Michael’s Spoon

The inspiration for Michael’s Spoon was this text from the end of J.M. Coetzee’s 1983 novel The Life and Times of Michael K.

And if the old man climbed out of the cart and stretched himself (things were gathering pace now) and looked at where the pump had been that the soldiers had blown up so that nothing should be left standing, and complained, saying, “What are we going to do about water?,” he, Michael K, would produce a teaspoon from his pocket, a teaspoon and a long roll of string. He would clear the rubble from the mouth of the the shaft, he would bend the handle of the teaspoon in a loop and tie the string to it, he would lower it down the shaft deep into the earth, and when he brought it up there would be water in the bowl of the spoon; and in that way, he would say, one can live.
J. M. Coetzee: Life and Times of Michael K

Michael’s Spoon was originally written as an all-electronic piece which is the second movement of the five-movement piece The Garden of Cyrus. That piece was released on my 1998 CD, Overstepping.

Michael’s Spoon is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to the electronic version and watch Mechele Manno’s video by visiting February 9th.

The chamber ensemble version of Michael’s Spoon was originally made in 2004 for performances by the Robin Cox Ensemble. You can download a score of that version here. You are welcome to substitute instruments as desired for your ensemble. Alternatively, the piece can be performed by a solo player on the cello part (or shared by low brass), with all the other parts pre-recorded. Here’s a performing score of the two-trombone version. In addition, there’s now a 2018 quartet version for trombone, piano, and one or two percussionists (on glock and vibes.) When you order the performance materials, let me know what version you’re interested in. I can also supply the score in xml format so you can make your own arrangement. Thanks for your interest in Michael’s Spoon!

DETAILS

Fireside

Fireside was commissioned in 2001 by pianist Sarah Cahill in celebration of Ruth Crawford Seeger’s centennial. The piece sets a poem Ruth Crawford wrote when she was thirteen years old. The harmony is a response to her fifth prelude. Fireside is dedicated to women composers of the future, who will undoubtedly be making devil’s bargains of their own.

Here is the text of Ruth Crawford’s poem.

Fireside Fancies

When I sit by the side of the blazing fire
On a cold December night,
And gaze at the leaping and rollicking flames
As they cast their flickering light

I see what I would be in future years,
If my wishes and hopes came true,
And the flames form pictures of things that I dream,
Of the deeds that I hope to do.

One tall yellow flame darts above all the rest,
And I see myself famed and renowned,
A poetess I, and a novelist too,
Who is honored the whole world around.

That flame then grows dim, which to me seems to say,
That my first hope must soon die away,
Then another one darts on a great opera stage,
The most exquisite music I play.

And then, after many flames rise, and die down,
The first burns even and slow,
And I see myself singing to children my own,
On the porch of a small bungalow.

Oh, I dream, and I dream, until slowly the fire
Burns lower, grows smaller, less bright,
Till the last tiny spark has completely gone out,
And my dreams are wrapt up in the night.
Ruth Crawford, age 13

horizontal rule
Fireside is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to December 30th to hear the recording the young pianist and composer Vera Weber made in February of 2018.

For a score of the piece, please click the Paypal button below. For the duration of the pandemic, I have made the price pay as you like. Thank you for supporting this very low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

All Ways

All Ways was commissioned by Frederick and Alexandra Peters for a project called Songbook for a New Century, an evening of songs about the millennium. I chose this text from Stephen King’s novel It, because I felt I didn’t know anything about the new century.

You don’t know you don’t always

I was right about that.

All Ways is November 27th in my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear my live performance of the piece there.

horizontal rule
The piece was originally written for voice and piano. To purchase a copy of the piece, please click the button below. Here is a draft copy of a score which lays out all the conceptual parts. It can be orchestrated to your specifications, so far it’s been done by a chamber chorus with piano, and by a vocal soloist with instrumental ensemble.

And you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing. I’ve set the price to be pay-as-you-like for the duration of the pandemic:

DETAILS

Cave

Cave was commissioned by the St. Louis ensemble Synchronia for a program investigating the theme of America in Y2K. The text is by Eileen Myles. It is the third piece in the last year I have been asked to write on this subject*, and I’m noticing that I know less about the meaning of the millennium, or the future in general, the more I’m asked to write pieces about it. I have, however, had several excellent conversations about souls with Ansel Elgort, who is six, while I’ve been writing this piece, so I dedicate it to him with love and thanks for his friendship.

* see the continuous life for another

horizontal rule
Cave is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit July 3rd to hear a recording.

horizontal rule
The piece was originally made for flute, clarinet, violin, cello, keyboard (or piano and vibes), spoken voice, and electronics. There is also an optional video by Clifton Taylor.

Here is a score of the piece. I’m open to you adapting it for your ensemble; let me know what you have in mind.

I will send you all the necessary performance materials when you order the piece by clicking the paypal button below, with thanks for supporting this low-key method of publishing.

DETAILS

Do Not Be Concerned

Do Not Be Concerned is the first piece I wrote specifically for my ongoing project A Book of Days. At the time, I was imagining writing a piece for every preset in the General MIDI spec: this piece uses the Calliope Lead (patch #83) to accompany a recitation of a line from the Gospel of Thomas.

A live performance of the piece on synth requires a MIDI echo effect: I have a version implemented already in MOTU’s Digital Performer. If you need it in some other program, I can give you the specifications for the effect so you can set it up yourself.

You can perform the piece as a solo, reciting the text as you play, or you can do it as a duo: one person plays while the other speaks.

Do Not Be Concerned is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit February 21st to listen to the piece along with my pre-911 slideshow of images of Soho.

And this is Nick Griffiths’ 2014 live performance on piano with no processing. It’s a very different take on the piece, and I’m delighted by it!

horizontal rule

Normally the performance materials for this piece are $25, but during the pandemic, I’ve set the price to be pay-as-you-can. You are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

the bus driver didn’t change his mind

02.11.02

Hi Bus Driver Visitors:

One of many emotions that has come up for me post 9/11 is an intense form of feminist rage, something I feel quite uncomfortable about, if I can be honest, having always thought myself quite beyond all that. But when I got this Bang on a Can commission, the first thing I thought of was this poem by the Bangladeshi troublemaker Taslima Nasrin. (She had a fatwa issued against her in the mid-90’s and seems to have pretty much disappeared from public life.) Originally I was going to set it in the piece, but I decided not to. Here’s how it goes:

Character

You’re a girl
and you’d better not forget
that when you step over the threshold of your house
men will look askance at you.
When you keep on walking down the lane
men will follow you and whistle.
When you cross the lane and step onto the main road
men will revile you and call you a loose woman.

If you’ve got no character
you’ll turn back,
and if not
you’ll keep on going,
as you’re going now.

The harmonic language is mostly built of diminished seventh chords, in reference to that cool climax in the first movement of Mahler’s Second, which I was listening to because I’d been hanging out with Berio’s Sinfonia because of the “keep going” connection between the Beckett/Berio and the Nasrin text.

The pre-recorded material is constructed solely from samples of the pipa, a Chinese instrument that is conventionally played by cultivated young ladies performing elevated music for the delectation of the upper classes.

The title of the piece comes from something I read yesterday in a profile of the American troublemaker Al Sharpton in this week’s (2/18-25/02) New Yorker:

“The bus driver didn’t change his mind, Rosa Parks changed hers.”

The piece is dedicated to the memory of Samia al-Rumn.

Eve Beglarian

horizontal rule

the bus driver didn’t change his mind is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear a rocking performance by the young Australian group Concept Ensemble by visiting August 22nd.

horizontal rule

Here is a score of the piece in pdf format, and here’s a set of parts. I’m open to you arranging it for your ensemble; let me know what you have in mind.

As part of your process in learning the piece, I urge you to listen to my sketch of the piece, where I sing the Nasrin text that later became the clarinet part. It will tell you many things that can’t be embedded in the score.

In order to play the piece, please order a copy of the backing track by following the paypal link, and thank you for your interest in the bus driver didn’t change his mind.

DETAILS

Lullaby

Lullaby is for solo voice, female chorus, piano and optional vibes. It can also be done by women’s chorus where the solo part is done by the altos and the chant is done by the sopranos.

The text is a poem by Janet Lewis.

Lullee, lullay,
I could not love thee more
If thou wast Christ the King.
Now tell me, how did Mary know
That in her womb should sleep and grow
The Lord of everything?

An angel stood with her
Who said, “That which doth stir
Like summer in thy side
Shall save the world from sin.
Then stable, hall and inn
Shall cherish Christmas-tide.”

Lullee, lullay,
And so it was that Day.
And did she love Him more
Because an angel came
To prophesy His name?
Ah no, not so,
She could not love him more,
But loved Him just the same,
Lullee, lullay.

Lullaby is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to December 25th to hear Lucy Dhegrae’s recording of the piece. The piece is also one in a series called ReThinking Mary.
horizontal ruleFor a score of the piece, please click the Paypal button below, and thank you for supporting this very low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

Atque Semper

ATQUE SEMPER (2006) for flute, horn, electric guitar, bass, and piano

Atque Semper is a meditation on the early medieval hymn Ave Maris Stella. The guitarist plays a free version of the melody while the other instruments try very hard to mess it up. The pianist is torn between supporting the guitar and hanging out with the troublemakers.

Atque Semper was commissioned by the young guitarist Dylan Allegretti for Santa Fe New Music and is dedicated to him with many thanks.

Atque Semper is part of a project called ReThinking Mary, which also includes Lullaby, Wonder Counselor, Take Your Joy, and Be/Hold. Atque Semper is also part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can listen to a live performance by the Cal State University New Music Ensemble, under the direction of Alan Shockley, by visiting January 7th.

horizontal rule

Here is the score of the original arrangement. I am open to people making arrangements of the piece for different instrumentation, so if you have ideas about this, please feel free to get in touch with me.

For a set of parts, please click the donation link below, with my thanks for your support of this very low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

Night Psalm

Night Psalm was inspired by Psalm 77, particularly verse 20:

Your way was through the sea,
your path, through the mighty waters;
yet your footprints were unseen.

The melody of the piece is based on a chant found in a late sixteenth century antiphoner from Augsberg Cathedral in Germany. It is not known why this book would have been made so late, given the liturgical politics involved.

Night Psalm is dedicated to Paul Kahn on the occasion of his becoming a deacon. The piece is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear Vicky Chow’s live recording (accompanied by a video I made off the back of a towboat on the Mississippi) by visiting March 10. And you can see an excerpt of me performing the piece on a Launchpad here.

horizontal rule

Normally, the score is priced at $25.00, but until public performances are again possible, I have set it to pay-as-you-like. And thanks for your support of this low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS

Did he promise you tomorrow?

I wrote Did he promise you tomorrow? on 7 February 2011 as a memorial to Steven Dennis Bodner (1975-2011.) The title is something a woman named Carla asked me in a bar in Los Gatos, California precisely one year earlier, on 7 February 2010, while Chris Porter and I were watching the New Orleans Saints beat the Minnesota Vikings in the Super Bowl. I had never watched a Super Bowl before, but the fact of two river cities being in contention made it sort of a required event that year. I don’t know what Steve’s attachment to the Super Bowl may or may not have been, but I do know that he loved Louis Andriessen’s music passionately, so I have re-purposed a lick from De Volharding as the basis of the piece.horizontal rule

The piece can be performed by virtually any group of at least six instruments and/or singers. You can arrange your own score from the six conceptual lines. The vocal score is the simplest arrangement. You can look at the Newspeak arrangement to see one approach to arranging the piece for larger forces.

horizontal rule

Did he promise you tomorrow? is part of my ongoing multimedia project A Book of Days. Please visit February 7th to hear a live performance by Roomful of Teeth.

horizontal rule

You are warmly invited to support this low-key way of publishing. Once you make your purchase (currently donation-based for as long as the pandemic lasts), we will send you a PDF as well as a Finale/xml file so you can make your very own arrangement of Did he promise you tomorrow?

Farther from the Heart

Oh, I’m sad for never knowing courage,
And I’m sad for the stilling of fear.
Close to the sun now and farther from the heart.
I think that my end must be near.

I linger too long at a picnic
’cause a picnic’s gayer than me.
And I hold to the edge of the table
’cause the table’s stronger than me.
And I lean on anyone’s shoulder
Because anyone’s warmer than me.
Jane Bowles

I have been mulling over this 1942 poem by Jane Bowles since I first encountered it in 2000. I think the poem is unbearably sad: the embodiment of a specific kind of mid-20th-century female unhappiness. I do not live this life, but I am very conscious of having escaped it.

The song showed up unannounced one day while I was in residence at Ucross in the spring of 2016.

Farther from the Heart is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to Hila Plitmann’s recording with pianist Lara Downes by visiting 3 November.

horizontal rule
Here’s the vocal score at the transposition that works best for me (I sing it an octave below where it’s written.) I do think lower is better, but of course I am happy to supply you with a different transposition, just let me know what you need when you order the materials below.

horizontal rule

I normally charge $30 for this score, but I have made it pay-as-you-like for the duration of the pandemic. And thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing.

DETAILS