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

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

Fireside is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can go to December 30th to hear my demo recording.

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

Play Nice

When Elizabeth Panzer asked me for a harp piece, I came up with an idea for a big piece based on a poem by Linda Norton (the poet of Landscaping for Privacy) about knitting and the Aran Islands. I still plan to make that piece, but as the deadline neared, I realized I will need more time to write it, so instead I decided to work with a sweet redemptive pattern I had written as an underscore for an audiobook production of Gerald’s Game, one of Stephen King’s more horrific novels. The resulting piece is totally diatonic, doesn’t even require two octaves, uses standard minimalist variation techniques, and in virtually every way plays nice.

I think it’s actually a mean little thing.

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There are two recordings available:

The harp version is recorded on Elizabeth Panzer’s CD, Dancing in Place.

A toy piano version (played by two people) is the title cut on twisted tutu’s CD.

Play Nice is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can hear the twisted tutu version by visiting December 5th.

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Here is a score (.pdf) of the solo version.

Here is a score (.pdf) of the duo version.

The graphic is based on a drawing by Emma Grady Pawl.

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

Getting to Know the Weather

Getting to Know the Weather was inspired by Pamela Painter’s short story of the same name, which tells of a woman embarking on a job search after a divorce in midlife. I read the story and wrote the piece while going through my own divorce (and coming out process) in my late twenties.

The weather of my piece is Chromatic Lydian, which was considered by Plato to be too sensual and lax to be suitable for the education of guardians. Getting to Know the Weather composes out the kind of non-systematized, non-superimposing fooling around one sometimes does with new material and situations. The piece was originally written for saxophone player Marshall Taylor and dedicated to him with respect and affection.

Getting to Know the Weather is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to David Steele’s bass clarinet version by visiting 27 October.

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Getting to Know the Weather was originally written for baritone saxophone. That version is available from Dorn Publications. Here is a version for bass clarinet. I can supply other transpositions: just let me know what you need what you order the piece.

The instrumental part should be played like the bass line in a funk tune. If you play it solo, you will want to viscerally imagine a beat in your mind as you play the piece, and reflect the groove in your playing. If you perform with a drummer, please invent a groove together that makes it as fun as possible to play the piece. I can supply a modified version of James Brown’s Funky Drummer groove with some additional kitchen percussion if you want to work with a pre-recorded track, or of course you can feel free to make your own.

If you want to add an octave doubler or other processing to the instrumental sound, that’s fine with me. In any case, you probably want to amplify the instrumental player.

I have notated the score in chromatic Lydian throughout, though you will quickly hear that sections of the piece could be notated in F# minor or in A major. I hope that consistency of notation will outweigh whatever initial difficulties you might have with the unorthodox spelling.

Dynamics have generally not been notated since they grow naturally out of your playing. Start soft, get loud, and end quietly within a generally loud level throughout.

And don’t play it too fast: it’s sexier slower.

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

What Justice Looks Like

What Justice Looks Like was written for Payton MacDonald to perform at South Pass City as part of his Sonic Divide project. Esther Hobart Morris (1814-1902) served as Justice of the Peace there in 1870, during the Gold Rush, right after women were given the vote in Wyoming Territory. After her term was over, she had her husband arrested for assault and battery. She eventually left both him and South Pass City, becoming an activist for women’s rights nationally.

What Justice Looks Like is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to my recording by visiting Valentine’s Day, which is the day when Esther was sworn in as Justice of the Peace.

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Here’s the vocal score at the transposition that works best for me. I am happy to supply you with a different transposition, just let me know what you need when you click the donation button below.

I think you want to think of this piece as an intimate invocation to Esther. You’ll want to find the transposition that lets both the lowest and the highest notes of the (rangy) vocal line be vulnerable and loving. You are welcome to do the piece slower (or faster) than the marked tempo if you like, and you don’t need to stick too precisely to the notated rhythms as long as the phrases stay coherent.

You can do it as a solo vocal piece, or you can invent a rhythmic accompaniment that helps you express the piece, adding extra bars of rest between verses for improvisational flourishes as you prefer. If you like a drone, feel free to use one. For the demo, I used Henry Lowengard’s excellent iPhone app, Srutibox, in just intonation mode. And I added a couple of totally optional samples from “Suffragette City”, which I’ll send you if you want them.

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

Play Like a Girl

I’ve posted a new piece called Play Like a Girla set of eight keyboard variations on the Bulgarian Women’s Chorus standard, Kaval Sviri. Some work well on grand piano, others on toy piano or celeste or harpsichord or other “girly” instruments, as you like. The variations can be played simultaneously or successively in any combination for a total of eight factorial versions of the piece. I am posting twelve different versions of the piece in A Book of Days, on the 13th of each month. You can listen to those to get a sense of the possibilities.

Play like the girl you are (or sometimes wish you were!)

Presser publishes I will not be sad in this world

I’m happy to tell you that my flute and electronics piece, I will not be sad in this world, is available in a new anthology called Eight Visions, curated by Marya Martin and published by Theodore Presser. Please go here for more information.


I will not be sad in this world
is June 28th in A Book of Days. I generally post a different performance of the piece each year: the 2017 version is a live performance by Tim Munro, recorded at New Music on the Point, in Leicester, VT.