Taking The Bridge to Kingsbury Hall in November 2018

I’m delighted to announce that UtahPresents has commissioned the exclusive premiere engagement of The Bridge, a contemporary ballet I helped to invent, produce, and write. This official premiere will take place for three nights in Kingsbury Hall (the University of Utah’s flagship, 2,000-seat performing arts center) in November 2018, produced in collaboration with SALT Contemporary Dance and NYC-based choreographer Brendan Duggan.  Continue reading “Taking The Bridge to Kingsbury Hall in November 2018”

Something New (Novi? Novum?) for Voces Novae

I’m delighted and grateful to announce that I’ve received a commission from the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition. Thanks to this opportunity, I’ll be writing a three-part work for choir and small chamber ensemble, which will be premiered in November 2018 by maestro Frank A. Heller, III and my lovely friends of Voces Novae in Louisville, Kentucky. My deepest thanks to all involved. Now, let the fun begin!

Voces Novae 2013 premiere of selections from my “Celebrating Wendell Berry in Music” project

One Household, High and Low

I’m happy to announce that Santa Barbara Music Publishing Inc. has published my choral piece, “One Household, High and Low.” Wendell Berry wrote the text, and I wrote the music in the style of the Sacred Harp / Shape Note / Fasola tradition. In fact, part of the opening phrase is derived from the Sacred Harp tune, “Wondrous Love.”

From the SBMP website: “. . . this one really cooks. The melody lies in the tenor, and can be doubled at the octave as can the soprano part, thereby creating a delightful six parts. The Wendell Berry text ends ‘and all the earth shall sing. May it be so!”

Get copies for yourself or your choir now: Purchase sheet music here.

HEY! If you purchase a copy or write a review on the SBMP website, please let me know. I’d love to send you a recording of the piece as a thank-you!


My uncle once surprised me by telling me that farmers don’t grow crops. “Farmers grow soil,” he explained. “Soil grows crops.”

I’m three generations away from my own family’s subsistence farming, and so the idea was news to me. But I began to see in my uncle’s point of view the important theme of contributing.

Read the rest on my Celebrating Wendell Berry in Music project blog.

Investing in Karma

I’m sure there are small-minded, selfish, nasty composers in the world. I’m probably one of them more often than I realize! But lately I’ve benefitted from encounters with a number of composers whose considerable talents and accomplishments seem to be matched only by their warmth, kindness, and generosity. Naming names feels inappropriate, but here are a few snapshots:

  • The Chair of Composition at a major west-coast university, who made time to listen to my music and review my scores. He treated a stranger like a friend, provided constructive criticism, and was a terrific sounding board. Why? Just because I asked.
  • A retired distinguished professor of choral studies, who has spent several hours meticulously examining my recent choral pieces. He’s careful to ask questions that cause me to learn and intuit my own path forward, candid and straightforward, and deeply kind. I asked if I could pay him for lessons. “Pay it forward,” he said.
  • A busy, happening, young (i.e., my age!) L.A. composer who has made time on several occasions to provide advice and encouragement. He seems to assume that there’s enough opportunity in the world for everyone and is quick to offer connections and open doors. Why? Because he was grateful for breaks extended to him along the way.
  • A distinguished British composer who, at a recent convention, introduced me as a peer and made efforts to connect me to many of his colleagues and to his publisher. Why? Because he feels it’s part of his job as a composer to nurture others.

Perhaps being a little glib, I’ve printed the following notice in several of my album projects: “Unauthorized duplication, while convenient, isn’t very neighborly. Invest in art.”

Neighborliness cuts to the center of it, doesn’t it? In encounters large and small, I’ve met acquaintances who have treated me like friends, and now we’ve become “neighbors” in a creative community. I think that implies a certain kind of mutual necessity and a willingness to come to one another’s aid.

Investing in art—maybe that means “investing in karma” by paying forward small kindnesses when opportunities arise, and seeing a world that only grows bigger when we open doors for others.

I’m not sure artists can produce art in the long run without these boosts along the way.

Raveling, Unraveling

I’m working on an orchestral piece, an overture. When I first committed to the project, I was awash with excitement and ideas. But next I felt overwhelmed by the blank canvas. It wasn’t writer’s block. Instead, I was like a mosquito at a nudist camp: seeing opportunity everywhere but having no idea where to start.

I realized that I was trying to solve too many problems at once and had too few constraints. Duration, structure, harmonic language, orchestration, vibe, etc. Everything was up for grabs, which meant I actually had too much freedom. I remembered something that Igor Stravinsky wrote in Poetics of Music.

The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self… the arbitrariness of the constraint serves only to obtain precision of execution.

I returned to my blank canvas. Which constraints would I impose? For no special reason, I thought of the Ravel string quartet in F major. That’s a piece I’ve loved since I was a teenager. (Last year, my wife and I invited a string quartet to perform the piece in our house. I sat about four feet from the violist. I had never appreciated all of the internal lines and motivic ingenuity of the piece before hearing it so intimately.)

Simply because of my love for Ravel’s work, I decided to pattern my orchestral piece after the Quartet’s fourth movement. (Not to mention “vif et agité” sounds like me most days.) I like his method of developing melodic cells, making something big out of something little. I like the way he sculpts the energy of the movement. I like hearing rich chromaticism as an embellishment of tall harmonies. So, I analyzed the movement, made notes about the aspects I wanted to emulate, and all of the sudden a path forward opened up.

Initially, I felt a little sheepish for deriving so much information and inspiration from Ravel. But yesterday morning, I was listening to the Sequentia recording of Hildegarde von Bingen’s “Ave Maria, O Auctrix Vite” while editing a choral score and it hit me: hey, wait!, that’s the central melody of Christopher Theofanidis’ “Rainbow Body.” (Of course, he discloses as much in his program notes, which I read today.) So, maybe there’s nothing totally new in music, anyway.

Raveling? Unraveling? One way or the other, here we go!

Hooray for a clear idea

I’m a learner. It’s what I do for fun, and sometimes I think I’m good at it. This morning I’m studying A Geometry of Music by Dmitri Tymoczko. (Reading one section per morning with a five-day learning week should get me to the end in about 24 weeks…) 

Dmitri just gave me a clearer way of formally understanding something that has made sense to my ears for a long time. The idea is that inversionally related chords sound similar, and visually they share a reflective relationship. 

This is useful to me because I keep hunting for ways to stretch my grasp of harmony and extent myself into the extended common practice, away from strict functionality where I think I know the ropes better. 

Now, time to review (relearn?) orchestral percussion in my Adler. 

Very Sketchy

I’m starting a new orchestral piece, a 4-7-minute concert opener. I guess you’d call it an overture. My dictionary just told me “overture” means “an introduction to something more substantial.” I have no idea what of more substance this overture should lead to (that feels more existential than it probably should), but perhaps I’ll find out by writing.

And—as an aside—I should confess that writing for orchestra is one of the most thrilling, most exciting thought experiments for me. Nothing makes me smile more than trying to wrap my head around sounds like this.

My new habit is to begin each project with a meditation on what I want to learn from doing it. So far, I know I’d like to work on orchestrating long diminuendo and crescendo passages with deliberate expansion and contraction of pitch ranges.

I’d like to broaden my vocabulary with orchestrating accents via adding/subtracting instruments, register shifts, and color changes.

I’d like to create a thrilling rhythmic ride for the listener, which results from a full but playable use of the percussion (and good choreography).

I’d like to write an explosive orchestral swell. (I have an example from Christopher Rouse’s flute concerto fresh in my ears.)

And … I’d like to play with hocketing. For fun.

Is all of this too much to ask? I guess I’ll find out.