Crooked Stream

I wrote a string quartet in October. I submitted it to a call for string quartet scores from fEARnoMUSIC, a new music ensemble in Portland. It did not make the grade and another composer’s work was chosen: Tylor Neist’s Unfolding. I look forward to hearing this piece on the ensemble’s Dec. 5th concert, Locally Sourced Sounds.

As an artist, as a musician, as a composer of new music, I am familiar with rejection. Never-the-less, I continue to write and push myself to submit scores to such calls from ensembles. In this particular situation, the call for scores was an impetus to write a new piece after an almost 4 year dry spell. In those 4 years I had worked (as my alter-ego, Daniel Boone’s Fault) on a cycle of story songs in the folk idiom: writing lyrics, putting them to music, performing publicly, and finally, releasing a 9 song CD – PODUNK rural-gothic story songs for the 21st century. The last contemporary classical piece I had written was a solo piano work, Eleven Nights, from 2009.

Eleven Nights is the second piece I have written using a method that employs folk tunes (my own and traditional ones) as sources of harmonic, rhythmic, and structural material. By analyzing the interval content and applying the interval ratios in various ways, a type of time point projection results. I find the telescopic version of the tune with its static harmony, syncopation, varied phrases and audible structure very satisfying. Previous to the solo piano work, I had written a string quartet in this style. The piece is 18 minutes long and therefore too long for the call for score submission guidelines which put the duration limit at 10 min. I decided to write a new quartet and keep it under 10 min.

I chose a fiddle tune I wrote, Crooked Stream, as the material source. The tune is “crooked” because it has a bar of 3/4 inserted as the eighth bar in an eight bar tune in 4/4 time. This is a tradition in Quebec country dancing and the dancers know how to handle it. Here’s an audio clip of the tune:

It is very simple to choose the duration of a piece using this method. The difficulty comes with trying to make the music fit that scale. Initially, my technique is to build up a base of notation using my interval analysis process. Then I gradually remove content until I arrive at what I consider a finished piece. The whole process allows me to find the piece rather than construct it. At this point in the development of the method, I am not pushing the harmonic envelope and the resultant pitch content and relationships could be called abstracted tonality. With one exception (an inversion of two parts), all the pitches are those contained in the original tune, a kind of modal D minor. With the augmentation and diminution of the phrases and the multiple layers (heterophony or stratified polyphony) any functional harmonic forms in the original tune are blurred beyond recognition though their traces still linger.

I was satisfied with the results using Crooked Stream and am posting this MIDI performance audio file for public listening. If you are not familiar with MIDI, it stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. MIDI allows electronic instruments (keyboards, samplers, drum machines, sound modules, samplers, etc.) to communicate with a computer and other electronic instruments and programs. In this case, Finale (my notation program) is communicating with Garritan Personal Orchestra, a software sampled orchestra. The results are helpful in the compositional process but are really only for reference. Understand that there are glitches and wonkiness (especially with tremolos) but the gist is there and appreciable. When I get a performance, that will be uploaded of course. Let me know what you think.


About DHeila

I am a copy editor at Best Ever Edit (please visit my page at and a songwriter/composer. My creative efforts are chronicled (sporadically) at
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