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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Ay mi!

Ay mi! (Machaut in the Machine Age IV) is one of a number of pieces I’ve been making since the 1980s responding to the delightful secular music of the 14th century French composer Guillaume de Machaut.

This one was made for a 1960s era Magnus electric chord organ given to me by the composer Art Jarvinen. The instrument is about the size of a toy piano and has a two octave range. I made a piece for twisted tutu, my duo at the time with Kathleen Supové, where she played the chord organ’s keyboard while I played the percussion part on the plastic case of the organ. We attached contact mics to the instrument and doubled the pitch down a fifth, as well as applying a delay at the beginning and the end of the piece.

TO THE PERFORMERS

If you have access to a chord organ, that’s the ideal instrument for performing the piece. But of course, you can play the chord organ part on a synthesizer, which you should set up with an organ patch and a pitch shifter that gives you both the notated pitch and the fifth below (i.e. transpose by -7 semitones).

In addition, you want to set up a delay that captures both the percussion and the keyboard. Set the delay to repeat at the interval of one bar of 6/8 in whatever tempo you’re playing the piece. It will be 2000 ms if you’re playing the piece at the tempo I’ve specified. The feedback/regen should give you between seven and eight reps before it fades to zero. The score indicates where to turn on and off the delay; you’ll want to put it on a switch you can activate or bypass easily.

If you don’t have a chord organ, but you happen to have a harmonium, an accordion or another suitable instrument available, please feel free to perform it on your instrument, I’d love that!

And of course the percussion part can be done by clapping or patting your own body if tapping the keyboard player’s instrument isn’t the right thing. And if you have other ideas for the percussion part, I’m very flexible about it!

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Ay mi! (Machaut in the Machine Age IV) is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear my synth version by visiting 17 July.

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For a performing materials, 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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Peggy in the Twilight

Peggy in the Twilight is one of a set of songs I’ve been making with James Moore, Andie Tanning, and Jim Fletcher, based on the poetry of James Tate. This one is for speaking violinist and guitar. We’re calling the project What are the Chances?, which is the last line James Tate wrote. I don’t think we know yet whether that’s the name of the band as well.

Here’s the text of Peggy in the Twilight.

Peggy spent half of each day trying to wake up, and the other half preparing for sleep. Around five, she would mix herself something preposterous and ’40s-ish like a Grasshopper or a Brass Monkey, adding a note of gaiety to her defeat. This shadowlife became her. She always had a glow on; that is, she carried an aura of innocence as well as death with her.

I first met her at a party almost thirty years ago. Even then it was too late for tragic women, tragic anything. Still, when she was curled up and fell asleep in the corner, I was overwhelmed with feelings of love. Petite black and gold angels sat on her slumped shoulders and sang lullabies to her.

I walked into another room and asked our host for a blanket for Peggy.

“Peggy?” he said. “There’s no one here by that name.” And so my lovelife began.

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Peggy in the Twilight is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear a demo recording of the piece by visiting 25 October.

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For a performing materials, 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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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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a murmur in the trees

A Murmur in the Trees is a half hour piece by Eve Beglarian for twenty-four double basses to play in a grove of trees. The title is inspired by a poem by Emily Dickinson. The music was created by treating a piece of birch bark as a musical score, where the lines on the birch bark are notes that are read at the rate of one-third inch per minute, said to be the speed at which plant signals travel. The y-axis has been mapped to notes in the overtone series, so the basses are playing open strings and up to seven harmonics above each string, creating a palette of 32 possible pitches.

For the first fifteen minutes, the basses are spread out along the path as widely as possible. Wherever you stand in the path, you will hear some basses nearly, and some quite far away. You are welcome to move up and down the path, and where you choose to stand will change what you hear. There is no need to rush all the way to the end of the path. There is time to experience everything.

After fifteen minutes, the bass players will very gradually move up the path, and you, too, might want to find yourself at the upper end of the path by the end of that following ten minutes. Then, for the last five minutes of the piece, the basses will surround the audience in a circle (or maybe an oval, depending on how many of you there are), and the sound will radiate inward over all of us listening.

Development of A Murmur in the Trees was sponsored by a 2020 grant from the MAP Fund for Eve and Robert Black to do a project with visual artist Aviva Rahmani and choreographer Yoshiko Chuma, a project that took a different form due to COVID-19. Matt Sargent created computer algorithms to translate the birch bark and generate individual parts for the players. Ryan McMasters created the twenty-four audio guide tracks that serve as performance parts for the players. Special thanks also to Isaiah K. Webb, who, on a hike with Eve and Yoshiko last summer, gave Eve the piece of birch bark that became the score of A Murmur in the Trees.

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There is no score of the piece in standard notation. Performers listen to audio guide tracks that give them the information they need to play the piece. Parts range in difficulty so that even very beginning students and amateur community members can participate alongside professional musicians.

If you are interested in presenting A Murmur in the Trees in your community, please reach out to us here.

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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 will soon be part 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).

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 Lucy Fitz Gibbon and Michael Boriskin’s recording of the piece there.

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To the performers:

If the vocalist wants to play the piano part while singing, it’s fine to leave off the right hand piano doubling of the vocal line. In fact, the accompanying pianist is welcome to play only the left hand part or to improvise a right hand part to accompany the singer: see what works best for you!

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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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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See Right Through Me (Albert’s Confession)

See Right Through Me is a song for a vocalist accompanying themself on cuatro. Originally written for The Vicksburg Project, an evening-length show about the experiences of women and gender-expansive people in Vicksburg, Mississippi, it is the imagined confession of Albert Cashier, an illiterate Irish orphan who enlisted in the Army soon after emigrating to the United States alone.

Albert served the Union for four years, then returned to Illinois to work as a handyman and gardener. Late in life, he was hit by a car and taken to the hospital, where the doctors determined that Albert must have been assigned female at birth. So they dressed him in women’s clothes, and put him in an insane asylum, where he died from a fall he sustained tripping over his unaccustomed skirts.

The song incorporates allusions to Walt Whitman’s early poems about the war, a quotation from a Sean nós song called “Táim curtha ó bheith im’aonair im’lui (I’m weary of lying alone)” and from a then popular poem about dead comrades called “Oft in the Stilly Night.”

See Right Through Me is 9 November in my ongoing project A Book of Days, and you can hear my own recording of the piece there.

TO THE PERFORMER

The song is written for a transgender, genderqueer and/or gender-expansive person who inhabits the masculine. You should transpose the piece so that the first section sits as low as possible in your tessitura, and the last section needs to feel vulnerably high. Easy for an untrained voice, harder for a professionally trained singer. The middle section should be sung without particular regard to the accompaniment: you keep playing the A section chords, but you sing the battle section in a marching 12/8. Please make sure you re-align with the accompaniment correctly before starting the final section “Everyone knows.”

If you can’t get hold of a cuatro, you can adapt the piece for ukulele or acoustic guitar.

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For a performing score (along with the optional warped recording of a hermit thrush you can trigger as a momentary underscore), please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $30, 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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Hard4the$

Hard4the$ is a piece for solo flute and pre-recorded track that explores the current gender and racial pay gap in the United States, a pay gap that became particularly glaring in COVID days, because so many black and/or female workers have been both essential and underpaid.

The piece is a set of four abstractions of the 1983 classic Donna Summer/Michael Omartian tune “She Works Hard for the Money” played simultaneously. Each layer has been given the name of a universally known public figure who represents the race and gender of that layer: Michelle Obama, John Lewis, Hillary Clinton, and Brett Kavanaugh.

Michelle’s variation is the only one that is the full length of the four minute piece: the others are shorter (and faster in tempo) in proportion to how much more quickly people of that gender and race are statistically likely to earn the same amount of money. Thus, Brett’s variation is only 2:28.

On the other hand, Brett’s multi-layer variation is played fortissimo on piccolo while Michelle’s is played pianissimo on alto flute, so Michelle is only actually heard when Brett and the others successively finish playing. (Hillary is mezzo forte, and John is mezzo piano.)

It is suggested that the player take on a different role each time he/she/they play the piece. Depending on the role the live player chooses to take, the piece will be a very different experience for both player and listeners.

Hard4the$ is 31 March in my ongoing project A Book of Days, because 31 March was Equal Pay Day 2020 in the United States; that is, how far into the year women had to work to earn what men earned in the previous year. In 2022, Equal Pay Day has moved up to March 15th, seemingly good news that is complicated by the fact that women of color actually lost pay compared to their white male counterparts.

Statistically, the Bretts of America are doing just fine, while the Michelles continue to clean up all our messes. Something is wrong with this picture.

Hard4the$ was commissioned by Hal Ide for Claudia Anderson’s solo show Glass Ceilings, and premiered online at the 2021 National Flute Association convention. Many thanks to Allison Loggins-Hull, Eric Lamb, Claudia Anderson, and Tim Munro, who recorded Michelle Obama, John Lewis, Hillary Clinton, and Brett Kavanaugh (respectively) for the pre-recorded track.

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TO THE PERFORMER

In any given performance, the player can choose which role to play. Brett is piccolo; Hillary is C flute; Michelle is alto flute; John is bass flute. The pre-recorded track will function as an enlarger of your live role, but the overall balances should stay the same. So, for example, Michelle — both live and pre-recorded — will be drowned out until the very end. That’s pretty much true of John as well. Hillary will obscure John and Michelle, but Brett completely takes up all the air in the room as long as he’s around.

I suggest you practice the role you’ve chosen to take on by playing your solo part with the pre-recorded track for JUST your character first: e.g. if you’re doing Hillary live, practice with only the pre-recorded Hillary tracks until you are satisfied with your pitch, timing, and blend.

You should aim to be equal to (NOT louder than) the pre-recorded tracks of your character: the reality is even if you are softer than the pre-recorded tracks, we will hear you better because we are watching you play.

In live performance, you may want to have an in-ear monitor mix of your live character’s pre-recorded tracks and click (set to the correct tempo for your live character’s part, of course.) The total mix then can be routed to the speakers in the hall, but you won’t have to listen to the entire blend, which is kind of overwhelming if you’re not playing Brett.

Depending on what space you are playing in, you may want to add reverb to your playing: you want to match the pre-recorded track of your character: Brett has the least and shortest reverb, and Michelle has the most and longest reverb. (If you haven’t yet decided which role to play and/or you don’t want to process your sound, you should choose the role that best matches the natural sound of your concert space.)

On any given concert, you are welcome to play the piece up to four times, taking on different roles each time.

I’m not sure any individual performance of the piece is actually satisfying, which is kind of the point.

There might be a better way forward?

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For performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $30, 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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Be Like Water

Be Like Water is the ninth piece is a series called Machaut in the Machine Age that I’ve been working on since the 1980s responding to the music and poetry of 14th century composer/poet, Guillaume de Machaut. The piece was commissioned by duoJalal and was originally imagined for viola and hand percussion.

My piece is a response to section four of Le lai de la fonteinne, which having compared the beloved to Mary, and Mary somehow to the Trinity, is now talking about water, which being a fountain, a stream, and a source while remaining water is, like the trinity, three things in one. The descending three note motif in a three-part canon at the unison is text-painting of such simultaneous simplicity and cunning that I had to explore it in this trio between viola, percussion, and pre-recorded track, setting up the piece so that those three become one in yet another way:

There are 21 tracks (3 times 7), each of which can be assigned flexibly to either of the two live players (played acoustically or as triggered samples) or as pre-recorded tracks, so that without seeing a live performance, you can’t tell which of the three is doing what.

The piece can also easily be presented as a multiply overdubbed piece, which may be particularly appropriate during pandemic times, as was the case when Machaut wrote the Lai (during the Black Death), and when I wrote this piece (during COVID-19).

It’s all water. 

Be like water.

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The original version of the piece is for viola, hand percussion, and backing track, which can be a pre-recorded track, or an Ableton session.

You can visit February 16th in my ongoing project A Book of Days to hear a demo of the piece, which might give you some ideas about how you’d like to adapt it for yourselves.

For performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $33, 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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All Good is Luck

All Good Is Luck is a piece inspired by something a guy named Kenny Quentin said to me out of the blue one night in December 2009 at the Blue Moon Saloon in Lafayette, Louisiana: “Not all luck is good, but all good is luck.”

I had just finished up a human-powered trip down the Mississippi River, and was very aware of my amazing luck in having done it without major mishaps. But even so, luck (good or bad) is one of those ideas I don’t really know what to do with. 

It was pure random luck that I happened to meet Kenny that night, but I’ve been mulling it over ever since. I’m grateful to Kenny for his gnomic statement, and I’ve come to translate it for myself as:  “Not everything that happens in the world is good, but everything we call “good” is something that happens in the world.”

A further bit of luck is that I was doing a stint teaching beginning electronic music at Middlebury College in January 2014, when a student named Ian Ackerman came up with a very cool lick that inspired this curious new piece for me. Thanks, Ian, for letting me steal your lick! And thanks, too, to Mary Rowell for working with me to develop the violin solo.

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The original version of the piece is for violin and electric guitar. The current revised version is a two-violin version I adapted for Miolina, which requires live processing on both instruments, but guitar-hero-style processing on only one 😉 . I’ve set up an Ableton session with stock plugins to get you started, but you will certainly want to adjust from there.

You can visit December 23rd in my ongoing project, A Book of Days to hear a pre-release version of the recording Miolina will be putting out on their next album.

For performing materials, please click the buy button below. The suggested price is $30, 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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Sang

Sang is a piece for large chorus with santur and percussion. The main text for Sang is a story from the Shahnameh, the 10th century Persian epic by Ferdowsi. Here is a translation of that story, by Dick Davis:

Going forward in the darkness, the army heard a voice from a black mountain nearby, which said, “Whoever takes stones from this mountain will be sorry for what he holds in his hand, and whoever takes nothing will be sorry and look for a balm to ease his heart’s pain.” The soldiers listened to the voice, and wondered what the words could mean, since whether they took stones or didn’t, they couldn’t see what their future sufferings would be. One said, “The pain will be because of sin, that’s the regret for taking stones along the way.” Another said, “We should take a little; everyone has to suffer some pain.” Some took stones, some took none, some out of laziness took only a few.

When they left the land where the water of life was, and found themselves on the plain once more, the road was no longer dark and each man looked at what he’d tucked in his sleeves or his tunic, and so the deceiving riddle was revealed. One found his clothes filled with rubies, another with uncut gems, and they were sorry they had taken so few and hadn’t taken emeralds as well. But those who had ignored the precious stones and taken nothing were even more sorry.

In addition to this text, sung in Persian, I incorporated three texts from the Hebrew scriptures. The first is God’s promise to the Persian King Cyrus in Isaiah 45: “I will give you the treasure of darkness and riches hidden in secret places.” I found other Biblical references to the transformation of stones to jewels, of dust to gold, and I decided to thread these texts (in Hebrew and Septuagint Greek) into my telling of the Shahnameh story.

I hope the piece illustrates how Persian, Hebrew, and Greek (and by extension Islamic, Jewish, and Christian) are intertwined cultures whose shared roots go back to the Zoroastrian revelations, and perhaps even earlier than that.

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While I spent time studying and listening to traditional Persian music in my preparations for writing this piece, and with the guidance of the musicians who performed the premiere, Manoochehr Sadeghi and Pejman Hadadi, I spent a good deal of time with the radif, a compendium of ur-melodies that is a unique source of material for traditional performers, I did not attempt to write a “Persian” piece, which, after all, would be a ridiculous undertaking for an American, even one whose father grew up in Tehran, as mine did.

Instead, my goal was to embody the story in sound as vividly as I can, so that even if you don’t understand a word of the text, the narrative has an impact. And I tried to create a structure that allows the improvising traditional instrumentalists to fully engage their unique artistry in communicating that story, asking not simply for traditional virtuosity, but giving them shared conceptual responsibility for bringing the piece to life.

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Sang was commissioned by the Los Angeles Master Chorale for a project called LA is the World, and premiered at Disney Hall in June of 2007 under the direction of Grant Gershon. I cannot post the recording of the actual performance, but here are two demo recordings which include Pejman Hadadi on percussion and Manoochehr Sadeghi on santur performing some of their music along with my draft recording of the choral music. You do not hear the santur improvisation that connects the two segments of the piece in live performance, but I hope these rough recordings will nonetheless give you an idea of the complete piece.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. I believe this piece could be effectively performed by chorus with instruments other than santur and percussion. Please contact me if you would like to talk about mounting the piece.

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Fresh Air

Fresh Air is for saxophone quartet, the then-new TR-808, and the Sequential Circuits Pro-One. I made it before the MIDI spec was formalized, so the track had to be spliced together small chunk by small chunk, limited by the twenty-event memory of the Pro-One’s sequencer, which was triggered by CV coming from the 808.

I think this might be the earliest piece I’ve posted here, but I still have a warm space for it in my heart, and would be delighted for some current sax quartets to take it on.

A recording by Relâche is in A Book of Days alongside a pretty great poem by Kenneth Koch that beautifully captures how I was feeling when I made the piece. You can listen and read by visiting March 15th.

I have a copy of the pre-recorded track, and a hand copied score. If you want to play the piece, I’ll arrange to get parts copied for you if playing from score seems too wonky.

Please write to me if you’re up for it, and we’ll figure out how to proceed.

 

 

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Unfavored House

Unfavored House is a piece I wrote while struggling to give back a house I inherited in Los Angeles in the midst of the economic downturn, a gift that came with more debt than the house itself was worth at the time. The combination of grief and bad advice led me to a dark place where randomized Bach was my only comfort.

I think randomized Bach an excellent comfort for whatever ails you, actually.

And this psalm also does a very good job of capturing my sense of futility at managing legal documents and paperwork.

Unless the Lord builds the house,

   those who build it labour in vain.

Unless the Lord guards the city,

   the guard keeps watch in vain.

It is in vain that you rise up early

   and go late to rest,

eating the bread of anxious toil;

   for he gives sleep to his beloved.

Psalm 127

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You can hear a recording of Unfavored House by visiting 24 February in A Book of Days.

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Unfavored House was written to be performed in conjunction with a live Ableton session that gradually doubles the live performers’ pitches with different successively constrained random pitches each time you play the piece. (If Ableton isn’t a possibility, I can supply a pre-recorded track for a duet version of the piece, with the clav part pre-recorded, and the mandolin and guitar players live.)

If the clav part is live, the live clav and the random clav should use the same patch. The clav part doesn’t look much like what you will hear, and it will sound a little different every time you play it. The live players’ mandolin and guitar sounds should match the random doubles as closely as possible. Feel free to use different sounds in Ableton that match the mandolin and guitar more closely, or even better, sample your own instruments so that Ableton is randomizing you!

Normally, I would charge $50 for the performance materials; in these pandemic days, I welcome you to pay what seems right to you, with thanks for support of this low-key method 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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Everything

Everything is a song for female voice and bass flute. It is part of a song cycle called The Story of B, the lyrics of which are adapted from the poetry of Pierre Louÿs, a fin-de-siècle French poet who claimed to be translating ancient Greek lesbian poetry, but in fact he made it all up himself.

The original French text that I used to make my adaptation goes like this:

Tout, et ma vie, et le monde, et les hommes, tout ce qui n’est pas elle n’est rien. Tout ce qui n’est pas elle, je te le donne, passant.

Sait-elle que de travaux j’accomplis pour être belle à ses yeux, par ma coiffure et par mes fards, par mes robes et mes parfums?

Aussi longtemps je tournerais la meule, je ferais plonger la rame ou je bêcherais la terre, s’il fallait à ce prix la retenir ici.

Mais faites qu’elle ne l’apprenne jamais, Déesses qui veillez sur nous! Le jour où elle saura que je l’aime elle cherchera une autre femme.

Here’s my version:

Everything: my life,
the world, the men,
everything that is not her
is nothing.

Does she know how hard I work
to be beautiful to her?

I would row to China,
I would build a pyramid,
I would plow the dark earth
with my bare hands.

Goddesses, don’t let her know.
The day she learns I love her
she will look for another.

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You can hear my recording of the piece with my longtime collaborator Margaret Lancaster on bass flute by visiting 10 October in A Book of Days.

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And you can download the performing score 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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None More Than You

None More Than You was a dual commission from the Dessoff Choirs and Roomful of Teeth for a piece celebrating the 200th birthday of Walt Whitman.

My ideas for making a piece highlighting the very different vocal qualities of the two groups were crystallized by a metaphor I happened to come across in Kierkegaard’s Sickness unto Death: “Necessity is like a sequence of consonants only, but in order to utter them there must in addition be possibility. When this is lacking, when a human existence is brought to the pass that it lacks possibility, it is in despair, and every instant it lacks possibility, it is in despair.”

I asked the members of Roomful of Teeth to try to utter the most famous text about words in Western culture, the opening of the Gospel of John, using only consonants. Of course, it is impossible to do this. In order to make sounds, we use air, and air has shape. But that’s what Roomful of Teeth spends the first half of None More Than You trying to do:

N th bgnng wz th wrd,
nd th wrd wz wth gd,
nd th wrd wz gd.
nwn hz vr sn gd.

In response, the Dessoff choir sings lines from Whitman’s Song of the Rolling Earth, which talk about how the words we need to live are everywhere around us, and even inside us:

Were you thinking that those were the words, those upright lines?
No, those are not the words, the substantial words are in the ground and sea,
They are in the air, they are in you.

The music the Dessoff choir sings is inspired by the really stunning incarnation moment in the Credo of Josquin’s Missa Pange Lingua. It’s kind of ironic that pange lingua means “Tell, tongue” since Whitman says it’s better not to:

I will never henceforth have to do with the faith that tells the best,
I will have to do only with that faith that leaves the best untold.

In the course of the piece, the Dessoff singers help the Teeth singers move from the place of stringent necessity to a place of endless possibility, and the last part of the piece is nothing but vowels.

Many thanks to the members of Roomful of Teeth: Estelí­, Martha, Caroline, Virginia, Eric, Thann, Dashon, and Cameron, and Brad Wells, the director; to Jeff Cook, who tracked and helped mix the pre-recorded track for this version of the piece; to Malcolm J. Merriweather and the Dessoff Choirs, who initiated the commission of this piece in honor of Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday and to the New Music On The Point Festival, who co-commissioned the piece.

None More Than You is dedicated with deepest love to Meredith Ward, my chavruta and family member.

Whoever you are! you are he or she for whom the earth is solid and liquid,
You are she or he for whom the sun and moon hang in the sky,
For none more than you are the present and the past,
For none more than you is immortality.

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You can hear the Roomful of Teeth and Dessoff Choir version of the piece with me guesting in, by visiting July 1st in A Book of Days. (Meredith’s birthday, not Walt’s!)

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Choruses can perform this piece with the Roomful of Teeth music either live or pre-recorded. Email me for details.

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Ascension

Ascension was written for a production of Part II of Goethe’s Faust, called Faust 2.0 and premiered by Mabou Mines in New York in 2019. The lyricist Matthew Maguire generously agreed to focus on the lines from the Magnificat and the Beatitudes that talk about turning the world upside down — the idea being that those lines manifest the revelation embodied in what we call “feminine energy.”

I am not enough of a Goethe person to be able to say if we successfully mirrored Goethe’s vision, but I really like what Matthew came up with, and really loved writing the music for this lyric.

My broken one, my wayward Faust,
You were the proud one
No more, no more.
You were the mighty one
No more, no more.

I scatter the proud
And topple the mighty
from their thrones

The one who strives will always stray,
So you, the greatest striver,
Became the greatest sinner
Seduced by power’s dark embrace
You turned away from grace

Blessed are the humble,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Broken you finally feel
Blind you finally see
That’s the miracle of Love’s sacrifice
And that is why, my Beloved one
I’m calling you to Paradise

I scatter the proud
And topple the mighty

Blessed are the humble,
for they shall inherit…

The wonderful Andrea Jones Sojola, who played Mary in the Mabou Mines production, recorded a version of the piece that you can hear by visiting August 15th in A Book of Days.

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If you would like to perform the piece yourself, please click the paypal link below, and we will send you the score and the backing track needed to perform the piece. The charge for the piece is normally $25, but in these pandemic days, I’ve set it to pay-as-you-like, with thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

 

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De toutes flours (Machaut in the Machine Age II)

Machaut in the Machine Age II is one of a series of pieces responding to the art of Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377.) This one is working with a few samples from an old LP recording of the ballade De toutes flours.

I made the piece for the duo Basso Bongo {Robert Black, contrabass & Amy Knoles, MIDI percussion} at the height of the AIDS crisis. The poet and translator William Mullen came up with this version of the medieval French:

Of all my garden’s many fruits and flowers
none is left me but a single rose.
Not one, of all the rest that once were ours,
weathered Fortune’s blasting: Fortune who knows
how to undo her bloom,
blast her hue and her perfume.
If by your wicked tricks my rose should fall,
desire another love I never shall.

The piece can be performed by a solo bass player with a pre-recorded track as well as by a duo where the electronics are performed live.

Machaut in the Machine Age II is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. Please visit January 17th to hear Ryan McMasters’ 2022 recording of the piece.

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We will send you all materials necessary for performing the bass solo version, unless you ask specifically for the materials that will allow you to play the piece with live electronics (and an additional player on some kind of MIDI controller.) The fee for the materials was originally $35, but I have set it to pay-as-you-like, with my thanks for supporting this way of publishing:

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In Huts and on Journeys

In Huts and on Journeys is a piece for spoken voice and as many mobile phones as available. Everyone within sound range of the spoken voice performer can participate. Please play the sound file that corresponds to the month of your birth. If there is a playback system in the space, you can seed the space with an additional optional stereo mix I will provide. The sound files don’t need to be strictly coordinated: one person – perhaps the spoken word performer – starts, then the others can press play whenever they feel the urge to join in. The spoken word performer can play their birth month sound file, or if there is no playback system, they can play the stereo mix file.

In Huts and on Journeys is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. Please visit May 19th to hear a recording I made in thanks to Lainie and Herb Alpert on the occasion of receiving the Alpert Award in the Arts in 2017.

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When you purchase the materials, we will send you a link to a page with the twelve sound files and the optional additional stereo mix, as well as a copy of the text for the spoken word performer, along with many thanks for supporting this low-key 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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Can I have it without begging?

Since the 1980s I’ve been periodically making pieces for a varied range of ensembles and instrumentation responding to the marvelous secular songs of Guillaume de Machaut. I call the project Machaut in the Machine Age, and Can I have it without begging? is the seventh in the series. Can I have it without begging? takes as its starting point Ballade #19: Amours me fait desirer. The line that ends all three verses is “Que je l’aie sans rouver”, which translates to something like: “so I can have it without begging.”

Against the backdrop of the “Me too” movement, I understand the lyrics of Machaut’s song as part of a long history of attending to the lover’s feelings and ignoring the specificity of the beloved. Machaut talks about Love, not the specific woman, he regards himself as victimized by desire, he will die without it. I am fascinated by how I respond to that pronoun — “it” — how for me at this moment, it embodies everything wrong with how heterosexual desire is depicted in Western culture.

The piece I have made is for live flute and pre-recorded flute samples (recorded on bass and C flute by Margaret Lancaster.) The piece begins with the premise that the live and pre-recorded lines are in the same universe, they want the same things. But the live flute keeps trying to become a soloist, to relegate the pre-recorded track to accompaniment, getting more and more frustrated, begging for something that can never be achieved if the track is merely background.

The irony is that the “failure” the piece embodies is actually pretty fun to listen to. Sort of like the endless number of romantic comedies we’ve all grown up watching.

Can I have it without begging? was commissioned by the National Flute Association, Inc. for the 2018 Young Artist Competition. Special thanks to Lisa Bost, Wayla Chambo, and Margaret Lancaster for their thoughtful advice and artistry as I was writing the piece.

The piece is October 6th in my ongoing project, A Book of Days. That’s the day after the Harvey Weinstein story broke in the New York Times in 2017.

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TO THE PERFORMER:

The backing track starts softly and gets substantially louder; when setting levels, you’ll want to keep that in mind! Perhaps you should set the loudest level towards the end of the piece before beginning to play. At the beginning of piece you should strive to match the pre-recorded track (in volume and attitude); a certain tentativeness is attractive. Gradually become more and more self-serving and egotistical as the piece continues. By the end, you want to have something of a temper tantrum: you are playing the role of a perpetrator after all: don’t be polite!

Here is a score of the piece, please purchase the performance materials by clicking the buy button below, and thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing. The fee for the materials was originally $40, but I have set it to pay-as-you-can for now.

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Tower of Ivory

Tower of Ivory is one of a series of pieces in an ongoing project called Where Your Treasure Is, about the gradual decay of a large painting I inherited, a painting of an Irish burial mound. Each piece in the four-part series is a meditation on a text from James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and the text for Tower of Ivory is this one:

Eileen had long thin cool white hands too because she was a girl. They were like ivory; only soft. That was the meaning of Tower of Ivory but protestants could not understand it and made fun of it. One day he had stood beside her looking into the hotel grounds. A waiter was running up a trail of bunting on the flagstaff and a fox terrier was scampering to and fro on the sunny lawn. She had put her hand into his pocket where his hand was and he had felt how cool and thin and soft her hand was. She had said that pockets were funny things to have: and then all of a sudden she had broken away and had run laughing down the sloping curve of the path. Her fair hair had streamed out behind her like gold in the sun. Tower of Ivory. House of Gold. By thinking of things you could understand them.

The music for Tower of Ivory takes off from an Irish traditional tin whistle tune known as Salamanca. I was introduced to the tune from a recording that was given to me by the poet Linda Norton. The whistle player may be Neansai Finnerty, but I’m not really sure.

Margaret Lancaster recorded fourteen tracks(!) of flutes on bass, alto, C flute and piccolo to make the pre-recorded tracks that accompany the live piccolo player. There is a bit of synth bassoon family as well, that may be replaced by real bassoons, contras, English horns, and so on in a future version of the piece.

The piece is December 21st in my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can visit there to hear Margaret Lancaster’s recording of the piece.

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Here is a study score for Tower of Ivory.

To purchase the materials needed to perform the piece, please click the button below. Normally, the charge is $35, but in these pandemic days, I have made the price pay-as-you-can. Thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

DETAILS