Piano Tuning

I love my piano. Period. And though it holds its tune pretty well, there still comes the time when it’s just getting a bit squirrelly in the mid-section.  I notice this mainly because I find that I don’t sit down as often to “noodle.”  Well that’s no good! But now it is freshly tuned and, once again, I am amazed at just how good it feels to play. (Add sigh of contentment here…) So in that spirit, here’s an audio clip for your listening pleasure. It is a simple piano piece I wrote a few years back for Lisa, with the mindset that SHE could easily play it, though it has the feel of being very “me”  (that is, sounding like me just improvising after a fresh tuning). I don’t often write piano songs down…usually I just create in the moment and that’s it…if melodies recur over days and weeks, then I figure they need to find their way into the next choral song!  For this one, though, I wrote it down entirely without touching the piano…yay for when the sounds in one’s head aren’t total nonsense! ;-)

Recording of the Father song – for my daughters…

imageRecently, I have enjoyed revisiting this song…feeling it in my fingers again at the piano, so to speak.  And I thought to myself, “I really need to record this for Emma and Eden – to preserve it the way they hear it at home.”  I mean, here’s a piece that I wrote and voiced for use in a standard SATB setting, but because of the TEXT and the way I conceived of the song, it is really meant more as a lullaby or solo song.  In a way, it’s  as if I took a solo piece and then harmonized it for a choir to use.  (It’s just that what I first wrote and published was the choral version!)  but I think it is fun to share what it sounds like more as a solo work (okay, so I cheat and add some harmonies anyway…) also, I think this could be useful for any choir that is performing the song.  After all, there is a tendency – an expectation, really – to approach a “choral song” with a certain sound in mind (both as a singer and conductor) – “proper singing”, “tall, elongated vowels”, “crisp diction”, etc…which are all great habits.  But for a song like this, I think it is appropriate to relax those rules a bit.

For now, though, as my daughters giggle away in anticipation of whatever creative gifts they have made for Father’s Day, I have made this to give back to them…so that they can always hold on to this melody that I created when they were very young.  Enjoy!

Writing “Versa Est…”

Surprisingly, I am often asked which comes first, the text or the music.  I say “surprisingly” because for me, the answer has always been clear (the clearest in my whole writing process really!), and that is: the TEXT!  I suppose there must be some composers out there, many great ones in fact, that start the other way around, but I find that I cannot possibly work without heavily considering the text.  It often becomes the lengthiest part of my process – living with the words, meditating with them, feeling how they affect me – both intuitively and with more careful scrutiny.  Take for instance my latest creation, “Versa est in luctum”, which will premier in less than a week…

Versa est in luctum cithara mea,
et organum meum in vocem flentium.
Parce mihi Domine,
nihil enim sunt dies mei.

Which translates:
My harp is turned to mourning,
And my music to the voice of those who weep.
Spare me, O Lord
For my days are as nothing.

When this text was suggested to me by David Acres, musical director of Contrapunctus, I was immediately drawn to it. I liked both the personal and the universal nature of the text. I imagined this could be, of course, an intimate monologue (coming from the book of Job after all), but it could also be a compassionate cry for a dying world. So my musical setting became very much through-composed to follow this journey.

One of the first things I do is to just sort of imagine the piece. For this one, I was sitting in the lobby while my daughters were in acting and dance classes…other parents chit-chatting away…while I was becoming Job. And I like to play with words. I mean, sure, we read the first line as “my harp is turned to mourning (or grieving)”, yet “versa” is literally “to turn”. So I immediately had the idea of a long-ish theme, that would literally “turn”. And, because I was setting Latin from an ancient source, I wanted it to be chat-like in its opening. And on we go…

-stress on the word “luctum” (mourning)…also a harmonic surprise of sorts, because up until this d-natural, your ears might trick you into thinking the piece was in c# minor (thus expecting a d-sharp)
-fast triplets on “cithara” (harp)…I think I must subconsciously associate triplets with the harp because of Britten.
-a big, pipe organ-like, homophonic sound at “organum”
-flowing lines around the word “flentium” (weeping)
-a dramatic shift in character for the prayer “spare me, O Lord”…also, this text comes from a different portion of Job, along with the final line.
-repetition after repetition of the final line “my days are as nothing” – to help paint the picture of hopelessness.
-finally, a soloists to recap the entire text, to further dramatize the personal sentiment of the text.

So yes, I’d say it’s a fair statement that I always let the TEXT guide my work! The text, and my interpretation of it, is what sets my mind in motion. I use a lot of metaphor in my work, but (hopefully) not at the cost of great sounding music that can reach the listener immediately. The metaphors, the lines, the wordplay are all there for the singers and the conductor….the overall impression should be strengthen by these and, ultimately, help the listener feel a deeper sense of the poetry.


Scribbling rhythms within the text,

I always like them to be speech-like

writing “A Father”

Time really does fly!  I remember writing this song when the girls were a certain age – just 4, and not even 1, respectively.  This project came as a commission – to be written for a member of our church choir who had passed away.  And here’s the beautiful thing for me about the creative process: it can be so transformative.  Sure, we could do gigs just for the pay, etc., but we can also be open to each experience leaving a mark on us.  And so it was with this piece…

The family who commissioned this picked the poem because it was one that their mom had written about her own father.  But for this family, they had come to think of these words in terms of their own father (the husband of the author) – and so on down the generations the figure of father is passed.  So for me, in writing the piece, I thought of my own kids.  about being their father.  about writing a kind of melody that they would associate with our relationship.

So the song became a dialogue.  The piano part literally represents the father (or the memory of one).  and that final line!  “when the way seems dark, the journey too long, he points to a clearing or sings you a song…”  The melody the piano plays throughout (that eventually becomes the “ah’s” at the end) are meant to be that very simple song – something sung to and with a young child…a melody to remember for a lifetime.  And before very long at all, my oldest (barely 4) was singing along to the melody :-)

Every night when she went to bed, I would work on the music (after first playing through George Winston’s “Lullaby” of course).  And she would ask, “Daddy, are you going to play the Father song tonight?” She looked forward to it so much!  And now this piece, this commissioned song that could have been “just another project” has left its mark on our whole family.  This is why I love what I do!

The girls at the age when I wrote “A Father”

Ah, the new(-ish) piano…what a wonderful workstation!

Getting started…

Finally getting around to an upgraded site.  Content will be added regularly, so check back often!!