Thursday, October 20, 2011

Atlanta Sacred Chorale New CD

I am thrilled that my piece "Morning Person" (SATB/piano 4 hands) is on the Atlanta Sacred Chorale's new CD "Awake the Dawn", with listening samples and order info at:

The Chorale is led brilliantly by Emory University Professor Eric Nelson. Other composer/arrangers on the CD include David Brunner, John Rutter, Charles Stanford, John Rutter, Bob Chilcott, Leonard Bernstein, Lee Dengler, Morten Lauridsen, William L. Dawson, Robert Shaw, and Jester Hairston

Hmm, some pretty fine company there!

Morning Person is published by Roger Dean, cat. #15/2599R

The very creative text is by New Orleans poet Vassar Miller- it's about God waking up one fine morning and creating the world in ONE day (not six!). My setting sounds a bit like Healy Willan in places, and at times the piano part sounds like it's out of Sondheim- hey, I don't mind admitting who some of my influences are!It was premiered by Rick Bjella's White Heron Chorale in Wisconsin when Rick was still at Lawrence Conservatory. I visited a rehearsal and we had a great time working on the dizzying energy of the piece with Rick's great community choir.

Morning Person

God, best at making in the morning, tossed
stars and planets, singing and dancing, rolled
Saturn's rings spinning and humming, twirled the earth
so hard it coughed and spat the moon up, brilliant
bubble floating around it for good, stretched holy
hands till birds in nervous sparks flew forth from
them and beasts -- lizards, big and little, apes,
lions, elephants, dogs and cats cavorting,
tumbling over themselves, dizzy with joy when
God made us in the morning too, both man
and woman, leaving Adam no time for
sleep so nimbly was Eve bouncing out of
his side till as night came everything and
everybody, growing tired, declined, sat
down in one soft descended Hallelujah.

I hope you will visit the Chorale's CD page and take a listen to Morning Person and some of the other sample tracks- and maybe you will want to order a copy!

Thanks for reading

PS I will get back to discussing Tim Sharp's High Lonesome Mass and the rest of my Oregon/Washington trip soon

Friday, October 7, 2011

My great trip to Oregon and Washington, pt. 2

Saturday and Sunday Concerts

Saturday morning at 9 AM Chor Anno gathered for a day-of-concert three hour rehearsal. Not much fun to sing that early, but this is how a professional group puts things together- intensive rehearsals during the week-of, not a seemingly never-ending once a week rehearsal like a community choir does things.

Musical interpretations were falling into place- probably the trickiest piece was still the Hyo Won Woo Alleluia, simply because any singer rhythmic inaccuracy, even from just one singer, will be totally exposed and noticed. But with each run through the piece was getting better and better. My piece was also sounding good- just some sagging pitch problems in the gnarliest bit of chromatic imitation, due to the fact that at the junction of voice imitation there is a vertical tritone for a moment,. making it tough to establish the new tonal center that each voice tries to claim as new territory. I knew this was not an easy passage when I wrote it, but of course I wasn't trying to make this piece easy! (Btw, please let me know if you would like a perusal copy of this score- contact me at

After the rehearsal, some of us went up to Brian Mtichell's awesome farmhouse with acreage on a high hill overlooking the river. Brian runs a wonderful choral program at Mark Morris High School in Longview, WA and he is also R and S for high schools for Washington ACDA. There is a maple tree on his property that must be over 150 years old I would guess. The few hours there were just what the singers needed- a little food, rest, and quiet.

Then it was time to get on back to our venue in Vancouver, WA and present a pre-concert talk sponsored by Meet the Composer Foundation. The event was well attended and the hour or so was moderated by Reg Unterseher with the composers in attendance being Tim Sharp and Wes Ramsey, co-composers of the High Lonesome Mass, Seattle-based composer John Muhleisen, and myself. The concert program contained other pieces by living composers, many from the NW, but they were not present for the talk or concerts (Vijay Singh and Richard Nance, to mention two).

The talk was great and the audience mostly wanted to know about our process for composing. We all seemed to have different answers to all the question but there were plenty of things in common too. I felt that we had a comfort zone and clear mutual respect for each other and the audience loved that we didn't see each other as competition, rather as brethren of the compositional art I suppose you could say. I was especially interested in how Tim and Wes co-compose as I have never tried to do such a thing. After an hour Reg had to go warm up, but the audience wanted us to keep talking and they veered us toward the area of publishing and the self-publishing that many of us are already doing. The audience was fascinated by this area and seemed to be cheering us on in the general quest to become independent from the traditional publishing houses. I think one telling factor here was a question posed by an audience member- she asked if we ever get commissions through any of our publishers' efforts. The answer across the panel was a resounding no- it's never happened. Seeing as how commissions are the biggest earnings item for a living composer, this was a pretty telling fact- not a single one of us have ever had a publisher pull in a commission for us- wow! Before this talk I had not intended at all to bring up publishing issues- many people know I am getting more and more militantly anti-traditional publisher so I didn't want to sound like I was on the offensive in front of a Meet the Composer audience. But the audience wanted to hear about this issue and I think everyone on the panel spoke fluently, fairly, and without avarice on the subject and where the future is going to be for us individually and for the choral world as well.

Finally concert time came. The church was filled- maybe 300-400 audience members (you would never achieve that in Chicago) Chor Annon was sounding great and my piece was early in the program- the third piece. They preformed my "When Jesus Wept" beautifully and as it trailed off with two soprano solo voices (one from each choir- thus quite antiphonal and echo-ish) Reg gestured a conductor's release to the end of the piece. Then there were at least 3-4 seconds of total silence and then some audible "wows" whispered hear and there, and then the applause. For a piece that has some drama and also has a quiet ending this is what you hope for- that extended silence where everyone soaks up the last phrase and appreciates the music enough to give the ending a stillness before we enter back into real rime. Obviously I was very pleased with the choir, Reg (who totally "gets" this piece), and the audience!

The rest of the program was rock solid and well-received. It included the Tim Sharp and Wes Ramsey "Come Away to the Skies: A High Lonesome Mass" and I'll write more about it in the next part. It's such a new and interesting work that I think it deserves a blog post of its own.

After the Saturday concert we all wound up at the Vancouver Hilton for celebration. I got to chat with national ACDA president-elect Karen Fulmer about her plans for the Dallas 2013 national conference. She and Tim have some great things planned. Karen also sings in Chor Anno.

The program was repeated Sunday in Longview, WA and the music was blossoming even more. On my piece the singers were becoming more and more comfortable and becoming more expressive of the drama packed into that short text. Once again we had a large appreciative audience- Chor Anno is well-liked and they deserve the support they get from their audiences!

Earlier that morning Tim Sharp, Reg, and I had a nice brunch overlooking a small sailboat harbor (you can decided whether the sailboats were small or the harbor). We had a great time chatting away, and we even talked about things other than music once in awhile. Reg and I especially love Tim's support for composers, his interest in the future of choral composition and how ACDA can build more mentor/partner support for that in various ways.

After the Sunday concert Reg, Justin, Molly, and I headed back to the Tri-Cities area, driving along the highway that follows the beautiful Columbia River back east. Before the sun set I got to enjoy the spectacular views of the river and cliffs, and we stopped at the Multnomah Waterfall for a few minutes to enjoy the view.

Up next: Before I continue my travelogue, I will backtrack to talk about the "High Lonesome Mass"

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My great trip to Oregon and Washington

As you know from my last blog entry, I was invited out to the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA area for the premiere of my unusual double choir arrangement of William Billings' When Jesus Wept. For the folks of Howard Meharg's Chor Anno this concert was also a big deal because ACDA executive director Tim Sharp would be there, and not just to visit- Tim would be present for, and performing as well, in the premiere of his “Come Away to the Skies: A High Lonesome [Bluegrass] Mass" -you can read some more about it here:

I decided to make this a work/networking/fun trip, so I got to Portland on Wednesday night and was picked up at PDX by April Duvic, choral director at Clark College in Vancouver.

On Thursday morning I worked with Margaret Green's amazing high school choir at the Vancouver School of the Arts. Margaret let me jump in and teach them some challenging warmups that I like, and we talked about music and ideas from Alexander technique, and I listened to them sing a piece, after which I worked with them on expression and other things. We really had a lot of fun getting barefoot and letting the sound start from our feet up (ooh, they liked the barefoot thing!) and since this is a long class session (I think it was over 90 minutes) we were able to really connect and pack a lot into the class session. I really liked the students in this class and I love what Margaret is doing with them- they all love music AND work hard for their achievements.

I then hopped on the very convenient mass transit to downtown Portland and strolled around. This was my first visit there and I felt that an older dude like myself needed to find a ponytail rental shop in order to fit in.

(I found a picture of this old guy on Google, whoever he is, with ponytail- but most of the old dudes in Portland didn't braid theirs)

If I were younger I would have needed some tattoos and piercings. But the people seem really cool and I love their diverse ways- “Keep Portland Weird” is a cool slogan, and we could use some more weird in Chicago, that's for sure.

I visited the small Chinese gardens there- very quaint and lovely. I also went to the Portland Art Museum,visiting all four floors of both buildings, using the stairs instead of elevators.

Next I did a couple of geocaches in one of the parks, and then took a break for people watching at sidewalk cafe. I then walked up to Powell's Books. I think this is the largest used and new bookstore in the country and it is way cool. Their selection was monumental and any nerd, geek, or Marian the Librarian could live here for a week.

But the weather was great so it was time to get outside for more strolling. I eventually wound up at a jazz club with a pretty decent group, though they put a little more cliched funk into their mainstream jazz than I cared for. I finally strolled down to where Greg Duvic (April's husband) works a late shift and we drove back up to Amboy, WA where they live. All in all a great day!

Friday started out with more sightseeing. Greg loves the Japanese gardens up in the hills to the west of downtown Portland so we headed there. The Japanese garden was large and the best I have ever been to, even surpassing the impressive Anderson Gardens in Rockford, IL. There's a lot more to do right there up in the hills, so we also strolled around the famous Portland Rose Test Garden- not that I am a rose fan, but that was fun too. We also smashed a few pennies in the souvenir penny smasher (Aidan loves smashed souvenir pennies!).

We then headed downtown since Greg needed to start his shift at the federal building where he is a security expert for the federal judges, which is a second career for him. He was a career police officer and investigator for the Portland Police Department. Greg's stories were amazing, and I was envious of his accomplishments in making the world a safer place.

So now it was time for more strolling and I wound up at the same outdoor cafe where I was doing my people watching the day before. I then headed over to Deschute's Brew Pub which was already massively busy at 3 PM.


I was to meet my old composer/conductor pal Reg Unterseher there, along with two new members of Chor Anno, since Reg and these two young and talented newbies, the very friendly Justin Raffa and Molly Holleran, live all the way three hours east in the Tri-Cities, WA area and were driving in for the Friday night Chor Anno rehearsal. While waiting for Reg, I did a sample flight of Deschute's brews and was impressed. They certainly are well above average. Reg found me and off we went for a funky dinner at The Tin Shack on the east side of Portland and then drove up to rehearsal.

The rehearsal went really well. Since my piece, directed by Reg, was new, I had never heard it for real except in my head and via Finale software playback. I was pleased that everything “worked”-- and I really did have some concerns going into this because the piece, as a double choir arrangement, is a bit complex in spots. There are a number of pages without barlines (but with a pulse), and at times various voice parts do not share downbeats. This was part of the reason for using few barlines or using dotted barlines at different points for various voices. It's not like singers haven't seen a score like this before, but I admit that at first it looks a little odd and challenging. Of course, that should draw the curious singer into the piece, and get them to explore it more- including exploring how their own voice part interacts contrapuntally with other parts. And this was also a goal for this piece- to take a simple round and write even more variations of counterpoint with the material. I am more and more convinced that today's American choral composer/arranger needs to get down to business and write more counterpoint- we have become so monophonic in the last fifteen years that it's pretty scary. When one finally tires of ear candy full of piled chords and lack of independent line, where does a singer or director turn for some counterpoint? Certainly not to any other of our new works- our output is out of balance today in this regard. So this is an area I want to continue to work within- writing creative choral counterpoint and giving altos lines to sing, giving basses lines to sing, etc, and not just writing blobs of homophony which usually give no voice part (other than perhaps the soprano part) an actual line to sing!

NEXT BLOG: The Saturday and Sunday concerts, including a Meet the Composer session