Monthly Archives: April 2018

A Chopped Up Tale

I wrote a suite for a puppet theatre company in Toronto called the Crankee Consort. It was created and directed by Larry Lewis and Jane Low-Beer. My suite used numerous fiddle tunes as a resource. The instrumentation was classical guitar, violin, accordion and double bass.

A guitar solo from this suite was published by the Royal Conservatory of Music in their Grade V method book. The following is a recording from the original production, featuring Larry Lewis on guitar:

La belle jarretiere verte:


Here are the other tunes, more or less in the order they appeared. The performers in the recordings are Larry Lewis, guitar; Joe Macerollo, accordion; Ann Lederman, violin; and a double bass player whose name escapes me.:

Two woodsmen were chopping in the bitter cold. By mistake, one chops off his partner’s head. He uses snow to freeze the head back on. To take his friend’s mind off his troubles, he tells him the story of Ti-Jean.

Overture (This track is missing the guitar which was played live, like a Music Minus-One.):


Transition with Fiddle and Step Dancing:


Travelling Music, as Ti-Jean sets out on his adventure:


Old Man; music for the villain of the story. He has three daughters. If Ti-Jean can perform the task the Old Man sets for him, he can choose one of the daughters for his wife. If not, he will lose his head!:


Ti-Jean is about to leave, rather than risk his life. But… he sees the beautiful daughter known as La Belle Jarretiere Verte (The Beautiful Green Garter), and he falls in love:


Ti-Jean’s task is to retrieve some golden eggs that are much too high to reach. La Belle helps Ti-Jean with his task. She instructs Ti-Jean to make a ladder out her bones, after he cooks her in a pot. (We didn’t make that up. It is a whacky folk tale!) Next, Ti-Jean uses the ladder to climb up and reach the eggs. The tune was called Ladder Up:


Ti-Jean now must reassemble her bones to bring La Belle back to life. I used a variation on the tune Them Dry Bones to set up the dialogue that follows:


La Belle appears as beautiful as before, and once again, we hear her theme:


The Old Man is angry that Ti-Jean succeeded and furiously chases him  as he and La Belle try to get away. The Old Man transforms himself into a storm cloud, but La Belle becomes a white bird and Ti-Jean rides her to safety. Then the Old Man becomes a bird of prey, and La Belle turns her self into a wheat field, with Ti-Jean pretending to be a farmer harvesting his wheat. Then the Old Man becomes a huge red combine, a demonic harvesting machine, but La Belle becomes a lake and the combine sinks. At the end of the chase,  the Old Man emerges from the lake sputtering.:


After surviving the various threats, La Belle and Ti-Jean are married:


Later in the tale, there is a scene with a King and a Royal Fanfare was needed:


Eventually, the tale of Ti-Jean ends. The two Woodsmen each take a deep bow – one removing his hat, the other his head – and they exit to the music of the Finale:

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Guitar Concerto

This work dates back to the early 1980’s. It was commissioned by Eli Kassner and Lee Hepner through the Ontario Arts Council. After two performances using the piano reduction, the Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra was premiered in the intended orchestral version, in Rochester NY, on Mar. 27, 1982. Domenic Ashworth was the guitar soloist and Gerald Bannerman the conductor. The performance took place at Hochstein Music School. The producer of this concert was John Wiesenthal, and he did a great job at pulling everything together.

The Guitar Concerto had its Canadian premiere on June 29, 1984, at Guitar ’84 International Festival in Toronto. Again, Domenic Ashworth was soloist. The Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, was conducted by Raffi Armenian. The performance was recorded for a CBC broadcast on Sept. 24, 1984. Here are links to the broadcast recording:

Movement One:

Movement Two:

Movement Three:

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Chromatic Fantasia on the Name of Bach

Pursuit is a good word to describe what composers often do. It often starts with an innocent question: “Hey! I wonder if I could do that?”  and then, before you know it, countless hours have been gobbled up in the pursuit. When I was commissioned to write an organ solo for Douglas Haas, I thought it would be a challenge to base the work on the BACH motif.

The BACH motif is a succession of notes: B flat, A, C, B natural. In German musical nomenclature, the note B natural is written as H and the B flat as B. This allows a series of four notes to spell Johann Sebastian Bach’s family name. Hundreds of composers have paid homage to Johann Sebastian Bach by incorporating this motif in their music. I knew about Schumann’s work in this pursuit: Six Fugues on the Name of B-A-C-H and Liszt’s Fantasia and Fugue on the Theme of B-A-C-H.

The first three letters were no problem for me. The B flat and A form a major seventh, an interval I love, and throw in a C natural and it adds a major 9th or 2nd to the harmony. But what to do with the H – or you could say “What the H to do with the H?” When I tried to write a theme and a counter melody, I disliked everything I came up with.

It is second nature to me to use octatonic scales, also known as ‘diminished scales’. There are three possible octatonic scales and this chart lists them:

Bb C Db Eb E F# G A
B D Eb F F# G# A
Bb B Db D E F G A

As you can see, if Bb is your starting note, your centre of gravity, there is no dominant, no F. In terms of the BACH motif, there also is no H (B). Then I had an insight. I realized that, if I ‘modulated’ from one octatonic scale to another when the B natural (the H) occurred, I had a meaningful language, that sounded ‘right’. Since I write by ear, it is more important that it sounds right to me; it can’t just make a logical harmonic sense.

I created a piece is one continuous movement, but in two sections. The first is Largo, very slow, and certainly owes a debt to Bartok’s Music for Strings Percussion and Celeste. The second is quite fast and since Italian is used for musical instructions, I marked this “come un pipistrello fuori dal inferno”. This translates: “like a bat out of Hell.”

What you hear in this piece is the subtle shifting of scales in a harmonic sea where there is no home key. There are the 4 notes of the BACH motif however which provide an anchor.

The Chromatic Fantasia on the Name of Bach is quite a dense piece. Traditional fugal techniques are employed, such as stretto, where the voices enter earlier and play overlapping versions of the theme. The musical palette is quite chromatic and the four voices enter at the four point of a chromatic scale marked by a diminished seventh chord.

At the ending of the piece, the harmony results from stacking the 4 notes of the motif. I started with a low A natural in the cello and added the other 3 notes, stacked a minor 9th apart. This is the sonority at quite an abrasive climax. Then the notes are inverted and the dynamics change from triple forte to pianissimo. The lowest note now is a Bb and the other 3 notes form major 7th or major 9th ‘s intervals. Emotionally, it is like going from anguish to acceptance.

The work was premiered on June 28, 2017, by the Sycamore String Quartet at a concert in Kamloops, BC, entitled Made in Canada. At the premiere, I introduced it with some insights on how the material was structured. Here is a recording of this introduction, followed by links to the two movements of the work from the premiere performance:

Introduction by Doug Jamieson

Chromatic Fantasia on the Name of BACH part one

Chromatic Fantasia on the Name of BACH part two

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