Opus Triple-Digit

I am not a particularly prolific composer, and have always been a little sensitive about it. The sensitivity started in college. In high school I spewed forth inept sonatas and chamber pieces by the ream with a frightening incapacity for self-criticism, and I swept into Oberlin with guns a-blazing. But my undergraduate composition teacher was intimidating and unsympathetic, and after a few months with him I found myself too petrified to compose anything. It took me many years to fully overcome the sense of insecurity that took root in me under … [Read more...]

Yahoo = Satan

My web site is down at the moment. I was informed by Hostmonster, where I keep it, that my domain registration was going to expire. My domain was held by Melbourne IT. Melbourne IT informed me that they had sold it to Yahoo. Yahoo's customer support is undoubtedly the absolute worst in the history of the internet. I keep circling through their website, and being told that I need to go to my "Business Control Panel," and the link to that instead takes me back to the beginning and tries to sell me a domain name. I've tried everything. The other … [Read more...]

State of the Confusion

The International Society for Contemporary Music (ISCM) has asked me to give a talk on the state of American music at their November conference in Vienna - which strikes me as analogous to making Noam Chomsky the U.S. ambassador to the UN. I had to write a statement for their catalogue, which will be translated into German. Since it won't appear in English, since the tenth anniversary has inspired me to think more about potential purposes for this blog, and since I have to expand it into a fuller paper, I thought I'd run it up the flagpole here … [Read more...]

Obligatory Calendrical Observance

The new-music blogosphere seems to have exploded into existence in the summer of 2003, judging from the number of such blogs celebrating their tenth anniversaries lately. Although I wrote a couple of entries beforehand, I saved the official unveiling of my blog for August 29, 2003 - without even reflecting, as I recall, that it was the 51st anniversary of the premiere of 4'33" (and of course not knowing that it would become the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina). I also, inexplicably, failed to check the prevailing astrological transits, whose … [Read more...]

Public Service Explanation

During the Civil War, Joseph Twichell, future father-in-law of Charles Ives, worked as a Congregational chaplain in the Union Army next to a Jesuit priest named Joseph O’Hagan, with whom he became lifelong close friends. After the 1862 Battle of Fredericksburg, the two exhausted themselves helping the wounded, and then slept huddled together beneath blankets against the December cold. O’Hagan laughed, and, when Twichell asked him what was funny, replied, “The scene of you and me – me, a Jesuit priest, and you, a Puritan minister of the worst … [Read more...]

For Musicians with Brains

My good pianist friend Lois Svard, with whom I used to teach at Bucknell and for whom I wrote my Desert Sonata, got interested in her last years at Bucknell in neurological aspects of creativity and taught classes in it every year. She's done creativity workshops for corporations, too. And now she's started a blog on the subject called The Musician's Brain. I look forward to it. … [Read more...]

Following Perfect Lives


The past two days have been among the most remarkable I've had in years. John Luther Adams and his wife Cindy came up from the city to visit, composers Robert Carl and Ken Steen came from Hartford to attend some of the Bard festival, and we all spent part of yesterday attending the performances of Robert Ashley's Perfect Lives by the New York group Varispeed, which took place in various spots west of Woodstock. Here are Robert, Ken, Cindy, and John (wearing my new hat) on my deck: (You can click on these photos and they'll open in better … [Read more...]

A Musicological Detour into Theology

I had not planned to get into Charles Ives's actual religious beliefs, but I find that I can't fully dissect his Emerson essay without addressing them. Four times in Essays Before a Sonata Ives refers approvingly to "Dr. Bushnell." This is Horace Bushnell (1802-1876), a Congregationalist minister whose sermons were widely read in the 19th century, and who is sometimes described as having caused a revolution in liberal Christianity. He preached in Hartford from 1833 to 1859. Like the Transcendentalists, he rebelled against his Calvinist … [Read more...]

A Louisiana Voice


My family origins are humble. My Texas grandfather Frank Gann was a cotton farmer, my Louisiana grandfather William Henry Harris a bank robber - or so claimed Grandmother, who threw him out and we never heard from him again. My favorite uncle Irvin was a greyhound racer and drive-in restaurant manager (Prince of Hamburgers, Lemmon Ave., Dallas), my sainted aunt Rita spent her career as cashier at Jay's Cafeteria. My dad, who parlayed his GI-Bill-financed SMU degree into an accounting job at Mobil Oil, was the family success story. But my … [Read more...]