Letters from the Muse Room #38 (March 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,

I have a short and sweet Letter for you this month. My big news is I have two exciting performances of my music coming up!

Performance No. 1: The Kansas City Symphony is helping me realize a dream I’ve had since I was a kid: having a piece I composed performed by a full orchestra!!

I wrote about this piece a year ago, and now it is finally being launched out into the world. It’s called Chameleons and it’s being performed on the Symphony’s Family concert on Sunday, March 12 at 2:00 p.m. in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. I’ll be talking about the piece a bit at the concert and it’ll be a lot of fun (the whole show is about animals and is being presented in partnership with the Kansas City Zoo). Here’s the ticket link: https://tickets.kcsymphony.org/wildadventure. I would love to see you there!

Performance No. 2: newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble is going to be presenting the world premiere live performance of my flute duet A Long Weight of Silence!

I composed it for Kansas City Symphony Principal Flute Michael Gordon, and he created an amazing video that was the world premiere of the “one flute in isolation” version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSgIUjob6sE&ab_channel=MichaelGordon

newEar will be performing the world premiere of the “two flutes together” version in their concerts at the end of April. Two performances to choose from! Saturday, April 29 at 8:00 p.m. or Sunday, April 30 at 4:00 p.m. at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church. I’ll be at both performances and I would love to see you there too! Here is the ticket link (you can choose your preferred date and time on this page): https://newear.ticketbud.com.


Two musical videos were inspiring to me over the past two months. I wrote last time about the cello piece I’m working on, and in the research process for that piece I came across two really unique string performers.

The first video featured a double bassist, Florentin Ginot, demonstrating how to play harmonics* pizzicato** on the bass. And using nonstandard tunings for his bass strings he gets some really cool sounds. Here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2RHu3buSh4&ab_channel=EnsembleMusikfabrik.

* ethereal-sounding notes you can create using physics and math on a string
** plucking the strings instead of using a bow

(Unfortunately I found this doesn’t really work on the cello — it doesn’t have the same resonance as the bass and this technique sounds too clunky — so I won’t be using it in my piece. But if I ever write a solo double bass piece this is definitely going to be a feature.)

I discovered the second video while researching double- and triple-stops — playing two or three strings at a time instead of just one. And I found that there’s an incredible cellist named Frances-Marie Uitti who plays with not one bow but two — one above the strings (as usual) and one below the strings — so that she can actually bow all four strings at the same time. And if you thought the double bass harmonics were cool, just wait till you hear what this sounds like: https://vimeo.com/38649952%C2%A0 (she picks up the second bow around the 7:00 mark).

I have to say one more time that I would love to see you at one or both of the performances coming up if you’re in the Kansas City area. I’m really stoked about both of them. I hope to see you there!

AJ Harbison

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