2010-Summing up

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light;
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

 ~ Tennyson

2010 is less than two hours from being over, and it feels like a good time to look back, as I’ve done in previous years. Let’s see how I did.

Compositions finished: one.

Actually more like half of one, since the first movement and half of the third movement of the Trio had been finished by the end of 2009. So in 2010, I finished the third movement and wrote all of the second. The trio was wrapped up on May 11.

And that was the only composition I did. But it was a pretty substantial amount of work!

Arrangements finished: well, a lot, and I seem to have lost count. Let’s see…

  • Three Cole Porter arrangements for organ and orchestra, written for Cameron Carpenter and the Carmel Symphony
  • A huge arrangement of The Star Spangled Banner for large orchestra (with extra brass and an organ!), with mixed chorus, again for the Carmel Symphony.
  • Home For The Holidays, a jazzy arrangement for voice and orchestra, performed by the Terre Haute Symphony Orchestra, Columbus Indiana Philharmonic, and Carmel Symphony.
  • Some Children See Him, ditto.
  • Oseh Shalom orchestrated for Columbus Indiana Philharmonic.
  • Third movement of the Gurewich Saxophone Concerto, transcribed for saxophone and band, for Scotty Stepp.
  • Benediction de Dieu Dans La Solitude by Franz Liszt, transcribed for two pianos.
  • Most of Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat transcribed for string quartet (not yet finished, actually, so I probably shouldn’t list it yet.
  • Several small arrangements for string quartet, which I’ve been doing in a pretty halfhazard fashion for several months. They’re pretty disorganized right now, so I’m not actually sure how many I’ve done. Perhaps in the coming year I can be a little more systematic about it.
  • A new edition of Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, based on Leon Jessel’s original orchestration, expanded for full orchestra.

And that was a look back at the past year, on the last day of 2010. Tomorrow, the first day of the new year, I’ll have a bit to say about what I hope to accomplish. Till then, Happy New Year to all, and may the coming year be better than the last.

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Trio premiere scheduled

I’ve learned that Trio for clarinet, bassoon, and piano will be premiered on April 13, 2011, in London, Ontario. TriofuS, the group that commissioned it, will be performing.

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You pay your singers?

Several months ago, while trolling the web in search of diversion, I happened to come across a link to Xtranormal, a fun little site offering users the ability to make computer-generated animated videos in a text-based browser. It’s a program with some maddening limitations; voices are computer-generated, so of course there’s no way to inject expressivity or nuance; the actions characters can perform are almost non-existant, as is your ability to create characters or backgrounds. It was fun for a while, and I stuck with it long enough to realize a Monty Python sketch, but after that I lost interest and forgot about the whole thing.

A few days ago, a post in Alex Ross’ blog, The Rest Is Noise, informed his readers of an animated video by the a cappella vocal ensemble Octarium, a satirical piece about the frustrations faced by arts organizations trying to justify their need to raise funds from a public that seems more interested in overpriced coffe drinks. I recognized the Xtranormal style, so I watched it. Now you can, too.

Here another video, dealing with a similar subject from another point of view. (This one is a tiny bit NSFW, so be warned.)

And in case you’re curious, here’s my Monty Python video.

Yes, I know, it’s terrible. You’ll probably find the original a lot funnier (John Cleese and Michal Palin are hard to beat).

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December 2010

Since I’ve started this blog way back when, I’ve tried to make it a regular thing to post monthly updates, status reports as it were, on my current projects.

This particular update is a bit unusual because, 1: it’s on time, and 2: there’s really nothing to report.

That’s right. A couple of days ago, the last one of my stack of arranging projects went out into the world. And even though I’m about to become a composer again after several months as an arranger, and even though I have a big fat commission that needs to get underway soon, I haven’t actually started anything yet.

So, for the moment, there’s absolutely nothing on my desk. Which hardly ever happens.

For now, I’m just going to take a short break. But, knowing me, I won’t be able to stay away for long. Some ideas are already percolating, for the piano/percussio piece and several other, smaller pieces. So once I get back to work, I’ll post again.

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Some good news

I may have already mentioned that there was the possibility of a commission for a work for two pianos and percussion. I’m happy to report that the possibility has become a reality. Funding has been approved, and I’ll be starting on it as soon as possible.

Some details are yet to be determined, such as the date of the premiere (probably next fall sometime). But the commission calls for a major work, approximately 20 minutes in duration, to be performed and ultimately recorded by Cramped Spaces. I’m delighted for this opportunity, and can’t wait to get started.

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Early November mini-update

Just a small update this time since relatively little time has passed since the last one.

Anyway, all the arrangements for this year’s round of Christmas concerts are finally done, so I can finally get The Star Spangled Banner and the Gurewich Concerto back on the table and put the finishing touches on. Then I’ll finally be done with arrangements for a while! I’m looking forward to being able to get back to composing.

Speaking of which, the paperwork has been submitted to get funding for the commission for the piece for two pianos and percussion. I have a few ideas circulating, but nothing written down just yet. I expect I’ll finally have time to seriously work on it in a week or two.

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Late October 2010

Wow. There’s been so much on my mind lately that I’ve completely forgotten about updating my blog! (I really don’t know how those people who blog every day manage to do it!)

Anyway, in my late August update, I mentioned that The Star Spangled Banner was back on the top of the pile, but shortly after I posted that, it had to go back on the bottom. A few weeks ago, I was reminded that I had agreed to do some arrangements for upcoming Christmas concerts, and hadn’t yet gotten started. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten, it’s just that I’m not one of those people who starts thinking about Christmas months ahead of time. (I’m actully a bit of a curmudgeon  about it by now. Frankly, I’d be happy to not have to think about it at all!)

Well, I had managed to make a good start on the orchestral score of Star Spangled Banner, so when I get back to it, I don’t think it will take too long to finish. Meanwhile, in the past few weeks, I’ve been able to finish an arrangement of Some Children See Him (link will go to a YouTube video of Tennessee Ernie Ford singing it). AlsoI just finished a draft of Home For The Holidays, which I’m in the middle of orchestrating. I may have more to say about that later; it’s turning out to be more interesting than I expected. Next up will be to orchestrate someone else’s arrangement of Oseh Shalom; I haven’t started that yet, in fact I’ve barely looked at it, but it doesn’t look too complicated.

So, all this should be done in a week or two. Then, back to Star Spangled Banner, and the transcription of the Gurewich Saxophone Concerto. Then, all the arranging will be done, and I can get back to composing! I already have plans for some compositions, which I’ll talk about at the appropriate time.

In addition to the above, I’ve been working on a new version of my Christmas medley, Sing In Exultation! The new version is pretty much the same as before, except that I’ve reorchestrated a passage that never sounded right to me. The score and parts got sent to the printers on Friday, and I expect them to arrive this week (they almost always turn things around quickly).

So, I think that’s everything for now. And now, rest.

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A late August update

The Cole Porter arangements for Cameron Carpenter and the Carmel Symphony are finished, score and parts have been sent in, and (most importantly) I’ve gotten paid for them.

My main project now is the Star Spangled Banner, which I mentioned a few posts back, but had to put aside for a while due to the urgency of the Cole Porter arrangements. Now it’s back on the top of the pile, and has an urgency of its own. I’m supposed to have a choral score ready this week, so they can start recruiting and rehearsing the chorus. So my main focus is on that; so far there isn’t much down for the orchestral parts. For example, I still have no idea how the arrangement is going to begin or end, apart from the fact that these sections will be orchestral only (no chorus). It’s the exact opposite of the way I usually work, which is to get the beginning and ending down first. But I suppose, to be successful, we must learn to adapt our working habits to the situation at hand.

Once that’s done, other projects are in line to follow. Plus I’m trying to get a promotional postcard out to orchestras this week, and update the Swan’s Wing Press website to include online ordering (if I can figure out how it works!).

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Generation After Generation

Some random net-surfing a few weeks ago brought me to Pharyngula, a blog by Dr. P. Z. Myers consisting mainly of “random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal.” Most of the blog deals with evolution and anti-creationism and related subjects, which isn’t really my area of expertise. So I was kind of surprised when Dr. Myers veered unexpectedly into modern art music in this post here. But, of course, the piece in question bears directly on his area of interest.

The piece in question is called Generation After Generation by Australian composer Rob Davidson. It’s a “speech-melody” piece, in which he took recorded speech, transcribed it into musical notation, and wrote an ensemble piece incorporating the original speech treated as an instrument in the ensemble. Cool stuff, which has to be heard to be believed.

The speech in this case is from Ken Ham, creationist and perpetrator of the Creation Museum, and apparently Pharyngula’s arch nemisis, or one of them.

Listen to it below:


I enjoyed it tremendously, but I was a little nonplussed when I read some of the responses to Myers’ original post. A few people got it, but a surprising number missed the point entirely, even though it seemed painfully obvious to me. Typical comments:
Is this what we’ve been building up to here? Getting us to listen to Ham’s nonsense by accompanying it with cheesy music?
The song itself it’s an abomination, musically and content-wise. This should have never been created.
I lasted a whole ten seconds before turning it off!

The people who participate in Pharyngula seem to be mostly pretty intelligent and scientifically literate. I suppose it would be too much to expect them to be musically sophisticated as well.

The last response in the thread (as of today) is actually by the composer, but I guess he got wind of it too late. By the time he wrote in, everybody else had lost interest and moved on. Sad. But at least Rob Davidson got one more fan out of it! I hope to hear more of his music one day.

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August 2010 update

Little new to report. All my attention has been on the Cole Porter arrangements for Cameron Carpenter. Anything Goes and So In Love are finished. I have just started Let’s Misbehave for the third time, finding it difficult to get right. Deadline is looming, so this has to be done soon.

Other than that, I seem to be lacking ideas just now. I hope this will change soon.

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July 2010 update

For some reason, posting my monthly update just completely slipped my mind till now. I’m probably thinking too much, or maybe it’s advancing age. I am turning 50 next week after all!

Oh, let’s see…I am working on many things, but it seems I’ve been working kind of halfhazardly recently. So many projects on the table, I’m tending to work on stuff whenever it occurs to me to do so, I’m not really being very organized about it. But still, I’m working fairly often, since it’s Summer and my schedule’s pretty light. So…

I have several things that can be considered top priority. As I mentioned last month, I’ve been asked to arrange several pieces for the Carmel Symphony. Cameron Carpenter will be performing with them again this October and I’m arranging a set of Cole Porter songs for the concert. Anything Goes is just about finished except for some details. Next up will be So In Love, then Let’s Misbehave. (I’m actually working on them in the opposite order that they’ll be performed).

In February, the Carmel Symphony will be moving into The Palladium, a new, state-of-the-art performing arts center. For the occasion, I’ve been asked to do a special arrangement of “The Star Spangled Banner.” This won’t be your usual arrangement. For once, I’m arranging the whole song. It’s odd that you never hear anything except the first verse. For me, the song doesn’t make any sense unless you hear all four verses (well, actually, I could live without the third). So I’m happy to try to rectify the situation in a small way. The arrangement will include a 250-voice professional chorus, and extra brass, so just color me happy! This isn’t a chance that comes along every day!

Other stuff; I’m trying to get a choral piece started. The Sycamore Singers suggested something with a Christmas theme, but I’m sick of Christmas music, so instead I’m looking for some poems on a more generally Winter-oriented theme. Today I sketched out a few ideas for a setting of Witter Bynners The Wintry Mind, and am also considering other poems by Bynner and Robert Frost. But nothing definite yet on that front.

Despite being sick of Christmas music, I’m trying to get a couple of new titles ready in time for the Christmas season. One is the arrangement of Carol of the Birds that I did a few years ago for 10 solo strings, and am now adapting for string orchestra. Also, a new engraved edition of Leon Jessel’s Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, which is actually finished except for a program note at the beginning. Hopefully both will go to the printer soon.

I’ve been looking at Strings In The Earth And Air from time to time. With everything else that’s going on there’s been no time to work on it, but I really want to finish it soon.

My a capella arrangement of Back Home In Indiana got back from the printer a few days ago. Need to send out a letter about it soon.

And other things as well. Like I said, too much to remember.

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June 2010 update (a day early for once)

Since I finished the Trio last month, I admit I was looking forward to being able to relax without any deadlines for a while. Well, that didn’t last very long.

I’ve been asked to write a work for 2 pianos and percussion, for Cramped Spaces, an ensemble made up of ISU people. While I’ve been mulling over a few ideas, I haven’t started anything yet. But since they want to perform it next spring, I have to start soon.

Also, the Sycamore Singers, one of ISU’s choral groups, wants me to write something for them to sing in the Fall. I believe I mentioned that last month. Again, I’m thinking about various possiblities, but haven’t started on anything yet.

Actually, my main composition project for the past month or so is a return to Strings In the Earth and Air, for tenor voice, viola, and piano. I’d sketched most of this last year before putting it aside. After finishing the trio, I got this out again and started working on it. It seems now that I need to re-do parts of it before I can work on the finale score. But I’ll get it done one of these days.

Since May 20, I’ve been working on a transcription of Liszt’s Benediction de Dieu Dans La Solitude, transforming it from a piece for solo piano to a piano duet. Beverly Sims, a friend from ISU and a colleague of Martha’s in Cramped Spaces, requested this. As of now, a draft is finished. I want Bev and Martha to read through it as part of the proofreading process, then there’ll be a lot of polishing and layout to finalize, but the hard part is done.

Coming up, another set of arrangements for organ and orchestra, for Cameron Carpenter and the Carmel Symphony Orchestra again (I guess they liked what I did last year). This year it looks like they want a set of Cole Porter songs. This will need to be done in time for a November performance, so once I find out what songs they want, I’ll have to start right away.

There are a few other possible projects as well, but since there’s nothing definite to report, I’ll hold off for now.

Suddenly there’s too much stuff to keep track of, but I guess there are worse problems to have.

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