Testy Pony

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

Here is the text of the poem:

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

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

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

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

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

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Armon

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

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

The piano part is optional.

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

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

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

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

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Dust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Push the Dust

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

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

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

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

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

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Early in the Morning

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

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

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

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

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

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

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

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

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

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

Liement me deport (Machaut in the Machine Age VI)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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You can hear a recording of the original Machaut here:

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

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

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

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Baby-Angel Barcarolle

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

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

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

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

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

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

DETAILS