Once the song is published, you automatically have my permission. I am always delighted to hear about performances, so please feel free to email me. I would also ask that if you are performing my music on a concert or series that charges admission, or on a music festival, that you kindly send a copy of the program to Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI), so that I may receive performance royalties. Venues often purchase a blanket license with BMI, so this should not cost you any money.
Here is the address: BMI, 7 World Trade Center, 250 Greenwich Street, New York, NY 10007-0030. Please write: "Attention: Classical Music" on the envelope.
When I first started composing, I mistakenly thought that everyone would intuitively understand how to perform my music, as it was so clear to me. I quickly learned that was not the case, and over the years, I have included more markings in an effort to share my feelings about the music and its performance. For me, having an expressive performance is paramount, so in a way, the markings are only guidelines. I hope each performer will find the best way to make the music leap off the page. Regarding metronome markings — these are guidelines as well. When I perform my own music, I can rarely stay in one tempo for even one measure.
Many of my songs translate well to other instruments and I am always willing to consider any requests.
In my operas, timbre is specifically used for psychological insight into the characters, and thus, I am less likely to allow any changes.
I don’t mind at all. And although my preference would be for you to perform a complete cycle, it would also be fine with me if you created your own grouping from various cycles. This is a bit tricky, however, even for me — as one has to balance many factors (emotions, poetic styles, melodies, harmonies, etc.) to ensure a good dramatic flow.
I am always happy to have as many singers singing my songs as possible, and so, I encourage transpositions. I feel that my songs can work in any number of ranges, as long as the accompaniment can also work in the new key. Some adjustments might be necessary: for example, a section may sound great on piano in the original key but transposed down a third, it might sound muddy. When the song has an accompaniment other than piano, similar difficulties might arise. Generally, these problems can be solved and I am delighted to assist.
In some instances (see “Living in the Body”), I have provided guidelines for conversion to a different voice type.
I use the same process for composing all of my songs. My goal is to create dramatic music to express and magnify the meaning of the poem. I compose the vocal line first, custom crafting the melody to emphasize what I consider important in each line, but also taking great care to set the words properly for the singer. This enables the singer to then communicate the words effectively to the audience. My motto, adopted from soprano Lauren Wagner, is "a happy singer is a good singer."
I always have some idea of the harmonies when composing the vocal line, but I do not flesh out the accompaniment until the vocal line is complete. I typically craft the accompaniment to color the emotions behind the words, and all musical aspects (rhythm, textures, etc.) are chosen to add additional layers of interpretation to the poem itself. Each song thus becomes my musical interpretation of the poem.
To start with, I have to feel an emotional connection to the poem.
If the piece is not commissioned, I choose the poem. If it is a present for someone’s birthday, for example, I try to choose a poem with an appropriate text.
For a commissioned work, I will generally discuss the poetry or poem or theme with the “commissioner.” For a cycle, I like to keep a variety of poems available, and often do not choose the exact sequence of poems until I have composed the first song…and then proceed to figure out what poems will work for a dramatic sequence. Sometimes I guess wrong, and have to adjust the order of songs, or even remove a song from its intended cycle. (Case in point: “Money” was originally slated to be part of the “Becoming a Redwood” cycle!)
If the poetry is not in the public domain, I must secure the rights before proceeding. Sometimes this is an easy process, sometimes it is quite arduous.
Once permission is granted, there are certain factors I consider when choosing a text. It’s easier when a poem isn’t too long or too short, although I have obviously set very short and very long poems. It’s good if the poem is not too complex, because the audience has to be able to grasp of the meaning of the poem through the song. I have found that poems that tell a story work very well — as it is easy for the audience to follow along (particularly if the text is not printed in the program). I try to avoid poems with a lot of homonyms or complex words (potentially difficult to understand aurally). Most importantly, it is good if the poem has some emotional “breathing space” — so that the music can take over what is left unsaid.
I have also created a body of work commemorating the Holocaust. This poetry is SO important, so deep, so touching and so beautiful.
It has also been very gratifying for me to work with living poets. Their excitement fuels my creative process. I am particularly proud that many times, poets have told me that I revealed things to them about their poetry that they didn’t know. Similarly, sometimes my performers reveal things to me about my own music.
I am quite particular about pedal in my piano parts. I often prefer a blurred sound so that the harmonies merge. However, I realize that each performance space is unique and I would hope that each pianist would use their best judgment as to how strictly to follow my markings — sometimes it may be better to change them.