Letters from the Muse Room #37 (January 2023)

The “Muse Room” is the room in my house where I make music and my wife makes visual art. Published 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 two months.

Dear friends,

Happy New Year! I hope you’ve had a wonderful and refreshing holiday season and you’re excited to jump into 2023. After a week with family between Christmas and New Year’s, I am taking this week to set my goals for the year — and set up my new Moleskine planner.

[An old Moleskine planner and a new Moleskine planner.]

Out with the old, in with the new!

I wrote last year about how goal-setting is always inspiring to me, so I won’t write about that again, but I will say that I have a goal to make 52 pitches of my music to performers and organizations in 2023. If you are a performer and you’d like to help me meet this goal by receiving a pitch, just let me know! :)

[A meme about pitches. Using baseball. Very clever.]

As I wrote about last time, my next project is a solo cello piece called Shapeshifter. I’m writing this for a new friend and I hope to be able to share a recording of it with you in the March 3 Letter.

[The opening of Shapeshifter.]

Guess I need to change that composition date to 2023…

I didn’t finish the piece by December 31, but I am currently working on revising it and then I’ll finish it up with input from the cellist.

The piece is a theme and variations, of a sort.

On a recent playthrough of Super Mario World on my Super Nintendo Classic, I was struck by the fact that the music for each of the different kinds of levels was basically the same music, in a different disguise.

You can hear all the music from the game in this YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgUmFPnkoHU&ab_channel=MusicGamesOnly (the theme listed as “Overworld” is the one that’s reused over and over).

[The original box art for Super Mario World.]

So the idea of Shapeshifter is to present an original theme in different disguises, with added twists of sudden shifts in pitch, rhythm, playing technique, etc.

Here’s a MIDI version of the intro (shown above in the score clip) and the theme: https://www.ajharbison.com/wp-content/uploads/shapeshifteropening.mp3.

More next time!


There were three things that inspired me over the last two months. The first thing was losing myself in choral music. I ride the bus to work every day, and amid the stress of December and the noise of a bus in the city, I would turn on the noise cancelation on my headphones and play some ethereal choral Christmas music. It was a nice way to relax for a few moments and be transported to a very different place than where I was.

[Chanticleer’s Sing We Christmas album.]

One of the ethereal choral Christmas albums I listened to.

The second thing was an article in the New York Times about humpback whale songs and how they’re constructed and how they’re passed literally around the world. A glimpse into the musical culture of humpback whales. Really really fascinating. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/30/science/humpback-whale-songs-cultural-evolution.html

[A humpback whale breaching.]

And finally, I’ve written before about how I’m a big fan of Dessa. I recently listened to an interview with her that made me even more of a fan.

[Dessa sitting on a couch.]

What really struck me was a comment she made about time. I’ve always said that (in an oversimplified way) the visual arts exist in space but not in time, while music exists in time but not in space.

She says something similar but looks at it from a different angle. She talks about the difference between lyrics and poetry, and who, in each case, is controlling time. Really cool.

I think (since I’m a fan, you know) the whole interview is worth listening to, but the discussion about time starts at 3:06. Listen to it here: https://www.wypr.org/show/midday/2022-11-16/dessa-on-her-music-her-writing-and-her-unique-performance-art

[Screenshot of the audio interview with Dessa.]

I hope these things bring a little spark to the start of your 2023. See you next time.

AJ Harbison

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