Such Gentle Rapture and Getting Things Done

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything substantial here, and I intend for that to change in the coming weeks as I start to publish a new set of Composer’s Guide posts. So stay tuned.

Late last month, I took stock of the ways that I’ve been handling my time as a full-time freelancer, and I wasn’t as pleased with what I saw as I wanted to be. I brainstormed a bit as to how I could rework the ways that I manage my time, and I think I’ve come up with a fairly elegant solution. I took a little trip to Staples to buy a large wall calendar and a stack of different colored Post-Its, and sat down to plan out the next thirteen months of my life in terms of what I’d like to have written by what dates. (And trust me, the list of things I want to write extends FAR beyond what I’m capable of in 13 months. There’s a spreadsheet lurking in the cloud with an ever-growing list of pieces that I intend to write.)

Now I have a colorful production calendar hanging near my desk to remind me every day what my weekly task is:


I’ve created a three-week rotation of short chamber works (with a smattering of art song thrown in for extra fun), Composer’s Guide articles, and a long-term, non-musical project that I probably won’t otherwise mention again on this blog.

The chamber pieces are part of a project that I started last year, but which quickly got put on the back-burner. The first part of the project is to write thirteen short (5-7 minute) duos for piano and each of the major orchestral instruments (minus percussion, but including saxophone), and the second part will be unveiled and explained in mid-November – I’m very anxious to get to that point.

I already have the flute/piano duo written – a 5’30” piece titled “Silverpoint” after the drawing technique, which I was first introduced to by composer Marty Boykan’s wife, Susan Schwalb, who I met at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. And this week I’m at work on the clarinet/piano duo, “Such Gentle Rapture”. Each new project starts on a Tuesday (Monday is my dedicated web design/research day), and I managed two write about two minutes of the piece yesterday. If I can maintain this rate of composition (and I’m a fast composer!), I should have the piece sketched out by tomorrow evening and engraved by Friday afternoon. But if I really shackle myself to the piano (look at me procrastinate by blogging about composing instead of actually composing…), I can have the whole thing done by tomorrow night. The title for this piece, by the way, comes from Barry Eisler’s spy thriller Killing Rain. Not my usual source for titles, but I’ve also got a handful of William Gibson-inspired titles coming up in this series of pieces.

In addition to the goals of my production schedule, I’m also in the process of starting a small record label with one of my long-time collaborators, Marc Peloquin. The purpose of the label is to record art song by living composers, and we’ll be going into the studio for our first disc in mid-November: a recreation of the concert we put on this past February titled That Dare Not Speak.


After that, we have our next four releases scheduled to come out over the following four years, and I can’t even tell you how excited I am to start getting all this music in the can!

OK, less words, more notes. Back to the piano!

Rise, My Love

Later this month, the wonderful Cheah Chan Duo will be performing “John Anderson, My Jo” from And He’ll Be Mine, and I’m incredibly excited! Their program, titled “Rise, My Love”, is a celebration of LGBT composers and poets, and it sure to be a real treat. Their programming is always interesting, eclectic, and provocative, and this concert is sure to be no exception.

Read their press release here.


In preparation for the upcoming NY premiere of Only Air this Sunday (learn more about the performance here, and buy tickets here), I thought that I’d post a few thoughts about the piece, inspired by the questions that Garrett Schumann sent me to help prepare his upcoming article on several socially-conscious works that will be published on the NewMusicBox. (I’ll provide that link when the article is posted.)

Only Air takes the form of an art song with orchestral accompaniment (or in Sunday’s case, chamber ensemble) with five brief instrumental interludes. When I first describe the piece to people, the interludes often cause a bit of confusion, especially given that their musical material is so different from the material of the song sections. So the question frequently arises as to what exactly their musical role is.

The interludes play several roles, although they’re primarily meditations on each of the five boys that I chose as the extramusical focus of the piece. The interludes contrast pretty strongly with the “song” sections – the interludes are traditionally tonal, while the vocal sections, which are still essentially tonal, are a bit more dissonant and disjunct, and often have a recitative-like quality. Early in the compositional process, I struggled to reconcile the stark differences between the vocal sections and the interludes until I came to think of the latter as being akin to the Sea Interludes in Peter Grimes – integral to the piece as a whole, but also sharing little to no musical material with the rest of the work. Each interlude is largely self-contained, yet some musical ideas get lightly woven into succeeding sections to allow for a more subtle sense of cohesion and musical inevitability.

Each interlude has a solo instrument or featured section (for the orchestral version, they are, in order: trumpet, the percussion section, clarinet, cello, and violin) which I used as a starting point for my meditations on the five boys that the piece is dedicated to. I felt that the choices of the cello and the violin were particularly important because Justin Aaberg and Zach Harrington were both cellists and Tyler Clementi was a violinist.


When I wrote the piece, LGBT suicide was a social issue that the concert music world had almost completely ignored. An amazing number of professional sports teams had made It Gets Better videos (years before any of the players had started to come out), as had countless major corporations. Yet no orchestra had made such an effort despite the fact that many members of the orchestral and concert music communities are also members of the LGBT community, and had undoubtedly undergone similar torment in their youths. Disaster relief concerts were commonplace, but this sort of social responsibility hadn’t quite made it into the concert hall. Fortunately, more ensembles are interested in bringing awareness of important issues to their audiences. David Del Tredici composed his piano quintet Bullycide after a conversation we had following the commission of Only Air, and it has started to take wings with performances in La Jolla and Montclair, and an upcoming performance by Chamber Music Northwest.

My hope is that if just one young person who might be contemplating suicide and is sitting in an orchestra or a chamber ensemble or even in the audience where the piece is being played can take away an ounce of strength from the piece and from knowing that this ensemble and all of the people around them are offering their support, then we’ll all have done a very good thing.


One of Garrett’s questions particularly surprised me – I’d never stopped to consider this one aspect of the work that seems rather obvious in hindsight: “How do you represent yourself in this piece, if at all? ”

Taking a step back from the piece, I can see myself in both of the main “characters” of the text – the young man in pain who is preparing to commit suicide, and the voice asking him to stop. During my teenage years, I had a very difficult time, in large part because of my sexuality, and I contemplated suicide more than once. So I identify with these boys. But having come through the other side stronger and wiser, I want to lend them some of my strength so that they can make it through their own dark times to find life and happiness.


Stay tuned for the link to Garrett’s NewMusicBox article, and I hope to see you this Sunday at the concert!

An Upcoming Concert: 2/18/14

That Dare Not Speak: Love Songs by Gay American Composers
The Duplex Cabaret Theatre
61 Christopher St ( @7th Ave ), NYC
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Program is approx. 1 hr.

$12 + 2 drink minimum (sodas count)

Come join me and pianist Marc Peloquin for this post-Valentine’s Day concert of love songs by David Del Tredici, Chester Biscardi, Darien Shulman, Zachary Wadsworth, and yours truly!

Be sure to make your reservation here, as seating is limited!

The Composers Now Festival celebrates living composers, the diversity of their voices and the significance of their musical contributions to our society. During the month of February, the Festival brings together dozens of performances presented by venues, ensembles, orchestras, opera companies, dance companies and many other innovative events throughout New York City. Experience the sounds and get to know the creators behind the music. From jazz to indie, from classical to electronic and beyond, join us on a sonic journey through the landscape of the arts of our time. Composers will be in attendance at all events and will be interacting with audiences. Composers Now is a project partner of The Fund for the City of New York. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the ASCAP Foundation, the Cheswatyr Foundation and the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.

Playing Catch-Up

Only Air
The orchestration to Only Air continues apace. I’m starting in on the third interlude this evening, which will be the most challenging one since it does require a bit of actual composition as well – my sketches, which are usually either detailed roadmaps or vague groupings of disembodied noteheads, are particularly vague here, bordering on impressionistic. “The clarinet soloist does these things in this order, and the orchestra kind of does…other…stuff…with these pitches. Maybe a few others.” Thanks, Dennis, for being so helpful!

My intention was originally to put together the piano/vocal score first, but I realized quickly that it’s just not going to happen like that. The orchestration wants to happen first so that I can reduce it. Even though I wrote the piece at the piano, and my sketches are vaguely pianistic, it just wants to be an orchestra piece first. And who am I to argue? In practical terms, this way allows me to work out durations and timings with sustaining instruments before I REALLY get the decay of the piano in my head.

They Lie at Rest
This weekend, I also started a new short piece for mixed choir, “They Lie at Rest”. Something about the text has clearly spoken to my composer brain since I sat down with it for the first time yesterday and composed the first third of the piece in one fell swoop. This seems to be a theme with me and choral music lately – “When Music Sounds” started the exact same way!

Recent Events
I recently had the pleasure of singing several roles in a reading of Roger Zahab’s new opera A Christmas Carol. I was originally slated to sing Young Scrooge, First Portly Gentleman, and Bob Cratchit, but also added Scrooge’s nephew Fred for the second performance due to a baritone emergency.

And let me tell you: this is my kind of performing. Both performances were unstaged readings – literally readings – by a small ensemble and a group of singers, many of whom had never met until the day of the first “performance”. Magically, in the first performance of the 2-hour work, we only had to stop and restart about three times! And I know that I wasn’t the only one who had only had time to look at the music for the first time the night before!

Afterward, I realized that this was the real-life version of that dream that we all have about showing up to a performance on the first night without ever having rehearsed or having been told you were even cast, yet blundering through anyway. But with pants. I was a little taken aback after I mentioned to a few of the other performers and they replied, “Aw man, I know! I hate that nightmare!” B…but who said anything about a nightmare…?

Coming Up
This February I’ll be in an ensemble performing several works by composer Karen Siegel, which I’m very much looking forward to! The concert, for anyone available, will be February 16 at the Tenri Cultural Center on W 13th St at 8:00pm.

Also, my piece “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” from Elegy will be sung at a paperless reading of choral music hosted by the Monmouth County chapter of the American Guild of Organists on February 10!

Looking Forward
Due to a number of factors, including an increased work load at the day job, 2012 was a slow year for some of my non-composing/non-singing endeavors.

Consequently, I put a temporary moratorium on adding new works and new composers to the NewMusicShelf, which I’m just now beginning to lift as I prepare for the day job to go back to normal in a few weeks. My sole priority with the site has been to monitor sales and make sure that everyone gets paid when they should (mission accomplished!). And after I sift through my backlog of emails, and process all of the new scores, I’ll start accepting new submissions again, as well as seeking out new composers to join the site’s roster.

The day job also severely impacted my ability to update the Composer’s Guide toward the end of the year. But rest assured: I have a half dozen articles in draft form, and will start posting them all soon, along with a ton more new content! I’m very much looking forward to finishing the competitions mini-series!

There are also a few more projects that I’ve got lined up for this year that I’ll announce as they come closer to fruition.

September performances

This month is a pretty good month for performance of my works!

Tomorrow (9/6), Marc Peloquin is performing Growl again at Barbes on a program that he’s sharing with my mentor David Del Tredici. I’m really looking forward to the performance – can’t wait to hear everything that they’re going to play!

On the 18th, I’ll be performing echoes with Marc on a concert sponsored by the American Opera Projects / Opera Grows in Brooklyn / Opera on Tap at the Galapagos Art Space. I first performed this cycle on the Tobenski-Algera Concert Series in January 2010, and I’m looking forward to performing it a second time! It’s been a lot of fun putting this performance together, and I hope to work with AOP / OGiB / OoT again! I’m also very excited to hear the other works on the program – I know a lot of the composers whose works are being performed, and it’ll be fun hearing their works performed.

My friend Chet Biscardi is having is song cycle Sailors & Dreamers premiered on Sept. 19 at Merkin Hall, which, although I’m not a part of, I’m really looking forward to hearing the premiere. He’s been working on the cycle for a while, and I had the pleasure of hearing some of the songs early in the process. Chet is a wonderful composer and amazing friend, and I strongly encourage all of you to go to the performance on the 19th. The cycle was commissioned by the Koussevitsky Foundation, which is just amazing!

Then on Sept. 25th, my friends Roger Zahab and Rob Frankenberry will be premiering my piece Duo for violin and piano at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, PA. Rob, who will be the pianist for this performance, has premiered several works of mine, and is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, performer; and Roger is an amazing composer and violinist, who commissioned the Duo last year.