Psalmatic Moments

I have been told in the past day or so that I should blog more, so this is my attempt at blogging more.

Recently, for whatever reason, I have been really attracted to the Psalms, most likely a byproduct of being asked to write a lot of vocal music and going through a difficult time in my life. I already set one Psalm over the Christmas holiday, and am currently working on a bouquet of Psalm excerpts for soprano and piano and a Psalm setting for choir and organ. If I set any more Psalms, I am going to change my name to David.

Setting all these Psalms has made me go back and look at the 3 major Psalm settings in my life. Namely, the Sympherny of Psalms, Tehillim, and the Chichester Psalms; each of which deal with the Psalms in similar ways, from non-similar points of view. To me, all these different settings take the general idea of the Psalms and deal with them on purely musical terms. There is no detailed text painting or reactions; rather, we get meditations on the general meanings. The one exception to this rule is the Stravinsky, where sometimes the music has nothing to do with the text, but it’s arguably the best music of the 3, so we really can’t complain.

I have recently come to realize how much individual moments play into my experience of music. Instead of taking away impressions of the overall piece, I’m more likely to remember isolated moments that fill me with enormous amounts of pleasure. A few examples:

Sometimes, a composer will set a text in such a way that drives me wild. The way John Adams sets “a penny for your thoughts” here in Act 3 of Nixon in China is so longing and melancholy and delicious. It also has a lot to do with the harmony and how it comes in over the second part of Madame Mao’s song. Madame starts at around 2:18, Pat Nixon comes in with the delicious part circa 4:35.

Another, more typical encounter, is a harmony that just curls my toes with glee. The most famous example, and the one that will always make my eyes roll back into my head, is the crazy, insane, head-kissing chord from Salome. It is F# major on top of A7 and just big, orgiastic and so so good. Here is none other that my girl Birgit Nilsson singing the final scene; said chord occurs at 14:51, but listen to the whole thing for the full effect.


I have also come to realize that I am maybe the least prolific composer that has ever existed. Perhaps besides Dutilleux. Nico Muhly is always coming out with some new amazing piece. And I think Christian Ryan (who is amazing, go check him out) posts a new amazing piece like every day.


One last thing, I’ve added a new Works in Progress so you can all see what I am working on and hound me about them until I finish.


Until next time




“Oh if life were only moments, even now and then a bad one. But if life were only moments, then you’d never know you had one.”



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