Zae Munn, Program Notes
Click on a title and it will take you to the associated program note.
I’m interested in the way things that are initially distinct and quite different can become part of the same thing. We hear about how immigrants are absorbed into a culture and, in so doing, change the culture. If we are absorbed in a wonderful book or an activity, it’s almost as if we have been taken over by or entered into the book or activity.
In Absorb, there are two distinct elements: a G major triad (GBD) and a 3-note chord built in 4ths (Ab Db Gb). They initially are very distinct (no notes in common, separated in space by register, shortness of duration, different instrumental colors). Then the absorption begins—the two chords touch in time (full quarter notes), then they overlap. But there are other absorption paths as well, for instance, scale passages form from all the available notes and elongate, so that the two entities are no longer distinct. The more melodic sections are where the real absorption is accomplished, because the melodies and their accompaniments utilize all the pitch resources and let go of register and tone color differences. Essentially, a new ‘culture’ is created.
Reaching an accord can be a desirable outcome where differences and disagreements prevent productive or positive results--in personal and work relationships, in labor-management negotiations, within and between organizations, and amongst nations. It is challenging to understand and then accommodate an array of positions and identities and then to weave them together in a way that maximizes coherence without minimizing the value of all the elements.
Accord seeks to reach a grand accord amongst distinct and seemingly opposed musical identities. There are three metric identities (symmetric, asymmetric, and ametric) and two pitch collection identities (a pitch centric collection and a 7-note synthetic scale that avoids a tonal center). The metric identities do not have a one-to-one relationship with the pitch collections, but combine in various ways to create a series of nine continuous sections, each a step along the way towards the ninth section, "The Grand Accord."
Pensive with purpose
Re-entering the groove
The Grand Accord
Achieving Sprezzatura explores the tension between a carefully constructed external nonchalance and an internal, private reality.
Always A New Now
The title, Always A New Now, comes from Michael Colgrass’ book My Lessons With Kumi, in which Kumi extols the benefits of reacting like a dog: “To a dog, a misstep is gone the moment it happens, because the dog is already paying attention to the next moment. There is no ‘mistake’ because there is no past. And there’s no fear, because there’s no future. There is only now…and now…and now.” The flex instrumentation approach was a way of connecting to Kumi’s idea that “there is only now…and now…and now.” The trio might work with “this combination…or this combination…or this combination.” Another way to think about it is this idea which comes up in my life surprisingly often: There is not one right answer here.
Anchoring: Yin-Yang...Shadow...Melodia...Merge, for violin and alto saxophone
Anchoring has four distinct sections, each solidly anchored in its own way. Yin-Yang alternates between two very distinct characters in a yin-yang fashion; Shadow is anchored by reflecting around a core interval in rhythmic unison; Melodia is anchored by pitch-centricity. Each section first establishes the anchor, then celebrates the fun and outlandish departures made possible by the secure anchor. Merge, the fourth, ending section, intermixes the differently anchored materials in a celebration of the coexistence of diverse anchoring possibilities. Anchoring was written for saxophonist Thomas Snydacker. He and violinist Autumn Chodorowski premiered it.
Flute ensemble was the last thing I thought I would ever write for, but the opportunity to write for an ensemble that included a contrabass flute (as low as a cello!) pushed aside my bias and led to Arc. Arc celebrates the lovely range of the ensemble, from the low of the contra to the highs of the piccolo, by tracing through a series of arcs, and intermixes those with percussive homorhythms, sustained lines, and monophony.
Broken Tulip was premiered on July 9, 2008 at Interlochen Arts Camp. Performers were: Jill Heyboer, flute; Daniel Silver, clarinet; Tim McAllister, alto saxophone; George Sakakeeny, bassoon; Hank Skolnick, contraforte; Mark Hetzler, trombone; and Kim Burja, percussion Broken Tulip takes inspiration from the notion that an idea or an object can remain static while the perception of that idea or object shifts radically around it. A real life example of this type of radical paradigm shift is the broken tulip, a rare, multi-colored tulip with irregular flame- or feather-like markings. A standard tulip, however, is solid-colored, a unitary blend of two overlaid pigments. Because a tulip is reproduced by planting its genetically identical offsets, a broken tulip was quite rare and appeared seemingly at random. This combination of mystery and rare beauty made the broken tulip aesthetically prized--and economically valuable. But it was discovered that a virus, carried from bulb to bulb by the peach potato aphid, irregularly suppressed the laid-on color of the tulip, allowing a portion of the base color to show through in that tell-tale flame or feathered pattern. These rare moments of beauty were suddenly seen as diseased and undesirable, and growers set about ridding their fields of the infected tulips. A violent paradigm shift occurred and the broken tulip was doomed. My piece does not tell the story of the rise and fall of the broken tulip—there is no tulip melody, no virus leitmotif. It borrows the energy and tension in the story of the broken tulip and explores the more general idea of radical paradigm shift. I’d like to point to another example of a potential paradigm shift right in our midst. Broken Tulip has an important part for the contraforte, played by Hank Skolnick. The contraforte is a modern, reworked version of the contrabassoon. It has a wider bore, is more agile, and more consistent throughout its expanded range. The rather limited paradigm of the contrabassoon as an occasional octave doubler of the bassoon in late romantic and 20th c. orchestra music may shift as the contraforte moves into chamber repertoire like Broken Tulip and its own solo repertoire.
Build A World
Peg Lauber, a Wisconsin poet, wrote the text for Build A World specifically for Zae Munn to set for the Madison Children's Choir. Each of three visions of a better world is followed by a rejection of something negative in our current world. The two musical characters in Build A World closely follow this alternation of text ideas. However, the music dwells on and develops some special words and phrases such as "overflows," like a spring," and "where freedom shines." The piano both supports the singers and provides subtle changes in character for each verse. Commissioned by the Madison Children's Choir (Wisconsin), Heather Thorpe, Director. Premiered by them on May 14, 2000. Advanced children; High school. "We want to build a world where peace comes down like rain and snow, so...don't give us a world of hunger and cold." Published by Yelton Rhodes Music.
Text and music suitable for both children's and women's choirs with mostly unison and two-part writing; pitch material well-supported in the instrumental parts; orchestral writing appropriate for college and community orchestras, with an emphasis on relatively simple parts for strings and more challenging parts for winds; pairs of winds plus piccolo, 3 tps, 3 hns, 2 tbns, 1 tuba, timpani, 1 percussion, strings. Text quote: "I loosen the canvas when the wind has dried it and the sun passed through it to become the unbelievable light that touches each living thing." Commissioned by Cynthia Bradford, conductor of the Southlake Children's Choir and Dennis Friesen-Carper, conductor of the Valparaiso University Symphony Orchestra. Published by Yelton Rhodes Music. High school; College; Adult women.
A number of concepts drawn from the scientific literature on sleep contributed to the organization of Care-Charmer Sleep, including: the alternation of periods of synchronized sleep and dreams throughout a single night of sleep; bodily movements are often associated with the periods between dreams; large, slow delta waves characterize synchronized sleep; and, each dream may be built up slowly, with eye movements at first slow, then gradually becoming rapid (REM sleep). Structurally, there are three dreams separated by synchronized sleep. Dream 1 uses texts listing the qualities of sleep; Dream 2 uses texts based on a sleep-death simile--sleep as a miniature, a rehearsal, of death; in Dream 3 the texts use sleep as a direct metaphor for death--sleep is death. The choir moves into different groupings during synchronized sleep sections. The drone can be played by a synthesizer or wind instruments. Commissioned and premiered by the Transylvania University Concert Choir (Lexington, KY), Gary Anderson, conductor. (not currently available)
I like the way cascade is used in electronics—a series of networks, each having an output that serves as the input for the next. This image gets at the deep connectedness between distinct sections that I was striving for in Cascade. But the several long, descending gestures in Cascade draw on another sense of cascade—a series of waterfalls over steep rocks.
Certainty of Stone, a young person's guide to the chorus
Commissioned by the South Bend Chamber Singers to open their May 11, 1997 children's concert, this piece functions as the choral equivalent to Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. Text was commissioned from Peg Lauber. Published by Yelton Rhodes Music. Advanced college; Professional quality.
Come With Me
This piece plays with the idea of encouragement and resistance, for instance: "Come on! Let's skate upon a cloud." "Not on a cloud, I'm not allowed." There are passages using asymmetrical meters, clapping, and foot stomping, as well as optional maracas and rhythm sticks. The text is by Peg Lauber. Commissioned by the Southlake Children's Choir in Crown Point, Indiana, Cynthia Bradford, conductor; premiered by them at the 1996 Indiana Music Educators' Conference in Indianapolis. Advanced children; High school.
“In the interest of full disclosure” is associated with legal, political, and commercial situations, but has made its way into interpersonal situations as well. Is full disclosure possible on a personal level? The act of disclosing inevitably changes what is disclosed, reveals new connections and implications, is nuanced by the one to whom the disclosure is made, and the context of the disclosure. Consider the onion metaphor, in which each layer that is peeled off reveals another layer closer to the core. Add the further complexity that our act of peeling might alter the next layer, revealing it to be, in fact, an artichoke, the next a radish. This morphing onion metaphor begins to get at my sense of the non-static nature of personal disclosure, and it is that sense which infused the writing of this piece. Published by JOMAR Press.
Disclosure was premiered in July 2004 at Interlochen Arts Camp by Barbara Sturgis-Everett, violin, Timothy McAllister, alto saxophone, and Eric Stomberg, bassoon.
Fascination at a Distance
Two separate entities mutually and continually act upon each other while maintaining their individual integrities. Change and development, brought about by both immediate and long-term responsiveness to each other, are continuous. In the last of four sections, the old tune Fascination grows out of the pitch material and is quoted, with very thick harmonies, several times. This is a demanding, virtuoso piece.
Faster was produced in the Bowdoin College Electronic Studio where Munn was a director from 1986-89. the piece consists of a series of thirty notes played over and over for six minutes, with each successive note slightly shorter in duration than the preceding one, the effect being that of a long, continuous global accelerando.
Mathematician Jay A. Wood, using an infinite series and integral calculus, provided very precise information about the pacing of the notes within this framework. A smaller accelerando, on a repeated note occurs within each note of the global accelerando and is coupled with a continuous note "flurry" which utilizes the same pitch series as the global accelerando. Thus, the composition takes on what mathematicians would call a "self-similar nature." (not currently available)
A Fine Garment, A Gentle Weave, Woven With Whispers and Exclamation Points
This composition is more autobiographical than any of my other compositions: a very intense relationship develops between two people. A physical and emotional separation occurs. In the midst of awful loneliness there are flashbacks to the earlier relationship. The relationship is renewed but this time it is much more richly textured, more resilient and more positive. This basic story can be the template for all sorts of relationships--between lovers, between a parent and a child, and between friends. Quite apart from the specific relationship I was thinking of, I hope that you as listeners can find your own experiences resonating in the musical story. A Fine Garment was written for the Camerata Quintet in 1998 and was premiered by them at Western Illinois University on March 7, 1999.
Five Animal Songs
The five individual songs are titled Mouse, Shrew, Vole; Bird; Merry-go-round; Horses; and Mice. They are all characterized by powerful text images, mixed meter, and a strong tonal basis. The third song is for 3-part women only. Text quote from Horses: "Our water was almost gone when the captain said the horses must go overboard."
Commissioned by Constance DeFotis at Harvard University, Nina Nash-Robertson at Central Michigan University, Chet Alwes at University of Illinois, and Craig Johnson at Otterbein College. Intended for performance by good college choirs. Published by Yelton Rhodes Music. Recorded by Capstone. College and beyond.
Forays and Trysts
Whimsy is the order of the day in Forays and Trysts. Each of the three short movements is characterized by a flight of fancy: a bit of singing in Glass Ceiling; left hand pizzicato in La De Da; and, in Agatha, a quotation from Agatha Christie’s Detective Poirot character.
A Fraction of Your Grace
A Fraction of Your Grace was inspired by the wonderful grace shown by a friend whose family was dealt a terrible blow. The phrase comes from a letter in which I said "I hope that I can find even a fraction of your grace should something similar happen to me or my family."
Sections based on quartal chords and sections based on open fifths stated in a rhythmic ostinato move slowly around the circle of fifths. Motives derived from extensions of the basic quintal and quartal structures provide most of the melodic material. Published by Arsis Press.
Garavaglia Dances was written for Emily Munn-Wood in 2012. At the time, Emily played a lovely cello made by Chicago-based luthier, Gary Garavaglia. Garavaglia Dances is a virtuosic, high-spirited dance with lots of asymmetric beats, with playful slides and high-register double stops in the cello part.
The three movements of Gathering are 'gathered' together by means of an essential bass line that moves downward by half step with each new movement.
In the first movement, an insistent underlying tone anchors and eventually pulls down the lines rising above it.
The second movement is full of rhythmic and metrical diversity, with outer sections alternating between an asymmetrical meter (12 345) and a chorale-style passage. A distinct middle section plays with the accent tension between 3/4 and 6/8 (12 23 56 vs. 123 456), sometimes one after the other, sometimes simultaneously.
The third movement draws on traditional tonality as a way to establish a sense of both unresolved longing and of remembrance.
Gnashing of Teeth
Gnashing of Teeth marshals instrumental sounds, singing, shouting, and speaking to capture different aspects of extreme anger and frustration; building towards outrage and letting it dissipate, then building again in a new way and perhaps over yet another irritant. All of the texts are borrowed from fabulous Facebook 'rants' by the saxophonist Lois Wozniak. She and her husband Matt commissioned this piece and premiered it at the 2020 Biennial Conference of the North American Saxophone Alliance just before the pandemic closed out nearly all live performances.
The text is pieced together from several of Ann Kilkelly's stories and poems, and presents a series of Grandma's memories as she rides the train across country. The music provides a constant reference to the rhythm of the train on the tracks, and at the same time changes character with each new memory. An Alleluia section connects each section and increases in length and complexity at each recurrence, finally ending the piece in a celebration of Grandma's long and productive life. Published by Earthsongs. Advanced high school; College; Adult women.
Hanging Onto the Vine
Hanging Onto the Vine, for saxophone quartet, was commissioned by Kelland Thomas and was composed in 2000. It was premiered by the Indiana University Student Saxophone Quartet in 2001. The title draws on several obliquely related images of vines and hanging: images in the Book of John of branches abiding in the vine and bearing fruit, the psychological state of "hanging by a thread," and Tarzan swinging from a vine. Published by JOMAR Press.
Hushed Haiku, written for the South Bend Chamber Singers and completed in 2017, is a musical setting of five unpublished haiku by Karen Hesse, an American author of historically based books for young adults. As with traditional haiku, Hesse’s five evoke images of the natural world, and these five have a particular focus on the season of winter.
Haiku syllabic structure requires five syllables in the first and third lines of each three-line haiku, and the number five figures prominently throughout Hushed Haiku—five sections, five-part chorus, 5/8 and 5/4 meters in alternating sections, and a five-word phrase, built of one significant word from each of the five haiku, provides the text for a unifying musical ostinato.
In her choral and vocal works, Munn typically sets texts by living writers, including Peg Lauber, Marilyn Taylor, and Karen Hesse. One of Hesse’s young adult novels, Witness, was the basis of the libretto for Zae’s 2006 full-length opera of the same name and her very short opera, Night of Blue Magic, sets 22 haiku by Hesse.
In the Maze of the Moment
In the Maze of the Moment was written for Randall Faust. Its title is a phrase from the text "Only your wisdom and grace can thread a way for us through the maze of the moment." Published by Arsis Press.
In the Scarred Distortions of the Words
This is a verbal score based on a recurring text by Peg Lauber and a recurring rhythmic motive. It has a somewhat variable instrumentation: 7-9 readers (5 with text solos, the remaining reading in the background); 1 piano; 1-3 unpitched low percussion (bass drum, field drum, oil can, etc.); 5-8 brass players; readers may double as pianist and percussion; background readers may double as brass players; a conductor may be used to give some structural cues and to double as a performer. The piece is based on the idea that all communication involves some risk, struggle, and failure because it must be filtered through language, gesture, visual images, or sound. The thing being communicated must travel through one of these intermediaries, then must be interpreted by someone else. Inevitably, the thing is changed by this process, sometimes in fairly predictable, manageable ways, and sometimes, when we most want it to arrive intact, it is changed frighteningly. but we continue to struggle with whatever communication system we have at hand. Short of the Vulcan's "mind meld," it is the best we can do. Verbal score and verbal parts.
The artist, played by the viola, undertakes to capture and intone a discernible version of the archetype, played by the marimba. As they come closer and closer together in their expressions, they join in a flash of insight and inspiration; they are linked in an uneasy dance. Their dance falters: the marimba begins a slow fall down its scale; the artist struggles to retain the inspiration. The archetype recedes more and more, the artist falls silent. Published by Honeyrock.
It's the Soup That Animates the Noodle
Three movements. The title is a phrase from Tampopo, the 1987 Japanese film that tells the story of a search for the perfect noodle. The first movement deals with a kind of "reverse heterophony," carving simpler lines and pedals from a more complex strand; the second movement uses layering techniques to build intensity and creates new lines from short quotations of different layers; the third movement alternates intense unisons based on additive rhythm and free, expressive, contrapuntal versions of the same pitch material. Duration 10 min. Published by Arsis Press.
Kali, She Who Devours Time
Kali (pronounced like the dog breed, collie) is a complex and multi-faceted Hindu goddess, often depicted as a fearsome, dark, and long-tongued demon. In some traditions Kali is known for destroying ignorance, and aiding those who seek sublime knowledge. Her name can be understood as a synonym for death, or devourer of time.
Kali, She who devours time, for violin and piano, was written in 2006 for violinist Charlotte Munn-Wood, who had already named her own beloved instrument Kali. In spite of the somewhat violent, destructive connotations of the title, Kali is quite gentle and coaxing, perhaps emphasizing the “seeking sublime knowledge” side of the goddess. I intended it as an invitation to Charlotte, who was then all of sixteen, into the world of new music performance. She premiered it in 2009, with Faith Loewe at the piano.
The four songs are titled The Slowly Opening Rose, I Have Washed And Buttoned Up, Geese Along The Flowage, and The Sermon. The texts, by Peg Lauber, are all concerned with the theme of coping with and overcoming the burdens and challenges of life: the rose blooms but to die and renew; the child uses the pattern of daily life to cope with the loss of her mother; the chick struggles to rise from the flowage to go with the flock; and, the feeling, rhythm and power of a sermon newly inspire us. The songs are conceived as a set, but can be performed individually. Commissioned and premiered by Nancy L. Walker. Published by Arsis Press. College and beyond.
Libero Arbitrio is the namesake of its commissioner, Arbitrio ("ar-BEE-tree-oh")--oboist Alicia Cordoba Tait, bassoonist Douglas Spaniol, and pianist Bradley Haag. It was premiered by the group in 2000 and has since been performed throughout the Midwestern United States, in St. Petersburg, Russia, and in Buenos Aires.
The title, Libero Arbitrio, is Italian for "free will" and is a fun spin-off of the group¹s name which takes its name from a suo arbitrio, meaning the musicians should perform "at their pleasure." While my thoughts about free will and its counterpart predetermination had an important impact on the writing of Libero Arbitrio, what is more audible is the use of evolving ostinatos, references to the syncopation and metric aspects of jazz, and the at times operatic treatment of the instruments in the solo and duet sections. Published by JOMAR Press.
The term 'lift' has a nice referential flexibiltiy without losing its essential meaning in changing contexts: we lift up our voice in song, we lift up revenue, we lift an object down, and we even lift (or steal) something. Lift is built on three gestures that, once established, are developed quite continously. One gesture is simply a continuous upward pitch contour, another is a continuous downward flow of pitches, and the third is a faster, nervous, embellished gesture that expresses the building of energy towards one of the other gestures. Lift is a companion piece to Rift and both were commissioned by Claricello.
Like Any Pilgrim
The text for Like Any Pilgrim was written by Peg Lauber, a Wisconsin poet. A series of text similes "("Like a hawk...Like an old shell...The moon is like smoke") presents images of openness, sensitivity, expectation, and celebration. The refrain "Like any pilgrim I travel light, shining my own lantern" is presented at first as a solo statement. By the end of the piece it has transformed into a joyous chorale, many pilgrims joined together on a journey to new lands. Amasong, directed by Margot Rejskind, commissioned Like Any Pilgrim in celebration of their 10th anniversary in 2000. Premiered by them in May 2000. Published by Yelton Rhodes Music. Recorded by Amasong. College; Adult women.
Lyrical Limericks is a musical setting of eight limericks written especially for this project, each intended to capture an aspect of the lives of the young women who would be singing it. Some are whimsical (piercing, vampires, Harry Potter) while others address weightier topics (dating and marriage, athletics, and feminism). A recurring section ("Once upon a time...") begins and ends the piece and also groups the limericks into three sections. The lyricists are Peg Lauber, Marilyn L. Taylor, Paul Munn, and Zae Munn. Lyrical Limericks is the result of a consortium commission headed by conductor Robert Geary.
Memorial uses selected texts from Memorial Day, a short story by Ann Kilkelly. The Memorial Day parade ends in the cemetery, where the onlookers and marchers gather amidst the gravestones for speeches and testimonials. Soprano and alto soloists sing together their own versions of In Flander's Field: while a child stumbles through her recitation, a grown woman, years ago chosen for the same honor, silently remembers the words, her version eloquent and mature with understanding and passion. As the recitation ends, "all of them standing there feel the connection of the living to the dead." Published by Arsis Press. College; Adult women.
The Muse, the Stove, and the Willow Plate
Each of the three pieces presents a woman of strong character or action. In The Muse, a poet bemoans the fact that her muse is a bit more eccentric and troublesome than most. Two sections alternate, one slow and flexible with a harmonic emphasis, the other faster and more imitative. In The Stove, a woman rebels against her cantankerous old stove by pounding it to bits. The mixed meters exemplify the pounding of the sledge hammer used to do the dirty deed. And in The Willow Plate, a woman uses the images in a willow plate to sing a love song. The three vocal parts share the melody role, with the altos taking special responsibility. The songs may be performed separately or together. Published by Earthsongs. The Stove recorded by Amasong. Advanced high school; College; Adult women.
Music: A Love Story
Many books and movies share the title format of Music: A Love Story—Capitalism: A Love Story, War: A Love Story, Drinking: A Love Story, etc--and each one expresses more than a little irony about its primary topic. This musical love story includes a “lamenting” section, made of traditional phrases and clear cadences, that reappears with great determination; a couple of duets, full of longing; sections of intense counterpoint; and even what I consider to be a creepy lullaby. There is love, there is irony, there is music.
A striking picture of a sandhill crane using its astoundingly long beak to eat a worm, along with its caption of “Nature’s Chopsticks” released a riot of musings about chicken-egg and life-imitating-art relationships. How odd to use chopsticks as a metaphor for this long beak! Surely Nature did not design the beak in the image of the chopsticks! If anything it would be the other way around. But what if we know far more about chopsticks (or art!) than sandhill crane beaks (or life!), so that we come by this kind of reverse metaphor honestly?
Nature’s Chopsticks intermixes materials from “real” life (phone numbers, current quotations from newspapers and Facebook statuses) with indeterminate musical materials (high-as-possible pitches and clusters), and minimalist textures, pitches, and rhythms. It was written especially for the JFCA Composers Orchestra with its eclectic and changeable instrumentation. It is a piece that can be performed by a group as small as a dozen or so and as big as a large orchestra or band.
Night of Blue Magic, a story in haiku
Libretto especially written for this project by the wonderful novelist Karen Hesse. A woman is held against her will in a secret place in the center of a lake. A horseman, assigned to guard her and prevent her escape, may also be the man to whom she has been sold. The woman’s dreams give her a chance at escape, but the horseman intercedes. A terrible battle ensues as the horseman seeks to destroy the power of her dreams. Both falter as they “drop into the soundless lake.” But the struggle and seeming defeat has transformed the horseman, and they are now able to encounter each other free of the past. The opera ends with the hope of a new beginning.
No Longer Suitable for Framing, Seven Snapshots for Clarinet and Trombone
Was written in 1999 for Sandra Potkay Jackson, clarinet, and David Jackson, trombone. It was premiered by Sandy and David the next summer on an Interlochen Arts Camp faculty recital.
I re-used the same pitch material in each of the seven snapshots, but with the instruments in different relationships each time. Those musical relationships drew to a certain extent on relationships in marriage--I was aware that Sandy and David had recently married, and my own marriage was near its end, so I had many positive and negative images to work with. The snapshots are each very short and intense and the relationships are not always positive (one person talking, the other not listening, for instance), but some are playful and connected. It's important not to take this programmatic image too seriously though! I consider No Longer Suitable for Framing to be very virtuosic, both in terms of the demands on the individual instrumentalists and in terms of their very intense chamber music relationship. Published by JOMAR Press.
Now and Then, Variations for Orchestra
The “now” and the “then” refer to the two different musical characters that permeate the whole piece. The “now” theme is forceful, somewhat angular, and has a touch of “Hindemith” in its design. The “then” theme is unabashedly tonal, complete with tonic pedal and root position dominant. The variations are both traditional (the “then” approach to variation form) in that each clearly delineated section has a new sort of approach to the thematic material, and non-traditional (the “now” approach) in that the two characters increasingly influence each other, intermix, and intertwine. Is now so different from then? Now cannot exist without then, and the more we understand then, the more our sense of now is changed. Composed in 2004.
Nudged Along On Time's Notched Stick
The saying "nudged along on time's notched stick" sets up a notched stick as a metaphor for our experience of time. I imagine the smooth parts of the stick to be those periods of our lives which are somewhat static, schedules are in place, and things are predictable; the notches in the stick are the events which force us out of our routine and change the patterns of our lives. This composition is in three short movements, each of which nudges us along the notched stick in different ways. I wrote Nudged for violist Chris Rutledge. Published by JOMAR Press.
Ockeghem Today was originally the first of three movements but is now freestanding. It was inspired by a lovely description in an early edition of Grout's The History of Western Music: "Ockeghem gives us a dense texture, without any clear phrase breaks, where all the free voices weave complex arabesques of sound around the cantus firmus and around each other. The music becomes an endless flow of melodies, seamless and seemingly beyond rational analysis reinforced by the character of Ockeghem's melodic lines, which are spun out in long-breathed phrases, in an extremely flexible rhythmic flow much like that of melismatic plainchant, with infrequent cadences and few rests." I wrote a kind of music which seemed to fit Grout's description of the music, without attempting to replicate Ockeghem's pitch or rhythmic procedures. Commissioned and premiered by the Walker Chapel Brass in Evanston, Illinois, Don Lovejoy, conductor.
Our Hands Were Tightly Clenched
Our Hands Were Tightly Clenched was written in 2003 for La Catrina String Quartet, a graduate student quartet from Western Michigan University. The phrase "our hands were tightly clenched" is for me metaphor for sustained, embedded tension and anger, and the material of the piece explores the rise of this tension and ways in which its persistence might be diffused or relaxed. Published by Arsis Press.
Play Up A Storm
Around my house we connect the phrase "...up a storm" to any activity done with intensity, verve, or commitment. We might play up a storm, eat up a storm, sing up a storm, complain up a storm, or even, occasionally, sleep up a storm. Play Up A Storm draws inspiration from this notion of doing an activity with intense focus.
Projectual attempts to bridge minimalism and serialism in about four minutes. At the outset it is unabashedly minimal, with requisite tonality, repetition, pulse orientation, and small increments of change. The changes, however, gradually transform the pitches to a row, and the rhythms, octave displacements, dynamic extremes, and timbral variety associated with he sound of serialism take over. Recorded by Centaur.
Pronto, Lamento, Casino
Each short movement has a singular character: Pronto has high energy expressed without delay; Lamento is, of course, a lament, slow, reflective, and sad; Casino has lots of jingling sounds that suggested to me the manic sound of many active slot machines in a casino.
Quantum Stew Anew
The title whimsically borrows from the vocabularies of physics and the culinary arts. Quanta are finite, indivisible units of energy and a stew, of course, is a variety of ingredients simmered together. The quanta are presented, then developed, separately at first, then they are thrown together in a big pot in which, though they fiercely maintain their own quantum characters, cannot help but be influenced by the overall mix. They all contribute to the final stew. QS may be performed by wind groups with instrumentations ranging from a minimum group of 25 to a full concert band. Level 4.5
Quartet Ablaze has two structural features in common with my experience of Facebook, the social networking site: the sense that a posting is rarely static, because over time it becomes embellished by comments of increasingly greater separation from the original; and the notion that seemingly unrelated steps on a Facebook “path” are, in fact, related by the intervening series of clicks, however tangential and numerous, that connect them. In Quartet Ablaze, there is a significant number of musical themes or characters linked into larger musical units. These themes return multiple times, but always in a new guise—a new order of connection (thus reconfiguring the unit of which they are a part), more embellished, re-orchestrated, and so forth. Although Quartet Ablaze is like Facebook in interesting ways, it is not, in fact, inspired by it--they have analogous features. But the title was inspired by a friend’s Facebook status: imagine your first name followed by Ablaze, as in Zae Ablaze, or Astrid Ablaze. It suggests that you are inspired, on fire, motivated, on the move. Insert Quartet in that space, for obvious reasons, and you have the title. The metaphorical fire/energy/direction builds, roars, dies down, smolders, crackles again.
Reach Beyond Grasp, for 3 separated trios (vla/bass/perc, ob/alto sax/perc, and fl/tp/perc)
The piece is based on the idea that "our reach should exceed our grasp." There are 3 trio groups (vla/bass/perc, ob/alto sax/perc, and fl/tp/perc), and the trios are grouped spatially so music moves around the stage. Each trio has a unique collection of a 7-note scale, so the trios are closely related but differ on specific scale degrees. All percussion is treated as contoured pitches, rather than specific pitches, including the roto-toms and the single multiple pitch steel pan. Written for the Akron New Music Festival, completed in November 2014, premiered by conductor Guy Bordo and student performers.
A rift is a crack or a break in something and that ‘something’ can be a geological or cloud formation, a personal relationship, groups of people, or nations. Rift, written in 2017 for Claricello, is a continuous piece but it has several sections, all having to do with the changing relationship between the clarinet and the cello.
Before the rift, like a chant
Rift is nearly complete
Mending the rift
Beyond the rift, faster
Seeking the Inner Calm
Seeking the Inner Calm, for solo piano, is part of Snapshot, an Exquisite Corpse. Pianist Clare Longendyke requested short pieces from nearly a dozen Indiana composers responding to the question "how do you feel right now?" with the aim of creating a sort of quarantine rollercoaster ride. Snapshot was premiered at the Music in Bloom Virtual Chamber Music Festival on October 2, 2020.
Seven Short Rhapsodies for Oboe and Bassoon
Seven Short Rhapsodies for Oboe and Bassoon is a series of seven very short, expressive musical statements, each about 30 seconds long, and each using closely related pitch material, but with contrasting characters. All but two are duets for oboe and bassoon. The third rhapsody is a solo for oboe, and the fifth rhapsody assigns the same solo material to the bassoon.
Seven Short Rhapsodies for Oboe and Bassoon was written in 2003 for Douglas Spaniol, bassoon, and Alicia Cordoba Tait, oboe. They premiered it in the summer of 2004 at the International Double Reed Society Conference in Australia. Published by JOMAR Press.
Skit, in 3 versions
This is a short piece with introductory level mixed meter passages for a string ensemble core, with optional bass, flutes, oboe, clarinets, horn, trumpets, trombone, and timpani. It has been performed by grade school and high school strings and small orchestra groups. Level 2.5
Start Dancing, for viola and roto-toms, was commissioned in 1999 by violist Joanne Swenson-Eldridge. Start Dancing celebrates the notion of moving beyond the study of something to the actually doing of that something; allowing all the study, contemplation and rehearsing to take us finally to something more than just study, contemplation and rehearsing. Published by HoneyRock.
Symphony of Alcoves
Symphony of Alcoves has three short movements, making up a 12-minute work. It was begun in the summer of 2001 and was completed in October 2002. The title draws on the image of an alcove--a small, recessed extension of a room, often with an arched opening. Each movement might be seen as a room in a house. The outer "rooms" have alcoves (three in the first, two in the third), with each alcove having both its own identity and its own intimate relation to the main room. Each alcove also has its own instrumental character, carved from the full orchestra of the main room. A "secret passageway" of sorts recurs in each of the three rooms and serves to connect them. The second room is the smallest of the three, too small for its own alcoves, and almost an alcove itself within the whole piece. It is entirely unified by the continuous alternation of 3/8 and 7/16 meters, but with two distinct sections, rounded out by a short return to the first section. Published by Arsis Press.
Tangles in the Web
The title borrows from the oft-quoted line from Sir Walter Scott: "Oh what a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive." Material appears, connects, recedes, realigns and re-asserts in a complex web of relationships. It was written for percussionist Keith Aleo in 1997 for performance by his student ensembles. Published by Honeyrock.
Terrible Title Troubles
Terrible Title Trouble is a celebratory pastiche, quoting tunes of Tchaikovsky* and referencing Renaissance style melodies, intermixed with more modern asymmetrical meters and melodic gestures. The unusual combination of instruments—flute, trombone, 4 roto-toms, violin, and cello—is also an aspect of this diversity and eclecticism. *Violin Concerto in D, Rococo Variations
They Were Mysterious Guests, Hard to Capture
This three-movement work for alto sax and piano will work well as a recital piece, with demanding parts for both players. The movement titles are: I. They were mysterious guests, hard to capture
II. If enough hosts weep, the all-night dance ceremony is considered a success
"They were mysterious guests, hard to capture" is a sentence from When Elephants Weep by Jeffrey Masson. The phrase refers to the unbidden nature of emotions. It served both as a starting point for the piece and as the basic watchword which focused the musical development of the first movement.
The "all night dance ceremony" is described in Judith Becker's 1986 article "Is Western Art Music Superior?" She describes a ceremonial song performed by talented guests which takes "the hosts on a nostalgic journey intended to touch upon the pain of remembrance and the memory of loss." There is both grief and resolution in this movement.
In the third movement, Recollection, direct and distant quotations and reminiscences recall temperaments from the earlier movements. Published by Frank E. Warren Music Service.
Three Piano Pieces With Important Things for the Left Hand
These pieces, Take a Break, Bridge Over the Canyon, and Mix and Match may be played separately or as a set. They are appropriate for intermediate level piano students. Each piece gives primary importance to the left hand, and, as a group, provide a good introduction to mixed meter, hands crossing, modes, and simple modern harmonies in seconds and fourths. Published by Frank E. Warren Music Service.
Time to Face the Music
This new work for younger players uses a variety of eclectic materials in a user-friendly, introductory way: minimalism, asymmetric and traditional meters, and tonal, quartal and modal pitch material. All the orchestra sections and many individual players are highlighted. It is appropriate for high school players and beyond.
The title is a playful use of the old expression “It’s time to face the music,” meaning that it’s time to face up to what you have done. This is something musicians always do when they perform music, and it is literally what they do each time they sit down facing a music stand.
The two possible sources for the expression each add their own musical flavor o the saying. One story is that a soldier being forced out of the army would be put backwards on a horse and led away, facing the military band. The other story refers to new actors, shaking in fear at the prospect of an audience, were told to go out and face the music. It was quite literal because the musicians were seated at the front of the stage or in the pit, between the actor and the audience.
Time to Face the Music was written for conductor Paul Salerni and the Intermediate Concert Orchestra at Interlochen Arts Camp. They premiered it on August 4, 2007. Has been performed by youth orchestra and adult community groups.
To Be Like Music
The text, by Peg Lauber, begins this way: "To be as pure as Gregorian chants sung by ten-year old boys in a garden of flowering plum trees:" To Be Like Music was commissioned by the Nova Singers, Laura Lane, conductor, and has also been performed by the South Bend Chamber Singers, Nancy Menk, conductor. It requires a near-professional quality ensemble to perform it successfully. Advanced college; Professional quality
Touched to Apocalypse
The text for Touched to Apocalypse was excerpted from a poem by Sister Madeleva, a founding member of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. It is a series of images of music ("Music: bare, destrously patterned air; music is key to ecstatic liberty") which seemed to the composer to suggest the prophetic, non-literal powers of music. Musical material generated by fourths alternates with sections based on more traditional triadic structures, but returning material is never exactly literal. Rather, it uses the "image" of its earlier self as it evolves with each new text image.
The piano, while supporting all the sung material, also features black note clusters and long black note glissandos. All harp parts are cued in the piano part. Though the harp is optional, it adds a great deal to timbral variety, glissando gestures, and general resonance. Commissioned by the Saint Mary's College Women's Choir, Nancy Menk, Director, in celebration of the new millennium. It was premiered by them in 2001. Published by Yelton Rhodes Music. Recorded by Pro Organo. College; Adult women.
'Treasure up' references the notion of hoarding things, especially socially, as in keeping track of compliments and slights. In modern terms, we see it in how we can't help but notice how many people have 'liked' our Facebook posts, and how we might let this affect our sense of self-worth and standing in the world.
The chromatic sections that are anchored by a clear tonic pedal (starting with D, on to G, etc.) express this obsession. The whole tone sections that intervene continue to include the note D, but it completely loses its sense of tonic because, well, it's a whole tone scale! So....obsession vs. free from obsession.
The final section overlays the two pitch collections, suggesting that we live with the tension between treasuring up and being free of that kind of control.
Trumpet Calls is written for twenty C trumpets in five separated groups, each with a unique character and an associated name: Fat n' Sassy, Agitated, Heroic, Bellows, and Echo. The five characters are released, one at a time, into the same space, and then things get interesting.
Of special note, the group called Bellows is directed to play with “Clang/Buzz” mutes. These are made by folding the edges of an aluminum pie tin over the edges of the trumpet bell. When played, they rattle and buzz with a sound that is as unforgettable as it is difficult to describe. Needless to say, this is not your grandfather’s trumpet ensemble.
Two for Three
In "For a few minutes, lie in the sun," an expression of serenity is followed by more venomous emotions, which are then followed by a return to serenity. This structure puts musical parentheses around anger and bitterness, encapsulated by the text "let bitterness lapse momentarily." This directness and sincerity of expression is contrasted with a wittier, more urbane and self-conscious presentation in "Contemplate cliché angels." The words of the song celebrate themselves--they are about words--but they occasionally bump into seemingly unavoidable clichés. Sections of music with a manic, humorous character, complete with intentionally silly word painting, alternate with clearly derivative jazz. Texts by Peg Lauber. Published by Arsis Press. Advanced college and beyond.
Viscomp 1 and Viscomp 2
The two Viscomp pieces were the musical part of a collaboration with visual artist Jack Girard which we called "Composing in Response to a Painting, Painting in Response to a Composition." The intent was to consciously influence our own individual creative processes with a product outside our own medium, and to create a work in one medium specially bound to a work in another medium. Viscomp 1 led to the creation of a painting called Tartan Woman; a painting called Patriot led to the composition Viscomp 2. Both paintings are 22 X 30". Excellent quality 8 1/2 X 11" color xeroxes are available for display at a musical performance of the Viscomp pieces, though their display is not a requirement. More detailed notes are available.
What's for Supper?
These four songs were written to perform for grade school age children to teach them about and interest them in contemporary art music. They have also been remarkably successful in a traditional recital setting--adults are very appreciative of the music-text relationships and other references to the art music tradition. The second song, What's for Supper?, enlists the pianist and violist as both speakers and singers. The viola part is cued in the piano part so performance without a violist is possible. The texts were commissioned from Peg Lauber. Published by Arsis Press. Advanced College and beyond.
The Whole Machine of the World
This piece is subtitled "Women Mystics Speak: Dame Julian of Norwich, Diotima in Plato's Symposium, and Beatrice of Nazareth." The piece begins with Julian of Norwich's words about the soul and body being enclosed in the goodness of God. Diotima, from Plato's Symposium, then speaks of the eternal sameness of God's beauty, with the music expressing this sameness by returning always to the same pitch. Beatrice of Nazareth's ecstatic vision is the centerpiece of the work: a mechanistic, mixed meter pattern sets the words "the whole machine of the world as if it were a wheel" and a glissando effect emphasizes the turning of a large wheel. The machine image recedes to reveal Beatrice's intense longing for unity with God, expressed in a series of solos sung over an intense and unresolved choral chord. The machine image comes to the foreground once more, then recedes again to allow Julian to speak of the image of a hazelnut and to end the work with the essential words of the opening: "soul and body, clad in the goodness of God and enclosed." The Whole Machine requires an accomplished choir. It has demanding rhythmic counterpoint and a number of solos for each voice part. Commissioned and premiered by the South Bend Chamber Singers, Nancy Menk, conductor. Published by Yelton Rhodes Music. Professional quality.
With a Vengeance
This single movement composition features a clear structure with pitch material solidly based around the note A. Material developed early in the piece is compressed more and more at each recurrence, while a constant sixteenth note value is maintained underneath the compression. This compression is followed by a section based on a pointillistic treatment of a descending A minor scale. The piano material is colored more and more by doublings in the violin and cello. The first section's sixteenth note figure gradually works its way into this pointillistic section and leads to a whirlwind replay of the first part of the piece. College level performance majors and beyond could perform this work.
Witness is set in a small town in Vermont in 1924. As the Ku Klux Klan's influence grows in the town, choices are made and lines are drawn. The few Jews and blacks in the town are special targets of the Klan, but the church, the newspaper and local businesses are drawn into the battle as well. Pressure to join grows and many townspeople are drawn into the Klan. Cross burnings, a shooting, a poisoning, a suicide--all are tied to the Klan, and the community is frayed to the breaking point. Gradually, through the perseverance of individual love, ethical strength, and an underlying sense of justice, the town is able to rebuff the Klan and to embrace and enhance their community's tradition of tolerance and diversity.
Witness has 3 acts, each with 3 scenes and lasts 90 minutes. The libretto is derived directly from the book of the same name by Karen Hesse. There are 8 lead roles (3 men, 5 women), a mixed chorus with many small solos, and an orchestra of 7 (flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, violin, viola, cello, bass, piano).
Witness was composed over a 20-month period, from May 2004 through the end of December 2005, and premiered April 27-30, 2006, at Saint Mary's College in South Bend, Indiana. The stage director was Douglas Boyer, Laurel Thomas was the artistic director, and Munn conducted.
Yelling at God
There is a long and continuing tradition of yelling at God: In the Old Testament Job rages "I loathe each day of my life; I will take my complaint to God." And in the recent movie, Forrest Gump, Lieutenant Dan yells at God from his fishing boat during a fierce storm. Yelling at God underwent important revisions with the invaluable guidance of Laurence Smith and was completed at Interlochen Arts Camp in the summer of 1998.