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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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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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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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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a solemn shyness

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

Of our deepest delights there is a solemn shyness

The appetite for silence is seldom an acquired taste

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Walking Music

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for Billy Floyd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Until It Blazes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Making Hey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DETAILS

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!

DETAILS

FlamingO

FlamingO is a sixteen minute piece for three simultaneous bands: the first, on your left, is the wolf chaser band, named after the whirling Inuit instrument (given to me by Robin Lorentz) played by the percussionist of that band at the beginning and end of the piece. The wolf chaser has also been recorded and electronically transformed: slowed way down in speed without changing the pitch, and then ring-modulated and otherwise warped, to create a bed (played back on CD) for the whole piece. The remaining wolf chaser band members focus on arpeggiations which are all motivic outgrowths of the sound of the wolf chaser. (For another piece that works with this same source material, see Wolf Chaser.)

The flamingo band (center) similarly gets their music from a sampled source: they are playing with sampled flamingo honks (given to me by Stephen Erickson), and their take on the flamingo sounds tends to be homophonic.

In contrast to the arpeggiations and homophony of the other two bands, the “metalastic” band (right) plays canonically inflected music, taking as their primary starting point an unidentified bird sample (given to me by Marilyn Ries.)

Each band takes a solo, and when they are all playing together things are complicated in a way I find more fun than straight cacophony: you can still hear the characteristic musics of the three bands, and you can choose what to focus on, and depending on your choice, all the other stuff seems to support you.

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FlamingO was commissioned by Eric Grunin and the Crosstown Ensemble and premiered by them in 1995. It was revised in 2004 for a performance by the American Composers Orchestra. It was recorded in 2005, with the support of Frederick and Alexandra Peters, for my New World Records CD, Tell the Birds.

Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. For performance materials, please contact me.

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.

DETAILS

Enough Holes

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

I hope it has enough holes.

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THE MOTHER: Take the blanket.

LEILA (pointing to a blanket): That one?

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

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

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

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Enough Holes is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To listen to Thomas Feng’s wonderful recording, please visit May 2nd.

Normally we charge $25 for the score, but in pandemic times it’s pay-as-you-like. Click below for your copy of the score.

DETAILS

Perpetual Happiness

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

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

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

Perpetual Happiness is also part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can visit 2 October to hear Thomas Feng’s recording of the piece, which you can also purchase here.

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

DETAILS

Early in the Morning

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

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

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

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

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

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

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

(Chorus)

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

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

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

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