Paul Cantrell’s music blog & podcast
Piano music old and new from a devoted amateur,
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Posts tagged “Harper”

Perhaps it would have been better if I’d just admitted to myself (and the world) that I’d be taking the summer off from In the Hands. But where’s the fun without the suspense?

Here’s what I currently have in the pipeline (not necessarily in this order):

  • Some newly composed pieces of my own.
  • A new recording of at least some part of The Broken Mirror of Memory, my bass clarinet / piano work.
  • A fine new recording from Don Betts.
  • The remaining remasterings of my older recordings.

…And that’s my autumn of music pretty well booked up right there.

First, however, is the last of the three songs by Todd that Kim and I recorded last spring. This one is a setting of a poem by local poet John Minczeski, Questions, which sits somewhere between Zen koan and children’s book. It is a single poem, but Todd has split it into four separate little songs, zooming in on each each question and giving it its own character. I think they’re quite marvelous. It’s a wonderful way to read a poem — as the Internet makes us more accustomed to reading text fast, the music makes it possible to slow down and give each line of the poem its own space and weight.

Kim Sueoka, soprano
Paul Cantrell, piano

This is the last of Todd’s songs Kim and I have recorded together; it’s back to solo piano in the next episode. Be sure to also check out Northwoods Police Report and First Autumn Night if you haven’t already!

After a cold (which left my voice in bad shape for podcasting) and MinneBar (which was a great pleasure), it’s back to In the Hands! I’m continuing from last time the series of recordings I made recently with soprano Kim Sueoka of songs by Todd Harper.

For several years, Todd has been writing songs full of the sort of jazz changes that are his roots, but as much in the tradition of lieder as anything. He always makes them short, sweet, and very focused — haiku-like — and when he’s setting a text longer than a few lines, he’ll often break it into a chain of very short songs, each only a few words long. I don’t know of anybody who does anything quite like it.

The four songs of this short cycle are almost a sort of “found haiku” — the text is from actual police reports in an unnamed northern Minnesota town. Yes, they are real. No, Todd will not tell you which town it is.

They’re absolutely hilarious — Kim does a perfect deadpan delivery of their painfully earnest description of the mundane and mildly ridiculous things the police in a small town have to deal with. Audiences have different reactions to the humor: when we did them at an ACF Tuesday Salon, the very polite “high art crowd” audience murmured appreciatively at the humor, but seemed to be waiting for permission to laugh; when we did them shortly afterwards at Patrick’s Cabaret, the audience let out such an incredible stream of roars and guffaws, we were barely able to stay together!

There’s something in them beyond the humor, however: a sweetness, a tender love for the world of a small towns. Our sense of scale is relative in all things — space, time, what’s important — and in a little town, a disheveled stranger, a fence knocked down … these things matter. Todd lets the humor in, but it’s not mocking — it’s tender. He’s laughing about what he loves, I think.

Northwoods Police Report
Kim Sueoka, soprano
Paul Cantrell, piano

Here, for the first time in a long time, is something I wrote — but it’s not the music!

A couple of weeks ago, I recorded some of my friend Todd Harper’s songs with Kim Sueoka, a marvelous local soprano who sings with (among others) the Rose Ensemble and a first-rate voice/guitar duo called Voce y Cuerdas. She’s great, Todd’s great, and by golly, we had a wonderful time making the recordings!

Todd mostly writes voice / piano duets — and that’s mostly what we recorded — but he also did a lovely a cappella setting of one of my poems, and that’s what I’m publishing first. The poem is short, and so is the song.

First Autumn Night
Kim Sueoka, soprano
Paul Cantrell, words

The poem is a haiku. Syllable-counters in the audience may object that the lines do not follow the 5-7-5 pattern haiku are supposed to follow, but the syllable count rule isn’t important in modern English haiku, and many poets ignore it altogether. It only really makes sense in Japanese — English syllables are a very different ilk from their Japanese cousins. Moreover, the syllable count isn’t really the heart of the form.

What is the heart, then, you ask? A haiku is a direct experience, a single moment of perception caught before the mind has fully digested perception into narrative and meaning. It is typically tied to nature, often tied to a season*, but these are both optional in modern haiku. Perhaps most important feature is that the haiku has two parts: first a direct perception, then some second perception or mental twist that deepens the first part or casts it in a new light.

The separation between the two halves is a significant moment. In this song, Todd renders it ("halo") with the highest note, and the snaking, tonally shifting, rising melody of the first part (the autumn night, the moon) becomes sweet, diatonic, and falling (the illusion of the halo). Nicely done, Todd. And nicely done, Kim.

More songs to come!

* OK, I know it’s not autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere. You caught me.

Things don’t look good for me to create more new piano recordings in my home studio in the immediate future, so I’m going to have to stall — but I figure I might at least stall with something good!

This is a piece from the most recent Keys Please! concert. It adds a nice little bit of variation to the blog: not only is it not Cantrell, Chopin, or Brahms, but … it doesn’t even have a piano in it! (Yes, I’m really going out on a limb.) It’s also stylistically different from what I’ve published so far, hopefully in a refreshing way.

It’s from my buddy Todd. He says of it:

[This song] I have to share credit for, because I did not write the words. I was at my mom’s at Thanksgiving, and I found some old articles my dad wrote when he was alive, for the newspaper, the Forest Lake Times — and they’re about snakes. … This is about an expedition he took, and I thought, “This would set really well for cello and voice.”

Todd uses some inspired bits of semi-improvised sound painting, beautifully performed by Jacqueline, to accentuate the miniature drama in Carei’s reading of this little story. I hope you’ll find it as charming as I do!

Rattlesnake Song No. 2
Carei Thomas, narration

Music lovers take note: Jacqueline plays in a wonderful cello duo called Jelloslave, and they have a new CD!