Released this week, a new CD of my complete songs featuring Juliana Gondek, soprano and William Lumpkin, piano: FOUR QUARTETS OF SONGS AND ARIAS.The YouTube clip above will give you a little preview. The album is available as an enhanced CD anywhere you buy CDs, and as a download anywhere you download music. You may need to search by title or Juliana Gondek for various reasons. I am very happy with this publication and hope you will take a listen.


How fleeting, how empty

October 22, 2013


In a retirement phase one looks around at all the stuff accumulated over the years and asks What am I going to do with all this stuff? After years of asking just this question, I’ve come up with a partial answer: throw away, recycle or give away stuff you don’t need, and take care of what you decide to keep and/or pass down to heirs.

By chance I put on a Bach cantata, “Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig” and the music drew me in (I was not paying attention to the words). But then I wondered what Bach was writing about that made me feel this way, and after reading the words (below) I realized that it was a work about not being attached to stuff, and if I had a gig in a church and had to musically sell this topic I would probably use Michael Frank’s text as Bach did:

Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig

1. Chorus

Ah, how fleeting, ah, how trifling
Is the life of man!
As a mist soon arises
And soon vanishes again,
So is our life, see!

2. Aria (T)

As swiftly as roaring water rushes by,
So hurry by the days of our life.
Time passes, the hours hurry by,
Just as the raindrops suddenly divide themselves,
When all rushes into the abyss.

3. Recitative (A)

Joy turns to sorrow,
Beauty falls like a flower,
The greatest strength is weakened,
Good fortune changes in time,
Soon honour and glory are over,
Knowledge and men’s creations
Are in the end brought to nothing by the grave.

4. Aria (B)

To hang one’s heart on earthly treasures
Is a seduction of the foolish world.
How easily arise devouring embers,
How the surging floods roar and tear away
Until everything is shattered and falls apart in ruins.

5. Recitative (S)

The highest majesty and spendour
Are shrouded at last by the night of death.
The person who sat on a throne like a god,
In no way escapes the dust and ashes,
And when the last hour strikes,
So that he is carried to the earth,
And the foundation of his highness is shattered,
He is completely forgotten.

6. Chorale [Verse 13]

Ah, how fleeting, ah, how trifling
Are mankind’s affairs!
All, all that we see,
Must fall and vanish.
The person who fears God stands firm forever.

[trans. Francis Browne]


In a band

October 9, 2013

231121144_640What better way to launch my post UCLA reality than to play in a band, or at least part time. I was asked to sub for a couple of gigs for Megan Keely, a new talented singer songwriter from the Bay area, and I had a blast. I learned many of her songs very quickly, and then we did a variety of covers: Beatles, CSN, Johnny Cash, and more. I played bass, guitar (6 & 12 string), piano and sang harmonies and a few leads. So much fun and amazing that I still remember all those songs from the 60s.


Cluster music, old and new

September 5, 2013

Jean-Féry Rebel (18 April 1666 – 2 January 1747) “Le Cahos”

An incredible piece of dissonance for the time by Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747). Here is the opening of his ballet Les élémens (1737), depicting chaos, performed by Christopher Hogwood and The Academy for Ancient Music. The crunchy chord at the beginning sounds like a vii dim7 played against a minor i chord [I don't have the score.] A nice cluster chord way before Henry Cowell was born. And as long as we are talking about Henry Cowell cluster music, let’s listen to one now:

Henry Cowell (March 11, 1897 – December 10, 1965) “The Voice of Lir”


My old LPs

August 29, 2013


I have an entire wall of old LPs. No, I’m not one of those that thinks the sound of LPs is superior: I grew up with the sound and am used to it, but the truth is just that I have a lot of LPs, or vinyl as we say nowadays, and inherited more from a few friends who died over the past 20 years.

I made a new project of trying to listen to them all again before I depart this world. As I store my records chronologically by composer I have started with Gregorian Chant and am now up to 17 century. I must admit I don’t know that I’ll make it through the various complete Beethoven symphonies collections I’ve inherited. We’ll see. I am finding that I especially am drawn to French composers. (Roger asks himself: could this be genetic? My DNA tests show that my ancient relatives made the Lascaut cave paintings in Southern France.) This morning I dreaded having to listen to an all harpsichord LP of Robert Edward Smith playing Couperin and Rameau. After finishing listening to it, in tears, I turned it over and played the whole thing again.

There is an odd kind of necrophilia going on in the project. Reading, handling and listening to these old publications is slightly eery. Many of the artists who made this records are dead. The publications themselves are dead, although some have been digitized and brought back to life. Many of the companies that made these publications are long gone, as are the artists who designed the covers and the people who wrote the program notes.

A lot of this music I’ve not listened to since I was an undergraduate in college. I’m much smarter now, maybe, and having all this musical input is doing amazing things to my musical brain—I’ve always had a constant radio station in my head, now it’s in 3D and I hear more detail.


Rojélio de Los Altos

August 14, 2013

The blind 14C Italian composer Landini: The blind 14C Italian composer

Had I lived and been a composer in the 14th century people in the future might have referred to me as “Los Altos.” I bring this up as I was listening to music by Guillaume de Machaut this morning and after reading the useless notes on the Odyssey LP I realized I wanted to know more about Machaut.

Scholars originally thought Machaut was from a little town near Rheims, France called Machault. Nowadays scholars think he was most likely born in Rheims. So the composer today could very easily be known  as “Rheims” rather than Machaut or William from Machault.

Listening to this music, coupled on one side with five works each by Machaut and Landini I realized how engrained this music has been in my life but I had somehow forgotten. I listened to this LP many times as an undergraduate and haven’t listened to it since then. I know the music so well that I could notate all the 3 part compositions on that album by memory. I hear Machaut and Landini’s influence on my own counterpoint. I had no idea: I thought the influence was from Stravinsky.


PTchYesterday Peter Tchaikovsky’s ghost was officially given political and sexual asylum in San Francisco. Composer Roger Bourland helped negotiate the arrangement. Bourland stated that “Although Peter had long loved New York and considered settling there, it was clear to him that the Bay Area composers were the most vital on the planet and that he like the men there the best. He also said that he prefers Michael Tilson Thomas’s performances of Russian composers over anyone else.” West Hollywood had fought hard to have him settle there stressing that the large Russian and LGBT population would make him feel comfortable and at home.

Tchaikovsky almost changed his mind to settle in Amsterdam when he learned of the peculiar attempt by American protesters to boycott Stolichnaya Vodka. “Don’t they know it’s an American vodka?” Bourland reported that after calming him down and promising it would blow over as a misunderstanding, Tchaikovsky signed the San Francisco asylum document. He promised the No-Ghosts-in-SF-League that he would never haunt anyone or be a public nuisance. Having heard his promise and knowing of his fame, the League gave the SF Planetary Overseers their approval. Tchaikovsky will be hovering in the Castro Street area.


rosemary-brown1Yesterday Rosemary Brown officially passed her torch to composer Roger Bourland––meaning, as she is no longer on the planet, she petitioned the Earth Oversight Committee to have Bourland succeed her in periodic channeling of dead composers. In an interview, Bourland was quick to point out that he would not channel the composers’ music as Brown had done, saying “I still have too much of my own music to write, and they have written enough––no one need augment their output while on the planet.” Bourland seemed less than gracious about his appointment stating “I have no idea how I became the belle du jour for these guys. They just started popping up in my studio saying weird things. So I shared it with my readers. I really didn’t have any intention of taking this on as a job.” Brown said that she was confident that Bourland was the right man for the job and that he would most likely continue his periodic channeling on his blog.


2012Bourland9210_C8x10@72 (1)I rarely ask forgiveness of my readers, but forgive me for being a spotty blogger for the past few years. I’ve been busy, have been processing the transition from being a tenured university professor to an opera composer, moving to a new city, composing an opera, suffering from some medical issues, and taking a break from telling you things that have been on my mind.

I figure if I live to be 90, my first thirty were about learning, the next thirty were about teaching, and my final thirty will be about composing my best music––and in my dream, opera. Having composed five large-scale choral and orchestral works, a short opera, a grand opera, a musical, four feature films, choral music, songs, and hours and hours of chamber music, I am ready to synthesize what I’ve learned as a composer and do what I think I do best as a composer: write good tunes. I don’t particularly want to compose chamber music: too few performances. I have no track record nor interest of composing and amassing lots of orchestral works, hence my invisibility in the orchestral world. But I do know how to orchestrate and orchestrate beautifully. I prefer large scale works at this point in my life over three to fifteen minute pieces of chamber music. So opera seems the right way for me to go.

My old classmate and bandmate, Robert Aldridge, got a Grammy for best new work a few years back for the opera he’s been working on for years [Elmer Gantry]. My student, colleague and friend who performed in two of my large scale works, Jake Heggie is going great guns in the opera world; and my heart was broken when we lost Daniel Catán, who appeared to be a brilliant new star on the opera scene.

Aldridge and I were original Composers in Red Sneakers and played in a rock/blues band together with composer Robert Rowe. Our music shares a vitality, and if I were to die and had a piece unfinished, I would commission Bob to finish it. That being said, his opera, Elmer Gantry, is not like mine. And I was amazed that the Grammy voters chose IT over the others, it being completely tonal––as tonal as Bernstein.

Jake Heggie studied with me at UCLA, orchestration as an undergrad and I “guided” his MA in composition. I use quotes because Jake didn’t need guiding at that point. He was already Jake Heggie. His musical language is his own and a powerful one it is. He always had his own voice and his own way of writing for the voice. His piano accompaniments were always much more interesting than my early songs: he is a marvelous pianist––as a pianist, I get by. If Jake learned anything from me, it was through performing in my HIDDEN LEGACIES and FLASHPOINT/STONEWALL (both pieces with lyrics by John Hall). On second thought, I’ll let him tell you whether and what he learned from me, if he so chooses. ;-)

Daniel Catán was a California composer/university professor who worked really hard outside of being a teacher. The LAOpera premieres of his operas were wonderful, and I was delighted that the audience, buzz and press was so positive. Although our musics are not that similar, I can imagine future critics lumping us together in terms of harmonic language, but we are both tonal composers.

Of the four of us, Jake’s musical language is probably the gnarliest, followed by me, then Catán, and then Aldridge. I love the word “gnarly.” I stole it from Tison Street‘s partner Ray––who was not a musician and used it to describe what we musicians might otherwise call atonal (a term Schoenberg [the ur-Gnarly] despised). Of the four of us, as of 2013, Jake is probably the most popular and performed with Catan hot on his heels; Aldridge made a big splash––finally––and I am just beginning.

So who am I to even imagine putting myself in their league?

After the two workshop performances that we just had of my new opera, THE DOVE AND THE NIGHTINGALE, the audience was thrilled, as were we. My librettist, Mitchell Morris kept saying: “Roger, there is nothing like it.” And I don’t think he meant it as an evasive way of saying the piece is terrible: he meant it. The opera is filled with memorable tunes. Filled. Peter Kazaras, who directed the UCLA Opera workshops, insisted throughout the opera that I make EVERYTHING melodically interesting: “Go listen to Puccini: it’s all continuous and memorable melody.”

And as I step forward taking this risk, I have Angel Kazaras on one shoulder whispering MELODY, MELODY into my ear, and Angel Swed on the other telling me I need to compose like Helmut Lachenmann. I had to knock Swed off my shoulder in order to be me. I learned in 1978 that I had no interest in being the next Elliott Carter or Karlheinz Stockhausen, even though I went through years of trying to be. My SEVEN POLLOCK PAINTINGS (1978) won the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood and was my first publication and second record. The piece ENDS on a major chord––something rather naughty at the time. That final cadence helped me come out as a tonal composer.

I am gambling that the opera world just might go nuts over a new opera filled with memorable tunes. By composing music like this, I run the risk of being called a composer of musical theater. So be it. My inspirers these days are Bizet’s CARMEN, Bernstein’s WEST SIDE STORY, and Sondheim’s SWEENEY TODD. In my opinion, these are all operas that are crossed with music theater. Someone will come up with a term for what this new genre is but I find the terms incomplete nowadays. Whatever that is, that is the road I’m interested in taking. And if it doesn’t work, and the people are not interested, then I’ll move on.

Writing songs is something I will continue to do for the rest of my life. And it’s so much easier than composing an opera! I’ve never worked as hard as I did in composing DOVE. And then I laugh when I read the interview with Donizetti who when told Rossini composed WILLIAM TELL in two weeks, he replied: “I always knew he was a lazy composer.”

#rogerbourland #opera #jakeheggie #danielcatán #robertaldridge #composers


Post image for Ghost of Stravinsky Arrested in Russia

The ghost of composer Igor Stravinsky was arrested in Boston, Russia today for “acting queer.” Allegedly a life-long bisexual, Stravinsky kissed the policeman firmly on the mouth, grabbed his cheeks and shouted “Ah, c’mon, you liked that didn’t you?” UCLA’s Professor Tamara Levitz denied that the event took place saying “There is no proof it ever happened. It was only the daydream of that silly man Prof Roger Bourland.” Bourland was not available for comment.