Monday, August 12, 2013

Four Piano Pieces

My mother's CD,
(her vocals) including
the original
"Top of the Mountain"
I'm just getting around to digitizing some of my music from over the years. How about a music Monday? I thought I would share...

Here are three short piano sketches, written over the course of about fifteen years -- not of intensive work, but, at various times, as I noticed things. They were all (mostly) improvised; pretty much a spontaneous reaction to scene and mood. They are truly as close to drawn sketches as music gets; the composition was as I said, improv-based. The first two were written in a sitting; the third, over two nights.

I call them "American Sketches" because they were inspired by what I consider pretty characteristic American scenes. You might also hear some small spots of sonic homage to some of my favorite American composers, too. The first piece was written after I walked past a Little League baseball game and saw the poor lad in right field (always the worst player on the team in kids' baseball) standing bored, tossing his glove in the air and catching it, knowing the ball would never come out to him. The second piece was written after an evening on the beach. A short distance from me, a very sad young woman was wandering the strand and looking, in equal measure, at her feet and out to sea; she was dressed in clothes for an evening out (including a purse), not for a night walk on the beach. The third was written to reflect sunset in suburbia; it was composed with the whir of lawn mowers and the smell of cut grass coming in through the open window. Here they are:

The final piano piece is pretty special to me, because it is based on a song by my father, composer and arranger Joe Matt. It is based on a tune that he wrote for his musical, Into the Fire. The song is called "Top of the Mountain," and these are my variations on the theme. It says a lot, I think, that the most beautiful part of the piece is the spot in which I openly and completely play my father's melody:

They are free to download, if you like them. Just please don't use them for anything unless you ask. (Click contact above.) As long as I get credit and/or a link, I'm cool with it.

(Technical note for people in the know: excuse the shoddy "pedaling" in the Sketches. The first two were recorded to MIDI ten or fifteen years ago; this recording was made with the old MIDI device playing a new sound source. Some of the original pedaling did not translate well, making for some awkward chord transitions. You can hear how much more smooth the last one [done only a year ago] is.)


  1. Came home from a long vacation tonight, decided to catch up with blog-friends, and found these tracks waiting. They're beautiful, Chris--and if the download goes as planned, they'll find a nice home on my iPod.

    1. Jeff -- thank so much. It's great to hear someone is listening and liking!In fact, it means even more than hearing positive feedback on the writing. Please let me know if the download has any problems and I will look into it. Thanks again.

  2. The download was a snap. However, iTunes being the clunky program it is, I had to add your name as the artist and group the four tracks together to form a sort of e-EP....but I'm happy to have done so. Keep 'em comin'.

    1. Good to know, Jeff. Thanks. Working on some more conversions. I'll post them as I finish them. Thanks again for the interest in my music!

  3. I've listened to all four two times completely through. Initial impressions are that I hear shades of Cory Lerios (American) in ASI and John Barry (English) in ASII.

    Rather than a boy on a field in ASI, I pictured New York City in my mind. Just my impression.

    The fourth is the most complex musically, and I'm enjoying many of the choices you make in resolving tonality.

    I thought you identified primarily as a drummer. Yet this is great playing, too, along with thoughtful composing. Do you read or are you playing by ear here? You mention improvisation, so trying to imagine the process underlying the writing.

    Since they downloaded to my netbook as a group, the entire sequence plays like a tone poem. The fit well together, like four movements from a suite. Thank you for posting them. Fine listening on a Saturday.

    1. Thanks you so much, Elsa Louise, for the close (and insightful)listening. It means a great deal to me that you gave it some real time and attention. Thanks for the compliments on the playing. I always considered myself a pretty good "rhythm pianist" -- had lessons as a kid, but never developed much traditional technique because I was always too busy jumping into writing my own stuff instead of practicing Bach. My most seriously-studied instrument is classical guitar, but, I have the most facility on the drums, having grown up in the progressive rock era and earned most of my musical living on them. (I am a bit of a musical Jeckyll and Hyde, going from rock drums to soft, nylon strings.)

      I studied composition with my dad and I do play by ear, but I read (and write) as well. When I compose, though, I tend to carry a piece in my head. I'll write it down later, if needed, but I have always been able to carry (and work on) a big piece of music in my head as I write it. The three American Sketches were, as I said, mostly improvised. The first two were done in a sitting, each, with little revision from the first pass. There was a little more time spent on the third (the shortest one) which was improvised as a complete piece, then revised over a few nights.

      You are dead-on about the third. It is much more complex than the other three. This was composed over a month or two, all in memory, then I started working on (and am still working on) an orchestration of it, on "paper " -- i.e.: notation program on the computer. I am very gratified to hear you enjoyed the tonal resolutions; you have a great ear to recognize that; it is the backbone of what I do with the piece, especially if one knows the tune on which I am writing the variations.

      I'm glad you see other things in the pieces than I mentioned. It is dangerous to go impressionistic and suggest (with a title)that which suggested the music. Maybe I should just leave the numbers and lose the descriptive titles...

      Thanks again, Elsa Louise. I am going to try to post more things from time to time, as I convert them. I would love further feedback!