Six Lowell Songs

My Six Lowell Songs, for soprano and piano, have been completed and will be recorded in September with the wonderful soprano Angela DeVenuto. The songs are settings of six poems by Amy Lowell, an important voice in early-20th century American poetry, especially through her innovations in poetic meter, language, and content associated with the Imagist movement.

The songs are interconnected through musical material (songs 1, 3, and 5, 2 and 4, 5 and 6, for example, share important motives and musical allusions); through poetic themes (1, 2, and 3; 4 and 5; 1 and 6) and, on the whole, create a dramatic narrative arc dealing with themes of solitude, despair, love, resignation and in general, the inherent loneliness that results from our estrangement, from the tension between the desire for connection and the necessity of solitude. I hope the songs capture Lowell’s creative voice and personality as much as they do my own.

The piece was begun while in residence at the Brush Creek Arts Foundation, and completed while at Copland House, as a winner of the Copland House Residency Award.

The cycle includes:

  1. Solitaire

  2. Vintage

  3. Grotesque

  4. A Sprig of Rosemary

  5. A Rainy Night

  6. Hoar-Frost

Lutheran Summer Music

I’m very much enjoying my time as Composer in Residence at Lutheran Summer Music, hosted this year on the campus of Valparaiso University. LSM is a fantastic program for high-school-age musicians interested in performance (band, jazz band, orchestra, chamber music, choir, musical theater, conducting, etc.), composition, church music, and more. It’s a four-week program that, in the composition program, culminates in a recital of student works. This year there are approximately thirty(!) student composers who have elected to either study composition privately or as part of a group class. I’m also teaching musicianship/theory, which has been a true joy, as these students are simply absorbing and devouring so much information and are eager to learn more. Yesterday I covered (or tried to) what is normally about three weeks of an undergrad theory course in a fifty minute class session — none of the students seemed to mind.

I’ve also enjoyed the opportunity to perform several times, including excerpts of my Suite for Bari Sax and Piano with faculty saxophonist Stacy Maugans, a couple jazz standards with vocalist Daniel Greco, some more jazz with trumpet and cello, and on Monday, another performance of Taxonomies of Pulse with Christina Giuca Krause, who is also here on the piano faculty.

Krause Named 2018 Distinguished Composer of the Year by MTNA

I’m thrilled to have received this honor for my work, Taxonomies of Pulse, which was premiered in October at the Indiana Music Teachers Association State Conference in Fort Wayne.

From the MTNA:

“This award is conferred upon the composer of the most significant composition from among all works commissioned by the MTNA state affiliates. This year there were 28 submissions.

The recipient of the MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year Award receives a $5,000 cash prize, made possible by the MTNA FOUNDATION FUND. The award also includes a performance of the composition at the 2019 MTNA National Conference, which will be held from March 16-20, 2019 in Spokane, Washington. The actual performance is scheduled on Sunday, March 17 from 11:00 a.m. -12:00 noon in the Conference Theater in the Spokane Convention Center.

The judges for the 2018 MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year Award were:

  • Dr. Philip Schuessler, 2017 MTNA Distinguished Composer of the Year, Instructor of Music Theory & Composition at Southeastern Louisiana University

  • Dr. M. Shawn Hundley, Lecturer in Composition and Music Theory at University of Hawaii, Manoa

  • Dr. Michael-Thomas Foumai, Associate Professor of Composition & Music Theory Bethune-Cookman University.”

Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts

While impressions are still fairly fresh, here are some thoughts and photos, in no particular order, from my recent 3-week residency at Brush Creek, near Saratoga, WY.

  • I spent most of every day in my log cabin studio with a beautiful Bösendorfer, writing desk, reading chair, leather sofa, Western decor, etc.

  • Deer (they were all over the place) would meander through the camp, occasionally poking their heads against the windows

  • Most early afternoons were the perfect time to go on an hour-or-two-long hike; my favorite was a meandering trail up and down along a ridge on the eastern bank of the creek, called Smalls Trail. In mid-afternoon, towards the end of the trail, you could look back over the creek, with the light hitting it just right, and see part of the artist camp, surrounding hills, the ranch, and the endless sky.

  • I wrote most of a song cycle - so far, five poems of Amy Lowell, with possibly more to come

  • I began a set of pieces for flute and bass for bassist Paul Cannon

  • I played a lot of Brahms piano music, particularly Op. 116-118. I memorized the first piece of Op. 118

  • I practiced and played a lot of jazz: Giant Steps, All of You, A Sleepin’ Bee, and Our Delight especially

  • I met and bonded with seven other wonderful artists and people

Residencies 2018-2019

I’m thrilled to be in two residencies this coming season: first, at the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts in late October to mid November, then, at the Copland House for four weeks in February. The residencies will provide inspiring environs, as well as the time and space to devote to upcoming projects, including a new work for flute and bass, song cycle, piano trio, and extended work for solo piano.

"Luminous Blue Variables" and "Meno Mosso"

I've been hunkered down in St. Louis while Christina works as a pianist with the Opera Theatre for eight weeks. Fortunately this has meant a lot of time for me to compose, and even my own "studio" (an extra room in our apartment) with a desk and piano to use while she's off at rehearsals and performances. 

Because of this allotment of time and space, I've managed to finish two pieces in the past few weeks - the first, a duo for two alto saxophones titled Luminous Blue Variables, written for saxophonists Stacy Maugans and Carolyn Bryan for a premiere at the World Saxophone Congress in Zagreb, Croatia, next month. And just yesterday I finished and sent off a commission from the Bennington Chamber Music Conference, Meno Mosso (after Ockeghem) for two oboes, English horn, and solo strings. 

Luminous Blue Variables, opening measures

Luminous Blue Variables explores the two saxophones' relationship to a single monophonic theme; how the two voices split apart and depart from the theme; how they occasionally re-converge; how one may echo and distort the material played by the other; how this may happen in incredibly tight time intervals (like a rapid delay), left up to chance (variable delay), or at very long time intervals; and how multiphonics may play a part in this dialogue by providing a harmonic framework in which another voice may interpolate scalar material. I had a lot of fun writing this one, and, I feel, also broke new ground in my own language and process - particularly by using timbral parameters to modulate and effect the areas of melody, harmony, rhythm and gesture (and vice versa). 

LBV "theme" with alto sax echoes/delay.

In the excerpt below, the musicians play the same cadenza-like passage as fast as possible, one beginning immediately after the other, creating a type of canon at very close, somewhat random and variable time intervals.

LBV excerpt (canon at the unison at micro/variable time intervals).

With Meno Mosso I went in a completely different direction, taking inspiration from the instrumentation of oboes and strings and embracing the modal sound world of early Western music. I even borrowed a few melodic fragments from Ockeghem's Missa Mi-Mi.

Meno Mosso, oboes' entrance.

The piece extends, transforms, and distorts this raw material in various ways. The oboes' opening music, seen above, experiences the intensification of dissonance from diatonic clusters to more jarring cross-relations. The piece also takes the falling-fourth plagal relationship prevalent in Renaissance music to an extreme, and enriches the music's harmonic palette by extending this pattern upward and downward, creating a sort of "hyper" modality:

Meno Mosso, ending.

This has been my pattern lately: as I move from one piece to the next, each becomes a reaction against the previous one, creating a large-scale zigzag between parallel tracks moving towards some unseen point of convergence (or maybe it's more like an asymptote). On the one hand, I'm attracted to complexity and abstraction; I want to create music with pulsing vitality but without an obvious pulse, music that is harmonically expressive and nuanced but without discernible common-practice underpinnings, music that speaks through color and gesture, and melodies that sing but without affectation or rhetorical precedent. On the other hand, I keep feeling the impulse to simplify, go back to basics, speak plainly and without obfuscation, build from the ground up, and communicate a primal impulse rooted in the musical traditions that I was born and grew up in. I know I'm not the only one working to try to resolve these contradictions.

My next piece, due in September, is a work for two pianos, commissioned by the Indiana Music Teachers Association/Music Teachers National Association. We'll see where the next impulse leads me.

40 Bits of Advice

(or, "What I Learned in Eleven Years of Studying Composition") 
(or, "Things My Teachers Said") 

1. Write quickly. 
2. Write slowly. 
3. Plan, chart, and diagram the work's structure. 
4. Write organically, without preconceptions of form. 
5. Put the performers first. 
6. Put the audience first. 
7. Put the Idea first. 
8. Use the piano to compose. 
9. Compose away from the piano. 
10. Use the computer to make things faster. 
11. Do not use a computer for anything but engraving. 
12. Create something profoundly new and distinct unto itself; do not retreat into history. 
13. You are free to draw upon any style, school, or aesthetic creed as you wish; they are all equally valid. 
14. Write music that moves the listener at the risk of sedation. 
15. Write music that challenges the listener to the point of confusion. 
16. Write music that pushes the performers to the brink of exhaustion. 
17. Find your own path. 
18. Take whatever path attracts you, even if it's well worn. 
19. Your first idea is the best. 
20. Your first idea is (almost) never the best. 
21. Trust your instincts. 
22. Dig deeper. 
23. Composing should feel easy and natural. 
24. Composing is one of the most difficult things you'll ever do apart from the everyday demands and trials of life, and it will stake a claim on those as well. 
25. Poetic expressive markings can be highly suggestive and useful in conveying your intent to the performer in ways that the notation cannot. 
26. Use only literal, specific, and unambiguous technical directions or the performer won't know what it is you're talking about. 
27. Consider your own music in its cultural context. 
28. Consider only the music; let the rest fall where it may. 
29. Do what you're good at. 
30. Work on your weaknesses. 
31. Be a businessperson and promoter: you are your own marketing department. 
32. If you write it (well), they will come. 
33. Be practical. 
34. Dream big. 
35. Improvise in order to generate ideas. 
36. Improvisation ≠ composition. 
37. Try something totally new in every piece. 
38. Find your shtick and stick with it. 
39. Embrace disorder, incongruity, ambiguity. 
40. Everything in balance.


The above is re-posted from the old (now defunct) website.

New Website

I am rebuilding my website to put my musical projects (past, present, and future) into focus and create a more interactive, dynamic, and user-friendly experience. Please excuse the construction, and check back to the "blog" page for updates, news, and thoughts.

The background images that you see are from the Portland City Archives, which I perused and used for inspiration for my Movie Music For Portland, part of the Oregon Multimedia Project.