Archive for December, 2009

Time for me to shut down the leaky plumbing that is this blog for a family vacation.  See you all in 2010.

boys 11-09

Meanwhile, if anyone has a new term for “phone tag” I’m all ear.  The first time someone left me a message saying we were playing phone tag — twenty-five years ago? — it gave me a chuckle.  Now I’m ready for an update.

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Time to start trimming my nose hairs again.

That’s just the beginning.  There’s a bunch of habits I’m going to have to relearn now that my sabbatical has ended.  No more can I just throw on whatever clothes are closest at hand every morning when I get up.

Time to start looking like someone you might want to trust with another person’s education.

I had a long list of things I wanted to focus on during this sabbatical, but personal hygiene wasn’t one of them.  I was more concerned with spending every available second in my studio, drilling away at the bedrock in which four intractable compositions lay.

Now I have a shift in focus coming.  Fortunately, I have a holiday up next, to ease the transition from sabbatical to Job with a capital J.

Come January, I’ll probably stumble a few times over the unfamiliar rhythms of teaching, make my share of faux pas at faculty meetings, and get my car ticketed for parking in newly forbidden locations.  But it will be great to see my students and my colleagues again, and to find out what they’ve all been up to in my absence.

Now where did I put those nail clippers?

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When you write a piece for orchestra in three movements, you can differentiate the scoring for each movement in obvious and subtle ways.  For example, an obvious differentiation would be having one movement use just the strings, while the rest of the orchestra is tacet.  A more subtle example: the second oboe may have a crucial part to play in one movement, but only two notes in another.

One of the challenges I’ve set myself by writing a trilogy of related orchestra pieces, as opposed to a single piece in three movements, is that I don’t have the luxury of some of these subtle distinctions.  If each of the pieces is meant to be able to stand on its own, then I can’t have the second oboe play just two notes in one of them.  Doing so would annoy both the oboist and the orchestra that has to pay a musician to sit in silence for 99.999% of the piece.

It’s an interesting problem, because the reason I chose to write a trilogy of related pieces as opposed to a single piece in three movements is because I didn’t want any of the three pieces to be beholden to the other two in order to make sense.  I had three distinct things I wanted to say. Yet, here I am, worrying about the second oboe part in the second piece because of the way it is used in the first and third pieces.

Not complaining, though.  The reason this project is posing this kind of difficulty is because I wanted to try something different.  With six weeks to go, and with my sabbatical ending tomorrow, I can honestly say I’m not short of unfamiliar challenges.  On the contrary, pretty much every hour of the day has me scratching a part of my head I didn’t know existed.  In any case, here’s the way the three pieces are laid out at this point:

Schumann Trilogy

I. Fantasiestücke/Albtraumstücke







Recessional – Disintegration

II. Cool Night

III. Genealogie

Who’s to say if that’s the way it will be six weeks from now?  I sure don’t know.

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Glad to read Frank Oteri’s interview with Roger Reynoldsroger in this month’s newmusicbox.  I was a big fan of Reynolds in the late 1970s.  Directed/conducted several performances of his 1960s musico-theater piece The Emperor of Ice Cream.  Spent outrageous numbers of hours listening to my recordings of Ping, Traces and Quick Are the Mouths of Earth. Read his first book, Mind Models, twice as a teenager, back to back.

Then I moved to New York (from Connecticut) and learned the lesson that many young composers learn there – that nothing outside the five boroughs mattered anymore.  Reynolds was not a presence on the NYC scene, and I quickly lost touch with his work.

Probably just as well.  It was around that time that I began to realize that spatial music didn’t have much resonance for me – no pun intended – and spatial deployment had been an ongoing concern in Reynolds’ work.  It was a good time for me to discover other influences.

But I’ve never stopped admiring RR’s intelligence and imagination.  Good to be reminded of how much that meant to me in those formative years.

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Last night I dreamt that my four-year-old son and I had to get some minor brain surgery done.  Who do you suppose the surgeon was?  Judy Sherman, the engineer on my latest batch of recordings.  The good news was that she was giving us a break on the price, because she liked me.

I was a bit nervous, but I was mostly really upset for my son, who I knew would be terrified.

Fortunately, I woke up before the procedure began, giving me a nice chance to reflect, while familiar shadows flickered across my ceiling, on the confluence between the health care debate and my protective, paternal feelings for these compositions that will soon be released into the world.

Apprehensions aside, I’m happy to report that ALBANY has come up with another lovely cover, to replace the one I wrote about here:

albany cover

Release date: Feb. 1, 2010.  You won’t be able to find it in any CD stores, though — because there aren’t any.

But you can always try asking for it at your nearest neurosurgeon’s.

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