Archive for August, 2011

Pittsburgh: New Office of the Blog

August 24, 2011

Hey, everybody! The blog will continue right here, but I wanted to let you know that my web site is under new and exciting construction! Take a look at what’s happening so far at: www.fredericsdurbin.com.

I have landed a job with WriteAtHome.com, a company that corrects and comments on papers (essays, stories, research papers, etc.) written by (mostly) homeschooled students. I think it will be a perfect fit for me, but it’s not a full-time livelihood. I’m also gearing up for the school year as a freelance teacher of creative writing, making professional visits to schools and libraries. I’ll be serving as an enthusiastic supporter of Cricket Magazine and doing all I can to help young people discover the joy and excitement of setting their own words purposefully on paper. Hopefully with this two-pronged approach, I’ll make it through the winter! I loved how one Cricket editor described my effort as a “Johnny Appleseed” approach: walking from school to school “planting” Cricket and the celebration of good writing. I’ve had fantastic support from friends — excellent advice, designing skills, endorsements, and encouragement. Thanks to all! You know who you are! It takes a village — a subterranean, haunted village.

So I’m here in Pittsburgh, the city of bridges and wandering stairways . . . the city of three rivers. I won’t try to tell you about the city itself yet; rather, I’ll start on a personal level and let pictures introduce you to my new place. Ready? Here we go:

My new place on Broadway Avenue

Broadway Avenue is a great address, eh? That sounds like where the blog offices should be. Since I’ll be writing at my desk, I’d like you all to know that I’ll be working on Broadway. Yeah, I’m doing some creative stuff on Broadway. You know. I’m up on the third floor. No one lives below me yet. But I’m hoping that nice people will move in, and that they’ll use a lot of heat in the winter, which will rise through their ceilings . . .

My entranceway

My access is in the back. Very Pittsburghy: at the rear, the ground is higher. I go up one flight to the third floor.

My new (highly used) car

I seem destined to drive red cars. This is the third car I’ve owned in life, and like its two predecessors, it is red. I don’t choose them for their color. It just worked out that way. I like this one a lot.

Looking toward Pittsburgh

Isn’t this interesting? This view makes it clear that, although Pittsburgh is a well-known, major U.S. city, it’s nestled among forested hills. You can’t go far in any direction without crossing a ridge, a patch of woods, a brushy ravine. Remember those paintings I did, trying to capture the feel of the city? I’ll stick in a panel here, so you can compare the actual to my rendition:

Detail from The Uncanny City, 2010

A city of rivers and hills

I discovered that you can see my apartment in this view, though the photo isn’t detailed enough to allow it. It’s in the middle distance, toward the left of the picture.

St. Mary's Cemetery

Those previous photos were taken near the feet of this cross. From my front balcony, I can just make out this cross on the horizon!

Sunset from my balcony

And that would be in this view — but again, the photo isn’t sufficiently detailed.

Behind my place, from my doorstep

I like the green spaces so close at hand. Trouble is, there’s a lot of poison ivy along my back fence. Of course, that makes it just like home.

My balcony

My balcony

I brought my bicycle with me from Japan. Several have questioned the wisdom of doing so, but it has great emotional value to me. Unfortunately, the valves on bicycle tubes are different in Japan and the U.S.! I had to acquire American inner tubes.

Summer sunset from my front balcony

I like sitting in a beach chair on my balcony to watch the sun go down.

My neighborhood

This is the view from my balcony in the daytime.

One more balcony shot

That’s a fascinating and picturesque cemetery on that steep, rounded hill nearby. Alas, the signs say it’s private and order you to keep out. (It’s probably prowled by Old Ones or other monsters at night.)

Great lamp

I obtained this floor lamp very inexpensively from a friend-of-a-friend who was clearing out his parents’ house and had a lot of furniture to get rid of. I like it!

Kitchen

Here’s a view of my kitchen. Any members of our old D&D group will recognize that card table! The other one is in my current bedroom.

Mom's buffet

I brought this along from my childhood home, too. If you’re a burglar casing my place on-line, there’s no value to it — Mom got it and a companion table and chairs from the Salvation Army or the Goodwill. But it holds a lot of memories of growing up, and I’m glad to have it out of storage at last!

Dining room table

Here’s the companion dining room table. I used to have a great time making secret bases and hideouts under this table with my nextdoor neighbor, whom I’ll refer to as “Chris” to protect his identity. I believe this was our headquarters when our personal army was at war with Germany and/or Spain. This is only half of the table — three more legs go out in the other direction. I’m glad I was able to bring so much of the old Taylorville house to my new location, linking the present with the past.

Keeping the vigil

I’m delighted to have these old friends with me again, too! They’re from the college years, and they’ve figured into some stories and artwork. For over twenty years they sat atop my rolltop desk in the sealed-off darkness of the storage room, watching and waiting. What is time to a gargoyle?

Table leg

If I’d lived in Victorian times, I couldn’t have posted this picture on my blog. Have you heard how the Victorians designed covers to conceal the limbs of tables and chairs, which would otherwise be exposed and shocking? It’s true!

Dad's painting

This is another old treasure from storage. My dad painted this in 1964. He didn’t have any formal training, but I was in awe of it as a kid, and I still love how it captures the feel of a summer night. I imagine that I could step into its warmth-yet-coolness. In later years, we talked about how the painting is strangely prophetic. What else could that be but a Japanese Shinto torii gate, and what business does it have in the setting?

My homemade shelves

This was an innovation I’m really proud of. I have tons of books, right? TONS. I left many in storage, and only brought to Pittsburgh the ones I absolutely wanted to have with me and the ones I thought I might read sometime soon. But that still means that most of what I brought with me was books. I knew there were no bookcases I could buy that would house them properly. Bookcases can be expensive; they’re bulky, difficult to transport, and consume massive amounts of space. So I had this great idea . . .

Pittsburgh has a wonderful store called Construction Junction, which sells used and surplus building materials as well as used furniture. You can find anything there from desks and file cabinets to plumbing fixtures, church pews, stained-glass windows, and a circular stairway handrail. Some of those grand old things cost thousands of dollars, but some are ridiculously cheap, such as bricks for 35 cents apiece and random boards for about the same.

I bought a carload of odd lumber and bricks for less than $20 in all; I washed them off with a hose at my friends’  house, and when everything was dry, I assembled my own bookshelves!

Shelves for larger books

These can be made to fit the available space you have — corners, hallways, and low sections of wall below windows. They’re easier than pie to take apart and move. And I love how they look — basic, natural, functional, and rustic. Bricks are about the perfect height to accommodate mass-market paperbacks. Larger bricks work well for trade paperbacks and hardbacks!

By the way, on the shelf in the photo above, there are: 1.) Gandalf; 2.) an organ pipe from the old organ at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, which a friend gave me as a housewarming present (the pipe, not the whole organ); 3.) a troll made of moss, brought back by Mom from Norway — he was the model for Crion in The Threshold of Twilight; and 4.) a strange, smooth black stone that Dad found. I’ve never seen any other stone like it. Dad pointed out that it’s shaped like an actual heart. Maybe it’s the dark form of a Star Shard . . .

A castle on the Rhine

This is perhaps my favorite painting anywhere. It hung in our house all the while my parents lived there and I was growing up. Mom bought it from a street artist in Germany, when she taught there at a U.S. military base. The artist, E. Mludek, was painting castles on the Rhine River, and he would do them in any color you requested. Mom asked for blue. E. Mludek’s price was “five Marks [I don’t remember the actual number] and a bottle of [such-and-such] wine.” Mom had to go to a certain store, buy the wine, and bring it back to him at the arranged time. And Herr Mludek painted this wondrous image for her, just as promised.

No other single image had my attention so much as a child. I passed the painting often, and it seemed full of stories. In my imagination, I walked in the dusky forest, explored the ruins, and sat on the cliffs to watch the river and dream of who might be in the distant castle on the other shore. And doesn’t that look like a face in profile on the rocky bank, gazing sternly over the river? Long years and clouds of cigarette smoke have taken their toll, but it’s still quite a painting — a gateway to enchantment, eh?

Stove

This is looking from my kitchen into what I’m using as my bedroom. My office is in the largest chamber beyond.

Shelves for very large books

Some friends from church gave me this folding bookshelf, which is ideal for my largest books. Can you glimpse any treasures? They’re there!

Workspace

Yes, the dictionaries are back in place within easy reach! I got this desk arrangement from Ikea. It’s a corner piece and two straight pieces — very sturdy, and all a person has to do is screw the legs into place. You buy however many surface pieces and however many legs you want, arrange them in the layout you want, and it’s all much cheaper than any comparable L- or U-shaped desk. I also bought those shelves at the back, same grain and color, to use as a hutch. The chair and mat are from Staples.com.

Mom’s bookcases

I’m pretty sure my mom made these bookshelves herself. The three little books between the elephant bookends are Andersen’s fairy tales. The cross is made of materials from our farm: maple twigs from the Glory Day Grove, a spool from Mom’s sewing basket, and a base from a board that was part of the barn. The longsword is from Japan, but it’s Western-style — not a Hanzou sword, heh, heh!

Hall of books

Down at the hall’s far end is a framed Emily Fiegenschuh print, an illustration for “The Star Shard.”

Ikea desk and hutch

I think it’s a good workspace.

Work station again

I’m trying to decide whether I like that chair better, or an old wooden office chair that I got along with the lamp and four little yellow chairs. I may use the wooden chair in the summer and the plush black one in the colder months.

Living room

And when I say “living room,” I mean “office” . . .

What better bookshelves could there be?

Seriously! See how you can do most anything with bricks and boards? See the little extension that rises up beside the window, making use of the space?

Chunks of historic Pittsburgh

As it turned out, I didn’t buy enough bricks. But there were some discarded in my backyard, the remains of an old foundation or sidewalk. I appropriated a few of those to finish the job, and they have great character. I like the fact that my bookshelves are built of fragments of the old city, chunks and planks from diverse places, a part of the human whirl that has struggled and endured here since the days when black smoke obscured the sky.

Tolkien corner

Though most of my Tolkien and Tolkien-related books are here, some are scattered throughout the other shelves, and this space includes a lot of non-Tolkien stuff. The shelves are surprisingly sturdy, because they utilize walls, corners when possible, and gravity. You could knock them over if you really tried, but you could do that with any bookcase. I think Gimli would approve. He’d say, “These bookshelves have good bones.”

Shelves

Norton Anthologies. Dunsany. Lewis. Do you like the decor? Such is the Fredificium!

More shelves

These are some of my best-loved books from childhood/the teenage years. Just out of the picture is a baseball from the Field of Dreams. The terra-cotta warrior and his horse came from a traveling exhibit of hundreds of actual terra-cotta warriors that I saw in Niigata.

Books, CDs, DVDs

So many books, so little time . . .

Stairway to nowhere

This is an intriguing aspect of the architecture. There’s a tiny bit of the Winchester Mystery House right here! This was a stairway connecting my floor to the one below. But the remodelers boarded it up at the bottom end, so I have a stairway (behind a chain-lock and knob lock) that descends to a blank wall of joists and boards. When I flip on its light switch, I can see a light coming on in the apartment below me, filtering through cracks between the planks. (If people move in downstairs, I can really freak them out!)

Anyway, I have one very small closet in my place, only big enough for my trombone and a couple umbrellas, etc. So I’m using my Stairway to Nowhere as a descending closet. You can see it’s full of (mostly) empty boxes. With that chain lock, I think it will contain the monsters that tend to inhabit closets.

Come and See!

This is the first painting I’ve done since moving here. It was done as a present for a friend’s birthday, and I found it quite therapeutic to be working on it; it helped me to deal with the stress of the waiting game involved in job-hunting. Anyway, the title is “Come and See!” (not to be confused with what I’m told is an excellent movie by that title). As with most of my attempts at painting, your own interpretation of what you see is strongly encouraged. My idea is that the two girls are probably cousins. The darker-haired one wants to show her cousin something out in the moonlit clearing beyond the garden. It has a secret, impulsive, maybe even forbidden aspect, as they’ve sneaked (or wandered) out in their nightgowns. What are they going to see? A moss-bearded herm? A camp of carnival wagons across the meadow, where the fiddles play and fires crackle? A standing stone? A dance of fairy-folk?

Come and See!

Can you see the fireflies?

Well, that’s it for now. Though it pains me to say it, it’s time to think of good books for fall. Well, there’s Dragonfly, of course, and Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, and the anthology October Dreams, which is an absolute must for October! Any other good suggestions?

What I most recently listened to is the soundtrack of (the new) True Grit. I was so taken with the soundtrack after seeing the outstanding movie twice that I just had to acquire it. Composed by Carter Burwell, it makes use of 1800s hymns — so much use of them, in fact, that it was knocked out of the running for an Academy Award — not enough “original music” in it. Be that as it may, I cannot imagine a more appropriate and powerful soundtrack for the film.

See the movie. It’s an inspiration. The writing particularly caught my attention, and everything about the film is superb. (And it’s another novel I’d like to read.)

Here’s what Carter Burwell wrote (in part) about his musical choices for this undertaking:

“Mattie Ross drives this story. But her unquestioning determination to go into wild country in pursuit of her father’s killer begs explanation. Where would a 14-year-old girl come by the audacity to browbeat outlaws and lawmen, follow them into the wilderness, correct their spelling? Church, of course.”

That quote runs deep. That’s where the courage and the pluck come from: from belief. From “Leaning On the Everlasting Arms.”

To Unemployment, I say, “Fill your hands, you . . .” and ride forth with the reins in my teeth!

Dorothy VanAndel Frisch Interview: The Gift of Music

August 4, 2011

The blog’s offices are relocated now: here is our first entry from Pittsburgh, the Uncanny City! In keeping with our dedication to embracing writing in all forms — Poetry in the largest sense — we present an interview with a musician. Dorothy is a long-time reader of and contributor to this blog: you know her as Daylily. She has kindly agreed to “blow her cover” and answer some questions about her creative work.

Dorothy is a prolific composer and arranger of music — choral and instrumental (and combinations thereof), sacred and secular. She studied music as an undergrad, concentrating in organ. Now holding a Master of Music degree in history and literature, she has sung in choral groups all her life. She has been a soloist, choir director, church organist, composer-in-residence, and teacher of composition.

Especially within the last few years, her work has been receiving national notice. Yet she remains dedicated to encouraging others to develop and enjoy their musical gifts. One among many examples of her service to young musicians is her arranging of the songs for Glad to Be Alive!: A Musical Character Education Program of 54 Songs for Elementary Children by Kathryn S. Atman. This willingness to teach and share is apparent in Dorothy’s firm belief that music is a gift for people of all ages and abilities.

Here, then, are my questions and Dorothy’s answers:

 

Would you tell us about the scope or range of your work as a composer? That is, what types of music do you write?

I usually write for the performing forces available to me.  So I have written numerous sacred choral anthems, a Christmas cantata, an Easter cantata, organ music, piano music, hand bell works, and various instrumental works and arrangements.

Recently, there was an exciting, large-scale performance of your musical setting for my poem “Summerdark.” Would you tell us when and where that was, who was involved, and how it came about? And how did it go? 

The premiere of “Summerdark” was on May 22, 2011 in Stow, MA by the Sounds of Stow Festival Chorus, some forty voices. [Here is a link to the sound file]:

http://soundcloud.com/dorothy-vanandel-frisch/summerdark

  I had written the setting of “Summerdark” back in June of 2010 and was looking for a group to perform the work.  Last January, I attended a workshop for choral directors and choristers. There I met Barbara Jones, director of the Sounds of Stow.  She and some of her choristers were sitting at one of the lunch tables and I joined them.  When the discussion turned to the spring concert of the chorus, and Ms. Jones mentioned that the theme would be place-related, I thought, “’Summerdark’ is a place.  It’s an imaginary place, but it’s a place!”  So I mentioned “Summerdark,” the director was quite taken with the MIDI file of the piece, and she programmed the work.  The choir enjoyed the piece immensely and so did the audience; I myself sank into the music and lived in it for those few moments, as it finally became this work of living sound.  Here it was, sung with the expression and the mystery for which I had hoped.  At last the work was no longer just my private inner recording of the imaginary choir that sings in my head!

As for the inspiration to set “Summerdark” to music, that goes back to your blog entry of some time back (April 30, 2009, “Spring-Boards”), in which you quoted part of your poem “I Am Looking at Lilacs,” using various lines to accompany your pictures of spring in Japan.  I was intrigued by the poem and wanted to see the whole thing, and you kindly sent me a copy.  The poem sat on my desk for a while, and one day I realized that it would make a lovely choral work.  Then, this choral piece needed a companion piece, and that turned out to be “Summerdark”!  (Both poems are in your book of poetry, Songs of Summerdark.)

What are the challenges of setting an existing poem to music?

The challenge is to listen to the poem and let it tell you what the setting should be, i.e., what are the logical rhythms of the words, what are the shapes of the phrases, who is singing this line or that, who answers with another line, and what sort of tone painting might words like “deep beneath the wall” (in “Summerdark”) be asking for.  “Deep beneath the wall” turned out to be a line for the bass section to sing at the bottom of their range!  The biggest challenge is to listen first and to not write anything down too quickly, i.e., to let the words make their own setting.

You also recently did a setting for a poem of John Milton’s, which won you some serious recognition. Please tell us about that!

I chose to set John Milton’s “At a Solemn Musick” for the 2010-2011 Sorel Medallion Choral Composition Contest, a competition for women composers.  The setting was required to be for mixed chorus and pipe organ, i.e. the Voices of Ascension, a 40-voice choir of paid professionals, and a new five-manual Pascal Quoirin organ, the first French-made organ to be installed in New York City.  The entry was to be no longer than eleven minutes.  I wanted a text with some length, some drama, and some interesting word pictures.  This text has that and more!  Setting it was quite a challenge.  The setting is very much text-driven, with a good deal of tone painting.  For example, for the phrase “hymns devout and holy psalms,” the music sounds like a four-part hymn.  “And with harsh din” is spoken by the voices individually, in an additive effect, louder and louder, then adding chord clusters with the organist’s fists.  It is a most horrible cacophony, as befits the text which says “disproportioned sin Jarr’d against natures chime, and with harsh din Broke the fair musick”.  The opening pictures of the poem depict the glorious harmony of all heaven united in praise to God, a song which earth once joined until sin introduced discord to the world.  But the poem ends in hope, and correspondingly the music returns to the joy and light of heaven.  I found it to be a very educational experience, writing something this long (eight and a half minutes) and working with a text of this difficulty.  It was a great honor to have the work selected for the semifinalist and then the finalist round! The three finalists were invited to New York City for the rehearsals and performance of our pieces.  We all received transportation to NYC, lodging in a fine hotel, meals, consultations with the conductor, and the performance of our work by one of the best choirs in America.  That was the best prize of all: the performance.  The Voices of Ascension are astoundingly good.  It was a night of goose bumps!  We did not know who would receive what place until midway through that evening of June 8, 2011.  As it turned out, I received third place and $1000 for “At a Solemn Musick.”  Considering the music of the second half, “Missa Brevis” by Zoltan Kodaly and “I was glad” by Sir Charles Hubert H. Parry, I felt blessed to have my work premiered amid such company and by such a superb ensemble!

You are a composer, organist, pianist, singer, and teacher of composition. What are the interrelationships of those roles? How do you divide your time and energies among them?

Great question!  I find that each of these interests informs the others.  For example, my personal acquaintance with the organ, piano, and voice makes me know what will work on these instruments and what will not.  And all the literature I have performed with these instruments is part of the background I bring to my writing.  Also, improvising at the organ is a form of composition and can lead to a written composition.  In teaching composition, I think about what I know and what I want to convey, and that helps me to be more intentional in my own composing.  As for time, there are not enough hours in the day!  My idea of heaven is getting to write, play, and sing daily, but that does not often happen.  So I allot my time according to the performances coming up and the deadlines for the various compositions.  I do usually sing and hum a little each day, because I retain my range better that way.  And I enjoy singing and improvising with my voice in the car!

We’ve talked a lot on this blog about where fiction writers get their ideas. Where do musical inspirations come from? How does a composition begin in your mind?

I have no one answer for this question.  It depends on what sort of composition it is.  If the piece is a setting of a hymn text, I start with the text and do some research, looking for the best available common domain tune.  Sometimes I find a wonderful tune to suit the text; sometimes the best solution is to write my own tune.  Once I have text and tune, all the rest follows.  The usual form is introduction, stanza one, interlude, stanza two, interlude, stanza three, etc., coda.  If the piece is a setting of a poem, it may well become a freeform interpretation of the text, with the tune varying from stanza to stanza.  If the piece is purely instrumental, it may be based on a pre-existent tune, or it may develop from a fragment of melody that comes to me.

When you have an idea, do you usually know from the start what form it will take? Has a piece ever surprised you along the way?

When I write a choral anthem using one tune (pre-existent or my own), the form will be as described above.  The fun is in listening to the piece in my mind and hearing which of the many possible ways of setting text and tune will be the way this piece wants to develop.  Who will sing first?  Who will answer?  What sort of dialogue will develop between the voices?  With a freeform setting of a poem, I have many more surprises.  Besides listening for who is singing, I listen for what will be the best bit of melody to set a certain bit of text.  My biggest surprise was in setting “O the Depth!” by John A. Dalles.  A certain part (“sound the Alleluia, Alleluia”) wanted to modulate ever higher and higher, and end up who knows where, in some heavenly realm perhaps.  It was like nothing I’d ever written before.  And this part I had to work out at the piano, because I really couldn’t hear where this was supposed to be going.  It did turn out to be a suitably dramatic effect, despite my misgivings.

Have you always known you wanted to be a composer? 

No, I am a late bloomer. My talent started to come out in graduate school.

How did music first enter your life? Where did the “music bug” come from?

Our family often had classical music playing in the house, and we attended concerts.  I started piano lessons the summer after first grade.  Sometime in grade school, I knew that I would be an organist like my grandfather Henry VanAndel, the first college organist of my alma mater, Calvin College.  I majored in organ at Calvin and the organ has been an important part of my life ever since.

You know I’m going to ask about tools and work spaces. Do you compose on paper or with a computer? Do you have favorite equipment and/or a favorite place to work?

My tools are paper and pencil, computer, and keyboards.  If the composition involves a text, I start with the text on one sheet of paper.  Then I sit on the sofa and listen for what setting the text wants to create.  I listen over and over until the setting settles into one form.  Then I’ll make a few notes next to the text regarding who is singing, what the interludes are, etc.  At this point, I might make some notes in my music sketchbook.  If the composition is a freeform setting, I will have far more to write into the music sketchbook.  Once I’m satisfied with the outline of the piece, I enter the basic melodic structure into the computer, using my electronic keyboard.  I print the outline and take it to the acoustic piano to fill in harmonies and accompaniment.  I work through the piece to the end.  Then I go back to the computer and enter in as much as I can.  I listen to the computer playback and refine the piece, taking the piece back to the piano if I need to.  Before releasing the piece, I play through the accompaniment myself, to find those little things the computer playback will not show me.

A challenge I face as a writer is that my fiction tends to defy the classification labels that marketing departments like. Is there any similar difficulty in the music field?

Certainly.  Publishers of music tend to like “more of the same, only different,” just as in book publishing.  Anything too unusual in style or too difficult or too long is suspect.  In choral music, it is the short works that sell.  It is hard to get multi-movement works published.  In fairness, one can see that publishers can’t just publish music out of the goodness of their hearts; they have to be able to sell copies.  It is possible to write music that fits into a publishing niche and is also a work of art in itself.  But the temptation is do what sells, thereby letting the niche more and more define one’s art.

In the world of fiction writing, the typical pattern is that writers try to get published. They look for agents and editors who believe in the book. How does it work in your arena? How do composers get their work to audiences?

Agents are less interested in representing composers, because we are usually producing numbers of small works, rather than larger works with larger price tags.  [Fred’s interruption: Just as in the fiction industry, agents don’t handle short stories.] And in the music field, the larger works are much harder to get published.  The publishers want easier, shorter works so that they can sell lots of copies.  So it’s a matter of finding a publisher that wants the kind of thing you are writing, or of writing what they want, or both.  A composer can find a limited audience for almost anything he/she writes by finding a local group to perform the work.  Said work may or may not be publishable; it all depends upon whether a publisher thinks the work is salable.

Are you more productive at certain times of day?

I am most productive at night.  I like to write music after dinner, if I have no evening meetings.  But I can write music at any time of day.

Was there a breakthrough or epiphany moment in your musical life, when you felt you took a great stride forward as a composer?

The first breakthrough was the result of taking “Beginning Choral Writing” with Alice Parker.  It was in that course that I learned how to think of choral music in terms of voices in a dialogue, answering back and forth.  I also learned how to find the outline for a new piece and how to listen to the piece develop from beginning to end before starting to write down the notes.  This course revolutionized my composing technique!

A number of years later, the course I took with Jeanne Cotter opened to me the great possibilities of creative harmonization.  Every once in a while, I have another breakthrough.  The most recent one is realizing that now I can write freeform settings of poetry, settings that interpret the words more closely than can be done by using the same tune for each stanza.  “I Am Looking at Lilacs” was the second of these settings and “Summerdark” was the third.

It seems to me that composers have a point in common with playwrights: what they write passes through an intermediary agency before it reaches the audience — either actors or performing musicians interpret the work, and some of their choices may not be what the creator intended. Is this a difficult aspect of composing, and how do you deal with it?

I always feel grateful to the performers, without whom the work would only be black marks on a white piece of paper.  The score is merely a guide to the music; it is not the music itself.  And I respect the insights that various conductors and performers bring to the music. I also strive to attend rehearsals of a new work, so that I can help to shape the premiere.  This is important, because although composers try to put every indication possible into the score to help the performers, the score is still an imperfect guide to the music. [Fred’s intrusion: So it sounds like it’s more a plus than a minus to have all these other minds and talents contributing to the performance. I hear you! In that way, musical compositions are like movie scripts, too. The finished movie is the collaboration of hundreds and hundreds of people. Fiction writers, of course, have the help of editors, copyeditors, proofreaders, jacket designers, artists . . . and finally, of course, to all these works comes the audience — the reader, viewer, or listener, who brings the work to the only life it truly has.]

Would you be willing to relate for us one of your finest moments as a composer?

That would have to be the premiere of “At a Solemn Musick” by the Voices of Ascension!  At the end, I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hallelujah, Amen!”

What drew you to the organ? Was it the first instrument you played?

The piano was my first instrument, and I still love to play the piano, as well as finding it a vital tool for my work as composer.  But I took an interest in the organ from a young age, perhaps because of the many and varied sounds available on a fine instrument, the powerful sound of the full organ, and the fascination of studying an instrument that demands the use of two hands and two feet, sometimes all at the same time!

Many writers seek the opinions of test readers at some point before considering a book or story ready to go out into the world. Do you do something similar?

I always seek a first performance of a work before submitting it for publication.  No matter how good the computer playback is, it does not tell all.  Having heard the piece brought to life, I then know what little things should be altered in the score.  It could be so small as an added expression mark or a courtesy accidental.  My proofreading is very good, but there is nothing like a live performance to show exactly what one has written!

Has there been a particular composer or two that has/have especially inspired or influenced you?

My influences are many and varied:  J. S. Bach, Brahms, the English composers such as Ralph Vaughn Williams and Herbert Howells, and contemporary women composers such as Alice Parker and Jeanne Cotter.

What would you say is the reason you compose? What do you hope to accomplish through your work?

I write music because I must.  Believe me, my life would be much easier without writing music.  I have so many interests that I could very happily and productively fill my time without writing a note of music.  However, I have found that I am incomplete unless I write music.  It is perhaps my best gift from God, and I feel the strong pull to use it.  I feel the call to create beauty.  The world has far too much ugliness in it, and more beauty is needed as a counterbalance.  And I hope that the music I create points to the Creator of “every good and perfect gift” (James 1:17).

Thank you, Dorothy!

You are most welcome, Fred!  It was an honor.