I took a moment this morning to put the final touches on one work, and “check in” with two more.
I spent part of October finishing a new piano cycle, The Rainbow’s Daughter. This is one of those rare pieces that I’ve written without a commission, although the first movement, “Polychrome’s Prism,” was composed as part of the Cleveland Composer’s Guild collaboration with the Music Settlement for Taniya Dsouza, a student of Nella Kammerman here in Cleveland. I wanted to explore more fully the character of Polychrome, who appears in L. Frank Baum’s The Road to Oz, the fourth of his Oz novels. I discovered Polychrome as I was reading the Oz books to my son, Noah, and thinking about a set of pieces based on characters from this land across the desert. I knew that I didn’t want to focus on the obvious foursome–Dorothy, the Tin Woodman, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion–but on at least a few of the other very interesting characters in Baum’s world. I considered writing short sketches about several subjects, but in writing “Polychrome’s Prism,” I discovered a tetrachord, , that could be easily modified to any of the four triads. “Prism” made use of the minor triad, so I developed a plan to base three subsequent movements on the augmented, diminished and major triads. Thus, “Polychrome’s Passion,” “Polychrome’s Pearl,” and “Polychrome’s Power.” It has been interesting, and refreshing, to write a piece using such specific harmonic materials. This is not my typical way of composing, but it felt like a necessary and important exercise. The four pieces seem to speak a common language, and, as intended, reflect a single character. I am now, of course, stuck with a piece that has no plan for a performance. I will send it out to some of my previous collaborators, or perhaps find a performer for an upcoming Cleveland Composers Guild performance.
In October, I also began work on a commission from Renee Goubeaux, a cellist with the Toledo Symphony, for a new work for cello and piano. It has been nearly a decade since I wrote for a solo stringed instrument, and it has been fun digging into the capabilities and potential of a world I haven’t visited in a while. I have the piece about half-written–it will be a ten- to twelve-minute piece, and there is currently about six minutes of music, but it is on hold while I’ve given the draft to Renee for comment. I’m curious to see how this part of the collaboration works. Renee and I went to high school together, and she is the first composer I ever met–we both started composing in the gifted and talented program. I don’t think she has kept up with that side of her creative work, but she at least knows about the process of putting notes on paper, and it will be interesting to bring someone with her background in at this phase of the creative process. The piece is tentatively titled Meditation, since I’ve been reading Marcus Aurelius this fall.
Earlier this month, I sat down with Jon Wilterdink, our pastor at Shoregate United Methodist Church, for lunch in the cafeteria at Lakeland. We discussed worship and the arts, and what the church can be doing to foster the work of artists. I had reached out to him after reading this article on the subject. At the end of our conversation, he asked me to contribute musically to our worship for the coming Lenten season. The idea that immediately came to mind was a cycle of organ pieces based on the Seven Last Words of Christ. Rob Shuss, our organist, was game, so I have started writing, according to a fairly intricate plan. I have associated each saying with several Scriptural and musical elements, so each movement will also refer to one of Jesus’ parables and to a Psalm, as well as being focused on a specific diatonic mode (progressing from Lydian to Locrian over the course of the cycle), and emphasize a diatonic interval within that mode. The pieces will be premiered on the six Sundays in Lent (beginning Febraury 14, 2016) and on Good Friday. This is my first work for organ, so I’m taking some time to try to understand this instrument, but also trying to work steadily, as Rob will need the pieces as soon as possible. I have written the first movement, “Father forgive them,” in Lydian mode, emphasizing the interval of the second, and associated with Psalm 3, and the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector.
This is my first sacred music written on commission in many years, and the first to be performed in over a decade. One struggle I have had as a composer is finding outlets and opportunities to write music about my faith. There is a huge demand for music in the church, of course, but not for work that pushes musical boundaries in search of a spiritual experience. The difficult thing has been to find a community that meets our spiritual needs but that is also interested in what I can offer. I’m excited to make this attempt, although 28 minutes of music for an unfamiliar instrument in just a couple of months is a little daunting. At least Christmas break is in the intervening period, and the later pieces can be polished even as the earlier ones are being premiered.
Speaking of premieres, Antoine Clark and the McConnell Arts Center Chamber Orchestra gave a splendid first performance of my work …into the suggestive waters… in Worthington, Ohio on November 1. Becky was unable to attend because of back troubles, but my father and brother came along, and my mother came to the dress rehearsal so that she could watch the kids during the concert. Having a professional orchestra commission and play my music was a fantastic feeling. I now need to work on getting a second performance of the piece somewhere, and that means leaning on conductors and sending them the excellent recording of the premiere. I made some great contacts at the post-concert reception, and I would love to increase the presence of my music in my hometown.