Music for Theater

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A terrific opportunity came my way recently when friends from Chicago – Jason Paul Smith and Rob Dorn of Three Cat Productions – contacted me about contributing music to their indiegogo video which raised funds in support of new productions in the windy city. I composed a few snippets to accompany a slide-show styled presentation. It was a fun little project and Jason loved the music. He then asked me to compose cues for Joint Attention, a play about a mom and dad confronting their son’s autism diagnosis. I took the 10-second snippet I’d written for the video and composed to it and from it, creating Claire’s Waltz and then Dave’s Lament (which sets Claire’s more classical themes in a melancholy ballad with jazzy voicings). One Chicago critic did take notice of the music in the play and called it “lovely.” If you’re going to get just one adjective in a review, that will do very nicely. Both tunes are available as downloadable sheet music in the DSMS Store and you can hear MIDI recordings of the tunes on the DSMS Transcription and Arranging page.This was a first but it’s definitely not the last. I’ll be composing and arranging music for another Three Cat production called Hang Your Hat at Mister K’s. I’m off to Chicago next week to see Joint Attention and to begin work on the new show. I’m stoked!


iTunes Cover image for 'Clouds' by Zach Sobiech, download the free official sheet music below and make a donation to the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma FundZach Sobiech 1995-2013

When Zach Sobiech was just fourteen years old he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His response was to embrace every day with hope and joy. He surrounded himself with family and friends and he wrote songs for the people he loved. Since his diagnosis Zach and his bandmates have released two albums, realizing the dream of raising awareness and much-needed funds for osteosarcoma research.

Zach’s hit song “Clouds” climbed to #1 on iTunes today!

I learned about Zach and his amazing journey through Adam Gislason who was doing pro bono legal work for Zach as his intellectual property attorney. Adam told me that the enormous popularity of “Clouds” had brought with it many requests for sheet music and asked me to do the project. It was a no-brainer, of course, and it’s now available – at no cost – through the download link below.

You can read more about Zach’s story on his page at the Children’s Cancer Research Fund site. And be sure not to miss Zach’s video documentary My Last Days: Meet Zach Sobiech and the wonderful “Clouds” Celebrity Tribute Music Video.

Before you download the music, please take a moment to contribute what you can to the Zach Sobiech Osteosarcoma Fund and do your part in carrying Zach’s dream forward!

The music is in lead-sheet format: lyrics, melody and chords in Zach’s original key of D Major. If you watch the “Clouds” music video you’ll notice that Zach has a capo on the second fret to take advantage of the more resonant key of C Major on the guitar.

Click the image above to download your copy of “Clouds.”

Handful of Keys

Handful of Keys piano Roll
The graphic above  might be mistaken for a knitting pattern for a Norwegian sweater. I see pines in the distance and a bear-like creature near the center. That could be a forest fire blazing on the right. What’s really blazing, of course, is “Fat’s” Waller’s prodigious technique and playful imagination made visible in this “piano roll” view of Handful of Keys. The image was generated when I imported the MIDI file from the duet version of the tune I created in Finale into Logic Pro (Apple’s audio and MIDI recording software). Click on the image to view it enlarged in a new window.

This four-hand version began as a transcription project. Many years ago I performed in a national tour and a sit-down run of  Ain’t Misbehavin’ – the broadway musical based on “Fat’s” Waller tunes. It was far and away the most fun show I’ve ever played. But, I seldom had to play the full-out stride style that Waller brought to such dizzying heights. That’s because the band’s primarily role was to accompany the quartet of singers that are the real centerpiece of the show. When I recently transcribed Handful of Keys it was with the intent to learn to play it just like “Fats.” But, as hard as I tried, it became clear that I just don’t have the left hand chops to make it happen and the idea of “division of labor” was born.

The duet arrangement, for the most part, is true to Waller’s 1929 Victor recording. Some harmonies are fleshed out and there are octave doublings and added flourishes here and there but it isn’t at all a departure. It’s an arrangement that allows those of us who may not be quite agile or athletic enough to pull it off as a solo to have a great time with a great tune – and with a friend!

The key to playing this style with two players is in the stability of the “left hand.” The stride has to be locked in so that the “right hand” can land its syncopations cleanly between the solid fours. Take turns playing the Primo and Secondo parts!

The Handful of Keys digital sheet music is available in the DSMS Store.


What Technology Wants

what-technology-wantsA couple of years ago, Robert Krulwich, one of the affable, avuncular hosts of WNYC’s Radiolab, interviewed a very leading-edge guy named Kevin Kelly and another writer, Steven Johnson – also very interesting but it’s Mr. Kelly I’ll focus on here. Kevin Kelly can include in his resumé that he was an editor of the Whole Earth Catalog and is the founding executive director of Wired magazine. I thought I should listen.

In his book (which I’m just now reading)  What Technology WantsMr. Kelly proposes that the ” . . . global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us . . . has some degree of autonomy. “ To my great relief he names this agitated entity The Technium and not The Matrix.  And he tempers the notion by saying, “I don’t believe the technium is conscious (at this point).” OK, the tempering is tagged with foreboding but let’s not go there right now, Mr.  Anderson. He fleshes this out with the idea that technology has “ . . . needs, a compulsion toward something . . . The technium wants what we design it to want and what we try to direct it to do.” More provocation . . . Continue reading


musicophiliaI’ve been an avid reader of Oliver Sacks books since 1985 when I encountered The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Mr. Sacks projects his subjects’ maladies through the prism of his own brilliant and inventive mind to reveal modes of perception and being that we wouldn’t otherwise imagine. While he puzzles through the neurology and physiology, parsing the mechanics of synesthesia or color blindness, he glimpses what it might be like to be that person and he communicates that brilliantly to us.

I had an experience many years ago when I was playing the piano for a group of residents at a nursing home. Right next to the piano there was a woman in a wheelchair with her head stretched back and her whole body tensed in muscular spasm. She couldn’t speak but she made noises that seemed to me to be attempts to speak. I started playing Gershwin’s “Someone to Watch Over Me” Continue reading

Finale 2012, A Trailblazer Guide™

F2012TBG coverMark Johnson’s Finale 2012,  A Trailblazer Guide (as with the 2010 and 2011 editions) is the resource I recommend to Finale users who are looking for a clearly-written, accesible approach to the program. If you want a Finale desk reference, this is the one to buy. Kudos, also, to Kami Johnson, who edited the manual for technical accuracy. I hope this terrific team continues to produce these excellent guides for future versions of Finale!

An iPad at the Ordway

My piano student Lisa and I attended a Schubert Club concert at the Ordway in January featuring cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan. The concert was a delight on every level. Weilerstein brought well-deserved star status but the performance was not a soloist + accompanist affair; it was a true partnership and a great evening of music making.

There was another ‘player’ on the stage that evening, an iPad in place of the music desk; a silent partner which, by being nearly invisible, avoided the usual page-turning sideshow. From our perch facing straight on in the upper balcony we couldn’t see the iPad at first and we questioned the wisdom of playing such a demanding duo program without music. But then I saw it and thought, “Well, there you have it, the iPad has arrived!” Continue reading

The Secret Life of Musical Notation

the-secret-life-of-music-notationAnother book that will open your eyes, ears and mind is Roberto Poli’s The Secret Life of Musical Notation, Defying Interpretive Traditions (Amadeus Press—an imprint of Hal Leonard). This remarkable book debunks, uncovers, corrects and illuminates. For pianists, especially, it’s revelatory.

From the back cover:
Every student learns conventions of musical notation that are generally taken for granted—for example, that an expanding hairpin indicates an increase in volume, or that a sforzando is a sharp accent. But can we be sure that such instructions meant the same in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as they do now?

We can’t be sure and, furthermore, there’s solid evidence that Inigo Montoya’s corrective to Vizzini can apply to some of our current use of musical symbols and words:

“You keep saying that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

The book also refers to online recorded examples of the musical illustrations wherein you’ll also discover that Poli is a very accomplished pianist.

Behind Bars

behind-barsElaine Gould’s Behind Bars, The Definitive Guide to Music Notation is exactly what its title describes. It’s quickly become the indispensible reference for anyone who does music notation. The book speaks for itself and the reviews have been stocked with superlatives.

The title and book cover links will take you to Amazon’s site. Music students will be interested in knowing that if you buy directly from Faber Music you may qualify for a discount that’s not offered through third-party sellers. Depending on your location, that savings may be swallowed by shipping costs but it’s definitely worth investigating. Links to the discount forms are at the very bottom of Faber’s page.

Music Engraving: Old School

My first response to the video Sharp as a Tack: Music Engraving, an Art and a Craft was to think, “And I call myself a music engraver . . .” I wish the film makers could have gone a little deeper into the process of laying out the page, establishing spacing and proportion, etc. The video resolution isn’t great so you can’t see how the engraver aligns elements. There must be preliminary ruled lines for beams and stems. Even assuming that, the skill and artistry of the engraver is astonishing!