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.

The Flood (1928)
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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Take Your Joy

Take Your Joy is a piece for SATB mixed chorus (minimum 6-6-3-3 singers, but the bigger the better) and electronics. The piece is a response to an organ piece by Olivier Messiaen called Puer natus est nobis, which is part of the Livre du Saint-Sacrement. The choral part is a canon made from Messiaen’s harmonization of the traditional Christmas day introit. I have also incorporated an excerpt from John 16:21-23:

When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world. So you will have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

The electronic part, both the pain and the joy, is made using transformations of a recording of the olive-tree warbler (hippolais olivetorum). This birdcall appears transcribed for organ in Messiaen’s piece. The olive-tree warbler uses Palestine/Israel as a stopover in its winter migration between the Balkans and southern Africa.

Take Your Joy was commissioned by the Amherst College Choir, Mallorie Chernin, conductor, and written in October 2004 while in residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Take Your Joy is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To hear a demo recorded by Corey Dargel, Joseph Hallman, and me at the Atlantic Center, please visit April 6th.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. For the pre-recorded track needed to perform the piece, please click the button:

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No Delight in Sacrifice

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

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

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

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

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Making Hey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Machaut in the Age of Motown

Machaut in the Age of Motown (2005) is a transcribed mashup of two pre-existing works: The Bells, written by Marvin Gaye (1970) as sung by The Originals, and Tels rit from the Remede de Fortune (1340) written by Guillaume de Machaut as sung by the Project Ars Nova Ensemble. It’s the fifth piece in a series called Machaut in the Machine Age, which I have been making every now and then since 1986 in response to the music and poetry of Guillaume de Machaut, the fabulous 14th century French composer.

Originally scored for soprano sax, clarinet, violin, bass, bells, vibes, piano, and drumset, I am happy to adapt the piece for your forces. You can download the score and listen to a live performance:

And you can listen to the original mashup of Marvin and Machaut on 7 November in A Book of Days.

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Light up Your face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In and Out of the Game

In and Out of the Game (2007, rev 2010) began life as part of the score for a collaboration with choreographer David Neumann called FeedForward. In 2010, I made a video for the piece using footage I shot on my trip down the Mississippi River the previous fall. I made this new version of the piece for the trombone quartet, Guidonian Hand. It is dedicated to Paul, whom I met in Cape Girardeau on 15 October 2009. You can read about our meeting here.

Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looks with its sidecurved head curious what will come next,
Both in and out of the game, and watching and wondering at it.

Backward I see in my own days where I sweated through fog with linguists and contenders,
I have no mockings or arguments . . . . I witness and wait.

Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass

The piece can be performed by trombone quartet or sextet. You can download the score for both versions here.

In and Out of the Game is October 17th in my ongoing project A Book of Days. A recording of the Guidonian Hand’s performance is available on Songs from the River Project, Volume 2.

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If you would like to perform the piece, please click below, and I will provide you with the backing track and the optional video:

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