from Friday, January20th of the year2012.

So, another sequence of travel! This particular itinerary is loosely sensible: New York to Salt Lake to Seattle to New York to Winnipeg to Santa Fe to New York to Kitchener-Waterloo to Lewisburg to New York all in approximately a month. I had a jarring month over the New Year in which I had to kind of reconcile a lot of tax mishegas from the Distant Past, reorganize the apartment and its attendant billings, redo my whole online life (unsubscribe! unsubscribe!), and carve out time to make two smart sets of revisions to Dark Sisters and Two Boys as well as start writing this monster collaboration and finish this cello concerto and learning this piece which is harder than it looks. Also all my friends had babies? So, that’s a half-assed excuse for why I haven’t been posting anything.

The baby thing is crazy. I have some friends whom I had pre-planned to visit about a week after they had the baby. In the course of things, I didn’t really confirm and then the baby was late so I ended up being the first non-family visitor to this Very Tiny Creature. I’m an only child, so I didn’t grow up around nuggets that size and it was intense for me. I’m really looking forward to being a Fabulous Uncle-style figure – I think I’m much more suited to that. I love going to the zoo and my job is basically making noise.

I just had a very heartening ride to the airport; in the course of natural banter, it came up that I was a musician, and my driver said that his daughter is in this middle school in Brooklyn. I’ve spent a few minutes nosing around the website and I’m just really happy to see all of this — the site itself is kind of nuts but it encapsulates, it seems, all the stuff going on. The model seems to be one in which kids are dancing, singing, playing a zillion instruments, acting: a kind of holistic Orff eduction. I’m into it. I wish there were some oblique way I could participate in young-ish music education; a few years ago I did some volunteer work and a few years before that worked in Colorado in a K-12 school teaching music for a few weeks and it was actually really, really great.

I’ve also been watching every second of these Republican debates. I can’t bear this whole thing with Newt Gingrich where he gets to have three wives and gay people can’t have nann and then randomly gets to still be sanctimonious about it? I can’t bear Newt Gingrich’s fake-blunt answers or that whiny scold Santorum. But it’s so fun to watch I can’t turn it off! I can’t help thinking how irrelevant my specific life is to these people and this process; I’m as involved in the process as I can be — I read everything and vote all the time, including absentee which is a Whole Process for those of you who have never done it — and yet it feels very sim-city to me. All the alarm bells in my head tell me to run far away from these people — what is up with Karen Santorum!? Have we all processed that she lived with in a sex-type way the obstetrician who delivered her? And now is homeschooling all those weeping children, see illustration? Or how about how Newt Gingrich’s second wife, with MS, was inwestigated for taking a half a million dollar bribe from some dude in Paris to win her then husband’s favor?! I get the same vibe as I do with those cancer grifters, accused molesters, Stephen Glass. Some reptilian part of my brain is constantly alerting me that something is up. Ron Paul not knowing who wrote those newsletters? The weird thing about authorship — especially before the internet — is that somebody wrote the thing. It doesn’t particularly matter who — is there anything sadder than scholarly work about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works? Yikes. Anyway, Ron Paul. Fuck that dude. Would it be so hard to find the person who wrote them and talk about it? I think that would be interesting: even if they (by which I mean The Author and Ron Paul, who may or may not be the same Entity) disavowed half the stuff and still believed in the other half, it would be, as they say, a teachable moment.

I’ve written a piece for the Seattle Symphony which premieres this coming Thursday. I’m excited! It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything purely orchestral. I’ve been in a constant state — for almost two years — of writing narrative pieces or pieces too short to have anything other than a fragmentary narrative. This commission – plus or minus twenty minutes for orchestra with no specific program – was a real challenge coming out of two operas. I have a confession: I am not naturally very good at structure. If there are four or five things that I’m fluent at, musically, structure is not one of them, and it’s always a struggle. I attribute it to the fact that my favorite favorite music in Tha Formative Years was Purcell verse anthems. I’m thinking of one in particular: Sing Unto the Lord. Check out the score here. Basically, it’s a sequence of perfect little two-minute emotional mini-statements keyed to the text. There’s an alleluia that comes and goes and comes back again. There isn’t much that relates A to B to C, which isn’t to say that the piece doesn’t work; on the contrary, it’s my favorite! Anyway, that structural model doesn’t translate very well into secular music — I’ve always said that writing sacred music is writing incidental music to a play whose plot we all know, so there is strangely more flexibility to bounce around structurally. But when I first started writing instrumental music this was sort of the model I’d use: a series of not particularly interrelated great ideas. John Corigliano, my teacher at Juilliard along with Chris Rouse, kicked my ass about it and made me listen to music with developmental (rather than additive or just Massive) structure and I can do it now! I know how to do it! But sometimes? I check back in with Purcell and those big choral works like the Te Deum which contain fast music, slow music, duets, trios, beautiful music, pomp & incense, curlicues. I’ve tried to make a version of the same for orchestra with a slightly more modern sense of structure in which stuff comes back, but changed (“stuff comes back but changed” being, I think, the one emotional gift of the romantic era I have fully unwrapped). The piece is called So Far So Good and I’m really excited! Okay now I’ve had like nineteen Delta cappuccinos and I am ready for aviation!


  • Hello Mr. Muhley!

    I am a fan of yours. In your newsletter/update/blog thing, I see that you are coming to Salt Lake City, and that is where I live. I am wondering if you are doing some sort of live event that I can attend (i.e. a concert)?

    Your ideas affect me, and I think your works are truly phenomenal. Thank you.

  • Hello Mr. Muhley!

    I am a fan of yours. In your newsletter/update/blog thing, I see that you are coming to Salt Lake City, and that is where I live. I am wondering if you are doing some sort of live event that I can attend (i.e. a concert)?

    Your ideas affect me, and I think your works are truly phenomenal. Thank you.

  • is he auctioning off his kids?

  • Michael Greenebaum
    January 21st, 2012 at 8:17 am

    One of the (many) great things about Seeing is Believing is its structure. Same with The Only Tune. I think you are overly modest about this. A piece that fills its space perfectly is well-structured, no matter what that structure may be.

    Loved your comment about sacred music.

  • Out of curiosity, do you remember any of the specific pieces that your teacher had you listen to with regard to developmental structure? I find this to be one of the more difficult concepts to teach, so I’m always looking for good examples.

  • There’s almost nothing more exciting than knowing there is more music by Nico Muhly coming into the world. It’s like spring when the bulbs you planted then forgot about start to sprout and you think what the hell is that and then it comes up even more and you go, God made that.

  • nico,
    i love reading your musings. my daughter has happily sung your work (BYC), and i just saw margaret and appreciated your score.
    all good things to you (including the world at large recognizing newt’s hypocrisy-hey a girl can dream),

  • I am the same way when it comes to structure in my music.

  • Hey, my friend Jonathan and I are incredibly excited about hearing the premier of your piece here in Seattle. I hope there is a space for your Grandpa to stand and be applauded, too. Wow! Do you think you could compose fragments of sound to go with fragments of writing? Well, why not?

    Best to you always,

    Nina Ramsey

  • “I love going to the zoo and my job is basically making noise.” You will be the Best. Uncle. Ever.

  • I was fortunate to attend last night’s premier of So Far So Good. The piece was very well-written, had good structure and careful orchestration and revealed a composer with huge potential. Please continue to write larger pieces. It would be exciting to watch your obvious talent grow and mature.

  • you are amazing!