Two Exciting Opportunities–My Record: 1-1

Posted by AJ Harbison at 10:47 pm

I wanted to give you all a brief update on the two exciting opportunities I wrote about two weeks ago, one involving a string quartet from Arizona interested in my piece P.S.Q. and the other involving starting a choir at my church.

Unfortunately, the leadership of the church wasn’t interested in the choir concept I’d come up with and didn’t think it fit with their vision and direction, so there went that idea. However, I’ve had much better success with Quartet Sabaku. My contact in the group told me that they read through the first movement (based on Maroon 5′s song “Harder To Breathe”) and loved it, but they were really busy and were hoping to finalize next season’s repertoire in a few months. So that was a great start, if nothing concrete. But I got another email from her on Monday and she informed me that they were going to be using my piece for an educational workshop on April 17th. I’m not sure exactly what the workshop is about, but that was rather exciting in and of itself–and seems to up the chances of landing the piece in their next performing season. I’ll keep you posted on further developments!


"Haydn Go Seek"

Posted by AJ Harbison at 5:35 am

I was reminded again by this article a few days ago that the bicentennial of Franz Josef Haydn’s death is coming up this May–he died May 31st, 1809. (The article, written by Fred Sanders, appeared on Scriptorium Daily, the blog of Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute.) The best line from the article: “Start listening now so you’ll be ready for the big Haydn go seek party.” Sanders mentions that Haydn’s oratorio The Creation was the first piece of music to be studied as a text in the Torrey program and goes on to describe how the students study and analyze it. (My younger brother is a current Torrey student; I wonder if he’s gotten to that point of the curriculum yet?)

The article got me thinking about how little of Haydn’s music I know. Much of his work falls into the movement of Classical composition known as “Böoring” to modern listeners; but I decided that as a composer myself, I should at least make the acquaintance of some of his greater pieces.

So I shall set myself this goal: listen to three major Haydn works, at least twice apiece, during the month of April. One of them will be The Creation, since I was so inspired by Sanders’ article. Now I set you, my loyal readers, this goal: suggest for me what the other two works should be–and/or recommend recordings of those or of The Creation that you particularly enjoy. I know that many of my readers may not have a lot of experience in Haydn’s music; but maybe you can do some research on your own! So, dear readers, bring on your suggestions, and I’ll write about ‘em here in a later post!


Two Exciting Opportunities

Posted by AJ Harbison at 11:49 pm

I’ve come across two exciting opportunities for myself and my music over the last two days. The first came in the form of an email from a woman named Katie Shields, who is the violist in Quartet Sabaku, a string quartet based in Arizona. Apparently she saw my profile on the American Composers Forum website and then either did a Google search on my name or followed the link on the profile to my website. She said in the email that she loved my YouTube video (a fun project I did for Campus Crusade in 2004, which you can see here), and asked to hear or see any music I might have for string quartet, string trio or violin/viola solo. I emailed her back last night and gave her the score to P.S.Q., a string quartet I wrote at Cal State Fullerton that uses atonal pitch material but rhythms, articulations and forms from pop music to transform the string quartet into an avant-garde rock band. It’s never been performed (never well, at least), and I’m excited about the opportunity to possibly get it performed and get connected with an ensemble. And it’s even cooler that the ensemble actually sought me out on its own.

The second exciting opportunity has been brewing in my mind for some time, but was set into motion today. I met for lunch this afternoon with the worship director at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, the church where my lovely wife and I are members, to discuss the possibility of putting a choir together that I would lead. Redeemer is a church that places a great deal of emphasis on culture and art, and I think a choir would fit right in and add another level of depth to an already profound liturgy. When I was at Cal State Fullerton, I took two choral conducting classes with Rob Istad, and they were terrific; I picked it up quickly, though it was also challenging, and it was a heck of a lot of fun. So, in addition to enhancing the worship experience at Redeemer, it would also be a great opportunity for me to try my hand at conducting and leading a choral ensemble. We would probably start with just a hymn, singing it in four-part harmony (which sounds cool even if it’s just what’s written on the page), and if that worked well we might move on to more interesting choral repertoire. Eventually it might even become an ensemble I could compose for. I’m really stoked on the idea; the worship director will be talking to the pastors and the Session and presenting it to them, and if they give the go-ahead we’ll get started! I’ll keep you all posted….


Nothing New Under The Sun

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:01 am

My lovely wife was in the kitchen the other day, and she hummed a short bit of a tune. I happened to be nearby, and, as I often do, asked her what it was she was humming– it sounded to me like “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear” (the Christmas carol). She hesitated, so I next asked if it was from a song from Phantom Of The Opera–I can’t remember what song it’s from, but there was a part of a song (a bridge, I think) that sounded the same as the opening line of the carol. She said no, it was neither one of those; she’d actually just been humming without having any particular song in mind. We also determined that the folk song “My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean” also starts with the same melody line. So she was either humming something original, or three different songs all at the same time.

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us.” Ecclesiastes 1:9-11


Listen: Life With Classical Music

Posted by AJ Harbison at 1:58 am

To my surprise, I received in the mail a few days ago the inaugural volume of the print magazine Listen: Life With Classical Music. I’d never heard of it before (I suppose since it was the first issue), and I couldn’t figure out how I got on the distribution list for it. The website, which I linked above, was no help, only offering an online subscription and a few email addresses. After a quick Google search, I discovered that it was launched by ArkivMusic.com, America’s leading online retailer of classical music CDs and DVDs, as a lifestyle magazine for classical music fans. A BusinessWire.com article has the story:

“ArkivMusic.com Launches New Venture: LISTEN: Life with Classical Music”

Another few results from Google revealed that complimentary magazines were sent to people who had purchased something (in some cases, only one something, once) from ArkivMusic. I know I’ve made at least one purchase from Arkiv (as chronicled in this post), so I guess that must have been what landed me on the list to receive the magazine.

I read the first couple of articles today at lunch, and was a bit disappointed. If I’m going to get a magazine, I don’t particularly want it to have super-long and very indepth articles, because I’ll never get around to reading it all; but these articles were too short and had no depth. Almost all of the ads are for recordings that you can buy on Arkiv, too, so as one Google commenter noted, “It seems like a once over lightly publication. The features didn’t get very deep into their subjects – mostly puff promo stuff. I suspected it was put out by Archivmusic based on the number of promos in the magazine.” I’ll probably read the rest of the issue; but if it doesn’t get any better, I won’t be subscribing.


I was tipped off last month to this video by @foxonthedocks, a Londoner on Twitter who tweets “about classical music recordings, broadcasts and performance. And other stuff.” It’s a video on TED.com, a site that I’ve heard about but successfully avoided till now. Foxonthedocks actually posted a link to the video the day of my wedding, February 22nd, but I just got around to watching it today. The video is a performance by the Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. The site explains that the orchestra “is the national high school age youth orchestra of El Sistema, Venezuela’s groundbreaking, life-changing musical education program. To put this ensemble’s musicianship in context, the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela is the next step for many of these young musicians. That orchestra, containing musicians from 18 to 28 years old, has toured the world with conductor Gustavo Dudamel and has made a number of recordings on Deutsche Grammophon. The Teresa Carreño Youth Orchestra is the next level below, and will succeed the Simón Bolívar.” The T.C.Y.O. is conducted by Gustavo Dudamel, a hotshot young conductor (himself a product of El Sistema) who was named recently as Esa-Pekka Salonen’s successor as the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Although his name is not quite as cool as Esa-Pekka’s (come on, though, how could it be?), he does have the hair to be a great conductor, and even though he’s only 28 he’s probably the world’s hottest conductor right now.

In the video Dudamel conducts the T.C.Y.O. in Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, 2nd movement, and Arturo Márquez’ Danzón No. 2, with a brief speech in between. The video is 17 minutes long in its entirety, but the Shostakovich is contained within the first five minutes if you don’t have that much time.

If he can make a group of high school students, even one as great as this, sound this good, what do you think he could do with the LA Phil?


I'm Back!

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:09 am

Greetings, loyal readers–I have returned! My lovely wife (woohoo!) and I got back from an amazing honeymoon at the Doubletree Resort in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, on Sunday; we had Monday and Tuesday off of work and were able to open our wedding gifts and cards, buy a few gifts we hadn’t received and generally settle in to our new apartment in Costa Mesa (sounds similar, but is actually quite different). I have yet to import and organize all the pictures we took, but once I do I’ll let you know, for anyone who’s interested in seeing them.

Not much to post on at this point. My wife and I signed up on Monday for Netflix, an online movie rental service, so you can expect to start seeing a few more score reviews here at TLB. They may end up as brief 140-character reviews on Twitter, too, though, so be sure you’re following me there as well. Our first rental, since I was reading Shakespeare’s play Hamlet on our honeymoon, is Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet from 1948. The score is by William Walton, an English composer who wrote a really cool oratorio I sang at Cal State Fullerton entitled Belshazzar’s Feast. I’ve seen this film version of Hamlet once before, but I don’t remember much about the score. Stay tuned to Twitter later tonight….

I feel as if I’m in danger of making TLB into a Coldplay fan site, since I post about them so frequently; but at the risk of seeming so, I have one more note to make before I sign off for now (although I still do want to do a week’s worth of posts on Prospekt’s March sometime soon as well). It appears that Coldplay has posted a complete discography on their website, including 60-second audio clips of every song and (most exciting for me) band-approved lyrics. If you’re interested, you can check it out here.

Farewell for tonight–it’s good to be back; look for some new posts coming up soon!


Synesthesia: Seeing Sound

Posted by AJ Harbison at 3:14 am

I found a news link on CNN.com last week about synesthesia, a mental disorder that mixes sensory experiences. The most common form and the easiest to diagnose is when someone hears music or sounds and simultaneously sees colors. The article’s opening paragraph says this: “When Julian Asher listens to an orchestra, he doesn’t just hear music; he also sees it. The sounds of a violin make him see a rich burgundy color, shiny and fluid like a red wine, while a cello’s music flows like honey in a golden yellow hue.”

“Seeing color in sounds has genetic link”

Vladimir Nabokov, the author of “Lolita,” famously had this condition, which the study in the article has linked to genetics. There have also been a number of famous composers who had the disorder, notably Franz Lizst, Olivier Messiaen, György Ligeti, and (particularly) Alexander Scriabin. The linked Wikipedia article sheds doubt on the fact that Scriabin actually had the disorder, although he is known for associating colors with notes and keys. In his work Prometheus: The Poem Of Fire, composed in 1910, he actually wrote a part for a “color organ” which projected colors during the performance.

Since I was young, I’ve associated colors with keys as well (although I certainly don’t have synesthesia), but my associations are completely different from Scriabin’s. The Wikipedia article mentions a conversation between Scriabin and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: “Both maintained that the key of D major was golden-brown; but Scriabin linked E-flat major with red-purple, while Rimsky-Korsakov favored blue.” These all sound foreign to my color sense. This is how I’ve always thought:

C major: yellow (the color of light)
D major and D minor: deep blue
E-flat major: orange
E major and E minor: orange
F major: green
G major: light blue
A-flat major: red
A major and A minor: red

(Obviously it’s an incomplete list. I’ve never taken the time or had the inclination to sit down and work out a system, the way Scriabin did; these are just the particular keys that have always struck me in particular ways.)

Thus you may see the connection in the bridal processional I wrote for my wedding, where C major represented purity and innocence and A major represented passion.

It’s certainly an interesting topic. Any readers out there with synesthesia that would care to weigh in?


Wedding Music, Part 4: All The Music

Posted by AJ Harbison at 8:30 pm

It’s here–the last week leading up to the wedding! I’ve been rather busy (as you might imagine) so I haven’t had much time to post. But I’m going to try to write a few entries over the next few days and then schedule them through the next week and a half, so even while I’m away on my honeymoon you can still get your TLB fix.

I thought that I’d post today, for anyone who’s interested, the overview of all the music I’ve planned for the wedding. The first three wedding music posts can be found at the following links: Wedding Music, Part 1, Wedding Music, Part 2, and Wedding Music, Part 3: Recessional.

For the ceremony, a member of our church community group agreed to play the piano for us–she has a master’s degree in performance so we were excited to bring her on board.

For the prelude, she’ll be playing a variety of classical music: some Bach, a little Debussy, etc.

There will be two hymns that the congregation will sing during the ceremony: “Be Thou My Vision” (careful; if you open that page a really crappy MIDI version of the hymn will start playing automatically) and a modern hymn, “In Christ Alone” (music starts automatically there too, but at least it’s a decent recording).

Then there’s the music I wrote, in three parts:

The processional: “Amazing Grace.” This is the song that all the bridesmaids and groomsmen will “process” to as they walk down the aisle. I wrote a flowing sixteenth-note pattern in D major (pretty cool, if I do say so myself) for the left hand and set a slightly altered version of the melody “Amazing Grace” over it. Then after a full verse of “Amazing Grace,” the left hand changes to portamento (i.e. slightly detached) single notes while the right hand plays an altered version of “In Christ Alone”–the two songs actually make for a pretty seamless medley, because they’re in the same meter (3/4) and have similar rhythmic patterns. After the last line of “Amazing Grace” returns to cap things off, there are four bars of anticipation while the piano plays around softly with a G major chord (the IV in D) and C-sharps, which create the feeling that something else has to come next. Then comes a hanging G major-add6-add7-add9 chord, the back doors of the church open to reveal the lovely bride, and the next piece begins:

The bridal processional: “Passion And Purity.” (See the Wedding Music, Part 2 post for details on this piece’s history.) The intro and outro of this piece are based loosely on the theme from the second movement of Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No. 3, Op. 36, a piece that has a pretty fascinating history of its own. (If you happen to click on the audio sample from the Wikipedia article, please be advised that it does not contain the theme that my piece is based on.) It’s played in a simple, innocent-sounding setting in C major symbolizing purity. The main body of the piece is a setting of a simple melody I wrote a long, long time ago–the only musical connection in the wedding to anything else I’ve written. It begins in C major, but then transitions up to a more brilliant setting in A major (symbolizing, for me at least, passion), and includes a subtle quote of Bach’s piece “Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring,” which is often used as a bridal processional itself. The conclusion of the piece, returning to the Górecki theme, remains in A major–suggesting a new kind of purity in the context of marriage.

The recessional: “With Joy.” (See the Wedding Music, Part 3: Recessional post for details on this piece’s history.) This piece was the most fun to write and is the rocking piece in the set. It is also in A major, continuing the idea of passion–and what a passionate piece it is. It starts with a high triplet pattern I stole from a Michael Card song, “The Voice of the Child” (click on the song’s title under “Song Clip” to listen to it–the triplet pattern is at the beginning; if that link doesn’t work, click here and click the play button next to track 7). The pattern builds as the pastor says “I now present to you, for the first time, Mr. and Mrs. AJ Harbison!” at which point I will give our pianist two quick conducting cue beats. On the downbeat, the triplet pattern shifts into overdrive (in sixteenths instead of triplets), and the left hand crashes down into low octaves à la “Baba O’Riley” as explained in the linked wedding music post above. It’s gonna be awesome. The middle section calms down a bit–I think it’s at that point that the pastor will invite everyone over to the reception–and is I think the only passage in all three pieces that is newly-written and not referencing something else. It’s mostly chordal and follows simple progressions built around the IV, V and vi chords. Then the high pattern/”Baba O’Riley” theme returns, in a slightly modified form that eventually dissipates up into the original triplet pattern, quiet and way up high. There’s a faint echo of the theme from “Passion And Purity”–tyin’ it all together–and then it ends on a high held A, and a low A octave as quiet as possible. I’m telling you, it’s gonna rock.

(I’ve joked to Eleanor that I could never publish the wedding suite, if I ever wanted to–there’s way too much plagiarism in it. I’d bankrupt us paying all the licensing fees. But at least it’ll be awesome on the day itself!)

Then comes the reception! We decided to hire Bonne Musique Zydeco to be our live band, and we can’t wait to dance the night away with them. My lovely bride and I will have our first dance to Derek Webb’s song “Better Than Wine,” she will dance with her father to “Up Around The Bend” by Creedence Clearwater Revival, and I’ll dance with my mother to “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” James Taylor-style. All with dashes of zydeco thrown in to spice things up. We’ll eat, drink, dance and party; and then my bride and I will make our getaway and ride off into the sunset.


"As Slow As Possible," John Cage

Posted by AJ Harbison at 3:29 am

While looking at some websites about John Cage for my last post, I came across this interesting one. In addition to his famous controversial pieces like 4’33″, he apparently also wrote a piece called “As Slow As Possible.” One current performance, which began in 2001, is scheduled to finish (after being performed very quickly) in 2640, a mere 639 years in duration. Allegedly more than 100 people showed up two and a half years ago to hear the chord in the piece change. The article is from May 2006, but I assume that the performance is still going on.

“John Cage’s Long Music Composition in Germany Changes a Note”

It’s a shame that avant-garde music like this doesn’t make much money. Anyone with a reasonable amount of intelligence could be a millionaire!


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