Fantasy in D

April 21st, 2016

A fantasy is a musical composition with a free form and often an improvisatory style. Early in the 16th-century fantasias consisted of short sections based on one or more musical motives. “Fantasy in D” makes use of improvisation by the orchestra. Performers receive collections of notes or instructions and are told to improvise using them for certain period of time.

Fantasy in D

Pages from the score

Not all sections are improvised; some sections are a mix of fully notated and improvisation.  There are a couple of repeating motives, but the most prominent would be the repeated 3 notes which are heard at the climax. There are 2 top level sections, the climax of the piece is the start of the second section. The second section is the inverse of the first (b+a instead of a+b).

Score Draft Notes

Score Draft laying out the Golden Ratio

Then each of these top two sections are broken down until there are 64 total sections.  The sections break into various levels (2-4-8-16-32), then depending on the level they trigger different events, texture or chord changes, instruments used, etc. How long each section last is based on the “Golden ratio“, φ (phi) or 1.6180339887498948482… The”Golden ratio” appears in some patterns in nature, including the spiral arrangement of leaves and other plant parts. The tonal center of the piece is in D, though it is more modal then in the key of D. It travels though D, A, B, G, A, B, G, D, sometimes using major modes but mostly minor, so it is really in D…(ish).

SFCCO performs Fantasy in D


The over all feeling of the piece might be a bit somber or melancholy. Various life events, the passing of my father and my mother’s struggle with pancreatic cancer, during the writing of the work affected the mood of the piece. On May 21st, 2016, the SFCCO premièred this composition.

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for Loop

April 30th, 2015

for n in reversed(range(1,4)):


For Loop or 80’s Nostalgia

SFCCO performs for n in reversed(range(1,4)): play(n) pause(n)

In the 1980’s pattern music or minimalism & post-minimalism were popular styles while I was in school. John Adams’  Short Ride in a Fast Machine was a big hit among my peers. for Loop was originally intended to be a “tip of the cap” to that time in my life. While writing this composition it started to sound a like a machine or a computer working. Probably a subconscious nod to my college composition professor Dr. Cindy McTee who wrote a composition called Circuits. After I completed the first draft I noticed a pattern that keep appearing, play 3 – reset 3, play 2 – reset 2, play 1 – reset 1. This pattern made me think of a simple for loop in computer programming. This is how I came up with the title for n in reversed(range(1,4)): play(n) pause(n) which is a for loop that would generate this pattern and really emphasizes how the piece sounds like a computer working. On May 9th 2015 the SFCCO premièred this composition.



May 23rd, 2014

SFCCO performs Triangles

Triangles is a composition inline with my composition Pollock which the SFCCO premiered 12 years ago. The present work uses guided improvisation and colorist techniques to create it’s sound.  The title of the work comes from the Triangular number sequence that inspired the form of the composition. There are three large sections lasting 4 minutes each. These large section have a fundamental pitch center of  ii-v-I, my jazz roots. These large sections are made up of three sections A (modal runs), B (intervalic movements) and C (chordal sustains). Each of these sections (A,B,C) are also made up of three sections each one lasting a value in the triangular number sequence (ex: 10, 15, 21, 28, 36, 45). One could also look at Triangles a quasi rondo form: A, B, C, B1, C1, A1, C2, A2, B2 (Rondo Form: A, B, A, C, A, B1, A). While three is the magic number for this composition, the numerics are just the glue for the work. With sound-washes of runs, thick Ruggle-esque chords, and intertwining spontaneous melodies — Triangles aims to paint pictures in the mind.


Incomplete Thoughts

April 22nd, 2013

SFCCO performs Triangles

Incomplete Thoughts was born out of the news that the SFCCO would not have all the bassoons they normally have for the May, 2013 concert. I stopped the piece on which I was working, and came up with another: a contemporary passacaglia where the bass line was in one time and the other instruments in others. I was thinking to use either multiple conductors or metronomes with earpieces. Desiring inspiration, I looked though some of my incomplete compositions for a bass line, and found something useable in a draft of an opera from many years ago. The figure went through some modifications and was given a lazy lilt in 7/8. I wanted to layer fragments of music on top, which were inspired by scraps of music not yet finished and other incomplete utterances. As I felt the work should be written in a stream-of-conscious-manner, an interruption motif came into being as a way to switch thoughts. While I eventually decided that the original idea of multiple times might be hard to pull off, I came up with other ways to have multiple times. In the end, I hope to have created a thought-provoking work that is more than the collection of Incomplete Thoughts that began it.


A Love Letter: Minverva’s Dance

October 25th, 2010

Dancing to the original.

Minerva’s Dance was originally written for my wife and for our first dance as husband and wife in 2004. She loves tangos and the music of Astor Piazzolla, so I decide to write her a tango. I went into my studio and started laying down some tracks. My friend and band mate, Andrew Wilshusen laid down some percussion and a few days later I had it ready to go. Since this was a studio piece with long improvised sections only a small part of it was ever written down. In the summer of 2010 I decided to notate and expand the orchestration.  The flute and soprano sax are featured soloist. The flute solo is a transcription of the original solo I played but the sax solo for the 9/25/2010 SFCCO concert was improvised. My friend Erling Wold was originally going to play accordion on this concert but just be for the concert he got hit by a car and broke his leg.  Minverva is the  goddess of poetry, medicine, wisdom, commerce, weaving, crafts, magic, and the inventor of music.

SFCCO performs Minvera


A Love Letter: G.A.C. 26.2

August 18th, 2010

There is a quote from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s letter to his father on November 8th 1777:

I cannot write poetically, for I am no poet.
I cannot artfully arrange my phrases so as to give light and shade.
Neither am I a painter;
Nor can I even express my thoughts by gesture and pantomime, for I am no dancer.
But I can do so in sounds.
I am a musician.

This quote inspired me to create a collection of pieces I call Love Letters. They are usually for piano, last about 3-5 minutes and are written for or about someone dear to me. Twenty years ago I decided I want to write one based on my father’s initials, GAC. But every time I sat down to write it I was unhappy with the results. After my parents visit this summer, I had a feeling time was running out and I sat down to try again. I finally heard something I was satisfied with and in a couple of weeks I completed the piece I have been wrestling with for twenty years. Not only did I use his initials but I used his full name by putting rests in place of letters not used by music notation. I also added in my own name at the end.

Notation of my Father's Name

Notation of My Father’s Name

Notation of my Name

Notation of My Name

My father is very interested in running and has run marathons all over the world so the A theme last 26.2 measures (26.2 miles is the length of a marathon) and the B theme is reminiscent of the music in the movie that inspired his desire to run “Chariots of Fire”. The finale is a culmination of all themes that runs on to the end.

Piano Version:

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As I was  finishing this composition I started to hear strings playing the B theme at finale so I decided to orchestrate it for chamber orchestra. On September 25th 2010 the SFCCO premièred this version.

G.A.C. for Orchestra


Open Ended (redux)

November 16th, 2009

Open Ended

Do to unforeseen circumstances the composition I planed on having performed on the November 7th 2009 SFCCO concert had to be canceled. So I decided to pull out one of my guide improvisation compositions, Open Ended. I conducted/composed this performance as well as played tenor saxophone. It is a very versatile work that is composed live before your eyes and ears. Based on Rova‘s Radar techniques, Open Ended is less of a composition and more of a color or tool palette. It is an ever-growing collection of rules and games for the performers that are triggered by hand signals by the conductor/composer. The conductor/composer then composes the piece live using these hand signals to guide the performers. This work has no set instrumentation and can be played by any number of performers. It also has no set length; the piece could last 5 minutes or 24 hours. Open Ended has been performed several times, including a performance four years ago by the SFCCO, but every time it is a world première and unique performance that can never be repeated.


…with the Spirit of the Desert

October 18th, 2009
Chisos mountains of Big Bend National Park

Chisos mountains of Big Bend National Park

On November 7th 2009 the SFCCO will be performing a composition I wrote back in 1993-94. It is a violin, bassoon and piano trio I call …with the Spirit of the Desert. This work is inspired by Big Bend National Park in Texas, a place I used to go camping every year in the early 90’s. The park can be thought of as having three natural divisions; the river, the desert and the mountains, thus why I chose a trio. Big Bend National Park lies in the northern third of the Chihuahuan Desert. The name Big Bend refers to the great U-turn the Rio Grande River makes there in Southwest Texas. Prehistoric Native Americans made their homes there at least 10,000 years ago and perhaps earlier. This area has been occupied many different Native Americans groups over the years. The La Junta, Chisos, Jumano, Mescalero Apaches and Comanche all made the homes in Big Bend. The Native Americans said that after making the Earth, the Great Spirit simply dumped all the leftover rocks on the Big Bend. Even though Big Bend is a desert it is full of wild life, you frequently see jackrabbits, roadrunners, golden eagle and coyotes. The composition is a seven-movement work, where the first three movements are played continuously as are the last four. Each member of the trio has it’s own solo movement, entitled “Alone”. The natural beauty of the area and its Native American past inspire other four moments. When camping in Big Bend where always awoken by spectacular sunrises,  the first movement “In the Sunrise with the Spirit of the Desert” represents that. The end of the first movement flows into the first of the solo movements which a this point is for violin. This solo second movement sets up the third movement, “Dancing the Dance of the Eagle…” This movement reminds the listener of a Native American dance and soaring golden eagles in the desert sky. The end of the third is the first break in the composition, the fourth movement is the bassoons solo movement which leads into the powerful fifth movement. “Two Braves Warring…” puts man vs. nature (and Spirits) as the desert is can be a difficult place to live. The rains and water finally come after this movement end on the last of the solo movements begin, this time for piano. After a long day in the sun the last movement takes place in the cool of the night as “Coyotes Howling at the Moon…”


A Baby Sleeps (for Isabella)

June 20th, 2009

After about two years of research, sketches and learning a new instrument, my composition for my daughter was premièred June 13th, 2009 by the SFCCO. The genesis of A Baby Sleeps (video Low / High) came after my daughter was born and my grandfather told me I need to write her a piece. I wanted to write a modern lullaby and one that would reflect my daughters American and Taiwanese heritage. For a few months I struggled for inspiration, then one night I realized my wife was singing a beautiful lullaby to her every night. I decided to write a “Theme & Variations” on this Taiwanese lullaby, 搖嬰仔歌 (Rocking the baby lullaby). It was written by the famous Taiwanese composer, 呂泉生 (Lu Chuan-sheng). (more information on this melody and Master Lu is available in an earlier post). Originally I was just going to add the beautiful Chinese instrument called 古箏 (gŭzhēng) to the orchestra. But in August of 2008 I was in Taipei and I bought an instrument that I have wanted to play for 20 years, the 笙 (shēng) (more on the sheng in an earlier post). So I started to add those instruments into the composition and ended up featuring the sheng and guzheng as soloist.


Gangqin Zhao, 古箏 (gŭzhēng) &
Michael Cooke, 笙 (shēng)

I had written a bunch of different variations and in March 2009 after the premièred of my composition String Theory, I started to put all the pieces together into a composition. I ended up throwing out several variations as they were to complex and made the piece lose it’s lullaby quality. When the dust settled I had four variations (plus the theme) that I liked: Variation I: Fragments, Variation II: Canon, Variation III: Block Chords & Variation IV: Reduction. I wanted the piece to flow better then just switching from variation to variation so I wrote some “connective tissue” to put it all together in a seamless way. The piece became more of a dream sequence then a traditional Theme & Variations. Now I prefer to view the composition in that way, where the first theme is when the baby is going to sleep listening to the lullaby and at Variation I she is asleep and starts to dream. The variation send her on dream adventures, maybe swimming in the ocean or floating in the sky. At the reprise of the theme at the end of the composition, the baby is back from her dream adventures and is dreaming about being in her parents arms.

A reviews of this concert can be found on Sequenza 21 and Memory Select’s Blog


Voice for the Formosan Parents – the Lullaby (搖嬰仔歌)

April 12th, 2009

I recently completed a first draft of new orchestra composition which is a Theme & Variations on a famous Taiwanese lullaby, 搖嬰仔歌. I have found many variations in the translation of this melody’s title , “Cradle Song”, “Voice for the Formosan Parents – the Lullaby” or simply “the Lullaby”.  My wife sings this melody to our daughter every night and calls it “Rocking the baby”, my daughter just calls it “sleep song.”  We though it was an old Taiwanese folk song but when I started to do research on it I found it is a modern song. It was written in 1945 by the famous Taiwanese composer, 呂泉生 (Lu Chuan-sheng). Professor Lu was known as the Father of Taiwan Children’s Choir  because he was dedicated to promoting Children’s choir for 50 years as well as writing over 200 composition.  I have read a few stories about the events inspiring the writing of this piece:

In May 1945 during WWII, the allies bombarded Taiwan heavily to fight against Japan.  Master Lu evacuated his wife and 3 months old infant to the countryside of Feng Yuan, his hometown.  He stayed in Taipei and worked in Taipei Broadcast Bureau.  As the night fell, Master Lu’s longing for his wife and new born son inspired the song. The song has a wonderful simplicity that expresses the traditional attitude all Chinese parents have toward their children. It extols the hardships and high expectations experienced during child rearing.

My wife translated the lyrics which where written by Master Lu
father-in-law as:
The version of this melody I’m using for my composition is a little different as it is a transcription of the way my wife sings it to my daughter, but I have found this copy online of the original after I completed my piece.
A baby Sleeps
Growing one inch a night
Sweet baby
growing one foot a night
Rock the baby until sunset
staring at the baby in my arm
you are my sweetheart
worry you’ll get cold
cherish the baby like gold
It’s a great responsibility to bring up a baby
If only you get married, my duty will be relieved.

Sheet music to the lullaby

Sheet music to "the lullaby"

Master Lu Chuan-sheng passed away in the United States March 17, 2008 but generations long after will be still learning his songs to perform in concerts. I hope he would have enjoyed my composition inspired from his.