In the Sight of Angels

Probably one my most difficult pieces is for choir: In the Sight of Angels. Several different groups have attempted it over the years, with varying degrees of success. This is probably the only decent recording I have of it.

What makes it so difficult? The piece is a cappella, and the music is hypertonal and contrapuntal, because I was trying to convey the awful, terrifying nature of Angels (something we usually gloss over most of the time). Anyone in the bible who encounters an Angel is always afraid. Angels always have to reassure people: “Fear not”, etc. So my idea was that anyone who can hold it together to actually sing in front of these astounding, supernatural creatures has something pretty special going on. In this case, it is the singers faith that gives them the courage to perform with Angels looking on.

The text is pretty simple, based on the 138th Psalm, with some repetitions:

In the sight of Angels.

In the sight of Angels I will sing.
I will sing.

In the sight of Angels I will sing.
I will sing.

I will confess you Lord
with all my heart.
For your mercy
For your mercy and your truth.

In the sight of Angels
I will sing
your praises.

I will sing your praises
For your mercy and your truth.

Listen to:

In the Sight of Angels

Premier of Fête

If you missed the 9th Annual Composers Salon concert on Sunday, Oct. 23rd 2022 in person or via streaming here’s the wonderful Confetti Trio performing the new piece I wrote for them: Fête.

It was a great program, with a delightful variety of works by terrific composers and performers!

Orlando is so lucky to have that kind of talent here!

There are 4 movements. Here are the titles and start times::

  1. Streamers 00:10
  2. Banners 02:48
  3. Lanterns 07:23
  4. Tinsel 11:18

Big thank you, as always, Benoit Glazer and Timucua!

Vote for Truth

I usually don’t discuss politics. There’s not a lot of intersection between music and politics, except for matters of copyright, which I do talk about. Copyright has gotten pretty far afield from its intended purpose and there are many difficulties as a result: from bogus social media takedown notices; to DRM protections preventing playback of one’s own original content; to the difficulty of trying to track down the true copyright holder to request permission to use their work; to a song that shares no chords, lyrics or melodies with another but simply similar instruments and arrangement being found as copyright infringement (Gaye vs Thicke “Blurred Lines”); etc. 

I’m a Republican and have been pretty embarrassed about admitting it since the days of Newt Gingrich and President W. (Bush), and of course it’s only gotten worse.

I was surprised and shocked when Trump won in 2016. Not by Trump himself. It was pretty obvious long before the election (before he ran for office really) that Trump was a con artist with no moral integrity of any kind, who cared only about himself. No, the surprise was how many people were fooled by his bluster and clumsy nonsense statements and willing to make excuses for his behavior. But it didn’t make me question the election or claim that Hilary won because she won the popular vote. It just made me disappointed and disheartened that so many people were fooled. And for the first time, provided an inkling of how someone like Hitler had come to power, something that had always been more than a bit mystifying before. 

Now, the Republican Party, with Trump’s “help”, has created a base of supporters with an anti-Utopian view, insistent on believing the worst of any situation: government and institutions are all corrupt; the FBI and Department of Justice are mere tools of the party in power; immigrants villainously take advantage of our system, collectively intent on fundamentally changing our nation; masks and vaccines are attempts to strip us of our right to control our own lives; gun control advocates use mass shootings as an excuse (or even fake them) to try to strip Americans of the ability to defend themselves; knowledge and expertise are merely elitists attempting to dominate us; calling out lies is an attempt to prevent free speech; newspapers and news organizations are just organs of propaganda; Climate Change and even Covid are fake issues designed to make our lives more difficult and needlessly challenging; elections that don’t turn out the way we voted must be rigged; a constant stream of smoke from questionable Trump actions doesn’t mean there’s a fire, it’s clearly a vendetta by people who can’t accept that Trump “won”; anything we don’t agree with is obviously fake news; Democrats and progressives are evil and will stop at nothing to “win”; etc, etc.

It’s a fascinating and bleak world view. And that very bleakness is used to justify ever more extreme “responses” to the world around them. Like any utopian view (positive or negative) their explanation of the world is more real to them than reality. They seem to have an endless capacity to explain away evidence that they are wrong about any one conspiracy theory. Like the Hydra, lop off any one head, and two or three more grow in its place. And it’s the collective weight of the hodgepodge of theories that seems to make it so compelling. Everyone else is working together against them in a vast conspiracy. There are no accidents or coincidences, everything that happens is intentional and by design and focused on making their life worse because they know the truth and that knowledge makes them important and a threat to the terrible status quo around them.

I don’t know how you combat that. You can’t do it with reason. Reason wasn’t involved in their adoption of this world view. It’s like trying to reason with a mental patient. 

It does make you wonder about our education system, that so many people don’t know the difference between being rational and rationalization. Or maybe it’s the constant bombardment of (often exaggerated) advertising claims, or the influence of social media where everything is treated like “news”, or the news organizations themselves who have become increasingly sensational and tabloid-like in a desperate attempt to regain a sliver of our attention. All these things seem to imitate one another to make one homogeneous, undifferentiated pool of content that makes it ever harder to find what’s important, to know who is the source of that content and whether it is reliable. Ironic in our age of instantly available info, don’t you think? Add to that the ever increasing rapidity of the dissemination of that content, whether it be essential news or wild rumor, and some healthy skepticism is vital.

The one ray of sunshine in all this is the Republicans have given us one easy litmus test of truth and sanity this year: is a candidate willing to admit publicly that Trump lost the 2020 election? And will that candidate commit in advance to abiding by the results of the 2022 election? 

How can I vote for someone who doesn’t believe in election results? As hard as it is to believe these candidates hold fascist views, in this one area at least, I think we have to take them at their word (or lack of it).

That means, despite being a registered Republican, this year I can’t vote for any of my Republican candidates at the local or national level because they all fail that pretty simple test. I’ll take a sane candidate who disagrees with me, but who will listen to science and reason and rational argument, over an irrational candidate any day. Who knows what ideas the irrational candidate might get into their head or what they may do? 

Maybe, but sad to say only maybe, if we hold the Republican Party accountable for its continued support of Trump and election lies, and don’t put them in office, the Republican Party might return to being Republican, instead of being merely anti-Democrat and, more importantly, the anti-democracy fascists they seem to think they must be in order to maintain their “base”.

Sen. Josh Hawley’s phony interest in altering copyright to “punish” Disney

Senator Josh Hawley (R – Missouri) has introduced legislation he calls the “Copyright Clause Restoration Act of 2022”. I assume this is political showboating intended to impress his constituents that he is willing to “punish” Disney. It would “restore” copyright from the automatic 95 years it is now back to the original requirement to register for a 28 year protection with an option to renew for an additional 28, so perhaps a total of 56. This would apply to all new copyrights, not just Disney or large corporations.

First off, corporations don’t have separate copyright rules. The rules split into two categories: those for independent authors (original authorship) and those for employees (works-for-hire). The “work-for-hire” rules apply whether it’s a single employee of a sole proprietiership or a massive corporation.  

Then the bill attempts to make it retroactive, but only for corporations over a certain size (a Market Capitalization over $150 billion). How this would shake out in practice is a bit hazy of course. While Disney is a $203 billion company, it has outstanding debts of $105 billion, so a Net Worth of something like $97 billion. So would the “rules” even apply to Disney? Microsoft on the other hand is a $2 trillion company. The legislation says the retroactive portion applys to any company over $150 billion that “engages in substantial activites” which can be described as Arts, Entertainment or Recreation. So would Microsoft’s gaming division be substantial enough to make it subject to the retroactive portion of the bill? Who knows?

The real problem with the “Restoration” term is that it violates the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. This is an international agreement the US signed, along with 178 other countries, intended to “level” the playing field for the many different copyright laws throughout the world. It requires automatic copyright (no registration needed) and a minimum copyright duration of 50 years after the death of the author (not a term measured from the publication date), and that the signing countries recognize the copyrights of the other countries who signed. Countries are free to make their copyright protections last longer than the minimum, but the signing coutries are not required to enforce those copyrights past the Berne minimum.

Even ignoring the fact the proposed legislation violates our existing treaties and agreements, it seems pretty clear that having the US government “sieze” some of the property of every creator in the US is a poison pill intended to insure the legislation won’t pass. He can then blame everyone else for not doing what is “right”. 

But we know better.

Jacob Collier concert

Saw musician extraordinaire Jacob Collier in concert last week. A lot of fun. Sold out crowd of 1500. I just hope he picks a better venue if he returns. One thing I don’t get about concert crowds though –

At a party, your friend starts telling a joke you’ve heard her tell before. You do which of the following?:

  1. Interrupt repeatedly to tell everyone how good this joke is
  2. Start telling the joke along with her
  3. Enjoy the subtle changes and refinements in this version
  4. vicariously enjoy the first-time experience of those who haven’t heard the joke before

So why shout-out, sing-along-with or otherwise coverup the performance of an artist you (and others) paid good money to see and hear without being invited to do so? Especially when that artist already provides many opportunities for audience participation?

Not too long after I posted this a Jeopardy contestant from Seattle, Washington, Tory Waltrip, related how she was almost thrown out of a Celine Dion concert for singing along because, as she stated “it turns out strangely enough, people went to the concert to hear Celine and not me.”

The Story of Babar

I wanted to do a project for my grandchildren. After much thought, I decided performing Poulenc’s The Story of Babar would do nicely. I’d always admired Poulenc’s Babar music, and think it contains some of his best material. My only disappointment with Babar was that Poulenc used an abridged version of the story. I always wondered what other great music we missed out on because Poulenc didn’t do the whole thing.

Then I had a crazy thought. “I’m a composer. Why don’t I just fill in the bits Poulenc didn’t do? That will make the gift of the Babar story that much more personal and special !”

If I hadn’t been thinking about who is was for, I’d have thought about it too much and would never have had the courage to put my music side by side with Poulenc’s. Fortunately, I just naively pressed ahead and intimidation never set in.

I didn’t try to imitate Poulenc in any way. I just wrote as I naturally would. The result holds up just fine, I think. And Poulenc’s music and mine go together surprisingly well. (Considering how much I love his music, and what an influence he’s been, maybe not so surprising?)

The resulting music is about 50% Poulenc and 50% me. If you’re not already familiar with the Poulenc, and are curious who wrote what, here’s a breakdown showing the composer for each scene:

Babar is born                                  00:25
digging in the sand                            02:08
riding on his mother’s back                    02:47
Babar’s mother is shot                         03:50
Babar runs away                                04:10
the city and two gentlemen                     04:53
the Old Lady gives Babar her purse             06:18
riding the elevator                            08:00
the Floor Manager                              08:50
buying clothes                                 10:01
having a picture taken                         10:40
dining with the Old Lady                       12:02
going to sleep                                 12:46
exercise and bath                              13:35
riding in the car                              14:42
lessons                                        15:03
stories of life in the forest                  16:31
Babar remembers his mother                     17:22
buying Arthur and Celeste clothes              18:28
the pastry shop                                19:09
Arthur and Celeste’s mothers are worried       19:55
the old stork returns with news                20:27
mothers scold Arthur and Celeste               20:45
packing the trunk                              21:09
saying goodbye                                 21:54
leaving for the forest in the car              23:01
the Old Lady misses Babar                      23:39
the King of the elephants eats a bad mushroom  25:09
the three oldest elephants have a meeting      26:21
Babar arrives at the forest                    27:35
Cornelius speaks                               28:22

Babar accepted as King    30:05 birds invite animals to wedding    31:01 guests arrive    31:33 the marriage and coronation of Babar    32:24 dancing    33:50 after the party    34:33 Cording leaving in a balloon for the honeymoon   36:10 Poulenc the end    37:48

The bold items are my favorite Poulenc sections.

The entire story is about 38 minutes, so settle in before giving a listen.

Listen to: The Story of Babar..

Preludes and Serenades concert

So if you missed the CF2 Preludes and Serenades concert on Friday night, Oct. 1st, I’m terribly sorry! What a great program of piano music it was! I’m always proud to be associated with such fine composers, but never more so than after such a wonderful program! Orlando is so lucky to have these people locally!

Everything was great, but a particular shout-out to Erik Branch, Troy Gifford and Charlie Griffin! What fabulous works!

Dr. Rose Grace gave a slightly different interpretation of my Serenade than my own (which you can find posted here earlier). Honestly, I wish that happened more often. She even found a way to re-finger part of it to avoid crossing hands. It is such a luxury to hear one of my own piano works without having to perform it myself!

Big thank you to Dr. Grace and, as always, Benoit Glazer and Timucua! And congratulations to all the composers on the program!


Seven Wonders

So if you missed the 8th Annual CF2 Salon Concert on Aug 29th, no worries. Here’s a video of the premier of Seven Wonders, a set of songs about the 7 wonders of the ancient world, with text by Al Rocheleau. Bri Anna Davis is the mezzo-soprano and I’m at the piano. Special thanks to Al and Bri Anna! And, as always, thanks to Benoit Glazer for the recording!


Here’s a recording of Gigue performed by the wonderful Fernwood String Quartet. After many delays due to Covid, the premier performance finally took place Jan 23rd, 2021 at the Dr Phillips Center (with proper precautions and social distancing of course). Big thank you to the members of Fernwood: Julia Gessinger – violin 1, Andreas Volmer – violin 2, Daniel Cortes – viola, and Hanrich Claassen – cello.

The epigraph to the work is a quote from the Irish poet William Allingham (1824 – 1889) – “She danced a jig, she sung a song that took my heart away.”

Listen to: Gigue.

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