Tag: scores

And the 89th Academy Award Composer Nominees Are…

The nominees for the 89th Academy Awards have been announced, including nods in the category of best original score to composers Mica Levi, Justin Hurwitz, Nicholas Britell, Thomas Newman, and the team of Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka.

In December 2016 it was noted that scores such as Jóhann Jóhannsson’s notable contribution to Arrival would not be eligible.

Winners will be awarded during a ceremony at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood on Sunday, February 26, 2017.


Mica Levi
Justin Hurwitz
Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka
Nicholas Britell
Thomas Newman


from La La Land; Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
from Trolls; Music and Lyric by Justin Timberlake, Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster
from La La Land; Music by Justin Hurwitz; Lyric by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
from Jim: The James Foley Story; Music and Lyric by J. Ralph and Sting
from Moana; Music and Lyric by Lin-Manuel Miranda


Sylvain Bellemare
Wylie Stateman and Renée Tondelli
Robert Mackenzie and Andy Wright
Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Iatrou Morgan
Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman


Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye
Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace
Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow
David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson
Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth

Goofing off, Perfected: Lessons from Fluxus

In my columns so far, I have explored different ways of integrating fields outside of music into our work, including alternative educational models and institutions, as well as considered the ultimate purpose or function of our work. In this, my final post for the month, I’d like to recap a personal experience on the periphery of traditional music.

This summer, I’m creating a collection of performances at the Walker Art Center surrounding an exhibition of Fluxus works by George Brecht, Yoko Ono, Allison Knowles, and many others. I recently sat down with Sarah Schultz, curator of public practice at the Walker, and a group of local artists, and Sarah asked a seemingly simple question: what is Fluxus? What followed was a conversation where simple statements became instantly complicated. For example, Fluxus is an insular form speaking to the art world’s nuanced concepts of the object, vision, and experience. Simultaneously, Fluxus is an open initiation to life and living, enabling the public to take the scores into their own everyday. These inherent contradictions are perhaps summarized best by Hannah Higgins (academic and daughter of Allison Knowles and Dick Higgins) as she begins her book Fluxus Experience. “Since Fluxus artists never seem to agree on anything,” she acknowledges, “Fluxus has become ‘a pain in art’s ass,’ in the words of Fluxus artist Ben Vautier.” Now, I believe that we can hold two contradictory ideas in our heads without passing out, but it does become difficult to explain exactly what Fluxus is and isn’t. If you were to say one true thing about Fluxus, you could say that Fluxus is about the primary experience itself. The vehicle for exploring the now moment in Fluxus is through the Event Score or the Fluxkit.

Event Scores involve simple actions, ideas, and objects from everyday life re-contextualized as performance. Event Scores are texts that can be seen as proposal pieces or instructions for actions. The idea of the score suggests musicality. Like a musical score, Event Scores can be realized by artists other than the original creator and are open to variation and interpretation.
– Allison Knowles

I consider Fluxus a shared cousin between the music and visual art world. It is fascinating to see how treatment of the scores differs because they are kept by private collectors or at art institutions like the Walker. The scores here are handled with gloves, cautiously maneuvered with a small stainless steel spatula (so as to not bend the corners), and kept in a humidity and temperature-controlled space. When I think about the thousands of scores kept by orchestras, or the ones I have at my studio, I can see a real contrast in both treatment and use. What if Fluxus scores were kept by orchestras, lent out to groups that needed them, rented, and written on?

Although I’ve researched the scores through books, it was grounding to visit the scores in person. (Primary experience wins again!) Fluxus scores were released in editions like Brecht’s Water Yam, Ono’s Grapefruit, and Kosugi’s Events. The scores themselves are casual and airy. Easy and smart. They seem a bit haphazard in a lovely way that feels comfortable and domestic. In looking at Water Yam, a collection of 98 scores by George Brecht, you can imagine George picking up his scores from the printer and sitting down to cut them out with a pair of scissors, all different sizes from tiny to quite large. The pieces are kept atop one another in no particular order inside a small plastic box with a sticker on top. Seeing the scores in person helped me to envision the score as a more dynamic object and imagine why a score is held so central in Fluxus works.

<i>Water Yam</i> by George Brecht

Water Yam by George Brecht

Creating a score is a labor. To create a score, we have to envision ourselves as someone uninitiated with our ideas. We put ourselves in the shoes of another person—an act of empathy—and we offer an experience to anybody who would invest time to decode the document and act it out in real time and space. A score is a set of rules for engagement. It is the same for a recipe, a manual, or a blueprint. Scores come with a contract between the composer and the performer—a contract that could be understood as rules for interpretation or etiquette for the creation of a performance. This is a vernacular that has changed over time in music, different for each generation, although it feels as though the door was blown wide open in the 20th century.
To the Fluxus composers, a score is a narrative experience that exists in the mind.

from <i>Water Yam</i> by George Brecht

from Water Yam by George Brecht

A score is an instigator that weasels its way into your life, as in Milan Knizak’s Cat (1965) which reads, “Get a cat.”  A score is a document of a poetic event already past, a connection to something immensely human.

From Yoko Ono’s 1971 edition of <i>Grapefruit</i>

From Yoko Ono’s 1971 edition of Grapefruit

A score is a tool, multi-faceted and evolving over time. A score invites performance, a presence, and/or goofing off.

‘Goofing off’ is a quality that Fluxus artists certainly honed in performance, and…there are positive qualities to goofing off. Goofing off requires developing a fine-tuned sense of what it means to pause long enough and distance oneself far enough from worldly objects and events to recognize their illusory dimension and thereby reinvest the world with wonder. In order to really goof off well, the instrumental sense of purpose so deeply ingrained in Western ego and epistemology must be abandoned.
– Kristine Stiles “Between Water and Stone” from the Walker’s 1993 catalog In the Spirit of Fluxus

This is the thing that surprised me about the Event Scores: the works are a direct invitation to play, as well as an invitation to presence. Serious focus and purposeless play are both intensely human and increasingly rare. Goofing off is another form of presence, or rather a complete lack of presence when we abandon our veneer to embrace a purposeless sense of wonder. We goof off and are human. In this way, Fluxus and their Event Scores point to our human condition in a way that is wildly dynamic. The score is an invitation, a call to action, and first-hand study and performance of these scores would be healthy for any of us.

Igor’s Hand


It’s the spacing that causes one’s jaw to drop.

Early this week, by chance I noticed a posting on Twitter that contained an image from the first page of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps. Granted, the calligraphy is top-notch for handwritten manuscript (not surprising considering the meticulous nature of the composer) and the subtle eccentricities—the time signatures written as fractions, the use of colored pencils for rehearsal numbers, the distinctive cursive style—are fascinating. But it’s the spacing—the horizontal and vertical distribution of notes on each staff—that provides a real and tangible insight as to the intense attention to detail that Stravinsky brought to bear as he penned the autograph manuscript of his score to Le Sacre.

So where did this page come from? After some digging I discovered that this May, in celebration of the centenary of the premiere of Le Sacre, Boosey & Hawkes will be publishing an annotated edition of this original autograph manuscript of the piece as well as the autograph manuscript of Stravinsky’s two-piano arrangement and a set of 18 essays by Stravinsky scholars. (B&H is currently selling pre-orders at a reduced price on their website.)

From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, it’s easy to wonder why a handwritten autograph of such a work is of any interest, especially since there are plenty of engraved versions of the score that are much clearer and cleaner. But ignoring pragmatism for a second, the manuscript is important for several reasons. As I mentioned above, a trained eye can elicit many clues from a composer’s handwritten score. Not only can the manuscript allow one to understand the character of the composer to a greater degree than any engraved score, but performers and conductors can use this type of score as a tool when making their own creative decisions regarding interpretation during performance.

My own thoughts behind the importance of this manuscript are much more personal. It’s certainly a cliché to say that Le Sacre was an influence—most composers and performers who have any interest in new music today were affected in one way or another by this seminal work, either through recordings, a live performance, or (laugh if you will) Disney’s unique visual interpretation of a highly edited version of the work as part of the classic film Fantasia. I saw that film when I was four years old and made sure to see it every time it was re-released into theaters (which, back in the ’70s, was the only way one could see the film again!). I can safely say that if there was an early event that sparked my interest in music, it was experiencing that film at such a young age.
Memories from my childhood aside, there is one more important aspect to these manuscripts that I think may be the most important of all. As with celebrities or famous individuals, its very easy for most of us to abstract certain famous musical works so that they become transcendent in our eyes—it’s not just a piece of music anymore, but more of a cultural icon with its own baggage. When one looks at the actual handwriting of a 31-year-old Russian composer who had not yet achieved his place in the mythos of our musical heritage, it not only allows us to see the piece and the man writing it in a more normal, grounded manner but it allows us to see ourselves and our own work in a context that is ultimately more healthy and realistic than before.

The Kindness of Strangers

One of my favorite things about living in the middle of the city of Baltimore—which the locals call Charm City—is that I constantly am interacting with strangers. As we walk around town, we tend to greet other pedestrians with a nod, and when I’m out with my dog, people often stop me to ask questions about him. Sometimes these brief encounters lead to delightful experiences, like the day that I opened my mailbox to find a coffee mug and keychain proclaiming my love for Belgian sheepdogs (my dog’s breed) without a note or any other indication as to who my kind benefactor was. Although I eventually identified the other dog companion who had given us these gifts, I still don’t know his name, nor does he know mine.

Similarly, at times the world of new music can feel like a charming town in which everyone is working towards the same goals and is willing to help out strangers in order to share the music they love.

I find that there are more great composers working today than I can possibly keep up with. Sometimes it seems that people tell me about amazing pieces by composers who are new to me on a daily basis. We live in a time when the wealth of creative riches can be completely overwhelming and physical distance is no excuse to avoid learning about good music. Because of this, some composers who clearly deserve more recognition can get lost in the shuffle.

In my opinion, Eleanor Hovda is a fantastic candidate for the composer most deserving of far greater recognition than she has received. I have long admired her sonic landscapes, which have never failed to grab my attention, even when I’ve been listening to compilation CDs in the background while administering to other tasks, and I was saddened to hear about her death in 2009. She left behind a relatively small catalog of works, but all of the ones I’ve heard have been of the highest quality and I’m very happy that Innova Records recently released a 4-CD compilation of her music.

I’m working on a guitar quartet right now, and, as usual, I began by listening to several examples of contemporary quartets. The Minneapolis Guitar Quartet’s recording of Hovda’s striking 1992 piece, Armonia, blew my mind with its beautifully constructed sounds in an entirely engaging form. I wanted to study this piece further, and so I went online to try to purchase its score. I was saddened to find that it wasn’t available through any distributor that I could locate, nor was it in my local libraries.

Next, I went to the website for the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet, who had commissioned the piece, and sent an email through their “Contact” link. I also posted a query on the wall for the Facebook group “Eleanor Hovda—Remembering” asking if anyone knew how I could purchase the score. Within a very short time, several people offered to ship me free copies, and less than a week later the score arrived in my mailbox. Sure enough, studying it has proven to be extraordinarily fruitful.

I can’t help but compare this experience with those we often have with major publishers. Sometimes it seems that the large publishing concerns would rather we didn’t try to perform the music they represent. It can be frustrating when you want to learn more about a piece but are faced with obstacles from traditional publishers—like exorbitant rental fees and lack of communication—that can create barriers between the people who love the music they publish and the music itself. In the case of Hovda, I felt immediately welcomed by her community of family and friends, who clearly believe in her music and want to see it spread to as many interested people as possible. I only hope that the kindness of these strangers fulfills its function and continues to allow for the music of this amazing composer to be heard as often as possible.

Choral Scores of the Future

At the recent Music of Now Marathon at Symphony Space, I was intrigued to see violinist Daniel Phillips play a piece by his father, Eugene, using an iPad instead of a score, turning the pages with a wireless foot pedal. I quickly imagined what it would be like to have a whole choir using iPads instead of scores. Singers would no longer have to deal with heavy folders stuffed with scores, audiences wouldn’t have to listen to multiple crackling page turns, and choir organizers could avoid spending weeks acquiring paper scores from multiple sources and dragging them from place to place. Royalties and fees would still be paid, as they are with e-books.

Until that day comes, choir librarians and administrators like me continue to face the endless challenge of obtaining the multiple copies needed for the singers, which can come from sources as diverse as the music itself. A typical Melodia Women’s Choir concert may have between six and ten different pieces and almost as many sources for copies of the scores.

As we all know, photocopying scores is not permitted except under special circumstances. In our current program, we have two situations where copying is allowed. One involves the composer, Johannes Somary, who died a year ago. Somary had sent us the unpublished score not long before he became ill, which we were able to copy with permission from his widow, Anne Somary. Another piece on our current program is an unpublished work by a living composer who provided a .pdf of the score and a license to reproduce it, for which we paid a per-copy fee.

Some of the choral scores programmed in a concert may be in the public domain and may be available at ChoralWiki, home of the Choral Public Domain Library which contains a vast collection of scores. However, if you find a score here, it’s important to check it thoroughly to make sure it’s the original notation and to review it for errors.

For purchasing scores, jwpepper.com and sheetmusicplus.com carry significant choral catalogues. Smaller companies can help find scores not available elsewhere. Cliff Hill Music, is one I have used consistently.

Several choirs in the New York area make their score libraries available to other choirs through a rental program. New Amsterdam Singers‘ rental catalogue carries more than 740 sets of choral music scores with accompanying instrumental parts, including classical and contemporary works, available at a fraction of the purchase price.

Perhaps ten years from now choral singers will carry a simple tablet instead of a score–or by then there could be some completely new technology available. Time will tell.