Worth Remembering: Eric Ericson

Eric Ericson

I’ve been thinking for some time about composing a few odes to particular people who have passed on under the blog title “Worth Remembering.” These people will generally not be those heralded by the masses or famous. They will probably be even easily forgotten. But they shouldn’t be. They should be remembered, because they were unique for the right reasons and not the wrong. I suppose the simplest way of saying it is that they should be remembered because they are “worth” being remembered. Don’t fret now, of course everyone is worth being remembered, but there are indeed souls that have a found a resonance with purpose and have become something innately special.

Eric Ericson is truly one of these people. It is a bit of a tragedy that many American choral musicians do not recognize his impact on choral music. Born in 1918, Eric became the famed director of the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir and acclaimed Swedish Radio Choir. He also conducted the men’s ensemble, Orphei Dränger.

I yield to the expertise of Dr. Richard Sparks on the ‘why’ of Eric Ericson’s special place in the world. He was intimately aware of Eric’s place in choral music and the world. He has written much on the subject, including:

Dr. Richard Sparks

Eric Ericson Birthday Tribute

Eric Ericson passes at 94

More on Eric Ericson

Specifically in Sparks’ blog post “More on Eric Ericson”, he states:

Overall, Eric’s career has been extraordinary. He built ensembles (now nearly 65 years with the Eric Ericson Chamber Choir) with a technical quality unmatched by others in their era, made recordings that still hold up as models many years later, stimulated numerous composers to write for the a cappella idiom, taught four decades worth of choral conductors in Sweden and many abroad, and has inspired choral conductors throughout the world.

Is it silly to say even I, an early-30s Minnesota boy feels connected in some way to Eric’s work in Sweden? I’m not so sure it is silly.

I remember having a wonderful and intimate dinner with Gunilla Luboff in Seattle several years ago at a restaurant called Purple. The primary conversation was about my relationship with Walton Music, but as we often do because of our friendship, we opined about Sweden. I mentioned that there was an almost indescribable connection to a country I had yet to visit – yet was somehow fulfilled in the music of composers such as Lindbergh or Olssen as sung by the Swedish choirs. She opened up in special ways about Norman Luboff’s visits to Sweden, her interactions with Eric and Gary Graden over the years. It feels like a special world that I could only dream about being a part of.

I also remember hearing stories from my mentor and friend Dr. Geoffrey Boers and his interaction with the special and uniquely effective conducting of Eric. Seeing Eric conduct is certainly special for any discerning choral conductor. Questions arise – what is he doing? Why is he doing what he is doing? I get the feeling that many don’t understand his utterly unique gesture, but all are left with the absolute power of his intent.

Even at the close of his life, he showed his genius.

And I remain humbled by a man I’ve never met.

There was a conversation a year or so I had with Gunilla where I mentioned my intention that I was going to send a hand-written letter to Eric, essentially telling him what a profound impact he had on a kid from Minnesota. I actually wrote the letter, but what a strange tragedy it is that I never ended up sending it! It laid on my desk for many months. Was there a reason I didn’t send it? I’m not sure.

One thing I am sure of, is that Eric Ericson’s impact on American choral music remains greatly understated, and I hope as years go on, at least I will be a memorial to his impact. Perhaps even the greatest compliment any colleague may give me in the future is to say that I or my gesture remind them of Eric.


The Blacksmith’s New Year

A new year dawns, and again we are thrust into the resolution predicament.  We know in our heart of hearts no resolution could be made in such a way this New Year’s eve as to be a huge success, at least not in the way we envision …or even at all.  And so it continues year after year, this cycle of desiring …something.  To get thinner, to eat better, to save more, to stop any number of bad habits, but in many ways our resolutions are shadows of desiring something more profound.

And so enters the Village Blacksmith:

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

His hair is crisp and black and long;
His face is like the tan;
His brow is wet with honest sweat,—
He earns whate’er he can,
And looks the whole world in the face,
For he owes not any man.

Week in, week out, from morn till night,
You can hear his bellows blow;
You can hear him swing his heavy sledge,
With a measured beat and slow,
Like a sexton ringing the village bell,
When the evening sun is low.

And the children coming home from school,
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly
Like chaff from the threshing-floor.

He goes on Sunday to the church
And sits among his boys;
He hears the parson pray and preach;
He hears his daughter’s voice,
Singing in the village choir,
And it makes his heart rejoice.

It sounds to him like her mother’s voice,
Singing in Paradise!
He needs must think of her once more,
How in the grave she lies;
And with his hard, rough hand he wipes
A tear out of his eyes.

Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing,
Onward through life he goes;
Each morning sees some task begin,
Each evening sees it close;
Something attempted, something done,
Has earned a night’s repose.

Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend,
For the lesson thou hast taught!
Thus at the flaming forge of life
Our fortunes must be wrought;
Thus on its sounding anvil shaped
Each burning deed and thought.

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Oh to be like the blacksmith!  I’m not sure this type of man walks our streets very often anymore.  What a noble thought to be able to look the whole world in the face… to owe not any man… to be called a worthy friend!  Surely times have changed.  The world has become more complex, more stressful, more subjective.  Or has it truly?  I’m skeptical it has.  Sometimes I think of our present age and find our way and times is a simply a smoky haze we only get lost in, never found.  Surely there are complexities never thought of in the age of man, but these complexities are once known truths melted into muddy illusions.  The noble blacksmith is something of a bygone age I fear.

So how would this man, this blacksmith enter into the new year?  I think he would continue doing those three monumentally difficult things: toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing.  Something tells me he isn’t about to try the Atkin’s diet for the 5th year running.  He has his sights on something far more rich and far more challenging, to have that “nearly” impossible virtue: integrity.

For me this upcoming year, having integrity would mean coming to grips with the fact that I need to take continual steps to become more like Kierkegaard’s “Sacrificed Man,” of whom this world, through all ages continually think is silly.  I need to be not ashamed of the fact this will sound like utter nonsense to those who don’t profess this Man to be their Creator and Friend.  Yet I would hope that they, like those children coming home from school, would love to see my flaming forge and hear my bellows roar, watching my burning sparks fly like chaff as I worked.  And I would love them regardless of how ‘out of date’ or ‘simple’ they thought I was, or whatever face they carried or humors they brought for baggage.  No condemnation from the blacksmith, no hate, just service in faith.  I need to work that faith like a heavy sledge, measured and slow, not floating through the breeze like a rainless cloud.  I need to beat at it to make it ring like the village bell tolling for all to hear: I, indeed I, rely on one name alone for my comfort and hope: Jesus Christ.

No resolutions once again this year’s twilight for me.  No wistful, yet resolute hope for a change of habit.  Nothing except perhaps to toil, to rejoice, to sorrow….and also to remember this, so wonderfully said by William Gurnall in the mid 1600s:

It distills a sweetness into all the believer hath or doth , when he finds any comfort in his bosom, any enlargement of heart in duty, any support under temptations – to consider whence came all these, what friend sends them in.  They come not from my own cistern, or any creature’s.

O it is my God that hath been here, and left his sweet perfume of comfort behind him in my bosom!

my God that hath unawares to me filled my sails with the gales of this Spirit, and brought me off the flats of my own deadness, where I lay aground.

O it is his sweet Spirit that held my head, stayed my heart in such an affliction and temptation, or else I had gone away in a fainting fit of unbelief.  How can this choose but endear God to a gracious soul.

Chesterton’s Bed

Confession:  I have guilt issues.  I seem to be saddled with a constant companion on my shoulder that whispers incessantly, “get this done….don’t forget that…don’t be so lazy…don’t do this, its a waste of time…”  I wonder how many deal with this?  I would venture to guess that if many currently do not, it will eventually become an epidemic as this post-enlightenment culture continues to evolve   I do suspect that it secretly is already an epidemic…though concealed in some faux virtues.

G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton was a fantastic author.  I might even say he is among my very favorites.  I’d certainly go so far as to say that he is an author that today’s Christian readers should absolutely read…but won’t (which is whole different issue).    His writings and essays encompassed a great many things besides faith.   His unique style, full of wit, wisdom, deadpan, and irony, speak to truths often hidden or muddled in societal fog.  Though I think his “Everlasting Man” was his best work and worth looking at intensely, I think his minor essays are also little gems, and here is one entitled “On Lying in Bed”:

Lying in bed would be an altogether perfect and supreme experience if only one had a colored pencil long enough to draw on the ceiling. This, however, is not generally a part of the domestic apparatus on the premises. I think myself that the thing might be managed with several pails of Aspinall and a broom. Only if one worked in a really sweeping and masterly way, and laid on the color in great washes, it might drip down again on one’s face in floods of rich and mingled color like some strange fairy rain; and that would have its disadvantages. I am afraid it would be necessary to stick to black and white in this form of artistic composition. To that purpose, indeed, the white ceiling would be of the greatest possible use; in fact, it is the only use I think of a white ceiling being put to.

He goes on for a couple paragraphs about how wallpaper isn’t scriptural and Michaelangelo was probably lying in bed when he first imagined the incredible imagery of the Sistine Chapel.  But he then returns to the philosophy of lying in bed and its resultant reception…

The tone now commonly taken toward the practice of lying in bed is hypocritical and unhealthy. Of all the marks of modernity that seem to mean a kind of decadence, there is none more menacing and dangerous that the exaltation of very small and secondary matters of conduct at the expense of very great and primary ones, at the expense of eternal ties and tragic human morality. If there is one thing worse that the modern weakening of major morals, it is the modern strengthening of minor morals. Thus it is considered more withering to accuse a man of bad taste than of bad ethics. Cleanliness is not next to godliness nowadays, for cleanliness is made essential and godliness is regarded as an offence. A playwright can attack the institution of marriage so long as he does not misrepresent the manners of society, and I have met Ibsenite pessimist who thought it wrong to take beer but right to take prussic acid. Especially this is so in matters of hygiene; notably such matters as lying in bed. Instead of being regarded, as it ought to be, as a matter of personal convenience and adjustment, it has come to be regarded by many as if it were a part of essential morals to get up early in the morning. It is upon the whole part of practical wisdom; but there is nothing good about it or bad about its opposite.

Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before. It is the great peril of our society that all its mechanisms may grow more fixed while its spirit grows more fickle. A man’s minor actions and arrangements ought to be free, flexible, creative; the things that should be unchangeable are his principles, his ideals. But with us the reverse is true; our views change constantly; but our lunch does not change. Now, I should like men to have strong and rooted conceptions, but as for their lunch, let them have it sometimes in the garden, sometimes in bed, sometimes on the roof, sometimes in the top of a tree. Let them argue from the same first principles, but let them do it in a bed, or a boat, or a balloon. This alarming growth of good habits really means a too great emphasis on those virtues which mere custom can ensure, it means too little emphasis on those virtues which custom can never quite ensure, sudden and splendid virtues of inspired pity or of inspired candor. If ever that abrupt appeal is made to us we may fail. A man can get use to getting up at five o’clock in the morning. A man cannot very well get used to being burnt for his opinions; the first experiment is commonly fatal. Let us pay a little more attention to these possibilities of the heroic and unexpected. I dare say that when I get out of this bed I shall do some deed of an almost terrible virtue.

Some things of note here I’d like to emphasize.  Here is one: “If there is one thing worse that the modern weakening of major morals, it is the modern strengthening of minor morals.”  In my case, and the case of many others, I think this is the root cause of the guilt regarding not just lying in bed, but a whole plethora of activities that our current society would deem as indolent.  When we go for a walk, why do we do it?  These days it seems that a majority do it in response to a mandate of health or obligation to a pet, not necessarily to interact with nature or to whistfully imagine as one strolls along.  When we go for a drive, why do we do it?  Perhaps its a bit irresponsible with gas the way it is today to just “go for a drive” with no inherent reason, yet I remember hearing about the fabled “Sunday afternoon drive” that families used to take.  Why did they do it?  Certainly not to go to Walmart or “I have to” errands.  We live in an age that not only requires reasons for doing everything, but if you aren’t doing certain things or not supplying reasons for other things, you receive pressure from the society at large that you are a waste – get to work!  Produce!  …of course all this coming from a society that watches hours and hours of reality television.  (I won’t be hypocritical and label watching reality television as a waste of time, though.  You can make that fairly obvious judgement call yourself….)  Ce la vie.

Chesterton does label early risers as misers, but I’d also like to point out I know several people with the gift of being a morning person and they aren’t necessarily misers.  I may agree with Chesterton in this: because they get up early, they have a much greater chance at becoming misers.  But again, this is highlighting the idea that one doesn’t get up early simply to get up early anymore…one gets up early for a reason that may or may not be virtuous.  In doing this, some lord it over those that don’t and getting up early becomes an act of pride, not nature.

Ok, so this isn’t a rant against being productive, don’t misunderstand.  Instead, I am attempting to honor a quiet, sacred space.  Creativity lives there.  Peace lives there.  Have we as humans outgrown this?  Why do we need to remember and protect these ideas, instead of lambasting them (and in my life, feel constantly guilty whenever I approach them)?  Why…to dream.  To create.  To breathe.  To center.  To contemplate.  To make up stories.  To “paint the white ceiling” as Chesterton suggests.  How whimsically beautiful.  But alas, as I suggested at the beginning, it is difficult to free oneself from the notion that if you are not working and accomplishing, you are becoming a waste to society.  Here is a tenuous balance, and Chesterton masterfully approaches it in his last paragraph and offers a caution:

For those who study the great art of lying in bed there is one emphatic caution to be added. Even for those who can do their work in bed (like journalists), still more for those whose work cannot be done in bed (as, for example, the professional harpooners of whales), it is obvious that the indulgence must be very occasional. But that is not the caution I mean. The caution is this: if you do lie in bed, be sure you do it without any reason or justification at all. I do not speak, of course, of the seriously sick. But if a healthy man lies in bed, let him do it without a rag of excuse; then he will get up a healthy man. If he does it for some secondary hygienic reason, if he has some scientific explanation, he may get up a hypochondriac.

A final confession: No I didn’t write this from my bed.  I probably should have.

Unearthing EWB – Dawn


The summer before I moved to Seattle in 2007 I decided to send a couple pieces to several choirs in the Northwest region, including choirs like Choral Arts, Opus7, and The Esoterics.  Now as most composers may tell you this generally is a bit of a gamble and often a waste, for conductors of fine ensembles are inundated with manuscripts from composers trying to find performances.  Most often, the scores sit on the conductor’s piano, glanced at, untouched, or skimmed and filed (maybe even in file 13).  So I knew this, but I took it to be an opportunity at minimum to get my name in the ear of these fine choirs and their conductors.

At the time, Choral Arts was transitioning between two fantastic conductors, Dr. Richard Sparks (currently at University of North-Texas) and Dr. Robert Bode (conservatory at University of Missouri, Kansas City).  My scores were of secondary importance to a choir during an important transition and they could have been lost in the shuffle, but somehow they made it Robert’s box and waited patiently for his perusal.

Richard Sparks, Robert Bode, Eric Barnum

I got a call in August of 2008 from Robert, who I hadn’t met, and we hit it off immediately.  He had a proposition (he wouldn’t say it was risky, but I would! and am still grateful to this day), for me to compose a short piece for their upcoming “Mornings Like This” album, set to a poem written by him.  I instantly said yes without even pondering.  It was an honor to be asked, but to be nearly guaranteed a spot on a professional recording on a label like Gothic is truly a gift for a young composer.  But, the caveat was he needed it quick.  How quick?  Lets just say quick.  He sent the poem on a Friday.

I sent the piece to him on Sunday afternoon.

I don’t mention this to boast about how quick I can compose a piece, but to share my deep belief in the inspirational quality of Robert’s poetry.  This was our first collaboration and we have done many others over recent years i.e. Healing Heart, Carol of the Angels, Conflagration.  Each time feels as though I am transcribing music already present in the text, not necessarily adding anything special of my own.  He and Thomas Hood (1799-1845) seem to be the poets most resonant to my heart.

In 2010, Dawn was chosen for one of Conspirare’s fantastic Carillon concerts by Craig Hella Johnson.  Craig and I subsequently published it through his series with G. Schirmer.  You can find it to order:  (HL.50490262)

(…E.W.Barnum not E.B.White)

From the door’s soft opening
And the day’s first sigh,
Filling the room,
I see before me
A life of doors,
One opening on another,
Doors upon doors,
And sighs upon sighs,
Rising in a tide of mornings,
Rising, until that final sigh,
And the last morning,
And the last holy breath,
Whispering “this…”

The instant I read the poem I thought Scandanavia.  Not sure why, and I usually don’t second guess my instincts.  So I attacked the poem with composers like Alfvén and Stenhammar as my guides.  I wanted to capture both the natural daylight breaking over the horizon, but also the existential idea a new day represents.  Though the existential element is more obvious in the text, I thought I could amplify it yet further by spending most of my time focusing on the light breaking forth idea.

I tried to do this in a couple of ways.  Immediately comes the obvious technique of starting with few voices and adding parts individually to create more and more color, culminating in the rich sonority of an F major chord (which I sometimes think of as the color blue).  The idea of light gradually coming is self-evident in the text “doors upon doors, sighs upon sighs”.  I choose to use this section of text as a spring board into the climax, not only with a repeating rising vocal line transferred from part to part, but also with harmonic tensions created from some unresolved suspensions.  All this resolves in a surprising minor climax, not major.  I think this gives the glory of each dawn a sense not of just joy, but also of mystery and longing.

The end of the piece essentially is an extension of an aleatoric technique I use from time to time.  In this particular piece the word “this” is repeated over and over again, overlapping in a cluster creating the imagery of a light.  Meanwhile a wavelike repeating figure is sung in the lower voices.  In total, one should get the feeling of light reflecting off the gentle waves of a body of water as the sun rises slowly above the horizon.


I haven’t seen too many sunrises, to be honest.  Sunsets have been easier for a night-owl.  Sunrises are glorious things though when you do the work to get up early enough.  It always seems to be worth it ….maybe I should do it more often.  Dawn brings with it possibility.  A newness.  A cleanliness.  The return of the sun has a fresh warmth too it as we shield our eyes from the bright light.

Robert focuses particularly on the aspect of renewal and the possibilities a novel day always presents.  All things are a mystery as you look ahead, but with the rising sun, a special feeling often fills your heart:  hope.  It seems like this poem is a perfect answer to the famous Thomas Hardy poem of hope: Song of Hope.

O sweet To-morrow! –
After to-day
There will away
This sense of sorrow.
Then let us borrow
Hope, for a gleaming
Soon will be streaming,
Dimmed by no gray –
No gray!

While the winds wing us
Sighs from The Gone,
Nearer to dawn
Minute-beats bring us;
When there will sing us
Larks of a glory
Waiting our story
Further anon –

Doff the black token,
Don the red shoon,
Right and retune
Viol-strings broken;
Null the words spoken
In speeches of rueing,
The night cloud is hueing,
To-morrow shines soon –
Shines soon!

The piece Dawn is the tomorrow Hardy speaks about.  It is today!  Today is here and with it brings something new with its unpredictable prism of possibilities.  Dawn also hints that this gift will continue if you choose it.  Hope is born anew each morning.  Mercies are new every morning, if we look to the light.  And when the light rises, it shines light on blessings all around us.

We travelers, walking toward the sun, can’t see

Ahead, but looking back the very light

That blinded us shows us the way we came,

Along which blessing now appear, risen

As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,

By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward

That blessed light that yet to us is dark.

– Wendell Berry

How We See

“Paradise Gardens” (Mt. Rainier), Marc Adamus

“How we see is a very personal thing.”  Marc Adamus.

It is a funny thing to truly enjoy something, just enough to be slightly above average at it, just knowledgeable enough about it to speak bravely, and perhaps just enough to create a drive to do it on a regular basis.  Certainly I have seen music be this ‘something’ for a great many people, which is wonderful (and horrible).  But a side effect of this is people begin to develop a healthy dose of over confidence, sometimes comical, often irrational.

For me, that special ‘something’ is nature photography.  I love doing it, think I have an eye (which is up for debate), and think I know what I am doing…probably enough to be annoying to people who truly have experience and the technological knowledge.  Never all that serious or dangerous, this over confidence prevails as long as you never come in contact with someone masterful so that you have no choice but to chuckle at yourself, your naivete, your misguided notion of expertise.  I think this ‘dose of reality’ chuckle is a wonderful and healthy thing.  I personally have Marc Adamus to thank for a proverbial punch to my photo-ego.

This isn’t a completely new experience for me.  During my stint in Seattle I had the honor of hanging out with a few fantastic photographers, perhaps most notably Jim Garner, owner of J. Garner Photography and ranked as one of the top 10 wedding photographers in the world.  http://www.jgarnerphoto.com/

Jim Garner

Besides being freakishly talented at the craft of photography (especially light), he is one of the kindest and most visionary men I’ve ever been around.  I consider myself insanely lucky to have met him and spent some quality time.  If you are interested (and you should be) check out this short interview with Mark Lutz where he talks inspiration and experience: http://www.digitalweddingforum.com/blog/an-intimate-interview-with-jim-garner

So Jim’s emphasis and expertise is photographing people and their experience, although I’ve seen some nature work from him and have been astounded.  That being said, I have always thought myself poor to below poor at photographing people (maybe even awful), which is fine.  So instead, my nature photo-ego continued, especially with the help of practicing in the northwest where you could have a toy camera and get beauty.  I remember walking markets (i.e. Portland Saturday Market) and seeing vendors selling large-print nature photography and never being too impressed either.  The photos were never all that subtle and they reeked of Photoshop.  Some were good, sure, but…my nature photo-ego continued further.  I have ended up a few good ones here and there along the way though, for instance:

Hanging Lake, Eric Barnum

I can’t remember how I came across Marc Adamus’ photography, but if you were in the room when I did, you’d probably have thought you were watching a bad firework show with a bunch of 5 year olds with all the “ooo”s and “ahhh”s you would have heard.  Please visit his beautiful site here:


I thought to myself, as I think most would almost immediately… “Aha! The pungent odor of Photoshop fills the air,” followed by a wave of skepticism.  I dug in to his bio to find out if he mentioned it.  Not only does he mention it, he talks very succinctly:

Today, the most frequent question I am asked as a photographer is not whether I use Photoshop (obvious), but how I use Photoshop. There is a great misconception among the public that photography like mine is somehow “created” in Photoshop, quite possibly because of exposure to too many Hollywood graphic effects, videogames, etc. I point out that throughout the entire history of the photographic medium one’s technique in the field must be perfect. This has not changed today. The abilities that define great photographers are first and foremost how to seize the moment and make it theirs, reacting quickly and precisely to often rapidly changing situations. No amount of processing in today’s digital darkroom can ever fix a bad composition, an out of focus image, create great light or change a mid-day sky into a sunset. No matter how much processing I apply post-capture, I have to be in the field 250 days per year on average doing everything possible, everything all generations of photographers have done, honing my skills and collecting days and weeks of failures before that rare moment shows itself and the successful initial capture is made.

He continues  to develop a stance over several paragraphs of Photoshop philosophy that details the complexities of the entire process of photography, from before you click, to post-processing.  He concludes solidly:

Anyone who thinks of digital photography as a ‘crutch’ of sorts, simply does not understand these processes and the precision with which they must be executed in-camera as well as in processing.

As we’re now into the second decade of the new millenium, the debate that started 20 years ago with the introduction of Photoshop – whether or not to use it to ‘manipulate’ the initial capture is disappearing. The public perception always lags behind the state of the art, but finally most people have come to tolerate and even respect the digital art, realizing that the relationship between reality and photography does not have to die with it. Still, it’s very unfortunate if completely predictable that there are a few who still cling to the belief that the image that comes strait from the camera is the only ‘real’ photograph, and everything else is chalked up to manipulation. Those people may not have any comprehension as to the roots of photography – those who knew Ansel well would tell you he would undoubtedly be a Photoshop guru were he alive today. At the very least though, these people have yet to come to grips with one of the fundamentals of history itself that teaches us the inevitable – those who refuse to evolve and embrace new ways become themselves obsolete. No one is ever going to come along and do away with digital post-processing. It’s here to stay, so we may as well learn the facts and learn to embrace it as part of the art.

Ok ok, so I was in the group of naive photography consumers who is skeptical of major post-processing techniques.  BUT! I think it isn’t a sin to be turned off by what I’ll call “noticeable” perhaps “egregious” Photoshoping similar to ones we’ve all seen at markets and craft fairs.  In Marc’s case, it is obvious he is a master of the process – the whole process – and I think, as an art connoisseur not only wasn’t I distracted, I was drawn in to his “journey into wilderness.”  I couldn’t stop being amazed by one after another.

One special thing for me is that I have been to many of the places he has pictures of on his website.  It became comical for me to compare his photos of beautiful places to ones I had taken …photos that until I saw his, I was fairly proud of.  I wasn’t necessarily disappointed in myself, I just laughed at my amateurism.  Now give me grace everyone as I show not my best, but just two examples that show you what I saw:

1. The Oregon Coast, head to head.


Oregon Coast, Eric Barnum

Ok, a normal “captured the day and location” sort of shot.  Not bad.


“Fade to Black” – Oregon Coast, Marc Adamus

Uh…hmmm.  Ok, that is toooooo close to call.  We’re gonna need a tie-breaker:

2. A random stream, head to head.


Random stream in Oregon, Eric Barnum

Classic “slightly out of focus, but believe me, I was trying to get the moving water, so it was hard” shot.  Nice.


“Illumination Forest”, Marc Adamus


I think the best way to say it is thusly:  I found myself remembering the places, their magic, their intimacy, their brilliance, the smells and sounds in the air… remembering everything… better when looking at Marc’s photos than looking at ones that I had taken.  Astounding.

Several times on this blog I have highlighted what it means to be a “real” artist.  Perhaps even highlighting the difference between a “real” artist and and “ridiculous” artist.  It is truly a gift to share the air on this planet with some special people who have the innate talent, the drive, the means, and the spirit to become great, fantastic artists.  People like Jim Garner.  People like Marc Adamus.  Whether it is photography, music, theater, painting, etc…it seems to me we should not only enjoy their work but seek them out.  Find them.  Enjoy them.  See the joy of what it means to be a master and applaud the sweat and sacrifice it took for them to get there.  And secondly, we should use their work as examples for our own as we learn and stand on their shoulders.  I look forward to try and capture better photos, to see beauty clearer, to capture it and enjoy it.

“Paradise Forest”, Marc Adamus


postscript:  All photos remain the copyright of the photographers.  Please visit their websites.


Here I sit, now 33 years of age, having today (as nearly every day) consumed approximately:

Besides being made famous by all forms of numerologists…like Scottish Rite Freemasons…and the Ku Klux Klan…and Dan Brown…and Nazis…(um…yay), 33 remains an interesting number.  Lets set the esoteric aside for a second.

Did you know that water boils at 33?  …according to the Newton scale, of course.

How about some Old Lace and element 33?  Arsenic that is.

Maybe I should finally sell my Honus Wagner cards that I’ve been stashing away…

Maybe I’ll celebrate today by watching the first Battlestar Galactica episode:  33.  No, I probably won’t.  I think I’d rather go to the dentist.

That being said, if I could, I would visit the galaxies in reality, maybe one of these two:


or B33

Ah yes, when was this first seen:? 1933.

Oh, p.s., on this day in 1933, Austrofascism began.  Thanks Engelbert Dollfuss! What a guy!

And don’t forget, in 33 anno domini, “a financial crisis hits Rome, due to poorly chosen fiscal policies. Land values plummet, and credit is increased. These actions lead to a lack of cash, a crisis of confidence, and much land speculation. The primary victims are senators, knights and the wealthy. Many aristocratic families are ruined.”  (Wikipedia, how scholarly of me). Sounds like America recently, maybe more than a little.

And finally, there are of course a significant number of connections between 33 and Jesus Christ, most obviously how old he was when he was crucified and resurrected (which most likely was not in the year 33 anno domini).


In the end, it is interesting and fulfilling to use special days like this to think back on faces, smiles, places, songs, hearts, home.  I want to dearly thank all who have participated in this, my story, thus far.  Each character in it is an amazingly complex individual that adds light like a prism to my life narrative.  Thanks to my dear God for these years, for being born in 1979 so I got to meet you.  Think about how special and wonderful that is to be living now with the specific people around you!

I am blessed.

We are blessed.

And, if you don’t believe it, ask Tom (because he had all the right moves).


Gravity is…

Gravity is…       What?

I find this to be an incredibly important question.  I think it is fascinating to have come so far with science and technology…knowledge has greatly increased… yet we still have a veil between us and that which invisibly surrounds us, which holds the universe together, which makes the stars and planets move in harmony, which keeps our feet on the ground…that which makes apples fall to the ground.  What is it?

In 2003, Dennis Overbye wrote a short essay for the New York Times titled “What is Gravity, Really?”  He began like this:

”Gravity . . . it’s not just a good idea. It’s the Law,” reads a popular bumper sticker.

Gravity is our oldest and most familiar enemy, the force we feel in our bones, the force that will eventually bury us, sagging our organs and pulling us down, but for all its intimacy, it is a mystery.

He goes on to highlight the story of gravity, from Newton to string theory, through Einstein.  He even mentions Cardassian expansion and other near-crazy theories.  In the ultimate moment of the essay, he quotes Dr. Sean Carroll who poignantly says:

…and none of our current ideas is standing up and declaring itself to be the right answer, so we have to be bold.

I will be bold and offer a unique suggestion.  It isn’t entirely something of my own devisings,  and has been hinted at a number of places in literature, most notably by our friend Dante Alighieri in the early 14th century work “Paradiso.”

Dante's 'Primum Mobile'

When Dante reaches the last (ninth) physical sphere in Canto XXVII, he finds that it is in fact moved directly by God himself.  Not only this, but more importantly this movement thus causes ALL physical spheres it encloses to move.  He says this:

This heaven has no other where than this:
the mind of God, in which are kindled both
the love that turns it and the force it rains.

As in a circle, light and love enclose it,
as it surrounds the rest and that enclosing,
only He who encloses understands.

No other heaven measures this sphere’s motion,
but it serves as the measure for the rest,
even as half and fifth determine ten;

He ascends thus further (actually ascends may be an incorrect term, what if we say transfigures further?), and reaches the very abode of God Himself.  In these final moments Dante desperately tries to put it all together…to see how the spheres work together…to see and fathom the fullness of existence.  He saw “Of the High Light appeared to me three circles, Of threefold colour and of one dimension, And by the second seemed the first reflected As Iris is by Iris, and the third Seemed fire that equally from both is breathed.”  How incredible.  I even composed a piece awhile back about this unbelievably glorious moment in literature called “the Wheel that Moves the Sun and Stars.”  Ultimately, at the close, Dante says this:

But already my desire and my will
were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed,
by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars.

So, what do we know moves stars, planets, our sun … any mass?  Gravity?  Let’s ask the question like this:  once set in motion, what is holding the movement of all things in harmony?  Gravity?  What if it was Love itself (notice it is capitalized here).  The Love that moves our hearts to love, moves our hearts to sing – could it be that is what moves the sun?  Could it be that this Love is moving everything, holding everything together, in some divine harmony?

A commission for Texas Choral Director’s Association I am finishing up is once again using the text of a favorite poet of mine, Robert Bode.  The piece is actually about a forest fire and it is called “Conflagration.”  Yet the fire is only the first half.  The last half is what happens when the landscape is covered with ash after the fire is over.  On second thought, not with ash…with nutrients… waiting to be used by green shoots bursting forth.  Robert closes his poem like this:

What is this power
That pulls the tree
From the forest floor?

…that gathers the seas
and scatters the stars?

Is it the pull of the sun?
Is it the breath of tides?
Is it the gravity of Love?

It is the pull of the sun,
It is the breath of tides,
It is the gravity of Love.

What makes the tree burst forth from the ground toward the sun?  It loves the sun.

What makes the tree cling to the earth digging roots deep?  It loves the earth.

The tree stretches and holds fast because of gravity – because of love.

We stretch forth, sing, smile, give, receive… we are moved like a wheel, all at one speed.  I feel like we can fight or participate in this great work though.  There is a bit of a choice here for participation.  Participate in what?  Let me answer by asking a final question.  Why in Dante is love suddenly capitalized to Love in the end?  Why is it capitalized in Robert’s poem?  Just a thought.

What if, really,

Gravity is…     Love.

klĭn’ĭk: Bexley High School, OH

Here is a paradox:

“How much do you have to give to sing really well?”


“Think carefully now… if you give everything to sing well, how much do you end up with as a result?”


This is the ultimate and blesséd paradox of choral singing I was reminded of during my time with the students and staff of Bexley High School.  I usually walk into clinics hopeful of some sort of weird magic to happen in the hearts of everyone, but when it happens like a joyful flood, it transfixes and holds… every smile, every hug, every word, every sound that comes forth is with the purpose to build, to create, to support.  Is this possible with teenagers?  With anyone, these days?  I guess so, and I got the unbelievable honor to share and be immersed in it.

I met Amy Blosser a couple years ago in the Walton booth at an American Choral Directors Association convention.  They happened to bring a piece of mine called “the Sweetheart of the Sun” on tour with them to Europe and it had been a special and meaningful piece for the the students.  (by the way, this is humbling to hear as a composer.  I will always trade tears for cheers in a choral experience)  We talked and talked through the possibility to work together on a commission and then unite that with a visit to the school to be with the students.

I decided on a text by my beloved friend Robert Bode (DCA at UMKC), who is currently the Hammerstein to my Rogers, called “Healing Heart.”  Amy and I talked about the Vocal Ensemble, who it was written for and I wanted to write them something completely unique, something vulnerable, something tough.  …and out it came.

When they performed it the first time for me, I cried.  So… this usually happens on the second day, not the first moment!  From the first sound from these beautiful faces, these miraculous hearts were opened to me.  I felt lucky to even share the air with these people.  Their eyes were something else.

I want to highlight two people.  Amy Blosser (director) is a wonderful choral musician and singer.  Her students respect and revere her and their singing reflects her warmth and intent.  More importantly, she is a wonderful and caring human who has dedicated herself to the divine choral cause and selflessly gives major time to America’s national choral association.  I am blessed to call her friend.

Amy Blosser

Casey Cook

I also want to mention my love for Bexley’s accompanist Casey Cook.  It is truly a rare thing to meet a pianist who can read minds.  They are here and there, but this woman is a bit of a magician.  When a conductor meets these wonderful musicians, it’s hard to not to want them around all the time for everything.  Mind readers, and they always (always!) save you and make you look amazing.  I know Amy would agree.  And! I got the chance to single Casey out and embarrass her in front of the student’s parents, who gave her the thanks she well deserves and will always deserve.

In the end, I got the chance to work with choirs of all ages, including the beautiful 8th grade choir directed by Sue Wiechart White (I’d like to congratulate this wonderful woman on an amazing and splendid career of service.  This is her final year.  It was my honor to meet her.)  From the Men’s and Women’s Glee, the Women’s Choir, to the Symphonic Choir, every group was filled with a spirit that is hard to describe, hard to capture, hard to say thank you properly.

Let me mention the community as well… from the audience at the concert, to the celebration at the Horn family home, I felt loved and accepted as a friend.

Finally, I want to share my thanks to the Vocal Ensemble and their work on this new piece which will receive a full premiere at the Central ACDA convention on March 9th, but more importantly for entering into a space with me that one cannot enter without being changed…without transfiguring (at least a little).  I connected in a special way to a few students in particular and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Thanks for talking to me, for letting me in.  Remember what I said to you, remember my eyes, remember my heart.  Thank you for giving everything …and getting in return… everything.


In the end, I really do know what is important.  It isn’t about my music.  It never will be.  If it is, someone punch me in the face.

It is about eyes shining.  It is about hearts crying.  It is about hugging and knowing what it means to love.

Hayley Williams wielding electric daggers.

When her voice hit my ears whilst embedding electric daggers into my chest, I somehow calmy remembered a quote by Jack Black (JB):

There’s nothing you can really do to prepare for rock.  Do you prepare to eat a delicious meal?  Are you hungry?  Then you’re going to eat it.

I ate it.

Hayley Williams, Lead Siren of Paramore

You know, being a composer and conductor in the classical world…or just a musician in the classical world for that matter… brings with it some sort of aloofness.  Something happens that is sort of indescribable where a veil is drawn, not lifted, especially in relationship to the sea of popular music.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m exaggerating a little… or when you really think about it… am I?  Oh I understand the reasons why, and there are many, why the Ivory Tower Musical Alchemists would think the myriad of musical merrymaking the peasantry partakes in is a little less than satisfactory.  But.  …and we should always say that when talking about something as subjective as this.  But!

But what?

But there IS true talent in that world, and my new favorite (who isn’t so new) is Hayley from Paramore, who rails and wails like a silver siren.  Her voice to me is as sharp as a knife cutting your heart out, only the knife is a feather, soft, sublime, sultry.  Such elegance in her dangerous power.  So much electricity.  JB may even speak of her “beating back the shiny demon hordes with the power of rock!”

Now be brave my fellow listeners, put your headphones on and turn up the volume!

It just seems so easy to compare her power to that of Ann Wilson (Seattle native) in 1977:

Its funny, I am a vocalist and if I really thought about it…really sat down to think…  Do I know what Hayley is adding to each sung pitch that makes it different than the countless other girls out there trying?  Why am I moved so?  Oh we have amazing talent these days: Katy Perry, Kelly Clarkson, Pink…to name a couple power voices (that actually have it), but what is it about Hayley that spears me like St. Theresa’s spear?  No clue.


When the people come who gasp – what horror, you love this?! I’ll just shut my eyes, smile, and let the sound wash over my ears (probably until they bleed…because its too loud, lets be honest.)  And, as my beloved JB said “Rocking ain’t no walk in the park, lady.”

Note:  Look, I never said music videos made any sense though.

When a Tin Man’s heart is returned by a dove.

Remember when our songs were just like prayer

Like gospel hymns that you called in the air

Come down, come down sweet reverence

Unto my simple house and ring …  and ring.

This is the first lyric of the poignant tune Stable Song, by Gregory Alan Isakov from his album That Sea, The Gambler.  Try as I might, I may not be able to capture the unique and indescribable moment of inspiration quite like these simple words.  I feel like this is hinting at something more than inspiration though … perhaps even an annunciation.


That tall grass grows high and brown

Well I dragged you straight in the muddy ground

And you sent me back to where I roam

Well I cursed and I cried, but now I know

Now I know.

And I ran back to that hollow again

The moon was just a sliver back then

And I ached for my heart like some tin man

When it came, oh it beat and it boiled and it rang

Oh, its ringing.

The imagery here is layered and beautiful and I think it describes a very rare and strange event.  Certainly Mr. Isakov is referencing inspiration, most likely musical inspiration, but I will (as all great art requires) inject a personal and prismatic intent which layers it a bit more than musical inspiration.

Come down, come down sweet reverence

Unto my simple house and ring

Can you recall the story of Pope Gregory and his dove?  It is a tradition that details the late 6th century clergyman’s reception of the beautiful chant melodies of the liturgy.  The myth holds that a dove descended unto the shoulder of Gregory, who dictated the whispered heavenly tunes to a nearby scribe.  Though Gregory indeed had much to do with the transcription of these chants, nearly all were oral tradition from Greek, Hebrew, and Syrian music.  Ok, so a lovely farce.  But it is a beautiful and time-tested image which has also once again installed the dove as the bringer of divine inspiration (and musical!)

The dove is a special bird and one that usually brings with it special things.  In fact, throughout the world in fairy-tales and stories, doves often signify something divinely chosen, such as a true king.  Somehow the bird also came to represent that part of the divine that could not be represented by the physical – the spirit, and sometimes even divine authority and authorship.

The Last Supper, Andy Warhol

Perhaps this avis’ most beautiful moment came in the first century when the Spirit in the fashion of a dove descended upon the head of Jesus as he rose from the waters of the Jordan River.  This white-winged annunciation completely cemented an already rich history of allegory and imagery regarding the bird and its ushering forth the metaphysical in the physical.

This actually is why I love the story of Pope Gregory so much, as I think many musicians do, even if it is utter nonsense.  I know, quite intensely, I wish this for myself each time I sit in front of a piano or hover a pencil over a sheet of staff paper.  I am listening.  Listening for what though?

And here is the truth.  I have no idea.

I never have.  So strange is the idea of inspiration and the spirit to me that if I am being honest I have to say that I am guessing half the time.  And the music only gets better when I stop trying to maintain any modicum of control and allow this “guessing” to take hold.  The music is invariably better and always makes more sense in a deep and layered way.  How crazy.  It makes me wonder about transferring this idea into the whole being, not just musically or artistically.

What man could possibly control this dove that descends from the heavenly spheres bringing with it a divine message, musical or not?  I think whether we are composers or not, we are waiting for a dove to descend upon our shoulder to whisper some truth, some answer, to speak into our lives in some magical way.  All too often (and common in composers too!) we, as Mr. Isakov suggests, drag into the muddy ground cursing and crying, begging and pleading, railing…sometimes for something small and sometimes for something immense, like our tin man hearts, somehow strangely missing.

But what a joy is this:  The dove sometimes comes whisperings little annunciations to us as a great gift if we will receive it.  The proclamations are so precious.  And Mr. Isakov gives us a grand vision: the dove carrying our heart, and when it comes it is beating and boiling!  It is on fire!  And it is ringing…and singing.

And it turns us back into the wild haired gale.  Turns our faces back into the howling gusts of hope.

Come inspiration.  Bring annunciation.

This tin man needs his heart back.