Paul Cantrell’s music blog & podcast
Piano music old and new from a devoted amateur,
all free to listen to, download, and share.

The Broken Mirror of Memory is now released! (Fanfare!) And the best place to get it is straight from the artist. (That’s me!)

In this episode is one track from the new album. This is part 2; you heard part 1 in the last episode.

The bass clarinet has a kind of talking quality throughout part 2 that involves some unusual sounds you might not have heard before. You’ll hear a few bends and microtonal adjustments, and in many spots,…Read more

The Broken Mirror of Memory, Part 2
Pat O’Keefe, bass clarinet
Paul Cantrell, piano

I’ve been meaning to record this one for a long time.

This is one of those mysterious and introspective pieces like Chopin’s nocturne 15.3 that has a strange logic all its own. It’s low and, even in the crescendos, somehow hushed throughout. There’s not a trace of virtuosic flashiness in it; it’s definitely not a piece that’s about the pianist. The way it unfolds is … well, a nice fellow from Paris named Frank who emailed me about…Read more

Ballade Op 10 No 4
Paul Cantrell, piano
It's organic, and sounds almost improvised --- except that it is impossibly perfect in every detail. Its soundscape is vast, deep, and richly pianistic, but look at the construction and you'll see the spare elegance of Bach. It has a loving tenderness, and a longing, that's unlike anything else, yet seems…Read more
Nocturne Op 15 No 2 (in F sharp major)
Paul Cantrell, piano

The Kickstarter project for The Broken Mirror of Memory has passed its first major milestone! I’m now able to pay for printing the CD, and distributing in online music stores. Huzzah!! In celebration, and as a huge thank you to all the awesome backers who have pitched in so far, I’m posting part 1 (out of 4) of the piece.

Here it is!

This music comes right out of the gate at full speed, the piano and the bass clarinet in a state of…Read more

The Broken Mirror of Memory, Part 1
Pat O’Keefe, bass clarinet
Paul Cantrell, piano

Visiting the house of my composer friend Matthew Smith (who has an outstanding CD out now, by the way), I noticed the score to Chopin’s E minor prelude out on the piano. It turns out that his wife, children’s book illustrator and author Lauren Stringer, is taking piano lessons, and she has been working on it. I was delighted — the piece is a favorite of mine. I dug out my recording of it for her to hear, and decided it was high time…Read more

Preludes Op 28 Nos 4 and 9 (as a pair)
Paul Cantrell, piano

This piece is my old, trusted standby. I wrote it back in college, in the winter and spring of 1998, and since then it’s been the one piece of my own that I’ve continually kept in my hands and head, always at the ready when somebody says, “Play something you wrote, Paul!” It still remains satisfying to me: the shape is simple, but interesting little puzzles keep emerging from within.

In all that time, however, only live audiences…Read more

Three Places
Paul Cantrell, piano

This was the first Brahms I ever learned to play. It looked to me like a relatively easy piece, simply because it doesn’t have all that many notes — but I was wrong: never having played Brahms, I didn’t recognize the difficulty that was there. Brahms doesn’t always divide his music into clear layers of melody and accompaniment; he’ll have bits of melodic thread appearing in different voices, different layers. None of these threads…Read more

Intermezzo Op 116 No 4
Paul Cantrell, piano

Here’s an older piece of mine, newly remastered. I’ve gone back and forth in the past on whether I like this one, but I like it very much today, so I’m publishing it!

The title is based on my mishearing of a Tori Amos lyric (from Cruel). I generally go for titles that are evocative and somehow seem to fit, without actually having any clear meaning that listeners will try to impose on the piece — I want the title to be an opening into…Read more

In a Perfectly Wounded Sky
Paul Cantrell, piano

Last June, an extraordinary thunderstorm ripped through my fair city, leaving half a million without power and downing an astonishing number of beautiful old trees.

On my daily walk to the coffee shop, a tall tree lay across 34th Street, door-sized chunks of sidewalk split like a drawbridge over the gaping hole where its dangling roots once ran. The top of its canopy, previously the domain of birds, insects, and exceptionally brave squirrels, was half-flattened against the asphalt just shy of the yellow center line. I walked up to it, and touched my finger to leaves that had never before felt human hands. They were still firm and green, and remained so for many days.

When a tree falls, it lives on long after its death is sealed.

Watching the Minnesota Orchestra, I cannot shake the feeling that this tree fell many months ago, and we are now watching it die slowly on the asphalt. The roots are in the air. The trunk is horizontal.…Read more

I’m starting up a new composer organization, The New Ruckus. The mission statement says it best:

We are composers, improvisers, sound artists, and songwriters. Our mission is to help each other achieve a sense of purpose and satisfaction in our musical lives, by providing moral support and practical help in creating our work, getting it heard, and making personal connections through it.

We specifically focus on non-selective activities that benefit the whole composer community: nothing we do is judged, juried, curated or auditioned. Our programs are either open to all, or first come first served. If we do it for anyone, we do it for everyone.

There are lots of organizations doing a great job of mustering resources and funneling them into music, but The New Ruckus’s exclusive focus on mutual support and community building is … well, like the name says, it’s new!

Get yourself on The New Ruckus mailing…Read more

Tucked into today’s encouraging tidbits of news about the Twin Cities orchestras is one telling detail. The MN Orchestra board wants to restore the organization’s mission statement to its former proper state (they removed the word “orchestra” last year, if you can believe it), but “with two changes to emphasize community service and financial stability.” In that proposal is laid bare the philosophical chasm that originally lead to this fiasco.

The words “financial stability” do not belong in any arts organization’s mission statement.…Read more

Nothing prepares you for what the doctor says:

“You have brain cancer. The tumor is large and growing. We need to remove approximately one third of your brain, and we need…Read more

During hurricane Sandy, I tweeted (yes, I have a Twitter account; can you believe it?) about how wonderful it is that pianos still work when the power is out. Turns out that while I was thinking it, one In the Hands listener was living it. I will let him tell his story in his own words:

Since we last emailed.... we were hit with Hurricane Sandy. (I live in Jersey City NJ just outside of NYC). If you followed the news... we were basically in a war zone out here without power, heat, phone, internet for a week... with miliatary coming in and out with trucks, water and food.…Read more

As the lockout of Minnesota’s two world-class orchestras continues, I’ve given a lot of thought to the dilemma. A credible outside perspective is hard to find, and we’re left in a “he said / she said” back and forth between management and musicians. Listening to it all, I believe them both on their key points: yes, an organization that is drawing heavily from its endowment cannot last —and yes, the proposed cuts would be an artistic kneecapping for the orchestras.

I’ve thought hard, and I’ve made up my mind. To accept the financial status quo is to doom the orchestras to a slow death — but to accept the proposed cuts is to kill them now. I wish the orchestras could last forever in their current state. But if that cannot be, if it comes right down to it and we are truly forced to choose, the orchestras should draw down their endowments. I’d…Read more

Astute readers of this blog will notice that it’s been a really, really long time since I've posted a new recording. I have not been musically idle, however! Oh no. I have been working my little pianist tusch off.

One of the projects I've been working on, years in the making, is now finally coming to fruition. It is a composition for bass clarinet and piano called The Broken Mirror of Memory. Here’s my attempt to describe the piece, from the score’s performance notes:

Entanglement, soliloquy, tango, flight: each movement poses a problem from which the next unfolds. Themes continually resurface, transformed, as the music reinvents its own past — the endless process Gabriel García Márquez described as “piecing together the broken mirror of memory from so many scattered shards.” The coda gathers everything together, grappling, burning down — and then, from the embers, a simple benediction emerges, present all along, now laid bare. We…Read more