Happy Birthday, Mr. Babbitt.


Today the father of serialism turns 90. I had the pleasure of meeting him a few years ago at Milsaps College in Jackson, MS during a two day Babbitt-palooza of concerts and lectures. He was a very nice man, but did not seem the least bit interested in any of the lectures being presented on his music. I think I may have even heard him mutter a few four letter words at one lecturer. Anyway, I wish him many more years of writing mostly intolerable music.

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An Unintended Series – Report #1 from Integrales 2006

Two or three years ago, I composed a work for solo alto saxophone titled, Figment. Later the same year, I composed a work for solo violin which I named Figment No. 2. I bet this wasn’t the first time the lack of imagination for a title has been the impetus for a composer beginning a series of works.

Last summer, I was asked by Al Theisen to compose a short work for solo flute for his then fiancee, Misty Rondeau (now Theisen), to mark the occasion of her 24th birthday.

First, I was excited about this idea because Misty is a wonderful flutist. I have heard perform many times and enjoyed it immensely.
Secondly, her name was much cooler before she married that Theisen guy.

So before I knew it I was composing the third work in an unintended series of short solo instrumental works. I began listening to the only recordings I owned of solo flute works: two recordings of Carter’s Scrivo in vento (one dreadful & one wonderful recording) and a CD of Takemitsu flute works.

Al’s request for a work was only a third of Misty’s gift. He composed a work as did our friend, Marc Ballard (whose irate comments are seen occasionally around S21). These works were not composed as a triptych but seemed to form a nice suite together. Misty performed each of these works beautifully this weekend at the Integrales 2006 New Music Festival.

So that’s the story of my Figment No. 3 “Euterpe” which was performed this weekend at the festival. I’ll have a couple more posts in a day or two about the festival.

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World Premieres?

Recently, I read an article (I can’t remember where, NY Times, Newmusicbox, one of several blogs…) which discussed the idea of world premiere performances and when is a performance an actual “world premiere.”

Is the world premiere the initial performance? Does it occur during the performances which occasionally take place before the big Thursday Night Symphony concert? Is it the big Thursday night Symphony concert? Is it during the various workshops where a work can be played numerous times before the big concert?

I know of one instance where a piece was performed multiple times before the “world premiere”. Charles Wuorinen composed The Haroun Piano Book for pianist Lynn Raley who resides in Jackson, Mississippi. Mr. Raley performed the work several times while on a concert tour which lead up to the “world premiere” performance in New York City.

Is this common practice?

I guess so. Or at least more widespread than I once thought.

Now I have another instance (or two) where this has happened (or in the process of happening) with one of my works. Coming up Friday there will be a performance of my Figment No. 3 “Euterpe” for solo flute at a local coffee house. (See Al Theisen’s latest post.) I guess it can be called a “sneak peek” since the actual world premiere is scheduled for May 6 at our local new music festival.

A similar thing has happened for another work of mine. My Canon In Memoriam Iannis Xenakis for Saxophone Quartet (2002) had its first performance at a private birthday recital for my former saxophone professor and it hasn’t been performed since. I have chosen to call the upcoming performance on March 31 the “world premiere”.

Can a composer save the actual “world premiere” performance for another date and venue? Would that be like our federal government and the difference between actual and observed holidays?

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Composing as profession.

I don’t think I have ever considered composition as a profession. There are very few composers in this country that pay their bills by composing alone, so we resort to other methods to make ends meet. Some composers are also performers (which is pretty handy in getting your works performed), some conduct (ditto), some teach, and others work in completely unrelated fields.

The most compensation I have received for a work was a $24 bottle of tequila. It was payment for my Figment for Alto Saxophone Alone.

Since it is not my profession does this brand me as a hobbyist as Randy Nordschow suggests? (He tries to avoid the dreaded c-word.)

I guess it does make me a hobbyist.

Composition is my pastime, my leisure pursuit even though it does not often come with ease.

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Aural Assault


Soon silence will have passed into legend. Man has turned his back on silence. Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation…. Tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego. His anxiety subsides. His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.

- Jean Arp

People whose sensibility is destroyed by music in trains, airports, lifts, cannot concentrate on a Beethoven quartet.

- Witold Lutoslawski

In my current work environment, there is always music in the background. So everyday I get to hear the gamut of popular music: Country, Pop, Rap, 70s Rock, Oldies et al. I get tired of the constant aural assault of banal, predictable music. Lately I have been taking every available opportunity to turn off the radio.

I have chosen silence over music.

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…So that happened.

I have decided to join the band wagon and make a post for the new year and recapping last year.

First congratulations to Jerry on the first anniversary of the new Sequenza21 New Music community. (and a little thing called the Deems Taylor award.)

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2005 was a good year. I joined S21 in March after being a frequent visitor for a couple years.

In May my wife and I moved from Illinois back to Mississippi. (From the Land of noodles and potatoes to the Land of Gumbo and Crawfish….mmmmmm.)

There were a couple fine performances of my wind sextet and my Figment No. 2 for Violin.

Then the worst natural disaster that has ever hit the US came ashore basically down the road from me, it wasn’t that bad of a year.

At least one of the worst things ever to happen to me was follow up by one of the greatest. My son, Asa was born on October 28. Since that day I have wondered why the hell I did not compose more music before Asa was born because I obviously had much more free time.

December brought a fine performance of my Figment No. 1 for Alto Saxophone. Which should be posted on the Listening room shortly.
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2006 already promises to be a good year. Premieres scheduled for February and two in May.

And I have already deemed my apartment a Mozart-Free Zone because of the overkill that will be the 250th anniversary of his birth.

So Happy New Year to the S21 family.

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Intro to Prepared Piano

I was driving around the other day, and I popped in a Tori Amos cd I had in my car. It was her disc, Under The Pink, and it brought back memories of the first time I was introduced to prepared piano. I was in high school and it was a few years before I had heard of John Cage.

I listened to the song Bells for Her, which is just vocals and prepared piano. I remember wondering what was wrong with the piano. I later read an interview Tori Amos talked about preparing the instrument. She said they just threw in canned goods, styro-foam, nuts and bolts into the strings of the piano until the desired results were met.

I was so surpised a person would do that to an instrument to change its sound. I thought it was pretty cool.

Has anyone else had an experienced where they were introduced to extended techniques by the pop music world?

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Ain’t nothin’ gonna break our stride.

Saturday evening the Gulf Coast Symphony Orchestra gave its first concert since hurricane Katrina.

The concert program was as follows:

Carl Nielsen: Helios Overture, Opus 17
Claude Debussy, Arr. Arthur Luck: Clair de lune
Christopher Theofanidis: Rainbow Body
Gustav Holst: The Planets, Opus 32

A large portion of Biloxi looks like the above picture; other parts of the town were just washed away completely. The Saenger Theatre (the home of the Gulf Coast Symphony) along with a couple blocks of downtown Biloxi were spared. The buildings stand in the lee of the Beau Rivage Casino which deflected some of the storm surge away from parts of downtown Biloxi. The Sun Herald has quite a few before and after pictures of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Katrina also flattened the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum honoring Biloxi’s mad potter, George Ohr. The museum was designed by Frank O. Gehry and was expected to open in 2007.

I wasn’t able to attend the GCSymphony concert, but it is a wonderful sign that the arts are alive in the area hardest hit by Katrina.

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Listening.

Lately I have really been getting into Steven Stucky’s Lutoslawski and His Music. In it Lutoslawski speaks of a chance encounter he had with John Cage’s Concert for Piano and Orchestra.

Composers often do not hear the music that is being played; it only serves as an impulse for something quite different- for the creation of music that only lives in their imagination. It is sort of schizophrenia- we are listening to something and at the same time creating something else.


I have never heard the listening experience described in that way. The first time I listened to Xenakis I don’t think I actually heard the music; I heard new sound possibilities for myself. I think Lutoslawski was right.

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The ever growing Sequenza21 family.

On Friday October 28 at 5:06 p.m. my wife, Cheryl, gave birth to our first child, an extremely handsome little boy named Asa Gray Minchew. He has a full head of brown hair and pretty blue eyes. He was born on my father’s birthday which made for an extremely happy day.

Asa was born 3 weeks early because of difficulties my wife had been having over the last few weeks. I look rather rough in the picture above after the many sleepless nights leading up to Asa’s birth (with many years of sleepless nights to go.)

But all is well now.
Both are doing beautifully and are home at last.

And now for the important numbers:

6 lbs 14 oz

21 1/2 inches long

Any words of wisdom for a brand new dad?

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