Letters from the Muse Room #41 (September 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,

Welcome to fall! (I know it doesn’t officially start until September 23, but, kids are back in school, PSLs are back at Starbucks, leaves are starting to blow off the trees… c’mon, it’s basically fall.)

I have two announcements in this Letter, one about concert music and one about pop music.

In the concert-music realm, I’ve recently joined Scorefolio, an online service that creates score videos, and I’ve done two so far. The first was a short piano prelude called “To The Nines” (because it’s based around ninth chords). The second one is my flute duet A Long Weight of Silence, a reflection and meditation on the pandemic through the lens of the six stages of grief. If you’re interested, you can watch the score videos on Scorefolio here or on YouTube here.

[A screenshot of score videos on YouTube.]

In the pop-music realm, I wrote last time about how seeing Matchbox 20 in concert had inspired me to do some pop music songwriting again. I’m happy to report that I’ve done just that. I’m planning a five-song EP, and I have four of the five songs written (and have started on the fifth). One of the songs I performed once (MAYBE twice), in California, 10 or more years ago; the other four songs are brand new and never-before-heard. I’m excited to share more with you soon.

[A pencil with some lyrics for “Who I Am Part 2.”]

The first song is called “Who I Am Part 2.”

But in the meantime, I’m very excited to announce something I haven’t been able to announce in years: If you’re in Kansas City in October, YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO COME AND HEAR ME PLAY MY POP MUSIC LIVE, FOR FREE. That’s right, I’ll be performing at PorchFestKC this year.

This is an awesome local festival that takes place in the Valentine/Roanoke midtown area; homeowners volunteer to host musicians on their porches, and people can come to see a particular artist or just stroll down the street and stop at whatever porch sounds like their kind of jam. I did this back in 2016 (wow, that was a long time ago) and it was super fun.

[AJ performing at PorchFestKC in 2016, with his three-year-old daughter next to him.]

A cute blonde came and crashed the party. :)

The festival is Saturday, October 14, and I’ll be performing on a porch near 39th and Broadway at noon. I’ll be debuting the new songs as well as playing others from Songs From My Shelf and maybe a cover or two. I’ll send more information and reminders as we get closer. I would love to see you there!

[The official graphic for PorchFestKC 2023.]


I’ve recently been inspired by a book with a provocative title: Real Artists Don’t Starve, by Jeff Goins.

[The cover of Real Artists Don’t Starve by Jeff Goins.]

As often happens with me, I bought this book a while ago but never got around to reading it until now. And it’s had a lot of really good things to say. Its goal is to expose the “starving artist” archetype as a myth and show creatives how they can instead be “thriving artists” who make money from their art, connect with their audience and have a real impact.

If you’re an artist, a creative of any stripe or even an entrepreneur, I’d highly recommend it. Jeff Goins also has a Substack you can subscribe to where he writes about writing, life, creativity and the lessons he’s learned from them all.

Thanks for reading. If you’ve made it this far, I want to let you know that I really appreciate it, and I truly hope that these newsletters bring a little spark of joy and inspiration to you. Until next time, I hope you find some small (or some big) ways to thrive.

AJ Harbison

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Letters from the Muse Room #16 (April 2020)

The “Muse Room” is the room in my house where I make music and my wife makes visual art. Published the first Friday of the 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,
Wow… what to say? When I wrote the letter last month, I could not have imagined what life would be like a mere 30 days later.

I hope you and your loved ones are well and are finding ways to both survive and thrive as you #stayhome.

I am very blessed to have a job that I can continue to work from home (and I do not take this for granted!). I’ve brought home a second monitor, keyboard and mouse, and voila… the Muse Room is now also an office!

The piano trio, Always Be Clipping, is now posted on my website — with a full MIDI recording and a perusal score to boot! You can see it here: https://www.ajharbison.com/music/concert/always-be-clipping.

I am now starting work on a new choral piece, the second of three pieces I plan to complete in 2020. I love the emotional immediacy of choral music; there’s something about hearing other humans sing that goes straight to your heart.

The text of the piece is actually still being written. My brother, Mark Harbison, with whom I’ve collaborated before, is writing a poem called “Adventus.” It looks back to the first Advent, the birth of Jesus, and also looks forward with longing to the second Advent, Jesus’ second coming — a poetic expression of “already and not yet.”

My music for it will be primarily homophonic — meaning the whole chorus will be singing the same rhythm most of the time, like a hymn or a chant — and the musical style will be based off of this piece, In the Midst of Life by Gerald Kemner. I like how it’s based around a consonant but “ungrounded” chord, and each phrase begins and ends with that same chord.

More to come on “Adventus” next month!


I shared this quote a year ago this month — Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “Beauty will save the world.” As the world finds itself grappling with an invisible, deadly enemy, the need for beauty seems more urgent than ever. 

I’ve written before about how my employer, the Kansas City Symphony, has inspired me, and, well, they’re at it again. Due to the restrictions on gathering sizes, we’ve had to cancel at least 20 concerts, and there’s a good chance we’ll have to cancel the rest of our season as well (through the end of June). But our musicians have found a way to inspire those around them: by sharing performances on Facebook.

The Symphony’s principal flute, Mike Gordon, started it about three weeks ago by recording and sharing a video of him playing a piece he’s loved throughout his life. He encouraged other musicians in the Symphony to do the same, with the hashtag #KCSisStillMakingMusic.

That first video has been shared 185 times and viewed over 10,000 times, and since then more than 20 videos have been posted by members of the orchestra, sharing beauty at a time when we feel the need for it most. You can find them all by entering #KCSisStillMakingMusic in Facebook’s search box and then clicking on “Videos” along the top bar.

Here are some of my favorites:

    Mike playing a Bach cello suite on his flute
    A socially distanced cello duet for St. Patrick’s Day
    A gorgeous harp solo
    A jazz tune arranged for seven tubas (!)

You do need a Facebook account to view the videos (it’s free to join if you don’t have one), but you don’t need to be friends with the musicians, as the videos are public.

I love what the musicians of our orchestra — as well as all kinds of musicians all over the world — are doing to help us all get through this pandemic together. Yes, it’s important to stay informed. But don’t focus on the headlines. Lean into the beauty.

Be well.

AJ Harbison

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Letters from the Muse Room #7 (July 2019)

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

Dear friends,
Happy Fifth of July! I hope you had a chance to celebrate the Fourth with your favorite traditions. Our family spent time with Grandma and Grandpa, grilled some tasty food, listened to Hamilton (only the non-explicit tracks, at this point, due to the kids), and enjoyed watching some fireworks in our neighborhood and on the Missouri River.

This last month hasn’t been the most productive — our whole family was sick, some of us twice, so sleep, energy, time and motivation have all been in short supply. But! I do have a few things for you!

1. New music, part 1: As I mentioned last month, I led music for our church’s vacation Bible school program, and I wrote the music for this year’s theme song, which was from Ephesians 1:3. You can see the words and hear a demo recording on my website at https://www.ajharbison.com/music/pop/blessed-be.

2. New music, part 2: I also mentioned last month that I might record the ending of panicpanicpanic, and I did want to share that with you. It’s the only part of the piece with singing. You can hear it here: https://www.ajharbison.com/wp-content/uploads/panicpanicpanicendingdemo.mp3.

3. New perusal score: I’ve added to my website the perusal score for the piece I finished before panicpanicpanic, which is a piece for soprano and cello titled Requiem. It uses excerpts from the traditional Requiem Mass’ text, with some interspersed texts from the book of Psalms. You can see it here: https://www.ajharbison.com/music/concert/requiem.

4. New piece: At the request of my wife, my daughter, and a Letters reader or two, I’ve started working on setting Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Seal Lullaby” to music. I wrote about the poem in May, and I’m trying to write a fairly simple arrangement for chorus. I’ll probably arrange it for women’s chorus as well after I finish the mixed chorus version. More to come in future Letters!


I’m not much of a podcast guy, but this last month it was a podcast that inspired me. A long time ago I donated to a Kickstarter campaign for SCORE, the first full-length documentary about film music and film composers.

The creators of SCORE recently launched a podcast they’re calling a “biopod” — like a biopic movie, but in podcast form. They bill it as “a movie for your ears,” and it really is. It’s called BLOCKBUSTER, and it’s a dramatization of the lives of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas through the 1970s and the filming and release of Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars. It’s six episodes long, totaling a little under three hours.

The podcast is really well done — the actors are great, the sound design is excellent, and the background music does an amazing job of evoking the scores of the movies they’re talking about without actually playing those scores.

The emotional and musical climax of the podcast is in episode 5, with the recording of John Williams’ score for Star Wars in London. They play a fair chunk of the score on the podcast, and listening to it in this context brought it alive to me in a way I hadn’t experienced it before.

George Lucas said that John Williams’ music saved Star Wars, and the BLOCKBUSTER podcast is an excellent illustration of the power of music to tell a story.

You can listen to it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or their website, https://www.getblockbuster.com.

AJ Harbison

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#illomusicfriday 10/23/15: “Stuffed,” or, My First Twelve-Tone Piece In 17 Years

This week’s #illomusicfriday piece was a fun one. The word was “stuffed,” and I decided to take that in the direction of the heavy, “bluh” feeling you have when you’re stuffed after eating too much. I wanted to use some alternating treble and bass clusters, and since we’ve been studying twelve-tone music in my theory class for the past few weeks, I decided to make it a twelve-tone piece. I wrote my first twelve-tone piece when I was about 12 years old, and… I’m pretty sure I haven’t written one since. I didn’t do anything too fancy with the rows—derived rows or hexachordal combinatoriality or anything like that—but it was still fun, and it was a nice way to generate dissonant material quickly. I’ve included the score and the twelve-tone matrix beneath the video, just in case anyone who sees this post may be interested….



#illomusicfriday Scores

All Scores Now Posted!

I’ve added scores for (almost) every piece on the Concert Music page! You can now listen to a MIDI mock-up (or a real performance, whenever those are available) and follow the score, courtesy of Issuu (an online publishing service I highly recommend). If you’d like more information on purchasing scores or obtaining a license for performance, email info@ajharbison.com!

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