The etymology of the word “composition” is from the Latin “com + positum” meaning “to put together.” And that is basically what is involved in the art of composing music – putting music together in an intelligent way. Like many things (especially in the arts) this is much more difficult than it looks or sounds to the outsider. In my case, it increasingly seems to be a matter of ‘putting together’ my various disparate musical influences into some sort of a unified, seamless whole.
Am I trying to make sense of my life? Perhaps that is to put it a bit too melodramatically, but there is something to this.
You will hear these disparate influences when you listen to my works. I grew up in the tip of the tail end of the Great American Song Book Era (the 1960’s) and, though I certainly knew rock music, I was much more interested in jazz. I went to graduate school to study composition and was inculcated into the atonal academic style. Finally, I became very interested in church music in general, and Gregorian chant in particular. So, you could say that my influences extend from Hartker to Rodgers and Hart – with some Messiaen and Schoenberg thrown in for good measure. (Not to exclude my great affection for the tonal tradition of Western classical music!)
But what do these things have to do with one another? Good question. I suppose my compositions, especially in recent years, have been about answering that question – at least unconsciously.
Listed below is a selection of some of my serious compositions from over the years. Not all of them, but a decent sampling of some of which I am proud. Recordings of some of these compositions appear in the Listen section on the website.
Four Haiku: The Seasons (2013)
These are settings of my own haiku poetry on the theme of the four seasons for soprano and piano recorded by myself and my good friend, soprano Nancy Scimone. As requested by some of my listeners, here is the poetry:
SUMMER – A DISSENT
Humid, heavy air
Descends. Drag-on, dank days greet
Close, hot, sweated sleep.
Flaming, martyred leaves,
Hallowéd harvest of trees,
Fall fertile to earth.
WINTER NIGHT SKY
Stars torn asunder
By man’s wasted wonder, still
Twinkle-talk to me.
Nature’s vernal voice
Rescinds decay’s rotten choice
So, rejoice – rejoice!
Dover Beach (2012)
I have long appreciated this poem of Matthew Arnold’s as a very profound cultural critique of the direction modern Western Civilization has taken. I finally did a setting of an edited version of it for SATB chorus and piano. This was a recording made on June 9th, 2012 in Front Royal, VA with my professional choir, Chorus Orpheus, and pianist Robert Strain of The Shenandoah Conservatory.
Gregorian Chant Suite for Organ (2011)
I. Ave verum corpus
II. Jesu dulcis memoria
III. Ecce panis angelorum
At the urging of my colleague Jennifer Donelson, I composed this for a symposium on the music of Charles Tournemire held at the Church of the Epiphany in Miami, Florida, February 2, 2012. It consists of three movements each based on a Gregorian chant melody (or at least a fragment of a chant melody.) It was performed by Matthew Steynor, formerly of Queen’s College Chapel, Oxford, but currently organist/choirmaster at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Miami. Matt did a wonderful job and I enjoyed working with him very much!
Resurrection for Organ (2011)
This was part of another suite for organ also performed in Florida by Matthew Steynor at the Tournemire Symposium. It was based on the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. Although Matt did an excellent job, I was unhappy with how the individual movements fit together. Nonetheless, I decided to excerpt what, in my opinion, is the most successful and challenging of all the movements – the Resurrection. Some people may be confused by its title, on the one hand, and the dissonance and violent ending, on the other hand. It might help to think of it as a Flannery O’Connor short story set to music! (And chant aficionados, what Introit do you hear throughout?)
Missa Brevis in E Major (2011)
This was composed for SATB chorus, organ and strings and was performed at the Baccalaureate Mass in the Christendom College chapel in May of 2011.
Three Hopkins Songs (2007)
I. Starlight Night
II. Pied Beauty
III. God’s Grandeur
This is a setting of three poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins for piano and mezzo-soprano composed for a recital on Sept. 14, 2007 celebrating the 30th Anniversary of the founding of Christendom College. I see it as my first mature work of the 21st century. The original performance was by Imelda Franklin Bogue and myself on piano, of which there is a live recording. Although I did a decent job, I decided to re-record it in a studio in Hartford, CT on August 13th, 2011 with Imelda and professional, New York-based pianist, Eric Trudel. [It took me two months of daily practice (2-3 hours a day) to learn my own piece. I think Eric read through it 5-6 times and nailed it. Thank God for professional pianists!] It was a joy working with Eric (and Imelda as always).
The St. John the Evangelist Overture: A Eucharistic Apocalypse (2004)
This was a concert piece for chamber ensemble [including organ] which I composed for the opening of the St. John the Evangelist Library at Christendom College, Oct. 9, 2004. I took several passages from the Book of Revelation as my inspiration – a true program work. It is not one of my better, integrated works. It is kind of an odd “Tchaikovsky-meets-Ravel-meets-Bernard Hermann-meets-Pierre Boulez” potpourri; a real mish-mash of styles. However, it has its high points and I was very appreciative to the college administration for an opportunity to compose a major work.
For unison treble voices and organ, I composed it for a friend, originally. It won some sort of award in Lansing, MI (I forget what it was!) and was published by Concordia Publishing House of St. Louis. It’s out of print now, but I still have the original recording I made with fellow students at Michigan State University to send to the publishing company.
Imaginary Journey for Jazz Ensemble (1988)
Quatre Fascinants (1987)
A collection of four poems about four different animals by the French surrealist Rene Char set for tenor voice, flute, clarinet, violin, cello and prepared piano. It won an honorable mention in the Washington Square Contemporary Music Series of New York City in 1989.
Capriccio for Violin (1985)
Performed by Violin Professor I-Fu Wang in the MSU Music Auditorium on October 29th, 1985. I remember that Professor Wang originally promised to find a student of his to perform it for me. Maybe a week or two before the performance he told me casually, “Eh, I couldn’t find a student … I guess I will do it myself.” And then he proceeded to sight-read this very difficult piece in front of me – basically as it sounded at the concert. Fabulous!
Improvisation for Solo Flute (1985)
Performed by Miss Susan Peck at her Senior Recital in Hart Recital Hall, Michigan State University on Feb. 26, 1986. I wrote it in 1985 and Susan performed it for me at a Premieres of New Music concert that same year. I was greatly honored when she chose to perform my work again as one of her senior recital pieces – something that I wasn’t expecting. She did a top-notch job. (Occasionally, I wonder where she is now.)
Passacaglia for Flute Quintet (1984)
Thump-Thump for Jazz Ensemble (1983)
Actually, this isn’t a “serious” work at all, but a piece of straight-ahead jazz. I believe I wrote this Blues in F when I was still a teenager. I revised it later in college. It was accepted by a publishing company a few years later and they made a promotional recording that was very good. Although the piece is long out of print, I decided to include it because of the high quality of the musicianship and, well – this is where it all began for me.