Letters from the Muse Room #28 (July 2021)

The “Muse Room” is the room in my house where I make music and my wife makes visual art. Published (new for 2021) the first Friday of every other month, each issue of Letters from the Muse Room includes news and updates about my music, as well as something that has inspired me creatively over the past month.

Dear friends,
Happy summer and Fourth of July weekend to you! I hope you are enjoying warmer weather and brighter days. As we start to emerge from the pandemic, I am back working in my office and starting to spend more time with, y’know, real live human beings. It’s pretty awesome.

[Two monitors on my desk at work. I really enjoy having two monitors.] A picture of the former… not the latter.

And, speaking of awesome, I have some exciting news! In fact, two exciting news…es!

Exciting News #1: I’ve recently finished composing a piece for my friend Mike Gordon, Principal Flute of the Kansas City Symphony. It’s a flute duet titled A Long Weight of Silence, and as I wrote about a few months ago it’s a reflection on the pandemic through the lens of the six stages of grief. It’s written for “one flute in isolation or two flutes together,” so while eventually it will be performed as a duet, for its premiere it will be performed by Mike in video form.

[Mike G performing a duet… BY HIMSELF] Mike was the creator of the hashtag #KCSisStillMakingMusic, and he recorded a huge number of videos at the beginning of the pandemic — including this one, which was another “duet” that he played by himself.

I am super excited about this and I will be sure to let you know, via an email in between Letters, when it will premiere — hopefully later this summer!

In the meantime, here’s an audio clip of a MIDI performance — the first three minutes of the piece: https://www.ajharbison.com/wp-content/uploads/A Long Weight of Silence beginning.mp3.

Exciting News #2: A proposal of mine was recently selected in a composition competition held by the Charlotte Street Foundation and Ensemble Mother Russia Industries, and I’ll be writing a piece for the ensemble that will be performed on October 2! I just had my first meeting with the ensemble and the other selected composers last week, and it will be a wild and extremely diverse concert with some really fascinating music.

[Ensemble Mother Russia Industries.]

This piece will be based on the idea of social distancing. The performers will be spread throughout the venue (a black box theater), and will pass melodies to each other around the room. The musical lines will start to intersect at more and more points until a web of sound fills the whole space. It will then go in reverse, with fewer and fewer connections, until only one instrument is left. But instead of fading out to silence, that instrument will be joined by another instrument in harmony for the last few moments, providing another connection and ending in hope instead of silence.

It’s another pandemic-related piece, but I’m excited for the chance to work with this ensemble and I can’t wait for the performance. Someone at the meeting suggested that the piece could be played with all the lights turned out in the theater; it’s a very intriguing idea.

[Something like this.] It might look something like this.

The performance will be at the Charlotte Street Foundation’s new headquarters at 3333 Wyoming Street in Kansas City. If you’re in town on October 2 I hope you’ll check it out!

Three inspirations this month: one in music, one in a book, and one in life.

Music: I’ve written before about Dessa; I love her album Chime. Over the last six months, she’s been releasing a single on the 15th of each month, calling the series Ides.

[The first single in the Ides series, “Rome”.]

The first single was (appropriately enough) “Rome,” which I loved; I really enjoyed “Terry Gross” and “I Already Like You” too. (Also a special shout-out for “Talking Business,” a noir story told without using any verbs.)

[“I Already Like You” cover image.]

Her lyrics are smart, biting, witty and funny (the interludes in “Terry Gross” made me laugh out loud when I first listened to it). The songs include some profanity and mature themes. But if you’re a fan of good words and music, you should check it out.

Book: If you’re a fan of books, and/or children’s books, and/or books about children’s books, this one’s for you.

[Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult]

I recently started reading Wild Things: The Joy of Reading Children’s Literature as an Adult by Bruce Handy, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely so far. I am a fan of books and children’s books and books about children’s books, and I’m a fan of this book. He has excellent insights and anecdotes, and it’s very engaging and very funny. Reading the book is like having a conversation with a friend who is brilliant and also makes you laugh out loud. Very highly recommended.

Life: As I mentioned, I have spent more time out in the real world with real live people lately, and that has been inspiring. At the Symphony we had our first in-person committee meeting since March 2020. A few nights ago I went out with a friend for drinks. Things are looking brighter. I hope they are for you, too.

Be well.

AJ Harbison

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