Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Minimalist Study for Winds and Percussion

Last fall I composed a minimalist study for WesWinds. They performed it on Tuesday 2 December in Crowell Concert Hall, under my direction. But at the last rehearsal (shortly before the concert), they recorded it straight through. There was also the recording during the performance, of course. Just for kicks, when we were editing, Mike Arafeh (at my suggestion) synchronized the last chord in both performances. We played it back. We like this thickened up version, and hope you will too. Enjoy!

The lean, clean version (from the concert) will be uploaded soon.

You will hear various repeated patterns, overlaid according to various processes, no two of which are the same. The flutes and clarinets have one pattern; the oboes another; the trumpets have repeated notes, as do the saxophones (different ones, of course); the low brass have a chorale-like phrase; and there are three related but distinct percussion patterns — one for clangorous mallets, one for drums and one for timpani solo (four drums). The patterns accumulate, of course. Perhaps this piece should go on longer, but I am very pleased that it doesn't! At somewhere between five and six minutes, perhaps it's more of a Post-Minimalist Study than a minimalist one.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The next piano pieces go up on SoundCloud

Four more piano pieces of mine have been uploaded to SoundCloud:

     An improvised prelude, using seven Duckworth weights
     A Prelude for Sam
     Crackin’ Lobsters: A New Culinary Rag
     Memories of You 2012

All of these performances are from “This Is It!” No. 5,  Crowell Concert Hall, Wesleyan University, Sunday 16 February 2014. The following remarks are edited from my notes on SoundCloud:

Duckworth weights are constructed by taping together several lead weights the size of piano keys, used by piano technicians to regulate the action. They are required for the performance of "The Time Curve Preludes," Bill Duckworth’s magnum opus for the piano that I recorded in 1980. I have taken to using these weights in improvisations as well as composing for these weights, and elsewhere on this blog I discuss them in greater detail. Bill's invention is a brilliant one, and should be used by composers and pianists everywhere. The effects are subtle and do not always come across in recordings. They are clearly audible in the hall, however.

“A Prelude for Sam” was written in memory of Sam Lowe, a Wesleyan alum and student of mine who died unexpectedly in 2011 at the age of 56. He was a composer and an excellent jazz musician. Both of us were from Birmingham. The musical materials of this piece are made from the letters of his complete name, Samuel Hayes Lowe. Sam’s sudden passing was deeply felt by many at Wesleyan, and a concert in his honor took place during Alumni/Commencement Weekend of 2012.

“Crackin’ Lobsters: A New Culinary Rag” is dedicated to my friend the late, great Blake Reynolds (Wesleyan '36 or something like that). This composition was inspired by a festive dinner in a restaurant in Maine years ago. No one was talking for at least a half a minute and everyone was eating lobster. The cracking sounds were omnipresent and very pleasant — found music in an unexpected place.

“Memories of You 2012” was arranged from Memories of You for unspecified instruments with or without reading and dancing (1968), composed in collaboration with William Duckworth. This version for piano solo and Duckworth weights was made for, and performed as part of a memorial concert for Bill at Le Poisson Rouge shortly after his death. My blog of June 2, 2014 discusses these weights in some detail, and they are also mentioned in the next blog, dated June 4th.

I’m on a roll. I’ll be putting up at least one piece a day on SoundCloud for some time to some.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

January 1, 2015

New Years Day, 2015 was without parallel in my life. Some time between 4:00 a.m. and noon my brother Woody passed from this world into the next. I was predeceased in 2010 by my younger sister, Linda, and now my brother is gone, the youngest of three. I am the only one left of the children of Mary Beulah Neely and Woodrow Wilson Bruce, Senior. (I write this on the the anniversary of Daddy's birth. He would have been 97 today, were he still alive.)

My sister-in-law Nancy did not tell me this until much later in the day.

At noon, or more precisely 12:15 p.m., Elena Chidlowsky and I were wed on the stage of Crowell Concert Hall. It is between semesters at Wesleyan, and not a soul was visible on the campus except the wedding party: Mary and Gene Klaaren, Janine and Mike Cordero, Ron Ebrecht, and the bride and groom. The stage was bare except for a nine-foot Steinway, four green chairs, and a music stand for Mary, who performed the ceremony.

I improvised a prelude and then played "Bist du bei mir" as Elena entered the hall in her splendid wedding dress and crown of holly and white flowers. She was beautiful, and had the most radiant smile imaginable. After she arrived, and I finished the tune, I joined her and the wedding was underway. We sang "All people that on earth do dwell" and one verse of "Joyful, joyful we adore thee." Readings were First Corinthians 13, John 2:1-11, and the verses from Song of Solomon 2 that were set to music by Billings ("I am the Rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys...") 

Judith Milardo was to have sung "Bist du bei mir," but she and her husband David Weakliem were unable to be part of the proceedings. They were in New Jersey, helping to attend David's father Herbert, himself in the process of departing this life. Since Elena and I began dating at a Milardo family Christmas party, and we are both honorary Milardos, it was important to us that Judith sing at our wedding. But since that was impossible, her sister Janine and her husband Mike represented the Milardo side of the family, so to speak.

After the simple ceremony we drank an excellent bottle of sparkling wine from Barboursville Vineyards in Virginia and proceeded to Forbidden City, our favorite Chinese restaurant anywhere in central Connecticut, for a splendid wedding luncheon, topped off with a fine chocolate wedding cake from Fusion Bakery. The conversation was lively and we did not leave the restaurant until almost 5:00 p.m.

At this point I realized that my sister-in-law Nancy had called, and from the tone of her message I knew something very serious was going on. I called her back and learned the terrible news about Woody. I spent the time between 5:00 and 6:15 making telephone calls to my nephews, Woody and Nancy's sons, and other relatives.

We learned later that about 6:20 p.m. Herbert Weakliem died.

At 6:30 Elena and I arrived at dinner at the home of Bob Englehart and Pat McGrath. Other dinner guests were Diane Valentine and her husband Bud Reading, and Bob and Wendy Nasta. Elena and I agreed that we would not mention Woody's death, because that would cast a pall over an otherwise pleasant occasion that had been set up for a long time. Instead, we informed the dinner party of our marriage. We were feted, of course, and had a wonderful dinner of lobster and prosecco with friends who rejoiced with us.

Bob E. found out about Woody's death, as did so many of our friends, today, when I posted a notice, and a picture of my brother, on Facebook.

Yesterday we drove to Stowe, Vermont, where I am writing this blog. Today we have gone by aerial gondola up to the top of Mount Mansfield and walked around in the 7-degree cold and had a lunch with a spectacular view. One of the ski guides pointed out Mount Washington to us, far away in the middle of New Hampshire. He said it was unusual that we could see that far. Two hours later we were walking on the closed highway to Smuggler's Notch and it was snowing. Seeing Mount Washington, or even the peaks of the Notch, was out of the question. In between driving around and walking in the snow I have been calling various people about Woody. Last night we arranged for flowers to be sent to the funeral, which is tomorrow afternoon at Beech Haven Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia. We also made plans to visit Nancy and the nephews later this month.

Such has been the most remarkable New Year of my life. I have been on a roller coaster of sadness and joy. Elena has been wonderful — loving, supportive, and completely understanding of my unique frame of mind. I have wonderful memories of my brother, that temper my sadness, and I have the joy and hope that comes from our wedding. We are embarking on a great adventure together. God be with us.