Schroeder’s Minions

I am quoted in Rick Schulz's article about the toy piano as serious instrument in last Sunday's L.A. Times. It's a preview piece for a toy piano concert being given by Phyllis Chen this coming Sunday. The thing that Rick and I discussed that didn't get in the article - and having written for daily papers myself, I completely understand what limitations kept it out - was that, before Margaret Leng Tan began championing the instrument, composer Wendy Chambers had commissioned a whole repertoire of works for it in the late 1980s, including my own … [Read more...]

The Relentless Resurgence of 1981

Many of you know that in the early 1980s magnetic recording tape was made via some kind of process that facilitated quick deterioration, and that you can reclaim tapes from that era by baking them. Eric Bruskin has kindly done that for some reel-to-reel tapes of my own early music and several early postminimalist pieces by Peter Gena, my grad school composition teacher and (since he was only eight years senior) close friend. I hadn't heard any of these in many years. Peter's pieces - Beethoven in Soho, Unchained Melodies, Stabiles - First … [Read more...]

Coincidences Happen

Heavens, I've gotten so involved here that I've forgotten to publicize a second performance I have today. Pianist Aron Kallay is playing three of my microtonal keyboard works this afternoon, Fugitive Objects and the world premieres of Triskaidekaphonia and New Aunts. The concert is at 3 PM at Ramo Recital Hall at the University of Southern California, 820 West 34th Street, Los Angeles. My apologies for the late notification. Aron is doing very interesting-sounding graduate work on microtonal keyboard performance. I won't be there because I'm a … [Read more...]

Composing Generously

Sacramento - Harold Meltzer's new sextet Brion, played by the Cygnus Ensemble here at Sacramento State last night, opened with a quiet piccolo solo playing the same motive over and over. It was a high note followed by several staccato repetitions of a low note. Pianissimo string chords played underneath. At first the relation between them was tonal, but it branched out into bitonality and mild dissonance. Lasting maybe a virtual minute in experienced musical time, it was lovely. But what was better was that, almost halfway through the piece, … [Read more...]

The Trouble with Serialism

Though I've done it in other cases, I see little point in posting the keynote address I delivered yesterday for Sacramento State's 31st (!) annual new-music festival. The bulk of my spiel, about why the so-called American maverick composers aren't really loners but a pretty tightly-knit group, was sewn together from bits of material already available on this blog. But toward the end I changed subject and addressed another issue that's been on my mind lately, and I've been meaning to bring it up anyway. So I've adapted and expanded it for the … [Read more...]

Fear vs. Hope: Fear Lost

I'm from Texas, but the family story is that during the Civil War my ancestors were Northern sympathizers. One great grand-uncle was hung by the Confederacy for giving shoes to a Union soldier. I'm also a Civil War buff, and have read dozens of histories of it and visited more than 30 battlefields. And it feels like the Civil War finally ended tonight, with me here to see it happen. Not only because an eloquent Black man became president, but because Nixon's "Southern strategy" finally crashed to ignominious failure. I couldn't be happier. God … [Read more...]

Back with the Swallows

I'll be in California the second half of this week. I've been invited to Sacramento State's annual Festival of American Music. I'm involved in the following three events:Nov. 6: Thursday at noon, I start the event by giving the keynote address in the Music Recital Hall. Nov. 7: Friday at 10 AM, I give a Composer's Forum on my music in Capistrano Hall, room 205.Nov. 9: Sunday at 7 PM I give a pre-concert talk (Capistrano Hall 151) prior to a concert in the Music Recital Hall by the Seattle Chamber Players. My old Seattle friends will be playing … [Read more...]

Theory Wonk Post

October is the cruelest month. Or rather, late October/early November: my first-year students know diatonic chords and a few non-chord tones, but it's awfully difficult to find pieces of music (even hymns!) devoid of accidentals for people still stymied by secondary dominants. One piece that I've found wonderful for teaching around Halloween is Barber's Adagio for Strings - I'm not a fan of Barber or the piece, but they all know it by heart, and the film industry has done very well by it. And a lot of it stays in B-flat minor and teaches the … [Read more...]

Thank You, Sarah Palin

We in American music owe a great debt to John McCain and Sarah Palin. Those two have so cheapened and tainted the word "maverick" that it will be at least a generation, maybe two, before anyone will be able to use the word non-ironically again. And that means, surely, that there will be no more talk about the "American maverick composers." As I've written here before, the musicological purpose of the word "maverick" is to legitimize certain handpicked composers despite the unconventionality (as compared with alleged European norms) of their … [Read more...]

My Unpopularity in Perspective

I had a lovely lunch yesterday with my former editor from the Voice, Doug Simmons, who hired me and edited me for seven heady years. Each of us had some anecdotes from those years we'd never told the other before. The guy who'd recommended me for the job (who might want to remain nameless in this instance) once called Doug up, furious about some new infraction I'd committed in the paper. "You're the guy who recommended him to me," Doug expostulated, "I'd never heard of him before." "I think I've created a monster!," the guy exclaimed, and hung … [Read more...]

The Op. 111 Club

I refuse to do those "playlist" things that tell you what I'm listening to lately, because 1. I go for long periods without listening to anything, and I'm entitled because I've already spent way too much of my life involved with other people's music; 2. half of what I do listen to is for teaching reasons; 3. I often listen to pieces because I'm planning to steal ideas from them, so admitting it would sometimes be too revealing. But lately I'm listening over and over to a mammoth work that's long fascinated me, Grand Hotel (1989) by Cornelis de … [Read more...]