Saturday, October 31, 2020

Florence Price and Langston Hughes Monologue for the Working Class

Performed by Justin Hopkins and Jeanne-Minette Cilliers

There’s a new wind a-blowin’ Down on Tobacco Road. There’s a new Hope a-growin’ For them folks by name o’ Joad.

There’s a new truth we’ll be knowin’ that will lift our heavy load. When we find out What the working class can do.

There’s a new day a-comin’ For the poor and unemployed, New tunes we’ll be hummin’ From our hearts so overjoyed.

As we march we’ll be a-drummin’ How our trouble’s been destroyed when we find out what the working class can do.

All day long I’ve labored All my whole life through Ask the boss man for a favor He says he “no can do.”

But when I unite with my neighbor we’ll make this old world new ‘Cause we know what the working class can do.

So let’s get together folks That labor with our hands. And let’s get together, folks, with brains that understand.

And let’s get together, folks, all across this land, And show ‘em what the working class can do.

After listening please make sure to visit Michael Cooper's blogpost about the song.

Friday, October 30, 2020

The JackTrip Foundation

This is the best news ever for musicians in isolation!

The JackTrip Foundation is a newly formed non-profit organization dedicated to advancing technologies that enable music collaboration over the Internet, and to facilitate the creation of music that transcends distance constraints. The Covid-19 pandemic has tragically closed down many musical activities around the world, devastating musicians and music organizations alike. Unlike many business functions, which have pivoted quickly to Internet collaboration tools, the time delay inherent in Internet transmissions have precluded musicians from being able to make a similar transition online.

The mission of the JackTrip Foundation is to make the performance of music over the Internet feasible and accessible to everyone. By utilizing existing and newly-developed technologies aimed at reducing latency, the Foundation plans to develop and operate a music collaboration cloud service which will allow musicians to rehearse, perform and collaborate synchronously over common Internet connections.

JackTrip is a free, open source program authored by Chris Chafe and Juan Pablo Caceres at Stanford University. Many musicians use JackTrip because it was made for professional-quality sound and low latency, because it works with existing hardware and does not require any financial investment, and because its developers and others have created a supportive community around it.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Motivic Development in "Naked City"

Michael and I have been watching (for the second time) the complete run of the "Naked City" television series that ran from 1958 until 1963. The first time we watched the series I was taken by the actors, the photography, and the story telling. I found Billy May's music attractive and wonderful, but I was paying attention to the whole rather than to the brilliant way he develops the opening five-pitch main musical motive from the first theme of the opening music in incidental music (unique to each episode) throughout the series. Here's the motive:

[Just an aside: I do not have absolute pitch, but I have listened to this so often that I did end up singing and notating it in the correct key!]

There are episodes where the orchestration is particularly inventive, and I notice William Loose's name attached to some of those episodes. The contractor, Jack Lee, hired the very best New York freelance musicians, resulting in exquisite playing. Clever adaptations of a great motive, beautifully and whimsically orchestrated, and played by great musicians. Who could ask for anything more in a a television series?

But there is more! Nelson Riddle's setting of the theme, and his further development of its opening motive during the later episodes of the series.

Watching this series is a wonderful (and deeply entertaining) lesson on what it is possible to do with five notes!

Here are the names with links to biographies of the composers, orchestrators, contractor, and conductors (with information on the internets) who are responsible for Naked City's extraordinary music:

Ed Forsyth
Jack Lee
Billy May
George Duning
Ned Washington
William Loose
Nelson Riddle
Van Cleave

Monday, October 26, 2020

Elgar Salut d'amour Arranged for Piano Quintet (by me!)

I just learned that my transcription of the Elgar Salut d'amour for piano quintet is now available! You can see it (or even order it) here.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Augustin Hadelich plays the Joseph Bologne (the Chevalier de Saint-George) Violin Concerto with the Cincinnati Symphony

I was able to watch the performance last night, and am happy to let you know that we can watch the recording of the livestream concert here (it will be available until November 4).

The concert begins at the 17-minute mark (after a countdown) with the Ives Unanswered Question (which is so approprate for this time). The Bologne Concerto begins about five minutes later, and it is followed by the Stravinsky (which was written during the Spanish Flu pandemic).

The playing is great (and the cadenzas, which I imagine were written by Augustin Hadelich, are amazing), the programming is visionary, the commentary is enlighting and inspiring, and the generosity of the orchestra for making this public is extraordinary.

Friday, October 23, 2020

All of the things that belong to the day

You can find the music here and listen to a computer-generated audio file here. It is also available on this page of the IMSLP.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

A Cellist's Garden of Verses (with versions
for violin, for viola, and for double bass)

These six solo pieces are appropriate for young people and late-starters because they can be played in the first position (with the exception of one easy harmonic). You can find the music on this page of the IMSLP.

There are transcriptions there for for solo violin, solo viola, and solo double bass (five of the six pieces). Here is a lovely reading of "My Bed is a Boat."

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Schubert in the Stevenson

Has it only been six months since normal professional musical life has been put on hold? It feels like it has been far longer. Every covid day seems, in some ways, to be equal to a week. So much seems to happen so quickly when our communication happens in virtual time rather than in real time, yet as far as music is concerned, there is no way to really measure much of anything.

I believe I have been using my time well, but chain-writing was not the way I expected to be spending this year. Here's the music I have written and arranged since March:
Scarborough Fair for solo viola (March 17, 2020) 
Saprophyte I (String Quartet) March 18, 2020 
Transcription for quartet (string, viola, clarinet) of J.S. Bach's Adagio BWV 1018 
Transcription of the last movement of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony for String Sextet (March 29, 2020) 
Birthday Piece Number 12 (Viola d’amore and piano) April 17, 2020 
Eleven Miniature Studies for Violin Solo (solo violin) May 2, 2020 
Quo Vadis for Euphonium and Woodwind Quintet (May 17, 2020) (forthcoming video premiere) 
A Tunes: Capricious Pieces for Beginner Violinists (May 24, 2020) (forthcoming in 2021 from Mel Bay) 
Impressions (voice and piano) June 11, 2021 
The Gift of the Condor (chamber orchestra, narrator, kid violinist) June 23, 2020 (forthcoming video premiere, forthcoming publication) 
Ladder of Escape for Four Bassoons (bassoon quartet) July 26, 2020 
Two Places in Illinois (piano solo) August 14, 2020 (forthcoming video premiere and concert premiere in 2021) 
Transcription of Robert Schumann's "Kinderscenen" for violin and cello (September 18, 2020) 
Tzadik Katamar (Louis Lewandowski) arrangement for two violas or two violins (September 20, 2020)
In an Old House in Paris (modular duet) September 26, 2020 
Two Fragments of Fragments from Jubilate (two voices) September 30, 2020 
Ferdinand (solo viola or solo cello) October 4, 2020 
Ferdinand II (solo euphonium or solo cello) October 8, 2020 
A Cellist’s Garden of Verses (solo cello, with versions for solo violin, solo viola and solo bass) October 14, 2020

Today I finished a set of six pieces for novice cellists (or violinists, or violists, or bassists), and that set is the reason for the title of this post.

I have always loved Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses. It was my introduction to poetry. While going through the larger work (and it is a large collection of poems) I encountered poems that were not in my illustrated childhood anthology. The music in "Windy Nights" particularly caught my ear as being a little like Schubert's Erlkönig:

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?
Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he.
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.

and "Singing" seems to have "Der Leierman" from Schubert's Wintereise as a counterpoint to its phrases.
Of speckled eggs the birdie sings
And nests among the trees;
The sailor sings of ropes and things
In ships upon the seas.
The children sing in far Japan,
The children sing in Spain;
The organ with the organ man
Is singing in the rain.

UPDATE: While looking through more poems by Stevenson (including his Songs of Travel) for the next project in my chain, I found that he subtitled "The Vagabond" "To an air of Schubert." The hard part for me about doing any setting of poems from the Songs of Travel is trying not to hear the Vaughan Williams in them!

Friday, October 09, 2020

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Walt Disney's 1938 Take on Ferdinand, and more . . .

I still have Ferdinand on the brain, and am getting to work on Ferdinand II, which is going to be for solo euphonium. It will "illustrate" Ferdinand's encounter with the bee, his discovery by the men with funny hats, his cart trip to Madrid, the parade and entrance into the ring, and his return to his cork tree.

I appreciate that the Disney animators kept the integrity of the cork tree. This is the drawing I made for the cover of my Ferdinand piece for solo cello or solo viola, which is available on this page of the IMSLP. For most of my life this is the way I thought that this was how we got corks for wine bottles. Seriously.

I also learned here that the book was banned by Franco and by Hitler (which comes as no surprise), and that Munro Leaf wrote the story so his friend Robert Lawson would have something fun to illustrate (also no surprise).

Monday, October 05, 2020


[How I distract myself from the news of the day, hour, and minute . . .]

Thursday, October 01, 2020

That's What She Said: Unaccompanied Cello Music Written by Women

What an honor it is to have my work included in The Cello Museum's recent post by Erica Lessie in her series about music for solo cello by women with the great title "That's What She Said."

Antiphonal Vocal Duet!

As a request from a singer who reads this blog, I have written a couple of vocal duets (without accompaniment) for people to sing together over the internet. Through a search for antiphonal poetry, I found my way to Christopher Smart (1722-1771), and his Jubilate Agno, which you can read in (fragemented) full here.

What a life he had!

I chose two sections of the poem to set as a musical dialog for two voices. They sound best if sung by a soprano or mezzo voice on top, and a tenor or baritone voice on the bottom, but they could just as easily be sung with voices in the same octave. The main thing is that they can be used as a way to connect musically for friends who are otherwise unable to do so.

For a person with rudimentary video-editing skills (and rudimentary video-editing software), it is not hard at all to make a split-screen video "performance" when you have a antiphonal piece, because you don't need to do anything elaborate to synchronize the parts. Starting both parts at the same time is really enough.

You can find the music on this page of the IMSLP.

I am, of course, not the first person to set parts of this poem as music. After I finished my work, I looked around, and found that Benjamin Britten had set one of the fragements I chose. It's an obvious musical choice, I suppose, since it is the passage about instrumental sounds. I was happy to see that Britten also adjusted the lines of poetry to fit his needs, and he eliminated the lines that I used as a "refrain." Interesting.