Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Nobility of Women

The Nobility of Women
2011; Baroque fl, ob, vn, viola da gamba, Baroque vc, harpsichord; 20′
Commissioned and premiered by Mélomanie

excursions-500x500This 20-minute work takes its name from the 1600 dance instruction manual Nobiltà di Dame by Fabritio Caroso. The name of the book alone captivated me. I used none of the music from Nobiltà di Dame, but rather imagined a piece that would grow out of a work with that title. I also wanted to write legitimate dance music, that is, music that people could really dance to if they liked. Mélomanie is skilled in Baroque and new music, and I’ve enjoyed writing for historical instruments in the past. The sound-world is entrancing, so I’ve tried to compose a work that would release the beauties of these fabulous instruments, including some short and not-so-short solos throughout.

Here’s where you can purchase the CD Excursions which includes Nobility!

“Kile Smith’s eight-movement The Nobility of Women completes the recording, going beyond references to dance suites, paying direct homage to a 16th-century dance manual for women. More than the others, Smith is comfortable with close imitation of 17th-century techniques and tonality.”—Early Music America

Here’s a post on the first rehearsal, and here are reviews of the premiere in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Chestnut Hill Local. Below are excerpts from the premiere.

Overture 
Allemande 
Branle 
Musette 
Canario 
Sarabande 
Branle Reprise 
Ciaconna 

Three Things I Learned from Maynard Ferguson

[First published in the Broad Street Review, 20 June 2014. Reprinted by permission.]

MaynardMessageThe bear, dozing in the afternoon heat, shifts, and a vast paw thuds the loam. A startled mockingbird takes off, lands on a safe limb, and screeches a complaint.

So begins, as I hear it, “Frame for the Blues” by trombonist and composer Slide Hampton. Sid Mark for years used to sign off “The Mark of Jazz” on WHAT-FM with it. But because I already knew it from an LP my parents had, “Frame for the Blues” prompted one of the first stirrings of that strange mixture of pride and gratitude you feel when you hear something and recognize it.

A Message from Newport with Maynard Ferguson and His Orchestra, was recorded live at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. I listened to lots of Top 40, but when I wanted to hear something special, it was often the vinyl of Maynard that slid over the spindle in the living room’s hi-fi console.

I think I could almost replay the entire LP in my head, from “Fan It, Janet” to “Three Little Foxes.” But “Frame for the Blues”—Side B, Track 2—is the hymn to the sweet brilliance that was the Maynard of the late ’50s. Three things that have stayed with me:

1. If you’re gonna swing, swing

The sign that your music isn’t working usually isn’t one thing or another. Usually, it’s that it isn’t one thing or another. A tune is “too pretty,” you think, so you pollock onto the canvas a nontonal pitch aggregate, trying to impress an imaginary professor. If you’re worried it’s too ugly, you buff out tritones or resolve unresolved notes, hoping to hold onto an imaginary audience. Or you flash some sonic bling for street cred.

But the sign of bad music isn’t prettiness or violence or bling or any one thing. It’s the lack of one thing; it’s hedging. “Let your yea be yea, and your nay, nay,” Jesus told his disciples, and Mr. Miyagi warned Daniel-san, “Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later, get squish like grape!”

“Frame for the Blues” is swing through and through, slow and sure of itself. I love its unabashed, large-group bring-it power, especially when it’s quiet. The swung rhythm—somewhere between triplets and dots—never stops (no one really knows what swing is, but we know it when we hear it). It’s an unrelenting feel of soft shuffle, but when it’s poked…

2. Punctuation can be soft

At 2:06, Maynard flings out a run of straight eighths against the swing. Only later does it occur to you how righteously cool that is. It’s nothing new. Hindemith got the two-against-three from Brahms, or they both got it from Bach, or all three got it from Josquin (funny how B, B, and H all loved old music). Cuba got it from Spain, who got it from the Canary Islands, maybe, or they all got it from Africa.

And then every once in a while, in between phrases, Hampton shows his arranging chops by holding back. Great ones don’t show off. They don’t even show anything sometimes, so instead of squealing the saxes or releasing a trombone bombardment, Slide keeps his poker face and holds up two fingers to the pianist, who plunks a soft octave (4:47) as punctuation.

A string of straight eighths or a quiet octave: It’s not a big thing, and that’s the point. Get the job done and move on. No need to shout.

3. Keep your powder dry

But Maynard Ferguson is known for one thing. He could play the trumpet higher than anybody else. Sometimes in his career he might have relied on it too much, but in the Message from Newport days he wasn’t afraid to just flat-out play jazz. So is there a high note in “Frame for the Blues”? You bet there is, the highest note on this album.

It’s a high C. Keep in mind that the trumpet range is basically a soprano’s. But this C isn’t the treble clef plus two lines above, about the highest note the highest soprano soloist ever has to sing. It isn’t the F above that, Mozart’s Magic Flute Queen of the Night high note, which only the rarest soprano ever tries, and which a trumpeter without a special, small trumpet best stays away from. Maynard’s C, on a regular old trumpet, is five notes above that high F, an octave above the high C. Take a treble clef, add another five lines, and a space, and start to gasp for oxygen: Nobody plays up there.

So Maynard and Slide wait and wait until the very end of the piece, until the last chord the band plays. Then, and only then, does Maynard unleash that C. Notes that high, truth be told, you don’t even care if they’re pretty. Unbelievably, Maynard’s is actually beautiful. Then he lets it float down, down, way down, into the band, and the piece ends.

This is virtuosity, as tasteful as it gets. Save your weapons for when you need them. The great ones have them, but don’t always have to use them. The bear can sleep in the afternoon, anywhere he likes.

A Summer's Day on Now Is the Time

MonetRouenCathedral

Claude Monet: Rouen Cathedral, Facade (Sunset)

Celebrate the solstice on Now Is the Time, Saturday, June 21st at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Into Light is Marilyn Shrude’s orchestral paean to youth and possibility, and Lewis Spratlan outlines an entire day of activity—both fun and contemplative—ending with a starry night, in A Summer’s Day. Looking at the evening sky reflected in Italy’s Lake Como, Laura Elise Schwendinger asks C’è la Luna Questa Sera? (“is there a moon tonight?”).

As Monet painted the same scene in different light (including his Rouen Cathedral series from 1892-1893), Jennifer Higdon used materials from her blue cathedral in different ways in Light Refracted for clarinet, string trio, and piano. One of Brian Dykstra’s piano rags is the deliciously floating Sweet Daydreams, and in light moving, David Lang provides an encore for Hilary Hahn.

from Brian Dykstra: Sweet Daydreams 

PROGRAM:
Marilyn Shrude: Into Light
Lewis Spratlan: A Summer’s Day
Laura Elise Schwendinger: C’è la Luna Questa Sera?
Jennifer Higdon: Light Refracted
Brian Dykstra: Sweet Daydreams
David Lang: light moving

Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 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 wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. 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.

How Do I Love Thee?, in performance at Verizon Hall

KimmelStill flying high after Monday night’s performance of How Do I Love Thee? by the Pennsylvania Girlchoir under the direction of Vincent Metallo. This was part of the June 16th Commonwealth Youth Choirs Gala in Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia, continuing the 10th Anniversary celebration of the Girlchoir. The concert included the Keystone State Boychoir and many other groups.

But if that weren’t enough, the emcee for the evening was Miss America Nina Davuluri. So that means, you bet it does, that my name was read by Miss America from the stage of Verizon Hall.

More information about my setting of the famous Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem is here. The girls sounded wonderfully focused and exquisite in that space, and I cannot say enough about Vincent’s directing. His preparation of my piece and others chosen for this evening (including two difficult and ravishing Eastern European works) show the amount of work that goes into an “effortless” performance. What a blessing to be a part of it.

SSAA with piano or string quartet, 7′. Commissioned by the Pennsylvania Girlchoir, Vincent Metallo, music director, for its Tenth Anniversary. Premiered 1 June 2014, the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith;
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)
“Sonnet 43,” Sonnets from the Portuguese, 1845

And Good in Every Thing

AndGoodInEveryThingAnd Good in Every Thing
SATB, 5 minutes

Commissioned by Organist/Choirmaster John French for the choir of The Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, to honor The Reverend Alan Neale for ten years of service as Rector. Premiered 15 June 2014.

This work caps my first year as Composer in Residence at the Church of the Holy Trinity, and I am grateful for the support of Alan Neale, the vestry, the choir, and of course, John French. They have used my anthems throughout the year, but John wanted to commission something special for Alan’s 10-year celebration to be observed, fittingly, on Holy Trinity Sunday.

When John mentioned the possible text he was rolling around in his mind for this, I laughed incredulously. I love Shakespeare, wish I knew more, and am no expert. But when he began the first words of the text, I recited it along with him because they were the very words I memorized for my brief acting stint at the Free Library of Philadelphia, which I wrote about here.

And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
—William Shakespeare (1564–1616), As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 1

The music for the beginning of the text, up to “sermons in stones,” almost wrote itself. It rarely happens that I compose quickly, and I am wary of the result when I do, but my joy on pronouncing it good was quickly tempered by the fact that my putatively five-minute anthem had used up all of 60 seconds.

I had only five words left for the remaining four minutes of music.

I didn’t know how I was going to wriggle out of this, but just kept writing, trying different ways of setting “and good in every thing” (I love that “every thing” is two words). I lingered on “and” almost, I admit, to buy me some time, but it is something I have found I love doing: accenting supposedly unimportant words.

But then a musical phrasing fell into place that seemed to welcome slight variations, subtle shifts from E-flat to C minor chords, and as I toyed with it, it occurred to me that it could go on for a while. And it struck me that I could spend an entire four minutes on those five words and those two sonorities, and as I got part-way through I said to myself, “Really? You’re going to do this?” and I answered, “Why not?” and I just kept at it.

It isn’t a “sacred” anthem in that the words are not religious nor of course from Scripture, but in setting this, I thought about what would the music be like if I believed, if I really believed, that there was good in every thing. The first reading for Holy Trinity Sunday—which I had forgotten, but which I was reminded of before church by Alan—is from Genesis, where God looks on what He created, and calls it good.

Here’s the live recording of the premiere. This also is, by the way, the piece wherein I use the infamous chord I wrote about here.

Miniatures on Now Is the Time

BeckmanBigMuddyMiniatures are big on Now Is the Time, Saturday, June 14th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. The Pastiche of John Biggs is a riot of tunes you already know, skillfully arranged, while Miniatures are original offerings from Louis Anthony deLise’s brand-new CD for flute and piano. A concertino is a small concerto, but Harold Schiffman’s, for oboe, is the biggest work on the program and a lyrical treat.

Dick Hensold comes along with another medley of peppy tunes for pipes, and we revisit John McDonald’s music for violin, and his Four Single-Minded Miniatures. From Big Muddy, Patrick Beckman’s Mississippi-inspired suite for clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, we finish the show with Natchez Hymn / Gigue.

from John Biggs: Pastiche 

PROGRAM:
John Biggs: Pastiche
Louis Anthony deLise: Miniatures
Harold Schiffman: Concertino for Oboe and Orchestra
Dick Hensold: Janette Gillis’s Fish Cakes / Lass of Carrie Mills / Riddrie / Troy Mac Gillivray / Mrs. J. Forbes
John McDonald: Four Single-Minded Miniatures
Patrick Beckman: Natchez Hymn / Gigue

Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 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 wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. 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.

Songs with and without Words on Now Is the Time

SprungRhythmSinging can be vocal or instrumental on Now Is the Time, Saturday, June 7th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. A tribute to a family, carved in cemetery marble, is the choral Notturno in Weiss (Nocturne in White) by Robert Moran. Joseph Hallman’s Three Poems of Jessica Hornik (from the CD Sprung Rhythm, left) uses voice with an expanded chamber ensemble, while Anthony Iannaccone selects a solo piano for his Song without Words.

An Uruguayan legend or Leyenda comes from Sergio Cervetti for voice and orchestra, and from her ten-year-old daughter’s poem about a Cape Cod berry-picking excursion, Elena Ruehr creates the all-instrumental Blackberries.

from Robert Moran: Notturno in Weiss 

PROGRAM:
Robert Moran: Notturno in Weiss
Joseph Hallman: Three Poems of Jessica Hornik
Anthony Iannaccone: Song without Words
Sergio Cervetti: Leyenda
Elena Ruehr: Blackberries

Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 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 wrti.org and click on the Listen: Classical button at the top of any page. 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.