Category Archives: music

12/20/10 – solstice poem

on this last night of autumn
this first morn of winter
the moon will die
the moon will reborn
as the cold candle of the nights
as the only candle shivering light
A few years back I wrote a holiday tune, “Solstice Sleigh Ride” – you can listen here.


11/4/10 – life lesson

Choir practice this evening.

I’ve been tired the past few days.  Actually yawning during the day, which I rarely do.  Me and apparently a lot of people were dour and grumpy this morning – a dreary dark raining late fall day.

So choir practice – which is new to me, only a couple months – was missing that bright edge tonight.  I didn’t feel my usual unspoken thrill of it as I went there and we started.

The two new songs – one actually new, one semi-new – we rehearsed for Sunday were rather flat, in a way.  In one, all the parts sing the same line until the end when we finally break into some polyphony.  Both seemed, at least to me in my frame of mind tonight, uninspired, lacking that snap.

But, after the bulk of the night, after break, we went to Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols” collection, which we have been working on – very demanding pieces,  adaptions of medieval carols, in their original Middle English, with harmonies and delicious (when done right) dissonances, weaving and delicately jarring notes and words.  Even parts in 5/4 and 9/8 time.

And  as we sang them, I thought, “This is fun. This is why I came here.”

Simply, the challenging was more fun and more invigorating than the easy stuff.  I tend not to challenge myself, and tend to forget that.










10/30/10 – lives of the composers: Morton Feldman

Listening to Morton Feldman’s 2-hour piano diptych “Triad Memories”.

Here is a bit of it on YouTube.

Actually, ‘listening’ may not be accurate. It is ebbing and flowing in and out of my awareness. It is a quiet slow piece, very minimal – in fact, even as it progresses only in the barest of moments is more than one key ever struck at the same time, and I suspect that technically, as written, they really are not; dissonance and chords project from the overlays of the natural sustains.

I do not know much about classical music.

But I did know Morton Feldman. Kinda.

25 years ago I was a teller at his bank. He was in The University of Buffalo’s music department, and he must have lived in my bank branch’s neighborhood.

He was a big blousy late middle aged Jewish man; seeing him you knew he was some sort of intellectual. His suit and tie always a bit rumpled, his hair rumpled, big glasses. Not that personable, but in the absentminded lost in his own thoughts way. But amiable, and not cold, just a bit distant. Then again, we were just people he had to be in contact with once in a while, an annoying little chore.

We saw his secretary more often.  I had the impression she was more a clerical assistant than a graduate student or aide. If she was indeed a musician, I apologize. A decent looking woman probably in her late 20s, she had the air of being harried. I could imagine she constantly had to interrupt his composing at the piano or his distant musings, to remind him that he had a class to teach in 10 minutes.

She was, basically, the nervous type. An applicable phrase might be ‘long suffering’.

One day, she was waiting in line. He comes in.

He steps up behind her, reaches down.

And gooses her.

She jumps and squeals, shocked – pivots.

He’s stepped back – he seemed twice as big as her – chuckling like a schoolboy with his deep voice.

“Who did you think it was?”

She just gave him a horrid look.


10/29/10 – poem, choir

my mouth opens
like everyone else’s
and I let go
and let them guide
me into the mystery
and they don’t even know it


A day filled with live music for me. Choir this morning – we sang Vaughn Williams’s setting of Rossetti’s “Silent Noon”, and Ysaye M. Barnwell’s gospel-inspired “Spiritual”, along with leading two other songs from the hymnal. I’m feeling much more comfortable in my efforts to read – and sing – music.

This afternoon (lovely and sunny, warm like a summer afternoon) I went to see a coworker perform in the Amherst Chamber Orchestra (Amherst is a suburb here, nothing to do with Emily Dickinson – it is also home to the world famous Amherst Saxophone Quartet). Very exciting for me – I have not had much experience going to classical concerts.

In all, a very good Sunday.

10/2/10 – Balulalow

Well, no coffee ground regurgitation today, as the new medication warns could be a danger sign. Or of any kind.

But, I did have a disagreeable stomach, for a short while, after taking it. And I’m not sure of my drowsiness is from the meds as I am also warned, or just because for some inexplicable reason I got only about 2 hours sleep last night.

In the meantime, I’ve had the old tune Balulalow running through my head today. The choir has been including it in the past couple week’s rehearsals. The stunning Benjamin Britten version from his “Ceremony of Carols”. I do not connect with the Christian Christmas aspect of it – it is a lullaby to the baby Jesus – but Britten’s full choir arrangement is crystalline.

It is a tradition song in Middle English or German, occasionally pops up on Christmas albums – both Sting and Heart have recorded it. Others including Peter Warlock have arranged it, but Britten’s is lush with aching sweeping chords toward the end.

It is usually sung by a women’s or boy’s choir, accompanied by a harp. We will have a harpist when we sing it. This is the only full choir version I have come across – .  But we have about 40 singers, and are even bass heavy.

“The knees of my heart shall I bow” – I think this is one of the most amazing phrases I have even heard.

9/12/10 – singing

First time performing with the UU choir this morning.

I’ve been through this kind of experience before – I’ve even played Madison Square Garden.

An hour of rehearsal before the service, a lot of folding chairs in the choir loft, a procession to the front of the church for the opening song, and then back up very narrow thin stairs up to the loft.  It was the first full service there, with the minister, since I started going in mid July.   Apparently it is a tradition in UU for ministers to go on sabbatical over the summer, and have even laity (although I am not sure UU makes that as a hardline distinction or at least doesn’t use that abrupt division as in Catholicism and Buddhism) give stripped down – and lesser attended – services through the summer.

There were a couple moments singing, trying to get a grip on the sheet music – sight reading is a quiet expectation, and I could barely do it when I was playing sax twenty years ago, must less also follow unfamiliar lyrics – trying to match my voice with the loud bass behind my left ear, that were transcendent.

One when, toward the end of a song, I realized that for the last maybe 16 bars, I wasn’t thinking, just singing, with 50 other people.