Wherein I’m temporarily famous

I’m just going to accept that I’m the world’s worst blogger and stop worrying about it.

Meanwhile: My arrangement of The Star-Spangled Banner is being broadcast today on NPR’s Performance Today.

Happy Fourth of July!

EDIT: Just in case anyone found their way to this page looking for information, program notes, preview score, ordering information, and whatnot, here’s a good place to look.

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Composing is weird, part 1

I must admit that so far I’m doing a poor job of following my New Year’s resolution. Time to try harder. Here’s a little observation from my creative life.

So my main project at the moment is a fairly large piece for chorus and orchestra (which I’ll have more to say about later). As it stands, all the work I’ve done is on various sections in the middle of the piece. Even though I have a pretty clear idea of what I want the beginning and end to sound like, so far it’s been difficult to nail it down, so I’ve been putting them off.

A couple of days ago, I had the rare luxury of an afternoon at home with nothing to distract me, so I made up my mind to try to make some headway on the opening section of the work. But after several hours of concentrated writing, crossing out, and rewriting, I just didn’t get anywhere, so I gave it up for the time being.

Yesterday I was busy with several things, but the piece was still on my mind. I thought about it casually whenever I had a few free moments between the other things, and I easily figured out a big piece of the puzzle, namely the first choral entrance, which I kept in mind until I got home and wrote it down.

This happens all the time!

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Last year

OK, so I’m off to a bad start on my New Year’s resolution. No blog article last week, despite good intentions, so I’ll have to resolve again to blog more often. Here’s something for the second week of the year.

Since it was my habit in the past to end a year by summarizing it, I shall make that today’s topic.

Compositionally, it was another dud year, though I started off 2015 with hopes of making it a year of focusing on composition. Only one piece was finished, though, and even that isn’t technically finished as I have been doing some revising and polishing of it over the past week or so, and plan to do a bit more before I’m done. But I actually wrote quite a bit more than that; it’s just that most of what was written ended up being withdrawn or unfinished.

Let me start by listing some of the unfinished work. Early in the year I finished a draft of a piece for viola and percussion quartet, but it never made it into being finalized. Even though there was some good stuff in it, it didn’t seem to me that it worked well for the instrumentation I chose, and I’m not sure I can articulate the reason. Also, even though it was written with the intention that it be a standalone piece, on reflection it didn’t satisfy in that form, but needed to be a movement in some kind of suite yet to be determined. For those reasons (plus the fact that there’s no particular urgency that I finish it since it was not a commissioned piece), I decided to let it sit idle for a while until I have leisure to figure out exactly what kind of piece it is.

There was also another uncommissioned piece that never got very far. This started with the idea of doing something in variation form; I haven’t done this in quite a long time and for some reason the idea just intrigued me. So I spent a week or so working up a theme for clarinet, violin, and piano, and managed to sketch a couple of variations before inspiration flagged. Again, with no deadline to meet, there seemed to be no necessity that the piece continue, but it’s something I may return to later.

There were a few other little things too, but the only piece that managed to get finished was a 10-minute work for bass clarinet (with low C) and electronic media written for Kelly Rogers Niiyama, my colleague at ISU, with the title Dark Flow. At some point soon I’m going to have to work up a program note explaining that title, but I don’t want to take the time just now, so for the time being here is a Wikipedia article explaining the phenomenon. Or if you prefer, here is an xkcd cartoon.

I’ll say more about Dark Flow later, maybe in my next article. But it’s late and I’m tired so it can keep for a little while.

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A not-too-difficult resolution, I hope

As there is now less than an hour left in 2015, I note with some chagrin that this blog post, the one I’m typing now, is my only blog post this year!

I know, I know. This has been a problem for a long time. In fact, I’ve often complained about posting so rarely, and I always promise to do something about it. But nothing ever happens, and the posting rate only gets worse. Clearly something has to be done.

Something like a New Year’s Resolution, perhaps?

To be honest, I’ve never put much stock in the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. I understand the impulse, but it seems that such resolutions are rarely kept, and I don’t usually bother with them. (Sometimes I’ll resolve to drink more, gain weight, and not start smoking, which are resolutions I’m actually pretty good at keeping!)

But, I don’t know; it seems like I should really make myself blog on a regular basis, or just give up on it entirely. So maybe a resolution would actually be appropriate here.

How often, though? Everyone says you should set realistic goals, so resolving to blog every day is probably not ideal. Blogging once a month, though, hardly seems worth the bother. A weekly blog post seems the most feasible.

So here’s my resolution for 2016; to write a minimum of one post a week, on any topic that’s on my mind at the moment. Surely I can manage that–there are things on my mind from time to time!

So farewell 2015, and hello 2016. May this year be the bloggiest of all.


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2014 in review (and a new piece, sort of)

Happy New Year!

Today, on the last day of 2014 I feel like looking back over the past year, something I used to do regularly but haven’t for a while. I’m not entirely sure why I’m doing it now, because compositionally speaking, 2014 was pretty much a dud year. I only finished two pieces; Intrada for wind orchestra, and a piece for two marimbas which I finished early in November but never mentioned here because of blogging lethargy.

So I’ll take the time to mention it now; the piece is called A Sudden Wind, and was written for my former student Kyle Lutes and his friend who I haven’t met yet. It is basically a rewrite of an earlier piece, so it may not count as a new composition, but since I recomposed large stretches of it, I am going to add it to the canon. Perhaps I’ll have more to say about it later.

But yeah, that was basically it, apart from a couple of other projects that never went anywhere.

I have not been idle. I’ve been doing many arranging and transcription projects, and also editing earlier pieces that really needed it. Also trying to get my new store website (Imperfect Consonance) up and running, which it is, but still there is work to be done here. So there has actually been a lot of activity here. Let me try to list it:

  • I got interested in doing arrangements for viola ensemble recently, after the experience of attending the International Viola Congress in Rochester NY back in 2012, and hearing several outstanding performances. It took a couple of years for me to get around to it, but this year I managed to crank out several arrangements for viola quartet. Most of them are now up at the IC site. There will be a few more arrangements, and looking forward I’d like to do a couple of original pieces before I’m done.
  • I am just putting the finishing touches on something that has been an ongoing back-burner project for over six years (and had been at the back of my mind for at least twenty years before that). Very soon I will be able to release my arrangement of five movements from Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat for string quartet. It’s basically done, but a few rough edges need to be smoothed out and parts need to be prepared, which always takes longer than you think it’s going to.
  • Swan’s Wing Press, my old imprint, is still on the web but will be retired forever, hopefully by summer. I want everything to be updated and ready at Imperfect Consonance before I make the switch, a process which is still ongoing and (like everything else) is taking longer than I expected.
  • Several pieces have been edited and engraved to as near perfection as I can manage, including my arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner and my re-orchestration of Strauss’s Festival Prelude, both pretty large projects.

So that’s my look back. Tomorrow, being the first day of 2015, I’ll try looking forward.

Meanwhile, and completely apropos of nothing, I have learned that in Denmark it is traditional to jump off a chair or something just as the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve, so that you aren’t touching the ground as the year changes. Doubtless this makes sense to Danes.

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Rebranding: Introducing “Imperfect Consonance”

Since finishing Intrada a few months back I haven’t done any serious composing. I do feel somewhat guilty about it, but since nobody is asking me for new music at the moment, it seems an opportune time to try to get caught up on some other business, various projects which have had to be on the back burner for too long, and which really need to get finished at some point.

Chief among which: I am unveiling my new imprint, “Imperfect Consonance.” Imperfect Consonance-01

Yes, I’m rebranding. My old imprint, “Swan’s Wing Press,” is still operational, but I’m gradually moving everything over to the new site, and the old site will eventually be retired (actually, I’ll probably leave it up for a while, but only so it can redirect people to the new site). There are numerous reasons for the change, which I’ll explain in FAQ form because I feel like it.

Swan’s Wing Press has existed for almost twenty years. Why the change now?

Honestly, I’m just not happy with the name. At the time I started it, it made a certain amount of sense to me, but it became clear that the name was causing problems since it has no obvious connection to me or what I do. I’ve wanted to change it for a long time, but have been reluctant to do so because Swan’s Wing Press, for better or worse, is out there already and has been my primary point of contact with clients and customers.

Another reason I haven’t changed for so long is that I couldn’t come up with anything I liked better. But then, sometime last year, I noticed that I already had a better name for this blog; “Imperfect Consonance” seemed like it would be better as a name for a publishing imprint, so not long after I realized that, the wheels were set in motion.

That created a different problem; could I still use “Imperfect Consonance” as the title of my blog as well? I did for a while, but was worried about it being confusing. Then recently I remembered a discussion I’d had in grad school, where some friends and I were trying to decide what to call our autobiographies when we write them; “Difficult Resolutions,” a reference to Beethoven’s last string quartet, was what I came up with. I have no plans to write an autobiography, ever, but since it’s a shame to let a good title go to waste, I’ll just use it here and try to make sense of it later.

How did you come up with the name Swan’s Wing Press in the first place?

Mainly because I just didn’t think it through very well.

In my late twenties, I decided I wanted to write my first symphony. It was not really an advisable thing to do; I wanted to write a long, complex piece for large orchestra with tenor solo, even though the piece had pretty much zero chance of being performed. It was a foolish undertaking, but I did it anyway, and I don’t really regret it.

The symphony was a 30 minute setting of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem A Flight of Swans (I’d link to it, but I can’t seem to find the poem online, though there are several places to purchase the book). Over the course of a year or so, I finished two drafts of it, but abandoned efforts to come up with a final score. The drafts were enough; I never expected or wanted to get a performance, so any effort spent on a final score was basically wasted time. So I left it behind and turned my attention to more sensible projects.

I was starting up my publishing imprint about the time I was leaving the symphony behind. Calling my company Swan’s Wing Press just seemed like a reasonable thing to do. Like I said, I didn’t think it through.

What will be different about Imperfect Consonance?

Besides the name, not a great deal. For the most part, pieces that were released in Swan’s Wing Press will be exactly the same in Imperfect Consonance, except for being updated to include the new name and logo.

One hopefully useful feature of the new site will be that I am exploring options to make more material available for online preview. For example, the printed music will be able to be viewed online as an animated book (via Flipbuilder). When I have a usable recording of the piece, I’ll make that available to hear, as well.

The major difference will be that I’m trying to move more of the business end of things online. For example, most of the music I will have for sale will be handled through J. W. Pepper’s My Score Store. Clicking the appropriate link at Imperfect Consonance will take you directly to my site at J. W. Pepper, where you can complete the ordering process; they will then handle all the printing, shipping, and payment details. Less work for me, in other words.

I will still handle rentals and shipment of performance material myself.

And there you have it. Imperfect Consonance is up and running, but as of now still has a great deal of work to be done. Much of my older music still needs to be updated. As usual, the job is turning out to be more complex and time consuming than I thought, but it has been something I’ve been wanting to do for years and I’m glad it’s finally a thing.

Hopefully others will agree!

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New piece; “Intrada” for wind orchestra

Last week I finished “Intrada,” my first original band piece. I’m actually referring to it as a composition for “wind orchestra,” more of a hifalutin’ term for band. It’s in the capable hands of Roby George and the ISU Wind Symphony, who will begin rehearsing it this week in preparation for a March 6 premiere.

Writing for orchestra comes pretty naturally for me, but I’ve always found it difficult to write for band. There are a couple of possible reasons for this:

  • I’m a violist who has spent most of my life playing in orchestras of one kind or another; although I played clarinet for a year in 6th grade, I’ve never really been a member of a band.
  • It was orchestral music that first caught my interest and drew me into the field. My parents’ record collection included a great deal of orchestra music, but except for a record of Sousa marches, I don’t remember any band music in their collection.

I didn’t grow up listening to or performing band music, so it isn’t in my conciousness the way orchestra music is. Consequently I’ve always found it difficult to imagine large ensemble music without strings. Still, for a long time I’ve thought it was important to have some band (excuse me; “wind orchestra”) music in my catalogue, and I can finally say I do.

The term “Intrada” is one that really belongs to a past era. In the 16th and 17th centuries, is was sometimes used generically in the way that we might today refer to a “prelude” or “overture;” more specifically, it referred to a majestic, march-like piece involving fanfares, performed often during state occasions to accompany the entrances of visiting dignitaries. I had no specific purpose in mind while writing my piece, beyond writing something of a majestic, ceremonial character. I hope when the piece is heard, my reasons for reviving the term “Intrada” are apparent.

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Oh, yeah, I have a blog

This has really gotten ridiculous. In a lot of my recent posts I acknowledge that I don’t update the blog often enough, and promise to do better. So what happens? I let over nine months go by without an update. I’m not sure at this point if there’s any point in promising to do better, since I’ve made that promise in the past but the problem has only gotten worse. I’ll keep trying.

A lot has happened in the intervening time, which will probably take several posts to cover. I’ll start by belatedly announcing the release of “New People,” the first CD by the Chiaroscuro Trio, featuring my song cycle The Rain Is Full Of Ghosts. Wonderful performances, not only of my work, but works by Rob Deemer, Michael Colgrass, Jonathan Santore, and Graham Reynolds. Buy it!

As far as creative activities are concerned, I’ve mainly been up do doing Pops arrangements of various things, but I also had time to work on a couple of commissioned pieces. I will briefly note them here and will have more to say about them later.

  • St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church here in Terre Haute commissioned The Baptism of Christ for chorus, oboe, and organ, in memory of Rosemary England.
  • Murmur, a work for electric guitar and marimba, was written for Tim Doyle and Kyle Lutes.

I wrote a couple of uncommissioned short pieces as well. There was a little Prelude for piano which I wrote as part of the Introduction to Composition course I teach in the spring. As part of the class, I usually write a piece from scratch, talking about the progress of the work as it goes, discussing any problems I’m having and how I solve them. I’m still not sure what the piece is a prelude to; perhaps there will be some sort of Piano Suite in the future.

Also added to the work list is an electronic piece, drip. This started with the recorded sound of a dripping faucet, which was processed several times using Paulstretch sound stretching software, then layering and crossfading portions of the processed audio. The effect, to me, is startling; the original sound, generally considered annoying, is transformed into a warm, rich, ambient drone, which I find quite pleasing. Listen here.

More has happened, and additional updates will follow. No, really!

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Viola Concerto–first and second movements

OK, here’s the rest of it. The first movement:

And the second:

Print copies of the piano reduction and solo part will be available soon at my publishing site.

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Viola Concerto; third movement on the interwebs!

Once again, too much time has passed since updating. More than usual, in fact.

But I’ve been busy with various things, including working more on the Viola Concerto. I know, it’s actually been done since last July, but since the premiere, I’ve made a few (mostly minor) revisions, and going through the tedious process of creating a piano reduction, and editing the score and parts for eventual publication. The piano reduction, at least, is nearly ready to go to press–all that’s left is coming up with the title pages and program note–so I thought it was time to start letting the world hear a bit of it.

It has been almost a year since I’ve done one of those score/recording video things, and I’ve been meaning to get back to that for a while now. So here’s the third movement of the Viola Concerto, along with a video of the piano reduction. The first and second movements will follow as soon as I’ve had time to work on them.

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Viola Concerto premiere (with pictures!)

A bit late to be reporting this, I know, but my Viola Concerto was premiered as scheduled on Nov. 3. It seems to have been very well received; at any rate, I’ve heard nothing but positive comments. Logan played beautifully, and got a well deserved standing ovation at the end.

I’ll have audio to post soon. Meanwhile, here are some pictures that were taken during the performance by a THSO board member, Carl Bender.

Logan Strawn, soloist for the concerto, talks before the concert starts.

I also addressed the audience at a short talk before the concert started.

David Bowden, introduces the concerto from the podium. I’m sitting in the principal viola chair, Logan’s usual place.

Logan in the spotlight, me behind him.

Mutual congratulations.

Soloist and composer take their bows.

It’s been a busy few months, and there’s a lot to catch up on, but it will have to wait for another post, which will hopefully come soon.

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Performances, recent and upcoming

Six weeks or so since my last update???? I obviously have no business even keeping a blog. Seriously, I shouldn’t even be on the internet at all.

But I’m here now, so let’s see, what has been happening lately?

A few weeks ago, on September 9, my Prelude and Bacchanal was performed at the New York Chamber Music Festival by the Delphinium Trio (Elmira Darvarova, violin; Howard Wall, horn; and Tomoko Kanamaru, piano). Martha and I decided to attend, partly because it was just a good reason to spend a weekend in NYC, which we haven’t seen in something like 15 years. The weather was lovely, and we got to do the whole tourist thing for a couple of days, and capped it off with the performance. It went beautifully, expertly performed by some of New York’s top musicians, and seems to have been well received by the audience (three people asked me to sign their programs, even!). A fine experience, one I hope to repeat.

Coming up: Auspicious Light will be premiered at ISU’s Contemporary Music Festival sometime between October 24-26 (the exact schedule doesn’t seem to have been finalized just yet).

Also, Brittany Mosely, a voice student here at ISU, will be giving her senior recital on October 27, and has decided to include my song cycle The Rain Is Full Of Ghosts. I’ll be playing viola, and Sharry Spicknall will play piano.

And of course, there will be the Viola Concerto premiere on November 3.

Also of interest, perhaps, is a side project of mine. Since this is John Cage’s centennial year, I couldn’t let it go by without some acknowledgement, so I’m organizing a John Cage recital on November 5. Martha and I will be playing a couple of pieces for violin and piano, Martha will play a prepared piano piece and possibly the Suite for Toy Piano. We’ll be joined by some of our colleagues and students in other pieces (more information later). I’ve also been working on a version of Winter Music for virtual pianos, and a MIDI version of Imaginary Landscape no. 4 (which is turning out to be more time consuming than I had expected–hopefully I’ll be able to finish it in time).

No new composing, though. Since finishing the Viola Concerto I’ve had a stack of other projects, mostly arrangements for other people–“nice little earners,” to quote Elgar. So, no plans to attempt any composing for the rest of the year.

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