Thursday, August 25, 2011

Music Video - Thanksgiving Partita

A minimalist viola and cello duet. Writing this, I tried to capture that calm, together feeling we all hope for when family gets together, even if we rarely get it. I was blessed to get the performers I did. Both are regular players with the Utah Symphony.

Of Chants and Strings and Opportunities

I’m feeling very excited, and grateful, today. There have been a lot of composing opportunities that have come my way these last few months. Nothing that will be immediately profitable, I suspect, but I don’t know anyone who wakes up and says, "I’m going to compose music because the money is so good."

In any case, I’ve got several works on my musical plate right now. Currently, I’m trying to finish a string quartet, based on an old chant. I’ve put aside setting D&C 121 to music for now. The SQ has the earlier deadline. There are actually two SQ’s. Barlow Bradford, of the Utah Chamber Artists, has commissioned the Salty Cricket Composers Collective (SC3) to come up with two string quartets based on two different chants for an upcoming concert. SC3 has opened it up as a contest. The two winning submissions will be chosen by Mr. Bradford.

Obviously, I’m hoping to win at least one spot, but if not, that’s okay. I’m really enjoying writing this piece. It’s a tonal/modal work, and I think I’ve got most of the major bugs worked out. I’ve certainly got the major themes and harmonies done. Now, it’s down to editing and finalizing the details: articulations, dynamics, and so on. It’s been a real joy to get back to my “tonal” roots. Studying composition in college was a wonderful experience, but also a strange one. Three years of learning traditional harmony, voice leading, and counterpoint only to be told, “Don’t write that way.” Tonal music was looked down on by my professors. They favored the second Viennese school – Schoenberg, Weber and Berg – over the first. It feels like an almost total disconnect.

I can’t blame them. As much as I love Mozart, I get tired of listening to him all the time. I want variety. My professors approach was to “break me” of the aural habits learned from a lifetime of listening to Beethoven so that I could write what I wanted, in any style. Or at least that’s what they told me. I’ve found that artistic choices at University to be as politicized as the war between Democrats and Republicans.

In any case, after years of writing atonal music, I find myself moving more and more back to the tonal. Recently, I’ve been rediscovering my love of movie soundtracks, minimalism, and 19th century romanticism, especially the work of Chopin. In any case, it’s certainly be a fun trip.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Music Video - Ten Shin Go So

Based on a form from the martial art, Aiki Shintaido, Tenshingoso describes the 5 major steps of life, from our pre-mortal existence, through birth, creating our world, making our place in that world, and finally gathering up all we have created as an offering, giving it back to the universe before we die.

This video was debuted at SC3's 2010 Melange concert, in the Salt Lake Arts Center.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Getting Ready for Salty Cricket 2011

I recently submitted two works for the upcoming 2011 Salty Cricket Composer's Collective (SC3) concert series, and one for next year's series, so I thought I'd tell you a bit about them. I don't know if they will be selected or not, but I'm hoping they will. I feel pretty good about them, in any case.

The Penitent, for solo organ

The Penitent is a minimalist piece. It was created by using and old technique of coming up with themes by transposing letters of the alphabet into musical notes. A through G are pretty straight forward. After that, you start over with A again so that H = A, I = B, J = C, and so on. In this case, the theme comes from the name of Mary Magdeline, considered to be the Saint of those who repent of their sins in Catholicism. I'm not Catholic, but like most people I've got a lot to repent for.

Caprice Atomique, for Perriot Ensemble

A caprice (or capriccio) describes pieces of free, or unconventional form. They are distinguished by originality in harmony and/or rhythm. This piece is, again, mostly minimalist, with a highly syncopated groove running throughout. The “atomique” part comes from the fact that is was inspired, in part, by the music of Battlestar Galactica. What can I say? I'm a sci-fi fan.

A Perriot ensemble is named for the ensemble Arnold Schoenberg used in Perriot Lunaire. It has become a popular modern chamber ensemble in it's own right, consisting of flute, clarinet, piano, violin, cello, percussion, and optional vocalist. In this case, there is no vocalist. The percussion is limited to one player on both snare drum and vibraphone.

I did some experimenting in this piece, using instruments that are normally used in melodic and harmonic ways as if they were part of the rhythm section. I think it could be expanded in several directions, but I ran out of time before the deadline. Expanding the piece and creating more variations will have to wait for another day.

What Manner of Man Is This?, for SATB choir

I wrote this several years ago when I was asked by my friend Mark Hansen to write something for his church choir. A mutual friend, Bruce Forbes, wrote the lyrics. The text is based on scripture:

Matt. 8:27 But the men marvelled, saying What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?

It takes it's musical cues from a combination of early 20th century music and Medieval liturgical traditions. The voices alternate between the men and women in almost chant-like fashion, entering a canonical section toward the end. I'm quite happy with it and I hope Bruce is, too.

I originally envisioned this as a work for choir and organ. I had wanted to orchestrate it for choir and string orchestra as well, but I had quite a bit of difficulty with the instrumental parts. I didn't want to just duplicate the vocal lines, but their own lines kept cluttering things up. In the end, it became a work for SATB without accompaniment. Unfortunately, it also ended up being too difficult for an amateur church choir and was never performed.

Upcoming ...

I'm also working on an aleatoric multi-media piece, performed on an iPad, for SC3's yearly Melange concert this year, but submissions aren't due until August. It's a good thing, too. I've got some technical issues to work out and I'll likely have to borrow an iPad 2 for performance. It will do video mirroring, where my first edition iPad will not.