I have a Twitter feed. It’s visible on the front page.
Given everything that is happening, it may go bye-bye. Perhaps that will finally be the impetus to restart this thing in earnest.
I have a Twitter feed. It’s visible on the front page.
Given everything that is happening, it may go bye-bye. Perhaps that will finally be the impetus to restart this thing in earnest.
Welp, it’s been a summer.
I mentioned a “family health” thing a couple of posts ago. On June 17, exactly one year after we lost my mother, my mother-in-law Lauretta Beck Philhower died. She was only 71, and her loss has been a gut punch. Lauretta was a kind soul with a great laugh and a love of good music. We miss her terribly.
Then there was some reshuffling at work, and now I find myself running the assessment program for the entire institution. That’s fine. My predecessor did a bang-up job of creating mechanisms, so all I need to do for right now is top off the fluids and keep the tires inflated. This does move me into an even-larger administrative role. Be careful what you wish for, kids.
Also, I’m recovering, as the Covid finally caught me last week. Made it 2 1/2 years. Since I’m double-vaxxed and boosted, it was just a really bad cold for me. Still, 0/10, would not recommend. This meant I had to bail on playing in my first pit orchestra in nearly two decades. My guess is, the mute changes were so involved they wore me out, which weakened my immune system.
Long story short, the opera isn’t done yet. That’s OK. I have no performances scheduled. I hope to get back to work on it some this week. I can tell you that Acts I and III are finished, and if I’m being honest, the ending is beautiful – everything I would want. This is primarily due to Dave Cole’s libretto, but I’m going to allow myself a little brag and say the music is awesome as well.
The Australian performance of Triple Double had to be postponed for one month, but it happened last week. You can watch it here – it’s the second piece on the program, but do watch the whole thing, as Kara Williams and her accomplices play a variety of excellent pieces by a variety of excellent composers. This performance is easily one of the top three performances of my music in terms of quality. I was honored and humbled to sit in my living room Wednesday night and listen. My beloved, not one for effusive praise, said, “that was really good.” Check it out.
I have started opening some channels for a performance opportunity (well, the playing of a recording) that would be out of this world. More on that if it develops into something. Suffice it to say that growing up in Pinhook, Indiana (pop. 19) you don’t expect to hear your music at essentially the Antipodes of Pinhook. So once I’ve been heard in Australia, what else is there? (I’m still working on Asia, Africa, South America, and yes, even Antarctica.)
Also, I saw Antipodes of Pinhook at H.O.R.D.E. in 1996.
Thank you all for coming on this journey with me. Let’s see what’s next together.
Well, it’s been a bit.
2021 was a tough year. My mother, Linda Flinn, died on June 17 after an 2-year battle with ovarian cancer. She was just a couple of months shy of 85. We’re all still heartbroken, of course, but Dad somehow soldiers on, though sometimes I get overwhelmed when I think about the fact that they grew up together and he probably has no memories that don’t involve her in some way.
Work was challenging with COVID, but we did the best we can. Owing to a concatenation of events, I had to be discipline coordinator this fall, when we had turnover in all three ensemble director positions and when the other two tenured faculty were on leave. It was harrowing and I’m pretty sure I aged several years. But the adjunct faculty, staff, and students all performed admirably, and I am pleased to say we did not have to postpone or cancel a single event for weather-related or COVID-related reasons. I am fortunate to work with people this good.
Now comes the fun part – I am taking a sabbatical of my own this spring to write an opera! The plan is to write this spring, orchestrate this summer, workshop and revise next year, then do a full staging in 2024. This will hopefully also launch a summer festival of new opera/musical theatre works here.
I will try to do weekly (or hopefully more regular, anyway) updates on my progress.
The opera will feature a libretto by my dear friend David C. Cole and will combine elements of American history, science fiction, and politics. The title is…
John Quincy Adams and the Subterraneans
John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States of America (tenor, though a contralto could do the role as well)
John Cleves Symmes, Jr., explorer (Bass-Baritone)
Louisa Catherine Adams, First Lady of the United States (mezzo-soprano)
Monarch of the Subterraneans (dramatic soprano, possibly coloratura)
Andrew Jackson, General and later Seventh President of the United States of America (mezzo-soprano or countertenor)
I haven’t been excited about a composition project like this in a very long time.
In other news, I am pleased to announce that I finished several works in 2021. I wrote some miniatures for the Georgia Runoff Commissioning Project (Riff for solo piano; bent not broken for solo contrabass; Souvenir from a Canceled Trip for solo flugelhorn; Thibodeaux Breakdown for solo tuba; The First Amendment for SATB choir). A small consortium commissioned a three-movement trombone quartet, The True Saga of Charles Everett Mathews and His Search for a Perpetual Motion Machine (named for my maternal great-grandfather, who never found one). For my new-found interest in alto trombone, I wrote Everything About This Is Wrong, an exploration of a poem by my friend Emily Vieweg and scored for solo alto trombone with flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, soprano sax, horn, trumpet/flugelhorn, timpani, vibraphone, and snare drum. I finished the orchestration of Concerto for Piano and Wind Band.
My article on techniques of developing variation in the music of Morton Gould was published in GAMUT, and it’s nice for that research to have found a home. Might mess around and start writing a theory textbook too.
My beloved wife and the cats are all in some reasonable facsimile of good health, and I am grateful for that. I lost a few pounds last year (10-15); the plan is to keep doing that, though the fact that I bake more might make it difficult.
I hope you’re all well. Let’s keep muddling through together.
This morning’s low was a whopping -28 degrees Fahrenheit. Not gonna lie to you, Marge – very happy to have multiple cats and a fireplace.
In other news, while most of my performances have been cancelled due to the pandemic, Jason Ladd premiered my piece Thibodaux Breakdown for solo tuba (one of five miniatures I wrote for the Georgia Runoff Commissioning Project) on February 2 at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, LA. Also, I will be presenting this weekend (Feb. 19) at the South Central Society for Music Theory‘s virtual conference. My topic is “Looking at Music Theory through the Overton Window,” and it might ruffle some feathers. (I hope it does.)
I have a couple of big projects afoot as well. I’ve completed a concerto for piano and wind band in two-piano score and will be putting together a consortium to fund the orchestration. I am currently working on a trombone quartet, and then I will be writing a thing for alto trombone, soprano saxophone, and chamber ensemble based on a poem by Emily Vieweg. After that, well, I’ve got a super-secret project about another super-secret project, and I think you’re gonna dig it.
How’s everyone holding up during this?
Lane Olson at LaneStudio.com does really good work. These were taken in January.
Trying to not be That Guy, but I’ve been able to do a couple of things I didn’t expect to do because the pandemic has kept us at or near home. I bought an alto trombone, and this is generating new ideas – plus, it’s fun to learn! I also downloaded Reason, and hope to spend this summer getting good at it.
I miss classroom teaching, though. Quite a lot.
How are you coping?
Has it really been nearly a month since I’ve updated? Why yes, it has.
I went to the SMT conference in Charlotte and was blown away by the papers. This fills me with resolve. Next year, there will not be an annual rejection – next year, I will get in. I figured out a good approach for my current research (more on that once I get a couple of things nailed down), and this should work well with the direction of SMT.
Lots of good pedagogy stuff as well; that was the main reason I went. Also, because I livetweeted a couple of sessions, the number of Twitter followers I have jumped substantially. This is making me think about pedagogical applications of social media. We’re on the cusp of rewriting the theory curriculum in toto at UMM, and I want to make it one that implements all manner of tech (but not just because we like shiny new gizmos – everything must serve a larger pedagogical purpose).
The Great Speckled Variants are going well; I am meeting with a guitarist this week to see how idiomatic the writing is. I fully expect to do a lot of editing on this, but it’s worth it to get it right.
I’m sure both of you are disappointed by this, but I just haven’t been compelled to put up much in the way of political postings. I still follow it, but until next year’s election season begins in earnest (and until the Minnesota State Legislature is back in session), there’s just not a whole lot of the nuts-and-bolts policy stuff that interests me. Oh, sure, there’s the ACA and its computer glitches, but I am stupefied that people are upset that they might be getting better insurance. For 97%* of us, that means cheaper.
That’s all for now. Got some plans for the new year that involve expanding this website. More bulletins as events warrant.
(Does anyone blog anymore?)
This ought to be fun.
Since I don’t have any immediate compositional projects (the last three were the opera Bedtime Story, Vegas Vespers, and the solo violin suite pARTita), I decided to stretch out a little bit and challenge myself to write for instruments for which I have not yet written. The first fruits of this project have already appeared in the form of Small Movements for a Big Harp, written with the much-appreciated input of Shana Norton. So on to the next thing…but first, some background:
The above video is Roy Acuff singing “The Great Speckled Bird.” It’s fairly standard country-gospel, and the tune is quite simple. “The Great Speckled Bird” also happens to be my father’s favorite song.
I’m not going to lie: My father and I are very different people. It’s not always been an easy relationship, for either of us. At this point in our lives, I doubt there is anything either of us could say that would change the other’s mind on a point of disagreement – and there are plenty of points of disagreement. (Most kids nearly come to blows with their fathers over issues of a car, or of money, or of respect; the only time I nearly swung at the old man was during a “discussion” about whether Lt. Col. Oliver North was a hero who deserved the thanks and praise of a grateful nation or a traitor who should face the proscribed punishment for treason swiftly and certainly. Guess which side I was on!)
I don’t want Dad to stop being cantankerous, conservative, and stuck in his ways. It’s part of his charm at this point, and he’s nearly 79. He’s earned the right to be darn well whatever he wants to be, and we’ll love him and respect his choices no matter what. But in recent years, as we’ve both aged, I would like to think we’re at a point where none of that matters anymore. So, while I can, I want to do something nice for him.
Let’s connect the two threads: I want to write something for an instrument that will make me grow as a composer, and I want to honor my father in some way.
Re-enter “The Great Speckled Bird.”
I have decided to write a set of variations on “The Great Speckled Bird” for solo guitar. I’ll be working with Jim Flegel, our guitar professor, and hopefully I can get it performed at some point in the next year. When it’s all said and done, I want to get a nice bound copy of the score and a good clean recording, and give them to Dad. He built a home, a business, a farm, a family, a church, and he did it all without complaint. He deserves a little gratitude from his youngest son.
So watch this space and my Facebook page for updates on the piece.
This day is always a little tough for me.
A flashback: October 9, 1982. I am nine years old.
It’s a Saturday, and my sister Betsy is getting married. At the ceremony, she’s asked my maternal grandfather to give a short prayer. Grandpa (born Feb. 13, 1912) was a preacher for years, so this isn’t a big deal for him, yet he’s struggling. He’s clearly emotionally overwhelmed by his oldest granddaughter getting married. This was a side of Grandpa I had never seen. Grandpa was an extremely funny man, clever but never biting. And how he loved his grandchildren. (Aside to any fellow grandkids reading: Remember “Caught in a trap and you can’t get out!”?) The man taught himself enough Greek to understand his beloved Bible better. He was a voracious reader. He was also a fantastic musician, though he couldn’t read a note. Until a farming-related accident (and for the record, I don’t think there’s a man born before 1935 in that family with all his fingers), he could play fiddle, guitar, banjo, piano, and organ by ear. And we’re not just talking picking out melodies – the man had chops. My cousin Doug has restored his old fiddle. He could sing – oh how that man could sing. As much as he was known for being a preacher, he was probably known more for being a song leader. In tune, in good tempo, and it stayed there; this is no mean feat for a mostly-untrained a capella country church. So when I heard him sobbing a little during his prayer, it affected me deeply, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
So that’s just one day. Why does it still resonate?
Soon thereafter, Grandpa took ill. He’d had diabetes, but around late December 1982/early January 1983 it turned much, much worse. For ten months, I watched him deteriorate, his once-sharp mind clouded with painkillers and kidney failure, his round face thinning out, his robust voice now barely more than a whisper.
We were at church on a Sunday morning when my uncle Lowell came in (Mom and her sister Patsy were already at Grandpa’s bedside). Lowell walked to the pew where Grandpa’s sister Virginia (my beloved Aunt Ginny, the only other liberal in the family!) was sitting. He whispered something to her, and she immediately began crying and walked out with Lowell.
Grandpa – David Alvalee Williams – passed away a few minutes later.
The date of his passing?
October 9, 1983.
One year to the day.
It’s been thirty years. He’d be 101 now.
I still miss him.
So’s the missus and I are at the Perkins restaurant in Alexandria, MN for a post-movie dinner (the movie was Gravity; short review: SEE THIS MOVIE ON THE LARGEST SCREEN POSSIBLE), and I check Facebook and see this message:
“Do you know what’s fun? Casting your opera is fun.”
I haven’t stopped smiling. Bedtime Story, my Very Short Opera, is going to be performed by North American New Opera Workshop, probably in late March 2014.
It’s just a crazy time. Classes start this week. I’ll finish my peer review post at some point, I promise.
Here’s a video of the premiere of my trombone quartet entitled Vegas Vespers, performed by the Las Vegas Trombone Company (Nathan Tanouye, Hitomi Shoji, David Philippus, Mike Dobranski). This may be the single best performance of one of my works.
The trip was fantastic. Saw some great scenery, got to see some old friends, and checked off two more states (we’re up to 43).
So this past week the missus and I set off (with the in-laws) for the Black Hills and Devils Tower. We took two days to get out there, stopping the first night in Mitchell, SD, home of the Mitchell Corn Palace (as well as the home of George McGovern). Long-time readers will know that I’ve done a musical “portrait,” albeit tongue-in-cheek, of the Corn Palace as part of my work Next Exit. The building is actually quite fascinating.
Go to their website and read about the artworks.
From there (after a brief stop at the tourist trap known as Wall Drug), it was out to a cabin at the Powder House Lodge in Keystone, SD. If you ever need a place to stay in the Black Hills, I highly recommend this place. This was the view from our cabin:
I haven’t been this relaxed in ages.
The first full day in the Black Hills meant monuments. We went first to Mount Rushmore, and I cannot overstate the power and majesty of this sculpture. The attached picture does not do it justice. (I chose this picture so you could get a sense of the scale of the thing.)
I also recommend having some of Thomas Jefferson’s ice cream (made from his recipe, the first ice cream recipe in the US) at the café. Very creamy, very sweet, not at all what you’d expect.
From there, it was off to the Crazy Horse Memorial. I have a larger post on that one; for now, here’s a picture.
Day two meant checking off states 40 and 41, as we went to Devils Tower in Wyoming and then clipped the far southeastern corner of Montana. I had seen this movie many times, of course, but I was caught off-guard by the beauty of the real deal. See for yourself.
Of course, no trip to Devils Tower is complete without mentioning the Prairie Dog Town.
After one more night in that heavenly cabin, we set out for home via the Badlands. The panoramic photo below gives you a sense – just barely – of this area, so famous in western American history.
The closest I ever got to the rim was about 6 – 8 inches; at that point, I had to pull myself back. It’s a long way down.
This little excursion came at the best possible time. We are back home now, and my life has returned to composing, working on this book chapter, and planning next semester’s courses. I am refreshed and excited about what the future holds again.
(1) A paraphrase/setting of the UMM Hymn, the Alma Mater of my current gig. This is for a concert in memory/honor of Ralph Williams, the first-ever music faculty member at UMM (and composer of the Alma Mater).
(2) A suite of miniatures for solo violin called pARTita, for David Cole.
(3) A very short opera, beginning what I think is a warm-up for a larger work (and eventually, hopefully, a full cycle of operas based on a science-fiction book that permeated my youth).
Since I’ve been taking on an administrative role this semester, I find my perception of how academia works shifting. Subtly, to be sure, but this is a noticeable shift.
To that end, I’ve decided to spend some time learning about the budget process at UMM. More on that later. I’ve also started reading some books and blogs; if I get the chance, once the semester clears I’ll start talking about that as well.
Thank you for your patience. It’s been a busy semester (a faculty search, the extra admin duties, trying to get some stuff published/out there), but a good one. Spring Break is next week. I am ready.