Monthly Archives: August 2013

Labor Day Weekend on Now Is the Time

PhilaMusArt480Maybe this weekend you’re traveling with Now Is the Time, Sunday, September 1st at 10 pm. We start with City Columns for orchestra by Shawn Crouch, and then go way, way out with Michael Daugherty’s percussion concerto UFO. Evelyn Glennie solos, sometimes on unidentified pieces of metal, in the work that’s all about Roswell and Area 51 and improvising in front of a large wind ensemble.

It’s also the time of year for going back to school, and Matthew McCabe remembers his first music teacher. The homage uses her voice, together with electronically processed sounds, in glorious, retro, two-channel tape. Whether you’re here or far, far away (we stream online!), and whether you study, teach, work, or rest, have a great weekend!

from Matthew McCabe: Everything Must Be Beautiful 

Shawn Crouch: City Columns
Michael Daugherty: UFO
Matthew McCabe: Everything Must Be Beautiful

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.

My Symphony to be performed

Symphonyp39Happy to report that my Symphony will be performed by the Abington Symphony Orchestra on November 8th, 2013 in Abington, Pa. 8 pm. John Sall is the Music Director. Commissioned by the Lehigh Valley Chamber Orchestra, it premiered in 2002.

The full title is Symphony: Lumen ad revelationem, which comes from the Song of Simeon in Luke, chapter 2, “Lumen ad revelationem gentium, et gloriam plebis tuae Israel,” (“A light to lighten the gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel”). It’s a meditation on the day of The Presentation of Our Lord, a festival close to the dates of the premiere.

I “set” this text in the first movement (instruments only—there’s no singing), and portions of Psalm 84 (the Psalm for the day) in movements two (“Even the sparrow has found a home”) and three (“The Lord God is a sun and shield”). The work is for a classical orchestra with one quite active (in the third movement) percussionist. The opening of that last movement is the theme music for Discoveries from the Fleisher Collection. Because I knew you were wondering about that.

The full program notes, a recording, and the full score are linked on this page. I like what the reviewer of the premier wrote: “at once appealing and challenging… the work passed my test for something new: I’d love to hear it again.”

And you were already concerned about the state of journalism

[First published in the Broad Street Review 27 Aug 2013 as My brilliant journalistic career.]


Another nail in the coffin of journalism was pounded in too far, leaving its tell-tale half-moon dent in the soft yellow pine of that fragile box of putative intellect called alternative media, when Broad Street Review this month added my name to its illustrious list of contributing editors. (Click here.)

Promoting me from contributor to CE would move me to a more exclusive spot in the server farm, editor Dan Rottenberg assured me. My new title also confers certain other fringe benefits, such as free rides on buses and subways when I turn 65, um, a generation hence.

When I asked what my duties as CE would be, as opposed to my previous work in what we may now refer to as BCE, Dan told me to write well and to know what I’m talking about.

“But I’ve already tried that,” I said.

“Try harder,” he replied.

“But it’s already so hard being a journalist,” I said.

“You’re not a journalist,” he said. “Journalists meet deadlines.”

“OK, never mind,” I said. “Wow, so much to learn.” I think I really did say Wow.

Plain Truths redux

PlainTruthsPostExI’ve hit the double bar on the expansion of Plain Truths, my song cycle for baritone and string quartet originally premiered in 2011. Randall Scarlata sings the new version in Newburyport, Massachusetts November 16th with the Newburyport Chamber Music Festival String Quartet and The Candlelight Chorale, Jay Lane, Music Director. David Yang is the Festival’s Artistic Director and the Quartet’s violist.

It is now seven songs, from five, and includes optional chorus on the two new songs and on two of the older ones. It clocks in at about 28 minutes. I originally set texts from authors who lived in Newburyport in past centuries.

The two new texts are more contemporary. Tom Coleman, who died only six years ago, wrote “Remember Meho?” for a book of town reminiscences. The piece I just finished, “Homing In,” is from a poem by longtime local newspaperman Bill Plante, whom I hope to meet at the concert.

I’m particularly happy with how these came out. Plante’s is a heartfelt longing for a time and for friends that are past. I was struck by its poignancy, but surprised by the same emotion coming to me from Coleman’s, after it first eluded me. Here’s his entire text:

“Remember Meho? He met every train and was at every parade with his camera. He snapped pictures everywhere, but never had any film in the camera.”

Can’t wait to hear the new cycle! But first to extract the new parts, and finish the piano reduction.

Berceuse Fantasque on Now Is the Time

BabySleep480You might call these fantastic lullabies on Now Is the Time, Sunday, August 25th at 10 pm. The birth of a friend’s daughter inspired Rick Sowash’s Lullabye for Kara for cello and piano. Steven Gerber’s Violin Concerto is a rocking to sleep, of sorts, of a work he began as a student at Haverford College but never finished. One part of it, however, was born anew as this concerto’s first movement.

From solo strings to more—but synthesized—is Carl Berky’s The Synthelating Mariachi String Band. In Secret Geometry, James Primosch uses electronic tape with piano, and between explosive Variations and a brilliant Toccata is a Nocturne in the true spirit of night-music: the other side of a lullaby, perhaps. Phillip Lasser focuses on the singer of the lullaby rather more than the song itself, in Berceuse fantasque for violin and piano.

from Philip Lasser: Berceuse fantasque 

Rick Sowash: Lullabye for Kara
Steven R. Gerber: Violin Concerto
Carl Berky: The Synthelating Mariachi String Band
James Primosch: Secret Geometry
Philip Lasser: Berceuse fantasque

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.

Can Christianity Survive the Broad Street Review?

[Christianity is just peachy without all those Christian parts, wags someone’s finger in the Broad Street Review. My response below, published in BSR, 20 Aug 2013, under the title Breaking news about the Virgin Birth (a response).]

Cross1In a shocking exposé, the Broad Street Review reported this week that non-Christians don’t believe in Christianity. Digging deeper, it also uncovered theologians, philosophers and scholars who liked theology, philosophy, and Berkeley, California better than Christianity. (See “Can Christianity survive Christianity?” by Joy Tomme.)

A retired Episcopal bishop from the northeastern U.S., John Shelby Spong, said that Christians, who ought to be relevant, should not believe in, nor do anything different from, non-Christians. In agreement, millions of churchgoers in the Northeastern United States stopped going to church.

Billions of Christians in expanding churches in other parts of the U.S., Africa, and Latin America could not be reached by BSR.

Belief in the Virgin Birth, Spong said, is plainly ridiculous to moderns, who have found, through repeated experimentation, that babies are born after people have sex. This newly discovered fact was unknown 2,000 years ago, he said, and explained the outdated doctrine.

Episcopalians for Moses

Cultures in ancient times were also unaware that dead people stayed dead. “We’ve done extensive research and polling and totally know all about that now,” Spong said, “but this is why they could believe something as silly as Christ’s Resurrection back then.”

Calling for a new Reformation, Spong said that the only way for Christianity to truly realize its potential was to own up to its sin and become non-Christian. Asked to specify what type, he said that he hadn’t made up his mind, but had heard that since Jews out-number those in his own denomination, he’d look into which branch of Judaism would be best.

In a combined statement, leaders of Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jews said, “We’ll get back to you.”

Arming Quakers

Spong’s followers, numbering in the dozens, once formed a group called The Jesus Seminar. They wrote a book attempting to show that any part of the Bible was wrong if it described Jesus as being different in any way from a retired bishop. They voted many times in Berkeley with colored beads and wrote their book over eight years. While it was a really big book, they couldn’t agree on which parts of the Bible were wrong. But they all agreed that it had to be wrong.

The Jesus Seminar holds agreement with itself to be very important, calling it scholarship. The Bible’s agreeing with itself, however, they call “circular reasoning.”

In other outreach news, Quakers confirmed that they are forming a militia and will offer free Mixed Martial Arts instruction at their new meetinghouse in Idaho. The Chief Rabbinate of Israel announced that it would no longer adhere to that whole one-God thing. Meanwhile, Coca-Cola unveiled “New Coke,” a product based on extensive research and polling.

God’s personal trainer

Richard Dawkins, noting that the percentage of self-identified atheists has fallen from 4 percent to 2 percent since the 1940s, said that while he is still opposed to an omnipotent, omniscient God, he is personally ready to accept a Supreme Being who is physically fit and/or slightly clever.

Virgin Birth- and Resurrection-believing Christians in North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Somalia, Bhutan, Yemen, and China continued to believe, and continued to hide. God Himself declined to comment, explaining, “I’ve got my hands full with Egypt and Syria right now.”

[At times like this, sometimes I cross myself. Here’s why I do that, even though I didn’t used to. I also write music at times like this, and at other times, or build brick patios, but mostly write music. Here’s more about me.]

The World Beloved on Now Is the Time

BluegrassMass480The question—What Is American Classical Music?—comes to mind on Now Is the Time, Sunday, August 18th at 10 pm. The Symphony No. 1 of John Biggs is in the grand tradition we think of as “American,” with wide-open sounds and deep breaths from the prairies—first brought to us by Virgil Thomson of Kansas and Aaron Copland of Brooklyn. It’s as American as it gets.

The music of John Biggs grows honestly out of this tradition, but the very day in 1963 that the middle movement was completed, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. This Passacaglia of this American symphony, often performed separately as a memorial, lends added resonance to the entire work.

Carol Barnett takes two worlds that ought not go together—and makes them go together. The World Beloved, A Bluegrass Mass is remarkable because of its integrity. This is no simple Mass-with-a-banjo. Text is interpolated between the sections of the Mass, and the total result is solid, colorful—and uplifting. The bluegrass band Monroe Crossing joins Philip Brunelle’s VocalEssence in a work that could only have come to light in America.

from John Biggs: Symphony No. 1 

John Biggs: Symphony No. 1
Carol Barnett: The World Beloved, A Bluegrass Mass

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.