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Credo for Christmas

I believe in the tinkling of zimbelsterns(
whichis the tolling of towerbells whichisreally the amplified swish-flicking of snowflakes on frosty leaves of grass)


I believe in the lighting of pinetrees(
whichis the shining cosmos whichisactually the glint-twinkling of your eyes against a frosted windowpane)


I believe in a baby(
whois the reconciliation of all things whichis,infact nothing more[or certainly anything less]than Christmas)


Burned Toast

Burned toast
always reminds me of my grandmother,
I don't know why she always used to burn it,
I think she was afraid of disease-ridden moisture,
or maybe she just liked it crispy.

always remind me of my sister,
I don't know why she loved them,
I think they baffled her mind with the miracle of microcosm
or maybe it was because they taste a lot like french fries.

always reminds me of my mother,
I don't know why she loved it,
I think it made her feel at one with the trees,
or maybe it just reminded her of pancake syrup.

Peanut brittle
always reminds me of my father,
I don't know why he loved it,
I think it reminded him of the rigid fragility of the human condition,
or maybe he just liked all the sugar.

always reminds me of God,
I don't know why he eats it,
I think He needs it to survive,
or maybe He just likes the taste.


Teaching Composition

Here is an issue which deserves some attention: teaching musical composition. To all the composers who are reading this post, you know the process well. Typical composition lessons go one of two ways:

Method #1: The teacher never listens to your music. He makes comments about the layout of the score, maybe he'll make a comment or two about choices or ranges of the instruments. If it's a vocal work, he might point out a vowel that will be hard to sing in the range in which you've written it. You go away wondering how he was able to hear the piece in his head without playing it, and wonder if you actually lack any aural skills and will end up spending your career hoping no one will ever learn that you use the piano when you compose music.

Method #2: The teacher listens to the music, and then proceeds to make all the same comments in method #1. In this case, since he actually heard the music, he might make a comment or two about how nice the music sounds. Or he might make arbitrary suggestions about things to change. "Oh, maybe add some notes to that chord... it sounds too traditional," or "don't forget to make a piano reduction."

Many composition teachers have told me that they believe that composition isn't something you can teach, and that for a teacher to infringe on the individual voice of the student is somehow morally wrong. But I submit to you that this is nothing more than an excuse for a very serious problem, which is that nobody actually knows how the heck to teach composition.

Let's take a moment and compare this to visual art (which is indeed something you can teach). Say an art student took an unfinished landscape painting to his teacher. In Method #1, the teacher blindfolds himself, and feels the texture of the canvas, making comments about the shape of the painting and the texture of the brushstrokes. In Method #2, the teacher looks at the painting, but talks about options for framing, and suggests that the student paint the trees purple, because green is too predictable.

This is essentially the quality of education that most composers are getting at the collegiate level, and it is inexcusable.

Why are composition teachers not teaching essential technical skills needed by composers to craft well-construction compositions? Counterpoint! Harmony! Melody! Orchestration! Form! Teach these if you can, and your students will flourish! Stop thinking you have to make judgement calls about creative work (especially if this makes you uncomfortable) and start giving your students the skills they need to be successful!

Furthermore, are we so far removed from the reality of music as an auditory phenomenon that we must resort to make comments on the visual appearance of a score? If you do not possess sufficient skill in counterpoint, harmony, melody, orchestration, or form, then at least spare your student's dignity, and spend some time listening to the music, and making constructive and critical comments. But be clear with your student: make sure they know they won't be learning anything they can't teach themselves.


Seven Haiku for Autumn

the leaves are changing
i am only one person
but they are many

winter is coming
soon, it will be time to sleep
there are seven stars

orion raises
his mighty bow and arrow
to pierce the earth's heart

the cold air enters
through the open front window
i can smell the rain

pumpkin pie is here
it's made out of pumpkin flesh
but, of course, it's spiced

maybe this year we'll
have time to hand out candy
before the snow falls

don't you ever think
coldness is wetness is death?
the leaves are changing


The Unfurling

I wrote this in 2006 for freshman English class at Kellogg Community College. I think it says a lot about my teenage self.


I could see the core now.

I knew this would happen.  I should have known not to trust her.  Those little redheads are always up to mischief, spreading lies like eggplants in a winter storm.  I knew this would happen.  What was left of the onion was still sitting on the mantle where she had put it an hour ago.  She said I should stay put and wait for it until she returned.

“Can I trust you keep your promise?” I had asked her, hours earlier.  But like all little redheaded girls, she only glanced over her shoulder and responded with a soft coo.  She almost sounded like a mourning dove when she did it; it was a gentle sound, but pronounced and unmistakable.  That’s how I knew it was too late.  The onion was already beginning to unfurl.

Then she was gone.

It was like the sky beneath her had suddenly imploded into a singularity… a crisp infinitesimal point on the dark surface of eternity.  It was a total and utter apparition of nothingness closing around her frame.  And yet the onion stood, unfurling.

With the first layer came a brilliant yellow… a cloudless and empty yellow.  It permeated the air surrounding me like wine spilled on a white shirt.  I couldn’t think about anything except its brilliance, but I wasn’t afraid.  My emotion was much like the feeling you get when you are trying to remember something that you were just thinking about moments earlier, but you can’t remember.  It was an intense feeling, but I knew it would last only until the memory came to me, or until my mind simply wandered from the thought of it.

My mind had little time to deviate, however, because as the second and third layers unfurled, the yellow air around me was punctuated with a sharp, churning odor.  It was like a mixture of fine linen and cheddar cheese.  I thought for a moment that I could smell the sulfuric stench of rotten egg-whites, but I decided that it was perhaps only a secondary effect of the two scents mixing.  The odor was powerful and intense; it reminded me of how the air hurts your nostrils when you breathe on a very cold day.  I began to despise even the thought of having to respire, so I held my breath.

I began to grow faint, retaining my breath. I thought the yellow was starting to play tricks with my mind, like when you stare at static on a television until you think you can see pictures in it. I began to notice faint figures and images fluttering before me like tribal dancers by a fire.  That’s when I realized they were real—the fourth layer had already unfurled and was lying on the floor beneath the mantle.   I was afraid now.  The dancers were not of the sort I was expecting at all from the fourth layer—they were naked and horrifyingly tall—their dance was foreboding and dark, and it was consuming the yellow.   As the dancers danced, the yellow was being drawn into their ears like a great stramineous curtain being sucked into a vacuum outlet. They were screaming now.

As the fifth layer unfurled, the depth of my fear was heightened to a plane far superior to the one on which it had resided during the fourth unfurling.  From the fifth layer came exactly what I was expecting: darkness—profound and unflinching darkness.  It swallowed the room in a great gulp, like a phagocyte engulfing a bacterium.  Fear was searing through my veins.  I could see nothing now…. the fifth layer must have been the last.  This unfurling must have been the total and final consummation of the onion.

But I had underestimated the deviousness of the redhead.  Her schemes had gone far beyond my expectations.  She had returned early, and I could feel her breath on the back of my neck… she had been waiting all along for this moment.  The fifth layer had not been the end.   I swung around behind me to where I knew she must be.  I pounced in her direction, swinging my fist into the darkness.  I felt my hand strike a surface, and I heard her cry out.  Then I heard nothing.  I must have gotten her.  Yes, now I’ll wait for the last unfurling, and take the core for myself.  Her plans have failed.

I could see the core now.

The sixth layer was just beginning to shed, and the luminous ember at the center of the onion was starting to peek out of its embryonic sarcophagus.  As the sixth layer completely fell apart, the core of the onion displayed itself in total and fathomless resplendence.  The effulgence was so intense I could hardly stand to behold its glory.

As I reached out for it, my hand was struck down.  The redhead must have regained consciousness; now her lies had reached their full culmination.  She was going to steal the onion for herself and take it back to her people, just as I suspected.   I knew I shouldn’t have trusted her.  I would have to fight her for it… I was the rightful owner of the onion; she may have put it on the mantle, but I watched the unfurling.   The onion is mine!  I struck at her again… this time I knew I had killed her.  She was on the floor, blood flowing from her ears as I leapt out for the onion, clutching its remains in my fists.   But suddenly, the yellow had returned—and all the smells, all the images, and the dancers, too.

They knew what I had done.


la noche moja riberas en tu alma

"The universe is duly in order, every thing is in its place, What has arrived is in its place and what waits shall be in its place" (Walt Whitman)

Stretched out on the grass
I am listening to the sounds of
chirping insect
and barking dog
and laughing child

I am listening to the sounds of
Music (on electronic speakers)
I am watching a flame flicker
inside a clementine

(and) I know that
stillness is darkness is silence is peace
There is nothing else that
needs to have been

I am alone, yet
I hear the songs of your planets
The polyphony of your stars
You are



Summer is here! : whichmeans

sweettea and sweetcorn
seaswimming and sunburning
sleepingoutside and stargazing

Play the festal panpipe!
Dance 'round the solstice bonfire!


The Comforter

"If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another comforter to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.
"All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
"You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold over me, but he comes so that the world may learn that I love the Father and do exactly what my Father has commanded me."
(John 14:15-20;26-31)

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
(John 16:12-15)

I share these two verses tonight because of a conversation I just had with a friend that changed the course of my entire evening, and ultimately will shape the course of my life. It made me remember how tremendously important the Holy Spirit is in our lives as Christians. I think so often in the Church today, we pray to God the Father, and worship God the Son, but we forget that the Holy Spirit is the most important one in our daily lives.

The world is full to overflowing with pain, but the Holy Spirit is the comforter. He is here to guide us out of temptation and deliver us from evil, and most importantly He is here to send directly to our hearts the Living Word of the Father. The Truth (with a capital T) directly to our very souls. Things that Jesus never spoke about... things that are much bigger and more difficult and more beautiful than the issues that Jesus addressed during his ministry. The Word of the Lord is not the Bible, it is the Spirit of Truth living in our very being, every moment of every day revealing to us the Truth when we need it most. Remember that Jesus was a progressive in his own day, and His Spirit is too. Christianity would never have survived as long as it has without the freedom that comes with the revelation through the Spirit. If Christianity is to continue survive, we must begin to listen more closely to the Spirit, and obey, even when it seems ridiculous or impossible!

"This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us."
(1 John 4:13-16)



When there is nothing left, and
I carve our mind into portions,
Lengthening the straight bridges
Between life and singularity,

When silence is the only redemption
For 22 years of contradictory nonsense, and
What ought to have been Love,

A piece of Christ washes over me, and
Praise is the only peace that fits.


Futile Devices

It's been a long, long time
Since I've memorized your face
It's been four hours now
Since I've wandered through your place
And when I sleep on your couch
I feel very safe
And when you bring the blankets
I cover up my face

I do
Love you
I do
Love you

And when you play guitar
I listen to the strings buzz
The metal vibrates underneath your fingers
And when you crochet
I feel mesmerized and proud

And I would say I love you
But saying it out loud is hard
So I won't say it at all
And I won't stay very long

But you are life I needed all along
I think of you as my brother
Although that sounds dumb

And words are futile devices.

(Sufjan Stevens)



A teacher here at Westminster decided that it would be a good idea to start defining really vague terms like "melody" and "rhythm" in class yesterday. This always bothers me, unless of course it is done for the sake of discussion.

In this case it was not done for the sake of discussion, but instead for the sake of the proselytization of the teacher's quasi-hippie philosophies. As each student struggled to articulate a definition for something about as vague as "consciousness," he interjected:

"Try this on for size: melody: a series of sounds and silences perceived as a unit."

"Ok," I think. "This is problematic for hundreds of reasons. I can't look at cute animals on my laptop anymore. I have to say something." As my classmates sheepishly nodded in approval, I raised my hand.

"Don't you think there should be more qualifiers here... like maybe pitches?"

"Um, well, that would exclude a lot of other cultures, Philip." (This is the man who said earlier, "everyone has music inside them, because we all have a heartbeat.")

"So, that would exclude...cultures that don't have melody in their musical traditions?" I thought to myself. I could tell this was going nowhere.

"How about rhythm?" He continued. This time a demonstration was in order. "Tap tap tap tap tap" on the table. "Is this a rhythm?"


"Nope, it's a pulse because there is no variability to it."

Bloody hell. He's serious. I couldn't even speak (anything that would have come out of my mouth at this point would have been something like "oh, so then four eighth-notes isn't a rhythm?" and would have probably forever destroyed my reputation with the man).

After that, he tried to define "syncopation," but I can't remember what he said.

So, I wonder what anyone else's definition of rhythm and melody might be. For melody, mine is something like "a linear series of individual pitches and silences perceived as a continuous unit." Rhythm is more difficult, but is something like "a pattern of temporal events which can be mentally entrained." Of course there are all kinds of other qualifiers like "musical context" etc. etc.

But the real problem here is trying to put labels on crazily plastic terms like melody and rhythm. I took an entire course on rhythm and meter, and we never really arrived at a definition. It just seems totally inappropriate, especially if you're a hippie.