Steven A. Jent

  Composer and Songwriter

 

 

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I began writing music when I was a teenager in a garage band. For years I just wrote songs by ear. All that time I had more elaborate music in my head, but lacked the technical grounding I needed to capture it in a form that would allow anyone but me to hear it.

 

When personal computers and MIDI arrived in the 1980s, I could compose in “classical” music forms, but I was still working from instinct and trial-and-error. The results sounded good to me at the time, but today when I listen to the MIDI files I created then, I can only shudder. Still, some of the musical themes I recorded have been worth salvaging for later works.

 

Finally, after I ended my career at IBM, I had time for formal instruction in composition. Now I theoretically know what I’m doing as a composer. Of course, music is a field that one need never finish exploring, and there is always more to learn. But I believe I can avoid the blunders I committed when I started composing on a Commodore 64 in 1983. Listen and judge for yourself.

 

All the instrumental works are recorded through Finale: notation software that gives me the sound of virtually any instrument, from simple piano to a symphony orchestra, and astonishingly lifelike. I play piano and guitar a little, but nothing like the level I would need to produce what I have here.

 


 

If you like what you hear, I can compose custom music for any special occasion.

 


 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that great music starts out fast, slows down in the middle, and speeds up again at the end. This piece does just the opposite. The trio Suitte Royale performed it at a concert in January, 2017 on baroque instruments.

 

An eclogue is music with a pastoral tone, quiet and contemplative, though this one has a boisterous, playful interlude.

 

Eclogue

Eclogue (live performance)

 

Clarinet, cello, and piano

Recorder, viola da gamba, and harpsichord

I began this melancholy piece years ago and finally completed it in July of 2016. I originally conceived it for glass harmonica or musical glasses. Its first performance, however, was at the hands of a small wind ensemble, as is the case for so much of my music.

 

Envelope

Musical glasses

Envelope

 

Alto recorder and tenor recorder

Sometimes when I listen to unfamiliar music I'll hear a phrase and think I know what's coming next, and then I'm surprised when the composer does something different. Sometimes this prompts me to base a composition of my own on what I was expecting to hear but didn't. The first theme for this cheerful piece of swing was suggested by the brief ditty that plays when you complete a crossword puzzle on the New York Times website. It's arranged for a small ensemble because three friends were available to play it that way. But I think it would work better with a big band.

 

Times After Times

 

Flute, tenor recorder, and bass clarinet

Four friends here in Denton perform as an a capella quartet they call Noted Vocals. They asked me to arrange some Christmas carols for them, and here are the results.

 

Good Christian Men, Rejoice

Once In Royal David's City

Il est né, le divin Enfant

Riu Riu Chiu

 

As the title suggests, this is a light, whimsical bit of fun.

 

Bagatelle

 

Flute, tenor recorder, and bass clarinet

There is nothing more romantic and charming than a waltz.

 

Oktoberfest Waltz

 

Flute, alto flute, and cello

The title explains the subject of this meditative piece.

 

Elegy

 

Flute, alto flute, oboe, and cello

This short work for violin and piano was my submission in Hilary Hahn's competition for encore pieces in 2012. It didn't win, but I'm still pleased with it. It's a stylistic stretch for me, which is not a bad thing.

 

The title is a portmanteau of indecent and descent. It suggests a descent into madness combined with, or triggered by, outrage at any of the indecent things that go on in the world.

 

Indescent

 

This duet for flute and alto flute is just a light bit of froth with, I hope, some charm.

 

Flute Duet

 

This sonata for flute and cello has an Enlightenment feel, but doesn't imitate any particular composer.

 

Allegro

Adagio

Minuet

Gigue

 

I suppose this is my least serious composition. It's my notion of what would happen if you crossed a bunch of extremely familiar classical music with the twelve-bar blues. It's scored for wind quintet.

 

So, how many of the 35 different works can you identify?

 

Twelve-Bar Classics

 

A romance is a composition that expresses especially heartfelt or tender emotions.

 

Romance in C Minor

Viola and cello

 

George D'Ascenzo, a cellist friend, mentors some beginning cello students and suggested I write something for a cello ensemble. This was to be the middle movement of a larger work, but it turned out I had made it both too simple (rhythmically) and too complicated (harmonically) for George's group. So for now it's just a standalone piece.

 

Adagio

Cello quartet

 

My friend Debbie was married in November of 2010. She said she didn't want to hear the same old Mendelssohn and Wagner at her wedding, and graciously invited me to write some organ music for the occasion. This "Wedding Suite" is unified by two melodic fragments that appear, with variations, in each movement.

 

Prelude

Processional

Recessional

 

Like several other pieces here, these two are written for my friends and local musicians George D'Ascenzo and Christie Wood, talented performers on the cello and flute respectively. "Pastorale" uses alternative modes, including Dorian and Phrygian.

 

Pastorale

Caprice

 

A local church has a thoughtful tradition of pausing during a Sunday service in Autumn to commemorate their fellows who have passed on during the year, while a few musicians in the congregation play some suitable music. They offered to let me write something for the occasion, solemn but not too mournful, and this is the result. It was first performed on November 1, 2009.

 

In Memoriam

Flute, alto flute, clarinet, cello, and contrabass

 

 

I love the sound of a wind quintet (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn). Warm, friendly music seems to be its natural element. A melodic contour of mi-do-re-mi is threaded throughout the four movements of this piece, set to many different rhythms and harmonies. How many do you hear? The Argyle Wind Quintet performed it in a concert of works by regional composers on May 17, 2010 in Denton.

 

1. Andante

 

2. Adagio

 

3. Scherzo

 

4. Allegro

 

 

Local violist Ken Gilleland asked me to write a viola concerto for him to premiere. We both like the result; now we’re looking for an orchestra to add it to a program.

 

1. Allegro

 

2. Adagio

 

3. Perpetuum Mobile

 

 

This overture in A minor is the first piece I wrote for orchestra. It premiered at the Rockwall Music Festival in 2004.

 

Allegro

 

 

These are two fragments that sound to me like the themes for dramatic films. I eventually wrote lyrics for the second one.

 

Majestic theme

 

Celtic lament

 

 

 

This tune for winds also sounds like theme music, but for a slick caper movie or a detective story à la Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett.

 

Main Street Mosey

 

 

 

I wrote this waltz for the father–daughter dance at my daughter’s wedding in April 2008.

 

Cristin’s Waltz

 

 

I am a big fan of rags, not just Scott Joplin but James Scott and Joseph Lamb. I also enjoy writing my own. Two of these were performed at a concert in Seattle on July 19, 2009.

 

Culpeper Rag

 

Rondo Stomp

 

Speakeasy

 

Solitary Rag

 

Rollercoaster Rag

 

King George Rag

 

 

 

Tangos are fun, too.

 

Tango Lindo

Flute and cello

 

Tango Elegante

Flute, oboe, clarinet, and cello

 

Tango Corazón

Flute, oboe, clarinet, and cello

 

Tango Bonito

Two flutes, alto flute, and bass flute

 

Tango Doloroso

Flute, alto flute, and cello

 

Tango Ardoroso

Three cellos and double bass

 

Tango Malvado

Flute, alto flute, and cello

 

Tango de la Plata

Flute, alto flute, and cello

 

Tango Feliz

Flute, tenor recorder, and bass clarinet

 

Tango Taimado

Flute, clarinet, and cello

 

Tango Uberrimo

Flute, clarinet, and bass clarinet

 

 

Some college out there needs to adopt this sentimental tune. It would also work as a hymn or, with more lyrical instrumentation, as an Irish ballad.

 

Alma Mater

 

 

This is a folky-sounding little thing for a celtic harp (no pedals).

 

Harp Rondo

 

 

 

This moody number is about missing someone.

 

Nocturne for Nancy

 

 

 

This is the only expressly imitative piece here. Tombeau is an old name for music written as a memorial to someone. Here I pay my respects to Domenico Scarlatti, one of my favorite composers, with a sonata in his own typical binary form, which I like to imagine he would have enjoyed.

 

Tombeau de Scarlatti

 

 

 

As I said, I don’t write much in the idiom of the 20th or 21st centuries. This is a perverse attempt to make a piece based on a 12-tone row sound almost tonal. Even at that, it has an unsettled, neurotic feeling to it.

 

Duet for Flute and Vibraphone

 

 

This is a hoppin’ little instrumental that I wrote for no particular reason.

 

Rock One

 

 

 

Finally, here are some songs. The first thirteen date from the 1970s. In 1975 I bought a Dokorder 7140 reel-to-reel tape deck that allowed me to overdub four tracks. With the rotten job I had then, it cost a month’s pay. As I said before, I was in a band with some friends, and I wanted to record my original material, because I believed in it. My only instruments were a Gibson SG electric guitar and a Yamaha FG-75 acoustic. So I could record a guitar backing and vocals—that was it. I didn’t have a bass or drums, and keep in mind that this was ten years before MIDI.

 

Fast forward to the present. Now a PC with the right software makes a decent recording studio. I’ve copied my primitive old tapes to WAV files on my hard drive, and I’ve used Finale to add drums, bass, and other instruments, including an orchestra. Sadly there’s nothing I can do now about the balance or noise levels in the original recordings, which I made in a basement efficiency apartment. There’s also no way to fix my voice, about which I have no illusions. Try to imagine these sung by someone who can do them justice.

 

 

Conestoga Sunrise

Many of my songs are about the search for purpose and continuity in human experience, though I do my best to keep them from being as dry and pretentious as that may sound. This one is set in, of all places, a wagon train at dawn. Lyrics

 

Can It Be So Surprising?

I wrote this for my niece when she was a year old. Now she has three teenage sons. Lyrics

 

I Cut Out My Baby’s Heart

The ultimate country-western ballad about adultery, murder, and prison was written with a bunch of guys in a dorm room. Lyrics

 

The Scarlet Pimpernel

One writes songs about hopeless love when one is in one’s twenties. Lyrics

 

Sigh

You could call this an anthem of sorts for once young, once idealistic boomers. Lyrics

 

The Children Who Don’t Speak

I was compelled to write this after seeing a news story about an autistic boy. Lyrics

 

She’ll Come Upon You

One writes songs about hopeless love when one is in one’s twenties. Lyrics

 

Madame Soleil

The remarkable Jeanne Jackson, wherever she may be, no doubt still beams sunshine on anyone near her. This is the first song I ever wrote. Lyrics

 

There Will Be Times

Sometimes, when things are going badly, you need to write a song about holding on anyway. Lyrics

 

If I Knew You

One writes songs about hopeless love when one is in one’s twenties, but sometimes they find a way to accept something short of love. Lyrics

 

The Voices From Before

I used to have an aunt who genuinely believed she was a witch—a good witch. Lyrics

 

Whisper

One writes lots of songs about hopeless love when one is in one’s twenties. Lyrics

 

Versailles

Strangely enough, this song was prompted by browsing a family photo album, not by a tour of France. Lyrics

 

During my IBM years I didn't write much at all. The rest of the songs in this list date from the late 1990s and after. At first I let MIDI supply all the instruments except the acoustic guitar (my old Yamaha), having sold the SG long before. So some parts, especially electric guitar, don't sound very lifelike. At last in 2015 I bought an Epiphone ES-339, a Fender Champion 20, and a Yamaha FG730S. Then I added an Epiphone Les Paul. None of this is high-end gear, to be sure. But the songs I've recorded with these new instruments, beginning with "That's When You Know You've Got the Blues Again", sound dramatically better. My voice hasn't improved, sadly, but everything else works at a whole new level.

 

Come Back to the King

It’s not about Elvis. I wrote this for a friend of mine to show him that I could understand his faith although I didn’t share it. Lyrics

 

One for the Road

I saw yet another MADD cross by the roadside and wondered what the story behind it might be. Lyrics

 

Something Good

This is a song about hope. The range is way beyond me, but my friend Christie Wood has been kind enough to fill in the vocals. Thank you, Christie. Lyrics

 

A Little Romance

This song is for those of you who enjoy Cole Porter, Noel Coward, and the like. This charming performance is by the a capella quartet Noted Vocals. Lyrics

 

 

Rich Sons of Bitches

This is my reaction to the recent financial shenanigans. Judging by the response of everyone who has heard this song, I think a lot of people feel the way I do. There is one very strong word in this song, but I think it’s the right word where I used it. Lyrics

 

 

That's When You Know You've Got the Blues Again

There is no end to the variations one can make with the twelve-bar blues form. I've been tinkering with this one since the 1970s. I added lyrics and recorded it after I finally bought another electric guitar in 2015, having been without one since 1982. Maybe a middle-class child of the suburbs has no business singing the blues, but that's the way it came out. Lyrics

 

 

Only Love

This moody piece is my first venture into slide guitar. For now I'm just playing chords in an open tuning, but I do love that melancholy sound, so there is probably more to come. Lyrics

 

 

The Beachéd Margent of the Sea

This song is about walking on the beach at night, losing yourself in the soothing sounds of the surf and the infinite beauty of the stars, and forgetting about all those things that don't matter. Lyrics

 

 

Who Can You Call When You've Got the Blues?

The lyrics are a little whimsical, but to me this sounds like the sort of music you'd hear in a noisy, somewhat seedy, but authentic roadhouse where people hang out just to sip longnecks and listen to the blues. Lyrics

 

 

No Moon In June

In the summer of 1969 I went to my first real rock 'n' roll concert, a double bill of Pacific Gas & Electric and Chicago. The program included an interview with PG&E's guitarist, who described their music as "no moon in June, just real blues". I can't say why that phrase has been lodged in my head for nearly 50 years now, but it recently resurfaced as the inspiration for this tune. Ironically the musical style evokes the golden age of corny lyrics, the 1920s and '30s, with a little flavor of the Hot Club as well. It isn't difficult to imagine Rudy Vallee singing this through a megaphone, maybe accompanied by a ukulele. Lyrics

 

Long Stretch of Road

I considered letting this song tell the story of a derelict veteran. But I decided it was pointless to compete with John Prine's "Sam Stone". So this is about a less specific homeless man. It doesn't matter how his world disintegrated around him and he wound up begging by day and sleeping beneath an overpass. So many disparate paths lead there. Which of us can remember a precarious moment that, had the balance tilted just slightly, could have taken our lives in a different, less fortunate direction? Lyrics

 

 

 

Below Zero

Two things I should point out about this song. First, it may initially seem misogynistic. But I made sure that every "she" and "her" could be replaced with "he" and "his", so a female performer can just as easily sing it about a heartless man. Second, it isn't autobiographical in any way; I've never felt like this about anyone. The key phrase just naturally took the lyrics in that direction. Lyrics

 

Middle of Nowhere

I almost never collaborate with someone in writing a song. But when John Niebuhr read these lyrics at a meeting of the Denton Songwriters Guild, I immediately thought I could give them the right musical setting. We're both happy with the result. Lyrics

 

Hallelujah Anyway

Here's a cheerful little song about greedy, predatory, hypocritical televangelists. Dedicated to Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Paula White, and too many more to list here. Lyrics

 

I've Got The Twelve-Bar Blues

This song may not mean much to you if you're unfamiliar with Denton, Texas. It will make more sense when you know that Giuseppe's, the Abbey, the Loco Cafe, Lone Star Attitude (LSA for short), Audacity, Wine Squared, Fuzzy's, Hooligans, the Garage, Dusty's, the Boardwalk, and Dan's Silverleaf are all watering holes on and around the Denton town square. This song, built on the venerable twelve-bar blues form with a brief detour through the eight-bar blues, is thus an extended pun on "twelve bars". Lyrics

 

The Saddest Man In The World

Singer and songwriter Nick Drake died in 1974 at the age of only 26. He overdosed on antidepressants, and it has never been clear whether this was accidental or deliberate. In his life his three LPs were respected by critics, but they were commercial failures largely because Drake was indifferent to the promotional side of a musician's life. Today his most widely recognized song is "Pink Moon", a brief, enigmatic track that some interpret as a foreshadowing of his suicide. (You may have seen the classic Volkswagen commercial that played it as the background to a romantic moonlit ride in a convertible.) My song is a meditation on the last days of Drake's life, the recognition that was tragically denied to him then, and today's acknowledgment as one of the influential songwriters of his time. Lyrics

 

You Can Get Used To It

A solemn reflection on the human condition and what's Important in Life. Lyrics

 

Ragged Edge Road

Not far from my mother's house near Chambersburg, PA, there's a country lane called Ragged Edge Road. The first time I saw a sign for Ragged Edge Road I knew it had to be the title of a song. It sounded like a natural metaphor for desperately hoping for one last chance to change one's life and make up for past mistakes. Lyrics

 

All Together Once Again

In the Spring of 2016 I was driving home from a visit to my elderly mother. Her condition kept me thinking about aging and about how we inevitably lose the people we care most about, whether family or friends. I found myself writing the music for this little hymn in my head. It's clearly in the 19th-century tradition, and there's even an echo of "Leaning On The Everlasting Arms". I chose a sound patch that resembles a pump organ to suggest a plain country church as the setting. The words I eventually set to it are deliberately sentimental in keeping with the music. It's a song of consolation, to say that all the people we loved and now miss aren't lost forever, and someday we'll be with them again, and what a happy reunion that will be. It's an affecting thought whether one believes it or not. Lyrics

 

Just Like This Life

This song, though it has a perky beat, starts out pretty pessimistic about the disappointments that life can be full of. But it ends with a positive thought. If there's anything clever about it, that would be exploiting the fact that the word like can be a verb and a preposition. This is also my first foray into playing a dobro, on a very rudimentary level. Lyrics

 



All words and music copyright © 1975–2017 Steven A. Jent