Testy Pony

Testy Pony is a setting of the poem of the same name by Zachary Schomburg. I read the poem shortly before the first concert of my River Project and felt it embodied something about my trip down the Mississippi River.

Here is the text of the poem:

I am given a pony for my birthday, but it is the wrong kind of pony. It is the kind of pony that won’t listen. It is testy. When I ask it to go left, it goes right. When I ask it to run, it sleeps on its side in the tall grass. So when I ask it to jump us over the river into the field I have never before been, I have every reason to believe it will fail, that we will be swept down the river to our deaths. It is a fate for which I am prepared. The blame of our death will rest with the testy pony, and with that, I will be remembered with reverence, and the pony will be remembered with great anger. But with me on its back, the testy pony rears and approaches the river with unfettered bravery. Its leap is glorious. It clears the river with ease, not even getting its pony hooves wet. And then there we are on the other side of the river, the sun going down, the pony circling, looking for something to eat in the dirt. Real trust is to do so in the face of clear doubt, and to trust is to love. This is my failure, and for that I cannot be forgiven.

Testy Pony is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to October 12th to hear Hamilton Cheifetz’s recording of the piece. The recording is also available on Songs from the River Project Volume 2.

Matt Petty has made a video to accompany his performance of Testy Pony on trombone. You can hear and see his version here. If you are interested in projecting Matt’s video alongside your performance of the piece, please let me know.

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Here is a score of the piece. When you click on the donation button below, I will supply you with all the necessary performance materials.

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

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Armon

Armon is the closing section of a larger piece called Untitled: Interior, which was written to accompany a solo dance by Stephanie Nugent. Armon is the name for the plane tree in Hebrew, and the word also means “naked” or “peeling off”. The piece can be performed by as few as five individual singers, probably altos, or by a chorus doubling the five parts. There is no text, and you are free to use whatever syllables help you shape the music. I have purposely under-notated the phrasing and articulation to indicate that you are free to shape your own performance of the piece.

Armon could also be performed by a men’s chorus, (or even a mixed chorus (tenors and altos, say), if the singers are careful to match their timbres with one another,) and you can feel free to transpose the whole piece as necessary. Please transpose so the music falls in a low and even vulnerable register for the singers.

The piano part is optional.

There is an optional additional spoken part that can be narrated at the beginning of the piece. It is an excerpt of a translation of a prayer of the 8th century female Sufi mystic Rabi’a:

if I speak my love to you in fear of hell,
incinerate me in it;
if I speak my love to you in hope of heaven,
close it in my face.
But if I speak to you simply because you
exist, cease withholding
from me…
rabi’a al-adawiyya
translated by franz wright

Armon is June 14th in my ongoing project A Book of Days.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. If you need a different transposition or layout, please contact me.

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Push the Dust

Push the Dust was originally written as part of a big cello piece for Maya Beiser called I am writing to you from a far-off country. The text, by Belgian surrealist Henri Michaux, is written as a series of letters from a woman to an unnamed recipient.

We are more than ever surrounded by ants. They push the dust uneasily at top speed. They take no interest in us. Not one raises its head. This is the most tightly closed society that could exist, although outdoors they constantly spread out in all directions. It doesn’t matter, to realize their projects, their preoccupations… they are among themselves… everywhere. And until this moment, not one has raised its head towards us. It would rather be crushed.

The demo I made when I was composing the piece was for mallet percussion instead of cello, and I think it makes for a very cool percussion piece. I’ve posted that demo version as October 3rd in A Book of Days. It can be performed by six players on multiples of the same instrument, or as a solo piece for one player, who performs the text and one live percussion part, having pre-recorded the others. The piece can certainly be done on any mallet instrument like vibes or marimba, but you are also welcome to construct a homemade instrument, probably of pieces of metal, to record the playback tracks and perform the live line.

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Here is a score of the complete piece. If you would like to perform the piece, please click the donation button below, and I will send you the individual parts you need to perform it live or record the playback tracks.

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And thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Enough Holes

Enough Holes was written for the French pianist Nicolas Horvath to perform on a concert of hommages to Philip Glass. The piece is a response to one that Glass wrote with Foday Musa Suso for a 1989 production of Jean Genet’s play The Screens. My piece is inspired by an error-filled computer transcription of the original recording, further edited and transformed manually.

I hope it has enough holes.

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THE MOTHER: Take the blanket.

LEILA (pointing to a blanket): That one?

THE MOTHER: No, not that one. It hasn’t enough holes.

THE GENDARME (to THE MOTHER): Giving her the one with the most holes?

THE MOTHER: What interests her is the holes. The more there are, the better she likes it.
Genet: The Screens (1961)

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Enough Holes is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To listen to a recording, please visit May 2nd.

Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.If you perform the piece on public concerts for which you are paid, it’d be great if you would purchase a copy of the piece. Click the button below:

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Perpetual Happiness

Perpetual Happiness is a reworking of the opening duet from Stephen Sondheim’s Passion, sung by two lovers who will not end up staying together. I am fascinated at how Sondheim has written a perfectly realized romantic duet while simultaneously undercutting the permanence of that love, embodying both the devotion and the falsity in the relationship. I used nothing but the notes of the original piano-vocal, arrayed as a virtuoso moto perpetuo for Tony as a way of exploring and illuminating how the musical materials of the original create their subtle commentary on the illusions of superficial romantic love.

Perpetual Happiness is part of pianist Anthony de Mare’s project Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim from the Piano.

The score is available here. Tony’s ECM recording is available here.

Perpetual Happiness is also part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can visit 2 October to hear my original demo of the piece.

I wrote an essay about the piece that’s available at the bottom of this page.

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Liement me deport (Machaut in the Machine Age VI)

Liement me deport (2008) is the sixth piece in a series called Machaut in the Machine Age, which I have been making every now and then since 1986 in response to the music and poetry of Guillaume de Machaut, the fabulous 14th century French composer.

This one sets the first phrase of his virelais of the same name in two conflicting rhythmic versions which are sung in canon. While the idea is conceptually simple, it’s quite tricky to pull off: it’s a crazily intensified round. The “cantus firmus,” a long, slow line, can be played on harmonica or sung with processing. It’s an abstraction of the melody of Smile by Charlie Chaplin, which was introduced in the classic film, Modern Times. The words Liement me deport in medieval French mean something like Smile, though your heart is aching.

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Liement me deport
Par samblant, mais je port,
Sans joie et sans deport,
Une si grief pointure
Que je sui au droit port
De mort, sans nul deport
Qui me pregne en sa cure.
Car quant de vo figure
La douce pourtraiture
Dedens mon cuer recort,
Espris sui d’une arsure
Ardant, crueuse et sure,
Pleinne de tout descort;
Car Desirs son effort
Fait de moy grever fort,
Mais j’ay cuer assez fort
Contre sa blesseüre.
Si ne me deconfort,
Car d’espoir me confort
Qui me donne confort
En vostre douceur pure.
Liement me deport.
Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377)

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Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking.
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by.

If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
For you.

Light up your face with gladness,
Hide every trace of sadness.
Although a tear may be ever so near

That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying.
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile-
If you just smile.

That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying.
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile-
If you just smile.
Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

Liement me deport is September 17th in A Book of Days.

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You can hear a recording of the original Machaut here:

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And here is Nat King Cole’s incomparable performance of Smile:

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

After you click the payment button below, you’ll get a link to download the pre-recorded track you’ll need to perform the piece.

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Baby-Angel Barcarolle

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

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

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

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

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

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

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