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:

Liement me deport (Machaut in the Machine Age VI)

Liement me deport (2008) is the sixth 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.

This one sets the first phrase of his virelais of the same name in two conflicting rhythmic versions which are sung in canon. While the idea is conceptually simple, it’s quite tricky to pull off: it’s a crazily intensified round. The “cantus firmus,” a long, slow line, can be played on harmonica or sung, as you like. It’s an abstraction of the melody of Smile by Charlie Chaplin, which was introduced in the classic film, Modern Times. The words Liement me deport in medieval French mean something like Smile, though your heart is aching.

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Liement me deport
Par samblant, mais je port,
Sans joie et sans deport,
Une si grief pointure
Que je sui au droit port
De mort, sans nul deport
Qui me pregne en sa cure.
Car quant de vo figure
La douce pourtraiture
Dedens mon cuer recort,
Espris sui d’une arsure
Ardant, crueuse et sure,
Pleinne de tout descort;
Car Desirs son effort
Fait de moy grever fort,
Mais j’ay cuer assez fort
Contre sa blesseüre.
Si ne me deconfort,
Car d’espoir me confort
Qui me donne confort
En vostre douceur pure.
Liement me deport.
Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377)

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Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking.
When there are clouds in the sky
you’ll get by.

If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
For you.

Light up your face with gladness,
Hide every trace of sadness.
Although a tear may be ever so near

That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying.
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile-
If you just smile.

That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile, what’s the use of crying.
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile-
If you just smile.
Charlie Chaplin (1889-1977)

Liement me deport is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. Please visit September 17th to hear a recording of the piece.

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You can hear a recording of the original Machaut here:

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And here is Nat King Cole’s incomparable performance of Smile:

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

After you click the payment button below, you’ll get a link to download the pre-recorded track you’ll need to perform the piece.

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Baby-Angel Barcarolle

Baby-Angel Barcarolle was commissioned in 1994 by the New England Conservatory Preparatory Division as a piece for young players. You’ll probably notice that I was hanging out with the Bartok Violin Duets at the time. The piece is dedicated to the violinist Robin Lorentz.

Baby-Angel Barcarolle is part of my ongoing project  A Book of Days. You can hear Mary Rowell’s demo recording by visiting December 16th.

This old Breton’s fisherman’s prayer might be related to the piece:

dear god, be good to me;
the sea is so wide,
and my boat is so small.

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For a copy of the score, please click the paypal button below, and thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing:

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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. 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 a recording 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:

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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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My Feelings Now

The lyrics of My Feelings Now are adapted from various things the Indonesian dancer and choreographer Hartati said during a residency we both had in Los Angeles in the summer of 1996. I wrote the song in Wyoming while in residency at Ucross in August of 1996. (Thanks to both Judy Mitoma and the Ford Foundation for the APPEX program that brought all of us together, and to the Ucross Foundation for the residency time that freed me to write the piece.) My Feelings Now is dedicated to Tati with love.

For the twisted tutu version of the piece, Kathy Supové and I performed against a quiet taped background of Robin Lorentz on violin, mixed with an electronically manipulated recording of Indonesian flute and vocal music performed by Sawir St. Mudo and Mira Tanjung.

My Feelings Now is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear twisted tutu’s version of the piece on August 12th. It’s also available on twisted tutu’s CD Play Nice.

If you want to perform the piece this way, please contact me for the pre-recorded tracks. But there are many ways to flesh out the song, and I am very open to you making whatever versions you feel will work effectively. Similarly, you should feel free to transpose it to reflect your vocal style and range. If you need a transposed score, please get in touch with me.
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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

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

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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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Landscaping for Privacy

Landscaping for Privacy was written in August-September 1995 for twisted tutu (Kathleen Supové, keyboards and Eve Beglarian, vocals) while we were in residence at the Bellagio Center in Italy under the auspices of the Rockefeller Foundation. The poem is by Linda Norton. The keyboard part was written to be played using the arpeggiator function of a synth keyboard, sort of like a new convertible with an automatic transmission. I tried to capture the fragile elation urban types feel at driving out of the city on a beautiful Saturday morning in spring.

Landscaping for Privacy

Make a pagoda of thyself!
–Herman Melville

Ultima multis
–inscription on a medieval sundial

The hedges along the parkway, the trees, the trees–
They sashay, they nearly genuflect, they breathe.
It’s good to breathe; it’s good to get away in summer,
It makes you feel clean. The city, the squalor, the mess,
That’s what’s killing us. Did I tell you about the rat
I saw in the subway last night? It had a swollen belly
And no fear, it went right for a transvestite in heels!
Enough; I know; not here, not now; I should relax,
Shut up, let go. Oh, yes, Long Island’s very fresh and nice;
Do they have rats out here, or just field mice? And I forget,
What do people do with themselves in the suburbs?
The streets are empty, the lawns unused. If I lived here,
I’d spread out, I’d hang a hammock, I’d keep sheep,
I’d dig a well. I’d build hummocks to my own
Specs, I’d be positively pastoral.

But you’re right, of course. Of course, you’re right.
I couldn’t keep sheep, there’s probably an ordinance,
They’d shoot me for ruining property values.
But what’s property, anyway? Years ago
I read about a pillar of roses in an English garden
And so I own it, I have the deed by heart.
Speaking of which, pull over, look,
Here’s a surprise for you. Check out my bicep.
Do you like my new tattoo?

What do you mean, “What is it, did it hurt?”
It’s a miniature gazebo! Of course it hurt!
Note the incredible detail, the wicked craftsmanship.
See–it’s a garden pagoda for me and you,
With ivy, and grass, and a snake in the grass.
Hey, what are you doing? Oh yes, that’s good,
Yes, kiss it and make it better. Because
It did hurt a bit. In fact, it hurt like hell
(Remember that night when you touched me
And I yelled?)

OK, let’s drive, let’s tour the hydrangeas
And the lawns. What could be more suggestive
Than a grassy mattress? Maybe that TV glowing
In a darkened den, shades nearly drawn.
Slow down, slow down–that’s strange: a sick room,
A suburban tomb, on a day like this,
With the clouds all starched and bustling
In a Disney sky. Look, they have a gazebo, too,
Jam-packed with rusted rakes and trash.

If I had their lawn I’d soak it and sun bathe on it,
I’d sleep out under the stars, I’d walk to the mall
And strap a sack of fertilizer to my back and hike
All the way home. We’ve lived in the city far too long,
Yes, that’s what’s killing us. That, and this monument
To love we lug, this brick inscribed FOREVER.
Let’s let it sink. Let’s kiss. Give me the wheel,
I’ll drive so you can look at clouds.

“All clouds are clocks,” bulldozing time.
Do you remember who said that?
A pauper? A philosopher?
Well, he was right,
Those pretty clouds are bullies–

Bouffant armada,
Fluffy but cruel,
Ushering last days for many.
–Linda Norton

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There are three versions of the piece: the original version for narrator plus the PC88 keyboard’s arpeggiator; a version for narrator with acoustic piano and playback; and an ensemble version (voice, alto flute, bass clarinet, vibes, marimba, and piano.)

A recording of Landscaping for Privacy is on my CD Tell the Birds and also on the compilation CRI Emergency Music.

Landscaping for Privacy is May 30th in my ongoing project A Book of Days.
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score of piano (plus playback) version –> (.pdf)
score of all-acoustic ensemble version –> (.pdf)
score of original arpeggiator version –> (.pdf)

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

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Machaut a Go-go

Machaut a Go-go adapts both the music and the lyrics of Machaut’s virelais “Moult sui de bonne heure nee” to the go-go style. Go-go is a jazzy offshoot of rap that fourished in Washington, D.C. a while ago. Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers were my main inspiration in adapting the style. Machaut a Go-go was written in 1991 for Kitty Brazelton and her nine-piece band, Dadadah. Kitty made the translation and adaptation of the Machaut lyrics, as well as helping immeasurably to shape the piece. Many thanks to her and the other members of Dadadah for their work and musicianship.

Machaut a Go-go can be performed with an introduction: a performance of the original virelais (for voice and harp or guitar) that is rudely interrupted by the drummer, who leads in the other musicians. Here is a scan of the original score to use if you want to do this introduction.

Machaut a Go-go is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to a Dadadah’s recording by visiting May 7th.

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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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Play Like a Girl

Play Like a Girl was commissioned for the BASK Collective by the University of Idaho for a multimedia project in which the keyboard player, Kristin Elgersma, asked for the possibility of playing either grand piano or toy piano, or both, depending on performance constraints. My solution was to write a set of eight variations on Kaval Sviri, one of those Bulgarian Women’s Chorus pieces that were a surprise hit in the late 1980’s. If their ferociously joyous singing is girl music, I’m there! Some of my variations are for grand piano, some for toy piano, and some for celeste or harpsichord or other “girly” instruments, I’m open. The variations can be played in any combination, simultaneously (with pre-recorded tracks) or successively, allowing for a total of eight factorial (40,320) versions of the piece.

After I completed the piece, I learned that the same song had been adapted as the theme music for the late 90s cult classic TV show Xena: Warrior Princess. Now that I’ve checked out the show, I’m definitely enjoying picturing Lucy Lawless in full battle garb playing the toy piano like the girl she is.

Here is a link to the Bulgarian State Women’s Chorus performance of the arrangement that inspired my piece:

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

Play Like a Girl is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days, where I post a different version of the piece on the 13th of each month. I’ve also made a downloadable streamable playlist of various demos and live performances, check it out!

After you click the donation button below, you’ll get a link to download all eight individual scores and recordings, which will allow you to perform the piece in any way you like. If you’d like an Ableton Live session with my MIDI and pre-recorded tracks already loaded, I can send you that also.

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You can also read a short take on “being a girl” in the second paragraph of this blog post from The River Project.

Miranda’s Kiss

Miranda is a signing chimpanzee James Merrill meets early on in his visionary trilogy, The Changing Light at Sandover.

Miranda’s Kiss is both a programmatic piece describing their meeting (Miranda’s exuberant but hesitant approach, and their kiss, which like most first kisses, wavers between concentrating on the experience itself and one’s excitedly nervous awareness: Yes! I am (finally) kissing her!) and also an evocation of Merrill’s merging of two worlds:

Between one floating realm unseen powers rule
(Rod upon mild silver rod, like meter
Broken in fleet cahoots with subject matter)
And one we feel is ours, and call the real,

The flat distinction of Miranda’s kiss
Floods both. No longer, as in bad old pre-
Ephraim days, do I naively pray
For the remission of their synthesis.

Miranda’s Kiss was written for and premiered by Tony de Mare. It was begun at the Leighton Artist Colony in Banff, Alberta and completed in New York City.

Miranda’s Kiss is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to Thomas Feng’s 2019 live recording of the piece by visiting April 1st.

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Here is my hand-copied score of the piece in pdf format. My friend and colleague Thomas Feng has engraved the piece; you can have a copy of that more elegant — if less idiosyncratic — version by clicking the link below.

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

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Lament

Lament was originally written for a production of Terry O’Reilly’s play, Animal Magnetism, directed by Lee Breuer. The piece was originally played on an abandoned, very out-of-tune piano. If you have access to one of those, it would be great to use it.

It is possible for an actor to perform a text in conjunction with the music, as it was performed in the original production. If you find a new text that you wish to perform in counterpoint to a performance of this piece, please let me know what you have in mind.

Lament is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. Please visit March 30th to hear a new recording made for a 2018 tour of the production to China.

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You can purchase the performing version for bass clarinet and piano via the paypal button below. If you would like a transposition that works for another instrument, just let me know your needs.

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

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Machaut in the Machine Age I: Douce dame jolie

Machaut in the Machine Age I: Douce dame jolie is the first of a series of pieces that use the music of Machaut as a jumping-off point for various juxtapositions of his art with mine. This one was originally written in 1986 for Daniel Druckman (percussion) and Alan Feinberg (piano) as an opener for their duo recitals.

The Tisch School of the Arts commissioned an arrangement of the piece for flute, Bb clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and percussion in 1990 so that choreographer Monica Levy could use it for a dance work.

Machaut in the Machine Age I: Douce dame jolie is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to the ensemble version by visiting March 17th.

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Currently there are three versions of the piece available, the original duo for piano and pitched percussion; a trio version for toy piano and piano with percussion (one player on vibes and glockenspiel), and the chamber ensemble version.

When you order the performance materials by clicking the button below, please let me know which version you need. The instrumentation can be changed beyond the three versions above, so talk to me if you have specific needs for your ensemble.

Thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing!

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Spherical Music

Spherical Music was written in 1985 as part of an electronic piece called The Garden of Cyrus. (A recording of that piece is available on my CD Overstepping.) At the time, I made a version for twelve marimbas which Daniel Druckman recorded and performed with eleven parts on tape. In 1998, Danny called and asked me to make a version for twelve players on six marimbas. I made substantial revisions in the orchestration for this version, and I think it’s beginning to approach what I was hoping for it to be in the first place: an algorithmic music where the rule-based events feel like more than mere arithmetic, where they become a kind of magic numerology.

There’s a quotation from the Divine Comedy that embodies what I was aiming for when I wrote the piece:

E come l’alma dentro a vostra polve
per differenti membra e conformate
a diverse potenze si resolve,
così l’intelligenza sua bontate
mulitiplicata per le stelle spiega,
girando sè sovra sua unitate.
Dante, Paradiso II: 133-138

And as the soul within your mortal clay
is spread through different organs, each of which
is shaped to its own end; in the same way
the high angelic Intelligence spreads its goodness
diversified through all the many stars
while yet revolving ever in its Oneness.
John Ciardi’s translation

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In addition to the original electronic version available on Overstepping, Jane Boxall’s solo marimba version of the piece is available here. Al Cerulo’s brand new multiple instrument arrangement and recording is posted as part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can listen to it by visiting March 3rd.

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Here’s the score of the 1998 twelve players on six marimbas version. When you purchase the materials through Paypal below, you will receive all the materials necessary to perform the piece.

If you want to do a solo version, you will first want to record all twelve parts and then mute the parts you want to play live. Here’s one possible solo version of the piece. However, once you’ve spent the time recording all twelve parts yourself, you are likely to have your own favorite path through the piece, so I encourage you to make your own solo performance version. If you want the score in Finale, XML, or MIDI format to make editing your own version easier, please request it when you order the materials.

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

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Michael’s Spoon

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

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

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

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

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

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I’m worried now but I won’t be worried long

I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long is a piece for violin and electronics that starts from a recording I made of leaky pipes in a bathroom at the Beijing Conservatory and incorporates melodic material from a traditional Armenian song called Tsirani Tsar (Apricot Tree.) The title comes from a line in Down the Dirt Road Blues by Charley Patton. The piece was written for Mary Rowell and is dedicated to her with vast affection.

I’m worried now, but I won’t be worried long is September 6th in A Book of Days.

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• here is the score

• here is the solo violin part

If you are interested in performing the piece, please order the necessary performing materials below. You are welcome to arrange the piece for other instruments, and for additional live performers on the other lines. Let me know what you need, and we can make it work.

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

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13one

13one was written for the trombonist Will Lang. He asked for a thirteen-note piece that could be played solo or in conjunction with other thirteen-note pieces. I decided to make my piece an homage to John Cage on his 100th birthday.

You are welcome to play the version I cast for Will for the premiere, which is in the downloadable score you will find below. Each of the thirteen notes should be played for the duration of one breath at a generally quiet dynamic. The thirteen notes do not need to be played evenly: let your breath determine the duration of each note. Also, if a particular hexagram speaks to your condition, feel free to milk it.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO MAKE YOUR OWN VERSION OF 13one:

Cast the I Ching using whatever method you prefer. (There is of course an app for this.) Use the chart you will find in the score to translate each resulting hexagram into a note. If the hexagram you cast has changing lines, the next note should be the one associated with the hexagram that results when you change the lines. If your cast for the thirteenth note gives you a hexagram with changing lines, you can

  1. sing the note of the original hexagram while playing the note of the changed version (or vice versa)
  2. vividly imagine the changed version’s note after you finish playing the thirteen written notes
  3. sing the note to yourself at some later time
  4. use it as the first note of your next performance of the piece
  5. invent your own use for the extra note

If you wish, you can play the piece into a very long delay a la Brian Eno. Set the delay to be longer than the duration of any individual note you are likely to play. Depending on the regen you set, the delay can end up keeping all thirteen notes in play, with a fadeout to nothingness as the delays gradually dissipate. A standard delay pedal is not likely to be long enough for this purpose: you will probably need a computer. I have made a Max for Live patch that implements a long delay (up to 13 seconds), which I am happy to send you when you order the performance materials.

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

13one is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can listen to Matthew Petty’s live performance with the long delay by visiting September 5th.

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

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

For a score of the piece, please click the Paypal button below, and thank you for supporting this very low-key way of publishing:

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All Ways

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

You don’t know you don’t always

I was right about that.

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

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

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

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Do Not Be Concerned

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

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

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

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

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

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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.

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

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Not Worth

Not Worth was commissioned by the New York City ensemble Sequitur for an evening of cabaret songs based on the theme of money. I chose and adapted a text from the Analects (Lun Yu 4.5) of Confucius.

Riches and glory,
everyone loves riches and glory.
But if you can’t get them the right way
They’re not worth winning.

Poverty and obscurity,
everyone hates poverty and obscurity.
But if you can’t get rid of them the right way
They’re not worth losing.

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Not Worth has been recorded by Sequitur with Kristin Norderval singing; the disk is called To Have and To Hold and you can buy it here.

Not Worth is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear Karol Bennett’s excellent live performance by going to February 3rd.

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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.

For a full set of performing materials, you are warmly invited to support this very low-key way of publishing:

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the bus driver didn’t change his mind

02.11.02

Hi Bus Driver Visitors:

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

Character

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eve Beglarian

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

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

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

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

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Lullaby

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

The text is a poem by Janet Lewis.

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

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

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

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

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Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast was commissioned by Mary Sharp Cronson for an evening celebrating the poet Stanley Kunitz. I chose his poem of the same name, which I think is a small, brutal masterpiece. I asked my mother, who I was caring for at the time, to draw me a picture of a robin. The drawing above is what she made for me.

It was the dingiest bird
you ever saw, all the color
washed from him, as if
he had been standing in the rain,
friendless and stiff and cold,
since Eden went wrong.
In the house marked For Sale,
where nobody made a sound
in the room where I lived
with an empty page, I had heard
the squawking of the jays
under the wild persimmons
tormenting him.
So I scooped him up
after they knocked him down,
in league with that ounce of heart
pounding in my palm
that dumb beak gaping.
Poor thing! Poor foolish life!
without sense enough to stop
running in desperate circles,
needing my lucky help
to toss him back into his element.
But when I held him high,
fear clutched my hand,
for through the hole in his head,
cut whistle-clean . . .
through the old dried wound
between his eyes
where the hunter’s brand
had tunneled out his wit . . .
I caught the cold flash of the blue
unappeasable sky.

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The piece has been recorded by Corey Dargel and Margaret Lancaster and is available on my CD Tell the Birds.

Robin Redbreast is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear a recording of the piece by Margaret Lancaster and me by visiting March 27th.
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Here is a score of the piece in pdf format. To purchase the pre-recorded track for live performance of the piece, please click on the paypal button below:

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