Jeff Dinsmore


Jeff Dinsmore [photo: Rebecca Thornburgh]

Many of us have now heard of the passing of our friend and colleague, Jeff Dinsmore. Tenor and co-founder of The Crossing, he was its board president for most of its existence, and always its guiding light. He was with director Donald Nally and singers from The Crossing at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles on Monday morning, about to rehearse a new piece for a Friday performance, when he died suddenly.

This is such a sad loss for Jeff’s partner Rebecca Siler, his family and loved ones, and for everyone in Philadelphia’s choral community. Jeff had so much to do with the rapid rise of The Crossing through his administrative and technological gifts. I’ll always remember his captainship of the front of the house—when he should’ve been relaxing before singing in a grueling concert, he was seeing to the smooth running of ticket operations. Then, when you turned your head, he was strolling onstage to sing. As Donald writes, in many ways, Jeff was The Crossing. He was a formidable musician, calm, funny, loving, and had the sweetest tenor voice. We’ll all miss him.

The story in the Los Angeles Times is here. Donald Nally’s heartfelt and moving tribute, sent to the extended Crossing family, and including so many of Jeff’s accomplishments, is here. The Philadelphia Inquirer obituary, written by David Patrick Stearns, is here. The Jeff Dinsmore Memorial Fund, to help support Rebecca Siler, has been set up here.

I Got B-flat/C! What Cheesy Pop Chord that Serious Composers Aren’t Supposed to Use Are You?

Bb:CWow! How did they know? I just finished a piece and right in the middle of it, there it was! Amazing!

According to the test, I love the Beatles but not the Rolling Stones, Brahms but not Wagner, Incises but not Gruppen (even though Stockhausen was on the cover of Sgt. Pepper, what’s up with that), Webern because he’s short and Weber because he’s not, Earth, Wind & Fire, Steely Dan, and Petula Clark, and both early and late Elvis.


Also, I’m a procrastinator.

Eric Owens Gift to The Crossing for a New Work by Kile Smith


Eric Owens (photo credit: Dario Acosta)

I’m thrilled to be working with The Crossing again, and on such an imaginitive and momentous project. The commitment of so many to Donald Nally and this outstanding group of musicians has always been inspiring, but now, to see Eric Owens joining The Crossing family in this way, to support our music-making together in this new piece, is both humbling and exhilarating.

Here’s the news release from The Crossing:

International opera star Eric Owens has made a great gift to The Crossing: a $10,000 commissioning grant by which we have invited Kile Smith to write a new and substantial work. Kile’s piece will serve as a companion to David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion and will be of equal length and similar orchestration. The texts of the libretto revolve around the moving transcript of the decade-defining Christmas Eve 1968 broadcast of Apollo 8 orbiting the moon, with the astronauts reading Genesis to the largest viewing audience to date.

“I have been a huge fan of The Crossing, since its inception. Whenever I’m able to attend a concert, it’s unfailingly an awe-inspiring experience. It gives me great pleasure to be able to assist one of Philadelphia’s cultural treasures in their mission to bring new music into the world.”—Eric Owens

Conductor Donald Nally said,

“We are so grateful to Board Member Beth van de Water for bringing together our friend Eric and this project with Kile. The Little Match Girl Passion has become a signature piece for The Crossing, yet I am always frustrated that we cannot find ‘just the right’ piece to complete that concert program; so, with Eric’s support and Kile’s great talent and feel for The Crossing’s sound, we’re making our own. It is a gift in so many ways, and we’re very grateful to Eric.”

Eric is a busy man: he was just appointed as Lyric Opera of Chicago’s first Lyric Unlimited Community Ambassador, as well as chairman of the artistic advisory board at the Glimmerglass Festival in New York. This is, of course, in addition to his consistently acclaimed singing in opera and oratorio as wide-ranging as Wagner’s Ring Cycle at the Metropolitan Opera and Bach’s St. John Passion in Berlin.

Jazz Dance Suite on Now Is the Time

ChicagoAcapellaWe arrive at the corner of Jazz and Classical on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 12th at 9 pm at and WRTI-HD2. Chicago a cappella scats with Pleasure the music of Malcolm Dalglish, and solo piano tries out David Baker’s Jazz Dance Suite as well as The Blue Hula by Tobias Picker.

John Musto’s Divertimento for chamber ensemble has jazz and popular music overtones, but there’s no mistaking the straight-ahead jazz worldview in three works by Philadelphia’s Adam Berenson (even if he turns a corner here and there), from his brand-new 2-CD release Lumen. He’s the pianist, along with bass and drums, in his Late 20th Century Stomp, Emotional Idiot, and Respectable People.

from Adam Berenson: Respectable People 

Malcolm Dalglish: Pleasure
Adam Berenson: Late 20th Century Stomp / Emotional Idiot
David N. Baker: Jazz Dance Suite
Tobias Picker: The Blue Hula
John Musto: Divertimento for Flute, Clarinet, Viola, Cello, Piano, and Percussion
Adam Berenson: Respectable People

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream. Just go to and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. Here are the recording details and complete schedule. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, from the Jersey Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Delaware. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!

Preludes on Now Is the Time

DownesReformCDSo done with March and feeling like a new start, we’ve got all preludes on Now Is the Time, Saturday, April 5th at 9 pm at and WRTI-HD2. Stephen Paulus writes comfortably in every genre; we start the program with a short, sassy work played by pianist Lara Downes, his Prelude No. 3: Sprightly. Guitarist David Starobin and composer William Bland go way back to their school days. Starobin loves playing Bland’s music, and we’ll hear six of a projected cycle of 48 Preludes.

Then we return to the piano for the 12 Preludes of Bernard Rands, covering a wide landscape of emotional and tonal range. Included are two movements in memoriam of composer colleagues of Rands, Luciano Berio and Donald Martino.

from William Bland: Six Preludes 

Stephen Paulus: Prelude No. 3: Sprightly
William Bland: Six Preludes
Bernard Rands: Preludes

Every Saturday night at 9 Eastern, Kile Smith brings you Now Is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI’s all-classical stream. Just go to and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. Here are the recording details and complete schedule. In the Philadelphia area with an HD radio? Dial us up at 90.1 FM-HD2, or find all the frequencies here, from the Jersey Shore to the Poconos to Harrisburg to Delaware. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI!

Shakespeare’s 450th

Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection, Saturday April 5th at 5 pm

Mily Balakirev (1837–1910).Overture to King Lear (1858-61, rev. 1902-05). USSR Symphony Orchestra, Evgeni Svetlanov. Melodiya 153, Tr 1. 11:30

Niels Gade (1817–1890). Hamlet (1860-61). Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz, Ole Schmidt. CPO 999362, Tr 2. 11:51

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906–1975). Suite from incidental music to the film “Hamlet” (1963-64). Belgian Radio Symphony Orchestra, José Serebrier. RCA 7763, Tr 1-8. 30:07

HamletWe celebrate the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, who lived from 1564 to 1616, and well-apparell’d April (Romeo and Juliet, act 1, scene 2) being the very month he was born, approves our dip into Fleisher’s Shakespeare list once more.

The Free Library of Philadelphia is celebrating the Bard’s birth (find all the events here)—our whole city is much bound to him (Romeo and Juliet, 4, 2)—so we’re happy to join in the great coil (Much Ado About Nothing, 3, 3) with more of the many Fleisher works inspired by Shakespeare. To discover all such titles in the Fleisher Collection, only send an email to, and the list will fly swiftly to you with swallow’s wings (Richard III, 5, 2).

One year, 1861, saw the completion of two of the works on the program today. One is the Overture to King Lear by the Russian Mily Balakirev. That a composer known for energizing the Russian nationalist school of music would write a work connected with an English playwright is interesting. But Balakirev’s horizons were broader than the mere use of folksong.

Tellingly, he also supported the career of Tchaikovsky (when other Russian nationalists were grumbling about the European—meaning non-Russian, meaning German—sound of his music). Tchaikovsky, of course, loved Shakespeare. Balakirev’s early Overture to King Lear shows that the composer, although largely self-taught, knew the “European” orchestral style well. Even though he finished the work in 1861, he revised it 40 years later, after a long withdrawal from the music world.

It could hardly be more appropriate than to have music about the Danish Hamlet by the Danish Niels Gade, the most important musician in his country at the time. Nationalism was also in the air in Denmark, and early in his life Gade studied Danish folk traditions. But he went to Germany, taught and conducted there, and when he came back to Copenhagen his style was more international: this, in 1861, is the sound of Gade’s Hamlet.

Carried with more speed before the wind (The Comedy of Errors, 1, 1), we fly a century later to music from the 1964 film Hamlet by another Russian, Dmitri Shostakovich. He wrote prodigiously for the concert stage, but went back to film music often during his career. One reason for this was his on-again, off-again relationship with the Soviet regime. Many of his artist colleagues were imprisoned because of putative sins against the government, some were killed, and for most of his life Shostakovich was haunted by the fear of the knock on the door in the middle of the night.

But film music was an approved outlet. Shostakovich’s sometimes-violent voice seems tamer on film, but hearing the music removed from the visual is a bright reminder of his genius. That Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark, and Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon, could release this for us, approves celebration of this day with shows (King Henry VIII, 4,1).

from the “play within the play scene” from the 1964 film Hamlet:

On the first Saturday of the month Jack Moore and I host Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection on WRTI 90.1 FM in Philadelphia and on the all-classical webstream at We also broadcast encore presentations of the entire Discoveries series (now 12 years and counting!) every Wednesday at 7:00 pm on WRTI HD-2. For a look at all the shows, click here.

How to Finish a Work

[First published in the Broad Street Review, 1 Apr 2014, as "The double bar." Reprinted by permission.]

yinyangCelebrating the completion of the new orchestral work, I pruned two trees in front of our house.

That’s not really true. Oh, I did prune those trees, kwanzan cherry, good street trees. Some of the branches were starting to reach into the wires and needed re-orienting before they got out of hand.

And while, yes, I was celebrating, I was not celebrating the completion of the work. No, in fact, pieces are never finished. I was just happy that I was finished with it.

Every bit of music I’ve ever written, with two exceptions, has been for actual performances. One exception was a chamber work I wrote for a competition. Don’t ever do this, by the way; it’s a terrible idea. Unless you win. If you win, it’s a great idea. I didn’t win.

The other exception was music I wrote for a friend who was dying. He wanted a certain text sung at his funeral. It must’ve been a secret, because I was apparently the only person he told. I don’t regret composing it—he was thrilled when I told him I was working on it—but two decades after he died it still awaits its premiere.

On every other piece I hit the final double bar and then send it to the people who wanted it. A barline is only a symbol, though, and symbols only hint at reality. In truth, I’ve often glided into the end without realizing until later that I’d reached it. “Oh,” I’ll say a minute or a day later, “I guess that’ll do.” Sometimes composers say they write the ending first, but I’ve never had that experience. Usually I have a vague idea of how it will end, but nothing more concrete until I get there.

The journey, not the destination

And all the fun is in getting there. The thing composers love about composing is, of course, the composing. Sadness always accompanies the end of a piece. We’ve worked on it and we’ve loved it, and each piece tells us something new about composing, about life, about ourselves.

So hitting the double bar often means seeing it coming and ever so gently applying the brake, gliding to a stop. It’s the way we’d drive if we had to take a president or a wedding cake somewhere. We come to a stop, but almost, I don’t know, regretfully, because once we hit that double bar, we have to give the piece away and stop composing.

If things went well, you’ve been working a long time on it, and by the deadline, you’re just tweaking and nudging. With the big decisions long ago wrapped up, and with technical aspects like part extraction in hand, mopping and polishing become the routine in the days leading up to the deadline: the alignment of mezzo-fortes in the score; the feathering of sounds.

But each small thing—the tapering of an oboe out of a trumpet line, the rephrasing of a violin—leads to another small thing. If this line is rephrased, mustn’t similar passages likewise be changed? When clarinets answer the now rephrased strings, shouldn’t they respond differently?

All these decisions are small, but all work is small. (“Don’t sweat the small stuff” is poster bilge, salve for indolence.) Every change is consequential. But if given their head, the changes would gallop in all directions and you would never find the piece. Or you could tweak forever, a Zeno’s paradox of advancing by halves, never reaching the end. What to do?

We cannot jump up without first crouching, without raising up on our feet, without sinking into our legs, without moving arms forward before backward before forward, without inhaling, without exhaling. Yin and yang arise together and are interdependent but we cannot get to the bottom, top, beginning, or end of yin or yang. If we tried to, we would never jump, never walk, never breathe.

But we do breathe. We don’t know where the wind comes from or where it’s going, but trees will sway. They’ll even pull wires down.

How to finish

What to do? Hand in the piece at the deadline, that’s what to do. I pruned the trees after the music was done, even though music is never done. I may not know the end of music, but a deadline gives me a gift, one great, true gift.

It’s time to start a new piece.