Composition, Research

My Love Has Many Apples

Michael Thibodeau performing My Love Has Many Apples in the Norwegian Church, Lachine


I’ll give my love an apple without e’er a core
I’ll give my love a dwelling without e’er a door,
I’ll give my love a palace wherein she may be,
But she may unlock it without any key.

Nova Scotia Folk Song
Michael Thibodeau, Toronto-based pianist

When Toronto pianist Michael Thibodeau spoke to me about writing a solo work for piano over a year ago, he specifically requested that it contain a maritime element, ideally from his native Nova Scotia. The piece I chose, which originally came to Nova Scotia by way of Great Britain, was called “I Will Give My Love an Apple”. (see The Canadian Encyclopedia)

The resulting piece, part neo-Romantic, part computer assisted composition, is a 10-minute work virtuosic work incorporating elements of the original melody into different textures, and then using algorithms to develop these textures further. At times gentle and tender, and at others aggressive and lively, the piece tries to capture the emotions brought on by the nature of the Eastern seaboard.

A screenshot from OpenMusic, a software used to design much of the C sections of the piece using intricate combinations of algorithms.

This piece was to be performed at a concert in June 2019, which was unfortunately cancelled due to an injury. Instead, we made a recording of the work using the Yamaha grand at the Norwegian Church of Montreal.

A brief analysis

For those who are interested, the piece divides roughly into 7 sections, symmetrically structured as follows:

  • A: Dramatic chords, representing the start of the melody, interspersed with nuanced roamings in the upper register. (0’0″)
    • B: A neo-Romantic accompaniment to the original melody, slowly proceeding over a wash of harmonies. (1’0″)
      • C: A slow, seemingly random progression downwards with rhythms drifting in and out of phase. (2’48”)
        • D: A scherzo-gig section, inspired by the fiddle music and oceans of Nova Scotia. (4’05”)
      • C: A slow, seemingly random progression upwards. (5’53”)
    • B: The melody, again accompanied by a neo-Romantic wash of harmonies. (7’08”)
  • A: Dramatic chords, interspersed with roamings in the upper register. (9’07”)
  • Coda (9’50”)


Première of “At Home”

As their first ever composer-in-residence, the Ottawa women’s choir Aella asked me to compose a new work for them this year. The poem chosen was “At Home” by Christina Rossetti, which they performed for the first time on June 16. Take a listen for yourself, from their concert Light Persists:

Aella, led by Jennifer Berntson in Ottawa

When I was dead, my spirit turned
To seek the much-frequented house:
I passed the door, and saw my friends
Feasting beneath green orange boughs; 
From hand to hand they pushed the wine, 
They sucked the pulp of plum and peach; 
They sang, they jested, and they laughed,
For each was loved of each.

I listened to thier honest chat:
Said one: “To-morrow we shall be
Plod plod along the featureless sands, 
And coasting miles and miles of sea.” 
Said one: “Before the turn of tide
We will achieve the eyrie-seat.” 
Said one: “To-morrow shall be like
To-day, but much more sweet.”

“To-morrow,” said they, strong with hope, 
And dwelt upon the pleasant way: 
“To-morrow,” cried they, one and all, 
While no one spoke of yesterday.
Their life stood full at blessed noon; 
I, only I, had passed away: 
“To-morrow and to-day,” they cried;
I was of yesterday.

I shivered comfortless, but cast
No chill across the table-cloth; 
I, all-forgotten, shivered, sad
To stay, and yet to part how loth: 
I passed from the familiar room, 
I who from love had passed away,
Like the remembrance of a guest
That tarrieth but a day. 

Music Education

Tips for Getting Your Child 
(or Yourself) to Practice Regularly

  1. Keep the instrument centred in the home. We all know we’re more likely to pick up a cookie on the counter than one packed away in the cellar. The same is true for the instrument. Keep it in a central place in the home, where its mere presence will nudge the student to practice. Place it in an area that feels well-lit and warm.
  2. Prepare your child for practice time. Let your child know what’s coming. Practicing should be enjoyable, but compared to playing with friends or watching TV, it will often lose out. If your child is mentally preparing to do something else and is surprised by practice time, they will perceive it as a negative thing. Remind your child before practice time that it’s coming. If you practice at 7pm, gently remind them on the way home from school, then when they go out to play, then over dinner, so that it doesn’t come as a shock.
  3. Have practice time follow something well-defined in your schedule. Calling your child inside from playing or away from a video game to practice probably won’t seem fun by comparison. Place practicing after some other daily routine: after eating breakfast/dinner, brushing teeth, walking dog, etc. This accomplished 3 things: it makes practicing part of the routine, it doesn’t make it feel like practicing is interrupting other fun activities, and it creates a fixed point for starting practicing.
  4. Practice yourself. If you play something, especially the same instrument as your child, let your child see you practice it. Children learn by example.
  5. Encourage autonomy. Your presence during your child’s practice is useful and helpful, but so is the feeling that they are doing it themselves. Encourage them to decide the order they practice things, or to count how many times they’ve played something, or to check things off on their homework sheet.
  6. Have a regular schedule and practice daily. While it’s not essential to practice daily, knowing there’s a possibility of skipping a day (for you or your child!) leaves the door open to debates and rationalisation. If your child knows that you practice every day no matter what, it most likely limits a daily debate. The less exceptions there are to a rule, the less you’ll overthink it.
  7. Praise. Constantly. Students are not playing music socially on the school yard: at the beginning, you are their only barometer for how well they are doing. Be honest, but as long as they’re working, there is always something to praise.

Premiere of When I Was a Glacier

I’m excited to announce that the wonderful Aella Choir of Ottawa will be premiering my work When I Was a Glacier, March 3 at First Baptist Church in Ottawa, at 7 pm. (Facebook event) Entrance is by donation, so just show up and enjoy the music!


This work, for treble choir, piano, and tubular bells, is based on the poem by New York-based poet Emily Skillings (read it here). The text is at once empowering, disturbing, and image-evoking, and felt especially appropriate after spending the last summer in Iceland, where we climbed a glacier with the artistic director and collaborative pianist of Aella.

(L-R) Matthew Lane, Mikaela Tolf, Shawn Potter (Aella’s collaborative pianist), Jennifer Berntson (Aella’s founding artistic director).

The work, with it’s potent harmonies, broad washes of slow counterpoint, and bare vocal simplicity at times, was guided by the imagery of the poetry in combination with digital algorithms, used to generate segments of the harmony. Equally inspiring was the awareness of what this powerful choir can do, even with the most basic of themes.

Like any Aella concert, it promises to be a wonderful evening, with a diverse program of largely Canadian choral music from some of today’s most interesting composers.

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One of the algorithms used while composing the piece, analyzing the spectrum of the tubular bell sound and generating a set of harmonies based on this bell sound.

Score Screenshot.jpg

Research, Uncategorized

Doctoral Defence

December 21, 2017, I passed my doctoral defence at Université de Montréal on the topic “Negotiating the frontier between Computer-assisted composition and traditional writing: The utility of each and their effective cross-integration”. The thesis was completed under the direction of Alan Belkin (website) and Pierre Michaud (website), and was graded exceptional (the highest grade).

The jury and I (L-R): François-Hugues Leclair, Jean Piché, Pierre Michaud, me, Alan Belkin (not pictured: Örjan Sandred, external examiner)

The presentation combined explanations of my use of computer-assisted composition with my philosophical approach to the domain, tied together with score samples and audio files of my compositions, and more in-depth looks at some of my software.

The final thesis has been submitted and will soon be available on the web from the Université de Montréal library, at which point a link will be posted here.

Soutenance Presentation New.001
A slide from the doctoral defence presentation, discussing Mutations II for organ.


CMC Associate Composer


I’m happy to announce that since last fall, I am an Associate Composer of the Canadian Music Centre, an organisation that supports and promotes the work of Canadian composers, and doubles as a publishing house for their music. Within the next year, some of my music will begin to appear on their site here, and will be available for purchase.