A piano album of inquiry

Quandary cover

This is a peaceful but probing album broaching some of the larger questions; those questions you sometimes ponder when you don’t have enough to do. it doesn’t suggest any answers, or at least any simple answers. It only suggests that the world is just way too complex to worry much about. Humans may be having a significant effect upon it, but Nature will find a way through it. Of course, it may decide we don’t have a place in the solution, but that would be our fault.

I tend to welcome complexity in my music. One reason I prefer spontaneity as a compositional technique is that it seems to enhance and encourage diversity and complex relationships. Instead of creating complex music from simple generators, like say j. S. Bach, I start complex and try to develop the relationships that I find. I, personally, think that this is closer to how we must cope with the real world, which is neither simple or static. But I am a pretty low-key person, as a rule, and I don’t get tremendously worked up about it. Though that doesn’t stop me from thinking about it.

Quandary sets out to blaze a path of discovery and exploration. There are several moments of interest, intrigue, and beauty along the way. But it choses not to dwell on any of them for very long. Life is too short, and the world is too large. The questions remain unanswered, but Nature is both unconcerned and undeterred.

City Music – Phoenix Symphony Performance

A Phoenix Symphony (Tito Munoz, cond.) gave a stellar performance of my orchestra work City Music on Nov. 8, 9, & 10, 2019.  The recording below is from the Nov. 9th performance.  I wrote the work when I was 24, and after the premiere in 1976, I made several cuts and edits.  I continued to refine the edits with each successive performance until a performance in 1986, when I was finally satisfied enough to consider it the “final version.”  By this time, the parts and score, which were in manuscript of course, were in pretty bad shape.  I decided I needed to recopy the work.  Then I decided to wait until computer software became good enough.  Then I got really busy.  The work did not get recopied until about twenty years later.  This is the work’s first performance since I recopied it.

G. Stallcop – City Music – 1. Song          Phoenix Symphony, Tito Munoz, cond.

G. Stallcop – City Music – 2. Dance        Phoenix Symphony, Tito Munoz, cond.

Notes for City Music

City Music (1974) was my first major effort for orchestra, written just after I left college and took a position as a double bassist with the Phoenix Symphony. It was written as a gift and tribute to Vilem Sokol, legendary conductor of the Seattle Youth Symphony, to whom I owe the inspiration to pursue music as a career. It was first performed by the Seattle Youth Symphony, with Vilem Sokol conducting, in the Seattle Opera House, in May 1976.

Following a period of experimentation in college, I set out with this piece to consolidate what I had learned while attempting a more colloquial style. At the time, most orchestras were not performing “pops” concerts, but I felt that rock, blues, and fusion jazz had a lot to offer. This work was the result. With the exception of Bernstein, most readily accessible American music was either overtly Romantic or based on folk or country music. This work was based more on music from the city, hence the name. Though the work does show a marked influence of the blues, and a lavish use of idiomatic percussion, the end result is primarily orchestral.

The first movement, “Song”, paints an exotic and cosmopolitan picture of the city with its esoteric sophistication and elan. Essentially a set of variations, the movement features two lavish and virtuosic fast variations and an extended bluesy cadenza for solo violin. The second movement, “Dance”, characterizes the hustle, bustle, and mega-caffeinated reality of life in the city. Its popular rhythms, cast in the form of a rondo, come together for an extended coda which builds to a wild frenzy at the end.


The Art of the Flute and Inner Vocalizations

More solo improvisations for Coronatime

With lots of time on my hands, I have been surfing YouTube for solo improvisers who provide moving performances that speak to our present lives in isolation.  Today I am sharing two of them, Derek Charke and George Grant.

Flutist and composer Derek Charke teaches composition at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  His flute and bass flute improvisations are inventive, very well sculpted and full of things that I didn’t know the flute could do.  His improvs are full of alternate and unusual fingerings, and embouchure tricks.  He also has his flutes constructed with open holes to accommodate easier pitch bending.  His bass flute work is particularly fascinating.  I have never seen a bass flute live!  He apparently is equipped with a pair of iron lungs, as well.

He has collected his recent improvs into one large video, which I have linked to below so you can binge listen like I did.  I was transfixed for about 45 minutes.  Enjoy!



George Grant is a Professor of Music Therapy at Utah State University. He specializes in vocal toning and throat singing.  He is no slouch on the hand drum either.  His music is something altogether different from that of Derek Charke.  As a music therapist, he emphasizes the healing and meditative aspects in his music.  The things he does with his voice in this improvisation are not easy, and they are presented with a real emotional honesty.  I love the simplicity of this music.  One of my composition teachers told me that it seemed to him that the most spiritual music was often extraordinarily simple.  I think he was right.


Private Music Improvisation

Improvisation is the most appropriate one-on-one musical interface for Corona-times

Of the proliferation of home-recorded music being done these days, I find that I like the solo improvisation the best.  This is perhaps not surprising as I am very interested in improvisation anyway, but I think a good musician improvising captures the mood of the present very poignantly, while a written piece may or may not be appropriate. 

Over the course of music history, there have been thousands of pieces that were written for the home, particularly music for keyboard.  Before people had the luxury of listening to recorded music, the only way they could have music in their home was to 1) hire a musician, or 2) play it themselves.  Many of my favorite composers (C.P.E. Bach, Chopin, Grieg, Debussy, etc.) devoted a majority of their compositional efforts to “parlor music” as it was commonly known.  The interesting thing about this music is that it is not really intended for listeners.  The performer and the listener are one in the same.  The performer/listener, because he or she is already very engaged mentally, is considerably more focused than your average concert goer.  Much of the world’s chamber music was likewise composed, for amateurs getting together.  (Most of the rest was composed as background music for various social events!) There is not a lot of music of this sort written for solo instruments other than the piano or guitar, but the amount of “parlor” chamber music is huge.

Today, with so much music of all sorts so easily available through recording, this sort music is no longer very much played.  Sure, some of it, Chopin, Brahms, Debussy, and others, have become recital staples, but most of the rest is out of print and gathering dust.  I was so very fortunate to have inherited my piano teacher’s (Frits Scavenius) entire piano library.  His concert career spanned the 1910’s and 20’s, and a little into the 30’s.  He was said to have had the entire piano repertoire of Grieg committed to memory, and there is certainly a lot of it in his library.  But there is also reams and reams of music and composers I have never heard of, and it is all music of this type – shorter romantic pieces of average to above-average difficulty meant to be played at home.

But recorded music has changed the nature of the standard musical dialog. The role of the composer has diminished, while stature of the performance has grown in importance and become more personal and independent.  The dialog used to be between composer and listener, with the performer as interpreter or go-between.  Today, the composer, when he or she is different than the performer, has become more like source material than an artistic statement.  The performance is now the interface, and not the printed music, and it is much more efficiently direct and intimate.

With the performance becoming the key ingredient of the musical experience, it is probably inevitable that improvisation would play a key role.  Classical musicians are much more receptive to improvisation than they used to be, especially among string players.  Many musicians are still not comfortable performing free improvisation, but improvising within some sort of musical framework is becoming rather commonly acceptable.

Under present circumstances, however, nobody is performing either publicly or with anybody else.  So playing alone to a microphone is now the only option, and for those who improvise, it is becoming the method of choice.  I believe it is also the most expressive and accessible form of musical communication for these stressed times.

Check out the improvisation below by violinist Jennifer Curtis.  It is a short but moving eulogy for a 12-year-old Indian girl forced to relocate on foot because of the shut down.

Private Music

The intimate world of individual musical performance in the pandemic

With the world in the throws of public health lock-down, and public gatherings of any sort unthinkable, music has taken on special attention.  Concerts, big and small, are gone, and even rehearsals and casual musical gatherings are untenable.  But music survives and adapts.

As a composer, personal and orchestral musician, the uses and adaptations of music are of keen interest.  Traditionally, music has always found a place at public events, whether political, spiritual, or casual, and has provided the necessary special mood.  Music has also accompanied theatrical events, plays, opera, ballet, and even film before the music was incorporated into the film itself.  Music has also taken the stage by itself, with concerts of music from single musicians all the way up to symphonies of a thousand.

With all of the public uses of music shut down, however, the emphasis has shifted to music available in the home.  Music for public events becomes mood or background music for home activity.  Music for theater becomes music for video (even video games).  Concert music becomes personal listening.  The interesting thing about this transformation is that the music that has adapted to the home environment is different than its public cousins.

Public event music, generally, tries to ramp people up, while private background music tries to wind people down.  Music for video is subtly different, generally being less grandiose, but generally provides the same function.  (Because the experience of watching a film is so engrossing, it strikes me that home video systems have done as much to become more like a movie theater experience as the art form has done in adapting to the small screen, which has also happened.)  Never-the-less, “grand” just doesn’t make it better on a video.  All music comes from the same speakers, and therefore, is perceived as equal.  Intimate music can be very effective in video.  A love scene doesn’t need to whip up the volume and the violins to get the message across.

Though professional interest has found me watching opera, ballet, and concerts in video, it is not because I find them more interesting.  As a rule, I find them to be rather awkward and inappropriate for the medium.  Large scale concerts are perhaps the most out of sync.  The larger the scale, (orchestra, chorus, etc.) the smaller the images become.  The big extravaganzas at the Olympics or the Super Bowl are the worst. The screen and the speakers never change.  The physical limitations of the medium inhibit the ability and intent of the composers and musicians to impress, and makes them concentrate on the emotional message they are trying to express.  A large ensemble actually has trouble communicating on a small screen, something it can do very well when the performance is live.  A good video producer understands this and usually shows an orchestra, for instance, as a series or shots of individual members, a full stage shot appearing only occasionally.  A Super Bowl-type event video will also concentrate on shots of the soloist and not the thousands of people performing behind them.

The special circumstances of the present lock-down have come to emphasize the private nature of individual communication.  And this has held true for music as well.  The internet has become a godsend for musicians and listeners alike.  Individual musicians, performing from their homes, have become the norm, casual, one-on-one, intimate.  Large-scale Zoom ensemble performances don’t really make it for me.  For one, they are not real.  You can’t play live in ensemble because of the delay (known as “latency”).  The takes have to be individually recorded and specially mixed.  Music teachers can’t even play at the same time with their students on Zoom or Skype.  The delay across a stage can be difficult, the delay online is impossible.  But also, “large scale” simply takes away the great advantages of the medium. 

Individual soloists can perform uninhibited, and I have already seen a number of wonderful examples.  Whether there is one person watching or millions, the experience is always personal.  Expression is everything, especially now.

Below is a performance of a friend of mine, cellist Sarah Walder, alone under lock-down, in the attic of her apartment in the Netherlands.  Simple.  Moving.



A solo piano album of reflection and hope

Retreat coverAs I write this, staring at the wall weeks into a stay-at-home order, I pray it helps bring some empathy, comfort, and maybe even a little hope to all of us trying to collectively dodge the grips of this dreadful disease.  May we all stay well and remain cheerful when we finally venture from the shadows.

All of the music on my solo piano albums start out as free improvisations.  Much of my written music starts out that way as well, but music for my piano albums are recorded in MIDI and stays that way.  As a composer, I have written music in a number of different ways, some more traditional and some more unusual.  I settled on improvisation for inspiration because I found that it encourages me to be more original.  Many musicians find that when they improvise, they tend to use musical styles and formulas that they know well; I find that for me, the opposite is true.  Though I indeed use some of the musical syntax I have gathered from a lifetime as a classical musician, I find that improvisation challenges me harmonically and stylistically to follow paths I wouldn’t normally try. 

One of the advantages of being a career symphony musician is that you have a lot of time off in the summer.  So I would use my summers to record my improvisations, often early in the morning before my children awoke.  I did this continuously for three or four weeks.  I wouldn’t listen to them right away.  In fact, I didn’t listen to them until at least a year later.  I wanted the music to be fresh when I heard it, so that I could give it an unbiased listening.  I would throw out some that I didn’t like, or that I thought were not interesting enough.  Sometimes, I would do some rough editing – split them in two if they were too long, chop off an unrelated opening; different pieces would suggest different processes.  This would often take several months for a summer’s worth of recording.  Then I would let them sit again, for a while, before doing the final editing and mastering.

I started doing and releasing these piano recordings in 1998, and have been self-releasing them since 2002.  Though I did not record every summer, I did record most summers from then until 2016.  Some summers I produced up to ten or eleven albums worth of material, while others not so much.  I have been trying to release them fairly regularly, but for various reasons that doesn’t always happen.  Still, Retreat, will be my 26th piano album, but, as you can imagine, I have a lot of music accumulated and I have fallen behind.  Retreat was originally recorded in the summer of 2012.  One of the questions I get most often is, “Why are you doing music from so long ago?”  The simple answer is that I am behind, but I also take quite a long time working on them.

When I do the final editing for an album release, though the music is still a MIDI file, I go over it with a fine-toothed comb.  I not only get the music just the way I like it, I often must adjust the file to a different sampling program.  Just as classical pianists adjust their performances slightly to different pianos and performing spaces, I adjust the MIDI file to ever-improving collections of piano samples and software.  When I first started releasing my albums, I called them improvisations, but in fact, after all the editing I do on them, they are not.  And any jazz enthusiast would say as much.  This is why, even though they start as improvisations, I consider them Classical music.  Both Jazz and Classical music are great art forms and can display considerable emotional depth.  Classical music brings the depth of reflection, as all musical relationships can be pondered and altered.  The depth found in Jazz, on the other hand, is a depth of experience, as every decision is made in the present moment.  I attempt to bring both to my music, a musical hybrid.

When I first started putting together Retreat, I was thinking of the title as more of a spiritual retreat.  The first track, Enlightened Moment, fits this mold rather well.  (Watch Video)  However, as I got further into the album, the title came to mean more of a personal retreat.  With Romance, it becomes a retreat for lovers.  I’m not sure what type of work I was thinking about for Work Song, it must have been more mental because it doesn’t seem to be very physical.  With Mourning Music, the character of the album changes as this is definitely music that accompanies personal tragedy.  This event then overshadows the rest of the album.  Heebies and Jeebies deals with the uncertainty that follows such an event.  Finding Our Way is an attempt to come to grips with the situation.  Silk and Incense is an another attempt at healing.  With Morning Music the couple begins to start anew on a new and different life. 

Retreat was recorded and edited at my home in Phoenix, Arizona.


A collection of shorter orchestral works by Glenn Stallcop

Orchestra Openers 3COVER

The album Openers features a collection of overtures and tone poems written by Glenn Stallcop over the last forty years. Stallcop, who retired in 2019 after forty-six years as a double bassist with the Phoenix Symphony, wrote three of these works for the Phoenix Symphony. Two of the remaining works were commissioned for youth symphonies in Arizona, and one of the works is new. The Phoenix Symphony has also performed two of his feature length works, Millennial Opening, and City Music (twice), and three of his works featuring string orchestra.

Stallcop, whose orchestral music has covered a lot of ground stylistically over his career, tends to think of his music as post-modern yet performer-centric. He considers the performance experience as paramount, and is intent on creating music that is fun and moving to perform.

Also represented in his compositions is his experience of what amounts to a parallel career as an improvisational pianist. Music from his many albums of solo piano improvisation has found its way into his orchestral compositions, especially his later works. He often uses a transcribed piano improvisation as an initial sketch for his written compositions. This technique was used in two of the latter pieces, Five Bells and Aperitif, but is also used (for the first time) in one of the earlier pieces, Couplet for a Desert Summer.

As the album title suggests, all the works here are meant to be the first piece on an orchestral program. Calypso Round, In Apprehension of Spring, and Sunscape are traditional overtures. Aperitif and Five Bells are opening tone poems such as R. Strauss’s Don Juan or Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet. Couplet for a Desert Summer is a fifteen-minute two-movement work that could possibly occupy a different place on a program, but works nicely as a concert opener.

Calypso Round. This driving Latin-tinged eight-minute tour de force hints at minimalism while displaying nearly continuous canonic writing. Originally a mixed quintet for flute, horn, marimba, harp, and double bass written in 1980, it was orchestrated for large orchestra in 2000 for a performance by the Phoenix Symphony, conducted by Robert Moody. [Full article]

Aperitif. This is an, as yet, unperformed ten-minute tone poem for chamber orchestra written in the summer of 2019. It is meant to describe in reunion of old friends for dinner and displays their personalities and interactions. The work also features prominent parts for piano, harp, and marimba. [Full article]

Five Bells. This is a tone poem commissioned by the Arizona Band and Orchestra Teachers Association for the 2010 Arizona All-State Orchestra. It was performed in the spring of 2011 with John Roscigno conducting. It is a musical impression of a haunting elegiac poem of the same name by the Australian poet, Kenneth Slessor. The work is dramatic and features somewhat a ironic reference to R. Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration in the coda. [Full article]

Couplet for a Desert Summer. This is a fifteen-minute two-movement work depicting the two most active times of the day in the desert, dawn and dusk. The work, which was written from 1980-82, is scored for a Classical-era type chamber orchestra plus the addition of metal percussion and piano. The work features characteristic solo wind writing and a prominent piano part. A somewhat fragmented opening to Dawn settles into a long spirited section, a lengthy flute solo ushers in a section representing the rising sun. The movement closes with the mirages beginning to appear as the heat intensifies. Dusk opens with a call in the piano and passed throughout the orchestra. A piano solo ushers the sun to the horizon as the desert becomes alive. The music turns reverent as sunset colors flood the sky, and the music builds as the sky is set ablaze. As the light fades, the music becomes tired and goes to sleep. The works was first performed in Feb. 1984 by the Phoenix Symphony, Clark Suttle, conducting. [Full article]

In Apprehension of Spring. This is an overture commissioned by the Metropolitan Youth Symphony (Mesa, AZ) in 1985 and performed later that year with Wayne Roederer conducting. The work was written for an orchestra entirely under the age of 15, and is written not only for them, but also about them. It is a four-minute pedal-to-the-metal romp. [Full article]

Sunscape. Commissioned by the Arizona Diamond Jubilee Commission for the seventy-fifth anniversary of Arizona’s Statehood, this work was first performed in Nov. 1987 by the Phoenix Symphony with Harold Weller conducting. The work is a celebration of the majestic grandeur of the Grand Canyon State, its dramatic topography and silk-screen horizons. The varied landforms and ecosystems are all dominated by a solar presence that is essential to its character. Sweeping lines and multiple contrapuntal levels blend together to create a eleven-minute flyby of spectacular scenery. [Full article]

All music is published by American Composers Alliance (BMI) and realized through the use of the software NotePerformer.


Downhill cover

The theme for the album Downhill evolved over time to be a collection of seemingly small things which trigger a whole series of events. Events flow from the original trigger like water flowing downhill. These series of events are not inevitable, but can only be altered or halted with great effort and purpose. Some of these events, such as Aperitif, are relatively harmless, but others such as lies and arguments are much less so.

The spontaneous nature of my music causes me to ponder the idea of cause and effect quite a bit. There are ideas about cause and effects out there that consider an act and its response as one single event. Sometimes, what we would normally consider a whole series of responses are taken as just one event, a natural tendency to want to even balance things out to achieve a state of hypothetical equilibrium.

I read once an explanation that claimed that the way we normally look at cause and effect was like looking at the world through a cardboard tube. If a horse walks past our field of vision, we would claim that the front of the horse caused the back of the horse, that the head caused the tail. However, in reality, the horse was just a single thing and we happened to see it in sequence rather than all at once. Many series of events are so closely tied to each other that they could really be considered to be one event.

Our modern society is based on competition, and tends to think of only harmful aggression as bad, and sometimes only if it is illegal. But all aggression, whether positive or negative, causes reciprocal behavior, and much of it is spiteful. These are the thoughts upon which I was meditating when I recorded this album. The music is not so much descriptive as it is reflective. There sometimes emerges a feeling of regret and helplessness at the snowballing consequences, but, occasionally, there also is excitement and hope when things turn for the better. Not all consequences are negative, and caution is not your ally when falling in love.

This album was recorded in my home in Phoenix, AZ.


An overture for orchestra

Canyon1When the Arizona Diamond Jubilee Commission awarded me a commission to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of Arizona statehood, I had a couple of distinct choices for possible approaches.   Arizona has three large and distinct population groups, Anglo, Hispanic, and Native American, each with a proud heritage in the region. One choice would be to somehow combine those cultural traditions into a musical mix of style and purpose. This approach would not only be difficult, it was fraught with ambiguity and implied meaning. Culture is a very sensitive subject and histories of racism and exploitation make the subject that much more difficult.

However, I was asked to commemorate the anniversary of Arizona as a political entity, not a culture; a political organization with lofty aspirations of freedom and equality for all its citizens without regard to race and culture. These ideals, born of the Enlightenment are Classical to the core! In response to this challenge, I decided to write probably my most archetypically Classical work. The style is a modal-tinged Neo-Classicism. The form is textbook sonata-allegro. The texture is woven from continuously dovetailed contrapuntal gestures. Paintings of Arizona are often done by silkscreen; it is a land of multiple horizons. The counterpoint of landforms is represented in the music by a counterpoint of musical ideas of different shapes and size; some sharp and angular, and some broad and sweeping.

Canyon2Furthermore, the one thing all of the people in Arizona share is a love of the spectacular landscape that dominates the Southwest. Sunscape is a portrait of the sweeping grandeur that is the Grand Canyon State. And despite the diversity of landforms and ecosystems, all life in the state is dominated by an intense solar presence that is absolutely fundamental to its character. Each vision of Arizona, whether desert, mountain, canyon, or lake, is a sunscape.

The work was commissioned by the Arizona Diamond Jubilee Commission for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Arizona statehood. It was first performed in November of 1987 by the Phoenix Symphony, with Harold Weller conducting


In Apprehension of Spring

Of the works I have written for orchestra, three were written for youth orchestras. City Music was written for the Seattle Youth Symphony, and to say I did not hold anything back is almost an understatement. Five Bells was a commission for the Arizona All-State High School Orchestra, and though I did not do much to accommodate their youth, I did keep in mind that they would only have two days of rehearsal to put it together. In Apprehension of Spring, on the other hand, was written for an orchestra all under the age of 15. Though they had some impressive facility for their age, I still made some accommodations.

In the fall of 1985, I was asked by composer Grant Fletcher to take over a commission that he felt his other commitments would not allow him to complete on time. Though it was short notice, I was happy to accept the opportunity. The Metropolitan Youth Symphony, a now thriving organization in Mesa, Arizona (a suburb of Phoenix), had been established by Wayne Roederer in 1983. They were still a new group in 1985, but they were already making waves in the local music community.

When I went to hear them for the first time back in 1985, I was not only struck by the high quality of the playing, I was moved by the tremendous enthusiasm of the players. I had forgotten what it was like to be an early teenager. So, it evolved that this short overture became a work that was not only for them, but about them as well. The apprehension involved is that of a carnival ride, where you don’t know where you are going, but you are going there fast and having a lot of fun.

The piece is a four-minute romp. I put the piece together more like a rock tune than anything else. A high-energy introduction becomes the main accompaniment pattern for the two verses and chorus. The bridge material in the brass leads to a canonic transition back to the verse. The final chorus brings back the bridge material in the brass and brings it to a rousing close.

In Apprehension of Spring