Alto Saxophone Solo – Psalm 51

February 17th, 2012

This alto saxophone solo is a musical depiction of Psalm 51; a biblical text describing David’s sorrow over his sin. Using a concert A drone (from any source you want) to create harmonic tension and release throughout the solo, the music follows the same emotional path that the psalm does. It begins in lament and brokenness and slowly moves towards repentance, and restoration.

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Below is the text off of which this alto saxophone solo is based:

Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
   blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
   and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
   and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
   and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
   and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
   you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
   let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
   and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
   so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
   you who are God my Savior,
   and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
   you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart
   you, God, will not despise.

May it please you to prosper Zion,
   to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
   in burnt offerings offered whole;
   then bulls will be offered on your altar.

-Psalm 51 (NIV)

Bass Clarinet and Marimba – Underneath the Spreading Tree

November 8th, 2011

This bass clarinet and marimba duet, while being very difficult, is full of wonderfully rich sounds and textures that you can not produce with any other combination of instruments. I partly regret my choice of instrumentation and may rewrite it for something more practical someday, but my reason for the choice is because of a phrase in Isaiah 55:12, “…all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” This personification stirred my creative curiosity on the brink of obsession, and I could not get the combination of bass clarinet and marimba out of my head. They are the perfect two instruments to depict the sound of living trees rejoicing over redeemed Israel and I couldn’t rest until I’d used them together for the purpose. However, a story is pointless if you only share the ending without saying how it came about. Using the perspective of the trees in the land I’ve written this work to tell the story of Israel’s fall into paganism, God’s judgement on them, and then finally their redemption. To listen to this work correctly, you must understand that you’re listening to a tree tell a story.

This video is only a sample of the work.

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Sample score

Additional information

Duration: 11:00

Throughout the major prophets in the Old Testament, the term “spreading tree” is used repeatedly in reference to the location in which the nation of Israel conducted their sinful pagan rituals. If one applies the personification of the trees in Isaiah 55 to these texts, it’s not hard to imagine what sorts of sounds God’s trees would make in response to detestable practices being performed underneath them. These practices included various ceremonies to honor false gods, ritualistic sexuality (mass orgies), and child sacrifice; clearly detestable practices in the eyes of God. The beginning of this tree’s story portrays these pagan ceremonies through primitive sounding harmonies and intricate rhythmic dancelike textures. At first these sounds seem innocent, but as the work progresses the harmonies are twisted to depict the darker components of pagan Israel’s worship.

The following are the texts I had in mind while writing this beginning section:

Jeremiah 2:20 (NIV), “Long ago you broke off your yoke and tore off your bonds; you said, ‘I will not serve you!’ Indeed, on every high hill and under every spreading tree you lay down as a prostitute.”

Isaiah 57:5, “You burn with lust among the oaks and under every spreading tree; you sacrifice your children in the ravines and under the overhanging crags.”

The second section is the tree’s telling of God’s response to Israel’s disobedience. This is depicted by energetic and ominous sounds followed by sounds of intense sorrow. It is the tree’s version of these texts:

Jeremiah 4:13-15, “Our enemy rushes down on us like storm clouds! His chariots are like whirlwinds. His horses are swifter than eagles. How terrible it will be, for we are doomed! O Jerusalem, cleanse your heart that you may be saved. How long will you harbor your evil thoughts? Your destruction has been announced from Dan and the hill country of Ephraim.”

Jeremiah 13:24-27, “‘I will scatter you like chaff that is blown away by the desert winds. This is your allotment, the portion I have assigned to you,’ says the Lord, ‘for you have forgotten me, putting your trust in false gods. I myself will strip you and expose you to shame. I have seen your adultery and lust, and your disgusting idol worship out in the fields and on the hills. What sorrow awaits you, Jerusalem! How long before you are pure?'”

The final section depicts the tree’s swelling joy at the thought of the future return of God’s people to the land, the original reason I set out to write this work:

Isaiah 55:12,
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”


Wedding Processional Music – The First Song

August 30th, 2010

It is very rare for me to write a piece quickly and have it be worth anyone’s time. But sometimes the meaning behind the sound in my head is so obvious that it takes very little time to make it into a coherent musical unit. One Sunday afternoon I sat down to put a few initial ideas down and ended up not stopping for eight hours. This work resulted in the first draft of the wedding processional music Liz and I ended up using for our wedding, “The First Song”. After meeting with Dr. Lorenz (my teacher at that time) twice about the work, tweaking the formal structure, and perfecting notation for the improvisational aspects, I finished the shortest piece I had ever written.

This sample is taken from my album, Purpose. Click here for more information.

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The length of The First Song was determined by the use I had in mind for it, which was wedding processional music. But its transient nature also contributed meaning by leaving the mystery of romantic love a mystery.  My main goal was to tell my wedding guests exactly how I felt as the woman I wanted to marry walked down the aisle to become my wife. However, the piece works very well without the visual aspect being present.  It is a simple depiction of what happens in a man’s heart the first time he sees the woman that God is about to give to him.  It didn’t need to be long, because this emotion in its specificity happens once in a lifetime and is very short.

This emotion is apparently also very predictable (although this does not detract from the emotion but rather intensifies it with anticipation). Because this life changing emotional experience had been foreshadowed on so many different occasions it was surprisingly easy to predict accurately.  The very first note in particular was a very obvious one:  A single sharp and high pitched percussive strike on a grand piano with the sustain pedal engaged in order to bring the entire sound spectrum of the piano into a subtle state of anticipation to depict the literal physiological reaction of a man’s heart when he sees the object of his deepest and most passionate affection from a distance.  I’d felt this many times before when seeing Liz from a distance and to describe the emotion musically was very simple.  From there it was simply a matter of imagining her walking towards me with the intent o giving herself to me and (I to her) for the rest of our lives.

The flurry of nervous tremolos and glissandi following the first note describes the excitement I had while anticipating my bride’s walk towards me. The way I use the sound spectrum here is designed to be a direct reaction to the first note’s sympathetic resonance just as the anticipation of Liz walking towards me was the result of seeing her.  I think it is also important to point out that I use the black key pentatonic scale to color the sound with a slight stereotypical oriental impression.  This was motivated by Liz’s patriarchal Chinese heritage, but I masked the color because it’s very hard to see that she’s part Chinese.

The next minute or so of the piece describes the anticipation, nervousness, and wonderful joy I felt as she walked towards me.  I could do nothing but bless God and rejoice in my bride’s beauty, the richness and depth of her spirit, and her love for me.  The various components of the sound are designed to fit together in such a way as to put into the mind of the listener a snapshot of the passionate and complex mixture of emotion  This texture builds and comes to a point at which it can no longer be contained and collapses out of necessity.  The bride has arrived face to face with the man rejoicing before God over her, and his joy must be contained in a permanently lingering conclusion that will be preserved for as long as they both live.

Long story short, I love my wife.

“The man said,
‘This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called “woman,”
for she was taken out of man.'”

Genesis 2:23, NIV

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