Monthly Archives: September 2014

New work finished for The Crossing and children's choir

JenksPlayground

Children’s Park at Jenks School

Today I delivered my new work for The Crossing on a wonderful poem by Ryan Eckes, a setting of May Day for The Crossing and a choir of 4th- and 5th-graders from the Jenks School in Philadelphia.

For SATB and 2-part children’s choir, it runs about 10 minutes.

Ryan’s poem is filled with haunting imagery of hope in the midst of hunger. Cats, wolves, South Philly, and Chernobyl make appearances. More details later as we get closer to the 18 Apr 2015 premiere, but for now, The Crossing will be working throughout the year with the students in this educational outreach, bringing them into the creative process. Poet and composer have already met with them a few times; now the stunning singers of The Crossing will take them through the performing part!

The Friends of Jenks, the Chestnut Hill Community Fund, the Presser Foundation, and of course The Crossing’s conductor Donald Nally and managing director Steven Gearhart made this all happen. Thanks to them, and to Ryan Eckes for knocking me out with this poem.

Voices of Autumn on Now Is the Time

ChanticleerAmericanSay hello to fall on Now Is the Time, Saturday, September 27th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Jonathan Miller conducts Chicago a cappella in his setting of The Fall, a little poem about a boy, holding leaves over his head, pretending to be a tree. When he drops them, his parents say, “Look, it is fall.” Composer/harpist Anne LeBaron joins with shakuhachi and koto in her trio Into Something Rich and Strange, and Ursula Oppens plays a piece that John Corigliano made up out of improvisations, Winging It.

Chanticleer sings the Buddhist chant–inspired Voices of Autumn by Jackson Hill, and from the CD As Falling Leaves comes Arabesques of Adolphus Hailstork, for flute and mallet percussion. Finally, the change in seasons reminds us of Keeping Time, which just happens to be the title of a work from Dan Becker’s new CD, Fade.

from Adolphus Hailstork: Arabesques 

PROGRAM:
Jonathan Miller: The Fall
Anne LeBaron: Into Something Rich and Strange
John Corigliano: Winging It: Improvisations for Piano
Jackson Hill: Voices of Autumn
Adolphus Hailstork: Arabesques
Dan Becker: Keeping Time

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. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

12 Things I've Learned from Church Music (Part 4 of 4)

AlleluiaVerseExample1My last of 4 posts is up at New Music Box, the website of New Music USA, where I’m their September guest-blogger. I’ve had a great time writing these, and my thanks go to editors Frank Oteri and Molly Sheridan for their help. I work in just a little composer terminology—a mixolydian here or there—but that’s because the immediate audience is other composers. Generally, for my Fleisher Discoveries or Broad Street Review essays, I try to avoid lingo.

New Music Box is the website of New Music USA, the composer service organization created from the merger of the American Music Center and Meet the Composer. Some folks have already commented on the essays at the New Music Box site, so feel free to join in the conversation.

From the 12 Things I’ve Learned about Composing from Writing Church Music, this last batch—with an assist from Earth, Wind & Fire and an Easter Alleluia—is:

10. Stick to the Text
11. It’s All About the Music
12. It’s Not About the Music

Part One is here:
1. Start Where You Are
2. Write What You Know
3. Write for People You Know

Part Two:
4. Make Them Sound Good
5. Follow the Rules
6. Break the Rules

Part Three:
7. Write Faster
8. Hear It, Change It
9. Churches Do Tons of New Music

Dancing Loops on Now Is the Time

MobiusLoopTwo versions of the same piece encircle Now Is the Time, Saturday, September 20th at 9 pm at wrti.org and WRTI-HD2. Mathew Rosenblum wrote Möbius Loop for saxophone quartet and for saxophone quartet with orchestra—we’ll hear both versions, one at the beginning of the show, and one at the end. The Raschèr Saxophone Quartet leads the way, with Gil Rose’s Boston Modern Orchestra Project.

Electro-acoustical music of Rand Steiger is 13 Loops, with digital processing of some of the sounds accompanying the performers as they play. Paring all the way down to a single flute, however, is Whirlwinds Dancing by R. Carlos Nakai. Lisamarie McGrath solos on the Native American flute; the characteristic chiff at the beginning of the notes charm us into a circling reverie.

from R. Carlos Nakai: Whirlwinds Dancing 

PROGRAM:
Mathew Rosenblum: Möbius Loop (saxophone quartet)
Rand Steiger: 13 Loops
R. Carlos Nakai: Whirlwinds Dancing
Mathew Rosenblum: Möbius Loop (saxophone quartet with orchestra)

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. Thanks for supporting American contemporary music on WRTI! 

12 Things I've Learned from Church Music (Part 3 of 4)

Photo by Bin im Garten via Creative commons on Wikimedia

Photo by Bin im Garten via Creative Commons

My 3rd of 4 posts is up at New Music Box, the website of New Music USA; I’m their September guest-blogger. From the 12 Things I’ve Learned about Composing from Writing Church Music, this 3rd batch—with an assist from a drummer—is:

7. Write Faster
8. Hear It, Change It
9. Churches Do Tons of New Music

Part One is here:
1. Start Where You Are
2. Write What You Know
3. Write for People You Know

Part Two:
4. Make Them Sound Good
5. Follow the Rules
6. Break the Rules

The plan for next week, to finish the series:
10. Stick to the text
11. It’s all about the music
12. It’s not about the music

The Consolation of Apollo

earthriseThe Consolation of Apollo, SATB, Crotales, Bass Drum, 35′

Commissioned by Eric Owens for The Crossing, Donald Nally, conductor, The Consolation of Apollo premieres at Princeton University, Wolfensohn Hall, on October 10th and 11th, 2014, and at The Church of the Holy Trinity, Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, on October 12th.

Here’s the live recording from the Church of the Holy Trinity:

When he approached me with the idea that became The Consolation of Apollo, The Crossing’s conductor Donald Nally had been looking for a companion piece to David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion. They had been performing it since it won the Pulitzer Prize in 2008, and were looking for a work, that, with the Lang, would comprise an evening’s concert. So, along with an otherwise unaccompanied chorus I used some of the percussion and, significantly, the context of Christmas from the Lang work.

The spine of Apollo is Nally’s vision for some use of the 1968 Christmas Eve broadcast by the crew of Apollo 8, as they became the first astronauts to leave Earth’s orbit, circle the moon, and photograph the entire Earth. With the transcript of their communications I interspersed selections from The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius (480–524).

Philosopher, Christian apologist, and translator of Aristotle, Boethius was one of the greatest thinkers and authors prior to the Middle Ages, combining Classical thought and theology. In the Consolation he considers good and evil, our place in creation and on fortune’s wheel, and, at times, Apollo (Phœbus), the mythical charioteer of the sun. A consul to the Ostrogoth Emperor Theodoric, he wrote this while imprisoned by Theodoric, who suspected him of treason, as Boethius attempted to improve relationships with Constantinople. Boethius was executed shortly after completing the Consolation.

The Consolation is not overtly Christian and mentions God, as a higher power, only briefly. In this it is a cousin to the Seneca texts I set in The Waking Sun, also composed for The Crossing. In my selections from Boethius, I attempted to highlight his appreciation of myth, but also his judgment of it as inadequate. The compelling translation/adaptation attributed to King Alfred has the rhythmic and imaginitive power of Beowulf. It and the lyrical James and Cooper translations provide textured counterpoint to the Apollo 8 transmissions.

That 1968 Christmas Eve television broadcast famously (and in some quarters, infamously) included the recitation by the astronauts of the first ten verses of Genesis, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth….” This text is mixed together with the prosaic chatter among the crew and Houston as they position the craft for what are now the iconic photos of Earth.

The setting of the prose was the tallest musical hurdle for me, as I wanted to convey the informal, even chaotic quality of the speech without sacrificing lyricism. The model that offered a solution was the sung Passion, where three singers of different ranges portray Christ, the narrator, and the crowd. I assigned Commander Frank Borman to the basses, Command Module Pilot James Lovell to the tenors, and Lunar Module Pilot William Anders to the altos. Astronaut Ken Mattingly, on the support team in Houston, is voiced together by the altos, tenors, and basses.

The distance and low-quality sound of the transmission was something I wished to approximate. I was unwilling to use percussion for this purpose mainly because of the length of the text, as percussion quickly tires the ears. After rejecting some vocal techniques, I decided to employ the sopranos in a halo of pre- and post-echoes of the lower three voices.

In the Genesis reading the lower three sometimes switch this sonic role with the sopranos. Again, a hurdle in Genesis 1 is the length of a not obviously musical text. One technique I used—interesting to me, anyway, as I don’t believe I’ve used it before—is bitonality, or the sounding of two tonal centers at the same time, the idea coming from the description of God’s dividing the light from darkness, and the firmament from the waters. At one point the women are in one key, the men in another; or I combine the sopranos and basses in one key, and the altos and tenors in another.

The bass drum drives the rhythm here and there, and the crotales are mostly simple—even simplistic—bell-like heralds of the astronauts, resolving into an evocation of the sincerest of wishes for a Merry Christmas for all. This, I believe, is the emotional center of the piece.

The Consolation of Apollo
SATB, Crotales, Bass Drum, 35′

1. Thou may’st know, if thou wilt notice
from Metres of Boethius, XXXI. Adapted by King Alfred the Great (849-899) from The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius (480-524), and translated by Walter John Sedgefield, 1900.

Thou may’st know,                              if thou wilt notice,
That many creatures                          of various kinds
Fare over earth                                    with unlike motions,
With gait and colour                           quite diverse,
And aspects also                                 of endless kinds,
Queer and common.                          Some creep and crawl
With all their body                              bound to the ground;
No wings them help;                          on feet they walk not,
Nor pace the earth,                            as was them appointed.
Some on two feet                               fare o’er the ground,
Some are four-footed;                       some in flight
Wing ’neath the clouds.                     Yet each creature
Is drooping earthward,                      stooping downward,
On the ground looking,                      longing for earth.
Man only goeth                                   of all God’s creatures
With gait upright,                                gazing upwards.
This is a token                                     that he shall turn
His trust and his mind                       more up than down,
To the heavens above,                       lest he bend his thoughts
Like beasts earthward.                      It is not meet
That the mind of a mortal                should remain below
While his face he holdeth                 up to heaven.

2. Yes, it’s beautiful
The crew of Apollo 8, December 24th, 1968

Borman: How’s that steam pressure, Bill?
Anders: Good.
Lovell: Frank.
Anders: It isn’t even boiling yet. Yes, we just started.
Borman: Here it comes!
Anders: Okay.
Borman: Oh boy!
Lovell: Get a good shot of her?
Borman: Yes, see it?
Lovell: Well, keep the camera there. Keep the camera.
Anders: Here it comes. Here it comes. But you’re not on yet. You got it…you got to do something. Pitch up or yaw.
Borman: Yaw right?
Anders: Yaw right.
Lovell: Oh, Jesus.
Lovell: Houston, Apollo 8.
Anders: Roll her a little bit. Roll her a little bit to the…to the right.
Lovell: Here, you want me to fly it just to come a…
Anders: That one’s got it, the roll. Yes, yes. It’s the roll that’s got it. Roll right, if you can.
Lovell: We’re rolling.
Anders: Come on, gang.
Lovell: We’re going to radial out. Are we…you got her coming up? You see her, Frank?
Borman: Yes, it’s beautiful.

3. Wings are mine
The Consolation of Philosophy, Book 4, Song 1. Boethius, trans. H. R. James, 1897

Wings are mine; above the pole
Far aloft I soar.
Clothed with these, my nimble soul
Scorns earth’s hated shore,
Cleaves the skies upon the wind,
Sees the clouds left far behind.

Soon the glowing point she nears,
Where the heavens rotate,
Follows through the starry spheres
Phœbus’ course, or straight
Takes for comrade ’mid the stars
Saturn cold or glittering Mars;

Thus each circling orb explores
Through Night’s stole that peers;
Then, when all are numbered, soars
Far beyond the spheres,
Mounting heaven’s supremest height
To the very Fount of light.

There the Sovereign of the world
His calm sway maintains;
As the globe is onward whirled
Guides the chariot reins,
And in splendour glittering
Reigns the universal King.

Hither if thy wandering feet
Find at last a way,
Here thy long-lost home thou’lt greet:
‘Dear lost land,’ thou’lt say,
‘Though from thee I’ve wandered wide,
Hence I came, here will abide.’

Yet if ever thou art fain
Visitant to be
Of earth’s gloomy night again,
Surely thou wilt see
Tyrants whom the nations fear
Dwell in hapless exile here.

4. The Sea of Tranquility

Anders: Houston.
Lovell: Houston. Go ahead, go ahead.
Mattingly: Loud and clear and an initial look at your systems are good.
Anders: Houston, Apollo 8. Over.
Mattingly: We’ve got a picture, Apollo 8.
Anders: Roger. We’ve got the T…Roger. We’ve got the TV…
Lovell: Roll…roll left.
Anders: Huh?
Borman: Roll left a little, can you?
Lovell: Yes.
Borman: Did he say it was a good picture?
Anders: How’s the picture look, Houston?
Mattingly: Loud and clear.
Anders: The TV look okay?
Mattingly: That’s very good.
Lovell: Welcome from the Moon, Houston.
Borman: And the world.
Mattingly: Thank you.
Anders: Is this our landing site we’re going over now?
Lovell: Yes, this is our landing site right down here.
Anders: We’re now going over our…
Lovell: Approaching our landing site.
Anders: …approaching one of our future landing sites…
Lovell: Right now.
Anders: …selected in this smooth region to…
Lovell: Called the Sea of Tranquility.

5. While the bright sun
Metres of Boethius, VI

While the bright sun                              most clear is beaming,
Gleaming in heaven,                              gloom enwrappeth
Over the world                                       all other bodies;
For their light is nought,                       nothing at all,
When set against                                   the sun’s great brightness.
When softly bloweth                             from south and west
The wind ’neath heav’n,                        then soon wax
The flowers of the field,                        fain to be able.
But the stiff storm-wind,                       when it strongly bloweth
From out of the north-east,                  how soon it nippeth
The rose’s beauty!                                  By the northern blast
The spacious ocean                               is helpless spurned
Till strongly heaving                               it striketh the beach.
Alas, that in the world                           nothing weareth
Firm and lasting                                      long on this earth!

6. In the beginning
Borman: Hey, why don’t we start reading that thing, and that would be a good place to end it.
Lovell: No, we’ve got to go into it very nicely. Why don’t we…as we go into sunset…
Anders: Right.
Lovell: …or is it sunrise? This is sunrise, yes. We’re approaching lunar sunrise.
Anders: We are now approaching lunar sunrise, and for all the people back on Earth, the crew of Apollo 8 has a message that we would like to send to you.

In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, and God said, Let there be light. And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good, and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters. And let it divide the waters from the waters.” And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day. 

And God said, “Let the waters under the Heavens be gathered together into one place. And let the dry land appear.” And it was so. And God called the dry land Earth. And the gathering together of the waters called he seas. And God saw that it was good.

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you…all of you on the good Earth.

7. The stars shine
Consolation, Book 3, Song 1, trans. W. V. Cooper, 1902

The stars shine with more pleasing grace when a storm has ceased to roar and pour down rain. After the morning star has dispersed the shades of night, the day in all its beauty drives its rosy chariot forth. So thou hast looked upon false happiness first; now draw thy neck from under her yoke: so shall true happiness come into thy soul.

12 Things I've Learned from Church Music (Part 2 of 4)

Break the Rules! (photo by Scott Kleinberg) via Flickr Creative Commons

Break the Rules! (photo by Scott Kleinberg) via Flickr Creative Commons

The second of my four posts is up at New Music Box, the website of New Music USA, as part of my September guest-blog. It’s 12 things I’ve learned about composing from writing church music, so there are three in each of the four post (they say composers are good at math; that’s as much proof as you’ll get from me).

The first three, which you can read here, are:

1. Start Where You Are
2. Write What You Know
3. Write for People You Know

(Just to be clear, just because the title says I’ve learned it doesn’t mean I’ve learned it. I might better have titled it “tried to learn” or “learned about” or even “I’m still trying to learn,” but I hope the point is clear that these are things particularly from my work in church music that I’ve learned which I believe translate to composition as a whole.) In any case, this new post has the next three:

4. Make Them Sound Good
5. Follow the Rules
6. Break the Rules

Next week will be, unless I change my mind:

7. Write Faster
8. Hear It, Change It
9. Churches Do Tons of New Music