The Weaving Princess and the Cowherd

for solo double bass with narration

I happened to be in Japan several years ago during the month of July visiting my daughter in the town of what is now Midori about 50 miles outside of Tokyo. During the time I was there we attended the local Hoshi Matsuri or Star Festival. I was taken by the quaintness and sweetness of the event, and how in the USA we did not have any holiday which remotely approached a celebration of love. The festival is based on the ancient Chinese tale of the Weaving Princess and the Cowherd, two stars, who, though in love, are only allowed to meet once a year.

In 2020, I was preparing a program for a chamber music concert at a planetarium on the campus of Embry Riddle University in Prescott, Arizona. Since they asked for a solo piece, I thought of doing my Six Miniatures for solo double bass from my collection Three Pieces for Double Bass (1984), which I have performed several times. I thought that since the concert was about the stars, it would be fun to work the piece around the story of the Japanese Star Festival. Though the concert was eventually cancelled because of the CoronaVirus Pandemic, I had worked the six small pieces around the story and liked it very much!

I have included the text in the score so a bassist could narrate the story by himself, or it can, of course, be narrated by a separate narrator. I originally wrote the Six Miniatures as example pieces for a series of school concerts I did with a string orchestra from the Phoenix Symphony. Each of the principals would play a little excerpt of a minute or less to showcase their instrument. I, of course, took that as a compositional challenge. They are, fittingly, like little musical haiku, short but succinct and complete.

Because the original concert was cancelled, I thought it would be a good idea to perform the work on video. I am doing both the narration and playing the bass.

 

Suite from “Existential Doubt” (2021)

for solo piano

This suite is taken from the album, Existential Doubt, which I released in April of 2021.  It transcribes and adapts the first, second, and fourth track.  The music is moody and probing.  There are questions, uncomfortable visions, and a fixation with a sense of dread.  The music is not apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic, but rather more worrisome than fatalist.

As long as I can remember, there has been real concern about the direction in which humanity is heading.  When I was young, the focus seemed to be on nuclear war and overpopulation.  Today, the concern seems to be more about climate change, which is maybe less immediate or glamorous, but no less apocalyptic.  Maybe this sort of doubt is somewhat endemic to the species, centering around the subject du jour.  I don’t know.  Civilization certainly brings compromises and stresses that were not as present in a more rural, peaceful, or stable lifestyle, and it has been doing so for thousands of years.

 Maybe it is just the added concern from the Covid pandemic, which is still raging, but the present level of real consternation over our future seems more widespread lately.  In this suite, I try to deal with this angst from both an intellectual and emotional point of view.  Though there are many who are convinced, or at least hopeful, that technology will bale us out of our present crisis, others are daring to look over the edge and imagine what it might be like on the other side.  The possibilities and emotional impact are not always pleasant, nevertheless we carry on, but hopefully we engender an enlightened sense of environmental commitment.. 

I am performing on the piano in the following videos.

The first movement is marked by worrisome probing. It’s aching unanswerable questions linger beyond the final bar.

The second movement is a moody scherzo of sorts, an oxymoron. It is an unsettling vision of life during upheaval. It also offers the hope of honoring relationships, a focusing of more important values.

The third movement is about the inevitability of reckoning. None of this is going away, no matter what the diversion.

Suite from Existential Doubt is available from American Composers Edition at https://composers.com/composers/glenn-stallcop/suite-existential-doubt

The album “Existential Doubt” is available from BandCamp at https://glennstallcop.bandcamp.com/album/existential-doubt

Existential Doubt

A piano album concerning the uncertainty of our future –

This album has gone through some conceptual changes since it was first recorded.  The music is quite passionate, and at first I thought of it as romantic, though cautious and tentative.  But as the time of recording grew more distant, I started to see the music as not romantic at all.  It is passionate, yes, and there are moments that are quite tender.  But the overall feeling of the music is much more brooding than I initially realized.  Also the hesitancy and tentative nature is not just present, it is probably the most notable characteristic of the album.

As long as I can remember, there has been real concern about the direction in which humanity is heading.  When I was young, the focus seemed to be on nuclear war and overpopulation.  I remember there was actually a HIT song titled, “We’re On the Eve of Destruction!”  Today, the concern seems to be more about climate change, which is maybe less immediate or glamorous, but no less apocalyptic.  Maybe this sort of doubt is somewhat endemic to the species, centering around the subject du jour.  I don’t know.  Civilization certainly brings compromises and stresses that were not as present in a more rural, peaceful, or stable lifestyle, and it has been doing so for thousands of years.

Maybe it is just the added concern of the pandemic, but the present level of real consternation over our future seems more widespread lately.  In this album, I try to deal with this angst from both an intellectual and emotional point of view.  Though there are many who are convinced, or at least hopeful, that technology will bale us out of our present crisis, others are daring to look over the edge and imagine what it might be like on the other side.  The possibilities and emotional impact are not always pleasant, nevertheless we carry on, but hopefully we engender an enlightened sense of environmental commitment..  

Seven Little Duets

for two double basses

These duets were written in the summer of 1991 while performing at a festival in Flagstaff, Arizona.  I had written a set of concert duets a few years before and wanted to write a set of duets more suitable to the studio or to be played among friends.  I had always enjoyed playing duets with my colleagues, teachers, and students, and wanted to add something to that repertoire.

All the duets are short and can be played from a single part.  Six of the seven are written in binary form with two sets of repeats.  One of the enjoyable things to do with binary duets is to change parts at the repeat, and these duets are constructed so the players can do that.

There is no real emotional plan for these pieces other than to contrast moods.  They are meant to be played for enjoyment. With only a couple of adaptations, they could also be performed by two cellos, or cello and double bass.

The score video below uses sampled sounds. The videos do not take any of the repeats.

Seven Little Duets are available from American Composers Edition at https://composers.com/composers/glenn-stallcop/seven-little-duets-two-double-basses

Vision Quest (2002)

for double bass and piano

Vision Quest was written during the summer of 2002 as a work for myself to play.  I had not written a double bass work for several years, and I felt compelled to try to add a more serious work to the double bass solo repertoire.

Many of my works are taken from an improvisation to a greater or lesser degree.  This work was developed from a keyboard improvisation, however, it bears little resemblance to the original as the transformation has been extensive.  The original improvisation served as more of a springboard for the inspiration and the development of the piece.

The term “vision quest” is usually associated with Shamanism, and refers to a period of solitary fasting and chanting in the wilderness in search of a ‘defining” vision.  The work, however, is not particularly sectarian or partial to any particular religious tradition.  The work is meant to represent an ecstatic religious experience in a more abstract sense.  Neither is the music particularly Native American in character, though the ending “vision” section does bare a passing resemblance to the music associated with traditional Peyote ceremonies.

Vision Quest was awarded the David Walter Prize by the International Society of Bassists in their bi-annual composition contest for solo double bass.  It was premiered at the 2004 ISB Convention in Kalamazoo, MI, with Michael Cameron double bass, and Dianne Frazier Cross, piano.  For these videos, I am playing the double bass and Sherry Lenich is the pianist  in a performance at Pinnacle Presbyterian in Scottsdale in April, 2010.

The first movement, Ritual Incantation, portrays the period of singing, prayer, and meditation that begins the ritual.

After fasting and praying for a vision that will transform the subject’s spiritual identity, there is often a painful period in which the original identity is abandoned.  The second movement takes up this experience.

After the abandonment, the “empty vessel” invites a new spiritual presence to appear.  This is done with singing, dancing, and chanting ending in delirious rapture followed by the transforming vision.

Vision Quest (2002) is available from the American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here

Sonata (1991)

for cello and piano

During the 1980’s, I developed a goal of writing sonatas or something similar for all the string instruments.  The Sonata for Cello and Piano was the last one I wrote, though I didn’t write serious multi-movement work for the double bass, oddly enough, until the 2000’s.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano is written in the Neo-Classical/Neo-Renaissance style that I used for most of the 1980’s.  It combines a spiraling expository process with more traditional forms.

The first movement is rather standard sonata form, complete with a repeat after the exposition.  The timing really needs the repeat, and I suggest taking it.  It is quite lyrical and delicate at times.

The second movement uses a modified binary form, but I have eliminated the traditional repeats.  The spiraling of the material is more obvious in this movement, especially in the first half, and it is more dramatic than the first movement.  The movement ends with a lyrical but dramatic mini-cadenza for the cello.  The third movement is effective when played attacca.

The-third movement is a spirited and virtuosic rondo.  It is rather equally balanced with busy solo passages for both the cello and piano.  The telescoping passage at the end brings it to a rousing conclusion.

The Sonata for Cello and Piano was first performed by Duo West, Ian Ginsberg, cello, and Sherry Lenich, piano, in Tempe, AZ in October of 2004.  They are the fine performers on these videos.

Sonata for Cello and Piano (1991) is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.

Trio (1983)

for flute, viola, and piano

The Trio (1983) for flute, viola, and piano was written as a finale to a concert of new chamber music works I presented in March of 1983.  The other two premieres on that concert were the Viola Sonata (1982) and Short Set (1982) for flute and piano.

The work is one of the few traditional four-movement works I have written.    I wrote the whole concert as a single design.  The Viola Sonata has three sonata-like movements, and Short Set has three ABA song-like movements.  The Trio is a combination of the two, with the outer two movements being sonata-like and the inner two movements being song-like.  The first two movements are played attacca, and the last two movements are also played attacca, so the work is quite symmetrical.

The work has a festival or reunion feel to it.  The first movement is the arrival stage, as the peace and quiet is disturbed by the arrival of the guests.  My father’s family was very large and would stage family reunions every Thanksgiving at the local Grange Hall in Woodland, Washington, where upwards of a hundred people would gather.  The two inner movements are episodes, and the last movement is the finale which for us was Thanksgiving dinner.  I have several relatives whom I still only know from these events.

The first movement is titled Ingathering, which leads directly into the second movement, Waiting for the Sunrise.

The third movement is a quirky Scherzo, which keeps alternating between 2/4 and 3/4, and is followed by a hard-driving Finale.

Trio (1983) is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.

Midsummer Night (1982)

for violin, marimba, and piano

Growing up in the USA, I didn’t know anyone who celebrated Midsummer Night.  I had studied the Shakespeare play in high school, but still didn’t think of the summer solstice as a holiday that people celebrated until the late 1970’s, when I went on an reading binge of the novels of Ursula Le Guin.  In her Earthsea series, there is a detailed description of the celebration of Midsummer Night, which included dancing until dawn.  All the holidays I had ever known were either religious or political and rather tedious, but this sounded like a holiday that I would actually enjoy celebrating! 

The trio, Midsummer Night, was written for a concert of new chamber works in 1982 in Scottsdale, AZ.  The work is in three lively movements. 

Jazz Dance does not refer to “swing” jazz so much as the Jazz Fusion that flourished in the 1970’s, which is more rhythmically derivative of Hard Rock with straight eighth notes. 

The second movement, Waltz, is a little more subdued, but slowly picks up the tempo to a point where the dance swings freely in one.  

The last movement, Tarantella, though not as fast as the original dance, is never-the-less fast enough!  The syncopation and counterpoint make it seem faster than it is.  The tempo never falters. and continues to drive forward to a wild almost Bacchanalian finish.  I have often performed the Tarantella separately, as it is a show piece all its own.piece all its own.

Midsummer Night is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.

Suite from “Bridge to Nowhere” (2018)

for solo piano

This suite is a transcription and adaptation of four tracks from the album, Bridge to Nowhere, which I released in 2017.

I am using “Bridge to Nowhere” as a metaphor for spiritual awakening.  The experience is described in the literature of several religions and is characterized by replacing one’s image of oneself (ego) with an acceptance of one’s experience as oneself.  It is a realization that we are not separate from the world.  It is us, and we are it.  

But the experience changes nothing except one’s attitude.  Everything is the same.  As the Buddhist Ch’ing-yüan puts it:

Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains, and waters as waters.  When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point where I saw that mountains are not mountains, and waters are not waters.  But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest.  For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains, and waters once again as waters.

I can’t say to have ever had this experience myself, but I have always been fascinated by what I have read about it.  It is always described as a loss of self, or rather the loss of one’s image of oneself.  It is sort of an intellectual and emotional suicide in order to accept the world as it is (or the world as God. depending on your viewpoint).  It seems very risky. 

My link to understanding is through music. It is beautiful, socially engaging, and its mysterious depths seem bottomless. This suite explores some of those mysteries.

Call of the Crossing, explores the strange allure of spiritual practice.

Fear of Heights is about the trepidation that accompanies a spiritual commitment.

You Can See Forever is an encounter with emptiness.

Beautiful Water is a reassessment of and reemergence in the world.

Suite from “Bridge To Nowhere” is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.

Brass Quintet (1979)

for 2 trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba

The Brass Quintet (1979) was written for the Southwest Brass Quintet.  The ensemble was comprised of members of the Phoenix Symphony, and the work was first performed at Arizona State University in December of 1979. 

The work is the second in which I used transcribed keyboard improvisations as the basis for the composition.  The work uses a free-wheeling motivic technique based around a rather blues and jazz derived style.  

At the time, the brass quintet, as an ensemble, had not yet developed the light-hearted pops-oriented reputation brought on by such groups as the Canadian Brass, etc.  As such, I treated the instrumentation and music as I would any other piece of chamber music.  Though the style is based on some more popular elements, the music is more complex and intricate than one might expect.  More often than not the texture is contrapuntal and the work abounds in cross rhythms and syncopation. The work was written for professional level performers and is a sparkling show piece.

The first movement is a predominantly lyrical allegro movement that gradually builds into a driving climax. 

The second movement is an moderate tempo lyrical waltz. 

The last movement is a boisterous jig full of drive and good humor. 

Brass Quintet (1979) is available from American Composers Edition (composers.com) and may be ordered here.