Variations on ‘Resignation’

After weeks of listening to it obsessively, and running it past at least one strings teacher of my acquaintance, I have tonight submitted Variations on ‘Resignation’ to my contact at the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra in Scotland.

My stomach hurts. I have no idea whether they’ll actually like it, or , more likely , they will find parts of it too challenging to play. If that’s the case, I just go back to the drawing board and take it down a notch. Somehow.

I’m supposed (I think) to write a second piece for them, and that will be Rondo Mobile, the sketch of which you can hear here. I’m thinking I want to make it a rowdy, PDQ-Bach-esque piece, musicologically-speaking-wise. In the sketch, you can already hear the theme falling apart and restarting. I want to make more of that idea, with the sections getting crankier as things go wrong, lots of finger-pointing, ending up with a full-scale riot which the conductor has to silence with a coach’s whistle.

I have been remiss in my blogging for the last month. I promise to make it up to you. I have several posts in the works even as we speak, and after tomorrow , school’s out! , I will have time to churn these out to the delectation of readers everywhere.

I have a post on my Lichtenbergian goals, both a look back at this past year and a look forward; a rant on school funding and running schools “like a business”; a rant on why I oppose the legalization of alcohol; a serious rant about U.S. drug policy; and a strange little meditation on better living through sound effects.

See you then!


If only it were for a ducat…

It is finished, my first piece for the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra. Again, it’s called—for the moment—Resignation, and it’s based on the hymn tune commonly known as “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” in most hymnals.

It’s short; I could probably swing one more variation, probably a triplet thing, if I had to.

What you hear in the mp3 is pretty much the way it’s supposed to sound, although the first phrase is played by a solo violin instead of the whole section. Otherwise, there’s not a lot to say about it. I think it’s very pretty.

Resignation: score [pdf, letter] [pdf, A4] | mp3 [3:39]

Back to the cello sonata. ::sigh::

Surprise! Progress!

Off in the mountains, and I decided to ignore the cello sonata for the week. Instead, I thought I’d take a peek at the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra piece, which in fact is due in three months, two days, and 21 hours. More or less.

Of the five sketches I sent them, they picked the arrangement of the hymn tune Resignation, an early American tune best known as “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need.” I haven’t really looked at it since then, mid-June. The Preludes (No Fugues) and the cello sonata have taken my time since then.

Anyway, I pulled it up this morning and have doubled its length today. Very nice, although it’s a piece of cake to write. I joked that if they were paying me, I’d be stealing.

Here it is so far. I think probably I’m going to break up the melody and do a little development thing, then do a final triumphal statement. It’s supposed to be short.

Wouldn’t it be nice to finish this by the Lichtenbergian Annual Meeting?

Resignation: mp3

Summer Countdown: Day 16

I took a stab at Rondo. I got one fragment done. (I’ve decided I’m going to work in fragments then sew them all together.) This one is quite cute, although I’m not sure how it’s going to fit into my plan of having the music go astray. More work is required.

I revamped this blog to include the material generally found over on my “real” website: all my music, the Arts Speech, the Invocation, and my translation of Marriage of Figaro. You might want to check it out over there on the left. There’s probably music you haven’t heard before. In fact, I still need to provide mp3s for a lot of the church choir music. That can be a distraction for another day.

Finally, I picked up the labyrinth after the storm. Lots and lots of tiny twigs all over the place. I’m now ready for a fire, if I ever have time to be back there any time soon. We leave for Valdosta this afternoon through Sunday , so no countdown days until I get back.

Summer Countdown: Day 27

Lichtenbergian goals:

After days of trying to craft a response to Diane’s request for a full, uncensored accounting of myself, I gave up on polished elegance and just created a bullet list of blunt statements: I don’t know why I’m painting again. What began as a joke is now the focus of all my artistic efforts. I don’t know how to mix colors.

She responded, and here’s where we are: she recommended a couple of DVDs from an artist she respects as a teacher of portraiture , those have been ordered , and rather than a four-day long Art Camp, we’ll begin with a one-day work session, to be followed up with homework and further sessions. I’ll be heading up to Clarkesville on Sunday, July 11.

I finished Prelude No. 3. I am fairly pleased with the results, although the ending sounds too easy, and I am constantly haunted by the fear that my stuff is too short. When we hit the end, it sounds to me as if we’ve skipped a really major portion of a really good piece. But I don’t know what to do about it.

Prelude (no fugue) No. 3: score | mp3

I had an idea for Prelude No. 4, so I got the germ down in a Finale file. I need to go back and work on No. 2.

I need to go and start working on themes/variations for Resignation and Rondo. (Later, in the labyrinth, I did just that. Because of my inability, for the most part, to transcribe what I hear in my head , when I can force myself to listen for it , I usually just “draw” notes and the shapes of melodies in the little music notebook I work in. Later, I have to try to reconstruct whatever it was I thought I heard based on the literal scribblings in the notebook.)

Taking a break from the music, I applied white absorbent ground to pieces of cardboard for later painting.

Lichtenbergian distractions:

I finished The Red Pyramid, by Rick (Percy Jackson) Riordan. A ripping yarn, as usual. I also read some more of The Idea of Justice. Still tough reading, but I’m enjoying it.

Via, I’ve been reading Middlemarch and loving it, but I slipped maybe a week ago and now I have acres of it to catch up. Isn’t it funny how you get behind in something like that and you resist the simplest solution: just read? I also got behind in my crossword puzzle solving while I was at GHP for the week, but I’m almost caught up there. I dutifully read through all the New York Times art sections , one must stay courant, ne-c’est pas? , and clipped all the crosswords, stacking them chronologically. I’m almost through that stack, nearly caught up with the actual day I’m living through.

I was gratified to notice that they changed the layout of the crossword page this past week. You may know that the crossword puzzle is always on the corner of a page, so that you can fold the paper in quarters and have the puzzle and all the clues neatly in front of you. This past year, they’ve added a number puzzle called Ken-Ken to the page, and it was always right above or below the other side of the fold, only not quite far enough away from the fold to make it comfortable. Thus there was always a moment of refolding, which of course interfered with the self-satisfied Zen experience of solving the Times crossword.

This past week, though, the editors moved Ken-Ken to the other side of the page, so that after you fold the paper, it is tidily situated on its own quarter. One less design problem in the world.

Summer Countdown: Day 29

I heard from Wallace Galbraith in Ayr. In his first email, he essentially agreed with my assessment of the five pieces, but expressed no preference for any of them in a way that my American brain could discern. I asked for clarification, and he suggested that we move forward with Resignation and Rondo. So there we go. I have new goals. (He also proposed Waltz as a “third movement,” but I’m not sure what he means by that.)

I woke up with the start of a piano piece in my head, the first of a series I conceived earlier in the spring, Preludes, no fugues. This is mostly driven by my sense of guilt over never having written the Trio for piano, trombone and saxophone that Maila Springfield asked me to write three summers ago. I can at least throw half a dozen bagatelles at her.

So I was quite productive on that front: finished No. 1, conceived No. 2, and am halfway through No. 3. I’ll loop back to No. 2. Nos. 4, 5, and 6… this week, maybe?

Prelude No. 1, score | mp3
Prelude No. 3 (as of 6/27), score | mp3

The third prelude will continue with that opening theme now interwoven with the sixteenths, I think, in multiple octaves in both hands, more grandiose than the delicate opening. Since I cannot possibly play any of it, I’m going to have to be very left-brain about its construction: where can the fingers actually be at any given time? Can I notate it so that the quarter notes of the “melody” are distinct from the sixteenths? How is this thing supposed to end?

I also heard from Diane Mize. While her cabin is being repaired, she has asked me to write a goal statement for our Art Camp: what do I want to accomplish and why? This is supposed to be “uncensored.” No fair making me think. Or be honest. You can see how this has taken me two days even to get half a page written.

Summer Countdown: Day 32

Lichtenbergian goals

I checked the range of the former viola part in its new habitat of third violin (in Waltz: Allegro gracioso). Fortunately, there’s a tool that does that for you, not only identifying notes that are out range of the selected instrument but offering to move each one up an octave (or to wherever else you like). It took no time at all.

Upon repeated listening, I think I can actually strip out a great deal of the piano’s doubling of the viola part. That doesn’t leave the piano with a lot to do, but what it does is critical. And I think the bass drum part can be assumed by the timpani altogether. The tempo as I have it set now may be a little too fast as well. Ah well, it all has to reach performance first anyway.

I emailed Wallace Galbraith with the link to the AFO page here, and explained more of what I had in mind for each one. Then I went on to Facebook and posted a link to yesterday’s post and invited everyone to come vote on their favorite. So far, it’s pretty much an even split between Rondo and Waltz, with Resignation coming in third. I am a bit surprised at how popular Rondo is, given its completely fragmentary status.

Lichtenbergian distractions

As predicted, the Artist Trading Card project is a complete time sink. I love it. I created four cards and all the packaging that goes with the mailing back and forth. To me, part of the fun of the project is the total look and feel I’ve come up with; I’ve turned it into a “thing.” You’ll see what I mean when your chance arrives in the mail. I could just use plain #10 envelopes, after all, but where’s the fun in that?

Speaking of which, I mailed off two ATC packages yesterday. I’ll announce tomorrow who’s getting them.

At the moment, my cards are tending toward dadaistic collage, although I may inject a figural study in there every now and then. I’m afraid the first four are not very well thought out. I was excited to get them out the door and so made them in a rush of energy if not creativity. Sorry guys. I’m doing better on this next set.

Vote early, and vote often

I have actually accomplished one of my goals for the summer: to create five sketches for the piece I’ve been asked to write for the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra. Let’s have some fun with it. Even though the AFO’s conductor, Wallace Galbraith, will obviously make the decision as to which , if any , of the sketches he wants me to complete, let’s take a vote.

In comments, vote on your favorite, or discuss why they all suck.


This sketch is based on a piece generated by Marc Honea, playing with algorithms and synthesizers. Includes a glockenspiel.

score | mp3 (0:41)

The Labyrinth in Snow

A simple, Romantic-style work, featuring solo violin, cello, and piano

score | mp3 (0:42)


This will be a theme and variation, based on the hymn tune Resignation, best known as “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” , this is just the opening of the statement of the theme

score | mp3 (0:54)

Rondo Mobile

I wanted to try something closer to the AFO’s “house style” of fiddly-bits kind of fiddling, but not quite folk dance. The opening theme will return to home base repeatedly after going very astray, which it does almost immediately. This fragment is the least developed of them all. The eventual piece would be the wittiest, almost PDQ Bachian in its determination to fall apart.

score | mp3 (0:32)

Waltz: Allegro gracioso

This is an arrangement of the third movement of my Symphony in G, the only movement I’ve completed so far. Includes timpani & bass drum (playable by one percussionist) and piano.

score | mp3 (3:54)

Summer Countdown: Day 33

Alas, my Art Camp has been postponed. Diane is having work done on her cabin, and apparently her workers have told her that the entire thing has to be jacked up to do repairs on the floor. We will reschedule for July sometime.

Lichtenbergian goals:

I finished arranging the Waltz, except for checking the range of some of the viola notes in their new violin habitat. I think it sounds OK.

Lichtenbergian distractions:

I went on a road trip to Sam Flax in Atlanta for some paints in colors I did not have and need , it’s easier to paint grass if you have the right shades of green to begin with , a bigger portfolio to hold the largish studies I’ve been doing, a new watercolor pad in said larger size, a new sketchbook, also larger than the one I’m about to fill up.

I also bought a circle guide, a thingie for you to use to draw perfect circles. The book about drawing faces that I’m using insists that one is necessary for irises and pupils. I also bought a new jar of absorbent ground, the white stuff you paint on board for a base for the painting. With oils, you use gesso, but I learned from the helpful staff there one day that gesso repels water-based paints, so gouache wouldn’t actually work on gesso. Now I have them tracking down a quart size.

I wanted to buy a proportional divider. What is a proportional divider, you ask? It looks like this:

You use them in double-checking distances between your reference photo and your drawing, i.e., the distance between your subject’s pupils is a in your photo, and should be b on your drawing.

I looked all over but could not find one. Finally a helpful staff member showed me where they were: under lock and key in a case, because they are actually precision instruments costing $150 and up. I did not buy one. (However, in looking for that image just now, I came across a perfectly good wooden one designed for artists that’s only $30.)

And then, I came across an incredible Lichtenbergian distraction: Artist Trading Cards. This is so amazing that I have given it its own blogpost below.

Finally, I’m not sure whether this is a distraction or a goal. MakeMusic, Inc., who makes Finale, is sponsoring a new composition competition with the American Composers Form, of which I am a member. I think I’m going to go for it.

Musing & planning

People have assumed, with reason, that my separation from GHP this summer must be emotionally trying for me.

It’s not. From the moment I decided last summer that I needed a break, I have not had second thoughts. I awoke one morning a couple of weeks ago from a dream about the opening meetings during preplanning that caused a twinge, but this past week, as I helped everyone get the program up and running, I had no regrets nor waves of bittersweet nostalgia.

On the contrary, it was a very good eight days, omitting always the glitches that recur every year no matter what we do to try to prevent them. I was happy to see all the returning staff and to meet the new ones. I discovered the pleasures of CJ’s Pub & Pool. The students arrived on Sunday, and it was as marvelous as always. “Good,” I thought, “the kids are here. But they’re not my kids.” And I was totally OK with that.

It was very odd driving out of the campus and passing West Hall as I left Tuesday morning. There was a sense that I was not supposed to be doing that, that strands of my being were being pulled back towards the campus. And of course being at GHP is like the best dramedy series ever, so I felt as if I were turning off the TV in the middle of an episode: you always want to know what happens next.

But that soon passed, and it wasn’t even a major twinge, to be honest. No, my decision to stay in my labyrinth this summer was the right one, and now I’m getting ready to do all those things I said I would do.

It was with some alarm, therefore, that I looked at the calendar in the kitchen this morning and realized that it seemed that many days were taken up with out-of-town duties (some back at GHP), which would preclude my getting any work done at all.

I have exactly seven weeks before I have to report for preplanning at school. Of those forty-nine days, ten are unavailable as work days. (Four more days I’m out of town, but I’m with my painting teacher from GHP: she’s going to teach me all those things I failed to learn forty years ago.)

That leaves thirty-nine days to do my work. I should probably do a daily post cataloging in boring detail what I accomplished each day. It won’t interest you, necessarily, but it will help keep me focused. We’ll call it Summer Countdown. Unless you can suggest a better name for the series in the comments.

I’ve already emailed the director of the Ayrshire Fiddle Orchestra to ask if it’s OK for me to include some solo work in our piece, and a piano if we provide the pianist, and he’s already responded affirmatively to both. My plan, in case I haven’t said, is to work up five fragmentary sketches so that he can choose which one would be most interesting and most playable, and then I’ll compose that piece.

Of course, I’ll also have four other sketches that I can eventually turn into full pieces, so that’s all to the good.

Also yesterday I did a couple of sketches, just to keep going with that project. Mike will be glad to know that they actually look like him. Either I’m getting better or Mike is just easier to draw.

So there we are.