My love affair with American folk music began in Ann Arbor, Michigan where I studied and worked. There I began to play mountain dulcimer, sing, try out the bones. The folk scene in Ann Arbor was and still is very rich - and I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the culture. As I veered off into more experimental ideas in music the folk threads remained - references in pieces like Four Marys (my first string quartet), Cruel Sister (string orchestra work that follows the arc of an old Scottish ballad), and most recently Steel Hammer (an evening length art ballad for Trio Mediaeval and the Bang on a Can All-Stars). In With a blue dress on, for solo violin/voice and prerecorded tracks, the folk roots come to the fore with fiddling licks, fragments of song, and bows deep into the string. I was inspired by a plaintive field recording of a woman singing "Pretty little girl with a blue dress on." Her tone was rough and her rhythm irregular. The timing and tempos, or implied tempos, in my piece play on this irregularity and fluctuation - placing folk-like fragments into a kind of joyful hyper state.
With a blue dress on was written for Monica Germino and commissioned by the Eduard van Beinum Stichting.
Stronghold was written for Robert Black and premiered by his group The Hartt Bass Ensemble. While working with Robert I discovered that the bass had a limitless universe of expressive possibilities rarely explored. Yes it has those great low notes, but you won’t hear any until halfway through the piece. Stronghold starts with webs of rolling harmonics, very high overtones that take advantage of the long length of the strings, and ends with thick resonant sounds created when the bow is heavily pressed into the low open E string. With 8 basses going at once the ensemble turns into one mega bass, and it’s hard to tell where one player ends and another begins. On this recording Robert Black plays all eight parts.
Earring was written as a part of a collection of 25 study pieces for piano published by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (UK). At the start of Earring the hands are completely independent - one hammering away in irregular rhythms at the top end of the piano, the other hand playing a slow dreamy melody in mid-range. The task is to maintain a clear sense of both worlds at the same time. For most of this short work the two hands coexist separately, taking little notice of each other as they transform.