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.} 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.

I welcome you to click the button to get a set of performance materials for The Marriage of Heaven and Hell:

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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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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.

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

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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A Big Enough Umbrella

In A Big Enough Umbrella, the solo violist starts off trying to imitate the synth bass, fails at that, and gradually wraps herself in strings who can help her express herself more naturally. I wrote the piece in the midst of a certain amount of turmoil in my mid-20s. The original 1984 version has synth strings as the accompaniment; in 2013, I recorded Mary and Fran Rowell performing the string orchestra parts for a solo performance version with pre-recorded real strings. The piece has also been performed all-live by solo viola, string orchestra, and dueling synth bass players. The title comes from a line in a then-current pop song by the Police: “It’s a big enough umbrella, but it’s always me that ends up getting wet.” (Sting has reused the line in three different songs over the years: I guess he like likes it a lot, too.)

A Big Enough Umbrella was originally commissioned by and dedicated to the violist Lois Martin, supported by funding from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

You can hear Michael Strauss playing A Big Enough Umbrella with the original pre-recorded synths at September 19th in A Book of Days.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

You can perform the piece with pre-recorded synth track (i.e. the original 1980s synth version); with pre-recorded acoustic track (i.e. with real strings on the backing track); or I can send string orchestra and synth keyboard parts for live performance. Please click the donation button below and let me know which version you would like:

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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:

The Garden of Cyrus

Some time in the early 1980’s, I happened upon an essay by the 17th century polymath Sir Thomas Browne called The Garden of Cyrus OR, The Quincunciall, Lozenge, or Net-work Plantations of the Ancients, Artificially, Naturally, Mystically Considered. It is a wacky and marvelous piece of work, and reading it kind of changed my life.

The essay both describes and embodies the idea of the “decussation”, the place where two opposed forces meet, releasing energy by embracing their opposition. Sir Thomas Browne is a simultaneously a mystic and a scientist, a medical doctor and a literary stylist. He talks about the quincunx pattern as it appears on beetle’s wings and in Plato’s cosmology and a bunch of stuff in between.

My electronic piece, The Garden of Cyrus, was the first big piece I wrote after I finished school. It embodies the decussation by being totally rigidly serial, with algorithmic structures defining every pitch and rhythmic event, but I simultaneously tried to make the processes organic and available to the listener, as classic minimalism does. My goal was to wrestle the crunchy techniques of old-school modernism into something I could use, something I could love.

This score is the last movement of electronic version of The Garden of Cyrus. It’s a four-part canon in twelve sections, where each player does faster and faster repeated notes in each section until finally s/he falls into sustained notes. The original version was electronic, but the excellent guitar quartet Dither recently asked me to make a four-guitar version, so that’s what I’m posting here. It could probably be adapted for string quartet as well; please get in touch with me if you’d be interested in performing a string quartet version.

The electronic version of The Garden of Cyrus with all five movements is available on my CD Overstepping.

The Garden of Cyrus V is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear and see Dither’s performance by going to July 22nd.
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Here is the original electronic version:

Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. 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:

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