Mars in Retrograde, commissioned by Kat Anderson and dedicated to The Los Angeles Belles, is a 3-part vocalise for SSA and Piano based on planetary motion and gravitational orbits. The voices represent the orbits of the planets (S1 as Venus, S2 as Earth, and Alto as Mars) around the sun, which is represented by the Piano. Each planet (voice) has a distinct repeating rhythmic pattern whose length corresponds to each planet’s sidereal period (how long it takes the planet to fully orbit around the sun). The repeating rhythmic pattern uses the musical technique of isorhythm, where a repeating rhythmic pattern (called the talea) is combined with separate pitch material (called the color). Venus’s sidereal period is roughly .616 Earth years, corresponding to a 7.5 measure talea. Earth’s sidereal period is 1 Earth year, corresponding to a 12 measure talea (based on the 12 months in a year). Mar’s sidereal period is roughly 1.9 Earth years, corresponding to a 22.75 measure talea. The rhythmic activity increases until the mid-point of each talea, after which the rhythmic value decreases again. This represents how planets increase in speed as they approach their closest point to the sun (perihelion) and decrease in speed as they approach the farthest point from the sun (aphelion).
The entire piece is tuned to the fundamental of Bb, as the lowest recorded note in the universe is a black hole that vibrates at a Bb 57 octaves below Middle C. The piece exclusively uses the Bb Lydian Dominant scale, also referred to as the acoustic scale, which can be created by assembling the first 12 partials of the overtone series based on the fundamental of Bb.
As Time Stops To Rest is a three-movement song cycle for SSAATTBB Choir and Piano, with featured soprano and tenor soloists. The cycle is dedicated to the composer’s late aunt Susan Jordan. The works sets three poems from a larger set of poetry entitled As Time Stops To Rest, also written by Susan Jordan. The song cycle has an overall arch form of peace followed by tragedy and loss, ultimately giving way to a final sense of peace.
The first movement, Two Friends, paints a peaceful scene of two friends losing track of time as they sit by the ocean enjoying their time together. The piece opens with serene rolled chords in the piano, which continue throughout almost the entirety of the movement. The constant rolling of the piano creates a sense of ocean waves continuously ebbing and flowing. The opening tenor solo describes the tranquil setting and is then joined by the full choir as “warmth and happiness intermix to form an afternoon shared by two close friends”. The movement features lush harmonies and detailed ensemble interplay. The movement concludes with the continued rolled chords in the piano and a final soft low cluster, as if the texture is sinking into the ocean.
The second movement, Storm’s End, opens with violent and flurried storm-like arpeggios in the piano, in stark contrast to the peaceful character of Two Friends. The tenors and basses open with a rigid imitative texture asserting how “the storm raged across the bliss field”. The piano then mimics raindrops falling more and more violently before finally giving way to a calmer texture. After the “storm” has ended, the full choir enters in a mostly homophonic, hymn-like texture describing an overwhelming peace that sometimes follows after an intense tragedy or loss. The piece climaxes on the words “day” and “fire”, alluding to the feeling of being in love with one’s life despite (and perhaps because of) the pain and suffering one has endured.
The third and final movement, Magic, describes how the narrator senses the closeness of “the spirit kingdom” all around him or her, but only has fleeting glimpses of it. The piece opens with an a cappella dialogue between the altos and tenors, who are then joined by the sopranos and basses. The a cappella opening features lush and tightly packed harmonies that lead to a soprano soloist cueing in a lyrical piano arpeggio. The piece then builds to the joyous climax of the whole song cycle: “But oh, for a moment I grow flowers with my hands!”, alluding to how powerful and wondrous these brief glimpses of the spirit kingdom are. The texture then drops down to lulling a cappella chords in the lower voices as two featured soprano soloists “dance on wings uplifted”. The narrator then finally enters “the kingdom of all” he or she has been sensing, possibly through death. The movement concludes peacefully as the narrator “enter[s] the kingdom of all and AM”. The piano concludes with a peaceful postlude recalling motives used throughout the movement.
This song cycle would be suitable for an advanced high school, college, or professional choir. The movements may be performed as stand-alone pieces or as part of the full cycle.
NEW SUMMER SHOWS! Here are a few highlights of my upcoming summer performances: Sat July 22nd at 7pm at The Coffee House Gallery in Altadena: The Los Angeles Belles will be performing a few of my pieces, including “Shadows“. More info here. Sunday July 30th at 4pm at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Glendale: The Los … Continue reading July 19th, 2017
Winking Waking Wishes Wail is a pensive and sometimes dark art song for soprano and piano. The text is by Susan Jordan, who was the composer’s late aunt. The poem’s text deals with the struggle between reason and dreams. It explores the relationship and interaction between the conscious and subconscious world. The music alternates between dreamy (and perhaps whimsical) and darker, brooding sections. This piece calls for exquisite dynamic control and subtle, expressive tempo alterations.
This song is perfect for a recital or chamber concert.Continue reading Winking Waking Wishes Wail
Three Lullabies is a three-movement song cycle for Mezzo Soprano, Tenor, and Piano. This suite of lullabies is rhythmically, melodically, and harmonically accessible to children and would fit nicely into any classical concert for children or a younger audience.
The first song Nini Baba Nini, from the book The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye, is a sweet Hindi text that describes the happiness of being able to provide food, and thus sleep, for one’s child. The setting of this poem superimposes the English translation against the original Hindi text.
The second song Villanelle of Sunset is a text by Ernest Dowson. A villanelle is traditionally a nineteen-line poem containing only two rhymes, “rest” and “day” in this villanelle. The melody and accompaniment are reminiscent of an American folk tune to reflect the strong imagery of the West in the text.
The third song In the Morning sets the text written by Amy Gordon. The music is simple and gentle in order to lull a child to sleep, despite the difficult conditions in the outside world.
Continue reading Three Lullabies
The Traveler is an art song for Tenor (or possibly Baritone) and piano that explores the mindset of a traveler or vagabond as he or she explores the world. The text, also written by Amy Gordon, describes the traveler’s eternal struggle between calling somewhere home and an intense desire to be freely roam.Continue reading The Traveler
The Midnight Whistler was inspired after a friend and I decided to take a walk late one night. While we were walking, an unseen man in a window started whistling. We paused and turned around to see who it was, but the man stopped whistling as soon as we stopped walking. He would only resume his whistling after we resumed our walking. I never learned who this whistler was, but the powerful image of a lone man singing to the night stayed with me. I decided to write a song chronicling the mindset of such a figure, and titled it “The Midnight Whistler”. This character has no friends but the night he whistles to, although he desperately watches and longs for a companion. The song has an overall ABA’ structure. The A section is largely strophic, while the B section has a slower, contrasting melodic line. To further set the mood of loneliness and longing found in the text, the aurally unsettling augmented chord, an easily invertible stack of major 3rds with no definite root, is used often throughout the accompaniment. The piece concludes with a whistled variation of the main melody found in the A section. The final chord employs an augmented chord against a g minor tonic, never giving the listener a satisfying tonal conclusion to the song.Continue reading The Midnight Whistler
The Breeze at Dawn is a wonderful translation by Coleman Barks of the hauntingly beautiful Rumi poem. The text delicately describes the subliminal space between the sleeping world and the waking world. The singer invites the listener to live in between those two worlds. The piece would fit well for any chamber ensemble concert that includes Soprano, Flute, Clarinet, and Piano.Continue reading The Breeze at Dawn
From Your Bright Sparkling Eyes, A Death-Bed Adieu combines the poems of two of America’s Founding Fathers: George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. The first soprano sings the text of one of only two surviving poems written by George Washington, “From Your Bright Sparkling Eyes, I Was Undone”. The first letter of each line of the text spells out the words Frances Alexa, referring to a woman George Washington loved. The poem is incomplete, however, since her full name is Frances Alexander. The second soprano sings the darker poem, “A Death-Bed Adieu” penned by Thomas Jefferson at the end of his life on his death bed. He addressed the poem to his daughter, Martha Randolph. The juxtaposition of these two poems, one youthfully hopeful and the other darkly resigned, creates a strange new work where love and death exist in the same time and space.Continue reading From Your Bright Sparkling Eyes, A Death-Bed Adieu
A Minuet of Mozart’s sets this musical poem by Sara Teasdale. The poem is filled with musical imagery such as “the violin” drawing “wefts of sound” as they “airily […] wove and wound and glimmered gold against the gloom”. The music creates a sense of magic that dissipates “at the pausing of the bow”. The musical setting has a dance-like waltz pattern paired with darker chromatic undertones, referencing both the magic of the music and the return to “wave of night” when it stops.Continue reading A Minuet of Mozart’s