Making Sense of It

Making Sense of It is a chamber piece in three movements for six instruments and pre-recorded sound. It was commissioned and premiered by the New York New Music Ensemble in 1987, and performed extensively by other groups for a few years, but is only now in 2024 available in a newly engraved edition.

The piece was inspired by James Merrill’s amazing book-length poem, The Changing Light at Sandover. When I originally read the book in the mid-80s, I felt it was sort of a 20th century answer to Dante, and absolutely loved it. Re-reading it recently is like re-visiting a lost world, one that had far-reaching impact on my life. It’s deeply queer, and simultaneously optimistic and desolate – a domestic love story used to express an immensely imaginative and ambitious cosmology. Simultaneously camp and utterly heartfelt, there’s a core of loneliness to the vision that all these years later kind of breaks my heart: the God of this universe is Biology, who is directly experienced only through Morse-code-like signals indicating that it does indeed survive, and is looking for confirmation that it is not alone.

Those signals are embedded in the pre-recorded track of last movement of the piece. This is what they say:

IVE BROTHERS HEAR ME BROTHERS SIGNAL ME

ALONE IN MY NIGHT BROTHERS DO YOU WELL

I AND MINE HOLD IT BACK BROTHERS I AND

MINE SURVIVE BROTHERS HEAR ME SIGNAL ME

DO YOU WELL I AND MINE HOLD IT BACK I

ALONE IN MY NIGHT BROTHERS I AND MINE

SURVIVE BROTHERS DO YOU WELL I ALONE

IN MY NIGHT I HOLD IT BACK I AND MINE

SURVIVE BROTHERS SIGNAL ME IN MY NIGHT

I AND MINE HOLD IT BACK AND WE SURVIVE

In addition to the transliterated God B quotation, I chose epigraphs for each movement of the piece. They were originally meant to stand in lieu of conventional program notes, which in the 80s used to be deeply insufferable.

Perhaps these epigraphs tell you something about the music: see what you think.

I. Every modification or tremor enters its own little sensory adequate to itself, and it enters the point adequate to it; thus since all the little sensories are various, all the various things enter. 

Wherefore now in every sensation there are infinite things which concord. 

Emmanuel Swedenborg

II. When they say that heat is merely the movement of certain globules and light the centrifugal force that we feel, we are amazed. What! Is pleasure nothing but a ballet of spirits? We had such a different conception of it, and these feelings seem so far removed from those with which we are comparing them. The feeling of fire, the warmth which affects us in quite a different way from touch, the reception of sound and light, all seem mysterious to us. And yet it is as straightforward as throwing a stone. It is true that the smallness of the spirits entering the pores touches other nerves, but they are still nerves.

Blaise Pascal

III. A- Yes, one could fit in in that way. It’s finally a matter, perhaps, of fit. Appropriateness. Fit in a stately or sometimes hectic dance with nonfit. What we have to worry about.

Q- It seems to me that we have a great deal to worry about. Does the radish worry about itself in this way? Yet the radish is a living thing. Until it’s cooked.

A- Grete is mad for radishes, can’t get enough. I like frozen Mexican dinners, Patio, I have them for breakfast, the freezer is stacked with them–

Q- Transcendence is possible.

A- Yes.

Q- Is it possible?

A- Not out of the question.

Q- Is it really possible?

A- Yes. Believe me.

Donald Barthelme

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The three movements of Making Sense of It are part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days, and recordings can be heard by visiting January 4th, April 2nd, and September 22nd.

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The instrumentation of Making Sense of It is flute/piccolo, Bb clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion (1 player on vibraphone, xylophone, and mallet percussion controller) along with a pre-recorded track.

Here is the score.

There are three synth sounds needed to perform the piece, which were originally made for the Yamaha DX7. The patches have been ported to Dexed, a free open source multi-platform software synth you can download here.

The patches are the first three in this SysEx file.

For performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $50, 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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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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See Right Through Me (Albert’s Confession)

See Right Through Me is a song for a vocalist accompanying themself on cuatro. Originally written for The Vicksburg Project, an evening-length show about the experiences of women and gender-expansive people in Vicksburg, Mississippi, it is the imagined confession of Albert Cashier, an illiterate Irish orphan who enlisted in the Army soon after emigrating to the United States alone.

Albert served the Union for four years, then returned to Illinois to work as a handyman and gardener. Late in life, he was hit by a car and taken to the hospital, where the doctors determined that Albert must have been assigned female at birth. So they dressed him in women’s clothes, and put him in an insane asylum, where he died from a fall he sustained tripping over his unaccustomed skirts.

The song incorporates allusions to Walt Whitman’s early poems about the war, a quotation from a Sean nós song called “Táim curtha ó bheith im’aonair im’lui (I’m weary of lying alone)” and from a then popular poem about dead comrades called “Oft in the Stilly Night.”

See Right Through Me is 9 November in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear my own recording of the piece there.

TO THE PERFORMER

The song is written for a transgender, genderqueer and/or gender-expansive person who inhabits the masculine. You should transpose the piece so that the first section sits as low as possible in your tessitura, and the last section needs to feel vulnerably high. Easy for an untrained voice, harder for a professionally trained singer. The middle section should be sung without particular regard to the accompaniment: you keep playing the A section chords, but you sing the battle section in a marching 12/8. Please make sure you re-align with the accompaniment correctly before starting the final section “Everyone knows.”

If you can’t get hold of a cuatro, you can adapt the piece for ukulele or acoustic guitar.

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For a performing score (along with the optional warped recording of a hermit thrush you can trigger as a momentary underscore), 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:

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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:

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Hard4the$

Hard4the$ is a piece for solo flute and pre-recorded track that explores the current gender and racial pay gap in the United States, a pay gap that became particularly glaring in COVID days, because so many black and/or female workers have been both essential and underpaid.

The piece is a set of four abstractions of the 1983 classic Donna Summer/Michael Omartian tune “She Works Hard for the Money” played simultaneously. Each layer has been given the name of a universally known public figure who represents the race and gender of that layer: Michelle Obama, John Lewis, Hillary Clinton, and Brett Kavanaugh.

Michelle’s variation is the only one that is the full length of the four minute piece: the others are shorter (and faster in tempo) in proportion to how much more quickly people of that gender and race are statistically likely to earn the same amount of money. Thus, Brett’s variation is only 2:28.

On the other hand, Brett’s multi-layer variation is played fortissimo on piccolo while Michelle’s is played pianissimo on alto flute, so Michelle is only actually heard when Brett and the others successively finish playing. (Hillary is mezzo forte, and John is mezzo piano.)

It is suggested that the player take on a different role each time he/she/they play the piece. Depending on the role the live player chooses to take, the piece will be a very different experience for both player and listeners.

Hard4the$ is 31 March in my ongoing project A Book of Days, because 31 March was Equal Pay Day 2020 in the United States; that is, how far into the year women had to work to earn what men earned in the previous year. In 2022, Equal Pay Day has moved up to March 15th, seemingly good news that is complicated by the fact that women of color actually lost pay compared to their white male counterparts.

Statistically, the Bretts of America are doing just fine, while the Michelles continue to clean up all our messes. Something is wrong with this picture.

Hard4the$ was commissioned by Hal Ide for Claudia Anderson’s solo show Glass Ceilings, and premiered online at the 2021 National Flute Association convention. Many thanks to Allison Loggins-Hull, Eric Lamb, Claudia Anderson, and Tim Munro, who recorded Michelle Obama, John Lewis, Hillary Clinton, and Brett Kavanaugh (respectively) for the pre-recorded track.

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TO THE PERFORMER

In any given performance, the player can choose which role to play. Brett is piccolo; Hillary is C flute; Michelle is alto flute; John is bass flute. The pre-recorded track will function as an enlarger of your live role, but the overall balances should stay the same. So, for example, Michelle — both live and pre-recorded — will be drowned out until the very end. That’s pretty much true of John as well. Hillary will obscure John and Michelle, but Brett completely takes up all the air in the room as long as he’s around.

I suggest you practice the role you’ve chosen to take on by playing your solo part with the pre-recorded track for JUST your character first: e.g. if you’re doing Hillary live, practice with only the pre-recorded Hillary tracks until you are satisfied with your pitch, timing, and blend.

You should aim to be equal to (NOT louder than) the pre-recorded tracks of your character: the reality is even if you are softer than the pre-recorded tracks, we will hear you better because we are watching you play.

In live performance, you may want to have an in-ear monitor mix of your live character’s pre-recorded tracks and click (set to the correct tempo for your live character’s part, of course.) The total mix then can be routed to the speakers in the hall, but you won’t have to listen to the entire blend, which is kind of overwhelming if you’re not playing Brett.

Depending on what space you are playing in, you may want to add reverb to your playing: you want to match the pre-recorded track of your character: Brett has the least and shortest reverb, and Michelle has the most and longest reverb. (If you haven’t yet decided which role to play and/or you don’t want to process your sound, you should choose the role that best matches the natural sound of your concert space.)

On any given concert, you are welcome to play the piece up to four times, taking on different roles each time.

I’m not sure any individual performance of the piece is actually satisfying, which is kind of the point.

There might be a better way forward?

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For performing materials, 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:

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Be Like Water

Be Like Water is the ninth piece is a series called Machaut in the Machine Age that I’ve been working on since the 1980s responding to the music and poetry of 14th century composer/poet, Guillaume de Machaut. The piece was commissioned by duoJalal and was originally imagined for viola and hand percussion.

My piece is a response to section four of Le lai de la fonteinne, which having compared the beloved to Mary, and Mary somehow to the Trinity, is now talking about water, which being a fountain, a stream, and a source while remaining water is, like the trinity, three things in one. The descending three note motif in a three-part canon at the unison is text-painting of such simultaneous simplicity and cunning that I had to explore it in this trio between viola, percussion, and pre-recorded track, setting up the piece so that those three become one in yet another way:

There are 21 tracks (3 times 7), each of which can be assigned flexibly to either of the two live players (played acoustically or as triggered samples) or as pre-recorded tracks, so that without seeing a live performance, you can’t tell which of the three is doing what.

The piece can also easily be presented as a multiply overdubbed piece, which may be particularly appropriate during pandemic times, as was the case when Machaut wrote the Lai (during the Black Death), and when I wrote this piece (during COVID-19).

It’s all water. 

Be like water.

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The original version of the piece is for viola, hand percussion, and backing track, which can be a pre-recorded track, or an Ableton session.

You can visit February 16th in my ongoing project A Book of Days to hear a demo of the piece, which might give you some ideas about how you’d like to adapt it for yourselves.

For performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $33, 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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All Good is Luck

All Good Is Luck is a piece inspired by something a guy named Kenny Quentin said to me out of the blue one night in December 2009 at the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette, Louisiana: “Not all luck is good, but all good is luck.”

I had just finished up a human-powered trip down the Mississippi River, and was very aware of my amazing luck in having done it without major mishaps. But even so, luck (good or bad) is one of those ideas I don’t really know what to do with. 

It was pure random luck that I happened to meet Kenny that night, but I’ve been mulling it over ever since. I’m grateful to Kenny for his gnomic statement, and I’ve come to translate it for myself as:  “Not everything that happens in the world is good, but everything we call “good” is something that happens in the world.”

A further bit of luck is that I was doing a stint teaching beginning electronic music at Middlebury College in January 2014, when a student named Ian Ackerman came up with a very cool lick that inspired this curious new piece for me. Thanks, Ian, for letting me steal your lick! And thanks, too, to Mary Rowell for working with me to develop the violin solo.

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The original version of the piece is for violin and electric guitar. The current revised version is a two-violin version I adapted for Miolina, which requires live processing on both instruments, but guitar-hero-style processing on only one 😉 . I’ve set up an Ableton session with stock plugins to get you started, but you will certainly want to adjust from there.

You can visit December 23rd in my ongoing project, A Book of Days to hear a pre-release version of the recording Miolina will be putting out on their next album.

For performing materials, 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:

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Fresh Air

Fresh Air is for saxophone quartet, the then-new TR-808, and the Sequential Circuits Pro-One. I made it before the MIDI spec was formalized, so the track had to be spliced together small chunk by small chunk, limited by the twenty-event memory of the Pro-One’s sequencer, which was triggered by CV coming from the 808.

I think this might be the earliest piece I’ve posted here, but I still have a warm space for it in my heart, and would be delighted for some current sax quartets to take it on.

A recording by Relâche is in A Book of Days alongside a pretty great poem by Kenneth Koch that beautifully captures how I was feeling when I made the piece. You can listen and read by visiting March 15th.

I have a copy of the pre-recorded track, and a hand copied score. If you want to play the piece, I’ll arrange to get parts copied for you if playing from score seems too wonky.

Please write to me if you’re up for it, and we’ll figure out how to proceed.

 

 

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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:

 

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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:

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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.

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Ascension

Ascension was written for a production of Part II of Goethe’s Faust, called Faust 2.0 and premiered by Mabou Mines in New York in 2019. The lyricist Matthew Maguire generously agreed to focus on the lines from the Magnificat and the Beatitudes that talk about turning the world upside down — the idea being that those lines manifest the revelation embodied in what we call “feminine energy.”

I am not enough of a Goethe person to be able to say if we successfully mirrored Goethe’s vision, but I really like what Matthew came up with, and really loved writing the music for this lyric.

My broken one, my wayward Faust,
You were the proud one
No more, no more.
You were the mighty one
No more, no more.

I scatter the proud
And topple the mighty
from their thrones

The one who strives will always stray,
So you, the greatest striver,
Became the greatest sinner
Seduced by power’s dark embrace
You turned away from grace

Blessed are the humble,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Broken you finally feel
Blind you finally see
That’s the miracle of Love’s sacrifice
And that is why, my Beloved one
I’m calling you to Paradise

I scatter the proud
And topple the mighty

Blessed are the humble,
for they shall inherit…

The wonderful Andrea Jones Sojola, who played Mary in the Mabou Mines production, recorded a version of the piece that you can hear by visiting August 15th in A Book of Days.

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If you would like to perform the piece yourself, please click the paypal link below, and we will send you the score and the backing track needed to perform the piece. The charge for the piece is normally $25, but in these pandemic days, I’ve set it to pay-as-you-like, with thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

 

DETAILS

De toutes flours (Machaut in the Machine Age II)

Machaut in the Machine Age II is one of a series of pieces responding to the art of Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377.) This one is working with a few samples from an old LP recording of the ballade De toutes flours.

I made the piece for the duo Basso Bongo {Robert Black, contrabass & Amy Knoles, MIDI percussion} at the height of the AIDS crisis. The poet and translator William Mullen came up with this version of the medieval French:

Of all my garden’s many fruits and flowers
none is left me but a single rose.
Not one, of all the rest that once were ours,
weathered Fortune’s blasting: Fortune who knows
how to undo her bloom,
blast her hue and her perfume.
If by your wicked tricks my rose should fall,
desire another love I never shall.

The piece can be performed by a solo bass player with a pre-recorded track as well as by a duo where the electronics are performed live.

Machaut in the Machine Age II is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. Please visit January 17th to hear Ryan McMasters’ 2022 recording of the piece.

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We will send you all materials necessary for performing the bass solo version, unless you ask specifically for the materials that will allow you to play the piece with live electronics (and an additional player on some kind of MIDI controller.) The fee for the materials was originally $35, but I have set it to pay-as-you-like, with my thanks for supporting this way of publishing:

DETAILS

In Huts and on Journeys

In Huts and on Journeys is a piece for spoken voice and as many mobile phones as available. Everyone within sound range of the spoken voice performer can participate. Please play the sound file that corresponds to the month of your birth. If there is a playback system in the space, you can seed the space with an additional optional stereo mix I will provide. The sound files don’t need to be strictly coordinated: one person – perhaps the spoken word performer – starts, then the others can press play whenever they feel the urge to join in. The spoken word performer can play their birth month sound file, or if there is no playback system, they can play the stereo mix file.

In Huts and on Journeys is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. Please visit May 19th to hear a recording I made in thanks to Lainie and Herb Alpert on the occasion of receiving the Alpert Award in the Arts in 2017.

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When you purchase the materials, we will send you a link to a page with the twelve sound files and the optional additional stereo mix, as well as a copy of the text for the spoken word performer, along with many thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing.

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

Tower of Ivory

Tower of Ivory is one of a series of pieces in an ongoing project called Where Your Treasure Is, about the gradual decay of a large painting I inherited, a painting of an Irish burial mound. Each piece in the four-part series is a meditation on a text from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and the text for Tower of Ivory is this one:

Eileen had long thin cool white hands too because she was a girl. They were like ivory; only soft. That was the meaning of Tower of Ivory but protestants could not understand it and made fun of it. One day he had stood beside her looking into the hotel grounds. A waiter was running up a trail of bunting on the flagstaff and a fox terrier was scampering to and fro on the sunny lawn. She had put her hand into his pocket where his hand was and he had felt how cool and thin and soft her hand was. She had said that pockets were funny things to have: and then all of a sudden she had broken away and had run laughing down the sloping curve of the path. Her fair hair had streamed out behind her like gold in the sun. Tower of Ivory. House of Gold. By thinking of things you could understand them.

The music for Tower of Ivory takes off from an Irish traditional tin whistle tune known as Salamanca. I was introduced to the tune from a recording that was given to me by the poet Linda Norton. The whistle player may be Neansai Finnerty, but I’m not really sure.

Margaret Lancaster recorded fourteen tracks(!) of flutes on bass, alto, C flute and piccolo to make the pre-recorded tracks that accompany the live piccolo player. There is a bit of synth bassoon family as well, that may be replaced by real bassoons, contras, English horns, and so on in a future version of the piece.

The piece is December 21st in my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can visit there to hear Margaret Lancaster’s recording of the piece.

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Here is a study score for Tower of Ivory.

To purchase the materials needed to perform the piece, please click the button below. Normally, the charge is $35, but in these pandemic days, I have made the price pay-as-you-can. Thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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.

Where Your Treasure Is: Mistake

Mistake is one of a series of pieces called Where Your Treasure Is, about the slow disintegration of a painting I inherited. The painting is of an Irish dolmen, a burial mound, and I have placed it on a glacial erratic on my land in Vermont, where I am documenting its gradual decay into the landscape.

The text that inspires the piece is from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

You made me confess the fears that I have. But I will tell you also what I do not fear. I do not fear to be alone or to be spurned for another or to leave whatever I have to leave. And I am not afraid to make a mistake, even a great mistake, a lifelong mistake and perhaps as long as eternity too.

The piece is also part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit March 21st to listen to the piece, with a video by Emma Courtney.

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Here is a score of the piece, which requires four keyboard players on three pianos (or electronic keyboards.) In addition, there is a drumset part, which can be improvised by a live player, or done as a pre-recorded track.

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Thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing.

DETAILS

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.

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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!

Wolf Chaser

Wolf Chaser: for amplified and processed violin, wolf chaser, optional percussion, electronics, and optional video

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In the early summer of 1995, the violinist Robin Lorentz gave me a wolf chaser – a tool made of whale baleen for scaring wolves in the Arctic. It had been a gift, in turn, from the man who made it, James Nageak. I sampled the wolf chaser and made a recording that slowed the sound down so far that you can hear the sampling rate as a rhythm (sort of the audio analog to the jaggies you see when displaying curves at low resolution on a computer.) That recording is the bed for this piece for acoustic wolf chaser, amplified and processed scordatura violin, and optional metallic percussion. In 2008, Vittoria Chierici (with editor Phil Hartley) made a video to accompany live performances of the piece.

Here’s the video with Robin Lorentz’s recording of the piece:

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Click here for the score of the piece, which includes all the information you need to know about playing it.

If you would like to play the piece, please order the materials below and let me know the following information:

  • whether you want to do the percussion part live (I haven’t yet implemented the percussion processing in Ableton’s Live, but can do it easily with a bit of notice.)
  • in which format you want the video (DVD or embedded in Ableton)
  • proposed dates of your performance(s), so we can figure out logistics for lending you the wolf chaser.

DETAILS

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