Iliad of the Midwest

I've loved Robert Ashley's Perfect Lives for 30 years, but I'd never gone through it line by line until this last couple of weeks. I frequently teach scenes 1 ("The Park") and 4 ("The Bar"). But scene 6, "The Church," is the climax of the piece in terms of word density and everything else, and while I had certain passages memorized, I'd never pieced the throughline together. It is absolutely astonishing. The scene is Ed and Gwyn's elopement in Indiana, and the marriage sermon gives them the three rules, which represent three eons of human … [Read more...]

I Was Once a Good Boy

Recognize the style?I was looking for some old papers and stumbled across this piece that I wrote as a first-semester freshman at Oberlin, in 1973. It's a setting of a poem by Jean Valentine, The Knife, which I've written about here before. This isn't the final score, which is lost, but a first draft - and since we did actually perform it, I hope to god I was forced to put in bar lines and rhythmicize all those damn grace notes in the piano. I was somewhere between Berio's Circles, Stockhausen's Klavierstücke, and George Crumb, with lots of … [Read more...]

Style and Idea

I don't know that I have a musical style, but I think that one of my compositional strengths - for those who consider it a strength rather than a limitation - is that I draw out the idea of each piece, each movement, very clearly. That is, given recordings of the first five measures of most of my pieces, plus a random measure from later in one of those pieces, I think even a child could match the random measure with the correct opening. The first conductor of my Transcendental Sonnets expressed amazement at how clearly the five songs were … [Read more...]