On May 29, 2015, as part of the Composers Collective Spring Concert, Jason Wirth premiered my solo work for piano, Tombeau (for David Ward-Steinman). Dr. Ward-Steinman was one of the first people—along with fellow SDSU faculty members Joseph Waters and Brent Dutton—to encourage me to compose. He passed away earlier this year while I was in the midst of writing this piece, and since he was one of the first to teach me about 12-tone technique, I decided to dedicate the work to him. Thank you to Jason for his incredible playing, the Composers Collective for the opportunity to join their ranks on this concert, and to the staff of the National Opera Center for their support.
Eight years ago today my senior composition recital was held at Smith Recital Hall at San Diego State University. The concert included nine different works I had composed over four years at SDSU, and these works quite appropriately represented my creative output from 2003–2007. Strangely though, I quickly lost interest in the works after I graduated, and today I rarely share anything I’ve ever composed prior to 2008. There are however, a couple works I gladly continue to share and those are the two bits of muzak—or furniture music as Erik Satie would call it—I composed as intermission music for the recital, “Causal Friday,” and “Easy Street.” These two tracks together have the most hits of all time on my soundcloud page (making them the most popular music I’ve ever written!), and one has even been included as on-hold music in an Israeli comedy short.
I eventually published the tracks as the two-track album Waitin’ Around on soundcloud, and the songs remain near and dear to me. There’s something fascinating about music that is not meant to be heard. Muzak is truly one of my guilty pleasures, and a my not-so-greatest secret is that I would love a regular job composing on-hold music for all those people, waiting around, on hold.
Earlier this week winter storm Juno rolled through the Northeast, and while New England bore the brunt of the storm, New York City did not receive the “historic” snowfall predicted by some. This short work was inspired by a walk I took in my neighborhood at about 03:45 in the morning—during the height of the storm. As I walked around my little corner of Long Island City the snow quickly covered up any trace of the few people out and about, and I eventually found myself at the Dutch Kills Green, a small park near my home. It was completely blanketed with mounds of snow.
The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day has always seemed strange. Life slows down, people skip work, school is out of session; it’s almost if the days don’t really exist, and the only reason we keep track of the days is so we know when to return to our daily routines. I remember hearing once that the ancient Sumerians celebrated the new year for several days, and that these days were considered neither part of the old year ending or the new year beginning. (Alas, I could find no evidence to support that claim, but I like the way it sounds.) In honor of this time I composed Null Week, a short work in just intonation for sampled electric piano. Null Week is in two-parts and was inspired by Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes.
A few articles back, I gave a brief narrative on how the circumstances of my life that led me to decide to create 31 new works in just intonation over 31 days. Once I decided to take on such a project I had to go about actually composing the works—which dominated my life over the next month. All works in the 31 Days cycle were composed using a G = 1/1 system, in which G (or 1/1) is vibrating at about 392 Hz (or powers thereof).
Years ago when I was still an undergrad I was introduced to the music of Harry Partch. After hearing Barstow and attending a lecture on his instruments and tuning system, I wanted to learn more about just intonation. The idea of it fascinated me, despite that I really had no idea what it sounded like.
About a year later I acquired a small, banged up harpsichord and purchased a book by Alain Daniélou, Tableau Comparatif des Intervalles Musicaux. Using the book and a guitar tuner that displayed cents, I tuned an octave of the harpsichord according to the numbers in Daniélou’s book. When I pressed down C, E, and G on the keyboard, I heard something I had never noticed before: a just major triad.
And like people we make mistakes. In fact, we make mistakes when we write music. Sometimes (and often I would wager) composers are not completely aware of what we’re doing when we compose. Sure, we set up structures, devise patterns, create systems and boxes for our music to exist in. But as of late, I’ve been finding that these tools we make and utilize in the process of composing are there to assist the composer, rather than the listener; and sometimes a choice made in our process that we might consider integral or pivotal to the work, is virtually–if not completely–imperceptible to the listener or the performer.
For the first time in many years I am not singing on Easter Sunday, so I figured I would post a track that is appropriate for the season of Easter. This is my setting of Matthew 6:19-21, from the sermon on the mount, for a cappella men’s quartet
This was recorded by Gary Lewis, the baritone of Max Q, the 2007 International Champion Barbershop Quartet. I was inspired to compose this anthem by Joseph Clokey’s (who is the father of Art Clokey, creator of Gumby) setting of the same text, which I sang many times when I was a Gentleman of the Choir at St. Paul’s Cathedral in San Diego, California.
On April 25, 2012 at 5:00pm San Diego State University Opera Theater will be presenting an unstaged workshop/reading of a new one-act opera: The Scent of Jasmine on Parker Street. The show’s story was created by local poet and artist, Ted Washington. Ted also wrote the books and lyrics (or the libretto) for the show, and I composed the music.
On Sunday, March 18 the San Diego State University Chamber Choir sang at St. Paul’s Cathedral’s regular Sunday Evensong service. The service of Evensong is an Episcopalian (or Anglican) service that takes place about the hour of dusk and includes a lot of music–much more than the usual morning mass. Everyone in the SDSU Choir had a great time, and it was a wonderful experience for many of the young vocalists, some of which had never experienced a service like this.