composer's journal: a good day

Spent several hours finishing up “Dead Man’s Pants” yesterday.  I trimmed a measure from one section and beefed up some orchestration in another. Added more consistent articulation in one section. Finally, I extracted parts, edited them and emailed them to players.

This is a list of the 9 parts I extracted, edited and emailed yesterday:

Eb Alto Sax

Bb Tenor Sax








You’ll notice the drums is missing. I haven’t finished notating this part. Drums are tricky. One relies on the drummer to add appropriate parts and beats. Notating them carefully is not always helpful unless you have something specific in mind. In some sections of the piece I do have some specific things in mind and most of that is written. However I have emailed and FB messaged my drummer and asked him to meet with me this week to help me make a part that will be appropriate. I plan to follow up with him today if he hasn’t responded yet.

Banjo Player Cartoon Royalty Free Stock Vector Art Illustration

Later I made a vocal score for me to practice singing and playing the banjo part for the “Tiny Lies” section.

“Dead Man’s Pants” marks a moment in my life when I feel like I can turn back to my composing and music in a renewed and deeper way.  My family of origin has required a lot of attention in the last couple of years. I have no regrets of the time and energy this has taken. But it has coincided with a time in my life when I was less able to find myself, to find my usual core of self. I hope that “Dead Man’s Pants” represents a turn back to myself and my music.

I of course never abandoned them.  Living through my father’s illness and death and the reaction of my family did not totally dampen my ability to find my center. And my return has been gradual and largely a result of re-examining my ongoing relationship to music and even church music.

I find that there is a consistency in my writing and my music that dates back to my teens. Resurfacing my 1976 oboe sonatina helped me understand my compositional direction a bit better. Sections of “Dead Man’s Pants,” especially but not only the theme, represent a resurgence of a compositional voice of my own that I recognize.

At the same time I have been studying a bit more. Not only reading texts and books on scholarly subjects like Sonata Theory and the effects of recording on musical practice in the 20th century, but also a deeper look at my own musical influences. I have been reading in John Jacob Niles’s Ballad Book. I realize that I have a deep love for folk music and hymnody and am looking a bit harder at the former.

John Jacob Niles

Discovering and rediscovering the explicit use of pre-existing folk materials by Stravinsky and others helps me understand my own relationship to my influences and interests. Specifically folk melodies.

Now that “Dead Man’s Pants” has been composed I can begin to move into other compositional considerations and start to think about other new works.

I am hoping for a performance that represents something of what I have written. Yesterday my oboe player was in a bit of a panic about the gig. I tried to assure her she could easily not do it. I am expecting shifts in personnel and am pretty confident I can easily adapt for this performance.

Imagining the performance seems to have helped me make the piece. Indeed I think it added to the enjoyment. I tend to compose for specific players I know. Whether it pans out is not as important as the contribution it makes to my process of creating.

So the first and biggest step toward the Aug 5th gig is done. Now I have looming over me attempting to get the harpsichord in working condition. Again I have a plan B to just do the gig without it if it’s not ready.  The rest of the play list should be relatively easy after composing the main piece I hope to do that evening.

Yesterday was a good day. After spending hours with “Dead Man’s Pants,” I went over to church and chose prelude and postlude for Sunday (Arvo Part’s Trivium I and a varied hymn accompaniment by Gerre Hancock). When I returned I was delighted to find a voice mail on my land line from my long lost buddy, Ray Hinkle.

I returned the call and we had great talk. I took Eileen her supper and then Ray called again and we had wonderful chat. I have great hopes that he and I can reconnect some forty years later in our lives. We are thinking of meeting in person on Friday. Cool beans. Ray has offered to help me record the Aug 5th gig. This is great (he also reads this blog, Hi Ray!). But as I age it occurs to me how important people are to being alive. My circle of intimates is small. It is rare for me to meet someone (besides my wife and daughters) with whom I can talk freely and be myself.  If there is a chance to connect with someone in this way, it cheers me immensely.

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