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I am using this space to post audio of entire pieces, as opposed to the excerpts posted in my catalogue. Please contact me if you'd like more information on these pieces, or if you'd like to purchase scores, or perform any of them.
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Fanfare for Brass Quintet: This is a short fanfare I wrote, rendered here with sampled brass instruments using StaffPad. This rendering was achieved with virtually no editing—it's basically a straight playback of my score imported into the software. Many thanks to composer David Coscina for introducing me to StaffPad! I am not interested in replacing live musicians, but until I have a live performance, this type of 'mock up' has some value, I think, for shopping the piece around to ensembles. Listen to my Fanfare here
24 Preludes for Piano-this is still a work in progress. A set of miniatures in which I try to express tonal centres in various ways. Sort of a personal compositional playground? I've written over half of them so far, and will post recordings as I am able. Here are a few to start:
Prelude 1 in C: listen here
Prelude 2 in f: listen here
Prelude 5 in A flat: listen here
Prelude 7 in F sharp: listen here
Prelude 10 in a: listen here
Prelude 18 in f sharp: listen here
Prelude 21 in E flat New: listen here
Floating Free for piano, a little study in hand crossing. Listen here
Cleo for piano: A simple piece, using a minimum of material. A single line above a simple bass line, but every note is intentional and in its place. My only indulgence was a few discreet glissandi. Listen here
New 21 October 2020
For this Hallowe'en season, I thought I would share some honest-to-goodness-true ghost stories that really, truly happened to my great grand parents Stober and my great aunt, Tante Ida. My mother used to tell me these stories, and she also recorded them in her memoirs, for which I am so grateful. You can find these ghost stories here
2 August 2020
THE HARPSICHORD CHRONICLES, PART V
Previously, on The Harpsichord Chronicles (scroll down to see previous instalments): Doug had made the keyboard, and was ready to start producing the jacks.
The photo above shows the pear wood cut and planed to the correct thickness for the jacks.
Each jack houses a smaller piece or 'tongue' of wood, attached by a pivot, which holds a plectrum. When a key is depressed, the jack is raised past the string which is plucked by the plectrum. When the key is released, the jack returns to its starting point and the pivot action causes the plectrum to avoid re-plucking the string on its way down. Because this harpsichord is being built from scratch rather than from a kit, Doug will need to build and test one or more prototype jacks before producing the full set. Doug has decided that the best way to test his protoypes is 'in the field' so to speak, so that means he needs to start building the case!
The first step is to make the bentside. Traditionally, the bentside would have been steamed and bent as a solid 1/2” thick plank over a form. Since Doug does not have a steambox, he has opted for a bent lamination. Four plies of solid wood (poplar), each just over 1/8” thick, glued together and bent over the form.
Making the pattern for the form.
Making copies of the form.
Here the form pieces are laid out.
The form pieces are wrapped in packing tape. When the laminated wood is pressed onto the form, there may be some glue squeezed out, and the tape will prevent the bentside from sticking to the form. As Doug says, 'nothing sticks to packing tape'
Here we see the finished form for the bentside.
You can see the bentside and form are enclosed in a bag from which all the air has been drawn out, pressing the wood onto the form with perfectly even pressure.
Here is the bent-bentside. The curve is slightly tighter than the actual final shape to allow for the wood's natural inclination to straighten out.
And now the bentside laid onto the plan to check the curve. After a week or so, the wood will relax and adapt to its new shape.
Stacks of Douglas Fir cut into planks. These will be glued together to form the bottom of the case.
Here we see Doug cleaning up one of the glue lines.
Here are the pieces of Fir laid out to form the bottom of the case. This is the traditional choice for the bottom of a harpsichord. Not as resonant as the spruce used for the soundboard, but for a softwood, it is quite rigid, springy, and generally tonally alive and active.
Here we see the graceful curve of the bentside placed over the bottom. Now I need to get serious about my plans for decorating the case and soundboard—I want to be ready when it's time to get painting!
11 February 2020
So, it's been almost a year since I resolved to finish orchestrating my opera and to finish composing my symphony. I really shouldn't make resolutions. I worked on both, and finished neither. In my defence, it has been a busy year in my day job, and I took a long-overdue trip to Germany and Austria to reconnect with family and to retrace the steps of some of my favourite composers. When I tell people about my trip, I usually show them these two pictures, so why, dear reader(s), should you be spared? Here I am on my first trip to Germany in 1969:
And here I am again, in the same spot, in 2019:
By far, the best part of the trip was reconnecting with family (an aunt, and a number of cousins, and even meeting one cousin for the first time. Another highlight was visiting Anton Bruckner's birth-house in Ansfelden, Austria, and then walking to the monastery of St. Florian where he is buried in the crypt below the organ. I was actually able to touch his sarcophagus. I also visited Mahler's grave, left a rose on the graves of Schubert and Beethoven, and spent some time with Mozart in the area of the mass-grave in which he is buried.
So: Will I finish my symphony and opera this year? Probably not!
3 March 2019
I recently rediscovered this old book that belonged to my father, who acquired it in a displaced persons camp in Germany in 1948. It's a Ukrainian song book published by refugees trying to preserve their culture. I've been mulling over the idea of arranging some of these melodies into a collection of piano pieces as a memento of my father. I was a disappointment to my father because I never embraced the Ukrainian side of my heritage that was so important to him. To be honest, I'm still not all that drawn to my Ukrainian heritage, beyond examining personal family history, which has revealed a lot of tragedy and some disturbing facts concerning my grandfather's character and his wartime activities. I probably shouldn't overthink this, and just focus on the music. Anyhow, for a small taste of what I have in mind for this possible project, here is a little piano arrangement of the popular Ukrainian song, loosely translated as A Rifleman goes to War (original melody and words by Mykhaylo Hayvoronsky). Listen to my arrangement here
22 February 2019
If there is an upside to being a 'not-in-demand-composer', it is that I can work on what I want, when I want. If I had the time, that is. Who am I kidding; what I should have said, is 'if I had the discipline'. I'm sure I waste plenty of time doing things like watching movies and, um, updating my website. Anyhow, where was I going with this? Ah, yes; this year I have resolved to finish orchestrating my opera, and to finish my symphony (I have sketches for the symphony that date back to the mid 1990s). The symphony is turning out to be a bit more complicated than I originally envisioned, and somewhat less objective in tone than I had planned. Oh well. One thing for sure: my second symphony will be effortless and breezy!
7 July 2018
THE HARPSICHORD CHRONICLES, PART IV
You may well be wondering why it's been so long since the last update. The short answer, is that both Doug and I have day jobs, and, well, life happens. But we're back, and work has resumed! For a refresher on what has gone on before, scroll down this page, past the belly aching and navel gazing, to find earlier harpsichord posts.
But now, here are the latest developments:
In the image above, Doug drills holes in the keyboard for the balance pins. The keys will pivot on the pins. Note the slotted rack at the back of the keyboard. I know what you're thinking--'that doesn't look much like a keyboard...'
Here Doug has mocked up a few keys. The naturals are topped with African Blackwood, while the sharps will be made from reclaimed ebony, topped with genuine ivory, both salvaged from antique piano keys. Doug advises that I probably shouldn't try and cross any borders with the harpsichord! The sharp in the foreground is the prototype. Note how it slopes down towards the back of the keyboard compared to the conventional piano sharp in the background.
Working on the decorative arcades that will be on the face of the naturals.
The blackwood has been glued to the natural keys, and Doug begins to cut apart the keyboard.
Here we see the keyboard has been cut apart into octaves.
And now, the keys all cut apart.
Here's a closer view, showing the arcades.
Soon Doug will work on the sharps, and then the really repetitive and intricate work begins on the jacks--the mechanisms that pluck the strings when the keys are depressed. Meanwhile, I've decided to decorate the soundboard and the case in the Flemish style, so I am researching materials and methods, and sketching designs.
7 April 2018
At this stage of my life, I sometimes jokingly describe myself as a composer enjoying great success at failure. When I first started out, blind with ambition, (but maybe not quite driven enough), success as a composer meant writing full time and making a living at it. Silly me. The composer Gary Kulesha, in his excellent blog, suggests that success is having people you don't know perform your work. I experienced something like that twice, through calls for scores, but mostly my performances have resulted through personal connections, which is by far how most composers have their stuff heard. For a few years now, however, the only performances of my music that I know of are the ones that I do myself. This feels like a compromise, as I am limited to what I am technically able to perform myself, and I have to say that I've lost most of my interest in that. It might sound like I'm whingeing a bit, but on the whole, I think I'm actually an optimist. I like my music. I've decided to embrace 'failure', and just keep plugging away, and worry less about whether anyone will hear it. Of course, I continue to watch for opportunities, and I have enough vanity to think about archiving my work in some way as a legacy. It's a small thing, this shift in thinking, but it feels liberating.
5 June 2017
THE HARPSICHORD CHRONICLES, PART III
Pictured above is the key frame which will house the keyboard.
Here we see the keyboard being laid out on the keyboard stock.
Keyboard laid out and ready to be cut apart.
Before that happens, Doug transfers the key tail locations to the rack which will provide the rear stabilizing point for each key.
Slots are cut into the rack. A guide pin or slip of wood on the back of each key is inserted into the slot, keeping the keys from moving side to side.
All the slots are cut.
Here's a closer view of the slots.
African blackwood blanks to top the natural keys. Although it was common for Flemish harpsichords to have the now familiar white naturals and black sharps, I prefer the look of the reverse keyboard of black naturals and white sharps which one sees on many historical keyboards. Apparently, the reverse keyboard originated in France in the 17th century.
Doug, the fearless (and non-squeamish), recently spotted and retrieved a dead crow on a busy roadway in Kitchener (he didn't personally run it over). This unlucky bird's luckily undamaged flight feathers will provide enough material for the harpsichord's plectra!
26 April 2017
GERHARD KRAPF-AN APPRECIATION
I've been thinking lately, how much I value the practical lessons I received from two composers who were not my formal composition teachers. One was Malcolm Forsyth (scroll down this page for more about him), and the other was Gerhard Krapf.
I first encountered Gerhard Krapf in 1985. He was on the jury at my first piano audition. To my 17 year old eyes, Krapf looked ancient, severe, and humourless. Two years later, in 1987, I was assigned to his second-year Music Harmony class, and I wasn't looking forward to it.
Perspective is a funny thing. I see now, that Krapf was 64 years old at the time, which doesn't seem so old to me anymore. Turns out he wasn't severe, or humourless either. Gerhard Krapf was warm, friendly, a brilliant composer, and an engaging teacher with a wonderful sense of humour. He opened my eyes to the truth that music theory is the codification of observed practice, and not a 'prescriptive' set of rules for writing music, as it is often so tediously presented. Krapf presented topics with humour and energy, with a seemingly endless supply of musical examples which he would play from memory at the piano. With every rule he presented, he delighted in showing at least one example of that rule broken (often by J.S. Bach). I found this so inspiring, that I made a point of breaking at least one rule on every harmony assignment. Of course, he would flag these 'mistakes' to make sure I understood the common practice, but he would also give me credit if I produced a musically satisfying result by breaking the rule. I like to think he was delighted that I was engaged, and listening in class. He distilled harmony for me to a simple axiom, "With good voice-leading, anything is possible". Inspiring stuff to a young composer, and inspiring to me still. Thank you, Gerhard Krapf.
Find out more about Gerhard Krapf on his publisher's website here.
20 September 2016
THE HARPSICHORD CHRONICLES, PART II
This update is a bit late, but Doug has started building the guts of my harpsichord! Plans are laid out (pictured above), the keyboard has been mapped out, tuning pegs have been fabricated, and more:
Doug touches up the handle to my tuning hammer at the lathe.
The components of the tuning hammer, pictured with one of the scratch-built tuning pegs. Harpsichordists, unlike pianists, traditionally tune and maintain their own instruments, so tools are needed. With tuning pegs, we need a wrestplank which will hold the tuning pegs in place.
The rough material for the wrestplank.
Wrestplank material glued and clamped.
Second step of gluing and clamping the wrestplank. Besides for holding the tuning pegs, the wrestplank is also structural, connecting the cheek to the spine-that is, the right side to the left side of the harpsichord.
Speaking of which, here is the bentside stock being re-sawn. The bentside is, well, the bent side of the harpsichord, which connects the cheek to the tail, which is, (you guessed it!) the tail end of the harpsichord.
Bentside stock ready for assembly. Back to the guts:
Pictured above is the raw material for the keys.
Keyboard stock glued.
This is a mock up of the decorative arcades for the key fronts. I've selected the dark option, which I think will look nicer with the African blackwood tops.
I'm very excited with the progress so far; soon I will have to decide between facing the case in varnished wood (traditionally common in English instruments, or painting the case, which is more typical of the historic model being copied. Decisions, decisions...
14 May 2016
THE HARPSICHORD CHRONICLES, PART I
Meet Doug Peterman, the man who is building me a harpsichord. Doug (pictured above selecting basswood for the keys) is a former naval officer, maker of fine furniture, and a teacher. He is a composer and arranger of vocal music, plays several instruments, and conducts a high school choir. He has built a number of instruments, including a couple of Appalachian dulcimers, a ukulele, a cornetto (curved wooden ancestor of the trumpet, covered in leather), and most recently, a spectacular clavichord based on one built by Gottlieb Rosenau in the Swedish Music Museum in Stockholm. This will be his first harpsichord.
The harpsichord will be based on a Flemish one by Andreaus Ruckers built in 1640. A single manual, 1x8', 1x4', with a buff stop. The intention is to build a historically informed copy with a few modern conveniences, namely: a chromatic range (no short octave) and a transposing keyboard which will allow me to play both at modern pitch and at the most commonly accepted Baroque pitch (A415). Construction will be all wood and metal. No plastic jacks for this baby. The plectra will be bird quill. Crow or raven is the most historically accurate choice for the quills, though some have found seagull feathers to be an excellent option. We considered using swan, as a nod to our city of Stratford, but we're not sure of the suitability (not to mention the challenge of finding enough acceptable feathers on the river banks). Seagull might be a good choice, especially as I love going to the beach.
A trip to A&M Wood Specialty in Cambridge, Ontario
This is a very cool store with a wide selection of domestic and exotic wood like the ebony pictured above.
Doug checks out poplar, a very stable wood, for the case.
Picking out some fir
Pear for the jacks.
African blackwood, an incredibly dense wood with real heft, will be used to surface the natural keys.
Loading the wood
It may not look like much now, but just wait...
The story continues...
Since our trip to the wood shop, Doug has experimented with fabricating tuning pegs, and has ordered the soundboard from Mountain Voice Soundwoods in Valemount, BC. Coincidentally, I am attending a wedding in Valemount this June, and hope to visit Mountain Voice, and post some pictures.
4 April 2016
MALCOLM FORSYTH 'life-doodle', 1989
I recently came across this doodle I did of Malcolm Forsyth during orchestration class at the University of Alberta in 1989. Despite doodling, I really did pay attention in class; in fact, this was one of my favourite classes, with one of my favourite teachers.
Although Forsyth was teaching me orchestration, I do count him as one of my most valued teachers of composition for his practical lessons in instrumentation and score preparation. After all, no matter how good a composer's ideas might be, they're nothing if they can't be transmitted clearly and effectively.
Forsyth also placed a strong emphasis on creative invention. He often gave the class nothing more than a melody, or perhaps a simple two voice piano piece out of which we were to produce a full orchestral score, fleshing out the implied harmony, and creating inner voices. Another exercise involved creating practical piano reductions of orchestral music, revealing all sorts of interesting insights--sort of like 'reverse engineering' the music. I felt like an apprentice learning the real 'nuts and bolts' of putting music to paper, and I still consult my notes from his class.
Find out more about Malcolm Forsyth here.
20 March 2016
A HARPSICHORD FOR MEEEEE..... I've always wanted a harpsichord, and it looks like that wish is going to come true. I'm going to document the building of my harpsichord on this page. The process is still in the very early stages, but what I can say so far, is that the harpsichord will be a copy of a single manual, 1640 Ruckers.
If you're curious, check back from time to time. In the next post on this subject, I'll introduce the builder, and the particular historic instrument being copied. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!!!!
14 March 2016
TAKING THE 'SOCIAL' OUT OF 'SOCIAL NETWORK'
I think I may have decided where this page is going...