On Publishing (Early Days)

A Dream Made Real! 

A Dream Made Real! 

For a young composer, one of the dreams you have is to see your name on a piece of professionally published music—well, at least for me. I had that dream realized earlier this year, when I got to see "Will the Rain Fall Down?" in print from Carl Fischer. 

It's an interesting phenomenon that I'm sure has all sorts of parallels for people in other professions—when you finally get that dream realized, but you've sort of seen it coming (just through the process of signing papers and discussing it with those people to whom you are infinitely grateful for making it real) your next question is... "well, what next?"

I'm excited to say that I'm fairly certain my relationship with Carl Fischer is going to continue into next year's publishing cycle—thought I can't speak with any real authority on that yet. Additionally, "Io Vivat," in a TTBB voicing, is coming out very soon through Hal Leonard and Mark Foster Music. All of these publishers have been an integral part of the industry far longer than I've been alive, and it's a true honor to enter into the professional community in this small way.

The publishing industry, by its nature, has to serve the broadest population possible in order to continue to be viable. This is great news for me, as an emerging composer, because it means I'll have the opportunity to enter new areas of the country where my music hasn't been heard before (fingers crossed). With this, I hope I can meet more people and discover what they need for their ensembles. Do directors need more quality SAB music? More TB? Different ranges to define them? How about the professional and collegiate chorus community? Is there a market for contemporary texts based on Greek and Roman myths set in a modal, mixed-meter style? Well, probably not—but I wrote it anyway, ha.

Luckily, all that music has a home on MusicSpoke.com, which, in my humble opinion, is the best distributor for those off-the-beaten-path contemporary choral works. For example, after "Journeyman's Song" was turned down by multiple traditional publishers for reasonable reasons—difficult ranges, tricky leaps and melodies, etc.—it was welcomed with open arms to MusicSpoke. It's currently being performed at SWACDA and NCACDA honor choirs, and lives on as one of my most popular works. So everything has a home, and that's wonderful. 

The point is, I'm really excited to see where things go. I'll continue to make my music available as widely as possible, and hopefully, some people out there will want to sing it.

I Know It's Been Almost a Year...

... since my last blog, but don't worry, I'm not dead or unhappy or anything. I finished my Master's Degree, got married (huzzah!) and successfully applied to Florida State University to begin my PhD in the fall. Been busy. :) 

All this to say, I am still very much composing, but the website has fallen behind a bit. Be on the lookout for changes and updates on the horizon! And check out my page on MusicSpoke for even *more* music than there currently is on here! 

-BA 7/3

Shout-Out: Find Your Forte Podcast

Earlier this year, I appeared on the Find Your Forte Podcast with Ryan Guth. Ryan is a choral entrepreneur and recently accepted the position of Head Choir Director at Cibola HS in New Mexico. Ryan is a great director and is working hard to establish an online supportive community that he calls "Choir Nation." Today's episode of the Find Your Forte podcast features Kelly Truax, who's an expert in the changing MS boy's voice. The podcast is excellent, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who has the privilege of working with young men in the choral classroom. Kelly was also kind enough to give me a shout-out! You can listen to both podcasts below, or they're available wherever you find your podcasts. 

Kelly's Episode: 


My Episode:


Toku-Toku (Live)

From the Moxi Theatre, UNC Composer's Concert. Featuring Ashley Driscoll (piano), Tim Klingler, Will Ecker, David Klement, and myself. Not bad for only having one 20-minute rehearsal! 

Toku-Toku is written in flex-voicing for MS or HS Men's Choir. It's companion piece is Aki No Kaze, and a 3rd song for women's choir, to complete the set, is in progress. 


The Moment: 2016 Begins

As 2015 winds down and 2016 begins, there are so many things to be excited about! My fiancé,  Ryan, is officially halfway through his Master's Degree. We've just finished our two-week vacation, where we visited both his family in New Mexico and mine in Texas. I'm happy to report that I gained nearly ten pounds eating a brand new diet I invented which consists mainly of tamales, chicken fried steak, and sweet tea, and now have a clear fitness goal for 2016. See how fun it is to look on the bright side?

Luckily, I have a ton of professional activities to be excited about in the coming year as well. 

  • I have been informed that I Will Run has been acknowledged by the committee for the 2015 Raymond S. Brock Student Composition Competition as an honorable mention. Even better, I've been invited to the Eastern ACDA Convention in Boston to participate in a Masterclass with Steven Stucky and Steven Sametz, two incredible composers, where I Will Run will receive a reading by the professional chorus C4. It's an unbelievable opportunity, and I cannot wait--it almost makes me excited about going to Boston in February, ha! The ACDA Eastern Division conference will be right before Valentine's Day. Let me know if you'll be there and would like to grab coffee--I can never get enough!
  • I also submitted an entry to the Southwest ACDA Student Conducting Competition, and was chosen as a semi-finalist! So in March, I'll head to Kansas City, Missouri to do some hardcore arm-flapping in front of a panel of judges. Hopefully my competitive spirit will drive me to win, but if not, I'm excited to get the chance to go to two ACDA conventions in less than 30 days. Like I said earlier, let me know if you'll be there and want to get together
  • In a few weeks, I'll have my final rehearsal and recording session with UNC Fresh Ink, the choir I've assembled and rehearsed (and taken the liberty of naming) to record demos of a handful of my works. We've had only three rehearsals, but they sound phenomenal, and in the end I'll have demo recordings of the following pieces to put up: 
  • I'm stoked to be continuing with my formal studies in voice and composition this semester, as I join those studios at UNCO. I'll also continue to study conducting as well, which I love. (For the record, no regrets about my decision to go back to school. Ba-dah-bah-bah-bah... I'm lovin' it.)
  • The Denver Gay Men's Chorus, an ensemble filled with personal friends, will premiere my arrangement of "Hold On" from The Secret Garden this season. This song is near and dear to my heart, and I arranged it specifically with DGMC in mind. While it's not currently available for wide purchasing due to copyright reasons, contact me and I can set you up with the necessary information to perform it. 
  • News will be coming soon about a new app I'm developing with some students at UNCO--it's a little down the road, but hopefully it's something teachers can use to supplement their rhythm-reading in class. For various reasons, I have to keep it fairly under wraps for now, but it's cool stuff.
  • I'm updating my website: new "proof scores" to protect against piracy (arrr!) and pictures coming soon! 
  •  I have a ton of new works coming down the pipeline at various stages of completion as well. I don't normally do this, but here's a little snippet of information about the ones I'm confident will eventually be finished.
    • House of the Rising Sun: a very dark arrangement of the tune, featuring SATB divisi a cappella, soprano soloist, and djembe. Additional words by me (in both English and Louisiana Creole) heighten the drama and elaborate on the story. Very excited about this one. 
    • Go Lovely Rose: Energetic, mixed-meter, with lots of independent lines--this one I'm approaching as another contemporary madrigal. Lots of fun, and I think a nice alternative to the traditional settings you hear of the text, which--while nice--are invariably slow, "pretty" numbers.
    • Four White Horses: It's been in the works for awhile now, but I'm convinced that 2016 is the year that I finish my mega-crazy arrangement of this caribbean folksong. I'm shooting for something akin to Ryan Cayabyab's incredible "Da Coconut Nut" or Paul Rardin's "Hol' You Han'," though we'll see if I can even come close to matching those awesome pieces. 
    • Let America Be America Again: with an incredible text by Langston Hughes, this piece is quickly evolving into something very unique for me. First off, it's a longer work, but secondly, it's likely going to be my first fully-orchestrated score. My only hope is to do this poem justice. 
    • Phenomenal Woman: if you need some girl-power, go read this poem by Maya Angelou. My setting is gospel choir to the max, and trust me, you're going to love it. 
    • Prayer of St. Francis: this piece will combine my own lamentation text with the original French version of the famous prayer, "Lord, make me and instrument of thy piece." I began work on it the night of the Paris attacks, and hope that it will serve as a fitting tribute to the memory of those victims. 
    • anyone lived in a pretty how town: I'm so excited to finally be setting this text by EE Cummings (the name should be capitalized, the poems should not, by the way) for SATB Choir and piano. Stylistically, it's somewhat similar to Harry Somer's classic setting of "Feller From Fortune," but with a lot more mixed-meter and a little more story.
    • Axis Mundi: the title of my song-cycle for women's chorus has finally been settled upon! 2-3 more pieces are currently in the works for the cycle, including a setting of Wendell Berry's "The Peace of Wild Things." Hopefully it will be done before the end of the year. 

Thanks so much to all those out there who continue to support me as a composer. To close this post (since it's likely to be the last one for awhile as the semester winds up), I thought I'd share with you the poem I've written as the preface to "The Moment," (formerly "A Child's Meditation" and "Where the Sidewalk Ends"). It's fitting as I turn the page into a new year, with so much to look forward to. 


I just had the most incredible weekend! As I wrote earlier, I had the honor of Dr. Patrick Freer selecting one of my favorite compositions, Journeyman's Songas part of the program for the 2015 Florida ACDA Male Honor Choir. 

I sent a packet of my music to Dr. Freer this past summer as part of my push to get things "out there" and performed more. He sent me a very nice email saying that he'd like to program the piece: I was shocked, but quite happy! I was able to do a GoFundMe campaign to attend my first major premiere (thank you to all my friends and family who contributed!), and I've just returned home. Here are some takeaways from the trip: 

  • No surprise here, but there are some seriously incredible choirs down in Florida. I heard a mind-blowing performance by the West Orange HS Choir that stood out as particularly exceptional: they flawlessly sang Haydn with the same enthusiasm and energy as with Sten Kållman's wonderful Berusa Er.
  • Networking is a challenging but necessary task. I met several fantastic educators and directors down in Florida, and also had the pleasure to meet the composer of an awesome men's piece that was on the same program as Journeyman's Song. Check out Ryan Main
  • It's incredible to be there for the premiere of a work. The piece was graciously received, and I had the opportunity to speak first-hand to many of the young men who sang it so well. Several of them were nice enough to say that it was their favorite piece on the program, and that it was really meaningful for them. I'm most proud of this fact: Journeyman's Song doesn't "talk down" to its singers, and it just supports my knowledge that middle schoolers are hungry to sing music that expresses complicated and/or intense emotions. It's part of why I'm so interested in writing quality music for that age group. I love a good pirate song as much as anybody, but they are capable of so much more. 
  • Thanks to Dr. Freer's wonderful direction, I was able to hear Journeyman's Song for the first time outside my own head. In doing so, I learned a few things to include in the future for my scores, in particular:
    • If the piece might be interpreted with rubato but you don't want that, you have to explicitly say so. Thankfully I was there to make the tempi very clear to the choir, and to Dr. Freer's credit, he was flexible and gracious to make the change and have the piece sound the way I wanted.
    • It's helpful to perhaps include conducting gesture indications if it's not clear (Journeyman's Song is written in 3/4 for ease of reading by MS students, but should be conducted in 1). 
    • For a piece that has a countermelody instead of a harmony part, it should be indicated that the countermelody be sung with a more soloistic feel (though I of course advocate that 99% of all lines should be sung melodically, even as part of a standard chorale texture!) 
    • It might be helpful to include suggestions on microphrasing (dynamic swells, etc.), though I am also afraid that it leaves out room for interpretation if you overmark your scores. I tend to trust that the directors who choose my pieces will make intelligent decisions with regard to phrasing, just like Dr. Freer. 
    • All these changes have been made to the official score for Journeyman's Song, so future choirs can benefit from the experience. This is a major benefit to being self-published! 

With the exception of the fact that I missed my return flight (Whoops! Turns out getting up at 5 AM to get to the airport is harder than it sounds) this was a perfect trip. The weather in Florida was a nice change from the increasingly chilly temperatures we're getting in Colorado, and musically, it was just fantastic. I hope I get to go back to Florida very soon to work again! 

Grad School Life (or Lack Thereof)

Life brings with it new challenges almost every day. My biggest challenge of recent memory was the decision to go back to school to pursue my Master's Degree. As of today, I have been studying for 5 weeks--and it's unbelievable how quickly that has flown by. 

Here then, are some thoughts on grad school, from a beginner: 

  • I'm just as busy as I was teaching, only now, if I mess up, I'm really the only one affected by it (rather than before, when it was several hundred young and vulnerable people). 
  • I remember how easily I overextend myself.
  • I spend 90% of my waking time working very hard so that I can spend 10% of my time playing video games without feeling guilty. 
  • A year ago I broke up with caffeine. 3 weeks ago I asked it to take me back.
  • There is so little time to do "outside projects." I have only completed one new piece since starting school, but I have about 10 new sketches of ideas. 
  • Having dogs is a great way to meet people. 
  • My advice: if you and your significant other are both in graduate school at the same time, be prepared to never see them, unless you schedule time. 
  • Remember having money? That was nice, wasn't it?
  • Try as I might, even if I go fullscreen, I can't see my entire calendar in a single view. This is very, very depressing.
  • I am learning an incredible amount from my professors. 
  • I am surrounded by extremely talented musicians. 
  • I am going to be so much better off having done this.

Playing by the Book

So, for the past several years, I'll admit, I've occasionally skirted the edge of legality in a handful of my compositions. Often, I've found myself setting texts without permission, hoping (later on) to obtain it. Most of the time, I've been successful. But not always. And so, I've made a conscious effort in the past several months to get myself in the habit of "playing by the book." Turns out though, playing by the book can be an extremely frustrating experience. 

For example: I recently set a text by a very well-known poet, without first asking for permission (my mistake). I did this because I knew this poet's estate was notoriously stingy with granting rights, and I wanted to show them that the setting I composed would honor the poet's life and legacy. Upon requesting permission, with a proof copy of the setting, I was promptly told that by even creating this arrangement (not even distributing it) that I was in violation of copyright law and should desist immediately or risk legal action. 

Alright, lesson learned. I re-set the music with a new text (my own) and swore off that poet, sadly, forever. 

So the solution is to just always ask permission before setting a text, correct? 

Nope. In pursuit of permissions to set a variety of other texts, I have found a huge discrepancy in the amount of work that poets, their estates, and their publishers want before granting permission. Some want you to ask permission before setting anything. Some want you to already have a music publisher lined up, with an estimated run of the initial printing. I've encountered every other possible "stopping point" on this spectrum as well. 

The problem is that the majority of music publishers, when receiving unsolicited manuscripts for consideration, require permission of the poet. 

So what's a new composer to do? Do I create a setting of a text without asking permission, at the risk of later being told I don't have permission, thereby wasting a huge amount of time? Or do I always ask permission first, at the risk of being told "you need to have a publisher first?" How does one get a publisher for a piece that hasn't been written yet? 

All this to say, the lack of standardization across the industry is surely what has led so many composers to only set works that are in the public domain. This is a huge problem, because it means that a huge chunk of contemporary poetry is, by and large, unavailable for musical setting. If we only set texts that have already been set a thousand times over, or texts that don't speak to us as contemporary singers and audiences, our art will eventually flounder. 

I'm sure if I were an "established" composer with a publishing company behind me, a lot of these problems wouldn't be so troubling. Yet the extreme difficulty getting permission to set texts is also the reason that many composers have trouble breaking into the industry, I'm convinced. 

Artists, of all kinds, need communities and doors to be open to their work. I've encountered a lot of doors that seem to have several locks on them of late. Anybody have the keys? 

Oh My God, It's a Duck!

Most babies are cute. They're a little useless, but they provide hours of entertainment and bring fulfillment and joy to the people who are charged with their care. I want a cute little baby someday.

Now, with that said... not all babies are cute. 

On the rarest of occasions, you peer over into the stroller and see what can only be described as a tiny eggplantine creature, purple skin (not feathers!), with two different sizes of googly eyes glued onto the opposite sides of its head, its pringles-shaped lips quacking back at you like mallard who did NOT get as much bread as he wanted at the lake that day. And in that moment you have to stifle the urge to go: "Oh my God, it's a duck!"

Why can't you say that? Because it would be rude. Nobody, in their right mind, is ever going to tell another human that their baby is a duck, even if everyone can clearly see that it's a duck. The fact is, that parent, simply by virtue of being its parent, loves that duck. That parent thinks that the duck's purple skin is beautiful, and finds it endearing that it can't look at anything straight on because it has the optical configuration of a walleyed pike. Whether that parent made that thing from scratch or adopted it as its own, the duck is its child, and that is the end of the discussion. 

(By the way, that's wonderful! Love and respect for all life on earth is a great and noble virtue, and there is nothing more sad than a parent who doesn't love their child.)

But what happens when that duck goes out into the world? I know we'd like to assume that every duck finds its place, but the fact is, there are people in this world who simply will have nothing to do with that duck. And fair enough, I suppose. When you're looking for a friend or a mate, there are a lot of choices out there, and people want to make the best one. Life is short--why waste your time on a duck? So that duck goes about its life, living lonely and sad, with no one to talk to. That duck's parent knows it's an amazing duck, but yeah, at this point, we've all pretty much accepted that it's a duck. Eventually you can't lie to yourself anymore. The hope is always there though, that somewhere out there, there will be someone who sees that duck and goes that's the one for me. It can happen! It's just... pretty rare. 

Now, don't freak out and try to draw conclusions that aren't there, because we're not really talking about people here. We're talking about compositions. Musical ones, specifically. 

I recently looked at a new piece by a composer who's struggling to get a work performed. I won't name them here, because it would be really unfair, especially after everything I just said about ducks. And to be fair, "the piece" that they've written is probably not a true duck (more on that later). But it does have some definite issues. 

1) It's way too hard for 99% of choirs out there today
2) Even for those who could do it, it's not terribly idiomatic, so it would feel more like an exercise than real music making. 

The problem is, he's had a hard time getting a straight answer out of anybody about this. Which is where I have a huge problem.

Long story short: we need to start telling composers that their works are ducks. Tell them about their terrifying children, and tell them why they're so terrifying. Because the good news is, unlike with so many parents and their children, we as composers get to make as many works of art as we can, and we expect them to get better over time! But we can only do that if we get thoughtful, reasoned critiques from people whose opinions we respect. I know it's exhausting: I just reviewed a different 8-minute work for someone, and even just giving it the once-over is tiring. But if we as artists (singers, composers, conductors) are going to further our craft, we absolutely depend on each other for it. 

I'll start. Here's my biggest "duck." It's called Assurance, and there are several things about it:


  • The text by William Stafford. Amazing. Too bad I can't take credit and the permission to set at this point has expired. Whoops.

  • The unfolding of parts in m 2-4. 

  • Love the way that key change sounds in measure 16!

  • Great "crunchy" bits in the midsection, (measure 22, etc)

  • Nice and challenging for a very advanced choir! 


  • An 8-part split (much less marketable for non-collegiate groups)

  • Mixed meter (almost impossible to conduct)

  • Confusing entrances (very hard to count)

  • Poorly written counterpoint

  • WHAT is that key change in measure 16?!

  • Okay, how many modulations are we going to have? 

  • Okay, measure 45 is just stupid. Who writes that?

  • Also, a 3-part bass split in measure 49? One of those is a LOW C? Only Rachmaninov is allowed to do that. 

  • Choir is constantly having to think intervallically to navigate the multitude of tonal centers with no support. Also, there are multiple times where a passage repeats, but in a different key, so the choir can't use prior knowledge and essentially has to re-learn another section. 

  • Phrases are also extremely long and sustained, which means that having to deal with extremely complicated tonal and occasional rhythmic issues, they also can't breathe naturally while they do it. 

Any one of these cons by themselves may not be a huge deal. But if you put them together, it's obvious what you have. 

One final observation: many of the "Pros" are the same thing as "Cons," just viewed in a different light. So maybe someday someone will program Assurance... but I'm not holding my breath. In the meantime, try to take this as a good-faith gesture: if you ask for my critique, from now on, you'll get it. There's not much else I can do to fix this issue!

What's Love Got to do With it?

Every artist has that little naggy feeling in the back of their mind every time they create something:

This sucks.
You suck.
Stop sucking. 

So what do you do with that feeling? You have to shut it down and ignore it. At least partially. The best advice I can give you is to listen to "Die Vampire, Die" from one of my favorite musicals, [Title of Show] (warning: explicit language).

But even after you've decided to buckle down and just make that art, sometimes you still have those weird little thoughts creep in unexpectedly--and about the dumbest things. I recently finished writing a Christmas carol with lyrics by Louisa May Alcott (find it in "High School" works). It's intentionally modal in the first section, and I wrote in lots of parallel fifths to reinforce that. Now, I write with parallel fifths and octaves all the time, because I like the way they sound. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I still see my undergraduate theory professor marking up all my scores with red pen: WRONG!

I know that there's a lot of precedent in the 20th century for composers deliberately writing parallelism into their music. I also know that the "rule" of parallel fifths was really just a reaction to the distinct sound of plainchant. Still, somewhere along the way, these ideas just get stuck in my mind somehow.

In the end, I think the only correct answer, if you trust yourself and your craft, is to go "Do I like the way that sounds?" If the answer is unequivocally and undeniably "yes," then you shouldn't change it. 

Consonant Alignment

As choir directors, we talk a lot about "vowel alignment," but today I want to discuss alignment of a different kind: that on the printed page. 

One of the interesting things that I learned from Dr. James Jordan during his clinic earlier this week (which was such a small detail that I had never even noticed it) is that, in original chant notation, the notation of the neumes (notes) line up with the vowel of the Latin text, not the consonant. In this way, it helps the singer visually identify that the vowel is what carries the sound, and that the consonants should be "dropped in," not over-emphasized. This is good vocal technique, and we all know it, but I never realized how helpful that could be until we began singing chant together. Small though it may be, it makes a difference! Take a look at the example below. 

Click the image to access the video this was taken, which shows that this is a consistent standard of chant notation.

Click the image to access the video this was taken, which shows that this is a consistent standard of chant notation.

Now, this got me thinking about something about something I've been pretty adamant about in my own notation for some time now, which is where to place the consonants in multi-syllable words. For example, in Tonic of Wildness, mm. 13-15: 

Notice how the word "under" is notated, with the "n" on the second syllable, rather than the first. In traditional notation, you would see it like this: 

... which may be easier to read, but to my mind, when I see "un-der," it makes me (as a singer) subconsciously want to close to the "n" consonant. In fact, when I have explained how we "sing on the vowel" to my own students, I have had multiple ask me: "Then why is it written like that?" To which I am forced to reply: "That's just the way it's done." 

Well, not in my house. To make my music easier to sing on the vowel, I consistently notate my lyrics ending on a vowel when at all possible. 


Now, this can sometimes get a little hairy, admittedly, like in this case from Where the Sidewalk Ends, (now "The Moment") mm. 21-22, where the word "asphalt" looks like a nasty consonant-cluster. But would you really like your kids to go to the "s" early on the word "asphalt?" Think about it. 


Sometimes I even take it further, like in Prayers of Steel, mm. 2-4:

You can see that the word "anvil" has been re-aligned, as has already been explained: but I've also extended the word "God" to not even include the "d" until the cutoff. In this case, it's because I explicitly want a strong shadow vowel on the cutoff. But is it appropriate in other places? 

For example, today I'm working on a setting of Maya Angelou's "Caged Bird," and there is a passage like this: 

Following my own logic, it should say "free-do-----(m)."
In all honesty, I would prefer to notate it that way. But just like the "transposition/concert pitch" issue, or the fact that (by and large) we still notate rhythms using confusing time signatures like 3/8 and 6/8 instead of the far more logical system provided by Carl Orff (see right), I'm afraid that some notational headaches may be here to stay. If we begin to "give in" to all the pressures to re-notate things so that they are "easier to read" we may have a huge mess on our hands, and then no one will perform our music.

Still, if anybody wants to start a revolution... you know where to find me. 

Sing We, and Chant it?

I just had the immense pleasure of attending the Colorado ACDA convention up in Denver for another year. This was my third time attending, and I continue to be amazed by how much there is to take away. This year's session leaders included the phenomenal Drs. James Jordan and Tony Guzmán, along with several other wonderful educators from right here in Colorado. 

Because I see myself equally as a conductor and composer, my brain at these conventions is sometimes a little scattered. I'll often be simultaneously looking for new texts to set, new composers whose work is unique and interesting, networking (something I recognize as a necessary evil), and any new thoughts that I can impart into my teaching and writing.

One of the biggest things that I took away from this year's convention; however, was Dr. Jordan's emphasis on Chant as the basic DNA of what we (who are steeped in the western european art music tradition) do as singers. As the beginning of our recorded musical history--with the exception of a small number of works from antiquity--Chant's emphasis on text centricity and melodic construction has informed everything we do as choral artists.

I'm often asked what sort of "style" my works fit into, and I find I have a hard time putting that down. There are certainly "tricks" that I employ often, but I think if you were to compare several of my works, the one consistent unifying trait (I hope) you would find is that the text drives the setting. Whether it be the romantic lines of La Vita Nuova, the raucous multimeter of Io Vivat, or the immensely personal and autobiographical poetic vignettes of Susurrations, the text is the starting point for almost all of my work. This is often why many of my works are through-composed, as well: if the text doesn't repeat, I need a pretty good reason to include an exact replica of musical material as well. 

Come to think of it, this may also be why I'm equally drawn to folk music and musical theatre. While the chord structures underneath Patty Griffin's music, for example, certainly aren't revolutionary, she has a unique and beautiful gift for crafting melodies that suit the words perfectly. Stephen Sondheim, by contrast, has been critiqued for not writing "hummable melodies," (garbagein. my. opinion.) but his works always take us on a journey from beginning to end, a lesson he learned from Oscar Hammerstein. Chant embodies each of these traits, in its own way, and I have no doubt it will continue to influence my art as I continue to grow as a conductor and composer. 

By the way, I had written it long before attending this year's session, but here is a chant of my own, called "Make the Earth Your Companion," which is to be part of my forthcoming choral song cycle for women's chorus. The phenomenal meditative text is by J. Patrick Lewis.


The answer was "Steen," by the way. And I made another mistake: 54 down was "I won," not "I win." 

The answer was "Steen," by the way. And I made another mistake: 54 down was "I won," not "I win." 

I just recently started doing crossword puzzles. I have a lot of fond memories from growing up, sitting around with my grandfather and my dad trying to solve one together. We must have killed hours that way, (with me being easily the least helpful person in the world)  trying to remember the order of the letters in the Greek alphabet or who the 15th President was without cheating. 

I occasionally tried them by myself, but always found them to be too frustrated for my mind to handle. Not too long ago; though, I discovered the NY Times has an app where you can do their crosswords. Of course, me being a (certified) non-genius, I can only do the easy ones so far. 

Of course, being the type of person I am, I can't help but see a lot of parallels between doing these puzzles and composing--at least for me. Without any thought to order, here's a few of them:

  • The answers you put down first influence and limit the choices you have later. 
  • You will sometimes (rarely, the better you get) have to cheat and look something up.  
  • Often times, you'll have a problem, get absolutely stuck, and have to come back to it three or four times--sometimes days or weeks apart--before you finally get the answer. You just go on to another one in the meantime. 
  • When you finish, you yourself are the person who is the most proud.  
  • Very often, you'll think you're done, only to find out that you have made several egregious errors: some of them are just typos--but most of them are because you were just plain wrong. 
  • Most often, you will need to spend a great deal of time alone to finish.
  • You will experience 20 moments where it is a struggle to finish for every 1 where you breeze through easily. 
  • The more you do it, the easier it gets. Then you take it to the "next level," and it seems impossible all over again. 
  • You will acquire a unique and otherwise useless vocabulary which can be used as a "bag of tricks" to help you out of a bind or move you towards completion faster. 
  • You are uniquely aware of how many people are out there who are so much better  at this than you. Depending on your mood, you will either look at these geniuses with envy or awe. 

I'm sure there are more (there always is, with everything, isn't there?) but you'll have to excuse me: it's late and I think I can squeeze in one more before I fall asleep. It's better than Candy Crush, right?