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Glenn Stallcop | Of the Bells Bells Bells

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Of the Bells Bells Bells

by Glenn Stallcop

Hauntingly expressive improvised Classical music of exceptional freedom and facility. Bells in life and literature.
Genre: Classical: Contemporary
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. One Bell
10:41 $1.49
2. Two Bells
7:29 $0.99
3. Three Bells
10:03 $1.49
4. Four Bells
5:58 $0.99
5. Five Bells
10:29 $1.49
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Of the Bells, Bells, Bells has a somewhat different and more complex history than most of my albums. For most of my albums, I have used tracks that were recorded at roughly the same time. Sometimes, they were recorded within a day or two. In the case of Night Drift, they were recorded all on the same night. But for Of the Bells, Bells, Bells, I took tracks that were recorded more than a year apart.
One of the realities of improvisation is that once it’s played, it’s gone. If something I play is bad, luckily it’s gone; if something I play is good, well, it’s gone too. Good news, bad news. Dealing with this situation is one of the lessons of improvisation, and helps alleviate any stress that might surface about not knowing what you are going to play next. After a while, it becomes pretty easy to keep a low-key attitude, and that leaves me free to relax and play on the edge of my imagination.
However, this all changes when it is time to record. Recording can become quite stressful because I can easily allow a judgmental attitude to creep in and divert my attention from what I am doing. I can’t fool myself; I know it’s not gone. Several years ago, I realized that I couldn’t record something and then go back and listen to it, as it would haunt me when I returned to record again. Unlike a Classical recording, I couldn’t go back and re-record it to play it better. And it’s not really about my playing anyway, it’s about the music. But the temptation is always there.
So I have developed a number of habits that allow me to continue to play recording sessions over the course of a few days or weeks. One of my recording habits is to play when I am not working. I need to be able to devote my full attention to it. My work schedule naturally has holes that I can use for this, but many of them are filled with other activities. So I have found that the least stressful time for me to record is during the summer, as I have about three months off. If I have a week or two during the season sometimes I will go to my cabin where I can be in seclusion, which has also worked, but usually I record in the summer.
I will record for a few days, or even weeks, but only about once a year. Recording is quite exhausting, and after a while I feel “played out.” I don’t listen to my takes for about a year afterward. I don’t want to be able to remember playing them. I need to make a fresh assessment. This is one reason why my albums were recorded a few years before I released them. The process takes some time.
So when I was done editing tracks done in the fall of 2009, I had three good tracks left. In the summer of 2010, I had to work on a commission for an orchestral piece. I usually use an improvisation as the basis for my written pieces, and since I had these three good improvisations left over, I chose one of them as a model the orchestra piece. As I was transcribing and editing the music for the commission, I noticed that two climax points featured five bell-like strokes. On a whim, I googled “Five Bells” and found a poem of the same name by an Australian poet, Kenneth Slessor. The poem discusses time and memory in reference to the death of the poet’s friend. I had already noticed that the end of the piece made a passing reference to Richard Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, so I gave the piece a tentative title, Five Bells (that stuck) and finished the piece with that in mind.
I didn’t get back to improvisation until late that fall with, for reasons mentioned above, mixed results. When I edited the tracks a year or two later, I realized that there were only two tracks of the first few sessions that I thought were worth keeping. Since those two tracks did not have any other good tracks recorded in close proximity, I decided to combine them with the three tracks from 2009.
About the same time, I discovered another poem, “The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe, and thought it made a good outline for an album. (I’m not the only composer to think this, Rachmaninov wrote a choral symphony on a Russian adaptation of the same poem.) Poe wrote the poem around the idea of the times in our lives that are punctuated by church bells, other than when the bells are calling the congregation to worship or just keeping time. Three of the four sections deal with individual moments: birth, marriage, and death. The other section deals with the times when bells were used to call the community to action, such as a fire, or flood, or even warfare (as in the 1812 Overture for instance). Poe arranges the sections so that each event is darker than the last, placing the call for action between marriage and death. I preferred to arrange my album around life events, so I have transformed Poe’s call to action into something more akin to work or vocation. Also I did not wish to dwell on the darker aspects of aging. Poe wrote the poem near the end of his life and was already infirm. He was already thinking a lot about that last bell.
I wanted to use the improvisation I had used for Five Bells, and work the title and program in the album plan. Poe had given me four stages of life; to that I added “Coming of Age.” The resulting improvisations are: “One Bell” about birth, “Two Bells” about coming of age, “Three Bells” about marriage, “Four Bells” about vocation, and “Five Bells” about death. The three earlier improvisations from 2009, each roughly ten minutes long, are the first, third, and fifth tracks. The second and fourth tracks, which are shorter, are from 2010.
One of the special features of Poe’s poem is his use of the sounds of his words, including the word “bell” itself, to give the sense of their ringing. The improvisations include many types of bell sounds themselves, which are a sound that I like and a sound that is very characteristic of the piano.
Of the Bells, Bells, Bells is my fourteenth album of piano improvisation. It was recorded partly in Phoenix, AZ, and partly in my cabin outside of Ash Fork, AZ.

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