Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Such a fuss...

In my last post, I put up my setting of the text Surge, Illuminare, which is technically an Epiphany text, as an Easter offering. There was a row about it, by which I mean two people said something on Facebook. While I don't retract that - and certainly, the text is very appropriate to Epiphany, and is even used in the Epiphany lectionary - I feel that I should add an unequivocally Easter anthem.

So. For two soprano soloists, trumpet, keyboard, and SAB choir, here is a setting of the Exsultet, a text read (or chanted, or sung) at the Easter Vigil, the night before Easter Sunday. That doesn't mean that it's not suitable for Easter morning, of course!

The music!

First verse.

Solo II
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!

Jesus Christ our King is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

This verse introduces the alternating concept of alternating soloist(s) with choir, the harmonic space for the piece to live in (an open harmony in the Dorian mode) as well as the rhythmic language and the time shift between 3/4 and 3/2. The trumpet enters on the second page at the line "Sound the trumpet of salvation," of course. A series of Alleluias separate the first two verses.

The first page:

Second verse.

Solo I
Rejoice, O Earth, in shining splendour,
Radiant in the brightness of your King!

Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes forever!

Here the upper voice enters with the solo, accompanied by both trumpet and keyboard ostinati. The choir uses the same harmonic movement as before, by and large, carrying it only to a different conclusion. Another section of Alleluias moves us in to the third verse.

The third page of music, showing the end of the solo and the choir part:

Third verse.

Solos I and II
Rejoice, Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen saviour shines upon you!

Let this place resound with joy,
Echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

The soloists sing together in duet, leading to the choir's final verse consisting of new musical material. After which, the choir's Alleluias and Amens are accompanying the two soloists soaring overtop.

The fourth page:

And the sixth, showing the final alleluas:

This piece was commissioned by St. John's Cathedral, Winnipeg, under the direction of Tom Packham, and first sung there (in slightly modified form) Easter Sunday, 2012, and repeated by my own choir the following year at St. James' the Assiniboine Anglican. Tom didn't have a trumpeter available, so there is a version available without trumpet. I only had a single soloist, so she sang both solo verses and the upper solo line in the third verse and coda; I also had trouble with the choir, so my then-student played the choral parts softly (nearly inaudibly, from the congregation) on the organ while I conducted from the piano.

The PDF is behind this link, this one right here.
Trumpet parts in C - or in B-flat

Or if you don't have a trumpeter - all organ. Trumpet in the left hand, fluttery bits in the right, bass in the pedals.

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Rejoice, Heavenly Powers! by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

An Easter offering

Six weeks until it's useful.

I wrote this setting of the Surge, Illuminare (Isaiah 60: 1-6) a few years back, using the text from the Canadian Psalter as my starting point. It's a tricky four-part setting, despite being mostly homophonic. It's in three broad sections:

First (after a brief introduction) is the main theme of the work, in commanding repeated unisons ("Arise! Shine!") and warm lyrical lines ("For thy light is come") leading through the text to the part about the nations coming to the light and the kings to the brightness.

Secondly, an imitative a capella segment, which eventually moves to a hymn-like setting with instrumental interjections. This leads to a key change down a half step from C to B major and a small recap.

The third segment begins with a recapitulation of the primary theme and text, and moves back from B to C into a new music segment with the text "The sun shall be no more thy light by day." The conclusion rounds out the theme with a final statement of the words "Arise! Shine! for thy light is come."

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Surge, Illuminare! by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Available here in PDF form.

I intend to present it to my church choir at this week's rehearsal as our anthem for Easter Sunday, giving me six weeks to get it ready (and to arrange it for the trumpet player, hopefully) if they agree to sing it. Here's hoping!

This work also exists in open score, if the compressed two-staff choral part is bothersome.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Monophony, not monotony - Ego Trip 2013 post #2

More from Ego Trip 2013. If you missed the first post about it, it's here.

At my Ego Trip recital were two good friends of mine that happen to be wind players - Charmaine Bacon, a flutist, and James Robertson, a horn player. I took the opportunity of having those two individuals present to create unaccompanied works for their instruments.

Writing for solo instrument unaccompanied is an interesting challenge. How do you create a line that both conveys melody and harmony? How do you get movement through a lone line? With the flute and the horn, there's a second problem, too: how can I accomplish this and still give them a chance to breathe?

The Pastorale in D for solo flute is in four short movements, modeled after the Bach Pastorale for organ. The central conceit of a pastorale is that it's intended to imitate the sound of the shepherd's pipes calling to one another on the night of the birth of Jesus, which suggests that the musical language of uneducated middle-eastern shepherds two thousand years ago was an incredibly intricate and complex thing capable of some truly impressive levels of communication.

So. The four movements of this piece, which are intended to be played together as a single work, are a slow introduction, a three-voice fugue (yes, for the flute alone), a slow Intermezzo, and a final echo fantasy. I've heard Charmaine play this in concert twice now, once at my Ego Trip, once at one of her own recitals, and she handles the shifting voices and characters excellently. Of course, you don't have to take my word for it; here's flutist Charmaine Bacon, recorded live at my Ego Trip concert.

Score available here in PDF form.
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Essay - Pastorale for unaccompanied flute by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Also on the list was a Minuet for unaccompanied French Horn. When I first sent this piece to James, he told me there were issues that needed resolution. So I asked to meet up and discuss the matter with him, not knowing what I'd done wrong (I'm not a brass player). Time went by, and we didn't connect, so I asked about it again as the evening approached, and James sent back that it was no worry and that he would handle it.
I found out afterwards that fully stopping the horn (indicated by the cross markings in the score) is usually preceded by several seconds of silence to allow the player to properly adjust hand position. So having one out of three notes stopped was something of a challenge, one which James rose to more than admirably.

You can hear that yourself, of course. James Robertson, recorded live at Ego Trip 2013.

Score available here in PDF form.
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Etude - Minuet for unaccompanied French horn by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Folk song for choir - Voyaguer rowing song #1

I'm a massive folk-song geek. I play some of the most complex music on one of the most complicated instruments in the world, and yet putting a simple vocal line with a simple accompaniment is often what attracts my attention. And my memories of the voyageur songs from my upbringing in French immersion schools are some of my favourites.

V'la l'bon vent is a voyageur rowing song. At least it is in my memory. It's got a wonderful energy behind it that drew me in as a kid, and about six years ago I wrote an arrangement for choir that I'm about to share.

PDF is available here.

There's the first three pages, representing two choruses and two verses. The verses are, by and large, unaccompanied. The verses are all in 5/4 time, while the choruses are in four-beat bars. The accompaniment basically stays out of the way, keeping time and reinforcing the harmony.
And yet, I still find the arrangement charming and fun. I hope you do too.

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V'la l'bon vent by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Thursday, February 12, 2015


The hymn-tune "Eventide," long associated with the hymn Abide with Me, has been a frequent target of my efforts. So for this week's hymn efforts, here is a reharmonization of it (perhaps handy for a final verse), a fauxbourdon because I like them (even when my harmony drifts to weird places), and a piece I've used as an improvisation for funerals, lenten services, and other similar quiet times. Since I've been doing this for a while, it feels like I'm finally putting down on paper something that's been in my repertoire for years. It's a weird feeling, to be sure.
Here they are!

When I see an accidental in the melody, I can't help but think "Key change," instead of "Leading tone." Forgive me, it only gets wilder.

Why yes, that is a cadence on the minor median resolving deceptively to the major median and sliding out from a second-inversion chord to a root-position tonic a tritone away. And yes, the harmony voices have a tendency to move in whole-tone scales from time to time.
Honestly, I'm not sure if the tenors would have an easy time with this one, melody or not. The urge to cadence out-of-key was strong, but resisted.
And as usual, the PDFs are here, and here's the license:

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Harmonization and Fauxbourdon on "Eventide" by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

And the Simple Meditation. The pages should cycle every five seconds.

PDF available here

This is the same improvisational pattern I used to write the Meditation in the Little Suite, incidentally.

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Simple Meditation on "Eventide" by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Little Suite

The organ is such a beautifully versatile instrument. I was privileged to play the organ at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church in a flute concert, playing a Handel sonata with a soloist (the inimitable Charmaine Bacon), a solo composition which I'm detailing below, and my first ever actual concerto, the Soler Concerto #6 for Two Organs, with a flute choir playing the part of a second organ. More on that later, I'm sure; for now, I want to talk about my Little Suite for Organ.

The Little Suite is built on patterns that I use to create improvisations are hymn tunes, although these pieces are not based on known themes but rather on original melodies. They were written separately, but I believe work nicely as a unified concert piece, and while they may be suitable for worship services, they were not written with that intent in mind.

The first piece is a Scherzetto, about 90 seconds to two minutes in length. It's in a constant three-against-two rhythm. The left hand keeps steady time while the right carries a flighty melody in the upper reaches of the 4' stop.

Secondly, the slow Meditation. Using a 2' stop in the pedal against wide open quintal chords the bass of the strings is a trick I've had for a long time, especially for improvisations on slow hymns, and I will probably start writing some of those improvisations down and publishing them. If a 2' isn't available in the pedal, a 4' stop can be used played up the octave.

Finally, the biting March. When I use this sort of pattern for improvising, it's not usually quite so sarcastic in tone. It uses a compositional form I've been toying with since I started writing, which is to shortcut the repeat of a ternary form (March and Trio in this case) by coming back not to the beginning of the primary section but instead to come back to the middle of it. Del segno, not Da Capo, in other words.

At the aforementioned recital, I was able to record the Little Suite, warts and all. It's here, courtesy of Soundcloud.

And as usual, the score is available here in glorious PDF.

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Little Suite for Organ by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Spirituals are hymns too - Balm in Gilead

Or at least similar enough to be in the hymnal.

I wasn't satisfied with singing "Balm in Gilead" in unison this past Sunday. So we didn't. Here:

Available here

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Balm in Gilead harmonization by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

So there's the harmony we sang. And here's the introduction I wrote but didn't play:

PDF link
It will tie fingers in knots. I simply didn't have time to practice it, because I was busy with a flute choir. No, I wasn't playing the flute... but more on that later, once I've had time to parse the recordings.

The introduction is actually entirely playable on a single manual (or on the piano, for that matter) if you don't mind a little voice-crossing, and if that's the case then the left hand can help the right with the lower notes and save some jumping around. Or you can play it as a full on, two-manual-and-pedal trio.

Back to the usual work, which hopefully means more writing and more posting - at least for now. Recitals approach in March, choir concert in April, and Easter happens sometime between the two.

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Introduction on Balm in Gilead by Mike Cutler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.