PPD Day 30: Nobody Puts Becky in a Corner

Today's piece is for my husband Michael, in honor of the fact that he's put up with me for the past month. The title comes from a long-standing inside joke (well, I guess it won't be that for much longer) in which he deliberately misquotes a key line from the climax of the epic film Dirty Dancing. Yes, he knows that the line is really, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner."  No, he doesn't care that he's saying it wrong. He's doing it on purpose. Deal with it.

And, of course, after this Swayze utters this line, the final dance is performed and Baby finally gets lifted triumphantly into the air.

I'm not gonna lie...I feel a little like that right now. This is it - a wrote a piece every day for a month, and I lived to tell the tale. There will be more tale to tell after I've had a chance to disengage for a bit and reflect on everything - but for the moment, this last piece is what happens when the final song from Dirty Dancing is cross-pollinated with Liszt.

For Michael...because I've had the time of my life/and I owe it all to you...

Download Nobody Puts Becky in a Corner


PPD Day 29: Catch the Midnight Drift

So last week, when I took to Facebook and Twitter and asked for some creative prompts to see me through this project, I got this tweet from Shana (@hipharpy):

She wasn't wrong.

I guess I never thought of myself as a "thrill of the rails" kind of person...but think aing in this vein led me to think about doing some kind of swaggery, saloon piano kind of thing. As Shana suggested, maybe I could "embrace my inner honky-tonk angel". I wasn't sure I had one of those either...but I do listen to a fair amount of Tom Waits, so that'll have to do.

Catch the Midnight Drift borrows its title from a line from the Tom Waits song "Drunk on the Moon" and it's general style from Waits's overall body of work. Owing to his frequent references to alcohol (The song "The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)" and the line "Stirring my brandy with a nail" from "Get Behind the Mule" come to mind), the pianist is asked to play as if he or she is "three beers in" by the end of the piece.

Download Catch the Midnight Drift.

PPD Day 28: Blood Moon

All the cool kids are talking about last night's Blood Moon. 

Here's my little response. The use of a bass drum beater striking the low strings of the piano creates a reverberant, gong-like effect. The melodic material is a borrowing and deconstruction of the opening piano figure of Mondestrunken ("Moondrunk"), the first movement of Arnold Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire.

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PPD Day 26: Elegy

This piece wasn't in the plans.

Last night, I found out that my friend Kent Leslie passed away. Kent was a killer horn player; I met him when he was hired to play the solo part on my dissertation piece, Chiasmus, a chamber concerto. He shared the stage with eighth blackbird...and if you'll pardon my French, he played the shit out of it. We became friends and kept in touch. He regaled me with stories about his dogs (all named after characters from Wagner operas). He introduced me to Scotch Eggs at the Broad Ripple Brew Pub when I was in Indianapolis (his home base). I cheered when his son made it to the National Spelling Bee. Kent would later commission me to write him another chamber piece - the result was ...sky is falling in... for flute, horn and percussion, which Kent included on his CD with every leaf, a miracleHe was a champion of new music for the horn, and his interest in my music meant more to me than I can say.




My favorite people tend to have eclectic tastes, and Kent was no exception. He loved Wagner (hence his dogs' names). And he loved Alice Cooper - to the point that Kent would email friends on Alice Cooper's birthday to make sure they marked the occasion. I wove tiny aspects of both Wagner and Alice Cooper into today's little Elegy. The opening gesture is loosely borrowed from the Alice Cooper instrumental "Grande Finale" (from 1972's School's Out). There are many descending half-steps throughout the piece - a nod to Wagner's use of that interval to symbolize grief. Finally, there's a fleeting (albeit incomplete) reference to the "Annunciation of Death" leitmotif from Die Walküre. 

Kent, I will dearly miss your musicianship and friendship. Rock on, my friend.

Download Elegy

PPD Day 25: Sometimes I Doubt Your Commitment to Sparkle Motion

Today's piece is dedicated to my sister-in-law, Jennifer Laptik. She is awesome. She loves all things pink and sparkly - if we ask her what she'd like for any upcoming gift-giving occasion, she invariably says that pink and sparkly things are always welcome. Which got me thinking about how I might manage to pull off a pink and sparkly piece - especially when my own natural inclinations lean neither pink nor particularly sparkly. And then, through the miracle of free-association, I remembered a couple of things.

The first thing was my favorite line from the movie Donnie Darko. The juxtaposition of a little girls' dance team against the surreal darkness of the rest of the film is odd enough; Kitty Farmer's accusation, "Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!" puts the whole thing over the top.


The second thing was an essay by Sarah Vowell in which she wants to look more intimidating and seeks out "goth lessons". When pressed to come up with a goth nickname, Vowell chooses "Becky" - and is praised for understanding "the pink of goth" (The full essay is hilarious - worth a read!)

So - I realize this whole thing is a little out there, and I may be sharing more of my quirky thought process than you wanted to know...but, long story short, my solution to the challenge of writing a pink and sparkly piece was to write a little bit of pink-goth-sparkle-motion.

Download Sometimes I Doubt Your Commitment to Sparkle Motion.

PPD Day 24: Phoenix Rising

So, yesterday I hit up social media to ask for some creative prompts. After 23 completed pieces, I was hitting a wall of sorts - continual output without a proportional amount of input was making me feel a little depleted. I knew going in that this was bound to happen at some point - and honestly, I'm kind of proud that it didn't happen to a larger extent sooner.

My friends came through - as friends often will if you swallow your pride enough to ask.

Today's piece, Phoenix Rising take dual inspiration from my friends Ellen Rosewall and Paula Ganyard. Ellen made several conceptual suggestions, and "phoenix rising" jumped out at me right away. I've been a Phoenix twice - first as a graduate student at the University of Chicago, and currently on the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. I prefer my mascots to be aspirational as opposed to violent, so this suits me pretty well.

Not long after Ellen posted her suggestion, Paula posted a description that I immediately thought could work with the idea of a rising phoenix. Today's Paula's birthday (woo-hoo!) and she wrote, "since 9/24 is all about me you should use me as inspiration. Keep it short, let it start quiet, but then gets a bit angry, and ends on light melody."

From there, the piece almost wrote itself. Thank you, friends!

Download Phoenix Rising.

Day 22: Fours

I had no idea what I was going to do today.

Yesterday got away from me a little - writing time I thought I'd have during the day got eaten up by some other things, so I finished the piece pretty late. I was too tired to think past getting that piece posted, so I didn't think about today's piece at all, really...except to think that maybe I'd do something with intervals of a fourth.

I got up, taught a class, cranked out some grading...and as I checked items off my list I almost wished I had more items on it...because if I could stay a little busier with other things a little longer, I wouldn't have to write the piece before I had a "real" idea.

But the daily deadline looms large, so I got up from my desk, and started playing fourths on the piano. And, whaddya know, I had a piece in roughly an hour and a half. For having no idea what the piece was going to be, I kind of like what happened here.

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PPD 21: Underwater Prelude

Today's piece is sponsored by and dedicated to Holly Roadfeldt. She's one of the two pianists who will premiering the full set of Piano Per Diem pieces in November. When she asked if I would do her dedicated piece on her birthday (which, yes, is today!) I was thrilled to oblige.

Holly has been engaged with a fascinating Preludes Project over the past couple of years. She has been pairing the preludes of Bach, Rachmaninoff, Debussy and Chopin with newly commissioned works from contemporary composers; the juxtaposition of standard rep with new ideas has, in Holly's words, caused audiences "to listen to their favorites with more wonder and more inquiry." So, as I thought about writing for Holly, I thought about bringing that juxtaposition even closer together.

Underwater Prelude uses Chopin's E Minor Prelude, Op. 28. No. 4 as a starting point and framework - but over time, the material is manipulated and distorted. The familiar piece becomes less and less familiar without entirely leaving behind the structure and logic of the original. 

Download Underwater Prelude