A Christmas Concerto
Commissioned by Merrimack County Savings Bank in 2010, this piece was written for the New England Wind Symphony as a feature for violinist Elliot Markow. I took a couple original themes I’d been kicking around and weaved them together with the French carol “Ding Dong Merrily on High.” Originally, this piece clocked in at just over 8 minutes; I had to trim the recapitulation back a bit for the rest of the concert program. It was first performed in December of 2010 in Concord, NH.
The Merrimack County Pops March
This piece was commissioned by Merrimack County Savings Bank in 2009 for the inaugural Merrimack Holiday Pops concert. The idea was to have an “official” march for the concert and as of this writing, it has been performed annually at this event since 2009. Writing a holiday piece without words (in the form of a Sousa march no less!) presents some interesting challenges. How does a piece become “holiday” themed when there is no text to denote it as such? I suppose the solution lies in playing at a specific time of year. And jingle bells. Lots of jingle bells.
I think one of the reasons the march format was specified was that each year the piece is led by a special “guest” conductor – usually a non-musician. Writing a piece in duple meter with a consistent tempo throughout lends itself to being conducted by someone who only needs to wave their arms up and down until the music stops.
The Taiwan Sketches
In 2009 I had the opportunity to write a piece for the Northeast Symphony Orchestra. I was asked to write a piece to feature harpist Kathleen Lyon-Pingree for a summer concert at Mt. Cranmore Resort in North Conway, NH. My knowledge of the technical range of the harp was somewhat limited at the time, and as I started making preliminary sketches, I kept returning to a somewhat Asian theme. My wife and I had a trip to Taiwan scheduled for that spring, so I used that as inspiration for this piece. The piece is in three movements:
I. Shi-lin Night Market
I’m a sucker for Taiwan’s night markets – probably because they remind me so much of the farmers markets I would often frequent growing up in Pennsylvania. There are dozens of night markets all over the island – any of which I would happily spend the evening poking around; but the one in Taipei’s Shilin District is the biggest.
The alternating solo and tutti sections suggest the market-goer taking in the atmosphere- now ducking into a quiet storefront, now being swept along with the boisterous crowd.
II. Summer Snow of Tong Hua Blossoms
Tong Hua are small white flowers that begin to bloom in the spring, the fall off as summer wears on. In some regions, massive Tong blooms produce blizzards of loose flowers. These regions attract visitors from other parts of the country, who make the trip to witness the “summer snows” in much the same way that New Yorkers will travel to New England to witness the fall foliage.
The rubato melody at the beginning of this section is derived from the 2nd mode of the Kumoi pentatonic scale (F# – G – B – C# – E). At the time, this was the most “Asian” sounding mode I had discovered. Since then, I have found there is a lot more to it than mere ornamentation, and this will be more fully explored in This Excellent Desolation.
III. The Many Turns of the Tamshui River
The Tamshui river runs through the historic Danshui district, and by following it, one encounters a slew of sights: breathtaking views of Mount Guanyin, Fort San Domingo (originally built by the Spanish), and Fisherman’s Wharf with its iconic Lovers’ Bridge.
While the scenery changes, one is always following the river, so the section is a theme and variations movement built on a B pentatonic minor. This movement has always reminded me of Vaughn Williams’ Fantasy on Greensleeves. I may have cribbed the structure, whether intentionally or not.
The Relaxed Abalone
This is the first in my series of what I’m calling “Art Songs”. Taking a cue from Charles Ives, these are piano and vocal pieces, the text being various pieces of poetry set to music. The text for this piece is an example of “found” poetry which poet Rosemary Waldrop came across in The Joy of Cooking and arranged as verse:
Abalone, like inkfish,
needs prodigious pounding
if it has died in a state
A Wentworth Celebration
Two Thousand and Nine was a busy year for me. In addition to The Taiwan Sketches and The Merrimack Holiday Pops March, I also completed this piece, which was commissioned by Bank of America/US Trust for their annual Private Banking Client appreciation event. The premier performance took place at Wentworth by the Sea in Rye, NH in December of 2009. It was performed by the New England Society Orchestra and featured soloists Rick Stepton on trombone and Paul Bourgelais on Guitar.
Table For One
This was a jazz ballad that I composed while I was still in college. We played this often in the quintet I had back then, but I hadn’t really done anything with it for more than 15 years before I decided to record it as a piano trio with strings.
Go Play Outside
Another piece from my college days, a free-form multi-movement piece for 3 saxophones and rhythm section. John Zorn’s Naked City album had just come out and at the time a lot of folks were enamored with his “far out” avant garde approach. This piece, built around a melody derived from the Lydian b7 scale, was my contribution to the conversation. The recording is from a 1991 performance at Lawrence & Alma Berk Hall.
Snow Dogs & Stale Apple Wine
This extended piece in two parts was recorded by a combo I was leading at the time. I don’t think we ever performed it publicly, but we did have the chance to record it in the studio.
One of my earliest pieces, this bossa nova tune dates back to 1987. It’s one of the few jazz pieces of mine that has been performed by combos other than the ones I’ve led.
The Vendetta Room
This rock minor blues started off as a counterpoint project. The title was taken from a scene in Gloria Vitanza Basile’s novel The Jackal Helix:
Several moments later, inside the great house, descending a stone stairwell, Vivaldi viewed the architectural jumble of the house-museum with a curator’s curiosity. Prodded unceremoniously through enormous bronze and wooden doors into a cavernous room below the first floor, Vivaldi’s curiosity heightened. What’s this? What’s this? Eight door exits? Eight stunningly crafted ecclesiastical throne chairs, in sad need of renovation stood in a circle under a massive iron chandelier containing eight tired niches for candle tapers under massive layered cobwebs and dust? What in damnation?
A vendetta room! The house was built around a vendetta room. The ritual eight of everything, especially doors, to facilitate escape – a medieval curiosity!
The afore-mentioned combo often closed out sets with this tune.
Medium tempo Funk.
Long Day’s Journey Into Connecticut
This tune has a bit of a Chic Corea Elektric Band feel too it – circa Eye of the Beholder. See if you can spot the 5/8 measure in the form.
This tune, composed in the summer of 1991, was one of my first experiments in a melody built largely on the ninth’s of the harmonizing chords. It has been performed as a Bossa Nova, but I think it works better as an “electronica” piece. Might sound good as a mystery/sci-fi show opening theme.
My daughter does a lot of painting, and although she has not had any formal training, she’s really quite good. I got inspired by some of her works and wrote this music to accompany a slideshow of her works.
The main section is in 15/8 time – divided more or less into a measure of 6/4 plus a measure of 3/8. The bridge shifts to 4/4, ending with a bar of 11/8, and a bar of 7/8 before returning to the main groove in 15/8.
One Reply to “Compositions”
Hi Mark, Your work is great. I am excited to be working with you on the music for my podcast.