Author Archive

Yay! TAXONOMY, my suite for flute and clarinet about snake genera, was selected for the S21 concert in December! Very honored. Here are links to scores/sounds for people wanting a preview. If anyone wants to perform some or all of the pieces, feel free (but let me know and send a program).

Also, I’ve listened to recordings Alex and Jeremy’s works, and I can say I’m very much looking forward to hearing these works live.

Hoping to meet many of you in person,

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A couple of weeks ago, I saw Cai Guo-Qiang’s exhibit (retrospective?) at the Guggenheim. I love the sheer power of his work and how easily people can connect with it at levels varying from the playful, to the philosophical, to the technical.

The three pieces I enjoyed most were installations, one depicting a tiger being shot with arrows, one depicting a bombed car flipping through the air, and another involving wolves running into a plexiglass wall.

It struck me how, as a composer, I want more and more to create works that are like exhibits (installations, boomboxes throughout the room) and visual artists want to be more temporal (Matthew Barney’s Vaseline sculptures, Cai Guo-Qiang’s freeze frame-inspired scenarios).

Sure, multi-dimensional works like these have existed since the 1920s, but now they seem to have a new sleekness and maturity. Earlier, artists doing interdisciplinary/multimedia/event-based work had to consciously address their defiance of convention. This defiance often served as the “point” of the work and many great works came from this approach. In the post-pluralist age, this disregard (rather than defiance) of conventions simply helps direct attention to the intended artistic expression, providing an opportunity to create works as powerful, but more sublime, in such media.


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In my last post, I discussed collaborative works. These works tend to be 3-D in nature, with performers and visuals in one area and boomboxes throughout the space. This creates a sonically rich environment with which audiences (even traditional ones) seem to meaningfully connect. I love the fact that these works can’t be recreated in an mp3, but on the other hand, the further from convention a work is, the more a working composer needs adequate documentation.

Who out there has seen brilliant strategies in documenting multi-media (hate that word) works? I love the fluidity of YouTube, but I’m talking more high-quality. DVDs seem a good choice since they have surround sound and video. Who’s seen this done (well)?

Consider the documentation below (done in the typical post-grant-report fashion) of an installation Scott M. Conard (video artist) and I did in the vestibule of a St. James Episcopal Church in Lancaster, PA before a new music concert. It’s based on a poem called World’s End. And Worlds Begin by Richard Miller. There are some nice visuals, and you can sorta tell what it sounded like, but trust me:

You just had to be there”¦


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Great art is not created in committee.
–Robert Hughes

Lately, the kind of work I’ve been seeking is collaborative in nature. I suppose any composition that involves performers other than the composer must be collaborative to some extent, but I’m speaking of creating works where music is not the primary focus, but isn’t necessarily secondary either.

Some of these works are fairly conventional and easily categorized, like my current commission for large choir, trombone quartet, and the American Repertory Ballet. The work, Worlds End. And Worlds Begin, is to be a semi-evening length work that is essentially a (modern) ballet work. More on this later”¦

Other works may fit into categories like “installation art” and “multimedia design” though I find the first term too apt to conjure images of works from the 60’s and the latter term is just too 90’s. I suppose the word “interdisciplinary” could be used, but even that term already smells of early-00s staleness. But then, terminology has always been a problem for composers.

Anyone who has collaborated a lot (or just once and never again!) can probably recall an instance where having to collaborate was tedious rather than synergistic. I’ve had these experiences, but lately collaborating seems easy and produces work far more interesting to a broader audience than any work I could have done on my own. Because of this new found ease, I suggested to Line Bruntse, a visual artist working on an installation in Milan for which I’m designing the sound, that perhaps I’d be a total tyrant were I to encounter something that didn’t meet my vision. She emailed back:

I could see you as a tyrant, only nobody would ever know they would simply think they were just having fun with you. I don’t think they would realize they were bending to your will because they would just want to… Sneaky…

As nice as that thought is, I doubt I have that much Carnegie-like prowess. I think it would be more accurate to say I’ve just come to value collaboration. Artistically, I want to be influenced by my collaborator. Years ago, it would have been possible for me to have a vision so inflexible that it might break from trying to leave room for another’s idea. Now, not opening myself to the influence of a collaborator would make a collaborative work seem inauthentic.

Who’s collaborating? Why? Why not?

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Ah. Such a nice email to receive. The Continental Trombone Quartet is quickly becoming a force in New Music. They’ve already commissioned 13 new works for the ensemble, with many more in the making. I wrote them a short flashy piece for their performance in Beijing. The work in called “Bone Jump” and is a post-minimal reworking of fragments of pop tunes that have the word “jump” in the title.

We are currently working on a work for trombone quartet, SATB choir, electronics, video, and dance. More on that later”¦


Back from China and happy to report a fine performance of your well received composition. I do not know if we will receive a recording or not, that was unclear. The guys loved working on your piece and plan to continue to perform it on a regular basis.

Thanks so much for the great composition. Please be in contact with Doug, copied here, about publishing under the CTQ Series with PebbleHill Publishers.

Talk soon.


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I haven’t properly posted about last semester’s Music Appreciation class, so let me now.

I was happy with it.

I taught it in reverse-chronological order and focused primarily on music after Debussy. I think teaching it in reverse was neither here nor there, but focusing on new music seemed to engage the students much more. I posted some of the topics here, and got some of the best comments I ever have in this class. Overall, it was fairly successful for a Music Appreciation class.

Now let me tell you what I really want to do.

I often begin my classes by stating “We can’t learn things from classes and books. We can only learn from meaningful experience. Classes and books only prepare us to make the most of a meaningful experience when we find or create one.” I certainly believe that Music Appreciation texts and CDs will not equal a meaningful experience.

Many Music Appreciation classes have a live concert component where students attend three concerts and write reports. I teach section of 200-300 students and find this to be a daunting administrative task. More distressing however, is that I have no way to teach the class directly about the random concerts they might attend.

But what if you could have a live concert in the class, during the class.

Well, nice if your school wants to give you thousands of dollars for your class, but fat chance. Where can we get those kinds of resources?

A text and set of CDs generally costs close to $100. What if there was a concert series that sold subscriptions for $50. What if those concerts happened in the class, during the class. What if 220 students bought $50 ticket subscriptions as their textbook?

What kind of concert series would you book with an $11,000 budget?

What if your Music Business majors handled the booking and marketing of said series as part of their Classical Music Business Class, and students could have internships running the series?

It’s happening at Millersville University. Now.

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Writing at the End of the World by Richard Miller

I’ve been reading Richard Miller’s Book about the place of humanities in education and in life. It’s a thought-provoking read for anyone working in any purely creative field, though it is written from the prospective of someone who teaches writing.

The book searches for the purpose (point?) of things like poetry, prose, and music through the lens of a handful of tragedy’s that have become part of our collective conscience: Columbine, The Unabomber, Chernobyl, 9-11. What place does something like a poem have in a world like this? Further more, what are we to teach people in our fields?

Miller gives part of his answer, or at least a reason for pursuing an answer, at the end of the preface.

“Schools currently provide extensive training in the fact that worlds end; what is missing is training in how to bring better worlds into being.”

The book is not a new-agey feel-good testament to the healing power of the written word. It is a rigorous examination of assumptions about the limits of, place of, and usefulness of creative work. It is an exercise in critical optimism.

Educators, especially those in the arts and humanities, will find many of the questions they ask themselves tackled in this well-researched, probing book.

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Kennesaw State students assist with a soundcheck for HYDROLOGY.


When I was booked to play an Earth Day concert in Birmingham for the ArtBurst concert series, I wanted to add another stop or two in the Southeast.  I found Laurence Sherr on the American Composers Forum website and he sent Blue Ridge Frescos for solo guitar.  Perfect.  It fit my not-so-heavy-handed, eco-themed show for guitar and/or guitar with electronics.  I put together a show I call RUSTY BANKS: SPATIAL SOMEONE.  It featured works by composers who have some tie to the South.

Laurence agreed to bring me to Kennesaw State University (a bit north of Hot-lanta) to do some comp lessons, guitar lessons, a lecture, and a concert.

My favorite thing about Kennesaw was the cross-pollination going on between the performance and composition elements on campus. Often, the guitar students would have original pieces to show me.  Mary Akerman (Instructor of Guitar) was very supportive of this, and seems to do much to foster students to be creative as well as athletic (her students are as technically sound as they are creative). 

There was a time when separating music into composition and performance to the extent we do now could not have been imagined.

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Note: All posters welcome, but this is aimed at a music appreciation class I teach. We’d love to hear from composers besides me, though. If this is the only topic you see posted, go to:

Well, we are done with the post-debussy portion of our Music and Culture class, and learning the ways of Mozart, Beethoven, and sonata form. I’ve heard a variety of feelings expressed about this:

A. “I’m glad we’re finally studying the stuff I like (Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert).”

B. “I’m sad we’re done with the stuff I like (Reich, Cage, Andriessen).”

C. “I’m glad we started with new music, because I would have zoned out from the start if we started with this old stuff.”

D. “I wish we would have gone in chronological order rather than reverse. To end with Baroque music is a downer.”

E. “I wish we could have studied Bernstien more.”

So what do you think? Reverse chronological order, or no? Sonata form or prepared piano? Programmatic music or samples of speech?

Of course, I’d never settle for an “or” where we can have an “and.”

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Note: All posters welcome, but this is aimed at a music appreciation class I teach. We’d love to hear from composers besides me, though. If this is the only topic you see posted, go to:

Is the “Afro-American Symphony” an expression of the voice of Black America or just a happy face put on the extreme oppression they were experiencing.

Also: How about that Debussy? That Schoenberg? That Varese? So close (in time) yet so far away (in style). Who do you dig? Who don’t ya?

More important: Why?

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