Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Blue Bird (L’Oiseau Bleu) for SATTBB Choir

Composer Kim Diehnelt
(ASCAP) 2018

The Blue Bird (L’Oiseau Bleu)

Text by Mary Elizabeth Coleridge (1861 - 1907)

 The lake lay blue below the hill.
O'er it, as I looked, there flew
Across the waters, cold and still,
A bird whose wings were palest blue.

The sky above was blue at last,
The sky beneath me blue in blue.
A moment, ere the bird had passed,
It caught his image as he flew.

Performance materials available at SheetMusicPlus.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Devouring Time for SATB choir

In a contemporary setting of Shakespeare’s sonnet infused with early music traditions of polyphony, modal tendencies, and tone-painting, the ageless poet celebrates the artist’s triumph over time. Composer Kim Diehnelt, 2015

Sonnet 19: Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion's paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger's jaws,
And burn the long-liv'd phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleets,
And do whate'er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love's fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty's pattern to succeeding men.
Yet do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

- William Shakespeare

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Celebrating Elgar’s Big Music with Small Ensembles

Two new arrangements to mark the anniversary of Elgar's birth!

Sea Pictures, op. 37 for mezzo and string quartet

"Composer Kim Diehnelt uses subtle tricks of her craft to evoke full orchestral nuance."

…”this will make the “Sea Pictures” available for singers unable to perform with an orchestra and bring the work to a wider audience. - Hyde Park Herald - M.L. RANTALA

The details: Each instrument part includes a small clued staff above showing the vocal line and lyrics. This makes rehearsal and performances much easier to coordinate without a conductor.

Arranged for string quartet and voice. The string parts include mention of when the player is playing the line of a distinct instrument to help the player create an appropriate character and blend. For example, when the viola player is playing a solo clarinet line the part is marked with “(clar)”; the marking “loco” designates a return to string playing.

The arrangement strives to create the colors and textures of the original orchestral version. It uses sometimes ingenious combinations to achieve these colors and textures. 

“Replacing a sprawling orchestra with just four string players is a big task ….. But the arrangement is true to the original and engaging in its own right.” Hyde Park Herald - M.L. RANTALA

For advanced players as the work makes full use of each instrument, double stops, and extended ranges. Each movement sold separately and contains both score and parts.

Movements 1, 2, 4 were first performed March 2016 at the Elgar Society (North America Branch) Conference in Chicago, by the Grant Street Quartet.

This sheet music is available world-wide via Sheet Music Plus 

Symphony No. 1 in A flat Major - “Adagio” arranged for string quartet

“Even with only four voices, she was able to maintain a splendid multi-layered texture that captures the tension and the grace of the music. “Hyde Park Herald - M.L. RANTALA

The Details:  
Includes performances instructions pertaining vibrato, bow placement etc. to help achieve the sound and characters of non-string instruments.

Score and parts sold separately. For advanced players as the work makes full use of each instrument, double stops, and extended ranges.

The “Adagio” was first performed March 2016 at the Elgar Society (North America Branch) conference in Chicago, by the Grant Street Quartet.

This sheet music is available world-wide via Sheet Music Plus


It is my hope to introduce more players and listeners to the music of Elgar, and to make these beautiful works more easily programmed by singers and ensembles. 

Happy Birthday, Elgar!  

Friday, April 29, 2016

The Beacon highlights cellist Lucie Ticho

Listen to “The Beacon” radio show tomorrow, presented by the Chicago Lighthouse, on WCPT 820 AM, 7-8 am tomorrow, Saturday April 30.  My composition “Wintram” is on the program that Lucie Ticho will be presenting on Saturday May 7, 2016.

Here are the full details directly from The Chicago Lighthouse:

Our friends at “The Beacon” wrap up the month of April tomorrow (Saturday) morning with another stellar broadcast on issues of interest to people with disabilities, seniors and Veterans.  The show can be heard from 7 am to 8 am on WCPT 820-AM.

Host Bill Jurek welcomes Jim Chilsen of the Citizens Utilities Board (CUB), who’ll give us an update on what’s happening this spring in the world of utilities.  Jim will also discuss pending legislation and its impact on consumers.

Then “Beacon” contributor Sandy Murillo, who authors her own blog, conducts a thoughtful interview with Dr. Ben Ticho, a local ophthalmologist and Lighthouse supporter, and his daughter Lucie, a talented musician who is performing at a special concert on May 7th, 2016.  They will give a preview of the concert, which will be Lucie’s last in Chicago before she heads east to study in a combined Columbia University-Juilliard School program, an honor given to just 12 musicians this year.  Lucie’s family is underwriting the cost of tickets to her May 7th performance, which will take place at 6 p.m. at Second Presbyterian Church, 1936 South Michigan Avenue.  Lighthouse staff members and program participants are invited to attend as their guests.  To RSVP and for more details, visit http://lucieticho.eventbrite.com.

Up next will be another talented “Beacon” contributor, Lainie Williams-Kleemann, who will talk about tasty and healthy smoothies on her popular “Lettuce, Turnip, the Beet” segment.

In addition, we’ll make our weekly call on “Tom’s Corner” with Tom Perski, senior vice president of rehabilitation services, and “Beacon” producer Brian Hawkins.  This week, Tom talks about free updates to the Prodigi Duo and Connect 12 devices.  Produced by HumanWare, both products are especially designed to enable people who are visually impaired to enjoy reading again.  They are among the most advanced personal vision assistants; easy to use, adaptable and portable.  Rounding out the segment will be a preview of upcoming road shows in Romeoville on May 3rd, Glenview on May 17th and Worth on May 24th.

See our Technology products on-line @ LighthouseToolsForLiving.org<http://chicagolighthouse.3dcartstores.com/>
Read our Technology Blog @ http://www.clhtech.blogspot.com/
Hear the latest episodes of "Tom's Corner" @ http://soundcloud.com/chilighthouse

This portion of “The Beacon” is designed to showcase The Lighthouse’s low vision service and the fact that we accommodate residents of suburban Chicago and northwest Indiana as well as the City of Chicago at our main clinic on Roosevelt Road and at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 675 N. St. Clair.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Musician in the Mirror

One of the fascinating aspects of conducting is how you can change the sound of an orchestra by the use of your body.
Everything affects the sound: how I grip the baton, tighten or relax my face muscles, hold or release my breath, swing my arms and shoulders, turn my wrists, shift my weight, and move my feet.

The wrist, especially, affects the string sound. Winds and brass players tend to respond to facial gestures. Singers seem receptive to how you hold your body.

I’ve always been amazed how players seem to unconsciously “imitate” what they see.

Now, with new neuroscience research, I have a scientific explanation for this behavior: Mirror Neurons.

As V.S Ramachandran explains in his book “The Tell-Tale Brain” - 

“Anytime you watch someone doing something, the neurons that your brain would use to do the same thing become active – as if you were doing it.”

“When a normal subject watches another person performing an action – say, squeezing a tennis ball with the right hand – the muscles in the subject’s own right hand will register a tiny uptick in their electrical “chatter”. Even though the subject doesn’t perform a squeezing action herself, the mere act of watching the action leads to a tiny but measurable increase in the action-readiness of the muscles that would contract if she were performing it.”1

The conductor, then, is in a position to create an “action-readiness” in players. Indeed, I easily hear how my grip on the baton and wrist movements influence the bow arm and shape a corresponding sound.

A conductor who flicks their wrist at each ictus easily imparts a “hiccup-y” string sound.

Seeing such a flicking wrist movement, the players tend to play “off the string” as they lift the bow off the string frequently instead of using a firm and continuous bow contact along the strings. 

A conductor with a springy rebound to their beat can cause the same “up-bow” feel as the beats themselves start to look like consecutive up-bows. Sometimes this effect is desirable, as in the music of Rossini, for example. A very sprite, high-energy, lemon-zest type of sound requires clean “off the string” playing. A precise flick of the wrist can assist the string players in achieving this sound.

A deeper sound from the strings is often achieved by very horizontal arm movements and relaxed shoulders. This imitates the long, well-supported bow strokes needed to produce such a sound.

The winds respond to facial tension, especially the jaw. A drop and loosening of the jaw or a lift of the chin can effect wind and brass sound-color and intonation. The breath, implied by muscle tension in the conductor’s body, can shape the intensity and direction of a wind phrase.

Perhaps it goes without saying that singers seem especially respective to how you hold your shoulders, jaw, lips, and chest area. It’s best to breathe effortlessly and radiate “supported yet relaxed” body language.

Audiences, too, react to actions on the stage.  Who hasn’t noticed that when all eyes are on a soloist while the audience claps wildly, there is an odd split-second halt in the clapping at the moment when the soloist reaches out to grasp a bouquet of flowers or some other object?

 You can sense the audiences’ conflict when clapping their hands while focusing on someone making an open and grasping gesture with their hands.

There’s an interesting caveat to all this lest a conductor think they are actually out-right controlling players.

When you watch someone…”The subject’s own motor system automatically simulates the perceived action, but at the same time it automatically suppresses the spinal motor signal to prevent it from being carried out – yet a tiny trickle of the suppressed motor command still manages to leak through and down to reach the muscle.” 1

That is, the player can suppress this “automatic mimicry” as needed.  Therefore, as a conductor I can help and hinder a player.

How often do players hunker down and do their best NOT to imitate us?!!

Players are known to warn each other about a conductor by saying; “Just don’t look up – and you’ll do fine.” Now they can add - 

“Suppress your mirror neurons - and you’ll do fine!”


1 V.S Ramachandran: The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s quest for what makes us human. © 2011 W. W. Norton. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Elgar Spotting – Sea Pictures

I’m in the final days of rehearsals of Edward Elgar’s song-cycle Sea Pictures, Op 37, with contralto Elizabeth Hale Knox.

This will be our third collaboration performing Sea Pictures! We both are enjoying a chance to revisit the work, as we continually find new layers and twists.

I remain surprised, however, that our performance is the only one listed by the Elgar Society’s Performance Diary for this season, 2014-15.

I was even more surprised to see the Wikipedia page for “Orchestral Song” makes no mention of Elgar’s work!

Spotting the Orchestral Song-cycle

Sea Pictures was first performed on October 5, 1899 when Elgar was coming off his resounding international success with the recent premiere of Enigma Variations. Song-cycles (a set of songs grouped together to create a work) as large orchestrated works were rather unusual at this time. It is possible that English audiences had yet to hear an orchestral song-cycle.

Les nuits d'été song-cycle by Berlioz (1803 —1869) is often considered the first orchestral song-cycle. The songs were written in 1841, and fully orchestrated in 1856. Although single movements have been performed since then, I have yet to successfully track down its first performance as a complete orchestral song-cycle.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) usually comes to mind for orchestral song-cycles; he wrote his first song-cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen ('Songs of a Wayfarer') in 1884-5. This was orchestrated in the 1890’s with the first performance in 1896, in Berlin. The first performance in England was 1927.

For Mahler, the 1890’s was full of song compositions, especially those from the poems collected in Des Knaben Wunderhorn ('The Youth's Magic Horn'). Mahler published a set for soprano or baritone and orchestra in 1905.

Kindertotenlieder (Songs on the Deaths of Children) composed between 1901 and 1904, was first performed in Vienna in 1905. In England, the piano/voice version was first performed in 1913, the orchestral version not until 1924.

Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde ("The Song of the Earth") was first performed in Munich, in November 1911.

So much of Mahler’s song-cycle works appear after the premiere of Elgar’s Sea Pictures; this is especially so for British audiences.

Richard Strauss (1864-1949) is the other familiar orchestral song-cycle composer; the first performance of his Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) was in May 1950.

Elgar Spotting in Chicago

Performances of Elgar’s Sea pictures were quite numerous for the first years of the 20th century.  Here in Chicago, there were 17 performances between 1903 and 1932; then a large gap of 50 years. At this time, however, the singer who would become the “definitive” voice of this work appeared - Dame Janet Baker.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra performances of Elgar’s Sea Pictures

January 30 & 31, 1903
Theodore Thomas, conductor
Kirkby Lunn, contralto

April 29 & 30, 1904
Theodore Thomas, conductor
Muriel Foster, contralto

January 20 & 21, 1905
Frederick Stock, conductor
Muriel Foster, contralto

January 12 & 13, 1906
Frederick Stock, conductor
Kirkby Lunn, contralto

April 10 & 11, 1914
Frederick Stock, conductor
Clara Butt, contralto

February 11 & 12, 1921
Frederick Stock, conductor
Louise Homer, soprano

April 14 & 15, 1922
Frederick Stock, conductor
Sophie Braslau, contralto

January 16, 1932
Frederick Stock, conductor
Harriette Price, contralto

February 11 & 12, 1932
Frederick Stock, conductor
Muriel Brunskill, contralto

May 3, 4 & 6, 1984
Sir Georg Solti, conductor
Janet Baker, mezzo-soprano

Thirty-one years later – I am thrilled to offer another Elgar spotting for the song-cycle Sea Pictures!

Northwest Symphony Orchestra
March 22, 2015
Kim Diehnelt, conductor
Elizabeth Hale Knox, contralto

Resources for Sea Pictures

Have a listen to the infamous Dame Janet Baker!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

By the Sounds of Things

I recently received the list of winners for a new music competition and I was struck that all of the nine winning works had similar titles.

Every composition had a title referring to a thing (or things). All were nouns. Some were things in nature, such as echo, undercurrents, even bugs. Others were things such as mirrors, points and flourishes.

Why are we enthralled with capturing, creating, and communicating sounds - about things?

I have a hard time relating to this trend to compose music based on things. None of these composers explore the human condition, the inner world, or explore our relationship to time. These works explore our environment and the nature of THINGS.

As a conductor, I would also hesitate to put such music in front of musicians. Asking musicians to dig deep in their soul and search the depth of their musicianship for cicadas seems rude.

What does this say about, well, the judges? The composers? Or us – society?

I noticed, too, our recent “call for scores” for the NSO brought in numerous works ‘painting scenery’ through music. Perhaps a work about rain falling on Crater Lake in the morning, or visual effects of light bouncing off distance mountains. A colleague confirmed that “this is what they are teaching now days in universities.”

Does composing works based on the outer environment somehow justify the use of quasi-tonal languages? Is this a back door of sorts for academia to try to find a way back into the concert hall?

Mind you, I've always thought it rather odd, especially now days, to title a work by its form - yet another thing. 

Calling a piece ‘Symphony’ sounds about as exciting as writing a book and calling it “Novel No. 1.”

And now using labels referring to inanimate items in the world. It doesn't appear that the works are about the sensations evoked by the thing, or our relationship to said mountain, but rather, “this is what this thing is like in sound.”

Are we enthralled with “still life” compositions? “Fruit bowl on wooden table for string quartet?” I hope this is only a passing phase.

I've written enough about how I approach composition, so I’ll throw this out to readers to give me an earful. 
Why are we utilizing the amazingly expressive tool box of music composition to present and engage listeners over THINGS?