Peggy in the Twilight

Peggy in the Twilight is one of a set of songs I’ve been making with James Moore, Andie Tanning, and Jim Fletcher, based on the poetry of James Tate. This one is for speaking violinist and guitar. We’re calling the project What are the Chances?, which is the last line James Tate wrote. I don’t think we know yet whether that’s the name of the band as well.

Here’s the text of Peggy in the Twilight.

Peggy spent half of each day trying to wake up, and the other half preparing for sleep. Around five, she would mix herself something preposterous and ’40s-ish like a Grasshopper or a Brass Monkey, adding a note of gaiety to her defeat. This shadowlife became her. She always had a glow on; that is, she carried an aura of innocence as well as death with her.

I first met her at a party almost thirty years ago. Even then it was too late for tragic women, tragic anything. Still, when she was curled up and fell asleep in the corner, I was overwhelmed with feelings of love. Petite black and gold angels sat on her slumped shoulders and sang lullabies to her.

I walked into another room and asked our host for a blanket for Peggy.

“Peggy?” he said. “There’s no one here by that name.” And so my lovelife began.

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Peggy in the Twilight is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear a demo recording of the piece by visiting 25 October.

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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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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:

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CALLING ON ALL SILENT MINORITIES

CALLING ON ALL SILENT MINORITIES is a song for voice and piano, setting a poem by June Jordan.

HEY

C’MON
COME OUT

WHEREVER YOU ARE

WE NEED TO HAVE THIS MEETING
AT THIS TREE

AIN’ EVEN BEEN
PLANTED
YET

CALLING ON ALL SILENT MINORITIES was written as the closing song in a cycle called finish what I haven’t started, about mid-century middle class female unhappiness. Other songs in the cycle set poems by Anne Sexton, Jane Bowles, and Lucille Clifton. finish what I haven’t started was commissioned by the Brooklyn Art Song Society with partial funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, and premiered by Devony Smith and Danny Zelibor in April 2022.

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CALLING ON ALL SILENT MINORITIES is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear my recording of the piece by visiting 7 March.

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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:

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a murmur in the trees

A Murmur in the Trees is a half hour piece by Eve Beglarian for twenty-four double basses to play in a grove of trees. The title is inspired by a poem by Emily Dickinson. The music was created by treating a piece of birch bark as a musical score, where the lines on the birch bark are notes that are read at the rate of one-third inch per minute, said to be the speed at which plant signals travel. The y-axis has been mapped to notes in the overtone series, so the basses are playing open strings and up to seven harmonics above each string, creating a palette of 32 possible pitches.

For the first fifteen minutes, the basses are spread out along the path as widely as possible. Wherever you stand in the path, you will hear some basses nearly, and some quite far away. You are welcome to move up and down the path, and where you choose to stand will change what you hear. There is no need to rush all the way to the end of the path. There is time to experience everything.

After fifteen minutes, the bass players will very gradually move up the path, and you, too, might want to find yourself at the upper end of the path by the end of that following ten minutes. Then, for the last five minutes of the piece, the basses will surround the audience in a circle (or maybe an oval, depending on how many of you there are), and the sound will radiate inward over all of us listening.

Development of A Murmur in the Trees was sponsored by a 2020 grant from the MAP Fund for Eve and Robert Black to do a project with visual artist Aviva Rahmani and choreographer Yoshiko Chuma, a project that took a different form due to COVID-19. Matt Sargent created computer algorithms to translate the birch bark and generate individual parts for the players. Ryan McMasters created the twenty-four audio guide tracks that serve as performance parts for the players. Special thanks also to Isaiah K. Webb, who, on a hike with Eve and Yoshiko last summer, gave Eve the piece of birch bark that became the score of A Murmur in the Trees.

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There is no score of the piece in standard notation. Performers listen to audio guide tracks that give them the information they need to play the piece. Parts range in difficulty so that even very beginning students and amateur community members can participate alongside professional musicians.

If you are interested in presenting A Murmur in the Trees in your community, please reach out to us here.

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Circumference

Circumference is a small piano etude written for my friend Ryan McMasters as I am beginning work on a larger piano piece about Emily Dickinson for Donald Berman. I was practicing the Major 7th exercises in Patterns for Jazz at the time. Each hand of this little etude is not difficult, but putting them together will keep you engaged for a while!

Emily Dickinson wrote to Thomas Higginson in 1862, “My Business is Circumference.”

Circumference is 26 July in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear a recording of the piece there.

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For a performing score, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $5, 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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Plunge

Plunge is a song for voice and piano, setting a poem by Bill Knott. It is now the first song of a cycle based on his poetry, commissioned by Frederick Peters and Music from the Copland House for Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Michael Boriskin. Another song in the cycle is Peace (Pascal). More will be available soon!

at night one drop of rain
falls from each star
as if it were being lowered
on a string

and yet that storm of plummets
is never enough
to wet any of the planets
that pass through it

only the blackness the space
between us is washed
away by these singular
lettings-down of water

distance is washed away
all the worlds merge
for a liquid moment
our island eyes

and suddenly we understand
why umbrellas love
to dive
into clouds

Plunge was written in July 2022, when the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope were being shared. Written for AddieRose Brown and Edward Forstman, it is dedicated to them with great affection.

Plunge is 12 July in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear my original composer demo of the piece there.

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For a performing score, please pay $5 US below with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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Peace (Pascal)

Peace (Pascal) is a song for voice and piano, setting a poem by Bill Knott.

There is a valley
Is the oldest story.

Its temperate qualities
Make us descend the trees
To settle down beside
Fruits and fields.

By its river content
To sit quietly in a small tent
To fashion fishing spears
From fallen limbs.

No need to climb its hills
No need to go up there
To look to see
Another valley.

Note:
“Most of our problems proceed from our inability to sit quietly in a small room.” –Pascal

The piece was written in slightly belated honor of Fred Peters on his 70th birthday, and is dedicated to him with vast affection. Despite Fred’s boundless energy and love of ALL the valleys, he is also quite able to sit quietly in a small room, which might be the best combination of personal qualities there is!

Peace (Pascal) was premiered on September 15, 2022 at The Century Club, New York City, by Music from Copland House (Lucy Fitz Gibbon, soprano and Michael Boriskin, pianist) at the celebration honoring Fred’s many years of service to NMUSA.

Peace (Pascal) is 28 December in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear my own recording of the piece there.

To the performers:

If the vocalist wants to play the piano part while singing, it’s fine to leave out the left hand piano doubling of the vocal line. In fact, the (separate) pianist is welcome to play only the right hand part or to play the left hand melody in any octave that pleases you both.

If you like, you can precede a performance of the song by reading the Pascal quotation: “Most of our problems proceed from our inability to sit quietly in a small room.”

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For a performing score, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $5, 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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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.

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Who Else

I received Crispin Best’s poem from Matthew Ogle’s Pome in the early days of lockdown. I made a piece from it in May 2020.

Who Else

i tell the same stories
again and again
because who else is going to
and what are the builders making

apart from a racket
the black mould in my room makes it feel
like the wall is learning something

i tell my computer i’m not a robot
when it asks
because who else is going to

i can’t believe you thanked me
for sleeping in your bed

if a tree falls in the forest
that’s fine

• Crispin Best (2019)

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You can hear my recording of Who Else by visiting 23 March in A Book of Days.

For performing materials, click the buy button below. The suggested price is $5, 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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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.

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Everything

Everything is a song for female voice and bass flute. It is part of a song cycle called The Story of B, the lyrics of which are adapted from the poetry of Pierre Louÿs, a fin-de-siècle French poet who claimed to be translating ancient Greek lesbian poetry, but in fact he made it all up himself.

The original French text that I used to make my adaptation goes like this:

Tout, et ma vie, et le monde, et les hommes, tout ce qui n’est pas elle n’est rien. Tout ce qui n’est pas elle, je te le donne, passant.

Sait-elle que de travaux j’accomplis pour être belle à ses yeux, par ma coiffure et par mes fards, par mes robes et mes parfums?

Aussi longtemps je tournerais la meule, je ferais plonger la rame ou je bêcherais la terre, s’il fallait à ce prix la retenir ici.

Mais faites qu’elle ne l’apprenne jamais, Déesses qui veillez sur nous! Le jour où elle saura que je l’aime elle cherchera une autre femme.

Here’s my version:

Everything: my life,
the world, the men,
everything that is not her
is nothing.

Does she know how hard I work
to be beautiful to her?

I would row to China,
I would build a pyramid,
I would plow the dark earth
with my bare hands.

Goddesses, don’t let her know.
The day she learns I love her
she will look for another.

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You can hear my recording of the piece with my longtime collaborator Margaret Lancaster on bass flute by visiting 10 October in A Book of Days.

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And you can download the performing score 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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Another Time

My friend and colleague Lara Downes asked a bunch of us to write small anniversary pieces in celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday. I took the opportunity to read the Humphrey Burton biography that had been languishing on my shelf for years, and to re-listen to lots of Bernstein, which was simultaneously fascinating, beautiful, and sort of heartbreaking, as time with Lenny often is.

So Another Time is inspired by a few things:

• the octave leap in bar 5 of the melody of Some Other Time (from On the Town). If you haven’t heard Barbra’s incredible live recording, I recommend it with my whole heart:

• Agnes de Mille’s report that LB was fired for dropping in a 5/8 or 7/8 every now and then when accompanying dance classes back in the day,

• the story that West Side Story has a song highlighting each interval (Maria is the tritone, Somewhere the minor 7th, etc.)

So this little piece could be played in 4/4, but I alternate 7/8 and 4/4. The melody fragments cycle through intervals starting with the octave in bar 2, the 7th in bar 5, and so on.

You can listen to Lara’s recording by visiting Lenny’s birthday in A Book of Days.

And if you would like a copy of the score, please click the Paypal button below.

I normally charge $5.00 for the piece, but in these lockdown days, I’ve made it pay-as-you-like. And thank you, as always, for supporting this very low key way of publishing:

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Enough

Enough was written for an evening of political songs organized and performed by Dora Ohrenstein, Kathleen Supové, and Robert Black. It is a setting of one of William Blake’s Proverbs from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:  “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”  As you will notice, the piece devolves into the Bach chorale Es ist genug (it is enough) at the end.

A larger ensemble version of the piece is the final section of my piece The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

The piece is May 23rd in A Book of Days.

You can download a score of the piece here. When you click the Paypal button, you’ll get complete performance materials for the piece.

 

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

 

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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.

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Open Secrets

Open Secrets was a semester-long project in spring of 1999 at RPI sponsored by Chris Jaffe, in which architect Malcolm Holzman and I worked with teachers and students in architecture and intermedia on “an investigation of the relationships between acoustics, architecture, and music and an exploration of spaces, both secret and revealed, natural and mediated.”

The core idea was to play with visually and sonically encoded versions of a text from Hebrews: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

It was a crazily ambitious and fun project! There’s a 1999-era website devoted to documenting our work together. It could use some updating, but it’ll give you an idea.

A musical translation of the Morse code version of the text was played by Kathy Supové on toy piano in an anechoic chamber hidden beneath a ramp.

You had to be there.

That score was turned into a cool little music video by Duff Dufresne, and can be seen and heard in A Book of Days, on 18 November. If you’d like to play the piece, in or out of an anechoic chamber, please get in touch with me!

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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!

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is a setting of three proverbs from William Blake’s book of the same name. The piece was commissioned and premiered by the Philadelphia ensemble Relâche in 1994.

 

opposition is true friendship

This proverb is the underlying concept for the first section of the piece: I’ve set up the standard son clave pattern of latin music, but offset metrically in a different way for each performer, so that the perceived downbeats of each person’s part are in opposition to one another.

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energy is eternal delight

This proverb is the underlying concept for the second section of the piece.

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you never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough

This proverb is the underlying concept and the sung text for the last section of the piece. {In fact, it is possible to perform this last section on its own: it was originally written for soprano, piano, and acoustic bass and called Enough.} As you will notice, the piece devolves into the Bach chorale Es ist genug (it is enough) at the end. You can go here to hear about how I embedded a reference to this piece into my orchestra piece, The Continuous Life.

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You are welcome to download a copy of the score of the piece. while it was originally written for the instrumentation of Relâche, it’s pretty adaptable to re-orchestrations.

A recording of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell is available on my New World CD, Tell the Birds, which you can get at all the usual places. You can also listen to the recording of the complete piece on Youtube.

I welcome you to click the button to get a set of performance materials for The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. The suggested price is $50, but I have set it to so that you can pay whatever amount works for you, with my thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing.

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[All the graphics on these pages are from william blake’s illustrations forThe Marriage of Heaven and Hell, although I messed with them a bit. I figure if he hand-colored each copy, I’m free to color these copies, no?!]

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The Flood

The Flood is a setting of a poem Robert Frost wrote in 1928, in response to the 1927 flood of the Mississippi River that destroyed a million homes, drove hundreds of thousands of people – mostly poor and African-American – north, and transformed America.

Blood has been harder to dam back than water.
Just when we think we have it impounded safe
Behind new barrier walls (and let it chafe!),
It breaks away in some new kind of slaughter.
We choose to say it is let loose by the devil;
But power of blood itself releases blood.
It goes by might of being such a flood
Held high at so unnatural a level.
It will have outlet, brave and not so brave.
Weapons of war and implements of peace
Are but the points at which it finds release.
And now it is once more the tidal wave
That when it has swept by leaves summits stained.
Oh, blood will out. It cannot be contained.

My land in Vermont is just a few miles from where Frost lived for many years, and I felt what I imagine to be a parallel rage and impotence in response to Katrina.

The Flood is one piece in a projected evening-length project about floods and transformation, which will also respond to the ongoing tragedy of Katrina, the Biblical flood, and the Mississippi River and its place in American culture.

The Flood is October 22nd in my ongoing project A Book of Days. The premiere recording of the piece is on Songs from the River Project, Volume 1.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. I’m open to you arranging it for your ensemble; let me know what you have in mind. I can supply you with a backing track for your specific needs.

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

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No Delight in Sacrifice

No Delight in Sacrifice is a short response to my least favorite masterpiece, The Rite of Spring. I’ve taken materials from Stravinsky’s dazzling work and re-shaped them to stand against the glamorization of killing in the name of higher powers and for the joy of renewal and rebirth that spring embodies. The bassoon begins the piece with a plainchant version of Psalm 51 that was my guide in this re-composition: “For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.”

No Delight in Sacrifice was commissioned by the Vermont Symphony Orchestra in celebration of their 80th Anniversary Season, and was premiered in Burlington on 6 December 2014 on a concert that included The Rite of Spring.

No Delight in Sacrifice is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a recording of the premiere by visiting May 29th.
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You can download a score of the piece here. You can purchase performance materials by clicking the link below.

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

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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!

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Machaut in the Age of Motown

Machaut in the Age of Motown (2005) is a transcribed mashup of two pre-existing works: The Bells, written by Marvin Gaye (1970) as sung by The Originals, and Tels rit from the Remede de Fortune (1340) written by Guillaume de Machaut as sung by the Project Ars Nova Ensemble. It’s the fifth 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.

You can listen to a live recording by the awesome students at NMOP 2018 here.

And you can listen to the original mashup by visiting 7 November in A Book of Days.

While the piece was originally scored for soprano sax, clarinet, violin, bass, bells, vibes, piano, and drumset, I am happy for the piece to be adapted for your forces. Here’s a score of a version for soprano and alto sax, viola, bass, bells, vibes, piano, and drumset.

For a set of performance materials, please click the paypal button below, and thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing.

 

Light up Your face

Light up Your face began as a piece about the murder of Medgar Evers on 12 June 1963. Eudora Welty wrote a story the next night from the point of view of the murderer, who had not yet been identified. It has been hailed as an uncanny portrait of the killer, but it is wrong in one important respect. Byron De La Beckwith was not an impoverished nearly illiterate redneck, he was an upstanding middle class salesman and WWII veteran, who along with participating in the White Citizens’ Council and the Ku Klux Klan, regularly attended the Episcopal Church in Greenwood, MS.

That last fact is the inspiration for the piece, which includes an excerpt from Eudora Welty’s story against my harmonization of the chant version of the refrain of Psalm 80: Light up Your face, that we may be rescued.

After three trials, Byron De La Beckwith was finally convicted of first-degree murder in 1994.

The video for Light up Your face is a collaboration between Bradley Wester and Matt Petty. Bradley works with an image of Medgar Evers’ home in Jackson, Mississippi, and the carport where he was killed. Matt Petty’s contribution is a meditation on the murder of James Craig Anderson in Jackson in 2011, a murder committed by a group of white high school students from the neighboring town of Brandon. The students were convicted of their crime and are currently serving time in federal prison. The family of James Craig Anderson asked that the murderers be spared the death penalty.

Light up Your face is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can watch and listen to the piece by visiting June 12th.

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The original version of this piece is for actor, singer, and piano. You can download it here. The piano part can be replaced by chamber ensemble or chorus. If you would like a version that works for your ensemble, let me know your needs. Please get in touch with me for more information about showing the video as part of your performance.

And thanks for supporting this 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 part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit June 14th to hear my recording of the piece.

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For a score of the piece, please click the buy button below. I have set the price to pay as you like, so I ask you contribute an appropriate fee depending on your circumstances and performing forces. If you need a different transposition or layout, please contact me.

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