Inferno: the Nine Circles of Suffering [2014 ]

for string quartet


Veiled [ 2013 rev. 2015 ]

for string quartet




for brass quintet




Circles [ 2014 ]

for percussion ensemble

(or piano duo)




Still & Brimming—Mirror [ 2013 ]

for flute, violin, 'cello, & percussion


a Compass as My Planchette [ 2013 ]

for flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola,

cello, piano, & percussion

When it Breaks [ 2014 ]

for flute, clarinet

& piano ( with additional percussion instruments per player)

Danse Macabre [ 2013 ]

for xylophone, double bass

& piano

Stained Glass [ 2009 ]

for flute, violin, & percussion




To Hold My Head High Above the Water [ 2016 ]

for woodwind quintet


Water Cavern.JPG



To Hold My Head High Above the Water investigates the idea of breath and breathing. While writing this work, I was very conscious of the (admittedly basic) fact that all of the performers in the woodwind quintet need to breathe.


Unlike the string trio, for example, breath or breathing doesn't need to factor into the piece. In this case I didn't want breathing to just be a natural occurrence within the quintet, but instead something that is sonically explored: if the ensemble demands it, I wanted to make it a purposeful part of the work.


The piece begins with breathing and ends with breathing and includes different kinds of breath sounds—from arrested and dramatic, to calm and meditative. Musical material overcomes the breathing, enveloping the performers like water surging into a closed space.


Theatrical breaks in the music come from the necessity to breathe, where the performers are asked to "hold their head high above the water", fighting the urge to breathe. 

When it Breaks [ 2014 ]

a flute, clarinet, piano

( & additional percussion instruments per player )





'When It Breaks' is an attempt to musically represent the mind immediately before, during, and after a mental break with reality. A psychotic break can be triggered by a variety of events or stressful environments. The symptoms also vary greatly on the circumstances, but for the subject at hand, the sufferer lacks the ability to distinguish fantasy from reality. Beginning as a singular voice, the ensemble of three act as one player, melding into a unified sound.


The psychotic break appears rather suddenly, but is foreshadowed by each wind player slowly trying to establishing her own individual identity during the introduction. Violent outbursts wreck this once unified ensemble during the middle section, where the two wind performers double as percussionists, each equipped with a set of glass wind chimes and ankle bells. The angular and driving characteristic of the middle section of the work seems to transform the ensemble from an intimate chamber group to a forceful percussion trio.


The stillness from the beginning returns at the end of the work, representing the return to reality. Musical elements of 'the break' still remain, like a crack in a broken glass. This work, written and premiered in 2014, was composed for and comissioned by for the Parhelion Trio based in New York, New York. 

Veiled [ 2013 rev. 2014 & 2015 ]

for string quartet




Veiled for string quartet was a work originally commissioned by Joya Powell's organization Movement of the People Dance Company, for the production Her Veiled Reflections in 2013 produced at the University Settlement in New York. Her Veiled Reflections explores the secrets women keep and carry through dance, movement, and staging. It investigates how secrets shape the ways women move through their lives, view themselves and each other.


The staged work is a dynamic dialogue between movement, live singing, and anonymous contributors who have dared to share their secrets in writing, spoken during the performance of the work. It is this central idea of secrets, and keeping secrets can be transformed from what keeps us separate into what keeps us connected. Joya, the lead choreographer, was interested in commissioning a work that embraced this narrative, but dealt with a small amount of musical material (minimal, in her words).  An utterance of a minor 3rd, moving to and from its starting location creates the main motive that weaves the work together—a simple shape, continually being shifted and shaped among the quartet.


This motive is expanded, creating melodic lines saturated with intervals of thirds, molding layered accompaniments out of 3rds, and saturating the work with this one building block: like the secret in Powell's production that threads us all together. The original production required almost a 1/2 hour of continuous music, which has been shortened for the concert-version of the work (2014, rev. 2015). Previous performances by the Atlantic Music Festival String Quartet (2015) and The Curiosity Cabinet (2016).

Circles [ 2014 ]

for percussion quartet

( or piano duo - 4 hands )

Karjaka Studios - CC-Crematorium-45.jpg


The thematic material that pervades Circles emerged initially in a piano score for a wind ensemble peice which California State University, Chico commissioned from me in the summer of 2005. (Perhaps, as an aside, I offer this experience to my composition students: never write a piano score and then orchestrate it—always write for the instruments you intend to perform your piece). Unsatisfied with the end result, I have looked back to this piece ever since, trying out this material in other works. At least 50% of the material in the original has been scrapped for being tedious, boring, predictable, or otherwise trite. Yet the central thread has remained intact, and perhaps strengthened. While the original is more rhythmically regular than most of my current work (where time signatures may literally change by the measure), my fascination with rhythmic layering began in this piece.


After the timbral exploration of disintegrating clusters in the low range of the ensemble which opens the piece, the main theme emerges. A drone-note slowly expands in intervalic space, reaching a climax before collapsing in upon itself. The quarter-note triplet motive, which saturates the reminder of the piece, is also revealed in this introduction, and gains momentum as this rhythmic idea traverses the range of the ensemble into the stratosphere. What follows is a playful interaction of two simple polyrhythms: two-against three and three-against-four. Intermittently the ominous opening material collides against these polyrhythms. In the largest sense, the piece is a simple A-B-A form, and these circular qualities to the piece emerge in both large and small scale forms, in rhythmic contexts, and in thematic pitch material.

Night, like Velvet: in Twelve Letters [ 2013 ]

a multi-movement work for mixed ensembles

Karjaka Studios - CC - Dixon Place-133.j


Night, like velvet: in twelve letters is an interdisciplinary work in twelve movements. George began the project in January 2013, constraining herself to write one movement during each month throughout the year. Each movement was written as a musical letter to someone in George’s life. The instrumentation takes into account the makeup of her ensemble (the Curiosity Cabinet), the dedicatee(s) of each movement, and her desire to include differentiated timbral combinations throughout the cycle. Mirroring the non-linear nature of memory, Night’s monthly letters can be performed in various orders, each of which brings out different structural and expressive relationships. Thus, though a full performance of the work could imply a linear narrative, the cycle remains multivalent, providing a range of affective suggestions.A selection of poetry or prose from Sylvia Plath or Ted Hughes accompanies each movement.

​ ​

Though George chose texts from different periods of each writer’s life—some when they were romantically involved and some not—she maintains a thematic focus on displacements of time, fragmentation rather than cohesion, and the alternately amorous and strained meanderings of communication between lovers. In the composer’s full score (which is excessively colorful due to her penchant for highlighting meter changes), as well as in each instrumentalist’s part, lines or words of the


selected texts are correlated with specific musical moments. In a sense, these texts are a silent continuo part being juxtaposed with the music, but they are only “heard” through realization by the reader/listener.Evoking the productive tension between process and product, George’s Night is a fragmented yet loosely programmatic reflection of creative life of its composer and nostalgic mediation on the passing time.


Still & Brimming—Mirror

for flute, violin, 'cello, & percussion

a Compass as My Planchette

for flute, oboe, clarinet, violin, viola,

cello, piano, & percussion

Danse Macabre [ 2013 ]

for xylophone, double bass, & piano




The Dance of Death (Danse Macabre) is an artistic genre with themes on the universality of death that originated during the late-medieval era. A typical 'Danse Macabre' consists of the dead, and the personified Death who summons those from the grave to participate in this grand dance.


Different 'Dances of Death' were produced as a reminder to people of the fragility of their lives and that this inevitable dance of death is something that unites us all. This conceptual idea is not new to music, and the 'Danse Macabre' appears in works of other composers such as Franz Liszt's Totentanz which is a set of variations on the plainchant melody "Dies Irae", Camille Saint-Saens' Danse Macabre, the 4th movement of Shostakovitch's Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, and George Crumb's Black Angels, to name a few.


This Danse Macabre is a jaunty, tongue-and-cheek satire on this popular theme, written for and dedicated to Jonathan Singer and the incredibly talented Xylopholks. 


Inferno: the Nine Circles of Suffering [ 2012 ]

a multi-movement work

for string quartet


Karjaka Studios - CC-Crematorium-166_edi



Among those who make a habit of keeping company with the distant past, few discoveries are cherished more fervently than testaments to suffering. The unearthing of this work has reminded us of why this is so. Well-documented historical figures are not permitted the dignity of death, but rather are imagined to be our eternal companions, and thus their discontent is not permitted the dignity of mystery. But when suffering presents itself as an artifact without the encumbrance of a story, its particular effect on our imagination is something we cannot afford to neglect. To understand what draws us to it is, in fact, a moral necessity.


Through the lens of Dante, Inferno: The Nine Circles of Suffering casts the experience of strife as a populated landscape, starkly contrasting the musical material of environments with that of their appointed stewards. In the former, the full force of the quartet gives us elemental brutality— relentless winds whose eternal playthings are the frustrated souls of the lustful; the searing heat of the Inner Ring of Violence, where specks of flame fall as needle-like pizzicato; the counterpoint that soars with ritual solemnity over the fearfully imposing stone pits of the Eighth Circle. These grand structures are contrasted with the more intimate encounters with hell’s guardians, where improvisatory melodic lines assign theatrical character to Minos, Cerberus, Minotaur, and Geryon. Cruelty is thus ever-present while continually changing its shape.

Within this grotesquery, however, there is something tenderly empathetic in the way these sounds unravel suffering to reveal its myriad forms. It is as if the composer sought to affirm that the inhabitants of hell had not been forgotten, offering as tribute a narrative account of the soul’s unrest. Hell is presented as an unjust place, where punishment and crime are so hopelessly lost to one another, that all that remains for us to comprehend is the anguish of those imprisoned there. We cannot condemn the mournful violins of the Second Circle for their indiscretions; what divine jurisprudence deemed lust was, to a human being, nothing more than sincerity.


Inferno leaves us with a coda, whose title alludes to the moment at which Dante and Virgil emerge to behold an early morning sky still teeming with stars. The movement is saturated with familiar material, but its character is unmistakably that of the opening, Limbo. Perhaps this is to temper our relief; the night sky is quieter than hell, but its silent inhabitants are as remote as the souls of the dead. Any gesture we offer toward them must end unfinished, frozen as a tribute that is, at best, a surrogate for comfort.

If we are inclined to relish the beauty of such things, we ought also to remember that this is because the dead are strangers to us. This composer, lost to history for so many generations, is a stranger to us. We cannot comfort them because they no longer suffer, but we listen and imagine that time is no object. This is a necessary rite, but it is all too easy for it to become tragedy when it takes full possession of our hearts. If this music kindles in us a need to ease the sorrow, real or imagined, of the one who wrote it, let us not forget the blessing bestowed uniquely upon the living: We are not condemned to be strangers to one another.

Stained Glass [ 2009 ]

a multi-movement work

for flute, violin, & percussion




"Stained Glass" (2009), is a multi-movement work for flute, violin, and percussion written in memory of my Aunt Shirley Elouise Pargeon. She was a magnificent stained glass artist who started her work in the early 70's, opened up her own studio in California, and taught classes in her trade. I knew her only in my childhood, and many of my memories about her exist only in the fantastical, surreal, and bittersweet tales that my father tells. Her art is a colorful, yet opaque window to her mysterious life. The work contains two (and optionally three) movements for the full ensemble, and the remainder of the movements for subsets of the trio (into duets or solos). The movements (and instrumentations) are as follows:


No. 1: Tutti

No. 2: Duet (Flute & Percussion)

No. 3: Flute Solo

No. 4: Tutti (opt. Flute & Violin Duo)

No. 5: Violin Solo

No. 6: Duo (Violin & Percussion)

No. 7: Percussion Solo

No. 8: Tutti