Monthly Archives: March 2013

Divinum Mysterium on Now is the Time

beginnings8thblackbird480It’s the mystery of creation and Casals on Now is the Time, Sunday, March 31st at 10 pm. Paul Moravec visited Montserrat, home of a monastery and of a statue of Pablo Casals. The great cellist had played there and was friends with the monks who attended to the Shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat. Casals is memorialized by that statue and now by Moravec’s cello concerto Montserrat, played sumptuously here by Matt Haimovitz.

From eighth blackbird’s CD beginnings is Daniel Kellogg’s Divinum Mysterium. Chanticleer sings the Latin chant (from which comes the hymn “Of the Father’s love begotten”). Then Kellogg takes us on a journey through creation’s mystery, from stillness to rejoicing.

from Paul Moravec: Montserrat: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra 

Paul Moravec: Montserrat: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra
Daniel Kellogg: Divinum Mysterium

Every Sunday night at 10, Kile Smith brings you Now is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI-HD2 and the all-classical stream at Here are the recording details and complete schedule.

Red-tail and Hummingbird, all-brass version, in Delaware

RedtailThanks to the fine brass players of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra for including Red-tail and Hummingbird in their Chamber Series concert last night at the Hotel du Pont in Wilmington. This was the premiere of one of the new versions for all-brass sextet: 2 trumpets, 2 horns, trombone, tuba (I’ve also made a 2 tpt, hn, 2 tbn, tba version).

There’s now even a brass quintet version—more about that later.

It was an exciting performance, with Music Director David Amado conducting. The brilliance of this version, and the balance of the performance, filled the Gold Ballroom nicely. I’m grateful for all the warm comments from the musicians and audience, especially so from the players who came to this new. Old hands at it (from the original version) were the two Brians, trumpeter Kuszyk and tubist Brown. I’m indebted to them for their faith in the piece.

I invited the audience to our front porch, in case we can catch sight of the hawk and his tormentor again (program notes here). From the response after the concert, I think I made a bunch of new friends! Must lay in provisions.

Palm Sunday drums

[First published 26 Mar 2013 in the Broad Street Review and reprinted with permission.]


We continued our tradition of the chanted Passion this morning, Palm Sunday. Three singers, as Narrator, Christ, and Speaker, chanted this year’s appointed setting, which is from Luke’s gospel.

We’ve broken up the chant in various ways over the years. The congregation always sings, at times, verses from the Johann Heermann / Johann Crüger hymn “Ah, Holy Jesus.”

For other places, I’ve composed instrumental interludes, tweaking them from year to year. Or I write new ones, depending on who is available from the congregation to play. We’ve had recorders, strings, and handbells, with or without the organ, and when Priscilla was able to be here, a soprano shawm—very nasty, very effective.

This year I wrote all new interludes. We had two French horns, a cello (all high schoolers), and—to be played with mallets by two from the bell choir—12 handbells hanging from the bell-tree.

One bell player teaches school, one is an office worker. As for the singers: One works in a bank, one writes computer programs, one does something with music.

Orff “timpani” (tuned tom-toms) have been played over the years at various points by children and/or adults. Mike, who sells earth-moving equipment, played two of them today. Half-note and two quarters: two mallets on two drums together, over and over from up in the balcony, in the back of the sanctuary, at the moment when Jesus is arrested.

One drum is the lowest C, one is the F above, but I didn’t bother even to tune them, because when they’re that low they’re mud: just thumps: just perfect. Any lower and the tuning keys start to chatter.

Years ago, Mike showed up at September’s first handbell rehearsal with his young daughter. “We’d like to play,” he said. We thought he was using the royal “we,” speaking for his daughter; but no, Mike wanted to play, too. He didn’t know anything about music, so we taught him.

Mike learned that the open note gets four beats; the open note with a line gets two; the filled-in note gets one. Every week he learned.

For a year Mike played just one bell: the D in the bass clef. The middle line. Now he plays D, C and others if you need—accidentals, special effects, hand chimes, whatever you want. His rhythm is solid.

Mike’s daughter’s not in handbells any more. Mike is.

Rehearsing, 45 minutes before church, I look at Mike in the balcony and cup my hand to my ear. He nods, plays louder.

There are many other things that are good about church music, but at this moment I can’t think of any.


Chant, for trombone, bassoon, and piano

ChantChant was commissioned by the Philadelphia trombonist Thomas Elliott to perform with his daughter, bassoonist Rachel Elliott, for her senior recital at Carnegie Mellon University. The music sets, after a fashion, 1 Corinthians 12:4–6, “Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of service, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but the same God who works all in all.”

The music is based on the Greek text, converting each of the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet into pitches, framing them within shifting overtone series, themselves determined by the letters. For the wind instruments each of the three sections is one of the verses. The piano, however, repeats the first verse throughout. Each letter of each word is represented, although they don’t always follow in strict order.

But ultimately this is music inspired from the chant tradition: it moves slowly and simply, often in unison or in octaves. Its musical challenges for the performers demand close communication and listening, to present—as in chant—a unified voice. It suggests unity, diversity, and relationship over immediate virtuosity.

Chant, excerpt: 

Over the Green Earth on Now is the Time

daffodils480We’re trying to kick-start spring on Now is the Time, Sunday, March 24th at 10 pm. Leaps and Bulls is all funky frogs and swamps, from the group Blob. Yes, Blob. Gary Schocker tempts us out of the house with Out of Doors Duets for two flutes, and Ned Rorem’s long-limbed Day Music and Night Music is for violin and piano.

The Symphony No. 5 of Charles Fussell is an expansive memorial to Virgil Thomson, and Ronn McFarlane honors all things spring with modern music for the lute, in Over the Green Earth.

from Ronn McFarlane: Over the Green Earth 

John Lindberg, et al.: Leaps and Bulls
Gary Schocker: Out of Doors Duets. Bucolics, Fountain
Ned Rorem: from Day Music and Night Music
Charles Fussell: Symphony No. 5
Ronn McFarlane: Over the Green Earth

Every Sunday night at 10, Kile Smith brings you Now is the Time, all styles of contemporary concert music by living American composers on WRTI-HD2 and the all-classical stream at Here are the recording details and complete schedule.

Chorale for Orchestra

3(3rd/pic).2.2.2——timp.3perc—str. 11′. Scores and parts available in the Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, the Free Library of Philadelphia.

amblerThe Chorale for Orchestra is inspired by the history of the Pennsylvania borough of Ambler, giving snapshots of different stages of it through the years. Before there was an Ambler or even settlers here, the Wissahickon flowed through. Wissahickon means “catfish stream.” Not even any permanent Indian settlements were in the immediate area, so natural a setting it was. The opening of the music depicts this pristine landscape.

William Penn had purchased the entire area, and then sold one bit of it to William Harmer, who settled here and opened the first grist mill here. The grain cracks on the stone wheels driven by the running stream. The percussion comes into play, and over it a melody spins, reminiscent of the work of 18th-century tunesmiths. This industry drove what is now Ambler for over a century, as more and more farms and mills came to life along the Wissahickon.

Increasing business brought a rail line, which, along with progress, brought tragedy. The great train wreck of 1856 killed 59 and injured 100, but out of the disaster the townsfolk cared for the wounded and dying. Unison trumpets alert us to the crash, followed by undulating triads of flutes, strings, woodwinds, and finally the entire orchestra. The rescue effort was led by Mary Ambler, who turned her house into a temporary hospital. Her service was honored by the naming of the town and train station after her.

Here enters the chorale, a hymn on the name “Ambler.” A well-used technique of turning letters into pitches is employed. The start of the chorale tune, then, actually spells out Ambler in notes, honoring the town and the 50th anniversary of the orchestra bearing its name. The work highlights each section of the orchestra, and it is a salute to the community of players and the community at large, all working together.

Composed 2000. Dedicated to the Ambler Symphony Orchestra, Jack Moore, Music Director, on the occasion of its 50th Anniversary. Premiered 15 November 2000 at Wissahickon High School, Ambler, Pa.

Early (for me) art songs

rainmakerResounding thanks to Randi Marrazzo, Sheryl Woods, and their voice students at Temple University, who invited me a few weeks ago to visit their class and hear my songs. They’ve been working on them throughout the year, and their work has paid off in convincing, emotionally deep readings. One or two were sung from memory, and all were performed with an artistic understanding of the music and poetry.

This was very gratifying, not the least because I wrote the songs when I was about their age; these all come from when I was 21 to 24. Some of these are still in manuscript, even though they’re being sung here and there; I must notate these properly one of these days.

They’re from different sets; “The Isle” and “Memory,” for instance, are from what I once called my Three Songs, No. 1. “Memory,” I do believe, is the earliest piece of music I’ve written (that I haven’t burned). Without looking it up I’m not sure what numbers the others are from, but I did have six sets of Three Songs (never did finish No. 6). I’ve since written many others, but these have a special place in my heart. Here’s what they’re singing:

The Isle (Percy Bysshe Shelley)
Memory (Shelley)
On Zacheus (Francis Quarles)
The Rainmaker (K.S.)
who are you, little i (E.E. Cummings)

All these songs are naive to some extent, but my music is still—in one or three respects—naive. “The Rainmaker” is inspired by the Burt Lancaster/Katharine Hepburn movie—oh, look at that, released the year I was born. Here’s my poem for it; I guess it’s obvious I was reading a bit of Cummings at the time. It was exactly at this time that I decided to give up writing poetry:

He comes from now
here andever (yw)
spinninga dancelikea
whirlfroma -wind and
herazz ledazz
(if i’es you) and if
you lethim if you Just lethim (why)he
(y)ou inshower
sand you ’lljusT
(die) laughing.