Jeffry Hamilton Steele
Compositions & Arrangements 1974-2005
An audio-visual scrapbook with commentary
See also: Artslam music & Service Music

Music for Dance II, 2002-2005
While getting my Masters at New England Conservatory [studio of Malcolm Peyton], I worked first on expanding two scenes from the already-performed Gift of Vision, scoring them for seven players plus the five singers. Here is the Great Conflagration [mp3, 5.7 MB] scene as performed on Tuesday Night New Music in April 2002. [Performers were Anne Carolyn Bird, Anna Fraser, Carrie Cheron, Jason McAdams & Anthony Zoeller, voices, Ebonee Thomas, flute, Michael Norsworthy, clarinet, Patricia Schmitt, horn, Shieh-Jian Tsai, violin, Mickey Katz, cello, Aaron Baird, double-bass, myself on guitar and Dan Bassin conducting]. Then I focused on Flesh & Stone, a choreographed piece about quarrying conceived with Carl Thomsen. While its Prologue took the form of an orchestral piece (which received a reading rather than a performance), the remaining scenes were more pragmatically scored for soloist with electronic accompaniment. My neighbor, Luisa Vasquez Cleaves, came over to record the soprano part to "Stone Spirits" [mp3, 2.3 MB]. NEC senior Wes Luke performed the violin part to the "Epilogue" [mp3, 10.1 MB], which was staged with 10 dancers in the Graduating Composition Students' Recital in Jordon Hall [April 2003].

Daunted by the forces required to mount Flesh & Stone as a complete production, Carl and I instead turned out attention to Silent Men Speaking [website] True Stories by Veterans of the Vietnam War, which he performed at a variety of locations (as far as the mid-west) to recorded music, most of which was either written or arranged by myself. In "What Saves Us" [mp3, 2.9 MB], Carl recites and moves to a poem that begins in the backseat of the high school parking lot and ends on the battlefield. In "She Burns" [mp3, 2 MB], Carl interprets the 60s newsreel of a Vietnamese monk setting fire to himself.

These pieces were all created with the assistance of an iBook, first running Metro, then Cubase VST. "Stone Spirits" and "She Burns" feature the Yamaha FS1R [left], while "What Saves Us" gets its 'granular synthesis' from the free Cosmo plug-in. "Epilogue" takes most of its strings from Reason Adapted. I did also score this for real string orchestra. . . any takers?
fs1r
Music for Dance I, 1998-2001
See Clear Away, Flame Without End & Gift of Vision
I'll just add here that I purchased a new classical guitar in 2000 from luthier Thomas Knatt, as I had been stretching my left hand too much on the 66 cm scale-length of the Hasselbacher. My (64 cm) Cone excelled primarily in early music. Tom's guitar was a good compromise with the standard 65 cm scale-legnth and a versatile tone ranging between the other two instruments.

Digital Recording, 1996-1998
vs-880I purchased the Roland VS-880 Hard-disk Recorder when it first came out and embarked on a project to record guitar arrangements of vocal works by the Renaissance master, Josquin des Prez -- a process detailed in my "CD Producing" and "Evolution of Guitara Illuminata" articles. After much trial and error, I came out with Guitara Illuminata, which was issued by Centaur Records. (I further refined it in 2004, with computer assistance unavailable to me at the time the album was originally recorded). Then I recorded Voice of Creation, a mixture of my own compositions and arrangements, followed by Semper Dowland, new guitar arrangements of works by Elizabethan lute master John Dowland. The last two I later consolidated into From Dowland to Silvio and bumped the self-penned pieces onto Flame Without End -- the latter itself having evolved from the Clear Away "cast" album. I also used the VS-880 to accompany myself for concert performances of the Josquin and some of the original pieces.

"50 Ways to Play Guitar," 1990-1994
Jeffry mugging with Les PaulJeffry in windowDuring this time, I and my first wife, pianist Julia Bady, lived in Turners Falls, (Western) Massachusetts. Here I had my first (even though I'd been certified since 1976) public school teaching experience and developed school assembly and college programs (scroll down my venues page for locations performed at). "American Car" [mp3, 3.8mb] was a reworking of a song by my brother Jon (who now markets his own distortion pedals) that pokes fun at heavy-metal guitarists as well as big car enthusiasts. One weekend we were visited by an African-American teen and his mentor (from Springfield) who wanted to put together an anti-drug rap song ("Drugs are for Losers"). I later reworked the track I had whipped up for them -- making it my own rap against materialism -- for use in my school shows: "Security." [mp3, 3mb] Towards the end of my stay there (coinciding with the end of my marriage), I teamed up with fellow activist Tom Nielson; we dubbed ourselves Gaviota, after a song by Silvio Rodriguez that we did a fair rendition of. He's the good singer on "Gotta be a Better Way to Make a Living," [mp3, 4.1mb] my last topical song. It was during this time I recorded what turned out to be my first and second CDs -- We were all poets... and Dream Colors -- and wrote music for WGBY-TV [Our Hometown: Theme, Variation1, Variation2 and W.E.B. du Bois of Great Barrington: Letter Home, Lullabye]. The tracks on Dream Colors were created for use by Janet Masucci in her hypno-therapy practice. I've gotten a lot of nice comments from practitioners who use the CD with their clients but my favorite came from singer Kate Judd, who after having heard me perform some of it at the Montague Book Mill, said, "That was the first New Age music that didn't make me barf."

As part of my school/college shows, I often included a portable version of my previous Central America work in the form of Romero for solo guitar [excerpt] with a sequence of slides triggered with a footswitch (primitive 'PowerPoint'). Slides accompanied my songs as well. I created a synthesized orchestral accompaniment to the famous Adagio [mp3 excerpt, 2.7mb] from Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez and performed the Vivaldi Concerto in D in like manner.
tascam 234
My electric guitar during this period went through a Roland GP-8, the first programmable guitar effects system. I later replaced this for a unit costing a third as much, the Korg AX30G (which nowadays could itself be replaced with a unit costing a third again as much!) Recordings from this period were all tracked to a Tascam 234 -- the most solidly-build cassette 4-track I could find at the time. Track four carried SMPTE time code, allowing the synthesizers -- via Dr. T software and an Atari ST computer -- to be mastered straight to a Sony portable D.A.T. recorder. These last two items were stolen from my Winchester apartment (where I lived for just under a year between Turners Falls and Gloucester) in 1995 -- which led to my first investment in digital technology as described above.

Brigade performing in NicaraguaLaura BurnsNicaragua Pieces, 1984-1990
 Upon returning from the first Artists' Brigade to Nicaragua (Summer 1984), fellow brigadista Laura Burns lent her voice to my zealous song What are you gonna say? [mp3, 5mb] -- which was recorded with my Les Paul played through a Scholtz "Rockman" and a Morley Wah Pedal accompanied by a Roland MC-202 analog synthesizer. This latter device cost me $60 in 1984 and was sold C.O.D. to a NY vintage-gear nut for $400 in 1994 (its appreciation, unfortunately, does not gomc-202 very far in offsetting the depreciation of all the other gear I've bought!) It was tracked on an early cassette four-track, utilizing the monophonic MC-202's sync tone on one track to achieve polyphony. I borrowed my brother's drum machine; this being my first use of such technology, my programming was a bit on the busy side. Even though this song went through subsequent revisions, I never could match the immediacy heard in this fired-up duo of Laura and myself, just home from revolutionary Nicaragua.

ChamorritoJulia & JeffWritten after the second brigade (Summer 1985), "Chamorrito" [mp3, 3.9mb] is a narrated piece about the impish and talented Sandinista patriot Jose 'Chamorrito' Chamorro (to the right is a photo I took of him playing my guitar), who I spent time with in Matagalpa. This recording is the last part of the piece as performed in a 1989 concert by Por la Paz, a duo consisting of myself and keyboardist Julia Bady. Our name was taken from the closing line in Chamorrito's letters to me "Siempre por la paz..." Included here also from the same concert (a benefit for the Moakley-DiConcinni Refugee Bill at which Congressman Moakley spoke) is the last part of a narrated piece, "The Orphanage." [mp3, 14.7mb] This last piece was credited by a Needham couple for inspiring them to start an orphanage in Nicaragua; we subsequently played on a fund-raiser for that orphanage. Julia and I also performed classical arrangements, such as the da gamba Sonatas of J.S. Bach. jeffry singing, 1989Here is the last movement [mp3, 4.8mb] from the one in G minor. The synthesizer is an Oberheim Matrix-6. Another synth that figured into my sonic palette during this period (and still does to some degree today) is the Yamaha TX81Z. I believe that it was in the course of arranging Renaissance dances, for the guitar ensemble I was leading, that I used these last two synths to record this Suite [Agnus Dei (1310), Jamais Je N'Aimenai, Jay Bien Choisi, La Bourree, Pour Souhaitter, Ronde, Schafertanz, Springtanz, Triple Ballade] of "consort music."tx81z

cast of The Nation ThiefDavid Perrigo (right figure in photo at left -- now a charter school principal) wrote the play "The Nation Thief" based on a book of the same title by Robert Houston. It tells the story of mid-19th-century slavery advocate William Walker, who managed to take over Nicaragua leading a rag-tag band of mercenaries. David selected me to play the part of Walker and to create recorded music to accompany the drama. These two selections were created on the Sequential Circuits Six-Trak, which may have been thesix-trak first multi-timbrel synth (naturally, I had to have one, along with its brother drum machine). It was tracked through an Electro-Harmonix chorus/delay pedal. We performed the play in Boston's Theater District and at a few colleges between 1985 and 1986. The selections are "Walker" [mp3, 2.1mb] and "Guy & Rachel" [mp3, 1.9mb].
"Jeffry Steele -- who also composed the play's ever-present music -- personifies this control in the character of William Walker. Walker is a genius, seizing Nicaragua with a mere handful of men and building a personal empire. Walker is a madman, the central source of evil, who possesses the charisma to convince others to follow him along his evil path. Steele plays the role hauntingly, as if he were a ghost. His performance alone is worth the admission."
--The Tech (M.I.T.), 11/26/1985 (full review)

Por la PazMemorial Day 1966 [mp3, 7.5mb] begins in recollection of playing "Taps" (trumpet being my first instrument) for my grade-school Memorial Day Ceremony, but continues in protest of the Vietnam War and the murder of brigadista Ben Linder in Nicaragua. This performance was recorded in concert by Por la Paz, which -- for its last year of 1990 -- had expanded from duo to trio with Sue Kranz on vocals and flute.korg m1 Julia was playing the Korg M1 (a keyboard I still use today) along with the drum part I had programmed into its sequencer.

Voices of El Salvador, 1982-3
concert posterIn 1982, after being moved by a slideshow about Archbishop Romero and Central America given in the apartment of my upstairs neighbor, I began conceiving a concert focused on the situation in El Salvador. morley pedalI had my Morley Chorus-Flanger pedal rewired (this is before programmable effects) so that the treadle controlled the 'harmonic center'. This leant itself to producing bird and siren-like sounds that I incorporated into the first of my Central America pieces: Voices of El Salvador. The work was premiered by myself with the Brookline Wind Quintet in a program titled Concierto para el Monsenor on the third anniversary of the Archbishop's assassination. I composed more works and produced, six months later, the Voices of Latin America concert, with readings by poet Denise Levertov and the UUSC's John McAward. For this I recruited the New England Wind Quintet, Primary Colors and Barbara Winchester (see below) -- all for whom I had written new music, some of which was accompanied by (Jim Harney's) slides. Intended as a benefit for Oxfam, CPPAX and Centro Presente, it turned out more of a solidarity building event rather than a cash crop. Here are 'Ginda' [mp3, 3.3mb] (which means 'flight' from government soldiers) and 'El Campo' [mp3, 7.9mb] (The Countryside) from Voices of El Salvador, along with the last part of 'Santiago' [mp3, 7mb] (based on the song of the same name by Chilean singer Violeta Parra) from Canciones del Pueblo. The final version of the latter (for flute, viola, guitar and soprano), completed in 1990, will become downloadable here free of charge for anyone who would like a challenging work for that combination. (Though you'll have to forgive that it is notated with my first notation software -- Dr. T's -- and printed on a dot-matrix printer).

Primary Colors, 1982-1986; Duo with Barbara Winchester, 1979-1989
Barbara & Jeffry at M.I.T.During much of this same period, I was also promoting my classical trio, Primary Colors and duo with soprano Barbara Winchester (left, performing at M.I.T. Chapel). Here she and I perform two songs by Joaquin Rodrigo [Coplas del Pastor Enamorado & Folias Canarias], the traditional "Come All You Fair and Tender Ladies" and John Dowland's "Can Shee Excuse My Wrongs." Primary Colors formed after violist Wendy Keyes and I played with Marjorie Cameron Benjamin on the latter's flute recital the delightful Nocturno by Matiegka. Primary ColorsInspired by this combination of flute, viola and guitar and the cooperative spirit between us, I set about to arrange and compose new works. Wendy left the area and was replaced by Kristen Roberton, (shown at right from a photo session with Susan Wilson). Here are the Allegro Molto [mp3, 4.9mb] and Presto [mp3, 2.5mb] from Mozart's Divertimento for Winds, K. 270. Being a fan of Charles Rosen (The Classical Style), now was my chance to do something with Haydn's Op. 33 Quartets. Here from No. 5 is the Vivace Assai [mp3, 7.6mb] and the Largo [mp3, 6.4mb]. We did Debussy's Suite Bergamasque and I have included here the Minuet [mp3, 6.7mb] and the famous Clair de Lune [mp3, 6.3mb].Primary Colors 2 Although the latter was captured on someone's portable cassette recorder (lots of hiss), I hope you agree that the performance is memorable enough to merit inclusion here. The final incarnation of the ensemble (Kristen also moved away) had Frank Grimes on viola.

The guitar shown in these photos was built for me in 1981 by Frank Hasselbacher. Shortly before this, I bought a 1972 Les Paul Custom -- not having owned an electric guitar since high school.

Jeffry in Newburyport, 1978Newburyport, 1977
Upon graduating from Hampshire College, I traveled in Britain for three months and then decided to live in the waterfront town of Newburyport, MA. Here I hooked up with fellow Hampshire Alumn and flutist Lea Pearson. I arranged a Handel sonata for us and here is the Minuet [mp3, 5.4mb] recorded in concert at Newburyport's Customs House Maritime Museum.

Accompanying Gertrude Stein play, Hampshire College 1974Hampshire College, 1974
In my 'sophomore' year, before receiving any training in composition, I had a piece performed by the Hampshire College Chorus, had to come up with a soundtrack to a B'hai documentary in three days and penned this Duet [mp3, 4.2mb] to play with Mt. Holyoke freshman and violinist Jeanne Windsor. This is the only piece I have written with the sixth string tuned to Eb. My guitar teacher, Philip de Fremery, introduced me to luthier Michael Cone; Phil and I both commissioned guitars from him. (The photo at left shows me playing my 'starter' classical guitar, improvising for a Gertrude Stein theater piece). My Cone guitar was ready at the end of the Summer, immediately following my twentieth birthday, and is pictured above in the M.I.T. Chapel concert photo. That Autumn, I took composition class at Amherst College from Lew Spratlan (who went on to receive the Pulitzer Prize in 2000). For our first assignment, we were to break out of whatever mold we had previously written music from; I came up with these Two Dreams [mp3, 3.7mb], heard here performed in Buckley Recital Hall shortly after being composed.

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