]
octet version [Newspeak version: as above, plus guitar and trombone]

When you order the performance materials by clicking the button below, please let me know the instrumentation you need. There is some flexibility, so talk to me if you have specific needs for your ensemble.

A set of images of Rodney, Mississippi can be projected as part of the performance of the piece. Please let me know if you would like those materials as well.

DETAILS

Until It Blazes

Until It Blazes is an amplified solo piece for piano, guitar or other plucked string instrument, harp, marimba, or vibes. The piece requires a stereo multi-tap digital delay for processing, and some kind of distortion processing for the ending. You can also perform the piece using a MIDI keyboard or mallet controller. (If you’re using a MIDI instrument, you can implement the delay in MIDI, if it’s easier to do that than to use an audio delay.)

The piece’s duration is variable: I imagine it could work at any duration between six and twenty minutes. I have made a twelve minute version, but it is only one possible version of the piece: please don’t regard it as definitive.

The overall idea of the piece is to set up various repeating patterns and then gradually group the notes so that new melodies grow out of the accents. For example, when you are playing a three-note pattern, if you accent every fourth event, you will get one melody; if you accent every fifth event, you will get a different melody.

There are six patterns in Until It Blazes, each an outgrowth of the previous pattern. In each case, you will first want to establish the pattern very softly with no accents at all, and then very gradually begin to stress a grouping that creates a slower melody arcing across the pattern. This accenting happens gradually during a slow overall crescendo, reaches some high point, and then the accenting recedes as you diminuendo. The length of the piece will vary depending on how slowly you want the cross-melodies to build and recede. The most interesting place is where you can hear both the pattern and the melody that cuts across it.

Prior to beginning to play the piece, you can say the words: “I have cast fire upon the world, and watch, I am guarding it until it blazes.” This line is attributed to Jesus in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas.

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Cory Arcangel has created a video for the piece that can be played back in live performance. If you are interested in this aspect of the piece, please get in touch with me.

The stereo delay should be set up as follows: The left channel should have a delay time of 454 ms (equivalent to a dotted eighth at MM = 99) and should give three repeats. The right channel should have a delay time of 303 ms (equivalent to an eighth note delay at MM = 99) and have four repeats. The delay should be set to approximately 70% of the volume of the direct sound. The direct sound should come from the center of the stereo field.

Once you have reached the last pattern, you want to very gradually bring in distortion or some other processing that gives the feeling of a watched fire beginning to blaze. Performers have handled this in a variety of ways, and I am open to all of them.

Until It Blazes is dedicated to Kathy Supové with love and thanks.

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There are four studio recordings of Until It Blazes currently available; all are performed on guitar. Here is Giacomo Baldelli’s 2018 recording, which is preceded by Kate Soper performing the text. Here is Giacomo Fiore’s recording; here is Emanuele Forni’s; and here is Seth Josel’s. As you prepare to play the piece, you might also want to listen to my original keyboard version.

Until It Blazes is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to April 15th to hear and see Al Cerulo’s 2020 glockenspiel version.

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I normally ask people to pay $25 for this score, but because this piece is totally workable for a solo player to put together in isolation, I have made it set-your-own-price until live concerts are a thing again. I hope it provides you some pleasure in the meantime:

DETAILS

Take Your Joy

Take Your Joy is a piece for SATB mixed chorus (minimum 6-6-3-3 singers, but the bigger the better) and electronics. The piece is a response to an organ piece by Olivier Messiaen called Puer natus est nobis, which is part of the Livre du Saint-Sacrement. The choral part is a canon made from Messiaen’s harmonization of the traditional Christmas day introit. I have also incorporated an excerpt from John 16:21-23:

When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you will have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

The electronic part, both the pain and the joy, is made using transformations of a recording of the olive-tree warbler (hippolais olivetorum). This birdcall appears transcribed for organ in Messiaen’s piece. The olive-tree warbler uses Palestine/Israel as a stopover in its winter migration between the Balkans and southern Africa.

Take Your Joy was commissioned by the Amherst College Choir, Mallorie Chernin, conductor, and written in October 2004 while in residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Take Your Joy is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To hear a demo recorded by Corey Dargel, Joseph Hallman, and me at the Atlantic Center, please visit April 6th.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. For the pre-recorded track needed to perform the piece, please click the button:

DETAILS

Making Hey

Making Hey, for spoken voice, piano four-hands, bass, and as many percussionists as you’d like, was written for a festschrift published by Open Space Magazine celebrating my composition teacher, JK Randall.

The text for Making Hey is a gratuitously excellent piece of anonymous work that arrived in an email offering to increase my penis size or refinance my mortgage. I no longer remember which, since I lack both. (This method for confusing spam filters is called Bayesian poisoning, and there’s some pretty cool math involved, I recommend checking it out.)

I have set the text (unchanged except for punctuation) to an adaptation of a two-piano piece called Making Hay, which I wrote in 1980 and dedicated to Jim at that time. This new piece starts out with the same student piece, but gradually clarifies and simplifies it in response to the bass and percussion line I have added all these years later.

The bass and percussion are an adaptation of a Gnawa performance I’ve totally fallen in love with. You can listen to it at this Youtube link:

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Making Hey is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a recording of the piece by visiting June 16th.

You can download a score of the piece here. The percussionist(s) should come up with their own interpretation of Gnawa rhythm when performing the piece. You can purchase performance materials for the other instruments by clicking the link below.

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

DETAILS

Dust

The music of Dust was originally part of a score written for the Axis Dance Company and choreographed by Victoria Marks. The excerpted version adds this text from Ezekiel.

So the Spirit lifts me up, and I hear behind me the sound of a great rushing, “blessed be the glory of the Lord in his dwelling place!”… the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against one another, and the sound of the wheels over-against them, the sound of a great rushing.

The Spirit has lifted me up, and takes me; and my heart, as I go, overflows with bitterness and heat, and the hand of the Lord is heavy upon me.

Dust is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can listen to my recording and see Matt Petty’s accompanying video of the Prophet Isaiah Robertson and his visionary artwork in Niagara Falls by visiting October 5th.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. The piece can be performed by female or male alto, or by any instrumentalist whose instrument is right for the solo part. If you would like a version with a different transposition or clef, just let me know when you order the pre-recorded track.

You can also feel free to add percussion to a live performance of the piece. Bicycle wheels have been used as instruments for this purpose quite effectively.

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

DETAILS

Einhorn

Einhorn is inspired by a poem by Rilke that I had been thinking about working with for more than ten years. Love creates a space in which the impossible becomes real: how amazing is that?! Einhorn was commissioned by Lydia Van Dreel and is dedicated to her with vast affection.

O dieses ist das Tier, das es nicht giebt.
Sie wußtens nicht und habens jeden Falls
— sein Wandeln, seine Haltung, seinen Hals,
bis in des stillen Blickes Licht — geliebt.

Zwar war es nicht. Doch weil sie’s liebten, ward
ein reines Tier. Sie ließen immer Raum.
Und in dem Raume, klar und ausgespart,
erhob es leicht sein Haupt und brauchte kaum

zu sein. Sie nährten es mit keinem Korn,
nur immer mit der Möglichkeit, es sei.
Und die gab solche Stärke an das Tier,

daß es aus sich ein Stirnhorn trieb. Ein Horn.
Zu einer Jungfrau kam es weiß herbei —
und war im Silber-Spiegel und in ihr.

Rilke: Sonnets to Orpheus II:4

Oh this beast is the one that never was.
They didn’t know that; unconcerned, they had
loved its grace, its walk, and how it stood
looking at them calmly, with clear eyes.

It hadn’t BEEN. But from their love, a pure
beast arose. They always left it room.
And in that heart-space, radiant and bare,
it raised its head and hardly needed to

exist. They fed it, not with any grain,
but always just with the thought that it might be.
And this assurance gave the beast so much power,

it grew a horn upon its brow. One horn.
Afterward it approached a virgin, whitely —
and was, inside the mirror and in her.
translated by Stephen Mitchell

When I was first thinking about the poem in the summer of 1997, I asked my friend Hunter Ochs to record the German and I recorded the English translation.

Hunter’s German reading:

Eve’s English reading:

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Here’s a score of the piece in pdf format.

The premiere recording of the piece is on Lydia’s 2014 CD New Millennium Music for Horn.

Einhorn is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear Lydia’s recording by visiting September 29th.

If you would like to perform Einhorn, please follow the paypal link below and we will send you all the performance materials. Normally, the charge is $50, but for these pandemic days, I have set the price to pay-as-you-can, with thanks for your support of this low-key way of publishing.

DETAILS

A Big Enough Umbrella

In A Big Enough Umbrella, the solo violist starts off trying to imitate the synth bass, fails at that, and gradually wraps herself in strings who can help her express herself more naturally. I wrote the piece in the midst of a certain amount of turmoil in my mid-20s. The original 1984 version has synth strings as the accompaniment; in 2013, I recorded Mary and Fran Rowell performing the string orchestra parts for a solo performance version with pre-recorded real strings. The piece has also been performed all-live by solo viola, string orchestra, and dueling synth bass players. The title comes from a line in a then-current pop song by the Police: “It’s a big enough umbrella, but it’s always me that ends up getting wet.” (Sting has reused the line in three different songs over the years: I guess he like likes it a lot, too.)

A Big Enough Umbrella was originally commissioned by and dedicated to the violist Lois Martin, supported by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. The Montpelier Chamber Orchestra under Anne Decker premiered the string orchestra version in 2013, with Mary Rowell as the solo violist.

You can hear Michael Strauss playing A Big Enough Umbrella with the original pre-recorded synths at September 19th in A Book of Days.

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Here is a score of the piece.

You can perform the piece with pre-recorded synth track (i.e. the original 1980s synth version); with pre-recorded acoustic track (i.e. with real strings and basses on the backing track); or I can send string orchestra and synth bass parts for live performance. Please email for pricing on these three alternative versions, and thanks, as always, for supporting this informal way of publishing.

DETAILS

Early in the Morning

I remember having once walked all night with a caravan and then slept on the edge of the desert. A distracted man who had accompanied us on that journey raised a shout, ran towards the desert and took not a moment’s rest. When it was daylight, I asked him what state of his that was. He replied: ‘I saw bulbuls commencing to lament on the trees, the partridges on the mountains, the frogs in the water and the beasts in the desert so I bethought myself that it would not be becoming for me to sleep in carelessness while they all were praising God.’

Yesterday at dawn a bird lamented,
Depriving me of sense, patience, strength and consciousness.
One of my intimate friends who
Had perhaps heard my distressed voice
Said: ‘I could not believe that thou
Wouldst be so dazed by a bird’s cry.’
I replied: ‘It is not becoming to humanity
That I should be silent when birds chant praises.’
Sa’di: Gulistan II:26

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Early in the Morning was inspired by a text in the Gulistan (Rose Garden) by the 13th century Persian poet and mystic Sa’di, which is said to be one of the most widely read books ever produced. Saadi was beloved by Emerson and Thoreau, and a quotation from his poetry adorns the entrance to the Hall of Nations in New York, but his work is currently virtually unknown in the United States.

While traveling down the Mississippi River in 2009, I was awakened in Iowa one night by an incredible din of frogs and insects. I recorded the racket, and its percussion creates the rhythmic material for the piece. About a year later, I happened upon a work chant from the Mississippi Delta called Early in the Morning, which was recorded in the 1947 by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress. An adaptation of that work song became the basis for this piece.

Well, it’s early in the morn-
in the morning, baby
When I rise, Lordy mama
Well, it’s early every morning a-baby
When I rise well-a well-a
It’s early in the morning, baby
When I rise, Lordy baby
You have-, it’s I have misery, Berta,
Wa, in my right side
Well-a, in a my right side, Lordy baby-
R-in-a my right side, Lordy, sugar.
Well, it’s I have a misery, Berta,
R-in-a my right side, well-a.

(Chorus)

Well-a, it’s-a, Lordy, Ro-Lordy-Berta,
Well, it’s Lord (you keep a-talkin’), babe,
Well, it’s Lord, Ro-Lordy-Rosie,
Well, it’s, o Lord, Gal, well-a.Well-a, whosonever told it, That he told a-
he told a dirty lie, babe.
Well-a, whosonever told it, that he told a-
he told a dirty lie, well-a.
Well-a, whosonever told it, that he told a-
he told a dirty lie, babe.
Well the eagle on the dollar-quarter,
He gonna rise and fly, well-a.
He gonna rise and fly, sugar.
He gonna rise and fly, well-a.
Well the eagle on the dollar-quarter,
He gonna rise and fly, well-a.

(Chorus)

Well-rocks ‘n gravel make -a
Make a solid road
Well-a takes a-rock n gravel make a
To make a solid road, well-a
It takes a good lookin woman to make a
To make a good lookin whore
Well-a It takes a good lookin woman, Lord, Baby
To make a good lookin whore, Lord sugar
It takes a good lookin woman to make-a
To make a good lookin whore, well-a

(Chorus)

Boys, the peckerwood a-peckin’ on the-
On the schoolhouse door, sugar.
Well, the peckerwood a-peckin’ on the-
R-on the schoolhouse door, Well-a.
Well, the peckerwood a-peckin’ on the-
On the schoolhouse door, sugar.
Well he pecks so hard, Lordy, baby,
Until his pecker got sore, well-a,
Until his pecker got sore, Lordy, baby,
Until his pecker got sore, Lord, sugar.
Well he pecks so hard, Lord, mama,
Until his pecker got sure, well-a.

(Chorus)

Well, hain’t been to Georgia, boys,
but, Well, it’s I been told, sugar.
Well, hain’t been to Georgia, Georgia.
But, it’s I been told, well-a.
Well, haint been to Georgia, Georgia.
But, it’s I been told, Lord, mama.
Work Song, Parchman Farm, 1947

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. This score is the version for flute, clarinet, violin/viola, cello, piano, and percussion. There are other orchestrations of the piece for up to 16 players. If you would like to make a customized orchestration for your ensemble, up to and including concert band, please get in touch with me.

Early in the Morning is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear Kisatchie Sound’s recording of the piece, which is called the Lulu in the Gaslight Mix, by visiting September 14th.

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

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. 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 a recording by visiting December 5th.

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For performing materials, please click the button below. And thanks for supporting this very low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS