in search of lost time

November 18, 2013

Has it really been nearly a month since I’ve updated? Why yes, it has.

I went to the SMT conference in Charlotte and was blown away by the papers. This fills me with resolve. Next year, there will not be an annual rejection – next year, I will get in. I figured out a good approach for my current research (more on that once I get a couple of things nailed down), and this should work well with the direction of SMT.

Lots of good pedagogy stuff as well; that was the main reason I went. Also, because I livetweeted a couple of sessions, the number of Twitter followers I have jumped substantially. This is making me think about pedagogical applications of social media. We’re on the cusp of rewriting the theory curriculum in toto at UMM, and I want to make it one that implements all manner of tech (but not just because we like shiny new gizmos – everything must serve a larger pedagogical purpose).

The Great Speckled Variants are going well; I am meeting with a guitarist this week to see how idiomatic the writing is. I fully expect to do a lot of editing on this, but it’s worth it to get it right.

I’m sure both of you are disappointed by this, but I just haven’t been compelled to put up much in the way of political postings. I still follow it, but until next year’s election season begins in earnest (and until the Minnesota State Legislature is back in session), there’s just not a whole lot of the nuts-and-bolts policy stuff that interests me. Oh, sure, there’s the ACA and its computer glitches, but I am stupefied that people are upset that they might be getting better insurance. For 97%* of us, that means cheaper.

That’s all for now. Got some plans for the new year that involve expanding this website. More bulletins as events warrant.

*source: here

WF

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great speckled goldberg

October 22, 2013

(Does anyone blog anymore?)

This ought to be fun.

Since I don’t have any immediate compositional projects (the last three were the opera Bedtime Story, Vegas Vespers, and the solo violin suite pARTita), I decided to stretch out a little bit and challenge myself to write for instruments for which I have not yet written. The first fruits of this project have already appeared in the form of Small Movements for a Big Harp, written with the much-appreciated input of Shana Norton. So on to the next thing…but first, some background:

The above video is Roy Acuff singing “The Great Speckled Bird.” It’s fairly standard country-gospel, and the tune is quite simple. “The Great Speckled Bird” also happens to be my father’s favorite song.

I’m not going to lie: My father and I are very different people. It’s not always been an easy relationship, for either of us. At this point in our lives, I doubt there is anything either of us could say that would change the other’s mind on a point of disagreement – and there are plenty of points of disagreement. (Most kids nearly come to blows with their fathers over issues of a car, or of money, or of respect; the only time I nearly swung at the old man was during a “discussion” about whether Lt. Col. Oliver North was a hero who deserved the thanks and praise of a grateful nation or a traitor who should face the proscribed punishment for treason swiftly and certainly. Guess which side I was on!)

I don’t want Dad to stop being cantankerous, conservative, and stuck in his ways. It’s part of his charm at this point, and he’s nearly 79. He’s earned the right to be darn well whatever he wants to be, and we’ll love him and respect his choices no matter what. But in recent years, as we’ve both aged, I would like to think we’re at a point where none of that matters anymore. So, while I can, I want to do something nice for him.

Let’s connect the two threads: I want to write something for an instrument that will make me grow as a composer, and I want to honor my father in some way.

Re-enter “The Great Speckled Bird.”

I have decided to write a set of variations on “The Great Speckled Bird” for solo guitar. I’ll be working with Jim Flegel, our guitar professor, and hopefully I can get it performed at some point in the next year. When it’s all said and done, I want to get a nice bound copy of the score and a good clean recording, and give them to Dad. He built a home, a business, a farm, a family, a church, and he did it all without complaint. He deserves a little gratitude from his youngest son.

So watch this space and my Facebook page for updates on the piece.

WF


thou good and faithful servant

October 9, 2013

This day is always a little tough for me.

A flashback: October 9, 1982. I am nine years old.

It’s a Saturday, and my sister Betsy is getting married. At the ceremony, she’s asked my maternal grandfather to give a short prayer. Grandpa (born Feb. 13, 1912) was a preacher for years, so this isn’t a big deal for him, yet he’s struggling. He’s clearly emotionally overwhelmed by his oldest granddaughter getting married. This was a side of Grandpa I had never seen. Grandpa was an extremely funny man, clever but never biting. And how he loved his grandchildren. (Aside to any fellow grandkids reading: Remember “Caught in a trap and you can’t get out!”?) The man taught himself enough Greek to understand his beloved Bible better. He was a voracious reader. He was also a fantastic musician, though he couldn’t read a note. Until a farming-related accident (and for the record, I don’t think there’s a man born before 1935 in that family with all his fingers), he could play fiddle, guitar, banjo, piano, and organ by ear. And we’re not just talking picking out melodies – the man had chops. My cousin Doug has restored his old fiddle. He could sing – oh how that man could sing. As much as he was known for being a preacher, he was probably known more for being a song leader. In tune, in good tempo, and it stayed there; this is no mean feat for a mostly-untrained a capella country church. So when I heard him sobbing a little during his prayer, it affected me deeply, though I didn’t realize it at the time.

So that’s just one day. Why does it still resonate?

Soon thereafter, Grandpa took ill. He’d had diabetes, but around late December 1982/early January 1983 it turned much, much worse. For ten months, I watched him deteriorate, his once-sharp mind clouded with painkillers and kidney failure, his round face thinning out, his robust voice now barely more than a whisper.

We were at church on a Sunday morning when my uncle Lowell came in (Mom and her sister Patsy were already at Grandpa’s bedside). Lowell walked to the pew where Grandpa’s sister Virginia (my beloved Aunt Ginny, the only other liberal in the family!) was sitting. He whispered something to her, and she immediately began crying and walked out with Lowell.

Grandpa – David Alvalee Williams – passed away a few minutes later.

The date of his passing?

October 9, 1983.

One year to the day.

It’s been thirty years. He’d be 101 now.

I still miss him.

WF


we sing from the diaphragm a lot

October 5, 2013

So’s the missus and I are at the Perkins restaurant in Alexandria, MN for a post-movie dinner (the movie was Gravity; short review: SEE THIS MOVIE ON THE LARGEST SCREEN POSSIBLE), and I check Facebook and see this message:

“Do you know what’s fun? Casting your opera is fun.”

I haven’t stopped smiling. Bedtime Story, my Very Short Opera, is going to be performed by North American New Opera Workshop, probably in late March 2014.

WF


haven’t forgotten

August 25, 2013

It’s just a crazy time. Classes start this week. I’ll finish my peer review post at some point, I promise.

WF


Vegas Vespers

August 7, 2013

Here’s a video of the premiere of my trombone quartet entitled Vegas Vespers, performed by the Las Vegas Trombone Company (Nathan Tanouye, Hitomi Shoji, David Philippus, Mike Dobranski). This may be the single best performance of one of my works.

The trip was fantastic. Saw some great scenery, got to see some old friends, and checked off two more states (we’re up to 43).

WF


road trip

July 13, 2013

So this past week the missus and I set off (with the in-laws) for the Black Hills and Devils Tower. We took two days to get out there, stopping the first night in Mitchell, SD, home of the Mitchell Corn Palace (as well as the home of George McGovern). Long-time readers will know that I’ve done a musical “portrait,” albeit tongue-in-cheek, of the Corn Palace as part of my work Next Exit. The building is actually quite fascinating.

Very direct - tells you exactly what it is upfront.

Very direct – tells you exactly what it is upfront.

Go to their website and read about the artworks.

From there (after a brief stop at the tourist trap known as Wall Drug), it was out to a cabin at the Powder House Lodge in Keystone, SD. If you ever need a place to stay in the Black Hills, I highly recommend this place. This was the view from our cabin:

In two days, I spent more time on this porch than on my own front porch the first 17 years of my life.

In two days, I spent more time on this porch than on my own front porch the first 17 years of my life.


I haven’t been this relaxed in ages.

The first full day in the Black Hills meant monuments. We went first to Mount Rushmore, and I cannot overstate the power and majesty of this sculpture. The attached picture does not do it justice. (I chose this picture so you could get a sense of the scale of the thing.)

And I for one welcome our new giant stone president overlords.

And I for one welcome our new giant stone president overlords.

I also recommend having some of Thomas Jefferson’s ice cream (made from his recipe, the first ice cream recipe in the US) at the cafĂ©. Very creamy, very sweet, not at all what you’d expect.

I wanted to order it "Hemings style," which meant adding a nice caramel sauce that no one would ever mention again.

I wanted to order it “Hemings style,” which meant adding a nice caramel sauce that no one would ever mention again.

From there, it was off to the Crazy Horse Memorial. I have a larger post on that one; for now, here’s a picture.

Crazy sculptor, too.

Crazy sculptor, too.

Day two meant checking off states 40 and 41, as we went to Devils Tower in Wyoming and then clipped the far southeastern corner of Montana. I had seen this movie many times, of course, but I was caught off-guard by the beauty of the real deal. See for yourself.

G5-A5-F5-F4-C5 (fermata).

G5-A5-F5-F4-C5 (fermata).

Of course, no trip to Devils Tower is complete without mentioning the Prairie Dog Town.

World's largest game of Whack-a-Mole, really.

World’s largest game of Whack-a-Mole, really.

After one more night in that heavenly cabin, we set out for home via the Badlands. The panoramic photo below gives you a sense – just barely – of this area, so famous in western American history.

That first step's a doozy.

That first step’s a doozy.

The closest I ever got to the rim was about 6 – 8 inches; at that point, I had to pull myself back. It’s a long way down.

This little excursion came at the best possible time. We are back home now, and my life has returned to composing, working on this book chapter, and planning next semester’s courses. I am refreshed and excited about what the future holds again.

WF