My Summer Deadline

I have to write a piece for flute, horn, and percussion by early August. Effectively, by August 1. Let this be my written commitment to getting it done. I’ll get it done if it kills me. The creative process has me on my knees at the moment, but I know that as long as I hack and toil away at the notes, they will arrange themselves in some acceptable fashion on the page. Keep producing.


It’s been over three years since I last opined here. It is troubling to think about how much time has passed, since I don’t think I’ve been particularly productive as a musician since then. In that time, I’ve written essentially just two pieces and who knows how many 8-bar phrases of vapid melody that will never make it farther than the inside pages of my sketchbook.

The first piece was an andante for horn and piano, which may be my only mature work at this point, and the second exists more as a short suite: incidental music for a small play performed in Palo Alto.

Let’s hope this is all just par for the course in the evolution of a distracted artist. Anyway, this is what I look like now, after three years of withdrawal from the blogosphere:


To the longtime readers, I owe a listening recommendation. For an accessible modern composer, check out Allan Stephenson and his Concerto for English Horn.

There’s Something About a Fifth Symphony

There’s something about a composer’s fifth. Beethoven, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Bruckner, Mahler, Sibelius. All of their fifth symphonies have become somewhat defining in their legacy as composers and are the pieces we’re told to approach first if not yet familiar with their music. They remain some of the most performed symphonies in the repertoire, and they all boast daunting, large-scale forms. Continue reading

What Rachmaninoff Did for Russian Music

Sergei Rachmaninoff is remembered for the Paganini rhapsody, the two middle concertos, a prelude in C-sharp minor, and sometimes, a vocalise. The portrait painted by this “Best Of” compilation is of a man who procured steadfast melodies and unrelenting sentimentality till the day he died. Beyond these works too, you won’t find much that deviates from this pattern. Relatively speaking, he didn’t have eras or periods of stylistic evolution like, say, Stravinsky. Continue reading

Ravel, An Inspiration to Joel McNeely

Not everyone is familiar with the installment of the Star Wars franchise titled Shadows of the Empire, but that’s mostly because it was a video game and never made it to the big screen. Nonetheless, it deserves some recognition among video games for its use of a fully orchestrated, studio recorded, original soundtrack composed by film and TV composer Joel McNeely. Continue reading

The Magical Raised Fifth (or Flat Six)

There’s something special about the fifth scale degree of the tonic (major) key when raised a half-step.   Granted, there’s something special about every non-key pitch in a tonal system, but what really captivates me about the flat six is its affective power in a Romantic context.  Take a minute to listen to this excerpt: what do you feel when you hear the horn make its solo entrance above the sustained bassoon and strings? Continue reading

Rachmaninoff’s Fourth, the Original Version

The other day, I treated myself to the manuscript version of Rachmaninoff‘s fourth piano concerto, which I had never heard before.  This version, dated sometime in late August of 1926, is the original version of the piece that the composer premiered that year, before revising it twice to cement what we know now as his fourth concerto. Continue reading