200 Years Later
for viola, electric guitar, electronics, sculpture, and video projection
Fill The Swamp
for amplified tenor saxophone, electric guitar, drum set, and amplified piano
Fill The Swamp is a musical parody of the 2016 US election. Inspired by Alec Baldwin’s and Kate McKinnon’s respective portrayals of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on Saturday Night Live, Fill The Swamp aims to create two musical languages that debate one another, each competing for time and credence within the musical form in a somewhat grotesque and macabre fashion. The primary rhythmic impetus for this piece was inspired by Donald Trump’s (in)famous slogan Make America Great Again, and undergoes a frantic transformation throughout the piece until the very end, where the rhythm drives out of control.
Fill The Swamp was written for the Hypercube ensemble, and is recorded on the ninth volume of the Millennial Masters series on Ablaze Records.
for two pianos
Divergence juxtaposes a simple, beautiful innocence with a dark, aggressive complexity. These two characters fight each other throughout the work, each slipping their way into the other’s musical style. I’ve come to know this musical treatment of two contrasting characters as a developing fingerprint in my music, and Divergence is really the first piece where this fingerprint began to emerge.
Divergence was written during a big period of change in my life. I was studying in Amsterdam and travelling throughout Europe. It was my first time outside the United States, and it was a fascinating, terrifying, beautiful experience to leave American culture and embrace and explore other ways of thinking and living.
This experience is mirrored in the music; some moments are in awe of this experience, others are terrified, and still others are reticent to change. The end recalls the beauty of the beginning, but it is framed through the music which came before, giving this music the sense of acceptance and growth. It was my goal to musically capture this feeling of growth gained through living and travelling outside of the US.
Divergence was the recipient of a generous 2014 Mellon Grant from Lawrence University for the world premiere in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
for flute, clarinet, electric guitar, piano, and double bass
Written for NOW Ensemble, Prism showcases quartal and quintal harmonies set in fighting cross-rhythms. Rising arpeggio-like figures capture the brilliance of the ensemble’s unique instrumentation. A slow unveiling of all twelve chromatic pitches utilizes this instrumentation for a dense harmonic saturation.
Each instrument projects a quartal/quintal harmony through their own rhythmic subdivision. Together, the ensemble forges a saturated texture both rhythmically and harmonically. The saturated ensemble texture I saw as akin to white light, and each individual instrument I saw akin to an individual light frequency.
for brass quintet
Jagged Jest was written for the 2013 Lawrence Fanfare project at Lawrence University. I sought to capture the high energy associated with a traditional fanfare and imbue it with a darker harmonic language and a slightly humorous, jocular treatment of musical gesture.
v1 for clarinet in Bb, violin, and piano; v2 for clarinet in Bb, violin, violoncello, and piano
In 2017 I experienced my first total solar eclipse. During those few otherworldly hours, I thought about just how much light shapes our everyday lives. As the daylight dimmed and the world around me softened, crescent shadows appeared below. Everyone around me, most complete strangers, became entranced by these shadows; fingers pointed, phones snapped pictures, and smiles lit up. In that truly magical moment, we were all brought together by light. Those with eclipse glasses offered to share with anyone and everyone so they too could experience the awesome power of the heavens. The kindness and genuine humanness I witnessed that afternoon has stuck with me, and I wish more days held that same basic goodness between people.
We as humans are also a source of light. I’ve noticed we too often stand in each other’s way, eclipsing the light of those around us. We stand in crescent shadows of our own making each day, but we seldom notice the absence of radiance around us. The solar eclipse served as a reminder to me of not only how important light is to our everyday lives, but how important other people’s light is to the world in which we live.
A Letter To The Future
for violin or clarinet and piano
In August of 2019, Icelanders commemorated the melted glacier named Okjökull with a ceremony and a plaque with a letter to the future. The translated letter reads:
Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it.
A Letter To The Future presents a meditation on the loss of Okjökull to climate change. A single melodic thread is transformed from an expansive and majestic iteration to one that is marred and grotesque. The beauty and majesty of this melody is lost as it melts away into a stark and barren texture.
A Letter To The Future is written for and warmly dedicated to Madeleine Mitchell.
for flute and piano
Evolutions was written as a reflection on the emotions I experienced moving away from my hometown to pursue an education in music. The piece reflects the trepidation, excitement, bittersweet nostalgia, and ebullience I felt during this time in my life. It is my hope this work will speak to anyone who has experienced or is experiencing a significant change in their life.
After Autumn, Dusk
for mezzo-soprano, oboe, and viola
After Autumn, Dusk is a meditation on the transition between autumn and winter, utilizing three of the thirteen poems from Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. Over the course of three continuous movements, Wallace Stevens’ text is set to inspire cold and dark imagery, reminiscent of a cold winter’s eve.
After Autumn, Dusk is written for and dedicated to Caroline Sackleh and New Downbeat.
for baritone, trumpet, trombone, bass clarinet, and fixed electronics
Winter Shadow explores three of the thirteen poems from Wallace Stevens’ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. In writing the work, I imagined a person waking from a long sleep to an unrecognizable world. I imagined this person slowly remembering bits and pieces of an event which has caused the world to exist only in winter’s shadow. The person eventually realizes they are alone, save for a solitary blackbird which mysteriously watches over them. The poems are set intentionally out of order to bring out this narrative.
for amplified mezzo-soprano, amplified violoncello, amplified piano, fixed electronics, and video
Towards Light is a reflection on the news cycle from 2017. In the work, the year is divided into four quarters, each corresponding to the four movements in the piece. The first movement focuses around the Women’s March from January; the second moves to the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement; the third focuses on the horrific events that transpired in Charlottesville; the fourth focuses on increased tensions with nuclear powers in the world.
Text, used with permission, by Katarina Knehans. Video, used with permission, by Jedidiah Knight.
for SSAA, violin, viola, and piano
My own text explores winter’s and summer’s emotional nature. The first movement, Under Winter Sky, sets the listener in a frozen landscape, barren and devoid of sunlight. Slowly, the sun begins to shine and melt away winter’s cold and dissonant harmonies. Summer skies shine bright with warm and lush harmonies in the second movement, titled In Summer Breeze.
The text and music serve as a metaphor for the emotions I experienced while coming to terms with my identity as a gay man. The height of my fear and anxiety in dealing with coming out was experienced in winter, but these emotions slowly gave way to a warm summer where I felt reassurance and acceptance by those who became closest to me. It is my hope this work comforts anyone struggling with a sense of identity in the ugly face of prejudice.
There are resources for those who may be struggling with their own sense of identity, and for those who are close to someone struggling. If you might be one of these people, please visit glaad.org and itgetsbetter.org.
Lux Aeterna (2020)
for SSA a capella
Lux Aeterna is written in memory of all the animal, plant, and human life lost in the devastating fires in Australia during the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020. The work moves from a subdued interiority to a passionate plea while juxtaposing moments of soft beauty and light. Moments of brightness are overshadowed by falling harmonies which darken and mar the voices’ radiance.
I hope the work will serve as a reminder of the natural beauty humanity continues to senselessly and utterly destroy in pursuit of a haughty, lonely greed.
Lux Aeterna was written for and is dedicated to Caroline Sackleh and New Downbeat.
Text by Nicolas Bizub:
They say forever
They said eternal
It was delivered
It is infernal
Where Waves Forget
for SSAATTBB a capella chorus
Where Waves Forget is about a place, not on this earth, where all things are right and there is no suffering. I imagined this to be a beautiful beach with white sands where the sun always shines and time does not exist. I felt I almost experienced such a place during my time with the College Light Opera Company in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The beaches there are beautiful, and each summer I worked for their organization, I felt as though I were lifted out of time.
This piece is a meditation on our longing for such a place, and a reflection on the bittersweet sorrow which accompanies the knowledge that we must fade from this world to reach that paradise.
Where Waves Forget is warmly dedicated to the College Light Opera Company and the many friendships made there.
Text by Nicolas Bizub:
Lay us to rest
On white shores
Where sands forgive
And waves forget
Time is lost
Lay us to rest
Set us to sleep
Seal us in this wakeless dream
Soft and still
Never to wake
Time is lost
On white shores
Where sands forgive
And waves forget
for SSSSAAAA chorus and SSAA soloists
Many Waters sets texts from the Song of Solomon (KJV) as a meditation on love and yearning. The texts chosen describe the yearning each lover has for the other, with a refrain that speaks to the yearning’s insatiable and inextinguishable nature. The music seeks to capture this incredible passion. Tightly-knit harmonies slip and slide around melodic lines in fluid meter changes, becoming entangled in a sea of haunting dissonance as passions rise and fall. The work is as much a lament as it is a celebration of this passion, showing the joy and fulfillment love may bring contrasted with a bittersweet yearning when love is unrequited and unfulfilled.
Many Waters text excerpted from the Song of Solomon (KJV)
Song of Solomon 8:6-7
Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is
strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of
fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a
man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be
Song of Solomon 5:2
I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh,
saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head
is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.
Song of Solomon 5:6
I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was
gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find
him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.
for SSAATTBB a capella chorus
Uprising is a tribute to the strength and resilience of the LGBTQIA+ community and is inspired by and written in memory of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The music in this work moves from a dark and subdued interiority to music which is rich, full, and ebullient.
My own text commemorates the losses and prejudice members of this community experience, all while showcasing the vibrancy, love, and brilliance this community exudes in their diversity. It is written as a reminder to all people to shine brightly, and to allow others, who may be different, to shine in their own beautiful way.
Uprising was commissioned by and is warmly dedicated to Brett Scott and CCM Chorale.
Text by Nicolas Bizub
For wounds deep
From words’ cost
For blood spilled
From those lost
Let no life
for fixed media
Lustre utilizes sounds exclusively recorded from the viola to create a bright, vibrant, and burbling texture. This sonic world seeks to juxtapose gritty textures with long, growing envelopes which explode in bright points of impact.
for tenor and bass soloists and oboe (double english horn), clarinet (double bass clarinet), percussion, piano, viola, and cello
Based on the 13th century Icelandic saga Brennu-Njáls Saga, Njála calls into question themes of masculinity and gender roles. The original saga in Icelandic details a blood feud between highly respected lawyer Njáll Þorgeirsson, skilled warrior Gunnar Hámundarson, and their respective families. The feud, instigated by Gunnar’s wife Hallgerður Höskuldsdóttir, results in the slaying of many servants from each family. The feud is further complicated by a deep relationship between Njáll and Gunnar, which some scholars have theorized could have been homosexual.
Gunnar sought Njáll’s advice on how to best negotiate the blood shed between the two families. Blood repayment to defend a man’s honor was widely accepted in Iceland during this time period; however, because of the deep bond Gunnar and Njáll held, settlements were made with large sums of silver instead. Njáll’s wife, Bergþóra Skarphéðinsdóttir, and Gunnar’s wife scorned these monetary compensations in lieu of blood repayment, and continued to seek revenge through hired slayings of the opposite family’s servants. The saga concludes with the slaying of Gunnar and the burning of Njáll and his family inside their estate.
In this scene, we witness Gunnar inform Njáll of the third slaying (instigated by Hallgerður) between their families. Both Gunnar and Njáll acknowledge the importance of justice for such an act, and remind each other that they should defend their respective family’s honor. While the accepted repayment would be blood, the two men decide to instead honor their friendship, and depart from the meeting peacefully.
This sets up a conflict for what is conceivably a much larger musical work, one which I intend to see through to completion as a chamber opera.
Orchestral and Large Ensemble
for symphony orchestra: 3 (3rd dbl picc), 3 (3rd dbl eng hn), 2+Eb+bass, 2+ contra, 4, 3, 3, 1, timp, 3 perc, 2hp, pno/csta, stgs
Distant Light is written as a reminder of the struggles minorities in society have faced, continue to face, and will continue to face. The music is on the whole dark, loud, and angry. Yet within this darkness, there are moments of questioning, longing, and determination. There are also short-lived moments of bliss, relief, and truly positive strength. I see those moments as a musical depiction of a distant light that shines in a truly equal society. These musical characters and emotions are woven together by a single melodic thread which undergoes rapid transformation throughout the entire piece.
I wrote Distant Light influenced by my own personal reflection on growing up as part of the LGBTQI+ community and the struggles I faced. Any struggle in the face of prejudice can be truly overwhelming. I hope this composition speaks in a universal way as a reminder of the strength that positivity lends in the pursuit of that brilliant distant light which shines in a truly equal society.
Distant Light was commissioned by and warmly dedicated to Aik Khai Pung and the College-Conservatory of Music Concert Orchestra.
From Faded Light
for string orchestra
From Faded Light was written for my hometown orchestra when that community brought in the founders of the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation to speak to students about gun violence. In writing this work, I thought about those lives which were senselessly and tragically lost in the Sandy Hook shooting. I wanted to write a work that captured the shining light of those lives which were taken too early, whose spirits live on through the work of their parents in founding an organization dedicated to preventing gun violence in America. The music seeks to capture that shining light through rising melodic lines; the music also seeks to capture the tragedy of the lives lost through thorny and biting harmonies.
I am so proud of my hometown for taking this huge step towards violence prevention.
From Faded Light is dedicated to orchestra director and lifetime friend Roxanne Carloni, and the founders of the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation.
for symphony orchestra: 3, 2+eng hn, 3, 2+ contra, 4, 3, 3, 1, timp, 2 perc, hp, pno, stgs
Reflective Distortion is written as a reminder of our individual impact on our environment. To depict this musically, I composed a single cantus firmus that is mirrored in the exact middle of the composition. This cantus firmus is divided canonically among the upper woodwinds throughout the work. As the line in the cantus firmus becomes more active and agitated in nature, so too does the surrounding, freely-composed music.
The musical characters move from simple and pastoral to aggressive and agitated. I wanted to craft a work which disrupts a sense of the pastoral in a rather violent way, much as our actions as humans often negatively impact nature. Though the composition ends in much the same way as the beginning, it is framed through the music which comes before. It is my intention this leaves the listener with a sense of deep loss.
For me, the canonic division of material represents a groupthink mentality that society has adopted in turning blind eyes to our environmental impact, and the surrounding music is a meditation on that sort of mentality.
Reflective Distortion was commissioned by Jonathan Brennand and the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra. It is warmly dedicated to Jonathan Brennand.
Reflective Distortion was a named finalist in the 2017 American Prize, and also was named honorable mention in the 2017 New York Youth Symphony First Music Composer Competition.
for symphony orchestra: 3d1, 2+cor ang, 3, 2+contra - 4, 3, 3, 1 - timp, 3perc - hp, pno - stgs
Schism is about a great divide or separation in one’s personal life. I sought to capture the anxiety, grief, frustration, and guilt that can accompany such a separation, as well as the relief this divide can bring, especially if the departure is for the better.
The music is mercurial, volatile, and often harsh and biting, though there are small moments of repose and relief. The climax is at the very end of the work, and is perhaps a little too inflated and cheery for the turmoil that came before. I see this as akin to the experience of puffing ourselves up with positivity in the face of drastic and tumultuous change.
I wrote Schism as a kind of window into the emotions I experienced with such a separation and change, and I hope this music will speak to those who have also experienced any such divide or change in their own lives.
Schism was commissioned by the Lawrence Symphony Orchestra, and was a named semi-finalist in the 2015 American Prize.
5000 Miles From Home Orchestral Suite
for chamber orchestra: 1,1,1+bass, 1,0,0,0, pno, stgs
5000 Miles From Home was written for a documentary under the same name directed by Chiao-Yu Tuan. The documentary follows the lives of students when they moved to the United States from countries all around the world to pursue an undergraduate degree. The music is written to reflect the many different emotions these students experienced, from joy and excitement to nostalgia and homesickness.
The movements included from the 5000 Miles From Home OST are: This is Lawrence, A Foreign Country, Culture Shock, and A Glorious Cheese Tasting.
for string orchestra and percussion
Rise is written as a meditation on our innate desire as humans to overcome struggle and adversity. A repetitive strain injury in 2012 and 2013 severely impacted my life both musically and personally, which prompted me to re-evaluate my decision to pursue a career in music. This work is imbued with the physical and emotional strain experienced during this time, and was written to remind myself of the intensely beautiful power music holds.
I wanted to write something that was hauntingly beautiful in its dissonance, perhaps as a way for me to recognize that my physical struggle was in pursuit of the beautiful craft that is music-making. I have since recovered from this injury, but it took nearly five years and has left a large impact on my relationship with performing music. I hope this work will speak to anyone who has experienced such frustration and adversity in pursuit of their passion.
for brass and percussion
Dawn’s Light is an expression of hope, and is written as a reaction to the many challenges the world, but particularly the United States, faced in 2020. It is a reflection on challenge and the desire to overcome even the greatest obstacles. It is inspired by the kindness and bravery from all people who seek to uplift each other and look towards a brighter future, especially in very difficult times.
Dawn’s Light was commissioned by and is warmly dedicated to the United States Air Force Band of the Golden West.
Points of Light
for solo piano
I. Labyrinths Above II. Veiled Mist III. Radiant Blaze IV. Boundless V. Shadowed Gravity VI. Luminous Heaven VII. Gleaming Webs
Points of Light is a set of seven miniatures set in arch form which explores light and dark facets of the celestial world as metaphors for the human ethos. The outer movements contain the raw materials on which the inner movements are built. The four movements surrounding the center explore in isolation a facet of the first and last movements, with sibling movements sitting in stark contrast to each other. The center movement is a spacious and free abstraction of all musical material contained within the piece. The work was composed in response to a poem I wrote, which reflects upon the likenesses between the celestial world and the inner world of human emotion:
Points of Light
Points of light spin Gleaming webs. Strong diamonds, Soft starlight, Crystalline. Labyrinths above Point within. Points of Light was written for and is warmly dedicated to long-time friend and collaborator, Michael Delfín.
Rhapsody and Groove
for solo bass clarinet
Rhapsody and Groove showcases both the rich, warm lyricality and the percussive, grooving nature of the bass clarinet. Searching, longing lines predominate the rhapsodic sections while virtuosic and funky patterns drive the groove areas. A melancholic and bittersweet harmony is imbued in the searching lines, while a more thorny and chromatic harmony permeates the funky patterns. The two characters are mostly separate throughout, though each character does at times seek to influence the other.
Rhapsody and Groove was written for Mikey Arbulu, and his recording may be found on Centaur Records as a part of the album entitled Polychrome.
for solo viola
In writing Paragon, I wanted to showcase some of the viola’s virtuosic and technical aspects, especially concerning bow techniques and extended range. I wrote this piece in a different fashion than many of my other works; because I trained as a violist, I was able to simply improvise and transcribe large swaths of the work, lending to the stream-of-consciousness, rhapsodic feel, especially in the slower sections. I also wanted to challenge my own playing, pushing my own limits with a moto-perpetuo style of playing in the fast sections, and a freer and more gestural style of playing in the slower sections. The result is one which, for me, celebrates more of the underutilized aspects of the instrument.
Paragon has been performed notably by Michael Hall, and is also published in the NewMusicShelf anthology for Viola.
for solo viola scordatura
Amethyst Fire captures the otherworldy resonance of the viola when tuned with two Cs and two Gs. The work is freely composed and explores this tuning in a variety of musical scenarios, ranging from contemplative tranquility to roaring, explosive activity.
These scenarios reminded me of fire and its many different aspects, from peaceful, mesmerizing flames smoldering in a hearth to wild, whipping blazes in nature. The symbolic color of the viola – purple – is captured musically in amethyst-like quality through jagged leaps and powerful, steady grooves, making use of this resonant and crystalline tuning.
Bright Unrest 1
for solo violoncello
Bright Unrest 1 is the first of a series of short solo works written during the summer of 2020. A time of great unrest, uneasiness, and change, the work seeks to capture moments of hope within a sea of darkness.
Bright Unrest 1 was written for and is dedicated to Caroline Sackleh and New Downbeat.
Being as One
for bass voice and piano
Being As One musically presents four scenes for bass voice and piano, during which we experience
the corrosive effects from pollution, especially from gasoline and diesel vehicles. A colorful and pristine opening is transformed into one which is marred, grotesque, and polluted. The work seeks to capture the feelings that pianist and environmentalist Jim Yang experienced in his early years walking to and from school. During these walks, Jim experienced firsthand the pollutive nature of gasoline and diesel vehicles, which he states was the impetus for his devotion to doing work for the environment. The composition was commissioned by Jim, and it is warmly dedicated to him and his environmental advocacy.
A Letter to Stephanie
for soprano and piano
A Letter to Stephanie was composed for my cousin Julianne Perkins, and is in memory of her dear friend. The work seeks to understand grievous loss and the many stages in which we process, understand, and accept such grief. The work was premiered at the Lamont School of Music’s 2021 Concert for Activism and Advocacy.
for mezzo-soprano and piano
For some reason, people often choose to ignore clear science, especially when it is politicized. We saw this during the pandemic, and it had tragic consequences. This text and music is meant to present a person who embraces science over politically-charged rhetoric.
Text by Nicolas Bizub
Before I got down to science town, My thoughts were always orange. Like that vomitous shade from last week’s spaghetti Or the snot my nose made In that pot we call neti Orange as a spilt Fanta Dried and sticky with flies Or construction-sign banter Spewing detours and lies And when I dreamt of science town… My thoughts were sunsets and sorbet And monarch butterflies on a new day They were puffin feet and penguin beaks And a rising sun with golden streaks The peach reflection on a watery bay But then I remembered my faucet leaks… And hey, something reeks Before I got down to science town, My thoughts were always orange. Like that vomitous shade from last week’s spaghetti Or the snot my nose made In that pot we call neti Like Dorito fingerprints On my newest white dress Or “spray-tanned eloquence” Devoid of all finesse But then I got down to science town… My thoughts were tulips and Autumn leaves Tiger lilies in a summer breeze They are sweet like nectarines And luscious warm campfire scenes Like a morning sun or a harvest moon And now that I’m in science town, Now I’ve finally gotten down, I’ve decided I’ll stay. Because hey, the scent is sweet and my faucet doesn’t leak.