"sounds like no other music"—Miami Herald | "spectacular, profoundly contemporary"—Gramophone | "magnificent"—Fanfare | "breathtaking, spellbinding"—Philadelphia Inquirer | "profoundly direct emotional appeal"—Audiophile Audition | "almost preternaturally beautiful"—Philadelphia City Paper
I’ve been alerted to the fact that my Fleisher Collection lecture at the Nashville MOLAconference is on YouTube. (That’s the beautiful Schermerhorn Symphony Center on the left.) It’s the second of two hour-long talks, split into seven parts, on the history of the Collection, what we’ve been up to, what we’re up to now, and why we do the things we do. Unfortunately, I look exactly the same in each part. Seriously, do I really look like that? Anyway, just wanted to prove that I did more in Nashville than go for the barbeque.
This will get you there. To me on YouTube, not to Nashville.
Jackie and I spent last week at the Sacred Music Colloquium, hosted at Loyola University in Chicago by the Church Music Association of America. We travelled there by sleeper train like William Powell and Myrna Loy, our adventures including breaking bread in the dining car with a West Virginia state politician, who explained—only after prodding by me, I must add—the intricacies of a particular tax issue. I admit I remain unconvinced as to the value of his proposed legislation, but isn’t it nice to hear the views of someone who has invested time and careful thought to a position. If nothing else, it causes one’s own views to be sharpened by the exchange.
The Colloquium is something Jackie has wanted to attend for a while, we were able to arrange our schedules, so—working in an extra day for Amtrak to get there (figuring: when would we have the chance to do this again?)—we went ahead. The CMAA is a Catholic organization with a strong emphasis on Gregorian chant and spreading the Latin Rite. They could not have been nicer to these Lutherans. We’re all keenly interested, from our different domains, in the resuscitation and creation of church music that is beautiful and sacred.
We sang polyphonic masses and learned some of the inner workings of chant (emphasis on some; this is a field one could plow for a lifetime and never get to the end of); the faculty Jackie and I were happy to work with included Horst Buchholz, Wilko Brouwers, David Hughes, and Kurt Poterack. These and all the other faculty are tremendously gifted and dedicated. I am convinced more than ever that in the singing of chant one learns everything one needs to know about music.
William Mahrtspoke about church music and as his points mirrored what I wrote herefive years ago, I thought he was, of course, brilliant. In fact, I had stumbled upon points Dr. Mahrt and many other very smart folks not only have known for a long time, but have stated much better than I.
God so loved the world, p.1
David Hughes also facilitated the new music reading session, the presence of which was a pleasant surprise to me about a week before we left. I brought along copies of God so loved the world (click on the music, left, for a pdf of the complete piece). I set it a few years ago when that text was the appointed Gradual Verse for the 4th Sunday in Lent, for Lutherans. The texts have since been shifted around and it’s no longer the 4th Lent verse for anyone, I believe, but there ought to be room for John 3:16 somewhere in the liturgy, I should think. David sight-read all the scores at the piano, and mostly, we composers conducted our own pieces. This included the irrepressible Michael Lawrence, who ﬁnished composing a Mass section an hour before the reading (he also played the organ and lectured that week on the role of cantors). I was glad finally to meet him. We only live in the same city! So we had to go to Chicago to meet. I conducted my verse in 6 for the large number of singers, but for most groups, in 2 would probably be better. Jackie thinks it should be in 2 no matter what and you know, she’s usually right.
The Bremen Town Musicians for Auricolae (violinist Carlos Rubio, cellist Tom Kraines, and Artistic Director David Yang, putting down his viola to assume the persona of the irrepressible narrator) will start appearing before school audiences on June 9, 2008, at Media Elementary School and June 12 at Glenwood Elementary School, outside of Philadelphia in the Rose Tree-Media School District; the ofﬁcial press release says that “Mr. Smith…will participate in the performances” but as far as I know, my father won’t be there; everything else in the release is true; Auricolae means “little ears,” but you knew that…
These guys are something, Auricolaethat is. Auricolae means “little ears,” but you knew that. They commissioned me to set the story of The Bremen Town Musicians for them, “them” meaning violin, cello, and narrator.
Musicopia is the conduit organization, and the American Composers Forum, Philadelphia Chapter, partially supported it through their Community Partners project. Auricolae already had commissioned pieces from Philadelphia composers Bob Capanna, Danny Dorff, Eric Sessler, and a dandy one by the Music Director himself, David Yang.
The Bremen storywas David’s idea as I recall, but I knew it from a videotape we bought for our oldest daughter many years ago, and I worked up a version of the text (from a P.D. source I found, always the composer’s grail) and began composing. After completing the work in a few weeks, which is for me a remarkably short time, I sent PDFs to the group. I received feedback and answered questions on some small matters of voicing and tempos, and I incorporated some edits into the music and text. The thing with children’s pieces, and Auricolae knows this from six years’ experience and hundreds of shows, is timing, timing, timing.
A rehearsal, then four performances, at Media and Glenwood Elementary Schools in Delaware County, just southwest of Philadelphia. K to 2nd-grade, and 3rd- to 5th-grade assemblies. David is a trouper, runs the show with zest and humor. The children were very interested in what my part in it was, what kind of music I like (“Brahms First Symphony” I answered at one and got a big “Yay! He’s my favorite” from a 3rd-grade girl), how did I come up with different music for the animals, how did I like the performance, were the “interrupting” parts intentional, was I famous (golly, that was an easy one), and could we all come back for another concert?
Auricolae connects with children because the players—Carlos Rubio on violin and Tom Kraines, cello—are gifted and friendly and funny, the stories are interesting and move along (mine’s about 10 minutes), and the music (I heard four pieces in addition to mine) is fresh and not pandering. The children seemed to like seeing a real composer. And there’s David Yang, all whirlwind formidable.
Composed 2008. Violin, cello, narrator, 10′. (See below for a live recording and the first page of music.) From a story compiled by the Brothers Grimm; version by K.S. Commissioned and premiered by Auricolae, 9 Jun 2008, Media Elementary School. Funded by Musicopia through a grant by the American Composers Forum, Philadelphia Chapter.
There once was a donkey, who for many long years had carried the corn-sacks back and forth to the mill without tiring. But at last his strength was going, and he was not going to be able to work much longer. He knew that his master would soon get rid of him, so before that could happen, he ran away and took the road to Bremen. “I may not be good for anything,” he thought, “but in the city I can at least be a musician. Maybe I will play the lute.”
After he had walked some distance, he met an old hound lying by the road, gasping as if he had run a long way. “What are you out of breath for, old fellow?” asked the donkey. “Ah,” replied the hound, “because I am old and weak and cannot hunt anymore, my master wanted to kill me. So I ran away. But how can I earn enough to eat now?” “Listen,” said the donkey, “I am going to Bremen, and shall be a musician there; come with me and you can be a musician, too. I believe you would make a ﬁne drummer.” The hound agreed, so the two walked on together.
Before long they came to a cat, sitting on the path, with a face as sad as three rainy days. “Hello there, old whiskers, why the sad face?” asked the donkey. “Who can be jolly when his life is in danger?” answered the cat. “I’m getting old, my teeth are worn to stumps, and I’d rather sit by the ﬁre than hunt mice. So my mistress wanted to drown me. Well, I ran away, but now I don’t know what to do. Where am I to go?” “We’re going to be musicians in Bremen and will need music to play,” said the donkey. “Everyone knows that a cat can see in the dark, and everyone knows that composers work at night, so you can stay up all night and be our composer!” The cat thought that made very good sense, so the three walked on together.
After this they came to a farm, and a rooster was sitting on the gate, crowing at the top of his lungs. “Your crowing goes right through my bones,” said the donkey. “Why all the commotion?” “Fine guests are coming over tomorrow, and the lady of the house wants the chef to make soup with me as the main ingredient,” said the rooster, “so I am crowing as loud as I can, while I can.” The donkey said, “Come with us to Bremen! You have a ﬁne voice. Being a singer there has to be better than being a bowl of chicken soup here!” The rooster agreed, so all four traveled on together.
They could not reach Bremen in one day, so in the evening when they came to a forest, they wondered where they might sleep. As they walked, they spied a little light deep in the woods. They thought that if it were a house it would be better to sleep there than in the forest. They were getting hungry, too, and maybe food and drink were there! So they made their way toward the light, and sure enough, it was a house. They crept to the window and peeked in. It was a robber’s house! There were open bags with treasure spilling out, and ﬁerce-looking men sitting around a table. But the table was covered with wonderful things to eat and drink.” “Oh, how I wish we were in there!” said the donkey. “Food!” said the hound. “Drink!” said the cat. “That’s what we could use,” said the rooster.
So they put their heads together to think how they might drive the robbers away. At last they came up with a plan. The donkey would place his front feet on the windowsill, the hound would jump on his back, the cat would leap on his back, and ﬁnally the rooster would ﬂy up and perch on the cat’s head!
When they were ready, they began to make their music! The donkey brayed, the hound barked, the cat meowed, and the rooster crowed. Then they burst through the window and into the room, scattering glass everywhere! At all these horrible noises, the robbers sprang up, thinking that the souls of the dead were shrieking for them, and ﬂed into the forest as fast as their legs could carry them.
The four musicians now sat down at the table, very happy with the food and drink that was left, and feasted to their hearts’ content. When they had ﬁnished, they put out the light, and each sought out the perfect place to sleep. The donkey laid himself down on some straw in the yard, the hound stretched out by the back door, the cat curled up on the hearth in front of the ﬁreplace, and the rooster perched on the peak of the roof; and being very tired, they soon fell asleep.
But after midnight, the robbers saw from far off that the light was no longer on in the house, and that all seemed peaceful. The chief of the gang said, “Why did we let ourselves be scared silly?,” and ordered one of the robbers to go back and look the house over.
He crept back and all was quiet. He went in to light a candle, and the cat opened his eyes. Thinking that the glowing eyes were live coals in the ﬁreplace, the robber stuck a match to them to light it. The cat did not think that was at all funny, and ﬂew in his face, scratching with all his might. The robber was dreadfully frightened, and ran to the back door, but tripped on the hound, who sprang up and bit his leg. He then ran across the yard by the straw-heap, surprising the donkey, who gave him a sharp kick with his big hind foot. The rooster, awakened from all the noise, roused himself and cried down from the roof, “Cock-a-doodle–doo! Cock-a-doodle-doo!”
So the robber stumbled and ran as fast as he could back to his chief, and said, “There…there is a horrible witch in that house, and she spat on me and scratched my face with her long sharp ﬁngers! Then there’s this man by the door with a knife, and he stabbed me in the leg! And in the yard is a huge monster who pummelled me with his wooden club! And all the while, up on the roof, sits the judge, who cried out, ‘Throw the crook in jail! Throw the crook in jail!’ So I barely got out with my life!”
From that time on, the robbers never went near the house again. But the four musicians found it so agreeable that they did not wish to leave their new home any more. And if you happen by that part of the woods, you can still hear a house ﬁlled with music, because they never did go to Bremen.
This recording, Saturday, March 29, 2014, Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Harrisburg, Pa., part of Market Square Concerts’ educational/outreach program “Soundscape.” Performers: Cary Burkett, WITF radio personality, narrator; Peter Sirotin, violin; Fiona Thompson, cello
Just delivered to our door is the latest Lutheran Forum magazine, dated Pentecost/Summer 2008, and my hymn, as promised, is included. Under the new editorship of Sarah Hinlicky Wilson they’ve appointed a Hymn Editor, Sally Messner, who has taken on the worthy project of printing a new hymn each issue. I sent in two hymns for consideration, and they chose O Lord, Our Lord, Your Excellent Name, for which I wrote the text, based on Psalm 8, as well as music.
Although I enjoy writing prose and setting poetry, I have not written much original poetry because, well, it’s hard. Really, really hard. This leaves aside the question of whether I possess a gift for it, a question I have no more hope of answering than the question of whether I have a gift for composition. Well, someone else can take a crack at answering that.
I do remember that when I decided to focus only on composing it was because I’d rather do one thing well than a couple of things (including playing the bass guitar) just competently, resting in the hope, of course, that I could one day compose well. At least, the amount of time I would need to invest to get really good at poetry or my Fender Jazz Bass I realized I’d rather spend composing. Real poets and real bass players have my unalloyed respect. Nevertheless, every once in a while I try my hand at it. Poetry, that is; I sold the bass.
That’s the hymn, above (click on it for a full-size copy), and here’s a midi version if you care for a listen:
Writing texts and music for hymns carries with it the challenges peculiar to poetry and composition, but also the additional challenge of immediate functionality. The materials cannot be involved or obscure; the artist cannot stray too far ahead or the congregation simply will not follow. But if the materials are too common, the worshipers go nowhere, their attention dulled by cliché. This is a delicate dance, the stretching and the comforting. I ﬁnd, increasingly, that it intrigues me. It’s still hard—really, really hard—but it intrigues me.
This is Psalm 8:
O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies, that thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
and the hymn text:
1. O Lord, our Lord, your excellent name
Fills heaven and earth with a glorious sound.
Each new-sprung voice now leads the acclaim
Of grateful hosannas for mercies profound.
2. O Lord, our Lord, with wonder we gaze
On all you have fashioned, the heavenly span
Of moon and stars, creation’s displays.
We ponder our presence in your shining plan.
3. O Lord, our Lord, around we discern
The dearest reminders of visited love.
Beneath the angels, we humbly learn
The wise obligation for gifts from above.
4. O Lord, our Lord, your excellent name
With all living creatures our voices resound.
All earth, all oceans join the acclaim:
Our Lord still is with us! Our thanks will abound!
The Major Orchestra Librarians Association asked me to come to their annual conference last weekend to speak about the Fleisher Collection, and I did, and had a freundlich time. Couldn’t stay for the entire conference, but heard the Nashville Symphony in the gorgeous and beautifully sounding Schermerhorn Hall. Ate barbeque with folks old and new to me, including Andy Shreeves from ASCAP, whom I’d known only from form letters telling me nicely that I’d forgotten some vital information on a title registration. He was gracious as could be and assured me that I was not the only forgetful ASCAP member. I was pleased to tell him I had figured out online registration, and he seemed sincerely pleased.
Andy and I and Barbara Peterson from BMI and Alyce Mott from the industrious Victor Herbert website took a walk after dinner on a pedestrian bridge and waved at guys on a coal barge. The guys had waved first, everyone going out of their way in Nashville to be polite.
As another for instance, at Jack’s Bar-B-Que, which my airport shuttle driver had recommended, in line after ordering and waiting at the register, I noticed green beans on the plate instead of the cole slaw I’d asked for (siding a combo of pork shoulder, ribs, and beef brisket, with baked beans). I really wanted cole slaw. In addition to the fact that cole slaw and baked beans are infallible indicators of a restaurant’s worth (Alyce agrees), I really wanted cole slaw.
I wondered aloud to the server if, oh, I might have cole slaw instead, when the man at the register noticed and said in the tone of a man who was more than a register man but perhaps owner or at least maître d’, “Just get a cup and put some cole slaw on there for him.” I said that I’m sure I was unclear about the beans when I ordered and I’d be happy to pay for all three sides but the register/owner/maître said, and this is an exact quote, because I practiced it over so I wouldn’t forget, “Here at Jack’s we don’t look to the past.”
“Here at Jack’s we don’t look to the past. No sir, we’re just always lookin’ ahead, you know what I mean?”
And I knew what he meant.
They’re on Broadway near 4th and whatever you do, get there early.
Got the new show off the ground Sunday night, all contemporary American music, and I opened with Wendy Mae Chambers. Have to love a work titled Symphony of the Universe for the ﬁrst show, and I played the “Cosmos” movement. Quite lovely. Then stayed with others of hers.
It’s certainly different—taping a show all by your lonesome (they still call it taping, at least that’s what I’ve observed, even though there’s no tape, so like the ’roo in her pocket I’ll say, “Me, too!”)—different from the Fleisher Discoveries show, which is a great experience working with Jack, who is smooth as silk, and Joe, our production engineer, both of whom are professional and supportive as can be. This one’s just me. Having fun with it, and even put together theme music, which doesn’t come in until a couple shows down the road. I don’t have an HD2 radio yet, so I listen in online.
WRTI is expanding into HD2 with local programs to complement the nationally syndicated ones. Bob Craig, e.g., who is fantastic no matter what he does, and his new HD2 jazz vocal show Sunday afternoons is mighty grand. Discoveries and Jill Pasternak’s Crossover have already been running encore shows weekly on HD2, so WRTI is really pushing ahead.