Monthly Archives: October 2009

Two Laudate Psalms, preview


Joe Barron, Montgomery News, 29 Oct 2009

During the rehearsals of any new music, there comes a moment when the conductor or the soloist turns to the composer for advice. The performer needs the creator to pass judgment on the interpretation, or phrasing, volume, or any of the other innumerable details that go into translating notes from the page to the ear.

When that moment came during a recent rehearsal of Kile Smith’s new “Two Laudate Psalms,” Smith found he had nothing to say—a new but definitely pleasurable experience. To his ear, the run-through had been perfect.

“I had no wisdom,” Smith said Saturday in an interview. “It felt absolutely terrific not to have to be wise.”

Acclaimed composer Kile Smith was commissioned by Lyric Fest to create “Two Laudate Psalms,” which will receive their world premiere at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Friday, Oct. 30.

Read the rest here.

Vespers CD, American Record Guide

American Record Guide

a major new work… perfectly wonderful, truly elegant

Charles H. Parsons, September/October 2009

Piffaro, the Renaissance Band, has a distinguished performance and recording history. They are quite lively specialists producing an exciting, compelling sound. The Crossing was founded in 2005 by conductor Donald Nally to perform new and modern choral music. They too have been critically acclaimed.

Does something here look amiss? The clue is supplied by two small easily overlooked (I did) words on the cover: Kile Smith. I presumed that “Kile Smith with the Crossing” indicated a soloist or conductor and another group joined Piffaro in the music-making. I put on the CD and heard music that was Medieval-sounding, but not quite right.…

Read the rest here.

Where to buy Vespers, update

vespersIn addition to the interested parties of these groups, who made the recording happen:


The Crossing, and

Navona Records,

the Vespers CD is also available for purchase at the following places:



Amazon Canada

Arkiv Music

Barnes and Noble



CD Universe

Classics Online

Classics Online, Critics’ Picks

Electric Fetus

Finders Records

HB Direct


LA Rhythms


Naxos Direct

SilverDisc Music

Tower Records

Many of the tracks also available for download, including iTunes: Piffaro, Crossing Choir & Donald Nally - K. Smith: Vespers

The automated nature of how the personnel information is distributed leads to some amusement for me. Many of the above sites contain exactly the same info, so it’s fun to see the same mistake go viral. I’m not sure how the list of musicians gets from the CD to these sites, but some mechanism has misread the names of instrument makers as instrument players, leading one to believe that there was a forest of instrumentalists on the recording, viz.

Grant Herreid (guitar, lute, theorbo, shawm, recorder); Peter Forrester (guitar); Martin Praetorius (tenor dulcimer, bass dulcian); Christa Patton (harp, shawm, recorder); Rainer Thurau (triple harp); Andrew Rutherford (lute); Ivo Magherini (theorbo); Priscilla Smith, Joan Kimball, Robert Wiemken (shawm, recorder, dulcian); Guntram Wolf (soprano shawm, alto shawm, bass dulcian); Bernhard Schermer, Joel Robinson (soprano shawm); Robert Cronin (alto shawm, tenor shawm); Greg Ingles, Tom Zajac (recorder, sackbut); Adrian Brown (soprano recorder, alto recorder, tenor recorder, bass recorder, contrabass recorder, great bass recorder); Eric Moulder (bass dulcian); Rainer Egger, Frank Tomes (tenor sackbut).

Wow. Let it be known that the members of Piffaro are seven, only seven:

Grant Herreid (guitar, lute, theorbo, shawm, recorder)
Greg Ingles (recorder, sackbut)
Joan Kimball (shawm, recorder, dulcian)
Christa Patton (harp, shawm, recorder)
Priscilla Smith (shawm, recorder, dulcian)
Robert Wiemken (shawm, recorder, dulcian)
Tom Zajac (recorder, sackbut)

Rainer Thurau does not play the triple harp, nor does Joel Robinson play shawm on this recording. Here’s Piffaro, actually:

Grant, Joan, Bob, Priscilla, Greg, Christa, Tom. Credit: Andrew Pinkham

Grant, Joan, Bob, Priscilla, Greg, Christa, Tom. Credit: Andrew Pinkham

How embarrassing

We were at a dinner party not too long ago and one of the guests, a wonderful instrumentalist, said that he wanted to get back to composing. He had started a piece years earlier and had looked at it recently, but what was holding him back were the “embarrassing” parts. He thought that if he could get rid of those, he’d have something to work with.

I know what he means. Some of my older works (and some not so older) evoke winces from me. The problem bits embarrass for one of two reasons. Sometimes they’re only partially-realized ideas, not fully in focus. But sometimes the ideas are fine, and I was unfocused, simply piling other ideas on top of them. (Generating ideas, while good in its place, is not composing.)

But there’s another kind of embarrassment that I hope never to shed. It’s the embarrassment of an idea that’s so simple that the least bit of tinkering would destroy it. This kind of embarrassment interests me.

Here’s an example: the opening to the second section of Vespers, “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern.” The shawm phrase, over the theorbo, is so simple as to be almost silly. As if that weren’t enough, I repeat it. It came to me like that and I wrote it down more as a placeholder, figuring I’d change it later. But then I couldn’t change it. It refused all my attempts to make it lofty, witty, or subtle. It was crude, loud, and inescapable. It was Martin Luther, it was the Reformation. The entrance of the chorale tune six bars later is that much smoother, in contrast, but frankly, I didn’t calculate that. That just happened, and I liked it, so it stayed.


It’s embarrassing, though, because it’s the kind of idea that sounds as if it could have come to anyone, and we want to be special, don’t we? Special people—the artists and geniuses that we’d like to be—reject obviousness, reject simplicity, and certainly reject the common. Don’t they? We want to be nuanced. Mostly, we want to look smart, but really, that only means acting the way our crowd acts.

It’s particularly tempting to young composers, since it’s how we behaved as adolescents—it’s life and death to adolescents—and most of us began composing around then. Soon, most of us went to college, where the coin of the realm is analysis, theory, and technical jargon. We want to impress our professors (who will usually know better) and our friends (who usually won’t).

There comes a point, though, when that struggle ceases. It can happen all at once or in stages. We realize that our nuances are muddles and our dazzles are flat. Or we realize that the person we’re trying to impress doesn’t exist. Or we simply tire of acting. All our Howevers and all our On The Other Hands are just ways of hedging our bets.

If we’re fortunate—and we keep working, and we keep our ears open—at some point something simple offers itself to us, and we say, Oh Hang It All and we write it down as it is and stop fighting. And then we find that those ideas, those embarrassing, obvious ideas, are the ones we love the best. It’s the music that’s been there all along, behind our calculations. It’s the music that identifies us, the music we’ve been trying to sing since adolescence. It’s the music that says to us, Maybe you are peculiar or silly or clumsy, but this is you, like it or not. And we do like it. Finally. And we’re no longer embarrassed.