J. Lee Graham

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J. Lee Graham last won the day on April 25

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About J. Lee Graham

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  • Birthday 01/11/1962

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    Classical-Revivalist Composer, Singer, Violist
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    Wichita, KS

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  1. Thank you very kindly! It was pretty tricky to pull off, but I knew the capabilities and colours of all three instruments very well, and I was careful how I combined them. I'm glad you enjoyed it! In fact, I rather specialize in odd combinations of instruments. I also wrote a Trio for English Horn, Viola, and Contrabass that I may post here at some point. Believe it or not, that worked too!
  2. Trio in B-flat for Viola, Violoncello, and Contrabass I. Allegro spiritoso II. Adagio e sostenuto III. Menuetto: Allegro IV. Allegretto Composed: February 22 - May 26, 2014 Style: Classical, circa 1790 Though conceived as a mere amusement, this work ended up being for me an intensive study on how to handle a group of low-register instruments effectively in a chamber ensemble. Works for this very unusual instrumentation are exceedingly rare, as one may imagine, probably because of the challenges I faced in writing my own piece. Achieving clarity in an ensemble with so much bass sonority was rather difficult, but I believe I achieved it to some degree. Fortunately the players for whom I was writing it made the job easier. This trio was originally written for myself, a friend (an excellent ‘cellist), and my ex-boyfriend (a fine bassist) to play just for fun. This is one of several chamber works featuring the contrabass that I wrote with my ex-boyfriend in mind, and I learnt a lot about the capabilities of the instrument from writing them (I had never been much interested in the contrabass in chamber ensembles before I met him, but listening to him practice difficult passage work I would never have thought possible on the instrument fascinated me, besides which, affection prompts us do things we wouldn’t otherwise have the inclination to do). Both of the other players are better technicians than I am, so I was able to write parts for them that were somewhat demanding. The viola part I wrote for myself was also challenging for me, but carefully within my skillset, so all the parts are fairly equal. Description: The first movement (Allegro spiritoso), in Sonata-Allegro form, opens with a bold, vigourous 4-measure theme for all the instruments in unison, sweetened by a more lyrical melody in the ‘cello before being repeated. A transitional section follows, featuring the contrabass in sweeping scales and arpeggios, which modulates to the dominant of the dominant key, C major; the second theme, somewhat unusually, begins in C, with the ‘cello and ‘bass harmonizing in 10ths, and makes its way to the dominant key of F a few measures later. After a short codetta, the exposition is repeated, with the main theme slightly altered here and there. The development treats snippets of the main theme contrapuntally before modulating back to the tonic key for recapitulation. The second movement (Adagio e sostenuto), in binary form, is in the subdominant key of E-flat, and begins with a simple but expressive theme, which gives way to a transitional section led by the ‘cello. A more rhapsodic second theme follows with the viola and ‘cello harmonizing in 3rds and 6ths, accompanied by the ‘bass. The A and B themes are repeated, all in the tonic key, and coda based on the A theme closes the movement. The third movement (Allegro) is a Menuetto based on a 5-note motive that is repeated and developed throughout the main section of the movement. The contrasting Trio section, in the movement’s dominant key of F, is based on a sprightly theme characterized by leaps of 5ths and 6ths up and down. The main section is then repeated (Da Capo). The fourth and final movement (Allegretto), in Rondo form, begins with a somewhat droll “A” theme, which is then developed during a transitional section. Just when one expects the “B” theme to enter, a short fugato on a new subject is introduced, which leads into the actual “B” theme in the dominant key of F - humourous, and characterized by accented syncopations and sudden changes of dynamic. After a brief codetta, the “A” theme returns abbreviated, followed by a lyrical “C” theme. The “A” theme returns again, followed by yet another short but different fugato on the same subject as before, and the “B” theme returns in the tonic key. A variation of the “A” theme returns a final time, and a humourous and spirited coda ends the movement. This work was premiered in July 2014 by the ensemble for which it was written, at a cojffeehouse in Wichita, Kansas (where I was living at the time) which often features live music of all sorts, and was warmly received by the audience of patrons sipping coffee or having breakfast. Alas, the nature of the venue precluded a live recording being made - there was a fair amount of background noise as beverages and food were being served. Inasmuch as I have heard this work performed effectively, and I know it works, I have few concerns, but I am open to suggestions, comments, and criticisms as always. Players’ and Audience Comments: The players enjoyed playing the piece, and when I suggested a performance as part of the ‘cellist’s regular solo set at the coffeehouse, all were in agreement. The bassist, himself a fine composer as well as a university music theory teacher, was somewhat critical of the ‘bass accompaniment of the second theme in the slow movement because it didn’t seem like a characteristic period bass line, but that was the only criticism I received. The audience members made few comments other than to congratulate me. To my surprise, no one seemed even vaguely bemused by my choice of instrumentation, which I took as further evidence that I had made it work effectively. I did receive one criticism from a friend who frankly told me he hated the piece, saying that it was devoid of any treble sonorities and far too dark to be pleasant, but his was the only such comment. I hope you enjoy this rather unusual work! Cheers!
  3. Very nice indeed! I too am hearing an Eastern flavour, and a cinematic style. Love the lush orchestration. The faster section is nothing if not exciting! Then followed by the slower, dramatic section - very effective. I didn't find the cadenza out of place, but the character and harmonic language of it was so much different than what went before that it felt somewhat inconsistent, but that would be my only quibble. Congratulations on a great piece!
  4. Well then, you appear to be a minimalist in the best sense of the term. I think there are a lot of instrumentalists who would like to see more music like this, so you're probably on the right track, and you do it well. By the way, I noticed that you're from Lebanon! My ex-husband was born and raised in Beirut, and left during the great civil war to go to college in the United States. After he got his green card, we were able to visit Lebanon twice, and I loved it. It still has its challenges, but it's such a beautiful country, and the people are so friendly. I hope to visit again someday.
  5. I'll have to give m. 15 and similar places another look. I'm trying to figure out how to change the ending. It sounds fine to me, but if I'm the only one who thinks so, that's not much use. Thanks very much!
  6. Thanks for listening and giving your feedback! This is what I was afraid of. I should have listened to my own instincts. I'll see if I can come up with a way to vary this a bit. I never thought of this. The development may be too short anyway, but I'm always worried about being too long-winded in the development, as so many composers are. It ruins the balance of the movement, in my opinion. I like my developments tight and concise. I didn't think the momentary dissonances in that canonic treatment were offensive, but maybe the answer is to eliminate those neighboring tones. I'll think on it. I'm not sure what you mean. Is there a particular example? I'll have to give those another look. Okay, you're the second person who has had an issue with this. I thought I was just setting up what is in effect a plagal cadence (IV-I), which I tried to support with the A-flats in the penultimate measure, but obviously it's confusing to everybody's ear but mine. I'm not married to it, easily fixed. You rock! Thanks very much!
  7. I'm a big fan of patterns and form, and I'm always listening for these in music. I found the pattern of four notes and a rest here appealing, even lulling and hypnotic, and I think I know what you were going for. I agree with both of the previous posters, however, that adding variety with the the judicious use of dynamics would add greatly to the effectiveness of the piece. I saw in your reply to Gustav that you are happy to have him add dynamics at his discretion. Was that your intention all along? If so, I can certainly understand that. I see also in your catalogue here that many of your works are for solo instruments unaccompanied, and I find this intriguing. Is there a particular reason why you prefer this? Listening to interesting pieces for solo instrument like this make me want to try it myself!
  8. Thank you so much for listening and commenting! I’m really pleased you enjoyed it, because it was meant to bring pleasure to player and listener alike, so I have accomplished my primary goal. And I’m glad you got a kick out of the fugue. Of the three movements, the first is probably my favourite for aesthetic and technical reasons; but after that it would probably be that screwy fugue. It may not follow all the rules to the letter, and I knew that as I was writing it; but what it lacks in propriety, it makes up for in personality – by 18th Century standards, kind of like the kooky, loud uncle with embarrassing manners and no filter who cracks dirty jokes at the holiday table in front of your grandmother, but who makes you smile, and is all the more endearing for his eccentricity. And yes, I do treasure any live performance I receive, especially if I can tell that the musicians really cared about what they were doing. Even if it’s not perfect, it’s still so much more “real” than anything I could ever make a machine do. I’m getting more and more performances in recent years, and I’m blessed and grateful. To answer your thoughtful questions: 1. I have been composing since I was 9 years old, and I wrote in a more-or-less Classical style, as I understood it, from the very beginning. It was not a decision I made, it was innate, as if it was simply part of who I was. Most of my first attempts have been lost, but in my earliest piece still extant, a Sonatina in F for piano I wrote when I was 10, the Classical style is already pure and unmistakable. The aesthetic of Classical-style music has always appealed to me and spoken to me more than any other kind of music. My mother introduced me to “Classical” music in the more general sense listening to it on the radio, and though I have no memory of when I first heard a Classical-style piece, it evidently made an indelible impression on me. As I became more aware, of all the music I heard on Mom’s radio, Classic-style works always made my ears perk up more – particularly Beethoven early on. It’s not surprising then that when I started composing, it might have seemed that I sprang from the womb with a Classical aesthetic hard-wired into my creative mind. 2. First off, it must be understood that aside from a semester of harmony lessons in high school, I am entirely self-taught - not that anyone teaches what I and other historicists do anyway. I developed my Classical style by trial and error, listening to the works of composers I liked, studying scores when they were available (well before the internet) and trying to do what they did in my own way. I’m fond of saying, “Beethoven was my childhood sweetheart, and Mozart was my first true love; but Haydn is my soulmate.” I was very interested in Beethoven’s early piano music as a child, and against my piano teacher’s advice, I forced myself to learn the first movement of his so-called “Moonlight Sonata” at 10, having had less than 2 years of piano lessons. I can’t say Beethoven was much of an influence on my early writing though; he was far too advanced for me to absorb at that age. I found him more impressive than anything else. I discovered Mozart a little later, and instantly idolized him, listening to everything of his I could get my hands on and trying to do what he did, again in my own way. I never really wanted to imitate any of my models; I just wanted to learn from them to express my own thoughts authentically in the manner they did, and Classical-style thoughts have always come to me naturally anyway, then and now. I attended a performance of Mozart’s opera “Le Nozze di Figaro” at 14 that truly changed my life, and I would say of all his works, I have been affected by it the most. I also learnt a great deal listening to his symphonies, and his chamber music - especially the string quartets, having played every one of them as a chamber musician at one time or another. I got to know Haydn playing in a quartet in high school, and he became an important influence as well, though not immediately as much so as Mozart. As I have gotten older, the more I study Haydn, the more he seems to me to be the ultimate embodiment of the Classical aesthetic – reserved, rational, enlightened, orderly, yet certainly not without feeling, and with a distinct personality and humour withal. Mozart’s style is outwardly Classical in all technical respects, but in expression he was ahead of his time. At his best, he’s so exquisite he makes me weep for joy and awe, but to elicit that kind of effusive outpouring of emotion is not a Classical ideal. Haydn, on the other hand, has never made me weep, but his music is inspired, brilliantly crafted, and absolutely beautiful in its own way, while remaining entirely faithful to Classical ideals. I identify with that more now, so it’s not surprising that lately I have been more influenced by Haydn. I’m also fond of saying, “I listen to Mozart, and I’m quite certain he’s the greatest composer who ever lived. Then I listen to Haydn, and I’m not so sure.” I have been influenced by many other 18th and early 19th Century composers over the years, but those were my main models. Beyond that, I cannot readily articulate how exactly I developed my style. 45 years of trial-and-error, listening intently, studying, and always comparing what I was doing to what they did, was how I came to where I am. I strive for correctness and authenticity, but I sometimes fail, and I’ve been called out on my mistakes; but once I get over being ashamed that there was something I didn’t know, I use those occasions as an opportunity to learn more and do better, making new music with old tools, as I like to think of it. I’m really flattered that someone in your family mistook me for Mozart! That tells me I’m on the right track. Now I just have to figure out why when I cut and paste text from another application, it shows up here in BOLD, and I can't toggle it off. LOL! Thanks again, and cheers!
  9. Divertimento a 3 in F, for 2 Violins and Violoncello I. Allegretto grazioso (3/8) II. Andante (2/4) III. Allegro giusto, alla breve (cut time) Composed: 2011 Style: Classical, circa 1790 This work is the first of two such divertimenti for this instrumentation I have composed to date, the second of which having been written and posted here just recently. I consider it one of my more charming and attractive works – a personal favourite – and among my most ingenious, a tour de force of development and counterpoint (of which I am very proud) without being obvious about it. One hardly realizes that motives are continually being developed throughout both the first and second movements, in as unassuming a manner as possible. It is in three movements, and lasts 10-½ minutes. Description: The first movement (Allegretto grazioso), in Sonata-Allegro form, opens with a lilting, graceful theme of rising steps that ascend the scale in slurred pairs, followed by a series of descending scales in skittering triplets, and a few “sighing” gestures, that together I feel form one of my prettiest melodies. From it are then extracted the following three discrete motives that are developed almost constantly throughout the movement: The playful second theme contrasts with the elegance of the first before a pair of turns and a florid cadence transform it into something more refined. The development section further explores the possibilities of the various motives around a central sequence, and culminates in a rising and falling series of coupled steps (motive 1) on a pedal tone that brings the music to a very satisfying return of the opening theme in the recapitulation. The second movement (Andante), in binary form, is in the subdominant key of B-flat, and opens with a coquettish theme from which, as in the first movement, are extracted the following two discrete motives that are developed elsewhere in the movement: This theme is then repeated in the tonic minor, and through a surprising modulation makes its way to the movement’s dominant key of F. There is no second theme per se, but rather a contrapuntal development of the foregoing motives. The third and final movement (Allegro giusto, alla breve) is a rollicking, rather wacky fugue (how often does one hear those words together?) on a jaunty subject, beginning on a syncopation, and characterized by an unexpected, dissonant suspension, accented sforzando for humourous effect. The bass line to the subject, introduced in the ‘cello, is worked canonically into the entire exposition as if it were a second subject; hence the exposition functions much like a double fugue, though it doesn’t continue that way. I didn’t take the construction of this fugue too seriously (this was not a counterpoint exercise in earnest), being more interested in keeping it light and quirky; and although the subject begins on the fifth degree of the scale, I decided against the pedantic complexity of devising a tonal answer in the exposition – though otherwise it proceeds conventionally for the most part. Passing dissonances run rampant, and transitions and modulations are often purposely abrupt, taking unexpected turns intended to raise eyebrows, and a smile or two. After a final sequence on a pedal tone and a truncated statement of the subject, even though it feels like the movement should continue, in a rush it throws itself headlong to a sudden, crashing finish as if it hit a brick wall at a run. This is probably the oddest piece of counterpoint I’ve ever written, but I feel the jocular treatment of what is usually by its nature a serious form contrasts well with the sunny warmth and charm of the previous two movements. Premiere: This work was premiered in July 2016 by members of the Octava Chamber Orchestra, a community orchestra in the Seattle, Washington area, as part of a unique concert of Baroque and Classical music by living historicist composers. Although I regret I could not attend the performance, I did receive the recording of it that I have posted here below. The outer movements are played a bit too slowly, and there are some mistakes and inaccuracies; but I’m gratified that the players took the piece seriously and made a sincere attempt at a sensitive interpretation. Overall, it’s one of the better performances I’ve ever received, and I’m quite pleased (to say nothing of being honoured, and very fortunate). Musicians’ and Audience Feedback: My contact with Octava, who played 2nd Violin at the premiere, told me that the musicians loved the piece. Though they found it somewhat challenging here and there, they said it was well written for the instruments and a real pleasure to play, just as I had hoped; divertimenti are supposed to be fun! It was the first work on the programme, and was very warmly received by the audience. Thank you for your kind attention, and enjoy!
  10. Divertimento a 3 in B-flat, for 2 Violins and Violoncello I. Allegro di molto II. Andante III. Allegro giusto, alla breve Composed: April 4-17, 2017 Style: Classical, circa 1790 I enjoy spending my lunch hours at work productively when I have the energy, sketching or doing exercises. A couple of weeks ago I started a counterpoint exercise that I worked on for the next couple of days, and it turned out well. The thought occurred to me that perhaps it might serve as a movement in a larger work, in which I might also use some old ideas that had been waiting around in the back of my mind for years, and the idea for this little divertimento was born. Most of this work was written by hand while lunching in my car. The term divertimento denotes a multi-movement work that is light in character, for the diversion or amusement of the audience or players (or both), as the name implies. This one is in three movements, and is modeled after similar works I have played and heard by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809). It is quite short, much like Haydn’s examples, lasting just under 10 minutes. Description: The energetic first movement (Allegro di molto), in sonata-allegro form, is dominated by a dynamic 4-measure opening motive that I have had in my mind for many years, which I found opportunities to develop throughout the movement. The contrasting second theme, smoother and calmer than the first, is stated canonically by the two violins, accompanied by a chromatic accompaniment figure in the ‘cello adding harmonic complexity. The opening theme is then restated and developed into a codetta to close the exposition, which is then repeated. The development section treats part of main theme in close canon, modulating to distant keys to develop the second theme before making its way back to the tonic B-flat for the recapitulation, and the movement ends with a short coda, again based on the opening theme. The second movement (Andante), in the subdominant key of E-flat, is in the simplest of binary forms (ABAB), and begins somewhat statically, setting a mood of calm to contrast with the verve of first movement before gradually becoming more florid and interesting starting in m. 6. The second theme is a pretty melody I have had in the back of my mind for at least 30 years, patiently waiting for the right application, and now it has a place at last. The second time it comes around, the eighth note accompaniment is changed to sixteenth notes for variety. The movement closes with a very short coda, a varied restatement of mm. 11-12. The third and final movement (Allegro giusto, alla breve), originally conceived as the aforementioned counterpoint exercise, is a light-hearted fugue in an Italianate style, on an original 6-measure subject reminiscent of Handel. There are four statements of the subject by each of the instruments, including statements in stretto and an inverted statement, interspersed with episodes developing foregoing material. The movement closes with a coda based on the rhythm and contour of the last measure of the subject, on a pedal B-flat in the 1st violin and ‘cello alternately, ending in a plagal cadence. Concerns: 1st Movement – I’m a little worried that perhaps I have overdeveloped the opening motive by repeating it too often, even if I vary it – particularly the four chords at the beginning of it. I’m open to the idea of reworking the movement slightly if I get a lot of feedback that this is a problem. I love developing themes, but I want to avoid monotony. 3rd Movement – I’ve been writing counterpoint as a serious avocation for years, having listened to a lot of it and read several books on the subject. I even authored the very popular “Fugue Crash-Course” here before I knew as much as I know now, yet I still feel insecure and mystified. I try to proceed confidently, but since I have taught myself everything I know, I constantly worry that I’m making mistakes out of ignorance. It has happened before several times. I want to make sure what I’m doing is “by the book,” so if any of you notice anything in this fugue that you know for certain is wrong or mishandled, I want to know about it. I hope you enjoy this little piece, and thank you for your kind attention.
  11. Ah, I see. It almost looked like a theme and variations, so I thought I'd ask for some clarification.
  12. Being a more traditional composer, I must confess I don't entirely understand everything you're doing here, but it's one of the more interesting pieces of this kind I've heard in a long time. What do the Roman numerals at the head of sections signify?
  13. I was intrigued by the title of this piece, so I gave it a listen, and I'm glad I did! This is fantastic, in all pertinent senses of the word. I too thought that some of the harp chords seemed a little broad. It's true that a harpist can stretch a lot farther than a pianist can, but with all the filled-in chords, such as around m. 28-29, it may be a bit of a problem for the player - especially since most harpists these days are women. The chords are nice though, so you might consider solving the problem by writing two harp parts and splitting the chords up between them - if that's an option, of course. Another thing you might do for the harp right there is write the same chords, but in the enharmonic flat key (D-flat); harpists have a tough time with a lot of sharps, or so they've told me, and it might make it easier for the player to read and set up pedals. A great player will know what to do in any case, so it's just a suggestion to make life easier for him/her. I was really impressed by your colourful orchestration and idiomatic writing for the instruments. Well done. I did raise an eyebrow, though, when you wrote a C# an octave above high C for the first flute in the penultimate measure. I realize some really good flute players can find that note, but it's risky, and the flute can sound shrill and unpleasant up there. You might consider having the second flute switch to piccolo there; those super-high notes are right in the piccolo's range. The final note given to the glockenspiel alone is pretty cool...as if the whole thing just disappears into a black hole and is gone in a twinkling. While I'm letting my imagination run wild on your orchestration, I'd be curious as to what kind of picture you were trying to paint here. This is obviously programmatic music, so what story were you telling? Can you give us some more information? Really wonderful work! My compliments!
  14. This is lovely. Very poetic and descriptive of the subject. The clarinet solo in particular is ravishing. I must agree with the previous poster that the ending feels too abrupt. I hope you will consider lengthening it a bit and bringing the piece to a more satisfying close.
  15. Likewise for me to find another, and thanks for the compliment. There are a lot of baroque historicists out there, but in the Classical-Revival world, I'm only aware of you and I, and a tiny handful of others - maybe 5 worldwide - so we're a rare breed. If you have some compositions up here, I'll give them a look!