Electric (Piano) Counterpoint Performance

The past month has been incredibly rewarding and busy. I did my first live broadcast over ustream for Earth Hour, performed at the opening of the Pop-Up Museum of Queer History in Philadelphia, and continued work on an album I began back in December. On March 8th, I gave my debut recital as a solo artist at Rowan University. In addition to more traditional saxophone repertoire, I did a bit of pop minimalism, performing Marianne Faithfull’s Ballad of Lucy Jordan, Laurie Anderson’s The Dream Before, and my clarinet arrangement of Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work.

In the middle of all that, I finished my recording of Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint for Wurlitzer electric piano right hand. The repetitive 16th notes proved difficult to keep even, due to the tendency for my thumb to strike the keys harder than my other fingers. For the video, I simply placed the camera directly on the keyboard. The repeated gestures create a kind of ‘dance’ that highlights the compositional process of the piece. I hope to perform the piece in public on the Wurlitzer, but I will probably end up using a sampled electric piano to avoid carrying my piano down a flight of stairs.

Here is the video.

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This Woman’s Work

When I read that Kate Bush was revisiting “This Woman’s Work” for hew new album Director’s Cut, I was inspired to create my own interpretation of this masterpiece of a song. It is a paean to parenthood that explores how relationships change over time, and how individuals change within that relationship. The intricate harmonic progression lends itself well to an instrumental version.

I chose to arrange it for clarinet choir for the textural possibilities of the different registers. The throaty lower register contrasts well with the clear tones of the clarion notes. The arrangement started with the first motif you hear (G-Bb-Eb-G-A); the chord inversions add instability to the harmonic structure, something that gives the song additional drama. Most of the new melodic material came from that motif. As the song continues, clarinets are added until there are six. After the climax, all but one line drop out.

Recording and production presented a few difficulties for me, since I had never recorded a clarinet before. The sound of the fingers closing the tone holes is a percussive effect that can be obtrusive if the mic is placed too close to the lower joint of the instrument. I found that placing the condenser mic at an angle above the sixth finger roughly six inches away captured the woody quality of the clarinet’s tone perfectly.