Ian Ring | Summary of the First Half

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Summary of the First Half

by Ian Ring

A selection of piano solo works from 1998 - 2015.
Genre: Classical: Piano solo
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Elusory Moment
2:37 $0.99
2. Long Path to Hopeful Horizons
2:32 $0.99
3. Montgomery Dusk
2:21 $0.99
4. Still Pool in Sacred Woods
3:43 $0.99
5. The Healing Begins
3:22 $0.99
6. Discarding Nostalgia
1:45 $0.99
7. Requiem for Jackie
3:26 $0.99
8. Murmuration
2:24 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes

Summary Of The First Half
selected piano compositions from 1998 - 2015

1: Elusory Moment (2014) 2:38
2: Long Path to Hopeful Horizons (2012) 2:32
3: Montgomery Dusk (2015) 2:22
4: Still Pool In Sacred Woods (2015) 3:44
5: The Healing Begins (2015) 3:23
6: Discarding Nostalgia (2015) 1:45
7: Requiem for Jackie (1998) 3:28
8: Murmuration (2012) 2:24

All tracks composed and performed by Ian Ring ©1998-2015
Made entirely in Canada (MAPL) SOCAN

Sheet music is available at http://ianring.com


The title of this album is a dry reference to entering "middle age", but for me the notion of life having a 1st half and 2nd half has a more poignant meaning. On Boxing Day 2012, I was 40 years old, and my heart stopped beating. Sudden cardiac arrest, with no warning. My wife Tracey noticed immediately and performed CPR, and after first responders reset me with a defibrillator, I enjoyed an involuntary stay at St Mary's Hospital for a slow recovery. Because of Tracey I got to flip the hourglass over for another heave at this mortal coil. The new chapter prescribed some drastic and permanent changes, mostly in healthy lifestyle habits. Afterwards, I would quip that the warrantee had expired on my "life version one" and that now I was running v2.0, and I still sometimes refer to the period prior to my death as "the first half".

My first half began with a solid musical education in classical piano, and plenty of performing opportunities as I picked up the saxophone in middle school; I played in school bands, stage bands, rock bands, alternative, goth, funk, new wave, dixie and jazz. On piano, I completed a University degree with its required recitals and concerts of Chopin and Bartók; afterwards I lent my fingers to jazz gigs and session work. And always, I had an enduring passion for composition.

Near the end of the first half, approaching 40, I realized that my musical adventures were poorly documented. In various moves and basement floods and reckless purgings I had misplaced a lot of my works from the previous four decades, and as my thirties tapered off I began the process of gathering and archiving all the work that I could find. Scores were buried in boxes, saved on old ZIP drives, scanned as JPGs on CD-Rs, stuck in binders... and many pieces only existed on old audio cassettes. I called on old friends, to seek copies of commissioned pieces and bits of music that I had used to fill the empty spaces on mixed tapes.

In total, from the entire first half, I have recovered less than 20 pieces of music. Only a few of them are for solo piano; many are weird recordings of music concrète of no redeeming merit. Several are multi-tracked improvisations that were never intended as classical piano repertoire; many are impossible compositions, assembled from tracks that no human performer could achieve simultaneously. In those years, I was not composing to create works that a real pianist could perform, I was just playing with notes and making cool sounds.

There are many pieces I know I composed because I remember their performances, but I have no copies of them, no recordings, and no evidence. Though I'm disappointed for allowing so much of my early musical output to be lost, it's not a tragic loss. I didn't emerge from childhood composing masterful works like a little precocious Mozart; most of the works I created as a young man were utter rubbish, and I'm thankful I don't have to answer for them today. The earliest work I have recovered is from approximately 1987, written when I was 15 - a simple study in ascending arpeggios, in a repeating progression. That puerile work, along with others that I'm not proud of, is not included in this collection.

As mentioned above, I refer to events as being in the "first half" when they occurred before my cardiac incident in December 2012. But musically, I am curating this collection including three works that are from 2012 or earlier, and the other five were all created in the period between 2013 and the first few months of 2015. I'll explain why.

In the spring of 2015, I realized that though I had made significant changes to my lifestyle, health and habits two years previously, I was still composing music for the same reasons, with the same approach, and with the same attitude. My output was individual pieces, inspired by random whims, shared without much regard for presentation or even playability. I was typically satisfied enough that I had made something that sounded nice, and I didn't care much that the recording sounded awful, the sheet music was sloppy, the piece was unrefined... I laid them down in GarageBand, uploaded them to Facebook for the enjoyment of my friends, and that was good enough.

Looking at the assembled and archived assembly of my life's work, I realized that these were not artifacts of enduring quality. I had the skill, the talent, the inspiration; what was missing was the awareness of legacy, and attention to quality. It was time for a complete shift.

So in the early summer of 2015 I decided it was time to "up my game" and take the craft of composition seriously. I discarded my old methods and started rebuilding my entire composing workflow with quality in mind. I invested in better recording equipment, better software, and took some courses in audio engineering. I learned professional techniques for typesetting sheet music, and studied the nuances of professional engraving. My website (http://ianring.com) had been a collection of quirky hand-drawn cartoons; I rebuilt it to look like a professional composer's website. I arranged a photo shoot and got some head shots. I did massive amounts of research into self-publishing, copyright, royalties, and the business of composing.

Most ambitiously, I started the Opus Arcana project, a multi-year project which will consist of 22 predetermined movements. With my upgraded skills and equipment, I was able to create better recordings of the new Opus Arcana pieces, and I began publishing them to SoundCloud, BandCamp, and YouTube. I began the Opus Arcana project dedicated to making sure each piece is created with attention to detail at the finest quality of which I am capable.

For this reason, it's appropriate to curate these works from 2013-2015 as being "first half" works. Even though they were created after my death, they fit better in that earlier period than in the latter. Music historians only need to understand that the second half of my music begins two years later than the second half of my life, so let this suffice as my explanation.

For this collection, I chose eight solo piano pieces from the first half that I consider to be good enough quality to share with the public. Unlike many I created in the first half (omitted from this collection), every one of these pieces is playable (or has been edited to make it so), and the sheet music is available. For each of them I have recorded a new performance on a fine piano, with better audio engineering and mastering. I'm paying attention to every detail of the production, packaging, liner notes, design, and release. This will be the definitive - and probably last - version of every one of these works, finally putting a double bar on The First Half.

I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed living through it.
Onward and forward,
Ian Ring


track 1: Elusory Moment (2014)

This track was begun over the Christmas holidays of 2013, and completed and published in the early part of January 2014. It is short, and meant to be performed with an achingly beautiful awareness of the melody, its tiny curved phrases and rhythmic repetitions.

As its name suggests, this is a song about the feeling when you become aware of a moment passing by. It's a moment of something transient, delicate, and gorgeous - and as it passes by you become aware that you should try to absorb as much as you can with your senses, but even as you are in that moment, it feels like it's already gone.

There is a Japanese term for this, which I learned much later: 物の哀れ (mono no aware), literally "the pathos of things". The word "aware" (pronounced "ah-wah-ray") describes a refined sensitivity with an accompanying wistful sadness. For things of beauty there is a sorrow at their passing, but also a longer, deeper sadness about this state being a reality of life. Cherry blossoms are the most prototypical mono no aware object, with their short burst of exceptional beauty.

Accompanying this track, I usually pair some photos I took of an afternoon spent at Bayfield beach on the coast of Lake Huron, on a cool September day a few months previous to the composition. We collected a bag of smooth round stones to use for a craft project, and I balanced some stones as high as I could and took photos of my miniature balanced rock formations, while the kids played among shallow areas near the dock, picking out some good bits of smooth beach glass.


track 2: Long Path to Hopeful Horizons (2012)

A delicate melody, laid gently over a loose 3/3/10 rhythm. This piece is meant to evoke an optimistic dream, that life is twisting toward a new path, one that holds immense promise for the future, but that will take many years and much hardship to reach.

This piece was created and refined between October 7 - 10, 2012. At the time, I was unaware how difficult the path would get just a couple of months later.


track 3: Montgomery Dusk (2015)

Montgomery Park is a little green space in the neighbourhood where I grew up, filling in an oddly shaped gap formed by the highway and a storm drainage ditch. It has a small playground, but you'll rarely see families with little kids there; it's mostly occupied by teen smokers from the high school across the road. Being within yelling-earshot of my home, Montgomery Park was within the boundaries of where I was allowed to go alone.

Before the City of Kitchener built the giant elevated overpass for highway 8, the light that raked across Montgomery Park at dusk was magical; The air would glow with everything in it silhouetted. As the street lights along Montgomery Road blinked on, time would suspend. The street lights were a peculiar old kind that cast a focused cone of light directly below themselves, not capable of illuminating anything else. There wouldn't be another soul in sight, and the only sound would be the non-stop hum of cars and trucks. At some times of year, there would be fireflies.

For a moody pre-teen, that was my contemplative space; sitting on a swing, alone at Montgomery Park. Not swinging, but just planting one foot in the gravel/sand and allowing myself to spin slowly around, letting the chains twist and untwist, letting my mind twist and untwist, meditating on life.

This piece is about that time and place.


track 4: Still Pool In Sacred Woods (2015)

A light, playful tune: a dryadic dance around a forest pool, amid the majesty of mature trees. Composed with a deliberately celtic sounding melody, but arranged with the sensibilities of a classical nocturne.


track 5: the Healing Begins (2015)

I created this piece in the quiet early hours of Sunday, February 15, 2015. This piece drew from two moments of inspiration, both involving extended stays in a hospital ICU. The first of those was my own brief trip across the veil at the end of 2012, and the other was my grandmother's extended stay which ended with her peaceful passing on January 3, 2014. More generally, it recalls the all too common experience of bedside vigil in a hospital that anyone of a certain age is likely to have experienced.

This song evokes the mood of sitting beside one of those beds with chrome side rails. Someone you care about is sleeping, drugged, hooked up to drips and monitors. You don't hear them breathing, but you know they are, by the incessant beep ... beep ... beep of a machine next to the bed.

There's nothing to do, and nothing to say. They're asleep and everything is quiet except for the beeping, and a man moaning somewhere down the hall. Everything that can be stitched together or bandaged up or medicated has been tended to, and now there's nothing to do but wait and see. Maybe it will all be OK. Maybe it won't, and then it will be you that needs to heal. Either way, this is neither a beginning nor an end - it's the upsetting time in between when you don't know which way it will go.

Two blatant devices are used in the composition - one is the repeated and unstopping "beep beep" of a vital sign monitor. The other is the direct quotation of Westminster Chimes. The Westminster melody represents the passing of time, and for me it has very specific associations with my grandmother, and emotions of stillness overlaid with a general unease. I used the same quoted material in a more literal manner in the Opus Arcana movement "Hermit".

As I was putting the last few notes into place, my good friend Ian Willms had just had a series of his photographs featured in TIME Magazine, chronicling his father's extended hospital stay after a terrible motorcycle crash. It was an uncanny moment of synchronicity; Ian's photos captured visually what I was attempting to capture musically, and I am grateful that he consented to let me use two of the photographs from that series as cover images. In return, he employed this music to accompany this photo series when it was shown at LOOK3 in Charlottesville, Virginia, a major international photography exhibition.


track 6: Discarding Nostalgia (2015)

In 2015 I went through several rounds of purging, in an attempt to simplify life and get rid of clutter. As part of that exercise, I sorted through boxes and closets of stuff, making three piles: keep, donate, or trash. Occasionally I'd find something that evoked a swollen pang of memories. This tune with its delicate melody and uncomfortable, awkward harmony is about that moment when you let something take a last stab of nostalgia before tossing it in the trash.


track 7: Requiem for Jackie (1998)

In the early 90s, Jackie Grieb already had a reputation in town as a feisty, outspoken feminist lesbian activist. She opened a retail store called "Jack In The Box" in uptown Waterloo, selling eclectic objects, vintage clothing, body piercing jewelry and curated oddities. The store also served as the gallery for her paintings. There, I would loiter and chat about art, activism, and the social nuances of the punks and geeks and artists and weirdos that made up our scene. When Jackie was pregnant, I made mixed tapes of piano improvisations to play for her growing belly.

Jackie's paintings were primitive in a way that wasn't folksy, full of symbolism, surreal still life assemblages in vivid colours. Checkerboard patterns and things hidden behind curtains, jesters, fish, bubbles, doors, flowers, bells, toys, bees, cigarettes, and moons shining through tiny misshapen window panes.

As the 90s progressed, we lost touch. The store was shut down. I never met her daughter, Dagmar. Then one day I received the tragic news: Jackie was dead, Dagmar too, her closest friends were summoning to each other urgently in an attempt to rescue her paintings from being destroyed.

The day after I learned of the tragedy, I sat at the piano, attempting to collect my reactions. This song began simply as a repeated ringing of diminished octaves, a stinging quiet dissonance that felt like an echo of the question "why" reflecting back with no answer.

I publish this music and continue to make it available to the world, in memory of Jackie Grieb (1972 - 1998) and Dagmar Grieb (1995 - 1998).


track 8: Murmuration (2012)

Definitely the most virtuosic piece I wrote in the first half, this one features a right hand part that flings up and down in little flitty thirds. A murmuration is a flock of starlings, a fairly common sight in the autumn in Canada. As starlings gather by the thousands, they darken the sky in giant swooping displays of aerial dynamics.



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