PPD Day 20: That Fleeting Thought is Worth Pursuing

Today's piece is based on two things: a fortune cookie slogan I got years ago, and a piano improvisation my son played this morning.

The fortune, "That fleeing thought is worth pursuing", came from one of our countless visits to Chinatown in Chicago while I was in graduate school. I don't remember the specifics, but odds are that it came from Hong Min - our favorite place (which, to our horror, burned down as a result of a kitchen fire and couldn't be saved even though it was directly across the street from the Chinatown fire station). I liked the fortune, kept it, and taped it to my computer monitor. Even though I lost track of the little slip (probably when I traded in my desktop computer for a laptop), this little blurb has reminded me to be open to new ideas and possibilities, and that sometimes an idea that seems random or extraneous can actually lead somewhere interesting.

So I decided that no matter what fleeting thoughts Sebastian expressed on his little piano this morning, I would pursue them. The first few notes he played became the ostinato for this little piece, and I pulled out a few other details to create the melodic material. Sebastian knew that his music was going into my music and asked if I could make sure to include "the spooky part" (a trill between E and F-natural). Of course, buddy. I kind of live for the spooky parts.

Here's the full audio of Sebastian's performance!

Download That Fleeting Thought is Worth Pursuing

PPD Day 19: Pulsar

Today's piece, Pulsar, is dedicated to an awesome couple, Adam and Erin LeGrave. 

Adam was a student in several my classes when I first got to UW-Green Bay. A little later, he was my composition student. Currently, we perform together in Gypsy Trip - his cajon playing has quickly become the backbone of the group. I loved having Adam as a student - he was bright, enthusiastic, hard-working and fun to work with.

I didn't have Erin as a student, but she graduated from UWGB with a music education degree and teaches in the Green Bay Public Schools. She's exactly the kind of teacher you want your kid to have - she's warm and funny with an infectious energy.

Adam and Erin are awesome individually, and even more awesome together. They met at UWGB and married a little over a year ago. They just bought a house together over the summer. Together, the sky's the limit for them; I'm happy to call them friends.

Pulsar is so-named because of its frenetic energy and its use of repeated pitches. It borrows and expands upon a couple of melodics fragments from a piece Adam wrote when we worked together, Aquatic Hypnotic

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PPD Day 18: Solon

Today's piece is sponsored by Michael Rector and Sylvia Hong. They welcomed their son, Solon, in March of 2015, and this piece is for him. Solon's name is inspired by the eponymous Greek statesman, who is known as one of the Seven Wise Men of Greece due to his contributions to the foundations of democracy. I recently covered some of the Ancient Greeks' contributions to music theory in my music history course, so I borrowed loosely from a couple of Cleonides' species of consonances (which are forerunners of church modes and eventually our modern ideas about scales) to form the pitch content of the piece). My goal was to communicate the strength, thoughtfulness and convictions that Solon embodied - traits suitable to serve a child as he grows up and makes his way in the world.

So, this one's for you, baby Sol. Let your mom and dad sleep a little bit now, ok?

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PPD Day 17: The Familiar

I started reading Mark Danielewski's epic new series The Familiar this summer. I may be a wee bit weary, here on Day 17 of my series...but The Familiar is going to be a set of 27 novels, so I'd best not complain, right?

Early on in Volume I (the only volume available right now...the second will be released this fall), Anwar, one of the characters in one of the novels eight (!) disparate plotlines, says, "We are all of us used parts. Our newness lies only in parts rearranged." This may sound like a cynical worldview, but for me it's a sort of call to action. There may no longer be any such thing as a truly original musical idea, but there are infinite possibilities available to us as we arrange and rearrange musical material.

In keeping with this notion, The Familiar borrows ideas from two other Piano Per Diem pieces - the trills and ostinato figure from #4 (Bloom) and the sevenths and ninths of #15 (In Retrospect) - in hopes that the combination of these rearranged parts will be heard in a new way.

Download The Familiar

PPD Day 16: Rhythm Chant CG

Today's piece, Rhythm Chant CG, is dedicated to C. A. Grosso, my colleague at UWGB. She's a percussionist who founded a hand drumming ensemble on campus. She's written a number of hand drumming compositions (many of which are found in her book, Hand Drumming Ensembles), and I've heard many of them performed at campus concerts over the years. I borrowed her naming convention of following the title Rhythm Chant with the initials of the person who inspired the piece. Rhythm Chant CG borrows (loosely) rhythms I've heard in Cheryl's work and attempts to translate a hand drumming groove into an ostinato-driven piano piece.

Cheryl retires at the end of this semester, and it won't be the same around here without her. Rhythm Chant CG goes out to her in honor of her years of service to the music program and the tenacious and generous support she has given me since I arrived.

Download Rhythm Chant CG

PPD Day 15: In Retrospect

Today's piece was sponsored by Robb and Lidia Nonn. It is dedicated to Lidia's mother, Gerda Bardygula, who will celebrate her 80th birthday next month. I tend to think of birthdays as both a time to celebrate and a time to reflect, and reflection won out as I worked on this piece. Most of the musical material is generated from just a couple of intervals - sevenths and ninths, as a nod to Gerda's current age, 79. As I worked through the piece, I thought about what Lidia told me about her mother - that she was born in Germany and immigrated Chicago after marriage; that her nickname is Mouse; that she sticks up for underdogs; that she loves classical music; that even though she is legally blind, she knits hats and scarves to donate to shelters.

Lidia's love for her mom shone through her description, and I hope this music can serve as a catalyst for reflecting on the richness and fullness of Gerda's life as she celebrates a milestone birthday.

Download In Retrospect


PPD Day 14: One-Eyed Beast

This summer, I had the great pleasure of participating in the MId-Missouri Composers Symposium, held at the Osage Arts Community in Belle, MO. An amazing group of composers gathered together for several days of sharing our music and ideas There may also have been a demolition derby and a karaoke night, but I will neither confirm nor deny these events - what happens in Belle stays in Belle.

One of the properties owned by the Osage Arts Community holds a cluster of houses used as artist residences and gathering spaces. The "white house" was a place where we gathered for dinner in the evenings. Situated at the bottom of a steep and rocky road, we were advised not to take our cars to get down there, as it would be pretty rough on the suspensions of cars not meant for such rough terrain. Enter the One-Eyed Beast:

Not pictured: right headlight. Also not pictured: right fender

Not pictured: right headlight. Also not pictured: right fender

The story goes that the owner of this truck smashed it into a building. The right headlight and fender were among the casualties. It still runs great, but since it was too old to make fixing it up worthwhile and too busted-up to be street legal, the owner donated it to the Osage Arts Community. It lives on their property - and lives to serve, ushering visitors up and down the rocky road.

One-Eyed Beast commemorates the short but very, very turbulent ride up and down that hill. It also marks the first (and likely last) time I've used the word "janky" as a musical direction.

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PPD Day 13: ...when Mondays are cold...

This piece is sponsored by Scott and Debbie Furlong. Scott asked to dedicate the piece to Debbie, whom he calls "the music in my life". Such a sweet notion called for a tune with a bit of sentimental romance to it. As I thought about what I might do and remembered that today is Sunday, I thought of the song "Sunday Kind of Love" as performed by the great Etta James. The title comes from a line in the song, I borrowed just the first couple of chords; the rest with stream-of-conscious jazz-inflected harmonies.

Download ...when Mondays are cold...

PPD Day Twelve: Two Digital

Today's piece is dedicated to my parents, Michael and Mary Lee McQuade. Because who better to appreciate something inspired by a cute thing my kid did last night than his grandparents?

I'll set the scene. We (me, my husband Michael and my son Sebastian) are in the car, headed to Kavarna (the official caffeine sponsor of Piano Per Diem!) to check out some live music (Lil' Rev, who plays a mean ukelele). We're listening to Stevie Wonder's Talking Book album in the car. Sebastian starts trying to explain a card game he learned at school this week. It somehow involves taking two cards and adding the numbers together...the kid's a bit of an unreliable narrator, so we're not quite sure how this works. The one thing he was certain of as he explained the game was the name of it: Two Digital (I'll save you the trouble of Googling this...no hits. So we're going to have to take his word for it).

So. After trying to explain this game, Sebastian falls silent for a few seconds. Then he starts chanting the name of the game ("Two digital...two digital...two digital...") in perfect sync with the Stevie Wonder song that was playing at the time: "Maybe Your Baby".

This might be one of those "you had to be there" stories...only interesting to the family...my attempt to translate Sebastian's chant into today's piece is the closest I can get to sharing the moment.

Download Two Digital

PPD Day 11: Slow Your Roll

I listen to a lot of podcasts, and one of my favorites is Back to Work, hosted by Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin. Every week, Merlin and Dan have a free-wheeling conversation about how to approach doing meaningful work: managing your time, focusing your attention, eliminating barriers and self-sabotaging thoughts and behaviors. This show helps me think about...well, how to think on a weekly basis.

This week's episode was called "Slow Your Roll". Around the 1 hour and 5 minute mark, Merlin starts talking about the ways in which free-floating anxiety can tailspin -  "how impossibly fast you can go from the most innocuous thought in the world to, like, 'I'm going to die." The deceptively simple way to short-circuit this death-spiral is to remind yourself to just stop and breathe - to interrupt the thought pattern before it gets the better of you. To slow your roll.

Easier said than done, but today's piece, Slow Your Roll, does eventually manage to pull itself back after a series of frenetic, repetitive gestures. 

Download Slow Your Roll