Busy summer with little time to write . . . words!
Tuesday, July 24, 2018 10:57 AM
WOW - the summer is flying by, and I haven’t written a post since April. Fortunately I have been quite busy with festivals and premieres and writing new music. I began the summer by attending the inaugural season of the Mostly Modern Festival at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. The event is the brain-child of Robert and Victoria Paterson. Of all of the festivals I have attended over the last few years, it had by far the most to offer a composer. I have found that most festivals are more for players/performes with a few composers along for the ride. This one is strictly composer driven. Bravo! Rob and Victoria!
Following my acceptance into the festival, I wrote a new work, which was premiered at the fesitval by the Modern Chamber Ensemble, Rob Paterson’s resident ensemble from New York City. They, along with the Atlantic Brass Quintet, the Euclid String Quartet, the Imani Winds and the all new American Modern Orchestra, were in residence at the festival and performed at least 50 new works of music written by at least 40 composers who were in attendance. It was quite a spectacular event with concerts almost every night of the two week event.
My work When leaves begin to fall was for flute/piccolo, clarinet, percussion, piano, violin, and cello and was written as a tribute to my mom who passed away on February 1st this year. It was telling of her struggles with Parkinson’s related dimentia, which ultimately took her life. Following is the full program note about my work. The ensemble was Sato Moughalian (flute), Tasha Warren (clarinet), Matthew Ward (percussion), Blair McMillen (piano), Esther Noh (violin), and Dave Eggar (cello). The premiere was conducted by Francisco Hernández Bolaños. A video recording will be available in a few days and will be posted on Facebook. Stay tuned!
"When leaves begin to fall was written in tribute to my Mom, Nina Ruth "Poochie" Bailey Miller, who in 2011 began exhibiting tremors that are associated with Parkinson's disease. A couple years later she began showing signs of dementia and was formally diagnosed with Parkinson's and dementia in mid-2013. Sadly, she passed away on February 1, 2018 as a result of this horrible affliction. Two of her sisters previously died of the same thing, and two other sisters had passed away from Alzheimer's disease. I recently released an album of my jazz music on a CD called SOMETHING MORE. Each piece was written for and dedicated to one of her sisters, as well as one to my son, one to my wife, and of course, one to my mom. It was released on March 9, 2018, however, I was able to play her song for her, Poochie's Waltz (her childhood nickname was "Poochie"), just about an hour before she passed away, and she seemed to be dancing to it as she lay there, her feet moving a little. She even seemed to smile and shed a tear or two. So did I, but more than a few. It was the last thing she heard, other than my dad, my sister and I telling her that we loved her, and that it was okay to go.
"The music of When leaves begin to fall blurs the lines between classical and jazz as it tells the story of how a beautiful mind is essentially erased during the final stages of Parkinson's related dementia, which includes the loss of memory and cognitive thinking, and replaces them with hallucinations and paranoia. Yet, as these conditions gradually worsen each day, there are days, or hours, or even just moments of clarity that will occasionally shine through. The doctors call it "fleeting magical moments" that get shorter with each passing day, and they occur less often and farther in between. The doctors even warn not to place any hope in those moments, no matter how clear they may appear, they are but fleeting, and your loved one is not going to get better, or survive this.
"My mom was a very genteel, Southern lady, full of charm and wit. There is absolutely no one who did not like my mom. Truthfully, she had no enemies, and everyone simply adored her. She was the epitome of the virtuous woman as described in Proverbs 31:10-32 in the Old Testament of the Bible. One of the pastors from my parent's church read that scripture during her funeral, and although I had heard and read it many times before, never had it so perfectly fit the character and personality of anyone I knew. Growing up with my mom, I had not realized just how wonderful she was, until that moment. Oh, I adored her, to be sure, but never had I held someone up to that template before until then, when it became so real, and it was a perfect match. Imprisonment in one's own rapidly shrinking brain is how a doctor described it to me. As the patient's brain slowly dies, you watch as their bodies begin to change, essentially starving to death because the brain blocks hunger signals, leaving them emaciated, yet somehow unaware of their own plight. The caregivers are often left in shock at how rapidly they seem to lose the ability to do simple things, like feed themselves, or brush their teeth, or comb their hair. They become as infants again unable to dress themselves, or stand, or sit, or walk on their own without assistance. And the worse thing is that they eventually even forget who you are. It was excruciating to watch and she literally just withered away. During her final months she was unable to find words to string together cohesive sentences, reduced to muttering and stammering for words. In her final days, she couldn't even move or talk, much less eat, or drink anything.
"I used highly dissonant, almost screeching sounds of piccolo, high clarinet and string harmonics to create a sound of confusion and paranoia, which is underpinned by a chordal hymn in the piano that is yearning and seeking resolution. The dissonant sections are sharply contrasted by completely tonal jazz-like sections that symbolize those "fleeting magical moments" of clarity. Those moments are crafted to represent the genteel nature of my mom, almost with a feeling of lost innocence, which also includes a rendition of her song, Poochie's Waltz, that ultimately gives itself back over to the dissonance of confusion. My dad was a Baptist minister, and my mom was as much a part of his ministry as was he. She often played the piano for church services but usually sang in the choir. In the latter portion of When leaves begin to fall, I have laced together several of my mom's favorite hymns, along with her favorite song, The Tennessee Waltz, as well as her song in a polytonal stanza that represents all that may yet be playing inside her head, but in a fashion that has become scrambled by her debilitating disease, robbing her of the clarity she once knew."
More on Parkinson's Disease
The brain changes caused by Parkinson's disease begin in a region that plays a key role in movement. As Parkinson's brain changes gradually spread, they often begin to affect mental functions, including memory and the ability to pay attention, make sound judgments and plan the steps needed to complete a task. The key brain changes linked to Parkinson's disease and Parkinson's disease dementia are abnormal microscopic deposits composed chiefly of alpha-synuclein, a protein that's found widely in the brain but whose normal function isn't yet known. The deposits are called "Lewy bodies". Parkinson's disease dementia is a decline in thinking and reasoning that develops in someone diagnosed with Parkinson's disease at least a year earlier. Common symptoms include: changes in memory, concentration and judgment, trouble interpreting visual information, muffled speech, visual hallucinations, delusions, especially paranoid ideas, depression, irritability and anxiety, sleep disturbances, including excessive daytime drowsiness and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep disorder, all symptoms that my mom exhibited during the final stages of her bought with the disease.
Parkinson's disease is a fairly common neurological disorder in older adults, estimated to affect nearly two percent of those older than age 65. The Parkinson's Foundation estimates that one million Americans have Parkinson's disease. It is estimated that 50 to 80 percent of those with Parkinson's disease eventually experience Parkinson's disease dementia.
My new art song The House With Nobody In It was premiered on July 20-21 in a two-concert series in Eastern Pennsylvania by the Philadelphia-based ensemble illumine. Last August I was commissioned by the group for a new art song for mezzo-soprano, violin and piano, and I decided to set a poem of Joyce Kilmer, who like me, was a resident of Mahwah, NJ. The concerts were held at New Goshenhoppen United Church of Christ in East Greenville, PA on July 20th, and at Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon, PA on July 21st. A video recording of the premiere will be available soon! Below is a photo of Illumine following the second performance. Pictured (l to r) are: Carolyn Giardini (flute), Kaitlyn Michelle Waterson (mezzo-soprano), Timothy Lee Miller (composer), Jodie Levine Brown (piano), and David Matthew Brown (violin). All of the members of the ensemble are family. Jodie is the mother of David and Carolyn, and Kaitlyn is David’s wife. Certainly makes rehearsals a bit easier to schedule! Bravo guys for an amazing set of concerts and a splendid premiere of my work!!
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