In Cold Storm Light, 2006
An electroacoustic setting of the poem by the same title by Leslie Marmon Silko. Used by Permission.
In Cold Storm Light is an electroacoustic setting of the Native American poet Leslie Marmon Silko’s poem by the same title. I’ve made and effort to derive every aspect of the composition from the text itself, first by reading the text into a pitch-to-MIDI converter to create the instrumental line, secondly by using the original MIDI data to drive sample banks made up of key words from the text, and finally, by declaiming the complete text of the poem as the foreground layer.
Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra, 2002
University of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Roger Zahab, director
Performed November 19, 2003
In composing Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra (2002) I tried to create an environment where different kinds of music coexist with equal power and validity. It is a very personal response to the many musics which have influenced me, including jazz, djimbe drumming, and the 20th century avant-garde. Clean, discrete sound objects (typified by the opening punctuations in the percussion) alternate with virtuosic passage work and a recurring chorale in the low brass. The relationship between soloists and orchestra is fluid as the soloists sometimes accompany the orchestral texture and at other times pull the orchestra into their own world such that the entire ensemble becomes one vast drum.
Trying to Cope, 1999
Tom Godfrey, flute; David Keberle, bass clarinet, Eric Moe, piano
Performed April 6, 1999
I began composing Trying to Cope (1999) shortly after taking the comprehensive exams for my doctoral work. While reviewing for my comps I spent some time paging through David Cope’s book New Directions in Music. Some of the techniques he discussed seemed to seep into the composition of the new piece, particularly working with small pitch collections in a way I hadn’t done before. Thus the title has a double meaning—an homage to Cope himself and an acknowledgment of the fierce demands placed on the performers for both individual technique and ensemble.
The Story of Glass, 1998
An electroacoustic settinig of the Peter Oresick’s poem by the same title. Used by Permission
The Story of Glass (1998) is an electroacoustic setting of the poem by Peter Oresick by the same title. Its creative germ came from the years when I lived in western Pennsylvania’s post-industrial Monongahela Valley. What I saw there in the early 90s made me want to compose a sort of requiem for the industrial society. The text of Oresick’s poem is juxtaposed with samples of famous requiems. The underlying loops are made from a synthesis of the human voice and samples of scraping metal.
Finney’s Prayer, 1998
Andy Kohn, double bass
University of Pittsburgh Chamber Orchestra
Roger Zahab, director
Performed February 12, 1998
Charles Finney occupies a fascinating place in 19th century American history as a leading revivalist, abolitionist, and the first president of Oberlin College. The concept for Finney’s Prayer comes from a a passage in his memoirs in which he describes the spiritual crisis which led to his conversion.
“I went to my dinner and found no appetite to eat. I went to the office and found that squire W___ had gone to dinner. I took down my bass-viol, and as I was accustomed to do, began to play and sing some pieces of sacred music. But as soon as I began to sing those sacred words, I began to weep. It seemed as if my heart was all liquid; and my feelings were in such a state that I could not hear my own voice in singing without causing my sensibility to overflow…”
Finney goes on to describe a mystical vision of Christ which filled him with such awe that he,
“cried out, ‘I shall die if these waves continue to pass over me.’”
Finney’s Prayer (1998) portrays the contour of this experience from crisis to epiphany, peace to awe, and finally, relief. In developing this composition as a narrative structure, I have sought consciously to reference portrayals of transcendence as they are found in works by such composers as Messiaen, Tavener, and Pärt, with hopefully a strong dose of Flannery O’Connor’s insight that grace is, among other things, unsettling.
Emergence: a duo for violin and piano in two movements (1997)
Roger Zahab, violin; Robert Frankenberry, piano
Performed November 23, 2004
Emergence was completed in the winter of 1997 and reflects an early convergence of my interest in the music of Messiaen, Bill Evans, West African djimbe drumming, and (believe it or not) the baroque doctrine of affections. The first movement requires tremendous subtlety from the performers to the same degree that the second requires extreme energy. In the second movement, I have treated both violin and piano primarily as percussion instruments. The jagged nature of the violin line seeks in some way to evoke the alternation between the high “slap” and midrange “tone” utilized by a djimbe drummer during a solo.